Chapter 819: Towards the Xenos’ Settlement…

Upon entering into the Dungeon proper, Vahn speculated they were somewhere on the 17th Floor since the walls, ceiling, and floor were all made of a dark bedrock. The space was cramped together, with several large boulders littered about while, in the distance, holes could be seen that led both deeper into the Dungeon and towards higher Floors. Since there was also very little light, it was easy to guess their approximate location and his suspicions were practically confirmed when a Lygerfang, monsters that only appeared between the 15th and 17th Floors, jumped out to attack. Unfortunately for it, the monster wasn’t even able to complete its jump before several black ‘spears’ emerged from the walls and skewered it in an instant.

The Kobold-Xenos that had been the original target of the Lygerfang plopped to the ground and was shaking a great deal as Fafnir extends its hand out, saying, “It’s okay, I won’t let anyone get hurt~!” Here within the low-light of the Dungeon, Fafnir was even stronger than it was on the surface. Every surface was its domain and, if you were in an enclosed space like their current location, you had better possess some form of defensive or speed Innate if you wanted to survive even a few minutes against its assault.

Accepting the offered hand, the Kobold shakily rose to its feet and stammered, “T-Thank you…” in a sheepish voice. Fafnir smiled with a very innocent expression on its face and, likely emulating Vahn, reached out and began to stroke the Kobold’s head as it said, “There, there, everything will be okay…” Vahn saw this and felt a small amount of pride well up inside of his chest as, even though Fafnir certainly wasn’t his child, seeing his rather childish looking subordinate comfort others made his paternal instincts flutter about.

Piggybacking off Fafnir’s words, Vahn turned to Xude and said, “I’ll entrust you to lead the way. Leave the fighting to Fafnir and Fenrir and take your time moving forward…there is no rush.” As if to emphasize that things were under control, Fafnir sunk into the ground and the primal whine of several monsters being slaughtered resonated through the cavern. Vahn set up a thin membrane to block out higher frequency sounds while also activating his [Stealth] to try and hide their presence a little. Though it wouldn’t affect the Xenos, Vahn suspected that the Dungeon actually harbored them willingly instead of trying to kill them like it did Adventurers. This was another one of the things he wanted to investigate in the future, as it didn’t seem like the Dungeon was wholly devoted to purging Adventurers and spewing monsters out onto the surface…

Xude nodded its head and gestured towards one of the passages, muttering, “It shouldn’t take that long to reach the nearest settlement…let’s move carefully…” Jude and Mest nodded their heads and quickly fell into step while the smaller of the two Almiraj, the one Vahn had pet previously, sleepily moved over to his side and gripped the pantleg of Vahn’s trousers. Since it looked like nothing more than a large rabbit with two small horns on its head, Vahn found it to be adorable so he didn’t mind picking it up and carrying it along. He also noticed that its Affection had already increased to 81 and it would very likely be his first ‘retainer’ if he could change its perception towards him into exultation or reverence.

Surprisingly, though he had tasked her with fighting off monsters as well, Fenrir used her [Cinder*Ella] to turn into an Almiraj with midnight blue fur as she jumped onto his shoulder before climbing into his arms. Vahn laughed boisterously, surprising the Xenos as he cradled the two adorable ‘rabbits’ in his arms and said, “It seems I’m pretty popular~.” in a lighthearted manner. Fenrir just nuzzled into his chest, lacking the horns on her head of a normal Almiraj, not minding the fact that she was being a little selfish and unnecessarily jealous. Vahn didn’t mind either and just held the two tiny creatures, even though Fenrir still retained the weight of her default form…

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After traveling for around twenty minutes, Xude led the group to what appeared to be a dead end but Vahn could already see the tell-tale signs that it was a hidden entrance. As expected, Xude tapped around for a bit before the hard bedrock began to warp and deform, creating a passage that linked to another section of the Dungeon. Xude turned its head back, training the glowing red core at the center of its head on Vahn as it said, “I trust you, Vahn Mason…please, do not betray our people…” To this, Vahn just returned a casual smile and nodded, not bothering to repeat himself over and over since he genuinely had no desire to harm any Xenos that wasn’t trying to proactively harm people he cared about.

Xude gave a nod of its own before leading the way into the ‘safe’ passageway that was much smaller than the normal corridors of the Dungeon. It continued downward, even leading to several sets of stairs that the group had to descend before the layout of the corridors completely changed. Instead of bedrock, the walls were now made of wood that was covered in a bioluminescent moss, showing that they had transitioned onto the 19th Floor and entered the Large Tree Labyrinth. Vahn’s wasn’t surprised that the Xenos would reside in the area that had the largest amount of natural resources and provided the most cover for concealing their movements.

Though there were several pathways within the Large Tree Labyrinth, much of the Floor itself was very open and the path forward were on elevated platforms that towered above the forests below. There were several massive tree-like structures that were similar to the roots of the massive tree on the 18th Floor but had branches of their own. It was easily one of the most scenic regions in the entire Dungeon and there were even several species of ‘animals’ present, not just monsters. With the addition of several types of flora, fauna, and fruit-bearing trees, it was almost like a paradise. Of course, to reside within this seemingly peaceful place, you needed to be strong enough to avoid the dangers that were constantly lurking in the shadows of the underbrush…

As Xude led the way forward into an open area that revealed a verdant forest, a swarm of Gun Libellula immediately tried to assault them. The projectile spines they shot from their abdomen made loud popping sounds like gunpowder exploding but it ended up being more flair than effective. Vahn’s barrier, which had been erected to inhibit external noise, immediately condensed into a more solidified form that caused the lethal spines to ricochet away powerlessly. At the same time, instead of metallic black spears erupting from the shadows, ‘beams’ of Darkness Elemental energy emerged from a deep black pool where Fanfir’s head could be seen poking out.

The beams of black energy cut through the Gun Libellua swarm and left incomplete bodies behind that continued to be devoured by the ambient energy. Eventually, their bodies broke down completely or were dispersed into purple-black dust that left behind monster cores and drop items. At this point, the Silverback-Xenos, Jude, remarked, “Your companions are very powerful…” There was an almost reverential tone to ‘her’ voice and Vahn could see Jude ball her hands into fists as a resolute light emerged in her sky-blue eyes. Silverbacks were always creatures that sought power and, even though she was an intelligent Xenos, this desire to grow stronger had never faded from her mind…

Seeing this, Vahn had a thoughtful look on his face and knew it shouldn’t be difficult to get the majority of Xenos to follow him. Though they would end up as his retainers, Vahn knew this would be for the best since he was the only one in the entire world that would allow their potential to increase while also paving the way for their future on the surface. He could help them evolve and, in the future, ensure that they were an accepted part of society that people happily lived alongside. There were even thoughts cycling through his mind about making Xenos a ‘guardian’ species that could be paired with trustworthy people on the surface…the possibilities were functionally infinite as long as he didn’t give up searching for a means by which they could live happily…

To prevent the harassment of the various insect-type monsters that were prevalent on these Floors, Vahn gradually lowered the temperature within his domain until it was below freezing while keeping the ‘core’ a very temperate warmth. This would be enough to dissuade most monsters and, as a result of allowing his ‘pressure’ to permeate through the region, Vahn could detect many monsters simply fleeing from their location. The Xenos in his company were completely unaware of this, however, so they kept moving forward with caution. Though they were confused about the frost building up on some of the plant life, they didn’t ask any questions about it since they were slowly acclimating to the ‘abnormal’ existence that was Vahn Mason…

It took another half-hour, but they reached the other end of the forest before Xude pointed to the base of a tree that had what looked like a foxhole going deeper into the ground. Since the hole was easily large enough for a group of people to walk through, it stood out like a sore thumb once it had been pointed out. Even Jude, standing nearly 3m tall, ducked down into the hole and followed behind Xude and Mest without any hesitation. Vahn, still carrying the (Nameless) Almiraj and Fenrir, slid in behind them while the other Xenos and Fafnir trailed after him.

This time, the passageway looked like a series of roots that had been woven together before being forcibly split to make a tunnel. It was a very interesting sight and, though it was somewhat hard to walk on the roots, Vahn managed to bypass the inconvenience by lifting himself, the two Goblin-Xenos, and the remaining Almiraj-Xenos with his telekinesis. Since the War-Shadow Xenos were able to easily move across the uneven surface, and were also leading the way, Vahn let them remain on the ground. As for Jude, the Silverback-Xenos, she didn’t seem to have any trouble navigating the terrain, even though she had to slouch slightly to avoid some of the areas where the ‘ceiling’ was quite low.

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Eventually, the root-formed corridor came to an end, opening into a place Vahn hadn’t expected to see within the Dungeon. There were several pools of mineral rich green water that appeared to be hot springs naturally formed between intertwining roots. Beautiful crystals dotted the rather open landscape and, in some of the pools, what Vahn correctly assumed to be Xenos could be seen enjoying the hot water. Though some of them bolted the moment their group exited one of several holes in the ceiling, there were a few amongst the bathing Xenos that remained behind.

Amongst the group that remained, there were two of the most human-like Xenos Vahn had laid eyes on thus far. The first, being the more humanoid of the two, had golden-brown feathers on her wing-like arms while also possessing a wind-swept hairstyle that was comprised of healthy brown hair and accented with what Vahn assumed were her own feathers. She had striking golden eyes and, perhaps the result of her bathing, two rather voluptuous breasts exposed for the whole world to see. It was easy to deduce she was a Harpy but her fair skin and unnatural beauty set her apart from any ‘monster’ Vahn had seen before. Though she still had scales that started from her thighs and continued down until ending in some rather scary looking talons, all of the ‘womanly bits’ were present, including a fleshy butt that was visible through the tail feathers barely concealing its presence…

Next to the Harpy-Xenos, likely her close friend and companion, there was what appeared to be a rather cute looking girl. If you looked closely, however, it was easy to see that she had compound eyes like an insect and, instead of two, there were a total of five. The three dots on her forehead also served as eyes because Vahn could ‘sense’ her looking towards him with measured caution. Her hair was somewhat boyish and short, comprised of pure white locks that framed her rather delicate looking face. The rest of her body appeared to be that of a young woman, at least above the waist, but Vahn could see a shadow beneath the water that was currently concealed. His eyes were able to make out several segmented legs which allowed him to deduce that she was most certainly the very rare species known as an Arachne.

Vahn was somewhat curious in how her body was structured by kept his eyes focused on the mature Harpy-Xenos who was standing ‘proudly’ without concealing any part of her body. Her fierce and confident expression gave her a unique appeal but, when she opened her mouth, Vahn nearly burst out laughing when one of the most adorable and cutesy voices he ever heard emerged from her rosy red lips. She almost sounded like a young Cat Person, with a very high voice, as she asked very pointedly, “Xude? Why have you brought a human here…?” Since it wasn’t uncommon for Xenos to not see each other for several weeks at a time, it was hard to know when any of their members had been captured by Hunters. Given the fact that none of the Xenos around Vahn had any injuries, it was easy to mistake that they had simply brought him along after encountering him in the Dungeon.

Xude took in a wispy breath, causing Vahn’s brows to perk up since he hadn’t even noticed the shadowy Xenos breathing this entire time. When it spoke, Xude’s tone was filled with respect as it said, “Terror…this is Vahn Mason…He saved us from Hunters and healed our wounds…Kiel and Soda died when we were captured…” As Xude spoke, Terror’s expression changed several times, transitioning from surprise, happiness, shock, and then sadness, all over the course of a few seconds. Vahn had never seen someone’s expression change so quickly, nor did he expect such a mature woman to have such a cute voice, all while being named ‘Terror’…if not for the fact Xude had just mentioned losing two of their companions, Vahn wasn’t sure he could stop himself from at least releasing a light chuckle…

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