After passing through a number of underground corridors, which were just smaller parts of a larger ‘underground city’, Vahn was near the closest wall separating him from the earth mage. Along the way, they had spooked numerous people by their unexpected appearance but many of them simply ran away without sticking around to see how things would play out. Much like the streets above, the network of tunnels directly beneath Daedelus Street was home to tens-of-thousands of impoverished residents that had sought solace and security in the dark after failing to live a normal life on the surface. There were even large groups of children that were covered in muck and grime, many of which Vahn realized were Pallums and Beast Humans. It made him sad seeing the almost ‘feral’ children with slightly glowing eyes as they were more adapted to the darkness than the light…
Vahn knew he couldn’t bring about the change he wanted to see in the City by just helping everyone he came across, but he still set out bags of fresh vegetables in the areas where they were hiding before moving on. He had heard from Hestia that the ‘ruler’ of Daedelus Street was a goddess by the name of Penia and he made plans to discuss the state of the community in the future. She was apparently a goddess of Poverty, People, and Penance, and had been ruling over Daedalus Street for nearly six-hundred years as a ‘safe haven’ to the beaten and downtrodden. Though there were still criminals that parasitized upon the people in the area, she was the main reason organized crime had been almost completely weeded out from Daedelus Street. Her influence was so great that, even though her Familia was still merely I-Rank, she had a seat at the table with Ouranos amongst the other top 10 influential gods, apparently only showing up when there was trouble in Daedelus Street.
Terra reached out to the wall that obstructed them and placed her palm against it as a pulse of energy flowed into the earthen wall. Almost immediately thereafter, an opening appeared as the earth compressed and solidified, forming a corridor that extended the 13m between them and the earth mage’s secret chamber. They could hear screaming from the other side that immediately turned to silence after the earth settled. Vahn’s face hardened and he led the way with the scarlet-eyed Fenrir and the azure-eyed Terra following closely behind him. Fenrir looked like she was ready to pounce at a moment’s notice, but Terra’s expression was ‘calm’ and ‘cool’, even though Vahn could sense the fluctuations in her source energy.
The moment they stepped into the chamber, a shrill and icy voice seethed the words, “Vahn Mason!” through clenched teeth. Vahn looked over to see the gaunt face of the earth mage and said, “That is correct…but the question is, who are you?” Vahn waved his hands and rearranged the chains so that the mage was held upright instead of being pinned down to the ground as he had been previously. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, though the stress lines and gaunt face made him appear much older, with pale brown hair and dull-looking yellow eyes. There were dark rings around his eye-sockets, appearing as though he hadn’t been sleeping well for a very long time, and he had even started to bald at the temples with a few scabs and abrasions visible around his face and hands.
Instead of answering, the earth mage began laughing madly with his head turned toward the ceiling at the trap formation that had long been broken by Vahn. There were tears streaming down his face as he mumbled, “This is it…I’ve failed…I’m sorry…” toward the void, likely wishing his words could travel the distance to whomever they had been intended. The chill in Vahn’s mind didn’t fade, but he felt like the man was very pitiful with his current appearance and words. However, he simply shook his head and said, “You have people you care about…that means you aren’t a complete monster. However, the fact you do monstrous things is inexcusable regardless of the reason behind your actions. Unless you can honestly say you wouldn’t fault the people that target your loved ones, you have no claim to my empathy at all…”
Vahn’s words grabbed the attention of the man who looked at him with a fierce resentment and a deep hatred as he said, “I did what I had to in order to survive! You don’t know anything at all; you’re just a spoiled little brat that grows up surrounded by endless comforts, indulging in pleasures and enjoying the results of other people’s hard work!” Before they could lash out at the man, Vahn held up his hand to stop Terra and Fenrir as he walked forward and said, “It’s really interesting, you claim I know nothing about you, but in the same breath make accusations against me? What do you know about me, other than what other people have fed you? Other than recognizing me as a target, have you truly made an attempt to understand the life I’ve lived? Do you think you are the only one that has suffered in the world? That gives you the right to kill whomever you please, just to make money?”
As Vahn spoke, he converged his aura on the man with enough intensity that the mage’s hair was pressed down by the force and the only thing keeping him upright were the glowing chains of [Enkidu]. Vahn shook his head and released the pressure, saying, “You know absolutely nothing about me other than what you have gleaned through your own bias and hatred. I will give you a chance to come clean…give me your name, the name of your client, the organization you work for, and a good reason why I shouldn’t kill you. If you can answer these questions, I will release you on the condition you take a vow to never return to Orario for the purpose of completing a mission.”
The man had a fierce scowl on his face, but he couldn’t hide the wavering in his eyes as a small ember of hope appeared deep within their depths. There were few people that wanted to die and, even if he didn’t understand Vahn’s life, he knew of the many rumors and accomplishments credited to the seemingly young man. He had a ‘foolishly righteous’ disposition and there was a fair chance he would be given leniency if he could convince him. However, the mage could feel an incredible pressure coming from Vahn’s ‘blue’ eyes and it felt like all of his secrets were completely exposed. If he tried to lie, his instincts were screaming he would likely end up dying here and there would be no hope remaining for him…
After several minutes of silence, with Vahn staring down at the man who was obviously lost in his own thought, the mage looked up and said, “You should know that I can’t speak about my client, nor the organization I work for. There are vows I have been forced to take that prevent me from disclosing such things….” Seeing Vahn’s eyes squint in annoyance, the man gnashed his teeth in frustration before saying, “M-my name is Ash…code-name ‘Entomber’…I hail from the Rakia Kingdom and I have a lover and a son of four-years…” Then, as if realizing something, Ash’s face became very dark and he looked at Vahn with the blackest aura he had ever seen, “Know the names of the people that will die because of you, Vahn Mason…Ash, Liris, and Alexander!” As if he had gone mad, Ash futilely tried to pull against [Enkidu] in an effort to lurch forward and attack Vahn.
Vahn released a small sigh and shook his head before saying, “B*******…you’re completely out of your mind if you think you can pin such things on me. How can I be responsible for the lives of people I’ve never met, just because I didn’t let someone kill me? Absolutely ridiculous…” Walking forward, Vahn stood over Ash with a cold look and forced him to kneel on the ground before saying, “Your circumstances may have forced you into this kind of life, but the only one that can be held responsible for how things turned out is you yourself…even though you walked such a path, one covered in the blood of your enemies, likely even several innocents, you have the audacity to put the blame on someone else? Are you an idiot?”
Ash wanted to spit, snarl, and scream accusations at Vahn but he couldn’t move a single muscle in his body, not even being allowed to take a breath as he was forced to listen to his hated enemy’s words. The pressure had increased to the point that the only thing he could hear was his heartbeats throbbing in his ears as his brain buzzed with a hatred deeper than the depths of the Dungeon. Regardless of what Vahn said, Ash only saw the boy before him as the murderer of his lover and son, instead of the boy that he had once eagerly accepted a commission to murder for benefits. When he returned home, Ash had planned to only take a few more jobs to save up some money to become a Tier 3 citizen. He wanted to buy citizenship for his family so that his son would have a better life than his own, something that was being ‘taken’ away from him by Vahn.
Feeling the hatred radiating off of Ash, Vahn felt an incredible sense of exasperation and incredulity at the ‘unjust’ label that had been pinned on him. He had absolutely nothing to do with Ash and his family before the assassin had ‘forced’ his way into the lives of everyone at the Hearth Manor. This interaction reminded him a lot of his ‘negotiation’ with Alosrin and it was very annoying to have someone so deeply rooted in their own bias they couldn’t see through to the truth of the matter. Though his ‘Liris’ and ‘Alexander’ may end up dying, it was a result of the life Ash had lived and had nothing to do with him at all. He couldn’t be blamed for what was happening more than six-thousand kilometers away in a country he had never even been to…simply ridiculous.
Vahn stared down at Ash before easing up the pressure he had been exerting, just enough so the gaunt man can breathe. Turning to Terra, who had a somewhat sad smile on her face, Vahn asked, “What do you think I should do, Terra? This man blames me for the future deaths of people I’ve never even associated with. Other than my death, I don’t even think he had considered any alternatives to ‘saving’ his family at all…” Terra was also very annoyed by Ash’s ‘accusations’ because they were so illogical that it was like he was saying their Master was at fault for the actions of every other person that barged into his life, including all their family members and friends? This made absolutely no sense to her at all and she saw the kneeling man as something ‘less’ than a sentient and intelligent creature…
After thinking about her Master’s questions, Terra looked to him and said, “Though compromises can be reached between creatures in order to share burdens and happiness, it is solely the responsibility of the people living to walk the path they have selected for themselves. Even if he was ‘forced’ into this kind of life, he could have simply killed himself if he truly disliked it. Instead, I imagine he had killed many people for personal gain, all so that he could secure happiness for other people without having to pay a price? This makes no sense to me, thus I conclude he should have prepared himself for this outcome before he ever accepted such a mission. As for what to do about this ‘fool’…he is like a weed, so simply killing him won’t solve the problem. Unless it is rooted out entirely, it will continue to grow and parasitize the happiness of everyone living in the Manor…”
Vahn nodded his head slowly and looked back to Ash with an ‘unnervingly’ calm look on his face as he asked, “What do you think I should do with you, Ash? You have already blamed me for the deaths of your family, so should I send you ahead to receive them?” Though he wanted to reach some compromise with Ash, Vahn could see the ‘madness’ contained within the man’s expression and knew he wasn’t truly a good person. He had likely used his Innate ability to build a career for himself as a mage assassin, taking the lives of any potential enemies of the Empire and Rakia Kingdom. It seemed like their doctrine was deeply embedded in the man’s mind and he simply ‘couldn’t’ realize the error of his ways as a result of his clouded mindset and the ego he had developed over many years.
Ash’s expression had grown even darker and he had been putting so much effort into trying to move that [Enkidu] had started to tear into the skin and muscle along his arms. He wanted nothing more than to bury himself and Vahn, praying that the Kingdom would learn of his sacrifice and reward his family instead of killing them for his failure. Unfortunately, he couldn’t use his power at all and it had been causing what little ‘restraint’ remained in his mind to break down. His vision had already turned dark at the edges and there was a metallic taste in his mouth as he glared up into the face of the boy he hated more than anything else in the entire world.
Vahn saw Ash’s reaction and it made him feel very cold inside because he had never experienced such resentment that had been ‘forced’ on him one-sidedly. Though his aura wasn’t that large, it had turned into wispy black tendrils that seemed to be following Ash’s intent as they tried to squeeze around his neck. Vahn couldn’t actually feel anything from the black aura, but just knowing how much resentment Ash had for him made Vahn feel very sick. Since it didn’t seem like Ash was willing to answer his questions at all, likely already having given up on life completely. Vahn reached out his hand and placed it against the man’s head. Ash jerked his neck and tried to bite at his hand, but there was no way a Level 2 mage bound by [Enkidu] had enough physical strength to resist Vahn’s actions. The only thing he got for his trouble was an extra strain in his neck as his face turned red for the exertion.
Though he knew the man didn’t deserve it, Vahn felt pity for the tragic life he had lived as a result of the path he had decided for himself. After pressing his palm against Ash’s head, Vahn began channeling a warm and calming energy into the man’s mind to help him relax and slowly lull him into a deep sleep. Ash tried to resist against the energy but, as his mind became increasingly calm, the only resistance he put up were the tears that began to fall from his eyes. He seemed to realize what was going to happen and knew that Vahn, the man he hated more than anything, had given him some small mercy by making things painless for him. Though it was only for a brief moment, Ash felt like he could have gotten along well with the boy if the circumstances had been a little different…
Vahn looked down into the pale yellow eyes of Ash and said, “I have no control over what goes on in the Rakia Kingdom, but I will one day bring change to that country in the hopes that such misfortune never befalls anyone else. You have faced a grave injustice in your life, but its a fact you became a patsy that benefitted from taking the lives of others. If I have the opportunity to save them, I will see that your ‘wife’ and ‘son’ are able to live a free and happy life. However, their fate has been forced to a head based on the decisions you have made, something you must accept this before you die. I will not bear your resentment, as your path reached this point without any action on my part…”
Even though he felt a great deal of indignation, Ash found himself simply unable to get mad as his mind started to become very cloudy. He hadn’t been sleeping well in more than a month at this point and now it was like all his fatigue had compounded and was about to claim him. In his entire twenty-six years of existence, he had never felt as tired and ‘calm’ as he did right now. The image of his lover appeared in his mind alongside a small boy that looked up to him as if he were a great hero. It broke his heart knowing they would suffer, not because of Vahn, but because he hadn’t been truthful to them and had endangered their lives by association with him. He knew better than anyone that it was his fault they would likely die, but he couldn’t help but resent Vahn because the young boy had been able to live such a happy life, blessed to be associated with amazing people with great authority…it was unfair…
After several minutes, Ash had a blank expression in his eyes as he mumbled, “Please…destroy…that hellhole…” with tears streaming down his gaunt face. With those final few words, Ash’s eyelids began to droop low until they came to a complete close. Even with the warm and comforting energy coming from Vahn’s hand, Ash didn’t show a smile on his face and his expression was a deeply set frown of indignation. Vahn released a sigh before letting Ash come to rest face down on the ground of his secret chamber. He then removed the dirty brown robe covering his body and dragged his finger along Ash’s spine to see if he had belonged to a Familia.
As soon as his blood began to ‘evaporate’, the image of a lion’s head, a spear, and an ax appeared on his back showing that he indeed belonged to the Ares Familia and was likely one of their dark operatives that performed espionage, assassination, or simply caused general upheaval in countries they wanted to conquer in the future. Since there were few organizations that were allowed to exist without the influence of the Ares Familia, this meant his ‘client’ was likely one of the executives of the Familia itself. The curious thing that Vahn noticed about Ash’s Status Board, however, was the fact he actually had more than one Innate and, though he was Human, he was also much more…
Race: Human, Demigod(sealed)
Skill: [Blessing of Ares:Innate(sealed)], [Gnome:Innate(D)], [Rock Skin:C]
Development Skill: [Abnormal Resistance:C]