After escorting Haruhime to her room, as she was feeling very tired, Vahn made his way down to the kitchen to grab some food and decide how he wanted to spend the rest of the day. He was also very curious about something so, after he stepped into the kitchen and saw Maemi and Emiru sitting with their palms together, Vahn said, “Good morning, Maemi, Emiru…did you prepare anything for lunch?” Both girls’ eyes shot open as they mirrored each other’s actions and stared at Vahn and said, “Yes, we prepared salted rice balls with vinegar and a little bit of sugar.” Vahn noticed that Emiru’s eyes had been an icy-blue color for a moment so he asked, “Were the two of you practicing your [Gemini] ability?”
The twins nodded their heads and said, “Yes, we’ve been able to synchronize and stay fused for 49 minutes if we’re out of combat~!” Though their parameters hadn’t increased a great deal in the last month, Maemi and Emiru had made a lot of progress toward mastering their own Innate. Vahn hadn’t been able to confirm it for himself yet, but the skill had increased from D to C while he had been away. Ever since they learned about their ‘tragic’ fate, the girls had spent the majority of their time together and were almost perfectly in sync with each other. The biggest change in their ability was that it no longer took them several minutes to fuse together, which they demonstrated right now as Emiru’s eyes flashed and she vanished from sight.
Vahn smiled and rubbed Maemiru’s rounded ears as she mewled happily under his hand while doing her best to restrain herself. Even if she wanted to do something, they were in the kitchen and Maemiru knew it would trouble Vahn if she acted up. However, there was one girl that didn’t seem content with their restraint as Shirohime tapped the top of Vahn’s head with her paws and complained, “The first thing you do after leaving us is to go seek another woman? Simply shameless!” Vahn’s smile didn’t waver at all as he continued to fluff Maemiru’s head while simultaneously stroking her cheek. She had been working hard and it was Vahn’s policy to reward people for their efforts, especially since he knew why they were working so hard.
Shirohime tapped his head like a jackhammer and said, “You! Don’t ignore us~!” Though Vahn could ‘feel’ her actions, her paws didn’t even ruffle his hair even though she was hitting the top of his head somewhat forcefully. The thing he had been curious about was if other people would be able to see Shirohime and this was evidence toward the fact that she was more an ‘illusion’ than a real entity. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was able to see, hear, feel, and even smell her, but the only people that knew of Shirohime’s existence right now was Haruhime and himself. However, Vahn still wanted to be sure so he asked, “Maemiru, do you see a cute little white fox on top of my head misbehaving?”
Vahn felt Shirohime’s body flinch at the word ‘cute’ once again but Maemiru seemed confused by his words but still looked toward the top of his head with intent. After several seconds, she shook her head and said, “I can’t see anything, Master. Is there really a fox there?” Vahn nodded his head and said, “Yes, there was a change in Haruhime’s rare skill and now a part of her is following me around. I was curious if other people would be able to see her, but it looks like that isn’t the case.” In response to his words, Shirohime tapped the top of his head and said, “We already told you that other people couldn’t see us you dumb boy!”
Though she believed Vahn’s words, Maemiru furrowed her brows slightly because it was very ‘sneaky’ of Haruhime to have access to such a skill. Maemiru considered Haruhime their closest rival so it was concerning if she were continually getting ahead of them. They already knew she had been with Vahn during the morning, so knowing she had attached a fox to Vahn annoyed them. Reaching out their hand, Maemiru touched the top of Vahn’s head and their hand passed right through Shirohime, not that they could see it occurring. As for Shirohime, she bobbed around in annoyance and said, “These cheeky girls think they can touch us with their filthy hands!? Impudent, impudent, impudent~!” Toward the end of her words, Shirohime bit forward and snapped at Maemiru’s fingers which caused them to pull their hand away in surprise.
Vahn frowned at this and reached up to grab Shirohime by her scruff as she wriggled about in his hand and said, “Aaah, unhand us you beast~!” However, Vahn unexpected hugged her to his chest which made Shirohime turn silent in an instant…until Vahn began lightly spanking her bottom. She immediately cried out, “You bastaaaard, you can’t treat us like this you meanie, meanie, stupid head~! You’re going to make us…cry…” Vahn knew she was talking about the sleeping Haruhime, but he would have to make it up to her later since Shirohime needed discipline when she was misbehaving. It wasn’t okay to bite others, even if it didn’t actually do any damage to them at all. At least he was able to confirm something new about her, being that she could actually interact with other people, so he went a little easy on her.
When Vahn finished spanking her, he rubbed her little rump with his [Hands of Nirvana] before loosening up his left hand so she could move about easier. She immediately ran around his shoulder and wrapped around his neck again as she ‘pouted’ silently. Maemiru had watched this strange occurrence from start to finish and asked, “Did you punish her for us?” Vahn nodded his head and said, “She needs to learn to treat other people kindly or she can only blame herself for what happens…” Maemiru looked toward the top of Vahn’s head, where they assumed Shirohime was located, before bowing slightly and saying, “Shirohime, let’s get along well from now on, okay~?”
Shirohime looked at Maemiru before sticking out her tongue and saying, “Bleeeeh, we don’t want to be friends with people trying to steal from us! Hmph!” Vahn, however, smiled and said, “She said she would like to be friends with you in the future as well, though it will take some time for her to get used to everyone.” Maemiru smiled and laughed while Shirohime whined, “That isn’t what we said at all~! Not only are you a dumb pervert, but you’re also a liar!? What kind of life are we going to live from now on…how lamentable…”
After leaving the kitchen, Vahn made his way toward a ‘familiar’ presence as he took a bite of the sweet and salty rice balls that the girls had made for lunch. Curious, Vahn broke off a piece and asked, “Do you eat food, Shirohime?” Shirohime turned her head away from the offering and harumphed before saying, “We do not require sustenance. As long as our counterpart is healthy, we can persist indefinitely.” Vahn lazily nodded his head before taking his index finger and touching it to Shirohime’s back as she muttered, “You…don’t casually touch us as you please…” Ignoring her, Vahn inserted a thread of pure source energy into her body to see if anything would happen. He knew his [Hands of Nirvana] and [Petting] worked on her, so he was curious if his [Yggdrasil’s Blessing] had any effect.
Shirohime’s body trembled and she mewled, “Yooou, what are you doing to us…guuuu…” in a somewhat pitiful manner. Vahn was surprised by her reaction and began gently stroking her back with his finger as she caused her body to tremble even without using his [Hands of Nirvana]. Though he couldn’t see the energy that comprised her body, nor could he even detect her presence, Vahn knew his source energy was the highest form of energy and it seemed to be useful against her. He suspected he might even be able to help ‘fuel’ Haruhime as long as he had Shirohime with him so this was a very significant find. Many Innate completely circumvented most restrictions in the record, so he could potentially even support Haruhime when she was far away in the Dungeon while he was in the Manor.
Unable to keep her grip, Shirohime eventually let go of Vahn’s neck and fell straight into his ‘clutches’ as she wiggled about with rueful cries. Vahn thought she was cute, so he cradled her with his left arm and scratched the tuft of thick fur on her chest as she ‘glared’ at him with her golden eyes. However, Vahn noted she stopped resisting when he held her ‘gently’ and simply accepted his actions ‘apprehensively’. With a smile on his face, Vahn said, “You really are adorable when you’re behaving…” Shirohime turned her head up at him in a dismissive manner and said, “You should treat us better…we already gave everything to you. The least you can do is treat us kindly…”
Vahn used his index finger to tilt her head toward him and said in a soft tone, “Kindness is nice to receive, but its better if both parties reciprocate it. The feelings are more meaningful if they are shared, instead of enjoying them selfishly. If you’re a good girl, I’ll pamper you when I’m not busy…but I can’t always be tending to you, even if you are ‘my’ cute little Shirohime.” Shirohime closed her eyes and turned her head toward his body and refused to look at him. However, her silence was similar to accepting Vahn’s words, which was a good step forward. He didn’t expect her to change after a day or two, but he hoped it would be sooner rather than later.
After a short walk, Vahn arrived outside where Tina and Shizune were once again putting all of their efforts into training. Today they were joined by Tsubaki, Ryuu, Fenrir, Milan, and Preasia, who watched from the side as usual. Vahn’s presence was noted very quickly, especially by the ‘hopeful’ looking Preasia who began to get a little restless as she watched him like like a hawk eyeing a field mouse. Vahn smiled at her before gesturing to Fenrir, who had been watching the sparring between Tina and Shizune. After kicking up a small clump of dirt and grass, Fenrir immediately arrived at Vahn’s side and asked, “Did Vahn need Fenrir~?”
As usual, Vahn reached out his hand and stroked Fenrir’s head as he held up his left arm and said, “Do you see anything in my arm, Fenrir?” Shirohime looked at Fenrir and said, “We told you that other-” Fenrir nodded her head and said, “Fenrir can see a small white creature…” as she leaned forward and grimaced, continuing by saying, “Smelly…” Shirohime seemed to get offended by Fenrir’s words and flared up in Vahn’s arm as she shouted, “We are not smelly! You are the smelly one, you, you, you!” Fenrir scrunched up her nose and even went so far as to pinch her nostrils with her claws, even though it didn’t look like a pleasant action to take.
Vahn poked into Shirohime’s chest and she overreacted a bit by biting his index finger in a relatively painless manner. Fenrir, however, took exception to this as her eyes immediately turned a vibrant scarlet as she looked at Shirohime like a prey animal. With his finger still in her mouth, Shirohime’s eyes widened as she froze under Fenrir’s gaze and was entirely unable to move. At this point, their little display had caught the attention of the others as Tsubaki walked over and asked, “What’s going on over here? Fenrir, are you okay…?” Fenrir didn’t bother answering Tsubaki as her hair continued to rise slightly like an animal on the verge of attacking. Vahn’s eyes turned sharp in an instant and he said, “Fenrir, you can’t eat little Shirohime, okay? She might be a little ‘naughty’, but she doesn’t have any experience interacting with others. She’ll get better, isn’t that right little Shiro?”
Shirohime mechanically nodded her head before pulling her mouth slowly away from Vahn’s finger and tucking into his body as if she were trying to hide. Vahn saw this and mused in his head that this would be good ‘medicine’ for her to gain awareness. He had suspected that, since Fenrir, Terra, and Fafnir were functionally a ‘part’ of him, they would also be able to see her. His intention proved correct and Vahn was able to rationalize that Haruhime’s Innate had somehow synchronized with him when they had sex earlier. At least now he didn’t have to constantly explain that he was talking to a clingy little fox spirit whenever people saw him behaving strangely.
Since everyone was giving him a confused look, Vahn explained, “Haruhime’s unique skill evolved earlier and there is now a cute little fox spirit that is attached to me named Shirohime. She is a bit clingy, but she is a good girl at heart so don’t bully her okay, Fenrir?” Fenrir’s hair had dropped slightly but she still continued to stare at Shirohime with hostility as she nodded her head. She obviously didn’t truly agree with him, but there wasn’t much Vahn could do to sway her since Shirohime was the one in the wrong. He knew Fenrir wouldn’t actually harm the little fox spirit, not that she should be able to do any meaningful damage to her. Vahn wasn’t sure if Fenrir could even interact with Shirohime, not that he would give her the chance given her current state. He would need Terra’s assistance to confirm that, since she wouldn’t harm Shirohime even if the little fox offended her.
Tsubaki nodded her head in understanding as she appraised Vahn’s current appearance, something which she recognized instantly. She wasn’t the only one either, as Shizune had a somewhat forlorn look and a light ambivalence to her current expression. Vahn’s white haori and red threads was a rather bold statement and, had Haruhime been the first girl he ‘associated’ with, it would have been the same as saying she had become his wife. However, though they both recognized his garb, neither girl said anything about it as Tsubaki instead inquired about Shirohime a bit by asking, “Is there a way we can see her? I’m curious to see what kind of creature was created by a rare skill…”
Though she didn’t turn to look at Tsubaki, Shirohime muttered, “We aren’t a creature…we are a proud and noble goddess…” The word caught Vahn’s attention because he hadn’t expected Shirohime to identify as a ‘goddess’, even though she definitely wasn’t one by the standards of the record. He knew it was possible for some of the stronger Innates to embody specific ‘records’ and ‘principles’, but hearing a fox created by the Innate skill [Inari] address itself as a goddess was a key detail that required further investigation. For now, he just shook his head and said, “She seems to be bonded with my energy signature, so only Haruhime, Fenrir, Terra, Fafnir, and I can see her. Ah, she isn’t a creature…she is kind of like a pure white kit with nine tails and red markings on her body.”
Hearing Vahn saw that Shirohime was a ‘nine-tailed’ fox caused both Tsubaki and Shizune to be surprised because, though it didn’t last long when they recalled that Haruhime’s skill was called [Inari]. Tsubaki began laughing out loud before saying, “Oh, it looks like Haruhime had a strong fate with the goddess Inari. If she heard about that little kit of your’s, she might go crazy with rage! Ahahahahaha~!” Vahn could clearly remember Inari from the Divination and he couldn’t help but feel like Haruhime really did have a destiny tied to the ‘peculiar’ goddess. Things wouldn’t necessarily progress the same way, but Vahn technically had a fate with her too. Considering the fact that he intended to visit the Far East in the future, Vahn expected that their ‘fate’ would come to a head irrespective of the steps he took to circumvent it.
Vahn smiled wryly before taking a breath and saying, “Sorry to have disrupted your training. I just wanted to test out my theory since it really is a curious development…” Since he could tell that Fenrir was still very frustrated, probably for more reasons than just Shirohime’s existence, he reached out and stroked her head as he said, “Let’s go out to play tomorrow, okay?” Though she hesitated for a short moment, Fenrir eventually tore her eyes from Shirohime and the vibrant scarlet faded slightly as she nodded her head and said, “Fenrir wants to do something fun with Vahn…” Vahn nodded his head and made a promise to make sure they had plenty of fun before sending them back to resume their training.
After fluffing Preasia’s hair for a solid minute, Vahn told her to continue doing her best and parted ways with the group in the training area as he made his way into the forest. He wanted to understand as much about Shirohime as possible before trying to convince her to return to Haruhime before nightfall. He could be ‘battling’ against Tiona, Ais, and Tione tonight, and he didn’t imagine she would be too fond of attending the event. However, considering Haruhime’s personality, Vahn suspected she might not actually mind it too much, even though she would probably complain a bit.
Even without following the ‘correct’ path, Vahn easily made his way through the illusory forest because normal illusions had no effect on him at all. He quickly found his way to the secret garden and saw the ‘person’ he had been looking for, Terra, absorbing energy from the sun as she soaked her feet in the wellspring. It was a bit awkward since she was currently completely naked, but Vahn didn’t let it bother him since she was quite the beautiful girl. She had also noticed his presence the moment he entered the clearing and her robe immediately appeared as a smile bloomed on her face.
Before Vahn even brought it up, Terra tilted her head slightly and asked, “What is this adorable little creature…is it a fox?” Shirohime peaked up and saw the relatively ‘unthreatening’ Terra and seemed to be preparing a rebuttal until Terra furled her wings and snapped her tail against the ground as she leaped from the wellspring to get a closer look. Even if Shirohime was a real ‘goddess’, there wasn’t much she could do against a True Dragon that was comprised of source energy. She couldn’t even make any use of her power without Haruhime, so Shirohime was more of a ‘mascot’ than an actual threat in her current form.
Vahn smiled at Terra and explained, “This is Shirohime, she is a nine-tailed fox that is a part of Haruhime…want to try holding her?” Shirohime’s eyes widened but she couldn’t say anything before Terra reached out her hands and easily picked her up before hugging Shiro close to her chest in a ‘motherly’ embrace and cuddling her. Shirohime writhed about and said, “We don’t understand what’s going on! This shouldn’t be happening to us!” Terra freed one of her hands and began gently stroking Shirohime’s head as she softly uttered, “My, you really are a cute little fox, Shirohime. My name is Terra Evergreen, it is very nice to meet you. If it isn’t too much to ask, will you be my friend~?”
Shirohime seemed to be very stressed out by the unexpected situation, but Terra’s ‘innate’ gentleness was overwhelming and she quickly gave up her resistance as she ‘pouted’ without responding to Terra’s words. Vahn smiled and said, “Just like Haruhime, you also need to open yourself up to others…Shiro. You will be much happier if you have more friends.” Vahn knew that, just like Haruhime, Shirohime liked to be called by a ‘pet’ name so he softly called her Shiro. As expected, her ears twitched at the address and she turned her pouting golden eyes toward him before drooping her head. Terra simply continued stroking her with a happy smile on her face, almost as if she were completely oblivious to Shirohime’s distressed state…