Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos is a web novel produced by Einlion.
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Chapter 1237 – Teatime Tensions
After waiting for Lorelei and her entourage to depart, Vahn, having observed Solon and Zelretch closely suddenly asked, “Did you get shorter since the last time I saw you…?” This caused Solon to lower their head as they tightly gripped their fists and answered, “That does not concern you…now, leave my Clock Tower. You only bring trouble to my doorstep…”
Vahn didn’t actually need to ask in order to confirm that Solon’s body had changed a lot since their previous encounter. Even though he couldn’t see through all the mysteries of their body, his memory and imaging were perfect. Compared to before, Solon was a full 4cm shorter and, rather than extend down to their feet, their hair now only reached the small of their back. It was clear that their previous battle had cost Solon more than he expected, causing Vahn to feel strangely guilty, yet prideful.
Since there were other matters he wanted to discuss, Vahn shook his head, infuriating Solon further as he stated, “There are some things I wanted to discuss with the both of you. After your interaction with Lorelei, I suddenly have a better impression of you, a.s.sociation Director.”
Though Solon didn’t seem to appreciate Vahn’s words, Zelretch began to laugh openly, his aged and raspy voice echoing through the hall with its deep timbre. Then, before Solon could refuse, Zelretch roughly pat the pet.i.te figure on the back, sending them stumbling forward as he answered, “I can’t speak on behalf of my friend, but I would relish the opportunity to partake of tea in the company of an Emperor and his Empress. There is much we stand to learn about each other. Perhaps, fate willing, we can even become friends in the future.”
After hearing Zelretch’s words, Solon turned back with what could only be described as a pouting expression as they venomously stated, “You old b.a.s.t.a.r.d…what are you planning…?” In response to this, Zelretch looked at Solon as if they were truly pitiable as he answered, “Can even the wise and powerful Solon no longer see reason? You do not see the benefit in befriending someone with the ability to call past Heroes into the present? Don’t tell me…you’ve gone senile…?”
The moment Zelretch finished his words, Solon moved like a phantom before using their tiny fist to smack the back of the old man’s head, shouting, “You dare!? You’re the senile one, you old b.a.s.t.a.r.d!”
Seeing the comedy routine enacted before him, Vahn had trouble finding any words so, as the tiny green-haired figure began to pummel the willowy old man, he could only watch alongside everyone else. It wasn’t until Zelretch had been left with a few visible b.u.mps and bruises that Solon stopped hitting him. Then, as if nothing had happened, they smoothed out their robe before saying, “I have better things to do than entertain some errant Emperor…”
Despite saying this, Solon pause for a brief moment after before adding, “If it is only for the duration of afternoon tea, I will humor your presence a while longer…”
After Solon finished speaking, Zelretch lightly tapped his cane against the polished stone floor with a small trickle of blood flowing from his nose. This caused an ornate wooden door to appear out of thin air which, when opened, connected to a rather time-worn study that was filled with old books, preserved specimens, and various artifacts. It gave off a particularly ancient feeling, much like what people experienced when first stepping inside a museum or a restored building.
Vahn wasn’t worried that the two were trying to trap them so, without any fear, he pa.s.sed through the door and, after confirming there weren’t any dangers, allowed the rest of his entourage to enter.
As the study wasn’t particularly large, the presence of seven people made it feel more than a little crowded. Once Zelretch extended his hand, however, this was no longer a concern as the walls and ceiling seemed to expand outward while the bookshelves retained their size and structure. It was a strange sight to behold but, after a few seconds, there was plenty of room for fifty people, much less seven.
Showing no signs of exertion whatsoever, despite forcibly expanding s.p.a.ce-Time, Zelretch took it upon himself to explain, “This is my private study. When I take on a student, I generally handle much of their education here. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find anyone suitable for quite a while. Forgive me if the air smells a little stagnant.”
Solon, hearing Zelretch’s remark about students, didn’t seem all that happy as they quickly retorted, “n.o.body forces you to break your students’ minds. If you were serious about it, you wouldn’t have any trouble rearing a plethora of capable Magi. Don’t pretend others are at fault when you already know the outcome of your so-called mentors.h.i.+p.”
Rather than refute Solon’s words, Zelretch began stroking his beard with a mad glint in his eye as he stated, “What I have to teach is something that cannot be comprehended by most. I always warn my students about the dangers beforehand. Despite this, they willingly try to go against fate, knowing what outcome awaits them if they fail. Do not fault me for believing in the potential of my students, old friend. If they cannot overcome this limitation, obtaining True Magic was beyond them from the start.”
Though he wasn’t exactly part of the ongoing conversation, Vahn didn’t agree with Zelretch’s words, saying, “The failure of a student is not inherently their own. You cannot call yourself a Teacher if you willfully allow harm to befall those who have placed their trust in you. Though it may hubris on their part, it is only because you allowed them to develop such a mentality that tragedy awaits them. To blame their failures on fate disqualifies you as a Teacher, Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg. There are no limits to a person’s growth, so long as they are guided properly and with due consideration.”
Zelretch’s action of stroking his beard came to a halt when Vahn began speaking. Then, after hearing what Vahn said, he smiled with a sagely look on his face as he answered, “There is a grain of truth and wisdom in your words…Sage Emperor, indeed. I will not deny my own negligence in the matter, but, it is also true that most people cannot overcome their fate. I may be able to guide a person along a certain path, but that would never allow them to reach the pinnacle. True power can only be obtained through one’s own efforts. If it is given arbitrarily, the true tragedy is what will happen to those who obstruct their path after the fact…”
Vahn knew well the dangers of what could happen if you granted others power, as it was something he actively worked to avoid. Thus, while he could not respect Zelretch as a Teacher, it was apparent that the man hadn’t thoughtlessly guided his students. His sin was allowing them to walk a path he knew would destroy them, hoping he would be proven wrong. In a way, Zelretch was an expression of the person he could become if he decided to take a back seat and simply observe. He was like the half-way point between Vahn’s current self, and the objective observer that was Ouranos.
Deciding there was little value in pressing the matter, Vahn gave a curt nod in response to Zelretch’s words before taking a seat at the larger of the two desks furnis.h.i.+ng the study. Things like etiquette weren’t particularly important in situations like this as, in many regards, the status of Zelretch and Solon could easily rival that of an Emperor. Since Solon had already taken a seat, once again putting into perspective how small their body was, Vahn decided to simply take one of his own.
After a few awkward moments, Vahn and Artoria were seated on one side of the desk while Zelretch and Solon were seated on the opposite side. As for Kens.h.i.+n, Gray, and Gareth, Vahn had pulled out a circular table for them to sit at before pulling some hot tea and cookies out for them. This didn’t go unnoticed by Zelretch who, having intuitive mastery over s.p.a.ce and Time, couldn’t help but feel a powerful curiosity towards Vahn’s ability to produce items without any spatial fluctuations. Even the mana in the environment was completely undisturbed as if he was producing items, quite literally, out of thin air.
Solon had also taken note of Vahn’s ability but, as their understanding of s.p.a.ce-Time was middling, at best, they were unaware of just how ridiculous his simple act of producing tea and cookies was. When Zelretch performed a similar feat moments later, Solon gave a small nod, believing they were similar actions, despite being several orders of magnitude apart.
Once everyone had sampled their tea, calming the awkward atmosphere slightly, Solon decided it was their place to initiate the conversation, asking, “So, what did you want to discuss? You should know that I’m not particularly fond of you. Unless it is an important matter, I’d rather you not come to my Clock Tower at all, Sage Emperor.”
Hearing Solon’s words, Vahn raised his brow before casually retorting, “Your brash and irresponsible behavior is the sole reason for the bad blood between us. I’m certain you have your reasons, but people like Lorelei wouldn’t be able to do whatever they pleased if you took your responsibilities as Director seriously…”
Before Solon could have another outburst, Zelretch loudly cleared his throat before looking directly at Vahn and saying, “Much has transpired in this world before your arrival. It is easy to lay the blame when you lack the proper context. I’m certain you did not come here to discuss matters of the past, I believe it would be more productive if we move on to more pertinent subjects…”
As talking with Solon was like speaking with a petulant child, Vahn took a deep breath to calm down before nodding in approval. He also wanted to hurry back to Avalon so, rather than point fingers and lay blame, he directly stated, “The Empire wishes to negotiate a treaty with the Mage’s a.s.sociation.”
Without even considering it, Solon immediately answered, “That would be impossible at this current point in time. To enter into a treaty with the Empire, the Mage’s a.s.sociation would have to officially acknowledge the existence of your country and its power structure. You have done nothing to merit this kind of recognition. Instead, you-”
Understanding that Solon was going to start lambasting Vahn unnecessarily, Zelretch placed his cup haphazardly on its saucer, breaking the small plate and interrupting the conversation. He then began to laugh in a pretense of embarra.s.sment before waving his hand and causing the localized s.p.a.ce-Time around the cup to reverse, causing the spilled tea and broken saucer to return to their original state. Then, after smelling the aroma of tea within his cup, he mentioned, “As my friend has stated, it would be impossible to enter a treaty…at least for the time being…”
After his statement, Zelretch enjoyed the rich flavor of his tea before releasing a contented sigh and adding, “It is possible for the Mage’s a.s.sociation to recognize the existence of external factions and third parties. However, this is significantly different than entering an official treaty with an Empire, as I’m sure you are perfectly aware. There is also the matter of how other factions would respond if we were to suddenly enter into an agreement with a largely unknown party. It could easily destabilize the current power balance, something that is best avoided given the current predicament.”
With Zelretch clearly being the voice of reason between the two, Vahn began to largely ignore Solon as he nodded his head and explained, “I understand your reasoning. However, let’s not pretend that all treaties and agreements have to align with certain rules and restrictions. Even if you do not intend to publically acknowledge the existence of the Empire, this would not prevent you from doing so in private. Besides, the Mage’s a.s.sociation isn’t a country either, even if you intend to claim the whole of the British Isles as your dominion.”
In response to Vahn’s words, Zelretch smiled in amus.e.m.e.nt while, at the side, Solon, aware that they were being ignored, asked in a cold tone, “What benefits does the a.s.sociation stand to gain?” Since the only thing that really mattered was the terms and benefits of an agreement, not the parties who were involved, Solon dropped pretenses entirely when asking their question.
Hearing Solon’s question, Vahn has a business-like smile on his face as he answered, “Despite our differences, we’re all in the same boat as far as the matter of Angra Mainyu is concerned. As you are no doubt aware, the Empire has the ability to manifest Heroic Spirits and give them physical form. In the coming battle, we will serve as the vanguard against Angra Mainyu as, despite your best efforts, we all know how things will end if things stay as they are…”
If Solon’s eyes had not been hidden, Vahn would have been able to see the murderous and resentful glint contained within. Despite this, there was also acceptance and indignation as, much like Vahn implied, they had no reliable countermeasure against Angra Mainyu. Rather than resist directly, the current plan involved trying to retreat to the Reverse Side of the World until things naturally fell into balance once again. This, however, had all kinds of problems a.s.sociated with it as, even with their power, it was impossible to guarantee survival for extended periods of time in such an unstable and chaotic world.
Though they wanted nothing more than to cut Vahn up into tiny pieces, Solon clenched their fists hard enough for the nails to b.l.o.o.d.y their palms as they stated, “There is no guarantee your Empire would be able to put up a fight, even if you called upon history’s mightiest Heroes…” Even as these words left their mouth, Solon felt awkward making such a statement as, better than most, they knew how ridiculous some Heroic figures could be.
Vahn didn’t miss the uncertainty contained within Solon’s voice, causing him to smile as he squinted his eyes and stated firmly, “The Empire will emerge victoriously. This can be taken as an inviolable truth as, if we cannot stop Angra Mainyu, no one can. What you can do is help us, rather than get in our way. The Mage’s a.s.sociation has no place in the future if they cannot even take sensible action in the present.”
Understanding that Vahn was threatening them, Solon began to emit a powerful aura but, before things got out of hand, Zelretch used his cane to whack them lightly atop their head. This caused Solon to frown deeply as they rubbed their crown and exclaimed, “Are you actually buying this!?” To this, Zelretch gave a nod and, with a serious expression on his face, stated, “We do not need to bow to the Empire, but there is no sense in fighting against them. Fighting amongst ourselves will only make the destruction of the world an inevitability. If there are mutual benefits to be had, I believe it is best to discuss the matter seriously…irrespective of personal feelings.”
With Zelretch speaking seriously, Solon took several deep breaths to calm themselves down before turning back to Vahn and asking, “What does the Empire offer? What do you want in exchange?”
Deciding to match the severe atmosphere with a serious expression of his own, Vahn answered, “In exchange for access to the Spirit Tome: Albion, the Empire will offer material goods and information pertinent to the a.s.sociation’s future development. We already have prodigious Magi like Merlin in our midst while our technological innovations would even catch the eye of the Atlas Temple. In the future, we will have history’s wisest leaders, strongest heroes, and most powerful Magi among our ranks…I’m certain you can see the benefit in working alongside, not against, us…”
Solon was tempted to immediately refuse Vahn’s offer, as giving them access to the most important a.s.set of the Clock Tower was not a simple request. However, when they heard Vahn mention Merlin, their breathing began to accelerate. By the time Vahn finished speaking, Solon asked in a shaky tone, “You summoned that flowery idiot…?”
Though Vahn expected Solon to know of Merlin, he didn’t expect the diminutive Magus to have such a…peculiar reaction. Even Zelretch had a distant look in his eyes, at least until he hung his head and began to rub his temples.
At this point, Artoria decided to enter into the conversation, supporting Vahn’s claims, stating, “We were not the ones to summon Merlin. He had been called into this world during the previous Holy Grail War as the Ruler-Cla.s.s Servant. Now, he acts as the Empire’s Magus of the Court.”
Vahn found it rather amusing that Artoria would go out of her way to ‘deny’ having summoned Merlin but, as if they had a sudden understanding, Zelretch and Solon nodded after hearing her. It was as if they had just found the missing piece of a complex puzzle, allowing them to solve the remainder in one go.
After collecting themselves, Solon stopped to consider their response for a few moments before saying, “I cannot deny that the Empire has the greatest chance against Angra Mainyu. However, the repercussions of allowing your forces access to the Spirit Tomb aren’t something we can ignore. It would be seen as the Mage’s a.s.sociation bowing to the whims of the Empire, causing even greater instability among the affiliated families…”
Hearing Solon’s reply, Vahn wasn’t dissuaded at all, saying, “After this matter with the Barthomeloi family is settled, I’m certain it will be much easier to make such arrangements. For now, I will drop the matter if you are willing to arrange a meeting between the Empire and the Atlas Temple. Though they have cut themselves off from the rest of the world, I’m certain you, as a.s.sociation Director, have at least some pull when it comes to communicating with them…”
Solon couldn’t help but gnash their teeth in response to Vahn’s words as, even though they were the a.s.sociation Director, the other branches of the Mage’s a.s.sociation had their own power structure. It was very difficult to get them to obey directives so having Vahn mention it was very frustrating, to say the least. Still, simply acting as an intermediary wasn’t too difficult. Rather than agree outright, however, they stated firmly, “I will arrange a meeting between you and Director Atlasia. Before that, you must bring Merlin to me…we have matters to discuss.”
Vahn was slightly surprised that Solon had made a concession but, considering their earlier reaction, it was clear they had some kind of history with Merlin. There was clear exasperation in Solon’s voice while Zelretch looked like he had aged a few years over the past few minutes. Despite this, neither seemed to hold any animosity toward Merlin, something that would have been apparent considering how easy to anger Solon was. Thus, after thinking over the matter for a few moments, Vahn nodded his head, saying, “Very well. Once you have made arrangements for a meeting with the Director of the Atlas Temple, I will have Merlin pay you a visit…”
Though they could not completely trust Vahn’s word, Solon gave a nod of their own before picking up their teacup and staring at its contents, despite wearing a blindfold. This action of theirs caused a strange atmosphere to permeate through the room until, moments later, Solon finished their tea and said, “Teatime is over. I will not show you out…” After this, Solon vanished in a burst of light, leaving Zelretch behind to laugh awkwardly in response to his companion’s uncouth behavior. Vahn didn’t really care, however, so he just made casual conversation with the aged Magus for a few minutes before returning to the Edelfelt Mansion, retrieving Olga, and transferring back to Avalon for some much-needed rest.
(A/N: Any other chapters will be later in the afternoon. I’ll be out for much of the morning so I woke up a bit earlier to get this one out before the reset. There will still be one EPIC and two Babel out by the end of the day.)
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