As the leader of the Expedition, Vahn had to help make sure everything was running smoothly so he left the tent with Fenrir and watched over the mobilization process alongside Finn and Gareth. They exchanged a few pleasantries before Finn began to explain any details that might have changed. During this time, Vahn was inspecting the convoy and scanning over everything with his [Eyes of Truth] since his intuition told him things wouldn’t be so simple after Fels’ warning. Catching sight of a few people with greyish, even black, auras, Vahn turned to Finn and asked, who are they?
Finn followed Vahn’s line of sight and saw the people he had pointed out, responding, “They are part of the construction team, I believe…?” Even as he spoke, Finn had already realized there might be something wrong because Vahn had a serious and contemplative expression. Presently, Vahn was considering if they should leave them behind or if he simply needed to pay attention to them during the Expedition. The strongest amongst them was only Level 2 and they didn’t pose a threat to almost anyone in the Expedition other than some of the other workers. They were most likely associated with a gang or a criminal Familia and simply wanted to get a foothold in the ‘settlement’ that was being built.
Vahn decided to put them to work since he didn’t have proof they had done anything wrong, meaning it may negatively impact the morale of the entire Expedition if he acted now. It wouldn’t be that difficult to keep each of them within his domain, as he was near the center of the convoy and could envelop the majority of the wagons. If they tried anything, which Vahn couldn’t imagine would be possible, he could easily deal with them using [Sagitta Magica]. There was also the simple fact that they were weaker than any other combatant and would quickly earn the ire of anyone they tried to sabotage, likely losing their lives in the process.
Turning to Finn, Vahn explained, “Those people, they don’t seem to be the most reputable bunch. For now, I’ll allow them to accompany the Expedition so we don’t compromise the morale of everyone else. Be warned though, as I may have to deal with them if they try anything funny. Also, we’ll need to inspect the construction sites properly in the future to make sure criminals don’t end up creating any sort of network in what is supposed to a defensive military complex…” Finn now had a very serious expression on his face while Gareth stroked his beard, eyeing all of the people Vahn had indicated previously. Since the Supply Depot was going to be managed by the Loki Familia, with the Alliance’s support, it would negatively reflect upon them if criminals ended up taking residence right under their noses.
Much like Haven, they were intending to make a few rare materials accessible only at the Supply Depot in order to encourage people to venture further into the Dungeon. Smugglers and Black Market dealers would undoubtedly want to get their hands on such items, regardless of how dangerous the journey might be. As long as they stuck to the larger Expedition parties that moved between the 18th and 39th Floor, they could travel in relative safety and make a veritable fortune off the materials they obtained. This would only encourage other people to do the same and could potentially compromise the defenses of the Supply Depot if they were sneakily trying to build tunnels within the fortification to smuggle the goods outside. With entities like the red-headed woman walking around, tunnel systems could become a problem very quickly.
After talking with Finn and Gareth for a short while longer, Finn went off to prepare for the departure while Vahn used [Shundo] to appear where the last tent was, belonging to the Hestia Familia. Haruhime and Mikoto were currently standing with Asfi while the rest of the girls had already taking up their positions in the convoy. Though it earned him a slightly startled look from Asfi, Vahn placed the entire tent into his Inventory as he said, “Sorry for the wait, Asfi. From this point on, you shouldn’t wander too far away from me without informing me. I can always have one of the others accompany you if its an ’emergency’ situation…” Vahn sent the cool beauty a wink that caused Haruhime to laugh while Asfi herself furrowed her brows slightly, having adapted to the constant teasing by Hermes in the past and understanding Vahn was just joking around. Still, she turned her head slightly and muttered, “How uncouth…” in a voice she knew he could hear.
Vahn gave a wry smile before turning to Haruhime and Mikoto, saying, “Haruhime, you’ll be near the vanguard units this time around to support them, but I’ll be within [Shundo] distance if you’re in trouble.” Patting Fenrir’s head and stroking her fluffy ears, Vahn felt very relaxed as he said, “Fenrir will protect you in my stead, though you always need to remain on alert since she will probably be helping everyone else as well. You’re already pretty strong but accidents can happen…so please, take care of yourself and stay close to Lefiya.” Haruhime showed a beautiful and confident smile in response, saying, “This is a good opportunity to show that I’m not simply something to be protected, but someone that has grown strong for the sake of following the same path as the man I love~.”
Haruhime’s words earned her a look from both Asfi and Mikoto, with the latter blushing slightly before turning away, hands tightly gripping her katana. Fenrir just began to laugh in a playful manned before ‘thumping’ her chest and saying, “Haruhime is a good girl, but Fenrir is the strongest of all~!” This time, Haruhime’s eyes snapped to Fenrir and seemed to be ‘evaluating’ the small Vanargandr with a curious glint in her eyes. Fenrir felt her hair raise a bit because she realized her ‘play’ may have been seen through after she called Haruhime by name instead of ‘Harume’. Because it had been ‘years’ since she last interacted with the somewhat annoying Renard, Fenrir had completely forgotten how to behave around her since most of her thoughts revolved around her Master.
None-the-wiser, Vahn ruffled Fenrir’s hair and said, “Okay, we should get in our spots so the Expeditionary party isn’t just waiting on us. Asfi, you’ll be riding on the same cart with me so expect a few curious looks and some rumors to begin flying around later.” Even without explaining things in detail, Vahn knew Asfi understood what he was saying and it was very likely she had already taken such matters into consideration. Vahn was ‘famous’ for how many girls were around him so there was no way people wouldn’t begin to associate her with him after he starts protecting her. She also slept in the so-called ‘Harem Tent’ so there were bound to be misunderstandings, which was likely part of Hermes’ plan from the beginning. Thus, after earning a small nod from Asfi, Vahn went to his cart and sat down with Fenrir while Asfi sat to his right, with an appropriate amount of distance between them.
As expected, Asfi immediately earned the attention of a large number of people because she was one of three people sitting on a cart while everyone else was walking. Since she was already famous, it didn’t take long for people to identify her and rumors had started flying even before the convoy began its march into the Dungeon’s depths. For the most part, Asfi tolerated it well and simply kept her eyes closed while sitting with a straightened back, seemingly unconcerned with what others were saying. If not for the fact that her aura was burning like a wispy flame, showing that she felt very nervous and embarrassed, even Vahn would be fooled by her near-perfect display of etiquette.
Soon after the convoy entered the 19th Floor, Vahn began infusing two types of energy into his domain, one intended to revitalize the body while the other was supposed to help people remain calm and focused. He had already used this same ‘technique’ on the first 17 Floors so everyone was in high spirits when they felt the energy entering the bodies once again, even earning him a small hurrah from some of the closer groups. Asfi opened her eyes to look around at the atmosphere, even tracing her hands through it as if it was something tangible she could touch. Vahn could see there was a small magical glimmer from her glasses and wondered if they also helped her see and analyze ‘mana’ since that was typically only something those of Elven descendant were privy to.
It was around this time that the combat began in earnest so Vahn decided not to bother Asfi by observing her so closely and instead turned his attention to the rest of the Expedition. Presently, the 2nd Party, commanded by Raul, was heading the vanguard so Vahn could see Mikoto putting on a display of her swordsmanship for one of the first times. She didn’t break away from her spot in the formation, though her skill was based almost entirely on speed, but instead used her footwork to avoid monsters by a hair’s breadth before cutting through them with such swiftness the path of her blade couldn’t even be seen, by most people. This earned her some awed looks from Cruz and Alicia, the Weretiger and Elf that were in the 2nd Party, while Raul seemed outright gobsmacked.
As Asfi was also watching the fight, she commented, “It seems everyone in the Hestia Familia isn’t simple…” Vahn began laughing, surprising Asfi a little because he wasn’t acting like the boy that could see through anything the previous night. He seemed almost ‘lackadaisical’ now, almost as if he was expecting something to happen but wasn’t perturbed by it in the slightest. Catching her look, Vahn sent Asfi another wink before scratching the base of Fenrir’s ears and saying, “Go show our new friend how amazing you are, and everyone else for that matter~.” Fenrir had leaned into him while getting her ears stroked, rubbing her face against his side before nodding with an ‘Nn’ sound and disappearing from sight.
Asfi’s eyes widened the moment Fenrir disappeared because that was a technique Vahn was becoming famous for, which hadn’t existed previously. If he was ‘teaching’ it to other people, and they were actually able to learn it, the Hestia Familia would quickly become an almost unstoppable force. When she heard a loud explosion, causing her head to snap towards the source, Asfi couldn’t help but swallow dryly when she saw an entire section of the Dungeon had become frozen and she couldn’t even see any sign of Fenrir at all. A second, and third, explosion sounded on the opposite side of the convoy and the entire surrounding area was quickly becoming a frozen wasteland as Fenrir’s body ‘blurred’ beyond the perception of almost everyone present.
Finn had been paying close attention to the vanguard and he almost gave the orders to form the defensive line when he heard the first explosion. Once he realized what was happening, however, Finn was just as awed as everyone else as he and Gareth watched Fenrir completely annihilate her enemies effortlessly. It was very obvious she was showing off, but the sheer power of her attacks and the almost ‘impossible’ speed she was displaying caused the entire convoy to slow to a crawl. After a few seconds, not minutes, the only place with monsters still alive was near the front of the convoy. Fenrir had also sealed off the other pathways in the Dungeon with massive blocks of ice so there was no chance of monster reinforcement unless they spawned from the walls, which would easily be dealt with unless it was a Monster Party…
Though the entire Expedition was surprised by Fenrir’s display, Ais, Tiona, Tione, Haruhime, Lefiya, and Mikoto all watched with excited expressions on their faces. They had just been talking about learning magic the previous night and now they got a display of ‘real’ magic for the first time, which even the physical combatants on their team were supposedly capable of using. Vahn had already told each of them their elemental affinities and they knew, as long as they trained hard, it wouldn’t be impossible to put on a similar performance as Fenrir. The fact that she was hard to keep track of, even for Ais, Tiona, and Tione, made them giddy with expectation, especially Tiona, who had jumped up to the top of a cart and began cheering for Fenrir.
While everyone was marveling at Fenrir’s performance, Vahn sent a playful look at Asfi since she had been unable to prevent her mouth from gaping slightly. She immediately returned to her stoic appearance but there was an almost ‘terrified’ glimmer in her eye as she asked, “How did she become strong so quickly? What kind of…magic…is that?” Hearing Asfi’s question, Vahn chuckled before smiling wider and asking, “Aren’t those observations you should be making? It wouldn’t be any fun if I gave you all the answers, right?” Seeing that Asfi was somewhat taken aback by his words, Vahn relaxed a little before saying, “I will tell you one thing, though…this is only the beginning.” Towards the end of his words, Vahn took on a very resolute expression that made Asfi swallow dryly once again…