Chapter 1000: Resolution

After reaching a relatively secure area on the 79th Floor, Vahn set out the same magical cottage that they had previously used for resting. Helen immediately retreated to her own room without a word while Jeanne was laid to rest on a comfortable sofa. She would have normally shared the same room as Helen but it didn’t seem as if the latter had any interest in following conventions at the moment. Vahn didn’t really know what to say to her so he instead set about cooking up some food in the hopes of either luring her out or, at the very least, making sure she had something to eat if she got hungry. At the same time, back on the surface, Vahn had returned to the Manor with Fenrir in order to update the girls and spend time with his children.

Though the excursion in the Dungeon hadn’t been going on that long, as less than three days had passed since his departure, things had already become far more troublesome than anticipated. Fortunately, at least for the time being, things were manageable and, for each problem he may face during the descent, there were a plethora of people he could talk to if things began weighing heavily on his heart. This time around, after enjoying a rather pleasant lunch with many of the Manor’s residents, Vahn had returned to a private study with Eina and their daughter, Eiko. The latter was growing up healthily and was already capable of speaking broken sentences. As for her Guardian, the Gemcutter Squirrel, June, it was always very energetic as it climbed around on the furniture and explored the surroundings with a curious glint in its eyes.

Vahn absentmindedly watched Eiko giggling happily as she chased around June while Eina gently ran her fingers through his hair. He had already explained the situation in the Dungeon and was now enjoying a bit of leisure time while waiting for Jeanne to wake up of her own volition. Food had already been prepared and stored in his Inventory so, back in the Dungeon, Vahn was meditating while keeping his attention focused on their surroundings. This freed up the majority of his focus, allowing him to fully enjoy the always comfortable sensation of having someone stroke his head. It was amazing how such a simple action could provide so much comfort but, remembering how the girls reacted when he stroked their heads, it wasn’t that difficult to wrap his head around…

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While chasing after June, Eiko ended up stumbling over her own feet but, instead of falling to the ground and potentially injuring herself, a gentle pressure wrapped around her body before righting her once again. Then, without missing a beat, Eiko clapped her hands happily before chasing after June once again. The latter had stopped to make sure Eiko was okay and, seeing that she was uninjured, their game of tag proceeded without much delay. Eina saw this and smiled warmly before leaning down and kissing the top of Vahn’s head before lightly reprimanding him by saying, “You should allow her to fall every now and then or she will never learn to be cautious…”

As he had heard similar things several times, Vahn just absentmindedly nodded his head without taking the words to heart. He knew he spoiled his children a bit but he simply couldn’t harden his heart and allow them to experience suffering, at least when he was around. At the very least, he was always honest with them and made sure they were capable of thinking for themselves. This way, even if they were somewhat dependent on him at times, they would seriously consider their actions whenever he wasn’t around. Since the rest of the girls in the Manor also took a part in making sure the children were prepared to face whatever the world threw at them, Vahn wasn’t particularly concerned with them experiencing any setbacks as a result of his pampering nature…

Seeing Vahn’s reaction, Eina giggled lightly before pinching the side of his cheek in mock protest to his haphazard way of raising his children. Since the older children hadn’t shown any of the tell-tale signs of becoming entitled wastrels, she also wasn’t that concerned with how their daughter would end up. After all, she had a direct hand in Eiko’s education and, though their daughter was sometimes absentminded, she showed an appreciable level of intelligence for her age. Though not nearly as impressive as the standard Vanir, she shouldn’t have any issues excelling amongst a group of her peers.

Without minding Eina pulling on his cheek, Vahn continued to enjoy the momentary bliss that was often present whenever he spent time with this ‘first wife’ of his. She was, in essence, the functional Empress of his Empire but, without minding such things in the least, Eina continued her work at the Guild Branch while spending much of her free time tending to the children or, in this case, Vahn himself. When Rose, Misha, or the other girls would tease her about being an Empress, she would simply shrug it off with a smile before asking them how their relationship was developing. This was a good way to nip troublesome conversations in the bud as, though Misha was usually pretty open about her feelings, Rose had caused her to mellow out quite a bit with the passage of time…

As much as he wished moments like this could persist forever, Vahn sensed movement within his domain, causing his eyes to open within the Dungeon just as Jeanne raised her body and released a tired yawn. She began to look around at her surroundings before absentmindedly returning Vahn’s gaze with her own. For several seconds, the air became strangely tense before Jeanne’s face became noticeably red from her neck. Vahn could practically see the blush rise until it reached the top of her head before Jeanne averted her eyes to the side before sheepishly asking, “My Lord…how long have I been asleep? I can’t remember anything…”

Hearing this, Vahn’s brows perked up in surprise before realization dawned upon him. Whatever Maya had done to Jeanne seemed to have erased whatever memories she had obtained during her time spent in the illusion. Vahn had wanted to ask about her experience at some point, as he was somewhat curious to know what Jeanne had gone through, but that didn’t seem to be an option any longer. As this was probably for the best, Vahn decided not to force the issue but, in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help complaining about the fact that Maya hadn’t ‘undone’ whatever experience Helen had gone through. In a way, Jeanne losing her memories of the trauma she had experienced would just upset Helen even further as, from what he could see, she was projecting her troubles in a way that couldn’t easily be addressed in short order.

Deciding he would have to deal with the troubles as they came, Vahn forced a smile on his face as he gave a brief summary of what had transpired on the 78th Floor. Jeanne was fully aware of the fact that she had fallen into an illusion but, no matter how much she tried to recall the memories of that time, the only thing that appeared within her mind were glimpses of a woman with green hair. Even this didn’t provide her with any clear information as any attempt to recall exactly what the woman looked like simply escaped her. This caused Jeanne to feel incredibly frustrated as, far more than Vahn, she was worried about Helen’s well-being. However, as the latter ignored her knocking, Jeanne didn’t know what she should do to make amends for the fact that her trauma had been erased while her friend was forced to face it directly…

Seeing Jeanne walking back from Helen’s room with a doleful expression on her face, Vahn closed his eyes while internally shaking his head. He had no way of rationalizing Helen’s behavior and, as their relationship was never that close, attempting to enter her room may very well exacerbate the situation. The only viable solution seemed to be achieving godhood as soon as possible, allowing her to be free from the burden of her assumed ‘fate’. This, however, may cause the current Helen to completely break as, without a ‘meaning’ in life, she may very well choose death. Though this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least from Vahn’s perspective as someone who had died previously, he felt it was exceptionally unfair to Helen that she had been given such a lot in life.

Erecting a barrier around them that blocked out both sound and external magical probes, Vahn looked into Jeanne’s eyes with a severe expression visible in his own. This caused her to become serious and alert before asking, “What is it, my Lord?” In response, Vahn inhaled deeply through his nose before explaining the rather terrible ‘solution’ he had come up with, stating, “When all of this is over, I may have to erase Helen’s memories…”

Hearing Vahn’s words, Jeanne’s eyes widened into full circles before her expression gradually warped into indignation and internal conflict. Though she almost habitually refuted him, Jeanne knew better than anyone that Helen’s life hadn’t exactly been pleasant. She had been ‘alone’ for a very long time and, as a result of the fate she had been given, it was impossible for her to move on without a drastic change in her mentality. Having her memories erased meant that she would lose a great deal of knowledge and experience but, at the same time, it opened up a way forward for her to live a life without the burdens that had weighed heavily on her heart for centuries.

Seeing Jeanne go through the motions of accepting his proposal, Vahn added in a solemn tone, “I’m worried that, if I am able to achieve godhood without her assistance, Helen’s mind might break. If that happens, I will be forced to take action before she does something truly regretful…after that, I will no longer have any right to watch over her any longer. When the time comes, please take care of Helen on my behalf, Jeanne. I know it is selfish to entrust you with this, as the guilt will undoubtedly weigh heavily on your heart, but I believe there are none better suited to the task…”

Jeanne, in response to Vahn’s words, showed an expression of sheer disbelief on her face as she failed to fully process what he was asking of her. The confident light that was usually present in her eyes began to flicker like a candle being blown about by a tempestuous wind as she absentmindedly stated, “I am my Lord’s shield…I must protect you and the members of the Imperial Family…” Now that the conflict she had experienced from the illusion had faded away, Jeanne’s ‘meaning’ in life were the convictions she had as a knight. She couldn’t rationalize abandoning her duty to do something as ‘selfish’ as taking care of her friend as, even though she was genuinely worried about Helen’s well-being, Jeanne’s image of the taciturn mage was of a highly capable woman that didn’t require a caretaker…

Instead of insisting, Vahn waved upon hearing Jeanne’s words, forcing his mind to quickly proffer potential solutions. This turned out to be unnecessary, however, as Sis quickly chimed in, saying, (*Vahn, we both know you would never be able to live with the regret of sending Jeanne and Helen away. You would constantly worry about whether or not you made the correct decision and, if something bad happened, it would become even more troublesome…*) As this wasn’t exactly a ‘solution’, Vahn frowned deeply but, before he was able to ask, Sis quickly added, (*Helen is a woman who is obsessed with the idea of her life having ‘meaning’. Even if you’re unwilling to give her meaning, you can help her find new meaning rather easily. After all, with what we know of the Dungeon, it shouldn’t be that difficult to push Helen onto a different path, correct…?*)

Even without Sis explaining it directly, Vahn’s eyes widened in realization as he practically leaped from the sofa, startling Jeanne in the process. Seeing her confusion, Vahn smiled before bowing low and exclaiming, “I’m sorry, Jeanne, it was irresponsible of me to ask such a thing from you. I may have a solution that will fix everything so please don’t let my idiocy bother you too much.” Though Vahn could feel his temples buzz in discomfort while lowering his head and admonishing himself, he ignored the sensation since he was the most aware of how foolish his suggestion had been. More than simply betraying Helen’s trust, Vahn felt like he had betrayed both Jeanne and himself after coming up with such a terrible means of dealing with the situation. Though his current solution wasn’t much better, it was infinitely better than simply erasing Helen’s memories and leaving someone else to deal with the aftermath…

Though she was taken aback by Vahn’s spontaneous actions, Jeanne felt a great deal of relief after hearing his words. For a moment, it felt like her world was crashing down so, even though she couldn’t forget that Vahn had made such a suggestion, Jeanne placed a hand over her rapidly beating heart to calm down as she released a genuine sigh of relief. The flame in her eyes quickly stabilized as she looked toward the man she recognized as her Lord, asking, “Is it beyond my standing to ask about the solution my Lord has conceived…?” Normally, Jeanne would never openly question the decisions made by those she served but, as the matter pertained to someone she held dearly, she couldn’t help but break propriety just once.

Without minding Jeanne’s faux pas, Vahn sat back down and, after calming himself down, explained, “Honestly, I hope that things don’t come to this but, if Helen does end up trying to take her life…I will not stop her.” Since these words would undoubtedly upset Jeanne, Vahn had already raised his hand in a gesture to remain calm as he added, “So long as she is bound to her current life, Helen may never be able to escape her fate. If she can’t even take her own life, can you imagine how she would behave after the fact…?” As someone that genuinely believed she had no sway over her own destiny, being able to take her own life was actually a step forward for someone like Helen. Vahn, however, knew that there was more to life than the singular existence you represented during the time you spent living. The soul would persist on and, depending on the circumstances, there were numerous ways in which someone could live on, even after death…

Jeanne didn’t understand the full context of what Vahn was talking about but, realizing the truth contained within his words, she decided to remain silent and allow him to continue. Vahn gave her an appreciative nod in response before pointing downwards, explaining, “The Dungeon, Tartarus, is able to have some sway over the cycle of life and death. Though this is mostly related to monsters, the fact that the Xenos exists at all shows that it is directly related to the development and nurturing of the soul. Just as Ais had been reincarnated several times, I believe it is possible that we can guide Helen’s soul along the same paths, allowing her to one day be reborn as a Xenos. This way, she will retain parts of her memory but, at the very least, the life she will be living will no longer be bound to the same tragic fate as it is currently. Since she already lives amongst the Xenos, I believe Helen will be happiest if she truly has a place to belong to for the first time…”

More than any other race, Vahn saw the kinship that was shared amongst all Xenos and genuinely believed that there was no better outcome for someone that has lived for centuries in imposed solitude. Even if she remained cold and taciturn, Vahn believed that Helen would eventually open her heart to her fellow Xenos and, in time, gain a chance at the happiness she deserved. She had lived a tragic existence where even her family looked at her as nothing more than an object to either be obtained or admired. Since Xenos weren’t attracted to others in a conventional manner, it wouldn’t matter if Helen’s Innates remained unchanged during her reincarnation. She would be able to live amongst them as freely as any other Xenos and, after severing her fate with her own hands, it was likely she would readily accept the new ‘fate’ that had been assigned to her…

Though she was more than a little confused by Vahn’s words, Jeanne was aware that Ais had indeed been ‘reborn’ through the Dungeon. She didn’t share the same faith as he did that things would go smoothly but, seeing how much confidence he had, Jeanne couldn’t help feeling that Vahn’s idea was the correct decision. It was certainly better than his suggestion of erasing Helen’s memories and having her take care of whatever remained after the process was completed. Just imagining a life where she had to educate someone with the base intelligence and strength of Helen caused Jeanne’s brain to buzz with anxiety. Though they could have also reset her blessing, it wouldn’t have done anything to the development of her unique abilities…

Without a better suggestion, Jeanne inevitably nodded her head in agreement before asking, “Is there anything you require of me…?” To this, Vahn shook his head before looking towards the direction of Helen’s room and muttering, “I will not ask you to stand idly by while Helen continues to suffer. Do everything you can to help her but, if the time comes, please prepare yourself…even if she will be reborn, Helen must genuinely die before then. I have experienced loss before…it isn’t easy…” Even though he knew Jeanne had likely experienced loss of her own, Vahn couldn’t help but give her advice that, at the same time, was meant for himself. He knew that it wouldn’t be easy to watch Helen take her own life, no matter how much he prepared himself for the possibility. As for Jeanne, she adopted a solemn expression before nodding, a far firmer conviction in her eyes than the one Vahn felt in his heart…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Empress? Can it be eaten…( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)?’,’Vahn giving Jeanne a fresh trauma just as she had the previous one erased…’,’…’)

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