Unaware of the meeting going on between the gods and their eventual confrontation with Ouranos, Vahn continued along the way with the rest of his entourage while carrying the sleeping Tina in his arms. Everyone remained relatively silent along the way as it was already late into the evening and the atmosphere wasn’t exactly conducive to conversation. Even Syr, who was often cheerful and outgoing, had a quiet and reserved demeanor as she led the way. The only person that didn’t seem to be affected by the atmosphere was Arnya, who kept whispering words to Ryuu and asking various questions that caused the taciturn elf to sigh.
Milan walked alongside Vahn and kept her head down for the majority of the trip as she turned her attention between Tina and Vahn respectively. Vahn could tell that her aura was still chaotic so he spread his domain to a small radius of five meters and began using the calming effect of his [Hands of Nirvana]. Everyone briefly paused when they felt the warm energy before turning toward Vahn who had looked at Milan with an expression of concern on his face.
Milan had also stopped and turned her attention toward Vahn and could see the worry in his eyes. Her heart felt a bit of warmth and the energy seeping in through the atmosphere drove away the cold night air and brought her some degree of security. Seeing him cradling Tina gently while still paying attention to her mentality made the older cat woman feel almost fortunate. Were it not for the fact that she had phantom pains and the memories of the past events periodically flashing through her mind, she would have been genuinely happy by the current events.
Vahn could see that, though her aura had stabilized a bit, Milan was still in a bad state of mind. Furrowing his brows slightly, Vahn spoke in a quiet, yet firm, tone, “I swear, Milan, I will never allow something like this to happen again. No matter what it takes, I will protect you and Tina from now on.”
In response to his statement, Milan gave him a soft smile and nodded her head before standing a little closer to him. Even though she couldn’t truly believe in his words, given everything that happened, Milan knew that Vahn would do his best to keep his word. She had learned the motive behind the attack earlier and it had left a deep impact on her mind, but she didn’t blame Vahn at all. It was the greedy and cruel nature of the men and their deviant goddess that had led to the incident taking place.
Now Milan felt the desire to grow stronger after a long period of inactivity and wanted her daughter to also do the same. She knew that associating with Vahn and the people around him would be the greatest guarantee of their safety in the future. However, it was also this thought that made Milan feel unnerved. If Vahn refused to take care of them, even though Milan believed he would never do such a thing, she and her daughter would have nothing. This was why she accepted the offer to stay and work at the Hostess of Fertility. Though she wanted to trust Vahn wholeheartedly, Milan couldn’t place her trust in a man right now.
The group continued on their way until arriving at side entrance near the Hostess of Fertility. After exchanging a few parting words, Vahn gave Milan a gentle hug after passing Tina over to her. Though he could feel her body shake slightly, Vahn wanted to comfort her and continued using [Hands of Nirvana] to calm her body. Her shivering stopped by a large amount after a few seconds and she showed Vahn a slight smile before following Arnya inside.
Syr remained in the alleyway and placed her hand on Vahn’s shoulder and said in a gentle tone, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of them. Make sure to stop by later and visit…everything will be okay.” Finished with her words, Syr gave Vahn a short hug before following the other girls inside. The only ones left the alleyway were Tiona, Ais, Naaza, Lili, and Ryuu who had remained behind and approached Vahn.
Though she usually wasn’t very expressive, Ryuu had a gentle and comforting smile on her face as she placed her right hand over Vahn’s chest. She closed her eyes for a few seconds and said in a quiet voice, “Your heart is stable…you will be okay. It isn’t easy to walk the righteous path, but find some comfort in knowing that you saved those you care about.”
Vahn could see Ryuu’s aura fluctuate and saw the sadness in her eyes as she was likely speaking from past experience. He knew from the manga that Ryuu had belonged to a ‘righteous’ Familia called the Astrea Familia which had been wiped out due to the machinations of an evil organization. In her pursuit of vengeance, she had killed a number of their members before nearly succumbing to the wounds she suffered. If not for being found by Syr, she would have met the same end as the rest of her Familia.
Placing his right hand over the one she had over his heart, Vahn spoke in a solemn tone as if he were making a vow, “There are too many people that rely on me and too many things I want to obtain. I will not lose my way…I will continue to grow stronger in order to wash away any future regrets. I want to become a light that guides the way forward for others to follow.”
Ryuu smiled and continued staring at Vahn’s hand over her own. His resolute nature and kindness resonated with her own beliefs and she wanted to help him walk the path he had set his sights on. She believed that he was a light that already shined brightly and wanted to see the future that he would create as he continued to pave the way forward for others. Even if she couldn’t walk at his side, Ryuu wouldn’t mind walking behind him…or even clearing away some of the darkness ahead.
After separating their hands, Ryuu had a happy smile on her face and Vahn felt like he could see a soft light in her sky-blue eyes. Without saying anything else, Ryuu nodded her head slightly before turning to the other girls and repeating the action. Once she had acknowledged everyone present, Ryuu turned to look at Vahn one last time before entering through the door where the others had disappeared earlier.
Taking the opportunity when nobody was near, Lili came over to Vahn before hesitating right in front of him. Vahn saw the concern on her face and remembered she had been relatively quiet ever since he came out of the safe house. With a smile on his face, Vahn reached out his hand and affectionately stroked Lili’s hair for what felt like the first time in a long time. She showed a silly smile and cradled his hand with her own before stepping forward and hugging his body around the waist.
Since she was only 110cm, compared to Vahns 162cm, Lili was only around 2/3rds Vahn’s height after his inexplicable growth spurt. Though she used to come up to his chest, she now nuzzled slightly below his pectoral muscles, right above his diaphragm. Vahn continued to stroke her hair and could even feel a bit of moisture soaking into his tunic as he noticed she was stifling her tears as she hugged him tightly. Even though he hadn’t been in any actual danger, Lili couldn’t help but worry every time Vahn ran off on his own.
Naaza was standing at the side and looked a bit lonely as she used the right hand that Vahn had saved to move aside the hair dangling over her face. She had also been very worried about Vahn and had even contacted the Miach Familia to request support just in case he or the other two girls got injured. Though she wanted to be pampered by Vahn and comfort him, Naaza couldn’t easily show her affection around others. She knew Tiona and Ais were both in a relationship with Vahn, and the idea of embracing him in front of the two girls made Naaza uncomfortable. They were both powerful girls that could immediately rush into a dangerous situation and try to support Vahn while the only thing she could do is wait anxiously aboveground. Comparing herself to the powerful Amazon and the Sword Princess, Naaza couldn’t help but feel inadequate.
Seemingly unconcerned with how she felt, Tiona walked over to her before bending over with her hands behind her back. Since Naaza had been keeping her head down, Tiona had bent over far enough to where she could look up at the dejected chienthrope girl. She had a knowing smile on her face as she asked, “Aren’t you going to hug Vahn as well?”
Ais had also been looking over and couldn’t understand why Naaza was hesitating. She spoke out in a somewhat monotonous voice with her head tilted sideways, “Why do you hesitate?” As if reacting to her own words, Ais walked over to where Vahn was still consoling Lili and stared at the two for a few seconds before walking around to Vahn’s back. As Vahn looked over his shoulder, Ais put her hands around his arms in a loose hug and rested her body against his back while placing her head near his shoulder in a position where she could see Naaza and Tiona.
As if having verified something, she smiled slightly and said, “Pleasant…” Since Vahn had still been using [Hands of Nirvana] on his domain since earlier, the closer someone got to him the more prominent the calming effect. Tiona dragged over the hesitant Naaza with an encouraging smile before lining her up next to Ais. Though she seemed to hesitate a little, Ais removed herself from Vahn’s back as he continued to stand in silence. He felt a little awkward, but he knew they were just trying to comfort him after everything that happened tonight.
Naaza continued to stand without taking action even when Tiona nudged her a little and whispered encouraging words to her. It wasn’t until Ais looked like she was about to hug Vahn again that she finally stepped forward slightly and grabbed the sleeve of Vahn’s tunic with her left hand. Vahn had been looking toward the group and locked eyes with Naaza and gave her a gentle smile after staring at the hand that grabbed his tunic.
With a slight blush on her face, Naaza lowered her head a bit and said in an almost silent voice, “Excuse me…” She then performed a similar action as Ais and drew herself close to Vahn without fully leaning against him. Naaza could feel the warmth radiating from his body as a result of his naturally high body temperature and the calming effects of his domain. She felt very comfortable and rest her head against his back for several seconds before doing something that startled everyone other than Lili who seemed lost in her own world on Vahn’s stomach.
As if driven by some primordial instinct, Naaza began to absentmindedly sniff Vahn’s back as her bushy tail began to wag slightly. It wasn’t until several seconds later that Naaza noticed something was wrong since everything had suddenly turned silent. Raising her head, she saw Vahn giving her a somewhat strange look while continuing to smile at her. She then turned to see Tiona nearly on the verge of laughing while Ais stared at her tail and asked, “Sniffing Vahn makes you happy?”
Ais’s question caused Naaza’s blush to deepen immensely and she hid her face against Vahn’s back and refused to answer or even look at anyone. She felt incredibly embarrassed because, even now, she was very tempted to sniff the back of Vahn’s tunic. Since he had been exerting himself a lot, his sweat had soaked into the fabric and it was making her heart itch a bit.
Curious at Naaza’s behavior, Ais walked over to Vahn before finding an empty spot that was easy to approach and leaned forward with her face near the nape of his neck. She then began to sniff his body as if trying to discover what drew Naaza’s interest to the point where she absentmindedly lost herself in the scent. All Ais could smell was Vahn’s normal musk and didn’t think it was that pleasant of an odor. However, the more she smelled it, the most pleasant it seemed to become and Ais began to believe she understood why Naaza had been engrossed in the act earlier.
Tiona saw how Ais was behaving and walked to the other side of Vahn’s body and began smelling the opposite side of his nape. After a few seconds, she smiled and said, “It smells like sweat and the earth. It isn’t unpleasant, but I think you need to take a bath when you get home~.” Tiona’s words had caused Vahn to begin laughing awkwardly, especially when she began smelling his body again.
At this point, Vahn was also aware that Lili had long since started inhaling the fragrance on the front of his tunic and now he was in an incredibly hard to describe situation. Though they had varying ages and degrees of beauty, it was a very strange feeling to have four different girls smelling his body at the same time in a manner where it didn’t seem like he could move at all. After a few seconds of tolerating the awkward situation, Vahn couldn’t resist following the momentum any longer and his nostrils began to twitch ever so slightly as he smelled the different fragrances of the four girls.
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Trauma’,’Ais is curious’,’Olfactophilia’)