Using the map that Vahn had drawn out during their previous exploration, as he could quickly scribe it onto a piece of paper with a high degree of accuracy, the group continued their exploration of the 54th Floor by searching areas and corridors they hadn’t visited previously. With Vahn’s map, it was easy to see the paths they had taken and it wasn’t remotely close to the presumed size of the actual Floor. As there were certain to be explored regions, which could be found easily with Vahn’s detection ability, everyone was determined to find something new. Even Vahn felt like there had to be a reason why the Dungeon had orchestrated the Dragons Vase as it had. It was almost like the Dungeon didn’t want people to spend much time on the floors, almost like it was concealing something.
After searching for nearly seven hours, without finding anything new and interesting, the group came across another set of stairs that led further into the Dungeon. Just like the floors above, there were several possible ways to progress through and it wouldn’t be surprising to find more than a hundred such stairways on any given floor. As it was a good opportunity, the group took a rest for lunch while Vahn spent the time searching around the 400m of stairs and the adjoining rooms. He was curious about why the Valgang Dragons didn’t target the stairs with their breath, since the materials were fundamentally the same as the rest of the Dungeon. Other than a variation, almost like a ‘break’ in the flow of mana, there were no real differences between the stairs and the rest of the floor.
Vahn wanted to know why there were two functionally identical flows that ran alongside each other without actually intersecting. By inspecting the top and bottom of the stairs, he could confirm that the ‘break’ passed through the entire set of stairs and even continued beyond his perception. It was hard to imagine, but Vahn felt like he could theoretically bore through the Dungeon and, as long as he follows the secondary flow, he would be able to reach all the way to the surface or even follow down into the depths. Though the planned to test it in the future, as he ‘had’ to know if this was the truth of the matter, Vahn set it aside for now and simply logged his deductions in a journal.
When Vahn returned to the group, Tiona perked up and asked, “Did’ya find anything, Vahn~?” Vahn plopped down next to the table while shaking his head and saying, “It’s something I’ll have to look into later, but it would be much safer to test on the upper floors. I’ll let you know how it goes, but you shouldn’t worry about it too much right now.” Though she looked like she was listening attentively, Tiona didn’t care that much about Vahn’s actual words and just wanted to talk with him. When he finished his ‘explanation’, Tiona nodded her head and asked, “When we get to the surface, you said you were going to try and finish the ‘proto-type’ armor, right~? I’m interested to see how things turn out, so please ask me if you need any assistance. Even if it’s just to model, I don’t mind helping out~.”
Spurred on by Tiona’s words, the topic of discussion at the table immediately transitioned to the armor Vahn was making. Even Gareth and Finn were quite interested in it, but Vahn said it wasn’t the type of thing he ever planned to sell. Because of the complexity of the design, Vahn only intended to make enough to be used by the girls within the Hearth Manor and would worry about other things after the fact. Though he was a [Master Smith], it wasn’t actually a trade Vahn intended to pursue for profit or mastery.
Vahn simply made the things he wanted to make, without putting too much thought into anything other than making them interesting and efficient. His main reason for doing so was because of the restrictions of the shop within the system, as it would be ‘troublesome’ to only give each girl one piece of armor every few weeks. Though he had been able to get around things a bit with the girls that had their extra parameters unlocked, as he could give up to three items to some of them, it still wasn’t really a practical solution.
During the conversation, Gareth supported his cheek with his fist and commented, “I have a personal contract with Tsubaki, so I’m not really bothered by not obtaining any equipment. However, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to accept a few contracts of your own in the future, Vahn. Even if you don’t have the ‘heart’ of a blacksmith, you certainly have more than enough skill to make use of. If you truly end up making new and innovative armors, you might be able to forge even more alliances in the future by creating custom-made equipment for powerful Adventurers.” Hearing Gareth’s words, Vahn knew it was true but he simply didn’t have the ‘time’ to manage such things. It would be more ‘convenient’ if he just purchased them something through the system shop instead, not that he could explain things in such a way.
Though he trusted Gareth, Vahn wasn’t going to explain his reasoning about things and simply nodded in affirmation of his words. Unless they took the same level of vow as the residents of the Hearth Manor, Vahn couldn’t disclose any specifics to the three men present as there was always a remote chance they could disseminate it to other people. Finn and Bete were especially troublesome because there was no way of knowing how Finn would use the information while Bete was simply the type that rambled away ‘sensitive’ information when he was drunk. Vahn didn’t want to be seen as a ‘convenience’ by Finn, nor did he want to have rumors circulate as a result of Bete’s drunken ramblings when he vented his frustrations.
From this expedition, Vahn understood there were various ‘problems’ associated with moving large groups of people through the Dungeon. Of course, in order to ensure their supplies were protected, it was ‘necessary’ to do so, but this wasn’t a restriction Vahn faced. He had been thinking about ways to reach further into the Dungeon to increase the strength of his own Familia in the future and was planning to try and get a foothold on the 39th Floor in the future. Though this expedition had been an interesting experience, Vahn wasn’t too fond of how things had played out and it almost felt like a waste of time, at least for him. If not for the fact he had been able to help the girls increase their strength quickly, while also finally reaching Level 4 himself, Vahn would have found things to be a bit droll.
The simple truth of the matter was, Vahn had the capacity to make any expedition run much smoother than any other Familia on the surface. If he had been in charge of things, Vahn would have separated everyone into smaller cells to thin out enemies before they met up at various ‘safe’ zones like the relatively secure stairs and the actual safety areas of the 18th, 39th, and 50th Floors. Even on the floors where monsters attacked in ‘waves’, it was possible to deal with them in smaller parties by simply avoiding the fight or having a balanced composition. Though monsters were very powerful, some far more so than Adventurers, they weren’t intelligent and they couldn’t adapt to strategy and subterfuge at all.
Traveling as a larger group, though necessary for large Familia expeditions, was something Vahn could circumvent entirely as a result of his Inventory and the ‘limitless’ supplies at his disposal. Even a slow day on the 51st Floor earned him more than 200,000OP and, though he couldn’t buy Elixirs and Potions that could be used by others, Vahn could purchase the materials used to make them. If they had a few people with the [Mixing] skill in the expedition, they could easily produce consumables for the entire party. This also applied to things like food, equipment, and a variety of other things. If there was enough support behind the idea, Vahn was even confident in establishing the relay point on the 39th Floor within the next year before moving down to the 50th Floor and beginning construction of their ‘Haven’…
Since Vahn had been lost in his own thoughts for a bit, Ais poked his cheek with her gloved finger and said, “Vahn, don’t worry so much…just do what you think is best. We will follow you…” Hearing Ais’s words, Vahn looked into her shining gold eyes before looking around and seeing the supportive looks on the faces of the other girls. In fact, even Finn and Gareth showed appreciative gazes with the only exception being the always disgruntled Bete. Vahn decided at this moment that he needed to ‘educate’ Bete when they returned to the surface before nodding his head to Ais and addressing the table as he said, “I think for the next planned expedition, we should stop on the 39th Floor and begin making a settlement there to serve as a relay station. Though it may be more ‘profitable’ to come down to the Deeper Floors, there are too many unknowns and we’re simply not ready. Until we can establish a supply line and get a proper foothold, I don’t think it’s wise to keep trying to go deeper…”
Finn looked like he wanted to say something, but Vahn shook his head slightly and said, “I’m not considering the matter from simply the perspective of the Loki Familia, Finn, though I’m sure Loki would support me in the future. I’m trying to consider things for the Hestia Familia and the Alliance as a whole…and not just them, but for every Adventurer that delves into the Dungeon and all those that live on the surface. If we, some of the strongest and most capable, aren’t the ones leading the way, what happens when things develop to a point where we ‘need’ to lead? I believe that, if you want people to walk the correct path, you need to lay it out for them and show the way…”
Responding to his words, Tiona raised both of her arms as if she were very fired up and shouted, “Alrighty then! Let’s turn this Dungeon into our own personal stomping ground so that other people can safely venture into it in the future~!” Surprisingly, the next person to speak up was Riveria who nodded her head and said in a calm tone, “Vahn is right, we can’t simply wait around in hopes that things ‘improve’ naturally. We need to be the ones that are taking proactive action if we want to truly bring about change…” Knowing what the future potentially held, Riveria didn’t think it was the correct decision to keep acting passively on things. One of the things mentioned in Vahn’s journal was his idea about creating an ‘Advanced Academy’ on the 50th Floor and she had thought it was an interesting idea since it would prompt people to become stronger.
After Riveria, Ais, who had been staring at Vahn, said, “I want to kill the One-Eyed Black Dragon one day…but until then, I want to try and find happiness in my own way. After we defeat Enyo…I…” Though it wasn’t the first time Vahn had seen her blush, it was one of the first times he had seen Ais frown in mild frustration as she struggled to speak the words from her heart. Vahn smiled at her before reaching out his hand and stroking her silky golden hair with his ‘combination’ skills. She showed a slight smile before resting her cheek against his palm and saying, “I want to become a real family…”
As if it were some kind of competition that had been incited by Tiona’s initial words, everyone began stating their own wants and desires for the future. Lefiya wanted to reach the pinnacle of magic, Fenrir wanted to ‘protect’ Vahn, and Tione embarrassed Vahn slightly by saying that the only thing she wanted was to be loved. She had looked to him with a somewhat amorous look and Vahn felt like she might have attacked him if it were just the two of them alone. As for the men at the table, Gareth just laughed heartily and chimed in with his own, “If we really end up making a settlement on the 50th Floor, you should open up a pub that serves that [Dwarven Drought]. I guarantee you’ll see an influx of powerful Dwarves coming all the way down to the 50th Floor just to get a sip of the stuff!”
Gareth’s words always made Vahn feel warm inside so he nodded his head and said, “Not just [Dwarven Drought], I have plenty of other alcohols that can’t be found anywhere else in the world…” Hearing Vahn’s words, Gareth suddenly became very serious as he said, “That won’t do, Vahn. You can’t simply serve unknown alcohol to guests…I’ll make sure to test it all for you before you make it public. You might not think it to look at me, but I’m quite reknown in the circle of Dwarves for my capable alcohol tasting abilities. With my word and reputation, forget Dwarves, you’ll have people coming as far as the Far East just to sample a shot!” Vahn chuckled slightly as Gareth started laughing heartily as he slapped his knee with his hand a couple of times.
Seeing how things had played out, Finn felt slightly exasperated because he knew Vahn would easily be able to get the support of Loki. In the future, instead of Vahn accompanying their Familia, it might be the case that the Loki Familia was ‘escorting’ him on his own expeditions. When they did establish a settlement on the 50th Floor, Finn had little doubt that Vahn would be the representative and that the credit would likely fall to the Hestia Familia, even if he did it in the name of the Alliance. With the amount of support he could garner as the ‘Sage Aldrnari’, Finn couldn’t help but imagine a somewhat ‘brighter’ future than the current state of affairs he had come to know. Though it couldn’t be called a natural charisma, Vahn had the capacity to draw people together, something that was especially effective when it came to the ladies…
After taking a bite of the juicy steak on his plate, Finn felt his resistances ‘break’ as he chimed in after Gareth, “Your reputation has grown a fair amount within the Loki Familia as a result of this expedition. I’ll explain the situation to Loki-sama and talk to a few key members to get support for the idea of establishing a settlement on the 39th Floor. I’m certain that, if you can provide proper incentives, we will be able to make it a reality in the future.” Hearing Finn also ‘concede’ to Vahn, Bete clicked his tongue and said, “Even you’re giving in to this kid, Captain? Has everyone lost their bloody minds…?”
Everyone present heard Bete’s snide remark and showed slightly awkward expressions until Tione slammed her fork hard enough that it embedded in the table as she shouted, “Damnit Bete, if you don’t fix your attitude I’ll fix it for you! Vahn has never done a single thing to earn your ire, so why do you have to be a little bitch about everything!? You never even thanked him for saving your little girlfriend!” Bete looked like he was about to yell back at Tione but swallowed his words with an expression of disgust and incredulity when he heard her mention Lena. Though he had never said it, Bete was actually thankful to Vahn for arranging to have the Amazons stay with the Loki Familia. He never planned to be with Lena when she was a prostitute but, now that she was within the Loki Familia, Bete had been looking after her.
Before things got out of hand, Vahn gestured to Tione and said, “Relax, I know Bete isn’t actually as harsh as he tries to act. I’m certain he has his reasons, and I already ignore most of the things he says…I don’t really need his gratitude for things like that, as it was a decision I had made for myself, not on his behalf…” After turning his eyes away from Tione, Vahn looked at the disgruntled Bete and said, “When we return to the surface, I will show you that you have a severe misunderstanding about my strength, Bete. Afterward, I’ll have you keep your snide remarks to yourself or you can only blame your own actions for how I will treat you from then onwards…” As Vahn spoke, he allowed his aura to bear down on Bete and saw his hairs stand on end slightly as a fierce expression appeared on his face. However, Vahn could see that his aura was fluctuating greatly under the pressure and was even diminishing slightly when Bete said, through gritted teeth, “We’ll settle it on the surface then…”
Though the atmosphere was somewhat tense, Gareth didn’t seem to mind it at all as he asked, “Speaking of that little lass, when do the two of you plan to get married, Bete?” Hearing Gareth’s words, Bete felt forward and nearly slammed his face into the table before looking to Gareth and shouting, “Butt out, Old Man! Don’t concern yourself with my business!” In response, Gareth simply began laughing as the tense atmosphere from before completely dissipated. Bete had a very slight blush on his face as he looked around at the table and decided to escape away at the last moment when he saw that even the ‘monster’ girl was snickering at him. After grabbing his cup from the table, Bete stood up and walked off to the side without saying a word to the rest of the group.
For the rest of their break, the group at the table started talking about ideas they’d like to see implemented when they began making the relay station on the 39th Floor. Vahn started taking notes of things, even though he knew the majority of them were somewhat impractical. Though creating bathhouses and the like weren’t too difficult, things like opening up a bakery and stuff were somewhat ‘advanced’ for what they had in mind, at least for the time being. Once the ‘Haven’ became firmly cemented in the 50th Floor, Vahn didn’t even mind turning it into a small city, much less having a single bakery present. He already planned to build an Academy there, so it would make sense for other types of business to also be present. However, such things would need to be strictly regulated as Vahn wouldn’t tolerate criminal activity and the like occurring within ‘Haven’ at all…