After enjoying a long lunch break, it was time for the group to breach into the 54th Floor and start their exploration. Though they would document the approximate location of the stairs leading down, it was decided that they would stay on the 54th Floor unless it was the closest point to retreat to during the evening. Their goal became to explore as much of the 54th Floor as possible before their supplies started to run low and they were forced to turn back to the 50th Floor. Based on how the size of the Dungeon increased the further down you went, it was approximated that the 54th Floor was more than 300km in diameter and had unknown dimensions, as there were variations in elevation for some areas while others became complex labyrinthian structures.
Finn gave the order to proceed forward and everyone began running through the Dungeon once again as, a few seconds after they started their journey, pillars of fire once again shot up from the floors below. It was amazing how the Valgang Dragons were able to calculate the trajectory of fast-moving objects and target them from several kilometers away. Vahn wasn’t sure how they were able to accomplish such a feat, but it reminded him of how the red-haired woman was able to sense his presence when he had looked at her in the past. Since there shouldn’t be any easy way for them to detect his presence, especially if he used [Stealth] on his domain, Vahn likened it to some kind of sixth sense. It was either that or the Dungeon itself that was helping them make the complex calculations that would be necessary. After all, the pillar of fire didn’t really travel that fast, as it had to melt through several hundred meters of bedrock, which meant the Valgang Dragons would have to account for nearly thirty seconds of high-speed movements when they released their fiery breath.
The progress through the 54th Floor, while relatively fast as a result of their speed, was a slow and arduous process. Vahn actually found himself growing slightly bored because there were so few monsters and the flame breath would have entirely no effect on him even if it did hit. Since he could detect it long before it reached them, Vahn was in no danger at all and kind of wanted to start walking through the Dungeon and cataloging everything at a casual pace. He could understand why these Floors were very dangerous for the majority of Adventurers, but that didn’t apply to him at all and it made him a little on-edge continuing this ‘farce’.
Another group of Venom Scorpians intercepted the party and, as they only numbered eight in total, were quickly taken care of by Bete, Ais, and Tiona. When they went to loot the drop items, the floor heated up and they all jumped to the side, once again evading the flame breath without any major difficulty. To prevent any waste, Vahn had looted the ‘lost’ items before the floor completely broke down and separated them from the other items in his inventory, as per usual. This was another one of the reasons Vahn was growing bored, because Ais, Tiona, and even Bete, tore through the monsters with unstoppable momentum as if they were illusions instead of actual Level 4 enemies. Though Tiona wasn’t really an agility-based fighter, she still had more than 3400 total agility and could easily kick off from the ground with enough force to cover a 50m distance in less than a quarter of a second. As for Ais and Bete, they easily fit the description of agility-fighters as Ais tore through enemies with her [Ariel] while Bete kicked his enemies hard enough to make air pockets in their bodies as a result of the shockwave.
Since Lefiya and Riveria weren’t really using their magic, Vahn wasn’t even helping to recover their mana so he found himself just looting items and scanning around the Dungeon for signs of danger. He had expected the Deeper Floors to be somewhat more exhilarating than this and was somewhat disappointed by the reality. To pass the time, he started trying to ‘catch’ the Valgang Dragon’s flame breath with his domain since he had a perfect fire affinity. The breath was made up of pure fire elemental energies, though it was incredibly powerful and chaotic, so Vahn figured he would be able to divert them with enough practice.
Unfortunately, it was already somewhat difficult to control ‘stagnant’ fire elemental energy, much less the super-volatile flame breath that was emitted by the Valgang Dragon. Though it was surprisingly not that hot, the flames had a corrosive element to them that allowed them to eat through the bedrock of the Dungeon without any major difficulty. Vahn couldn’t isolate what this element was, but it was very similar to his [Lævateinn]’s flames. If he could figure it out, and truly exercise control over their breath, Vahn theorized he could add such an effect to his own flames to make them ‘perpetual’ in the future. Unless he extinguished them himself, the flames would continue burning without ceasing and, since Vahn’s flames could reach up to Tier 4 in strength, he knew they would be a devastating weapon against most enemies.
After nearly six hours of running, the group arrived at a stairwell that led down to the 55th Floor and proceeded inside of it to take a break and set up camp for the evening. Though Finn was very tempted to breach into the 55th Floor, he had already given his word and wasn’t going to break it since it would cause his own credibility to take a hit. Unless others wanted to venture further in, specifically Vahn, Finn would let the matter lay for the time being and be content that they already reached a deeper floor. Bete, however, explored ahead a bit and even entered the 55th Floor for a short while before returning. Since simply reaching the floor wasn’t enough, as it was called a ‘clear’ record for a reason, it wouldn’t count as an achievement and was simply him obtained a new ‘personal best’ for himself.
When it came time to set up camp, everyone had their own personal tents to use but Vahn still set up a larger tent for the residents of the Hearth Manor. It wasn’t as big as the one that was used on the 50th Floor, which had been left behind, but it had enough sleeping room for ten people. As there would only be six using it, it wasn’t that cramped at all. As for Riveria, she used her own tent, which had also been provided by Vahn, while Gareth, Finn, and Bete all set up individual tents for themselves. Bete seemed to be annoyed by the fact Vahn was still sharing a tent with the girls, but he had momentarily given up on trying to ‘address’ the matter. There wasn’t anything he could do to change the situation, so he kept to himself and just retreated into his own tent after dinner.
For the evening watch, it was decided that people would have two-hour shifts to keep guard with Vahn, Fenrir, and Lefiya being made exceptions. Since Vahn slept with his domain active, while also using his own energy to ‘conceal’ them somewhat, it wouldn’t be ‘fair’ to make him stand guard as well. As for why Fenrir and Lefiya were removed, it was because Fenrir needed to be watched over by Vahn while Lefiya’s senses, except when it came to magic, were somewhat weak. The rest period had been designated as a ten hour period, so that everyone could get proper rest, with the first watch belonging to Finn…
Though he was relaxing his body and mind in a peaceful slumber, accompanied by the warmth of Fenrir, Tiona, and Tione, Vahn was still aware of his surroundings somewhat. Whenever people moved around within his domain, a part of his mind constantly tracked them and it was things like this that made Vahn feel like his brain had ‘split’ at some point. Even when his mind itself had slipped away into unconsciousness, he would still probe around with his intent and sense his surroundings. Though he couldn’t ‘see’ what was happening, Vahn could envision it somewhat based on his imagination and perception of things so it was almost like he had the ability to ‘wander’ around even when he was asleep.
Things were relatively peaceful for the first half of the night and Vahn only stirred slightly whenever an enemy would appear within his domain. His ‘second’ self would alert the person on watch by infusing [Enkidu] into his domain to light up the surrounding area. As all those on the watch were Level 5-6, they would make short work of the enemies without having to stir the others awake. Everyone was surprised the first time Vahn’s domain ‘alerted’ them, but then they appreciated it a bit after a while. Even Bete, who didn’t think it was fair that Vahn got to stay sleeping in the comfort of women couldn’t complain too much after Vahn ‘alerted’ him for the fifth time. This showed that, even though he was asleep, Vahn was ‘always’ on watch while he only had to stay up for two hours. Vahn even picked up on the enemy’s presence before his enhanced senses could so Bete just sat quietly atop a rock with a solemn expression on his face…
The third shift was taken by Gareth and had been relatively uneventful as he sat with his axe in his lap and sipped away at the small flask Vahn had given him. He usually diluted the [Dwarven Drought] by a fair amount, but he had entrusted Gareth with a bit of the ‘real’ thing and the veteran Dwarf was very grateful. After the first ‘surprise’ of Vahn’s domain alerting him to the enemy, Gareth had eased up a lot and simply overlooked the tents from a higher vantage point. Whenever an enemy would show up after that, Gareth would toss over a small rock in an attempt to smash them without leaving his perch. Though it made a loud sound, that would have awoken most people, the Loki Familia members were able to ignore it since they weren’t being alerted to any danger.
Once Gareth’s watch came to an end, the next person to take up the post was the somewhat sleepy Ais. She escaped from Lefiya’s grasp before climbing atop the large rock nearby with nothing but her sword. She hadn’t bothered wearing all of her armor and was just dressed in the ‘basic’ equipment that she went to sleep in. When she sat down atop the rock, Ais found a small tray with snacks and steamy tea on it before she sat down and enjoyed the calm and quiet atmosphere. She noticed that there would be a brief golden flash every now and then and quickly dealt with the monsters nearby. After returning to her perch, Ais patted herself down before sitting atop the small blanket Vahn had set out and began to relax a bit when she felt the cold air of the Dungeon fade away as a warmth surrounded her…
The final shift was taken up by Riveria and, shortly after she finished preparing for her post, she found a wooden table had been sat out for her with a comfortable chair to accompany it. On the table, there were various journals and books present with a freshly brewed pot of tea and bite-sized snickerdoodle cookies at the side. Riveria released a sigh before looking over at the tent where Vahn was sleeping with the other girls. After shaking her head slightly, she sat down at the table and partook of one of the cookies before opening up one of the journals present. It was all of Vahn’s notes that he had been taking throughout the day and there was even a few excerpts about things they had discussed in the past. Riveria realized that Vahn must have been somewhat bored during their expedition and it brought a small smile to her face as she picked up the quill and began writing notes of her own.
Though there were no visible changes in the layout of the Dungeon, it was time for everyone to wake up and Vahn had been one of the firsts to stir since he wanted to prepare breakfast. When he came out of the tent with Fenrir and the somewhat drowsy Tiona, Vahn saw Riveria writing in the journals while periodically looking around at the surroundings. She noticed their presence and gave Vahn a curt nod before returning to the journal in hand. Tiona stretched her body before clinging to Vahn and asking in a sleepy voice, “Vahn, make something sweet for breakfast, okay~?” As a result, Vahn decided to make the main dish as pancakes and then accompanied it with bacon, eggs, and some rice porridge for those that weren’t too fond of sweets.
With the smell of food on the air, everyone in the camp started to wake up soon after and came out of their tents seeking the source. Finn looked over at Riveria and was slightly stunned to see her sitting at a desk before promptly ignoring the matter and walking over to Vahn. Seeing what he was making, Finn asked, “Would you like my assistance, Vahn? I’m not the greatest chef in the world, but I should be able to assist you easily enough.” Though Vahn was tempted to decline, it felt like it would have been unnecessarily rude of him to do so. After nodding his head, Vahn turned over the skillet to Finn before he moved on to the next set of items and they started cooking together. As for Tiona and Fenrir, they were already sitting down at the table as Tiona helped Fenrir eat some of the snacks Vahn had set out.
Unlike the previous lunch incident, Vahn had set out a low table with a total of ten cushions present with the same red one designating Bete’s spot. Without offering any complaints, Bete just walked over and sat down next to the slightly groggy Gareth who had inadvertently emptied the flask Vahn had given him after returning to his own tent. He wouldn’t be affected for long, but he was slightly hungover for the time-being and was nursing a cup of dark-black coffee that Vahn had set out. As Bete had been one of the last people to sit at the table, the atmosphere was already somewhat lively after the girls had all washed up a bit and sat down. They hadn’t taken a bath, but Vahn set out a small basin so they could rinse off their faces and brush their teeth before breakfast.
Finn saw the lively atmosphere as he dexterously flipped over an omelet and remarked, “This is rather different from any other expedition I’ve ever been on, not that I’m complaining. It’s good to see everyone’s morale is so high even though we’re so deep in the Dungeon…” Vahn nodded his head lazily and cast a glance over at Finn before saying, “I used to think you had to treat the Dungeon very seriously because I had been made aware of the dangers by Tsubaki when she trained me in the past. Now…I don’t think that is entirely the case…after all, we’re supposed to be on an ‘adventure’ right now, and all the stories make them out to be fun and exciting affairs. Though I’m not going to promote complacency, I think exploring the Dungeon should be something that is enjoyable when we have the capabilities to make it so…”
Hearing Vahn’s words, Finn was slightly surprised and had even paused his hands for a brief moment until the small of slightly burnt eggs reached his nose and he slid it off onto a plate. Vahn’s words, though somewhat ‘romantic’ in nature, really were what Adventurers were supposed to aspire towards. Other than those that entered the Dungeon simply to ‘get by’, many people pursued its depths in the pursuit of fame, glory, wealth, and power. Most of those that actually achieved them were typically very free-spirited people that eagerly sought new stimulus and wanted to experience new things, even though it wasn’t always pleasant.
It was this desire for adventure that had caused the Guild to begin labeling explorers and dungeoneers as Adventurers in the first place. However, this was something that was often overlooked on missions and expeditions, and Finn hadn’t really thought about it too much until he heard the words from Vahn’s mouth. It suddenly seemed like him harping over the small details was ‘incorrect’ as there was no need to follow established conventions when people could be ‘happy’ and productive at the same time.
Typically, as an expedition reached the end, it had become something of a slog and people just wanted it to be over. This was why the majority of losses happened on the return trip, because people were simply ‘too eager’ and were prone to making mistakes. However, Finn could actually imagine people wanting to stay longer with people like Vahn making things more ‘fun’ for everyone. Though he couldn’t imagine it happening any time soon, Finn was starting to see Vahn’s image of creating a permanant settlement in the Dungeon as a reality. Even if it was only a ‘possibility’, Finn knew it would be better to jump on the bandwagon early so a smile appeared on his face as he gave the young human boy a thoughtful look…