Chapter 917: Dawn (2/3)

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With a golden aura that made the sun pale in comparison, Heracles turned to face Vahn, his previously excited and battle-hungry expression now a visage of pure contempt. Once again he asked, “How long do you need to recover completely…?” From his perspective, it was obvious that Vahn wasn’t capable of outputting one-hundred percent of his power. Now that he had decided to follow this path, Heracles wanted to test himself against the herald of the current age. He was fully confident in his own victory but, in order to ‘know’ for certain he was truly the strongest, Heracles wanted to defeat Vahn when the latter had fought his hardest. Afterward, the surface world would come to know his name once again, ushering in an era where mortals would take back their world, ejecting the errant gods who had interfered in their affairs for far too long…

At this point, the ‘confidence’ Vahn had possessed previously, knowing that he would eventually obtain victory, had been replaced by pure conviction. Without the restraint of his vows, Heracles would be free to wreak havoc as much as he wanted. Though most gods would be able to kill him with their Arcanum, this would depend on them actually being able to hit him. The power and speed that Heracles had displayed wasn’t something that most gods, at least in their sealed state, would even be able to respond to. Just as Haruhime had been able to evade Sobek’s Arcanum, Heracles would be able to avoid suffering a disadvantage. At the same time, he had the ability to regenerate quickly so, unless it was a direct hit, the chance of him actually being killed was slim. Now, the battle between them had much higher stakes and, given Heracles’ current behavior, Vahn didn’t imagine the outcome would be pleasant should he fail…

In response to Heracles’ inquiry, Vahn’s cold voice sounded out, “I would need around an hour to recover completely…” Though his energy reserves were holding fast, Vahn’s mental energy drained extremely quickly every time he mustered the power of his Azure Dragon form. It was almost to the point that the form was more of a liability than an advantaged and, if not for the fact that Vahn would ‘need’ the enhanced perception provided by the transformation, he would have returned to normal. He also suspected that Heracles’ Innate would counter his [Magia Erebea], making the best options for the coming battle his Zhuque and Azure Dragon transformations…

Heracles gave a small nod after hearing Vahn’s words before turning his gaze to the side, training it on Jeanne as a thoughtful glimmer flashed across his eyes. After staring at her for a few seconds, Heracles looked to his surroundings, casting his fiery blue eyes across each of the Heroes present within the City before looking toward where Helen was located. For a brief moment, he felt like his battle with Vahn was meaningless and, with nothing being able to stop him, he could simply go and steal away Helen before fleeing. The thought of ‘running away’, however, caused Heracles’ to frown before popping his neck and saying, “I will give you a half hour to recover…”

Once again, Heracles looked towards Jeanne before saying, “According to Jeanne, there should be a few powerful people at your home, including a True Dragon. You should ask for their help as, once our battle has completed, I will end up fighting them regardless. Now is your only chance to band together before I break you…” As he mentioned Orario, Heracles glanced towards the Southeast with a vicious look in his eyes. Orario had stood as the veritable center of the world for nearly a thousand years and, with hundreds of gods residing within its walls, it was the first place Heracles intended to destroy. When he was done there, he would then go around bringing ruin to every Kingdom and Country, forcing the world to ‘reset’ into a natural state once again. He would also destroy Babel Tower, opening the Dungeon to the surface world so that people would no longer live complacent lives that pacified their species for the benefit of the gods…

Knowing he needed every second available to him, Vahn sat down on the spot and immediately fell into deep meditation while Jeanne once against placed herself between him and Heracles. The latter gave her a momentary glance before turning his attention towards where Helene was once again, saying, “If the circumstances had been different, you would have made a fine woman, Jeanne. I know Helen would be saddened by your death so, after your ‘Liege’ falls, I will spare your life. Even if you cannot bless our union, I’m certain Helen’s burdens would be eased by your presence…” If not for his unwavering love for Helen, Heracles would have considered making Jeanne his woman. He didn’t want to be like his father, having many lovers and tossing them aside, so his pride would not allow him to have affections for anyone other than his first love.

Jeanne didn’t dignify Heracles’ words with a response as, if the person she had sworn to protect died before her, she would have failed as a Knight. She would die with Vahn and, regardless of Heracles’ intentions, Jeanne knew that Helen would likely follow soon after. The latter had spent her entire life sought after by others with an extreme amount of possessiveness, with Heracles just being another in a long line. If it came down to it, Helen would take her own life in order to prevent her ‘secret’ from being exposed, refusing to allow someone like Heracles to benefit from her special power. This was something Helen had confided to Jeanne a long time ago and they were both determined to take the secret to their deaths, if necessary…

Unaware that the path he had set himself upon would only end in tragedy, Heracles sat atop the now inert stone structure, watching Vahn below as the minutes counted down. He wondered how many of the Heroes had already noticed his defection and how they would react once the truth was known. From the standpoint of Legend, he had undoubtedly become a ‘threat’ to the surface world, meaning he would likely have to fight against all of them. The only way around this would be to truly convince them that the vows they had taken were based on false premises or, easier yet, killing Zeus and Hera. They shouldn’t know what had happened here and, unless Odin had some means to relay the message to them in a short period of time, there was a chance he would be able to kill them both before they were any wiser regarding the situation.

After precisely thirty minutes had passed, without any words exchanged between them, Heracles leaped from his spot with fierce momentum as he barreled towards Jeanne and Vahn. Without any sign of fear and trepidation, Jeanne stood her ground, leaning in with her shoulder to try and intercept Heracles’ charge. The latter reached out with his hand, intending to grab Jeanne’s collar and toss her aside so he could get to Vahn at her back. He wasn’t afraid that Jeanne would be able to deal any serious injuries to him and, true to his word, Heracles intended to spare her for his sister’s sake.

Against the expectation of both Heroic figures, their intentions were disregarded entirely as Heracles found his path obstructed by a series of resplendent golden chains. At the same time, Vahn’s figure tore through the void, appearing behind him as if no time had passed at all, azure lightning covering his entire body. This time it was Vahn’s turn to be surprised, however, as Heracles tensed up every muscle in his body, causing him to somehow stop in mid hair as a powerful shockwave resonated outward. He used this opportunity to twist his body, kicking towards Vahn in complete defiance of physics as the latter’s perception of the world caused it to lose its light almost entirely.

Vahn felt every muscle in his body straining to keep up with the impossible movements he was trying to make and, if not for his ability to tear through Space and Time, it would have truly been an impossible feat. The fact remained that Vahn did indeed have this ability, allowing him to will a link of [Enkidu] to appear from his palm while converging his domain to the absolute limit in hopes of stopping Heracles’ attack. As this was occurring, the golden aura around Heracles was slowly building as, even with Vahn’s perception of time making the world appear as if it were in a standstill, the mighty Demigod seemed to be accelerating…

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From Jeanne’s perspective, she saw a flash of golden light that was accompanied by a powerful shockwave that tore at the clothing and equipment of her body as she was sent careening away with enough force to smash through the Coliseum’s walls, continuing onward for nearly a full kilometer before coming to a stop. Wearing nothing but a tattered dark-blue battledress, a single silver gauntlet, and her silvery greaves, Jeanne climbed to her feet using her bent sword as a support. Even after carving a large swath in the reinforced stone, Jeanne didn’t have a single scratch on her body as she quickly made her way back to the Coliseum to see what was going on.

Back within the Coliseum, Heracles was caught in the air with his left arm and right leg bound in golden chains while Vahn’s entire upper body had completely disappeared. His legs were rooted to the spot while particulates of golden blood were trying to reform before invisible energy tore them apart once again. Even [Enkidu] was trembling slightly, each small movement causing more of the invisible energy to spread out as Heracles gnashed his teeth and tried to break free. Ultimately, he grabbed his own shoulder, ripping away his left arm entirely before twisting his body around and slicing through his own leg. The two abandoned limbs were left bound in the air as Heracles pivoted off his remaining leg before smashing down in a hammer strike.

As Heracles’ fist descended downward, it was if a powerful gravitational field had formed around his hand, warping Space around it as it smashed towards Vahn’s remaining lower body. Even before the blow landed, Vahn’s abdomen and legs began to twist and distort under the pressure and, without ever coming into full contact, the wind pressure alone had caused Vahn’s remnants to dissipate before the shockwave accompanying the blow transferred into the ground below. A pulse of energy passed through the floor of the arena, causing a ‘wave’ more than five meters tall to spread outward as the ground below began to sink rapidly before exploding with such phenomenal force that the heavily reinforced foundation of the Coliseum collapsed completely.

Jeanne hadn’t been able to reenter the Coliseum before a veritable tidal wave of dust and debris spread outward, smashing into her body and causing the remnants of her outfit to disintegrate. Beneath her battledress, however, there were garments that seemed to be made of pure light, protecting Jeanne’s dignity as she stood her ground against the blastwave. The moment it had spread out completely, however, Jeanne felt her body pulled forward as the atmosphere imploded with oxygen returning to the void that had been created. Jeanne quickly caught herself and, by the time she was standing once again, there was a pure white dress covering her body that was slowly forming into a more complex design as she pressed forward once again…

When the dust had cleared, Heracles found himself in a cavernous pit, looking up into the air where his arm and leg were still restrained. He inspected his wounds, seeing that his blood had formed a protective membrane that was almost gelatinous in nature. Normally, even dismemberment would only be a temporary obstacle in his battles so he had never seen how his body would treat wounds that couldn’t be healed. It was a very peculiar feeling and, for the first time in a while, Heracles found no enjoyment from his battle. This wasn’t the first time he had been injured but the chains wielded by Vahn were completely outside his expectation, especially since they hadn’t dissipated even after he destroyed the latter’s body completely.

Rolling forward, Heracles came to stand on his sole remaining leg before leaping upward more than a hundred meters without any difficulty. Having only two limbs was very troublesome, but it wasn’t enough to remove his battle capabilities. Currently, he wanted to inspect the chains further before trying to extricate his limbs so they could be reattached. If any of the more troublesome Heroes showed up and tried to fight him in his current state, it could potentially prove inconvenient…

As if to spite him, Jeanne showed up at this moment and, without any hesitation, leaped through the air as a blade of light formed in her hands. Heracles frowned while punching out, causing a ripple in the void that spread out and passed through Jeanne’s body. His rare skill allowed him to transfer his power into any medium, regardless of if it was solid, liquid, gas, or outright intangible. This was how he was able to strike down people with rare abilities that should be a natural counter to his strength, as his attacks simply couldn’t be resisted. Jeanne wasn’t an exception to this as her momentum had been brought to an instantaneous stop before she was once again sent flying away, this time high towards the sky since Heracles was getting annoyed with her persistence…

After sending Jeanne off, Heracles released a snort through his nose before his blazing blue eyes snapped to the left, causing him to turn his head as an arrow appeared out of thin air and smashed into his face. Heracles released a loud bellow as he tore himself away from the powerful gravitational force that had erupted from the arrow, only to find that several more had impacted him from other angles. Even with the intense gravity, however, Heracles was able to struggle free, smashing a few of the gravitational singularities with his own clenched fist as he pivoted around, looking for any sign of the attacker. Part of the flesh on his face had been torn away at this point, revealing an empty eye socket where the eye had been completely pulled free…

Standing two kilometers in the air, completely concealing his presence, Vahn was staring forward with his [Khryselakatos] drawn. He was no longer allowing his intent to emanate from his body and instead used his Azure Dragon form to transfer his intent to the Space around Heracles. From their battle, Vahn had realized that Heracles had the ability to ‘read’ and react to any attack that was directed at him, so long as the intent of the person was focused on him. He was able to trace this intent instinctually, counterattacking with indefensible might. Vahn had been able to determine this from when he willed his [Enkidu] to bind Heracles, even as the latter’s attack completely destroyed his upper body and scattered his intent.

Now, so long as he didn’t direct his intent directly toward Heracles, the Demigod was unable to detect him, allowing Vahn to nock another round of [Yi] arrows before releasing another barrage. His intent was completely separate from his body, appearing ‘randomly’ around Heracles as each arrow drew a path towards the errant Demigod’s blindspots. The fact that he was still able to dodge caused Vahn’s heart to shake slightly, especially when Heracles began punching towards where the attacks were emanating from, destroying the arrows before they could land. His body was even beginning to regenerate, albeit slowly, as the energy from his Innate was slowly expunging the ambient Source Energy permeating through his wounds…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘This is what exposure to Zeus does to people…’,’You can do it Jeanne, fighto~!’,’The Strongest is not so easily overcome…’)

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