As Vahn awoke from his nap, he made his final preparations before entering into the 13th floor. The structure of the dungeon changed yet again and now the walls, floor, and ceiling were all made a pale black bedrock. It was much denser than anything found on the upper floors and Vahn also noticed it seemed to absorb what little light was emitted from the ceiling. There were rocks strewn about all over the ground making passage and combat more difficult.
This was Vahn’s first time entering the ‘middle floors’ so he proceeded with caution. The monsters starting from this point were almost all Level 2 or higher, and those that weren’t attacked in such great numbers they posed a threat to even experienced parties. If Vahn dropped his guard there was a very real possibility he may die from this point onward.
After traveling forward for about ten minutes, Vahn began to worry. This entire time he had yet to encounter a single monster, and even his domain wasn’t detecting any presences. He continued with increased caution until he came across an anomaly. The route he had taken led to a dead end where it looked as though the walls and ceiling had collapsed. Though it wasn’t uncommon for the dungeon’s layout to change over time, as this was the main route on the map it was odd to find it in such a state.
Vahn inspected the collapse and found traces of burning that scared the surface of some rocks. Someone, or something, must have used a large scale explosion magic to collapse the tunnel. The question on Vahn’s mind though was why someone would do such a thing. He decided to backtrack and look for a secondary route or else he would have to wait for days for the dungeon to repair itself.
After finding a connecting tunnel, Vahn made his way and released a sigh of relief when he detected the presence of several monsters ahead. He had started to worry that something unnatural had occurred in the dungeon and didn’t want to get caught up in something beyond his level. Pressing forward, Vahn came across a room filled with a pack of black dog-like creatures with glowing red eyes.
They were currently fighting over something, and from Vahn’s perspective, he was able to identify the source of their conflict as a corpse. Some poor adventurer had become an unwilling meal after losing their lives in the dungeon. His brow furrowed as he drew his sword and engaged the mongrels.
The Hell Hounds noticed his approach and immediately charged at Vahn. They were incredibly agile and possessed a mouth full of sharp pearl-white teeth marred with the flesh and blood of their victim. The closets hounds to Vahn hurled themselves at his limbs to try and cripple him.
Vahn sidestepped and bisected the fastest one with his sword in a reverse slash splitting the Hell Hound from bottom to top. Using his fiery golden left hand, he grabbed the neck of the second Hell Hound who tried snapping its jaws and flailing about. Vahn crushed its windpipe before throwing the corpse into the group of rushing Hell Hounds.
They had surrounded him by this point and were trying to maul him from every direction, but Vahn was able to use his power and agility to leap out of the encirclement. He collided feet first into a wall before vaulting into a more advantageous position near the corpse of the Adventurer. Vahn took a moment to inspect the body and nearly vomited as a reward for his curiosity.
The mutilated corpse was missing several parts, but Vahn had been able to identify it as a young woman with blue hair. Though he assumed she may have been pretty in life, now her body was a mess of flesh and mangled tissue. The throat had been chewed through and each limb had long been removed from the body. One of the things the mongrels had been fighting over previously turned out to be an arm.
Vahn was filled with rage as a cold sensation spread through his mind. He started pushing his [Will of the Emperor] to the extreme and infused a large number of fire elements into his domain. The golden light that had been spreading began to consolidate till the point Vahn’s black tamahagane blade now shone with a golden luster while radiating a terrifying heat.
The Hell Hounds began to cower as they growled towards the golden figure. The heat emanating from the body of their prey caused an instinctive fear to build inside of them. It was almost as if the roles had reversed and their natural predatory instincts had completely dispersed. The only thing they felt was fear, but the compulsion of the dungeon and their core would now allow them to flee. The golden figure stared directly towards them as a chill ran down their spines almost as if to contrast the heat.
“You will not die easily,” Vahn spoke the words with an icy fervor. He gripped the sword in his hand before going on his rampage. Instead of killing them as quickly as possible, he made sure to only target non-lethal areas. Fortunately, even if he cut limbs or severed parts of their body, the wounds would instantly cauterize and leave the monsters struggling on the ground. Vahn continued cutting away at the pack of demons until they were reduced to mutilated messes on the ground.
After sating his wrath, Vahn turned away from the struggling creatures without finishing them off. He knew they would die after enough time passed, and wanted them to experience the excruciating pain of slowly burning into nothingness. He turned towards the corpse of the female adventurer and frowned before a voice sounded in his head.
(*Vahn, you shouldn’t let them suffer more than this.*) Sis gently spoke the words in his mind.
Vahn was confused, baffled even. He couldn’t understand why Sis wanted him to put such fiendish creatures out of their misery. Seeing the wounds on the adventurer, Vahn knew she hadn’t been dead when they started tearing her body apart.
(*Vengeance itself is not a sin, but if you allow them to suffer just to appease your mind it will result in the accumulation of negative karma. You shouldn’t develop the habit of enjoying suffering, even it is the suffering of cruel and evil creatures. You must be righteous and firm in your convictions or else the meaning behind your actions will cease to be noble.*) Sis slowly explained each word so Vahn could process them.
He knew she was right, as she often was when it came to things like this. Vahn could not bring back the girl, so his actions weren’t saving anyone. The only thing he got was personal satisfaction and other negative emotions. Vahn continued mulling over the words but decided it wasn’t worth it to allow this situation to develop further. He sighed before turning towards the writhing creatures.
After slaying them all Vahn felt a melancholic emotion from within his body. All of his earlier actions felt so meaningless now that he had laid them to rest. There were various emotions building up inside of him and he felt like he had been unable to release them now that he had killed everything. Vahn gripped the handle of his sword tightly and felt frustrated before Sis once again spoke to him.
(*You should bury or burn the body Vahn. No person deserves to rot here and become food for the dungeon and its inhabitants. Let her rest peacefully knowing she will avoid that fate.*)
Vahn released his grip on his sword slightly and looked towards the dead adventurer. She seemed to be less than twenty years old and yet died here long before her life would have naturally come to an end. It was tragic, and he felt pity after hearing Sis’s words. Vahn approached the body and began to feel nauseous but he held back the urge as it would be too disrespectful given the situation. He felt like if he threw up he would be dishonoring everything the woman represented in life.
Bringing his palms together, Vahn gave her a short eulogy. As someone that had transcended life and was reborn in another world, Vahn knew her soul would return to the gate before being reborn into this world. He prayed that she viewed the ‘Kaleidoscopic Wheel of Karma’ there were a greater number of happy memories than sad ones.
After his prayer, he searched for anything that could be used to identify the girl to leave with the Guild staff. If she belonged to a Familia or party, they would find and return the articles to any living family or friends. When he was done, Vahn finally cremated the body after wearing his [Plague Mask] to avoid the smell and fumes. He stood silently and watched the fire burn until the body had ceased to exist.
Vahn looked towards the charred area of the dungeon floor and swept his hand to generate a wind to disperse the ashes. He looked at the Guild ID he had found in the pouch on the woman’s waist.
“Rest in peace Natalia Moore. May your next like be a peaceful one far away from this dark place.”
Continuing his way through the 13th floor, Vahn came across several groups of monsters and many signs of battle. He also found and burned the corpses of five additional adventurers, many of which were found in the same large room where Vahn slew more than forty Hell Hounds and Almiraj. There was even a Dungeon Worm near a giant hole leading down to the next floor. Vahn wrapped several explosives into a bundle before tossing it into the mouth of the monstrosity.
After leaving the site of the large battle, Vahn began to ponder what exactly had transpired. For such a large party to be in the middle-floors, they had to be veterans lead by second-rate (Lv 3-4) Adventurers. It was almost like they were an expeditionary group that had gotten ambushed or caught off guard. For an entire party to wipe on the 13th floor was uncommon as they had more than enough people to deal with most groups of monsters.
Suddenly, a thought passed through Vahn’s mind as he recalled the cave-in from earlier. Since the path had been clear from the moment he entered the 13th floor, they must have cleared it ahead of him before reaching the same point he came to earlier, the site of the collapse. They too must have detoured to find a way around, but Vahn still couldn’t understand what led to their demise.
Feeling uneasy, Vahn became doubly alert as he slowed his pace through the dungeon. Not just relying on [Will of the Emperor], he investigated every nook and cranny along the path with his eyes. He even activated his stealth to prevent anything from potentially detecting him. Vahn slowly made his way through the 13th floor and killing every group of monsters with caution, always making sure to keep part of his focus on his surroundings.
The further into the floor he progressed, the more uneasy Vahn felt. Tsubaki always complimented him on his instincts, and right now they were sounding alarms inside his mind telling him to turn back. Trusting his own intuition, Vahn began to slowly trace his path along the route he came. However, no matter how far he went the uneasy feeling continued to grow. Impatient, Vahn began to pick up his pace until the point he was essentially sprinting towards the stairs.
As his speed increased, the feeling began to grow faster and faster and Vahn could feel a dreadful feeling seizing his body. It was like something had locked onto him and now they were engaging in a game of cat and mouse with Vahn on the receiving end. Vahn began to leave mines along the path he fled in the hopes of intercepting whatever had been following him.
After a few minutes, while Vahn was still fleeing, he heard several large explosions sound in the distance. Though this would normally put his mind at ease, Vahn began to tremble slightly as the terrifying feeling actually began to grow. Whatever unseen terror had just stepped on his mines hadn’t been defeated; Instead, it just became very pissed off.
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Ruuuuuuuuuuun’,’Vahn can’t save ’em all’,’Karma is a bitch’,’Sis is bae’)