Chapter 1005: Endless Moves Ahead, One Step Behind

Standing atop a mountain that was nearly 7km tall, Vahn looked out over the vast stretch of land below with a ruminating gaze. It had already been twenty days since his journey into the Dungeon began and, after several small trials, the group had finally arrived on the 90th Floor. Things had developed to the point that, unless he began breaking down walls or played an active role in clearing away the monsters, it now took between 2-3 days to reach the next Floor. The main reason for this was the sheer size of each Floor as, each level descended meant marked an almost exponential increase radius. As Vahn stood atop this mountain, there were still nearly 3km of open space above his head while, looking towards the ‘horizon’, it seemed to stretch out for more than a thousand kilometers in each direction…

With nine Floors left to traverse, Vahn felt as if the last Floor may very well dwarf the size of the Continent. After all, upon clearing the 88th Floor, every successive Floor seemed more than double the size of the previous. If this trend continued, the 99th Floor may very well be more than a hundred-thousand-kilometers across, more than ten times larger than Eden. Though this hadn’t come as too much a surprise to Vahn, as he knew that Tartarus was supposed to be the ‘bridge’ between the realms, it was quite the sight to behold in person. If he wanted to, Vahn felt as if he could create an entire world all his own within the Dungeon. This was especially the case as, after reaching the 90th Floor the previous day, the only ‘monsters’ the group had encountered were small animals that could be hunted, even by normal people…

Sensing a presence exit the cottage behind him, Vahn continued to gaze towards the horizon while muttering, “This place makes Haven seem almost inconsequential in comparison…”. In response, the approaching figure came to a stop a few steps behind him as a soft voice reached his ears, saying, “If my Lord wishes it, even this place cannot escape your influence. I would like to see it, you know, a land untouched by war where people could genuinely live without worry…” Having seen what Yggy’s influence could do to an area, Jeanne could already imagine the forests below turning into verdant gardens where people, never knowing the cruelty of the world, were able to flourish in isolation. With the mana-rich resources available, a series of unique flora that prevented the ‘mist’ from consolidating on the 90th Floor, they would likely live exceedingly long lives without having to rely on increasing their Level…

Hearing Jeanne’s words, Vahn pulled out one of Yggy’s remaining seeds as a glint flashed across his eyes. Planting Yggy on the 90th Floor meant he would be able to move between the Dungeon’s depths and the surface with impunity. It could serve as a relay point for the future while also giving Jeanne and Helen a means to return to the surface. However, as he held one of Yggy’s ‘hearts’ in his hand, Vahn felt as if this wasn’t the correct decision to make. Though it was certainly possible to make a ‘paradise’ on the 90th Floor, the people that would come to reside here would inevitably begin to stagnate without knowing adversity. There was also the simple fact that, regardless of how fond he was of the races that thrived upon the surface, Vahn felt as though they would ‘spoil’ this paradise if given enough time. At best, this place could become a true home to the Xenos as, even with the efforts he had been making to ensure they would be able to live in peace, it was almost impossible to determine when ‘everyone else’ was ready to receive them…

Deciding it was best to leave this land untouched, so that future generations may explore it freely, Vahn placed Yggy’s seed back into his Inventory before turning to face the smiling Jeanne. She gave a small bow in response before standing to the side, gesturing to the cottage as she said, “My Lord, your meal has been prepared. Please enjoy it before it gets cold…” As of late, Jeanne had been cooking every other meal as, even though Vahn’s food miraculously tasted better, her’s was far more beneficial to the party. If she used high-quality ingredients, such as the Dragon meat Vahn kept in stock, Jeanne could even make a Dragon Steak that would increase Power by up to 5%. Though this may not seem like much, it was a truly monstrous amount when considering how much Power people had at higher Levels.

After making his way into the cottage, Vahn found Fenrir sitting patiently at the dining table while a subtle aroma emanated from the direction of Helen’s room. She had been eating all of her meals in private but it was still an improvement compared to how she was acting after experiencing the illusion. It seemed that, given time to think about the events, Helen had been sorting through her emotions in order to reach the stability she had in the past. Though this wasn’t necessarily a good thing, as she was likely ‘convincing’ herself of things that may very well be devoid of truth, it was still a step forward for the taciturn beauty…

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Choosing not to fret over Helen too much, Vahn sat at the dining table and enjoyed a meal with Fenrir and Jeanne, even if the latter would periodically return to the kitchen to grab more dishes. It was a very pleasant experience as, even though there wasn’t much to talk about, just eating good food and enjoying a peaceful atmosphere went a long way towards preparing themselves for the coming days. Vahn was determined to find the entrance to the 91st Floor before sunset on the following day. He had already performed a cursory mapping of the entire Floor by flying around and, after finding no landmarks that would indicate a means of descent, he knew the entrance was likely hidden. His ‘instincts’ also told him that, other than the entrance to the 91st Floor, there were other secrets hidden away within the expansive forest that surrounded the singular mountain that called the 90th Floor home.

By the time night had descended, marked by the massive crystals on the ceiling turning dark, Vahn had already laid in bed with Fenrir cuddled up at his side. While her gentle breaths tickled his bare chest, Vahn held his left hand towards the ceiling of the cottage. The further they delved into the Dungeon, the closer he felt to grasping the final secret of Divinity. At this point, his Quest showed that his Creation Divinity had increased from 92% to 98%. Though he hadn’t actually been ‘creating’ much as of late, at least in regards to forging, Vahn felt like his comprehension of the Laws was somehow influenced by the Dungeon. It wasn’t just him, either, as both Jeanne and Fenrir had shown drastic changes over the last few days that couldn’t be ignored…

After being stuck a bottleneck for nearly twenty years, Jeanne’s [Child of Light] had increased from D-Rank, reaching a ‘comfortable’ C-Rank. The light constructs she could create were far more durable than before and, instead of having to rely on her shield as a medium, Jeanne could now form wings of light through her armor. This marked a qualitative increase in her strength, even if her reserves meant she couldn’t maintain prolonged use of the versatile Innate. As for Fenrir, though she still possessed a Tier 1 Soul, there had been signs she would breakthrough any day now. This could be seen in how her body, whose base hadn’t changed since the day of her ‘evolution’, had started to ‘soften’ in some areas. Though she was still flatter than even Loki, Fenrir had made Vahn ‘very’ aware that they had increased in size, even if it was only five millimeters…

The most notable change in Fenrir’s appearance was the fact that her midnight blue hair started to turn a lighter shade on the fringes. Even more apparent was the fact that her eyes had started to transition from their traditional scarlet to a lighter shade of red. At the very center of her iris, surrounding her pupils, there was a very obvious gradient of pink that made Fenrir’s eyes appear to shine, even in bright light. This seemed to indicate that her budding Innate was related to her eyes or, at the very least, her body was adapting to the ‘image’ she had desired for herself. As for why she had only changed in such ‘small’ amounts, Vahn felt as if it was related to the fact that Fenrir didn’t want to change the appearance he had ‘given’ her…

As if she knew he was thinking about her, which was very likely the case, Fenrir wriggled about in Vahn’s arms before gently licking his neck a few times. It didn’t seem as though she had awoken, at least from what Vahn could tell, so her behavior was driven purely by instinct. Vahn couldn’t help but smile at this before pulling her body a little closer to his own and kissing her forehead. With the evolution of her Soul, Fenrir may very well lose her ‘Ageless’ trait, meaning she may even be able to bear children in the future. Though this would be in the far future, Vahn felt like it wouldn’t be all that bad to start a family with the lovable Vanargandr when he reached a different record. As for why he would wait until then, it was the result of Vahn’s personal realization that he had let things get out of hand during his time within Danmachi…

Though he didn’t regret his actions, even if he should, Vahn knew he had gone too far as a result of the lax nature of his relationships with other women. He genuinely loved each of them but, after seeing the ‘love’ shared by other couples, Vahn felt that he was lacking something that they had found. His relationships were almost always pushed to various extremes while, in most other cases, people made simple compromises and simply enjoyed each others company. At times, they would have disagreements, fight, and even fall out of love with each other. Vahn, however, couldn’t imagine ‘losing’ his emotional attachment to others as, even with his already expansive harem, it never felt like he reached the ‘maximum’ amount of people he could show affection to. Perhaps it was due to his realization that there were ‘no limits’ after obtaining The Path, but that excuse wouldn’t hold up indefinitely…

After delving into the Dungeon this time around, Vahn had a lot of time to think about who he had become and, more importantly, who he ‘would’ become. It was already too late to take a step back and live a more modest lifestyle but, at the very least, Vahn knew he had full control over how his relationships with others would develop. He didn’t want any of the girls he was currently with to have regrets so, with the exception of Fortuna, Kali, and, potentially, Amaterasu, Vahn decided he would temper himself in order to avoid entering into a relationship with other women, especially mortals. Though this would undoubtedly break the hearts of many women that had been eying him, especially girls like Bache and Renka, Vahn had to draw the line somewhere. As much as he wanted to, Vahn understood that he could not be held personally responsible for the happiness of everyone he came across…at least as far as relationships were concerned.

While thinking about the peculiar Amazoness with sand-colored hair, Vahn’s mind wandered to another mature beauty who, around this time, was well into her pregnancy. He hadn’t gone to visit Aisha in the last two weeks so, after morning came, Vahn intended to head over to the expanding Amazoness district with Haruhime to check on her. While he was there, Vahn intended to discuss matters of the future with Kali before having a private discussion with Bache. She was a beautiful woman, especially after he fixed the scar on her face, so it wouldn’t be that difficult for her to find a capable suitor in the future. Though she was Level 6, something many could never hope to achieve, Vahn knew this wouldn’t be the case in the future. If she were patient, there would be numerous men that would be able to meet her standards…

Thinking till here, Vahn’s face morphed into a slight frown as, better than most, he knew it wouldn’t actually be that easy. After witnessing his power, it would be hard for Bache’s body to ‘react’ to another man. Unless they were able to defeat her in individual combat, something that wasn’t likely to happen in a short period of time, Bache would never be able to move beyond comparing every man she met to him. Since he was to blame for this, especially since Bache had every expectation of bearing his child one day, Vahn made a slight change in his future ‘plans’. Bache would be the last mortal woman he entered into a relationship with, even if it was merely for the purpose of making good on his promise and pacifying her instincts. Besides, she had a good relationship with Tiona, Tione, and even Aisha, so Vahn expected they would have been upset with him if he had broken his promise in such a selfish fashion…

After sorting through the scarily large number of women he associated with, Vahn lightly shook his head as a wry smile naturally spread across his lips. In the future, regardless of the situation, Vahn promised he would never actively seek a relationship. Though this was similar to other promises he had made to himself, Vahn was now intending to keep himself in check by furthering his relationship with Fenrir instead. As ‘forgiving’ as she was towards the girls within the Manor, Vahn knew that Fenrir was borderline hostile towards other girls, the only exception being children. Since he had no intentions of ‘craddle-robbing’, as some referred to it, Vahn suspected this wouldn’t be an issue when he traversed other records. The fact that many of the people he would interact with would be younger than his actual children, especially in records he was familiar with, went a long way into cementing his resolve…

Thinking of children, though she would probably pummel him if she was aware of the connection, Vahn’s mind wandered to Eva. Her memory fragment was still safely locked away within the soul space of his main body, waiting for the day when he finally had enough strength to free her from the fate she had been cursed with. Unfortunately, regardless of how he looked at the situation, Vahn knew that his strength wouldn’t be enough upon leaving the record of Danmachi. Though he could undoubtedly reach the point where he could contend against foes like the Mage of the Beginning after a bit of training, Vahn didn’t want to simply idle about in Eva’s world as she continued to suffer. Because of this, Vahn was intending to make a side-trip before attempting to rescue Eva, essentially guaranteeing he would be able to save her without issue…

With the Mage of the Beginning being an entity at the absolute peak of Tier 5, Vahn had an approximation of where his own Soul needed to be before contending against the vile Mage. Fortunately, with the aid of The Path, Vahn didn’t actually need to be near the peak himself in order to get an advantage against the Mage of the Beginning. He had access to a functionally infinite number of treasures that would aid him while also possessing the purest form of energy in all records, Source. Even if his own magic paled in comparison to the Mage of the Beginning’s, Vahn knew the latter wouldn’t be able to outright defend against any attacks he managed to land. If he played his cards smartly, Vahn would be able to deal lasting damage to his foe without them even knowing what happened…

In order to accomplish this, Vahn was intending to familiarize himself with the most powerful tool he had at his disposal, [Enkidu]. The resplendent golden chains had not only changed the very nature of his existence within the record of Danmachi, but it was also the key to putting down the seemingly unkillable Mage of the Beginning for good. Since it was already an item at the peak of Tier 5, Vahn planned to enter the Record it originated from in order to both test its increased functionality while also tempering his Soul in preparation for Eva’s world. Since an item like [Enkidu] could exist there, it meant that the world was undoubtedly a Tier 5 Record where, depending on his luck, Vahn may even be able to obtain other Tier 5 equipment without having to purchase it from the shop.

This was, of course, just one of the plans Vahn had come up with as, even without relying on ‘luck’ to get by, there were several other methods that would almost guarantee victory. Chief amongst these was the fact that, while he couldn’t really afford them under normal circumstances, Vahn knew it wasn’t impossible for him to purchase equipment and items that were even higher than Tier 5. With his own Soul being restricted to Tier 3, the price for even a single one of these items reached into the trillions but, considering how the price of items seemed to be determined by his Soul Tier, Vahn knew it would become affordable in time. So long as he reached Tier 5, Vahn was confident that almost any offensive or sealing-based Tier 6 item would be able to ruin the Mage of the Beginning’s day. Since he would have a whole record to prepare for the battle, Vahn felt as if he was playing a game of chess where he was allowed to make as many moves as he wanted before the other player even knew the game had started…

Imagining what kind of face the Mage of the Beginning would make when he struck them down, Vahn allowed a smile to creep on his own as he hugged Fenrir’s body a little tighter. Though it was dangerous to underestimate his enemy, Vahn knew he had a ‘literal’ eternity to prepare for the event. He could even wait until he was near the peak of Tier 5, on the very cusp of reaching Tier 6, before entering into Eva’s record and outright destroying the Mage of the Beginning. With Tier 6, or even Tier 7 items, there wouldn’t be much the errant Mage could do against him, regardless of how powerful they may be. After all, by pursuing the paths of Creation and Destruction, Vahn knew he was on a path that few would be able to impede once he gained enough momentum…

Closing the hand he had extended towards the ceiling, Vahn felt as if everything was in his grasp as he finally allowed his eyelids to veil the subtle light emanating from the depths of his pupils. There, as if awaiting its moment of triumph, the image of an Emperor bided its time as a veritable ocean of followers stood at his back. Though silence dominated the atmosphere, unbeknownst to Vahn, the very edges of his soul had started to tremble at this exact moment…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘A Land Untouched By Mortals…’,’Bache dodged a bullet…or was that Vahn?’,’At the precipice…’)

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