Chapter 256: Misty Morning Air

Vahn followed the corridors of the brothel in silence as he evaded any paths where others were located. One of the best benefits of his domain was his ability to track presences, regardless of what level of the building a person was on. After a few minutes, he made his way to a window and opened the latch before stepping out into the cold night air and using Shundo to jump to a nearby roof. The entire time he was carrying her, Haruhime tucked her head against his chest and kept absolutely silent while hugging his neck.

Since Shundo connected two points and allowed him to transfer between them seamlessly, it wasn’t actually based off acceleration and momentum. Even if he moved rapidly enough that he would have broken the sound barrier, it had no adverse effects on his body or the person he was carrying. Vahn could tell that Haruhime was very weak so he made sure to use Shundo instead of running through the streets with her in tow. To prevent her from succumbing to the cold morning air, he also channeled [Heart of the Eternal Flame] and kept the area around their bodies warm.

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From Haruhime’s perspective, she felt brief periods of weightlessness and opened her eyes periodically to see Vahn the area around her disappear from sight only for it to be replaced by a completely new scene. She felt like Vahn was teleporting through the sky while holding her in his arms as the warmth from his body and domain drove away the cold night air. She knew that it was cold enough for frost to build up on metal during the mornings, yet the only thing Haruhime felt was a pleasant warmth and the security that Vahn’s embrace brought her.

Though he was ignoring it from the time being, Vahn heard the system notifications for every time Haruhime’s affection increased for him. After giving it a brief glance, he saw it was already nearing ninety points and suspected she might actually reach the threshold to complete the quest before he even got halfway to the Manor. Since he already expected that she would grow attached to him, Vahn was already prepared for the consequences and would help Haruhime stabilize her mind and interact with others for the time being.

Vahn knew from personal experience that saving a girl from dire straights had a big impact, but he didn’t want every girl around him to be so reliant on him. Though he didn’t think about it much before, Vahn felt like he had a preference for girls that were in control of their own lives and proactively doing their best to improve. Since Haruhime was weak, she fell into the category of people he needed to protect until she was strong enough to overcome her own mentality.

The real problem came from the fact that Haruhime was currently undergoing a change to her own mentality. Since she thought she was ‘dirty’ and Vahn had told her she wasn’t, he suspected it would be a powerful driving force behind her future actions. He couldn’t determine what was going through her mind, but every additional point of affection she felt for him was like an alarm in Vahn’s mind. When he had briefly looked over it earlier, alongside the 88 affection, Haruhime already had the words (Fated Partner) next to it.

He hoped she would be able to stabilize with the influence of the others girl at the Manor since he knew there was no easy way to change her mind without saying that he ‘didn’t want to be with her’. Even if he said it, Vahn wouldn’t have believed it himself as he thought she was actually quite beautiful and had already told her that he would protect her. Though it might be a mild inconvenience, Vahn was confident he would be able to deal with Haruhime over time. He did, however, feel a strange desire to find some male companions to offset his burdens somewhat.

As he had heard from the girls in the past, Vahn was very aware that he had some kind of aversion towards other guys. After he thought about it, it was very likely due to the fact that the majority of the people related to his own trauma in his past life were men. Over the course of the fourteen years, Vahn had only ever seen girls inside manga and anime and only personally interacted with two real females. Even here in the Danmachi record, most of the problems he had to deal with often related to men or were perpetrated by them. Until this instance with the Ishtar Familia, Vahn hadn’t really associated girls with as many negative emotions as he did with men.

Now that he had driven a wedge between himself and Welf a bit, Vahn needed to interact with more guys and potentially expose them to some of the girls around him. Though it might be difficult, Vahn needed to find some real friends that he could interact with or he wouldn’t be able to release his tensions easily. However, other than Bell and Welf, Vahn wasn’t too sure of his interactions with other guys except for maybe Finn, Gareth, and potentially Bete. Even in the manga, Vahn hadn’t seen too many guys that he could easily be friends with as even Hermes seemed somewhat suspect in his intentions.

As he stepped off a high chimney and jumped through the sky, the image of Take’ and Ouka appeared in his mind and Vahn came to a brief stop as he looked down at Haruhime. Noticing they had stopped, Haruhime looked up at Vahn with her placid green eyes and asked, “Is something wrong?” Vahn shook his head and explained, “I was thinking about the Takemikazuchi Familia. I’ll need to inform them that you’re in my care, and they’ll probably stop by and potentially want to take you in their custody. Since they aren’t that strong, I was wondering if there might-“

While he was explaining, Haruhime put a bit of strength in her arms and placed her head against his chest. Since she had large fluffy ears, they actually tickled his chin a bit which caused her ears to flutter as she said, “I want to stay with you. I’m happy to see my friends again, but I want to stay with the person that saved me…” Since Vahn was going to explain that he wanted her to stay even if Take’ wanted to take her away, he just remained silent and increased the warmth of his own body before using Shundo to move to the next building. The only thing he had been worried about was Ouka making a scene, but Vahn could just deal with that when the time comes.

Vahn’s impression of Ouka wasn’t actually that bad, even though he came off as a little abrasive in their first meeting. He seemed to be a devoted and focused individual and was very respectful to his god. If possible, Vahn thought they could be friends in the future since he thought Ouka was the type that could become strong with a bit of polish. Once things settled down, Vahn could even give Ouka a ‘flame seed’, though he didn’t know how effective it would be on a guy since it increased their growth based on their feelings toward him.

Other than Ouka, Vahn thought about hanging out with any other guys and then taking them out for drinks or something. Though he used to be cautious in the past, Vahn was absolutely certain he was entirely immune to alcohol now. Even drugs had no effect on him at all as they were instantly filtered by his blood. Knowing this, Vahn figured he could get together a group of guys and potentially even create his own ‘network’ of men just like the girls had done. Vahn felt like it would be nice to have other guys he could trust and seek advice from to help him deal with issues that weren’t always addressed easily by girls.

After around half an hour, Vahn stepped into his own courtyard and tried to set Haruhime down but she continued to hold onto his neck as she looked around the relatively expansive plot of land and the large Manor contained within. She had long reached 100 affection for him, and Vahn had her [Hearts Desire: Sanjouno Haruhime] stowed away in his inventory. He decided to put off viewing it until she had stabilized as it might influence his treatment of her in the near future. After a few seconds, Haruhime turned her head up at Vahn and asked, “Is this going to be our home?”

Hearing Haruhime say ‘our’ home before things were even clarified, Vahn released an inaudible sigh through his nose and had a wry expression on his face as he nodded his head. Since she awkwardly held on to his body without letting him put her down, Vahn carried her the rest of the way to the front door while explaining, “This is the Hearth Manor, home of the Hestia Familia and my personal residence. You’ll be safe here until we can find a way to deal with the Ishtar Familia. Even though she has a bit of wealth and influence, there is no way she can easily pressure us with the backing of the Guild and the Alliance. I’ll explain the details later; just know that you’ll be safe from here and that the Takemikazuchi Familia will be able to easily visit in the future.”

Since it was still only around 4:30 AM, it was too early for anyone else in the Manor to be up and Vahn wasn’t able to open the door easily with Haruhime clinging to him. Realizing the awkwardness of the situation, Haruhime asked, “Can you hand me the key, I can open the door…” Vahn smiled a bit before hugging Haruhime and saying, “You have to let me go eventually Haruhime. You’re in an unstable state right now and need to relax your body a bit more. Don’t worry, I’m not going to disappear and leave you behind.”

Though she frowned for a short moment, Haruhime eventually said, “I’m sorry…” while climbing down from Vahn’s arms. He placed her gently on the floor before unlocking the door and making his way into the warm interior of the Manor. Haruhime followed behind him and was suddenly acting very timidly as she looked around at everything with moderated curiosity and intrigue. Vahn saw her actions and smiled widely before explaining, “Feel free to look around as you please. Other than some of the girls’ rooms, you’re allowed to go wherever you want without restriction. Just make sure you stay within the premises unless you’re being escorted by someone. Though the security of the Manor is very powerful, it doesn’t mean it is impossible to break through by professionals.”

Listening to Vahn speak, Haruhime’s ears twitch a bit as she tilted her head questioningly and asked, “Girls’ rooms? How many girls live here, are any of them close to you?” Vahn nodded his head before showing the way to the study where he normally received guests. He didn’t want to stay and talk in the foyer since the sound echoed around the wide halls and might disturb the others. When they were inside, Vahn had Haruhime sit down on the sofa and gave her some warm tea with sugar and began explaining the situation to Haruhime.

One of the personal promises he had made to himself in the past was to never lie or try to conceal his relationships unless it endangered others. If Haruhime truly started to fall for him after things settled down, Vahn wanted her to know exactly what she was getting herself into. Since she was still young, Haruhime had plenty of time to find a real love instead of dedicating herself to the first man that saved her from tragedy. He wanted her to know this was a safe place for her, but also wanted her to know this was not the only place for her. If there was something she wanted to do in life, Vahn wanted her to work hard to make her own dreams a reality without worrying about any matters of repayment or being bound by a strange sense of obligation.

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The entire time Vahn was recounting his story, Haruhime sat with a surprising amount of elegance and nearly perfect etiquette. Even when she sipped the tea, she always used two hands and remained silent as she stared into Vahn’s eyes while he spoke. By the time he was done with his story, Haruhime nodded her head before a small smile showed on her lips and she said, “I already made one of the first decisions of my entire life earlier after you saved me. I wanted to stay here with you, and just the thought of that makes me happy. Even if I can’t be your lover, I would be satisfied with just being your mistress or your concubine. Before today, I thought I was a dirty girl that would spend the rest of my life being tainted by others. I won’t leave this place unless you want to throw me away. Even if I can’t be your concubine, I can still be your maid or even a servant if you prefer.”

Vahn frowned slightly and said, “I want you to be happy Haruhime, I don’t want you to dedicate yourself to me just because I saved you. You should find something else you want from life instead of spending it devoted to someone else.” In response, Haruhime had the same elegant smile on her face as her expression remained unchanged and she said, “You’re misunderstanding Vahn. My entire life until I was kidnapped had been a sheltered one…if not for the Takemikazuchi Familia, I may very well have spent my entire life alone until I was married off to another clan. The only things I ever had were books and the brief periods of time where I could play with other children during the twilight hours of the night. Ever since I was kidnapped, the only thing I had ever wanted after that was to escape that nightmare…just like the stories I read, I wanted a hero to come away and save me from the bad guys. I had thought it was too late, but now you told me that I’m still a maiden even after all these years…I can’t deny my own heart and seek a happiness that I have no solid concept of…all I know is that, right here at this moment, I am happy to be alive. To be sitting here and hear you explain things to me while showing so much care and concern for my well being, I don’t think there is anything more I could have asked for…”

During Haruhime’s long soliloquy, Vahn continued to stare into her deep green eyes and noticed they hadn’t wavered in the slightest as she spoke. Even her aura, instead of becoming chaotic, just continually burned brighter as her own words began to inspire confidence in herself. Though Vahn felt like she was brainwashing herself to believe what she was saying, he also understood that she truly believed in her words at the moment.

When her words ceased, Haruhime held her hands together on her lap and looked as if she was going to bow before Vahn reached out his hand and stopped her actions. Since she was from the Far East, he knew she was going to try and act subserviently to him unless he forced her away. Vahn wanted her to be happy and intended to have her interact with the other girls so she can experience more of what life has to offer than just the stories in her mind. Ironically, though for very different reasons, Haruhime was similar to his past self who could only find solace in the manga and some anime. He knew that the happiness they brought was just temporary and that there was far more to life than the preconceived notions that could be derived from words and pictures on a page.

Vahn looked into her green eyes and said with a serious tone, “Never bow subserviently to me Haruhime. I saved you because I wanted to and, regardless of how you treat me, I will protect you until you become strong enough to protect yourself. I will respect your feelings but know that I can’t reciprocate them until I’m confident you have found a greater purpose in life than simply being at my side. It may be selfish of me to say, but I prefer girls that are constantly striving to improve themselves…I think it is a tragic life to live only for others. When you finally find something else to believe in, I will be here waiting for you. If you can’t find it yourself, I will even help push you in the right direction…”

The entire time he spoke, Haruhime continued to stare into Vahn’s aquamarine eyes. She had been a little surprised when he turned into a human earlier, but she hadn’t said anything and just marveled at his handsome appearance. Hearing Vahn constantly saying things to benefit her life without even trying to take advantage of her only cemented the idea she had in her mind about being together with him forever. Since he wanted her to be strong, Haruhime decided to put in as much effort as she could to match his requirements. Even if she pretended it wasn’t her primary focus and chose to pursue something else, Haruhime buried the idea deep in her heart that she would always take the path that brought her closer to her hero…she wanted to live ‘happily ever after’ by his side no matter what it took.

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘First Impressions Are Powerful’,’Vahn Seeks Camaraderie’,’Haruhime’s Resolve : In one fuzzy ear and out the other’)

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