Chapter 461: Light Within the Darkness

During the stay on the 39th floor, Vahn spent several hours looking around the area in an attempt to find any passageways that could have been used by Enyo’s cronies to launch an ambush against them. However, other than some natural pathways, Vahn couldn’t find anything remotely resembling a connecting passage to the artificial Dungeon. He wasn’t sure how deep the structure went, but Vahn hadn’t been able to find any signs of its existence beyond the 27th floor. This was a little strange to Vahn because he knew Enyo was supposed to be beyond the 60th floor and it didn’t make sense how they were able to navigate to such a depth unless they had a way to bypass the dangers of the floors…

After mapping the area of the 39th floor, Vahn returned to the encampment and began drawing out a detailed layout of the land before preparing for bed. Even if the Dungeon layout changed over time, Vahn didn’t think it would be such a drastic change for wide open floors such as this one. Some of the ‘secret’ passageways were rather thin and Vahn couldn’t see how they would be able to maintain their structure if the Dungeon was constantly reshaping itself. Even though the walls, floor, and ceiling, were made out of a very durable bedrock, it was still possible for cave-ins and such to occur during large battles. As the ground was littered with massive stones, Vahn postulated they had fallen from the roof at some point since it didn’t make sense why the Dungeon would grow the outcrops on its own. He could see with his [Eyes of Truth] that, other than some ambient mana that could be found it all things, the rocks were relatively normal, at least for the time being.

Compared to the previous rest periods, that could last around 10 hours, the expedition had taken a total of 14 hours to prepare for the final push to the 50th floor. Vahn could tell everyone was far more tense than normal and it made it feel like the festive atmosphere from the previous night had been an illusion. As she had often done during the trip, Tione began explaining to appease Vahn’s curiosity, “Beyond the 39th floor, it is almost impossible to know what the Dungeon will be throwing at us anymore. Once we reach the 44th floor, we’ll even lose most of our visibility and only the fire coming from the walls will be able to guide us forward. In the darkness between those floors, that is when we typically lose the most people…”

Hearing Tione’s explanation, Vahn furrowed his brows slightly because he expected such moments were ideal if their enemies planned to attack them. The fact more than three days had passed without a single appearance from them had been worrying Vahn a bit, as it was better to know the location of the enemy than have no idea what they were up to. Other than Enyo, the red-haired girl, and the strange earth mage, Vahn didn’t even know what other forces they had at their disposal yet. Just the earth mage alone would be a major threat if they caught the expedition in an enclosed corridor…

After preparations were finished, Finn gave the order and the expedition continued into the 40th floor, which still had the same white walls, floor, and ceiling as above. Though he wasn’t at the furthest point in front, where Ais was commonly found, Vahn stayed relatively close to the main party and maintained his own position in the formation as he scouted for any dangers. With the words of caution from Tione, Vahn had grown somewhat concerned about the members of his own Familia but they had been moved into the interior convoy at this point as it was too dangerous for Level 2’s to fight monsters directly at these levels.

As a result, Naaza had begun using her bow to fire at any enemy within her range while Lili had been using a crossbow. Mikoto, as part of her training with Take’ in the past, was also rather skilled with a bow so the three had made a small formation while Haruhime had been moved closer to the front. Her level-up magic would be a great boon during an emergency so she had been placed near Fenrir and they were surrounded by Riveria, Gareth, and Lefiya. Finn knew the ‘importance’ of every member of the Hestia Familia, as it had been stressed several times by Loki, so he had arranged for them to have ‘relatively’ safe positions before the expedition continued forward. Though he knew better than to mention it now, Finn was also concerned that Lili would be killed by a stray monster and this was an outcome he found unacceptable.

After nearly seven hours of travel, the expedition arrived at the entrance to the 44th floor and Vahn could feel the tensions of everyone in the convoy increase greatly. Even the stairs led down were much darker than the previous stairwells and Vahn could smell a pungent sulfuric smell rising up from the below. Not only would general visibility be low, but many of the monsters in the new few floors were of the golem class and wouldn’t have any discernible scent. Since they often disguised themselves among other rocks, it was difficult to tell them apart from the common backdrop of the Dungeon. It was common, such as it had been on the 25th floor, for parties to simply fire an arrow at any large rocky outcrop in an effort to flush out anything hiding amongst the rubble.

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However, with Vahn’s inclusion in the party such things were unnecessary and, now that he had seen how the expedition was reacting, Vahn had decided to make a spectacle out of the next few floors. Once they descended the stairs, Vahn felt the temperature had increased by several degrees and there was now a foul smell all throughout the air. The floor, walls, and ceiling, were now constructed of a hazy red bedrock that made people feel hotter just looking at them. Interspaced through the red rocks, there were carbonized black lines, almost as if magma had run through the cracks at some point, and Vahn could see a ‘dangerous’ light glowing from within them.

As Tione had mentioned, the only thing lighting the way forward was the ‘fire’ contained within the cracks. With his [Eyes of Truth], Vahn could see veins of fire energy that flowed through the wall like an actual volcano so he began to exercise even more caution than previously. There was far too much to take under his personal control since the source was the Dungeon itself and not a monster, but Vahn wanted to avoid areas where the fire veins were closer to walls. Just imagining a geyser of flames erupting and encompassing the convoy made Vahn feel a bit of a chill pass through his body. Unlike the majority of people present, Vahn was ‘immune’ to fire but that didn’t bring him much comfort since he was more concerned about the others.

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Once the entire convoy had entered the floor, Vahn nodded his head slightly before infusing [Enkidu] into his own domain, without actually summoning the chain itself or locking down the surrounding space. The space around Vahn, reaching outward for more than 487m, became infused with an awe-inspiring golden glow that pierced through the darkness and allowed everyone in the expedition to see. Though only slightly, Vahn also infused a mild stimulating energy through his [Hands of Nirvana] to help everyone overcome any nerves they might have been feeling.

Though they were confused at first, some of the people had experienced Vahn’s ‘aura’ before and a small stir quickly passed through the convoy as word spread. Unlike the previous times they had passed through the somewhat nightmarish floors, the expedition now had Vahn in their midst and, just as he had done on the previous floors, he was certain to scout ahead for the safest path for them. Now that he had also started lighting the way, everyone began to feel a bit of excitement welling up inside of them, blissfully unaware that it was provoked by Vahn himself. Seeing the morale of the convoy bolstered, Finn smiled and thanked Vahn for his help before giving the order to move forward.

True to expectation, Vahn marked every disguised Flame Rock along the way before they were quickly dealt with by Ais, Tiona, and Tione. Flame Rocks could be anywhere between 200cm tall to 400cm tall and they took on the appearance of red rocks, very similar to the floor itself, there had the same fiery lines drawn across them. When people approached, they would attempt to launch surprise attacks and reveal the fiery core at their head. Since Vahn could easily differentiate them from the normal rocky outcrops, the pace of the expedition had increased by a fair amount. He had originally tried to kill each Flame Rock on his own but, once their numbers began to increase, Vahn simply marked them for the girls to deal with. Naaza had even offered to let him use her [Yi’s Bow] but Vahn was actually trying to conserve as much of his source energy as possible since the drain of using [Hands of Nirvana] across the convoy was a little intense.

As they passed through the 44th floor, there were more threats than just the Flame Rocks that the expedition had to be aware of. There an ‘elite’ species of Hellhounds that called the floor home, known as Greater Hellhounds, that would roam in large packs that had speed comparable to a Level 3 Adventurer. Because of their numbers, it was impossible to prevent them from breaking through the vanguard but, since they had seen the group approaching from afar, there was adequate time for Finn to issue orders and, in less than a minute, those at the front of the convoy had made a shield line that spanned the entire corridor as those behind took up spears and bows. Even when the Greater Hellhounds used their flame breath against the defensive line, the Adventurers held their ground without flinching as those with spears deal with anything that got close and crashed against the immovable line. Behind them, those skilled in ranged combat would support and, when the enemies numbers were too great, the mages would step forward and begin their chants.

Seeing how well everyone worked together, Vahn could understand why the Loki Familia was considered the current Rank 1. Though they didn’t have as many elite forces as the Freya Familia, their cooperation was impeccable and they were, from Vahn’s perspective, fearless against the veritable tide of monsters. Even when someone grew tired, there would always be someone else to take up the burden as they retreated to safety and healed up with consumables. Thus, with Vahn’s assistance, the expedition had been able to clear through the 44th floor in a record time of 53 minutes without suffering a single casualty. Vahn had been in his Xuánwǔ form the entire time and had been transferring wounds to his own body whenever someone took a bad hit. His own durability was much higher than most people and his regeneration, especially with the use of [Senzu Beans], would shock anyone that didn’t commonly associate with Vahn.

Those that had actually suffered the wounds were very confused and word began to spread through the crowd about the ‘miracles’ they had been experiencing. There had even been a man that took the projectile of a Flame Rock to their chest, which broke several of their ribs and burned their chest, yet, when he rose to his feet and tried to treat his wound with an Elixir, the man found his wound had vanished in its entirety. His companions had quickly arrived at his side to assist him and were confused by his miraculous recovery which quickly disseminated to the rest of the expedition. The more astute Adventurers had seen a similar occurrence when the members of the Hestia Familia were fighting previously so it didn’t take long for people to deduce it was another miracle created by Vahn.

Finn was constantly paying attention to the state of the expedition and he could see the somewhat fervent gazes many in the convoy were giving Vahn. As for the boy himself, Vahn stood tall at the front of the convoy with a calm look on his face as his glowing blue eyes constantly scanned the surrounding for more danger. He would periodically draw back his bow before loosing an arrow at another hidden enemy before trusting others to deal with it as he maintained his vigilance and looked for even more enemies.

Finn had known Vahn would be a great boon to the convoy, even without knowing about the size of his ‘storage magic’, but he hadn’t expected Vahn’s impact to be quite so ‘drastic’. It was easy to see that Vahn’s reputation within the Loki Familia had increased greatly in the short four days they had traveled together and Finn began to suspect that, by the time they returned to the surface, they might even begin to idolize the boy. Though it was a little worrisome, Finn knew it was a good thing since it would increase Vahn’s reputation in the City and would likely please Loki…

Other than a single instance where one of the walls collapsed and spewed forth lava, the trip between the 44th-48th floors had been relatively uneventful. Even when the wall had collapsed, Vahn had cautioned about its existence so Riveria was able to freeze over the entire thing with her [Vas Windheim]. Avoiding a potential tragedy, the mood in the expedition had improved greatly and, instead of the solemn expressions everyone had previously, most people had smiles and were chatting amiably with each other. This didn’t mean they were being complacent, however, as the vast majority of the expedition was populated by veteran Adventurers that took their duties very seriously.

At the entrance to the 49th floor, Finn had stopped the convoy before climbing to the top of a cart and addressing everyone. The 49th floor was home to a group of monsters referred to by some as the ‘wave’ since they would often charge forward like a veritable tide. The monsters themselves were known as Fomoire and they were humanoid goat monsters that formed massive groups similar to actual armies. It wasn’t uncommon to encounter an entire battalion of the creatures at a time with several variants among their ranks. They weren’t particularly strong, nor did they have any powerful skills, but their numbers and ‘suicide’ tactics were difficult to deal with.

Other than the wave, the biggest threat they needed to be cautious of was the Monster Rex of the 49th floor, which was known as the Balor. It was a giant golem-type creature with a massive glowing eye that was capable of using powerful area magic. Unlike other Monster Rexes, it didn’t have a designated spawn area other than the fact that it was always near the entrance to the 50th floor. This meant it was somewhat difficult to deal with since the expedition would have to react to its presence the moment it appeared. With Vahn in the expedition, they shouldn’t be caught off guard by its ambush, but they still needed to be careful. There were only three mages capable of casting barrier magic, excluding Vahn, and their coverage was only a 50m area at most. Failure to react to the Balor’s attacks in time could quickly shift the momentum of the expedition and it was encounters with the beast that brought many of their expeditions to an early end since their supplies would generally sustain a great amount of damage during the battle…

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