Chapter 971: Light

Though they had never progressed beyond the 66th Floor, Ais and Shizune weren’t impeded by the new monsters they have never encountered. With the information Vahn had provided, added with the fact he was always actively assisting them, every enemy they came across was quickly dealt with. Shizune might have only been Level 5, but her [Pactio] and general combat capabilities made her a nightmare for most monsters while Ais, with her Spirit-based magic, was a ‘literal’ counter to any genuine monsters. Her [Avenger] gave her a massive boost to offensive power so, even after encountering the colossal turtles known as Adamantoise, Ais was able to pierce through their shell and subsequent hide as if she were tearing through wet paper.

Vahn found that he didn’t actually have that much to do since the girls were exerting themselves a bit more than normal, something he understood was the result of his presence. It made his heart feel warm, knowing they placed so much trust in him that they could continuously go all out, but it still left him feeling a little bored since he had been solo-diving as of late. The only times he really entered the Dungeon with others was when escorting Vana, though she had never ventured beyond the 24th Floor at this point. She was also able to deal with almost any enemy that tried to bar her passage, though Vahn never felt bored watching her since he was always on high-alert to avoid any accidents…

Without any major incidents, Vahn, Ais, and Shizune managed to reach the 69th Floor, this time without encountering the large slime-like creature that served as the ‘guardian’ of the 70th Floor’s secrets. Instead, the only enemies that appeared were monsters that Vahn had named Phantom Knights as, from appearances, they appeared to be comprised almost entirely of pieces of twisted and unnatural looking armor that contained no living flesh. They were able to work together well, to the point of establishing formations, with Spearman leading the charge while larger versions of the Phantom Knights wielded heavy weapons like battleaxes and flails. The most dangerous, of course, were the Phantom Knight Commanders, as they were nearly the equivalent of a decently powerful Level 6 Adventurer while often being capable of using powerful chantless magic.

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Upon encountering a small platoon of around thirty Phantom Knights, commanded by a single Commander, Ais took up her pristine white sword with a determined look in her eyes. Vahn gave a small nod in response to the glance she had sent his way, causing Ais to almost instantly ‘vanish’ before tempestuous winds seemed to spread through the surroundings like an explosion. Vahn had shield his eyes for a brief moment while Shizune used his body as a shield while the sounds of shattering armor and several powerful shockwaves began to spread through the corridors. Ais had torn into the monsters’ formation without hesitation, cutting directly through both the weapons and armor of the Phantom Knights before bisecting the Phantom Knight Commander in a single blow. The difference between a monster that was only capable of fighting with the skill of a Level 6 and a prodigy at Level 7 who had nearly developed her sword intent was massive.

In less than a minute, Ais brandished her sword, causing a pulse of wind to send away all the dust and debris away from her body, before turning back to Vahn and Shizune with a small smile on her face. Vahn returned a smile of his own, complimenting, “Very well done, as always…” in a gentle tone of voice. This caused Ais’ smile to increase marginally as Shizune came out from behind his back, lifting her chin slightly as she added, “You may be stronger than me, but I’ll show you that I won’t be left behind so easily, Ais…!”

Though she had never cared that much about strength in the past, the years of training and her constant increase in strength had been slowly changing Shizune’s perspective. She had started to develop a small amount of pride in her skills and no longer shied away from competing with the other girls, though her main rivals were Tina and, to a lesser extent, Haruhime. The former was someone she treated with a fair amount of respect and kinship while the latter, hailing from the same homeland, was someone that Shizune had always gotten along with. They had similar personalities and comparable pasts while, most importantly, the two seemed to enjoy competing to see which one had the ‘softest’ tail. Though Haruhime had the advantage, having multiple tails, Shizune put a lot of care into her fur, giving it a glossy sheen and an immaculate feel like fine satin silk…

Ais didn’t shy away from Shizune’s words but, instead of rebuffing her due to the difference in their power, she nodded her head with a competitive glint in her eyes. Though she could defeat Shizune 99 times out of 100, Ais never looked down on her opponents since she knew that, in real combat, anything could happen. She also knew how fearsome Shizune’s [Pactio] was, as the latter often helped in the combat training of the other girls while refining her control and mastery over her Shadow Summons. There were even a few Shadows amongst Shizune’s collection that could genuinely pose a threat if you let your guard down, especially with their traits of ignoring magical defense and piercing through physical defense with ease…

As if they had come to an agreement, even without openly exchanging terms, Ais and Shizune proceeded to engage in a small competition of sorts as they progressed through the 69th Floor. Vahn had an amused smile on his face as he observed their antics, especially since Shizune was heavily relying on his assistance to replenish her quickly diminishing reserves. Her Shadows didn’t have much upkeep after being summoned but the mana required to manifest them could be very taxing on Shizune’s relatively small reserves. Though she was far from the girl with the smallest mana pool, the sheer number of Shadows she could summon was a heavy drain that required Shizune to generally rely on her equipment and accessories to supplement her mana capacity.

Even with hundreds of indestructible monsters as her opponent, Ais’ momentum wasn’t easily deterred as she was able to move with a speed and intensity that Shizune couldn’t even comprehend at her current Level. Vahn also struggled with keeping track of Ais in his base state so he couldn’t blame Shizune for simply ‘ignoring’ Ais as she closed her eyes and focused on commanding her Shadows. She had completely entrusted her protection to him and, even if he pinched her ears or poked her cheeks, Shizune’s focus wouldn’t break as her tidal-wave of Shadows overwhelmed most enemies that they encountered.

At a moment when Vahn was partially focused on fluffing up Shizune’s soft tail, his instincts triggered warning signals as his body immediately set into motion without the need for complex thought. His left arm became covered in black scales that were adorned with small green runes as he intercepted an arrow that had moved silently through the air, tracing a direct path towards Shizune’s head. Instead of shattering under the repulsive force of Vahn’s Xuanwu transformation, the arrow had turned into a malleable goo that attempted to twine itself around his arm, causing Vahn’s brows to rise slightly before he transitioned his left arm in his Zhuque form. The black goo immediately evaporated with the sound of liquid touching hot stone as Vahn’s [Eyes of Truth] peered towards the location where their hidden enemy was located.

Just as he had been ambushed before, unable to sense the enemy until it had already attacked, Vahn saw a black slime that had the appearance of a night sky filled with stars. It was much smaller than the ‘guardian’ he had encountered in the past but it wasn’t difficult to deduce that the two were the same species, if not outright the same entity. The Dungeon could cycle the fragmentary souls of monsters, allowing them to eventually even reach Tier 1, so Vahn fully expected the encounter the strange creature in the future. He was even looking forward to his rematch against the Juggernaut as, compared to the past, Vahn wouldn’t look down on its strength and speed in their next encounter…

Since it was much smaller and weaker than the previous ‘slime’ Vahn had encountered, he managed to subdue it relatively quickly after sending a pillar of Zhuque flames into the small crevasse where it had been hiding. He knew it possessed a weakness, not necessarily to flames, but the Yang Elemental energy contained within his Zhuque fire. It began to scream and squeal while trying to extricate itself from the area of the flames effect, screaming, “Cuuuurse you…!” in a high-pitched voice. It was at the moment when the monster had managed to break free from his flames that Vahn ‘blinked’ next to it, now fully in his Qinglong form since Ais had arrived to protect the now fully conscious Shizune.

Seemingly tearing through Space and Time, Vahn’s claw grasped the ‘neck’ of the ‘Slime’, sending a powerful pulse of blue, lightning-like, Space Elemental energy into its body. This caused several parts of it to fracture, almost as if he had broken a glass statue, but it didn’t completely break down as Vahn asked, “What are you, really? Who made you the ‘guardian’ of the 70th Floor…?” Though Vahn had asked the mirror artifact to show him who had created the strange slime during his last excursion, he was curious about the answer it would give. He wasn’t foolish enough to completely believe the information provided to him by the mirror, especially since there was an ‘intent’ attached to it, so it never hurt to try and measure the veracity of its claims whenever possible…

Feeling its body become ‘solid’, as its individual cells had been locked into place by Vahn’s spatial energy, the vaguely humanoid slime creature turned its galaxy-like face towards its warden and begrudgingly replied, “No matter how many times you defeat me, I will always return. You are not allowed to trespass this area, even if you are-” Before the monster could complete its threat, a massive amount of mana began to flow through the Dungeon, condensing beneath Vahn in what felt like a single instant. His instincts sounded warning bells in his mind as he tore through space to evade the sudden phenomenon, growing even more shocked when he was unable to move the creature along with him, momentarily forgetting that he was the one that ‘locked’ the space around it to avoid having it run away…

Where the monster had previously stood, there was now a pillar of what seemed like a higher tier of Light Elemental energy. It had a diameter of nearly twenty meters, causing Vahn’s body to itch madly as he protected Shizune’s trembling body. Since the pillar of light was the direct counter to her Darkness and Shadow Elemental energy, she was feeling as if her body was going to be torn apart and purified in the presence of the light. Ais was seemingly unaffected, however, causing Shizune to make a pouting expression while Vahn could only produce a wry smile as he observed the massive pillar of light with a thoughtful glint in his eyes. He could tell that the light was easily Tier 4, though he wasn’t sure where on the spectrum of Tier 4 it would fall. Since it was formed by the Dungeon itself, Vahn couldn’t help but wonder if it was due to the owner of the ‘intent’ behind the mirror or if it was the Dungeon, Tartarus itself, that wanted to protect certain information…

Knowing he would find the answers by delving deeper into the Dungeon, Vahn mentally moved up his timeline for conquering the Dungeon and learning its secrets. He decided that, after being crowned Emperor, he would help stabilize things within the Continent before escorting Mikoto, Shizune, Haruhime, and Tsubaki over to the Far East. Though Kali had yet to make a vow to him, Vahn believed she would do so if he put a bit more effort into their relationship in the future. He still required a few other gods and goddesses to make Eternal Vows with him, however, meaning he would need to meet with Amaterasu at some point while helping Kaguya get her revenge. Once that was taken care of, hopefully within the next six months, Vahn fully intended to delve into the Dungeon to learn whatever secrets it was keeping. Though he would be able to discover them in the future, regardless of how he went about things, Vahn was too interested in the ‘truth’ of the world to ignore the matter for much longer…

While he was momentarily lost in his own thoughts, Vahn noticed that the pillar of light had started to fade away rather quickly. In its wake, a perfect circle had been cut through the Dungeon’s floor and ceiling, seemingly stretching for several kilometers upward while pure darkness could be seen below. The pillar of light had obviously penetrated several Floors of the Dungeon, leaving behind an almost mirror-like surface in the incredibly durable bedrock. Vahn coudn’t help but admire the power required to perform such a feat as, even in his Lightning Emperor form, he knew it would be impossible for him to repeat without a great deal of time and effort. He could easily cut through several Floors of the Dungeon on his own efforts, but the area of effect would be much smaller than the 20m diameter hole that was left in the wake of the pillar of light…

After a moment of contemplation, Vahn turned back to Ais and Shizune, casually asking, “Shall we continue downward…?” He wasn’t worried that another pillar of light would appear since he had started to truly understand the nature of the Dungeon after the discovery of the mirror. Though it would ‘test’ intruders, often to the point of breaking them, that wasn’t the ‘purpose’ behind the Dungeon’s existence. It was, in a way, a method in which mortals were able to ascend to higher soul tiers, even becoming gods if they were able to overcome the various challenges that awaited them. As for why the Dungeon barred gods from descending too far into its depths, that was still up for debate but Vahn assumed it was simply to prevent gods from returning to the ‘origin’. He didn’t know why Nuwa wanted to prevent this, but it didn’t seem like she was too fond of the idea of having gods invade ‘Hell’, perhaps due to the preferential treatment she wanted to give her own creations…?

This thought caused Vahn to smile somewhat amusedly since he wondered how Nuwa would react if she learned that he wasn’t the product of something she had created. It would be rather ironic if she had gone through all of these efforts to help her ‘children’ grow to the point they could break free from mortal constraints, only for an interloper from another world to seize the legacy she had left behind. Fortunately, she would have no way of knowing this and, even if she were somehow able to deduce the truth, it was far too late to take any proactive action about it. Unless she outright tried to kill him, something that seemed extremely out of character for the Primordial Goddess who had created sentient life, she would have to descend/ascend to the Mortal World to do so. The moment she came under the influence of the World’s Laws, Vahn was confident he would be able to seal her away, even if for only the few years it would take him to leave the world and return as an unfathomable existence that she could never overcome…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘This isn’t even fair…!’,’*Petting intensifies*’,’Just imagine Nuwa being like, “My child, I’m so proud of you…” while Vahn does his best to luffypokerface.jpg xD…’)

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