Chapter 644: Precipice

When Vahn returned to the real world once again, he opened his eyes to see Fenrir and Mikoto patiently waiting for him. Fenrir was always at his side to welcome his return while Mikoto would periodically check on him to make sure everything was okay, Seeing his eyes open, she tilted her head slightly in concern and asked, “How are you feeling…?” Ever since his last ‘confession’, claiming that she would always be his, Mikoto had put in a little more effort just being near him. She still trained, which was something all of the girls had been working on, but also spent time expressing her interest in their blossoming relationship.

Vahn smiled in response to Mikoto, stroking Fenrir’s head and ears as he said, “I’ll be learning Magia Erebea the next time I go inside since Eva is a little worried about waiting till the last minute. She wants to be able to have enough time guarantee the sealing process is smooth…” Hearing his words, Mikoto’s expression showed more concern, reaching out to squeeze his hand with her own. Vahn traced her hand with his thumb, thinking about the fact he would be separating with Eva for several years this time around. However, she had spent more than a thousand waiting on him and he was determined to do his best for her in the future.

After taking a few breaths to calm his mind, Vahn shared a hug with Fenrir and Mikoto before they made their way out into the encampment. Instead of a tent, they were currently in a small building Vahn had made for their use. It provided much greater protection and privacy than a normal tent and made it more difficult for Asfi, who spent a fair amount of her time with Haruhime, to ‘escape’ and wander off on her own. She had done so on a few nights but had never gone too far away from their sleeping quarters, generally hesitating for several minutes before inevitably returning. Vahn had already identified her secondary mission objective, which seemed to be delivering a message, likely to the Xenos. He hadn’t expected them to be this far down at all, but Asfi showed signs of having some means of contacting them, or ‘someone’…

Seeing the relatively quiet and cool beauty once again enjoying tea with Haruhime and Lefiya, Vahn smiled and asked, “Are you going to stay here, Asfi, or did you plan to accompany me for the rest of the evening?” Generally, Asfi followed him around whenever he was working, observing his use of unnamed spells and asking several questions, some of which he humored her by answering. The rest of the time, like now, she stayed inside the small compound and communicated with the other girls, though Haruhime seemed to be the most ‘accessible’.

Asfi had been swirly a sugar cube in her tea, so she tapped her silver spoon against the side of the ornate little cup before saying, “I was having a pleasant conversation with Haruhime and Lefiya. For the time being, I’ll stay here under their care…” Haruhime began to laugh into her sleeve, apparently finding Asfi’s words humorous if her squinted eyes were any indication. As for Lefiya, she produced a somewhat wry smile as she said, (“Asfi was asking about why you always seemed to be ‘different’ around 5 AM and 5 PM every day. It seems that, even without watching it herself, she has been keeping track of your schedule and habits.”)

Vahn nodded his head noncommittally, waving at the three girls before leaving the compound with Fenrir and Mikoto. One of the biggest changes in the groups dynamic was the fact that the girls could now ‘ping’ him with a mental signal, allowing telepathic communication between them. The girls would relay any ‘touchy’ questions Asfi might ask, allowing Vahn to know what she was up to at all times. It was a little ‘unfair’ for the hardworking little spy, but that was a path she had chosen for herself and, besides, Vahn liked being able to talk with the girls.

They had already determined there were a few things that interfered with the ability, chief amongst them being that the Dungeon did, in fact, interfere with the active abilities of the [Pactio]. The more walls that separated them, or the greater number of Floors, the more energy it took to establish communication and ‘summon’ them to his side. The limit, thus far, seemed to be around six Floors distance, around 3-4km depending on the construction and composition of the floors themselves. Vahn suspected it was the natural sealing effects of the Dungeon at work and had already asked Eva about potential solutions to get around it in the future. Her idea was to set up teleportation wards in the Dungeon to act as relay points, though discovering how many Floors such wards could penetrate would require study and research.

Once they were outside the compound, Vahn headed to the second Floor of the command center to get an overview of the tireless construction efforts taking place. Thus far, there had been no major snags and it bothered him knowing that nothing had happened. Part of his instincts told him that something ‘should’ have happened before he was able to learn [Magia Erebea], but even the shadier individuals inside the Expedition hadn’t tried anything. Quinn, and the Foremen(s) she had put in charge, had been very strict in their observation of the crews in their charge. Vahn had also inspected everyone’s progress, scanning the areas with his [Eyes of Truth] to make sure people weren’t trying to create secret passages and compartments.

To Vahn’s surprise, he hadn’t found a single one and a few of the shadier auras had started to mellow out a bit, almost as if they were pacified by the good food, friendly environment, and the relatively lax work schedule. So that people wouldn’t overwork themselves too much, everyone had twenty-four-hour break for every two work days they put in. This was extremely lax compared to the conditions they were used to so everyone had been in high spirits, with the mess hall often having a celebratory and lively atmosphere during meal times. Of course, as not everyone would want to eat at the designated times, Vahn had the mess hall open 24/7 so people could drop by to grab a snack at any point they were feeling hungry. It was very important to him that the workers were ‘content’ with the conditions provided since their satisfaction would be instrumental in procuring workers for future projects.

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The Supply Depot, which was being affectionately referred to as ‘Lil Geirr’, was an important first step to inspire people’s interest in the ‘Haven’ that would be built on the 50th Floor. It was a much smaller project, as Haven itself would potentially rival the size of Orario in the future, so it was instrumental in ensuring things went smoothly. If they had difficulties on the relatively ‘tame’ 39th Floor, people wouldn’t have any confidence in breaching down towards the 50th, even on a convoy. Vahn wanted to change the mentality of contractors and merchants so they were more willing to make the treck in the future. He even planned to create scrolls that would allow for the storage of items, which would only be accessible in Haven. Since procuring such a scroll required the person to visit in person, signing a blood contract to have access to the storage scroll, Vahn was confident that several merchants would make the trip.

Mikoto, standing at his side, looked out over all the people busy at work, smiling as she said, “It really is amazing, seeing how people can work together towards a goal many could have considered impossible. I’m glad to be able to stand witness to such progress…” Vahn blinked, slightly surprised by Mikoto’s words as he turned to match the onyx-eyed gazes of the young swordswoman. She was still just fourteen years old, so hearing her say something bordering on the ‘profound’ was a little amusing. With a smile on his face, Vahn nodded slightly before saying, “I believe things will get even better as long as we don’t exploit the power and opportunity we are given. As long as we endeavor to weed out corruption at the core of our group, we should always be in a position to guide people towards a better future.”

Since Vahn was determined to make each of the girls strong enough to be ‘unmatched’ in the rest of the world, it wasn’t an exaggeration to say they would be in an unrivaled position of power. If he followed a route similar to the one he walked as an Emperor, they could easily conquer the entire world and force change. Vahn, however, wanted to avoid such drastic intervention and instead focus on the younger generation of children, only changing policies when they became problematic or were clearly biased for personal gains.

Vahn didn’t plan on crushing noble families outright, as some of them had created legacies that have lasted for centuries and they had worked hard to secure their power and authority. The exceptions would be those that had become despotic with time, forcing policies that helped them increase their wealth and authority at the expense of others. As long as such people existed in positions of power, Vahn knew corruption would continue to pervade through society and it would only complicate future matters by showing them leniency…

Seeing that Mikoto had an almost ‘prideful’ and ‘reverential’ look on her face, Vahn felt like teasing the stoic sword maiden so he said, “Make sure you work hard, Mikoto…after all, I’ve put a lot of trust in you. I look forward to the day when you’re able to stand at the peak of swordsmanship and hope you’ll be able to pass it on to our child in the future…” Mikoto had puffed her chest out in pride at the first part of his words, but she turned crimson after hearing the latter half. They hadn’t really done much to progress their relationship further, but Vahn liked to tease her every now and then since her reactions were always very fresh. Seeing her blushing face, Vahn stifled a chuckle before giving the bashful girl a cheeky peck on the lips, breaking her free from the stunned state she had been in.

Mikoto lowered her face with an even deeper blush touching her cheeks, pushing her fingers together in embarrassment as she said, “I wish you wouldn’t tease me so much…” in a pout. This time, Vahn couldn’t help but laugh, earning a mild glare from Mikoto in the process as she thumbed her katana. Seeing this, Vahn stopped laughing but continued to chuckle for a short while before saying, “You’re a very beautiful young woman, Mikoto. Since you don’t smile enough, I have to settle for having you blush on occasion just to appease my own heart a bit. I don’t mean to tease you that much, it’s just that I’d like you to open up a bit more…” Though she smiled far more often than in the past, Mikoto usually has a serious expression on her face, marring her beauty a little because it made her seem cold, even though her personality was actually very earnest and considerate.

This wasn’t the first time Vahn had mentioned wanting her to smile more so Mikoto wasn’t too surprised as she took a deep breath and released a sigh. She always found herself wanting to be stalwart and dignified whenever she was around Vahn, after all, he was her Lord and Master. Though they were also Lovers, they had never really done anything ‘bold’ so it was difficult to act in accordance with his ‘expectations’. She had gotten better about it, making an effort to improve her relationships with the other girls, but it was hard to do so around Vahn himself. He was like a mountain that she couldn’t see the top of, causing Mikoto to feel a few inhibitions even though she knew he was a very kind and open person.

Fenrir suddenly released a loud yawn as she leaned against the short wall on the edge of the roof, scarlet eyes lazily observing the people working below. One thing her time in the orb hadn’t really allowed her to understand was why some girls, even though they liked her Master, seemed hesitant about being with him. She wished they wouldn’t make things so unnecessarily complicated since it only made things more difficult for everyone…

Mikoto and Vahn, seeing Fenrir’s display of boredom, felt a little awkward since she typically was very quiet most of the time. Vahn walked over and leaned against the same wall, asking, “Are you bored, Fenrir? Did you want to go on a walk around the area?” Knowing they wouldn’t be able to wander too far without going to pick up Asfi, Fenrir shook her head and just leaned against her Master’s side, muttering, “Fenrir is just a little tired and needs to recharge a bit…” Vahn smiled, hopping up on the wall before patting his lap so Fenrir could sit down. She happily accepted the offer and enjoyed the warm and tingling sensation of her Master’s source energy entering her body along with the pleasant sensation of his [Petting].

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Suddenly feeling a little out of place, Mikoto became a bit sheepish and couldn’t help but feel that the gaze Fenrir had given her contained a ‘message’. Though she couldn’t be certain, it was almost like she was telling her to be more decisive since there were always other girls trying to get closer to Vahn. Mikoto suddenly thought of all the girls that had been trying to interact with Vahn whenever they ate at the mess hall, though her biggest focus was on the newest addition to their group, Asfi. Though everyone knew she was simply trying to collect information, it was true that she had been showing greater interest in Vahn, even though she seemed hesitant about it. Realizing this, Mikoto frowned slightly since it was hard to accept that she might lose out to ‘other’ girls, even though she had already been around Vahn for almost a year…

Just as she was mustering up the courage to go sit next to Vahn, Mikoto felt her instincts trigger as she put her hand to the handle of her katana as a figure rapidly approached them. Seeing what it was, Mikoto released a sigh before standing at the side as Tiona came barreling towards Vahn, tackling him off the roof and hugging both him and Fenrir as she laughed happily. She had become very fond of flying around and spent a great deal of time in her transformed state. Though she hadn’t developed her Magic parameter, even though she was clearly using Magic, Tiona didn’t seem to care at all since she had already obtained one of her dreams.

Mikoto wished she could be as carefree and easygoing as Tiona, especially seeing how Vahn was smiling as he embraced the playful girl. Even Fenrir, who had frowned for a short moment after the ‘interruption’, didn’t seem to mind Tiona’s presence after a few seconds. Mikoto, remembering how lazy and ‘exasperated’ Fenrir seemed earlier, felt like the ‘message’ she had gleaned wasn’t just a figment of her imagination. It was actually very easy to spend time with Vahn, as he was very reciprocative of when it came to showing affection. Mikoto knew that the only thing standing in her way of spending more time with him was her own actions. It wasn’t really a complicated matter at all, just something she arbitrarily made more difficult because of her own ‘pride’ and ‘dignity’ as a swordswoman…

Vahn landed back on the roof with Fenrir and Tiona, taking a seat with the two girls as Tiona talked about thrashing some variant monsters on the 40th Floor. Mikoto felt a little left out at first but, before the conversation even got underway completely, Vahn turned to her with a gentle smile on his face as he gestured for her to join them. For a brief moment, Mikoto felt a twinge in her chest as a bit of warmth spread through her body, smiling as she walked over to join her companions. She noticed that, from the very moment she smiled, Vahn’s own expression seemed to light up in response, making the warmth in her chest compound quite a bit…

Though there was more than an hour before he had to enter the orb again, Vahn was already awake, stroking Fenrir’s hair silently as the time continued to count down towards his temporary separation with Eva. He would be using the [Magia Erebea] scroll when he entered this time, essentially becoming one of the strongest powers in the world ‘literally’ overnight. Thus far, nothing had happened that that would have disrupted his plans so Vahn was feeling strangely melancholic as the time continued to count down towards his inevitable rise to power.

By the time he returned, there would be few things that could stand in his way and he even humored the idea of going straight to the Deep Floors of the Dungeon to fight against Enyo’s forces directly. This was, of course, a very terrible idea, but Vahn couldn’t help but want to put his power to the test when he returns. Fortunately, his children would be born pretty soon so he wouldn’t find waiting for Bell’s arrival to be that difficult a matter. There were several ongoing projects that he was pushing forward, including the construction of the Supply Depot and the establishment of the School. This would keep him busy for a time while he trained the girls in the basics of increasing their magic power. Hopefully, by the time Enyo’s plot was put into motion, even Tina and Shizune would be capable fighters that couldn’t be easily endangered, especially with Terra guarding the Manor.

Vahn was curious about how Bell would be able to maintain relevance and wondered if the heroic youth would be able to become powerful even without guidance. Since he had promised Eva to only teach people the basics, the exception being those that he was in a relationship with, Vahn wouldn’t be able to turn Bell into a powerhouse just by teaching him magic. This meant Bell would have to grow on his own, though Vahn would certainly make sure he had a bit of training and was provided with suitable equipment.

Bell’s fate was probably the most powerful in the entire record so it was very likely he would be able to drive things forward even without help, though other people would get wrapped up in his affairs by proxy. Vahn even suspected Bell would ‘make use’ of him at some point, just by virtue of the boy’s powerful [Luck] and the influence of his record defining fate. It wasn’t difficult to imagine Bell somehow ‘stumbling’ into significant events that would help him grow stronger, potentially even involving a completely new cast of people since the fates of those he would have interacted with had already been changed…

Imagining the various ‘troubles’ Bell might cause, Vahn felt like his melancholy faded away a bit since he really wanted to try and be friends with the heroic youth. Though he wouldn’t make concessions just to allow Bell to continue in his role as the main character, Vahn didn’t mind helping him out and letting Bell walk his own path. Of course, the moment that path involved or endangered the people around him, Vahn would step in to resolve the matter outright. It was very likely that Bell’s ‘fate’ would require him to do so as the record would likely always give the boy an out, even if it was by relying on the power and influence of others. As a central figure within the record now, Vahn felt like his own fate was intertwined with the youth and was curious about how that would manifest in the future…

As the time continued to count down, Vahn let his mind wander to the various Adventures he might have and found it was far more entertaining than thinking about the ‘troubles’ he had to face in relation to other countries. He began to consider using [Magia Erebea] to resolve a few of those problems so he could familiarize himself with the form instead of relying on Fafnir as a deterrent. Making himself the target was preferable to using his subordinates and it would give him a lot more negotiation power if he took direct action to resolve things. Depending on how powerful [Magia Erebea] made him, Vahn felt like it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to charge into Ares’ court and outright duel the purportedly muscle-brained god to remove him from power, or at least force some concessions…

Deciding it would be best to consult Loki and Minerva before taking such actions, Vahn set the matter aside for the moment and observed the orb in his palm. Fenrir had turned her head up to watch him, muttering, “Good luck, Master…” in a quiet voice. Thus, with a smile on his face, Vahn kissed her forehead before saying, “From now on, there won’t be anything standing in the way of our happiness…” With those words said, the girls around him began to stir awake as Vahn once again submerged his mind into Eva’s orb…for the last time…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Unexpected Calm…’,’Mikoto’s Pride : Internal Conflict’,’A few seconds away from becoming unstoppable…’)

(A/N: Honestly, I can empathize with Vahn a bit when it comes to being melancholic about [Magia Erebea]. There is simply no ‘threat’ after that since he can ‘eventually’ win any fight by attrition. The only danger that would remain relates to fate, the strengths of the girls around him, and the schemes machinated by their enemies. Terra would be able to stop 99.9% of such threats just by virtue of her existence so, as long as the girls don’t do anything out of character, its almost like there are no real threats left after he uses the orb this time. Don’t worry though, as things are never quite that simple in stories like this (UwU)~!)

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