Chapter 293: Showdown

From the moment Vahn transformed into his Xuánwǔ form and began to glow, Tammuz’s expression became especially serious. Without waiting any further, he kicked off from the ground to try and subdue Vahn before things got out of hand. Unexpectedly, instead of trying to evade as he had done previously, Vahn stood his ground and struck forward with a precise strike at Tammuz’s chest. Since he figured something was abnormal, Tammuz dodged the blow by twisted his body and vaulting toward Vahn’s flank. During the motion, he felt an intense heat pass near his torso and looked toward Vahn with a fierce glare.

Since he had recently just ‘exposed’ himself during the fight with Tione, Vahn had purchased a pair of trousers that were incredibly resistant to heat. They weren’t fire-proof, but they would be able to last for a while as long as he only heated up certain parts of his body. He was, however, completely topless in the cold air as heat radiated from his body in waves. His muscles were exposed and his healthy tanned skin covered in tattoos was clearly visible to any observers. Because his muscles became slightly larger in his Xuánwǔ form, Vahn currently looked as though he had a tyrannical strength and Tammuz could feel the pressure.

Instead of trying to trade blows directly, Tammuz pulled out several nail-like projectiles and threw them fast enough to make popping sounds in the air. They passed through the after-image of Vahn and buried themselves deep into the ground more than 40m away. Tammuz frowned and rolled forward before vaulting off his hand after evading Vahn’s kick. He could feel the intense heat from the blows and knew it wouldn’t be easy to resist unless he was looking for an internecine outcome. Curiously, Tammuz noticed that Vahn wasn’t moving around much compared to his actions when he was a ‘weretiger’.

Though he couldn’t be sure, Tammuz thought that Vahn had given up his mobility in exchange for power and endurance. Since the movement technique he used had the fluctuations of mana, it would be possible to turn the fight into a battle of attrition if he planned things well. The problem was that Vahn was able to use ‘storage magic’ and Tammuz couldn’t even begin to guess how many recovery items he might have within. It might be a difficult fight, but it seemed the only way to progress was to suffer a bit and then get healed later.

Vahn noticed that Tammuz had taken on a more defensive stance and didn’t seem to be willing to trade blows with him directly. It was a bit annoying since he wasn’t able to test his Xuánwǔ form if the opponent wasn’t willing to actually fight him. Vahn began to realize that it wasn’t always advantageous to use techniques that the opponent didn’t expect. When against a veteran fighter, they would evaluate any new changes and try to find a countermeasure instead of tackling the matter head-on. Now Vahn understood why information about people was often highly sought after and could cost an incredible amount of Valis to obtain. If you knew all of your opponent’s skills, you could formulate a strategy to deal with them easily. Since Tammus knew next to nothing about his actual abilities, he was playing it safe and being more reactive than proactive.

For a brief moment, Vahn humored the idea of removing the fire elements from his body to try and draw in Tammuz, but it didn’t seem like a rational idea unless he was able to somehow convince him that he was running low on mana. Since Vahn wasn’t the greatest at ‘deceiving’ others, he didn’t have a lot of confidence in pulling it off without actually exposing himself. He had let Tione keep the effigy, and he was now realizing he should have perhaps kept it for himself. Ever since he was ‘instantly killed’ by Tione’s accidental strike, Vahn knew that a fight could change in an instant if he dropped his guard.

Thinking Vahn had dropped his guard, Tammuz pulled out a single, long, nail and threw it toward Vahn’s leg with an incredible force. Without even putting in much effort to evade, Vahn widened his footing a bit and the nail passed harmlessly in the ground behind him. Even if he didn’t ‘seem’ to be paying attention to Tammuz, his training with Tsubaki was deeply ingrained into his body. Since everything currently was happening within his domain, Vahn was almost untouchable unless the opponent could do something to drastic to distract him. Using the incredible brief window when Tammus had shifted his weight to throw the nail, Vahn stepped forward with Shundo as a green glow emerged from his scales.

Tammuz backstepped to evade the blow, but he hadn’t expected that Vahn’s attack didn’t require him to actually make contact. Vahn had converged the shockwave that would have resulted from his attack and compressed it to a point before releasing it in front of his hand. Instead of dissipating into the air, the compressed force shot forward like an air cannon and slammed into Tammuz’s body before sending him backward nearly ten meters. Before he had the chance to recover, Vahn had already appeared behind him and sent a powerful side-kick to Tammuz’s exposed back.

Since he was still receiving the ‘air cannon’, Tammuz wasn’t able to react to the blow from his blindspot and felt his bones creak under the force of Vahn’s kick as the back of his tunic and the skin beneath began to burn away. He vaulted through the air once again and tried to recover, but Vahn appeared right in front of him with wide eyes and a somewhat tyrannical expression on his face with an uncharacteristically cruel smile. This was a trait Vahn had developed while soloing in the dungeon back when he was more active. Whenever he got deeply invested in combat, the cold sensation in his mind would continue to grow stronger and he felt compelled to dominate whatever he was fighting. It wasn’t a simple rush of adrenaline, but the [Heart of the Eternal Flame] was pumping an incredible amount of oxygen-rich blood through his body and made him feel a little giddy and excitable.

Vahn struck forward once again as the tattoo on his back glowed with a golden light before the scales on his forearm expanded slightly with green runes present in the centers of each one. Tammuz gnashed his teeth and tried to protect himself but was unable to resist the force since he had previously been sent flying by Vahn. Without hesitating for a single instant, Vahn brought his arm forward like a guillotine and connected his forearm with the cross-guard of Tammuz as he aimed for the neck. Since he wasn’t able to completely defend against the blow, Vahn smashed Tammuz’s own limbs into his neck and body before sending him spinning on the spot several times before he collided hard with the ground.

Before Tammuz was able to recover from the blow, Vahn used several chains of [Enkidu] to appear near the ground and arch over Tammuz’s body before pulling them tight and pinning him to the ground. Most of the chains wrapped around his body, but Vahn had managed to get one around his thighs while another had managed to slip through his guard and was firmly pinning down Tammuz’s neck. For a brief instant, Vahn had a strange desire to smash Tammuz’s head like a watermelon since he still had a condescending glare in his eyes. Instead, Vahn decided to change his expression a bit and converged a small number of fire elements into the exposed ocular devices of Tammuz. Though it wasn’t enough to permanently blind him, it was still an incredibly painful attack and there was nothing he could do to protect himself even by closing his eyes.

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Tammuz screamed out in pain, but Vahn stopped his cries by tightening the chain around his neck and temporarily stopping the flow of air. When his face began to turn purple and he had ‘calmed down’, Vahn eased up the chains a bit and said, “Don’t move; if you piss me off any further, you won’t be able to blame me for what happens.” Tammuz tried to refute Vahn’s words, but the only thing he got for his troubles was [Enkidu] tightening around his neck and body. There was nothing he could do but stare as Vahn placed his hand upon his head and a powerful energy began to pass through his body.

Since he had experience with it, Vahn was able to dispel the charm effect from Tammuz’s mind before pressing several points within his chest and abdomen to seal any chance he would have of trying to fight back when Vahn released him. When he was done, Vahn loosened the chains a bit, but didn’t release Tammuz as he asked, “Tell me, do you still act in the interests of Ishtar?” Vahn knew that, even if someone was under the effects of charm, it wouldn’t change their base personality much. If Tammuz was still hostile toward him, there wasn’t any reason to let him continue putting the people he cared about in danger.

Without any hesitation, Tammuz tried to spit toward Vahn as he shouted, “You think you can change my loyalty to my Mistress with your paltry tricks!? You overestimate yourself; you and your little Familia will be destroyed for having the audacity to interfere with my goddess’s plans!” Vahn nodded his head with an ‘approving’ smile as he said amicably, “Your loyalty is impressive, commendable even…” Then, without any hesitation, Vahn pulled out a non-descript black blade before driving it straight into Tammuz’s heart. Since he was still a Level 4, Tammuz didn’t immediately die as he resisted against the chains and tried to pull the sword out of his chest. Vahn bowed his head slightly and continued his words, “I hope she remembers everything you did for her in her final days.” His words finished, Vahn twisted the sword and Tammuz instantly died from the severe trauma.

Since it had been a ‘duel’, and he hadn’t gone out of his way to excessively hurt Tammuz, Vahn got a surprising amount of good karma from the fight while only accumulating 2 points of negative karma. He suspected it was probably due to the fact that he had ‘slightly’ burned Tammuz’s eyes earlier. As he wasn’t able to fight back, it was an unnecessary action while the execution of Tammuz had been because of personal differences and not an actual grudge. Tammuz was genuinely willing to do whatever it took, including harming the people he cared about, all to appease Ishtar. Since he was in direct confrontation to Vahn, there was no negative karma involved in their dispute and Vahn actually got ‘rewarded’ for all the terrible things Tammuz had done in the name of his loyalty in the past.

For a short while, Vahn considered if he should turn Tammuz’s corpse over to the authorities, or if he should inform the Alliance through the network so they could take action. Eventually, Vahn decided to not use the corpse of a person to send a message or as a tool to be exploited by others. Though his reasons were misguided, Tammuz was a loyal subordinate and had fought against Vahn in a relatively straightforward manner. Since Vahn had learned much from the fight, he didn’t want to desecrate the corpse of his opponent so he performed a short burial rite before cremating the remains.

Within Tammuz’s belongings, there was a small locket that showed the picture of a relatively beautiful brown-skinned woman with amorous eyes. Vahn assumed the image belonged to Ishtar and he was able to see the initials T.B. underneath the picture. Considering it might be a memento, even though Vahn owed nothing to Ishtar, he decided to return it to her in the future. Even if she didn’t personally care for it, it could be used to decorate her altar if she continued trying to pry into the lives of the people he cared about…

After spreading Tammuz’s ashes in the garden, Vahn informed Aki of everything that happened so she could spread word on the network. Other than Hestia, Aki also had two different scrolls within her room. One of them connected to the network, while the other specifically only transmitted to Loki. She had told Vahn about it, and he knew she was keeping tabs on both himself and Hestia while also regulating things within the Familia on his behalf. Though he realized it could be related to one of Loki’s schemes, Vahn was able to tell that Aki had no ill-will towards him and he still informed Hestia about anything that happened so the network would always be aware of what was going on. The only reason he didn’t tell her now was that it was very early in the morning and Vahn didn’t want to blow the ‘relatively minor’ event out of proportion.

Leaving Aki’s room, Vahn made his way to the bath and soaked his body for a short while to remove the layer of sweat that had covered his body. Most of his sweat actually evaporated when he had drawn fire elements into his body, but it didn’t mean he had stopped perspiring altogether. Whenever his blood was pumping rapidly, Vahn actually used up a fair amount of energy to maintain his actions. The moment he released his tensions and returned to his human form, Vahn began to sweat profusely even though it was -4 degrees Celcius outside.

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During his bath, Vahn was able to detect the presence approaching and knew it was most likely Aki since everyone else was currently asleep. As expected, she showed up within the onsen a few minutes later and was completely naked. Vahn gave her a smile and made a bit of room so she could dip into the onsen next to him. Since he was bathing alone, he was using the same small pool that he had shared with Ryuu and Hestia in the past. She told him about the messages she had received from Loki while they cuddled together for a bit in the bath and shared some minor intimacy between each other for around half an hour. To reward her for her ‘hard work’ so early in the morning, Vahn gave her a minor massage after she sat in his lap once again, this time completely naked…

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