Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos Chapter 1080

Chapter 1080: Release Restraint

Though he wasn't supposed to have to train again for a few more hours, Vahn had cut his time with Nobunaga short after she drank herself into a stupor. She could easily cleanse the alcohol from her system by returning to her Spirit form but, as the drunkenness associated with [Emperor's Blood] was quite pleasant, he didn't blame her for indulging in the moment. After setting her into the bed and tucking her in properly, Vahn made his way outside the lakeside residence to see that Scáthach and Fenrir were training in the distance. If he were being honest, watching the two train always made him feel a little frustrated so Vahn normally kept himself busy to avoid having to watch Fenrir get a beating. Her awareness of his presence actually caused her to make more mistakes so it was better for everyone if he didn't pay close attention to her progress...

Since he didn't want to interrupt Fenrir's own training for his selfish reasons, Vahn turned his attention to the only other person present, Artoria. She seemed to detect his presence as well, causing her to rise to her feet and bow politely before saying, "I hope you were able to rest well, Master."

Giving a curt nod in response, Vahn ignored 'correcting' the way Artoria referred to him as, much like Lakshmibai, it was simply her nature as a Saber-Class Servant and Knight. Instead, he gestured for Artoria to take a seat before sitting opposite of her and asking, "How are you feeling after having time to adapt? Are you interested in Fenrir's training?" Since Artoria had been silently watching Scáthach and Fenrir in the distance, Vahn figured she was either still bothered by the former or interested in the latter. When she answered, however, it seemed to be both as Artoria explained, "I do not agree with the methods employed by Scáthach-dono. She seems unnecessarily harsh and, though I can understand the justification, I believe there are better methods. As for Lady Fenrir, I can see that she is earnestly trying to improve...it is quite admirable."

Without anything else to really talk about, Vahn decided to continue the conversational line, asking, "Oh? What kind of training did you do when you were younger? I imagine it couldn't have been all that easy considering how powerful you were able to become..." Though he had said these words in a casual manner, Vahn saw Artoria flinch in response. When she finally answered, Vahn did his best to avoid giving her a deadpan stare as she reluctantly explained, "Since before I was even self-aware, I have always been training to become a worthy King. I endeavored tirelessly to reach that aspiration, to the point that I even used the period of time designated for rest to receive an education. With Merlin's ability to enter dreams, he would teach me things like etiquette, strategy, negotiation, and anything else that would have made my duties easier..."

Vahn knew that Artoria was leaving out a lot of details but even hearing the basic summary was a bit surreal. He remembered how upset the girls were when they learned about him using Eva's orb back in the day but, at least when he was relying on that, Vahn was still sleeping when he was tired. The fact that Artoria spent her entire day training, including when she was supposed to be sleeping, caused Vahn to shake his head. Before he said anything, however, Artoria gave a wry smile before adding, "Do not trouble yourself, Master. Even during my lifetime, there were people who pointed out the faults in how I was raised. I do not blame Merlin, however, as he merely endeavored to help me become the best King I could be. Had I refused the training, things would have been very different..."

Even without him needing to point it out, Saber realized how comparable her own situation was compared to the 'complaints' she had towards Vahn and Fenrir's. If they refused the training, it would be impossible for Scáthach to insist upon it. Yet, much like she had refused the counsel of others during her lifetime, there was nothing disallowing them from doing the same. Realizing this, Artoria released a small sigh before hanging her head slightly, both hands neatly folded in her lap. even when she was 'brooding', Artoria had perfect posture and presented no 'flaws', at least from Vahn's perspective as an Emperor interacting with his Court...

Contrary to how Artoria carried herself, Vahn unceremoniously leaned forward before using his hand as a perch with his elbow atop the table. Since he was looking at her, Artoria straightened herself before politely asking, "Is there a matter you require me to attend, Master?" To this, Vahn nodded with the same casual demeanor before saying, "I wish to spar with you. Other than our Strength and Luck values, our parameters are comparable to each other. I believe you will be able to accept the efficacy of Scáthach's training if you experience how capabilities yourself. Watching me get beat for a few hours is probably weighing heavily on your mind, no...?"

Having never expected Vahn to ask her for a spar, at least this early on, Artoria was genuinely surprised by his request. He also seemed sincere when claiming their parameters were comparable, something that was even more difficult to believe than the fact he had been an Emperor above Gods. According to Rin, he had been significantly weakened after being thrown into this world but, as she herself had seen, Vahn was certainly abnormal. The fact he generated from wounds that would have killed most Heroic Spirits was evidence enough for this so, without much extraneous thought on the matter, Artoria nodded her head and said, "I understand. It would be my pleasure to spar with you, Master."

Vahn returned a smile before rising to his feet and making a mental note to 'apologize' to Artoria later on. In truth, he had wanted to try his newfound [Laplace's Key] against Scáthach but, after considering that it could give Artoria a better impression of him, Vahn was willing to gamble. Since she had a powerful fate surrounding her body, combined with the SSS-Ranked [Child of Destiny], there was a good chance their spar would be 'eventful'. Just by interacting with Artoria in meaningful ways, Vahn knew that her fate would begin to incorporate his existence into it. There was even a chance, depending on how she felt about him, that Artoria's fate could protect him and the people around them in dire circumstances...


After moving to the opposite side of where Scáthach and Fenrir were training, so as not to distract them, Vahn and Artoria ended up standing a relatively short 20m apart from each other. She had immediately changed into her armored state while, in her right hand, Vahn could actually feel his skin burning slightly as a result of the gentle light radiating from her pristine white blade. It had a blue handle that was the same royal blue as her dress while a semi-crescent guard fed into the motif of a crucifix at the blade's base. Even at a glance, Vahn could tell he would not be able to forge such a weapon, even with his previous skill. It was like the embodiment of the Holy Element, meaning any blows Artoria managed to land on his body would deal upwards of six times the damage...

As Artoria got into position, awaiting the start of the fight, Vahn decided to gain a few more future benefits as, if his plan backfired, any single attack from Artoria would cause him to suffer. With that in mind, Vahn smiled disarmingly before asking, "How about we spice things up with a bet...?" In response to this, Artoria's expression didn't wave in the slightest as she quickly replied, "It is ill manners to treat a spar as a game. Unless it is absolutely necessary, I would ask you to treat our spar seriously, Master."

Hearing Artoria's words, Vahn felt more than a little awkward but, nonetheless, pointed out, "This battle would be meaningless if you didn't use your Excalibur. However, because of the constitution of my body, any attack you land on me is going to do way more damage than you might expect. In order to give myself a bit of extra motivation, I wanted to make a friendly bet to make up for any losses I may suffer. You can look down on me for it if you want but, even if this is going to be a serious spar, it doesn't mean we have to treat the matters outside of it with the same severity. Since we haven't even started, there is no reason to be so fierce..."

Instead of acquiescing, Artoria looked a little annoyed as she commented, "Your way with words reminds me of my foster brother, Sir Kay. Though I bested him in all of our duels, I cannot claim to have won a single bout if his words were to be believed. Very well, Master, if that is how you wish to handle things, I will abide by your words. Make the stakes known...!" Towards the end of her words, Artoria held up her [Excalibur] in a ready-position that caused the burning sensation against Vahn's skin to more than double in intensity.

Even if she wasn't actually threatening him in such a manner, Vahn felt as if Artoria was warning him not to make any uncouth demands of her. It could be due to the holy light radiating from her [Excalibur], but it almost felt like he was being judged by her crystal clear green eyes. Regardless of his apprehensions, however, Vahn retained a calm smile before saying, "If you defeat me, I will take to heart any suggestions you have regarding my future training methods. Should I win, however, I will have you copy the outfits Fenrir wears for the rest of our time within the Sub Space Orb..." Since Fenrir often wore frilly and girly clothing, almost the polar opposite of the prim and proper clothes worn by Artoria, Vahn felt this would be a push in the right direction without being too forceful...

Having expected something much worse, a lot of the tension Artoria had been building up almost immediately collapsed in response to Vahn's words. For several seconds after the fact, she didn't move a single muscle. When she finally processed his request, Artoria released an exasperated sigh before her gaze become sharp once again. Without a single semblance of doubt contained within her gaze, Artoria confidently stated, "Very well. Even if I must train you myself, it is still better than entrusting you with that cruel woman. Draw your weapon, Master...!"

Since he didn't actually trust himself with a weapon right now, Vahn shook his head before a pair of thin metallic gauntlets covered his hands and forearms. Then, just as he began deactivating his [Will of the Emperor], Vahn stated in a calm monotone, "You will look adorable in Fenrir's clothing..." With that said, Vahn felt like he took a backseat to his own consciousness, fully aware of everything going on around him but unwilling to do anything at all. This didn't stop him from taking action, however, even if it didn't feel like he had any control over his own actions...

The moment Vahn finished his words, Artoria felt as if his entire disposition had changed in an instant. In one moment, he seemed rather casual and easy-going but, now that leaned toward her slightly, Artoria felt as if she weren't simply standing beneath a mountain, but looking up at one that was falling atop her head. The moment her finger twitched, Vahn's figure had already vanished from her perception, causing Artoria's eyes to widen as she parried to the right. Instead of trying to strike her, however, Vahn's hand slipped in the gap between her own swift strike before his fingers hooked into the plate protecting her neck. At the same time, his left hand pushed up the hilt of [Excalibur] with a sudden and spontaneous force that caused both of her hands to raise above her head.

With Artoria losing her balance, Vahn, even if he wasn't directing his own movements, began to intermittently use [Shundo] in a way he had never even fathomed before. By using [Shundo] without creating a connecting point, his body and Artoria's flew forward with an incredible momentum before he actually used her foot as a marker and vanished once again. With her already intense momentum, Vahn appeared in Artoria's trajectory before holding out his hand. At the exact moment she came into contact with his palm, Vahn used [Shundo] in the opposite direction, once again without creating a landing point.

With her momentum spontaneously arrested, before being reversed, Artoria's body experienced an intense whiplash as two contrasting shockwaves slammed into her body. She was sandwiched by the pressure before immediately being tossed along the white floor like a ragdoll after Vahn's third [Shundo]. Her eyes were wide with shock as she attempted to rise to her feet but, the moment she looked up to try and track Vahn's location, the only thing Artoria could see was a black fist filling her entire vision. It stopped less than a millimeter in front of her nose, causing her hair to blow backward from the wind pressure that accompanied the fist's original momentum. In the next moment, Vahn stepped back with what could only be seen as a completely emotionless expression before coming to a stop once again...

Artoria didn't know if this was his way of saying the spar was over but, realizing the ridiculous series of events that took place, she was unwilling to back down just yet. However, just as she put strength into her arms and tried to lift her body, Vahn was already within her personal space, his fist forming a two-knuckled punch that directly impacted the center of her breastplate. Artoria felt a wave of hot and intense pressure pass through her body, lifting her slightly off the ground against the pull of gravity. Then, as if time had just restarted, a thunderclap sounded in her ears as she was sent flying away from [Excalibur] with nearly as much speed and force as the blow that had brought her to her knees previously...

This time, Artoria didn't feel that rising to her feet was a good idea, even as her unwillingness to surrender blazed like a flame inside her chest. Even if this was supposed to be a spar, Artoria felt like her life was on the line so, after spitting up a mouthful of blood, she began to rise to her feet before extending her hand. The expected purchase she sought never came, however, causing Artoria to fall hard as an expression of profound confusion flashed across her green eyes. Throughout her life, any time she had called [Excalibur] to her side, it had always faithfully appeared. This time, instead of returning to her hand, she was left grasping at the air before no longer being able to support her aching body...


Under the guidance of Sis, Vahn slowly regained his senses, feeling just as shocked as Artoria after what had happened. It wasn't the fact that he had defeated her with much greater ease than he had expected that had Vahn shaken, however, but the fact that there was a foreign weight in his hand that shouldn't be there. Though it should have burned him on contact, Vahn was holding a perfectly tame [Excalibur] in his hands as it radiated a gentle light that no longer affected his body. He quickly released the royal blue handle, causing the blade to disappear in motes of white light before taking form in Artoria's hands once again. This allowed him to release a sigh of relief as, if he had actually managed to steal Artoria's [Excalibur], Vahn wouldn't really know how to act around her...

In order to help Vahn understand the situation, Sis suddenly muttered, ("Vahn, your body...") in a guiding tone. Following her lead, Vahn looked down and saw two things that shouldn't have been there, immediately alerting him to the reality of the situation. Now that he inspected himself, he looked exactly like Artoria, matching her almost perfectly down to the structure of their magic circuits. After acquiring [Excalibur], his body seemed to have determined that the most 'efficient' way to end the fight was to take Artoria's weapon. To facilitate this, he became an existence nigh-indiscernible from Artoria herself. It wasn't until he released [Excalibur]'s handle that the sword seemed to realize that he wasn't actually its owner...

After taking a few moments to restore his body to normal, Vahn [Shundo]'d next to the collapse Artoria and took in a sharp breath. She was laying on her stomach so Vahn was able to see the perfectly formed palm-print he had left on the back of her breastplate. He hadn't simply hit her hard, but with extreme precision. If not for her [Mana Burst] enhancing her durability, Vahn imagined that his [Shundo] stunt might have actually broken her back. Considering that this was nothing compared to the strike he had used to 'finish' the fight, Vahn redoubled his intentions to make it up to Artoria later on...

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Though Artoria hadn't completely lost consciousness, Vahn could tell she was on the verge as he gently rolled her onto her back. Her breastplate had five hairline fractures expanding out from a singular contact point that was supposed to be the thickest part of the metal. From the thin red lines running from the cracks, Vahn didn't even have to use his [Eyes of Truth] to know that his attack had done far more damage than he ever would have intentionally inflicted on an ally. There was even a pool of Artoria's blood on the ground from when she had been lying face down...

Knowing that she needed his mana to recover her injuries, Vahn bit the bullet by cutting vertically along his index finger before sticking it int Artoria's mouth. He even forcefully accelerated the rate at which the blood was flowing, to the point that Artoria briefly coughed up a mouthful when it accidentally went down the wrong pipe. Fortunately, she quickly recovered her senses with the heavy flow of mana entering her body. As a result, Vahn found himself awkwardly sitting at her side as Artoria suckled on his finger with an increasingly red face. Then, though it was probably the last thing she wanted to hear right now, Vahn felt like it wasn't a bad moment to say, "Sorry about that. I treated the battle more seriously than I should have...it was never my intention to injure you..."

Hearing Vahn's words, Artoria furrowed her brows as, even if he didn't intend them in such a way, it made her sound much weaker than he was. However, remembering how swiftly he had taken her down, Artoria realized this may not be far from the truth. Though he had certainly caught her by surprise, she couldn't even react to his movements after the battle had begun. It was almost as if he was able to use her own [Instinct] against her, slipping into the impossibly small gaps in her attacks. Then, after he landed the first hit, the rest of the battle was a foregone conclusion as she was never even allowed a moment's reprieve other than when Vahn had stopped his fist short of striking her face...

Suddenly feeling a bit ashamed of her own performance, Artoria became hyperaware of Vahn's finger in her mouth, doing her best to avoid touching it with her tongue, even though it made draining his blood harder. He seemed to notice her struggle, pulling his finger from her lips with a 'fwip' before cutting his middle finger as well. Before Artoria could argue that she was already okay, Vahn had stuck both of his fingers in her mouth, plainly stating, "Drink..." in a commanding tone. Though this hadn't been the terms of their bet, Artoria still felt compelled to listen since she had been defeated in such a decisive manner. Now, instead of looking down on Scáthach's training, she wondered if it would be prudent to participate herself...

(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Target acquired...','Saber in cute clothes...kuwaii-desu~! (UwU)...','One-hundred percent maximum no-chill...!')

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