Chapter 871: Stress

When she saw the look in Vahn’s eyes, Loki’s face became fierce and, for one of the few times, her eyes were open naturally, albeit with a serious expression. Then, without the need to verify what Vahn had seen, Loki stated, “Get rid of it…!” Vahn returned a nod, placing his palm against her head and sending a ‘wave’ of source energy through her mind. It wasn’t nearly as intense as the ’emergency’ treatment Tiona received, but Loki still gritted her teeth as it passed through. Vahn followed up his banishment of the malicious energy by sending calming energy into Loki’s mind while explaining, “Other than Hestia, everyone here has been affected by Enyo’s ability…”

Though Syr and Tsubaki were also exceptions to this, Vahn had been primarily focused on dealing with the influence of Enyo in the goddesses. Of course, when Hephaestus, Artemis, and Eirene heard Vahn’s words, their faces had become slightly pale. This was especially true for Artemis, who had nearly had her body destroyed only recently. The fact that she was still under the effect of Enyo’s ability was a very worrying thought. As for Hestia, nobody was actually that surprised that she hadn’t been affected by Enyo as, other than a few gatherings, most of Hestia’s time had been spent in isolation near the Divine Hearth. Though some gods might ridicule her, it was only because they knew Hestia wouldn’t truly lash out and harm them. This wouldn’t necessarily be the case if you went into her home, however, and it seemed that even Enyo wasn’t foolish enough to try her luck against Hestia.

While going around and purging Enyo’s ‘tendril’ from the goddesses’ minds, Vahn’s own was racing as he said, “The fact that Enyo was able to influence so many gods, yet hadn’t been using her power for all these years, gives partial credit to the idea that there are requirements for her ability to be activated. There must be several unknown variables but, for the time being, we can assume that her influence cannot reach out of the Dungeon too easily…” At this point, Vahn squinted his own eyes as Loki, having a very similar thought, stated, “This must be why the Guild made it so that gods aren’t able to enter the Dungeon…Ouranos must know something…that old bastard…!”

Given Ouranos’ nature, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that he simply ‘allowed’ Enyo to act as she pleased, as this had always been how he behaved since time immemorial. Ouranos was always an ‘observer’ and, if he had revealed the information he knew about Enyo openly, it would have been the same as siding against her. From his perspective, regardless of what happened to the world, it was ‘meant’ to happen. This was the reason why he allowed the Alliance, and Vahn in particular, to operate as they had. Ouranos had even been one of the few to believe the Xenos could one day coexist with the surface dwellers, even though he took no actions to facilitate this transition…

Understanding this, though he was likely overlooking several factors, Vahn explained, “We should treat Ouranos as a non-factor in the coming struggles…though there are likely those beneath him that are under Enyo’s influence, it is almost impossible that he would have been affected. Given his nature, Ouranos will probably be a bystander that observes from the side, standing witness without direct interference…” Though he said this, Vahn couldn’t help but wonder why Ouranos was serving the role of ‘sealing’ the Dungeon with his own Divinity. Since Ouranos didn’t really do ‘anything’, the fact that he was proactively sealing the Dungeon was a red flag that couldn’t be overlooked…

Loki, at least from her own perspective, was angrier in this one moment than she had been throughout her entire long existence. She already hated the fact that she had essentially been a prisoner to her own Divinity so, knowing that another god had affected her mind, Loki’s rage had completely broken through previous thresholds. Though she would respect Vahn’s decision, for the time being, Loki still said, “Vahn, until we know more about her abilities-” Before Loki could even finish, Vahn’s squinted his own eyes and said, “I will kill Enyo. She tried to use Tiona’s hand to kill Lili and, once I secure Haven, I will go seek her out on the 60th Floor and annihilate her. If she isn’t on the 60th Floor, I will keep destroying the Dungeon until something gives…!”

Vahn felt like he had given Enyo too much leeway while he had been focusing on other things and, now that she had shown one of her cards, he decided to flip the table. Though he had used basic hypnosis to gain information from people in the past, the fact that Enyo was able to use what essentially amounted to mind control had completely shattered his own inhibitions. Not only that, but she was able to ‘corrupt’ the energy in monster cores and slowly exercise her control over them as well, something that seemed to be increasing as the days passed. She could no longer be left to act freely and, even if he had to send a thousand avatars into the Dungeon to break through her schemes, that is what he would do…!

As he was leaking out a great deal of pressure subconsciously, it was very difficult not to get caught up in Vahn’s momentum. Even Loki, with her rage at the highest point in her existence, simply furrowed her brows and began considering the best plan of action. Since Vahn had a form of immunity against Enyo’s influence, and he could send avatars into the Dungeon without any ‘real’ danger, his plan of action was one of the best available to them. There was a chance that Vahn could get ‘sealed’ but, when she had talked with him about his avatar in the past, Vahn assured her such things were impossible. She had detected no lie in what he said back then and, now that it had come to this, the faster they dealt with Enyo, the better…there was no way of knowing just how far her influence reached…

Hestia, having been silent for a while, asked in a voice filled with concern, “Is there anything we can do to help…?” Hearing her almost heartbroken tone, Vahn’s tensions eased slightly as he smiled and said, “I will still be here in the Manor to help with Loki’s investigations and vet any of the gods we have concerns about. The best way you can help, Hestia, is to simply…keep being yourself…be the same kind and gentle goddess who brings peace to my mind and heals my heart. Other than that, the only thing I hope for, more than anything else, is that everyone can be safe and happy together…I’m growing weary of all these conflicts and burdens…hahahaha…”

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Vahn knew he still needed to deal with the Iron Hills, Rakia, Telksyura, and, depending on the circumstances, the Far East. Enyo was undoubtedly the most immediate issue that needed to be dealt with but, considering how much Karma he had now accumulated, the chances of something going wrong had increased greatly. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Iron Hills and Rakia ended up trying to start an invasion or, even worse, if there was some kind of ‘ancient weapon’ that had been slumbering and was now going to awaken because of his own positive Karma. Since there were already Heroes that were several hundred years old, each having ‘died’ in History, Vahn knew there were things going on behind the scenes that hadn’t even been revealed yet…

Thinking about Zeus, Hera, Siegfried, and Jeanne, Vahn felt a powerful urge to just sit down and take a nap. Zeus and Hera were from the Northern Pantheon and, with the memories he had from Artemis’ [Hearts Desire], it wouldn’t be surprising if he discovered they had also been under Enyo’s influence. After all, nobody knew what happened on the 59th Floor when they fought against the One-Eyed Black Dragon and were wiped out. Their Familias had been arguably the most powerful in history yet, upon reaching that point in their expedition, they were suddenly bested and, afterward, the Dungeon became ‘off limits’ to gods…Vahn felt like Enyo had done something to turn the two Familia against each other and, with how things appeared, Zeus and Hera didn’t even seem to be aware of it…

While he was thinking about all of these troubling things, Vahn suddenly found a weight against his back as a pair of arms wrapped around him in a comforting embrace. He had been so lost in his thoughts while running back to Haven with his main body, that the approach had completely skipped his mind. When he came to his senses, Vahn noticed everyone giving him a concerned look while Tsubaki, who had ‘snuck’ up on him muttered in a comforting voice, “Vahn, you should rest…” Following her words, Hephaestus added in a calm tone, “Yes, let us deal with retrieving Demeter, Freya, and Eirene…with how things appear, the odds of Enyo being able to directly influence a god on the surface seem extremely slim. Though we can’t make you relax much while you’re in the Dungeon, you should still relax here so you don’t overtax your mind…”

Most of the girls knew a bit about how Vahn’s avatar worked and, though they could share energy between each other, they also shared the mental strain during tense moments. If he didn’t relax, the strain he would experience compared to a normal person was more than just ‘double’ the amount. Stressing from two different perspectives essentially compounded the mental strain and, if he didn’t calm down soon, it wasn’t impossible that he would have a mental breakdown. He was already doing everything he could at the moment and, as there were things they could do to help him, nobody wanted to see Vahn suffering so much…

With practically everyone present encouraging him to rest, Vahn’s tensions eased a little more and, knowing there was only so much he could do right now, he agreed with their consensus. It was currently still early in the morning and, as it would help him replenish his energy more quickly, Vahn said, “I will go into the Sub-Space orb and rest…” Though this would actually put an increased mental strain on him, Vahn could always meditate to mitigate this almost completely. It would also allow him to increase the replenishment of his reserves a great deal, giving him an almost inexhaustible supply of energy to deal with matters in the Dungeon.

Instead of agreeing with him, Hestia shook her head while Tsubaki actually put a bit more strength into her embrace. It was Loki, however, who said in a very stern voice, “No, you should call back Fenrir and go take a nap in her room. Either that or you should spend some time in the maternity ward until Anubis arrives…you need to relax for real, Vahn, not in an ‘efficient’ manner. When the younger children wake up and begin to play around, you should spend time with them without worrying about what is going on in the outside world…” This time, Hestia nodded her head, adding, “This is your home, Vahn, the place where you should be able to relax and ease your mind. If you stress out so much during the times when you are supposed to be happy, then you will begin to feel stressed every time you are happy…you have to separate the two emotions…”

With how things were progressing, especially with Vahn having two bodies, it was hard for him to separate matters of the home from external matters. It wasn’t impossible for him to be spending time with his children while, at the same time, be embroiled in combat in the Dungeon. This wasn’t good for his mentality at all, especially since his mind constantly seemed to be leaning ‘outside’ of the home, instead of what was inside of it. He was trying so desperately to protect the things he cared about, all while ‘neglecting’ to care for them in a truly meaningful way. When both of his bodies were in the Manor, Vahn seemed genuinely happy all the time…now, he was always distracted and ‘worrying’ about how to keep everyone safe…

Vahn knew the girls were worried about him and, though he wanted to run over and check on Demeter, Freya, and Anubis himself, there was a lot of truth in what they had said. In fact, Demeters Status showed that she was already on her way back while Freya and Anubis had long been inbound for the Manor. During the earlier discussing, Syr had been relaying all of the information through the network and there were no obvious signs that Enyo was trying to outright manipulate any of them. Though Demeter was still a possibility, the worst thing that Enyo could do at this point is trying to return her to Heaven in order to ‘protect’ her pawn. That would, however, be Enyo showing her hand once again, this time without any conceivable benefit outside of simply trying to annoy him…

Just as Vahn was about to agree to call back Fenrir and just relax for a bit, he had just finished ascending the stairs to the 50th Floor. This was one of the reasons he had been stalling and, upon witnessing the ‘normalcy’ of the situation, he couldn’t help but release a sigh of relief. He looked towards Fenrir and said, “I’m going to call you back to my side, Fenrir…is that okay?” As she had been very aware of the duress her Master was experiencing, Fenrir nodded her head and was gone in the next moment. The girls were somewhat confused by what was happening but Vahn just smiled and explained, “We should check on the others and make sure they aren’t being affected by Enyo. This is an emergency situation and I may have the majority of you return to the surface until we have a better understanding of what is going on…”

At this point, Tiona had long since awoken and learned of what she had done, showing a face full of remorse as she said, “I think Vahn is right…this isn’t an enemy we can fight easily…not like this…” Though she liked fighting, Tiona didn’t consider herself a violent person, especially when it came to friends and family. She had been in low spirits ever since waking up and had apologized to Lili several times, even though the latter said not to mind it and forgave her. Since Tiona was usually so vibrant and full of life, seeing her in such a sorry state was affecting everyone quite a bit. Lili had even tried to cheer her up a few times on their way back, disregarding how serious the current situation was…

Without much discussion, they quickly arrived at Haven and, while making their way towards where everyone had been asked to gather, Vahn was inspecting every person they passed. There were no obvious signs that Enyo had affected any of them but, based on how quickly she had tried to gain control of him and Tiona, Vahn knew it only took a moment for her to do so. The moment a serious battle began, any of the people guarding the ramparts could become an enemy and, though she shouldn’t be able to comprehend them easily, it was even possible Enyo had long since started studying the magical wards he had placed down. Her information network was more expansive than he had anticipated and it wasn’t impossible that she had been growing stronger and more capable just by observing them…

Vahn now understood fully why so many of the texts he read would have a phrase that equated to ‘knowledge is power’ when it came to warfare. However, it wasn’t just Enyo who was constantly learning and adapting and, now that she had revealed her hand ‘early’, they had already moved into the endgame. If this were a game of chess, Enyo essentially just sacrificed her Queen to try and put him into check but had ultimately failed to do so. Now, though she could ‘cheat’ and take over the pieces on his side of the board, Vahn also had a unique indestructible King that she could never truly overcome. Even if he had to wipe out all of her pieces himself, this was now a war of attrition where he would inevitably come out ahead…

(A/N: Two-hour chapter delay will be the standard, just like it used to be. Trying to make sure they are released an hour after each other usually requires me to write almost non-stop for upwards of ten hours. I’d rather have a 14 hour work day with plenty of breaks than write non-stop xD…)

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(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Flipping the Table’,’Vahn needs to embrace the ‘calm’ once again…an Emperor should be more dignified and stoic~!’,’EPIC: Dungeon War: Endgame’)

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