Chapter 412: Refreshing

Vahn was very stressed out, even if he did his best not to show it. On the way up to Rivira, he had constantly been devoting his full focus to his surroundings as the group steadily made their way up through the floors. Because the monsters became progressively weaker, it got easier and easier the higher they went and, by the time they had reached the 20th floor, even Haruhime and Fenrir had joined in on the fighting. Vahn had let them take part since Fenrir needed to relieve the stress she had been ‘receiving’ from Vahn. When Fenrir was frustrated, it was very obvious to everyone around her and, because many of the girls were very perceptive, they knew Vahn wasn’t in the best state of mind either.

It wasn’t that he was struggling with the difficulty of the situation, as there was apparently no danger to them at all, but Vahn was stressed out because he felt like something ‘supposed’ to happen. The more time that passed without his expectations bearing fruit, the more unnerved Vahn felt and he wanted to discover how they were able to track his position in the Dungeon. It was almost inconceivable that they had full control over the Dungeon itself, or they wouldn’t have to go to such lengths to target him using such an indirect method. If they could spawn Monster Parties, track his position in the Dungeon, or even freely move between floors, Vahn didn’t see how they would have any trouble killing or capturing anyone. The one thing he knew was that they seemed to be able to find him, but that was most likely related to an ability like [Diviniation].

Vahn had been curious about how Freya was able to peer at anyone she wanted, generally without them being aware of it at all, while even being able to ignore the restrictions imposed by the Dungeon. He knew she was able to see what was going on inside, though he didn’t know the extent of her ability, and learned that it was related to one of her Divinities, Divination. There was even a [Divination] Development Ability, so Vahn knew it was possible that, if someone was talented enough with the skill, they should be able to track his position, even if he was in the Dungeon.

He also knew, however, that it was possible to block such things by setting up formations, seals, and certain types of physical barriers. If they were able to track him, even after he incorporated such matters in the future, it would mean they had a way of tracking people through the Dungeon itself. Just as Riveria had suggested, Vahn was now focused on understanding his enemy and discovering their capabilities. He would develop countermeasures against their ability to spy, not only on himself, but his allies that would be entering the Dungeon in the future.

Vahn was already very tempted to stop the others from entering the Dungeon in the future so that they couldn’t be captured and leveraged against him, but Vahn knew this would be counterintuitive and cause more problems in the future than it would solve presently. The enemy obviously didn’t have the means to maneuver that easily in the Dungeon, and there shouldn’t be any practical way for them to target any of the girls through practical methods. He also couldn’t avoid the Dungeon himself either, so Vahn would have to find a solution in the near future if he wanted to avoid trouble.

With their increased pace, the group managed to clear through the middle floors very quickly and had arrived at Rivira, the settlement on the 18th floor, with more than enough time to return to the surface before dark. It was barely 5 PM at present so, if they continued to hurry, they could be back at the Hearth Manor within an hour or two. Before they continued onwards, Vahn took Riveria’s advice and they all stopped at the small residence managed by the Loki Familia for their expeditions into the lower floors. They used it as a staging area for supplies, which they would build up over several weeks, before consolidating everything together for their long expeditions into the Lower Floors of the Dungeon. Presently, the Loki Familia made quarterly trips to the 51st floor of the Dungeon to harvest items from the large dragon, Cadmus, and also harvest the spring water it guarded.

Within the residence, there was a very rare communication magic tool that was permanently affixed to the ground of a secret room in the basement of the building. The Loki Familia had invested a lot of resources into installing a permanent line of communication that ran all the way from the 18th floor and continued upwards through the stairs using the route often taken by the Loki Familia. The reason they were able to do this was, unlike the deeper floors which changed their structure very often, the staircases on the first seventeen floors were always located in the same areas. It was possible to run a relay from the 17th floor, all the way up to the surface, without interference. Though they had to periodically inspect the link to ensure it wasn’t damaged, it was still better than not having any method to contact the surface for logistical purpose and to report emergencies.

After resting for around an hour, Vahn made the decision to return to the surface so they could find sanctuary within the Hearth Manor. Until he got out of the Dungeon, Vahn wouldn’t be able to completely calm down and he wanted to be able to enjoy a nice long rest. Other than the ‘minor’ hiccups they had along the way, especially in their return trip, everything else had gone very smoothly. Vahn now had 1,263,117OP sitting in his reserves, had increased his strength by a marginal amount, had helped Haruhime and Fenrir grow much stronger, and had even gotten a new subordinate, the Green Dragon, and the Treasure Tree it guarded. The 17 Treasure Magic Stones that had decorated its branches were worth, at the very least, one-hundred-seventy-million Valis.

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All things considered, their week-long excursion into the Dungeon had been highly successful and, if not for the ‘machinations’ of enemies he knew nothing about, Vahn would have been ecstatic. He had never realized how frustrating it was to face an ‘unknown’ enemy, even though he knew there were evil forces at work in the background. Now that he had been able to put a face to the forces at work, their presence had seeded themselves into his heart and mind and now Vahn was determined to undermine their plans. As long as they targeted him, Vahn would do everything in his power to oppose them, especially if they tried to target the people he cared about. Even though he knew it would probably irreversibly change his perspective of the world, and perhaps all worlds to follow, Vahn would destroy the entire Dungeon if necessary…even if it took him years, and his entire life’s efforts to accomplish…

As expected, from the very moment they reached the stairs leading to the 17th floor, the group’s progress became incomparably smooth and they were able to reach the surface after an additional forty minutes of travel. The moment he stepped out into the first floor of Babel, Vahn felt like a heavy weight had been removed from his shoulders and he couldn’t help but release a relieved sigh. The fresh air of the surface had an instantaneous calming effect on his mind and it felt like the looming threat in the shadows had lost its power to influence him. Though he couldn’t confirm it yet, just based on his instincts, Vahn felt like his enemies weren’t able to influence the surface, at least for the time being.

Just as he had released his sigh, Riveria handed him back his own communication scroll and said, “For the time being, we’ll have to show a bit of caution whenever we’re entering the Dungeon. I don’t know the extent of our enemies’ capabilities, but I can deduce they don’t have too many strong members comprising their group. You only ever saw the one woman, and it may very well be the case she is acting alone…though it is unlikely, considering the situation…” Riveria looked around the area and squinted her eyes before saying, “We should leave this place, there are too many eyes and ears about.”

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Hearing Riveria’s words, Tiona released a long sigh that was a mix between relief and exasperation as she said, “Maaaaan, it’s so much better to be on the surface after being cooped up in that dreary place for so long. Vahn, we should go and have some fun tomorrow~!” Vahn furrowed his brows for a very brief moment before showing a loose smile and saying, “Sure, I think that would be for the best. I feel like all my nerves have been pulled taught; it would be good to loosen them up a bit…” As if taking his words as an invitation, Tiona stuck her body to him and dangled from his neck as she playfully rubbed her face against his cheek. Though her actions drew the attention of the surroundings, Vahn felt like things had returned to ‘normal’ all of a sudden so he couldn’t help but smile.

By the time they had reached the Manor, Vahn felt a lot more refreshed, likely as a result of the cold winter air and the warmth of the surrounding girls. Things escalated when, before the even made their way through the courtyard, several people exited through the front door of the Manor and came to greet the group. Vahn spread warmth through his domain as he caught the goddess-shaped bullet that launched herself at him. Hestia tightly hugged his body and said, “Vahn, welcome home~! I missed you so much~.” Vahn laughed as he embraced Hestia’s waist and, without worrying about the surroundings, kissed her on the lips for several long seconds. When he finally ‘released’ her, Hestia had a fiercely blushing face and a vibrant pink aura as she stammered, “T-t-there is a time and a p-place for everything…gnnnnuuuu, let’s go inside and talk!”

Vahn gave an ‘apologetic’ smile to the ‘expectant’ looking girls that also seemed to want a kiss of their own as he followed Hestia into the interior of the pleasantly warm Hearth Manor. He had noticed this several times in the past, but this was the first time Vahn had truly appreciated what this place represented. No matter how stressful things got, nor how his enemies schemed against him, Vahn would always have a place to return to in order to find a momentary reprieve from his struggles. It wasn’t the Hearth Manor itself, but the people contained within that brought him the solace his heart and mind desired.

Though it was somewhat uncharacteristic of him, Vahn was a bit ‘overly’ affectionate during their following discussion and had cuddled up with several girls until. Even Tsubaki, who had moved in at this time, didn’t go out of her way to tease him and had even taken the task of washing his back during the bath as her own. She was easily the most ‘mature’ looking woman in the group, even though she had a youthful appearance after experiencing Vahn’s ‘Nirvana’. Syr also seemed to get along with her very well and was even somewhat deferential to her, likely due to Tsubaki’s past, present, and future roles in Vahn’s life. She had been his ‘surrogate mother’, ‘mentor’, ‘forging master’, ‘caretaker’, and now she was also his ‘lover’ and ‘mistress’. Syr understood that making an ‘enemy’ out of Tsubaki would be very detrimental to the group’s synergy, so she had quickly given grounds to the somewhat frank, and borderline tyrannical, woman.

Tsubaki’s presence in the Manor was very impactful and, other than Syr, she had even reigned in a large number of the other girls as well. She was Lili’s ‘mentor’, since Vahn was her ‘master’, and also treated Naaza as her protege. Because of her straightforward personality, she got along will all the girls at the Hostess of Fertility and also developed a strong bond with Milan, as they had very similar circumstances, and was even helping look after Tina and Shizune. She had already started helping Mikoto train her swordsmanship, had been looking after the twins, and was also getting progressively closer to Preasia. Since he knew she had only moved in three days ago, Vahn was somewhat awestruck by how quickly Tsubaki had found her way into the very core of the group.

After the relatively long bath, it was coming time for bed and Vahn had to make an ‘important’ decision. Though he wanted to sleep peacefully, Vahn also felt a strong urge to release his tensions and spend time with the girls that had been waiting for their return on the surface. He ultimately decided that, since he was going to be spending a lot of time lounging about the Manor in the near future, he would spend his evenings in a more ‘proactive’ manner. As one of the girls most affected by his absence, Vahn ended up inviting Hestia to stay with him, alongside Tsubaki, Syr, and Aki.

Tsubaki had never been involved with girls before, but she was very proactive and had quickly ‘subjugated’ the mischevious Aki after being goaded on by Syr. Vahn had noticed this when he was with Tsubaki in the past, but she was a bit of a ‘bully’ when it came to displaying affection. Since she couldn’t ‘vent’ on him, as he was dealing with multiple women at the time, she picked on the only girl in the group that was strong enough to ‘deal’ with her teasing. Vahn felt a little apologetic to Aki, as he hadn’t intended for her to be his ‘shield’ against Tsubaki, but she seemed to be enjoying herself, so Vahn assumed she wouldn’t blame him…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘TFW Karma ‘isn’t’ a b!itch…’,’Burdens removed?’,’Tsubaki’s ‘Tyranny”)

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