Chapter 1006: Intrigue

Rising early the next morning, Vahn enjoyed a hearty breakfast before continuing his search for the entrance to the 91st. There were a few points of interest he had mapped the previous day, the first of which was a giant lake located in the center of a forest to the West. It stood out from other areas of the Floor as the lake itself was nearly 80km across and, according to Vahn’s minimap, perfectly round. Since the Dungeon had already required them to pass through a waterway in order to reach one Floor, Vahn suspected that the entrance to the 91st may lay within the lake’s depths. There was also a chance that it held other secrets so, with few options available to him, Vahn felt that starting with the lake wasn’t a bad idea.

After arriving in the airspace above the lake, Vahn began to probe its depths with his domain, taking notice of the fact that it was far deeper than his senses could extend. Next, Vahn adopted a meditative pose in mid-air before transforming into his Qinglong form and extending his intent into the lake’s depths. While his domain may be limited to the location of his main body and avatar, Vahn could move his intent, seemingly without restriction. As a result, Vahn quickly probed nearly 5km into the lake’s interior before reaching an almost perfectly flat bottom. This was a depth no light could reach, causing what little light was present to stand out like a sore thumb. Vahn guided his intent, following the source of the light before finding a refractive bubble near the lake’s center. Entering this bubble revealed a temple-like structure, causing Vahn to tear through the fabric of Space in order to spread his finer senses through the area.

Seeing the temple with his own two eyes, Vahn couldn’t help but marvel at the immaculately designed super-structure that was nearly 300m tall. The building was designed similar to a Pantheon of worship, possessing a total of thirty-nine massive pillars holding up appeared to be a marble roof carved from a singular slab of stone. The fact that this stone was nearly a kilometer long was evidence that, regardless of the efforts of mortal men, they would never be able to construct a building of similar size and structure. With what he knew of architecture and compressive forces, Vahn couldn’t even begin to fathom how the pillars were able to hold up so much weight, especially over what may have very well been the course of several eons.

Ascending the stone stairs leading into the massive temple, Vahn passed through two of the massive pillars before entering into the inner sanctum. Here, amidst incalculable portraits of animals and plant life, a single statue stood at the very end of the chamber. Vahn would have liked to explore the intricately designed portraits in greater detail but, seeing the statue, he used [Shundo] to instantly close the distance. Having witnessed two statues prior to this one, Vahn wasn’t surprised by the strange pressure emanating from the statue as he looked into its eyes. What did surprise him, however, was the fact that this statue was significantly different than anything that had preceded it…

While the first statue had depicted a goddess with unquestionable beauty, one Vahn believed to be Nuwa, the second had represented the rather immature figure of Maya. Contrasting both, however, this third statue showed an exceptionally mature woman that, even at a glance, seemed to dominate her surroundings. Her body had filled out well in all the right spots but, contrary to how most goddesses appeared, she had visible muscles on her arms, legs, and abdomen. Even more noticeable was the fact that, instead of appearing fully human, this goddess had massive dragon-like wings, a long spined tail, and five horns poking through her sculpted hair, two of which were much larger than the rest. Her ears were long and pointed while, much like Terra and Alexa, scales covered her forearms and calves, each ending in rather fierce-looking claws…

From a distance, the statue had appeared rather small but, now that he was up close to it, Vahn noticed that it towered over him a great deal. The goddess enshrined in the statue was nearly 270cm tall and, using Terra as a basis for comparison, likely weighed more than two tons in her flesh and blood form. Regardless of all of this, Vahn found her to be strikingly beautiful as, even with her more exotic features, her sharp eyes were set amongst facial features that would cause most men to gawk if she spared them even a passing glance. Considering that, unlike previous statues, she was almost completely naked, Vahn felt like he needed to keep his focus to avoid letting his eyes wander too much.

Looking at the platform beneath the statue, Vahn began to read the inscription contained within as, even after inspecting the surroundings with his domain, there were no obvious paths leading to the 91st Floor. Unfortunately, instead of any hints, the statue merely stated the name of the enshrined goddess, followed by what appeared to be a challenge. Reading this, Vahn’s eyes perked up as, if the inscription was to be believed, this statue was none other than Tiamat, one of the Primordial Deities that had remained at Nuwa’s side when the Realms had been created. There were no accounts of her appearance but, going over the inscription a second time, Vahn wasn’t that surprised to read, ‘Tiamat, Goddess of the Sacred Sea, Mother of Dragons. If thou pursueth the path of strength, issue thine challenge in blood. If thy be worthy, the Blessing of Tiamat shall be thine.”

After going over the inscription several more times, Vahn turned his attention back to the statues face, feeling as if its eyes had turned to him while he was looking away. Even more than before, an overpowering aura had started to spread through the vast and otherwise empty chamber. Knowing the reason for this, Vahn produced a wry smile as he asked, “Are you interested in my Qinglong form…?” As he had yet to transform back into a Progenitor, Vahn’s current appearance wasn’t all that dissimilar to Tiamat’s. Though he had long ago learned how to hide his wings away, it had proved impossible to hide the horns atop his head and the tail protruding from his back. The light within the temple reflected off his densely arranged azure-golden scales, causing them to glimmer slightly with each of his movements…

Though the statue didn’t respond to his question, Vahn felt the pressure in the air continue to increase with the passage of time. It was almost as if Tiamat was about to break free from her statue and rip him to shreds, even if there wasn’t any animosity contained within the pressure. Not wanting to try his luck, however, Vahn shook his head lightly before breaking through the void and vanishing from the temple. The last thing he needed was a True Dragon Goddess taking an interest in him, especially since she would undoubtedly prove even more problematic than the One-Eyed Black Dragon. As close as he was to reaching Tier 4, Vahn wasn’t quite at that Level just yet and, considering the display of power shown by Maya, a goddess that wasn’t even specialized in combat, Vahn felt that accepting Tiamat’s challenge wouldn’t end well for him.

With Vahn’s exit from the temple, the mounting pressure rapidly subsided like a deflating balloon. Moments later, a secondary spatial ripple appeared in the area but, instead of ‘tearing’ through in a similar manner to Vahn, this one was far more gentle as a tall woman with dark red hair stepped into the space he had previously occupied. If he had been present, Vahn would have directly compared her mastery over Space to be nearing the level of Eva’s as, without any discernable effort, she had been able to pass through the void with the same ease as a normal person walking down the street. As for the woman in question, she had the exact same appearance as the statue, albeit much smaller and in the form of a human with slightly pointed ears…

Waving her hand through the air, another small spatial fluctuation appeared, this time showing the image of Vahn’s back before the latter turned around and vanished from view. The woman laughed upon witnessing this before muttering, “How perceptive…” as she licked her lips. She was highly tempted to give chase but, remembering her own duties, Tiamat decided not to pursue Tartarus’ first challenger. With his current strength, she felt Vahn was at an awkward level where she would be required to go all out to keep up with him which, considering she was terrible at holding back, meant he would undoubtedly die. Though she could sense something ‘unique’ about his body, it ultimately wouldn’t matter since, much like the path Vahn was currently walking, Tiamat’s powers were aligned towards the Laws of Creation and Destruction.

Having nothing better to do, Tiamat decided to spy on Vahn’s other companions to see if any of them were worthy of her attention. She quickly passed over Fenrir after a simple glance, finding her interesting but simply too weak, before setting her sights upon Jeanne. Seeing the Knight staring out over the 90th Floor with a steadfast gaze, Tiamat’s brows perked up in amusement as she sent a thread of energy through the void to see how Jeanne would react. In response, Jeanne spun around in an instant, materializing a sword and shield from thin air as her eyes began to scan the area. Tiamat was slightly surprised by Jeanne’s quick reaction time but, feeling that the latter wasn’t the type that pursued strength, decided not to waste too much time teasing her.

Leaving Jeanne in a battle-ready state, Tiamat moved her intent into Helen’s room before coming to a complete stop, a look of surprise coloring her face. This only lasted for a moment, however, before Tiamat shook her head and muttered, “This one is too troublesome to get involved with…” She had been surprised by the purity and density of Helen’s mana as, by all rights, someone like Helen should have never survived to maturity. The fact that Helen’s ‘scent’ had an aged aroma had been the primary reason for Tiamat’s shock as, from what she could recall, every former incarnation of Helen had died before they were even weened. There had even been a trend in the distant past where, whenever someone like Helen was born, she would be immediately sacrificed to the gods as her appearance seemed like a blessing that no mortal could behold…

With Vahn, Jeanne, and Helen removed from consideration, Tiamat focused her attention on Fenrir once again. This was primarily the result of her boredom but, sensing that Fenrir’s energy was almost identical to Vahn’s, a bit of intrigue was also contained within the primordial goddess’ gaze. She could also sense that, even more than Vahn, Fenrir seemed to be the type that desperately sought to increase her strength. This caused Tiamat’s intrigue to develop even further as a sudden realization hit her. She couldn’t fathom how someone with an underdeveloped soul could have reached this far, nor how Fenrir’s body could contain more magic power than most Demigods…

Deciding the peculiar woman wasn’t a lost cause, Tiamat allowed a smile to spread across her face as she sat down on the edge of her own statue and asked, “Tell me, child, do you desire strength…?” This caused Fenrir, who had been meditating, to immediately jump to her feet, ears perked up in response. Her eyes blazed as she looked around the area for the source of the sound, causing Tiamat to giggle before adding, “Worry not, child, as I am not your enemy. In fact, depending on the circumstances, I could be your greatest ally…”

Hearing the voice that seemed to echo around her, Fenrir’s face formed into a frown before she stated in no uncertain terms, “My Master will always be my greatest ally. If you are not an enemy, you would show yourself instead of hiding in the shadows. I will never trust the voice of-” Before she was able to finish her words, Fenrir’s eyes widened in shock as she realized her surroundings had changed. Instead of being within her Master’s bedroom back at the cottage, she was now in a large temple as a red-haired woman looked at her with radiant blue eyes that seemed to cut through the darkness, even as they blotted out all other sources of light.

Fenrir felt an oppressive aura that nearly forced her to the ground but, refusing to bend the knee to someone other than her Master, she tightly clenched her teeth while activating [Cantus Bellax] and trying to escape away with [Shundo]. Instead of moving to the far side of the temple, however, Fenrir was surprised when she exited out of [Shundo] right next to the red-haired woman. Her mind couldn’t grasp what was happening as a white palm had obstructed her vision, seemingly without any time having passed. The last thing Fenrir heard before fading into unconsciousness was the playful words of Tiamat as she mused, “My, what an interesting child…worry not, I will not take you away from your Master. Instead, I will give you the power you seek so that you will never have to separate from him~.”

Unaware that Fenrir had been nabbed by Tiamat, as it had simply taken place too quickly, Vahn had set foot near a large tree that stood out amongst all others on the Floor. It was nearly 500m tall, a size unfathomable in nature, while its canopy was so wide that an entire village could easily be built beneath it. Instead of people, however, the only residents beneath the canopy were a species of grazing deer that had peculiar blue and grey pelts. Instead of antlers, it would have been more accurate to describe the protrusions sticking out of their head horns, each curving into a point similar to an antelope. Curiously, even without hiding his presence, these grazing creatures showed no fear as Vahn walked amongst them, his target the base of the massive tree.

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Believing the tree to be similar to the one found on the 18th Floor, Vahn had decided it was the second most likely place for the entrance to the 91st Floor. Since he could tell that the tree was indeed hollow, Vahn became slightly expectant as he sent his intent into the tree’s interior and began to look around. He quickly discovered that the tree was home to a species of strange caterpillars that were more than a meter long, each boring through the tree as they devoured the mana-rich fibers. Though this would have led to the death of most other trees, Vahn could see that this particular behemoth was in no danger of capsizing as, almost as quickly as the caterpillars devoured its flesh, the gaps were filled in by new and stronger fibers. The tree was absorbing an incredible amount of mana from the Dungeon to sustain itself, giving it regenerative properties that were only slightly slower than the consumption rate of the caterpillars…

With the revelation that the tree’s hollow nature was the result of the caterpillar’s machinations, Vahn shook his head before lightly stroking the heads of a few ‘deer’. They had gathered around him out of curiosity, showing no aversion or fear whatsoever, so Vahn was rather fond of the unique creatures. This also reinforced the idea that this place wasn’t meant to be inhabited by people as, much like what happened in societies all throughout the Continent, people lived by consuming the natural resources of the environment. Without any dangers present, any population that settled on the 90th Floor would quickly expand, primarily at the expense of everything else that existed within the 2,000km wide stretch of land…

After handing out a few ruby-red apples, Vahn took to the sky once against to investigate the third point of interest recorded in his minimap. This took on the form of a relatively small chasm but, considering the rest of the Floor was relatively flat, Vahn felt it wouldn’t hurt to check the area. Upon reaching the chasm, Vahn noticed that there was a great deal of heat rising up from its depths which, even with his domain nearly reaching 3k, was too deep to probe. As a result, Vahn sent his intent down the chasm, descending nearly 8km before ‘hitting’ an invisible membrane. This was only a momentary setback, however, as Vahn was able to force his way through by focusing his mind and consolidating his intent on a single point.

Almost immediately after breaking through the invisible membrane, Vahn found his intent hovering near the roof of what appeared to be a vast cave system. The walls were almost completely black but, dotted throughout the surroundings, massive crystals cast blue light over their surroundings. Since this matched closely with images Vahn had seen of the 91st Floor, a smile adorned his face as he quickly retracted his intent and began heading back towards the mountain located at the center of the Floor. It was still early in the day so they still had time to enter into the 91st Floor, officially beginning their search for the 92nd. Vahn was also looking forward to the next batch of enemies as, according to the information obtained from the mirror, the 91st Floor was populated by large Golem-type creatures. The resources dropped from such creatures were often extremely useful for forging while, in Vahn’s experience, proved to be a plentiful source for increasing his OP reserves.

With thoughts of his impending windfall, Vahn landed atop the mountain where the cottage was located before instantly realizing something was wrong. Without a moment’s delay, Vahn called Fenrir back to his side with the Unit Management function, causing her body to ‘pop’ into existence right in front of him. Before she could fall to the ground, Vahn swooped her up in his arms before sending a pulse of Source Energy into her body, scanning for any sign of injury. He had already noticed something was wrong from the moment he saw Fenrir’s appearance but, disregarding physical changes, Vahn wanted to make sure there were no abnormalities within her body.

Almost as soon as Vahn began inspecting Fenrir’s body, an amused voice reached his ears, saying, “Worry not, child, she has not been harmed. In fact, when she awakens, I’m certain both of you will be thanking me. Well, until we meet again…good luck, Vahn Mason…” With these parting words, the voice faded from Vahn’s ears, severing the connection he had been backtracing with his Source Energy. He already had some idea about who the voice belonged to, especially since it originated from the direction of the lake, but the highest priority right now was making sure Fenrir was okay. Even if Tiamat claimed she hadn’t been harmed, Vahn’s mind buzzed when he imagined a god toying with his subordinates body against their will…

Though her appearance hadn’t changed much, Fenrir now had a scarlet red seal on the left side of her abdomen in the shape of a dragon in profile. It radiated an incredible amount of energy which seemed to course into Fenrir’s body, providing a phenomenal amount of power. Vahn could see threads of energy flowing out of the mark, intermixing with Fenrir’s own mana circuits without harming them. Even this didn’t allay his concerns, however, as the energy was similar in structure to the unique crimson found within Riveria’s mana. Vahn recognized this as mana comprised of Destruction Laws, meaning it was a ticking time bomb if mishandled…

Along with the mark on her abdomen, Vahn also noticed that there was now a strange seal on Fenrir’s tongue that hadn’t been there previously. This was even more troubling than the mark placed on her abdomen as, even with his [Eyes of Truth], Vahn couldn’t discern the purpose of the circular imprint. It looked like a serpent that was biting its own tail but, unlike the symbol for the Ouroboros that he knew, the one on Fenrir’s tongue appeared to have the head of a wolf. If not for the fact that he would lose his hand in the process, Vahn would have opened Fenrir’s mouth to get a better look at the mark. For the time being, the best he could do for her was gently stroke her hair as, even with all his capabilities, there was currently nothing Vahn could do to drive away the invasive power of Destruction that had already fused with Fenrir’s internal reserves…

With his rage having already reached the pinnacle, Vahn’s expression had become the visage of an asura that seemed colder than the surrounding snow atop the mountain’s peak. He was already beginning to think about how to make Tiamat pay as Sis interrupted his thoughts, patiently remarking, (*Vahn, check Fenrir’s status in your Unit Management. There is something you need to see…*). Even in his enraged state, Vahn habitually followed Sis’ words as he mechanically opened up the system interface to reflect Fenrir’s status. When he saw the information present within, Vahn felt his mind blank for a brief moment as Sis added, (*It seems that the goddess Tiamat helped Fenrir’s soul breakthrough to the next Tier. The mark on her tongue may be related to the evolution of her Innate…you will have to wake her if you want to verify the truth of the matter.*)

Vahn’s mind was still blank as he listened to Sis’ words, the image of Fenrir’s status reflected within his gaze. Though he couldn’t see her parameters without checking her Status Board, just the information reflected in Unit Management was enough to momentarily temper Vahn’s wrath. He couldn’t forgive Tiamat for acting as she pleased but, considering the outcome, Vahn knew he did, in fact, owe her a debt of gratitude…

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Name: (Fenrir Mason)

Age: 33

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Race: Vanargandr, True Dragon(sealed)

Level: 8

Loyalty: 80,493,601,925

Soul Tier: Tier 2 (Hero)

Karma: –

State: [Active], [Unconscious]

Skills: [Insatiable Hunger:Innate(-)], [Devour:SS]->[Heaven Devouring Wolf:Innate(C)](new), [Lunar Cry:S], Freezing Roar:S], [Chainbreaker:A], [Huntress:SS], [Endeavor:S], [Severing Claws:S->SS], [Chant Shortening:D], [Activation Key:C], [Cantus Bellax:A], [Shundo:S], [Koku Shundo:A], [Facies Pallium:F], [Sagitta Magica:C->A], [Crystallitatio Tellustris:B], [Reflexio:C], [Hroovitnir:D], [Cinder*Ella:A], [Chain Attack:A], [Mimickry:B], [Arch Mage:E], [Spirit Healing:A], [Blessing of Tiamat:SS](new)

[Heaven Devouring Wolf]

Rank: Innate(C) *Innate skills cannot be identified. Attempts to do so will result in a backlash*

Passive: Allows the user to devour anything within their comprehension, increasing the potential of their own abilities.

Active: Transforms the user into a Spiritual Avatar, greatly enhancing the efficacy of all skills and abilities.

[Blessing of Tiamat]

Rank: SS

Use: Allows the user to infuse the power of Destruction into their attacks. Greatly increases offensive power at the cost of reducing natural healing capabilities.

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(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘True Dragons, Endless Troubles’,’You bitch, leave Fenrir alone…!’,’This doesn’t justify bullying Fenrir (>,…,<)~!’)

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