Chapter 486: Flame Pillar

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The group made its way down the large staircase leading to the 52nd Floor before Finn brought everyone to a stop and explained, “As you all know, from here until the 58th Floor we’ll be passing through the Dragon’s Vase. From now on, we can only stop moving when we’re on the staircases and when we read the ‘black’ zones…though you’ll have Riveria’s protection, everyone needs to take care of themselves and stay on their toes. If you’re in one spot for more than twenty seconds, it could become a disaster…” Hearing Finn’s words, Vahn felt a little conflicted because it was hard to imagine a flame that could burn through several floors of the Dungeon at once…

Though it was documented in the compendium, Vahn couldn’t understand how the 52nd-57th Floors had any monsters at all if the Valgang Dragon’s spewed their fiery breath all the way to the 52nd Floor. From Vahn’s perspective, that should kill the monsters as well and, if Riveria’s [Veil Breath] offered enough protection against such flames, it should have been an easy matter to clear down to the 58th Floor as soon as they entered. Vahn decided to keep quiet on this for the time being, but he couldn’t help feeling bothered by the incredulity of the Dungeon allowing itself to be freely damaged by the Valgang Dragons while also killing its own monsters.

Riveria started casting [Veil Breath] on everyone but, when it came time for her to use it on Vahn, he waved his hand and said, “I have complete fire immunity, so I should be perfectly fine.” As she was privy to some of Vahn’s capabilities, Riveria nodded her head and chanted her spell on Fenrir instead. However, Vahn’s words were a bit of a surprise for Finn, Gareth, and Bete, at least until they remembered the scene where Vahn had essentially turned into fire to kill the Goliath. Though he burned away all his equipment in the process, Vahn had emerged from the flames without any injuries at all.

After preparations were made, Finn looked to Vahn and Lefiya before saying, “I don’t think you’ll be able to stay so close together on the 52nd Floor. However, I’ll trust you to protect our Lefiya if things get dangerous, Vahn. Though you may just be Level 3, I hear your speed even exceeds that of Level 5 when you’re serious. Please watch over her closely…” Though he wasn’t too fond of Finn, Vahn knew he wasn’t really a ‘bad’ guy at heart. Hearing him express concern for Lefiya improved Vahn’s impression of the Pallum slightly so he nodded his head and said, “I’ll make sure nothing happens to either Lefiya or Fenrir.” Hearing Vahn’s words, Finn smiled before gesturing to the group to form up and prepare to invade the 52nd Floor.

Unlike the ‘leisurely’ pace they had on the 51st Floor, the group was moving forward rather quickly from the very moment they crossed the threshold into the 52nd Floor. Vahn’s senses were being pushed to the extreme as he looked around for enemies. However, though they were moving as a large group, Vahn didn’t see the normal signs that monsters were going to be spewed out by the Dungeon. This meant it was likely to be the type of floor where the monsters pre-spawned and roamed around the area. As he was thinking this, Vahn felt a powerful wave of energy enter his domain slightly ahead of their current position. If they kept running forward at their current pace, Vahn knew it would intercept their trajectory and he immediately realized Finn’s warnings about the Valagang Dragon’s were to be taken seriously.

Bete, Tiona, and Ais were at the head of the group as the floor began to vibrate but they were all agile enough to immediately evade the coming attack without having to be told. The seemingly hard bedrock of the Dungeon turned a red-orange for a brief moment before the floor erupted into a geyser of flame nearly 5m in diameter before smashing into the roof. Finn called out, “We’ll go around to the East, let’s move!” before they all moved into the adjacent corridor and continued running through the Dungeon. Vahn could sense the pillars of flame long before they actually reached the 58th Floor, but it still surprised him that the Dungeon itself allowed this type of behavior.

Though it wasn’t the best time to be talking, Vahn asked Riveria, “Will this type of attack not cause a Juggernaut to spawn? I’ve seen far less damage dealt to the Dungeon in the past that triggered their ire. It doesn’t make much sense that the Dungeon is damaging itself to such an extreme, after all, aren’t the dragons all the way on the 58th Floor? That’s more than 2km down, at the very least…” Riveria didn’t seem to mind Vahn’s question as she gave a curt nod and said, “Nobody really knows why the Dungeon makes an exception in the Dragon’s Vase, but there has yet to be any reported sightings of a Juggernaut at these Levels. Also, once the flames fade away and the holes cool down, the Dungeon will rapidly regenerate at these Floors…”

As Riveria’s words came to a close, a pillar of flame erupted near them as Vahn grabbed Lefiya quickly and used [Shundo] to evade before letting her go again. She blushed slightly and said, “Thank you…” before running along once again. Vahn, however, looked down the hole for a brief moment and inspected it. It was a super-heated red, as the stone had been melted completely through, and at the very bottom, Vahn could see a pin-hole sized light that was likely the 58th Floor. If they wanted to, the entire group should be able to easily jump down to reach that Floor and Vahn wasn’t sure why it wasn’t ‘obvious’. The Loki Familia was intent on setting a new clear record, which meant they wanted to go beyond the 59th Floor, so Vahn couldn’t understand why they’re current record was only the 53rd…

Before anyone complained about him falling behind, Vahn stepped forward with [Shundo] before falling into place between Lefiya and Riveria once again. As for Fenrir, she had been clinging to his back for a while now and was using Vahn as transport since it was ‘dangerous’ for her to be on the Floor. Vahn was certain her instincts gave her awareness of the pillars of flame, but he decided to let her have her fun for a while. Besides, she was the type of girl that pressed ‘flush’ against his back, so it wasn’t that distracting with her diminutive body weight.

Though it was in the shadows, Vahn detected several presences in the space above their heads. Unlike the 51st Floor, the 52nd had high ceilings that could even reach several hundred meters which meant there could be monsters easily lurking above them. Vahn pulled out his bow and loosed several arrows into the darkness without stopping his feet. Several Deformis Spider corpses rained down from above before turning into clouds of purple dust long before they hit the ground. Though they would typically leave them behind, Vahn collected the drop items into his inventory shortly after they touched the floor without showing any signs of having done so.

Finn had seen Vahn’s archery and said, “Very well done, Vahn.” before leaping forward and stabbing his spear into a large scorpion that had emerged from a crevasse in the wall. It was a monster known as a Venom Scorpion and, like almost every other monster on the 52nd Floor, was an ambush predator that tried to sneak attack parties trying to evade the flame pillars from below. Vahn quickly realized the ‘theme’ of these floors and his curiosity about why they didn’t simply leap down increased further. Though he struggled to believe this could be the reason, Vahn suspected it was because of the ‘misunderstanding’ about falling that seemed to be common in this world.

As they were moving at a much faster pace than normal, the group managed to reach the stairs leading to the 53rd Floor after just three hours of running. There were far fewer enemies compared to previous floors, as large groups would simply fall prey to the Valgang Dragons, so there wasn’t much to slow them down. With Vahn’s detection ability and the general prowess of the present members, there were few things that could bar their passage. When they finally reached the stairs, Finn called the group to a temporary halt so they could recover their stamina before proceeding into the 53rd Floor.

Vahn was standing at the side with a serious expression on his face as he scanned around the area and observed for any signs of their enemies. He somewhat expected that they wouldn’t take action on these Floors, as it would be difficult to work around the Valgang Dragons, but there was no way of knowing for sure. One thing he was certain of was that these floors, even the stairs, were very different than those above and it was somewhat perplexing. Though it was popular belief that the Dungeon was a living entity, as it was able to proactively ‘resist’ against Adventurers, Vahn couldn’t understand why ‘it’ would make itself accessible in the first place. Floors like these were a massive hurdle for the majority of Adventurers, but they were also easily exploitable by the bold. It was almost like the Dungeon was ‘luring’ people deeper inside of it instead of trying to keep them out…

A presence entered Vahn’s domain and he was immediately drawn to it with his [Eyes of Truth] active. Unfortunately, the only thing he saw was a rather large snake trying to creep up on the group through the shadows. Though no staircase was truly safe, the ones between the 52nd and 28th Floors were especially dangerous. Since it was recorded in the compendium that the floors were home to a variety of ambush predators, Vahn wasn’t surprised to see one trying to sneak up on them when they were resting. Fortunately, Vahn was easily able to detect its presence and this one even happened to be a relatively rare Thunder Snake. He wanted to harvest all of its materials so Vahn captured it with his [Enkidu] as it tried to resist by sending out vibrant waves of electricity.

The brilliant flashes of light had alerted the group but Vahn gestured to them as he said, “It’s fine, I just captured a Thunder Snake using my chains. I want to harvest a few of its materials before it dissipates, so don’t kill it outright.” Following Vahn out of curiosity, the group saw a four-meter-long snake that was covered in thick green scales with a few golden ones intermixed in a jagged pattern. It was currently pinned down to the Dungeon floor by several resplendent golden chains and was entirely unable to resist. Seeing this, Finn held his right hand to his chin and commented, “So these are the chains you used to temporarily bind the Balor…they are quite interesting.”

Vahn walked over and placed his palm atop the aggrieved snake’s head and lulled it into a deep slumber. He wasn’t sure how much pain it would feel having some of its scales removes, but Vahn imagined it wouldn’t be pleasant at all. In order to ensure it didn’t feel any pain, Vahn put it into a coma and severed the nerves in its neck so it wouldn’t be able to feel anything. Though he wasn’t sure if the structure was the same, Vahn fed threads of energy into the area of the Thunder Snakes brain to make it feel ‘happy’ and ‘full’ before he began pulling away each of the golden scales on its body.

As it wouldn’t even be able to move if it were awake, Vahn dismissed [Enkidu] and skillfully handled the body of the unconscious snake for a few minutes until it finally succumbed and dispersed into smoke. Though it was a little awkward to see, the Thunder Snake had left behind a relatively rare drop after it died. Vahn picked up the vibrant green crystal that crackled with electricity on the inside before storing it away in his inventory. Though the Thunder Snake itself was rare, the coveted ‘Thunder Ore’ it sometimes dropped was even more so. The small crystal Vahn had obtained could easily fetch upwards of twenty-million Valis on the market simply because it could be used to make equipment that resisted ‘thunder’ magic and paralysis.

After taking a half-hour break, which was made moderately more pleasant by Vahn providing ready-made tea and snacks, the group entered the 53rd Floor proper and began their journey towards the 54th. Vahn was beginning to feel like the ‘several day’ trip was going to take less than a day at this rate, but knew this wasn’t accurate as they would be exploring and cataloging things on the 54th Floor before their return. Though it wouldn’t be accurate, temporary maps of the Deeper Floors were still purchased by the Guild research teams who attempted to understand the nature of the Dungeon through its structure and composition.

There were also several unexplored regions of many Floors, some of which contained incredibly rare materials and never-before-seen monsters. An example was the Cadmus Spring Water, which was guarded by the white dragon Cadmus, on the 51st Floor. Though several expeditions had been made down to that Level before, it went undiscovered for many years and was now a highly coveted monster and item. The spring water could be diluted several hundred times to make numerous High-Quality Elixers, while the Cadmus itself was a treasure-trove of rare materials with its body being worth several hundred million Valis if harvested efficiently. As a result, however, the Cadmus was incredibly strong while the spring water typically only produced a few ounces after several months of accumulation.

One of the reasons people seek to discover new things in the Dungeon was because it would bolster their fame a great deal while also providing them with the opportunity to name and classify their discovery. Though it would have to be approved by the Guild, as some people weren’t very capable of naming, it would still be known by the entire City that you were the one to make the discovery. Within the compendium Vahn had memorized, each monster had the name of the original Adventurers to encounter the creatures and the Familia they belonged to.

The majority of the ones in the Deeper Floors had been discovered by members of the Zeus and Hera Familias, but there were a few that were documented discoveries by the Loki and Freya Familias. The Cadmus itself had been a discovery of Finn’s in the past and was the primary reason why the Loki Familia had a bit of a monopoly on the coveted liquid. Though the Dungeon structure changed, the general location of important structures typically remained in the same relative area. Finn had a ‘map’ that documented the approximate location of the Cadmus’ Spring, and they often undertook missions from the Dianchect Familia to obtain some.

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After another four hours of travel, made easier by Vahn’s ‘mapping’ capabilities, the group arrived at the entrance to the 54th Floor and decided to take a long break to enjoy lunch. Vahn gave Finn the materials that he had stowed away for their rations before pulling out a few fresh ingredients of his own and setting up a make-shift kitchen. It was a little bit ‘rude’ of him to do, but Vahn didn’t care about being ‘normal’ as he began preparing the ingredients to serve the girls. Lefiya had gotten somewhat skilled when it came to cooking, so she helped Vahn after wearing a cute frilly apron that he had given her. As for Tiona, Tione, Ais, Riveria, and Fenrir, they were seated at a low table with cushions as they sipped away at tea…

Bete, holding the dried meat in his hands and the hard black bread looked like he was about to have an aneurysm as Finn watched the event with a wry smile on his face. Gareth, however, simply walked over to the table and shouted, “Oi, Vahn, mind if I take a seat? I’ll pay you for-” Before Gareth could finish, Vahn looked over and set out a new cushion and said, “Don’t worry about it, Gareth, we’re friends after all.” To emphasize the fact, Vahn set out a small flagon of [Dwarven Drought] for Gareth and he happily plopped down on the cushion after setting his massive axe to the side. Without any hesitation, Gareth picked up the flagon and began inhaling the rich aroma before remarking, “I can never get enough of this alcohol…it makes everything else taste bland by comparison!” As he spoke, Gareth saw a small cask appear at his side and he began to laugh heartily, adding to the relatively lively atmosphere of the girls.

As he didn’t want to spend too much time making the food, Vahn made simple braised sashimi and added rice, salmon roe, and a variety of fruits and vegetables as an accompaniment for the Elven women. Though they sometimes ate meat, the majority of their diet consisted of nuts, fruits, and vegetables, so Vahn was showing his consideration. To make things more interesting, Vahn baked some of the cut fruits and seasoned them with a honey drizzle and cinnamon before setting them out on the table as an appetizer.

Unable to tolerate the lively atmosphere at the side, Bete threw his black bread to the ground and said, “This is some b*******! We’re not down here to have a f****** picnic!” Though Finn agreed with Bete, Vahn’s perception was the highest in the group and he wouldn’t act like this if it wasn’t ‘relatively’ safe to do so. Since Gareth and Riveria had already sat down, there wasn’t much he could say about the situation without sounding rude and abrasive, much like Bete. To ease the tensions a bit, Finn gestured to Bete to calm down as he asked, “Vahn, may we partake of the…festivities as well? I know it may not be appropriate to ask, but I believe it’s better for the group’s unity if we all eat together.”

Without considering the matter to any great extent, Vahn waved his hand dismissively and two more cushions appeared next to the table. Looking over, Vahn matched gazes with Finn and Bete as he said, “The red cushion is for Bete…” before turning his attention back to the food preparation. Vahn had set out a blue and a red cushion for their use, with the red being next to Gareth and the blue situated next to it. Since Fenrir was nearby, Vahn didn’t really want Bete sitting next to her because he wasn’t too fond of the abrasive Werewolf. However, just as they were about to sit down, Vahn looked over once again and said, “If you intend to make trouble at the table, don’t sit at it…” as he matched gazes with Bete again.

Bete furrowed his brows deeply and looked like he was about to shout out once again before he noticed the red cushion vanish from sight. His words got stuck in his throat because Vahn didn’t even spare him a glance. Though he looked like he had swallowed a bug, Bete kept his words to himself and noticed the red cushion appear once again. He promised that, when they returned to the surface, he would settle things with Vahn directly. For now, he would tolerate Vahn’s behavior because he simply didn’t want to be left out. It pissed him off that so many of the people he had associated with over the last few years had ‘jumped ship’ to Vahn’s side in the past few months and he didn’t have any other way to express his discontent.

As he sat down in a huff, Bete visualized an image of a petite Amazon girl in his head before picking at the appetizers Vahn had set out. It was both tart and sweet at the same time and Bete thought it tasted pretty good…realizing this, however, Bete couldn’t help but feel a sour aftertaste rise up in the back of his throat…

(A/N: It’s never mentioned who actually discovered the spring, but Finn makes a comment about knowing to location so I went with it. There are A LOT of inconsistencies in the source material xD. Like the fact that the Loki Familia had never made it down to the 59th Floor in the past but was somehow able to reach it in a few minutes after some of their members fell down a hole? That is very strange…Since when can you pass through 6-7 Floors of a Dungeon, which can be several hundred kilometers of a Labyrinth in just a few minutes?)

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