Chapter 989: Final Preparations

The days following the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s outburst were some of the most troublesome Vahn had ever dealt with but, knowing he held a large part of the blame in instigating the event, he spared no expense when it came to stabilizing the populous once again. Fortunately, ever since the air raid that had originated from the Iron Hills, people had become more vigilant while the Alliance’s forces had become much better prepared to deal with emergency situations. The hardest part of the whole situation was dealing with the loss of lives as, even though there were only a few people that had died as a result of the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s rage, Vahn felt personally responsible for them. Though he harbored no delusions that innocent lives hadn’t been lost as a result of his actions, this was the first time Vahn was forced to face the reality of the situation directly. As a result of him unnecessarily teasing the One-Eyed Black Dragon, an entity he knew to be one of the most powerful in the entire record, he now had an additional 108 deaths weighing on his conscience…

From the perspective of the people, they interpreted Vahn’s actions in the aftermath of the event as those of a truly benevolent and kind Emperor. Not only did he go around to help in the rescue efforts but, whenever he learned about the loss of life that had occurred, he was visibly upset as a result. Seeing someone that held an unfathomable amount of power nearly brought to tears was a big impact on several people, especially those that were related to the victims. This only made Vahn feel worse about the situation, however, as he was unable to come forward and take responsibility directly. He couldn’t take any proactive action that would cause the people to lose faith in his leadership ability as, with how young the Empire was, even small incidents could significantly impact the stability of the entire Continent…

Fortunately, though it didn’t exactly make Vahn feel better about the situation, this most recent ‘attack’ had reawakened the fear people held towards the One-Eyed Black Dragon. Though this alone wasn’t necessarily a good thing, the unity it brought about was something that could easily be taken advantage of to make real and lasting progress towards his goals. Since his coronation was still fresh on everyone’s mind, so too was his promise of dealing with the One-Eyed Black Dragon. Now, the entire population of Orario had assumed an atmosphere of righteous indignation as the public consensus had them crying out for the subjugation of the One-Eyed Black Dragon. With so many people directing their focus and ‘hope’ towards him, Vahn found that he couldn’t even sleep as a result of the incredible power that was constantly pulsing through his body…

On the eve of his sixth day as an Emperor, Vahn was seated beneath the canopy of Yggy’s branches as the young High Spirit curled up in his lap with a blissful smile on her sleeping face. Contrasting this, Vahn himself had a penitent expression, accented by a touch of remorse, as he had been unable to smile much after realizing the consequences of his mistake. With the coming dawn, he would be descending into the Dungeon and, depending on the circumstances, he may very well have to kill the One-Eyed Black Dragon. He hadn’t peeked into the 73rd Floor after the incident but, after taking a look at the Unit Management function of his system interface, he noticed that the One-Eyed Black Dragon was now missing from his list of Subordinates. She was obviously very upset after he had slighted her and, now that the people were crying out for her death, Vahn had to seriously consider what action he would be taking during their next encounter…

As she was sensitive to negative emotions, Yggy’s eyes slowly opened in response to Vahn’s thoughts, causing her large emerald green eyes to look toward him with concern clearly expressed on her childish face. Vahn forced a smile in an effort to allay her concerns but it didn’t quite reach his eyes as he reached out his hand to gently stroke Yggy’s head. In response, Yggy grabbed his wrist with her tiny hands to prevent his actions while shifting around so that she could better face him. Then, without any words, Yggy released his hand before her body began to emanate a gentle glow as the runes on her body shimmered with emerald light. Vahn felt an incredible amount of warmth flow into his body before, moments later, the young and childish Yggy was soon replaced by a much more mature version of herself.

Since it wasn’t the first time she had changed her body, Vahn wasn’t too surprised by the sudden change. What did surprise him, however, was when Yggy pulled him into a gentle hug in a way that only women like Hestia and Tsubaki could manage before she began to stroke the back of his head with her hand. Vahn’s nose was tickled by an aroma that smelled of honey and flowers as his ruminating mind instantly became chaotic in response to the unexpected actions of this surrogate daughter of his. Though he knew she was just trying to help him calm down, Vahn felt incredibly flustered as a mixture of emotions suddenly overwhelmed as a result of the ‘too intimate’ action that Yggy had obviously copied from the more mature girls in his life…

Fortunately, Yggy quickly picked up on the fact that she had exacerbated the situation as her body quickly shrank back to normal, her mature features replaced by her child-like proportions as she looked up at him with an apologetic expression. Vahn was able to calm down his tumultuous emotions rather quickly when he saw this, causing his smile to turn genuine as he gently pulled Yggy into his embrace and said, “Thank you for trying to help, Yggy, but I’m okay. Besides, I’m already plenty happy with your adorable child-form…sorry for making you worry…” This time, Yggy was unable to prevent him from rubbing her head and, as a result, a pacified smile slowly spread across her still-concerned face. It didn’t take long for the ridiculously powerful High Spirit to completely submit under his touch as, even though she did not require it, Yggy was gently snoring mere moments after he had embraced her…

Seeing his ‘daughter’ fall back into a peaceful slumber, Vahn’s smile slowly faded away before he turned his head towards the vast canopy above and, once again, began his rumination. In a way, he was started to empathize more with his Emperor-self from the Divination as, now that he had just small taste of the ‘responsibility’ he had acquired, Vahn knew it couldn’t have been easy to shoulder such burdens over the course of a decade. Fortunately, unlike his counterpart, he had never even tried to sever the ties between him and his extended family. No matter how difficult things got, Vahn knew he could always rely on his loved ones for a momentary reprieve. There was even a chance that, in the far future, he would be able to surrender the mantle of Emperor to another before living a truly peaceful life, surrounded by the smiling faces of everyone he shared mutual love and affection with…

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With that thought in mind, Vahn placed the sleeping figure of Yggy into a small nook on the inside of her trunk that served as a place where others could rest. Though it was a bit surreal, placing a Tree Spirit to sleep inside of itself, Vahn didn’t put too much thought into it before he slowly made his way towards the rendezvous point near Spero Village. His main body would be staying behind, as there were now endless duties that would require his presence, while he would be using his avatar to subjugate the Dungeon in its entirety. He didn’t know how long it would take but, depending on the circumstances, Vahn was prepared to forcibly break through to the 99th Floor. It would ultimately depend on how the One-Eyed Black Dragon behaved and whether or not the girls wanted to advance forward in a more ‘genuine’ way. After all, the Dungeon seemed to have been designed with the purpose of helping people rapidly increase their strength, testing their willpower in the hopes of helping mortals rise to godhood.

Vahn was tempted to test to the veracity of his hypothesis and, with girls like Jeanne and Terra at his side, there was a fair chance he would be able to see someone else reach Tier 4 before him. Though Terra was still a ways away from reaching that point, Vahn knew what kinds of enemies she would have to face in the deepest Floors of the Dungeon and there was a fair chance she would be able to make rapid progress in her currently stagnant power. With an entity like the One-Eyed Black Dragon constantly pressuring her, there was no way Terra would simply be content with her current strength, pacifist or no. As for those like Fenrir and Helen, Vahn didn’t believe the latter would be able to move forward with her current mentality while Fenrir, even without reaching Tier 4, could very well conquer the entire Dungeon if she began to ravenously devour every enemy she encountered…

As if in response to his thoughts, Vahn felt a presence enter into the area of his domain before, less than a millisecond later, Fenrir had appeared with her arms wrapped around his body from behind. She was currently in her ‘fluffy’ state and, even though Vahn couldn’t feel the fur through his clothes, her tight embrace felt particularly ‘plush’ as a result of the densely packed midnight blue fur. Though he couldn’t see her face from his current vantage, Vahn knew that Fenrir had probably been worrying about him but, for fear of disturbing his mental state, forced herself to stay away. Since she had crossed his mind, however, Fenrir took that as a sign that he had ‘needed’ her, causing the faithful Vanargandr to immediately rush to his side.

Vahn felt extremely gratified to have such a reliable subordinate at his side, even though their relationship had long progressed beyond the simple relationship between a Master and his Subordinate. He tapped the back of her paw to get her to release him from her embrace before turning around to face the scarlet-eyed Vanargandr as he smiled and said, “Let’s go, Fenrir…” As he had extended his hand while speaking, Fenrir had quickly linked the digits of her paw between Vahn’s fingers, allowing her plush paw pads to press against the palm of his hand. This always brought an even bigger smile to Vahn’s face as he had long-since developed an appreciation for the squishy pink bumps of tender flesh. As a result, Vahn found himself naturally shifting into his pseudo-Vanargandr form as the two of them quietly walked toward their destination in no particular hurry.

Fenrir was quiet nearly the entire trip, having decided it was best to simply enjoy the moment in silence, but that changed rather quickly when the sound of fluttering wings could be heard from the surroundings. Some of the Harpy-Xenos that had been patrolling the area had caught sight of Vahn and, completely lacking the ability to read the atmosphere, the three nearly naked Xenos quickly swooped down to greet him. As a result of their flexibility and the need for a full range of motion during flight, they dressed much like members of the Amazoness race, wearing mere scraps of clothing to cover their increasingly humanoid features. They also had a complete disregard for personal space so, without dallying at all, Vahn found himself quickly surrounded by the three girls as they clung to his arms, each expecting a bit of pampering in return for their ‘hard work’ in patrolling so early in the morning…

After separating from the group of Harpies near the rendezvous point, Vahn gave a wry smile to the pouting Fenrir as the latter stared daggers towards the retreating Xenos. One of them had nearly fallen from the sky as a result of Fenrir’s bloodlust, causing the other two to laugh and snicker at their companion, even as they deftly caught her out of the air. It wasn’t until Vahn plopped his hand down on Fenrir’s head that the ‘offending’ Xenos was able to recover, causing the latter to stare back confusedly before resuming her morning patrol duties. As for Fenrir, she had a small frown on her face as her expression become increasingly complicated before she lightly muttered, “Dumb birds…” under her breath.

Vahn pretended not to hear Fenrir’s remark and simply smiled as he ruffled her hair and said, “Come now, the others are already waiting for us.” Before Fenrir could respond, Vahn picked her up into a bridal carry and proceeded towards the three rather large auras that had congregated near the teleportation ward nearby. In response to the sudden ‘benefit’, Fenrir buried her head into Vahn’s chest and began to breathe rather audibly through her nose while tightly hugging his neck. This kind of intimacy was something Vahn had long grown immune to so he didn’t pay it any mind as he greeted several respectful Xenos before finally arriving at the chamber where Terra was seated across from Jeanne and Helen, a hint of derision on her face that quickly morphed into a smile as she turned her attention to Vahn and said, “Good morning, Master~.”

Knowing that Terra had never been fond of Helen, Vahn chose not to pry into the matter as he gave a small nod before saying, “Good morning, Terra. I’m surprised that Alexa didn’t follow along with you.” Though she would never be able to enter into the Dungeon without his consent, Vahn had expected Alexa to make another last-minute attempt to convince him to allow her to follow along. In response to this, Terra issued a peal of sonorous laughter before explaining, “She has actually been spending a lot of time within some of the prototype Space-Time orbs I’ve been working on. Ever since that ‘roar’ sent a ripple through the city, Alexa’s competitiveness has been stirred up…fufufufu~.”

Though Alexa had never shown any signs of wanting to ‘overthrow’ her mother, she simply couldn’t allow a second True Dragon to be more powerful than her. Now that she knew that the One-Eyed Black Dragon was much stronger than she was, Alexa was determined to grow much stronger as a result. There were several reasons for this but the biggest was simply the result of a True Dragon’s ‘pride’ as, without being able to recognize Vahn as her ‘King’, Alexa needed to shift her focus to pacify other aspects of her base instincts. With the exception of Terra, who she knew would never actually be a ‘threat’, Alexa would never allow another True Dragon to be more powerful than she was, at least for a long period of time…

Imagining his daughter curled up with a Space-Time orb as she diligently studied magic with her mother’s memory fragment, Vahn couldn’t help but issue a small yet concerned smile. He knew he had complicated Alexa’s life a great deal as a result of decisions he had made so, while he was glad she was so focused on a new goal, part of him was worried she would deviate down a dangerous path if she continued to seek power at such an ‘early’ age. Not only would it make the matter of her finding a mate more difficult, as she would likely need to look towards other records just to find someone her equal, but Vahn was worried that Alexa’s ‘pride’ would only grow as her strength increased. Though she wasn’t currently hostile towards Terra, it didn’t seem like True Dragons had the same feelings of love and attachment that he had grown to ‘expect’ from sentient races…

Shaking his head to clear away such negative thoughts, Vahn turned his attention to Jeanne and Helen as he gave a polite nod and said, “Good morning, Jeanne, Helen. Have you finished your preparations…?” Vahn made a point of saying Helen’s name last, causing the silvery-haired maiden to squint her eyes slightly as a result while Jeanne gave a respectful bow and replied, “My Lord, with the equipment you have provided, we were able to complete our preparations without issue…!” Since Jeanne held such an important position, she not only had equipment that had been personally forged by Hephaestus but, if you were to look beyond the armored collar of her silver breastplate, you would find a pristine white choker that also served as an interspatial storage device.

Vahn gave another small nod in response to Jeanne’s overly polite response before changing into his own Adventurer garb for the first time in what felt like ages. Though the equipment was now almost entirely comprised of A and S-Rank items, Vahn’s overall appearance hadn’t changed much from the time he had proactively ventured into the Dungeon. He still had the habit of wearing shin guards over a pair of black trousers while his forearms were covered in layered metallic gauntlets. As for his tunic, it was woven with several layers of Cadmus hide, each having a network of mana-circuits interwoven into the dyed-black fabric.

The biggest change to his outfit, which was designed for ease of movement and unarmed combat, was the inclusion of several ornate accessories while his waist was fitted with a very ‘peculiar’ belt. This was one of Ina’s inventions and, though Vahn could easily store things within his Inventory, his brilliant daughter had come up with a method that would allow a small number of physical objects to be stored within an interspatial artifact that could be ‘propelled’ outward with a simple thought. Vahn had promised to field-test the item in the past and, now that he would be venturing into the Dungeon’s deepest depths, it was a good opportunity to see just how powerful Ina’s creation could truly become…

With his own preparations completed, Vahn gave a cursory glance at everyone to ‘inspect’ their own equipment before giving a firm and satisfied nod. Though Terra chose to simply wear the dress he had gifted her long ago, as she was of a similar mentality to Eva, everyone else was fitted with equipment that smaller Kingdoms might literally wage war to obtain. This was especially true for Jeanne and Fenrir as, with the exception of a few A-Rank accessories, they were both wearing a full assortment of S-Rank equipment. For Fenrir, this meant she was wearing the [Aegis Mk. 7] set of equipment while Jeanne, being one of the only ‘heavy’ knights Vahn had ever encountered was wearing full-body armor, complete with a helmet that she was currently holding under her arm. He found it somewhat ironic that someone that was practically indestructible would wear so much armor but, as Jeanne seemed more comfortable when fully covered, he didn’t make any comments about it…

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After looking over Fenrir and Jeanne, Vahn’s eyes glanced over Helen’s figure for a short moment before he locked eyes with the stone-faced demigoddess. Their gazes matched only briefly, however, before Vahn lightly shook his head and walked over toward the ‘key’ of the teleportation ward. Helen was attired in the same equipment that she had arrived with, having refused any offers to have other equipment produced for her. Though her long white gown was still an S-Rank magic robe, Vahn knew it lacked the functionality that many of the equipment produced in the Manor possessed. After all, Hephaestus was ‘literally’ the greatest blacksmith in both Heaven and the Mortal World so it was simply foolish to refuse the offer for basically free equipment…

As if she could read his mind, Jeanne gave her friend a wry smile before staring towards Vahn’s back and saying, “Don’t worry about Helen, Vahn. I’ll do my best to protect her…” In response to this, Vahn just gave a small and dismissive nod while Helen, reading too much into what her friend had said, gained a slightly distant look in her eyes. Her mind wandered to create scenes of Vahn and Jeanne meeting in secret, coming up with a plan that had eluded her ears. Though she trusted Jeanne completely, Helen knew that her friend had changed a lot over the past few months that they had been staying within the Manor. As a result, though she didn’t allow it to show on her face, Helen suddenly felt incredibly lonely, believing that her only friend may have betrayed her…

Sensing the fluctuations in Jeanne’s aura, Vahn shook his head in mild exasperation as he finished powering the teleportation ward. Then, after a brilliant light flared within the room, five of the most powerful people in the world had vanished from their previous locations. Later historical accounts would mark this event, which took place without public knowledge, as the pivotal moment in which Vahn’s reign as Emperor truly began…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Vahn is a big baby’,’Fenrir is still the Goodest girl’,’Helen’s delusions might as well be an Innate at this point…’)

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