Chapter 458: White Palace : Beast District

Everything proceeded as scheduled, without any major hiccups, and the expedition set out at dawn the next day. Compared to his past experience proceeding beyond the 18th floor, Vahn was surprised by the sheer number of monsters that spawned to inhibit their progress. Fortunately, people were able to work together much better than monsters and, even though they were often outnumbered several to one, the expedition proceeded forward without difficulty. Since it was still rather early, and the monsters were quite weak, the rear guard was still clearing the way and Vahn got to experience the waves created by the members of his own Familia as they passed through the expeditionary party.

Though Lili’s raw power was a popular topic of discussion, especially considering that she was a Pallum, it was Naaza’s archery and Haruhime’s ‘dance’ that were most prominent. With the bow she had received from Vahn, Naaza’s capabilities had increased immensely and each of her arrows would create small voids in the monsters she targetted. Even if she missed her mark a bit, the miniature black hole that would be generated was enough to lock down the movements of monsters and tear them apart if they were close enough. As for Haruhime, her dance had mesmerized quite a number of people and each of her movements were illusory and highly effective against the hordes of monsters. With her [Sakura Blossom], she was like an elegant tempest that passed through the enemies and left nothing but devastation in her wake, even though her movements seemed almost ‘gentle’ in their execution.

The only person that didn’t stand out much, though she had a few fans in the crowd, was Mikoto. Though her swordsmanship was polished much more than Haruhime’s, it was somewhat rigid and didn’t look very showy compared tot he dance of the beautiful Renard girl. There were a few instances where she managed to lock down a large number of enemies with her gravity magic, which was exploited primarily by Naaza, but she couldn’t cast it often and it was quickly overshadowed by the performance of others. Seeing this, Vahn decided that he needed to upgrade Mikoto’s equipment in the future so she wouldn’t feel as though she were falling behind the others. Even giving her a [Sakura Blossom] of her own would drastically increase her fighting capabilities and allow her to refine her style further, though Vahn assumed she would want something more ‘unique’.

As for the final member of his Familia, Fenrir, she spent the majority of the expedition at Vahn’s side and only joined the fights when there were ‘big’ enemies in the mix. When she did fight, however, she became the center of attention for most people because of how ‘fierce’ she was during combat. There were more than a few ‘rumors’ spreading in the expedition that she was a monster, something which wasn’t refuted, and it was a little difficult for some of the girls to tolerate the sight of Fenrir covered in blood after a short massacre. She was the type that fought with her body, without the use of weapons, so it was easy for her to get messy. As a result of this, however, Vahn was able to continually practice his ‘cleaning’ magic, something which was noted by several people as a highly convenient skill.

By the time seven hours had passed, the expedition had progressed to the entrance of the 25th floor and Vahn got an answer to one of the questions that had been plaguing his mind on the descent. He had been curious about how the expedition was going to transport the heavy carts through the watery floors since many of the paths were thin and some of the footholds were actually monsters. Their solution was to inflate large air bladders that would be affixed to the carts so they would be able to float while people pulled them through the water. When this proved too difficult to manage, they would simply freeze the entire surface of the various small ponds and lakes before maneuvering across, all while slaying the numerous monsters that assaulted them. Vahn had been preparing to offer his assistance in transporting each cart, but it turned out the experienced Loki Familia was quite accustomed to the task and, by the time they reached the 27th floor, they hadn’t lost a single cart.

In the upper floors, since he didn’t have anything to do, Vahn had been growing rather bored as his only duty was to inform Finn if there were any abnormalities in the Dungeon. He spent the rest of his time conversing with Tiona, Ais, Fenrir, Lefiya, and Tione and only periodically shot out with his bow or transferred the wounds of one of his allies when things got a little messy. Fortunately, by the time they reached the 25th floor, the vanguard unit took to the front and Vahn had been able to proactively clear the way for the expeditionary party behind.

His detection ability was a great boon that the expedition had never experienced before so Vahn’s reputation in the group had leaped forward a great deal. The fact that he could give them an early warning before Monster Parties attacked was, on its own, enough to make some people jokingly refer to him as a Prophet. It was also quite common to see Vahn shoot his arrows in a direction he hadn’t even been looking only for a monster, which had previously been beneath the water, to jump up and ‘receive’ his arrow to their heads. Though his arrows weren’t as ‘showy’ as the pseudo-Yi arrows fired by Naaza, there was a clear difference in their skill that elevated Vahn to a higher position in the minds of many.

By the end of the second day, the expedition had made its way down to the 30th floor before setting up camp in the relative safety of the ‘dead zones’. Since it was a good opportunity, Vahn had taken the Hestia Familia members to hunt for Bloodsaurus while the expedition also split up to do the same. As for why Vahn made the decision to split from the rest of the group, it was so that they could make use of their relatively ‘effective’ system to loot the materials of the monsters without drawing too much attention to themselves. Vahn also harbored a small hope that they would be able to ‘bait’ out their enemies, which hadn’t revealed themselves thus far, but they didn’t seem willing to fall into his entrapment. It was likely a result of the fact that Finn had made Riveria follow them which led Vahn to believe that Enyo might not have any ‘pawns’ that exceeded Level 6.

After killing seven Bloodsaurus, and harvesting the majority of their materials, Vahn’s small party returned to the larger encampment and took the opportunity to relax for the rest of the evening. Fenrir had been complaining a bit about the ‘smell’ of everyone at the campsite so Vahn discussed the matter with Finn before they erected two larger tents which were fitted with several wooden wash basins that could be freely used. To prevent any ‘mishaps’, they tents had been set up on opposites sides of the encampment and there was a massive banner in front of the girls’ that said ‘no men allowed’. As for Vahn, and his smaller party, they used their relatively spacious tent and bathed in private.

Knowing that Vahn had been the one to provide such amenities, his reputation within the expedition had increased greatly, especially amongst the females. He had also provided dessert items during the meals they had been having so Vahn’s popularity had peaked after just two days of travel. Though they weren’t ‘reliant’ on such things, as many of them were highly capable Adventurers, it wasn’t an exaggeration to say that small comforts boosted the morale of the entire party. Finn had taken special note of this since, as the Commander of the expedition, maintaining morale was very important.

Because he had been on such trips more than twenty times, Finn had grown accustomed to the relatively ‘boredom’ that they would face whenever they weren’t proactively engaged in combat. This was the case for many of the veteran Adventurers as well since it was somewhat restrictive when you fought in a group as compared to when you ventured into the Dungeon as a smaller party. They also had to protect the cargo and the weaker Supporters along the way so it was very stressful compared to the norm and, if not for the fact that expeditions paid incredibly well while also providing opportunities to become stronger, many would avoid them entirely. The addition of the Hestia Familia had added a liveliness to the entire trip that hadn’t exist before since all of the girls were cute while Vahn himself was very ‘convenient’ to have around.

During the evening watch, which was taken by groups of twenty at a time, Vahn had been sitting atop a large rock with Fenrir curled up in his lap taking a nap. Even though Vahn’s detection ability outstripped the entire expedition’s, it was still ‘necessary’ for people to stay on high alert as there was no way of knowing when an enemy might actually attack. Since Vahn had experienced three instances where he couldn’t detect something, even when they were within his domain, he didn’t argue the point at all and had even been trying to improve his detection ability further.

As he sat atop the rock, Vahn was sending out pulses of energy that almost took on a physical component as they passed around the various tents that had been set up. It was a concept similar to sonar and allowed Vahn to detect any physical objects that were touched by the pulse. He was hoping that, even if the enemy had a way to hide their presence, the pulse would still break against them and inform Vahn of their existence. His other method was simply to maintain his Báihǔ form and concentrate on his sense of smell and the enhanced instincts that the form provided. He already had the intrinsic ability to detect ‘danger’ in most circumstances, so enhancing his senses further could only benefit him.

During his watch, Vahn had been keeping track of every presence within the entire encampment and had even taken note of when people exited and re-entered the camp to go take care of business. There was a chance that their enemies would be able to disguise themselves as a member of the expedition so Vahn had been observing the indicators on his minimap to ensure nothing was out of the norm. By the time his own watch had come to an end, the only thing ‘abnormal’ Vahn had detected was when a couple snuck off to have ‘fun’ behind a rocky outcrop at the periphery of the encampment. Vahn hadn’t spied on them directly, but he let his own perception linger in the area since it was a ‘gap’ that the enemy could have exploited…

The third day of the expedition began long before the sun was actually slated to rise in the sky on the surface. Using the system clock, Vahn could tell that it was around 2:40 AM when the call was made for everyone to wake and prepare. Their goal for the day was to reach the 39th floor, which was relatively safe as it was considered a ‘dead zone’, before making their final preparations to breach to the 50th floor. From the 40th floor to the 50th floor, things would be a bit difficult since the expedition wouldn’t be able to take a break at all until they cleared all ten floors. On average, it would take nearly forty hours to ‘rush’ through, so it was better to reach the 39th floor as soon as possible so they could rest properly before the final push.

Vahn noticed that everyone was in a relatively relaxed mood compared to his expectations and, when he asked Tiona about it she explained that the next six floors would be somewhat ‘boring’ compared to the previous floors. Until they reached the 37th floor, which was known as the White Palance since the floors, walls, and ceiling were all colored white, there wouldn’t be any real ‘action’ to be had. Other than small groups of Lizardmen, a few Bloodsaurus, and some natural hazards like pitfalls and sharp rocks, there wouldn’t be much going on for the next 10-12 hours.

Tiona’s feelings regarding the matter seemed to be shared by the entire group of elites from the Loki Familia and even Finn had been complacently carrying his spear on his shoulder while looking around for any abnormalities in the structure of the Dungeon. With Vahn present in the group, their detection ability and the efficacy in which they progressed through the Dungeon had increased greatly compared to the past.

Even when they came across monsters, regardless of their strength, they would be ‘mobbed’ down by the more than three-hundred members of the expedition without any difficulty whatsoever. There was even a case where a variant Blue Bloodsaurus had shown up and, from what Vahn could tell, it seemed to be around Level 4 in strength. However, before it could even cause any major disturbances and damage the supplies, it was assaulted with a wave of crossbow bolts before one of the backline mages caused it’s head to explode with a giant fireball.

Unlike the previous floors, where the monsters greatly outnumbered the party, the tables had suddenly turned and, because people could work together easily, the expedition had been progressing smoothly. Most of the people didn’t even bother to pay attention to what was happening at the front of the convoy and simply continued chatting with each other unless Finn had given an order for specific action to be taken. Even Bete, who was typically high-strung, was taking a nap on a cart that was being pulled by two Supporters as another two pushed it from behind. Vahn found his behavior to be a little annoying but decided to let the matter lay since it wasn’t really his business to interfere with such things.

After around nine hours, the group found it’s way to the entrance of the 37th floor so Finn turned to Vahn and, with a smile on his face, said, “Your navigational guidance has been a true blessing for the expedition this time around, Vahn. Compared to the past, we’ve been progressing at an exceptional pace and we haven’t even lost a single cart of supplies to an ambush along the way.” Gareth, who had been standing next to Finn, nodded his head and said, “Finn’s right, kiddo, you’ve been a great help. In all my years going on expeditions, this is the first time I’ve seen a group pass through the Great Fall area without losing some supplies.” Though he didn’t care too much when Finn had been speaking, Vahn showed a polite smile when he was addressed by Gareth.

Though Finn hadn’t been ‘bothering’ Lili since the previous incident, it didn’t stop him from watching her like a predatory falcon which had been bothering Vahn a fair amount. Vahn was positive that he was looking for an opportunity to step in and ‘save’ Lili from danger because, every time it looked like she was in a sticky situation, Finn would tense up slightly like he was about to rush forward. Unfortunately for him, Vahn and Naaza were constantly watching over Lili as well and their arrows usually broke the momentum of the monsters and created a gap that typically resulted in their deaths at the blade of Lili’s naginata. When she thanked Vahn for his assistance later, Finn had a somewhat dejected look on his face and had even strapped a crossbow to his thigh, though he had yet to make use of it.

Noticing that Vahn was still ‘upset’ with him, Finn showed a somewhat wry smile before standing atop a cart and addressing the entire expedition. Though the majority of the members present had been to this floor, and beyond, it was still necessary to inform everyone of the impending dangers so they could prepare themselves physically and mentally. Through his explanation, Vahn learned that the reason the 37th floor was called the White Palace was that the entire floor was comprised of circular walls that were treated as ‘districts’.

Starting from the outside, each district was known as the ‘Beast’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Warrior’, ‘Knight’, and ‘Throne’ rooms. Unlike the previous floors, which were closer to a labyrinth in structure, the 37th floor was full of wide open spaces and was even populated with ‘Coliseums’ that could only be cleared once a certain number of monsters was killed. Though there weren’t many monsters outside of the Coliseums, they were almost all ‘elite’ versions of monsters in the upper floors and the vast majority of them were Level 3 and higher. In the throne room, the expedition would face the monster rex known as Udaeus, which spawned every three months and was also the reason why the Loki Familia timed their expeditions three months apart.

When he learned that there would be a monster rex waiting for them at the center of the floor, Vahn began to get excited and his desire to fight against the monster rose exponentially. From his right, Ais also seemed to get excited and Vahn could feel her aura flickering about like a flame. Riveria, who had been standing near the center of the group, saw their reactions and commented, “Udaeus is a major threat for entire expeditions so don’t get too riled up and try to fight it on your own.” However, rather than be deterred by her words, Vahn got even more pumped up because he knew things were never so ‘clear’ when it came to actual combat. With his [Shundo] and the existence of [Enkidu], Vahn was confident he would be able to topple the boss without any major hiccups…

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Once Finn had finished his explanation, he jumped down from the cart and Vahn immediately asked, “When we reach the Throne Room, I want to be part of the group that fights the Udaeus. If possible, I’d actually like to try and fight it solo…” Finn arched his brows before a complex expression appeared on his face and he said, “Though the Udaeus is only Level 5, it has caused several expeditions to come to an early end with its massive area of effect attacks. I know you are very fast and have powerful abilities at your disposal, but it is too dangerous to allow you to fight such a creature on your own.” Ais didn’t seem to agree with Finn’s words, however, as she shook her head and pointed to Haruhime in the distance and said, “Haruhime’s magic…” without extrapolating at all.

Finn’s eyes widened once again as he looked toward the rather frail looking Renard girl that possessed a great deal of potential and an incredibly rare magic. If she used her [Uchide no Kozuchi] to increase the parameters of Vahn, and some of the other girls, they would probably be able to best the Udaeus without any major difficulty. Realizing that it wasn’t actually that far-fetched of an idea, Finn turned back and saw the confidence radiating from Vahn and Ais before smiling as he said, “Very well, but Riveria, Gareth, Bete, and I will be observing the fight to make sure nothing unexpected happens to anyone during the fight…”

After a bit of discussion, it was decided that Vahn, Ais, Tiona, and Tione would all fight the Udaeus together with the senior members of the Loki Familia watching over them. It was already planned that the expedition would remain outside of the Throne Room before the fight began, so there wasn’t any chance of collateral damage reaching them. Knowing that he was going to have a chance to fight against a powerful monster rex in a few hours, Vahn’s excitement began to increase and he began looking through his inventory and organizing items in preparation for the coming fight.

Of course, in order to get to the fight, Vahn had to accompany the expedition in clearing the outer four walls as they slowly made their way towards the center. As Finn had explained, there weren’t too many monsters in the corridors themselves but, the moment they arrived at a gigantic circular structure, there was a massive influx of enemies. Because the coliseums closed themselves up when people entered, the main group of the Loki Familia would go in and clear the path while the rest of the expedition stayed outside and guarded the supplies. As a member of the main group himself, Vahn was allowed to venture through the thick walls of the Coliseum before they came into a large circular clearing in the center.

After a few seconds passed where nobody new entered the room, the Coliseum walls slammed down as crystalline lights began shining all around the vicinity. Vahn activated his [Eyes of Truth] and could see a large amount of manage converging into the walls as monsters began to appear by the hundreds. Because they were currently in the ‘Beast’ district of the White Palace, the enemies were predominately Loup Garou, Barbarian, and Lizardman Elites. The Loup Garou were a species of monster that only stood around 120-130cm tall but had very muscular bodies and agile frames that were covered in dark blue fur with wolf heads filled to the brim with sharp teeth. As for the Barbarians, they looked like variants of the typical Minotaurs that could be found in the upper floors except that they were far more fierce. The final monsters, the Lizardman Elites, were the fewest in numbers but also some of the more difficult enemies to encounter as they were capable of coordinating their attacks and also used weapons and armor to great effect. They stood between 170cm-200cm in height and predominately used spears to try and attack from a distance while maintaining a low posture that was difficult to deal with by the inexperienced.

As they were vastly outnumbered, around 150:1, Vahn became a little nervous for a brief moment until he saw Ais launch herself into the crowd of monsters without hesitation and create a huge clearing with her [Ariel] dancing around her. In her single lunge, she had killed nearly a dozen monsters and had turned their bodies into a paste, almost as if they had gone through a powerful grinder before they dissolved into purple dust. She brandished her sword with a beautiful smile on her face before looking back at Vahn with a genuinely happy look as she said, “I love this sword…” before dashing off and continuing her onslaught. Vahn couldn’t help but laugh a little as he looked around and saw that everyone else had already started their battles as well. Riveria and Lefiya had begun chants, while Gareth protected them, as Finn, Bete, Tiona, and Tione all dealt with numerous enemies without any difficulty.

Though monsters were constantly spawning, they weren’t worried about being overwhelmed since the waves would end the moment the kill count reached a certain threshold. Vahn could see that there was a formation that had been expanding under their feet as it absorbed the dust coming from the monsters’ bodies and it would likely take around 1500 total monsters before it was finished. It actually wasn’t that many, taking into consideration his past experiences, so Vahn began fighting uninhibitedly while keeping close to Riveria and Lefiya. He had noticed that everyone stayed nearby, likely so they could retreat to the safety of the magic circle, so Vahn had done the same.

The first Loup Garou Vahn encountered was a little intimidating because their bodies rippled with powerful muscles and they looked a lot like evolved Kobolds. For a brief moment, Vahn imagined the Loup Garou biting away at his lower abdomen like the first Kobold he had encountered before striking the wolf-like monster in the head and created a void between its shoulders before the entire thing burst into purple dust. Then, as he was lamenting how weak the monster had been, a massive Barbarian with reddish-fur that was covered in scars tried to attack with a gigantic axe from Vahn’s flank.

Since he had been making major improvements in his magic after awakening his [Mage] Development Ability, Vahn pointed his finger toward the Barbarian and sent a small icicle toward its head that traveled several times faster than the speed of sound. Vahn had emulated Haruhime’s [Icicle Edge] magic but had compressed the energy to an extent that the Renard girl probably wouldn’t be able to emulate for years to come. As a result, the Barbarian came to a complete stop as it held the axe above its head which had slowly started to frost over.

Though the magic was designed to ‘penetrate’ the target, Vahn allowed the compression to break down on contact with the monster so it had exploded inside the thick skull of the Barbarian which inevitably resulted in its death before it even knew what happened. The only thing that kept it from turning into dust immediately was that Vahn hadn’t destroyed the magic core, which was still trying to recover the wound of the Barbarian without any success. Vahn had realized this a while back but his own Source Energy prevented many other effects from taking place, especially things like regeneration. Since the mana couldn’t force the Source Energy out of the Barbarian’s head, it had been ‘frozen’ while still holding the same position.

Satisfied with the result of his little experiment, Vahn turned his attention to a large clump of monsters before blue magic circles began to bloom like flowers around his body. Since he already knew the structure of the magic circle, the chant necessary for its construction, and how to manipulate the spell further, Vahn could cast several [Icicle Edges] at once simply by forming the magic circles within his mind and then using his domain as the medium to form them in the real world. This allowed him to create a total of twenty small magic circles before firing them like a volley toward the group of monsters and retreating back to the safety of Lefiya’s magic circle with [Shundo]. His temples had started to throb as a result of his exertions, but Vahn was happy that he had been able to use his magic in actual combat.

As he had been the last to arrive in the magic circle, Vahn didn’t have to wait long before Lefiya loosed her powerful [Fusillade Fallarica] on the entire room. Since her magic caused several smaller magic circles to appear during the activation of the spell, Vahn had gotten the idea for his own modified magic from her. Lefiya used her primary magic circle to create the smaller magic circles while Vahn used his domain as the medium but they were fundamentally similar concepts. Vahn was just able to ‘cut corners’ a little while Lefiya had to put all of her focus into her chant or there would be a potential backlash as a result of the spells complexity.

However, because of the massive difference in the amount of effort put into the magic, Lefiya’s was able to almost clear the entire Coliseum full of enemies while Vahn’s had only been enough to disable a small number while killing even fewer. He had tried to use her [Fusillade Fallarica] in the past but Vahn felt like his brain was going to burst long before he had been able to complete the magic circle in his mind. Even chanting it out loud had caused a similar effect so Vahn had scrapped the idea for the time being. Though his Source Energy was of a higher tier than mana, it also meant there were various incompatibilities between known magic and the magic Vahn had to ‘create’ on his own…

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