Chapter 972: Reflection

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With the ‘convenient’ hole that had been created for them, Vahn descended into the 70th Floor with Ais and Shizune at his side. They were both taken aback with the seemingly infinite darkness that existed below, causing Shizune to hold onto Vahn’s sleeve as Ais spread out a small tempest of air to ‘feel’ her surroundings. Even Shizune’s Shadows weren’t able to see within the darkness without a light to guide their way, making it very difficult for her to spread her network outward without issue. She had tried to send out a few dozen small animals like rabbits and snakes to scout the area but, after entering into the various illusory barriers in the surroundings, she had to give up due to the mental strain and extreme nausea that began to rise up from her stomach.

Vahn lightly stroked Shizune’s head and ears to help her stay calm while infusing [Enkidu] into his domain to illuminate their surroundings. It was still unbelievably dark, as the floor and ceiling above absorbed all light, but Vahn’s domain caused a golden aura to spread through the area like a bubble. It was a strange sight to behold but it still allowed the girls to get their bearings, giving Shizune the leeway to murmur, “This place…I don’t like it…” Though she had affinities related to Darkness and Shadow, Shizune had never experienced such ‘absolute’ darkness before. It was incredibly unnerving and, without the presence of Vahn, she felt as if she could have gotten lost in the darkness for an eternity without ever being afforded the opportunity to escape…

Ais was calmer than Shizune but there was a noticeable hint of fear in her eyes as she nodded her head in response to the former’s words. Even with the ability to sense her surroundings through her strong connection with WInd Elemental energy, not being able to see even a few centimeters in front of her was more than a little terrifying. It was almost as if she had gone blind for a brief moment, causing Ais to feel an incredible feeling of relief when Vahn illuminated the area. She was now holding hands with him as the three of them slowly navigated through the pitch black terrain, their destination the mirror artifact at the ‘core’ of the complex formation.

With Vahn leading the way, it didn’t take that long for them to reach their destination, causing Ais and Shizune to both visibly relax after entering the well-lit area. He had Shizune leave a path of pheromones with a few snake and insectoid Shadows along the way, the primary reason for their delayed progress. Though the Dungeon would probably remove their existence after a few days, Vahn wanted to determine if it was a viable method to traverse through the darkness as others would likely need assistance in doing so. Since many Demi-Humans had extremely sensitive noses, especially when it came to certain types of pheromones, Vahn believed it would be the most reliable method available to most Adventurers that would pass through the darkness in the future.

After collecting themselves, Shizune and Ais began to look around the area, both spotting the statue located at the very center of the formation. Ais’ eyes widened slightly while Shizune’s mouth hung agape as she exclaimed intermixed with incredulity and awe, “How beautiful…” Vahn couldn’t really blame him for their reaction as, without his [Will of the Emperor], he wasn’t sure if he would be able to resist the nagging temptation to stay in this area, never leaving the statue’s side. It was very possible that, when other people found this place in the future, some would become completely enamored with the statue and refuse to leave the area, at least without trying everything in their power to remove the statue and claim it for themselves…

As they made their way over to the statue, both Ais and Shizune kept their gazes affixed to it, the light of admiration reflecting across their irises. Upon nearing the statue, Shizune couldn’t help but comment, “I’ve never seen such a realistic statue…it’s almost like she is going to come to life at any moment…” Adding to this, Ais nodded her head before saying, “It feels like there is someone inside the statue…” These words had caused Vahn’s brows to raise as even he could barely feel the ‘intent’ contained within the statue. He credited to the fact that Ais was one of the original heroines of the world and probably had some kind of connection with Nuwa.

It was nearly impossible to deduce how far the version of Danmachi he was in would have progressed as even purchasing a manga that accounted for events in the far future, linking present and future events together served almost no purpose whatsoever. Outside of discovering the existence of a few key figures, there were no great benefits to such research as there wasn’t a single version of the manga that accounted for his presence within the record. Vahn had even found several versions of the story that took events in a completely different direction, sometimes with other transmigrators living their own lives, often with even less restraint than he showed. With a ‘literal’ infinite number of iterations of the same story, Vahn was better served to enjoy tea with girls like Sylphia or Cassandra. Both had relatively powerful clairvoyance and he knew that they would appreciate his company…

Vahn was broken from his momentary reverie when Shizune did something rather shocking, causing him to pale slightly as she reached up and rubbed her palm across the chest of the statue. During his last visit, Vahn’s instincts gave him the impression that it was extremely ‘dangerous’ to touch the statue, especially knowing there was an intent contained within. Though he had been tempted on several occasions, Vahn had managed to avoid giving in to his curiosity since it simply felt ‘wrong’ to touch the statue, especially in such a ‘bold’ manner. What surprised him even more, however, was when Shizune’s eyes widened fully as she exclaimed, “It’s warm…!” while wiggling her dexterous fingers along the delicate and unblemished stone surface…

Feeling a peculiar sensation pass through his body, causing alarm bells to ring in his mind, Vahn moved forward and snatched Shizune’s hand as he exasperatedly stated, “Shizune, please don’t touch this statue…it isn’t a normal work of art and there is very likely a powerful entity linked to it. Besides, couldn’t you have touched someone else…?” For the first time in a long while, Vahn felt his brain buzz with slight anxiety as his instincts were still sounding warning bells, even though they had slowly started to die down. Shizune also seemed to have finally sensed something, showing an apologetic expression on her face as she murmured, “I’m sorry…” in a sheepish voice. She wasn’t used to Vahn nearly shouting at her and felt her heart racing when he snatched her wrist with a little more force than was necessary…

Vahn noticed the small bruise around Shizune’s wrist and felt a bit of panic in his heart as he sent a wave of healing energy through his palm while bringing her into his embrace, repeating, “I’m sorry…” in a similarly apologetic tone. At this time, the alarms going off in his mind died down in an instant, replaced by a strangely calm atmosphere as Vahn continued to console Shizune, even though it was her own actions that had nearly caused a catastrophe. He didn’t know what would have happened but, for a brief moment, Vahn experienced an extreme amount of regret and nearly followed his instincts to try and escape with the two girls before whatever danger lurking made itself known.

After things had settled down a bit, Vahn gave Shizune one last affectionate stroke through her silky hair before he began explaining the use of the small oval hand mirror. Though he had tried several experiments himself, Vahn knew there were still secrets he had yet to uncover and wanted to have other people experience the uniqueness of the mirror artifact in order to verify his hypothesis. Since Shizune may have offended the entity that controlled the statue, Vahn had Ais peer into the mirror, causing the latter to surprisingly say, “Show me my mother, Aria…” He had expected her to ask about the One-Eyed Black Dragon, as it was pretty much guaranteed that Aria had already died, but Vahn could also understand if Ais wanted to make sure of the matter personally…

Surprisingly, the surface of the mirror began to emanate a vibrant white light before it faded away, revealing a rather confusing scene to the three curious onlookers. Ais looked up into the air towards a place that was seemingly devoid of any presence while Vahn continued to observe the mirror, moving his hand around to see the image of himself in its reflection. The mirror was currently showing the three of them standing next to the statue, with the main focal point being Ais herself. This caused her to feel an incredible amount of confusion as she turned back to the mirror, a small frown on her face as she asked, “What are you trying to tell me…?”

Unlike Ais, Vahn had a few guesses at what the mirror was showing Ais and, knowing exactly how she had been created, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to believe his postulation was correct. Though Ais certainly had her own soul, it was very likely that her several incarnations had left a few imprints on her ego, especially with the experiments that had been conducted during her creation. Vahn reached out his hand, placing it on Ais’ shoulder in a supporting gesture as he quietly explained, “Perhaps, because of her existence as a Great Spirit, your mother has been protecting you ever since you were separated in the past…it would make sense, considering the power of your Innates and the fate you had inherited as a result of your parents’ desire to protect you…”

Though it wasn’t the full truth, as Vahn didn’t fully understand the nature of Great Spirits, he knew that Ais’ abilities weren’t entirely her own. They had been ‘given’ to her when she was created and, with mana and Spirits almost being one and the same, there was a certain amount of truth behind his words. Though Aria had lost her ego, at least until she truly reincarnated in the future, part of it had left an impression on Ais’ soul, protecting it through the generations in the hopes of liberating her daughter from the dark fate that others had decided for her. The fact that Ais had managed to escape, being ‘spawned’ in an unexpected area where the Loki Familia could protect her, could very well have been the result of Aria’s lingering ‘will’…

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Unable to make sense of what the mirror had shown her, Ais decided to believe in Vahn’s words, adorning a small smile on her face as she said, “Thank you, Vahn…I’m certain your words are the truth…” Ais brought her hand over her heart as she spoke, feeling a small warmth flow through her chest as the perpetual wind that flowed around her body suddenly seemed more gentle than before. Neither of them was aware of it but, with the small change in her perspective, Ais’ [Child of Wind] Innate had upgraded, jumping from A-Rank to SS-Rank in an instant. The only thing she knew was that the wind surrounding her body suddenly seemed extremely comfortable, almost as if it had truly become a part of her body.

Vahn had felt the slight change but put it to the back of his mind as he wrapped his arms around Ais and comforted her for a short while, only separating when a flash of light caught their attention. With Vahn and Ais in their own little world, Shizune had decided to test her own luck, peering into the mirror’s surface as she whispered, “Show me my surviving family members…” Since she had been orphaned after her village was attacked long ago, Shizune had always been curious about any family she might have back in the Far East. She hadn’t been as focused on revenge in the last few years, confident she could take it whenever she pleased, so Shizune was more curious about if she still had a family. Since she would be accompanying Vahn to the Far East, Shizune wanted a reason other than revenge to visit her homeland…

What appeared in the mirror had, once again, surprised all three people that had taken a peek at its contents. Shizune’s surprise quickly transitioned into a cold and threatening look, however, as the person reflected in the mirror seemed to be a small girl of only 6-7 years old that was being kept in what looked like a small prison cell. She was wearing nothing but a tattered hempen kimono that had several stains and holes while curling up in a small ball as she resisted the lingering cold that sapped away the vitality of her fragile and malnourished body. Though it wasn’t guaranteed that the girl in the mirror was truly one of Shizune’s relatives, the fact they both had amethyst eyes and were members of the Kitsune race increased the odds quite a bit.

Vahn withheld a sigh as he saw the fury that had seized Shizune, something he couldn’t fault her for as his own blood was beginning to boil after seeing the rather sorry state of the girl in the mirror. He didn’t know why she had been imprisoned but, considering how young she was, Vahn knew whoever threw her in the cold stone cell was a cruel and vicious person. Though Shizune wasn’t controlling the mirror to look around, Vahn could see the tell-tale signs of other prisoners in the surroundings, some even younger than the young Kitsune in the focal point of the mirror. He didn’t get that much time to observe the scene though as Shizune’s icy voice sounded out, saying, “Show me another member of my family…show me that girl’s parents…!”

Shizune felt a cold fury overwhelm her but, remembering her original purpose, she decided to see if she had any other family that was, hopefully, in a better situation. She didn’t know why but Shizune felt like, regardless of the situation she found her other family members in, part of her would blame them for the state of the young girl. When the mirror’s surface began to shine again, her pupils turned into small dots as she focused intently on whatever would appear before her. Nothing could have prepared her for the scene that would be reflected and, if not for Vahn’s presence, Shizune felt like she would have gone on a rampage as she ‘needed’ to destroy something, anything, just to deal with the overwhelming anger and anxiety she was feeling…

Vahn held Shizune’s trembling body as he stared coldly at the image reflected in the mirror, feelings of rage welling up in his own heart as he watched a woman who seemed vaguely related to the young Kitsune lounging in a chair as servants waited on her hand and foot. She was adorned in a high-quality kimono while golden ornaments held her silky black hair in a complex hairstyle that accented her two pointed fox-like ears. It was very obvious that she was extremely well off, causing several questions to come to mind since what should have been her daughter was, at this very moment, suffering. As if she was completely unaware of this fact, the woman had a rather cold and sadistic smile on her face as she used her sharp fingernails to draw a thin line of blood along the bare chest of one of her male attendants…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Into the Darkest Dungeon…’,’Shameless…!’,’Hate…haaaaaate…!’)

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