After leaving Mikoto in the clearing, Vahn returned to the Manor without disturbing the girls’ training. He had been planning to keep making the rounds to talk with the others, but the only people that came to the forefront of his mind at the moment were Lili, Naaza, and Eina. Vahn knew that Lili spent a fair amount of time reading within Naaza’s Atelier, but Vahn wasn’t sure it was the best idea to visit them since he wanted to relax before the evening. Since Hephaestus had left early in the morning to take care of a few things, Vahn decided to simply stop by and visit the Guild Branch located on the west side of the building before exploring the Manor a bit
Vahn made his way to the small two-story building that appeared rather small compared to the size of the Manor itself. Since it was a branch that only had four personnel working within it, it wasn’t too surprising, but Vahn still felt like it was a little strange to see a building representing the Guild be so small. At least it was made with a similar design, so it didn’t stand out too much from the surrounding architecture and looked more like a connecting building than a standalone complex.
Within the building, Vahn found a small counter where two women could be seen conversing with each other in a casual manner. They didn’t really have to worry about strict regulations too much, as there was no chance of any inspectors coming through unannounced. The beautiful brown-haired girl with emerald green eyes showed a pleasant smile in response to his appearance, but the red-haired woman with somewhat wild hair furrowed her brows slightly before an awkward smile appeared on her face before it transitioned into a ‘business’ smile moments later.
Eina stood up from her chair and asked, “Good afternoon, Vahn, what brings you to the Guild today~?” Vahn smiled and said, “I was curious about the new changes around the Manor and wanted to investigate them. Since I knew you were working, I decided to stop by here first to visit for a short while. If I’m a bother, I can come back at another time…” Vahn knew they didn’t actually have a lot of work to perform since many of the materials obtained by the Hestia Familia were kept by him or exchanged with the system shop. He did have some mission items to turn in, but that wasn’t really a pressing matter and he didn’t want to suddenly make them busy when they were having a discussion.
Rose squinted her eyes slightly as Eina chuckled and said, “We’re not particularly busy with anything, so it’s a welcome occurrence to have you appear here unexpectedly. We were actually talking about some missions that could be good for the Hestia Familia to accept in order to increase their rank further. You should know that the group that remained behind during the expedition had worked very hard~.” Vahn walked forward as Eina spoke and stood at the counter as she pulled out a large book with several mission listings contained within. Using the opportunity, Vahn added, “During the expedition, we completed all of our accepted tasks as well and I need to report their completion.”
Eina looked toward Rose who nodded her head politely and said, “I can accept the mission items and validate the completion of each task at this counter. If there are a large number of items, we have space in the back to stow them, but it may take a few hours to sort through everything before you receive credit. We need to report the matter to the Guild and exchange the items for their respective rewards first.” Since he had accepted quite a number of missions, Vahn nodded his head and said, “We’ll probably need to use the back room…”
Rose nodded and gestured to the small swinging door at the side of the counter and Vahn passed through it as Eina followed behind with the mission logbook. The Guild Branch building was much longer than it was wide and it followed back into a storage warehouse that had a large set of doors at the side leading to the staging area outside. There were several large tables present, much like what he had seen in the past, so Vahn walked over and began removing the items from his Inventory based on the quest log. He had the benefit of neatly arranging everything beforehand, so the items appeared in a prim and proper form that would make Rose’s job of inspecting them much easier.
Seeing Vahn’s ‘storage’ magic in action, Rose had a slightly envious look before she picked up a set of tools and set about performing her own duty. Before she began, Rose asked, “Did you have any magic cores you wanted to exchange?” Vahn shook his head and said, “I use cores as a material in forging, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever exchange any here.” After nodding her head, Rose began inspecting the materials while Eina opened the mission log and said, “There are actually a few personal requests that have been made by various Familia as of late. We filtered through the ones that seemed like they just wanted to get closer to the Hestia Familia, but keep in mind that there is still a possibility.”
Vahn looked over the missions Eina had selected and noticed that some of them actually included requests for forging items and there was even one asking him to investigate an area outside of the City. The Guild knew of the existence of Fafnir, including how fast it had been flying about above the City, so there was a mission posted that requested him to visit an area a few thousand kilometers away. Monsters had been attacking villages in the food production areas to the West and they wanted someone to track down the nest and eliminate it. Since it was posted by the Guild itself, and also affected one of their allies, the Demeter Familia, Vahn quickly accepted the mission. He wanted to go out and ‘play’ tomorrow, and it seemed like a good location to have some fun.
For the next two hours, Vahn sat in the back as Rose sorted through all the items he had produced to verify their quality and quantity. Vahn was aware that she was becoming somewhat annoyed the longer he was around, especially since he had produced a table and chairs to enjoy a light meal with Eina. Since it was somewhat rude to be casually conversing while someone else worked, Vahn eventually ended up leaving the area, but only after leaving behind a magical kettle full of a fragrant tea and some baked goods for Rose and Eina to enjoy when he was gone. He knew that Rose seemed to be fond of sour food so he left some blackberry tarts for her.
Shortly after he left the Guild Branch, escorted by Eina, Shirohime began thumping the top of his head as she complained, “How dare you ignore us for so long!” Vahn reached up and grabbed the little fox by its scruff and it struggled about until he held it right in front of his face and explained, “When I’m conversing with people that can’t see and hear you, it would interrupt the flow of conversation if I have to split my focus between you and them. Unless you have something important to say, I have to worry about the others first. Behave, Shirohime, you’re a smart girl and should know better.”
Shirohime had a ‘complex’ look on her tiny face and seemed to struggle with her thoughts for a short while before asking, “What do we get if we behave…?” Vahn nearly chortled because of the ‘cleverness’ of Shirohime and her spoiled nature that really suited her adorable appearance. After thinking, Vahn smiled and said, “How about I groom your fur? Or maybe you want me to give you some heavy petting?” An even more complicated look appeared on Shirohime’s face before she muttered, “We aren’t your pet…”
Vahn showed a slightly ‘sad’ look before setting Shirohime on his shoulder and beginning his exploration of the Manor. It was fair to say it had more than doubled in size, and Vahn was curious about the areas he had yet to visit. Suddenly being ‘ignored’ again, Shirohime pawed against the side of Vahn’s face after staying silent for a while and said, “Hey…hey…don’t ignore us…” Vahn, however, decided to take a similar approach to when he first got close to Eva and let Shirohime think about her actions on her own for the time being. Even though he could ‘feel’ her, Vahn knew she couldn’t do any actual damage to him and it was more of a ‘sensation’ than actual pain. He didn’t even flinch with the immense pain of using [Prometheus], so he could completely filter out Shirohime’s antics with ease.
After making his way through the extended corridors connecting to the back half of the Manor, Vahn found that there were numerous rooms that had already been stocked with supplies for rearing children. He had entered through the West Wing, so it made sense that this would be where their kids are raised in the future. As he progressed further, Vahn found there were several nearby rooms that got increasingly larger in size the further he went. It seemed that Hestia had designed things so that, as the children aged and grew up, they would have more space to work with. There were even some rooms that had private studies attached to them.
The coolest thing though, which caught Vahn’s interest rather quickly, was that there were various ‘secret’ rooms and corridors that connected with each other. It looked like the extensions of the building had been designed to be ‘fun’ for the kids, but Vahn couldn’t help but want to go through them himself. There was something interesting about navigating through a building without using the normal paths, and Vahn even found a few puzzles that revealed small rooms that looked like they would be useful for storing items.
When he reached the official back of the Manor, Vahn found that the mechanisms came to an end before more complex formations replaced them. It didn’t take him much effort to find his way through them, even without having prior knowledge, and Vahn found himself in a rather long space that appeared to be 500m long and around 80m wide. Though it looked similar in structure to the rest of the Manor from outside, a large part of the back central area had been turned into an open area that had been reinforced a great deal compared to the surrounding structures. Vahn immediately realized this place must be for ‘practical’ training and wondered why it wasn’t already being made use of. Even the walls had formations to disperse magic spells, similar in structure to those found at the Coliseum. They were currently inactive, but Vahn could see the locations where magic cores could be inserted to trigger the formation in the future.
Passing through the training area, Vahn found a door that even he didn’t have access to, at least for the time being. With his [Eyes of Truth], Vahn could see that there was workshop space that had been set up. Since this door connected to the East Annex, Vahn could understand why it was off-limits as it connected to his, Hephaestus’, and Tsubaki’s workshops. There would be no reason for most people to use this door, and the workshops on the other side were probably for use by his and Hephaestus’ daughters. Nanu would likely end up making use of his space, as she was his official apprentice, but it was nice to know there was space if she wanted her own forge. Since Vahn had a secret forge in his bedroom, he had intended to let her make the one in his workshop as her own when she increased her proficiency.
As Vahn was making his way to the exit, the one leading toward the illusory forest area, Shirohime began sobbing with tearful eyes all of a sudden as she said, “Please don’t ignore us…Vahn…” This was the first time she had addressed him by name instead of saying ‘you’ or ‘boy’, so Vahn reached up his hand and grabbed her once again. She didn’t resist his actions this time and shivered a little when Vahn held her gently against his chest and pat her back, saying, “It’s okay, Shiro, don’t cry…” in a soothing voice. She was only around 30cm long, excluding her tails, so it was very easy to hold her against his chest by supporting her little rump. Her nine tails curled downward in a pitiful manner as she cried on his shoulder for a little while saying, “We don’t like being ignored…it makes us very lonely…”
Vahn had been forming a ‘theory’ about Shirohime’s existence ever since she had started clinging to him earlier in the day. Haruhime had said that Shiro was her ‘hope’, which had been lost in the past, and Vahn felt like she was like a split personality that Haruhime had formed in her childhood. She had been the daughter of a noble clan and had been taught how to behave ever since she was a small child. Without a mother in her life, Haruhime had been very lonely and her own father neglected her in lieu of his other duties. It was to the point that, even when she wanted to discuss matters with him, she would have to take on a subservient role and follow ‘procedure’ to gain an audience.
As a result, Haruhime bottled up a lot of her emotions and developed something like a split personality that was buried deep inside of her subconscious. She behaved on the outside, but there was a little girl that craved attention and love hidden away in an area even she couldn’t access. Though she opened up a little after interacting with the children of the Takemikazuchi Familia, Haruhime had ‘abandoned’ her hope when her own father had exiled her. When she became a slave, there was a long period of time where she didn’t know how to act at all and simply ceased believing things would get better, even going so far as thinking she wasn’t ‘worth’ saving.
Shirohime was like everything that Haruhime had bottled up in her youth, and it made her appear to be very spoiled and ‘princess-like’, because she was trying to get the love and affection she believed she was ‘entitled’ to. Even if he wasn’t entirely true, Vahn believed there was some credibility to his inference since he had experienced Haruhime’s past through her heart’s desire and could easily understand how something like Shirohime came into existence. Now that Haruhime had power, enough that she could change her fate, Shirohime manifested once again to ‘take’ the things she wanted. Because Haruhime loved him, Shirohime was very attached to him as well, even if she misbehaved and acted spoiled.
Vahn figured he needed to be firm with Shirohime, just like he would have to be with his own children, or she would never improve. He didn’t mind giving her the affection she somewhat desperately craved, but true affection wasn’t ‘taken’ at the expense of the giver, it was something that was ‘received’ based on the connection and bonds shared between two people. This meant that you also needed to ‘give’ at the same time or the relationship would break down when the other party simply had nothing else to give. It simply wasn’t ‘healthy’ to act out in an attempt to get the attention of others, when you could get it much easier by behaving and compromising with each other.
Since he didn’t have anything better to do, not that he couldn’t find something, Vahn let himself get ‘lost’ within the illusory forest as he comforted Shirohime and enjoyed the scenic environment. Most forests had overgrown shrubbery and plant life, but their’s was artificially created which meant that the grass was neat and tidy while the trees were somewhat uniform in height and appearance. With the mist pervading throughout the area, it made it especially easy to get lost but Vahn found ‘aimlessly wandering’ to be quite pleasant. Shiorhime had stopped crying at some point and had fallen asleep against his shoulder, very much like a child that had tuckered themselves out.
As it was getting later in the afternoon, nearing the time for dinner, Vahn decided he should head back since it was almost time for his night battle with Tiona, Ais, and Tione. This would also be the first time for Tione, so it was an important event that he needed to have the proper mindset when facing. Neither she nor Tiona would be using the ‘Fallen’ this time around so it wasn’t an exaggeration to say that his life could be on the line since their control was severely lacking as a result of their young age and monstrous power. Ais was something of a ‘failsafe’ to make sure things didn’t get too dangerous, but she might ‘ally’ with the two brown-skinned beauties if Vahn proves an actual match for them…