Chapter 596 – Erebus (4)
『The more I look at it, the more this place reminds me of the swamp of darkness.』
Erebus was just like the swamp of darkness. Not only did it emit an acrid stench that stripped G.o.ds of their divinity, a fog that rose up from the ground threatened to swallow your soul if you weren’t paying attention. It wasn’t the best feeling to walk on the marshy ground that tried to suck one in, as well.
You had to move without rest, otherwise, you would sink into the muck if you stopped even for a little while. While divine beings didn’t have to worry about this, their divine abilities didn’t work too well in Erebus, and it took a while for their holy power to recover.
Most of the beings who escaped to this place grew tired quickly. The more time pa.s.sed, the weaker Erebus made those inside it.
‘They say Erebus is the grave of G.o.ds; it really is.’ It was already difficult for Yeon-woo, who was still a mortal, so he couldn’t imagine how tiring it was for the divine beings. The stronger you were, the greater a toll Erebus took on you.
Plod. Plod. Athena and Ares looked exhausted the moment they entered Erebus. The confident Hercules also became quiet after some time.
Everyone just silently walked forward. Ares and Hercules tried to search for Hermes and the others even though it was impossible to figure out any direction in this place. Fortunately, they had an artifact that Hermes had given them before they left Erebus that helped them find the way. The needle of the compa.s.s in Athena’s hand began to spin. It meant one of the G.o.ds of Olympus was nearby.
Athena quickly released her holy power just as laughter from somewhere beyond rang out. It was a woman’s high-pitched shriek that seemed almost mad. “Ha! Hahahaha!”
“This is…!” Athena was about to identify the voice when Kronos suddenly transformed into his human form and shouted in a frantic voice.
『Hestia! Hestia, where are you?』 Kronos desperately called the name of his eldest daughter. Although he no longer felt the same way, he had once detested Hades, Poseidon, and the others, resenting them for abandoning him. However, there was a child he had never resented and always longed for: his first child.
She was the cute and lovely first child that he and Rhea had, the daughter who was always a dependable sister. He missed her so much that he hoped to see her in his dreams, but she never appeared in them. And now, she was nearby.
He could feel his heart beating faster and his blood pumping throughout his body even though he no longer had those bodily functions. He felt his breath grow short, and when he finally sensed something, he dashed towards it without any hesitation.
“Father!” He was so quick that Yeon-woo had to use his Sky Wings to catch up.
Athena and the others quickly followed.
“Ack, aack!” However, when they caught up, they saw the anxious Kronos being flung around by something.
『Hestia, it’s me! Kronos! Your father is here!』
“Go away! I said, go away!”
『Can you not see me? Your father…?』
A ma.s.sive monster that spewed hot flames was there.
“But her transition was slow! How could she have changed so much? Impossible!”
When Ares and Athena saw their worst fears come true, they grew pale. Transition was a phenomenon also called “Spirit Change”, and it was the first strange occurrence that the great G.o.ds of Olympus had experienced after fleeing to Erebus.
The atmosphere of Erebus slowly drained the G.o.ds of their holy power and damaged their divinity. Usually, that didn’t harm most great divine beings, and it could be solved once they left Erebus. However, the great divine beings fell into despair when their holiness grew tainted and their spirits began to change.
Their souls slowly mutated, and they were at risk of becoming damaged monsters. But that wouldn’t be the end of it. They would soon succ.u.mb to disease or their legends would fade away as though they’d been hit with Gaia’s Curse. These were all fatal.
Yeon-woo wasn’t too surprised since he’d expected that this would happen after hearing of the risks, but it was different to see Hestia’s mutated form. ‘Am I too late?’
He understood why the great divine beings considered giving up their divinity after seeing the strange phenomena. It would be less dangerous if they didn’t have their transcendence. Hermes was most likely going through something similar.
It was a huge concern that Hestia, whose mutation had been relatively slow, was in such a terrible condition. Her appearance as a divine being had disappeared. If her divine powers didn’t occasionally pop out, it would have been impossible to recognize her.
Kronos anxiously tried to approach her, wanting to help, but Hestia just opened her mouth with an annoyed expression, thinking he was trying to aggravate her.
Rumble! Boom! An intense fire that felt hotter than Yeon-woo’s Purgatory Furnace poured to the ground. Boom!
Of course, it couldn’t hurt Kronos, and he only looked at her in pity as he stretched his hand out to create a multi-layered barrier that blocked the flames.
“Yes, sir…?” Athena turned to look at Yeon-woo, using formal speech that she wasn’t accustomed to yet. She also didn’t know what to do about Hestia.
“Is there a way to heal or stop the transition process?”
“Not…yet. Hermes fell ill when he tried to find a solution…”
“Then there’s no other method than to incapacitate her right now.” Yeon-woo clucked his tongue and activated his powers.
[6th-step Dragon Body awakening]
[Releasing all powers…]
He transformed into a dragon and flew to Hestia.
“Ah!” Athena tried to stop him, but it was too late. Ares and Hercules, who were unable to bring themselves to attack, looked up at Yeon-woo with surprised eyes.
Yeon-woo plunged down from the sky so that Kronos wouldn’t be able to stop him. Hestia discovered him and looked up, spewing a hot breath of fire, but it only left Yeon-woo covered in soot without harming him.
As she focused on attacking him, emptiness opened around her and chains flew out, binding her arms and legs. Cras.h.!.+ Hestia was stuck in the chains before she could resist. Her right arm exploded, and sc.r.a.ps of flesh flew into the air.
『You!』 Kronos shouted furiously, but Yeon-woo remained calm.
“Father, this isn’t the time to be blinded by love.” Unlike Kronos, Yeon-woo didn’t have any affection for Hestia. He wasn’t like the affectionate Jeong-woo, and he found it difficult to relate to strangers or put himself in their shoes.
In addition, Hestia was part of the group that had tried to kill him. Poseidon had probably forced her into doing it, but that didn’t mean Yeon-woo was ready to forgive her. She had tried to destroy him and probably thought of it as little more than getting rid of a noisy bug. Yeon-woo didn’t plan on listening to whatever Kronos said. However, if he eliminated Hestia in cold blood, Kronos would be upset. Moreover, Yeon-woo was in Erebus in the role of Olympus’ savior, and he had no plans to hurt Hestia any more than what was necessary.
‘But it’s not easy to keep her in check.’ Hestia thrashed, and the chains clattered on the ground. Was there no way to stop the transition?
「I…apologize… I do not…know.」 Boo immediately responded in the negative when Yeon-woo asked. Yeon-woo thought it might have been related to chaos or disorder, but it wasn’t the case. He also asked Rebecca, who was the Apostle of Cernunnos, a G.o.d skilled in various fields.
[Cernunnos looks at you wordlessly.]
But like always, Cernunnos just observed him without putting forth an opinion.
‘It would be helpful if Brahm were here.’ However, his connection with Brahm had been weak for some time. He didn’t know what Brahm was doing, but it wouldn’t be easy to reach him from here. ‘It’s probably best to remove her from Erebus’ atmosphere first.’
Without a solution, he decided to place Hestia deep inside his shadow. A method to easily stop the transition suddenly flashed through his mind. ‘But then, things will deteriorate.’ Yeon-woo pretended not to see Kronos, who was glaring at him as if he knew what Yeon-woo was thinking. ‘It would be easy to take over Olympus if she were my familiar, though.’
Yeon-woo shook his head.
* * *
The residence of Olympus’ great divine beings wasn’t too far from where they discovered Hestia. It was a temple that looked like the ones in Tartarus. However, seeing the ruined state of the buildings, it was clear how the G.o.ds here were faring.
“Athena, Ares! You’re really back! And Hercules too…!” Just then, Apollo the sun G.o.d, who was protecting the temple, rushed over with wide eyes. The blazing red hair Yeon-woo had seen before leaving Tartarus was dirty, and Apollo’s s.h.i.+ning eyes were filled with exhaustion. Still, he seemed glad that his siblings had returned. “Since you’ve returned, does that mean…?”
“Yeah. It’s all over, Apollo. All we have to do is return to Olympus.”
“Ah! Finally, those cursed things…!” Apollo smiled, looking moved. The end to what had seemed like infinite darkness had come. “What…what happened? Did you defeat them?”
Apollo had a few other divine domains aside from the sun: art, music, poetry, and prophecy. He couldn’t see specific timelines and events like the Three Norns of the sixteenth floor, but he could gain a general sense of things.
Olympus relied on Apollo’s prophecies, but they hadn’t been able to see the rebellion of the t.i.tans and Gigantes or their defeat. It was hard to tell whether the eyes of prophecy had closed or if there was some supernatural interference. Apollo was surprised that he hadn’t predicted any of this happening.
“It’s all thanks to…Uncle ###.” When Athena turned to Yeon-woo as she spoke, Apollo’s eyes widened. The mortal he’d saved in the past looked entirely different. It was true he was somewhat interested in Yeon-woo since Hermes and Athena had been so taken by him, but he didn’t know Yeon-woo would grow so much. There were many things he wanted to ask, but one thing that stood out glaringly.
“‘Uncle’? What are you…!”
“I’ll explain later. Where’s Hermes?”
“He’s inside. But he needs to be stabilized, so it’s best no one… Hey!” Apollo shook his head, but Yeon-woo immediately began walking towards Hermes’ aura.
Frowning, Apollo tried to stop Yeon-woo. How dare he cut a G.o.d off? Even though Athena said the defeat of the t.i.tans and Gigantes were thanks to Yeon-woo, Apollo a.s.sumed Yeon-woo had only made a small contribution. In his mind, it was impossible for mortals to a.s.sist and support transcendents. “You arrogant fool!”
However, Yeon-woo ignored him and walked toward Hermes’ room. Apollo shouted and activated his holy power with a raise of his hand, but Hercules and Ares suddenly got in between him and Yeon-woo.
“If you know what’s best for you, you’ll put that hand down, Apollo. You don’t want to die, do you?”
“I know you’re worried about Hermes, but I won’t allow you to put ### in danger.”
Powerful auras spun around them as they blew away Apollo’s aura.
“You…!” When the two G.o.ds of war who were known for their violence and intensity took Yeon-woo’s side, Apollo froze. He turned to Athena inquiringly, but she was also shaking her head stiffly.
“I can’t allow you to continue that. Stop it now.”
“Even…you?” Apollo was confused. Athena, Ares, and Hercules were taking a human’s side? The G.o.ds who were considered the next supreme G.o.ds of Olympus? What had happened in Tartarus?
As the standoff took place, someone walked out after hearing the commotion.
“What is the meaning of this ruckus?” It was a man with messy blue hair, holding a trident.