After resting for two hours and completely recovering his energy, Vahn made his way into the 17th floor. He was excited to see how much progress he had made, as he originally expected to spend more than a week trying to reach the 18th floor. Vahn was even prepared to turn back if he had difficulties, but his training with Tsubaki and the time he spent adapting to his skills and mobility had greatly enhanced his capabilities. Even though his stats hadn’t increased much during that time, he was able to progress much further than most people at his level.
The 17th floor introduced a new monster to Vahn, but one he had seen in the compendium and intended to hunt for a while, the Lygerfang. They seemed to be somewhat territorial because Vahn only ever encountered individuals within a room. To make up for their low numbers, they were much more powerful than other monsters and possessed both power and agility.
Vahn enjoyed fighting them, as they actually had very similar combat styles to his own. They would charge forward quickly and then use the walls to rebound and continue the assault with their powerful claws. Though they weren’t nearly as powerful as something like Minotaur, Vahn actually felt like they were a greater threat if not for the fact they fought alone.
During the fight, Vahn had been studying the moves of the Lygerfang and even picked up a new technique he hadn’t considered before. In one instance, where Vahn had managed to get to the Lygerfang’s exposed flank, it performed a rapid turn and smacked Vahn with its tail. Vahn was caught off guard as the whip-like strike hit his ribs like hard iron.
The Lygerfang tried to take advantage of the opening and nearly managed to sink its fangs into Vahn. But, the moment it leaped forward, Vahn rolled back and kicked the underside of the Lygerfang and launched it over him. The monster managed to spin in the air and land on its feet, but Vahn had enough time to recover. Though his ribs hurt, there wasn’t anything broken as his body had relatively high endurance.
Vahn was feeling a bit vengeful, so when the Lygerfang created an opening after missing its lunge, Vahn returned the favor and smashed his tail into the exposed left eye of the monster. Seeing it flinch, Vahn couldn’t help but let out a laugh as he saw the ‘offended’ look on the Lygerfang’s face. The two exchanged blows for another couple of seconds before Vahn snapped the flexible back of the monster with a heel drop.
After collecting the core, he noticed they were actually worth more than a Minotaur, as the only had awarded 157OP. Vahn felt like the reputation of the Minotaur wasn’t as well-deserved as it seemed. If Lygerfangs fought in packs, they would probably be much more difficult to deal with than a humanoid monster.
Vahn continued further into the 17th floor and slew a variety of creatures while noticing the structure of the dungeon was slowly changing. Instead of the wide open and cavernous spaces, the layout of the dungeon became more compact and there were several obstacles that barred easy passage. Large rocks were strewn about on the floor, and there were several places that Vahn even had to crawl through to continue forward.
In some of these spots, monsters like Almiraj would try to ambush him, but even though they were very agile, Vahn was always able to react since he had long noticed their presence. By using his [Stealth] in conjunction with [Will of the Emeperor], he was able to detect things within a 71m radius while remaining undetected himself. Unless the monster has very high perception and could sense the change in the atmosphere, Vahn could easily move through the dungeon while always having the advantage against sneak attacks.
The lighting of the dungeon continued to decrease and it started becoming hard to see more than a few feet in the corridors. Rooms were a bit easier to deal with since they still had luminescent stones embedded within the rocks, but it didn’t help much. Luckily, as Vahn found out while wandering in the dark, he seemed to have great night-vision capabilities with his Báihǔ transformation. Though Vahn already knew he had enhanced sight, smell, and hearing, he didn’t know it actually allowed him to see in the dark as well. From an outsiders perspective, his eyes would have seemed to glean in darkness with a green glow when reflecting light. (A/N: Tigers are nocturnal hunters~! Makes sense why there would be tiger monsters on the 17th floor in low lighting~! Smart original Author.)
Vahn made his way through the dungeon before noticing the corridors start to open up slightly with additional lighting. Confused, Vahn made his way toward the source and came into a massive room with a gigantic crystalline wall that emitted a rainbow-like hue. Within the depth of the wall, Vahn could see a partially formed shadow. Within his mind, Sis informed him this was the structure mentioned in the compendium and was known as the ‘Wall of Grief’. Periodically, the wall would spawn the Monster Rex known as Goliath which typically took a team of skilled adventurers to fight.
Intrigued, Vahn approached the wall and noticed the ‘shadow’ within was dormant. Testing the wall with his hand, Vahn noticed it was several times harder than the surrounded bedrock. Even with his sword, he was only able to penetrate a few millimeters into the surface before his attack was rebounded. The wall seemed to be made of a composite of very dense minerals as well as magical energies.
Vahn waited in the room for an hour while watching the wall. He really wanted to try and fight the Goliath, but it seems it was recently eliminated and wouldn’t respawn for another couple of days. The shadow within the wall was much smaller than the recorded 7m height of a Goliath, so it wasn’t worth staying in the area any longer. It was also quite common for the Familia that hunted it previously to be in the area for its next spawn so they could harvest materials from the body. Unless Vahn was ‘lucky’ or assisted in the subjugation, it would be very difficult to fight the Goliath on his own.
With a bit of disappointment, Vahn entered the corridor heading away from the ‘Wall of Grief’. He followed the path until it opened into a medium sized room with multiple holes in the ground. The path continued forward to a staircase which likely led to the 18th floor, but given the nature of holes on the previous floor, Vahn also assumed the holes led to the same destination. Deciding the stairs were the best option, Vahn ignored the holes and continued downwards. He didn’t want to be one of awkward few that had to enter the 18th floor through a shortcut since it would be embarrassing if people thought he had run away from something.
Unlike the staircases of previous floors that only took a few minutes to descend, Vahn arrived at the exit of the current stairs after nearly an hour of travel. The further he had traveled, the more light shone into the corridor, and by the time he entered the 18th floor, it was a vibrant orange color. Vahn was confused at the peculiar color and looked towards the giant crystals where the light was emitted.
(*The crystals emit light that emulates the surface. Right now it’s shortly after sundown, so they are emitting an orange glow. It looks like you made it in time before night came.*)
Vahn checked the clock and noticed it was 7:31 PM, and since it had been getting dark pretty late in the day recently, it made sense for it to currently be around sunset. Vahn could see a large forest beyond the plains he was currently located in. A path had been established from the entrance of the 18th floor to a large settlement surrounding a massive tree in the middle of the region. Vahn could see the lights from his current location and even heard the sounds of people going about their business.
Staring up at the large tree, Vahn was overwhelmed by the urge to climb it. He wondered what kind of view he would be able to enjoy at that height, and how such a large tree even managed to form in the first place. Vahn really wanted to explore this entire floor, as all the trees, rivers, and lakes were very beautiful. In fact, this entire area was incredibly scenic and unlike anything he had ever seen before.
As Vahn was taking in the sights, he noticed the sky was beginning to darken rapidly, so he made his way towards the closest settlement. He could see there were several different sections around the tree, and only one of them seemed open to foot traffic. Vahn also noticed that there were mansion-like structures built upon the roots and even into the side of the tree. Those were likely places reserved for high-level Familia or those that had established themselves within the 18th floor for whatever reason.
After around twenty minutes, the light from the crystals had completely darkened as a gentle moon-like glow was emitted from their surface. Vahn found it to be even more spectacular than the orange light from earlier, as the dark night was beautifully lit due to his night vision. He approached the small gate that was manned by a few men in light equipment. They seemed to be lazily guarding the gate while making small talk and enjoying what Vahn could smell to be alcohol.
Noticing Vahn’s approach, one of the men loudly shouted, “Oi! Who goes there!?” while drawing his sword. His fellow guards also took up arms as they started at the silhouette approaching from the darkness. Though they couldn’t make out the person features, they were able to see a pair of eerie green eyes reflecting the light from the torches. It was an unnerving sight, so they couldn’t help but draw their weapons and put up their guard.
Vahn stopped before raising his hands to show he had no ill intentions. “I am the Vulcan, Vahn Mason, of the Hephaestus Familia. I have come to seek shelter for the night and resupply my rations and consumables.” Vahn made his purpose known to try and calm the rising tensions. Most of the men seemed to relax after hearing him, but Vahn noticed they didn’t put their weapons away.
The ‘leader’ of the group grabbed a torch and made his way towards Vahn. After seeing Vahn’s Báihǔ form, he nearly dropped his torch and attacked on instinct. From his perspective, the ‘young boy’ in front of him looked like a demon. “V-Vulcan, was it? How’re you down here in Rivira on yer own? I heard Vulcan only recently hit Level 2, so you shouldn’t be able to reach here yet.” The man, especially after seeing Vahn’s appearance, had trouble believing his words.
As Vahn was beginning to explain, another man at the gate loudly called out. “Hey, it’s you! Hahaha, Bart, leave that kid alone. He saved me an’ my boys the other day!” From beyond the gate, a gruff middle-aged man with brown hair exited Rivira while wielding his spear. The man holding the torch looked back and called out, “Ryan? This’s the boy you were drinkin’ up a storm about?”
The man laughed loudly and approached towards Vahn and wrapped his arm around Vahn’s shoulders. “That’s right. If not for this kid, me an’ my boys would be sleeping in a Wyvern’s gut instead of an Inn. Go ahead and let him in the settlement, I’ll personally pay all his fees.” Though Vahn was somewhat uncomfortable with the contact, he noticed the man, apparently named Ryan, had no ill intentions. If he was able to enter and find lodgings without any troubles, that would be for the best.
While Ryan and Bart were talking, Vahn released his Báihǔ form which caused the tensions of all the men to visibly lessen. They had heard the rumors that ‘Vulcan’ could transform using a rare magic, but seeing him in his normal human form did a lot to ease their worries. The boy look small and frail with a handsome face, much easier to deal with than the fierce looking ‘demon’ from earlier.
Bart, the gate guard, shook his head before looking at Ryan. “Okay Ryan, but anything happens and it’s on you. Make sure you explain all the rules to or you’ll have to join ‘im if he gets kicked out.” Bart had a firm tone but relaxed after Ryan handed him a sack filled with a few magic cores.
Ryan escorted Vahn under the sign that said, ‘Frontier Settlement Rivira’, and began to laugh next to Vahn’s head. “I’m glad you made it down here! I knew someone as strong as you wouldn’t get holed up on the middle-levels. Come, I know a good Inn and bar where you can settle in and enjoy a good meal. This place ain’t the most hospitable, but it beats sleeping on the ground!”
Vahn nodded complacently, but he had never dispelled his [Will of the Emperor] even when he dropped his transformation. Now that he could infuse stealth into it, it was almost undetectable unless Vahn focused his intent on someone. Vahn stared at each passerby and noticed many of them didn’t bother much with the new face, but, beyond the normal crowds, Vahn was able to see people he had never set eyes on before.
The reason his attention was drawn to the group, is that they all had dark auras surrounding their bodies. Allowing himself to be pulled towards the Inn, Vahn mentally marked the men on his map. Even if he wasn’t actively tracking them, unless they had stealth or he dispelled his domain, Vahn would be able to see their position on his map at all times.
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘No Goliath Fight’,’Shadows Approach’,’Ryan’s Hospitality’)