Chapter 254: Contemplation

When Vahn awoke early the next morning, he could feel a pleasant warmth and a comfortable weight on his back. Even without looking he could tell that Eina had fallen asleep on top of him and had both of her hands on his shoulders with her head resting against his back. Judging by the direct heat, Vahn knew she was still topless as well and thought she might have slept on top of him to prevent him from leaving. Since Eina wanted him to relax more, it seemed like she was taking passive action to force him to think about things clearly before taking action.

While enjoying the warmth against his body, Vahn started to contemplate his next course of action seriously. He could either challenge the Ishtar Familia to a Wargame after he gathered more information, or he could continue with his plan to kidnap Haruhime. The first course of action had the downside that he would have to leave Haruhime in the brothel for another whole month. There was also the possibility that, since she was important to the original plot, there was something unique about her that had drawn Ishtar’s attention in the first place. If she knew Haruhime was the stakes in the bet, Ishtar might simply remove her or move her plans up before the Wargame even begins.

If Vahn took the second route, though it would almost guarantee Haruhime’s safety, he would have to keep her hidden away or sneak her out of the City. Hiding her away would cause Ishtar to continue searching for her, but it would also give him time to pressure the Ishtar Familia through legal channels. Even though her Familia was quite powerful, it couldn’t stand up to the might of the Loki Familia and the logistical support of the Hephaestus Familia. Letting her leave the City alongside the Takemikazuchi Familia could be a good choice, but Vahn wasn’t sure sending them away would be enough.

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The Takemikazuchi Familia wasn’t that strong and Haruhime could have been targeted by some scheme even back in her homeland of the Far East. Though he couldn’t be sure, Vahn suspected this was the case since it didn’t make sense for so many conveniences to align. Not only was she framed, but when her father was pressured by others and left her to a Pallum trader, he got immediately ambushed by bandits? Vahn didn’t think there were such conveniences in the world, especially since Haruhime was part of the original plot.

The fact that the bandits didn’t do anything to her and immediately shipped her across the ocean was another red flag since the trip was incredibly costly. Unless they were bandits that also doubled as sailors, there wouldn’t be a lot of profit in her export since Renards weren’t that uncommon in the Far East. One key detail that had captured his attention was the fact that Haruhime wasn’t sold to the slave trader even when he supposedly made a large offer. This meant that Ishtar treated her as a special commodity instead of common merchandise.

Besides, though he couldn’t explain why, Vahn somehow felt it would fall to him to protect Haruhime for some reason. He already empathized with her greatly and wanted to help her and there didn’t seem to be an easy way to entrust her to the Takemikazuchi Familia either. Given his current track record of saving girls and them falling for him, Vahn suspected there was something about his character that drew damaged and traumatized girls to him. He knew he was somewhat broken as well, and perhaps it was the mutual comfort they sought in each other that brought them closer. Though he wasn’t entirely sure, it felt like the only girl in his life that wasn’t ‘damaged’ was Eina…if he found out she had a tragic past as well, Vahn wouldn’t know what to say.

Ultimately, Vahn decided to leave it up to what Haruhime wanted to do. Since she had been separated from her homeland and lived a life filled with suffering, Vahn would do whatever it took to restore some normalcy to her life. If she decided to stay in the Hearth Manor, he would protect her and slowly try to weaken the Ishtar Familia over time. If she went with the Takemikazuchi Familia, Vahn would pay for their return trip back to the Far East and have them escort Shizune.

But, no matter how Vahn looked at it, he was almost positive she would decide to stay with him for some reason. Perhaps it was the whims of fate or the influence of karma, but Vahn had deeply immersed himself into the core of this record. His actions affected events so strongly that ‘The Path’ actually had to assign him quests just to prevent the record from destabilizing in the future. Since Haruhime was part of the original plot, she likely played a key role in the conclusion of the original story and might even feel some compulsion to stay within the City.

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Releasing a stifled sigh, Vahn slowly moved his body to the side until he could get Eina off of his body. She opened her eyes because of the change and asked in a low tone, “Do you really have to go?” Vahn looked into her emerald green eyes and saw the concern deep within. Removing some of the hair from her face, Vahn stroked Eina’s cheek and replied, “After this, I’ll do what I can to manage things from within the Familia. I might not be able to act openly with the Alliance, but I’ll see if Loki can put some pressure on Ishtar if she gets out of control. Just like with Lili, I’ll save Haruhime and help her grow strong enough to protect herself…I want to save her.”

Though Vahn felt like he was compelled by fate, he also knew it was a fate of his own choosing. Had he decided to avoid Orario, he likely wouldn’t have changed events at all. Instead, he threw himself right into the thick of things just because of his own desires and curiosity. Now that he had changed events to such an extent that it had a negative impact on another person’s life, Vahn wanted to step in and fix things. Regardless of how he thought about it, it wasn’t his responsibility, but it was his actual desire to save Haruhime that drove him forward. Just like when he saved the six girls, it was a decision he had made without even consulting others and it was these choices that helped him maintain his personal happiness…

Eina showed a somewhat sad smile before sitting up in the bed and kissing Vahn. Since she was still topless, her breasts pressed against his bare chest and he could feel the warmth coming from her body as he hugged her back and waist. After a few seconds had passed, Eina pulled away and spoke with a gentle tone, “I love you Vahn, make sure you take care of yourself. If you’re back early enough, I’ll make you breakfast.”

Vahn gingerly stroked both sides of Eina’s face with his palms before placing his forehead against her’s and saying, “You’re too good for me Eina…I love you too. I’ll be back before the sun even rises in the sky.” In response, Eina giggled a bit before saying, “Fine, don’t keep me waiting. Bad boys get punished for breaking their word~!”

Giving Eina one last kiss, Vahn tucked her into bed and allowed her to go back to sleep. It was currently only around 2 AM, so there were still several hours before sunrise. As he walked through the room, Vahn noticed a presence stir next door and sent a mental command as he whispered lightly, “I’ll be back soon Fenrir…take care of our family while I’m away.” After moving around a bit more, the presence laid back down and Vahn knew Fenrir had returned to sleep while protecting Hestia and Preasia.

Leaving the Manor, Vahn dashed through the early morning mist with nearly soundless footsteps while wearing a light-grey cloak that blended into the surroundings. Once he got to an open area, he used Shundo to quickly make his way across the rooftops as he headed toward the brothel where Haruhime and purportedly been seen. Unless they had been alerted by his actions the previous day, she should still be there even now since it was still the active hours for several of the brothels.

Because he had been moving at a swift pace, Vahn reached his destination within twenty minutes and stood atop a brothel that was ten stories above ground while having six basement levels. It was a rather luxurious brothel and Vhan could detect the presences of more than sixty people contained within. Hoping that she was one of the singular presences, Vahn used his [Eyes of Truth] to inspect each person until he finally set his sights on a very petite young girl with blond hair and fox-like ears. She was wearing a red kimono that had been opened slightly to reveal her budding breasts and it looked like she had been covered in various liquids that made the cold sensation in Vahn’s mind begin to spread rapidly.

Calming himself for a few minutes, Vahn continued to inspect her body for any injuries or peculiarities as he noticed something out of place. Since he had peered into the bodies of others before, including women like Hephaestus and Eva, Vahn knew about the differences between a mature body and that of a maiden. He could tell, though she seemed to be in a sorry state, that Haruhime was still the later of the two.

Perhaps because they thought she was too young, but she still seemed to be a virgin for the time being. Though Vahn realized this, he also knew that didn’t necessarily mean she wasn’t mistreated. Unless those liquids were put on her body artificially, Haruhime had likely be subjected to several deviant treatments. Fortunately, her body seemed to be unblemished even though it was somewhat dirty which showed she didn’t have any injuries.

Releasing a relieved sigh, Vahn inspected through the rest of the brothel and gave a cursory inspection of any strong auras. He could tell there was at least two Level 4’s within the building but the one near Haruhime was on the weaker end of the spectrum. She looked like she had just recently reached Level 4, but Vahn still inspected her to see if he could find anything strange. Using his [Eyes of Truth], he penetrated through the various levels of the building and saw someone he hadn’t expected to see at all.

Vahn released a second sigh, this one of pure exasperation because the woman he had just seen was the very same Amazon that had tried to seduce him on the first day of his investigation. Though he didn’t regret refusing her ‘challenge’, Vahn realized he could have met Haruhime even sooner and avoided the incident with the slave trafficker. Of course, that meant he wouldn’t have saved the six girls either, so Vahn wasn’t entirely upset at the outcome. He simply disliked how whimsical fate seemed to be and wondered if it was somehow the machinations of ‘The Path’ setting him down an ‘optimal’ route.

He didn’t blame ‘The Path’ at all, since Vahn knew it only responded to his actual desires and needs. Because he had truly wanted to meet and save Haruhime, his actions had inadvertently led him to meet one of the prostitutes close to her. If he had accepted the girl’s offer at the time, Vahn would have come across Haruhime much sooner. Since he had played it safe and wanted to take the more heroic route, Vahn ended up on a side path that allowed him to save several other people and still find out information about Haruhime…it was like all of his actions eventually led him where he wanted to go as long as he didn’t give up.

Of course, Vahn had no illusions that it meant the path he wanted to take would be without dangers. Because of his actions, he had almost died three times and only escaped because of his efforts and the strategies he incorporated. The completion of this quest would be the same, as long as he prepared properly and pushed forward without giving up, Vahn could overcome the situation and benefit greatly from it. If he got complacent and dropped his guard, Vahn could die from a single well-placed punch by someone as weak as Level 2.

Taking a deep breath, Vahn gave the area one last inspection before deciding the course of action he wanted to take. Since the Level 4 Amazon seemed to be guarding Haruhime, he would likely have to confront her unless he wanted to pretend to be a client. This would potentially expose him though since Vahn was certain the matters related to the slave trafficker bust had been spread through the Entertainment District by now. The only viable option seemed to be to infiltrate the brothel and whisk away Haruhime before anyone noticed.

He could also use [Enkidu] and directly kill the Amazon woman before she even knew what was happening, but Vahn saw that she actually had a mellow aura that was colored with a yellow coloration. This meant she either had a personal liking toward him for some reason or that she was an actual kind person. If Vahn killed her without verifying it from himself, he wouldn’t be able to deal with the situation if he found out she was actually protecting Haruhime. Saving the girl after killing someone they cared about didn’t seem like the best method for making Haruhime happy in the future.

(A/N: Alternate Titles:’Vahn uses his head’,’Vahn uses his head again’,’Since when does Vahn think things through!?’)

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