Chapter 869: Information : Weakness

With the size of the 51st Floor, a complex labyrinth more than 200km in diameter, Vahn hadn’t expected to explore the entire area within a day. Now, they were just entering into the morning of the third day and, though they had the option of returning to Haven to rest, the group had spent most of their time resting in the various ‘secret’ passages that Vahn had discovered. Since these were also part of the 51st Floor, and there was even a chance of stumbling upon a Xenos Hidden Village, they too were being explored by Vahn’s party. As a result, during the second day of their expedition, the group had discovered a small region that, unlike the white stone walls of the surrounding Floor, was full of lush greenery and a small spring.

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Since the spring ended up having a passage leading into another section of the Dungeon, Vahn had swum through to the other side before moving the girls over by summoning them. The room on the other side of the passage had a variety of different fruit-bearing trees with some tunnels in the walls and ceiling that Vahn knew would lead to other secret passages. He couldn’t help wondering why the Dungeon would create so many save havens for the Xenos, even though the monsters birthed within would aggressively try and kill them. It was almost as if the Dungeon had multiple wills and, with Enyo also interfering with things, it was impossible to discern the true ‘purpose’ behind the Dungeon’s existence without further investigation…

As a result of finding this small grove, the group had made camp for the night within the relatively peaceful and serene secret area. It even had small crystals in the ceiling the simulated natural light so it was a very relaxing place to rest, even if Tiona and Lili ended up getting a little ‘grabby’ at one point. Fortunately, other than a little heavy petting, things didn’t get too serious as Vahn cautioned them about surprise attacks during such circumstances. They were supposed to be drawing the attention of Enyo and trying to interfere with her plans, meaning there was a non-negligible chance they were being ‘watched’. Even though they had a tent that should obstruct such things, Vahn knew there were several means to circumvent physical obstructions and this was a good enough reason to get them to remain ‘calm’ during their trip.

Thus, after enjoying a peaceful evening snuggled up with the six girls, Vahn had proceeded back into the heart of the 51st Floor to continue their investigation. His instincts had been triggering several times while they were exploring, sometimes more than others, so there should be something going on to cause such a reaction. Fortunately, they weren’t that far away from Haven and the telepathy from [Pactio] was still active, allowing him to confirm there weren’t any attacks taking place. As a result, Vahn believed it had to be something taking place on the lower Floors or, though he hoped this wasn’t the case, something taking place within the City…

After proceeding forward for quite a while, Ais and Fenrir slowly came to a stop, bringing Vahn’s ‘awareness’ away from the Manor and wholly focused on the Dungeon. He had a habit of going into something like an ‘auto-pilot’ mode where he was passively focused on detection while his primary focus was on specific tasks. Having the two girls stop suddenly was ‘abnormal’ so Vahn immediately became more alert, asking, “Is there something wrong, Ais, Fenrir…?” In response, Ais shook her head while Fenrir, showing an expression of suspicion, stated, “It’s too quiet…there should have been a lot of monsters by now…”

Vahn didn’t need to hear any further explanation to know Fenrir was right, especially considering that it had been nearly a half-hour since an enemy appeared. His mind immediately became hyper-aware of everything going on within his domain, specifically the flow of mana within the Dungeon’s walls. Everything seemed relatively normal, except for the fact that none of the mana was diverting towards them. In most circumstances, the Dungeon reacted the number of people in an area and would periodically ‘divert’ some of its mana to intercept people.

As a party progressed forward, these incidents would continue as a relatively consistent rhythm until the amount of mana returned to the Dungeon by slain monsters reached a certain point. Then, as if some form of retribution, a Monster Party would form to make use of the consolidated mana. If the party was able to overcome even that, the defensive measures of the Dungeon would recede for a time, diverting the mana to other areas as if recognizing the accomplishment of the party. For the Dungeon to be completely ignoring them like this was simply inconceivable, as their energy signatures were some of the largest in the entire Dungeon. In fact, even though there were only seven of them, the spawn rate had been nearly five times the normal amount thus far…never ‘nothing’…

The moment Vahn’s mind began reaching conclusions, his ‘instincts’ began to slowly well up as he quickly stated, “We’ll be moving straight. Follow my lead. Protect the flanks and the rear…!” When he was finished giving his quick orders, Vahn took a deep breath before shaping a part of his domain into a cylinder and, for a brief moment, transformed into his Zhuque form. The cylindrical area he made was to guide the flow of Fire Elemental energy and, in a manner reminiscent of the Valgang Dragons shooting from the 58th to the 52nd Floor, Vahn made an instantaneous ‘pillar’ of fire that cut a path through the Dungeon. With this particular group, combined with the confined spaces of the 51st Floor, Vahn wasn’t worried about a Juggernaut appearing at all…

In the ‘void’ created by the pillar of flames, there was a powerful vacuum effect caused by the massive temperature differential and the complete lack of oxygen in the space. The girls, however, were fully prepared for this phenomenon as Fenrir had already finished casting a powerful Ice Elemental spell, holding the energy between her paws. Vahn reached out his hand and absorbed the spell with his [Magia Erebea] before moving forward at a pace he knew Lefiya would be able to follow. Though he wanted to hurry, Vahn still continued with caution since he didn’t know exactly what was going on with this strange phenomenon at all…

With Vahn leading the way, the superheated surfaces were cooled very quickly, turning the once white stone completely black as a thin layer of frost began to cover it. The girls had formed up behind him and managed to keep pace relatively easily, never once dropping their guard whenever they entered adjoining corridors. Eventually, after making several twists and turns, still without encountering any monsters, Vahn made another pathway for them and the process repeated itself. Things continued in this manner until, nearly twenty minutes later, Vahn found the ‘convergence’ point of almost the entire Floor’s mana…

It didn’t seem like this phenomenon had completed so Vahn felt there was a chance to stop it if they acted quickly. He sent a telepathic message to the girls to fan out upon entering the room and watching each other’s backs as he, determined to bring a swift resolution to things, charged toward what appeared to be a Cadmus Dragon. Unlike a normal Cadmus, however, this one was more than twice the size and was currently feeding off both the Dungeon’s mana, and thousands of the strange caterpillar-like monsters. They had white tendrils piercing into their bodies and it appeared as though the Cadmus was ‘drinking’ the acidic blood within, inflating its own body further. Of course, the most notable feature of this particular Cadmus was the existence of a woman’s upper body where its neck and head should have been…

Similar to how Naho and Rayne used to be, this strange monster had the figure of an inordinately beautiful and mature woman but, as soon as you looked toward her waist, she had the body of a 15m long white dragon that was slowly turning green. It was a very strange sight, almost like looking at a parasitic organism taking over the body of another, especially since her predominant features gave her the appearance of a Dryad, except for her leafy green skin, lime-green hair, and the vicious purple eyes that had locked onto them from the moment the party burst into the room.

Vahn could see the malicious aura surrounding this monster and, though there were many questions he wanted to try and ask it, the fact it had an aura near his own meant time wasn’t a luxury they had. Without any hesitation, he created another cylindrical channel with his domain and turned into his Zhuque form without breaking changing out of his [Magia Erebea]. Though it was generally impossible for Ice and Fire Elemental Energy to coexist with each other, Vahn’s body was entire comprised of Source Energy and his Zhuque form used Yang Fire, not normal Fire Elemental Energy. His ‘raiment’ had become like that of an Ice Phoenix with a vibrant red core near his heart as a pillar of bluish-white flames barreled towards the monstrosity.

Though he was surprised by this unexpected discovery, as he didn’t often use his [Rakshasa Body] while in his [Magia Erebea], Vahn didn’t have time to think about it. His pillar of flames had completely incinerated the ‘female’ portion of the Cadmus, annihilating a large group of the caterpillar monsters in the process, but he could still sense powerful vital energy. He quickly called out, “Don’t drop your guard, it isn’t dead yet…!” while using [Shundo] to approach the creature and try to burn it away completely. The girls had already started battling against the caterpillar monsters, with Ais cutting apart a large number very quickly, but Tiona had looked like she was getting a little complacent after seeing his first burst.

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The moment he appeared near the body of the creature, Vahn watched as it’s flesh and organs began to bubble from the heat, massive amounts of acidic blood pouring from its wounds like a fountain. Then, with an increase in the temperature, at least until his reserves started to get low, Vahn began to burn away the body before transitioning out of his Zhuque form and stabbing forward with his [Longinus]. There was a massive core located in the chest cavity of the monster and Vahn wanted to destroy it to prevent the possibility of the surprisingly fire-resistant ‘plant’ from regenerating…

When his spear pierced into the core, Vahn immediately heard laughter within his mind as the room began to tremble. His eyes widened as he immediately shouted, “Get into Haruhime’s barrier…!” Right now the girls were split up all over the room but, with their incredible speed, it wasn’t difficult for them to reach Haruhime’s side in an instant. Fortunately, Lefiya was already being protected so the only one left outside of the protective membrane just two seconds later was Vahn himself. The voice in his head stopped laughing before saying, (“You’re an interesting man, Vahn…so capable…”)

With these words resounding in his mind, the core he had pierced exploded but, instead of turning to dust, the body of the mutated Cadmus, and the thousands of surrounding caterpillar monsters, all erupted in a wave of acidic blood. Vahn’s body was completely covered in it but it had been kept at bay by his magical aura, courtesy of the spell [Vis Maxima]. Then, the surrounding pools of acid began to freeze over as he looked back to see nearly a meter deep pool of acid surrounding the bubble of Haruhime without a single drop being able to get through. Strangely, the acid wasn’t eating through the Dungeon and, as if to answer this unasked question, the voice said, (“This was a special place I had prepared just for you…it is quite amazing, really, that you’re able to see the flow of mana within the Dungeon…I had wanted it to be a surprise, kukukuku~.”)

Vahn’s brows furrowed slightly, understanding that this was Enyo’s way of ‘testing’ their capabilities and trying to gain more information. Just the fact that the acid now had fire resistant properties, even when he could easily produce temperatures above 20,000°C, showed that she was ‘adapting’. They weren’t the only ones growing stronger and Enyo had an obvious advantage when it came to gathering information, something Vahn still didn’t understand. She had to have someone with an Innate related to information gathering within her pawns and, based on how quickly the monsters under her control were changing, there must be someone with an Innate related to Plants, Botany, or Evolution…so many unanswered questions…

While he was scanning the area with his [Eyes of Truth], Enyo’s voice once against entered his mind, saying, (“You seem calm on the surface but I can tell, you know~? You are scared, Vahn Mason…not that I will bring harm to you, no, kukuku…you fear what I will do to others. It is amazing how quickly you’ve grown, trying so desperately to protect the ‘happiness’ you share with so many people…your weakness has been obvious from the start…kukukuku~.”) As these words sounded in his mind, Vahn felt slightly nauseous but it had passed in an instant. This time, though he could sense the ‘link’ Enyo had established with him, there was a brief period of silence before she once again said, (“You can resist my power directly…very interesting, Vahn Mason! Come, come, come, I really can’t wait to meet you, kyahahahahaha~!”)

With these parting words, the ‘link’ that Vahn had been trying to backtrace had vanished and his mind had returned to crystal clarity. Enyo had tried to use some kind of technique that could affect the mind, one that was far more powerful than even Haruhime’s Innate. Without his [Will of the Emperor], it would have been almost impossible for him to resist it. However, this didn’t bring him any comfort at all because now Enyo had revealed one of her own cards, even though he should have been aware of it ever since meeting Rufina…Enyo had an Innate that could alter the mind and cause people to see illusions. Now, instead of the ‘enemy within’ seeming like a particular person, Vahn realized it could be almost anyone that Enyo set her mind on…

As soon as this realization dawned on him, a subtle shift in one of the girls’ auras entered Vahn’s perception as the light of Haruhime’s barrier dimmed. Vahn’s heart felt like it stopped as he looked over, seeing a berserk Tiona, already in her [Pactio] transformation, tightly squeezing Lili’s neck. The amount of pain and betrayal in her bulging eyes made Vahn feel a level of anguish he had never expected to deal with at this point. She had been completely unable to defend herself against the sudden attack as Tiona, tears in her eyes, screamed, “Where is everyone!? What did you do with my friends!? Where is Vahn…!?” with glowing purple eyes…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Rest…’,’Anomaly…’,’Betrayal…’)

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