Chapter 916: Dawn (1/3)

Though there was a cloud of dust and debris obscuring the figure that had leaped into the arena, everyone present was still able to see the man who had descended. With his [Eyes of Truth], Vahn could see a man who stood nearly 200cm tall, possessing fiery red hair that flared backward like a lion’s mane. He was wearing the pelt of a red and gold lion tied around his waist, fastened like a belt around his cingulum, a type of dragon-leather belt that was plated with a gold alloy. His calves were covered in fascia comprised of the same material while a pair of open-toed harnessed sandals adorned his feet. This left his upper body bare, displaying clearly defined muscles that, under Vahn’s gaze, glistened with a pale golden light. Even someone like Ottar, while being slightly taller than the man before him, would be hard-pressed to match the god-like musculature of the man before him…

As if the cloud of dust he himself had created was becoming annoying, the man spontaneously flexed his muscles, causing a shockwave to pulse out from his body as the sound of a thunderclap resonated through the arena. The cloud of dust was dissipated in an instant as the man’s stark blue eyes locked on to Vahn, his chin raising slightly as a sneer spread across his face, asking, “So, you killed that whelp Cú Chulainn? Very interesting, hahahahahaha~!” Even as he spoke, there was a great deal of scorn in the man’s blazing irises as he began systematically popping his joints and stretching his body. All the while this was going on, Vahn maintained eye-contact, even though his instincts were screaming at him to look away.

Before things had developed any further, Jeanne had moved to the front of Vahn with her kite shield raised and sword drawn, her expression pale as she said, “Heracles, if you intend to attack my Liege after he issued a fair challenge, disregarding honor and chivalry, I will be forced to intervene…!” After hearing Vahn mentioned he needed time to recuperate his mental energies, Jeanne was prepared to buy him as much time as possible. Heracles wasn’t the type to wait around for the other side to start the fight as, even with his arrogance, he treated every battle seriously. Even now, though his face was filled with contempt, Heracles was making sure his body was properly warmed up before his attack would begin. The moment he was ready, it wouldn’t matter if Vahn had prepared himself or not, the battle would have already begun…

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Heracles’ response to Jeanne, while popping his neck, was to begin laughing boisterously before exclaiming in an excited voice, “Very well then! I’ve always been curious about the limit of your durability, Jeanne. I wonder just how long it will take to ‘break’ you…? Hahahahaha~!” Almost as soon as his laughter had ended, Heracles leaned forward slightly before his figure had become nothing more than a blur. In the next instant, his fist had slammed into Jeanne’s kite shield, causing a golden radiance to erupt outward as she stood her ground without budging in the slightest. It was only after the attack had landed that the shockwave caused by Heracles lunge had erupted outward, causing the stone structure of the arena to emanate a pale glow as powerful formations activated to prevent collateral damage.

Seeing his attack stopped, Heracles smiled so widely that each of his pearly white teeth was on full display. Though Jeanne had stopped his attack, there was now the indentation of a fist in her shield as Heracles, still contacting the supposedly indestructible metal, twisted his hips while his muscles expanded noticeably. This time, Jeanne’s feet were lifted from the ground by Heracles’ pushing motion as her body began to spin in the direction he had twisted his wrist. With five sequential shockwaves spreading outward from her body’s acceleration, Jeanne immediately collided with the arena’s walls. The glow covering the stone became even more intense as it pulsed outward from the point of contact, preventing the structure from being broken while Jeanne’s body smashed heavily against it.

Even though the hit contained a monstrous amount of power, enough to distort Jeanne’s armor and shatter her kite shield, she was ultimately unscathed as she dropped down to the ground and kicked against the reinforced floor. Moving even faster than when Heracles had attacked her, Jeanne had nigh-instantaneously appeared before Heracles, appearing much smaller than the mountainous man. Regardless of the sheer difference in their size and strength, Jeanne’s expression was completely stoic as she thrust her beautiful white blade towards Heracles’ throat. Instead of evading, Heracles just raised his chin slightly, exposing his throat completely as Jeanne’s blade scraped against his flesh, creating a rain of sparks as it slid across with nothing but a small red line to show for it…

Undaunted, Jeanne had shifted her weight in an instant, twisting her body in a lithe and flexible display as she swept her sword in a swift and beautiful arc on the exact same point. This time, Heracles’ eyes twitched almost imperceptibly as he leaned his head back instead of trying to take the attack directly. The very tip of Jeanne’s blade made contact with the previous mark she had made, cutting into Heracles’ flesh and causing fresh blood to trickle from the wound. It had a slight gold hue to it that grew more prominent before, an instant later, the flow had reversed and the wound had been completely healed.

Jeanne had already moved well outside of Heracles’ attack range, anticipating his counter-attack, but the Demigod just stood there rubbing his neck with a smile on his face. His eyes never left Jeanne as she was moving about, even though her speed was quite a bit faster than his own. The smile on his face became one of moderate intrigue as he said, “You are probably the only woman who could ever cause me to bleed…well done, Jeanne.” It was only at this point that Heracles turned his attention away from Jeanne, showing clear disregard that ran counter to his words. Now, his focus was on Vahn as he asked, “How much time do you need to be able to fight at your fullest…?”

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Vahn had been busy making arrangements back at the Manor, trusting that Jeanne would be able to hold out against Heracles, at least for a short while. His focus had never waned, however, intending to step in at the moment Jeanne was in a dangerous situation. Now that Heracles had ceased his attack, he was more than a little surprised, though not nearly as much as Jeanne and Odin. The latter had appeared on the viewing platform above at some point, wearing golden armor and wielding a three-pronged golden spear. He knew full-well, much like Jeanne, that this type of behavior was out of character for Heracles, causing him to feel more than a little suspicious as he asked, “What are you intending, Heracles…?”

Hearing Odin address him, Heracles turned his eyes to meet the onyx-haired god, clear disdain on his face as he answered, “I heard from my father about everything Vahn has accomplished, even laying gods low with utter disregard. When I joined Legend, the three of you promised that I would be able to achieve godhood after training seriously. Now, after nine hundred and fifty years, there aren’t even any opponents for me to face. According to that old man, Vahn had developed several ways to help even weaklings rise up and become strong in a short period of time…”

Now, Heracles turned his gaze back to Vahn yet continued speaking to Odin, saying, “I’m beginning to grow tired with how things are done around here. I spend days training without any break yet, no matter how much time passes, I cannot break through the threshold of mortality. Since the three of you have failed to keep your promise, all while allowing this ‘boy’ to do as he pleases, I’m not going to keep playing nice. I know you must have made an agreement to allow Helen, my most precious treasure, to leave this ghost city and live in the lower world. The fact you are pandering to this brat, ignoring the very people who had supported this farce from the beginning, is…infuriating. I will not let what should have been mine from the start fall into the hands of an outsider…!”

Because he had been the first-born Demigod that Zeus had sired, Heracles had always been under his father’s influence since birth. He had tirelessly trained every single day, all so that he could fight against the progressively stronger monsters that dominated the surface. The entire time, Zeus had been promising that, so long as he kept working hard to be a ‘True Hero’, never wavering from the path, it would be possible for him to rise to godhood one day. Zeus had even promised that, once he managed to ascend beyond mortality, his blood ties with Helen would no longer be an issue. For nearly eight hundred years, Heracles had protected this precious half-sister of his, all in the hopes that she would one day belong to him while still being pure. He had even avoided relationships with ‘lesser’ women entirely yet, now that Vahn was beginning to rise up, Heracles knew that Odin would try and push Helen to his side, all so that Legend, this stagnant organization, might grow further…

Taking in a deep breath through his nose, Heracles squinted his blazing blue eyes as he asked, “Tell me Vahn…if you defeat me, what do you intend to do? How does being the ‘strongest’ Hero, even though you are not part of Legend, benefit you…?” As he had been paying close attention to each of Heracles’ reactions, Vahn had seen the man’s aura wave chaotically for a brief moment. Presently, it was a stable golden coloration while, at the very heart of the sun-like shroud, there was a fiery and wrathful red that was waiting to be unleashed. Even so, Vahn clearly stated, “I will allow Jeanne and Helen to both live freely, instead of being trapped like birds in a cage. If you truly care about your sister, you wouldn’t-“

In an instant, the gold in Heracles’ aura had shifted into a raging and wrathful blood-red color as his blue eyes began emitting a flame-like haze. Now, he turned his attention to Odin, asking, “So, you were willing to let this boy try and kill me, promising my sister to him in exchange…!?” There was an almost ‘crazed’ look in Heracles’ eyes as he glared at Odin, almost as if he was sincerely trying to kill the latter with nothing more than his gaze. In response, Odin’s Divine Power flared up as his aura, unlike how it had been suppressed by Vahn’s, completely overwhelmed Heracles’.

After forcing Heracles to half-kneel under the pressure, Odin’s cold voice rang out, saying, “Do not pretend your nature hasn’t been a factor in all of this. Even though you have trained hard, your focus had never been completely on reaching godhood. Your unhealthy desire for that sister of yours has clouded your mind and caused you to deviate from the path, just as her presence here has affected the entire City! You may not know it, but I can recount every Hero that has fallen because of your pettiness and arrogance, Heracles, Murderer of Heroes…!”

Contrary to expectations, Heracles’ expression turned into a cruel sneer that was a mix between glee and something far ‘darker’. Suddenly, the sound of metal breaking spread throughout the arena as fragments of blue and gold chains, formed by the World’s Laws had erupted from Heracles’ body. In the next instant, his figure had vanished, followed by a sound so thunderous that it was as if an entire mountain range had collapsed. Vahn had barely been able to process what was happening and, if not for his perception of time causing the world to slow to a crawl, he would have completely missed the moment when Heracles’ fist, carrying insurmountable might, caused the very fabric of space to shatter as it collided with Odin’s chest.

Without the time to activate his Arcanum at all, Odin’s body had been turned into particulates of golden blood that dispersed into the wind before fading away completely. The entire upper section of the Coliseum, where the gods would look down upon the Heroes, had now vanished from the world. Even the wispy white clouds that had been prominent in the sky above had been split in twine, a massive cleft that was still forcing them apart from several thousand meters away. This image cast a backdrop on Heracles, now blazing with a pale gold aura as his hair danced about, now possessing a golden shimmer instead of the red mane of hair that had been present previously…

Leaving his back to Vahn and Jeanne, Heracles stared down at his own fist, muttering, “The time of the gods in this world has come to an end. Your method, and the path taken by the only man who had ever been able to rival me, have been correct from the start. I should have known that the gods were full of nothing but hot air…even when they had first descended into ‘our’ world, they have made nothing but false promises. The purport to give us their ‘blessing’, exploiting their children for their own selfish reasons, claiming it would help us grow strong. What a farce…”

Heracles’ vows had been in existence long before Legend had been established as an organization and, with Odin’s words having ‘betrayed’ the terms of their agreement, Heracles had been able to break free from the constraints holding him back. When he fought against Gilgamesh hundreds of years prior, the latter had told him that the gods were the ‘shackles’ of the world, fearful of the power mortals could wield if they remained ‘free’. Even before the gods had descended, mortals had survived for thousands of years, long before even the Spirits had been sent to aid them. Ever since people had become reliant on the power granted to them by others, individual strength became less important while ‘cooperation’ became the norm. As a result, civilizations began to prosper but, at the same time, the power wielded by individuals had stagnated a great deal, a far cry from that which had been wielding by the Primordial Species, Progenitus…

Gilgamesh had claimed that the gods, fearing the potential of mortals, had been trying to weaken them since the very beginning, introducing Spirits into the world to limit their potential. If not for the existence of Great Spirits, introducing things like Magic into the world, the surface would have been dominated by the Progenitus species by now. Instead, there were dozens of different races and, as a result of their various differences, they had been fighting amongst themselves since before recorded history. Back then, Heracles thought these words were simply ridiculous but, now that he had been training hard for more than 950 years, restraining himself while his father traveled around the world and acted as he pleased, the man known as the Strongest had become fed up…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Insurmountable Might vs. Unbreakable Defense’,’Breaking free from the gods’ restraints…’,’You either die a Hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the Villain…’)

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