Chapter 79: Burn

Vahn continued running towards the exit, but as he had spent more than two hours on the floor he was nowhere near close enough to escape his pursuer. He was now able to feel the dense structure of the dungeon tremble as dust particles began raining from the cracks in the ceiling. Vahn’s mind was racing to come up with a solution, but there was nothing in his inventory that could slow the ‘monster’ down.

All the confidence Vahn had been building in the last two months couldn’t prevent his mind from collapsing due to the fear he was feeling. The closer the presence got, the more dread spread in his heart and mind as Vahn felt death inching ever closer. Vahn wasn’t afraid of death itself, but he couldn’t help but have regrets considering everything he would be leaving behind.

Though he was still growing accustomed to this world. there were several things he had already grown attached to. The places, the people, and especially the food; all of these things were irreplaceable to the current Vahn and he feared that no matter what worlds he might visit in the future, he would never be able to reclaim what he lost by dying now. All the promises he made to the people he cared about, all the hopes they placed in him…Vahn was afraid of losing them all…

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As a last resort, Vahn found a large rock stratum and tried to conceal himself. He willed his domain to the smallest possible size as he wedged his body into the crevasse and infused his [Stealth] skill in an effort to hide his presence. Vahn held his breath as he felt the vibrations of the rocks against his body. Every lumbering step of the creature caused the entire floor to rumble in its wake.

After twenty seconds, Vahn finally caught sight of the monster that had been pursuing him and his mind went completely blank. The ‘monster’ was more like a ‘nightmare’ in comparison to anything else he had ever seen. It had a long skeletal body more than 10m in length with several boney appendages adorned with claws that easily cut into the dense bedrock of the dungeon. Its head was a ghastly visage of a dragon’s skull while its eyes seemed to be able to shatter the confidence of anyone that gazed into them.

The monster that had been pursuing him was considered the most dangerous entity in the dungeon and has led to the death of thousands of adventurers since the creation of the dungeon. It was a Juggernaut, the dungeons automated defense system that spawned only when a severe amount of damage had been done to the dungeon’s structure. From the moment it spawned it would slaughter every single adventurer on the floor until the dungeon had been restored.

Vahn didn’t know how strong the creature was, but the compendium listed it as an SS-Ranked threat even S-Ranked Familia had to seriously prepare for (A/N: Loki/Freya Familias). That meant it would be able to pose a threat to core parties that consisted almost entirely of ranked 4-6 Adventurers. And that is if they all fought it together…As Vahn was alone, encountering a Juggernaut meant certain death if he was found.

The moment the Juggernaut entered the room it stopped. It used it’s eerie glowing eyes to sweep the room where its ‘prey’ had vanished. Vahn could feel a weird sensation like some kind of filament was being spread through the air. It was probing the entire room and even began to inspect the area where Vahn was currently hidden. As the strange ‘sensation’ came into contact with his domain it seemed to stall and move slowly as if it was searching for something. Vahn had no idea if his domain had tipped it off, but he continued holding his breath and praying.

Vahn could ‘see’ the invisible sensation extend tendrils that tested the area inside his domain. In the distance, he could see the Juggernaut had stopped and was staring off into space like it was lost in thought. Sweat began to build upon Vahn’s brow as his lungs began starving for air. He managed to resist the temptation to draw breath until the point his body began to change from the pain that was beginning to build in his lungs.

The tendrils continued to inspect the crevasse where Vahn was located and crept within 50cm of his position. As there was nothing else beyond his location, Vahn would be unable to flee any further into the crevasse. The only thing he could do was hope that something else drew the Juggernaut away before it found his hiding spot. By now his form had changed entirely into his white-tiger transformation as his vision began to fade. Darkness slowly crept into his sight and Vahn knew it wasn’t long before he lost consciousness due to lack of oxygen…

Vahn felt something ‘snap’ inside his mind and a powerful pulsation erupting from his chest. The ‘eternal flame’ began trying to nourish his body by absorbing oxygen through his pores and diffusing it into his blood, but the rate was far too slow to make a difference in the current situation. The tendrils had crept to within 20cm and the Juggernaut remained idle in the center of the room. Vahn had no hope that it would leave so he took a drastic action.

Vahn equipped his bow and had Sis purchase the strongest arrow he could afford. Within his inventory, a single black arrow appeared simply called [Yi] 10,000OP. Vahn knocked the bow and began to infuse as much mana as he could into the arrow which slowly took on a golden hue displaying the relief of a man surrounded by ten suns. As Vahn channeled more of his ‘source energy’ into the arrow the suns began to turn black at a very slow rate. Before Vahn was able to make a single sun go dark his body was almost completely drained of energy.

He loosed the arrow while willing his [Call of the Reaper] to activate. The moment the skill took affect the arrow seemed to turn invisible as it traveled silently through the air towards the Juggernauts head. Vahn’s eyes tracked the arrow in slow motion as the darkness continued encroaching into his vision. The arrow passed completely unnoticed by the creature until it was mere millimeters away from striking the bone-like skull.

The moment before the arrow made contact, the Juggernaut sensed the presence of death but was unable to identify the source before the arrow collided with the side of its face. A powerful energy erupted like a small sun before immediately collapsing into a gravitational well that seemed intent to devour everything around it. The Juggernaut screamed in pain as it tried to escape the pull of the miniature ‘black hole’.

The tendrils immediately vanished and Vahn launched himself from the crevasse. The Juggernaut saw the human and knew it was the source of its current predicament. It screamed a shriek so shrill and loud that Vahn collapsed to the ground before picking himself back up moments later. The Juggernaut was still trying to escape the effect of the arrow that seemed to warp space was around the impact area and distorted the image of its body.

Vahn noticed that, even though it was unable to move, only small parts of the Juggernaut were actually being damaged. He couldn’t stick around and see the outcome since, if it was not killed, he would die soon after the effect ended. Making his way towards the nearest corridor, Vahn continued to run towards the exit. It was known that a Juggernaut couldn’t leave the floor it spawned on, so Vahn was determined to escape by reaching the stairs.

Several loud shrieks sounded from behind and the dungeon seemed to stress from the terrifying reverberations. The walls began to distort as several monsters spawned in an effort to slow Vahn’s progress. Pushing his [WIll of the Emperor] to its limits and swallowing a [Sensu Bean], Vahn began cutting his way through the crowd of monsters. As he was still in his white-tiger form, his agility was much higher than normal and he was able to evade the majority of monsters by vaulting off the walls.

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Suddenly, Vahn felt a powerful tremor pass through the dungeon floor which stunned both himself and the monsters. Everyone collapsed to the ground, but Vahn was able to recover before increasing his pace even further. He knew the Juggernaut had most likely escaped and he hadn’t made nearly enough progress towards the stairs. It had been less than a minute since he separated from the Juggernaut, and even with his fast pace, it would quickly catch up to him.

Vahn quickly looked at his quest log and noticed he had spent 99,700/100,00OP. He had less than 300OP to spend before he automatically failed his quest and lost access to his system shop for an entire year. Gritting his teeth, Vahn struggled with the idea of purchasing more [Yi] arrows to buy time or if he should leave his fate to chance and try to buy a stronger piece of equipment.

His thoughts were suddenly brought to a halt as a powerful collision sounded at his back. Looking behind, Vahn could see the Juggernaut missing half its face as it stared at Vahn with absolute hatred in its eyes. Even with the severe injury, its speed wasn’t reduced as it used its powerful limbs to grab the wall and lurch itself forward.

Vahn was out of time. Even if he wanted to purchase an item it wouldn’t change the result of the situation. Using the only option available, Vahn leaped towards the Juggernaut. Surprised that its prey would take the initiative to attack, the Juggernaut actually hesitated slightly. The memory of that arrow was fresh in its mind and it thought the small, insignificant creature had another trick up its sleeve.

The Juggernaut used the wall as leverage to spin rapidly in the air and swipe towards Vahn with its whip-like serrated tail. Vahn drew his [Lion’s Pride] and cut towards the incoming tail as he attempted to slide under the attack. The moment the blade made contact it cut several centimeters into the tail before getting caught and ripped from Vahn’s hands. The winds trailing the tail left several lacerations on Vahn’s arms and his body began changing into his black-turtle form as the wounds slowly started to close.

Without turning his head, Vahn retrieved the now bent blade that had been lodged into the dungeon wall using his domain. He continued sprinting forward as the Juggernaut repositioned and tried to crush the now fleeing target. After Vahn failed to severe its tail, the Juggernaut believed he had no other means of resistance and attacked without further hesitation.

Vahn could feel death drop from above as a shadow began to press on his position. He jumped, twisting his body in mid-air and crossing both arms that were now covered in the black scales. The spear-like claws of the Juggernaut collided with his defense and Vahn could feel both of his arms fracture from the impact. One of the claws managed to pierce his defense and penetrated his left lung and shattered several of his ribs.

Carried by the force of the blow, Vahn was jettisoned towards the direction he had leaped previously. The Juggernaut noticed what he was trying to do and screeched before launching himself towards Vahn. Vahn used what remained of his strength and oriented both of his broken arms towards the Juggernaut. Lifting the middle fingers of both hands, Vahn mouthed the words through his blood-croaked mouth. ‘F*** You’

With that parting gift, Vahn fell into the hole behind him. He dropped down into the darkness and saw the Juggernaut stop, unable to enter after him. It screamed at the top of its lungs and began hurling rocks towards Vahn who was quickly descending to the 14th floor. Vahn bit down on the [Senzu Bean] he had kept in his mouth and tried intercepting the rocks as his wounds rapidly healed.

Each collision was like being hit by a sledgehammer as Vahn used the increased defense of his body to resist the blows. He could feel his just-healed bones begin to fracture once again as a vibrant red light began appearing from cracks in his body. Heat began to well up from within and Vahn could feel the ‘eternal flame’ in his chest dancing in anticipation.

As he continued to fall, a rock far larger than the others fell towards him with a frightful velocity. Even if Vahn could deflect it, he would be crushed by the rock the moment he landed on the floor below. Instead of simply defending himself, Vahn punched out with all his might towards the giant boulder. The moment of collision seemed to affect the cracks that had appeared in Vahn’s skin. His arms felt like they exploded as a crimson flame began to burn from his body. The powerful shockwave carried through the boulder before splintering it into smaller shards.

Seeing it’s final desperate attack had failed, the Juggernaut loudly screeched towards the boy that had escaped its grasp. Vahn, on the other hand, was in a daze as he stared at his body that had begun to burn with an intense flame that also incinerated all of his equipment. Feather-like flames had emerged from the cracks in his body and generated a terrible heat that had even caused the surrounding walls to heat up with a red glow.

Vahn twisted his body so that he could see the approaching ground. Though there were several small rocks still following his descent, he would deal with them when the time came. As he had already fallen for several seconds, his velocity has already reached a lethal degree. Vahn trusted his instincts as he pointed both of his arms towards the approaching ground.

Responding to his intent, the feathers on his body came alive and large amounts of crimson flames began to erupt from the palms of Vahn’s hands. They continued forward as pillars of fire that instantly melted the bedrock surface of the dungeon floor. Vahn continued channeling the flames until his body fell into the molten pool of rock and disappeared.

The pool continued to burn brighter and brighter until the yellow-orange molten rock took on a crimson hue. As the crimson glow moved further towards the edge of the pool, the heat began to spread to other rocks in the surroundings and the dungeon appeared as if it was melting before a head popped out of the surface of the pool.

Vahn walked out of the molten rock bare naked and with a relieved expression on his face. He looked upwards towards the hole he had just fallen from. “One day, I will kill you and the person who created you. I will burn this dungeon to the ground and all the terrors contained within. I will burn it all.”

Saying his piece, Vahn turned around and started walking deeper into the 14th floor. He made it about ten steps before the flames on his body extinguished and he passed out, still naked, onto the hard floor of the dungeon.

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Flame Emperor’,’Consecutive Close Calls’,’Extinguish the Sun : [Yi]’,’Poor Hephaestus’)

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