Chapter 651: Tracking

Fenrir continued to lead the way, making quick progress through the relative safety of the secret passage while Asfi explained, “Though the Dungeon changes its layout on occasion, there are some areas that clearly retain their basic structure. If you take measurements in the area, you’ll find that the flow of mana within the walls of that area is more stagnant than the rest of the Dungeon. If you can identify the location of such places, they usually lead to secret areas and passageways…” Asfi was currently answering Vahn’s questions to the best of her ability, as long as it didn’t pertain to the secrets of the Hermes Familia itself. Though the information regarding the passages was an important secret, it wasn’t something unique to the Hermes Familia itself and they wouldn’t have even learned about it unless the Xenos told them. Since the Hestia Familia actively advocated for the rights of the Xenos, Asfi didn’t think Vahn would be the type to spread word regarding the secret passageways…

Vahn continued to listen to Asfi’s explanation while observing the area with his eyes of truth, doing his best to check for any signs of an ambush while also taking note of the flow of mana within the walls. Since the Dungeon was a ‘living’ construct, it had a large volume of rainbow-like mana flowing through its walls, similar to blood in people. As Asfi mentioned, there were indeed some areas where this flow seemed to ‘pool’ and ‘stagnate’, but Vahn had seen this more as a sign that a Monster Party was nearby so he had avoided such areas. Generally, whenever a monster was about to spawn, there would be an increase in the mana at the point of emergence, creating a very similar effect…

After continuing forward for nearly half an hour, slowed by Vahn’s careful observation of the surroundings, the group came across a second area where the mana stagnated slightly. Understanding this was the entrance to a secret passage, Vahn tapped the wall in the same pattern as Asfi, observing the effect of his contact. Each tap made ‘ripples’ within the mana which, when overlapped, triggered a chain reaction that connected it to another area of the Dungeon. Vahn found this very interesting, especially since the Dungeon changed its shape rather quickly while being comprised of a hard white bedrock.

Once the corridor had completely opened, Fenrir frowned and said, “Blood…” in a low voice. Even so, she continued forward undaunted as a subtle blue aura began to rise from her body that provided extra illumination to the low light of the corridor. When Asfi heard Fenrir’s words, she couldn’t help but frown with a moderate amount of concern showing on her face. Vahn, noticing the chaotic fluctuation of her aura gave her a sidelong glance, calmly stating, “Relax, Asfi…the smell of blood isn’t the same as the smell of death…” Though they weren’t the most comforting words, it was certainly the truth and Fenrir wouldn’t have made such a mistake with how sensitive her nose was. Asfi seemed to relax, even if just a little, nodding her head as she said, “We should hurry…” while falling into step with Fenrir.

Vahn watched for a short while before following behind, making sure the inspect their surroundings along the way. In this corridor, there weren’t any connecting paths and it seemed to continue at a steep incline that led to another corridor. There was almost no way to stage an ambush in an area like this, at least not in a conventional method. Other than the fact that the roof was a little high, around 20m, the corridor itself was just a singular path. Vahn suspected that their attacker must have struck from above but it still called into question how they were able to know which path Asfi’s companions would take. According to her, they used a variety of different paths to avoid creating identifiable patterns so this was either an example of Enyo’s forces having the ability to track people or a credit to the misfortune of Reid and Tallow…

Shaking his head in mild exasperation, Vahn mused about the machinations of fate and the influence of karma as they reached the area where the attack had taken place. Though there weren’t any signs of fighting, there was still a thick aroma of blood in the area that Vahn could pick up in his Báihǔ form. Fenrir stopped at a particular area, pawing the ground with her eyes closed as she said, “Fenrir smells blood, Elixir, three big scents, and several smaller scents…” As her nose twitched about, Fenrir eventually scrunched up her face as she said, “One of the big scents disappears here but the other two continue forward…”

Asfi nodded her head, noting that the signal coming from their magic items wasn’t coming from this location. If the scent ‘vanished’, as Fenrir described it, Asfi hoped it meant the enemy had been killed and absorbed by the Dungeon. Her companions may have fled after the fact before holing up in an area to recover their wounds. Unfortunately, Vahn stepped forward next to Fenrir, squinting his eyes as he said, “After the bigger scent vanished, the other scents broke up while the other two continued onwards. They must have been robbed of their equipment since using an item to mask their scent trail would have hidden everything, not just their clothing…” Hearing this, Asfi felt a little faint as her thoughts raced to process the information Vahn just revealed.

Vahn stood up, noticing Asfi’s plight and feeling sorry for the young woman, deciding to take charge of the situation since things would become troublesome otherwise. Taking a deep breath to maintain his own calm, Vahn stated, “We can still follow the scent trail of the two, though it doesn’t seem like they were injured too severely since the largest aroma of blood is in this area. It’s already been more than three days since then so it’s very likely they have either escaped towards the surface or taken refuge in a safe area. Our other option is to find where their tracking beacons are, though that may require us to walk into a trap set by our enemies…”

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Though it would be somewhat inconvenient to follow the trail upwards, it didn’t make a big difference since Vahn expected to be called to the surface at any moment. There was a chance the two may have sought shelter with the Xenos as well, which would actually be a boon in his favor since one of his personal interests was brokering an agreement with the unique entities. Asfi seemed to realize this as well but remained conflicted, ultimately turned toward him and saying, “We should try to recover the beacons and find out where the scrolls are. Though the odds are slim, it would be beneficial to recover them to prevent future troubles…”

Nodding his head, Vahn made a somewhat wry smile as he said, “That is one of the downsides to spying on people and trying to move information secretly. Now that it has fallen into enemy hands, the Hermes Familia has essentially compromised the integrity of Lil Geirr. I find it difficult to believe the Alliance, particularly Loki, will be pleased to find out the information about her fortress is now known to our enemies…” Vahn’s own expression became firm as he spoke, realizing how ‘inconvenient’ things had become because of Hermes’ machinations. Since the members of his Familia seem like good people, simply following orders, Vahn knew it fell on the whimsical god’s shoulders for orchestrating things in this fashion.

Asfi’s expression didn’t change much, but her aura began to flicker almost pitifully when she realized the implication behind Vahn’s words. It was very possible that, unless they agreed to very heavy reparations, the Hermes Familia would be removed from the Alliance in the future. Gods could hold vendettas for millennia as well, meaning they would lose their place in what is inarguably the most powerful and influential organization in the Continent. Given the growth rate of everyone in the Hearth Manor, it was guaranteed the Alliance wouldn’t simply increase in power, but expand their authority as well. Regardless of how things played out, it wasn’t looking good for her Familia unless they managed to somehow recover the scrolls, hoping that the enemy hadn’t already made copies…

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Seeing Asfi’s state, Vahn shook his head slightly before turning to Fenrir and saying, “Fenrir, we’ll follow the trail of the two for the time being. Asfi, let me know if we start moving away from the beacons and we’ll try and recover them, if at all possible. The layout of the Dungeon is very complex, so I don’t have much hope we’d be able to find a direct path to them unless you have a magic item that allows you to make and track them…?” Asfi shook her head very slowly, releasing a small sigh before saying, “I’m more worried about the status of my companions right now, as its unlikely their attackers were dumb enough not to separate the scrolls from the other equipment. The Hermes Familia will do it’s best to make up for this grievous mistake in the future…”

Vahn could tell that Asfi was trying to smooth things over a bit but he wasn’t going to advocate in her favor once they actually returned to the surface. Though he would make sure the individual members weren’t punished too harshly, Vahn had no reason to prevent Loki from lashing out at Hermes. Hopefully, for them at least, she would be in a somewhat forgiving mood after giving birth to their daughter, though Vahn doubted it. If anything, Loki would probably be even angrier once she found out how severely Hermes had compromised the safety of the children in her Familia while simultaneously undermining the efforts of the Alliance itself.

For the better part of nine hours, Fenrir followed the scents of the two, getting progressively closer towards the surface while following winding secret paths all throughout the Dungeon. They confirmed a long time ago that the beacons were definitely holding position deeper in the Dungeon so it was very likely that they had either been discarded or stashed away. Since the scent of the attacker had somehow vanished, it would be impossible to follow a path leading to the beacons so they instead continued upwards until reaching the 34th Floor. It was a little strange moving through the Dungeon without encountering any enemies, but it made sense why the duo would take such a roundabout path since it was very likely they had been robbed of their equipment.

Asfi started to become more hesitant as they continued forward, drawing Vahn’s attention as he asked, “Is there something we need to be aware of, Asfi? If you think this is the time to keep secrets, while we’re on a rescue mission to save your companions, I would be very disappointed…” Hearing Vahn’s words, Asfi frowned slightly before a look of deep contemplation appeared on her face. The group slowly came to a halt until Asfi eventually turned her eyes up and said, “I’ve been in this area before…Reid and Tallow wouldn’t have come this way if they were trying to make their way to safety in the shortest amount of time. Unless…ahh…” Suddenly realizing what must be going on, Asfi relaxed a little as she said, “They must have been looking for food and water before making their way further up. There is a small orchard with a lake nearby, but it’s typically off limits…”

They hadn’t really talked about the Xenos yet, but Vahn understood what Asfi was trying to say almost immediately. He already knew the Hermes Familia was involved with the Xenos and it was likely they had several agreements between each other to maintain cooperation. After all, compromising potential food sources, which could be very sparse within the Dungeon, would be a very quick way to break down peaceful relations. The Xenos would undoubtedly lay blame on the people they ‘trusted’ if anything were to happen so they either made the areas off-limits or strictly guarded them. It was likely that Reid and Tallow had entered the area, not only to get food and water, but to draw the attention of the Xenos and potentially gain their assistance…

Fenrir continued to lead the way, following a few twists and turns until they finally reached a much larger room that actually had small crystals growing from the ceiling, just like a safety area. These crystals emulated sunlight so there was a healthy amount of vegetation in the area with a few sparsely populated fruit trees and berry bushes. As Asfi had stated, there was also a small lake, though Vahn would have called it a pond, at the very center of the room. It was a rather scenic location, drastically different from other areas of the Dungeon and very reminiscent of the area where he had first met Terra, back when she was still a Green Dragon.

Since the room was small than the reach of his domain, which now sat at 621m, Vahn quickly noticed two life signs within his perception, including one that was on the verge of failing. In an instant, Vahn became much more serious as he said, “We need to move, quickly!” as he picked up the startled Asfi. Using [Shundo[, Vahn moved to the area of the clearing in an instant with Fenrir easily keeping pace with them. Vahn eyes snapped to the location of the two, hidden in an area where there was plenty of natural concealment. One of the auras became very chaotic for a brief moment before practically ‘exploding’ with vibrant colors, likely after seeing Asfi.

Tallow leaped out of the cover of the brush, almost completely naked except for the various large leaves that had been woven together as make-shift clothing. Though she struck Vahn as the confident and willful type, Tallow currently had puffy red eyes with deep black circles around, tell-tale signs that she had been crying a lot recently. She ran over to Asfi, who reached down to hug the small Pallum girl who barely made out the words, “Reid…he is dying…Asfi, please, hurry!” Vahn had already arrived next to the man while their little reunion was going on, finding him laying on his side in what was known as a ‘recovery position’ with a large, festering, wound on his back. It was obvious that Tallow tried to provide herbal treatment and first aid, but his injury was simply too severe to be treated by basic means.

Asfi arrived moments later, holding several Elixirs in her hands before becoming pale when she noticed the state of Reid’s back. Elixirs could heal most wounds, even those caused by acidic burns and decaying magic, but there wasn’t much they could gangrenous tissue that had started to rot naturally. Even so, she tried to uncork the Elixirs with shaking hands until Vahn shook his head, nearly causing Tallow to have a breakdown until he said, “Don’t worry, I can help him…” Not only did he have [Hands of Nirvana] at the level of Mastery, but Vahn could make use of healing magic to regenerate damaged tissue without wasting Elixirs.

Vahn placed his hand near Reid’s heart, infusing a warm and soothing energy into the man’s chest to help stabilize him before using his right hand to begin removing some of the decayed flesh. It smelled terrible, causing Fenrir to actually cover her mouth and nose, but Vahn ignored it. Asfi consoled Tallow at the side, calming the small Pallum as they both watched him work. Though she might have stopped anyone else that tried to operate on her companion, Tallow knew Vahn’s reputation as a ‘miracle’ doctor and Asfi had quickly reminded her of that fact. Judging by how skilled and practiced his movements were, it was easy to see he knew what he was doing, even though it was very disconcerting to watch the actual procedure.

After removing the decayed flesh, leaving a gaping hole in Reid’s back that was full of puss and blood, Vahn cast [Cura] on the wound while simultaneously bolstering the natural recovery of Reid’s body with his [Hands of Nirvana]. The missing flesh began to grow back at a visible rate, almost as if time itself was reversing and the damage was being undone. After a few minutes had passed, there was a large and tender area that quickly started to scab over, leaving a huge blotch on Reid’s back before it eventually fell off a few seconds later, revealing an area that was much paler than the rest of his tanned body, but otherwise completely recovered.

Vahn wiped the sweat from his brow before taking out one of his own Elixirs and pouring it down Reid’s throat. Though he healed most of the internal injuries, an Elixir could serve as a powerful stimulant and food supplement. He likely hadn’t eaten anything over the course of the last three days and had been fighting a fever before Vahn helped cool his body. Unfortunately, that fever had done a number on the man and, though Vahn was able to undo most of the damage, it was more than a little likely he would have trouble with his memories in the future.

Releasing a sigh of relief, Vahn turned to Tallow and Asfi, frowning for a brief moment before pulling out one of his spare tunics for the girl to wear. Seeing a 114cm tall crying girl covered in leaves was a little disconcerting and one of his tunics would functionally serve as a dress for her. For a brief moment, the girl seemed to be confused before absentmindedly accepting the tunic and muttering a quiet, “Thank you…” before retreating into an area of cover to change. Vahn pulled a few extra garments, handing them over to Asfi as he answered the question likely on her mind, “He’ll be fine, though his memory will probably be shot for a while. He shouldn’t have trouble forming new memories, but he may have trouble recalling some events of the past. Make sure he has plenty of time to recover and he’ll be back to normal in a few months…”

Asfi took a deep breath before bowing low, much lower than someone of her status should have, saying, “Thank you, Vahn…you have done a gre-” Before she could continue, Vahn tapped her shoulder, saying, “Asfi, take those clothes and look after Tallow. Gratitude is important, but there is a time and a place for everything. If you really feel thankful, then make better decisions and take care of your companions. Help other people, do good deeds, or simply keep your gratitude close to heart while thinking of methods to repay the kindness of others. Words can be impactful, but they are meaningless in certain situations…actions are far more important.”

Vahn was of the mind that helping people was something that should be ‘expected’, not something that people should be surprised to receive. It was somewhat annoying seeing people ‘thanking’ him so much when it would be better for everyone involved if they just ‘remembered’ their gratitude. He would never understand how some people just ‘expressed’ their gratitude with words, seemingly putting the matter behind them after the fact unless it was ‘beneficial’ for them later on. Many of his problems actually stemmed from ‘accepting’ gratitude directly, causing him to get wrapped up in the lives of other people to the point that he was now surrounded by women. Though he didn’t regret it for even one instant, Vahn knew he had erred more than a little in his past actions…

Asfi hadn’t quite expected Vahn’s words and nearly tripped when he ‘gently’ urged her towards the direction Tallow had gone to change. She gave him a complex look but couldn’t muster up any words to say after seeing his simultaneously calm and firm expression. Then, even more unexpectedly, Vahn simply turned his attention away from her and started looking over Reid’s body once again. Asfi felt very awkward because she didn’t really understand Vahn’s character at all…he was just so different compared to anyone else, both in her home Kingdom and Orario. Deciding it was best to simply do as he said, Asfi turned away and headed towards Tallow before noticing what she was carrying. It seemed like a pair of black spats and form-fitting elastic bra that was suitable for Pallums. There was even a pair of light pink panties that were of very high quality, radiating a small amount of mana…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘RIP Hermes-san’,’Get your shitty Elixirs out of here (UwU)…!’,’Pay it Forward, Asfi-baka!’)

(A/N: For those confused about Vahn’s thought process regarding gratitude. It’s pretty simple, really, and can be summarized like this. You see, even if people are really thankful for something, it often becomes the case that they use that ‘gratitude’ as a means of approaching people that they typically have no real reason of associating with. It isn’t that uncommon for people that receive assistance to take advantage of the person that helped them, often even ‘expecting’ help just because they received help in the past. This is even more prevalent in situations where the person that gave aid was someone of a more prominent position or possessing of great wealth. You can see this happening with most of the girls at the Clubhouse, who see Vahn’s support as a means to get close to him and receive greater benefits in the future…)

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