For the better part of three days, everything proceeded as planned without any major hiccups occurring at all. Haruhime and Fenrir were making steady progress and had gotten to the point where they could coordinate to take down a Bloodsaurus within thirty seconds. The overall efficiency of the group had increased a great deal, considering that they were doing nothing but killing the same monster every single day, and by the time Vahn was considering calling the expedition to a close they had secured materials from 171 Bloodsaurus.
This brought the accumulated wealth to officially break through the one-billion Valis mark, assuming the introduction of such a large amount of resources flooding the market and didn’t affect the price. Regardless, as they wouldn’t be selling the materials, it didn’t really matter and the most important thing was that it would sustain the network’s function for years to come without having to worry about supplies. Since Vahn would periodically farm Bloodsaurus in the future, he could even focus on expanding the network a fair amount while stockpiling the materials for future use.
The thing Vahn was most enthused about, however, was the fact he had broken through a previously major threshold in his Origin Point reserves and now had a stockpile of 1,148,802OP sitting within his system interface. Vahn felt a powerful compulsion to spend the OP to try and obtain another item like [Enkidu] or to test his luck by spending the ‘extra’ 148k OP on the gacha. However, considering that most of the items he had an interest in cost several million OP, Vahn decided to stockpile it for the time being. There was no way of knowing what kind of enemies and situations he would face in the future, so having a large reserve was always beneficial. Just being able to purchase extra [Effigy of the Hero] was a great benefit in protecting the people he cared about.
Vahn had long learned that purchasing skills didn’t actually give him the ability to use them freely and required that he actually comprehend how to use it through his own actions. This allowed him to understand that, just like magic, he should theoretically be able to use any kind of skill through concerted efforts and training. The benefit of purchasing it through the system just allowed him to have a much better understanding of the skill he was trying to learn and would walk him through the necessary steps to obtain mastery, just like he had for [Hands of Nirvana].
This excited Vahn a great deal but also raised a few red flags in his plan to help the girls around him become stronger. Though he might be able to adapt any skill for his own use, this didn’t mean others would be able to emulate it, even if he put a lot of effort into training them. Vahn needed a better understanding of his own capabilities and needed to work more closely with the girls to see if they would be able to adapt his teachings and put them to practical use, perhaps with the support and influence of the [Mentor] Development Ability. Though it unnerved him slightly, Haruhime was scarily devoted to him so Vahn planned to teach her the magic system he would learn from Eva in the future. Lili was also, technically, his apprentice since their first meeting, so Vahn was planning to teach her a few things as well and hoped they would be able to learn how to use his [Shundo].
The reason why it was important to teach them both was due to the fact that Haruhime, though she had incredible magic potential, had already filled up all her magic slots. The maximum number of magic most people could use, assuming they ever reached that point, was a total of three spells. If Haruhime was able to learn [Shundo], it would be powerful evidence proving that he could adapt the system of another world to Danmachi without going against the laws of the world. As for Lili, Vahn knew she would probably be adversely affected when she learned he had taken another ‘disciple’ without paying any attention to his original student. Vahn’s [Mentor] ability could now influence two people, so he planned to train them both at the same time in the hopes they would develop as friends and rivals.
Vahn knew that, if his experiments had conclusive results, he would end up establishing a completely new school of thought and introduce an entirely unique magic system into the power structure of the world. To prevent the information from reaching his enemies, he would have to be very selective in what he decided to teach others and would likely have to spend years refining the abilities he developed to be used by other people. It was a strange thought, but Vahn could imagine the world a thousand years from now being changed drastically by the actions he was taking today. There might very well be magic chants in the future that use the name of himself, and his allies, to confer power into the spells.
After cleaning up their camp, Vahn gathered everyone for a short pep talk before they all began making their way to the surface. Since they had already achieved their intended purpose, they were going to try and bypass as many monsters as possible to ensure they were able to exit the Dungeon expediently. Vahn had been feeling a strange sensation in the back of his mind and had been cautioning the girls over the last three days about paying attention to any abnormalities they might sense. He couldn’t shake the feeling that, while they had been hunting Bloodsaurus, Vahn and his companions had been being observed by a force outside his perception. There was a possibility it could be Freya, but Vahn assumed it was likely related to the monster woman he had seen previously. He kept having the strangest thought that she was angry with him for stealing her bath water…
This was the first time Vahn was venturing up through the somewhat frustrating layout of the Great Fall while they were being assaulted omnidirectionally by monsters. Though their trip down hadn’t exactly been easy, it was far more annoying to navigate the floor upwards since there were various elevated platforms that were used by monsters to attack them from a higher vantage point. If Vahn had been alone, he would have simply turned into his Báihǔ form and broken through the floors after several minutes of using Shundo. There was always the option of carrying the weaker girls along with him, but Vahn didn’t want to risk accidentally throwing everyone into a dangerous situation just because of his impatience.
The path they had taken on their descent had changed since they had passed through it, so Vahn had to reroute the group along another path, hoping that it would eventually take them upwards. This was the reason why the Dungeon was known as the ‘Living Labyrinth’, as it was able to change form, repair itself over time, and even spawn monsters to take advantage of the situation of Adventurers. Vahn could see, while using [Eyes of Truth], there was a large network of mana circuits that ran through every single wall, floor, and ceiling, so he knew it was likely the case that the Dungeon was a living entity. Knowing he was casually walking through its body made Vahn feel a little disconcerted, but he threw the matter to the back of his mind since he had no intentions of never returning.
As the group passed near a cliff at the back of the waterfall, Ais suddenly jumped high into the air and intercepted a red blur that had been moving so fast that Vahn hadn’t even had time to pass any orders before it was nearly within their defensive perimeter. Other than his instincts flaring up, Vahn had been almost unable to react and it was Riveria who shouted, “Close the formation, stay together!” Vahn had seen the monster that Ais had struck down and immediately understood what was going on so he compressed his domain and increased the ‘surface tension’ of the outside of his domain to act more like a barrier. Vahn could put the same amount of energy into expanding his domain to the limit as he could compressing it to a 1/47th of the maximum size. This made the energy within his domain so dense that it was visible and allowed him to exercise a certain degree of control over the elemental energies contained within.
Vahn issued the order, “We need to move forward quickly, don’t tarry in one spot for too long! Let’s move!” As he shouted his order, three more blurs smashed into the periphery of his domain and immediately burst into flame from the concentrated fire elemental energies. Vahn was happy his plan had worked and everyone began to move forward at a fast pace as several other monsters suicide bombed them from the top of the cliff. The monsters were a species known as Iguazu, crimson swallow monsters that were nicknamed the ‘Invisible Reaper’ because of how fast they were able to move. Even though they were only Level 2, they could dive at speeds rivaling a peak Level 4 and far exceeded the limits of their own bodies in order to kill their enemies. Because of their super-sonic speeds, even if the Iguazu missed their targets, they would splatter against the floor of the Dungeon and immediately die.
Fortunately, it didn’t seem like there was a large flock in the area so there were only a few dozens of the kamikaze creatures slamming into Vahn’s domain before bursting into flames. Though the tension of his ‘barrier’ wasn’t actually that strong, it was the same principle for why his arrows broke when they struck the water at high speeds. The sudden increase in friction immediately decelerated the diving monsters and caused their bodies to shatter as a result. This, unfortunately, had the downside of blood and gore raining down on their heads from above. Vahn did his best to sweep away the debris, but a fair amount got through and Lefiya eventually collapsed from her squeamishness. Before Vahn reached forward to pick her up, Ryuu had grabbed her and carried Lefiya under her arm after throwing the [Heal] staff toward Vahn to stow away.
After around seven minutes, the party managed to clear through the area of the cliff and the monsters immediately ceased their pursuit. Luckily, they were simply very territorial and wouldn’t chase Adventurers far beyond the area of their established nests. Unfortunately, the Dungeon didn’t seem to be willing to give them any time to rest and, the moment the group slowed down to clean up, Vahn sensed an energy convergence on their position. With a wave of his hand, Vahn pulled out his [Lævateinn] and shouted, “Monster Party incoming! Close up the formation! Riveria, barrier magic! Haruhime, prepare [Uchide no Kozuchi] and use it on me, Riveria, Ais, Tiona, and TIone!”
Lefiya was currently out of commision, so everyone surrounded her in a loose circle while Riveria chanted her barrier magic without questioning Vahn’s order. Several seconds later, cracks began to appear in the walls, floor, and ceiling as hundreds of monsters began to spawn in a massive wave all around the party. Because they were in a large corridor, where there wasn’t any water, the composition of the enemies consisted of Blue Crabs, Devil Mosquitos, and a few Light Quartz. Seeing this, Vahn felt his brain buzz because it would be a very difficult composition to deal with without Lefiya using her magic to thin the herd.
The Blue Crabs were very durable and had a high resistance to penetrating attacks and magic, making their only weakness crushing blows. Devil Mosquitos weren’t a major threat, and many would simply die after they got caught up in the aftermath of other attacks. However, it only took a single mosquito getting through their defenses to spell disaster. The most problematic enemies were the relatively rare Light Quartzes that were present. They looked like luminescent crystals that defied gravity as they floated about and used powerful light magic beams to pelt at enemies from a distance. With the Blue Crabs leading the charge, and a large amount of Devil Mosquitos blocking the air, the Light Quartzes immediately began barraging the shield Riveria had erected with their magic from several hundred meters away.
Vahn’s mind raced as he thought about possible ways to get through the danger before resolving himself and saying, “We’ll probably be able to break through by having Ais clear a path, but I think it will be better if I get outside of the barrier and fight alone…” Ais frowned at Vahn’s words and said, “I am stronger than you, it is better if I go.” Vahn shook his head and looked around at everyone with a confident smile appearing on his face as he transformed into his Xuánwǔ form and seated his [Lævateinn] on his shoulder and continuing, “It’s moments like this where I have the opportunity to shine. I’m the only one that can move through the barrier without Riveria having to lower it, and my fighting style isn’t very ‘friendly’ to my allies. Protect everyone within the barrier, just in case anything happens, and leave this to me. If I don’t get a chance to show off every now and then, how will I be able to hold up my head around you girls in the future~?”
Before anyone could oppose his words, Vahn set down some recovery items to help Lefiya before patting Haruhime’s and Fenrir’s heads and moving to the periphery of Riveria’s barrier with Shundo. Riveria showed a serious expression on her face as she watched Vahn place his palm against her ‘absolute’ barrier and phase through it as if it was a thin veil of water. Her brow twitched and she decided to force an answer out of Vahn later but, for now, she just continued to maintain the barrier so he could fight without worry.
With Haruhime’s [Uchide no Kozuchi] active, Vahn’s parameters were comparable to someone in the middle range of Level 4. Though more than 30% of this was in his magic parameter, this didn’t pose a problem at all for Vahn who was currently swinging around his [Lævateinn] with impunity. The perpetual flames spread from the massive claymore and, even though they weren’t super effective on the Blue Crabs, they were still causing constant damage and burning away the majority of the Devil Mosquitos. As they were the biggest threat, Vahn had focused his efforts on the Light Quartzes in the back and had smashed through their crystalline structure with his fist and caused them to explode from the inside.
Vahn very quickly realized he would eventually get overwhelmed by the number of enemies he was having to dodge, as Shundo wasn’t exactly a cheap skill to use if it was spammed constantly. Every swipe of [Lævateinn] drained a portion of his mana and he was already chugging potions every time he swept through and created a clearing in the massive horde of monsters. Fortunately, though they were resistant to normal piercing, [Lævateinn] had the ability ‘Explosive Thrust’, which allowed Vahn to aim at the gaps in the massive claw of the Blue Crabs to explode their relatively fragile faces. Because of the excess amount of flames dancing about, Vahn had long been reduced to nothing but a pair of small shorts as he madly danced about and butchered as many enemies as he could.
His [Heart of the Eternal Flame] was pumping a massive amount of oxygen through his body and Vahn’s mind had long turned cold as a state of absolute focus took over his mind. Regardless, even though he was nearly emotionless at this moment, Vahn felt a powerful excitement and knew his face was stuck in a perpetual smile. Even when a Light Quartz managed to strike his back directly with the powerful beam of energy, Vahn just released a laugh before disappearing from his spot and reappearing behind the monster and smashing into it with his fist. Vahn could already start to see the cracks in his black scales and knew it wouldn’t be long before this fight was concluded.
The fight had only been going on for around five minutes, but Vahn felt like it had been hours as a powerful feeling of exhaustion had already settled inside his body. The cracks on his body had finally reached a critical level and he stowed away his [Lævateinn] so that it wouldn’t be lost as a result. Afraid that the girls might try to come to his aide too soon, Vahn shouted out, “STAY INSIDE THE BARRIER!” as his body erupted in a burst of vermillion flames that immediately turned the eleven Blue Crabs surrounding him into ashes. Seeing the sight, Vahn felt a powerful excitement overwhelm him as he pushed the flames through his domain, while also doing his best to contain them within the domain at the same time.
Though it didn’t immediately affect the monsters within the domain, it wasn’t long before the metallic bodies of the Blue Crabs began to glow with a fiery red as they shrieked in loud and garbled noises while bumping into each other and trying to drag their bodies along the ground. As their bodies began to melt, some of them even stuck together from the impact of colliding with each other and they made a garbled mess of a monster that eventually erupted into clouds of purple dust as even their magic cores were melted. Seeing this, Vahn smiled even though it felt like his own body was beginning to break down from the powerful energy erupting from his core. He was drawing deep and labored breaths as he controlled the vermillion flames to clear out the majority of monsters before eventually having to dispel the form due to a lack of energy.
Using what remained of his reserves, Vahn downed a mana potion and ran over to the barrier and pressing his palm against it before returning to the safety of its interior. Though he had also burned the loot items, Vahn had dealt with the vast majority of the monsters and there was no longer any real danger present. It was actually more troublesome that he had turned a large part of the corridor into molten stone and they would have to wait for it to eventually cool down unless they wanted to backtrack through the cliffs where the Iguazu were located. There was now a powerful wind passing through the corridor, as a result of the temperature differential between the interior of the corridor and the outside, so Riveria was still maintaining her barrier even though there were several monsters knocking against it.
Soon after he entered the safety of the barrier, Vahn saw two brown blurs tackle him and he collided with the pale golden barrier behind him as he instinctively tried to free himself from their grasp. Both Tiona and Tione had fervent looks in their eyes after witnessing Vahn’s performance and, considering the fact that he was currently naked, they couldn’t resist their urges at all. As he was in a very weak state, there wasn’t anything Vahn could do against the two ‘fierce’ Amazons and he could feel his bones creaking slightly from their embrace. Tiona was breathing heavily as she said, “Vahn…you’re so amazing…so amazing…” Tione seemed to agree with Tiona’s sentiments and even used the opportunity to seal Vahn’s mouth with a kiss before they both received a powerful impact from the blunt side of Ais’s weapon.
Both girls crouched to the ground and nursed the bumps on their heads with tears in their eyes as Ais said, “Vahn, clothes…” Though she was showing proper restraint, Vahn could see a similar glow on Ais’s face as she stared down at his uncovered figure with a glint in her eyes. Vahn immediately wore some clothing and complained to himself for his oversight yet again. Every time he turned into the Vermillion Bird form, Vahn’s equipment would be completely destroyed. This wasn’t even the first time it had happened, but he had been in too much of a hurry to return to the barrier and hadn’t even concerned himself with the fact he was still naked. Fortunately, it seemed like Lefiya had recovered from her earlier bout of nausea and was now perfectly fine, as Vahn considered her crimson face to be her ‘default’ state after being around her for the last few days.
To prevent Tiona and Tione from losing their sensibilities, Vahn was sitting on the ground meditating while Fenrir sat in his lap with her hair raised as she glared at the two sheepish girls. Enough time passed that Riveria could no longer maintain her barrier and she said, “Ais, Tiona, Tione, deal with the remaining enemies. We’ll set a temporary camp here and hope that the Dungeon doesn’t cause us any trouble for the time being. If you sense anything, Vahn, let us know immediately and we’ll retreat as fast as possible.” Vahn nodded his head slightly, without opening his eyes, as he focused on the indiscernible words of the [Mantra of Eternity] that resonated deep within his soul.
If he could rest for around three hours, Vahn could completely recover his energy reserves and continue fighting, though the mental burden would be rather immense. This was the reason why Vahn wasn’t able to freely traverse the deeper floors of the Dungeon that, depending on the situations he would face, there was also a chance he would run out of energy in a pinch. Though he could avoid most dangers with Shundo, it wasn’t uncommon for the Dungeon to actually seal off rooms in the deeper floors. Unless you were able to deal with the monsters that spawned within the sealed room, you wouldn’t be able to escape at all. Such situations often had a variant present as well, so it would spell the end for Vahn if he was caught in that kind of trap while trying to escape his enemies.
To speed up his recovery, Ryuu was using [Noah Heal] on Vahn’s back so that he wouldn’t have to waste any energy recovering his own stamina. Vahn could take items like [Senzu Bean]s to replenish such things, but he let Ryuu do as she pleased since she seemed to be in a tense state at the moment. Her aura was somewhat wispy and Vahn knew she had been impacted from watching his battle earlier. He knew she had a desire to grow stronger and this would likely serve as the catalyst for her increasing the amount of training she underwent in the future.
Ryuu was only 19 and would easily be able to achieve Level 5 within a few months if she made the effort. If she waited for him to become stronger, Vahn would even be able to help her exceed her current potential by helping to focus on her Innates. When they returned to the surface, Vahn decided to draw up plans with Tsubaki and Riveria to come up with a method to help stimulate the growth of the girls. As even Tsubaki wanted to become much stronger now, it was worth putting in the effort to understanding how Innates could be awakened reliably.
After around two hours, Vahn could sense energy beginning to converge on them again so he immediately stood up and said, “We need to move, now. I don’t understand why, but the Dungeon itself seems to be targetting us currently. Ais, take point, we’re going to be moving through these floors until we reach the ‘Large Tree Labyrinth’ on the 24th floor. We can’t stay here any longer or we’ll risk being overwhelmed.” Without having to explain further, everyone began to move according to Vahn’s orders and they began running through the Dungeon at a steady pace. Since Lefiya was the slowest in the group, she was being carried by Tione while Vahn carried both Haruhime and Fenrir. Riveria, though she was a mage, actually had more than a thousand agility more than Vahn, so she easily kept pace with the group.
A few minutes after the group escaped the corridor, several cracks began to appear in the walls, though not to the extent of a Monster Party. Instead, there were seven large monsters that looked like variant Mermen. Unlike the traditional 2m tall monsters, they were all more than 3m tall and, instead of blue scales, they each had red scales that were covered in horn-like protrusions. More than a fish, they had an appearance closer to dragons as they reached into the walls of the Dungeon and pulled out terrifying nature weapons in the form of tridents. The biggest difference between them and normal Mermen was the fact that they had horns on their heads and long tails growing out of their backsides.
Of course, these were all purely cosmetic and the most important thing was that they were all much stronger, faster, and smarter than their lesser counterparts. One of them was slightly larger than the rest and carried a giant curved axe and a shield that looked like a sea urchin. Communicating in a unique language of their own, the larger Merman issued orders to the rest of the group before they began to charge forward at a pace comparable to Level 4 Adventurers. Their goal was very simple, kill the intruders that had caused severe damage to the Dungeon. Vahn hadn’t done enough damage to incite the Dungeon into spawning a Juggernaut, but it was still enough to cause it to activate its defense systems and try to eliminate, not just him, but the entire group…
(A/N: Btw, how are we losing in popularity to novels that update chapters with less than a thousand words xD? I’m pumping out around 14k words a day and we’re rank 7 behind several broken translations that are being bolstered by bots!)
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Such wealth~!’,’BANZAI!!!!’,’Dungeon’s Defense Mechanisms’)