Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos is a web novel created by Einlion.
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Chapter 2307: On the Verge of Triumph
After meting out VerÃ°andi’s punishment, Vahn made his way through the stone gate leading to his next Trial. He found Skuld waiting for him there, but, unlike before, she kept her distance and her back toward the wall.
Shrugging his shoulders, Vahn attempted to justify his actions, explaining, “It’s no secret that my children are my soft spot. If you’re going to try and use them against me, you should prepare yourself for the consequences.”
Swallowing the knot that had formed in her throat, Skuld muttered, “I’ll keep that in mind…” before waving her hand and causing the room to turn into an ancient forest filled with white, leafless trees covered in runes. A dense fog emanated from the interior, broken only bouts of magical blue flames that periodically flickered in and out of existence.
“This is the Forest of Forgotten Dreams. To make your way through, you must have a powerful ambition or something that drives you forward no matter what. Spirits that get lost within this mist are doomed to wander without aim for all eternity…”
Manifesting an ancient-looking lantern constructed primarily from wood, Skuld added, “The fuel for this lantern is hopes and dreams. It will light your way even in the darkest of circ.u.mstances, but overusing it will lead to the consumption of one’s spirit and will. Take it, and may your journey be swift…”
Accepting the lantern from Skuld, Vahn waited for a few moments without anything overt occurring. He could feel an intent within the lantern trying to probe at his mind, but it was far too frail to advance.
Seeing the flame failing to ignite, a touch of ruddiness spread through Skuld’s cheeks as she recalled the previous incident with Vahn and her sister’s mirror. If the lantern was unable to ignite, she could be punished by the Central Network for staging a Gift Game that couldn’t be won.
Fortunately for Skuld, Vahn wasn’t just standing around aimlessly as he eyed the peculiar lantern. Instead, he was deconstructing how it worked by deciphering the runes carved into its surface and testing the functions of the intent within. Once he was finished, a cerulean blue flame erupted from the lantern’s interior before surging towards the Forest of Forgotten Dreams like a tidal surge.
Smiling at Skuld’s slack-jawed response, Vahn mused, “I’ll be taking the scenic route.” before promptly vanis.h.i.+ng into thin air. The rules for the Gift Game forbade teleportation and spatial movements, but he had more than a few ways around such restrictions.
With the ghostly forest fading moments after Vahn’s disappearance, Skuld knew he had satisfied the conditions of the Sixth Trial. Her expression still revealed a fair amount of helplessness, but she couldn’t help adopting a faint smile as she muttered, “He’s quite something, isn’t he…?”
In response to her younger sister’s utterance, VerÃ°andi appeared out of thin air, her expression significantly less approving as she poutily replied, “He’s a brute, that’s what he is.”
Maintaining her smile, Skuld gave her sister a side-long glance before a.s.serting, “Most men are. The Sage Dragon Emperor is just one of the few that possesses the leeway and character to get away with it.”
Crinkling her brow and nose, VerÃ°andi wanted to retort but found herself unable to find suitable words. Instead, she suggested, “We should hurry and prepare our future Trials. Given his performance thus far, I suspect it won’t be long-”
Receiving a notification that Vahn had just entered her Trial, the look on VerÃ°andi’s face alternated between confusion and disbelief. It hadn’t even been three full minutes since Vahn blazed through Skuld’s Trial.
Restoring her sister’s senses, Skuld reiterated, “We should be on our way.” before disappearing into thin air. VerÃ°andi followed shortly after that, but not before staring in the direction Vahn had departed, whispering, “I pray the Nine Realms never antagonize the Aldrnari Empire…”
With UrÃ°r’s challenge requiring him to face everyone he had ever killed or failed to save, Vahn simply decided not to give her access to his thoughts and memories. As a result, the Central Network was only able to recall the people he had faced in the Tower and during his stay in the Divine Realm.
Since he was no longer in the mood to play around after the incident with VerÃ°andi, Vahn shattered UrÃ°r’s illusory domain the moment Gandr, of all people, made an appearance. He knew better than anyone that the boyish Vanargandr harbored absolutely no resentment towards him, so Vahn just shook his head in exasperation, muttering, “What a farce…” before turning to UrÃ°r and asking, “Want to try something else? Even I’m starting to feel guilty about how easy this has become.”
Shaking her head, UrÃ°r attempted an emotionless, unreadable expression as she replied, “With your success in this Trial, you’ve become the Master of the Past. I can stage another if you’d like, but the person who would be dictating the rules would be you.”
Though most people wouldn’t be able to notice it, Vahn could see UrÃ°r’s aura flaring with a mixture of fear, antic.i.p.ation, and barely restrained l.u.s.t. The Origins of her and her sisters coincided with the conceptualization of Time itself, so it wasn’t an exaggeration to say she had been waiting since time immemorial for a man capable of completing her Trials to appear.
Adopting a wry smile, Vahn gave UrÃ°r’s scantily clad figure a quick once-over. She was easily one of the most stunningly attractive women in all of creation, but the same could be said for the vast majority of his harem. He would be lying if he said he wasn’t tempted, but it just didn’t seem right to claim her when she had been waiting for so long…
With Vahn observing her with his eyes rather than his other sensory abilities, UrÃ°r’s heart began to race as the purple feathers forming her garment began to flare, unfurling like the petals of a flower in bloom. If Vahn requested it of her, she was ready and willing to give her everything to satisfy his desires.
Understanding that UrÃ°r probably wouldn’t be content if he just ‘tossed her aside,’ a faint chuckle emanated from Vahn’s throat as he shook his head and muttered, “Here we go again…”
Upon teleporting to the location of the Seventh Trial, VerÃ°andi was briefly surprised to find her elder sister floating behind Vahn, her arms wrapped around his neck and an absentminded smile on her face.
Furrowing her brows, VerÃ°andi asked, “What is the meaning of this…?” in a disproving tone.
Since UrÃ°r was more focused on nuzzling against him than responding to her sister, it was Vahn who casually replied, “I’m very good at what I do.”
Though she was tempted to ask what Vahn was talking about, VerÃ°andi already had the answer in her heart. After all, if he managed to complete the coming Trial, she too would be subject to his whims and desires.
Seeing through the lavender-haired giantess’s thoughts, Vahn shook his head and remarked, “I’m not the type that forces people against their will. If you would rather accept my offer of freedom and find someone worthy of your care and attention, I would not stop you.”
Hearing Vahn’s words, UrÃ°r promptly came back to her senses, squeezing him tightly as she stared at her sister and a.s.serted, “I’ll support whatever decision you make, but I’m convinced that Vahn is the person we’ve been waiting for all this time. I haven’t felt this whole…this ‘complete’ since our initial separation from Mother.”
Seeing her sister clinging possessively to Vahn, VerÃ°andi had no doubts about the integrity of her words. Had the former not spanked her just a few minutes prior, she would probably be looking forward to what came next.
Exhaling a sigh, VerÃ°andi tapped the twining, spear-like end of her staff against the ground, saying, “We’ll see what Fate has in store…”
Since she hadn’t been given much time to prepare, VerÃ°andi left it to the Central Network to fill in the blanks for the Eighth Trial. Given Vahn’s performance thus far, she was convinced it didn’t really matter what she threw at him.
So long as it wasn’t one of his children…
Fortunately for VerÃ°andi, the will a.s.sociated with the Central Network seemed to understand the futility of pitting Vahn against anything known to him. Thus, after a remarkably long and progressively tense delay, the world around the trio began to crack and fragment away, eerie grey light emanating from within.
Raising his brows, Vahn suggested, “You should probably stand back for this one.” UrÃ°r reluctantly complied but not before planting a kiss on his cheek and pressing her now-familiar b.r.e.a.s.t.s against his shoulders.
Adopting a faint smile, Vahn manifested Enkidu and sent it flying toward the cracks rapidly spreading across the sky. He didn’t know what was on the other side, but it caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end, a phenomenon that hadn’t occurred in quite some time.
Compelled by Vahn’s intent, Enkidu tore through the cracks in s.p.a.ce-time, eager to seal whatever lay beyond. From the golden chain’s point of view, it was moving at incomprehensible speeds toward its target. What it didn’t know, and what Vahn didn’t expect, was for Enkidu to effectively freeze in place the moment it came into contact with the grey energy exuding from the cracks.
“Well, that’s not normal…”
Dodging one of the beams of light that seemed to curve toward him, Vahn watched as it spread out across the ground like a mist, rapidly eroding the surface and converting it to a type of inert ash, utterly devoid of life and energy.
Furrowing his brows, Vahn waved his hand in an attempt to prevent the strange mist from spreading outward. He had reached a point where he could manipulate even the Void, but there seemed to be something ‘off’ about the peculiar grey mist. He could see it very clearly with his eyes, but it didn’t have any presence whatsoever. It was like everything within range of the fog simply ceased to exist, leaving nothing for him to sense.
As it wasn’t his first time dealing with something capable of erasing the very concept of existence, Vahn was relatively calm even as his efforts to stem the mist’s expanse failed. This was a stark contrast to VerÃ°andi and UrÃ°r, who, for the first time in their lives, could not access their powers. It was like Time, Fate, and Reality itself were being eroded by the enigmatic mist.
To the horror of the two giantess’s, especially UrÃ°r, Vahn stopped trying to dodge and allowed the mist to encompa.s.s him. Enkidu had been frozen in place, but unlike everything else influenced by the mist, Vahn could still sense it. Thus, in order to get a better understanding of just what the mist actually was, he allowed it to affect him directly.
As the light-formed mist enveloped him, Vahn experienced a phenomenon similar to time stopping. More accurately, it was like time spontaneously ceased to exist, nearly severing his connection to the outside world as he looked around to find a world shrouded in ash.
Noticing that he couldn’t feel the ground beneath him, nor the influence of gravity, Vahn experimentally moved his right foot. He felt as though every molecule within his body weighed as much as a small start, but that didn’t prevent him from sifting through the ashen ground beneath his feet. There was absolutely no feedback, and, rather than being propelled forward, the ash clung to him like weightless mud, wholly unaffected by the laws of physics.
Recognizing the phenomenon, though he had never experienced it in such an extreme manner, Vahn peered through the cracks in reality to find what appeared to be an impossibly ancient man sitting motionless in the center of an empty grey void. Parts of his body appeared to have decayed away, but Vahn could feel an incomprehensibly powerful intent exuding from his body and permeating the entirety of the ashen world…
(A/N: Alternate t.i.tles: ‘Speedrunning strats…’,’Some things never change…’,’O_O…’)
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