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Chapter 2304: Trial Start
Reading through the Norns’ Gea.s.s Roll, a faint smile gradually developed across Vahn’s face. There were a total of nine Trials, and while some of them seemed troublesome, he could imagine several not even activating against him.
Putting his theory to the test, Vahn waved away the scroll before making his way over to an oval-shaped mirror that had manifested on the nearby wall. It was supposed to show an image of his younger self so they could confront one another about how his hopes and dreams had changed over time. Instead, it reflected his present self against a backdrop of hazy pink mist.
After several moments of nothing happening, a spatial distortion occurred to Vahn’s left as UrÃ°r appeared to say, “You need to open your mind so my power can take effect. You’ll never become Master of the Past by refusing to face it…”
Maintaining a relaxed smile, Vahn retorted, “Nowhere in the Gea.s.s Roll did it state I must allow myself to be influenced by your powers. I looked into the mirror, and nothing happened. That’s on you.”
Furrowing her brows, UrÃ°r poutily remarked, “That’s not very sporting of you…” before pausing for a moment and asking, “What are you afraid of? Is the past something even the legendary Sage Dragon Emperor fears to confront?”
Rolling his eyes, Vahn returned his gaze to the mirror. However, instead of the image within changing, the world around him began to distort as UrÃ°r nervously inquired, “What are you doing…?”
Without breaking eye contact with himself, Vahn explained, “I am a being that carries his past with him wherever he goes. I do not fear it. Rather, I have embraced it long ago…”
Turning around, Vahn ignored UrÃ°r as he made his way over to the side of a limbless boy staring listlessly up at the ceiling. When he did, the youth stared back at him with familiar aquamarine eyes, asking, “Who are you?” in a confused but unafraid tone.
Instead of answering his past self’s question, Vahn asked one of his own, specifically, “Tell me…what is your wish?”
Since the illusion was a fragmented manifestation of himself, Vahn was genuinely curious about its response. Unsurprisingly, the youth hesitated for a moment before answering, “I want to be free…” with a considerable amount of longing in his voice.
Nodding his head in approval, Vahn was about to release his past self from his bindings when the latter surprised him by adding, “But I also want to help people…”
Retracting his hand, Vahn emitted a curious, “Oh…?” before asking, “And which, in your opinion, is more important? Helping people or being free?”
Too weak to shake his head, the limbless youth stared blankly for a few moments before answering, “I don’t know…I just feel like I’m supposed to help people…”
“I see…but what if you could only choose one of the two? Freedom often means behaving selfishly, prioritizing your personal wants and needs over the interests of others. Helping people generally requires a sacrifice…and when you give even a little bit of yourself to someone, others will come to expect comparable treatment. In the end, you may even find yourself in a situation where you have nothing left to give…”
Staring at the emaciated figure of his past self, Vahn’s words resonated with himself as much as they did the young boy strapped to the operation table. If not for the existence of The Path, he would have run out of things to give long ago…
Closing his eyes, the much younger version of Vahn appeared to be contemplating his future counterpart’s words before answering, “Then I would choose to help people…I’ve already given so much…maybe if I give the rest, I can be free in my next life…?”
Hearing his younger self’s response, Vahn found himself at a genuine loss for words. He knew Dr. Keenly had instilled in him a bit of a hero complex, but it was still jarring to hear such a young child talking about sacrificing themselves for the chance to be happy in their next life…
Suppressing a sigh, a melancholic smile developed across Vahn’s face as he rustled his younger self’s hair and said, “You’re a good kid. See you on the other side.”
Though he was confused by the stranger’s words and behavior, the young Vahn returned a weak smile in response to having his hair ruffled. He felt a sense of familiarity towards the tall and robust figure, but before he could inquire about Vahn’s ident.i.ty, the illusion forming him dissipated, returning to memory.
s.h.i.+fting his attention to UrÃ°r, Vahn asked, “Satisfied?” with a borderline deadpan on his face.
Though she was tempted to refuse and say that Vahn couldn’t just create his own illusions to overcome, UrÃ°r was silenced when the door leading to the ensuing Trial suddenly opened. This implied that the Central Network recognized his accomplishment, so she had no choice but to answer, “It would appear you have succeeded with my First Trial. I don’t like how you did it, but I can’t argue if the Central Network recognizes the result. When you’re ready, proceed through that door.”
Feeling a little miffed, UrÃ°r followed her words by disappearing along with her mirror. She had the feeling that Vahn had tampered with it, so she was going to inspect it while he was undergoing the Trials of her two sisters…
Making his way into the next room, Vahn discovered a vaguely humanoid golem that appeared to be constructed from a rainbow-hued metal similar to Bis.m.u.th. When he entered, the golem quickly took his shape, mirroring his movements as VerÃ°andi’s voice explained, “In order to advance to the next Trial, you must first overcome your present self. Good luck.”
Raising his brows, Vahn mused, “A Doppelganger…?” as the metallic figure gradually solidified into a copy of himself. Then, seemingly in response to his question, the figure raised its brows and repeated, “A Doppelganger?” in the same tone of voice.
Though he was tempted to fool around and see if the Doppelganger could keep up with him, Vahn manifested Enkidu and sent it charging toward his would-be clone at unimaginable speeds. The Doppelganger attempted to employ an Enkidu of its own, but even the Laws that governed Gift Games couldn’t emulate an SSS-Rank Gift.
With all of its powers sealed, the Doppelganger gradually melted into an amorphous blob of rainbow-hued liquid as Vahn made his way over to the next door, musing, “Open sesame.” as VerÃ°andi’s intent radiated a feeling of solemnity. She couldn’t help feeling as though Vahn’s behavior was in defiance of the ‘spirit’ of their Trials.
Under normal circ.u.mstances, challengers attempting to pa.s.s through the Second Trial would find themselves in a difficult position, forced to reflect on their actions. The enchantments on the golem transferred any damage it sustained to the attacker, so the best way forward was to make peace with oneself and recognize that violence was not always the solution to a problem.
Unfortunately for VerÃ°andi, the Central Network acknowledged Vahn’s method and allowed him to pa.s.s into the next room. All she could do was pray her younger sister was able to delay him as she worked on his next challenge…
Having witnessed Vahn’s general disregard for the previous Trials, Skuld elected to manifest before him, expressing, “You should treat this more seriously. How can you expect to become the Master of Fate if you can’t even pretend to care?”
Though he knew Skuld’s question wasn’t a part of the Trial, Vahn decided to humor her, answering, “The simple fact of the matter is that I’m already a ‘Master of Fate.’ Me undergoing these Trials is a formality to prevent the Nine Realms from destabilizing. If I wanted to, nothing could prevent me from liberating the Valkyries and setting them on a new path. I don’t need others’ permission or acknowledgment to do what I think is right.”
Taken aback by Vahn’s words, Skuld found herself at a momentary loss for her own. Every other person that had attempted their Trials did so in the pursuit of wisdom or power. She could also see the outcome before their Trials even started, so she didn’t know how to interact with someone whose future was beyond her sight.
Adopting a faint smile, Vahn said, “Relax. Even though it’s not necessary, I intend to complete each of your Trials. I’ve already decided to liberate the Valkyries from their fates, so I might as well do the same for you and your sisters while I’m here.”
Surprised by Vahn’s words, Skuld blinked her amethyst eyes several times before asking, “You intend to liberate us? With our power, you could easily become the ruler of the Nine Realms. You could-”
Waving his hand as if he was lazily swatting away a fly, Vahn adopted an impeccable deadpan as he said, “Pa.s.s. I’m already capable of creating metaversal structures that exceed the Nine Realms in scope. I don’t need someone else’s power to rule.”
Sensing no falsehoods in Vahn’s words, Skuld, for the first time in her long existence, felt as though her actions were pointless. When she and her sisters first learned that Vahn was the one that supplied the cure for their mother, they decided they would allow him to experience their Trials even though he was an outsider. If he were successful, they would reward him with all of their power and, in turn, their hearts.
Though many, including Odin himself, had attempted to court them, the Norns had remained chaste since they first awoke beneath the canopy of the World Tree. Their power would be transferred to the one that claimed their maidenhood, so they had patiently awaited the day when someone unbound by fate would appear. In that regard, Vahn was the first and, as far as they knew, the only one with such power. If he refused them, Skuld didn’t know what they would do…
Surprising the six-winged giantess quite a bit, Vahn answered, “Whatever you want. That’s the beauty of being free to choose your own destiny. As for UrÃ°arbrunnr, you don’t have to concern yourself with that. I have a few people in mind who would happily tend to the World Tree in your stead.”
As compelling as Vahn’s words were, Skuld couldn’t help feeling a little uncomfortable knowing he could ascertain her thoughts. She had a habit of peering into the minds and futures of others, but that was a part of her duty as one of the Norns. Knowing there was someone that could peek into her mind was unnerving…
Smiling wryly, Vahn explained, “I’m not reading your thoughts. I can, but I generally tend to avoid employing such invasive methods. What I’m doing is reading your emotions and using context clues to piece together a very general overview of what I a.s.sume you’re thinking.”
Not really feeling better after Vahn’s explanation, Skuld briefly averted her eyes from his, her mind clouded with wayward thoughts. There was still a chance that Vahn would fail their Trials, but it didn’t seem very likely. Now that she knew her ‘freedom’ was on the line, Skuld couldn’t help feeling a strange sense of…discomfort. She had never considered what she would do if given a choice to act freely…
Sensing Skuld’s uncertainty, Vahn’s smile became even wrier as he said, “If it’s that big a deal, you’re more than welcome to come and stay at the Sage Dragon’s Hearth. Besides, it’s not like I’m outright refusing you and your sisters; I just want you to have a genuine choice in the matter. There should be more to a relations.h.i.+p than a sense of duty or obligation.”
Feeling Vahn’s sincerity, the apprehensions forming in Skuld’s mind faded away as a rare smile developed across her face. Knowing the future was a heavy burden, so she typically appeared rather sickly due to her pale skin and the esoteric quality of her garments. She seldom had anything to look forward to, so Vahn’s words were a breath of fresh in a formerly stagnant world…
(A/N: Alternate t.i.tles: ‘A moment of reflection…’,’Trying to emulate a singularity xD…’,’Vahn is a strong, independent Creation Deity…!’)
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