(A/N: Technically an intermission chapter but connects to the actual start of Vol. 9)
After entering the library, Vahn climbed the wooden ladder that connected to the shelves and reached for the book at the highest shelf on the left. Though he could put the book in his inventory and record all the contents to his mind, Vahn much preferred actually reading books the old-fashioned way. Unless it was a topic is was studying, Vahn would rather leisurely thumb through a book and enjoy the story at his own pace. Since they weren’t organized at all, the book Vahn ended up selecting was actually a romance novel that seemed to be targeted towards women.
Since he didn’t have any preference, other than reading manga, Vahn tucked the book under his arm before climbing down the ladder and finding a comfortable spot to sit. Looking at the cover closely, Vahn saw the title of the book and read it as ‘Dreams Under the Moonlight’ and it had been written by an author simply called ‘Ventus Valim’. Since it had been made from the system, the book looked completely brand-new and had a refreshing smell even though the design looked somewhat ancient. Vahn was able to read any language he had ever seen so the characters within the novel weren’t indecipherable to his eyes.
For the next few hours, Vahn slowly thumbed through the book and read its contents with a mixture of intrigue and light humor. The book was about a woman named Angelica who had been betrothed by her father to marry into the family of their long-time enemies. Both clans had grown tired of the fighting and agreed to compromise by marrying the first-born daughters of each family into the opposite family. This would allow them to have familial bonds with each other and pave the way for future cooperation so they could get an advantage against the other influential families within the region.
Angelica lamented her fate, not because she was being forced to marry into the family, but because she was actually in love with another boy who was the younger brother of her betrothed. They had long ago started meeting up in secret and professed their love to each other and one day swore to elope into a far-off land the escape their families. Now she was being forced to marry his elder brother, who was a somewhat cruel and licentious man that was notorious for his exploitation of many village girls.
When her lover tried to oppose the marriage, he was actually struck down by his father on the grounds that he was betraying the families interests. In his stupor, the boy professed his love for Angelica before his family and was locked away within their personal dungeon until after the wedding ended. The older brother, because of his cruel nature, had actually grown much more interested in the marriage after that as he lorded it over his younger brother who was locked away. He told Angelica that, unless she married him, he would ensure that her ‘former’ lover never left the prison. Since he was the next head of the family, he had a lot of influence compared to a fifth-born son within the family.
Though she grieved for her own misfortune, Angelica still agreed to marry the evil man in order to free her lover. Even if she had to suffer at the hands of her husband, as long as her lover was free she would be happy. For the next several weeks, she was forced to interact with the cruel man until his actions escalated to the point where he tried to force himself on her. Though she resisted and cried out against the injustice, he forced her into silence with threats and she eventually caved in and lost her purity. The only solace she found in the situation was the hope that her lover would be freed after the day of her marriage.
Matters escalated after that night and they grew progressively worse as the man forced her to do many shameless acts while using the same threats against her each time. Since she had already lost her dignity, Angelica gave in to his demands and had him swear to treat her former lover well. The man promised on his honor that no harm would come to his younger brother as long as she listened to his orders. Though it pained her greatly, Angelica bore his brutality and continued to suffer severe indignities to protect the lover in her heart.
Finally, the day for the wedding came and Angelia married the cruel man with a false smile on her face. She looked around and saw that everyone was wearing fake smiles, even her own family who professed their love and support for her. Even though she had obviously been suffering for weeks, they were so afraid of compromising their treaty that they allowed her to suffer. How own mother had even given her two vials containing small pills, one for aphrodisiacs, and another meant to numb pain. They had no illusions about the nature of her husband and knew it would be difficult for her from now on.
On the wedding night, she was carried away in the man’s arms while both families cheered for them as he alighted her to the bridal chamber. When they were alone, Angelica pleaded that her former lover is freed only for the man to cruelly smile as he pinned her to the bed. He told her that they weren’t officially married until the night had come to an end. It was the tradition for a new husband and wife to ‘seal the deal’ and spend the night together while the two families celebrated in another room. Angelica begrudgingly gave in to his demands and serviced him well into the morning even though he made her do many embarrassing things.
When morning finally came, Angelia was mentally and physically exhausted because the man had not treated her gently in the slightest. Since he knew she was working hard to please him, he forced her to do many difficult things and even punished her whenever she failed. Since his punishments made it harder for her to follow his orders, things got progressively more difficult as the night continued. By the time morning came, Angelica had several bruises covering her body and could only lament her fate for dealing such a cruel hand to her. When the sunlight finally crested through the windows, she released a relieved sigh and once again pleaded for her lover to be freed.
The cruel man smiled and sent for a servant to retrieve his younger brother and bring him to the room. Angelica, though exhausted beyond her limits, felt happy to be able to see her lover once again after having been separated for so long. She somehow managed to lift her body from the bed as the man laughed menacingly from her side. Before she could understand his reaction, he powerfully slapped her behind and knocked her face-forward onto the bed. Grabbing her from behind, the man continued to violate her even as the servant boy returned holding a vase.
Angelica couldn’t understand what was happening until her ‘husband’ explained that his younger brother had died of pneumonia the second night of his imprisonment after succumbing to his wounds. The entire time she had been slaving away to free him, even going so far as to devote her body to a man she hated, had been spent trying to free a dead man. After waving his hand to the servant, the boy opened up the vase and dumped out a pile of ashes onto the ground in front of Angelica as she stared blankly toward her front while the monster that called himself her husband continued to violate her…
Unable to continue reading, Vahn shut the book with a snap and incinerated it into fine ashes before dispersing them through an open window. He had continued reading in the hopes that things would turn out better, that her lover would be freed, that they might be reunited through some whim of fate. However, no matter how far he read, things only got progressively worse for the tragic Angelica. It wasn’t the first time he had read a book with tragic themes, but Vahn couldn’t help feel a dissatisfaction inside of him as he imagined the suffering of the girl that didn’t even exist.
Releasing a sigh, Vahn sat against the sofa and looked towards the roof and realized he got too emotionally invested in things whenever he empathized with others. Since he was currently in a record that only existed in a manga previously, Vahn knew it was theoretically possible to visit the record where the girl Angelica existed. However, Vahn also knew it was unrealistic to try and save everyone simply because they had been written in a tragic manner. His journey would never end if he went about trying to change the fate of every person and try to make them happy. Every record he went to would have its own stories, its own tragedies, its own actual fate that could be altered depending on his actions…it was simply too much.
For the second time, Vahn released a long sigh and tried to stop thinking about the matters of the book. He was already wrapped up the lives of so many people and his actions were already altering the very fate of the world he was currently in. If he couldn’t guarantee his own happiness and the happiness of those around him, what right did he even have to try and change the fates of even more people? Especially people that didn’t even currently exist…by going to that record, he would make the events real and it wouldn’t just be Angelica that suffered. There would be an entire world, millions, if not billions of people that would each have their own lives…
Vahn closed his eyes for a few seconds and began to calm his mind as he allowed his perception to wander in his surroundings. He saw that the girls had returned from their shopping trip and were split between three different places. Each of them was living their own life, intricately connected to his own, but entirely separate. Though he could empathize with them, Vahn could never truly see things from their perspective without seeing their heart’s desire. Vahn also realized that, if he wanted to, he could completely alter how everyone around him lived on a whim…
If Vahn truly wanted to stop caring, if he truly let go of his own inhibitions and stopped focusing on others, he would probably be able to enjoy life a lot more. He could do whatever he wanted, even sleep with whoever he wanted. He could research the things he liked and live without any restraints since he could create an infinite amount of wealth using his blacksmithing. Since he didn’t rely on a goddess to update his status, he could even dive into the dungeon and, as long as he didn’t drop his guard, probably conquer it in one go. He could slowly gain more subordinates, train them up to become stronger, and then build up an unstoppable army…
But, that was if Vahn could stop caring and throw away everything that he believed in. His whole purpose of visiting this world was to pursue freedom and be happy, but it was never at the expense of others. Though he might not enjoy every single moment, Vahn felt like he was truly happy to be around everyone. They all came together to influence each other’s lives and he was able to make them happy by bearing some of their burdens. His empathy allowed them to open themselves up to him and it added an incredible amount of variety to his life.
Especially since Vahn had met girls like Hephaestus, Eina, Hestia, Chloe, Tiona, Ais…there were so many people that Vahn had grown an extreme affection for. Even goddesses like Loki, someone he never thought he could get along with, were vastly different than his initial expectations. She worked so hard for him, even though he had actually given her nothing but a promise and a lot of trouble. Even when she completely opened up her heart to him, Vahn simply asked her to be patient so he could manage his own life for the moment. Without complaint, she conceded to his request and has worked earnestly behind the scenes ever since. She was even trying to bear the brunt of the Ishtar Familia just so he could relax more and protect Haruhime…
Vahn realized, yet again, that he was lacking in decisiveness and resolve. Though he always took action in the heat of the moment, Vahn was actually terrible when it came to being alone and trying to reason his way through things. Perhaps it was because he had become overly reliant on others, but Vahn understood he was lacking a couple of things to function properly and be a truly reliable person. However, the didn’t seem to be an easy solution to remedy this other than simply…growing up and experiencing more. He had already changed so much in the last eleven months since his arrival and couldn’t even imagine how much he would change in the next year…the next ten years…or even the next hundred years. Even as early as this time next year, Vahn would be a father, perhaps to several children…Vahn felt like that would be a big impact on his character and would shape his personality quite a bit.
With a thoughtful expression on his face, Vahn held his hand to his chin and muttered to nobody, except perhaps the everpresent Sis, “So the only solution…is to live…why does that seem like such a difficult thing?” Vahn started to laugh at his own ‘deduction’ as he rose from the couch and started walked toward the central section of the Manor. If he couldn’t find out the answer on his own and needed more experience to come to a conclusion, the best method was to simply gain more experience. Sitting in silence just made him brood over things he couldn’t even affect, so why be alone when there were a number of people he could share the burden with?
As if realizing something, Vahn paused for a bit until a small smile appeared on his face. Looking out the window and up into the murky sky above, Vahn muttered, “Life might be a personal experience…but living is a shared experience. Since my body doesn’t age, I could have stayed in the Western Forests for a thousand years and would have lived just as many. However, I wouldn’t have experienced a fraction of the ‘life’ I’ve lived here in the City…I understand why the gods come to the mortal world from Heaven now. They are ageless, eternal, with infinite lifespans…but it is only when they are free from Divinity and descend to the mortal world that they truly live…”
Vahn laughed at himself and continued walking forward without worrying about things he couldn’t change. Even if he passed through various records in the future, it would mean nothing if he didn’t ‘live’ and experience what they had to offer. Vahn decided that, instead of worry about the future from now on, at least in regards to other worlds outside his control, Vahn would place his full attention on the current record. Even if he had to struggle a bit, happiness had long been in his grasp. The only thing he ever had to do was reach out and seize it…