Chapter 964: Focus

Early the next morning, after enjoying a rather hearty breakfast alongside most of the Manor’s residents, Vahn was sitting in his study with Loki, Hephaestus, Hestia, Artemis, Eirene, Demeter, Eina, and Syr. With Winter descending upon the land, Demeter had a lot more free time so she had been staying at the Manor a lot more than in the past. She would often join Vahn in watching over the children whenever they would all go out to play in the clearing where Yggy’s main body was located. Though she would spend most of her time just smiling at the side, Vahn had the spent more than a single afternoon enjoying her rather plump thighs as a pillow…

The reason Vahn had gathered everyone was to discuss what he had discovered in the Dungeon during his previous excursion and his short-term goals. Vahn knew he would need to get to the bottom of Tartarus at some point but he had been putting it off since there were often more pressing matters to attend to. Right now, they were less than two weeks away from the day he may very well become the Emperor of Orario, a matter that couldn’t simply sit on the backburner since there were various preparations that needed to be dealt with. He was also planning for his trip to the Far East, though it would likely have to wait until Tiona and Tione had given birth since he didn’t want to split his focus so much.

During his almost daily discussions with Loki, Vahn had come to accept the fact that he didn’t necessarily need all of the gods that would make up the Divine Council in order to establish it. So long as they kept an odd number of members, it was possible to announce their existence during the next Denatus in order to set the stage for his rise. It helped that, though Ouranos didn’t directly support his establishment of an Empire, he made no attempts to oppose it either. Ever since the Fels incident and the sealing of Enyo, Ouranos had been allowing Vahn to act with impunity, so long as he didn’t take any extreme actions that would cause great harm to the City and its people…

After his discussion with the ‘core’ members of the Manor, Vahn had decided to focus on his coming inauguration instead of trying to conquer the Dungeon in one go. That would have to wait until he had consolidated his power and authority a bit, as there would likely be a few hiccups during his rise to power that would need to be addressed. This didn’t mean Vahn wouldn’t be delving into the Dungeon, however, as the mirror had provided the answer to several important questions. One of the things Vahn had used it for was to learn the location of the One-Eyed Black Dragon and it’s avatar, as he still wanted to help Ais gain some form of closure in regards to her past. Though she had put the matter behind her, Vahn knew that Ais would sometimes think about its existence since it had left a large shadow over her heart. Vahn wanted to help her remove that shadow and, once she was ready, build a family together with Ais that wouldn’t replace the one she had lost, but allow her to honor their memory…

As a result of the decisions made during the meeting, Vahn entered into the Sub-Space orb with his avatar to seek out Ais and discuss when, and if, she wanted to slay the One-Eyed Black Dragon. Her strength wasn’t at the point where she would be able to defeat the main body, but the avatar that Vahn had seen through the mirror didn’t appear to be that strong. As for the main body, it was almost on the same level as Charybdis and, even though Vahn had only seen its visage through the mirror, it still caused goosebumps to run along his skin. Fortunately, it had made its nest far to the north of the Dark Continent and was in an inactive state, presumably attempting to break through the limit of its Soul Tier.

Vahn knew that, just as he would feel discomfort when reaching the peak of his parameters at any given level, there would be a similar pain when nearing the threshold for a new Soul Tier. Being stuck at the bottleneck would cause your body to feel as if it was swollen as a deep pain continually built up from your very soul, something you could never adapt to. The One-Eyed Black Dragon had likely reached the pinnacle of Tier 3 nearly a thousand years prior and, in order to deal with the pain, split off a fragment of itself before entering into a deep state of meditative hibernation. As for where that fragment was located, Vahn had been able to deduce that it wandered between the 71st and 73rd Floors.

Though the mirror wasn’t able to answer questions directly, Vahn had still been able to ask it to show him what other monsters were located on the Floor where the One-Eyed Black Dragon was located. Using simple process of elimination, he managed to narrow down the search area and, once Ais was ready, they would leave to subjugate the phenomenally powerful monster. It would have to be dealt with at some point, regardless, so Vahn felt it wasn’t a bad idea to leave it to the Ais and the other girls. They needed a powerful foe to stimulate their growth once again and, with any luck, Ais may even be able to reach Level 8 in the process. She was currently only around the middle of Level 7 but, with how big of an impression the One-Eyed Black Dragon had left on her heart and mind, Vahn knew she would experience a monstrous boost after slaying it.

As was often the case as of late, Vahn found Ais wearing a thin white robe as she meditated under the waterfall that Terra had constructed in the past. There was a green aura around her body that appeared to be nothing more than a gentle mist but was able to keep the water from directly contacting any part of the robe she was wearing. She had made startling progress on the path of Cultivation and, other than Fenrir and Alexa, Ais was the only one who had reached this point in her growth. Tiona had joked that it was because Ais didn’t really ‘think’ about anything, making it easy for her to enter into a meditative state, but Vahn knew it was Ais’ natural affinity with the Spirits that had led to her rampant growth…

Having sensed Vahn’s presence, Ais slowly opened her eyes to reveal pristine golden irises that were easily visible, even through the screen of Wind Elemental energy and water. They possed a slight glimmer as Ais’ expression morphed into a gentle smile as she extricated herself from the waterfall and floated over to his side. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, Ais leaned into his embrace before asking, “You were looking for me…?” Since Vahn was generally very busy, even when he was spending a great deal of time simply relaxing, he almost always had a ‘reason’ for showing up and very rarely did so without purpose.

Vahn combined his fingers through Ais’ hair, which had grown nearly to the back of her knees at this point, as he answered, “Yes…there is something I wanted to talk to you about. Would you like to have tea with me while we discuss things…?” Though it had only been around seventy minutes back in the real world since everyone ate breakfast together, that meant nearly seven hours had passed within the Sub-Space orb so there was a good chance Ais wouldn’t mind eating. She wasn’t as gluttonous as Lefiya, who still kept her habit even after upgrading to a stronger weapon, but Ais could be a heavy eater at times.

Ais’ smile blossomed even more at the offer before she gently held Vahn’s arm and issued a happy ‘Nn~!’ in response. Though she was a lot more open than in the past, Ais was still a taciturn girl whose words were nearly as precious as gold. She always spoke her mind and, contrary to Tiona’s teasing, Ais put a great deal of thought into almost everything she said. Her nature was intrinsically introspective, even though her facial expressions had developed to the point where it was possible to understand how she was feeling even without her explicitly saying anything. This was a trait Ais had developed even when she didn’t know how to express herself, though it took a discerning eye to notice the small fluctuations in her previously doll-like expressions…

After setting up a small picnic near the top of the waterfall, Vahn and Ais were sitting shoulder to shoulder in intermittent silence as they playfully fed each other bits and pieces of food. Their discussion, while important, wasn’t really a pressing matter so Vahn didn’t mind enjoying a meal as he asked probing questions about Ais’ training. This wasn’t the only training area where the girls would train, as it was often better the ‘Cultivate’ in seclusion, so Ais had this particular waterfall all to herself most of the time. She explained that, if she increased her focus to the extreme, it was possible for her to completely bisect the 20m tall waterfall, even without activating her [Ariel]. This was a frightening degree of progress since it meant Ais’ natural aura was already at the point where she could probably kill monster around Level 3-4 without even having to move…

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Towards the end of their picnic, Vahn decided it was an opportune time to broach the subject since Ais seemed to be in a particularly good mood while nibbling on a small bunny-shaped cookie. She turned her eyes to him out of curiosity almost as soon as the thought crossed his mind, seemingly able to read the small changes in his expression just as easily as the other girls. Since they had practically known each other for over a decade at this point, Vahn wasn’t too surprised and simply explained, “I know the approximate location of the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s avatar. Though I could take care of it myself, I wanted to give you and the others an opportunity to accelerate your growth. It will be a hard battle, but I believe you have already grown more than strong enough to defeat it…”

Ais had been curious about what Vahn wanted to talk about but she hadn’t expected him to suddenly bring up the One-Eyed Black Dragon all of a sudden. She had been wondering about its location ever since he had sealed Enyo but, with more than a year passing within the Sub-Space orb since then, Ais had started to let the matter lay. Though one of the reasons she had been probing into the Dungeon was to potentially discover its whereabouts, it was no longer her primary concern since it was far more productive to train and simply spend time with everyone else. Now that Vahn had found its location, Ais’ mind blanked for a moment since she didn’t really know how to think or react given the sudden surprise.

After taking a moment to collect herself, Ais’ expression turned serious as she nodded her head and said, “I will fight. Even if it is only a part of the real thing, even if my original body has long since faded into nothingness, the memory of what happened in the past has always remained inside of my heart. Though I no longer harbor as much resentment towards the One-Eyed Black Dragon, I still want to fight in order to overcome my past…!” At this point, Ais’ perspective had changed drastically compared to her past self. She was no longer adamantly determined to slaughter all monsters and, even though the One-Eyed Black Dragon had caused the death and disappearance of her parents, she was actually more curious about the creature than what it had done. Part of her even wanted to try and reconcile with it as, according to one of the cultivation books she had read, hatred without making an effort to understand the other party just created an endless cycle that would consume you, preventing further growth…

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Vahn returned a nod of his own before smiling as he reached out and stroked Ais’ cheek in a supportive manner. She really had grown a lot and, after this matter was settled, Vahn believed that Ais might even step into a similar realm as Jeanne in the near future. Though he couldn’t imagine anyone defeating Jeanne, as even he would have to use a few ‘unfair’ methods just to keep her down, it wouldn’t be nearly as one-sided as in the past. Coincidentally, as this thought crossed his mind, Vahn saw Jeanne sneeze from the perspective of his main body. She often followed him around and helped watch over the children when she wasn’t training the Valkyries or visiting Helen.

With a smile on both of his faces, earning a slightly embarrassed look from Jeanne as a result, Vahn brought Ais into his embrace and said, “When you’re ready, we’ll explore between the 71st and 73rd Floors until we come across the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s avatar. Since this is an important battle for you, make sure you prepare properly before we set out. Remember, there isn’t any reason to rush things and the strength of your comrades is the same as your own strength. Even if you choose to rely on me, remember that it is a burden we have shared together since the promise we made long ago…”

Hearing Vahn’s words, Ais was slightly surprised since she hadn’t expected him to remember the promise from their first night together. In truth, she was rather embarrassed when recalling how ‘brazen’ she acted in the past and sometimes even felt guilty since it seemed like she had pressured Vahn into accepting her. Her long meditative sessions had caused her to think about many things, many of which were small ‘heart demons’ that she had been trying to overcome in order to progress her Cultivation even further. Seeing that Vahn wasn’t even remotely bothered by the past, and even seemed to fall into appreciative reminiscence, Ais couldn’t help but smile as she nestled into his chest and enjoyed the sound of his heartbeat with nothing more than an ‘Nn’ as her response.

Since this wasn’t the first time Ais had acted like this, Vahn habitually stroked her silky golden hair and just enjoyed the moment for as long as it lasted. While this was going on, he also thought about who else he could potentially take along with him as the battle would undoubtedly be educational. The only problem was, he may have to use his Qinglong form if there were any accidents, meaning Alexa would have to stay on the surface. Though it would potentially be a defining moment for her, as interacting with True Dragons more powerful than herself may even help her calm down a bit, Vahn didn’t want to trigger the landmine that he himself had set. He knew that, at some point in the distant future, he would need to address the lingering issue of Alexa but that was a matter for another time, most likely after he had returned from his journey across other records…

(A/N: As many have pointed out, Alexa and Vahn actually have no blood relation to each other and it is somewhat ‘unfair’ to her for Vahn to treat her as his daughter. However, just as many foster parents would never harbor those intentions towards their children, please don’t expect Vahn, who genuinely cares for familial bonds, to do anything with his yet to mature ‘daughter’. After spending a few thousand years in other worlds, it is very likely that his perception would have changed greatly since his soul would also evolve several times in the process. When the time comes, he may very well end up fulfilling Alexa’s desires, though it is even more likely that he would have come up with a simple solution to the problem since he would possess an extreme amount of power by then. Also, I’m flying out in a few hours but I’ll try to write another chapter on the plane since I’ll be in the air for around three hours.)

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Setting the Stage’,’*sneezing intensifies*’,’RIP OEBD-Chan…’)

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