Chapter 728: Clash (1/2)

The moment Vahn agreed to the duel, it was almost as though all of the space around them had frozen, with only a slight trembling of the earth around them to mark the passage of time. Siegfried’s expression had become very serious, dragon-like eyes narrowed as a result of his heightened tensions. Then, with a strangely appreciative smile on his face, Siegfried inclined his head towards the massive pillars dotting the horizon in the distance, saying, “That shall be our battleground. We shouldn’t involve normal people in our affairs…” Without waiting for Vahn’s response, Siegfried jumped into the air and, in an instant, sprouted two deep blue dragon-like wings and sped off towards the place he had indicated.

Vahn followed Siegfried with his eyes, awed by the man’s sheer speed as several loud thunderclaps spread through the area as a result of him tearing through the wind with a fierce momentum. Even so, Vahn wasn’t daunted at all as he turned to Hera and Jeanne, addressing the former as he said, “You should be careful in how you choose to scheme against me, Hera…Though I might not seriously regard my own personal endangerment, it is another matter entirely when it comes to the people I care about. If you choose to play this game, be prepared for the consequences of your actions…”

Much like Siegfried hadn’t waited for him, Vahn didn’t wait for Hera’s response as he completely vanished from sight. Unlike the proud Dragon Knight, Vahn could also cut through the sky yet, instead of breaking through the wind, his movements were like a phantom, silent, and hard to discern to the naked eye. Jeanne had been completely stunned by this display while Hera, whom he had advised caution, simply smiled as she looked towards the pillars to the north. Turning to Jeanne, she tapped the rather innocent girl’s shoulder and asked, “Shall we move to observe? I’m curious to know exactly how strong this Vahn Mason is. To make that bolt-brained doofus impressed, he must be rather impressive…”

Jeanne nodded but had a face full of uncertainty as she remembered Vahn’s words. It was clear to her that their actions here hadn’t been entirely honest, as Siegfried very rarely left the City of Heroes in the last hundred years. The only exception had been when he tried to intercept the One-Eyed Black Dragon before it fled across the ocean, never to be seen again. For him to have accompanied Hera, she must have asked him to do so. This realization gave Jeanne reason to doubt their motives but, being the faithful knight she had always been, she simply nodded before spontaneously sprouting a pair of pristine white wings from beneath her kite shield. As for Hera, much like Zeus, she had a special pair of sandals that assisted her flight, though she couldn’t fly nearly as fast as her troublesome companion.

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Though he had taken a hard stance against Vahn, Siegfried’s impression of the young hero was very positive. When Vahn had stood up to him without backing down, he had to admit, the boy had what it takes to be a true hero. The problem was, the thing Vahn had decided to protect wasn’t something he would truly be able to control. There was nothing wrong with believing in the nature of your companions, hoping they would never do anything to harm you and your loved ones, but True Dragons simply couldn’t be trusted.

It was the ‘nature’ of True Dragons, their biological drive, to seek power and confront creatures that are stronger than them. When they eventually reached the peak of power within their territory, they would proactively begin to eliminate anything that might threaten them in the future. It didn’t matter if it were their former companions, brood from the same hatching, or their ‘parents’. In fact, Dragons, in general, would proactively try to kill their own parents, all so that they would be able to absorb the energy contained within their ‘Dragon’s Heart’. The parents themselves actually encouraged this behavior as any Whelp that was unwilling to contend for the position of Alpha would quickly be eliminated in the resultant struggle.

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Siegfried hardened his heart to teach Vahn a lesson and, even if meant becoming the boy’s enemy in the future, relieving him from the burden he had taken upon himself. Better than anyone else in the entire world, Siegfried understood the tragedy that would await Vahn if he continued down his current path. He didn’t want to see another young Hero lose their life trying to protect monsters that, on a fundamental level, couldn’t truly coexist with other creatures. The only thing they respected was strength and, if Vahn’s power ever fell below that of his supposed companions, he and his loved ones would pay the price…

After finding an area that would be suitable for the coming fight, Siegfried landed and prepared to wait for Vahn’s arrival. Assuming he had a few minutes to wait, Siegfried sat down beneath a tree and began to focus his mind. Zeus had stated that Vahn’s power already qualified him for a position in Legend so Siegfried wasn’t going to underestimate the boy. Though he didn’t intend to go all out, he wanted to avoid a situation where he could avoid serious injury and avoid killing the aspiring hero. After all, he just wanted to teach Vahn a lesson and, if necessary, give him a goal to strive for and overcome…

Staring at Siegfried, who had just sat down and closed his eyes, Vahn asked, “Is this your idea of a duel…?” Hearing the unexpected words, Siegfried’s eyes snapped open and his pupils dilated into slits that focused directly on Vahn’s body. Because he hadn’t expected Vahn to appear so quickly, Siegfried had momentarily dropped his guard. Shaking his head and cursing, (“My battle instincts have gone soft…”) while rising to his feet. He suspected that Vahn had a rare ability related to speed, then remembering that it was one of the traits that Zeus had praised.

Though his body was already tensed to attack, Vahn waited for Siegfried to stand, saying, “In most instances, I would have already attacked you. However, I can tell that you aren’t an evil person so I’d like to come to an agreement with you…” Siegfried dusted off his pants before grabbing his massive blue claymore and saying, “I had a few ideas in mind, myself, but I’ll let you go first though since I was the one to initiate the duel request…” Vahn returned a firm nod before saying, “First, you’re clearly misunderstanding my relationship with the True Dragons within the Hearth Manor. I won’t say your way of life is wrong, but it is never safe to assume that your experience is the only one that has any credibility. It is the nature of people to make mistakes and, only by overcoming our own bias, are we able to move forward without regrets…”

Siegfried raised his brow, intrigued by Vahn’s words but unable to inquire further as the young boy continued, “After I defeat you, you’ll have to make a vow swearing to never target the Dragons associated with the Alliance, especially those within the Hearth Manor. I won’t make you take a vow that prevents you from seeking vengeance against other Dragons, but its simply foolish of you to believe that all Dragons deserve death, just because you yourself had come to that conclusion…” Vahn spoke each word with a firm conviction and, though he wasn’t trying to channel it right now, his [Will of the Emperor] had started to activate naturally.

Sensing the oppressive aura that started to emanate from Vahn’s body, Siegfried squinted his eyes with suspicion. He could feel his instincts cautioning him about how dangerous the boy in front of him was, as even his soul trembled slightly under a strange suppressive force. Deciding that Vahn must have had a rare ability that could affect not only the mind and body, but the soul, Siegfried began treating this duel even more seriously. Soul attacks were some of the most difficult to deal with and, though he had never suffered too many setbacks from such attacks, this was the first time he had felt a genuine suppression on his ‘Dragon’s Soul’…

Vahn, getting into a combat stance, asked, “Well, do you accept? If not, I’m afraid this battle can only end in one way…” Even if Siegfried wasn’t a bad person, Vahn wouldn’t allow someone with such at their disposal, especially if they target his loved ones, to roam freely. It would be the hardest fight of his life, but Vahn would kill Siegfried if it meant protecting Terra, Fafnir, Khaos, and, especially, Alexa…The moment Siegfried expressed his intentions, Vahn’s parental instincts had been triggered and, if the man wasn’t willing to compromise, Vahn would not show him any leniency…

Getting into a stance of his own, hefting the large blue claymore as if it was a feather, Siegfried said, “I will swear on my pride, Vahn Mason…should you emerge victoriously, I will never interfere with your affairs. However, should I win, I want you to take a step back on this issue…you may not understand it now, but know that I’m doing this for everyone’s best…” If Vahn could truly defeat him, it would have proven that the boy had more than enough strength to control the Dragons beneath him, at least for the time being. He wasn’t so obstinate as to insist that something ‘had’ to be done immediately, or his crusade against the Dragons would have never been put on hold in the first place.

Without any hesitation, Vahn nodded his head and, without any further words between them, dashed forward with [Shundo] into Siegfried’s blindspot. It didn’t matter to him what Siegfried’s own terms were since, as long as his body had a single breath within it, Vahn would never give up the fight. He would rather die than stand idly by as the people he cared about faced such a terrifying foe, even if it was likely that Terra would be able to defeat him without any great effort. Thus, resolving himself to do whatever it took to protect his home, his family, and his loved ones, Vahn struck forward with his fist covered in a thin membrane of source energy.

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For a brief moment, it was like time had stopped and, if not for the fact that his [Eyes of Truth] were already active, Vahn wasn’t sure he would be able to track Siegfried’s movement. His fist, which had been aimed for the Demigod’s left ribs, passed through a phantom image of the massive Dragon Night. Wind beat against his face as a result of the instantaneous movement and, in the very next instant, what seemed to be a mountain-sized fist came hurtling towards his face. The pupils of Vahn’s eyes shrunk to the size of pinholes and, even though time already seemed to have come to a crawl, the fist in his vision came to a halt.

Unaware of the strange phenomenon, Siegfried continued to strike forward with nearly half his full power, intending to knock Vahn out in one blow. However, much like what Vahn had experienced, Siegfried’s hand passed through a semi-solid phantom that had been left behind by Vahn’s use of [Shundo]. When pushed to the extremes, it was possible to create several illusory bodies to confuse enemies and, with the enhanced perception he had in that singular instant, Vahn had broken through to a level beyond general mastery. For the first time, other than when he had learned [Magia Erebea], Vahn pushed one of his magic spells to the SS-Rank, exceeding the previous limits of the skill.

Siegfried’s eyes widened in slow motion before he flexed the muscles in his back, ejecting his wings outward like spears to intercept Vahn, the latter of which had appeared behind him with a fatal glint in his eyes. Thinking the boy would dodge, Siegfried brandished his sword and began the preliminary movements for a sweeping blow with the flat of his blade. There was nothing in his 528 years of experience that could have prepared him for the fact that Vahn didn’t even try to dodge his attack at all. Instead, just as the steely blue wings tore into the young hero’s flesh, Vahn thrust forward with a blade-like hand, preparing to sever Siegfried’s spine…

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