Chapter 867: Before the Descent

The more time that passed, the greater the sense of incongruity in Vahn’s heart grew. He knew this was his ‘instinct’ that was associated with karma and fate so his desire to seize the initiative in his own favor was growing by the day. Now that the basic defensive perimeter of Haven had been established, the only thing left to do was venture into the Dungeon and try to unlock its secrets. At the very least, they needed to interrupt the momentum that Enyo was trying to build with her forces and try to prevent her plans from coming to fruition…

In preparation for this, Vahn was doing some finishing touches on the routine maintenance he would perform for the girls’ equipment. Though they could rely on their [Pactio] in a fight, it didn’t mean their other equipment could be neglected. There was always a chance that something could go wrong and, in the event the girls weren’t able to use their [Pactio], having powerful equipment to fall back on was very important. With his maintenance also providing enhancements to the base stats of there equipment, it was worth the time it takes in order to protect the people he cares about.

After giving Ais’ [Gram] an oil rub, Vahn finished wiping the rather holy looking blade with a cloth before handing it over to the patiently waiting Ais. The girls had a habit of watching him whenever he was doing maintenance on their equipment so Vahn was used to her unwavering gaze at such times. Ais happily accepted her now ‘extra shiny’ sword, an appreciative smile on her face as she said, “Thank you, Vahn. I love it…ah…!” As if realizing something, Ais’ smile changed subtly and she quickly put away her [Gram] in the runic golden ring on her finger before leaning down and giving him a quick peck on the cheek. Then, with a smile that reached all the way to her eyes, Ais whispered, “I love you more…”

The moment these words left her lips, Tiona was already flying through the air and ‘tackling’ Ais as she said, “Ais, that’s sneaky~” This little display got a small rise out of many of the surrounding girls while even Vahn gave a light chuckle as he rose to his feet. While using a quick ‘cleaning magic’ to remove some of the grime that had built up on his clothes, Vahn looked towards everyone and said, “Well, it’s about time for us to head down. While we’re away, I’ll leave the defense of Haven to you all. Remember, if things get really bad, Yggy will protect you and, should you decided to go up to the surface, try not to draw too much attention to yourselves…” At this point, every girl had enough magic cores in their inventory to move to and from the surface around five times. Maemi and Emiru had already returned but Vahn expected that Tina may end up heading upwards at least once in the next few days…

In response to his words, Tione actually snorted with her arms crossed but didn’t say anything, a slightly conflicted look on her face. Though she knew her strength was quite a bit lower than her sister’s, the fact that she was remaining back at Haven bothered her a fair amount. However, among the girls that Vahn was taking with him, the only one she had even a small amount of confidence beating was Lefiya. Even Lili had grown almost ‘ridiculously’ strong and, though she could fight on the defensive for a decent amount of time, Tione knew she wouldn’t even be able to take one solid hit from the diminutive Pallum…

Seeing Tione’s behavior, Vahn unhesitantly walked over to her, causing the conflicted look on her face to waver a bit as he wrapped his arms around her like a bear hug. He held her tightly in his embrace and, with his mouth next to her ear, stated, “Remember, Tione, this is just supposed to be a scouting party…but, even if something happens, it isn’t because you are weak that I’m not taking you along. Don’t forget, I care more about the protection of Haven than anything related to Enyo…I need everyone to keep it safe while I’m not here to protect it…besides, once this is all over…” At this point, Vahn’s voice had become a hushed whisper as he added, “We’ll be one step closer to resolving the issues at Telskyura…I’ll be taking you and your sister with me when the time comes, okay…?”

By the time Vahn had finished his words, Tione’s face had become slightly flushed as she nodded her head, an angry facade as she muttered, “You better remember it…” To this, Vahn chuckled very lightly, causing the slight blush on Tione’s face to develop even more, especially when he said, “I’ve been looking forward to it for a while…I think you’d make a great mother, Tione. I can hardly wait…” Towards the end of his sentence, Vahn traced a small circle on Tione’s back with his index finger, a rainbow-hue suffusing from the tip. She pushed him away rather abruptly and ‘stormed’ off, not angry, but to prevent herself from pushing Vahn down in the middle of the group…

Vahn followed her with his eyes for a few moments before turning his attention to Arnya and Ryuu, saying, “The two of you will be in charge during any defensive operations. Make sure you familiarize yourselves with the terrain and, in an emergency, you can send a message to Terra through Yggy…” Seeing the two girls nods, Vahn then turned his attention to Chloe, Tina, and Shizune, his eyes resting on the maturing Kitsune as he said, “You’ve been very patient thus far, Shizune, thank you. If there are any large scale battles that occur while I’m away, don’t hesitate to use your abilities to their fullest. Chloe, Tina, I’ll trust you to keep Shizune safe, but don’t forget that your own safety is just as important…”

Hearing Vahn’s ‘permission’, Shizune chest puffed up and she smiled radiantly, saying, “Finally, it’s about time I had an opportunity to shine. I’m looking forward to it~.” As for Chloe, she simply nodded her head and said, “Leave it to me, nyaa~.” while Tina showed a serious expression, saying, “I’ll protect everyone, Vahnya~!” Vahn habitually reached out to stroked Tina’s head and, as she was standing right next to her, Shizune’s as well. Both girls had matured quite a bit but, the moment Vahn began stroking their heads, they had happy and contented expressions that made them appear much younger. This caused Vahn’s smile to soften a bit before he turned his attention to the stoic Mikoto who, without him even saying anything, gave a small nod and said, “Please, leave it to me, Vahn. This is why I’ve trained so hard…to protect the things I care about…”

Vahn ruffled the two girls’ hair one last time before walking over to Mikoto and placing his hand on her shoulder, saying, “I believe in you, Mikoto. You have already become incredibly strong…” Though there were a few bad matchups for her, Mikoto’s offensive power in a melee was just under Ais’. Her speed had reached a point that most of the other girls couldn’t even cope with and, so long as she was able to close the distance quickly enough, very few people would ever be able to defend against her attacks. Vahn had full confidence that she would even be able to deal with the large plant-like monsters on her own and wanted to leave her as a failsafe if there were any enemies that could resist ranged attacks.

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As it was growing closer to the time Vahn had wanted to set out, he lastly turned to Shakti and Rufina, the later of which immediately asked, “Can I not go with you…?” She knew she was far from the strength of the other girls but, imagining Vahn going to face against a terrifying enemy while she just ‘waited’ didn’t sit well with her. In response, Vahn slowly shook his head and, before Rufina could lash out, smiled to her as he said, “Vana would never forgive me if something happened to you…also, this place, this Dungeon, it has already influenced your life enough…the fact you were able to return here shows that you are a very strong woman, Rufina. One day, if that is your wish, I’m certain you will become even stronger…but now, this is our stage and ‘my’ fight…(“don’t worry, if you feel lonely, I’ll be waiting for you on the surface…”) Vahn said the last few words telepathically, causing Rufina’s face to flush a bit as she hugged her body and averted her eyes…

Vahn couldn’t help smiling slightly when he saw this, as Rufina’s actions reminded him a lot of how Eva used to behave back when they first met. He didn’t tell her this, of course, as it would have likely required him to dodge a few punches, and just turned to Shaki to say, “Shakti, take care of yourself and watch over Rufina for me. If things get dangerous, please retreat to the surface…remember, you can’t just think about yourself anymore.” Though she didn’t seem to do it intentionally, Shakti’s hand naturally gravitated towards her abdomen as a very serious expression appeared on her face. Even so, she managed to pull off a smile after a few seconds had passed, saying, “I won’t take any risks, Vahn, I promise…Rufina and I will both be okay.”

Choosing to believe in her words, Vahn gave a curt nod before sharing a long embrace with the two girls. Rufina’s ended up being a bit longer since she didn’t seem willing to let him go but, after a few minutes had passed, she finally relented while saying, “Try and come back quickly…but, if you see that bitch, Enyo, make sure to give her a solid hit on my behalf…” This comment gave Vahn a slight urge to laugh but he managed to keep it in, instead, saying, “I’ll make sure Enyo pays for everything she has done…don’t worry, your share will be included, Rufina.”

After sharing a few more parting words and expressions of affection, Vahn ended up heading towards the outer perimeter of Haven with Fenrir, Ais, Tiona, Haruhime, Lefiya, and Lili in tow. He had already discussed things with Finn previously so, other than a few people that were patrolling around the perimeter, there was nobody to send them off. Even so, everyone was in his spirits as Tiona and Lili began making bets as to who would kill the most monsters between them while Haruhime, Lefiya, and Fenrir were, somewhat embarrassingly, talking about him. As for Ais, she simply walked at his side and remained relatively quiet as a resolute light shone within her eyes…

Once they reached the entrance to the 51st Floor, Vahn brought everyone to a stop as he said, “We’ve already gone over the plan a few times but, now that we’re about to put it into action, I’ll give everyone a brief reminder. Our goal is to map the entirety of the 51st Floor and make sure Enyo’s forces aren’t trying to undermine the integrity of the 50th Floor. Once we’re finished, we’ll be heading into the 52nd Floor and use the Valgang Dragons’ breath to cut a path down to the 58th Floor. Our goal will be to secure the 58th Floor and then make camp before proceeding to the 59th Floor, tying the record of the Zeus and Hera Familias from the past. There is no way of knowing what awaits us beyond that point so we will be systematically exploring and mapping everything as we proceed, especially when we reach the 60th Floor…understood?”

Seeing that nobody had any questions, as they had probably discussed these plans nearly a dozen times at this point, Vahn nodded his head and said, “Lefiya will be our pace-setter. Ais, Fenrir, the two of you will be our Vanguard while Lili and Tiona will take up the Rearguard positions. Haruhime and I will protect Lefiya and act as the ranged support during the exploration. If there are any new enemies, act with caution but do not be afraid to make a decisive strike to keep the momentum in our favor. I will support you with my [Wounds Transfer] and my bow unless the enemy looks particularly dangerous. In that circumstance, remember to retreat into Haruhime’s barrier so that Ais and I can try to deal with it. If that happens, I’ll be relying on you, Lefiya, to chant a spell so I can absorb it with [Magia Erebea]…”

Lefiya, a fiery glint in her eyes, nodded her head fervently and exclaimed, “Leave it to me, Master!” Even without any thought required, Vahn had reached out his hand to pat the adorable Spirit’s head, causing her expression to melt. At the same time, he gave a confident nod to everyone, saying, “We can do this. The preparations we have made over the last few years give us a distinctive advantage in these engagements. So long as we maintain the momentum, there is nothing that can stand in our way. Remember, communication is the most important thing…now, let’s go teach Enyo that she can’t simply do whatever she wants…!” Following Vahn’s words, everyone gave a loud hurrah in response, each equally excited to teach Enyo not to mess with their ‘family’.

With everyone’s morale at its peak, Vahn smiled confidently before giving the signal to advance to Ais and Fenfir. He also drew out his new bow, [Khryselakatos], a powerful weapon that had cost him a total of 30,000,000OP to make full use of his [Archery Goddess’ Blessing]. Though it didn’t have the rather ‘scary’ effect of Naaza’s [Yi], this bow carried a fragment of Artemis’ record, as Vahn had specifically looked for equipment related to her mythos. Its form was that of a golden crescent and, in conjunction with his greatly increased critical hit rate, it was a truly monstrous weapon…

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[Khryselakatos]

Rank: S (Magic)

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Slots: 5

P.Atk: 700+70

M.Atk: 1500

Ability: Artemis’ Blessing(S), Curse of the Huntress(S), Impeccable Aim(A), Crippling Blow(A), Moon’s Grace(A)

A legendary bow that was enshrined at the Temple of Artemis, rumored to have obtained her Blessing. Those that wield this bow, so long as they have the Goddess of the Hunt’s favor, are fated to never miss their targets. During the night of the Full Moon, this bow is said to reach its full potential…

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So long as he had this bow, Vahn was confident he could even take out one of the large plant-like monsters in a single shot. Not only was he almost guaranteed a critical hit, but every time he landed a critical it would stun the monster for a minimum of one second. Though that didn’t sound like much, every successive critical would increase the duration of the stun and, with how fast and powerful their attacks were, this was a death sentence to anything without borderline Innate levels of resistance. Since he also had skills like [Call of the Reaper] to back him up, Vahn felt like he had literally become Artemis’ Champion with a bow…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Poor Tione xD…’,’Best laid plans…’,’Vahn is Archer, confirmed…?’)

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