Chapter 988: Tremor

Now that he was an Emperor, there were several things Vahn needed to consider before he took any action, including venturing into the Dungeon. Though he could manage most affairs with one of his bodies, Vahn still spent the final days leading up to his expedition in several long meetings with the Divine Council. He was in the process of selected capable Ministers to help manage the affairs of the Empire as, instead of relying on the various goddesses around him, Vahn needed his own personnel to avoid overlap between his Court and the Divine Council. Fortunately, as they had long foreseen this moment, Loki and Fortuna had come forth with a list of potential candidates that could fill in the positions, both temporarily and long-term.

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Each candidate presented was either a successful merchant, personally groomed by Fortuna herself, or an acting member of the Civilian Legislative Branch. Now that he was the Emperor, there was a need to shuffle around the organizational structure of the CLB so it was helpful to have core members of the organization become, even temporarily, his Imperial Ministers. Though there were a few rumors circulating, especially since all but one of his Ministers ended up being a female, Vahn believed the candidates proferred forth by the two goddesses were excellent choices for the responsibilities required of them. Besides, though he wouldn’t openly admit it to any naysayers, it was far more pleasant to spend his mornings in counsel with a group of rather attractive females than a bunch of old men…

This was the thought going through Vahn’s mind as he sat at the head of an ornate metallic table and listened to the preliminary financial report of his new Minister, a woman so capable she held both the titles of ‘Minster of Finance’ and ‘Minister of the Treasury’. Her name was Arethusa, a young Demigoddess that, similar to Asfi, was forced away from her homeland before finding sanctuary within Orario. She had an impeccably sharp mind and, before receiving her current position, her fate had her walking down the path of becoming the Fortuna Familia’s next Captain. With her light blue hair, neatly arranged in a braided bun, combined with her icy blue eyes, Vahn felt as if the air in the chamber had become rather frigid. Regardless of this, he still found her presence rather refreshing when accounted for alongside the other exotic and unique women that had now become members of his Court.

Having finished her report, Arethusa gave a polite bow before returning to her seat at Vahn’s behest. Each of the seven members that had been elected as his Ministers were polite to an extreme and, other than a few small noises from minor movements, there was absolutely no sound within the chamber after the report was completed. Even as Vahn sorted information through his mind, primarily with the assistance of Sis, nobody uttered so much as a single word of cross-talk until he lightly tapped the table with his fingers and said, “It may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but I will use my personal finances as the foundation for the Empire’s Treasury. As for taxes, I will delay implementing anything for a period of three years…hmmm…”

Vahn was trying to be considerate of the people and, as there was no great need to begin collecting taxes immediately, he didn’t want to cause any unnecessary strain on people just as his reign had begun. This didn’t mean he had the intention of bankrupting the Empire, however, as he immediately followed his words by adding, “Fortunately, we haven’t begun selling the higher-grade items that were intended to be passed through the Alliance. From now on, those items will become proprietary goods that are regulated by the Empire. We will still allow the Alliance to auction off the goods, but the Empire will now become the sole source for items such as the [Interspatial Ring] and [Sage Aldrnari’s Tears]…”

Hearing Vahn’s words, the expressionless face of Arethusa turned into one of mild surprise as she had never expected Vahn to make such a decision, at least this early on. She had already come up with a transition plan with Fortuna so that many of the Alliances finances would begin to overlap with the Empire, but that would have taken place behind the scenes. Vahn’s method was almost like a power grab, at least from the perspective of the public. Though there were some small detriments involved, Arethusa knew that the positives would far outweigh the negatives as, in the future, this one precedent would give Vahn much greater power to act. After all, the Alliance was already considered the strongest power on the Continent and, though it was always planned to become the foundation for the Empire, the transition was, originally, going to be much slower…

Believing that Arethusa’s small ‘slip’ was the result of her finding his words acceptable, Vahn gave a small nod before waving his hand to store away the large stack of documents that had been set out for his perusal. This was noted by all seven Ministers who, without delay, rose to their feet and gave steep bows before Vahn was able to rise himself. With another wave of his hand, Vahn lightly uttered, “You are dismissed until our next meeting. If there are any other matters to attend, please send a notice through one of the Valkyries and I will schedule an audience at my earliest convenience. My focus will be on the Dungeon for the next few days, at the very least, so I would prefer that you deal with your own responsibilities without my guidance, so long as there are no issues…”

Though he now held absolute power within his newly established Empire, Vahn had no intentions of being an overbearing Ruler that micromanaged everything. Many of the documents he had read regarding how to properly rule over an Empire showed that the most successful Empires were always helmed by an Emperor but were kept afloat by the capable Ministers beneath them. He needed to be able to trust them with their duties without them having to worry about him constantly breathing down his neck. This would give them the confidence to take future actions on their own and, though it also opened the route forward for corruption, such things could be prevented rather easily if he didn’t become complacent…

In response to his words, the seven Ministers gave a rather sonorous response, another benefit of having a predominately female Court, before quickly excusing themselves from the room. The only one to remain standing in their position was the only male with the chamber, excluding Vahn, which indicated there were matters he wished to discuss in private. Vahn waited until everyone else had exited the chamber before turning his attention to the silver-haired old man, smiling as he asked, “Is there something you wanted to bring to my attention, Sebas…?”

Hearing Vahn address him, Sebas gave a respectful bow as he responded, “Your Majesty, no words can ever truly express how grateful I am for having been given this position and responsibility. However, I…” Without being able to finish his words, Sebas, the very same ‘Bartender’ that had been managing the affairs of his Clubhouse, came to a solemn silence. Vahn had raised his hand slightly, indicating for silence, so there was nothing he could do but swallow the words he already found rather difficult to say aloud. Fortunately, things didn’t progress in a negative manner as Vahn quickly clarified things, saying, “I have already received a report about the situation of your village. Though now is not the most ideal time, I will allow you a temporary leave so that you may manage your personal affairs. I’m sure these recent changes have been difficult for you and, as I have my own matters to attend, I will not fault you for doing the same.”

Vahn had long developed an appreciation for Sebas’ talents and, though there were certainly better people suited to the position, none held the same wisdom and experience as the elderly gentlemen before him. As a result, Vahn had nominated Sebas as his Minister of the Interior, placing him in charge of managing all of the personnel that would work within his ‘palace’ in the future. The only groups he would have no authority over were the Imperial Guards who, as one would expect, only took orders directly from the Emperor, Vahn himself. Even so, Sebas had found himself in a rather unexpected position where, instead of simply earning money to send back to his village, he was now one of the most powerful people within Vahn’s Empire.

Since Vahn had promised a ‘stimulus’ of 100,000,000V, combined with a protection agreement that would allow his village to prosper, Sebas had agreed to take up the responsibility after only a few days of consideration. Unfortunately, as ‘Fate’ was ought to do, the moment things appeared to be irrefutably positive, Sebas received a missive from his village that mentioned that his Granddaughter had become severely ill. The disease was supposedly incurable but, with one of the coveted [Sage Aldrnari’s Tears] at his disposal, Sebas was confident his Granddaughter would make a full recovery. After all, the peculiar green potion could supposedly cure almost any ailment, regardless of severity, making it a highly sought after item after the Alliance had revealed its existence during the attack by Enyo’s forces…

Bowing even lower than before, Sebas felt an extreme amount of gratitude toward Vahn as he quickly excused himself after the latter gave a small nod in response. As for Vahn, he had a small smile on his face as he wondered what Sebas’ reaction would be when he found out that his Granddaughter had already been treated. When Vahn had received the report, it only took a few minutes of his time to teleport over to the rather demure village before personally healing the adorable little girl that Vahn knew Sebas was incredibly fond of. Since it would take several days, at the earliest, for the information to reach Sebas’ ears, Vahn felt pleased by the minor ‘prank’ he had pulled on his most senior Minister. As for why he allowed Sebas to return, it was to allay the old man’s worries and allow him to spend time with his family, something that Vahn believed would greatly benefit Sebas’ mental and physical wellness.

With his duties tended to, Vahn stretched his body for a few moments before turning his gaze to the floor below. In an instant, Vahn’s intent began to probe through the Tower of Babel, almost completely ignoring the various barriers that generally prevented such actions, before sinking into the Dungeon proper. Though it took incredible focus, Vahn was able to move his ‘intent’ around freely and, after assuming his Qinglong form, teleport to any location in an instant. Even the Dungeon could do little to stop him from probing into its depths, though this was only true up until he reached the 73rd Floor. The same mechanism that prevented new Adventurers from immediately accessing the 18th Floor also prevented Vahn’s ‘intent’ from probing deeper than he had explored. It was a peculiar experience, crashing into an unseen barrier with something as abstract as his ‘intent’, but Vahn didn’t really mind it too much since it would have been a little too easy if he could simply teleport to the lowest Floor in an instant…

After entering the 73rd Floor with his intent, Vahn immediately sensed that he had been locked onto by a secondary force but, as this was not the first time he had taken a peek into the Dungeon like this, he wasn’t too surprised when a spatial tear appeared near him. From within this tear, the One-Eyed Black Dragon emerged and, after looking around for a short while, she snorted a wisp of blue flames before loudly exclaiming, “Are you going to come out or not!?” Vahn couldn’t help but lightly chuckle in response to this, something the One-Eyed Dragon seemed to take note of as her face furrowed into a deep frown moments later. Since she had gone ‘out of her way’ to come to where he was located, the One-Eyed Black Dragon was very annoyed by the fact that Vahn hadn’t actually appeared as, though she was able to sense his intent, she was actually unable to sense his exact location as it was impossible to trace Vahn’s origin through the spatial fluctuations caused by his Source Energy.

Since he didn’t want to transform into his Qinglong form right now, as he was planning to return home shortly, Vahn focused his mind before asking, “Can you hear me…?” Though he couldn’t easily transfer matter through spatial tears, without turning into his Qinglong form, Vahn had been working on methods to send messages through the void. These messages could completely bypass most barriers and, as they were untraceable, Vahn had been able to play a few small pranks on the girls back at the Manor. The only people it didn’t work against were the goddesses he had ‘melded’ with and, as was often the case, Fenrir…

With Vahn’s voice literally sounding out next to her ear, the One-Eyed Black Dragon showed a slightly startled expression as her scale-covered ear flickered in response. She nearly attacked the area out of habit but managed to restrain herself as her ‘instincts’ told her it would be very troublesome if she were to accidentally injure Vahn. Since she had made a promise not to attack him during their last meeting, the One-Eyed Black Dragon wouldn’t easily go back on her word as it was simply ‘beneath’ her to do so. However, in an attempt to hide the fact that she had been startled, the One-Eyed Black Dragon sent a small ripple through the void with her own power, attempting to ‘punish’ Vahn as she replied, “I can hear you. Where are you…?”

Vahn could sense the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s on intent try to pass along his own but, other than a strange tingling sensation in the back of his mind, there were no other significant effects. Even so, as it would be even more troublesome if he riled her up, Vahn decided not to tease the One-Eyed Black Dragon too much as he plainly stated, “I am currently back on the Surface. I’m just sending this message to inform you that I’ll be bringing some of my allies along with me during my next visit into the Dungeon. I can’t force you to behave yourself so I’m letting you know in advance that, if you try to harm them…” Since he was able to imagine how he would react in such a situation with almost crystal clarity, the spatial fluctuations caused by Vahn began to ripple violently in response to his own rising emotions. The One-Eyed Black Dragon made a show of not being intimidated in the slightest but, much like Terra, Vahn could see her wings twitch slightly in response to the pressure he had instinctually sent through the void.

Before she could front, Vahn calmed his mind in an instant before adding, “I’ll be bringing along another True Dragon with me. Though she is a fair bit younger than you are…well, I’ll let you experience first hand that time is forever flowing forward.” Though Terra wasn’t nearly as ‘powerful’ as the One-Eyed Black Dragon, Vahn was confident she would be able to emerge victoriously in seven-out-of-ten instances. Her Innates were much weaker than the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s but, unlike the latter, Terra has full mastery over her magical energy and, with the hundreds of years she had trained with Eva, there were very few existences in the record that could even hope to contend against her. After all, the magic system from a Tier 5 world was simply beyond anything that had previously existed in this world, Innates included…

Sensing the ‘challenge’ in Vahn’s words, the One-Eyed Black Dragon puffed out her rather modest chest while flaring her wings outward in a domineering manner. Vahn made a mental note to ‘train’ her to wear proper clothing in the future before severing the connection, leaving the One-Eyed Black Dragon making a proclamation to thin air. He knew this would make her very angry but, for reasons he didn’t quite understand, Vahn felt compelled to annoy the One-Eyed Black Dragon at every instance. There was something about her that grated on his nerves and, considering how she behaved towards Ais and Shizune, Vahn knew her existence would be increasingly problematic unless she was reigned in relatively soon…

As that thought crossed his mind, Vahn felt small vibrations passing through his feet that caused his brows to rise slightly in response. He was currently on the 50th Floor of Babel Tower and, as there were no faultlines remotely close to Orario, it shouldn’t be possible for him to feel any tremors when he was nearly 300km in the sky. To his surprise, the tremors actually continued to build until, moments later, Vahn felt a ‘ripple’ of magical energy pass through the surrounding barriers before dissipating into the air above. This ripple caused his blood to boil while, at the same time, Vahn felt a chill run up his spine since he could sense the intent contained within the pulse. He turned his attention back to the floor below, this time without sending his intent into the Dungeon, while asking himself, “Did I push her too hard…?”

Unlike the small tremors that Vahn was feeling, the people of Orario weren’t nearly as fortunate as, instead of small vibrations, it was as if the entire city was experiencing a high-magnitude earthquake. Though the buildings were incredibly durable, enough to resist random monster attacks and the occasional brawl between High-Level Adventurers, they were not designed to resist sudden and intense earthquakes. As a result, several buildings that were under construction had completely capsized, primarily around Daedelus Street. The once quiet streets of Orario had immediately become chaotic as everyone trembled in fear and confusion, not as a result of the earthquake, but in response to the loud ‘roar’ that had passed over the entire City. Even without seeing it directly, even children knew that the ripple that had caused several hundred thousand people to collapse had originated from the living nightmare, the one and only One-Eyed Black Dragon…

(A/N: Just a small update to let everyone know what is going on. I clocked in a whopping 93 hours last week and am feeling incredibly burnt out as a result. The fact that I released less chapters last week than when my own Mother died is something that kept me awake for quite a while after realizing the truth of the matter. Fortunately, now that my coworker is back in working order, I was able to ‘negotiate’ having a bit of extra time off over the next two weeks until I am finally free from my responsibilities. Though I still have to work full days, I’ll have most of my evenings free so there shouldn’t be any issues in the release schedule in the days leading up to the 16th. After that, I’ll probably transition to releasing three chapters a day once I’m able to fly home and relax for a bit. Let’s just say I am eagerly counting down each and every day before I’m finally able to write full-time once again xD…)

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(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Vahn, Emperor of the Flower Garden’,’Sebas getting pranked in the most wholesome way…this is how to breed loyalty amongst your Retainers xD…’,’You would think that Vahn would understand not to slight the pride of a True Dragon…’)

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