Chapter 1007: The Pain Of Moving Forward

After calming down an over apologetic Jeanne, Vahn set Fenrir to rest within the cottage and decided it was best to wait for her to wake naturally. Having experienced the awakening of his own Innates, Vahn knew it wasn’t something the body and mind could simply adapt to in a short period of time. She was currently undergoing changes that couldn’t be fully comprehended as, even looking at the cellular level wasn’t enough to see the effect a person’s Innates may have on their body. At the very least, the vortex in her stomach had undergone a qualitative change as, even though she could already convert pretty much anything into energy, Vahn felt that the number of things Fenrir was capable of eating had drastically increased. What little information the system provided seemed to indicate that she was capable of consuming anything she could comprehend, meaning that even the Laws themselves were theoretically on her palette…

With Fenrir tucked into bed, Vahn exited the room to find Jeanne still kneeling in the corridor. She had been in his perception the entire time so Vahn wasn’t surprised to find her like this, even as he lightly sighed in response. Jeanne had an extremely apologetic expression on her face as she kept her head lowered, refusing to look directly at him after having ‘failed’ to even notice Fenrir was missing. After Tiamat had teased her, Jeanne had remained in a combat-ready state for several minutes before eventually doubting her senses. Without an enemy in sight, she returned to her post with renewed vigilance, completely unaware that one of her charges had already been whisked away.

Since he had already told her not to mind it, Vahn wasn’t going to repeat himself as he walked by Jeanne’s side before softly saying, “Watch over her for me…” In response, Jeanne lowered her head even further before loudly exclaiming, “Haa!” in a solemn tone. Afterward, she rose to her feet before entering into the room, choosing to watch over Fenrir directly instead of guarding the outside of the door. As for Vahn, he took a seat on the living room sofa before quickly entering a meditative state, his intent quickly traversing the distance between the cottage and the underwater temple. The concept of distance was meaningless when using this particular ability but, instead of ‘arriving’ at his destination, Vahn found his intent had been redirected elsewhere.

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After several failed attempts to probe the temple with his intent, as even sending it into the surrounding area seemed impossible, Vahn released a frustrated sigh before opening his eyes. Tiamat’s mastery over Space was far higher than his own and, now that she was aware he had similar abilities, she was proactively guiding his intent away from the temple. He could imagine her snickering at his futile attempts, taking pleasure in his frustrations. It would seem that, unless he went there personally, Tiamat wasn’t going to allow him to enter the underwater temple. Even that wasn’t a guarantee, though, as it was highly possible for her to send him away by ‘stretching’ Space and making it impossible to get closer…

Lamenting his own powerlessness, Vahn felt as if he was falling into Tiamat’s trap as, if the stone beneath the feet of her statue was to be believed, she was interested in those who pursued greater strength. Previously, he had a bit of confidence in his own power, especially after becoming an Emperor, but it still seemed to fall short of the power possessed by Primordial Deities. Since they were all near the peak of Tier 4, Vahn wasn’t too surprised by this, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating. Knowing that there was an entity that could simply ‘toy’ with him in such a fashion caused Vahn’s expression to harden as he rhythmically tapped the sofa’s armrest. Just one night prior, it felt as if everything was within his control yet, less than half a day later, Vahn now found himself in a state of powerlessness where he couldn’t even protect one of his closest allies…

Not content to simply brood within the Dungeon, Vahn was also seated upon his throne within Babel Tower, his expression the same hardened guise as his avatar’s. Now, more than ever before, Vahn felt the ‘need’ for a power that completely defied the limitations of the Record. His instincts had been telling him that, the further he descended into the Dungeon’s depths, the less time he had in the Record. Vahn had been keeping this a secret from everyone in the Manor but, now that an existence like Tiamat had made itself known, he found himself upon the precipice of a hard decision. This was only exacerbated by the fact that, even as he sat idle, Vahn was expecting four different children while, regardless of the time he spent with his current offspring, it never felt like enough. The fact that his Empire had only come into existence recently was another reason for why Vahn wanted to take things slow but, now that he felt his own powerlessness, Vahn’s eyes had been opened to the reality of his situation. As powerful as he may be, everything he cared about was endangered so long as there was even a single whimsical entity more powerful than himself…

With this realization, Vahn recalled the existence of the enigmatic and forever neutral Ouranos, the awe-inspiring power of other gods within Artemis’ [Heart’s Desire], the nigh-omniscience of the goddess holding a mirror, the perplexing capabilities of Maya’s Illusions, and, now at the forefront of his thoughts, the seemingly inviolable power of Tiamat and her control over Space. Even if he were twice as arrogant, Vahn couldn’t envision a means to defeat Tiamat without somehow catching her off guard with his [Enkidu]. Since she seemed to have an even larger domain than his own, however, the chances of this happened were astronomically small. As powerful as his chains were, they were ultimately useless if he wasn’t actually able to bind his opponent…

Feeling his temples pulse with frustration, Vahn used both hands to rub the sides of his head before releasing the deepest sigh of exasperation he had ever produced. Turning his gaze towards the East, Vahn muttered, “Things cannot continue to go on like this…I cannot gamble away the future of everything I care about by remaining complacent…” So long as he hadn’t completed his Main Quest, Vahn felt like everything he had worked to build was in danger of collapsing. Only by having the means to put the Record into stasis could he guarantee that a tragedy would not befall this world as a result of his oversights. If he had the [Dimensional Anchor: Stasis], Vahn could leave the Record in an instant and, even if it took him thousands of years to return, not even gods presiding over Time would be aware of the discrepancy…

Knowing what he needed to do, Vahn rose from his throne before taking off his crown and setting it unceremoniously to the side. He had already dismissed the Valkyrie’s after the incident with Fenrir, as he wasn’t in the mood for formalities, so there was nobody to receive it from him. Then, turning his eyes to the East once again, Vahn allowed his intent to traverse the vast expanse of sea surrounding Eden before nearly transitioning into his Qinglong form and tearing through Space. Remembering that Alexa was likely outside of the orb at this time, Vahn took a deep breath to calm himself down before deciding to return to the Manor. Though he felt anxious, Vahn knew traveling to the Far East without explaining the situation would just cause unnecessary worry. Since his trip could take several days, it would be extremely irresponsible to leave his post without passing on his decree to the Divine Council…

It was at times like this that Vahn felt his authority as an Emperor was actually a restraint that prevented him from taking action. Though this was a responsibility he had accepted for himself, Vahn felt like he was trapped inside of a small room, even as he quickly flew to the Manor, the vibrant sun casting gentle rays on his body while nary a cloud dotted the sky. It was a beautiful day in Orario but, even as the citizens below continued to celebrate the ‘subjugation’ of the One-Eyed Black Dragon, Vahn couldn’t help but look down on them, not in contempt, but with genuine concern. They were such fragile creatures, prone to being misguided with simple words, so long as the person speaking was someone they believed ‘above’ them. When he produced the giant monster core, claiming it belonged to the One-Eyed Black Dragon, there wasn’t a single person who publically questioned the veracity of his words…

Knowing that these fragile people were the very foundation of his Empire, Vahn’s anxiety only increased by the time he reached the Manor. Fortunately, having detected the abnormality in his state of mind, Hestia, Hephaestus, Loki, and Artemis had all been waiting for his arrival. The chill that Vahn had been feeling along his spine receded slightly, causing a smile to spread across his face as an overwhelming desire to just take a nap in the girls’ arms rose up from the back of his mind. Just seeing them quelled a large portion of his anxiety, even if it did nothing to change the decision he had already made. This didn’t stop Vahn from tightly embracing Hestia, however, even as she gasped for air in response to the unexpectedly firm embrace.

After flailing around for a short while, Hestia finally managed to extricate herself from Vahn’s bearhug but, instead of parting fully, she hugged his waist with her delicate arms, looking up into his face as she asked, “What happened, Vahn…?” Her crystalline blue eyes emanated a subtle glow from deep within that made it impossible for Vahn to hide the truth as he began explaining the situation, though not before moving to a more secure location. The four goddesses listened in silence as Vahn recounted what had happened on the 90th Floor, the powerlessness he felt in the face of the Primordial Deities, and the decision he had made to alleviate his weakness. Though they had expressions of patience and understanding for the first two subjects, Loki’s face had turned dour when she heard Vahn’s ‘plan’, even if she didn’t have one of her own.

Instead of calling Vahn out on what she believed to be an absolutely foolish decision, Loki grit her teeth as she asked, “How soon until you ‘leave’…?” As they had already discussed the matter in the past, none of the girls were confused when Vahn explained to them that he would need to leave on his ‘journey’ sooner than expected. They didn’t know where he was going but, even though they knew no time would pass from their perspective, none of the goddesses present were okay with Vahn being ‘alone’ for what could be centuries, if not longer. This was especially true for Hestia and Artemis as, compared to other Goddesses, Vahn had almost become the ‘meaning’ for their existence. Just imagining him wandering through other worlds alone, all in the pursuit of power they couldn’t even comprehend, broke their hearts…

In response to Loki’s question, Vahn hung his head in shame before hesitantly answering, “I will be increasing the pace in which I conquer the Dungeon…after that, I will likely ‘leave’ as soon as possible. Even becoming a god will not allow me to protect everything I care about…I cannot put the lives of everything I hold dear on the line just because of my selfish desire to be happy…” As the final word left his mouth, Vahn felt a potent sourness in his nose as his eyes began to rapidly heat up. It had been a long time since he shed tears but now, regardless of his attempts to keep them at bay, they were sneaking through his defenses with the same ease that someone like Tiamat could mow down everything he held dear. Even if the odds of her doing such a thing were infinitely close to zero, that minuscule possibility wasn’t something Vahn was willing to gamble with, especially since it concerned the lives of his lovers and children.

With Vahn’s emotions resonating within their own hearts, Hestia, Hephaestus, and Artemis began to tear up in response. The only exception amongst them was Loki who, after getting over her preliminary rage, adopted a serious and calm disposition. She decided that, especially at times like this, it was important that she remained calm and considered every detail. Everyone else was being too emotional and, even though she could feel Vahn’s pain as clearly as her own, Loki fought the urge to ‘break’ by biting the inside of her cheek. The taste of fresh blood helped her regain a sense of clarity as she nodded her head and said, “I understand…for the time being, you should keep this an absolute secret from everyone, even those within the Manor. Since they will be unaware of the passage of time, it will only be harder on everyone if they knew the truth. It may…it may be better for you to leave now…”

Though she had tried to get out the words as seamlessly as possible, Loki’s words got caught in her throat as a suffocating feeling began to overwhelm her. She was trying to tell Vahn to leave early, all so that he could return to them faster, but the words couldn’t escape her mouth. Just imagining Vahn being gone for a long period of time, all while having no means to know what he was going through, caused Loki’s heart to twist painfully in her chest. It was at this time that Vahn wrapped his arms around her and, even though his embrace was strong enough to force the air out of her lungs, it was only then that Loki felt like she could finally breathe again. Following that, the group shared a hug that lasted late into the afternoon, none mentioning the trip a second time…

With his decision made, Vahn found himself standing on the mountain’s peak on the 90th Floor of the Dungeon. Finding an indentation in the stone, even though it was unnecessary, Vahn placed one of Yggy’s seeds into the small crevasse before backing away. A tree identical to the ones he had planted previous sprouted from the mountain’s peak before, moments later, the figure of his beloved surrogate daughter morphed into existence. Instead of having her normal cheery smile, however, Yggy had a melancholic expression on her face as, after giving her ‘blessing’ to Vahn several times, Yggy was more than aware of his state of mind. She could feel the pain and anguish in his heart, causing the young Spirit to show an expression of concern as she asked, “Is there anything I can do, Papa…?”

Seeing how worried Yggy was, Vahn extended out his hand and began stroking her head in a gentle fashion as he calmly stated, “You are already doing more than you know…just continue as you have been, Yggy, and that is more than enough. Thank you for being such an exceptional daughter…I am proud of you…” As he didn’t often get to say such things, Vahn wanted Yggy to know that he was grateful for everything she had done for him. If not for her existence, many of the things he had wanted to accomplish within the record would have been made far more difficult. She was, quite literally, the anchor that held many of his plans together…

Feeling her Papa’s somewhat rough hand ruffling her hair, Yggy produced a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Though she knew he was being honest, Yggy always felt like she could do ‘more’, even if her Papa never asked her to do anything other than simply ‘exist’ in certain areas. This was why she did her best to produce fruits, vegetables, and even various medicinal herbs, all so that he would praise her and be happy. Seeing him hiding his pain while trying to console her only made her feel as if she had failed him somehow, even as she felt happy in response to his concern…

Though he hadn’t intended to plant Yggy on the 90th Floor, Vahn’s newfound sense of urgency made it necessary to change his plans. So long as she was present, even someone like Tiamat shouldn’t be able to exercise her power without restraint. At the same time, she would be able to transfer Jeanne and Helen back to the surface as, even though Vahn intended to continue his conquest of the Dungeon, he was no longer willing to put them at risk. This would undoubtedly cause Helen to react negatively but, as she wouldn’t be there during the moment he became a god, Vahn didn’t have to worry about her spontaneously committing suicide. So long as she was back within the comforts of Spero, Vahn was confident that the presence of Marie and the other Xenos would prevent her from doing anything drastic.

After spending a bit of time bonding with Yggy, Vahn made his way back to the cottage where Fenrir was still asleep under the protection of Jeanne. At this point, Vahn needed to make a serious decision about who would accompany him when he transferred to a new record and, though he was worried that even more powerful forces may endanger Fenrir’s life, he knew she would be devastated if he left her behind. Since they had already promised to traverse the myriad Records together, Vahn fully intended to take her along with him, even if she had to be put into ‘stasis’ within the Unit Management function.

This left Vahn having to choose whether or not any of his other subordinates would accompany him but, as he fully intended to pass through future records as quickly as possible, he knew taking them along would only slow down his own growth. As Terra was limited by her ability to create a dominion to preside over, while also having a pacifist nature, she wouldn’t prove too useful in more chaotic battlefields. Alexa was even more troublesome as, even if she accompanied him, Vahn would constantly be concerned about her mental wellness and the progress of her own power. Distancing himself from her, especially since she wouldn’t be aware of the passage of time, may very well provide him with some much-needed perspective in regards to their situation as parent and child…

With Terra and Alexa removed from the running, Vahn considered whether or not he should bring Fafnir or Khaos along with him. The former had been one of his most steadfast allies but, considering the massive ‘weakness’ located on Fafnir’s chest, there was a chance he would be quickly eliminated in higher-tiered Records. Khaos had the benefit of possessing a Space attribute but, as this seemed to be remarkably common amongst True Dragons, Vahn felt like the latter would end up getting itself killed as a result of his high pride. This only left the unnamed Rainbow Viper as a potential ally but, considering her limited strength, Vahn felt her presence wouldn’t benefit him too much. There was also the fact that she seemed a little ‘too fond’ of him and, considering things could become complicated if she assumed a human form in the future, Vahn wanted to avoid unnecessary trouble.

The only reason he even considered her was the fact that her venom would actually be very useful in most Records while her small size meant she could easily hide within his equipment without drawing attention to herself. At the same time, he had yet to name her and, with his [Keeper of the Akashic Tome] coming off cooldown in four days, it almost felt like fate that he give her a name that guaranteed her usefulness in future Records…

Realizing he was talking around the issue, Vahn shook his head in self-admonition before opening the door to his room and looking towards the sleeping Fenrir. She had yet to awaken, even after sleeping for seven hours, but Vahn wasn’t going to force the issue. Instead, he turned to Jeanne and stated in a calm tone, “I’m sending you and Helen back to the Manor. I know you wish to accompany me to the heart of the Dungeon, but things have changed…from here-onwards, this is a path I must walk alone.”

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Surprising Vahn, Jeanne gave an understanding nod and, instead of arguing to remain at his side, she glanced towards Fenrir’s sleeping figure before ashamedly stating, “I will become stronger…I will never allow a repeat of what happened here…” Unlike in the past, where Jeanne was satisfied performing her duties as a Knight, her failure to protect Fenrir hit her like a ton of bricks. Though Vahn hadn’t held her responsible, as even he had overlooked Fenrir’s spontaneous disappearance, she held herself personally accountable. If she had noticed Fenrir’s disappearance, she could have alerted Vahn much sooner and, though this may not have necessary produced a better outcome, it was still better than having taken no action at all…

With Jeanne’s assent, one of Vahn’s concerns had been dealt with as, regardless of Helen’s insistence, she wouldn’t be able to force the issue if it was just the two of them. This meant Vahn would be taking on the final nine Floors of the Dungeon himself, vastly increasing the speed in which he cleared each successive Floor and guaranteeing he would reach godhood in the shortest period of time. At the same time, back on the surface world, Vahn would head to the Far East in order to meet with Amaterasu, hopefully securing an Eternal Vow in the process. With Kali and Ouranos as potential candidates, the latter of which could pretty much be guaranteed, Vahn would be able to meet the requirements for his Main Quest by the time he conquered the Dungeon…

This only left unifying the other regions of the Continent under his will but, after announcing the subjugation of the One-Eyed Black Dragon, that was already a foregone conclusion. Various gods and tribes from the Southern Sands had already expressed interest in joining the Empire, primarily as a result of Fortuna’s efforts, so that only left the Frozen Tundra and the Land of No Sun. The so-called ‘Lords of the North’ had already made their demands known so, even though Vahn wasn’t too fond of the terms they had listed, he could afford to make concessions since it ultimately wouldn’t matter after he linked the Records. As for the Land of No Sun, there was currently a divide between clans who supported joining the Empire and those who wished to maintain their independence. Many of these clans had already been ‘blacklisted’ by Vahn so, now that things had come to a head like this, he only needed to speed up their removal before all seven regions of Orario were ‘unified’ under his control…

Though he realized his methods were a bit ‘extreme’, Vahn’s eyes solemnly reflected the peacefully sleeping Fenrir or, more specifically, the mark on her abdomen. By leaving the Record, Vahn knew that the [Blessing of Tiamat] would be removed, much like many of his own blessings, so he felt compelled to leave as soon as possible. Even if Fenrir might feel some small amount of gratitude towards Tiamat for helping her breakthrough, Vahn knew it would cause her a great deal of stress when she realized the mark of another had been placed on her body. She was surprisingly sensitive to such things and, even though she hadn’t awakened yet, Vahn could already imagine Fenrir having a panic attack when she saw the dragon-shaped tattoo pulsing on her abdomen. It was because of this that, even though it pained his heart unimaginably, Vahn felt he needed to speed up his departure from the place that had become his home…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Powerlessness’,’Hearbreak’,’An Affection Beyond Reason’)

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