While they were recuperating their stamina, Vahn explained the details of what he had seen on the 58th Floor and confirmed the account of the Zeus and Hera Familias. He also talked about the practicality of moving between the floors using the ‘tunnels’ formed by the Valgang Dragon’s like a shortcut in the future, something that caused a fair amount of discomfort amongst the group. Though Riveria’s [Veil Breath] was very useful, it wasn’t guaranteed to protect them from several bursts but Vahn assured her it shouldn’t be a problem. He promised to make something that helped to amplify her magic power in the future, while also researching how to create permanant countermeasures for the breath attacks.
Though Finn knew the ‘tunnels’ lead all the way to the 58th Floor, while passing through every floor in between, he had never thought about using them as a ‘short cut’ before. It seemed a little ridiculous, but Vahn’s stunt showed that it was definitely possible, though there would have to be some preparations made beforehand. The fact that he had gone all the way down to the 58th Floor and returned in a matter of ten minutes, while also killing six Valgang Dragons, one Red Dragon, and several Ill Wyverns, was a big eye-opener for everyone present.
The person that seemed to take the biggest impact, however, was Bete, who was standing at the side with a somewhat pale complexion. He had already agreed to fight with Vahn on the surface, but he realized now that Vahn was probably much stronger than he was. Bete had no way of replicating Vahn’s feat on his own and he also knew there was no practical way to deal with his [Shundo] either. He was already intending to force Vahn into a brawl, as he wouldn’t be able to deal with his ranged attacks for long, but even that seemed like a bad idea if Vahn was able to become hot enough to melt the Dungeon…
After resting for a good half-hour, the group made their way into the 51st Floor and pressed forward with the same momentum as they cleared the other Floors. Though they could afford to take it slow, it was already in the afternoon and everyone wanted to return to the 50th Floor before it got too late in the evening. The only thing that slowed their progress slightly was that Vahn had let Fenrir ease some of her own frustrations by joining the fight while Lefiya had started her barrage once again. She was very near the pinnacle of parameter development for her current level, but there was still a little bit of wiggle room.
By the time she returned to the surface, Lefiya would become a veritable powerhouse as a Mage because she was effectively growing to ‘standard’ levels at once. Vahn had been keeping track of her progress, as there was a real chance she might ‘have’ to Level-up soon, and she was currently at a somewhat monstrous 1779 Magic. Added to her 1998 base Magic, this gave Lefiya a total of 3,777 Magic, which would have put her ‘normally’ around the peak of Level 4, even though she was only Level 3. With any luck, she could potentially even reach the point where she would have been Level 5, even though she was just about to reach Level 4. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say she was nearly a full level ahead of other Mages, and this gap would only continue to grow in the future.
One of the biggest changes, however, had been the fact that the ‘thread’ in Lefiya’s body had now reached the thickness of a piece of yarn and her magic power and recovery rate had increased by a marginal rate. Even though she didn’t have the [Spirit Healing] Development Ability, Vahn could tell that Lefiya’s natural regeneration was nearing the lower ranks of the ability. As for her magic itself, her ‘Radiant Lancer’ was to the point where it would continue forward until it collided with the Dungeon wall. Even if there were several monsters in between her and the resistant bedrock, the brilliant while lance would continue forward until it carved a decently sized concave hole in the Dungeon wall itself. As for the unfortunate monsters that got caught in its path, the only thing that remained of them were some glassy remains that almost instantly turned into purple dust.
Seeing Lefiya killed five Black Rhinos with a single ‘no-chant’ magic, Finn his a somewhat blank expression on his face as he asked, “That staff is a magic item…isn’t it? I had been meaning to ask about it for a while…” Though he had addressed the question to Lefiya, Vahn squeezed her shoulder slightly and said, “It is a weapon I personally created for Lefiya to cover some of her weaknesses regarding magic. You shouldn’t worry about the details too much, as it is a private matter. Just knowing she can take care of monsters without having to cast long chants should be enough…” Vahn knew that Finn wanted to ask about the possibility of having more items like Lefiya’s staff. Though it would certainly increase the combat potential of the entire expedition, Vahn knew it wasn’t a good decision to start feeding the items from the shop into the world.
Finn had somewhat expected the answer so he took it in stride and simply dropped the matter for the time being. Though Vahn took a ‘hard-line’ approach at times, Finn knew he was actually a pretty sensible boy that took the ‘bigger’ picture into consideration, at least when it suited his own interests. When it came down to creating a true defensive line in the Dungeon, Finn expected Vahn would be one of the people supplying equipment to the people stationed there. It was a good way to incentivize people, as it would also allow them to grow stronger and earn a bit of fame for themselves. This would also increase Vahn’s reputation as a [Master Smith] and show that he treats the people that follow him well. Though he might not plan for it, Finn could see Vahn eventually giving in just to ensure that things runs smoothly in the future…
Unaware of Finn’s machinations, Vahn kept his attention trained on the Dungeon itself as he continued his perpetual pursuit for any signs that their enemies had taken action against them. In the future, Vahn wanted to explore around the Middle Floors more often, as that had been where he met the red-haired woman. He also planned to probe into the artificial dungeon, but only after his strength had increased to a point where he was confident there were few things that could stop him. Every day, twice a day, Vahn would check the orb in his inventory in the hopes that Eva once again awakened. When she finally reappeared, Vahn knew he would become much stronger and, the longer she was dormant, the more he somewhat regretted not learning from her when he had the chance.
However, Vahn knew that it was his decisions that allowed him to get much closer to Eva as she likely would have treated their relationship differently if he truly took her as his Master. He was also able to keep his promise to Hephaestus so, while he somewhat regretted his lack of strength, he believed he had made the best decision at the time. She would undoubtedly awaken in the future, so Vahn just had to exercise a bit of patience until that day came. Based on her personality, Vahn expected it would actually be shortly after the birth of his first child. He felt like Eva wanted him to spend more time with the girls in the real world, as they had become very close at the time, and it seemed like something she would do just to make Vahn ‘focus’ on what he needed to do.
After four hours of travel, as they had taken a bit of time to get their bearings, the group arrived at the stairs leading to the 50th Floor. It was currently 8:38 PM, according to Vahn’s system time, so they had made it just in time to reach the camp and enjoy a long night’s rest. When they reached the 50th Floor proper, Vahn oriented the group toward the direction of the encampment, as he had previously mapped the entire Floor, before they quickly made their way over. In a few short minutes, the group arrived at the camp and took the direct path leading up the plateau so as not to spook the guards.
Seeing the arrival of the ten-person party, the watch sounded a lighter alarm to alert the camp of the main parties return. Most people were still up at this time, so people quickly gathered to welcome the triumphant return of the group. When Finn announced that they had reached the 54th Floor and discovered a new species of plant life, it caused a round of cheers from the entire expedition as a festive atmosphere took over the camp. Always being the type to get drawn in by the atmosphere, Vahn escalated things by getting Finn’s permission to add some alcohol to the impromptu banquet that had been set up. To make matters ‘worse’, Vahn also offered a large quantity of food for everyone to eat, something that made Finn’s brows twitch as he wondered about the capacity of Vahn’s ‘storage magic’. He already knew it wasn’t normal, as it wouldn’t be able to retain the heat of items and prevent them from spoiling, but he wasn’t privy to the full details and was simply left guessing. Even Riveria wouldn’t clue him in on any information other than the fact that she had made a vow to not disclose such things, one which had been presided over by Loki herself.
Though it might not be obvious to others, Finn could see the signs that Vahn was being put into a position as the ‘leader’ of the entire Alliance in the future. He had thought about the ‘peculiarity’ of finding himself under Vahn’s command in the future, as it wouldn’t make sense for him to be the one that continually accompanied them, it now seemed like it was going to happen much sooner. With the support of the various gods and goddesses of each Familia, as he was the lynchpin, Vahn was in the perfect position to ‘consolidate’ power as a result of his own ridiculous capabilities. Just the fact that Riveria was so supportive of Vahn already put his own authority in a precarious situation, something Finn would have to adapt to or he would eventually be forced to step down in the future.
As he was still committed to his role as the ‘Braver’ for the Pallum people, Finn couldn’t afford to lose his position and authority in the near future, so the only thing he could do was backpedal a bit and go with the flow of events as they progress. Developing an antagonistic relationship with Vahn as a result of his interest in Lili seemed like a particularly foolish thing to do now. Since Vahn had never rescinded his offer to join the ‘network’ he was creating, Finn decided to try and get along better with him in the future. After all, Vahn was actually a person of commendable character that was highly thoughtful of other people. It didn’t make sense to try and force an issue against him, especially after taking into consideration the complete lack of information Finn had about Vahn’s true capabilities. Just the surface stuff was already enough to shake him down to the core, and this was likely just the tip of a very large iceberg…
During the evening festivities, Finn decided to earn a bit of rapport for himself with the expedition by bringing up the fact they would be returning to the surface after resting for one more day. Hearing the news, everyone was much more excited than they had been, as the last few days had been somewhat boring being cooped up inside the encampment. Other than a few of the stronger groups, everyone else had been required to hole up within the small fortification they had created to protect the supplies. This meant they spent a fair amount of time sitting around and playing cards and dice as they eagerly awaited the return of the main group. As Finn had expected, many people became progressively nervous as the days passed, so it was music to their ears hearing about their imminent return.
Though they sat with the expedition for the majority of the party, most of the girls eventually ‘retreated’ to their private tent since there were more than a few men that acted uncouthly when they were drunk. They didn’t actually do anything, but most young girls didn’t want to be around that type of environment as the stares alone were somewhat frustrating. Vahn himself also left the party, though a little later, but only after Tione had gotten drunk and had made several attempts to convince him to sneak away from the party. After helping her calm down, Vahn carried Tione’s unconscious body back to the tent and set her down on the large futon. He pulled away all the sweat from her body before discarding the small orb of liquid off to the side and returning to the main tent to enjoy a relaxing bath with the other girls.
The largest section of their tent had a table, which was big enough to seat everyone, while the rest of the area was taken up by a relatively large wooden bath. Since a normal basin wasn’t big enough, Vahn had purchased a bath through the shop that was about 1m deep and could easily hold up to ten people, though it would be somewhat cramped. As the only girls present were Ais, Tiona, Lefiya, Naaza, Lili, and Haruhime, there was more than enough space for Vahn. Mikoto had retired earlier, apparently being somewhat weak to alcohol, and Vahn had seen her passed out on the futon with a silly smile on her face. It was somewhat regrettable because Vahn wished she could smile like that when she was awake.
During the bath, Vahn ended up getting ‘assaulted’ by Haruhime and Lili for a short while before helping each girl, with the exceptions of Naaza and Lefiya, wipe down their bodies. Haruhime had been decidedly less ‘bold’ this time around, so Vahn was grateful for that and carefully washed her ears for her. Renards had slightly curved fox-like ears with large tufts of fur in their interiors to prevent fluids for accumulating inside. To prevent things like infections, cleaning the ears was a very delicate process that required a lot of care and it was somewhat ‘intimate’ to entrust it to another person. Though Vahn often washed her hair for her, as it was very long and silky smooth to the touch, it wasn’t that often that he tended to her ears.
As for Lili, she was very easy to clean as there wasn’t a lot of surface area for Vahn to cover. Though she tried to make a bit of trouble, she didn’t get too out of hand since Fenrir had been eyeing her a bit. After Lili, Vahn washed down Ais’s body and once again marveled at her almost ethereal beauty and noticed that she was beginning to develop slightly. Though he approximately knew what she would look like in the future, Vahn had only seen that version of Ais on the pages of a manga and it didn’t do a lot of justice when it came to describing the real thing. Vahn wondered how her body would develop further in the future and he felt especially blessed to see the changes with his own eyes.
Tiona was up shortly after Ais and made things somewhat interesting by asking Vahn to wash her from behind. Vahn knew she was teasing him a bit, but the view of Tiona from behind made his heart itch and was a very pleasant sight so he indulged her. ‘Fortunately’, her breasts weren’t very well developed so Vahn didn’t have to reach far forward to wash the front of her body. He would never say it out loud, unless she specifically asked him in certain contexts, but Vahn thought smaller breasts suited Tiona as they made her seem especially lively.
The last person to receive Vahn’s care was the uncharacteristically ‘patient’ Fenrir who immediately replaced Tiona shortly after Vahn rinsed her hair. Tiona playfully let herself fall back into the water as a result of Fenrir’s ‘invasion’ before she began to float on the top of the water spread-eagle. It wasn’t long before she bumped into someone and, seeing that it was Lefiya, immediately ‘attacked’ the bashful Elf while offering to help wash her back for her. As for Fenrir, she emulated Tiona’s behavior and asked Vahn to wash her from behind as well. Though he was momentarily hesitant, Vahn had already washed Fenrir’s body well more than a hundred times at this point so he didn’t mind it too much. Just like Tiona, Fenrir was in a similar condition as a certain trickster goddess and Vahn knew she would likely be stuck like this for all of eternity unless she either died, or he found a solution.
There was a great deal Vahn didn’t know about his Innates, including his [Keeper of the Akashic Tome]. Since it was possible to imbue a record into an entity without a fate, Vahn was able to drastically change the destinies of those that received his names. It also mentioned that they were capable of even exceeding the original record, which meant that further evolution and changes should be possible in the future. At the very least, Vahn wanted Fenrir to learn magic a bit so she would be able to transform her body a bit in the future. Though she wasn’t nearly as small as someone like Lili, Fenrir was still rather petite, somewhat shorter than Arnya, and Vahn was very worried about her being ‘hurt’ when things inevitably escalated.
As if she had read his mind, Fenrir angled her head up and let her head rest against Vahn’s chest as she said, “Fenrir will be fine…” in a soft tone. Though he used to be surprised with how much information she received through their bond, Vahn had already grown accustomed to her behavior. He reached up and framed her face before rubbing the bottom of her chin and making her lower jaw quiver slightly before saying, “Lower your head so I can wash your hair…” Fenrir nodded before tilting her head back down and patting the water with her paws in a happy manner as she let Vahn wash her hair…