Chapter 857: Oblivion

With the swing of the [Fate Severing Knife], similar energy to that which always shrouded Bell launched itself forward and collided with Antares. Vahn had no idea what would happen but he too believed that ‘intent’, this time in the form of ‘love’, would tide them through. Even as Artemis’ body turned into pale-blue light that began to fracture, Vahn adamantly believed everything would be okay. He sent as much Source Energy into her body as she was able to withstand as Antares’ body became ruby-red, pulling against [Enkidu] with enough physical might to shake the indestructible golden chains. Vahn’s response to this was tightening them even further, causing similar cracks to those on Artemis to begin appearing on Antares’ body.

Vahn realized that his [Enkidu] was actually preventing the Arcanum from leaking out of Antares but he was afraid that Artemis’ body would fracture completely if he loosened the restraints. He wasn’t entirely sure what was happening right now and just continued his loving embrace with Artemis, even as fragments of her body vanished into the void. She didn’t seem to notice this at all, eyes closed as she clung to his head and reciprocated the kiss that represented their shared hopes. Parts of her body began to flake away even faster so Vahn compacted his domain as if it would seal her within this place, intertwining with her wavering aura and melding the two energies together…

Though they weren’t having sex, Vahn could feel himself being overwhelmed by Artemis’ unconstrained Divinity. He could also sense the connection she had with Antares, now appearing like a shattered crystalline bridge the connected the three of them. Vahn’s rainbow-hued hand, still rich with Source Energy, began to embed itself into Artemis’ back as, within the mind space they shared, a massive palm appeared out of the void. Vahn reached forward, smashing the bridge to pieces and causing Antares’ to howl with a void-shattering roar. Though this caused the mindscape to begin breaking down, Vahn took what he felt to be the remnants of Artemis’ ego into himself and protected them as his mind withstood the brunt of Antares’ rage. It was very similar to when he had been attacked by the Juggernaut in the past but Vahn was able to protect them both with his [Will of the Emperor], even though rainbow-colored blood began to leak from the sides of his mouth and into Artemis’…

As if her life depended on it, or perhaps she was just unaware of what was going on, Artemis unhesitantly swallowed Vahn’s blood. There was already an incredible amount of energy moving through her body but this blood seemed to act like fuel thrown onto a flame. Her body suddenly cracked like a pane of glass but, instead of breaking away, these cracks had wisps of rainbow light emanating from them. Slowly but surely, these cracks began to recede as even the broken fragments of her body were regenerated at a slow but discernable rate. Eventually, Artemis’ glowing blue hair started to turn white on the fringes, though there was still a very subtle hue contained to the light emanating from each individual strand…

Though it felt like an eternity, this process had only been going on for three minutes by the time Vahn felt as if the majority of his energy was drained. He had actually bitten through part of his tongue and prevented it from healing just to use his blood as a catalyst. Fortunately, the amount of energy contained within his blood was far more than his own reserves seemed to be, even though it was still under his control. He manipulated the source energy to stabilize Artemis’ fracturing body until the rate of regeneration finally overtook the rate of destruction. At this time, they both opened their eyes and Vahn could now see a gradient of aquamarine in Artemis’ previously pristine green irises…

The light that had been illuminating Artemis slowly began to fade away as thin strands of what appeared to be skin began to cover her naked body. This was a similar phenomenon to what he had observed with Freya so Vahn felt a great deal of relief as he rested his forehead against her’s, a single tear escaping his eye as he muttered, “I love you, Artemis…” In response to this, Artemis giggled lightly, moving her arms to embrace him as she said very matter-of-factly, “I know, Vahn…I can feel it…I’ve never felt something so powerful…so warm…” Though the [Fate Severing Knife] had been used in Antares’, it still affected Artemis since their Divinities were shared. The bond he had with Artemis, for a brief moment, had also been severed…however, the memories, their shared hopes, all of the things that brought them together, these still remained…Vahn didn’t know everything that Artemis had lost after he used the knife but, at the very least, love had kept her from fading away…

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After a few more minutes, Artemis’ body had returned to relative normalcy but, much like Freya, there was now a crescent crest nestled a few centimeters above her breasts. It had a dark blue outline while the interior light emanating from within was pale blue to most, but contained a very slight fragment of rainbow hue from Vahn’s perspective. She might not be able to sense it, but Vahn could feel his Source Energy coiling around inside of Artemis’ mana circuits, acting as something akin to the ‘glue’ holding her body together while it healed. Even after its purpose had been fulfilled, the energy still remained, however, nourishing Artemis’ body in ways neither of them could imagine…

The most notable change to Artemis’ appearance was that her pale blue hair now appeared somewhat ‘frosted’, especially near the tips of her fringe bangs. Her eyes also appeared bluish towards the center now, possessing a similar aquamarine green as his own eyes. Overall, she appeared much the same but, to those that had known her for a long time, the ‘feeling’ coming from her had fundamentally changed. She would also appear markedly more proactive, seeing as how she began kissing the base of his neck while her fingers slowly began tracing their way around his equally naked back. His clothes had been torn apart by the chaotic energies that resulted from their melding together and it seemed that Artemis had forgotten herself for a brief moment in her confusion…

Stopping Artemis’ actions by gently pushing against her shoulders, Vahn smiled and said, “You should get dressed and retreat into the barrier. I still have this…thing…to deal with…” Artemis, as if just noticing Antares was still present, looked up at the ruby red creature that still glowed with divine light. A worried frown appeared on her face but she still placed her palm atop Vahn’s heart and said, “I believe…” before putting her hands together in prayer. Instead of beams of moonlight casting down upon her, pale pink petals began to bloom over Artemis’ body, laying atop each other as they formed a very different raiment than what she had worn previously. This immediately answered one of the pressing questions in Vahn’s mind, concerning if Artemis’ Divinity had been influenced by what had just happened…

Once the first layer of pink petals had formed what appeared to be a dress, moonbeams began to cascade around Artemis, covering the pre-formed dress with a layer of pale-blue that was close to white in color. Seeing this, Vahn had no idea what to make of the phenomenon and just watched as the final form of the raiment came into existence. It took on the appearance of a double-layered backless dress that extended around 2/3rd of Artemis’ thighs. Accenting the dress, there was a vibrant blue ribbon that tied itself around her waist and kept the dress from flaring out. Completing the outfit, Artemis had pure white gloves and stockings that extended nearly the full length of her arms and legs, the latter of which continued into a pair of short-heel boots. Similar to Freya and Hestia, the entire outfit appeared to be frayed on the ends with blue and pink accents to the petals that had formed each individual garment…

Artemis was equally surprised by the changes in her raiment but ignored it for the time being as she quickly snuck in a small kiss on the somewhat dazed Vahn before running towards the barrier. This had brought him back to his senses so Vahn watched her back as she moved along, feeling as though there were greater changes than just her appearance. He didn’t know what Divinity she had now but Vahn suspected it was related to the Moon and, almost assuredly, Love. Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter what Divinity she ended up with, as the most important matter was that she was still alive in the first place…

With that thought in mind, Vahn turned cold eyes towards Antares and saw that his [Enkidu] had embedded itself into the seemingly indestructible carapace. Since it was a Tier 5 item that could eventually break through the defenses of anything, Vahn wasn’t surprised that it had slowly been overwhelming the still Tier-4 Antares. Without its Arcanum dissipating, Antares’ body hadn’t broken down completely and it was brimming with phenomenal power, even if it couldn’t escape the chains. Even so, Vahn suspected it would begin to break down the moment he loosened [Enkidu] and he was wondering what the best course of action to take was. Though part of him wanted to simply brawl against the massive monster, logic and reasoning told him this was a terrible idea since their battle would likely destroy these Ruins. It also put the girls he still needed to save in unnecessary danger so Vahn decided to take a more prudent approach…

Using [Shundo], Vahn appeared near the glowing red eye of Antares and placed his palm on the ruby-like carapace, ignoring its screams and struggles. Surprisingly, an Affection notification appeared within his mind that showed Antares’ Affection towards him was at -60,508 and steadily dropping. This brought a wry smile to his face as he said, “I cannot say that I do not harbor hatred towards you…what you have done has hurt people I care about, therefore I have been brought to take these actions. I don’t know what kind of past you had but your existence has wrought death and destruction to too many people…if there were a way for you to reconcile and live with others in peace, I would try to save you…but, as your nature is drawn to consuming and corrupting others, I have to destroy you…in your next life, I pray you are able to live happily…”

While Vahn was speaking, he had started to gently stroke Antares’ head while also sending waves of calming energy into its mind. Though it had screamed and tried to resist, having its Divinity and Arcanum sealed by [Enkidu] left it with no means to defend itself. By the time five minutes had passed, while Vahn continued to steadily pat the giant monster’s head, Antares had stopped struggling completely. The glowing red panel that represented its eye began to turn dim and, after another three minutes, the eye had turned into what appeared to be an inert black stone. Even so, Vahn continued his efforts, brows raising slightly when he noticed the Affection Antares had actually begun to, very slowly, increase…

Though he was momentarily tempted to try and subordinate Antares, Vahn felt it had already lived a long and troubled life. Since its existence would be a great trauma to the members of the Artemis Familia, Vahn decided the creature was better suited to simply reincarnating. Even though its karmic value had been reset to 100, that wouldn’t change the millennia of memories it had and, with no discernable brain to erase memories from, Vahn gave up on the idea of subordinating this living calamity. It was also a simple fact that, as a Tier 4 being, Antares posed a very real threat to the world itself and, given his inability to influence higher Tier entities with most system functions, Vahn felt it wouldn’t be possible to subordinate it from the start…

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After a half-hour had passed, Antares’ body had completely slouched and Vahn confidently began loosening up [Enkidu]. As expected, its ruby-like body began to crack and fracture as the Arcanum contained within began to dissipate into the atmosphere. Vahn observed it vanishing into the void and, in hopes that a new god might form from the Divinity contained within, he allowed it to go freely. Though he was tempted to try and take it for himself, Vahn knew his body would just process it as Source Energy while the Divinity itself would simply escape him. Without understanding the concepts and laws contained within, there was no way to make use of that power. If he had such understanding, he would be able to awake the Divinity himself, making it fundamentally pointless to try and siphon himself…

Without any incident, Antares’ body slowly lost all of its Arcanum and began to break away into fragments. Since it still maintained an ego, Vahn couldn’t harvest any of the materials and, out of basic respect for sentient life, he allowed it to go without further hardship. Strangely, as the very last fragment began to dissipate into the void, Vahn heard the sound of a very soft voice mutter, (“Thank you…”) within his mind. It was indiscernible between a male or a female, sounding like the voice of a very young child carried by the wind…

Releasing a sigh, Vahn left behind the now empty seal and made his way into the barrier, finding Artemis sitting patiently on the cushion he had laid out earlier. She had a comforting smile on her face as she said, “You did the right thing, Vahn. Even I don’t know the origins of Antares but, if it was truly a sentient creature, sending it back into the cycle of reincarnation peacefully was a just end…” Vahn nodded his head except, unlike Artemis, he had some idea about where Antares may have come from. Though he would have to investigate it further, Vahn noticed this his domain continued well over a kilometer into the ground below and, very similar to the Dungeon, there were tunnels and pathways which had mana infused into their walls…

After confirming that his Quest Log now showed he had saved Artemis, Vahn set about the next most important step before it was too late. Turning to Artemis, he asked, “I need your consent-” but was interrupted by Artemis as she smiled radiantly and said, “Anything at all, Vahn…I trust you completely, no matter what happens, nor how much time passes…always, and forever…” Hearing this, Vahn felt his heart begin beating rather quickly but he nodded his head and said, “I won’t let you down…”

As quickly as he could, Vahn drew at two complex formations on the ground, each a variation of the [Avatar Creation] techniques he had used to create his second body. The difference was, instead of splitting a soul, Vahn was one formation to gather an ego from the surroundings while the other would allow the transplant of that ego into an ‘avatar’. When he was finished with the formations, Vahn took a deep breath and pulled out what appeared to be a charred and mangled upper body, any identifying features completely missing. This was the one body he had stored in his Inventory, belonging to none other than the Chienthrope, Lante…

Artemis, even in her changed state, felt faint when she saw the remnants of her youngest member. It was fortunate she was already sitting down or she may have collapsed upon witnessing such a gruesome sight. Vahn, however, focused on the activation of the formation and his heart nearly began dancing around in his chest when it almost immediately lit up. Though he couldn’t sense the ego directly, the only two possible remnant egos in the area either belonged to Antares or Lente. With the ‘farewell’ of Antares, Vahn didn’t think it would have remained in this area for very long. As for Lante, however, the odds of her sticking around, especially with Artemis nearby, were extremely high…

Trusting in his intuition, Vahn activated the second formation and, surprising Artemis for what seemed like the five-hundredth time in the last day, brought out her faux-avatar. Vahn placed his hand on her chest to stabilize the body with his Source Energy as the formation continued to revolve. In some circumstances, there was a chance Lante might try to latch onto his body but The Path wouldn’t even allow the attempt. He was completely immune to any form of possession and, unless Lante was somehow a being that transcended Tier 9, the only option available to her was the body of Artemis. Since he had seen Lante from Artemis’ perspective, Vahn was absolutely certain she would choose the latter over his…

Even so, all of this preparation was just a precaution for a very different plan of action, which involved Vahn pulling out the [Tears of the Moon Goddess] and pouring it into the hole that should have been Lante’s mouth. If her body was able to heal completely from the use of the Unique item, Vahn would store Artemis’ faux-avatar back into his Inventory and confer with her about what she wanted to be done with it. If the tears was unable to heal Lante’s body, Vahn would transfer the rooted ego from the rather tragically mutilated corpse and allow it to reside in Artemis’ faux-avatar, at least until he could find a better solution.

Almost as soon as the tears entered into Lante’s throat, a powerful light enveloped her body and she very quickly began to regenerate. Vahn smiled upon witnessing this and was prepared to store away Artemis’ body, only to find that the formation on the ground had been triggered in an instant. However, instead of the light around Lante’s body fading away and her ego migrating to Artemis’, her entire body itself vanished. Immediately after that, light began to emanate from Artemis’ faux-avatar, leaving Vahn to stare blankly as the avatar grew a pair of pointy ears and a bushy tail before lowering to the ground…a happy and contented smile on her face…

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