Chapter 30 - Conviction
Vahn made his way through the first floor of the dungeon and followed the stairs down to the entrance of the fifth floor. Since he was able to outperform the efforts of a party of level 1 adventurers, he decided the first four floors were no longer capable of tempering his skills.
Entering the fifth floor, the first thing he noticed was the change in the layout of the dungeon. The walls had become a light green color, and there was a murky patchwork of browns along the ground. The phosphorescence coming from the walls had changed from the gentle blue of the previous floors to a luminous green.
Progressing further along the path, Vahn came across his first group of monsters of the fifth floor. Hopping around about 13m away was a total of three 'Frog Shooters'. They were each about 120cm tall and possessed a singular large eye. Their name came from how they attacked their enemies by 'firing' their tongue with enough force to shatter stone. For those unfortunate enough to take a direct hit, broken bones were often considered light injuries.
Vahn took a deep breath before activating [Will of the Emperor] and drawing his sword. He increased his pace with each step as he began to close the distance to the three monsters.
Shuddering after being encompassed by Vahn's domain, the three 'frog shooters' tried opening a gap with the approaching human. The closest one to Vahn's position tried to launch its tongue to halt his advance. Vahn rewarded its efforts by severing its tongue before using the momentum of his charge to press forward and bisect the now wailing frog.
The remaining two attempted to aid their ally by attacking from Vahn's flanks, but he was able to dodge both surprise attacks by swiftly side-stepping between their trajectories. In less time than it took for them to retract the tongues, they saw the human approach with a deadly arc trailing behind his imposing figure.
Vahn exhaled. He had managed to slay all three 'frog shooters' without taking a second breath. In total, less than six seconds had passed between the moment he drew his sword and the monsters had turned to dust.
Vahn began to understand the principles behind [Will of the Emperor] somewhat. Though it didn't seem to offer an increase to his numerical stats, it most certainly enhanced his speed, strength, and perception to monstrous levels while active. There was a distinct difference between his capabilities with and without the skill, even though it didn't reflect within the parameters of the system.
It was also important to note that, though his stats hadn't increased since his last venture into the dungeon the radius of his domain had grown from around 21 meters to 37 meters. It seemed to directly correlate to the strength of his conviction and desire to grow stronger.
After slaying more than 40 'frog shooters', Vahn found his way to the next floor and immediately pressed onwards. He had been using [Will of the Emperor] intermittently instead of keeping it active at all times. Though he knew it likely affected his growth, Vahn wanted to increase his pace until he was able to reach a floor where he could put his current skills to the test. He used the time between activations to recover any mana that had been consumed during the skills use.
Entering the sixth floor Vahn continued slaying every 'frog shooter' he came across. Though he was able to improve his footwork by dodging the tongues, he ended up swapping out his sword for his bow to increase the efficiency of clearing the floor. The large eyes of the frogs were the perfect target for honing his archery skills, and he was able to gain some experience predicting the trajectory of movements brought about by the synergy between [Bow Mastery] and [Will of the Emperor].
An hour into the floor Vahn began to slow his pace. He had not come across a single 'frog shooter' for the last ten minutes and the phosphorescence of the surrounding area had progressively darkened over time. Giving in to his instincts, Vahn activated his domain to its maximum potential.
He was able to detect movement coming from the darkness in his blind spot. He turned towards the source and readied his bow to intercept the approaching creature. Out of the darkness came two lumbering ' war shadows' that possessed two pairs of three razor-sharp claws. They looked similar to an effigy of a man, possessing all the basic features of a human without any defining characteristics.
They moved awkwardly like marionettes before pausing just outside the effective range of Vahn's domain. As one of the creatures raised its hand to investigate the difference in pressure, Vahn fired an arrow directly into the white 'eye' on its face.
An explosion disintegrated the unsuspecting shadow and knocked it's companion into the wall causing its form to turn semi-transparent and flicker violently. Before it was able to recover, Vahn used his sword to impale its head into the wall causing it to turn to dust. He snorted as he picked up the two cores before noticing a sheen within the darkness nearby.
Vahn walked over to investigate the object and found what appeared to be the claw of one of the 'war shadows' embedded into the ground. Recognizing it was probably a drop item, he picked it up and tested the sharpness before tossing it into his inventory.
("War shadows should be the strongest individual monster between the fifth and seventh floors. Given how slow their reactions speed were, they probably aren't my match in groups small than five.")
Continuing onwards, Vahn ended up slaying another 22 frog shooters and 5 war shadows, bring his total counts to 99 and 7 respectively. (A/N: He killed frogs on the sixth floor before encountering the first two shadows. The 22 mentioned were killed after the engagement~)
Eventually finding his way to the staircase, Vahn decided to take a rest. At this point the system was showing the time was 10:40 PM and he needed to determine if he was going to sleep inside the dungeon or make his way to the entrance. After mulling it over for a few minutes, he decided to see if he was able to sleep while maintaining his domain. He told Sis to wake him if the domain de-activated or if an enemy showed up as she was able to perceive the world through his senses even when he was unconscious.
Though he found it relatively easy to fall asleep, he would be woken up by Sis every two hours or so as the domain would become inactive. He determined that two hours was likely his current limit for maintaining the skill without focus and resolved to try to increase the duration in the future.
After going through the process of sleeping and waking up four times, Vahn continued his descent into the dungeon. This would be the last full-day he could spend inside before having to leave.
The gate pass he had received upon entering the City was about the expire, and he needed to pay Milan at the Inn so he could continue using the room he had leased. He had already begun to miss the taste of the dishes at the Hostess of Fertility, even though it had been less than two days since he had last eaten there.
Before arriving at the 7th floor, Vahn decided to purchase a set of light-armor from the shop. He knew there would be a large variety of monsters on the seventh floor which typically required a group of adventurers to tackle. If he went in overconfident in his abilities, he would likely pay the price.
Checking the monster compendium he had purchased before entering, he noted the unique traits and characteristic of the upcoming monsters. 'Killer Ants' had durable exoskeletons that could withstand blades, and they were prone to call for help when injured. 'Purple Moths' were relatively weak, but emitted a poisonous powder from their wings which could cause paralysis and internal bleeding if ingested. Lastly, he had to deal with the hyper agility and high-penetrative power of 'Needle Rabbits'. According to the book, they liked to swarm opponents and turn them into a pincushion before devouring the bloody remains.
To counter each of the monsters, Vahn purchased a [Plague Mask: E] 40OP, [Nullifying Mantle: C] 280OP, [Mithril Poniard: B]500OP, and a pair of [Damascus-Steel Gauntlets: C]380OP.
The mask would prevent him from inhaling the poisonous powder while the mantle would allow him to resist the effects if he happened to get poisoned anyways. The gauntlets and poniard were purchased specifically to counter the ants' exoskeleton and rabbits agility. Since he wasn't confident in being able to hit such small targets with a 130cm sword, he opted for a smaller weapon with high penetrative power.
Satisfied with his preparations, Vahn decided to do one last thing before continuing onwards. He purchased a [Standing Mirror: I] 3OP, from the shop and used it to check his appearance. He almost looked like a villain with the beaked nose and hooded appearance, but also thought it looked a bit cool when he let the mask hang loosely around his neck. With a small smile on his face, he stored the mirror before moving into the adjoining corridor heading towards the seventh floor.
The layout of the seventh floor was similar to the sixth and fifth except that the height of the ceiling had begun to noticeably increase. The dungeon also seemed to spawn larger groups of monsters, but Vahn was able to smoothly progress against everything except the needle rabbits. He had trouble stabbing their small bodies, and had even swapped to his sword for a moment to see if he could use the increased range to his advantage.
After failing the attempt, he recalled the oppressive function of his domain and managed to temporarily stun individual rabbits before they were able to rebound off the wall and continue lunging at him. It lead to the hilarious sight of rabbits smashing head-first into walls, even getting their horns stuck on occasion leaving them easy pickings for Vahn's poniard.
After fighting on the seventh floor four five hours he finally managed to reach the stairs. Though he had grown accustomed to their attack patterns, he still struggled quite a bit when larger groups of monsters tried to hoard him. He even had to ingest a 'senzu bean' after failing to evade an attack and being impaled through the ribcage by a needle rabbit. The impact had not only broken several ribs, but also collapsed one of his lungs. He barely managed to remove his mask before greedily devouring the life-saving bean.
In response to his narrow escape, Vahn felt a marked increase in the strength of his domain and went on a rampage until he had slaughtered more than 50 rabbits before exhausting his strength and having to take a break. During this time, he was finally able to put his stealth capabilities to use as he blended into the shadows of a nearby rock that was strutting out of the cavern walls.
Inside the stairwell, Vahn checked the time and noticed it was already after 2 PM, so he decided it was time to exit the dungeon to prevent future troubles. He moved up the stairs at a steady pace which would allow him to arrive at the entrance within half an hour.
After passing by the sixth and fifth floor entrances, Vahn was quickly approaching the fourth floor. Ahead on the path he could see a small party of adventurers resting within the connecting area. Vahn didn't pay them any notice at first and continued upwards since they didn't seem to react much to his presence, but after a familiar figure caught his attention he began to slow to a stop.
Vahn could see between the figure of the three men a small girl curled up on the ground. Her face was battered and bruised, and she had curled up into the fetal position to protect her body from the assault of the largest man in the group. As if sensing his gaze, she slightly opened the only eye which hadn't swolen shut and looked directly at him with her chestnut brown iris. Though she didn't say anything, he could see the desperation within her look as she implored him with her gaze.
He recognized the girl as the companion that loyally followed Bell into the dungeon. It was Liliruca Arde, a girl with a past not too disimilar to his own. After the loss of her parents she was exploited by the people around her until the point she began to distrust everyone, even the people that actually cared about her.
Without his prompting, [Will of the Emperor] activated as Vahn stepped towards the men. A cold sensation began to spread through his head and all thoughts vanished from his mind. The men shuddered as they were enveloped in the domain. As they looked towards Vahn, the smallest of their group began moving to intercept.
"Move along, this is private Familia business. Don't meddle in the things that don't concern you kid." The man used an aggressive tone, but there was a hint of fear hidden in his words.
Ignoring the words of the man, Vahn drew his sword...