Chapter 995: Calm

Unlike previous Floors, where monsters would spawn seemingly randomly, the 77th Floor was unique in more ways than its construction. The Floor was sectioned into various ‘territories’ that fought for supremacy dominance. Some of these territories were ruled by solo entities who possessed extreme physical or magical might while the vast majority of territories were occupied by colonies and armies of various sizes. The fact that these monsters would group together like hordes was of particular interest to Vahn, as it almost made them seem to be Xenos, but their antagonistic nature and general bloodlust was more than enough evidence to prove this was a mistaken assumption. Though there were certainly a few who possessed a pseudo-sentience of sorts, they were generally the Chiefs and Commanders of each individual group. Since they were not open to dialogue, Vahn had been tearing his way through the 77th Floor with increasing efficiency in order to find a suitable place to rest.

In one of the large cavernous rooms that occupied the 77th Floor, Vahn was currently facing against a large quadrupedal Dragon with a vicious maw and large angular spikes covering the majority of its blackened body. The surrounding area seemed to have been terraformed to match the ecological requirements of the strange Dragonoid as, unlike much of the Floor he had trespassed, this particular room was filled with volcanic plumes and an overpowering smell of sulfur. As for the Dragon, it was the only entity residing within the region so Vahn had decided to face it alone in order to test his might. Unfortunately, though the thick hide of the Dragon seemed more than a meter thick, making its 40m long body inordinately hard, Vahn quickly found himself standing atop the unconscious creature after pounding its head in his Xinawu form a few times.

Ignoring the fist-shaped indentations he had made, Vahn inspected the sleeping figure of the massive Dragon as the girls made their way over to his side. Fenrir had both paws covering her nose, a grimace marring her face as the smell of the region was a little too overbearing for her enhanced senses. Vahn gave a wry smile upon seeing this before waving his hand and causing the surrounding air to clear out. Though it still smelled heavily of sulfur, it was still a reprieve for the Fenrir who happily uncovered her nose before hopping onto the head of the Dragon alongside her Master. Jeanne and Helen remained on the ground, the latter showing an expression of disinterest while Jeanne poked the sleeping Dragon, inquiring, “Are you going to try and tame this monster, my Lord…?”

Though the thought had indeed crossed his mind, Vahn shook his head in response while explaining, “I could probably change its nature with time but it isn’t a simple feat to manage a Dragon with affinities related to Darkness, Fire, and Destruction. This one doesn’t seem to be a True Dragon but I can tell it has a lot of pride while also possessing an inherently aggressive nature. For the time being, I have my hands full dealing with other True Dragons so I’d like to avoid exacerbating the issue further…” With the matter of the One-Eyed Black Dragon, Terra, Alexa, and, to a lesser extent, Khaos, Vahn didn’t really want to deal with yet another True Dragon. There was also the fact that he was saving his next use of [Keeper of the Akashic Tome] to name the Rainbow Viper so it simply wasn’t feasible to try and tame a 40m long Dragon while trying to conquer the Dungeon.

After pondering for a bit, Vahn placed his palm against the forehead of the slumbering Dragon before sending a thread of Source Energy into its brain stem. Dragons had powerful mana circuits, and even more impressive vitality, but it had no means of resisting the higher tiered energy as it quickly spread through its nervous system under Vahn’s guidance. After a little under a minute, Vahn had completely overloaded the Dragon’s neural network before severing each individual pain receptor at its source. This effectively paralyzed the Dragon while also guaranteeing that it wouldn’t feel any pain during the harvesting process. Since its body was full of rare and valuable resources, enough to cost Vahn upwards of 100k OP, he couldn’t simply let it dissipate into dust after fracturing its monster core.

An hour after his endeavor had begun, Vahn had harvested two massive tusks from the Dragon’s Maw, the vast majority of its teeth, several sections of its hyperdense plating, and the talons from each of its massive claws. Lastly, Vahn drained 200 cubic meters of its blood before removing some of the more medicinally potent organs such as the liver, kidneys, and, most importantly, the heart. Vahn had saved the heart for last as it directly led to the death of the massive Dragon, causing several Drop Items to fall to the ground. Vahn looted the additional items, stowing them safely away in his Inventory, before placing his palm on the horse-sized magic core that shone with a brilliant red and black light. Then, without harping over the issue for too long, Vahn turned to the patiently waiting Fenrir and smiled before saying, “You should eat this to increase your strength. Though the Fire Elemental energy may not be the best for you, your [Devour] should be able to process it without any major difficulties.”

Fenrir had been growing rather bored while watching her Master work, even though it was also one of her favorite pastimes. Hearing his words caused her slightly drooping ears to instantly perk up as she leaped from her spot on the ground and quickly approached the massive magic core. With a carnivorous smile on her face, Fenrir lightly licked her lips before turning to her Master as she said, “Thank you, Master. I promise to become even stronger~!” Knowing she was technically the weakest person present, Fenrir’s desire to grow stronger had been steadily increasing the further they descended into the Dungeon. Though she had been eating thousands of magic cores during the descent, while also absorbing a large volume of the Dungeon’s mana, it never seemed to be enough as even ‘normal’ monsters would sometimes take more than one attack before finally submitting.

Vahn roughly pet Fenrir’s head before leaving her to dispose of the massive magic core. Since it would take her a little while, he decided it was best to prepare dinner and, though the volcanic region wasn’t exactly the best environment to camp in, the chance of any enemies invading the territory of a Dragon that was near Level 8 were slim to none. Vahn set out one of the magical cottages that Terra had created, allowing Helen to retire to one of the bedrooms while he and Jeanne prepared dinner. Fenrir showed up a few minutes into the preparation and helped dice up a few vegetables, a contented smile on her face as her power had noticeably increased. Though it was only about a 5% increase, Fenrir’s magical power was already much higher than normal so it was a significant boost considering she only ate a single magic core.

As strange as it seemed, Vahn found moments like meal preparation to be extremely calming and therapeutic. He had always liked cooking, as seeing people smile after eating his food made him happy, so Vahn was in a good mood while seasoning a large steak made from Dragon’s meat. Not only was the meat highly nutritious, with an incredible amount of mana contained within, but the taste was incomparable to most other foods that were available. Vahn even suspected that Dragon’s might be hunted to extinction if not for their average strength often being near the peak of a Record. After all, if you could eat food that tasted delicious, while also increasing your strength slightly, there were very few people that would pass up the opportunity to indulge themselves…

With an incomparably savory smell pervading throughout the entire cottage, even someone as taciturn and withdrawn as Helen couldn’t help but peek her head out to see what Vahn was cooking. Since she had made an effort to hide her presence, Vahn decided it was best to simply ignore her as he allowed himself to become enamored with the process of cooking the especially difficult meat. He often wondered why he had never developed a Development Ability related to cooking but, perhaps a result of his ‘unwillingness’ to consider the process as a skill that ‘required’ development, The Path had allowed him to enjoy the action of Cooking without having to worry about if he were doing it ‘correctly’ or not. Either way, Vahn didn’t really mind as, even compared to forging Masterpieces, there was beauty in simply being able to perfectly grill a steak for someone he cared about…

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After a pleasant evening, made even better by the enjoyable meal he had shared with everyone the previous night, Vahn slowly extricated himself from the comfort of his blankets and the inexplicably soft paws of the naked Fenrir. Though she had already awoken, she was pretending to be asleep while emulating the characteristic clinginess of girls like Hestia. She had never gotten out of her habit of copying other people, even though her uniqueness made such actions unnecessary, but Vahn didn’t hold it against her. Instead, he lifted her chin slightly and kissed the tip of her nose and the area around her lips until Fenrir got ‘fed up’ and began playfully licking his in response. They rarely kissed, as the action was relatively tame since the inside of Fenrir’s mouth was extremely dangerous, so Fenrir had developed a licking habit after witnessing Ais do something similar on occasion.

With his ‘batteries’ charged for the day, Vahn quickly prepared to continue his conquest of the Dungeon before making his way downstairs to prepare breakfast. Fenrir, wearing nothing but the tunic he had worn the previous night, did her best to help out while Jeanne and Helen appeared shortly thereafter. Vahn refused Jeanne’s assistance and had her keep Helen company since he was enjoying the moment with Fenrir and didn’t want to spoil it by having Helen’s eyes boring a hole into the back of his head. Fenrir seemed gratified by the opportunity as her tail lightly wagged from side to side, occasionally brushing Vahn’s leg due to their close proximity. Though Helen would occasionally peer over at him, the rest of the morning proceeded in a pleasant fashion as, even back at the Manor, Vahn was idling about with the comfortable weight of Terra resting against his chest.

Though she had been ‘activated’ by witnessing his unrestrained Qinglong form, Terra, fortunately, didn’t produce a second egg. So long as she recognized Alexa as Vahn’s inheritor, it was borderline impossible for her body to completely awaken its reproductive functions. The ‘downside’ to this was that Terra would become a little too aggressive and, even though his body was incredibly durable, experiencing the full power of an entity that exceeded Level 10 wasn’t easy. If not for his ability to regenerate almost instantly, Vahn would have emerged from his nightly conquest with several broken bones, his waist being among them. Terra’s plump thighs turned into a veritable vice whenever she would climax and, even if he prepared for it, Vahn bones would creak when Terra wrapped her legs around his waist as if her life depended on it…

Even though the evening had been intense, Vahn still felt as if it was extremely fulfilling since there was always a sense of accomplishment whenever he managed to get Terra to concede. Though he didn’t truly have a ‘domination’ fetish, regardless of Anubis’ attempts to awaken it within him, Vahn wasn’t beyond feeling a bit of pride after ‘defeating’ Terra within her own nest. There was just something about seeing the pointy-eared True Dragon moaning for a reprieve that riled up Vahn’s instincts. This was likely due to the influence of his Qinglong form but, as Terra seemed to really get off from it, Vahn didn’t mind meeting her expectations every now and then. The only thing he had to be cautious of was Alexa but, fortunately, she had been within the Sub-Space orb trying to increase her strength and, even though she could blend into the void, it wasn’t to the extent that he and Terra wouldn’t be able to sense her.

While ruminating, Vahn saw the tip of Terra’s tail begin to tap against the edge of her nest, alerting him to the fact that she was about to wake. Without the ability to read auras passively, Vahn had noticed it was a lot harder to determine whether or not people were awake. He actually had to pay closer attention to the body language of those around him, making each moment feel more ‘real’ than it had in the past. Though girls like Loki and Syr had reacted somewhat strangely after the revelation that he could no longer ‘read’ them so easily, neither had an adverse reaction. Loki had ‘warned’ him not to completely drop his guard around her but, after melding with her in the past, Vahn was no longer worried that she would betray him. She couldn’t go against the Eternal Vow she had made and, regardless of how influential her Divinity was, Loki’s motherly instincts seemed to keep it in check well enough.

With her long eyelashes flickering a few times, Terra slowly opened her emerald green eyes to reveal their slightly glistening surface. Vahn watched as her irises shrunk to adapt to the light before slowly expanding once again after meeting his gaze. Even without being able to see her aura, Vahn knew that the pupils would slightly dilate whenever a person, even a True Dragon, looked at someone with love and affection. Since Terra was adept at masking her emotions, Vahn knew it was important to observe the minute changes in her eyes, tail, and wings if he wanted to know what she was thinking. Fortunately, their bond as Master and Subordinate also gave him a bit of assistance as, even without her saying anything, Vahn could ‘feel’ Terra’s expectation as he bent down and kissed her honey-flavored lips…

After pampering Terra for the better part of twenty minutes, Vahn hesitantly left Terra’s garden before making his way over to the Manor. He had a full day of meetings and other duties to attend to so, even though he would much rather spend the whole day relaxing, Vahn couldn’t afford such luxuries without consequence. Since his Empire was still young, it was important that he resolved any issues before they got blown out of proportion. This sentiment wasn’t his alone, either, as Loki, Fortuna, Minerva, and Riveria were all waiting for him at the Manor’s back entrance. The latter was often busy with her duties as ‘Headmaster’ but, being the Princess of the Elven Kingdom, Riveria would often provide him with counsel when she wasn’t busy.

Waiting for Vahn to approach within casual conversing distance, Loki showed a devilish grin as she asked, “Enjoy your evening? I swear, I could feel the reverberations all the way from my bedroom~.” Though this wasn’t exactly true, the bond between them more than allowed Loki to ‘experience’ whatever Vahn was doing if she focused on it. Vahn was also aware of this and, knowing Loki was just teasing him, he returned a smile before focusing on the connection himself. As a result, Loki’s mind was awash with various images that caused a small blush to touch her cheeks as the corner of her smile began to twitch. She quickly dashed the thoughts from her mind before giving Vahn the briefest look of ‘blame’. This went unnoticed by the others present but Vahn knew he was in for a ‘treat’ of sorts when Loki next got him to herself…

For the second time in the same day, Vahn enjoyed a relatively peaceful breakfast as Loki briefed him on the Empire’s various affairs. Fortuna went on to explain the financial situation of the Alliance and the Empire’s territories while Minerva discussed various subjects, including civil unrest and potential uprisings that would need to be addressed. Not everyone was fond of the idea of an Emperor suddenly reigning over them, especially in the Northern Tundra, Land of No Sun, and Southern Sands. As the regions were dominated by clans that had withstood harsh environments for thousands of years, they were extremely steadfast yet obstinate people. Though he enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in certain subsections of the regions, Vahn knew he would need to personally address the issue if he wanted to avoid future troubles.

Once breakfast had come to an end, Vahn escorted Riveria to the Sage Aldnari School before proceeding to the top floor of Babel Tower. There was something about being at the top of the Tower and in the depths of the Dungeon that caused a strange incongruity in Vahn’s heart but he didn’t pay it much attention while listening to the reports of Brynhildr and other Valkyries. The information they had was often even more detailed than what was provided by Loki as, instead of hearing it from informants, the Valkyries often acquired the information themselves. Though there was a certain bias contained within their reports, the product of how they looked down upon other races, Vahn had already learned how to ‘filter’ out their prejudice whenever they passed information to him.

After finishing her report regarding the Aethiopian Kingdom, Brynhildr kept her head lowered with her onyx-black wings spread outward, tips to the ground. Vahn didn’t waste much time thinking about his decision before lightly tapping his throne as he said, “Rise.” Without even a moments delay, Brynhildr rose to her feet with a fierce determination contained within her gaze. She had served Vahn long enough to know what his decision was and had already prepared herself to carry out his will. Vahn understood this, allowing a small smile to adorn his face as he gestured for her to relax while saying, “I will entrust this matter to you, Brynhildr. Take Asfi back to her homeland and put the errant Queen Cassiopeia on trial for her crimes. If Poseidon makes an appearance, activate your crest and I will come to deal with him personally…”

Though Vahn wanted to help Asfi deal with the matters of her homeland personally, he knew such actions were more than a little ‘extreme’ now that he was Emperor. He couldn’t handle everything on his own and, now that he had a plethora of capable subordinates, it was time to allow them to settle matters on his behalf. Asfi was a competent woman and he had already discussed the matter with her previously so there were no issues. Since she hated her Mother with a passion, especially after what happened to her Father, Asfi was more than willing to personally deal with Cassiopeia in order to liberate her people from the path their errant Queen had set them on. Vahn had decided to entrust her protection to the Valkyries while allowing Asfi to act with impunity as an official Imperial Consort. Though they weren’t married, it ultimately didn’t matter as there were simply none qualified to call into question Vahn’s relationship status with other people…

With her orders received, Brynhildr brought her right gauntlet to her breastplate in a full salute before confidently proclaiming, “As you will, so it shall be done…!” Then, after Vahn gave her permission to leave, Brynhildr, accompanied by seven other Valkyrie, quickly made their way back to the Manor to retrieve Asfi. Vahn was left sitting on his throne, his focus primarily on what was happening within the Dungeon, while his right index finger caused an almost imperceptible indentation in the borderline indestructible throne. He didn’t know why but, every step he took into the Dungeon’s depths made it feel as though his time was running out. Something deep within his soul told him that, if he didn’t resolve everything he wanted to take care of in the shortest period of time, he would come to regret it in the near future…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Vahn would do well in Toriko-verse’,’Terra isn’t so easily ‘tamed”,’Vahn is learning how to sense the plot!?’)

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