Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos Chapter 1866
After a cataclysmic battle that devastated their surroundings and even caused a cave-in of sorts, a 'chibi' version of Mordred could be seen breathing laboriously with a malcontent-looking lion cub in her arms. The latter had a remarkably humanoid expression, resembling someone who had just eaten a 'very' sour grape, as, no matter how much it tried, it could not liberate itself from Mordred's grasp.
Feeling a little annoyed at the writhing creature, Mordred opened her mouth wide before biting down on its fluffy, rounded, ear. This caused the cub to writhe about even more, teary-eyed as it shouted, "Ah! You wretched woman! How dare you bite me! Are you some kind of wild animal!?"
Releasing the cub's ear from her teeth, Mordred gave it the kind of look people reserved for times when they heard something completely ridiculous, quipping, "The hell are you on about? You can bite me, but I'm not allowed to bite you? What kind of crap is that? If you're going to start spewing hypocritical nonsense, you can just fuck right off."
Grumbling in response to Mordred's words, the lion cub resisted the urge to try and chomp down on her forearm as it mumbled, "This damn brat...how did I end up with such a foolish woman as my host...?"
Rolling her eyes, Mordred flipped the lion cub around, holding it up by the pits of its forelimbs as she asked, "What do you mean when you call me your host? I don't recall a creature like you ever existing, so how the hell could you end up inside of my soul? If you were a foreign entity, there is no way my Chichiue would have missed you."
Rather than answer Mordred's questions, the lion cub just snorted through its nose before turning its head to the side rebelliously. This caused the former's brow to twitch quite a bit, an urge to give the cub another beating welling up inside of her as dark-red scales began to sprout from the backs of her hands.
Sensing the changes in Mordred, the lion cub did something the former never anticipated, pulling up its hind legs before releasing a spritz of steamy golden liquid directly at her face. The fragrance was the worst thing she had ever smelled, and, due to her mouth being partly open, a sudden and almost irresistible urge to vomit welled up from her stomach as she threw the cub like a ragdoll.
Free from its captor's clutches, the cub adopted a haughty expression, chin raised as a slight sneer spread across its face. Before it could say any taunting words, however, a crimson aura surrounded Mordred's body as she slouched forward and said, "You really fucked up this time...I was going to let you go after asking you a few questions. Now, just watch as I skin your ass and turn you into a pair of lion-hided britches..."
Feeling the hairs on its back and neck stand on end, the lion cub attempted to turn tail and flee, but, the moment it did so, Mordred was already looming over it, hand reaching out to grab the scruff of its neck. This caused it to tense up, and, for the first time since their meeting, it began to shiver in fear as the incensed draconic princess glowered at her with sun-like, golden, eyes...
Seeing the tiny creature scrunch up into a fetal position, a frown immediately developed across Mordred's face as an uneasy feeling filled her chest. She didn't know where the notion came from, but she suddenly felt as though the cub represented something 'very' important to her, something she had been keeping suppressed for a very long time...
Exhaling a sigh, Mordred set the lion cub down on the ground, her expression appearing bored yet thoughtful as she said, "Just go...be free and do whatever you want. Run amok or idle about in my soul for a thousand years. I don't care what you do, just stop appearing so pathetic...it's not like I'm going to force you to become a part of me or lend me your power. Besides, we're already one and the same, right? Papa...I mean, Chichiue, said it best...we have no right to enforce our expectations onto others when we can't even accept or understand ourselves. I get that you're supposed to be the part of me that wanted to rebel against my 'Father', opposing her draconic heritage, right? Well, you can just give up on that. That version of me died in Camlann thousands of years ago. You need to stop living in the past and start looking toward the future. Dragon? Chimera? Human? Things like race don't mean a damn thing. It's our struggles in the present and our aspirations for the future that shape who we are. I'm not going to betray the people I love in exchange for power...I might be the daughter of Morgan, but my parents are Vahn Aldrnari Mason and Artoria Aldrnari Pendragon..."
Finished with her improvised speech, Mordred ruffled the bristly yet soft fur atop the lion cub's head before turning around and walking to the center of the massive clearing formed from their prior battle. Then, with her forearms turning into rather fierce-looking draconic claws, she began to work away at the durable foundation, slowly and steadily increasing the depths of her potential as the lion cub eyed her in the distance...
Though the Hell Express's route was decided by an automated system, it's speed, acceleration, and deceleration were all manually controlled by the Conductor. This was what allowed it to stop at the various stations between the Floors, so, with Pedro in custody, the only one qualified to operate the Express was, curiously enough, a Regular named Poro Poe.
The notion that a Regular could operate something as important as the Hell Express was more than a little strange; but, rather than concern himself with such things, Vahn hacked the Pocket of Pedro in order to contact the stout fellow, startling him quite a bit. Fortunately, the not-so-young Regular, Poro Poe, just so happened to be a former colleague of Sachi, Aka, and Boro. More specifically, he had fallen in love with the same woman as virtually every member of the ill-fated team, a lively and vivacious woman named Roen Yuia.
Similar to the other members who had become infatuated with Roen, Poe had spent the last six-hundred years doing everything in his power to find a way to both eliminate White and resurrect their former comrade. Thus, by explaining the situation in greater detail, including Pedro's affiliation with FUG, they were able to convince him to continue operating the train at their behest. This would ensure it arrived at each station on time, and, most importantly, allowed Ryun to use her powers as a Guide freely.
As a Special Testing Area with countless hidden secrets, the powers of Guides were highly restricted for the sake of ensuring 'fairness'. This could be circumvented through the use of certain items, but, as could be expected, such tools only allowed them to see a very specific route. Now, however, the Hell Express had effectively become a region without an Administrator, so, for the time being, Ryun had unrestricted knowledge of every path present aboard the notoriously labyrinthine locomotive...
With Ryun guiding the way, it wasn't long before Vahn and Co reached the residential car housing the team associated with FUG. There, they encountered a group of five people, the leader of which seemed to be a man with dirty-blond hair, striking blue eyes, slightly pointed ears, and a noticeable snaggletooth. His companions were a vicious-looking man with spiky purple hair, two remarkably beautiful women, one with flowing orange hair while the other was most assuredly a member of the Asterian people considering she had inordinately blue hair, matching eyes, and several stars floating around her.
Though the aforementioned four were quite interesting, it was the final member of their entourage that stood out the most, a young boy that resembled Hoaqin to a startling degree. Anyone could tell the two were related, but, unlike Hoaqin, the intelligent-looking youth safeguarding an ancient-looking tome possessed distinctly male features. They could clearly be identified as a boy from the structure of their face and body, and, a stark contrast to the pristine white locks that cascaded from Hoaqin's head like a waterfall, their hair was cut short and neatly styled.
With the Law of Identity providing commentary, Vahn smiled disarmingly at the unperturbed bunch as he remarked, "I never expected that FUG would be able to recruit someone as famous as Ha Yura into their ranks...ah, I see, you were intending to use her status as an idol to attract large crowds of Regulars in order to use as sacrifices? Quite the devious plot for someone who relies on the support of the people to evade persecution by the Ten Families..."
Frowning in response to Vahn's words, the Asterian woman, better known as the pop idol, Ha Yura, adopted a troubled expression as she huffily remarked, "Those people don't really care about me. If they could, any number of my so-called fans would happily whisk me away and have their way with me. I did what I had to in order to survive. If not for my fame, the Ha Family would have killed me a long time ago...!"
Adopting an accusatory deadpan, Vahn met the blue-haired beauty's eyes directly as he said, "Your mother might have been cast out by the Ha Family, but that was largely due to her breaking of the taboo prohibiting members of the Ten Families from becoming involved with descendants of the Native Ones. Even then, the only members of the Ha Family hunting her down were those directly involved with the Jahad Empire. With the reputation they enjoy, do you really think your little play as an Idol would have protected you from the notoriously unruly Ha Family if they really wanted to kill you? While I can understand your bias towards them, the hatred and resentment you inherited from your mother can't be used as an excuse to step on the lives of those who supported you. You need to grow up and accept accountability for your own actions before you start laying the blame onto others."
Though she wanted to interrupt Vahn's words numerous times through his long lecture, Ha Yura, along with every other member of FUG, could do little more than remain statuesque. It was like an irresistible force, something fundamentally different from Reverse Flow Control, was locking them in place and preventing any interruptions. This caused everyone present to pale slightly, the only real exception being the white-haired youth, who, from start to finish, showed absolutely no change in expression.
Shifting his attention away from Yura, Vahn shifted his attention to the man with dirty-blond hair, the last of the group of four-man group infatuated with Roen Yuia, Danial Hatchid. Vahn wasn't actually sure how to deal with this particular fellow, as, though he had wandered down a very dark road, Daniel's reasons for doing so were actually to eliminate White and rid the Tower of one of its greatest monsters. Most of the people he had killed were pretty vile individuals pursuing their own interests, and, while he wasn't devoid of flaws, the man was even willing to condemn his own soul to an eternity of torment in exchange for a minuscule chance at resurrecting the woman he loved...
Shaking his head, Vahn's momentum began to gradually diminish as he explained, "The task given to you by FUG can no longer be completed. Hoaqin has already been killed, and, once I exorcise the remnants of his spirit from his remaining siblings, the monstrous entity known as White will become just another footnote in the Tower's dark history. As for you lot...well, the best I can do is offer you a bit of advice, hoping you'll wisen up before you get yourselves killed on behalf of people who don't give a damn about you or your dreams. Even though some of their so-called Slayers are more than ten-thousand-years-old, they have yet to even injure a single one of the Ten Warriors. All they do is sit around and pester the weaker members of the Ten Great Families, fearful of committing to any meaningful action for fear of the repercussions it would invite...these are the people you want to lay your lives down for? People who won't even bat an eye even if your entire group was annihilated?"
Unable to say anything in response, the four members of FUG showed varying degrees of conflict and frustration on their faces. They all had very good reasons for hating the Ten Great Families, but, just as he had pointed out, the most they could do was follow orders in the hopes that their dreams would be achieved by people infinitely more powerful than them...people who, despite the passage of more than ten-thousand-years, had yet to make any headway towards eliminating the seemingly insurmountable Jahad Empire...
Taking advantage of their silence, Vahn directed his attention to each of the group members in turn, starting with the inordinately beautiful woman with orange hair and startling blue eyes, frowning as he said, "Lo Po Bia Cheonsa...Angel...you have suffered far more than any person should ever have to suffer...if you so choose, I can liberate you from the situation you have been forced into. You will never again be forced to service vile and detestable people for the sake of a woman you resent and people you abhor..."
Hearing Vahn's offer, the seemingly perpetual smile Angel had been forcing since the start of the encounter gradually faded away, her blue eyes radiating a murderous glow as she asked, "I heard you were an Irregular...if I accept your offer, can you grant my wish?"
Furrowing his brows in response to the woman's words, Vahn briefly considered his response before saying, "I will not arbitrarily kill at the behest of others. Instead, I can provide you with the means to grow stronger without needing to make any further sacrifices. I can also provide you an opportunity to obtain your revenge, but, rather than dedicate yourself to killing someone you have never met, I would encourage you to reflect; discover the true reasons behind your suffering, and move beyond it...no amount of killing will alleviate the pain you have been forced to endure...only acceptance and a desire to rise above the circumstances of your birth will allow you to find true happiness..."
Though she didn't trust Vahn's words, not in the slightest, Angel had even less faith in a group like FUG. Her mother had sold her off at a very young age, forcing her to experience horrors far beyond the capacity of a normal person to bear. If not for her unique ancestry, providing her a strong body and an inordinate talent as an Anima, she would have died long before she had the opportunity to become a Regular. Unfortunately, the Floor of Tests had already fallen under the influence of FUG by then; so, the moment she believed she could 'start over' and live a new life, she was coerced into joining, eventually becoming the personal 'Angel' of one of Slayer Yama's three Mad Dogs, Buelsar Elliot...
Shifting her gaze to the half-canine man with spikey purple hair, a sadistic smile spread across Angel's face as she asked, "Can't I kill at least one person...?"
Realizing her intentions, Elliot immediately bared his fangs towards Angel, coldly growling, "You damn bitch...I knew you were using me for the sake of your revenge, but I still agreed to let you become my Angel. This is how you repay me after I protected you for the last hundred years...!?"
With a smile that could even send chills down the spine of someone like Loki, Angel cocked her head coquettishly to the side as she chimed, "Protected me? Is that what you were doing all those times you ripped my clothes off and forced yourself upon me at your leisure? Gee, I wonder how I could ever harbor any resentment towards such a paragon of gentlemanly virtue~?"
If not for the invisible force locking him in place, Elliot wouldn't have hesitated for a single moment to end Angel's life then and there. Unfortunately, other than trembling in frustration, the only thing he could do was run his mouth, shouting, "You ungrateful whor-" before a vice-like grip silenced his exclamation.
Dangling the unresisting man by his neck, Vahn's cold expression gradually relaxed into a calmer disposition as he looked towards Angel and said, "I can understand your hatred towards this man, but, in the end, it cannot be denied that he was trying to help you. His treatment toward you was predicated on the fact that you 'belonged' to him. The canine people are bound by an instinctual observation of hierarchies. I won't deny that you were forced to experience countless injustices, but it is also true that you were using him for your own ends..."
Unable to refute Vahn's words, Angel just clenched her teeth, averting her eyes to the side as she huffed, "Fine! So long as you keep your promise, I don't give two shits what happens to this damn mutt...!"
Responding with a curt nod of approval, Vahn released Elliot from his grasp, meeting the man's dark red eyes as he said, "There is currently no enmity between me and Yama. Once we reach the next station, you will be allowed to depart freely. What you do from there is up to you. However, you should know better than me that Yama has no interest in the affairs of FUG. I would suggest you return to the Cage and resume your training before progressing further up the Tower. Letting FUG treat you like a bloodhound is unbecoming of someone hand-picked by the King of Fighting Dogs..."
Though his movements were no longer restricted, Elliot made no attempt to try and attack Vahn. Instead, he just rubbed his neck, eyes glimmering with a mixture of hatred and respect as he said, "I'll remember this...once I become stronger, don't blame me for tracking you down and biting out your throat..."
Chuckling in response to the man's words, Vahn resisted the instinctual urge to extend his hand to pet the half-canine's head as he remarked, "Good luck with that..."
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Lioness-chan fights dirty...','Man, Roen must have been a babe for all these fools to be simping even after six-hundred-years...','I can vividly imagine Vahn petting Yama and several other Canine people...')
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