This time, unlike all the previous times in recent memory, Eva didn’t immediately pin him down to ‘celebrate’ their reunion. When Vahn opened his eyes, he saw Eva and Terra waiting with serious expressions on their faces as Eva explained, “Vahn, it’s time…the stability of the orb is already starting to deteriorate and I want to make sure you have enough time to undergo the trial before things break down completely. Make sure to collect all the physical materials you intend to take back with you or they will get destroyed once the space collapses…” Though she wanted to spend more time with Vahn, Eva knew the orb was never intended to last this long and it was getting far too dangerous trying to maintain it any longer. Before something unexpected happened, she wanted to ensure Vahn was able to learn the [Magia Erebea]. Though it was a bit sad that they would be parting for a while, Eva was also somewhat looking forward to it since the next time she woke up, she could be with Vahn indefinitely…
Vahn nodded his head but still blinked forward with [Shundo], taking Eva into his arms and hugging the girl tightly in as loving an embrace as he could manage. Feeling her tremble slightly, Vahn said, “Eva, thank you for everything you’ve done for us…I promise I won’t make you wait too long.” Eva wrapped her small arms around Vahn’s waist, pressing her head into his chest as she mumbled, “Vahn…I thought I might end up alone for all eternity, so I don’t mind waiting for a short while…just promise me that we’ll get to spend some quality time together in the future, just the two of us.” Since Eva could make isolated dimensions where time was distorted greatly, she wanted to at least have a few years alone with Vahn before she got wrapped up in his other ‘affairs’.
As they had discussed, in great detail, how to make spatial artifacts and isolated dimensions, Vahn understood what Eva had in mind. He didn’t tell her that they would likely be able to spend a few years together when he visits her world in the future and just made what he believed to be an easy promise. A few years in the stream of eternity wasn’t a long period of time, especially if they were in an isolated dimension, so Vahn didn’t mind pampering the lovable vampire a bit. He expected she would want to have the opportunity to mature and break away from the passage of time in her own world, potentially even starting a family and living a ‘normal’ and peaceful lifestyle for a while.
Vahn hadn’t had enough time to learn how to make various different orbs from Eva, but Terra had studied them in detail since she also had an affinity with space magic after taking an interest in it. Her [Void Transference] had reached the pinnacle and she could teleport vast distances in an instant. Much like Eva, she could also create pockets of folded space within the void to conceal her presence and ‘hibernate’ away from the influence of the rest of the world for periods of time. Though they couldn’t create one within the orb itself, as spatial laws restricted ‘compounded’ time and space even further, she would be able to create them after returning to the real world. This was one of the things Vahn had the most interest in, as it would allow the girls to train their own magic much faster, give them more time to spend together, and even ‘exploit’ certain things like growing herbs and such…
All of that would have to wait for later, however, as there were far more important things on his plate as he accompanied Eva in silence for twenty minutes as they overlooked the small world that had come into existence. Previously, the space within the orb had been an endless white plane with pure darkness above, creating a very eerie and ‘lonely’ atmosphere. Now, there was a rather large castle that was at the center of a world that had been split between a verdant forest and an icy tundra. Overhead, there was a rainbow-like light that Eva said was similar to a geomagnetic phenomenon that could be observed in her world. Instead of an endless black sky, there were small lights that looked like stars, a product of the tweaks Eva had made to the orb to make it more visually appealing.
Eva had been sitting in his lap, hugging his body closely for a while before releasing a sigh and saying, “Okay, it’s about time for us to start. We need to make sure there is plenty of time for you to undergo the trial and seal my memory fragment away before the space breaks down. Vahn, you’re going to have to face the darkness in your heart so make sure you are prepared. I can’t tell you what you’ll see, just know that I’m…’we’re’ here waiting for you to return. Don’t let the darkness consume you…” Though Vahn had already told her things would be okay, Eva couldn’t help but worry since the [Magia Erebea] could corrupt and kill most people that try to learn it. Even though Vahn was an ‘exception’ to the rule, that was simply something they had postulated and there was never a ‘guarantee’ things would work out the way they expected.
Before she gave him the scroll, Eva once again explained all potential negatives of learning [Magia Erebea], including the fact that it could corrupt the soul if the user harbors any negative emotions. The reason why Eva had become so cold and detached in the past was a natural response to resisting what she called the ‘Encroachment of Erebea’. In order to prevent losing your mind, you had to embrace the darkness willingly and always keep your sense of self, essentially putting your pride and personal identity over your emotions and feelings. Of course, you wouldn’t have any real problems if you didn’t use the [Magia Erebea], but overusing it would increase the rate of corruption, eventually causing a person’s soul to become the embodiment of darkness and destruction.
Vahn had a small smile on his face as he listened to Eva’s lecture for what felt like the twentieth time. He knew his soul wasn’t something that the [Magia Erebea] would truly be able to influence and there was no way it would be able to overwhelm his [Will of the Emperor] either. Though there was some danger, that was only if Vahn ‘willingly’ allowed himself to fall into the darkness, which was something he would never allow. He had already seen what kind of person he became after being unable to accept loss so Vahn had absolute confidence he would be able to rise above it this time around.
Seeing that Vahn wasn’t worried at all, Eva furrowed her brows a little before releasing another sigh as she pulled out an ancient looking scroll bound by a red wax seal. She hesitated for a short moment before eventually handing over the scroll, saying in a serious tone, “Vahn, I believe in you…” before backing away and standing next to Terra. There was a good chance Vahn would go berserk during the trial and, even though he wouldn’t be able to really threaten her, there was a chance he might be able to injure Terra. The absolute worst case scenario was him using his golden chains or that [Chainbreaker] ability to destabilize the space, but that was unlikely to happen since using such skills required ‘intent’ from the user to function. If Vahn lost his mind, he would more than likely just attack them with pure magic power and physical attacks instead of using more complex skills and abilities…
Vahn marveled at how such a ‘plain’ looking scroll could contain so much power, tracing his finger along Eva’s name, which ran the length of the scroll. Then, without any hesitation whatsoever, Vahn broke the wax seal and opened the scroll, causing it to immediately break free from his hands as a second Eva came into existence. Unlike ‘his’ Eva, who was currently wearing a cute blue dress, this Eva was wearing the same black gothic clothing that Eva used to wear. It was almost sad to see but Vahn didn’t have time to think about it as she turned her icy gaze to him and asked, “What is darkness?” At the very next instant, Vahn felt himself sinking into an endless black abyss as the question echoed in his mind…
Not knowing how much time passed, Vahn felt an aching feeling in his body accompanied by an overwhelming sense of ‘powerlessness’. It wasn’t until a bright light shone on his face that Vahn finally opened his eyes, momentarily blinded by unnervingly familiar circular lights. For a brief moment, Vahn tried to move his arms to block the light but found only a phantom sensation in their place and an ache he hadn’t experienced in a very long time. His body began to tremble instinctively as a ‘sucking’ sensation appeared near his hip and he craned his head to see a pale and emaciated body, his body, affixed to various machines and tubes.
Once again, Vahn found himself without limbs, strapped to a table without any means of escape as the band around his neck slowly loosened. Since sedatives didn’t really work on him, Vahn was always forced into unconsciousness by having his oxygen restricted during intense operations. Even though most people would have gotten severe brain damage from being oxygen deprived for so long, Vahn’s own blood prevented his cells from breaking down so the scientists had quickly gotten over any concerns they had about his safety as it became common practice to deprive his brain of oxygen to force him to pass out…
Though part of him was ‘screaming’ that this wasn’t real, there was a larger part of Vahn’s mind that was telling him that everything he had experienced before had been a dream. There was an almost overwhelming sense of depression that was attacking his mind, compounded by the words that sounded out from his right, “Oh? Welcome back, Vahn. Tell me, did you have any dreams this time?” Vahn looked over to see the false smile on Dr. Keenly’s face as she held her clipboard, prepared to take notes as she continued her psychoanalysis of him. Contrary to her expectations, however, Vahn just began to laugh as he rested his head against the table and relaxed.
Dr. Keenly raised her brows, staring over the rim of her glasses as she said, “Vahn, I expect you to answer my questions clearly. You won’t be able to enjoy those Manga of your’s if you don’t behave…” This was a common threat that Dr. Keenly used to use against him, but Vahn didn’t mind it at all since, while everything around him was very familiar, the chill within his mind as a result of his [Will of the Emperor] allowed him to know this wasn’t real.
Eva had cautioned him that he would see what he believed to be ‘darkness’ so it wasn’t surprising to find himself in a powerless situation, surrounded by the people that he believed to be the true embodiment of darkness, or ‘evil’. All of the things he was currently feeling, though they seemed very real, had no actual effect on his body and mind unless he allowed them to. Even death wouldn’t be permanant so Vahn felt no need to humor the illusory Psychologist who seemed to become increasingly annoyed with his behavior.
Tapping her pen against her clipboard for a few seconds, Dr. Keenly wrote down a few notes as she mused, “Very well, Vahn. I had actually managed to find a movie related to that ‘Naruto’ that you’re so fond of. If you had been more cooperative, I had intended to let you watch it later…it’s a shame, really.” As she spoke, Dr. Keenly watched for any changes in Vahn’s behavior, looking for any sign that he was remorseful since it gave her more leverage in their future discussions. It was her job to give him a basic education and keep him ‘happy’ so it was always better to give him small rewards when he ‘rebounded’. He had just come out of a very serious surgery, so Dr. Keenly just assumed he was in one of his ‘down’ periods and would bounce back when he realized what was at stake.
Vahn found it somewhat amusing that part of his mind was panicking in response to Dr. Keenly’s words. It was almost like he wanted to shout out and accede to her, begging to be allowed to watch that movie since he rarely got to see videos of the characters he liked. He was actually somewhat tempted to see if this ‘Phantasmagoria’ could recreate the entire movie, even though it was supposed to be a world created for his suffering. If he gave in, Vahn expected Dr. Keenly would leverage having him agree to some other horrible experiment that would likely cause him immense pain before he was allowed to actually view it.
Seeing Vahn smiling as he reclined against the table, Dr. Keenly felt very unnerved because he had never acted like this in the past. It seemed like he was strangely ‘content’, almost like he didn’t care about anything that was going on around him, even the things that previously interested him. She suspected he was going through a unique phase of depression and made a few notes as she asked, “How are you feeling right now, Vahn? You don’t have to describe it in great detail, just a few words will suffice…did the surgery cause you any pain or discomfort?”
Hearing her questions, Vahn just chuckled in response, saying, “Don’t worry, Dr. Keenly, I’m perfectly fine. Though this place probably haunts my dreams till this day, I’ve already put this world behind me entirely. The only connection I have to this place is my mother, so feel free to do whatever you want to try and sway me. I wonder what it’s like to experience my ‘darkness’ while knowing it has no effect on me…” As he spoke, Vahn moved his phantom limbs, curious about the sensations present even though he was currently a quadruple amputee. The pain wasn’t actually as bad as he remembered, a shadow of some of the things he had experienced after transmigrating…
Dr. Keenly frowned in response to Vahn’s words, making several notes on her clipboard before circling the word depression a few times. Deciding he probably needed to be ‘shaken’ to bring him back to reality, Dr. Keenly asked, “Professor Keith wanted to try a new experimental procedure and he would like your cooperation. He wants to see how your blood reacts to chemotherapy so we can get a better understanding of how cells fight off the effects. It will help many cancer patients that don’t have the opportunity to access your blood directly so I would appreciate it if you consider his request…”
Vahn just listened to the phantom doctor’s words in silence, doing his best to contemplate what ‘darkness’ meant and trying to embrace it. He knew ‘fighting’ it wasn’t the correct answer so decided to just go with the flow and try his best to understand everything that was happening. He had a very different perspective compared to the past and might even be able to glean a few insights into his own blood by the tests they try to perform on him. Though they were arrogant, cruel, and indescribably foolish, they were still scientists and doctors that had been researching his body for years. Even if there was only a small chance they might make a discovery, Vahn gave them the benefit of the doubt and just accepted his current situation as he focused his mind and meditated.
Seeing Vahn giving her the ‘silent treatment’, Dr. Keenly frowned before saying, “I will take your silence as consent on this matter since your relaxed state makes it appear as if you don’t mind…” Vahn just smiled slightly in response this time, causing Dr. Keenly’s frown to deepen further as she gestured to the observation room where a fat, bearded, Doctor was waiting with his team. His jowls shook as the man started laughing in excitement before leading his team to the operation room. Moments later, a few attendings came into Vahn’s room and moved him to a gurney before wheeling him away for another round of experiments. All the while this was happening, Vahn just laid back, completely relaxed as a small and unnerving smile remained on his face…
For what felt like several years, Vahn passively allowed the scientists to conduct their experiments on him, aware of everything that was happening but expressing no real interest in what they were doing. He got to see all the familiar faces of the people he hated in the past, faces still fresh within his mind but decidedly insignificant after the other things he had experienced. Since he had met actual gods and goddesses, it felt like all of these people, proud scientists and considered themselves at the top of their fields, were just children playing around. Every time one of their hypothesis failed, Vahn just shook his head, pitying them for their severe lack of understanding.
Eventually, it got to the point where Vahn existed as nothing more than a torso and a head, floating in a vat of green liquid with a breathing apparatus feeding directly into his lungs. He didn’t really know how many experiments had been performed on him and it didn’t really seem to matter since he had gleaned more insights into his blood in a single afternoon back in his workshop than this team of scientists had in ‘years’ of concerted efforts. It was almost pitiable that they had willingly become something so terrible and objectively evil without ever having anything to show for it whatsoever. Other than monetizing his blood for their own personal gain, they weren’t able to do anything of note and instead become progressively bolder in their experiments since he never showed any care or concern for what they were doing. Dr. Keenly had long since disappeared from the staff and he never got to see that movie, the one thing he sort of regretted.
Toward the end of everything, the phantom of Eva appeared in front of his stasis tank as she once again asked, “What is darkness…?” in an icy tone. Vahn, though seemingly unable to speak through his apparatus, lifted his head and smiled. As if the apparatus did absolutely nothing to prevent his words for resounding through the illusory world, Vahn said, “Darkness…is irrelevant. Though it exists as a concept that is clearly defined by laws, it has no influence on the world unless people willingly give in to it. Accepting the darkness means accepting reality, moving on without giving in to the negative emotions that come as a result of misguided individuals in their own pursuit of truth..”
Vahn raised his phantom arm, shattering the stasis capsule around him as various alarms went off around in the lab. The phantom Eva just stood there and watched as he atrophied body walked forward on legs that didn’t exist as hands that had long been discarded pulled away at the mask affixed to his face. Seeing this, the phantom Eva smiled before making a sword of pure darkness in her hand, saying, “If you think darkness is something so inconsequential, then you’ll surely be able to take this blade.” Though he didn’t have any teeth, Vahn smiled in response to Eva’s taunt and just walked towards her without making any efforts to resist whatsoever.
The phantom Eva showed a cruel smile as she lunged forward and stabbed him through the heart, causing an intense amount of pain to seize his body. Vahn, however, just continued forward and wrapped his non-existent arms around the phantom Eva, saying, “The darkness is just a part of everything else…I’ll accept it all, even the burdens in your heart.” In response to his words, the magical energy in the phantom Eva’s hand became more powerful as it ripped apart what little remained of his physical form. Vahn, however, continued to hold her tightly even as she struggled to try and free herself, shouting, “You fool! You’ll never understand true darkness! Even if you say you can accept it, you’re just denying its existence as something inconsequential! You’ll never be able to use my [Magia Erebea] like this!”
Vahn chuckled, marring the phantom Eva’s beautiful face with his blood as he spoke through gargled words, “It is no longer just ‘your’ [Magia Erebea], Eva…it is a burden we’ll share together.” As he spoke, a complex ward appeared around Vahn’s back that looked like a six-pointed star with an eye at the center, surrounded by a complex magical formula that absorbed the blade in the phantom Eva’s hand. Her eyes widened in response as she said, “Impossible…you shouldn’t be able to absorb energy from other people. [Magia Erebea] is a magic that uses your own offensive magic power as a catalyst, fusing it with your soul to grant you immense power…you can’t take the energy from other people like this…”
The phantom Eva had an incredulous expression on her face, feeling terrified by the anomalous existence that was holding her firmly in his embrace. Worst of all was the fact that, though she wanted to break free from his non-existent arms, a part of her ‘compelled’ her to stay. There was a warmth coming from his body that was difficult to resist, almost like a hearth in the middle of winter. Even as his skin darkened into an onyx-black color, with light purple tattoos covering his entire body, the phantom Eva felt very secure in his embrace and eventually gave up resisting entirely. She didn’t understand what was happening at all since, unlike the memory fragment Vahn had interacted with previously, this phantom Eva knew nothing about him other than what she had seen in his memories of the Phantasmagoria…
Vahn had no regrown all of his limbs as the phenomenal magic power of the phantom Eva’s attack resonated with his body. He felt more powerful than ever before but it didn’t really matter at the moment since he had a disconsolate little vampire in his embrace. Tilting up her pouting face, affixed with an incredulous expression and a look of blame, Vahn smiled and said, “One day, I will prove to you that I’m capable of bearing the burden that weighs you down, Eva. I promise you will be free from this ‘curse’ that has plagued you for so long…” Though she was about to refute him, the phantom Eva’s eyes widened like saucers as Vahn leaned down and sealed her lips. It was very frustrating for her since, even though she was clearly much stronger than he was, it didn’t seem to matter as her body rapidly melted in his warm embrace…