Chapter 323: Cycle

Now that he had left the Hostess of Fertility, Vahn didn’t actually know what he should be doing. There was no work to do, no girls to spend time with, and no objectives for him to currently complete. For the first time a while, Vahn had ‘real’ free time and he didn’t know how to spend it. The girls would probably be at their meeting for a few more hours, and probably even eat dinner together, so he had the majority of the afternoon to himself. He was half expecting, now that things were calm, for something to happen that would change the relative peace he was enjoying. Since he didn’t have any control over the actions of others, the only thing he could do was simply avoid looking for trouble himself.

Though he had the urge to ‘walk around’ and enjoy the City, Vahn felt like it was a ‘flag’ that would trigger an event to happen that would once again increase the burden on his shoulders. Even going into the dungeon seemed like he would stumble across someone that needed help, or he would somehow run across the expedition and meet Tsubaki, Naaza, Lili, and Nanu. He was somewhat interested in putting his theory to the test, especially since he wanted to replenish his diminishing Origin Point reserves. The girls were allowed to keep the magic cores of the monsters they hunted during the training, and they would exchange them for points and Valis when they returned to the Manor. This meant that Vahn hadn’t really been gaining any OP to replenish his supply, and he was afraid it would become a problem if he didn’t address it soon.

Vahn had several ways to make OP, but the most effective method would inarguably be to slay monsters. It was also the only way for him to grow stronger, but it was dangerous to venture into the deeper floors alone, even with his powerful abilities. He could use the [Seal of the Challenger] and stay on the upper floors, but it likely wouldn’t make a big difference since he didn’t really get hit at all. Simply ‘not fighting back’ wouldn’t really get around that problem, since the biggest factor to growth was the person’s mental state. Vahn needed to experience real threats, not artificially created ones…

Though he was ‘lost in thought’, Vahn still maintained awareness of his surroundings, and he saw a kid in an alleyway getting bullied by another group of children. Based on their clothing, they all looked like orphans and they were currently trying to steal the small roll of bread that was being clutched by the small child in a death grip as the curled up on the ground. Even though it was nearly freezing outside, the children only had cloths wrapped around their feet, and Vahn saw several cuts and bruises all over their bodies. Everyone around pretty much ignored the scene as if it were perfectly normal so Vahn released a sigh as he walked over.

Seeing Vahn approach, the three ‘bullies’ gave him a discontented look before trying to kick the kid on the ground and run off. Vahn completely locked down their movements and they each froze mid-motion with expressions of abject terror on their faces. Though he hadn’t noticed at first, Vahn could tell the children looked slightly more mature than normal, and he quickly understood that all four of them were actually Pallums. When he approached, he had a contemplative look on his face as he observed the four and said, “Explain what is going on…”

The Pallum boy that was being beaten previously look up with a hesitant expression after seeing the three people surrounding him standing like statues. He swallowed his saliva and said, “I…I was just…trying to eat my bread…they wanted to take it from me.” Vahn shook his head as he released one of the bullies and asked, “Why do you want to take his food?” The bully’s mouth quivered a bit as they said, “We’re hungry…it isn’t fair that he gets to eat while we have to starve…” Vahn squinted his eyes and asked, “But it’s ‘fair’ to gang up on him and try to take what isn’t your’s?”

Hearing Vahn’s question, the boy fell onto his butt with fear in his eyes as he stuttered, “I-I-I-I…” Vahn shooked his head before infusing [Heart of the Eternal Flame] into his domain to warm up the air around them. He also slowly began to heal their wounds as he pulled out a few dishes of food and some rations that were used in the dungeon. The children all swallowed when they saw the sudden appearance of sumptuous meals out of thin air. Vahn released his restraint on the other two bullies and they all looked at him with trepidation and a hint of expectation.

Vahn passed his gaze over them and explained in a patient tone, “Life is not always fair…sometimes it is very hard, and it seems like things will never get better. This will always be the truth unless you can work together…hurting others just increases the amount of pain and hatred within the cycle of life. You might hurt him now, but that pain will breed resentment…depending on how things develop, the people you hurt might go to drastic lengths to make sure you suffer just as they did. It’s better to work together, that way you can help ensure each other’s happiness…”

Each of the four boys looked at him with conflict on their faces and it made Vahn shake his head before he asked, “Tell me, how old are you, how long have you known each other, where are your families?” He turned his attention to each boy, one by one, and they stated, “I’m 8…I’ve known Todd and Marty for three years…they are my friends…and my family.” Vahn nodded his head and the next boy said, “I’m 8 as well, and I’ve known Sean and Marty for three years…we grew up together.” The last of the bullies continued after Todd finished, “I’m 7, and I’ve been with Todd and Sean for the last three years…I don’t remember my family…”

After the bullies were finished, the final Pallum child said, “I’m Sardyr…I’m 10 years old…and I’ve seen these boys a lot…they bully me because I am alone…” There was a deep resentment in the boy’s eyes that made the other three boys frown. Before they said anything, Vahn released a light pulse of energy and they held their words as he said, “So you do understand that things are easier when you work together…right?” The three bullies looked at each other before nodding their heads in affirmation. Vahn asked, “So, if Sardyr ended up hurting one of you in the future, what would you do?”

The ‘leader’ of the bullies, Sean, immediately said, “I would beat him up, black and blue!” Vahn frowned and asked, “Is that ‘fair’?” The boy backed down a bit before muttering, “Yes…he hurt my friend…” Vahn shook his head and asked, “But he only did that because you hurt him…isn’t that his right to take action? Why is it ‘fair’ for you to hurt him, but not fair for him to hurt you?” The boys couldn’t answer his question, so Vahn continued, “See, this is what I mean…you create a cycle of hatred based on your own justifications…your own bias…and it doesn’t make anyone happy. For a temporary reprieve, you take from others, but the only thing you’re doing is inviting unhappiness in the future. If Sardyr left, who would you steal from? Would you just move on to someone else? What happens if you steal from a lot of people and they all team up to get revenge?”

Vahn saw a ‘cruel’ glint pass through the eyes of Sardyr and he squinted his eyes and said, “Will taking revenge make you happy? Does it return to you the things you’ve lost? Would you truly be able to trust the people that banded together to bring harm to others? What happens when they turn their backs on you and hurt you as well?” Unable to answer his question, Sardyr just frowned with a conflicted expression on his face. Vahn looked over the four kids for several long seconds and said, “The only thing that can guarantee your happiness is strength…not just physical, or magical, might…but strength of character…and the strong bonds that tie you together as friends…even family. Instead of weakening yourselves and suppressing others, you should continue to grow stronger, together, so that you can protect the things you care about.”

Holding out the dishes, Vahn said, “I give you a simple choice…reconcile your differences and I will allow you to eat this food. Though I won’t be around to enforce that you get along, I will trust that you remember the lesson I have taught you today. If we meet again in the future, and I see that you have created better lives for yourselves, I will make sure to reward you for your efforts. Know that, as long as you make the effort to change, life will get easier…even if you don’t plan for it, the future will always come…so do your best to make sure it is a bright one, and not one surrounded by pain and hatred. Be better than the life you have been forced into…”

Though they may not have taken his words to heart, the four boys at least put on a show of ‘making up’ with each other. They each shook hands and apologized for everything that had happened before Vahn allowed them to eat the food. When they finally got to dig into the dishes, the boys ate ravenously and Vahn explained the contents of the satchels he gave each of them. Though it wasn’t ‘pleasant’, each one contained enough field rations for an adult that would last an entire week. Vahn told them that, he wouldn’t always stop by, but he would occasionally appear in this area in the future. If he saw they were making an earnest effort to build a better life for themselves, he would give them more food and even other necessities. Vahn knew he couldn’t ‘adopt’ every orphan he saw on the street, so the best he could do was provide them some moral guidance and hope they pursue the change that would better their lives.

Before he left, Vahn gave each of the kids 1,000Valis, which was enough to actually seek temporary shelter, or to purchase things like shoes. He couldn’t give them more, because it would make them a target by other homeless people and older orphans. Since they’d been orphans for several years, they had enough street smarts to not flaunt their ‘wealth’. It also incentivized them to work together, because any one of them could ‘betray’ the others if there were hard feelings between them. Though it was small, they now had a small amount of wealth they needed to protect, and the only people they could rely on was each other.

After leaving the alleyway, Vahn continued on in silence for a bit as he wondered if it were possible to do something more meaningful for people in the same situation as the children. He knew that it wasn’t actually a solution to just give them everything since it would only cause disreputable people to exploit them for further gain. There was simply no infrastructure in place to deal with the homeless, provide for orphans, and prevent criminals, or disreputable adults, from exploiting their situation. No amount of money could fix the problem, because it would just be used to strengthen the ‘power’ of those that exploit others and eventually escalate matters unless someone took action to stop it. However, even if he eliminated every ‘evil’ person, there was a very real chance someone amongst the orphans themselves would ‘rise up’ and replace that person once they got a taste of power and authority. It was a never-ending cycle, and the only permanent solution seemed to be education and setting a proper example…only by putting in an effort to change their own situation could people truly overcome their trials and move on with life.

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With that thought in mind, Vahn turned his attention to the system for a moment and saw the perpetual 99 Affection of Lili and knew she was still someone that hadn’t been able to move on from her tragic past. Though she was putting in an exorbitant amount of effort, she hadn’t taken many actions to correct her mental state and she was still overly reliant on other people to function. Vahn didn’t know what he could do to help her since the only person that could truly change her mentality was Lili herself. Even if he went to the Soma Familia and forced them to ‘repent’ for their past actions, there was no guarantee it would help her. The alcohol production Familia was already under pressure from the Guild and was being forced to change their ways after the various illegal dealings they were involved with were exposed. Lili didn’t even have to do anything, and the Soma Familia would be forcibly corrected over time while anyone that had committed a crime would face their due punishments.

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Vahn shook his head and knew that the only thing he could do was continue working hard to live by example. The girls on the network would always look after her, and when she eventually joined his Familia in the future, Vahn knew she would probably begin to stabilize. If nothing else, the best solution to Lili’s problem was simply time. The stronger, and more confident, she became, the happier she would be. Once she opened up to others, a lot of the things that caused her pain in the past would slowly fade away. Vahn actually believed that girls like Preasia, Haruhime, and even Fenrir, would be very therapeutic for her. Other than Naaza and Tina, Lili didn’t have many actual friends.

For the rest of the afternoon, Vahn ruminated over a few matters before psyching himself up when he detected the arrival of the girls. He believed that most of the solutions to his problems would be found through the network, and he placed a lot of trust in the capable women that ran it. His primary focus should be doing his best to develop, not only his own strength, but the strength of the Hestia Familia itself. Everything else would be dealt with after consulting with everyone, unless it was a matter that could only be dealt with by Vahn personally, such as something like a quest.

When he went downstairs, Vahn greeted all the girls that had just arrived which included Hestia, Aki, Ryuu, Fenrir, Haruhime, Mikoto, Emiru, Maemi, Preasia, Milan, Tina, Shizuna, and surprisingly, Loki. The moment he saw the red-headed goddess, Vahn paused for a bit as a small amount of expectation took root inside of him. She immediately noticed his reaction and playfully stuck out her tongue before saying, “There are a few things we need to talk about~. It might take a while, so how about we use your bedroom~?”

Vahn swallowed a bit before he turned his attention to Hestia and saw her release a small sigh before saying, “I’ll be expecting you to make it up to me later…” Without saying anything else, she walked off with the majority of the other girls, including Ryuu. The only ones that stayed behind were Loki and Aki, who looked to Vahn and asked, “Do you want me to come along?” Vahn could see her aura flared up a bit with a pink hue, but he shook his head and said, “No, I think I need to ‘talk’ to Loki in private for once…” Aki nodded her head before her tail flickered about and she whispered, “I’ll be next door if you need me…” After her words fell, Aki gave Vahn a quick hug before making her way upstairs ahead of them. Vahn turned his attention back to Loki and saw a large grin on her face before he too smiled. Just as she was about to make a comment, Vahn moved directly next to her with Shundo and picked up her body in a princess carry and said, “I wonder what we’ll talk about~? It must be very important…”

Loki had opened her eyes in a rather surprised expression for a moment before she gingerly hung her arms around Vahn’s neck and whispered, “I can’t help but feel like it’s the most important thing in the whole world…” Vahn nodded his head and, with a gentle smile on his face, whispered in return, “Then I guess we shouldn’t idle about here in the foyer…” As soon as his words finished, Vahn appeared at the landing between the first and second floor which shocked Loki a bit as a curious expression appeared on her face. She playfully said, “Ara~? A little ‘fast’, aren’t you~?” In response, Vahn used several Shundo to appear at the third-floor corridor before he said, “Hmm, I feel like I can turn the tables and make you ‘faster’ though~?” As he spoke, a mild electrical sensation appeared on Vahn’s fingertips that made Loki’s body shake a little. She opened her red eyes and said in a hot voice, “You little brat…let’s talk.”

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