Chapter 675: Countermeasures

Vahn found Loki within the Western Wing, making use of Riveria’s Library as she watched over her daughter’s studies while drinking tea with Juno and Syr. When he entered the room, Erika, who had been buried in a book that nearly as big as she was, raised her head with a start. Loki giggled at her daughter’s reaction, rising to her feet to approach Vahn and give him a quick hug and kiss before saying, “You’re a bit earlier than I expected. Come, join us for tea and we’ll talk. Afterward, you can spend some time with Erika. I’m sure she would like that~.” There was a teasing tone to Loki’s voice that made Erika lower her head with a light blush on her cheeks. Doppel, who had been eating small crackers at the side, opened her eyes widely before shielding Erika while ‘glaring’ at Loki. In response, Loki just laughed even more while pulling Vahn over to the table, having him sit down before claiming his lap as her own.

Though he didn’t mind Loki sitting in his lap, Vahn had become somewhat resistant to it over the last few months since it conflicted with his idea of how he should act as a Father. Tending to his women was very important, something Vahn took very seriously, but it became increasingly more awkward to act affectionate like this. He didn’t want his children to develop strange sensibilities by watching how he acted since Vahn himself knew he was more than a little abnormal. Since he had discussed this with Loki in the past, he knew she was probably doing it to ‘show’ Erika something, likely some lesson she had decided upon. Still, it made Vahn furrow his brows slightly as he hugged Loki’s waist and whispered, “Don’t tease our daughter too much…” in a quiet voice.

Loki simply nodded in response, leaning into his back with her body weight as she said, “This incident with the Dwarves, I think you shouldn’t get involved with it for the time being. The Alliance can’t afford to split its forces so much and we’re already taking care of four, no, five major challenges. The blockade of the Western Forests takes up a lot of our resources and we’re simultaneously coming up with countermeasures for Rakia Kingdom, Telkyura, and Enyo, all while trying to get a foothold within the Dungeon itself. We’re moving too quickly Vahn and, though you might not see it with your own eyes, it is very taxing on the other members of the Alliance who have to man the frontlines…”

Vahn nodded his head, showing a solemn and understanding expression on his face since he had heard much the same from Minerva and Eirene. Though the costs for all of their actions hadn’t become a problem, for the time being, the mental and physical strain on the people involved with the tasks had been increasing. People simply didn’t like to spend long periods of time away from the safety and comfort of their home, manning a defensive line for several months without much else to do. Most Adventurers took to the role because they wanted to increase their own strength, earning a personal fortune so they could live as they please in their later years.

Being forced to maintain the blockade, though very rewarding financially, made them very antsy as they grew progressively more bored. After all, there wasn’t much glory to be found, nor were there opportunities to increase their strength, they just sat their most of the day, rotating duties and relief time. It didn’t help that most of them were aware of Vahn’s situation, feeling no small amount of envy knowing he was essentially ‘lazing’ about in a flower garden full of beautiful women while they maintained an entire defensive line just because the Elves had ‘offended’ him in the past. It wasn’t that much of a problem just yet, as some of the people manning the blockade had accompanied Vahn on the Expeditions, but the small murmurs shared between people were beginning to gain momentum as the support for the blockade wanned.

After thinking over the matter for a few moments, during which time Loki, Juno, and Syr had all remained quiet, Vahn said, “It’s about time I make a show of force to intimidate Rakia Kingdom. Even if it draws more attention to us, it will also show the forces maneuvering against us that we’re not just going to stand around and wait for them to take action. I’ll take Fafnir and Khaos with me to destroy some of the fortresses on Rakia Kingdom’s borders. Though I wont attack them, I’ll also pass on the outskirts of the border between the Western Kingdom and Iron Hills. An example of Fafnir’s speed, combined with the information they receive about its destructive capabilities, should make the Dwarves think twice about antagonizing us. As for the overpriced goods they are trying to market, you should talk to Fortuna and get a list of all the goods being imported into the City. The Hestia Familia will sell them at the original value in exchange for materials instead of Valis.”

Loki’s smile widened slightly as she made momentary eye contact with Syr and saw the same glint in the young demigoddess’ eyes. They had already speculated what decision Vahn would make and felt very gratified that his plan coincided with their expectations. In truth, by making use of Riveria’s artifact, Loki had already compiled a list of all the necessary goods since she knew Vahn would be able to ‘create’ them as long as he had enough materials to convert into energy. Though monster cores would have been he most efficient exchange rate, this would have conflicted with the monopoly the Guild had on the exchange of cores so Loki had already informed Fortuna to prepare materials like drop items and ore.

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Fortuna was very interested to know how the Hestia Familia would come up with so many exchange items but, knowing that everyone had their secrets, made no effort to pry into the matters. Instead, she was focused almost entirely on the immense profits she would be able to obtain while also using the opportunity to lessen the influence of the ‘troublesome’ Dwarven caravans. The fact that the Dwarves had the audacity to try and profit off this situation irked her to no end so, if possible, Fortuna intended to completely cripple their business within Orario. This would force them to have to exchange the goods at the original amount but, as they had already lost the trust of their original clients, the actual profits the caravans would obtain would be negligible, at best. After all, trust was the most important commodity in business and, merchants that took advantage of such trust were destined to fade into obscurity.

After discussing things for around half an hour, the girls decided to leave the Library so that Vahn could spend some time with Erika. Though she had been quiet during the discussion, it was very obvious that Erika had been listening in since she hadn’t turned a single page in her book. Clever as she might be, there were still a few things she would need to pick up if she wanted to be able to successfully ‘fool’ other people. Vahn sat down next to her, patting his lap as Erika hesitantly climbed over. She was really very tiny, only around 69cm tall, and weighing a measly 9kg. For Erika, Vahn felt like a giant and she always felt very safe whenever they were together, even if it was a little embarrassing to admit.

Once she had snuggled up into his lap, Erika hesitated for a short while before asking, “Papa, are you going to fight…?” Vahn stroked his daughter’s head, thinking about his answer before deciding to be honest as he explained, “Erika, this world, though containing many interesting and beautiful things, isn’t a kind place. There are a number of people that, if given the opportunity, would exploit others for their own benefits. Power, wealth, authority, and sometimes just as a result of their own greed and selfishness…for these things, people do terrible deeds to others. I want to make this world a safer place for all of you so that, when you’re finally ready to venture out into the world on your own, it will not be the dangerous world of the past…”

Erika nodded her head, holding up her tiny palms as if there were something only she could see contained within them. After several seconds of silence, she placed her small hands atop the large and firm hands of her Papa, squeezing them with her minuscule strength as she said, “Papa, when I become a big girl, I will help you make this world a better place. I think that’s what Mother wants me as well…I’m not sure how I can help, but I will do my best…” Vahn smiled at Erika’s words, but he also felt somewhat pained in his heart since he didn’t really want any of his children to get wrapped up with some of the shadier sides of society. However, knowing that it was her choice what path she wanted to take, Vahn simply hugged Erika in response and said, “I believe you can do anything you set your mind to, Erika…just don’t grow up too quickly. After all, you’re still my little girl…” Vahn gave Erika a kiss atop her head, earning a small ‘Nn’ from Erika as she bashfully lowered her face.

Doppel, who had been clinging to his arm to make sure he didn’t try to run away with its host, tilted its head to the side out of curiosity. It was beginning to develop to the point where it was capable of understanding speech and, after spending its entire life with Erika, Doppel had become a very curious creature. Whenever Vahn would play with Erika, it would emulate her laughter while it clung to his arm or leg, often using its hair to constrict him with a force reminiscent of steel wires. Though she couldn’t complete a perfect transformation just yet, Doppel could also alter its shape a bit, mostly copying Erika herself even though the later would get very flustered as a result. After all, Doppel, though appearing similar to a female in its base state, had no actual sexual characteristics and was closer to a doll in form. However, when it changed, this was no longer the case and, as it didn’t wear clothing, this would result in Erika reprimanding it with a flushed face since it was very embarrassing to have a naked version of herself running around the hallways…

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Vahn spent the better part of three hours helping Erika study, answering any question she posed as honestly as possible. He had already taken a personal vow to never lie to his children, even if it might be necessary to protect them. Vahn figured that, if such a situation were to ever occur, he simply needed to try harder to resolve the problem without keeping the matter secret from them. After all, Vahn wanted them to always be able to trust him, regardless of how old they became. If he lied to them about simple things, their faith in him would never be quite complete since a part of them would always wonder what else he would lie to them about. Though this led to some awkwardness on occasion, Vahn just considered these things all an experience of parenting and accepted it in stride. As a result, Ina and Erika often confided in him everything while Vana practically spoke without a filter…

Though he had already detected her approach, ‘cautioning’ Erika about her arrival, Vana came barging into the room atop her True Flame Dragon, which she had named Vulcan after learning it was his previous alias. Vana had a ‘triumphant’ look on her face as she smiled with her small baby teeth on full display and said, “Papa, I made a big explosion! Shishishishi~” Hopping off Vulcan’s back, who was ‘glaring’ towards Vahn, Vana trotted over with a pitter patter, seemingly just noticing Erika as she smiled vibrantly and said, “Ah, Erika, were you playing with Papa?” Then, seeing the books in front of them, Vana furrowed her brows slightly and said, “Booooo, reading is boring! Papa, Erika, let’s go play~!”

Erika had been enjoying her alone time with her Papa and felt a little annoyed that Vana had disturbed them. She picked up her book, barely managing to get her arms around it as she trotted out of the room without a slight moisture in her eyes. Doppel chased after, nearly tripping over her long hair in the process before using it like stilts and propelling herself forward. Though it looked like hair, the long white fibers on Doppels head were closer to tendrils, containing nerves and small muscles that allowed her to shape and control them. Since it now extended longer than she was tall, Doppel was a bit clumsy at times but it always brought a smile to everyone’s face whenever they say her adorable antics, often accompanied by Erika’s blushing face.

Vana had a slightly dumbfounded look on her face before her nose and chin began to wrinkle and tears began to build up in her eyes. With an indignant look, accentuated by a small dribble of snot coming out of her left nostril, Vana turned to her Papa and asked, “Papa, did Vana do a bad thing? Does Erika hate me?” Though she had picked up speech later than her other siblings, Vana was still a very smart girl and was ‘constantly’ talking to everyone in the Manor after learning how. Vahn, taking a critical hit from Vana’s teary-eyed look, brought her into a hug and stroked Vana’s back as he said, “No, no, of course not, Vana…Erika, you know she likes to read. Also, I think she was just a little upset that you barged into the room so suddenly. If you apologize later, I’m sure she will forgive you…”

Though there was still a fair amount of tears and snot on her face, Vana pulled away and nodded her head, forming a ‘goofy’ smile as ran towards the door, seemingly forgetting about asking her Papa to play. The only thing going through Vana’s mind right now was tracking down her little sis so they could make up, after all, she had to be a responsible big sister that looked after her younger siblings. After jumping on Vulcan’s back, Vana pointed forward like a battlefield commander and shouted, “Go, Vulcan, let’s find Erika and play~!” Vulcan gave Vahn once last glare, sending a small tuft of flame from its nose before releasing an ‘adorable’ roar and chasing after Erika. With its sense of smell, it would easily be able to track her down, just like it had helped its host find the annoying male earlier.

Vahn suddenly found himself alone in the Library, a wry smile on his face since Vulcan had called him a ‘smelly male’ before it ran out. None of the guardians actually had a gender but it wasn’t inaccurate to say they were all female since they shared their existence with their hosts. It was a little strange to him that Vulcan was able to learn at a much faster rate than Vana herself but, fortunately, it seemed to share its knowledge with her and had helped her keep pace with Ina and Erika, at least a little. Vahn just wished she would stop burning things on ‘accident’ since it made it very difficult for him to justify giving her the [Genesis Flame] in the future. If she already had such a high degree of control over fire, Vahn feared what Vana might do if she suddenly had even more powerful flames at her disposal. She wasn’t a bad girl, not in the slightest, Vana was just a bit hotheaded and emotional at times…

Since there were still a few hours left in the day, and it wouldn’t take that long for the round trip, Vahn decided to venture to the border of Rakia Kingdom and give his warning to the outposts. He would give them until Monday to clear out before he flew through and destroyed all the border outposts between Rakia Kingdom and the Western Forests. If they didn’t treat his warnings seriously, Vahn had already firmed his resolve to accept the burden of the lives he would have to take. He had no ill will towards any of the people manning the post, as he had never met them, but Vahn also knew they were generally the ‘zealots’ within the Kingdom. Even though he hadn’t seen it personally, Vahn knew of the horror stories about how some of the border guards acted, often killing anyone that tried to cross the border in cruel and vicious ways.

After informing the girls about his plans, Vahn went into the courtyard where both Fafnir and Khaos were already waiting for him. Terra had also shown up but, after her return from the orb, she had almost no desire to leave the Manor again. She wouldn’t actively participate in missions that involved claiming the lives of others but still showed her support by wishing her Master well in his travels. Vahn gave her a firm hug, ending it with a rather long kiss that earned him a ‘huff’ from Khaos while Fafnir just tilted its head to the side in confusion. It had seen Vahn interact with all the girls, even Terra, but was confused as to why Khaos acted in such a manner around their Master. If not for the fact that Terra was the current ‘Alpha’, Fafnir would have smacked Khaos with its tail for being rude. This sentiment seemed to be shared by Terra herself, whose eyes snapped open as she sent a warning look towards Khaos that made it tremble slightly.

Khaos, unlike his other subordinates, was far more independent than normal because Vahn wanted it to be more loyal towards Loki than it was towards him. Of course, with the influence of the Loyalty parameter, Khaos was still loyal to Vahn but it just expressed it in a different manner than Fafnir, Fenrir, and Terra. The fact that it was the weakest of his subordinates was a big hit to its pride so, unable to actually do anything to change its status just yet, Khaos was sometimes abrasive with its words and actions. It did, however, do its best to avoid offending Terra since her status was much higher than it, with only their Master preventing her from striking Khaos down for its indiscretion…

Vahn, sensing the tensions between them, pressed his index and middle finger at the small of Terra’s back, just above her tail. He wiggled them back and forth, massaging the muscles in the area as Terra lowered her head and calmed down, focusing more on his actions than Khaos’ offense. When she had calmed down enough, though she was excited in other ways, Vahn smiled and said, “It’s been a while since I stayed at the wellspring. I’ll come visit tonight if you’re free…” Terra’s wings began to wiggle slightly, betraying her stoic and intelligent look as she nodded her head with an ‘Nn’ before flittering away towards her garden.

After watching her fly away, Vahn turned to Fafnir and Khaos before walking over and stroking both of her snouts and explaining, “We’re going to put on a bit of a show. Try to avoid killing anyone for the time being, but don’t be afraid to show off your power. This will be your debut, Khaos, so follow Fafnir’s lead this time around.” Khaos released a throaty grumble while Fafnir bumped into its side before shouting, (“Yay, I get to spend time with Master~! This time, I’ll show everyone how cool I am!”) Fafnir then proceeded to turn from its slim form into its angular and spikey appearance, creating a tyrannical sight as it spread out its wings with an almost cruel look in its magical blue eyes. Khaos, though feeling slightly repressed by Fafnir’s aura, also raised its head proudly and released its aura, causing strange red and black fluctuations to appear in space.

Vahn mounted Fafnir when they were both ready, causing it to wiggle happily while Khaos stared towards his back with its stark golden eyes piercing his back. Since he understood a little of what Khaos might be thinking, Vahn smiled slightly and said, “If you want, we can go fly around and explore the north for a bit when there is time…” Khaos, though it couldn’t actually form any facial expressions, seemed to frown slightly as it turned its head to the side and said, (“I don’t need your pity, Master…”) Though Vahn would never understand it, each of the dragons he had named all had a strange ‘pride’ about wanting to be his mount. Because he was their ‘Master’, Vahn was the highest existence within their hierarchy and, according to Terra, it was a great honor to carry him around on their backs. Since he had named Khaos and ‘gifted’ him to Loki, it wasn’t too surprised that Khaos felt like its own existence was delegated to the role of a ‘pet’ instead of a true companion. Vahn felt a little guilty and decided to make it up to the ‘tsundere’ dragon in the future, after all, it was still his subordinate and, just like he had in the past, Vahn promised to treat his subordinates as family…

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