The return trip to the 39th Floor was relatively uneventful, considering that the majority of the trip made use of the secret passages that allowed the group to travel without coming across any enemies. Fenrir had picked up a few scents along the way, which Vahn contemplated having her follow in the future in order to find the Xenos, but that would have to wait until later.
During the few times when they did fight, chiefly on the 40th Floor, Fenrir took the lead and made short work of the majority of enemies, causing no small amount of shock for Reid, Tallow, and Rufina. Though Fenrir’s power had been documented by Asfi, it was another thing entirely when you saw it for yourself. Since it was ‘speculated’ that Vahn was even stronger, the two kept a bit of a distance so as not to inadvertently offend him. They were very aware of their mistake and didn’t want to make an even worse impression after the fiasco regarding the scrolls.
After ascending the stairs to the 39th Floor, the tensions became a little more relaxed as the group made their way towards Lil Geirr. They used the front entrance leading up to the plateau since Reid, Tallow, and Rufina had yet to be cleared for entry. Afterward, they immediately went towards the rather imposing fortress at the center of the plateau where Finn was already waiting with a tired look on his face. Vahn, confused, asked, “Did something else happen while I was away? I didn’t get any messages…” Finn’s response was to release a sigh, before bringing his hands together on his desk and saying, “Sorry about that, Vahn. I’m dealing with some personal matters, nothing of great importance…”
Deciding to ask about it later, Vahn nodded and set the matter aside as he explained, “The rescue mission was a success, but there are other complications that have arisen.” Finn adopted a very professional look, gesturing for Vahn to continue as he pulled out a quill and dipped it into an ink well. Vahn waited for him to prepare before saying, “It is safe to assume the scrolls I mentioned previously will fall into the hands of our enemies. We’ll need to alter the construction plans a bit and establish some extra defensive measures. Also, the odds of an attack taking place during the first personnel swap are very high, so it will be necessary to leave behind a force to defend Lil Geirr…”
Finn released a small sigh, making a few notes before saying, “Vahn, I know you’ll be returning to the surface soon. I’ll be entrusting you with a missive requesting backup from the Alliance. It should be possible to have reinforcements escort the second group and then pick up those that wish to return. This will allow us to avoid the situation of being understaffed and increase the number of people rotating out of Lil Geirr in the future…now, is there anything else?” Finn eyed Rufina at this point, furrowing his brows slightly since, even though she had washed her body off, there was still an ‘air’ of danger surrounding her.
Vahn turned to look at Rufina as well, giving her a curt nod before explaining, “I’ll file an official report later, but this is Rufina Vermillion, someone who has fallen under the protection of the Hestia Familia. I saved her from the control of our ‘enemies’ and she is currently suffering from amnesia. I’ll include the details in my report, but most of it will be covered by Asfi, Reid, and Tallow. Know that my official stance is that she can’t be held accountable for the actions she was forced to take against her will, regardless of what may come to light in the future.”
Using Vahn’s words as her cue, Asfi stepped forward and explained, “The Hermes Familia will be taking responsibility for the loss of the scrolls and the dissemination of information to enemy forces. I understand that there will be a great deal of tension between the Hermes Familia and the rest of the Alliance in the future, but know that it was never our intent to compromise the integrity of Lil Geirr. Though it will undoubtedly sound like an excuse, our purpose had been to establish roots within the forces stationed at the fortress so that our missions could be carried out in secrecy. The information was never meant to get out, and we will do our best to make amends in the future…”
Finn had a stern expression on his face as he eyed Asfi, showing no signs that he expressed any ‘understanding’ of their plight. He knew things weren’t as simple as she was stating and it was more than likely that the Hermes Familia had compiled information on key figures within the Alliance, specifically the Executives of the Loki and Hestia Familias. Even if such information hadn’t been gathered with malicious intent, that didn’t mean much when it suddenly fell into the hands of their enemies. Now, it was almost the same as if they had betrayed the Alliance and Finn didn’t intend to let the matter lay once they finally returned. After all, this mistake would cost them several hundred million Valis, which the Hermes Familia likely wouldn’t be able to repay any time soon.
Vahn held up his hand, having Asfi stand back as he turned to Finn and said, “For the time being, though they have been registered as guests, I suggest Reid and Tallow will be under watch until we return to the surface. Asfi and Rufina will be in my care until then, as I’m still contracted to protect Asfi while Rufina needs to be monitored in the event her memory is stirred. She may be able to provide a lot of information that would prove beneficial to the Alliance so I suspect our enemies may move to either recover or eliminate her. The safest place for her would be under the watch of the Hestia Familia…”
Waiting for Vahn to finish, Finn took a few moments to contemplate matters before eventually conceding to the proposed terms. He still needed statements from everyone present, excluding Rufina, but Finn allowed them to get situated before regrouping after lunch. Finn assigned Cruz to watch over Reid while Tallow was entrusted to Alicia, bunking up together in one of the small personnel quarters. Vahn took Asfi and Rufina back to the area where the Hestia Familia was staying, accompanied by Fenrir who had changed into a gothic maid outfit at some point.
Haruhime and Mikoto were both present when they arrived, so Vahn did quick introductions and explained the situation. Rufina would be staying in the room next to Asfi during the evenings and had been put on a sort of ‘house arrest’ to remain in the confines of the Hestia Familia quarters. Vahn didn’t mind showing her around, but she was still a security risk for the time being and there was no way of know how she would react if her memory was stirred. Thus, at least for the time being, she needed to remain inside so Vahn asked Haruhime and Mikoto to help explain any questions she might have.
As Rufina was getting settled in, Ais, Tiona, Tione, and Lefiya all returned, apparently having gone to the 38th Floor to get some exercise in. Rufina came out of her room while Vahn was explaining the situation, giving everyone present a strange look before asking, “I may be imagining this, but aren’t there like a lot of girls around you, kid?” Vahn paused for a brief moment before deciding the clarifying things, explaining, “As I said previously, my situation is a little abnormal…Ais, Tiona, Tione, and Haruhime are all my lovers. Fenrir is my trusted companion and Lefiya is my adorable apprentice, at least for the time being. On the surface, I have several wives and many other lovers, some of which will be giving birth soon. The main reason I’ll be returning to the surface is to make sure I’m there when my children are born…”
Rufina looked like she was starting to get light head, bringing her hand up to rub her temples as she said, “Jeez, you really don’t hold back, do ya? Well, whatever, not that its any of my business. Though, at least now I have a better understanding of why you decided to help me.” Rufina released a sigh, looking around at all the young girls present before shaking her head and returning to her own room. She suddenly felt very tired and it didn’t look like she would be able to relax with all the curious eyes focused on her.
Once Rufina had left, Tione seemed to have picked up on something so she asked, “Vahn, you don’t like her, do you…?” Vahn immediately shook his head, feeling a small headache of his own as he said, “You should know me better than that, Tione. I helped her because she was a victim of circumstances outside of her control. There was also a chance she would have been able to provide beneficial information to us, though that didn’t really pan out as I had wanted. Honestly, I’d be happy if she was able to reunite with her former companions and live a normal life…”
At this point, Ais pitched in her own opinion, though it wasn’t really clear, “She is very strong…I can tell, even if she doesn’t seem aware of it.” Tiona nodded, playfully clinging to Ais as she said, “Yeah, she has a really wild vibe to her, even though her temperament seems a little on the easy-going side~.” Hearing Tiona refer to someone else easy-going made Vahn smile while Tione snorted as she gave her little sister an incredulous look. Tiona, seemingly unaffected by the gaze, just laughed it away without any care or concern.
Vahn went on to explain the details regarding Rufina, including the strength she previously wielded and her unique ability to communicate with people from monster descent. She likely had a lot of affinity as a Tamer so Vahn was planning to leave her with the Ganesha Familia once she was cleared of suspicion. Vahn was very fond of Ganesha’s character and Shakti seemed like a kind and trustworthy woman who would look after Rufina properly. Regardless of what happened, however, Vahn didn’t intend to let Rufina stay at the Hearth Manor. Though he took pity on her, and she was actually quite beautiful, he really wanted to avoid arbitrarily increasing the number of women living there…
The rest of the day passed without any major events taking place, which was rather fortunate considering everything that had happened. Vahn filled out a report and submitted it to Finn, helped alter the plans for the peripheral buildings with Quinn, and spent a bit of time with the girls. He had decided to head back even earlier since there were a few things he needed to take care of before he was forced to return to the surface. Vahn promised Loki he would capture and tame either a wyvern or a dragon, and he wanted to keep his word. It would also give him a chance to potentially test Rufina’s taming ability, though that was only if there was time for it.
Early the next morning, Vahn got up and had a long and lively breakfast with all the girls as they talked about what they wanted to do after returning. Though they needed to escort the Expeditions, Ais, Tiona, Tione, and Lefiya all wanted to take a long break from the Dungeon and take magic lessons. Terra said she wouldn’t really be teaching anyone, but she didn’t mind giving bits of advice while most of her knowledge was intended for Vahn. He would become the metric by which other capable Mages would be measured in the future while Terra and Fenrir primarily took a back seat and focused on their own training. Thus, Vahn would be the main person training everyone, which had been the plan before Fenrir and Terra surpassed him, primarily as a result of the much longer period of time they had spent with Eva.
Vahn had also planned to take a long break, raising his children while trying to resolve some issues both inside and outside of Orario. Though he was tempted to push forward on his own in an effort to circumvent future problems, Vahn didn’t want his entire life to be defined by trying to constantly outmaneuver his foes to avoid conflict. This would leave him almost no time for his family, all the women he loved, and his future children. He would need to find a good balance but the best method was simply to increase his own power, consolidate strength around the Hearth Manor, and just take decisive action as their enemies appeared.
There was a chance that people would scheme against them, but there was almost nothing they could actually do to threaten the Hearth Manor itself as long as Terra was around. The strongest person in the City, Ottar, who could potentially even rival thousands of people, wouldn’t even be able to scratch Terra within her own territory. She was simply ‘beyond’ almost every other entity in the world at present, with the exception of the gods themselves. Anyone that was brazen enough to actually try and fight against her would likely meet a very swift end, becoming a statue to adorn her garden…
Though Vahn planned to teach everyone the basics, most of the more advanced lessons would be focused on Lili, Haruhime, Lefiya, and, from a moderately different perspective, Riveria. They were all his ‘official’ disciples so Vahn would train them personally while Riveria would likely become an expert on theory since she was already beyond the age where she could have obtained a large amount of magic power. As for girls like Mikoto, Vahn would be teaching her a unique form of magic focused on enhancement so she can push her swordsmanship to the extremes. There were laws that governed the efficacy of swords, and Vahn believed Mikoto had the right mentality to reach the extremes…
Everyone else would be taught the basics, pursuing their own path of Magic with Vahn, Terra, and Fenrir providing guidance on occasion. Magic was something intended to be ‘free’ and ‘unbound’, even though it relied heavily on a person’s understanding and knowledge. It wasn’t difficult to create completely new magics, which was why the most common type of magic was ‘unnamed’. As long as you had a proper understanding of it, and could form an image based on that understanding, it was possible to make any kind of magic. If you polished it enough, it would become ‘named’ magic that could be passed on a legacy to other people.
Vahn intended, as they were literally starting a magic revolution, for everyone to come up with their own style. The spells that created now would become the stuff of legend in the future, with the generations that come after them constantly aspiring to build upon the foundation they would establish. This would start from the moment Vahn introduced the concept of magic fundamentals inside of his School and it would become more refined once people reached the point of attending the Academy in Haven. One day, perhaps in as little as ten years from now, the magic system they introduce will become the foundation for change in the entire world. Vahn would show everyone that ‘anyone’ could learn how to use magic, barring they didn’t have a special constitution, and the only thing that truly mattered was knowledge, understanding, and wisdom…
After breakfast had come to an end, Vahn let Finn know that he was planning to return early so that they could better prepare for any problems that may arise. Finn didn’t disagree since it was always better to resolve such things as expediently as possible. Being able to receive reinforcements a few days earlier would obviously be preferred over having to wait and risk something going wrong. It also allowed him to avoid people watching over Reid and Tallow, so Finn readily agreed and wished Vahn well in his journey towards the surface.
As he had already explained it to all the girls, spending a fair amount of time with them before parting, Vahn had all the people accompanying him gather at the gate. Those gathered included Fenrir, Haruhime, Mikoto, Asfi, Reid, Tallow, and Rufina. Vahn had been stressing about having to leave behind Haruhime previously but, now that he had time
to journey back to the surface before the expected due dates, Vahn decided to bring her and Mikoto along. After all, they would be able to make pretty quick progress by skipping by some of the more troublesome Floors by making use of the secret passages.
With Vahn replenishing the stamina of the group along the way, they managed to reach the 18th Floor, Rivira, after just eleven hours of travel. According to Asfi, Reid, and Tallow, it typically took them around two days to make the same trip, though they were never in a great hurry and usually exercised caution over bravado. Along the way, the only Floors they fought on were the 40th, the 30th, and the Floors of the Great Fall as the only ‘safe’ passage was behind the waterfall itself, which is where Iguazu typically made their nest.
It was safer to stick to the side passages and use magic items to avoid drawing the aggro of monsters instead of trying to circumvent them entirely. As for how they were able to do so, it had been a magic item that Asfi had designed, taking on the form of a cloak that could almost completely conceal the wearer’s presence from all by sight. Many of the scouts within the Hermes Familia were equipped with them and, in the event even more stealth was needed, Asfi even had a magic item that could literally make a person invisible without consuming their own mana. Though it was a closely veiled secret of her’s, she knew Vahn had already seen it and it was already too late to try to keep it hidden at this point.
Vahn knew Asfi was making an attempt to smoothen over tensions between them by showing a bit more transparency than in the past so he readily accepted the chance to inspect the item, called [Hades Head], himself. It was very interesting to see magic items that could even trick his own basic detection abilities and Vahn was excited at the prospect of learning [Mystery] in the future. Being able to equip the girls with accessories that would allow them to become invisible seemed like it would be an immense benefit, especially those like Shizune and Chloe…
After reaching Rivira, that was technically the end of Vahn’s contract with Asfi. Since he didn’t really want them present when he was trying to tame a Wyvern later, Vahn decided to part ways with the Hermes Familia trio, letting them go to reunite with their other members, many of which were present at a hidden base they had established within the settlement at the base of the tree. Before they left, Asfi, Reid, and Tallow all expressed their gratitude, with Reid himself bowing very low while swearing to repay the life-debt he owed Vahn in the future. Vahn tried to deflect and have him focus more on Tallow, the person that had actually saved his life, but Reid was pretty insistent, saying, “I will repay both of you separately…”
Finally free of the three, after promising to meet up and discuss the terms of their reparations at a later date, Vahn took Fenrir, Haruhime, Mikoto, and Rufina into the upper floors as they began their search for a wyvern. Along the way, Rufina had made several comments about the structure of the Dungeon itself, finding the variable layout very interesting as she watched people fight from a safe distance. Though she was strong in her own right, Rufina had no memory of ever having fought before so it would probably take her a bit of time to refamiliarize herself with the concepts once she had been situated later on.
It took nearly seven hours, but Fenrir finally managed to track down a Wyvern by following the unique scent. The encounter took place on the 15th Floor and actually triggered a Monster Party to take place, which had been easily dealt with by Mikoto and Haruhime while Vahn focused on subordinating the Wyvern. It was slightly over 5m long, covered in pink scales with two large and muscular wings that it used to try and attack him. Vahn manhandled it and deflected all of its attacks until it had completely exhausted itself after trying to attack with a ‘lukewarm’ flame breath. It seemed to be satisfied with itself for hitting Vahn with the attack, at least until Vahn flicked it’s snout and dazed it with a calm expression on his face.
Though it tried its best, the Wyvern eventually realized there was no hope and even made an attempt to flee once all the other monsters had been killed. Vahn grabbed its tail and kept it from running away until it eventually fell to the ground, breathing heavily from the exertion. Once it was tired, Vahn walked around, placing his palm on the Wyvern’s head and saying, “Relax, I’m not going to harm you…in fact, I’m going to give you the chance to become much stronger. If you’re willing to become my subordinate, I can allow you to obtain a great strength while also allowing you to escape the confines of the Dungeon. The only thing I ask for in exchange is that you protect a certain someone, a goddess by the name of Loki…”
It didn’t really have the intelligence to understand what Vahn was saying, but the Wyvern seemed to realize there wasn’t anything it could do about the current situation. There was a powerful force weighing down on its body that became progressively harder to bear as time passed. The only thing it knew was that Vahn was far beyond its power and, though it didn’t understand the offer Vahn was making, greatly desired power of its own. It believed that, by following the person in front of it, perhaps it would one day become strong enough to dominate others, instead of being dominated…