How did Vieira Dune manage to swallow up Mother Earth? After all, Mother Earth was a conceptual entity without any ego. She was an amalgam of data, like a cloud server. However, that meant that it was possible to infect her if Vieira Dune infiltrated her mind like a virus and continued to grow inside it. Luciel’s Soulstone would make the process even more likely.
Many of the gods and demons of the heavenly world had set aside all their differences and cooperated just to catch Luciel. Some even compared him to the Heavenly Demon. Even a remnant of a being like this would be an incredible help to Vieira Dune, who was already on the edge of exuviation.
‘But it’s strange.’ Although Luciel’s Soulstone was a priceless treasure, Mother Earth was as powerful as Luciel, if not stronger. Even if she had no sense of self, she had desire. Didn’t she realize that she was in danger? She must have had some kind of defense mechanism.
But if that were so, that meant that there was only one reason Vieira Dune and Mother Earth had united: ‘Mother Earth wished for it as well.’
Of course, this was only Yeon-woo’s guess. It was also entirely possible that Vieira Dune simply swallowed up her mother, or Mother Earth welcomed her because she had a scheme of her own. Only the parties involved knew the truth. There was only one thing Yeon-woo could be sure of: they were meeting as enemies. His eyes grew cold and flinty.
* * *
On the way to the temple, Yeon-woo had a feeling that a path was opening just for him. Considering the violence of the battle between the gods of Olympus and the Titans and Giants, it would be impossible for someone to find a way through the storms, lightning, and fire that wreaked havoc across the holy territory. The fighting was so bloody that anyone who was swept up in it would instantly die. It was like an apocalypse.
Yeon-woo had been ready to use his awakened Dragon Body and Sky Wings to clear a path, but it turned out he didn’t even have to. As he walked down the path to the Temple of the King of the Underworld, the battles around him seemed to veer away, and none of the Titan subordinates made any attempt to attack him.
Yeon-woo instantly realized that this was an invitation from Persephone. She had ordered her subordinates to clear the way so he could reach her easily. He gritted his teeth. It was clear she wanted something from him, and the likelihood that his worst fears would be realized was becoming greater.
Once he reached the dark and quiet temple, he found Persephone waiting inside, sitting on the throne that belonged to Hades.
“You’re here.” Her smile was charming but it couldn’t distract from the domineering aura that she exuded. It was as though the person he’d met in the breezy spring garden a few months ago didn’t exist anymore.
The atmosphere was dark and depressing, and it reeked of winter dampness. The heavy energy around her was familiar: Vieira Dune. He recognized the gaze looking down from somewhere, as well.
[Infected Mother Earth is looking in your direction.]
At first, the weak gaze had been difficult to sense, but it had intensified recently. Yeon-woo knew that the gaze wasn’t directed on him but on the pocket watch.
Persephone crossed her legs, at ease now that a great entity was supporting her. The great cocoons hanging from the ceiling shook. There were six of them hanging over the throne incubating some kind of creature, and each one was draped in thin strings of shadows. He sensed a dense holy power leaking from one of them.
“What…happened to Hades?” He could guess what had happened, but he still wanted to confirm. A corner of Persephone’s lips rose, and she jerked her head up to indicate the cocoons. The largest cocoon shook.
“My husband’s doing well, as you can see. I would wake him to receive our visitor, but he’s in a deep sleep. Unfortunately, you’ll have to find a chance to greet him next time.” Her smile was as cold as the ones that Hades had often shown. Persephone touched the cocoon with her fingertips and turned back to Yeon-woo again. “Anyway, I invited you here to talk about something more useful.”
“What is it?”
“Before we begin discussing the details, why don’t you sit down?” She clapped lightly, and as the lanterns flickered, a large table groaning under a sumptuous feast appeared.
Persephone slowly descended from the throne and took a seat, waving her hand to invite Yeon-woo to sit down. However, he only looked at her and asked, “What do you plan to do?”
“The meat is delicious; it’s a shame I’m the only one enjoying it.” Persephone grinned, slicing into a steak. Then, she lifted her wine glass and took a sip as she continued. “I only have one thing to say: I want you to switch sides.”
Yeon-woo’s eyebrow twitched. The pocket watch became quiet as well. “Are you asking me to work for you?”
“No. You might not realize this, but I don’t like having subordinates. I’m not interested in leading others, guiding them, or taking responsibility. I’m asking to work together.”
It was almost unbelievable that a transcendent who saw players as little more than bugs was asking him to partner with her.
“I think highly of you, ###. Although you’re only a player, all of your accomplishments have been surprising—from the Philosopher’s Stone, an item from another universe, to the Black King’s power. I see why the heavenly world is in such an uproar. The last persons to cause such a commotion…” She dabbed at the sauce on her lips with a napkin and smiled. “Bathory, Faust…and more recently, Nayu. It’s already an achievement to be compared to them.”
Yeon-woo didn’t reply.
“And I think my husband is right that if any player gains divinity, it’ll be you.” Persephone put down her fork and knife quietly. “I have a very high opinion of you, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to work with you. You’ll succeed the Black King someday, after all. So, what do you think? Would you like to work together?” She extended her hand to Yeon-woo, as if telling him to grab hold of it.
He looked at her hand wordlessly for a while and asked, “Is that your will, or the will of the one behind you?”
[Infected Mother Earth looks in your direction.]
“Is that important?”
“I am her manifestation and spiritual body. Her will is mine, and my will is hers.”
“Is that so? This must be the present that Doyle was talking about.”
“Correct. What do you think? I’m sure it’s not a bad idea for you, either.” Persephone smiled brightly, as if she couldn’t imagine that he would refuse. “Mother Earth’s blessing, an alliance with the Giants who will capture Olympus soon, and a guarantee of divinity. Aren’t these already huge advantages for your growth? Even after you gain transcendence, you'll be able to progress smoothly. The heavenly world will be at your feet.”
As he listened to her, he looked up, glaring at the presence behind Persephone. “You said you no longer had any interest in the lower world, and you acted like you’ve already become a real god. Is this all that you’ve been plotting behind the scenes, Vieira?”
Persephone’s face hardened because she knew who Yeon-woo was talking about. “###, stop.”
“I thought you were planning something amazing, but nothing has changed.” Yeon-woo’s smile was twisted. He’d truly wondered if Persephone had a grand ideology in mind when she asked him to work together, but it turned out that Vieira Dune simply hadn’t let go of her greed despite ascending to the heavenly world. Persephone was just a laughable, insignificant marionette. She knew about the relationship between Jeong-woo and Vieira Dune but she had the nerve to suggest this.
Yeon-woo and Jeong-woo were nothing more than a joke to her. Everything she’d said about working together, her high assessment of him, and his bright future had all been bullshit. It was more likely that she only wanted the Cast of the Black King and the throne of the Underworld that Hades had left behind.
[Infected Mother Earth looks in your direction.]
“Fine. You should continue living like that and ascend to a higher place.” Yeon-woo’s smile deepened. “It’ll be a lot more rewarding when I pull you down, then.”
“###…!” Persephone slammed her hand on the table and shouted.
However, Yeon-woo moved more quickly than she did. Even before she stood up, he already began to awaken his Dragon Body. Crunch.
Draconic Pressure began to flurry around him. Thanks to its large amounts of Divine and Demonic Factors, the storm of Draconic Pressure crushed the table and shook the temple, whipping the food and drink into the air. His skin flipped over to reveal dark dragon scales that seemed to be infused with the Void. They were sharper and tougher than before.
[The fourth-step power is being released.]
[Power: Mana Control]
[Description: The ancient dragon Kalatus set up an eight-step process to help the contractor adjust to the Dragon Body quickly. This is the fourth step. Within the territory of their power, dragons were glorious and supreme beings who pulled the mana stream and created new laws around them.]
The mana stream that flows around the world’s surface is the source and repository of all mana, and even great beings cannot access this easily. The Draconic species are the only ones who have been blessed by mana.
With the Elemental Contact achieved in the third step, you are now allowed more access to the mana stream, and depending on affinity, you can pull part of it to you. The higher the affinity, the greater the amount of mana you can control, and at times, you can create new laws to access the territory of ‘Creation.’ However, there is a significant amount of resistance after controlling the mana stream.]
[The Dragon’s Territory, ‘Binah’, has been strengthened. You exercise control over powers and elemental magic power within the territory.]
[All stats increase by a set number within a set time.]
[You have achieved half of the steps to becoming one of the Draconic species.]
[You have made an achievement that is not easily accomplished. Additional karma will be provided.]
[You have acquired 10,000 karma.]
[You have acquired 20,000 additional karma.]
[Demarcation has been successful.]
Yeon-woo had continued improving his abilities through battle experiences even after he’d already achieved the Demonic Divine Draconic Body, which was why he’d managed to pass the critical third step. The fourth step went more smoothly than he expected since he already had a significant amount of Factors and achieved Heaven Bracket, which raised his level.
The feeling of the fourth step of the awakening was giddying. Everything in the territory felt like it was under his control. His senses had already been honed before, but now he’d finally made contact with the surface of the base element that made up the world: ideas, the composition of truths. He could now sense the alternative surface of items and control them.
“You dare to threaten me?” Persephone scowled. Not only had a mortal rejected her offer and mocked the god she served, it seemed like he was even threatening her now. Her murderous aura grew into a windy storm that whirled around her. As though it were mixed with Draconic Pressure, it shook the temple until it seemed that everything would crumble around them.
Still, there was no way Yeon-woo’s Draconic Pressure could handle Persephone’s energy. Objects that looked like thorns shot out of the shadows on the ground to invade Yeon-woo’s territory. As he stood surrounded by them, Yeon-woo looked as though he were in great danger.
However, Yeon-woo just smiled coldly, not surprised. “Who’s threatening you? You’re being delusional.” At the same time, Yeon-woo opened subspace and pulled Vigrid out to slice at the imperfections his Draconic Divine Eyes revealed.
[Vigrid-??? releases a hidden true name, Durendal.]
[Folklore: Cutting in two with one strike of the sword]
Durendal was one of the sharpest of the holy swords, and there was even a legend about how it cut an opponent’s horse in half as it rushed to the opponent’s helm.
Vigrid’s sharpness slid past the shadow thorns next to Persephone’s face, and by the time she realized that Yeon-woo wasn’t aiming for her but the cocoon behind her, it was too late.
Rip. The shadowy strands split to reveal Hades. He didn’t move, as though he were in a deep sleep. The cocoon was a mechanism to squeeze out all of the holy power in his body and even his soul. If Hades were lost to it, the authority of the Underworld would be lost as well.
The shadow moved to the cocoon once more, but Yeon-woo clenched his fist and raised it. A shadow that belonged to him had finished its battle and was now covering Hades. It was a Spirit Guai.
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