After spending nearly twenty minutes in the bath with Aki, the two dried themselves off and Vahn gave Aki some of the clothing he kept within his inventory. She was a little surprised that he had women’s clothing, but Vahn just explained it away as having been necessary in the past and he liked to be prepared. She happily accepted the small black shorts and the pale-blue blouse he gave her before wearing them overtop somewhat intricately designed black panties that he handed her. When she had received them, she tilted her head to the side with a thoughtful look before wearing them in a smooth motion.
Vahn was preparing to return to the library to make sure things were cleaned up, but Aki prevented him from doing so and said she would take care of it herself. He assumed she didn’t want another person potentially cleaning her pee, so Vahn nodded his head and decided to cool off his head a bit by heading outside and sitting on the balcony. The sky had been cloudy lately and there was even a very short period when some snow had fallen. Unfortunately, it didn’t pile up at all and Vahn wasn’t able to experience his first snow day.
During the lunch period, Aki had decided to take the opportunity to discuss the various rules and regulations that the girls would have to follow from now on. Though she couldn’t do much about the fact that some of the girls had already joined the Familia, Aki still asked that they all take vows related to the non-disclosure of information, working alongside criminal Familia, and compromising the interests of others within the Familia. With Hestia’s support, every girl present made vows, including Preasia even though she wasn’t actually in the Familia yet. As a show of his own support, Vahn also made the vows in front of the girls with a few minor stipulations related to him specifically.
One of the things the girls had to do, other than their assigned duties, was study information about the dungeon. They were also given price lists, lists of common drops, ingredients for making medicine, and other miscellaneous information that would be useful when they finally entered the dungeon in the future. Since some of the girls didn’t know how to read well at all, Aki also pitched in and helped educate the illiterate members alongside Preasia, Haruhime, and Fenrir. Mikoto still spent her afternoon training and honing her skills while Vahn had been preparing to return to his workshop but was stopped along the way by Hestia.
Hestia had a somewhat difficult expression on her face and Vahn could see her aura was drooping pitifully even though it still retained its reddish-pink hue. Before he could ask what the matter was, Hestia spoke up to answer his concerns, “I talked with Hephaestus and Loki earlier…Vahn, am I being a bother to you?” Vahn furrowed his brows a bit and stated firmly, “Hestia, I’ve told you several times that I like your behavior. Even if it gets a little out of hand at times, its always exciting and I like spending time with you.” Instead of showing a relieved expression, Hestia let out a sigh and said, “Loki said you’d say something like that…so it’s true, I’ve been taking things too far lately.”
Without continuing the conversation further, Vahn stepped forward and hugged Hestia tightly around her shoulders before pressing her head to his chest and stroking her hair. In response, Hestia grabbed the back of his tunic and held the fabric tightly with her hands and muttered, “Vahn…why is it so hard to be in love with someone? Even though I know you have to be free, I can’t help but want to keep you locked away in our room, away from all the terrible things and people you’ll face in the future. I don’t want to see you in pain while you struggle to help other people’s dreams come true…”
Vahn didn’t know how to answer her question for a bit and continued to stroke her hair before saying, “I don’t know Hestia…I’ve only ever thought about doing my best. Even when things get hard, the trust people put in me helps drive me forward…it is knowing that there are people that love me waiting for my return that helps me overcome difficulties. Even if I stayed in that room with you for a while, life would eventually find its way to us and force us to face it. I’d rather take the initiative and face life head-on rather than be caught off guard when I least expect it…”
Stroking the side of Hestia’s face, Vahn tiled her head and saw the watery blue eyes on the verge of tears. With a gentle and loving smile on his face, Vahn whispered, “Hestia, won’t you face it together with me? There is much more to life than being cooped up within that bedroom, or even being here in this Manor. I think you’ll find the answer you’re looking for if you open your heart to others and see the beauty in the world, not just the dangers…it might be my take as a ‘mortal’, but I know that you can live forever…without having lived life for a single day. I want to make the most of every moment, and I want you to be there with me during my times of triumph, as well as when I face defeat. With a beautiful goddess like you waiting for me, I feel like I can get back up no matter how many times I fall down…”
Though her expression hadn’t returned to normal, Vahn could feel Hestia’s aura expand rapidly until the point it had encompassed by their bodies in the reddish-pink atmosphere. After a few seconds, a cheerful smile appeared on Hestia’s face and she placed her hand overtop Vahn’s before saying, “Vahn, I love you so much~! Even when I feel lost and empty, you’re always there to show me the way…and you even ‘fill me up’ in various ways.” Vahn could see the moderately seductive glint in Hestia’s gaze as she looked upward at him with her shining blue gem-like eyes.
Vahn leaned down and rubbed noses with Hestia before carrying her off to the side and seating her on one of the nearby sofa. She seemed to be getting in a strange mood, but Vahn placed his hand on her head and used [Hands of Nirvana] to help calm her down. Her aura began to slowly decrease in intensity and she had a difficult time trying to make any advances against Vahn as he gave her a casual smile and continued forcibly calming her down. Eventually, Hestia gave up and allowed Vahn to hug her from behind as she sat in his lap and behaved.
Vahn began explaining everything he had experienced since his first time with Tiona and Ais, as well as the regulations, concerns, and countermeasures that had been put into place to keep him from going down a deviant path. He talked to Hestia about moderation and putting more emphasis on each individual moment instead of over-saturating life with thoughts of sex. Vahn knew Hestia hadn’t been associating too much with the rest of the Familia lately, since she spent most of her time within their room and he cautioned her about making a bad impression on the girl’s hearts and minds.
Though she seemed a little hesitant at first, when Vahn began explaining to her about the lesson she had given him about treating their Familia like family, Hestia was unable to refute him at all. She just listened silently and asked a few questions to clarify matters which Vahn was able to answer easily. Vahn wanted Hestia to treat everyone in the Familia well, since she was actually the core of the group, even though there were a lot of people that treated him as their focus. Even if Vahn was the representative of the Familia during expeditions, Hestia was the actual face of the Familia and there were various things that could only be managed by her. He talked to her about some of the things he had discussed with Aki earlier, but Hestia had actually told him that she had already heard about them directly from the source.
After nearly three hours of discussion, all while Vahn helped comfort Hestia, it was decided that Hestia would be sleeping in her own room to set a better example for the others girls to follow. If they always saw her sleeping with Vahn and dragging an erotic scent through the house, it would make things difficult for everyone in the future. In exchange for her compliance, Vahn promised that they would be able to spend time together, but had to plan it properly in advance and needed to make sure it was in a location that wouldn’t interfere with the lives of others. He pitched the idea about expanding the Manor in the future and even digging further into the ground and foundation around the premises. They already had a wine cellar and a large amount of basement storage space, but Vahn thought it would be a good idea to expand it in the future and even plan for escape tunnels in the event that they needed to move in and out of the Manor stealthily.
Adding onto Vahn’s plans, Hestia pitched the idea of breaking down the wall separating the two onsens and segmenting off a private area with adequate soundproofing for private bathing. She also wanted to try building a sauna and even asked if Vahn could build a second private area for things like massages. Because he had plenty of diagram paper on hand, Vahn began to draw out the ideas after quickly sketching out the blueprints of the Hearth Manor using his minimap as a reference. Though he had never studied architecture seriously, Vahn had read several books on it and learned a bit when he was living alongside Eva in the orb. Hestia began to get very excited at the prospect of modifying their home even further since she seemed like the type that enjoyed staying at home. As a final add-on, she even brought up the idea of converting the west wing into a medical ward and daycare since there would probably be a few kids running around in the future.
Long before they were finished drawing up plans, it was already time for dinner and they were both surprised to know so much time had passed. If not for Vahn detecting Haruhime moving through the corridors looking for them, they might have caused everyone to wait for their late arrival. During dinner, Hestia brought up the blueprints they had been working on and starting an exciting discussion with all the girls present about things they’d like to see incorporated in the future. Even Aki got involved in the conversation because she thought it was a very good idea to make modifications in preparation for the future. As of now, the Manor was more so something that had been designed to be lived in as a residence. Most Familia Manors were designed as a central hub and the actual residences for the members were elsewhere.
The conversation was so lively that dinner went on nearly an hour over the usual amount of time they took to eat. Everyone was in a good mood as they cleaned up the dishes and all made their way toward the bath together. Vahn wasn’t exactly dirty, but he also decided to take a short bath since it was a pleasant feeling to experience the cold air in combination with the hot water of the onsen. Every time he saw the steamy pools in the low light of the evening, Vahn felt like he had entered a mystical realm that was almost exclusively his own. Other than when he shared it with others, Vahn had the entire men’s onsen to himself even though it looked like it could hold more than fifty people.
After soaking in one of the murky pools, Vahn allowed his body to relax and reveled in the experiences of the day. His interaction with Aki had been interesting, and he was looking forward to how things might progress in the future. He really wanted to meet the man named Raul and see what kind of person would be able to ignore the charms of such a beautiful woman. As he was relaxing, Vahn could hear a bit of a commotion from the women’s bath, which wasn’t that abnormal if not for the fact that he saw several presences near the dividing wall between the onsens…
For a brief moment, Vahn’s mind blanked before he recalled Hestia’s earlier suggestion about breaking down the wall and creating a private bathing area. Since it made more sense to create the private bath first, Vahn hadn’t expected that they might try to immediately implement the idea. He didn’t mind seeing the girls naked, but Vahn felt like it would be troublesome if he was in the same bath as eight other girls so he shouted out to stop them but swallowed his words when they turned to walk away without doing anything. Deciding that it might be the precursor to some future development, Vahn finished washing his body before escaping from the onsen…
After he returned to his room, Vahn was curious so he transformed into his Báihǔ form to see what kind of aroma was present in the room. He immediately regretted the decision since Vahn was hit by a literal wave of ‘Essence of Hestia’ and he could feel his heart begin to itch before dissipating the feeling with [Will of the Emperor] while ceasing his transformation. He had adapted to Hestia’s scent a bit and was almost able to ignore it during normal circumstances so he had never noticed how prevalent it was in the room. It was no wonder that Aki had a blushing face when she had been present the night before…she had probably been bathed in the aroma of their ‘misconduct’ for the several minutes it required for her to have her crest converted.
Vahn changed the bedding and placed a few incenses in the room that had the properties of breaking down scents while also making the room smell like sandalwood. Vahn wasn’t sure what sandalwood was before, but he managed to purchase a piece through the shop and noticed it had a robust, yet pleasant, aroma. It strangely reminded him or Ryuu, and Vahn spread a few around the room in the hopes that it might clear up the air a bit. He also opened one of the side vents that were typically closed to retain the heat within the Manor. Since he was essentially immune to the cold, Vahn didn’t mind lowering the temperature of the room to let some fresh air spread throughout the interior. For the first time in a while, Vahn laid down in his bed alone and enjoyed the cool air against his skin as he spread his arms wide and released the tensions in his body…