Vahn had nearly forgotten how peaceful the forest could be since he had been so busy lately that he hadn’t ventured into it in recent months. It wasn’t like the forests in the Dungeon, which were typically very quiet and there were few natural sounds, so Vahn had temporarily lost his appreciation for simply wandering in nature. The Western Forest had been his first ‘home’ after a lifetime of suffering, but Vahn hadn’t been able to truly take in everything that was happening during those seven months. He had been so focused on training, hunting, and surviving that he hadn’t been able to enjoy everything the forest had to offer.
Unlike his past self, when he had been a relatively weak Level 1, Vahn was now a Level 4 that could even rival a Level 6 if it were solely based on his Magic parameter. He also had his domain now so he could feel the incredible amount of life that was present within the forest, below the ground, and even jumping about in the trees. There were millions of small signatures that belonged to insects while hundred of birds flitted about in trees picking small nuts and berries that had yet to ripen. The entire forest was in a revival right now with the coming of Spring and it was a very pleasant experience being able to simply ‘take things in’.
Fenrir was also enjoying herself greatly as she bent over resting her chest against the top of his head while loosely hugging his chin and neck with her paws. It was a little awkward since she was 148cm tall and wasn’t nearly as small as she seemed to believe, but Vahn didn’t mind it too much since her weight was negligible at best. She never changed even so much as a hair, so Vahn had become very accustomed to her presence that seemed to be around him often in recent months. He couldn’t say she was really that clingy, other than when he was in Vanargandr form, but it was more the case that she was always trying to comfort him while getting spoiled at the same time. Vahn felt like she spent more effort on reacting to how he felt than she put into her own thoughts at times…
Vahn heard a very pleasant birdsong overhead and looked up to see two Violet Thrushes, a relatively rare bird that could be sold in markets for up to 200,000V. They were very popular with young women because they had one of the most beautiful birdsongs among easily obtainable birds. Since he had been walking through the forest with his [Stealth] active, so as not to disturb the ‘peaceful’ atmosphere of nature, Vahn had been able to get very close to two birds undergoing their courting ceremony. With the coming of spring, many animals were preparing to find their mates as if they were eager to introduce new life to the already overflowing viridescence of the forest.
Since he thought the song was as beautiful as purported, Vahn closed his eyes and listened to it for several minutes until another birdsong suddenly reached his ears, this one much closer than the other two. Vahn opened his eyes and tilted his head slightly to see Fenrir emulating the birdsong with impressive accuracy. Her song seemed to confuse the two Thrushes as the male bounced around on its perch looking for the ‘competitor’ invading its territory. As it wasn’t even strong enough to be classified as a Level 1, the small bird had no way of detecting their presence even though they were only separated by a few meters.
Vahn smiled before continuing to tread through the forest in a relaxed state of mind as he listened to Fenrir practice her birdsong. Ever since she had learned the [Mimickry] Development Ability, Fenrir could often be found ‘copying’ the voices and actions of the other girls. When she trained, she even tried to mimic their movements as if she were trying to familiarize herself with them. Vahn knew she wasn’t trying to incorporate their fighting styles into her’s, so it was more likely that she was ‘preparing’ countermeasures against their moves by memorizing them. He had taught her in the past that knowing your enemy is the key to victory, as you could use the gaps in their techniques against them. She already had the habit of ’emulating’ people, primarily himself, but now it had been taken to an extreme as her vocal cords had developed in a peculiar direction after obtaining the ability.
After a half-hour, Fenrir began to tilt her head from side-to-side as she asked, “Master, do you like my song~?” Vahn gently nodded his head and continued walking forward, even though his eyes had been closed for a while as he listened to her song. Fenrir released a laugh that made Vahn pause his steps for a brief moment because she had sounded just like Tiona. Her own laughter was still a bit ‘off’, but she could copy the laughter of another person, something that Vahn found strange yet interesting. Out of curiosity, he asked, “Can you copy my voice?” Fenrir surprisingly startled a bit when he asked her what he believed to be a simple question.
Fenrir drooped her head and mumbled, “Fenrir has been a bad girl…” as she nuzzled against the top of his head. Vahn wanted to coax the answer out of her so he said very matter-of-factly, “Fenrir tries very hard to be a good girl, so she is a good girl. Even if you make mistakes every now and then, as long as you keep trying you will still be a good girl in my heart.” Vahn felt Fenrir’s tail thump against his back as her ears perked up at his words. Answering his earlier question, Fenrir hesitantly said, “Fenrir likes to talk to herself in Master’s voice…because hearing Master praise Fenrir makes me happy…” What she didn’t mention was that she also ‘teased’ the other girls by copying his voice at times and calling out to them.
Vahn laughed a bit because he actually heard her talking to herself before, though he hadn’t been paying attention to what she was saying at the time. He could easily imagine Fenrir playing around and mumbling to herself using his voice and it was quite the adorable scene. Finding a fallen tree, Vahn sat down and grabbed Fenrir before pulling her around to the front of his body. She had curled up a bit, so it wasn’t hard to move her around even when he was sitting. There was a slightly concerned look on her face until Vahn sat her down and began patting her head while saying, “Fenrir is a very good girl…she is adorable, brave, and powerful~. She is also very clever and growing up steadily…though I kind of wish you would slow down a bit at times…ahahahaha~.”
Fenrir nodded her head with eyes closed and mumbled, “Fenrir will continue to be a ‘good’ girl until she matures properly. Don’t worry, Master, Fenrir will be patient and study hard…” She hadn’t told him yet, but Fenrir had thought about the matter lots and lots before deciding to learn from the scary Eva in the future. If she went into the orb again, even though it would be very lonely, Fenrir knew she would be able to mature even faster. She had seen Eva and her Master do lots of ‘adult’ things in the past, which she didn’t understand at the time, so Fenrir knew she was ‘mature’ even though she was much smaller.
Unaware of Fenrir’s ‘clever’ scheme to become an adult, Vahn squished her cheeks with his thumbs and played around with her ears for a few minutes before saying, “We should keep going or we will be late in returning.” They still had nearly 850km of distance to cover and Vahn wanted to make some headway before they were inevitably forced to run the rest of the way. He could always call back Fafnir, but it would be ‘more fun’ if they ran through the forest together. Vahn had already designated this as a rest day for himself, so he also planned to stay with Eina to recuperate a bit before returning to work tomorrow.
This time, instead of riding on his shoulders, Fenrir interlocked her paw with his and happily matched his pace as she looked around the area, periodically emulating different animals. Vahn thought it was pretty interesting seeing one person produce so many different sounds, so he curiously watched her from the side, effectively egging her on. However, this didn’t last too long as a large green creature that looked like a giant monitor lizard came running through the trees. It couldn’t sense them at all, but this didn’t stop it from continuing towards them as it hurriedly ran away from its pursuer, a large wolf that was more than 3m long.
Vahn identified the two monsters as a Level 1 Forest Monitor and a Level 1 Ironback Wolf, both close to Level 2 but not quite making the bar since they were closer to animals than monsters. As they didn’t pose any threat, Vahn pulled Fenrir gently to the side and leaned against a tree as he watched the Forest Monitor burst through the underbrush as the Ironback Wolf followed it closely. Though the lizard was faster, the wolf had more stamina and agility since it was a warm-blooded monster compared to the cold-blooded Forest Monitor. It must have just recently awoken from its winter hibernation and had the misfortune of coming across a hungry wolf.
Fenrir watched the chase with slightly glowing eyes as she was interested in joining and defeating both monsters. After they vanished, she looked up and asked, “Master, why do you not interfere to protect the big green monster? Won’t it die soon?” She could tell that the Forest Monitor was very winded and it wouldn’t be long before the Ironback Wolf ended up claiming its meal. There were several other presences she could smell in the area, which were the companions of the previous wolf moving at the flanks a few tens-of-meters away. From her perspective, there wasn’t a big difference between the races of the surface and monsters, so she was curious why Vahn didn’t interfere.
Vahn thought about his answer for a short while before saying, “You often have to take into consideration the situation at hand and the differences between what is ‘hunting’ and what is being ‘hunted’. Unless they are a vegetarian, most creatures survive by eating the meat of other living creatures, perpetuating a cycle of ‘survival of the fittest’. Intelligent creatures can circumvent this by using their cleverness and ingenuity to get an advantage against stronger enemies, or even becoming strong enough to directly oppose them, so we have to prioritize ‘people’ over monsters. There is also the simple fact that, if we continually interfered with the Wolf’s hunting, it would eventually die of starvation. Depending on the circumstances, the Ironback Wolf may have found itself the prey of the Forest Monitor in the future…”
Though his question didn’t actually answer Fenrir’s concerns, Vahn honestly didn’t know how to properly rationalize it either. He could simply say that ‘people’ are good and ‘monsters’ are bad, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Vahn had seen monsters that were far kinder and more innocent than children while some seemingly kind ‘people’ turned out to be the real monsters. There were a few exceptions, such as Griffins hunting for sport, but Vahn had primarily seen cruelty as something propagated by ‘people’ and not monsters. They had enough ‘instinct’ to avoid attacking each other within the Dungeon while humans were prone to betraying close comrades if there were enough benefits. Without things like ‘vows’ in the world, Vahn imagined it would be even more chaotic than the somewhat dismal state of affairs currently present in the continent.
After releasing a sigh, Vahn picked up the contemplative Fenrir as she immediately stopped thinking and just enjoyed being carried. Even though she was a ‘monster’ that would literally devour anything, if not properly restricted, Fenrir was much purer than many of the normal people he had met. She didn’t have a choice about her nature and proactively made efforts to ‘behave’ and be ‘good’, while most people had a choice in their lives, albeit in inarguably dire situations at times, so Vahn found it easier to empathize with her than most people. However, Vahn didn’t want to give up on people because he had also experienced great kindness from some, and had even received an overwhelming amount of love from others. He knew the world could be a better place, and Vahn intended to do his best to ensure such a world was one day realized.
A few hours into their journey, Vahn could hear the flowing of water as they came upon a river that was around 20m wide even at the thinnest point. He knew this was likely the river that flowed all the way to The Plains and was often used to transport goods. As the harvest season had yet to arrive, there were currently no boats in sight which allowed Vahn and Fenrir to enjoy the scenic appearance of the winding river. It had crystal-clear blue water with smooth river rocks that could easily be seen in its depths. The most interesting thing were the numerous fish that could be seen swimming about in the water, many fighting against the current as they made their way up the river to lay their spawn.
Fenrir was fidgeting about excitedly so Vahn gently touched her back before she jumped into the relatively chilly water and tried to grab a large fish. Though she had no experience diving, Fenrir was incredibly agile and had caused a splash that reached more than ten meters when she dashed into the water. Vahn was a little concerned about her since it was actually very dangerous to collide with water at high speeds, but she seemed to fine, perhaps using her instincts to make a proper judgment. A few seconds later, Fenrir popped up out of the water holding a bloody white sturgeon in her claws with a proud look on her face. Unfortunately, she wasn’t that great at swimming, to begin with, and had trouble holding up the fish as she bobbed her way towards the shore.
Vahn felt encouraged to try something so he transitioned into his Xuánwǔ form before haphazardly trying to ‘stop’ the flow of the river. Surprisingly, Vahn felt like he had been hit a charging Black Rhinos as he was dragged several meters along the bank of the river before being knocked over. This was very unexpected for Vahn so it wasn’t a surprise when Fenrir discarded her catch and swam through the water faster than the surrounding fish before jumping out and exclaiming, “Master, are you okay!?” Vahn began laughing because, even though he had embarrassed himself, he was able to learn something very important as a result. After pacifying Fenrir, he rose to his feet and looked at the mighty river with eager eyes and an urge to ‘dominate’ it erupting from the back of his mind.
When using direct elemental manipulating, it often relied on the movements of the body to exercise control over what you were trying to influence. This is why Vahn had to shape water with his hands and use various hand gestures to get the results he wanted. Since he had tried to ‘stop’ the river, Vahn became linked with the flow under his influence before the rest of the river ‘slammed’ into the slightly stagnant flow and carried him along. Vahn had never realized he could ‘anchor’ himself like that and, now that he knew it was possible, his aspirations for achieving flight seemed a bit closer. If he could manipulate air elemental energy and ‘anchor’ himself to the flow of the winds created, he would theoretically be able to at least glide through the sky at a fast pace.
Undaunted by his previous failure, Vahn pat Fenrir’s head and said, “I’m going to try something for a little while if you want to play around and catch fish. Everyone would be very happy if you caught a big catch, and I’ll make sure to pamper you if you do well~.” Hearing his words, Fenrir’s eyes became sharp and she looked at the blissfully unaware fish as if they were already in her claws. Without any hesitation, she dove back into the water and swam around very quickly as she nabbed fish and tossed them out of the water. Compared to her earlier ‘fault’, she now looked like a seasoned pro that had been dive-fishing for twenty years…
Vahn watched her for a short while before jumping into the water himself and coming to rest at the middle of the river, firmly rooted to the bottom. He could currently hold his breath for hours if necessary, so he wasn’t in any danger of asphyxiating any time soon as he took a wide stance with his feet against the bed of the river. The current was very strong, but Vahn could feel the water flowing smoothly around him while he was in his Xuánwǔ form so he was able to stand without being pushed back, at least for now.
After focusing his mind, Vahn traced the flow of water elemental energy through his domain before once against pushing both of his hands forward in an effort to ‘stop’ the water. This time, however, he didn’t latch on to a large section and instead tried to form a ‘wall’ for a brief moment. Just as before, Vahn felt like he was hit by an unstoppable force as he was pushed back at the same speed as the flow of the river. It felt like he was trying to stop a mountain falling from the heavens and it seemed like an impossible feat to manage. However, Vahn had seen things like ‘waterfall’ training and ‘diverting the flow of a river’ in mana and he knew it should be possible. Even now, he was still able to hold his wall stably and it had caused the banks to become flooded slightly as a huge volume of water was displaced after being ‘dammed’ up by Vahn.
Vahn eventually crashed into a large rock in the river and had a small hope he would be able to get some leverage before the rock was obliterated after his body felt a monumental pressure. For the millisecond before he was pushed further back, Vahn had resisted the flow of an entire river and it had immediately broken his ‘wall’. The only thing that kept his arms from shattering was the fact that his scales had shone with a vibrant ocean green as the force was dispersed into the water, displacing thousands of gallons as a result of the massive explosion. However, even though his ability had activated, Vahn felt both of his arms had become numb so he jumped out of the river before plopping down on the bank and inspecting the damage. In total, he had seventeen microfractures in his bones while several blood vessels had ‘exploded’ from the instantaneous pressure increase.
Popping a [Senzu Bean] into his mouth, Vahn felt energy flow through his arms as the wounds instantly healed leaving small sequelae behind, but no actual damage. With his [Hands of Nirvana] and increased recovery rate, his body would naturally remove the aftereffects of the bean even without him doing anything. It wasn’t like when he was Level 1 and his body couldn’t properly filter the energy from the 50OP bean. The fact that it had such an effect for such a small price had resulted in Vahn purchasing a total of 1,000 of them, the majority of which were contained by a sack in his inventory.
Looking out at the mighty river, Vahn gained an appreciation for the sheer might of mother nature and realized he wasn’t yet ready to interfere with it, at least without making proper preparations. Vahn knew he would one day be able to manage the feat with proper mastery, so he intended to periodically return to the river in the future. Rather than simply erecting a wall, Vahn wanted to be able to ‘stop’ the flow of the river for a short while within his entire domain. He lacked practice in influencing things far away from him, as it was much more difficult to target objects on the periphery of his domain than those that were much closer. For now, he decided to settle for something different as he stood on the bank of the river and watched Fenrir swim through water at nearly 90km/h, easily snatching up fish with her claws.
After targetting a fish of his own, Vahn made a sweeping motion with his hand before the fish was launched out of the river after being lifted by a small water spout. He then twisted his wrist and made a grabbing motion as he formed the spout into a sphere and ‘sealed’ the sturgeon within. Unfortunately, his seal didn’t seem very effective as the fish simply swam through his sphere before floundering about on the embankment as it tried to flop back into the water. Vahn dropped his hand to envelop the sturgeon again, this time forming the water sphere into a vortex by waving his right hand in a circular motion. This time, the sturgeon couldn’t get its orientation to properly propel itself through the water and started spinning around with the disorienting current Vhan had created.
Vahn once again tried to ‘seal’ the fish within his sphere by trying to condense the water and increase the pressure. Even though it was in a liquid state, seemingly without any ’empty’ space, Vahn knew there were ‘gaps’ between the individual molecules and he could control the elemental energy contained within to ‘compel’ them closer together. Through the proper conversion method, this was how ice elemental could be formed and the orb quickly began to turn into a solid state starting by the outside icing over. After a few seconds, the sturgeon became trapped in a prison of ice as it swam around in a small circle against the 5cm thick ice and tried to break free.
Since his experiment was both a minor success and moderate failure, as he had tried to store the sphere into his inventory, Vahn moved onto his next experiment and froze the entirely of the orb this time. He was curious about being able to freeze organic objects before storing them away in his inventory, hoping that it might allow him to move living matter in the future. Unfortunately, this proved futile until the sturgeon eventually died from shock and exposure. Vahn actually earned a point of negative karma, which was somewhat understandable since he had caused it to ‘suffer’ after ‘tormenting’ it for his own personal interests. After storing it away in his inventory, Vahn moved over to the ‘mountain’ of fish Fenrir had created and started killing the struggling survivors before throwing them into his inventory. This time, he didn’t earn any karma at all, since putting a fish out its misery wasn’t that great a ‘feat’.
Vahn watched Fenrir swimming about and, the moment she was about to pounce on a fish, he slid his left foot forward before raising both palms toward the sky in a smooth arc. Instead of a ‘spout’, this time Vahn created a pillar that launched Fenrir up into the air as she flustered about in a confused manner. Before she fell back into the water, Vahn jumped atop a small ice platform he had made atop the pillar and caught her before vanishing once again as the pillar collapsed. Fenrir shook her hair and fur, dispersing cold water all over his face and body, before asking, “Are we going~?” Vahn nodded his head and said, “You caught thirty-eight large sturgeon, so I’ll give you a thirty-eight-minute massage later.” Fenrir immediately eyed more fish and fidgeted as she resisted the urge to catch even more.
After drying off both of their bodies, Vahn let Fenrir ride his shoulders again before he vanished from the embankment with [Shundo]. They still had a fair distance to cover and it was already around 3 PM. He could easily run the distance within an hour but wanted to increase his [Shundo] proficiency by trying to dodge through the trees in small bursts. Thus, with Fenrir pulling on his hair like ‘reins’, Vahn dashed through the forest and quickly calculated his ‘jumps’ before disappearing and reappearing a few dozen meters further along the path. Fenrir yanked on his hair slightly and yelled out in a voice similar to Tiona’s as she said, “Faster, Faster~!”