Chapter 551: Picnic

After leaving the Guest Residence, Vahn saw off Holda, Chris, and, though he had expected her to stay for a bit, Loki. Since she had brought the two over, Loki had an ‘obligation’ to see them off, though Vahn believed it was to talk with Holda about other dealings while warning Chris of potential threats. She promised that she would be ‘waiting’ for him during the afternoon and told him he could bring over anyone that was comfortable with the idea. Though she had originally suggested the pregnant girls, Loki didn’t really mind who Vahn decided to bring as long as she got to have a bit of fun herself. It had been a little while since she played with Aki, so Loki was looking forward to the coming evening.

Vahn suddenly found himself with nothing to do so he decided to just go play with in the backyard with the girls and set up a large picnic for anyone that was interested. He sent a message through the network by informing Syr about his plans, including the fact he was going to visit the Twilight Manor in the evening. Afterward, he talked to Arnya and Aki to see if they were interested in going with him, explaining they would probably end up doing a small ‘dress-up’ play and having a bit of fun before ‘bed’. Aki seemed a little nervous about attending, though not because she had any real inhibitions about the event. As for Arnya, she didn’t mind coming along but cautioned Vahn to think about the baby, almost as if she expected things to get out of hand.

After talking to the two pregnant cat girls, Vahn went ahead and looked for Ais, who was surprisingly in ‘Riveria’s’ Library with Lefiya reading books. When he showed up, Ais’s eyes widened a bit and she sheepishly tried to hide the book she was reading while Lefiya showed a fierce blush and averted her eyes. Vahn raised his brow and asked, “Should I come back later?” as he fought the urge to peek at the concealed book. With his recall, however, Vahn could read the title of the book from his memory and saw that it was related to child rearing. He squinted his eyes slightly because he knew that Ais wasn’t pregnant, though she seemed to be contemplating it a bit.

As ‘casually’ as possible, Ais slid the book behind her and sat on it before shaking her head and saying, “You can stay…” Vahn had such a powerful urge to laugh that he had to use his [Will of the Emperor] just to keep a straight face. After thinking about what he wanted to say, he smiled and said, “Loki wanted me to see if any girls wanted to play ‘dress-up’ over at the Twilight Manor tonight. I told her not to expect you to come since I know you don’t really like the way she behaves at times…” Before Ais could say something with her ‘resolute’ expression, Vahn raised his hand and said, “Ais, I know you would want to go if I asked, but I’m telling you that I already told Loki not to pressure you like that. If you’re just interested in trying on clothes and stuff, we can always ‘play’ our own game later…”

Ais showed a slightly relieved expression before smiling and holding up her fingers as she counted, “Tiona, Tione, Syr, and…Ryuu?” For a brief moment, Ais cast a glance at Lefiya before shaking her head slightly and putting Ryuu’s name in the ‘roster’. He realized what she implied by the names and said, “Sure, I’ll leave it to you to manage.” before sending her a wink. A small flame ignited in Ais’ eyes and Vahn wondered what she had in mind now that he gave her free reign to choose. Knowing her, it would be very interesting for him so Vahn didn’t have any complaints and just explained that he would be outside playing games and enjoying a picnic for a while.

Both Lefiya and Ais said they would come to the picnic but Vahn realized they weren’t intending to leave with him as Ais still wanted to dispose of the ‘evidence’. Vahn pretended to be completely unaware and said, “I’ll see to two of you in a bit.” as he turned and walked out the door. A few seconds after he left the room, Vahn could sense Ais moving around as Lefiya’s aura burned with a pale purple and a deep pink as a result of her embarrassment intermixing with her happy feelings. She and Ais spent a lot of time together recently and Lefiya had started to mellow out a bit at times, though she still had her moments like now. They had probably been talking about children together and, being ‘part of the equation’, Vahn had turned what had likely been a fun atmosphere into a chaotic one…

For the rest of the early afternoon, Vahn played fetch, frisbee, tag, and hide-and-seek with the girls, including many that weren’t part of the youth troupe. The ‘standard’ participants were Fenrir, Tina, and Shizune, but Naaza had joined in when he was playing fetch and frisbee, inciting Lili and Haruhime to play as well. For the hide-and-seek portion, Vahn decided to make things interesting by using the illusory forest as their playground and set up several ‘prizes’ within the forest that each had his scent. The most popular reward the girls wanted was things from him, so Vahn let the girls fill out slips of paper before wrapping them in a cloth infused with a bit of his scent. Since he didn’t want to just wipe up his sweat with a rag, Vahn ‘cheated’ by transforming into a Chienthrope and rubbing his tail with the cloth, as his tail was infused heavily with his aroma.

The ‘ultimate’ prize was being able to enjoy a private date within the forest as Vahn, so almost all the Beast Human girls immediately put in their lots to participate. To make it ‘fair’, Vahn would be completely hiding his own aroma and would be meditating under a tree to hide his presence as well. This encouraged the other girls to participate so, other than Hephaestus, Hestia, Syr, Tsubaki, Riveria, Milan, Lunoire, Terra and Fenrir, everyone else decided to play along. As for the latter, she was ‘disqualified’ because she had a distinct advantage over everyone else and Vahn had no way of actually avoiding Fenrir’s detection if she ‘really’ wanted to find him. Vahn promised to make it up to her later, so she ended up staying behind and talking with Terra, Riveria, and Syr, much to Vahn’s concern…

Though the forest wasn’t really that big, the illusory formation made it feel like it was much larger because you could easily lose your way if you didn’t know the ‘trick’ to it. Even then, knowing the correct route only took you to two specific spots, so it wouldn’t be an advantage for anyone that knew how the formation was set up either. Thus, Vahn sat peacefully with his back to a tree and absentmindedly paid attention to the final girl that hadn’t participated, Mikoto. Even though it was a Saturday, while everyone else was having fun, she was hard at work training in the clearing as she ceaselessly endeavored to master the [Flying Heavenly Sword Scroll]. It actually made Vahn feel a little frustrated since she was ‘blatantly’ ignoring his advice to rest properly because he couldn’t even recall a day when she took a genuine break.

Vahn felt like Mikoto’s resolve was very commendable, but her ‘inflexible’ nature was also one of her greatest weaknesses. She was also the girl he spent some of the least amount of time with, even though they had a ‘promise’ to be with each other. He knew it was his ‘responsibility’ to be the one that pushed things forward but, seeing how focused she was on her own path, Vahn felt like it would almost be wrong to disturb her. It was a fact that he was a little preoccupied with other girls as well, so she only crossed his mind when he had time to think or during moments like this when he was ‘spying’ on her from a distance…

A loud rustling sound tickled his ears so Vahn turned his head to see that Haruhime was around 30m away from him and sniffing around the area. Shirohime was there with her as well, drooping down from the top of Haruhime’s head, as they both tried to detect his presence. The little fox had almost been ‘disqualified’ as well, but Vahn decided to let her participate as long as she stayed with Haruhime and didn’t wander off. They still seemed to have a little bit of an advantage, however, so Vahn completely dissipated his aura and stopped spying on Mikoto. Though it was very subtle, his [Eyes of Truth] could be traced by those that were sensitive to his energy. By cutting it off completely, and focusing on the [Mantra of Eternity], the two foxy girls completely lost his trail causing the small Shirohime to pout and shout out complaints.

As his mind wandering through ‘nothingness’, Vahn was still vaguely aware of all the auras around him because it was a sense that was derived from The Path itself and couldn’t be turned off. He could ‘ignore’ the auras around him, but there was a part of his ‘split’ consciousness that always kept track of them. Many of the girls had actually made their way to his side of the forest already, the only exceptions being Ais and Tione, who had both been wandering around in circles close to the entrance.

Ais had found her way to the garden and the clearing where Mikoto was several times, which was an impressive feat considering she didn’t know the correct path, but she didn’t wander around enough to ever get near him. As for Tione, she apparently had a terrible sense of direction while her sister, Tiona, was equally as bad yet always seemed to get to where she needed to be through instinct.

The closest girls to him, however, were the Haruhime/Shirohime duo, the team of Maemi and Emiru, and, the somewhat cheatsy Liliruca. Though she couldn’t transform into a true Vanargandr, Lili had used her [Cinder*Ella] to emulate Fenrir and had benefitted greatly from the enhanced sense of smell, hearing, and her actual bond with him. For the same reasons as Fenrir had been ‘disqualified’, Lili was exploiting them a bit, albeit several orders of magnitude from Fenrir’s actual capabilities.

Perhaps luck wasn’t on her side, though, as Lili had passed within 9m of his position as she sniffed around the area and simply kept walking away with her ears flopping about. Vahn could sense that she had found some of the other prizes, but she didn’t seem fated to find him even after employing her contentious methods. Fortunately, even after he almost gave himself away by laughing at her adorable little antics, Lili didn’t manage to discern his actual position and her ears perked up in the wrong direction since the sound could carry randomly in the forest.

After nearly an hour, which had been set as the deadline for the event, Vahn had still gone undiscovered by the girls even though they had tightened the net around him greatly at this point. They often bumped into each other now and Vahn was genuinely impressed with the sensory abilities of the girls that allowed them to hone in on his position even when he shouldn’t have a presence. This was primarily because of the ‘bond’ he shared with those whose [Hearts Desire] he had seen, as they had a slight instinct that could lead them to him if their parameter was high enough. The two with the biggest disadvantage were Tina and Shizune, but they had played it smart and had been slowly following the trails of the other girls to zero in on his spot while trying to get lucky.

During the last five minutes, Vahn began to breathe gently through his nose and slowly expand his aura to let it disperse through the forest. Almost immediately, several of the girls became alert and it seemed like the three to pick up on his trail the fastest were Chloe, Haruhime, and Lili, coincidentally three of the girls with the highest Love parameter for him. Unfortunately for them, the closest girls to his position were the members of the youth troupe, as Vahn had given them a bit of an advantage, and Preasia. This didn’t seem to help them though, as a surprise factor appeared like a literal gust of wind as Ryuu charged through the forest and arrived at the opposite side of the tree where Vahn was located. She had a bit of an embarrassed expression for running over so quickly, but Ryuu peeked around the side of the tree with a small smile and said, “Found you, Vahn…”

Though their noses weren’t that great, Elves had an affinity with nature so both Ryuu and Lefiya had gotten close to his position several times. Vahn had to completely become one with the environment when Lefiya was near, as her connection as his subordinate was quite strong, but the final victor seemed to be Ryuu who had the fastest base run speed and had quickly detected his aura through the flow of air through the forest. As one of the people to lay down the formation, she wasn’t led nearly as astray compared to the others, finding Vahn mere seconds after he released his aura.

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Vahn craned his head up at Ryuu and smiled, saying, “I look forward to our date, Ryuu…” in a soft tone. Ryuu felt her heartbeat quicken a bit as the small blush on her face became more prevalent when the other girls showed up shortly thereafter. Seeing Ryuu, many of those to arrive early had looks of defeat but everyone seemed to enjoy the small game regardless. As a consolation prize, Vahn gave out slips to the 2nd and 3rd place winners that would give them a two-hour and one-hour long Salon visit when they were ready. Tina very nervously accepted the 2nd place prize with a deep blush on her face while Preasia claimed the 3rd place slip for herself. They could be exchanged and given away, assuming anyone was willing, so Vahn decided to let Tina sort out her emotions on the matter and figured he could just get Milan to attend so she wouldn’t have a heart attack…

As for the other prizes, Vahn redeemed many of them right then and there since the forest was rather scenic and quite the beautiful place for affectionate exchanges. Many of them were simple things like embraces, having Vahn whisper sweet nothings in their ears, and a bit of preferential petting. As for the ‘wins’, they included things like kisses, more intimate embraces, and heavy petting. Shizune had managed to get one of the kiss slips, but Vahn broke her little heart when he raised her bangs and gave her a kiss on the forehead instead of the lips. The only other ‘problematic’ victor had been Lili, as she was still technically underage even though her birthday was getting increasingly close. She actually wasn’t that much younger than Vahn, which meant it wasn’t a big deal for him, but this caused slight stirs in the hearts of girls like Lefiya, who had managed to get a ‘heavy petting’ slip and didn’t know what to do with it.

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Realizing that some of the ‘wins’ couldn’t easily be used without the situation becoming a bit awkward, Vahn said, “We should head back and eat lunch. I’m certain the others are still waiting for us…besides, there is no expiry on the slips and you can always use them later or exchange them with others for minor benefits.” Vahn had said this because he saw how much Lefiya was struggling with the small slip, almost to the point that she had forcefully given it to Ais. However, Ais simply refused to take it and obediently redeemed her singular prize which was having Vahn gently caress her face while staring into her eyes for ten seconds…

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