Chapter 881: Encounter

As intrigued as he was by how a skeleton was even able to move, or even ‘think’ for that matter, Vahn put those thoughts to the back of his mind as he asked, “What are you to Enyo? Where is her main body…?” The figure had tried to activate one of the magic items in her left gauntlet so, while he asked his questions, Vahn shaped the shadows around his hand and severed the arm, eliciting a loud, “Gyaaaaaaaaaghk-!” from the skeletal entity. Hearing the synthetic voice cry out with the undertones of a male and a female, Vahn furrowed his brows before using his telekinesis to stretch out the arms and legs of his captive so they couldn’t struggle about needlessly.

Without answering his questions, the figure began to emit a large volume of wispy black energy from the gaps of the armored plating covering their skeleton. Seeing this, Vahn pulled the entity towards him and placed his palm against the strange mask before sending a torrent of purifying energy into its body, courtesy of his [Yggdrasil’s Champion]. This time, the screeching sound of the skeletal figure was indiscernibly shrill as a power aura radiated outward from its body, not because it was trying to power up, but because the purifying energy was dispersing the malicious energy very quickly. Even the ‘blackened’ bones had started to regain a more healthy white, at least until they were suddenly splayed with blood…

Vahn felt a sharp pain through his chest that caused him to cough out a mouthful of blood before dropping the skeletal figure onto the ground. Through his chest, a reddish-black blade that emanated a thick black miasma was trying to wreak havoc through his body. This was a cursed weapon which, under normal circumstances, would have been able to inflict an unhealable wound. For Vahn, however, he clenched his teeth to resist the pain while sending Shadow Lances out of his back, piercing into the entity that had snuck up behind him. For a brief moment, his lances impacted against something and stalled but, after overcoming whatever resistive force had held them at bay, the invisible entity behind him was successfully skewered.

Though it seemed his attack had been effective, the next reaction of the invisible entity was to twist the blade in Vahn’s chest and pull it at a downward angle, cutting a painful trail through his body as Vahn’s eyes widened. This time, he launched himself backward with full-force, smashing the invisible entity into the hard crystalline walls and causing large fractures in the Dungeon’s structure. He then kicked away, allowing the blade to tear through him before instantly regenerating as he sent out another pulse of energy through his domain. Vahn identified the outline of not only his invisible assailant but several other figures that charged towards him. Sensing this, Vahn sent out eleven Shadow Lances, one for each of the enemies closing in on him.

Surprisingly, though six of his lances struck their targets, three were evaded while the remaining two were actually ‘cut’ through by the unseen enemy. Vahn quickly transformed into his Zhuque form to deal with the nearest enemy, reaching out with his hand to grab the invisible blade barreling towards his neck. Even before he had stopped the blade, however, the invisible figure immediately burst into flames and began to scream before bursting apart into yellow and purples dust in under a second. Vahn ignored this outcome and instead sent a burst of flames away from his body, shaped like a disc that radiated outwards.

This attack had been sent out almost instantaneously, cutting through seven of the assailants, incinerating their upper bodies and destroying the magic cores contained within. From the first enemy he had killed, Vahn knew these were either Creatures or corrupted Xenos but, with the circumstances as they were, he couldn’t afford to ‘save’ them. He instead sent out several pulses of energy, identifying the three remaining enemies, and closing in on them with [Shundo]. His first target was the surviving member who had evaded his Shadow Lance and ducked under the wave of flames.

Though they had been relatively silent until now, this invisible figure cried out in the voice of a female, shouting, “You bastard…! I won’t let you kill me so easily!” Vahn felt three impacts against his chest as the butt of three daggers protruded out from his body. The invisible figure then, with a speed that could easily rival a Level 6 Adventurer, tried to decapitate him with her blade. Vahn, however, just increased the temperature of the flames around his body, turning the cursed blade into molten slag as he reached forward and struck against the chest of his opponent. They immediately went up into flames but, from the moment his hit had landed, the unseen woman was already dead.

Vahn habitually shook his head before turning back to the final two enemies, both of which had been able to deal with his Shadow Lance and flame wave with relative ease. They hadn’t moved to attack him, potentially believing their ‘invisibility’ was still effective, so Vahn stated, “Reveal yourselves and surrender if you want to live. I know you are just being us-” Before he could finish his words, Vahn leaned back to dodge the blade of a spear that had tried to slice through his neck. Vahn was surprised that, even though the spear had passed so close to his body, it just became red hot without melting down. Impressively, he could even see where someone was grabbing it, completely ignoring the heat as their skin sizzled while manipulating the weapon…

Twisting his body to evade the incoming thrust, Vahn kicked against the abdomen of his attacker and caused their cloak to go up in flames. The fabric was obviously treated to resist flames, but the corrosive effect of his shadows broke through such defenses while the force behind his strike still carried the Power of someone near Level 7. As a result, the attacker was sent back like a ballista bolt, smashing into the Dungeon’s wall and creating spiderweb fractures that extended all the way to the roof, more than 80m overhead. This hadn’t been enough to take them out of the fight, however, as they simply tossed away the cloak and ignored the red-hot footprint that was now present on their armor.

Vahn was surprised to see that it was a rather humanoid Xenos who had obviously descended from a Silverback. Though there was definitely something ‘wrong’ with it, being that part of its body had become black and corrupted, Vahn knew this was yet another victim of Enyo’s influence. He didn’t have time to try and reason with the ‘man’, however, as the second attacker had tried to sneak in from behind and pierce him with a longsword. As this happened, the Silverback-Xenos shouted, “No, he is too strong, run away…!” while spitting out a mouthful of boiling blood. Instead of heeding the Xenos’ call, the invisible figure continued forward with decent speed, only to be intercepted by Vahn’s foot and kicked into the ceiling above.

Unlike the Silverback-Xenos, this one was much weaker and Vahn knew that his attack had been more than enough to claim the life of the relatively petite attacker. Through the burning fabric, Vahn could see what appeared to be a humanoid Goblin-Xenos, planted into the ceiling of the Dungeon as its body burned to ashes. Though this scene made Vahn feel a pang of guilt, he hardened his heart as the Silverback Xenos charged toward him, madness and grief in his eyes as he shouted, “Vahn Mason, why must you kill my kin!? What have we ever done to deserve this kind of treatment!?”

As he shouted, the Silverback Xenos ignored the sizzling of its flesh as it continued to sweep forward with a surprising degree of skill, desperately trying to skewer Vahn with its spear. Vahn, however, was simply too fast and nimble while in his Shadow Emperor form, easily evading the strikes before seizing an opening to grasp the Xenos’ wrist. The feeling of his fingers sinking into flesh was never pleasant, especially with the burning odor, but Vahn ignored it as he rammed his shoulder into the Xenos’ chest and sent him flying once again, this time without his spear. Vahn looked at the red-hot spear in his hands, marveling at the fact it had been able to resist the temperatures from his body, even though it was currently starting to warp a bit…

Being slammed into the wall a second time, the Silverback-Xenos no longer put up any form of resistance and instead showed a face filled with indignation as he muttered, “We Xenos are not monsters…it’s bastards like you…who are the real…monsters…” With these words spoken, the Xenos lost consciousness while the armored plating that had preserved its life continued to ‘cook’ away at its flesh. Vahn threw the spear into his Inventory and, with a look of regret in his eyes, sent a Shadow Lance into the Xenos’ core as a small mercy. It was obvious that these Xenos had been corrupted by Enyo and, with their yellow-black cores, it was almost impossible for him to liberate them.

Restraining a sigh, Vahn exited his Zhuque form and downed a [Turbo Ether] to replenish his reserves before turning to the two remaining figures. The one he had been ‘purifying’ was currently splayed out on the ground, unmoving, while the one he had smashed into the wall seemed intent on pretending to be knocked out. As for why Vahn hadn’t killed them as well, it was because he ‘knew’ they would be able to give him answers, especially after identifying who the second figure was. Thus, while slowly making his way over, Vahn asked, “Fels…does Ouranos know you are working with Enyo?”

From the moment Vahn had seen the skeletal masked figure, he actually assumed it had been Fels from the very beginning. Now that he saw this second figure, however, Vahn knew the truth of the matter was slightly different. Fels had been recorded as a male and, based on the skeletal figure smashed into the wall, Vahn knew this one was undoubtedly Fels. As for the identity of the ‘woman’, Vahn wondered if it might have been Fels’ sister, whom he had been rumored to have revived, as the existence of two skeletal entities must have some relation to each other. At the very least, Fels should be able to provide some of the answers he was seeking, even if the revelations may cause him to ‘war’ with Ouranos in the future…

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Instead of answering, the entity Vahn had identified as Fels, wearing pitch black armor to cover its skeletal figure, continued to play possum. The only part of its body that was revealed was a white skull, visible through the black mask that had covered his face. Similar to the first figure, there were numerous Magic Items covering Fels’ body and, once again, Vahn could sense a very powerful vital energy contained within the bones. The difference, however, was that Fels’ energy actually seemed very pure, possessing three rare affinities, Pure Water, Pure Light, and Pure Wood. It seemed very strange for a ‘skeleton’ to have three positive affinities but, based on Fels’ accomplishments in the past, Vahn wasn’t too surprised…

The moment Vahn arrived right before Fels, the body in front of him began to fade away like an illusion. Vahn’s expression didn’t change in the slightest, however, as he spun around and deflected the blade aimed for his heart and grabbed the scarily thin neck of the invisible Fels and asked, “Even with an abnormal amount of mana, your physical traits are at best those of a Level 4…are you really going to continue this farce…?” Instead of providing an answer, one of the rings on Fels’ gauntlet glowed green as a cloud of miasma erupted, surrounding both of them. Vahn could feel the malignant fumes try to invade into his pores but, the moment they attempted to do so, his body naturally expelled the effect.

Shaking his head, Vahn began to increase the pressure of his domain on Fels while also using his telekinesis to ‘crush’ the skeletal figure. Though he tried to resist, while letting out the synthetic voice of a man, Fels was physically too weak and quickly found himself in something akin to a fetal position as a large amount of pressure restrained him. Vahn was actually very surprised by this, as he noticed that Fels’ bones themselves possessed an indestructible quality. Even the black armor adorning his body was easily S-Rank while some of the items seemed to be Artifact grade. Two of the rings he had were the same strange gold that Vahn had seen after his melding with Freya, meaning they were a standard that generally only appeared in Heaven.

Vahn tried to move some of the items on Fels’ body into his Inventory to avoid further trouble but found it was impossible to do so. This meant they were likely Soulbound items or, like Riveria’s staff, possessed a small amount of ‘intent’ that allowed them to resist. Thus, unable to take the items from him, Vahn increased the pressure on Fels even further as he asked, “How long are you going to remain silent? If I have to, I’ll drag you out of the Dungeon and seek answers from Ouranos directly.” As he spoke, Vahn continued to test the ‘resistance’ of Fels who, even under heavy pressure, didn’t seem truly worse for wear. Vahn wasn’t even sure if he could feel any discomfort at all, with a distinct lack of nerves, muscles, and organs in general…

Seeing that Fels was still refusing to answer, Vahn lifted his left hand and ‘grabbed’ the first skeletal figure with his telekinesis and began dragging them over. He noticed a fluctuation in Fels’ aura, dropping his Affection from 43 down to 28 in an instant. This was another reason why Vahn wanted answers from Fels, as his Affection had been ‘neutral’ from the beginning of their fight. Even now, his aura was relatively calm and, other than small fluctuations when he grabbed the first figure, there was no greater response from Fels. Finally, just as Vahn brought the first figure over, Fels stated in a synthetic monotone, “You are not a cruel man, Vahn Mason. I do not believe you will torture another just to gain information…not in these circumstances…”

Hearing this, Vahn squinted his eyes slightly, saying, “You are both correct, and incorrect, Fels…you see, I try to avoid the path of cruelty…I do not want to end up achieving my dream through the suffering of others…however, considering what you people have done here, I am willing to bear the burden of acting cruelly if it can end the suffering of others. If you will not tell me what I want to know, then you are forcing my hand…” Towards the end of his words, Vahn began to close his left hand, causing the unconscious skeletal figure to begin shaking under pressure.

Fels’ response, seemingly without any emotion, was simply, “Nobody can force your hand, Vahn Mason. Any action you take is one you have chosen to take…if you will become a cruel person to achieve your ends, then you are just another tyrant…” As he spoke, the empty socket of Fels’ eyes began to shine with a ghostly blue light, staring back at Vahn as if ‘judging’ his actions. Upon witnessing this, Vahn felt a chill pass through his body that caused a frown to appear on his face. In truth, he was starting to get very annoyed with people saying he will become some vicious tyrant based on their own understanding of the situation. He wouldn’t need to act like this if they weren’t already doing cruel and inhumane things. How can they continually try to make him out to be the bad guy, all while engaging in activities that perpetuate an endless cycle of suffering!?

With Fels’ words fresh on his ears, Vahn clenched his teeth and, even though he felt righteous indignation, he still let the unconscious figure drop to the ground. At the same time, he eased a bit of the pressure on Fels and asked, “Will you continue to avoid answering my questions…? I may not torture her after hearing your words, but that doesn’t mean I won’t kill her swiftly…I imagine, as old as the two of you are, this would be something of a mercy…?” This question caused the ‘flame’ in Fels’ eyes to burn even brighter as, somewhat surprisingly, he said, “If you are truly capable of killing her, that would indeed be a mercy…however, I am still unable to answer your questions…”

Hearing this, a realization hit Vahn and he nearly released a loud sigh, understanding that Fels had probably been bound by a vow. Even if Vahn pressed him for questions, it was unlikely he would ever be able to answer. Since Fels didn’t seem to be under the same influence as others, though it was very difficult to tell, there had to be other means by which he was controlled. Vahn could only assume it had something to do with the unconscious skeletal woman, deciding to ask, “Tell me, is this woman your sister…?” Fels, however, simply remained silent when asked this question which, in a way, was akin to a confession.

Since Fels seemed unable to answer his questions, Vahn turned his attention to the unconscious skeletal woman and wondered if there was even a way to wake her up. Neither of them had organs like a brain and Vahn wasn’t even sure how she had passed out in the first place. He didn’t know how Enyo had exercised control over them, nor what the black energy within the first figure’s body was related to. There were so many unknowns but, at the very least, Vahn was confident he could kill the unconscious skeleton. As indestructible as their bodies may be, Vahn knew there were varying degrees of indestructibility, some of which could be dealt with rather easily.

Pulling at the [Sacred Duplex Nail], the S-Rank item that he used to pierce the eye of the Variant Juggernaut, Vahn slammed it down towards the chest of the first figure. It had the effect of not only restricting the regeneration of immortal beings but was also incredibly effective at piercing their defenses in general. The most important aspect of the nail was the fact that it could also kill both holy and demonic being, so long as they weren’t actually at Tier 4. Thus, without any major flair, the golden nail pierced through the red and black plating of the entities chest and penetrated the large mass of vital energy contained within. This caused the remaining black miasma to immediately disperse outward while wisps of white and green energy leaked out from the stab wound. Vahn was able to confirm the figure was indeed dead as he was now able to stow it away in his Inventory…

All the while this was occurring, Fels remained silent and simply ‘witnessed’ the event play out from start to finish. Vahn noticed that the Affection of Fels had jumped up to 61(Trust), even though his aura had almost no discernable fluctuations. It was almost as if the last eight-hundred years had drained the once prodigious Alchemist of any emotions. However, even if this was the case, Fels still plainly stated, “Thank you, Vahn Mason…” before hanging his head and falling silent…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Ein got wrecked…’,’RIP Silverspear-sama…Ecks-chan…’,’Skeletons have no tear ducts…’)

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