After an uneventful rest, Vahn awoke early in the morning, around 3 AM, so that he could ensure everything was ready by the time they left at 5 AM. Since they were going to be apart for several days, everyone woke up along with Vahn and they all enjoyed a lively breakfast with each other as they talked about what they wanted to do when they returned to the surface. Vahn wanted to focus on forging for a while, make some headway on his research, and eventually start using the orb again once it reactivated. He accepted that Naaza and Lefiya wanted to help in his research, and Vahn expected Riveria would probably join them, or at the very least compare notes.
As for the girls, many of them just wanted to find more ways to spend time with him in the future so Vahn promised that they would do ‘family’ excursions on the weekends and go do some thrill-seeking in the countryside. He also wanted to map out the area around Orario more comprehensively in preparation for when enemies begin to appear. He also had the idea to start making secret bases all around the City so they would always have a safe haven if the Hearth Manor came under attack. Though he didn’t expect many people would have the power to break through to the heart of the City, especially when they were surrounded by the Alliance, it was better safe than sorry.
The last part of his ‘departing ceremony’ with the girls was to pamper them a bit before sharing short exchanges, which typically involved him having to embrace and kiss them. It was a little awkward, as he hadn’t actually kissed them too often, but Vahn also gave Haruhime and Lili a kiss when they had asked. Having to kneel down for Lili made Vahn feel a little dull in the head, while Haruhime was far more skilled than he expected her to be. She actually had a strange honey-like taste to her saliva that was a little peculiar. His most surprising parting, however, had been when Naaza also asked for a kiss, though it was significantly tamer than the ‘efforts’ of Lili and the ‘assault’ of Haruhime. As for Mikoto, she wasn’t quite at that stage yet though Vahn expected she would agree if he asked her to…
Shortly after sharing his final exchange, something slightly troublesome happened that made Vahn feel a bit of panic stir inside of him. Fenrir had been watching the proceedings with her scarlet eyes and, once everyone had a turn, she asked, “Can Vahn kiss Fenrir~?” Though she knew about ‘waiting’ until she was older, that had been before she became more aware of the important differences between the opposite sex. Since Vahn ‘even’ kissed Lili and Haruhime, Fenrir didn’t want to be the only person left out so she stared at him with ‘pleading’ eyes that actually made her look somewhat miffed.
Vahn thought about it for a short moment before asking, “Fenrir, can you keep things in your mouth without them dissolving?” Though he didn’t plan to give her a ‘deep’ kiss, Vahn was curious about it as it could be very important information for the future. Even the Fenrir in the Divination didn’t try to kiss him at all so Vahn suspected it was a ‘problem’. Hearing his words, Fenrir tilted her head to the side and allowed her ears to flop before taking out her ‘favorite’ magic core and placing it into her mouth. There was a small knotted cord attached to the zipper of her pouch that allowed her to open it by pulling it between the gaps of her paws.
As Vahn had expected, the moment the core went beyond her teeth it broke down into a liquid form and Fenrir swallowed it on instinct. She had an expression like she had swallowed a fly until Vahn said, “I’ll give you a small peck on the lips, but you can’t do anything further. I might get a phobia related to kissing if I ended up losing my tongue…” Fenrir perked up a bit and trotted over to Vahn as she said, “Fenrir won’t eat Vahn’s tongue~! Kiss, kiss, kiss~!” As ‘innocent’ as it sounded, Vahn couldn’t help but feel slightly worried as he bent down and kissed the excited wolf girl for a brief moment before parting. She placed both of her paws over her mouth and rocked her body from side to side in a happy manner like she was trying to stifle a laugh.
Once that small trouble was taken care of, though Vahn expected it might evolve into a bigger one later, he made his way to the rendezvous area with Ais, Tiona, Tione, Lefiya, and Fenrir in tow. Command of the encampment had already been turned over to Raul, though Vahn wasn’t exactly sure of the reasoning, so Finn, Riveria, Gareth, and Bete were already waiting for them near the camp’s entrance. Bete, always the abrasive egoist, saw them arriving and commented, “It’s about time you bastards showed up…” before sniffing the air and saying and scoffing. Fenrir seemed to be very annoyed by Bete’s well, everything, but Vahn had told her several times not to associate with him. To enforce it, Vahn had even ‘ordered’ her to do her best to ignore him unless he was trying to harm her or one of the members of the Hestia Familia.
Completely ignoring Bete, Vahn smiled to Riveria and Gareth before saying, “I double-checked all the supplies, so we’re good to go, Finn.” Nodding his head, Finn smiled at the group before looking around and saying, “Very well, it looks like everyone is ready to go. Our objective is to clear down the 54th floor and gather proof from the monsters located there. If possible, we’ll document any new species and collect as many items as we can before returning to the encampment. If our supplies hold out well over this short expedition, we may stay a while longer on the 50th floor, but we’ll evaluate that when the time comes.”
Vahn nodded his head in affirmation before adding, “Keep in mind that there are enemies lurking within the Dungeon, so if you see anything strange share it with the group. Don’t wander off on your own and keep your wits about you…” Hearing his words, Beta clicked his tongue before muttering, “This weakling is cautioning other people…” However, Vahn didn’t even have to consider rebutting him because Ais looked at Bete with her golden eyes and a slightly displeased expression as she said, “Vahn is already very strong…even stronger than you…probably.” Though she was confident in Vahn, Ais hadn’t actually seen his performance recently and she knew that Bete wasn’t exactly weak either.
Bete seemed to be very offended by Ais’s words and shouted, “Eeeeeiii!? What the f*** did you say!?” Just as he was about to take a step forward though, Gareth grabbed him by the arm and had a stern expression on his face as he said, “We have a mission to perform, now isn’t the time for things like this. If you want to butt heads, do it like men and make a wager of it up on the surface. No sense in insulting each other and starting fights in the heart of the Dungeon. Besides, Vahn is right to be cautious, as that is the type of mentality that saves lives. You should be well aware of that, Bete…” As Gareth had been something of a father-figure for Bete for many years, the aggressive Werewolf boy simply jerked his arm away from Gareth’s grasp and started walking toward their destination.
Finn turned to the rest of the group with a somewhat awkward smile before returning to normal as he said, “Everyone, stay on your toes and let’s do our best to set a new record for both of our Familia!” Following Finn’s words, everyone raised their respective weapons and gave a short hurrah before heading in the same direction as Bete. Their pace would be relatively slow, as they were trying to conserve as much energy as possible, so it was a good opportunity to just make idle conversation for a while. Vahn was in the back of the group, acting as a Supporter and ranged combatant, alongside Riveria, Lefiya, and Fenrir. Since they had yet to actually start fighting, Tiona was hanging around Vahn and they were having a fun conversation until reaching the entrance to the 51st Floor.
Though he normally would have explained things, Finn knew that Vahn’s group had enjoyed a great deal of success on the 51st floor and it was unnecessary to brief them on it. Thus, without any major flair or hesitation, the group continued along the path until the first batch of monsters spawned. It was still the same old Black Rhinos, something Vahn had seen more than ten-thousand times over the last two weeks, but the number that emerged from the corridor was much higher than what he had seen previously. As their party size was at ten, far more than the three Vahn had been traveling with, the standard spawn of monsters was between 60-200 on the low end, compared to the 9-15 Vahn usually dealt with. Though they weren’t a major threat, especially with Lefiya’s ‘Radiant Lancers’ now piercing through enemies and devastating them, Vahn could see why it was impossible to take an expedition through these floors.
Unlike the majority of the upper floors, the 51st and beyond had corridors that were only around 8m wide, 8m tall, and there were several twists and turns that appeared all around. It was truly the most labyrinthine structure Vahn had seen and it would be impossible for a large group to traverse through with how many monsters would spawn. Vahn couldn’t even imagine what it would look like with several thousand Black Rhinos clogging up the Dungeon floor, but it didn’t seem like it would be pleasant at all. Even now, with groups larger than one-hundred, they had to be dealt with quickly or there was a chance of them overwhelming the group with their tireless charging.
Seeing how ‘devastating’ Lefiya had become in such a short period of time, Finn looked back and commented, “It seems your training with Vahn has been going well, Lefiya. I’m truly amazed at how strong you’ve become in such a short period of time…” Though he truly meant the compliment, Finn’s expression became a little weird because he saw Vahn walking with his hand on Lefiya’s shoulder. It was a little out of place, as they were in the Dungeon, but it was especially strange that Lefiya was ‘okay’ with it. As it seemed like a strange thing to ask, the only thing Finn could do was shake his head and continue fighting while mentally commenting how ‘another’ girl had ‘fallen’ to Vahn.
Finn was beginning to think that Vahn’s idea about ‘saving’ people and helping them become stronger was the ‘correct’ path since Lefiya’s growth was simply ridiculous. Seeing as how she also seemed fond of Vahn, Finn wondered what it would be like if he raised a few capable Pallums up into warriors in the future. Even if he didn’t specifically raise a girl to become his wife in the future, there was still a chance something might happen. Though he wasn’t the type to brag about it, there had been more than four-hundred women that had sought him out in the past so Finn believed the odds were favorable…
As for why Vahn was walking through the Dungeon with his hand on Lefiya’s shoulder, it was to obviously let the girl continually cast her magic without having to worry too much about her mana consumption. Vahn had already confirmed that he could help promote Lefiya’s Endurance by the constant baptism of source energy, so there was really no reason not to do it. He had even shared this with Riveria, though he didn’t mention anything about source energy, and she had even been tempted to ‘test’ it herself. However, Riveria wasn’t really casting magic simultaneously like Lefiya so there was no need for Vahn to ‘feed’ her a constant supply. She was conserving her mana for things like Monster Parties and other dangerous situations, so it simply wasn’t the proper time to test Vahn’s theory. Besides, Riveria wasn’t like Lefiya and she couldn’t imagine showing any form of affection in public, even if it wasn’t actually intended to be one.
Since he wasn’t supposed to be fighting, unless it was an emergency, Vahn continued to scan around the Dungeon and picking up any of the loose materials that would sometimes be hidden in the grass. Some of them were important ingredients in creating potions and Vahn knew that Naaza would be grateful for the extra resources for her research. He was also looking for any signs of ‘tampering’ to the Dungeon itself while keeping his eyes peeled for enemy movements.
It had been a total of sixteen days since the expedition entered the Dungeon and there had yet to be any signs of them at all. However, since the red-haired woman was able to track him down twice in a short period of time, Vahn knew they had some way to track them. They had probably set up some kind of trap, perhaps during their return trip, so Vahn hadn’t dropped his guard.
Because of the complexity of the floor, it took the group nearly seven hours before they reached the stairs leading to the 52nd Floor. Along the way, they had killed more than nine-thousand Black Rhinos and a total of 108 Formis Spiders, which had almost all been killed by Lefiya. Though she was already near the peak of Level 3, Lefiya still had a bit of room for further development and she would potentially even be able to reach as high as 5,000 parameters if she were lucky. Vahn had noticed a subtle change in her ‘spiritual body’ after she awakened her Innate and it seemed to have increased her ‘potential’ a fair amount.
Vahn had previously discussed this with Lefiya and also mentioned the existence of the two items he had received from her, which he explained were the ‘proof’ of their bond with each other. Knowing that Vahn had been able to create an item that was actually capable of reviving the dead had been a shocker to Lefiya, but hearing about the [Wishe’s Blessing] had left her in complete disbelief. An item that could purify the bloodline of Elves and High Elves was something that would, without embellishment, cause the High Elves to go to war in an effort to obtain. There would be no end to the killing that would be brought about as the result of such discovery because the ‘purity’ of their blood was the most important thing.
Though he had offered to use it on her, after returning to the surface, Lefiya adamantly refused to accept it because it was far too dangerous. She was well-known amongst the other Elves and High Elves so there was no way she would be able to keep it a secret if it somehow made her into something like a High Elf, or even a Spirit. Just knowing she was a direct descendant of Wishe was enough for her right now, though Vahn didn’t plan to let the matter lay in the future. He would undoubtedly have a conflict with the High Elves anyways, so he didn’t see the need to be so round-about regarding the situation. Lefiya would only benefit from receiving [Wishe’s Blessing] in the future, and Vahn was certain he could convince her to take it when they return.
To guarantee things would go well, Vahn also discussed the matter with Riveria, who had an equally ‘mortified’ response. Riveria didn’t know that Lefiya was a direct descendant of Wishe, as most of her descendants were High Elves, but knowing that he had an item that purifies blood was a big ‘problem’. Lefiya wasn’t a High Elf, so she would probably be killed if she tried to return to the Elven Kingdom after it became known. There was no possibility that the noble families would allow someone that wasn’t a member to run around with ‘their’ bloodline contained within her. They would treat her as the daughter of a traitor and potentially even kill her entire family just to ensure that there were no others born of the same heritage.
Vahn hadn’t taken into consideration Lefiya’s family as she had never really talked about them in the past. Though he had her [Hearts Desire], Vahn talked to her about it and she asked him to hold onto it for the time being, just like Riveria. Though she couldn’t give many details, Vahn learned from Riveria that Lefiya was actually ‘orphaned’ and had spent many of her formative years studying at the Guild-sponsored School in Orario. Even Riveria wasn’t entirely sure about where Lefiya originated, but it was actually very rare for an Elf to have dark-blue eyes. One of the reasons Riveria had made Lefiya her protege was in order to protect her while she researched her origins.
Now that she had learned that Lefiya was a descendant of Wishe, her origins likely related to the High Elf family known as Dal Alfan. Though they weren’t the only Elves to have dark-blue eyes, they were the ones that purportedly claimed to belong to the direct lineage of Wishe. Riveria wasn’t sure how an ‘Elf’ was born to a family of High Elves, but it most likely meant that one of their members had a tryst with a normal Elf that resulted in pregnancy. Typically, such children would become servants and sent out to various branch families where their lives wouldn’t be that great. If they actually found out about Lefiya’s existence, they would likely try to ‘claim’ or ‘kill’ her in the future.
Though she didn’t disagree with Vahn using the [Wishe’s Blessing] on Lefiya in the future, Riveria stressed that he should wait until they had already opened dialogue with the Elven Kingdom. At the very least, the Hestia Familia needed to increase its own power, so that assassins wouldn’t be able to target her in the future. When he mentioned potentially having Eina or herself use the item, Riveria hesitated for a while before saying it was only ‘right’ to use it on Lefiya. Besides, she wasn’t a ‘direct’ descendant of Wishe and actually hailed from the ‘main’ bloodline of Alf, one of the ancestors of the High Elves. All of the members of her Family could typically be recognized by their emerald-green hair, but their most distinctive trait was their jade-colored eyes. Of all the elven families, they were the only ones that had ‘jade’ eyes, though there were several variations of green spread amongst other families. The easiest way to confirm if the green was the correct ‘jade’ was the fact that their eyes caught the light from angles and made them appear to glow, whereas normal green eyes didn’t have such a feature…