By the time the expedition was ready to depart, nearly two hours had passed, making it around 7 AM before they finally set out. The large crowd walked alongside the expedition party, cheering and shouting along the way as the path leading into the Dungeon had been completely cleared out. This wasn’t just a major event for the Alliance itself, but represented progress for the entire City of Orario. The mission statement of the Guild, and every Adventurer within the City, had always been to venture into the unknown and uncover the secrets shrouded in darkness. The Dungeon represented the ultimate ‘adventure’ and, with the Alliance paving the way forward, it was as if they were all witnessing the dawn of a new era.
Of course, not everyone was welcoming this change as Vahn had already taken note of several small groups with the expedition itself who had less than clear auras. They were likely belonging to criminal Familias that had infiltrated in with the construction workers and laborers. There was an even higher chance that they belonged to the Noble faction and would try to facilitate whatever schemes that group of fools had cooked up. He had already received a report of an expedition of around one hundred people venturing into the Dungeon the previous day, comprised almost entirely of freelance Adventurers and mercenaries.
Vahn knew they would likely try to follow behind the Alliance’s expedition and try to get a foothold of their own, something that was already expected. With assistance from their men on the inside, they would probably try to steal resources or something more sinister, not that it would matter in the end. Though the ‘settlement’ on the 50th Floor was a project of the Alliance, it was still a project personally headed by Vahn himself. He had absolute authority and, from the moment the [Seed of the Tree of Life] was planted, there wasn’t a single person that would have any say on the matter. If any criminal activity was discovered within Haven, especially if it was related to subterfuge, collusion, and espionage, they would immediately be exiled from the encampment and allowed to fend for themselves.
Haven was inarguably the most important project that he would implement within the record before he returned to it in the future. To prevent any hiccups from occurring, Vahn didn’t mind being somewhat ruthless if people didn’t have enough sense to stand aside and see reason. This was something that was necessary for the stability of the entire world, not just the Continent, so Vahn wouldn’t tolerate fools machinating to undermine what the Alliance was setting out to accomplish…
Because of their sheer numbers, and how small the corridors on the Upper Floors were, it took nearly three hours to make the journey from the surface down to the 18th Floor, Rivira. Along the way, they had been besieged by a veritable army of monsters that sought to bar their passage. Their numbers were so great that it was almost like a permanant monster party, even if they were almost entirely comprised of Level 1 monsters. Even so, it was still very inconvenient and this was the main reason why such a massive expedition had never been attempted in the past. It would only get worse as they progressed further but, with the corridors opening up a bit, it would actually be easier to deal with the endless waves.
For the time being, the girls had protected the wagons while the Supporters and lower Level Adventurers got experience fighting monsters. This was another reason why the journey had been slow, even though it was rather entertaining watching Level 1 and 2 Adventurers fight seriously against Hellhounds, Minotaurs, and Ligerfangs. The construction crew, crowding around the carts in a formation, had stayed in the back while cheering on the budding Adventurers, much to the latter group’s chagrin. Still, it was inarguably a good amount of experience and Vahn wasn’t in any particular rush, even if he had set the window for reaching the 50th Floor at five days.
Unlike the past, where they would accept missions from the various Adventurers located on the 18th Floor, the expedition continued forward into the Great Tree Labyrinth without stopping. This had surprised many people but, remembering the purpose of the expedition this time around, it wasn’t too surprising. Unfortunately, one group was completely caught off guard by this and Vahn couldn’t help but laugh, causing Alexa to inquisitively ask, “Papa, what is so funny…?” To this, Vahn inclined his head towards a small encampment near a hill in the distance. There was a chaotic scene playing out as the expeditionary party belonging to the Nobles were caught grossly unprepared for the fact that they hadn’t stopped to make final preparations.
With her eyes, Alexa could even see the small hairs making up the scruff of some of the men’s faces. She saw them moving about and, realizing what they were up to, Alexa frowned and asked, “Papa, why do you allow people to get in your way? With your strength, people should lower their heads and do as you say, not get in your way. They are taking advantage of your kindness…” As she was speaking, Alexa looked like she was contemplating taking to the sky and bombarding the fools that would dare to bar her Papa’s passage. Understanding this, Vahn placed his hand on her head and, with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, explained, “Sometimes, people wander off the path and end up living a life of inevitable regret. There is always hope that they will correct their ways and, unless we witness their crimes ourselves, or learn of them through a reliable source, it isn’t right for us to pass judgment on them. Besides, it’s giving them too much credit if we let every minor threat bother us…”
Alexa’s aquamarine eyes shimmered slightly before she lowered her head, a thoughtful expression on her face. To his right, Fenrir was dangling her feet off the edge of the cart while looking towards the Noble expedition’s encampment with her scarlet red eyes reflecting a cold light. She also agreed that those people weren’t worth her Master’s time but, contrary to this, Fenrir also believed it would save everyone a lot of trouble if someone dealt with them. Still, unless she was told to take care of them, Fenrir would always respect her Master’s wishes since she too desired a happier world, not necessarily one with more death…
Passing through the Large Tree Labyrinth was the first step of their journey this time around and, after around ten hours, the expedition had arrived outside a connecting corridor that would lead to the first Floor of the Great Falls, the 25 Floor known as the Water City. Since passing through that area would be one of the most troublesome legs of the entire journey, the expedition made camp outside the 25th Floor and sealed off all the areas leading into it. Even if the Nobles’ expedition showed up, they would be turned away since the entire area had been claimed by the Alliance for the time being. This was a bit of a power play but, if they wanted to play games, Vahn didn’t mind inconveniencing them as well.
Seeing the ocean of tents that had been set up, Vahn had a thoughtful expression while hovering in the air around twenty meters. This drew the attention of a lot of people but, as it was already well documented that he was able to fly, nobody was that surprised. In fact, if not for Alexa sitting on his shoulders, while Fenrir curled up in his lap, most of them likely would have minded their own business. As for what the other girls were up to, Ais, Tiona, Tione, Chloe, Tina, Shizune, Arnya, Ryuu, and Mikoto had gone to get some rest. They would be very busy starting tomorrow and it was paramount they were functioning at one hundred percent to avoid any issues. The only two that were busy, at least for the time being, were Haruhime, overseeing the Rearguard Unit, and Lefiya, managing the allocation of Mages within all three Units, essentially serving the role that Riveria would have filled in the past.
Though their magic wasn’t nearly as versatile as what many of the girls were capable of, it wasn’t as if Mages using the old magic system were entirely useless. Their power could still wipe out monsters that were several levels above themselves if used properly. They might not have much of a role starting tomorrow, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t have their uses when dealing with any waves that break through the strike teams’ perimeter. Vahn also knew that, just witnessing his girls perform, many of the Mages within the Alliance would be inspired to grow stronger. This would increase the reputation of his girls and also serve as a means for them to build rapport with the rest of the Alliance in general…
Once the camp was completely set up, Vahn made the decision to give everyone a full eight hours of sleep and decided he would watch over the encampment while everyone else slept. Since he was currently back at the Manor enjoying a somewhat hectic bath while trying to keep Meinya from running around, he wasn’t particularly in need of any rest. Eventually, he managed to snatch her up with his telekinesis when she almost slipped onto her face and, while she was laughing mischievously, brought her into the water to wash her head. Without Arnya to constantly look after her, Meinya was acting out a bit and Vahn had been spending a good part of his day playing with her, Alise, and many of his other children.
Perhaps it was the fact that he was enjoying a pleasant experience back at the Manor, but Vahn felt like the Dungeon was actually somewhat ‘boring’ right now. Even though he knew there were actually legitimate dangers, even to his immortal self, it was almost impossible to feel any real tension when happy things were happening at the same time. He could even imagine an instance where he might be making love to one of the girls back at the Manor while Enyo’s forces tried to ambush him. This thought caused a strange incongruity in Vahn that made him feel as if he wasn’t treating this matter as seriously as he should be…
Though she had seemed to be snoozing in his lap, Fenrir’s ears perked up around 2 AM, her scarlet eyes opening soon after as she began sniffing the air. Vahn had already noticed the peculiarity she was sensing and wondered if this was the best Enyo would be able to throw at them. Currently, there was a light pink mist that had started to emanate from strange flowers that had bloomed throughout the encampment. They were small, seemingly harmless, plants that most people wouldn’t have spared a second glance. Vahn, however, immediately noticed their peculiarity and appeared at the side of one, plucking it from the ground with his [Eyes of Truth] active and smelling it directly.
The hazy pink mist caused his body to heat up slightly before it was immediately purified, causing Vahn to snort as he began to use a basic purification spell through his domain itself. The spores emanating from the plant were almost invisible to the naked eye and, though someone like Fenrir was able to smell it, the spores were actually scentless. As for their effect, it was a relatively potent aphrodisiac that could have caused a great deal of chaos if it had gone unnoticed. Though it wasn’t traditionally considered a ‘weapon’, anything that could affect a person’s base instincts could cause a catastrophe in an emergency situation.
Sensing that the amount of mana in the area had started to increase, Vahn shot a flare into the air that caused bells to begin ringing out moments later. In less than three minutes, most Adventurers had already exited their tents in full equipment and were combat ready. As for Vahn, he had already reached the Command Tent as Finn came outside with his spear in hand, asking, “What is the emergency, Vahn?” Without beating around the bush, Vahn held up the flower and explained, “A monster party is going to converge on our position soon. These plants emit nearly invisible pollens that act as a powerful aphrodisiac. Make sure everyone has their [Panacea] at the ready for any unexpected situations.”
Even though this area should have been relatively safe, Finn wasn’t surprised that a Monster Party would converge on them when they had such a large number of people. When Vahn mentioned the flowers, however, he was extremely surprised and asked, “Enyo…?” However, he didn’t stick around to wait for Vahn’s answer, already knowing the truth of the matter as he moved to the top of a cart and began shouting out orders with his [Command Howl] ability. In the distance, Shakti had already started to organize the majority of the second unit into the center of the encampment while Haruhime had created a phalanx oriented towards the 24th Floor while people quickly began disassembling the tents behind. In total, less than five minutes had passed and even the construction personnel were already quickly at work in preparing the defenses…
Seeing how smoothly everything was going, Vahn had a satisfied smile on his face as he stood in the air with Fenrir and Alexa at his sides. Turning to his daughter, Vahn said, “Make sure you don’t use any big attacks near our allies but, other than that, feel free to cut loose if you want. I’ll watch over you from here…good luck, Alexa…” Before sending her off, Vahn gave his daughter a hug and then watched with a mixture of pride and concern as she pulled out a 4m long black spear, forged from her own scales, and took off like a loose arrow towards an area where monsters had started to break through the reinforced wooden walls.
Without any hesitation at all, as though she had fought hundreds of times before, Alexa buried her spear into the gullet of a Hobgoblin before brandishing it, sending the monster’s body ragdolling through the air as she quickly diced through the next enemy. There was absolutely no sign of fear on her face at all, instead, a small smile had started to spread across her face as she danced through the bits of blood and gore that deflected off her emerald-green aura. Seeing this, Vahn knew she was more than a match for monsters of this Level but, just to be safe, turned to Fenrir was a slight plea in his gaze. She returned a somewhat wry smile before nodding her head and heading toward where Alexa was fighting, supporting her without directly interfering with the battle.
With Fenrir looking after Alexa, Vahn spared some of his attention to other ongoing fights and wondered how the Dungeon was even able to keep its structural integrity when monsters were pouring out almost every surface. For the time being, he didn’t need to interfere personally and, other than dealing with any variants that would pop up, the girls were also keeping their true strength hidden. The only thing he needed to do at the moment was take out any of the flowers that would periodically pop up, even though Shakti’s Unit had already been assigned with disassembling the remaining tents and destroying any flowers they found…
After nearly a half hour of constant battle, most of the tents had already been stowed away in a compact form that Vahn could easily store inside of his Inventory. With this, they could begin their march into the 25th Floor directly, even though the Monster Party hadn’t ended. There were no great benefits to clearing it out completely and, as they would be barraged by monsters on the 25th Floor regardless, it didn’t make much of a difference if they began moving. To enable the transition, Vahn decided to take action of his own for the first time and pulled out his reforged [Laevateinn], now possessing a blade that looked perpetually aflame.
Sending a telepathic signal to Haruhime, she quickly raised her Unit Banner high and shouted, “Second and Third Platoons, begin falling back and join up with the 2nd Unit. First and Fourth Platoons, prepare to close up the gaps and focus on the defense. Mages, erect an anti-magic barrier on my mark~!” Much like Finn’s, Haruhime’s voice also cut through the air since she too had the [Command Howl] ability. Since she had been groomed to hold a leadership position from the very beginning, Haruhime’s battle sense and perception had become quite sharp. She also practiced directing mock battles within the orb and had learned a great deal from Aki, Riveria, and Tsubaki.
With Haruhime sending out her orders, Vahn put on a show as if she had perfectly ‘predicted’ what was going to happen. The moment her Unit began moving out, he crashed down in the mass of monsters and created a large swath of perpetually burning flames that spread quickly through the monsters as a result of his flame elemental manipulation. Since the 24th Floor was also part of the Large Tree Labyrinth, being comprised of wood, it spread even faster than normal and began to incinerate the mostly plant-based monsters. At the same time, without minding the flames at all, Vahn walked freely amongst them and cut down monsters with incredible ease as the slack-jawed members of the Rearguard Unit stared aimlessly at his figure.
Seeing that her forces had stopped moving, Haruhime’s voice transitioned from being calm and elegant to cold and firm, shouting, “First and Fourth Platoons, move into your positions, now!” These words snapped the majority of her forces back into focus, which also caused those few that were still distracted to begin moving. At the same time, Haruhime’s tails began to snake through the air in a somewhat tantalizing manner before fanning out behind her in a perfectly symmetrical fashion. Illusory blue flames began burning on their tips as thin spears of blue-black ice formed in the air around her. Instead of just four, however, there were a total of twenty-nine lethal looking magic projectiles that then shot forward at hypersonic speeds.
After polishing her [Sagitta Magicka] and [Icicle Edge] to the extreme, Haruhime had been able to fuse them together into a chantless version of the spell that combined both Darkness and Ice Elemental energy. This greatly increased their destructive power and, such as in this instance, made it nearly impossible for fire to melt them as they cut through [Laevateinn]’s flames and skewered any unfortunate monster in their path. This display caused those that weren’t paying full attention to Haruhime’s orders to quickly get in line, especially since her spears had passed within centimeters of some people…
With Vahn filling more and more of the wide room with his flames, keeping them from spreading to the Alliance by creating a membrane that blocked both the spread and the smoke resulting from the flames burning. Vahn knew that using fire without an enclosed area could lead to a severe drop in oxygen levels, but his barrier had segmented the room and forced a backdraft that sucked away some of the monsters into the connecting corridors. This was a pretty interesting phenomenon and Vahn enjoyed seeing some monsters get pulled off their feet and tumble through the air as a result of the increasing wind speed.
While this was going on, the expedition had almost completely reformed itself and only the Rearguard would need to get into position before they advanced. However, just as Haruhime was prepared to give the order, she instead shouted, “Fan out, immediately!” Since they had been listening closely to her orders, the First and Fourth Platoon immediately dispersed from the flanks as Lili flipped through the sky like an acrobat and, just as a massive flower-type monster burst through the ground, buried her fist into its head.
The plant had a strange appearance, much like a snake, but with vibrant flower petals around its head and a giant pistil protruding from its stamen. There was a thick pink mist flowing from its mouth but, before it was even able to release whatever sound it was capable of producing, Lili’s fist created a veritable pillar of a shockwave that tore apart the monster like paper mache. The ground, which had been partly destroyed by the emergence of the monster, was now absolutely devasted as the shockwave from Lili’s punch caused the hard wooden surface to fracture and splinter for dozens of meters. Upon witnessing this, an eerie silence descended upon the expedition before Lili came stumbling out of the smoke with a heavily flushed face and a predatory expression as she looked towards Vahn…