Chapter 257: Obstinance

Since it was still early and the others had awoken, Vahn showed Haruhime around the first floor of the Manor and kept his attention split between the other presences in the house. Everything he showed Haruhime got a small rise out of her and she excitedly trotted about next to him and asked questions about everything. All of the furnishings in the house had been put there by him, so Vahn was able to answer all of her questions which brought her no small amount of happiness.

Vahn noticed that Haruhime acted very elegantly most of the time, but whenever she saw something knew she immediately disregarded manners and excitedly asked about it. She was especially fond of the onsen since it reminded her of home. When she saw that Vahn had also remodeled the dining room to emulate the designs of the Far East, Haruhime was ecstatic. Even though he hadn’t done it for her, she felt especially blessed that she could experience part of her own culture in the place she had decided to stay.

Since he saw how she reacted, Vahn wondered if it might be a good idea to remodel part of the Manor in the future. They presently had almost no use for the east wing of the Manor, and Vahn figured it might be appropriate to model it after the Far East. When he pitched the idea to Haruhime, she seemed to be very excited and once again began muttering to herself silently for a few seconds before resuming her well-mannered behavior. Vahn wanted to explain that his decision also related to the time he stayed with Tsubaki, but he decided to keep it to himself for the time being.

When he finally noticed people coming downstairs, Vahn escorted Haruhime back to the dining room so that he could introduce her to the rest of the residents. Hearing that she was going to meet the other girls, Haruhime had a gentle smile on her face but Vahn could see that her aura had flared up a bit. So that she wouldn’t cause any problems, Vahn decided to explain, “There is another girl that will be present, her name is Preasia, try to remain calm so you don’t unnerve her. She has experienced a terrible trauma and needs the care and concern of others…”

Hearing the foreign name, Haruhime asked about the girl and Vahn explained the circumstances of how he saved six slaves and crushed a small group of slave traffickers while he was searching for her. Though she seemed concerned at first, Vahn noticed Haruhime became very happy when he talked about saving the girls even though that wasn’t his original plan. Though she hadn’t said anything about it yet, Haruhime added a new layer of cement atop the idea that Vahn was the hero she had been waiting for.

When they arrived at the dining room, everyone was present including, Eina, Hestia, Fenrir, Emiru, Maemi, and Preasia. Other than Fenrir, everyone seemed to be surprised at Vahn’s arrival as Hestia and Eina both stood up and approached him. Eina looked toward Haruhime and said in a gentle tone, “You must be Haruhime, I’m glad Vahn was able to save you without incident.” Before Haruhime could ask about Eina, Hestia also said, “Welcome to the Hearth Manor! Since Vahn decided to protect you, this place will be your home until you decide to move on~!” Though she wasn’t being forceful, Vahn noticed that Hestia was somewhat implying that Haruhime should leave in the future.

Haruhime seemed to notice it as well since she stepped closer to Vahn and grabbed his sleeve without responding to Hestia’s words. For a very brief moment, Hestia’s expression changed before returning to her normal, gentle, look. Vahn took a deeper breath than normal and made the introductions, “Haruhime, this is Eina, one of my ‘first wives’ alongside the goddess Hephaestus.” Eina bowed politely and had a simple smile on her face which caused Haruhime to return the greeting out of habit. Vahn introduced Hestia next and saw the glimmer in her eye so he said, “And this beautiful goddess is Hestia, the goddess of our Familia and the caretaker of everyone within the Hearth Manor.”

Though she knew he was just pandering to her, Hestia pressed out her chest proudly and said, “That’s right~! This beautiful and amazingly gentle goddess is the head of the Hestia Familia that shares my name~.” Before continuing her words, Hestia stepped on the opposite side of Vahn before hugging around his waist and pressing his right arm between her breasts. Continuing, Hestia said, “I’m also one of the closest people to Vahn~”

As if challenged by her words, Fenrir stood up from the table and shouted, “Fenrir closest to Vahn!” Everyone looked over at the rambunctious wolf girl while Vahn turned his attention to the sheep girl next to her. Even when Fenrir shouted out, Preasia remained unphased and just continued to watch the scene play out with a blank expression on her face. After releasing a quiet sigh, Vahn used the lull created by Fenrir to introduce everyone else to Haruhime before preparing for breakfast.

Since they knew Vahn had only shown up and liberated them while he was trying to find Haruhime, both Emiru and Maemi were very fond of Haruhime even though they had just met. Haruhime also responding to them politely and seemed to hit it off with the twins very quickly. She was especially drawn to the maid outfits and tried to pitch the idea of becoming a maid herself, except she wanted to be Vahn’s personal maid.

Vahn refused her offer as politely as he could and told her she should focus on a pursuit that didn’t involve serving others. Using it as an opportunity, Vahn also informed the twins that they didn’t have to act as maids either, but they both refused as it was something they wanted to do themselves. Even though he didn’t understand how they could ‘like cleaning’, Vahn noticed that their auras remained stable when they spoke so he knew they were telling the truth, or at the very least believed their own words.

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During breakfast, Haruhime had wanted to sit next to Vahn but had lost the opportunity to Eina and Hestia. Haruhime didn’t want to compete with the two girls at all, so she just sat next to Eina with her body relatively close as she tried to reach her tail around the backside of the half-elf and reach Vahn. Because of the dexterity and length of her tail, Haruhime was able to reach him if she sat close enough to Eina. When Vahn noticed the tail touching his side, he gave her a strange look that just caused her to smile in return as she ate her food with small bites. Eina, the person between the two of them, continue to smile without making any comments as she leaned into Vahn’s shoulder a bit.

After breakfast, Vahn embraced Eina and saw her off after she refused his offer to carry her back home. She said she liked the early morning air and would be fine on her own, but Vahn still sent a mental note to Fafnir and had him follow along in her shadow until she arrived safely. Vahn had to inform the Alliance about the matter with Ishtar and make sure none of the weaker members involved would be exposed to her schemes. Though she likely wouldn’t target a member of the Guild, there was no telling what a goddess might do when it came down to it. Just like Laverna, she could take actions without thinking of the consequences at all…

While Fenrir was teaching Emiru and Maemi to read, the three of them were also taking care of Preasia. Vahn and Hestia showed Haruhime around the upper floors of the Manor as Vahn mentioned the idea of refurbishing the western and eastern wings to represent different cultures. Since most of the people in the Manor currently lived in the central area, there hadn’t really been much use for the two wings and it wouldn’t cause a problem if they redecorated a bit. Hestia was even excited to be able to experience multiple cultures just by walking a few minutes between the wings of the Manor.

When it came time to help Haruhime pick a room, she was somewhat distraught to learn that all of the rooms around Vahn’s had already been taken by other girls previously. The room to the right of Vahn’s had been taken by Milan and Tina, but was also being used by Fenrir and Preasia currently. The room on the left had been taken by Ryuu since she was one of the first to move in and had gotten an early lead on everyone else. Across from Vahn’s room, in one of the larger bedrooms, was the area where Hestia slept when Vahn was sleeping with others. It was also the room where Hephaestus stayed and wasn’t together with Vahn and had a lot of clothes strewn about carelessly.

The rooms to the left and right of Hestia’s bedroom had been taken by Lili and Naaza, even though they weren’t officially part of the Hestia Familia. Naaza had been intending to move in soon, but had been training alongside Lili and Tsubaki recently while trying to work on her breakthrough. Lili was completely determined to join the Hestia Familia in the future and wanted to share the same room with Vahn but ended up having to pick one nearby instead.

Seeing that all of the best rooms were taken, Haruhime wanted to insist that she stay in the same room as Vahn, even if she had to sleep on a separate bed or sofa. When she found out about his hidden forge, she was even willing to stay inside there and commented about how warm it was on the inside. Hestia, even though she made an effort to not act jealously, couldn’t tolerate the way Haruhime was acting and eventually shut her down in lieu of Vahn. She explained to Haruhime that Vahn needed his own room and often spent time with other girls, so there was no way she could live within the same room regardless of her reasoning. Even she, as Vahn’s ‘goddess’, had to have her own room and sleep alone sometimes…

Dejected, Haruhime picked the room closest to the stairs in the hopes of being able to track when Vahn leaves and arrives more easily. To welcome her to the Familia, Vahn actually gave her several bookshelves to decorate her room and purchased a variety of fairy tales from other worlds and some educational texts for her to read. Since reading was her favorite pastime, Haruhime was over-the-moon to receive several hundred books of her own to browse whenever she liked. Other than training, Vahn gave her completely free-reign to decide what she wanted to do with her time for the foreseeable future. Though he hardly followed the advice himself, Vahn wanted Haruhime to relax so she could focus on recovery instead of worrying about the past.

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After Haruhime was properly settled in, it came time for the ceremony to induct her into the Hestia Familia. She had already made the decision to join and stay in the Manor from now on, even though she kept refusing to undergo the ceremony unless Vahn was present. When he mentioned that she could stay without joining the Familia, Haruhime kept insisting that she join while continually refusing to join at the same time. Since Vahn also wanted to confirm a few things himself, he eventually caved in but required her to properly conceal herself.

Hestia’s impression of Haruhime wasn’t the best but she also could tell that Haruhime wasn’t a bad girl and just sought out Vahn like most of the other troubled girls around him. The main reason she felt threatened was due to the exotic nature of Haruhime and the fact that Vahn was rather handsy when it came to the girls with fluffy ears and tails. She knew that, even if Vahn put up a wall between him and Haruhime, he would eventually crack in time. The fact that he so easily conceded to her obstinance so early on was a red flag and she intended to bring the matter up on the network later…

During the ceremony, Vahn sat at Haruhime’s back even though she wanted him to sit in front of her. Vahn watched Hestia carve the crest with intrigue in his eyes as he inspected the entire process with his [Eyes of Truth]. Though he had been able to emulate the ceremony to an extent, Vahn was still curious about how the blessing was actually applied. He could see a strange energy that flowed alongside the mana in Hestia’s fingers that used her ‘Ichor’, the blood from her fingertips, as a catalyst.

When Hestia had finished carving the crest, she used a piece of paper to record Haruhime’s information and was preparing to tell her to get dressed before Vahn said, “Wait, you should know that I can also read the status board and update statuses, right? I also have a technique that lets me take a peek at the latent abilities of others…I want to confirm my suspicions about a few things.” Haruhime heard Vahn’s words and had a happy expression as she tried to agree, but Hestia had a frown on her face and showed Vahn the recorded information of Haruhime.

Holding out the paper, Hestia stated firmly, “I already recorded her parameters and skills, and I’ve even identified the reason why Ishtar was probably after her in the first place. What else do you expect to find that even a goddess can’t see through her own crest?” Vahn took the paper and his brows raised slightly as he looked over the information. He could see that Haruhime’s stats were rather low, but her Magic was much higher than normal. The most notable thing was the existence of two magic skills called [Uchide no Kozuchi] and [Kokonoe] but Vahn wasn’t able to discern their use and rank until he investigated it for himself.

Vahn looked into Hestia’s crystalline blue eyes and explained patiently, “Hestia, you know me better than almost anyone else…do you really think I have any other thoughts other than what I stated? You should have heard from Hephaestus about my ability to update status, and I’ve also used it on Fenrir several times…” Vahn noticed that Hestia’s eyes watered a bit as he was speaking which caused his words to trail at the end. After a few seconds, Hestia said with a small frown, “I know you’re telling the truth…I really do trust you…I just don’t like how quickly this girl is trying to weasel her way into your life. There are other people that are still struggling to obtain your affections!”

Seeing Hestia’s approaching tears made Vahn feel a little heartbroken as even Haruhime gave her a sad, somewhat apologetic look. Walking forward, Vahn paused in front of Hestia as she looked up at him with weepy eyes. Realizing that his current position made Hestia’s impact even stronger, Vahn couldn’t help but laugh at himself as he loosely embraced her petite body. He asked in a quiet voice, “What can I do to ease the insecurities in your heart if even you aren’t ready to take the next step? Please tell me how I can help you…just like you said earlier, you’re one of the most important people to me. I don’t want to see you sad anymore.”

Hestia remained silent for a while as she placed her forehead against Vahn’s chest and contemplated matters for a bit. She didn’t know what had overtaken her at the moment and felt guilty about how Vahn was currently acting so gently toward her even though she had obviously overstepped her bounds. Because he had explained things from the outset, she knew what kind of life Haruhime had to live for the last three years…the fact that she somewhat resented, even envied, the unfortunate girl made Hestia hate herself a little. Just like Vahn said, even though she felt like she loved him, even though she wanted to do many things with him, she was also very afraid to take that small step forward that would change her life forever. Hestia felt like she would lose a part of herself and, even though she felt like she would gain more in the end, she was still afraid…

After taking a few deep breaths to calm herself, Hestia looked up at Vahn’s face and tried her best to smile as she asked, “Can we go out on a date, just the two of us?” Vahn’s concerned expression turned into a gentle smile as he nodded his head and said, “Sure, however many you want. I need to find more time to relax anyways, so it’ll be good to spend time quality time with my beautiful, somewhat spoiled, little goddess.” Hestia’s false smiled turned into a real one before her eyes widened a bit and she shouted, “Please don’t talk about my height so casually~!”

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Welcome to the crib…’,’Room Assignments’,’Hestia’s Troubled Heart’)

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