Chapter 1068: Release

After hearing about the large-scale battle in the Einzbern Forest, it was obvious that the Holy Grail War was beginning to enter its final phase. Though it wasn’t impossible for other Masters to have been involved, it was more than likely that the conflict had been between the Einzbern and Matou family. Any solo Masters remaining in the War were far more likely to target the Tohsaka or Matou family residences than they were to seek trouble with the Einzbers, especially at this stage. Since Paracelsus and his Master were still in hiding, the likely culprits were either Sakura or the unnamed Master-Servant pairings of the final Caster and Archer-Class Servants. Setting fire to the forest would indicate that a Caster had been involved but it was impossible to be sure with what they knew thus far…

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With the discussion quickly reaching a dead end, the only thing that could reasonably be discussed were potential countermeasures against the shadow that had attacked Gray. Since he had been the one to break down the function of the malignancy, Vahn took the lead in the conversation by explaining, “Though I cannot say for absolutely certain that my conjecture is correct, it shouldn’t be that far removed from the truth. The shadows that Gray described seem to be a type of curse that has the properties of ‘reversing’ the inherent properties of mana. This simple change is enough to interfere with the structure of constituent particles at the subatomic level. When these bonds break down, the majority of the energy contained within the atoms bleeds back into the void while a small fraction of the converted mana is used to propagate the cycle anew.”

Though others might have some difficulty comprehending what Vahn was talking about, Lord El-Melloi II had one of the strongest foundations in conceptual and theoretical Magecraft amongst the Clock Tower’s Lecturers. Immediately following Vahn’s explanation, he asked, “Were you able to infer that it was a curse do to its ‘self-preservation’ component? Also, if it truly affects matter at the sub-atomic level, why does it only target organic material…?” To this, Vahn shook his head before adding, “It doesn’t just target inorganic materials. If that were the case, Gray’s Mystic Codex wouldn’t have been damaged so severely. I would argue that there is a lingering intent contained within the curse that makes it specifically target anything that the ‘shadow’ had wanted to destroy. As for why it affects others by proximity, this is most likely a means to discourage outside interference to ensure that the target is ultimately devoured by the curse…”

Hearing Vahn mention Add, Gray’s mood immediately reached rock bottom, drawing a lot of attention to herself as she forlornly asked, “Is there anything that can be done for Add? He has been a Mystic Code passed through my family for tens of generations…he is also my first and oldest friend…” Remembering the state that Add had been in after trying to protect her, Gray’s face formed a deep frown as a thin mist quickly spread across her stark blue eyes. Unfortunately, as the method to produce each Mystic Code was usually a closely guarded, if not outright forgotten, secret, the only response Gray received from most people present were apologetic looks.

Just as Gray seemed on the verge of tears, Vahn raised his hand before casually remarking, “I can fix him. Even if my method doesn’t work, I’m certain that Scáthach would know the method used to produce Add. I may not look like it, but my skill as a Blacksmith would be able to humble most purported Masters.” As someone who had been a [Master Smith] within the Record of Danmachi, combined with the fact that he had the guidance of Hephaestus herself, Vahn was confident that he could repair Add. This was assuming that a simple [Whetstone] wasn’t able to repair him in an instant…

As if she hadn’t quite heard him correctly, Gray’s expression turned into one of confusion as a small glimmer of hope reflected in the depths of her eyes. Lord El-Melloi II also seemed more than a little skeptical but, after Vahn made good on his promise to heal Gray, he knew better than to discount the increasingly mysterious man’s capabilities. He was quickly beginning to regret having failed to get Rin to reveal the information pertaining to Vahn and his true identity. Though he knew that Vahn compared himself to a Pseudo-Divine Spirit, apparently hailing from another world, that was near the limit of what Lord El-Melloi II knew about him…

Knowing he was being doubted, Vahn rolled his eyes before looking directly at Gray and repeating, “I can repair Add for you. All I need is Add himself and a room where I can enjoy some privacy.” Since he stated it very clearly this time, Gray’s eyes began to water even more than before as she used the sleeves of her jacket to hide her face. Though he hadn’t even helped yet, she stammered in a sobbing voice, “Uuuee…thank you…”, punctuating her words with a sniffle. This made Vahn feel a little awkward as it suddenly felt like there were far more expectations on him based on the looks everyone was giving him…

Without much of a delay, it wasn’t long before Vahn found himself in one of the hotel’s rooms with Rin, Gray, and Fenrir present. The others were also in the room but, to avoid any trouble, they remained as Spirits and simply observed the process from somewhere in the room. Since there weren’t really any preparations to be made, Gray handed over the malformed Add with a pleading look in her eyes as she said, “Please, Vahn…if you can help Add, I will owe you-” Before she could finish her words, Vahn released a sigh before ‘flicking’ Gray’s head. At the same time, he snatched Add out of her hands and said, “I’ve seen this trend before…your gratitude is enough for me, Gray. We’re friends, after all…”

Since it seemed like Gray was going down a foreseeable ‘route’, a concept Vahn had come to comprehend after some anime-style games caught his eye, Vahn wanted to nip it in the bud from the start. He was getting a little tired of women thinking they ‘owed’ him something or needed to ‘repay’ some kind of arbitrary debt. This almost always led to romantic tensions developing as, even without using the View Affection function of The Path, Vahn still had a habit of empathizing with girls. If it got to the point that Gray started talking about her past, Vahn knew it was only a matter of time before things developed even further between them. It almost felt that, if they weren’t already taken, a lot of women were predisposed to fall in love with him…

Ignoring the slightly pouting expression on Gray’s face, Vahn pulled out a plain-looking [Whetstone] before scraping it across Add’s surface three times. Even with the first stroke, it was easy to see that a lot of the damage done to Add’s body had simply vanished. Since [Whetstone]s even worked on S-Ranked equipment and artifacts in the Record of Danmachi, Vahn wasn’t that surprised that it was just as effective on Add. Though it seemed to possess a spirit, Add’s personality was just an artificial construct and, no matter how complex its structure, it was still just a piece of equipment. As a result, by the time Vahn had performed the third stroke, Add flashed a mystical white light before it had been restored completely.

With everyone looking at him as if he had done the most ridiculous thing in the entire world, Vahn just cracked a smile before unceremoniously tossing Add over to Gray. Though he had repaired it, the artificial personality was still in ‘self-preservation’ mode and would need to be awakened by Gray herself. She seemed to understand this as well so, even while feeling rather incredulous at the moment, Gray held add between her palms before muttering in a surprisingly cold monotone, “Gray. Rave. Crave. Deprave. Grave me. Grave for you. Awaken. Mystic Codex. Add.” With each word she spoke, Add began to glow with an increasingly intense golden light before the dark holes where its eyes were located suddenly ‘opened’ as it answered, “Pseudo-Personality Awakened. Performing structural analysis. Confirmed restoration of damaged internals. Reboot Confirmed. Good morning, Gray.”

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Hearing the familiar voice of Add, Gray looked like she was on the verge of tears once again, at least until Vahn commented, “You’re more of a crybaby than I would have taken you for…” This caused her face to turn beet red before she turned around completely to avoid eye contact with anyone in the room. At the same time, apparently unwilling to overlook the fact that Vahn had just restored a Mystic Code with a rock, Rin asked, “What on earth was that stone? How did you repair something as complex as a Mystic Code with something that looks like it could be found in a riverbed…” To this, Vahn shrugged his shoulders and answered, “It is an item simply referred to as a [Whetstone]. I don’t completely understand its properties myself…it just works that way.”

Rin’s expression only became even more incredulous when she heard Vahn’s words, a feeling he actually shared since there were actually a number of items he had obtained through the system that didn’t make much sense. The most obvious examples were the [Whetstone]s and the [Effigy of the Hero], both things that were relatively inexpensive regardless of how they seemed to operate on Laws that even Gods in the Record of Danmachi couldn’t understand. Vahn sometimes felt like The Path had included them in his early drops so that he would have a crutch to rely on during the most difficult periods of his life. After all, being able to heal most wounds with a [Senzu Bean], using [Whetstone]s to repair practically any weapon, and having a life-saving item like the [Effigy of the Hero] gave him a huge edge in pretty much every Record…

After promising to let Rin research the [Whetstone] at a later date, the atmosphere had started to shift to a point where it was becoming awkward just staying around. It wasn’t as if Lord El-Melloi II and Flat didn’t welcome them, but it was obvious that the former’s suspicions of Vahn were steadily increasing while the latter kept pestering him about all kinds of questions, even after Vahn had refused to comment several times. As for Gray, she had become unnecessarily bashful and, though she didn’t say much, just the fact she was ‘lingering’ was causing Vahn some discomfort. This wasn’t due to Gray herself, however, but more so due to the fact that Rin’s mood had been on the decline since early in the morning.

Ultimately, Vahn promised to meet up with Gray latter, even though she stated she would stop by the Tohsaka Manor of her own accord when there was new information. After that, the group finally began their return to the Manor with Rin burying half her face in her scarf, remaining silent almost the entire return trip. Since she had shrugged off his attempt to hold her hand, Vahn was left trailing slightly behind her while Fenrir happily walked alongside him. She was already accustomed to how her Master seemed to draw people towards him and, even if it was more than a little frustrating at times, she wasn’t going to beat herself up over it when the opportunity to have his affection for herself appeared.

As the distance to the Tohsaka Manor began to shorten, Rin finally released a sigh before turning back to face Vahn, asking, “Do you like Gray…?” In response to this, Vahn released a tired sigh of his own before answering, “Rin, you aren’t a foolish woman. Even if you tried to pretend ignorance, I don’t believe for a moment that you aren’t aware of the type of person I am. My only intentions were to help Gray…how she feels about things is something almost entirely centered around her perspective of events. At the same time, however, I can’t deny that I have an inherent weakness when it comes to women who express their affections for me…”

Hearing Vahn’s words, Rin’s brows furrowed a bit before commenting to herself, “I guess I fall into that category as well…” Though she was fully aware of the fact that Vahn initially only reciprocated her feelings due to the circumstances, Rin still felt as if her pride had been wounded a bit. At times like this, she wished that she could simply follow the advice of Ishtar and Scáthach, knowing full-well that she would never be able to keep Vahn to herself. With that in mind, Rin somewhat hesitantly walked to Vahn’s side before linking her hand with his, a pouting expression still visible on her face throughout the whole process. She honestly blamed herself for falling for yet another guy that seemed to draw the attention of almost every woman around him, even if he was an ‘idiot’…

Though he didn’t really know what to make of Rin’s behavior, Vahn rubbed her hand with his thumb before leading both her and Fenrir the rest of the way to the Manor. What followed was another period of intensive training within the Sub-Space Orb as Rin kept herself distracted with her studies. Vahn made good on his promise to give her a [Whestone], something Rin would have to make sense of on her own since not even Scáthach could see through what made it function. As for Nobunaga, Astolfo, and Lakshmibai, the first two continued to lounge about lackadaisically while the latter, in much the same way as Gray, would periodically linger around Vahn when he wasn’t training. Vahn used this as an opportunity to learn more about her past, even though he knew she had developed the expectation that, at any moment, he might broach the subject of bolstering her magical power…

After what had happened with Gray, combined with the large-scale battle that had occurred within the Einzbern Forest, it now seemed like a ‘foolish’ idea not to follow through on the act. The thing that bothered Vahn was the fact that he still disliked when people ‘expected’ him to act in such a way, even if their reasons for making such conclusions were founded according to contextual evidence. What made matters even worse was how Scáthach, at the end of each training session, had been pinning him to the ground as if she were trying to rile him up even further. Vahn knew he was nearing a breaking pont of sorts and, as even Sis counseled him against creating undue stress for himself, Vahn felt as if all of his inhibitions were slipping away…

For these reasons, during the period where Vahn was supposed to be resting in preparation for the resumption of the Holy Grail War, he eventually ‘snapped’. Lakshmibai had shown up to talk once again and, though he humored her for around half an hour, Vahn was essentially in a ‘hyperaware’ state as she sat next to him. He could smell the fragrance wafting from her body, a curious mixture of honey, butter, and saffron. When she noticed his gaze, Lakshmibai fell silent before simply staring back at him with her pale-pink eyes. This impromptu staring contest caused the tensions in the room to steadily increase and, before Vahn even realized what had happened, he already had Lakshmibai on her back…

With her right arm pinned above her head, Lakshmibai had a slight frown on her face as she complained, “Please don’t be so rough…my heart is already prepared, but I’m still apprehensive. I have only ever lain with one other man before…” Vahn didn’t really need to ask who Lakshmibai was referring to as, even without them having discussed her past previously, he had an almost complete biography of her life memorized within his mind. He knew she had married a man named Raja Gangadhar Newalkar before giving birth to a son shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, due to the damage she had sustained during the delivery, Lakshmibai had been left unable to bear additional children. Then, as if to capitalize on her tragedy, her newborn son had died after only four months, the cause being a fever gained after a servant had left the window open during a particularly cold evening…

Having calmed down a considerable amount after hearing Lakshmibai’s words, Vahn’s expression turned gentle as he said, “You need not worry…this is one of the things I have supreme confidence in. I won’t make things difficult for you…” Though he had every intention of giving Lakshmibai a similar experience as Nobunaga, meaning she might not even be the same person by the time he was done, that didn’t mean he needed to treat her roughly. Him pushing her down was the result of the fact she almost seemed to be ‘challenging’ him to take action with how she stared back at him. Since she had been lingering around him with this very outcome in mind, Vahn had temporarily let his rationale slip under the focus of her pale-pink irises…

Nodding her head in understanding, Lakshmibai seemed to relax considerably as the white military-style garb dissolved from her body. When Vahn saw what she was wearing underneath, his mind genuinely blanked as, even though he already felt Lakshmibai was an incredibly beautiful woman, her appearance in lingerie dealt more damage than her Noble Phantasm. Not only did she have an almost perfect figure, at least as far as balance and appeal was concerned, but the lingerie she had chosen was a similar sandy-white color to her hair, accented with black-lace embroidery that had a flower-motif design. This created a truly perfect contrast with her healthy brown skin, causing Vahn to enter into a daze as he noticed her panties were anything but ‘saintly’. The front barely concealed Lakshmibai’s secret garden and, though he hadn’t seen the back with his own eyes, Vahn was certain the panties she had decided upon were a thong…

Though it wasn’t that obvious, Lakshmibai had started to blush under Vahn’s ‘intense’ gaze, causing her to instinctually cover her shapely breasts with her hands. Then, though he had probably said the same words ‘too’ often, Vahn couldn’t prevent himself from uttering, “Beautiful…” in a sincere tone of voice. This caused the blush on Lakshmibai’s face to become more prominent as, for the first time, she seemed to show genuine reluctance by looking away and commenting, “You need not use such flowery words to ease my burdens…I have already prepared myself…” In response to this, Vahn lightly shook his head as he began to trace his palm across Lakshmibai’s soft and supple skin. Then, in a voice that left no room for argumentation, Vahn affirmed, “Even if the feeling does not currently exist between us, I would never lay with a woman who I’m unwilling to cultivate genuine affections for…”

Hearing the serious undertones contained within Vahn’s words, Lakshmibai showed an awkward smile before sheepishly claiming, “That would be troubling…” This caused Vahn to lightly chuckle as thin strands of energy began to flow from his fingers into Lakshmibai’s body. He was only using his understanding of Petting Laws as he gently caressed her rapidly warming body. It didn’t take long at all for Lakshmibai to close her eyes, seemingly refusing to stare back at him as her breathing rapidly accelerated. Then, at the same time as a contented sigh escaped her lips, Vahn internally remarked, (“If it is always going to be like this, I’m not going to keep holding myself back…by the time I’m done, the reason you seek me out won’t just be for mana…”) As that thought formed in his mind, Vahn traced his fingers under the band of Lakshmibai’s bra, freeing the two voluminous mountains, each peaked with pale pink protrusions, from their restraints…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘I can fix it…’,’Poor Rin xD…’,’RIP Lakshmibai. She ded.’)

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