Chapter 657: Surface

Vahn spent a few minutes stroking the [Nameless] Wyvern before turning it into a magic core and safely storing it away inside his Inventory. He had already decided on a name for it in the past but intended to put it off until discussing it with Loki. Riveria also wanted to be able to witness one of the evolutions brought about by his naming ability, and Vahn wanted to avoid upsetting her by breaking his promise a second time. Besides, the names he picked were usually suspect and it probably wasn’t a good idea to try and give the Wyvern three different names. Part of his instincts advised him against it so Vahn needed to think about it seriously if he intended to tempt fate…

After stowing it away, Vahn looked around at the girls, smiling slightly when he saw the shocked expression on Rufina’s face. She reacted to everything as if it was the first time she had ever seen it but generally kept quiet about it unless you spoke directly to her. Vahn wondered if, from her perspective, she tried to explain away the things he was doing as ‘normal’ because of how casual he was about it. That was an entertaining thought, but Vahn put it to the back of his mind for the time being as he said, “Okay, let’s return to the surface now. I’m looking forward to getting some fresh air after nearly 45 days inside the Dungeon…” Everyone nodded in agreement so they all began making their way towards the stairs, once again beginning their journey towards home…

It didn’t take long to find the stairs, so they were able to reach the surface after a short twenty minutes before stepping out onto the 1st floor of Babel Tower. Rufina’s eyes were darting around, taking in all the new sights as she watched Adventurers of all shapes and sizes come and go. Though she had spoken under her breath, almost everyone in the group heard her say, “Guess there really are a bunch of different kinds of people…hmmm…” She hadn’t exactly thought Vahn was lying to her, especially after seeing some of the people at Lil Geirr, but it was much easier to ‘confirm’ things when you had a larger pool of people to observe.

Rufina lifted her head, looking upwards at the high ceiling as she asked, “This is the surface? It looks like it keeps going up…” Haruhime, who was standing close by responded, saying, “Ah, this is known as the Tower of Babel, an Ancient Tower constructed by the gods and placed within the Mortal World nearly a thousand years ago. Once we get outside, you’ll understand better, Rufina.” With a thoughtful look on her face, Rufina nodded before the entire group made their way outside the tower, stepping into Babel Plaza and the City proper. Rufina immediately looked up, trying to take in the impossibly high tower and realizing it seemed to go on forever from this perspective.

While Rufina was distracted by all the new sights and sounds, a flash of light appeared as Terra blinked into existence, likely making use of her [Void Transference] the moment they arrived. Vahn smiled, giving her a short embrace, asking, “Did you come to pick us up, Terra? How is the egg doing? Is everyone at the Manor okay?” Terra chuckled, giving Vahn a quick peck on the lips before saying, “Well, I was curious about why you showed up on the surface so suddenly. Your early return is sure to make everyone back at the Manor pleasantly surprised. As for the egg, I’ve kept it within the hollow of my nest where it’s awaiting the day its father decides to wake it up. Also, the others are fine, though I think Loki and Hephaestus might ‘burst’ any day now…ufufu~.”

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The group was walking and talking at the same time, making their way to the area that had been designated as a landing zone by the Guild. Vahn gave it a cursory glance to make sure they weren’t being spied on as Terra assumed her dragon form, startling numerous people, including one bodacious redhead who nearly fell onto her rump. Fortunately, Rufina managed to avoid embarrassing herself completely and the only ‘injury’ she suffered was a slightly reddened face as she accepted Haruhime’s and Mikoto’s assistance in climbing Terra’s back. Though she could have simply jumped up, Rufina lacked fine motor control over her muscles and didn’t know the extent of her own power just yet.

It didn’t take long for them to reach the Manor, but everyone enjoyed the flight since the view from above was actually quite breathtaking. Orario was a beautiful City with a large variety of different types of architecture to take in. Each Familia residence could be seen in the distance, often decorated with large statues, ornate buildings, or carefully maintained grounds that were very appealing to look at. As they drew deeper into the territory of the Alliance, where numerous powerful Familias had taken up residence, these sights became progressively more common. Vahn took note of the changes since his last flight over the City before having Terra land outside the Hearth Manor since Rufina would be repelled by the barrier.

Though they drew a lot of attention, most people went about their own business after seeing who was riding atop the green dragon. Some waved in greeting, but nobody came forward since it had essentially been established that the area around the front gate was ‘off limits’ unless you had official business. The Hestia Familia was truly treated as the heart of the Alliance now since Loki, Hephaestus, Hestia, Epona, and Juno all took up residence there. Five Goddesses in one place was previously unheard of, as it would have caused conflict in their Familias since there were numerous people that typically pined over them. This was avoided almost entirely at the Hearth Manor, however, as the only male that lived within the building was Vahn himself…

Vahn quickly registered Rufina for temporary access to the Manor grounds while people already began to congregate around the front door, causing Rufina to comment, “Holy crap, kid, how many girls are you actually involved with? I get that you’re some big shot, but show some moderation…” Vahn had just finished the procedure to register Rufina and he nearly fell down at her unexpected verbal jab. She had a tendency to be very straight forward at times and, though he was getting used to it, Rufina still managed to say some pretty impactful words.

The group that had gathered consisted of Hestia, Loki, Juno, Syr, Emiru, and Maemi, likely having been together when Hestia sensed his arrival at the gate. Vahn ignored the accusatory look Rufina was giving him as Loki walked forward with the support of Emiru and Maemi. She was wearing an ankle-length red dress that appeared to be made of very soft but heat retaining materials. The most obvious thing, however, was the almost ‘too large’ bulge at her belly that offset her petite frame by a scary amount. Vahn hadn’t wasted any time stepping forward to offer assistance, earning a cheeky, “Ah? So you remember who is responsible for my current state~? Well, at least you showed up earlier than expected, so I’ll forgive you this time~.”

Loki lifted her chin, prompting Vahn to lean in and allow her to kiss him since he didn’t want her trying to stand on her toes or exert herself. He understood why Terra had made a comment about them ‘bursting’ previously since Loki looked like a strained water balloon that would pop with a light touch.

After ending his embrace with Loki, Vahn made the rounds and gave everyone a combination hug and kiss, with the exception of Juno, before explaining the current situation. Everyone had already noticed the presence of the ‘new’ woman from the moment they arrived but they hadn’t expected her to be an amnesiac with such a ‘colorful’ past. Syr had already sent a message to Anubis through the network while the group made their way inside so that Loki and Juno could sit down. The latter was also pregnant so Vahn felt uncomfortable seeing them walking around, even though Juno herself seemed very accustomed to the state of her own body. She had tried to tease him about getting a hug and kiss of her own, but Hestia had bonked her on the head for her troubles.

Vahn ended up sitting on a sofa with Emiru and Maemi at his flanks while Hestia sat in his lap, commenting that it would make the conversation go easier if Loki sat across from Vahn this time. Though the red-haired goddess gave Hestia a slightly annoyed look, she didn’t say anything since she knew Hestia had been feeling very lonely and concerned over the last couple of days. She was also the first to remark that Vahn was returning, even before Shirohime informed Terra, who then told Riveria and Ryuu. The bond between Hestia and Vahn was ‘recognized’ as being the most potent so Loki didn’t mind if she ‘stole’ her seat on occasion…

While they waited for Anubis’ arrival, Vahn explained some of the events that had taken place during the Expedition, causing a variety of different reactions among the girls. When Loki heard about how badly the Hermes Familia had ‘f***** up’, her eyes had turned into those of a predator that was about to pounce on its prey. She had a smile on her face that could turn water into ice as she said, “Very good, Hermes, very good…kukukuku…” Only she knew what was going through her mind but Vahn gestured to calm her down, saying, “Loki, we’ll deal with those matters at a later date. For now, just focus on what’s really important…also, I did manage to capture a Wyvern for you, but I think it would be better to wait until a more opportune time before naming it.”

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Loki’s smile became more natural when she saw Vahn pointing to her stomach but she practically beamed when hearing that he actually caught her a Wyvern. She knew his ‘naming’ ability could turn that Wyvern into a Dragon so she was very excited until Juno reproached her, saying, “Don’t get too excited or you’ll stress your body. It would be silly if you went into labor after putting it off for so long…” On that note, Vahn decided to ask, “So, how has everyone been while we were away? How are Hephaestus and the others…?” Vahn was surprised the rest of the girls in the Manor hadn’t shown up at this point but he suspected Syr had said something about meeting up later since there was a discussion going on right now.

Hestia, enjoying Vahn’s embrace with a contented smile on her face, said, “There were a few hiccups, but everyone has been fine. Other than feeling a little lonely, we all managed pretty well and have been spending most of the afternoons just talking about the children. Hephaestus should be sleeping in your room right now. Tsubaki has been spending a lot of time watching over Tina’s and Shizune’s training, and they should all be together right now…and, let’s see…”

While Hestia was explaining things, Vahn had already identified the location of everyone in his domain, noting that most of them had already gathered together in the dining room. The one thing he had picked up on was the fact the Hestia said there had been some ‘hiccups’, causing Loki to give him a small nod that essentially said, ‘I’ll explain later’. Vahn furrowed his brows slightly but kept the smile on his face as he listened to Hestia mention how each individual person was doing. He was very surprised when she made a very casual remark that caused his mental faculties to come to a complete stop, “Oh, and Eina started having morning sickness a few weeks ago…I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.”

Loki facepalmed hard, giving Hestia a glare before eventually just sighing as she said, “Well, there goes the surprise. Seriously, Hestia…” Hestia became somewhat pale, hanging her head as she said, “I-I-I got caught up in explaining things…I’m sorry, Vahnnnn~!” Vahn absentmindedly hugged Hestia a little tighter, processing her earlier words as a smile appeared on his face. When he heard Hestia suddenly apologize, he just laughed it away and said, “It’s fine, Hestia, I would have asked about Eina if you hadn’t brought her up and I doubt everyone’s reactions would have been able to keep it a secret.” Since he had the ability to see auras, Vahn would have noticed if everyone was trying to keep something from him.

Hestia smiled in response to Vahn’s words, sighing in relief that he wasn’t actually angry that the surprise had been spoiled. She intended to apologize to Eina later, but the kind Half-Elf probably wouldn’t really blame her for the slip-up…probably…

Anubis finally arrived, accompanied by a very high-tension Nanu who seemed to be ‘devastated’ when she saw Vahn’s lap had been taken. Fortunately for her, Vahn had Hestia stand for a moment so he could greet the two, sharing a long embrace and a somewhat heated kiss with Anubis while Nanu had to ‘settle’ with something moderately tamer. This seemed to be enough, however, as her bushy dark-brown tail beat furiously like from side-to-side after Vahn gave her a quick peck and some heavy ear petting. His [Grooming] made his petting even more effective, so Nanu had turned to mush very quickly with a silly smile on her face.

After things had settled down a bit, Anubis eyed Rufina with her moonlight eyes and asked, “Is this the one you wanted me to take a look at, Master…?” Though Rufina was the only person that fit the setting, Vahn still nodded his head and explained, “Indeed. She had been put under the control of our enemies, though I’m not sure for how long. After our battle, I got a little bit of information from her and discovered she was just another victim in the grand scheme of things. I managed to help her regain her humanity, but I needed to know if there were any vows embedded in her soul that would make her a potential threat…”

There were few things more dangerous than having an amnesiac around that might suddenly wake up with thoughts of killing everything around her just because of a vow. Though it was unlikely, Vahn still needed to be sure since it was impossible to risk the safety of others if he knew Rufina, formerly Revis, was still dangerous. There hadn’t been any signs of backlash thus far, but making assumptions that could endanger others wasn’t something Vahn was willing to do in this case.

Anubis continued to stare towards Rufina’s chest, causing the woman to feel moderately uncomfortable with a strong urge to cover her breasts. Seeing this, Anubis cracked a small smile before turning to Vahn and saying, “There are indeed some vows implanted in her soul, but I don’t believe they are anything dangerous. The color shows pale gold, so the vows themselves had to have been made willingly and had to be recognized by the world as ‘just’ or ‘honorable’. It’s more than likely that they were vows she had taken before falling under control, so it would ultimately depend on the type of person she had been in the past…”

Vahn nodded his head with a small smile on his face because he had keyed in on the fact that Anubis said they were vows made to be just and honorable. The fragmentary chains that represented vows took on different colors depending not only on the type of vow but the terms of the vow itself. An example would be someone taking a binding vow to kill another person, which would have made the fragments look dark purple, or even black. For Rufina to have ‘pale-gold’ for her vows, it had to be something along the lines of a vow to protect, or even save other people. At the very least, she must have placed a lot of significance on the vow itself or it would have been a more neutral color like white.

Rufina seemed visibly relieved by the revelation, cracking a smile as she asked, “Well, that’s one less thing to worry about…now, what am I supposed to do from now on?” Given the number of girls around Vahn, Rufina was somewhat worried that he would try to ‘collect’ her as well. She didn’t have a bad impression of the boy but couldn’t really understand why so many girls were drawn to him, especially since there seemed to be goddesses in the mix. Though she wouldn’t really mind if things turned out that way, primarily as a result of not really ‘knowing’ what other choices she had, Rufina kind of wanted to live her own life…

Hearing Rufina’s question, Vahn turned to Loki and said, “I was actually thinking of having her join the Ganesha Familia and apprentice with Shakti. She seems to have a rare skill that allows her to communicate with monsters so I think she would become a powerful tamer. However…” Vahn turned to Rufina now, gauging her reaction as he said, “If you don’t want to get involved with the Dungeon anymore, I wouldn’t really blame you. For the time being, I think it would be a good idea for you to just study and refamiliarize yourself with the world. We’ll do an investigation on your background to see if we can find any family or friends that may have been looking for you. Once we learn any concrete details, we’ll let you know…”

Rufina released an audible sigh of relief, causing Vahn to feel a little awkward as she gave him a sheepish grin and said, “I was worried you were going…well, that isn’t really important. But yeah, I’m pretty sure I can trust you and, if you think those people would be able to help me, I don’t mind staying with them. As for the Dungeon, I don’t really have any negative memories about it but I can tell that strength is pretty important in this world since there are monsters running around. If I can at least become strong enough to protect myself, that would be enough for now…”

Loki had been watching Rufina closely, squinting her eyes with a mischevious glint as various thoughts ran through her mind. The ability to communicate with monsters was ‘exceptionally’ rare and would have been a great boon if they were able to control and guide her properly. However, having her go to the Ganesha Familia also wasn’t a bad idea since it would further strengthen their ties. Ganesha himself had been trying to ‘pawn’ off Shakti to them for a while and Loki had been considering having Vahn ‘pacify’ the boisterous god by spending more time with his all-too-serious Captain. This could be an opportunity to smoothen things over and potentially take out two birds with one stone…

Unaware of Loki’s schemes, Vahn nodded his head and said, “We’ll send a message to the Ganesha Familia and get their consent before flying over and getting you settled in. However, even if you’re staying away from the Hearth Manor, don’t be afraid to come to us if you ever need any help Rufina. If your memories awaken and you’re able to remember anything about the time you spent in the Dungeon, please let us know immediately. It might be a little unfair to Ganesha, but I would ask that you keep it a secret from him and the Familia until we’re able to deal with things on our end. The Alliance is the primary force opposing those that have made the Dungeon as their den and it is much easier to control the flow of information and make plans if the information is kept under wraps…”

Rufina listened patiently for Vahn to finish before immediately saying, “Yeah, you’ve helped me out a lot already. If I remember anything, you’ll be the first to know, kiddo. I’ll stop by periodically to see if there are any updates on the investigation and stuff…” It felt a little awkward knowing that she was suddenly about to be meeting an entirely new group of people but Rufina felt like she could trust Vahn’s judgment. Someone that could gather so many people around him had to be highly capable and trustworthy, assuming they weren’t ridiculously manipulative. Since her instincts said he was the former, Rufina decided to join the Ganesha Familia and see how things would develop…

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