After eating breakfast with the girls, Vahn had been preparing for his venture when Eina and Hephaestus showed up. He had just been getting ready to climb on Fafnir’s back but, detecting their arrival, jumped down to greet them. Hephaestus, carrying a very tired looking Ina in her arms, walked close and quietly said, “When Ina woke up, she said she wanted to see you all of a sudden. I’m glad I managed to catch you in time…” The smile on Vahn’s face softened slightly but he also felt it was a little strange that his daughter would suddenly do such a thing. Yes, she was very clingy to him at times, but Ina had never outright asked someone to deliver her to him before.
Vahn accepted Ina from Hephaestus, staring into her sleepy blue eyes with a smile on his face as he softly asked, “Ina? Is there something you wanted from Papa?” For several seconds, completely uncharacteristically, Ina remained absolutely quiet before slowly nodding as she said, “I had a dream…I saw multiple Papa’s in a place I’ve never been to before. You seemed very sad and I was very scared…” Since Ina had just met his memory fragment only recently, it wouldn’t have been abnormal for Vahn to assume she just had a strange dream as a result. However, he could see the same mystical light in her eyes that he had observed in the past and understood things weren’t so easily explained away…
Ina, seemingly finding her words, became teary-eyed as she tightly hugged his neck and said, “Papa…don’t cry…Ina is here…” Vahn wasn’t sure what Ina had seen in her dream but her reaction made his heart twist around in his chest, breaking the good mood he had developed since the morning training. Unable to do much else, as he didn’t want to press Ina to recount something that made her sad, Vahn gently stroked her back and infused calming energy through her body until she fell asleep. Even so, Ina continued to cling to him long after she had fallen unconscious, making Vahn choke up a little when he finally passed her over to Hephaestus.
The only thing Hephaestus knew was that Ina kept ‘insisting’ to meet with her Papa so she was very confused by all of these developments. However, as a goddess, she had some idea about what was going on so, after placing the sleeping her chest, said, “Ina may have some degree of foresight or prophecy. Since she saw multiple versions of you, it seems to be a very powerful ability…” Hephaestus released a sigh as a somewhat melancholic look appeared on her face and she added, “Prophecy is both a gift and a curse, especially when one is still a child…hopefully, this was just a strange dream and nothing more…” However, though the words left her lips, even Hephaestus didn’t believe them. She had sensed a strange energy circulating around her daughter and noticed the glow in her pale blue eyes when she laid eyes on Vahn earlier.
Eina had been watching from the side, showing a great deal of concern on her face before taking a deep breath and returning back to a calm smile. Walking over, she gave Vahn a very firm hug and said in a soothing tone of voice, “You’re always doing the impossible, Vahn…I believe making your daughter smile should be easy. Hurry back…we’ll be waiting for you when you return.” Though it looked like she had been forcing herself at first, by the time Eina had finished her words the smile on her face had become natural and beautiful. Vahn had noticed the change, feeling the tension that had gripped his heart slowly fading away as he enjoyed the embrace with Eina and said, “Don’t worry too much; I’ll be back as soon as I can. When I return, I’m certain I can make Ina smile again…”
Vahn continued to hold Eina for more than a full minute, only stopping when a gentle morning breeze blew through the area and caused her hair to tickle his face. With a smile on his face, Vahn moved the strands of silky brown hair behind her ears, giving Eina one last kiss before turning to Hephaestus and doing the same. Then, though she was still asleep, Vahn leaned down and gave Ina a kiss on the forehead, smiling when he saw the ‘sad’ expression slowly melt from her face. This time, Vahn hoped her dreams would be more pleasant than whatever she saw previously…
As it took several hours to reach the border between Rakia Kingdom and the Western Forests, Vahn had a lot of time to think about what Ina might have seen. He hoped there had been nothing too graphic and, based on her reaction, that, very fortunately, didn’t seem to be the case. She seemed to be upset by the fact that he was upset, meaning he must have done something he regretted. Considering he had just been about to leave for Rakia’s border, Vahn could assume it was related to his trip and, knowing some of the lengths Rakia went to at times, he expected they had prepared something for him. Regardless, they wouldn’t be able to pose much of an actual ‘threat’ so Vahn assumed it was some kind of cruel scheme one of their advisors had come up with. If he was careful, Vahn believed he would be able to avoid any real tragedies…
By the time he was nearing the borders, Vahn had also decided to send a telepathic message to Terra, informing her that he may summon her to his side in an emergency. One of the things that would be very devasting would be the loss of Fafnir or Khaos so, assuming Rakia might have come up with a method to target them, Vahn wanted to have a failsafe in place. After all, Terra could easily teleport back to the Manor and, even from a vast distance of several thousand kilometers, she would still be able to sense if someone entered her territory. Terra happily agreed, saying she would always be happy to come to his aid if he were in danger. After all, protecting him was one of the ‘reasons’ she had given for her own existence and, even if he was unkillable, Terra would regret having her Master suffer just because she was unwilling to assist him.
Vahn had arrived at the same spot where the first fortress had been located, something surprised by the fact a few tents had been pitched in the area while very obvious construction efforts were taking place. Right now, there were only materials present, but Vahn could tell they were already beginning to reconstruct the border fortress. Seeing several hundred slave laborers moving about below, many of which had become terrified upon his arrival, Vahn couldn’t help but release a long and tired sigh. He had Fafnir and Khaos fly up to safety, sending them high enough that there were no practical ways to target them, regardless of what Rakia Kingdom might have come up with.
After landing in the central area, sending most of the laborers running in terror, Vahn expanded his domain and began scanning over all the tents. Some soldiers came charging out, fear apparent on their faces but nonetheless charging towards him with spears. Though he could allow them to pierce him, Vahn wasn’t really fond of pain so he lowered his body’s center and used his [Xuánwǔ Protector]s to deflect every spear thrust, robbing the weapons from the men in the process. There was a vast difference in their parameters so, even if they gripped the spears as if their lives depended on it, Vahn was able to disarm the men and throw their weapons into his Inventory.
Though they started off with a fair amount of momentum, even if it had been influenced by their fear, the men quickly lost their bravado after having their weapons seized. Other than a rather quick Level 2 who pulled out a concealed blade and tried to lunge towards him, most of the men retreated away, forming a loose encirclement after picking up makeshift weapons. Many took up the same tools that the slaves had been holding previously, staring towards Vahn without enough willpower to charge forward a second time. Even if they had been training for several years, nobody wanted to die and, feeling the ‘tyrannical’ and oppressive aura radiating from Vahn, only the most steadfast among them could even keep their bearing.
Vahn had long since finished passing his perception over the area, learning that there were only around one hundred soldiers present. The strongest among them was, once again, Level 3 while the vast majority of people within his domain were simple slaves, all around Level 1 in strength, likely without a Falna. Deciding he had claimed enough lives previously, Vahn made a new resolution as his eyes turned cold. Looking around at the surrounding men, many having black and grey auras, even if the purple contained within them was very prominent, Vahn decided to pass judgment on them, even if it was ‘lenient’. The number of slaves present vastly outnumbered the actual combat personnel and, though he hadn’t really been able to save the prisoners from the last time, most of the slaves had harder bodies and would be able to seek freedom if given the opportunity.
Like an illusion, Vahn vanished from the sight of all the soldiers present, now having gathered nearly half their forces in the encirclement. However, with the strongest person present only being Level 2, they couldn’t even see his figure easily as Vahn came out behind the nearest group of soldiers, jamming his index and middle fingers towards their lower backs. The men screamed out in pain, some feeling such excruciating pain that the spat out blood as a result. Vahn was sending threads of energy through his fingertips, causing his source energy to wreak havoc on their mana circuits while severely damaging their spiritual and magic bodies. He didn’t want to leave them with any physical disabilities, but Vahn intended to make sure none of these cruel people would be able to find success in their society that advocated might and power instead of tolerance and peace.
Many of the soldiers had been waiting for others to take action but, after Vahn made his move, those nearest him made desperate attempts to fight back while those further away turned around and ran. Vahn even saw one soldier tearing off his armor, picking up a dirty tunic nearby and trying to look like one of the slaves who had long fled. Since he had picked up a tool previously, the image wasn’t far off from the usual workers, if not for the fact he didn’t look malnourished with the glint of a murderer in his eyes. Vahn, having just dealt with another small batch of soldiers, appeared near the man who shouted out, “Please spare me, my Lord. Ah’m just a slave, n-” Before the man could finish his words, Vahn jammed his fingers, not at the disguised soldiers ‘core’, but directly into his heart. This was one of the few Levels 2 present and, based on how sickeningly black his aura was, Vahn had no illusions that he would have done many horrible things in his rise to ‘power’.
With confusion and anguish written across his face, the man choked on a large volume of black blood as he fell to the ground. Moments later, with a look of absolute disbelief, the once arrogant and proud soldier had breathed his last. Perhaps as a result of the indignation he felt, the man hadn’t even closed his eyes after dying, continuing to stare lifelessly towards the form of Vahn moving about the remaining soldiers like a wolf amongst sheep. Not even those that tried to run away were spared, including the few that tried their luck by pretending to be slaves. Truthfully, Vahn wasn’t entirely sure if they ‘weren’t’ slaves but, seeing that many had incredibly dark auras, Vahn damaged their mana circuits all the same.
After dealing with the majority of the soldiers, Vahn moved to the large tent where all the remaining combat personnel was located. There were about 50 presences within that one tent, a large black structure that was several times larger than all the surrounding tents. Vahn unhesitantly entered inside, setting up a barrier to intercept all the arrows that came flying towards him. Then, seeing that their surprise attack had been fruitless, a surprisingly fat man with bulging muscles held up a young girl while holding a sword against her neck, shouting, “You piece of s***! You dare attack Darius Crowley, Captain of the 37th Black-Iron Brigade!?” The fact he was shouting in a commanding tone while holding a hostage made Vahn’s eyes turn dull as he coldly asked, “What are you trying to accomplish by taking a hostage…?”
Darius had a fierce look on his face as a cruel smile suffused his lips, saying, “I’ve read the reports, brat. You like to play hero, right? Fine then, let’s see how selfless our little wannabe can be! Drop down all your weapons and you have my word that I will release all these ho-” Before he could finish, Vahn tilted his head slightly and asked, “Are you an idiot…?” Darius’ eyes bulged in anger, face turning red as he pulled the sword in his hand closer to the trembling girl’s neck and screamed, “Are you trying my patience, you cur!?” Vahn cast a very brief glance towards the girl before plainly stating, “Even if I try to help people, it doesn’t mean I will simply give up my life in exchange, especially if its to allow cruel and viscious people to succeed. If every ‘good’ person just sacrificed themselves every time someone evil took a hostage, this would have been even worse…”
Vahn had no idea what went through the heads of bad guys at times, especially in moments like this. What, was he expected to suddenly drive a dagger through his own heart on the promise that someone who has exploited others for a living would stay true to their word? No, Vahn had already seen this situation in the past and, after thinking about it several times, he understood you couldn’t compromise with people like this. Even if he had to bear the pain of failing to save some people, he wouldn’t be able to save ‘anyone’ if he simply gave up his own life. After all, time didn’t stop at moments like this and, even if the young girl died, there would be thousands more that needed saving that he would still be able to help. Though he might make an exception for his old children, Vahn wasn’t selfless enough to give his enemies any advantages on behalf of a stranger.
Of course, this didn’t mean Vahn was just going to let the fat man do whatever he wanted, as there are a functionally infinite number of ways to deal with a ‘mere’ Level 3. Before the man, or any of his cronies, could react to what was happening, Vahn converged his domain on them. In total, there were only eleven soldiers present and, given how weak their Levels were, Vahn was able to stun them all in an instant. Several small blades appeared in his hands the next moment, drawing cold lines through the air as they were buried into the skulls of the ten men, and one woman present. Given how close she was to Darius, Vahn assumed she had been something like a Lieutenant or lover to the man. However, she was also holding a hostage so Vahn hadn’t given her any leniency, especially as her aura was blacker than almost anyone else present.
The nearly forty hostages all had various reactions, some screaming out in terror while others simply fell to the ground. However, there were a few amongst them that realized they had been saved and had proactively started calming down their companions. As for the girl that had been held captive by Darius, she fell to her butt in a somewhat catatonic state as a foul smell spread through the tent. Vahn’s dagger had passed right next to her head since Darius had been using her body as a human shield, effectively causing her to experience the converging of his aura and the terror of having a blade flying towards her face. Vahn gave her a slightly apologetic look, tossing over a bundle of clean clothes before walking towards the middle-aged man that was trying to get matters under control.
Seeing Vahn approach, the man took a step back as a somewhat fearful look appeared in his eyes as he asked, “My Lord…is there something you need of us? I promise you we can still be of use…” Though there was a fair amount of propaganda in regards to Vahn circulating around the Rakia Kingdom, making him about to be some vicious demon, few people actually knew what he looked like. To many of the slaves present, though some had already realized the truth of the matter, Vahn was just a young boy with amazing power. However, as one of the people who had recognized Vahn, the man had already uttered a silent prayer hoping that the rumors regarding the seemingly young boy were exaggerated.
Vahn paused for a brief moment, feeling somewhat confused before realizing what must be going through, not just the man’s, but most of the slave’s minds. To them, who had lived lives of servitude, he may as well just be their next Master. They lived or died on his whims, even though he didn’t actually have any intention of harming them. With a small sigh, Vahn shook his head slightly and said, “Relax, I’m not going to harm any of you. I see that you have some influence over the other ‘people’ present and was going to offer you a bit of advice. I can’t personally escort you, but I can give your people supplies and you can try your luck escaping to the south. If you make it to the edge of the Plains region, you should be able to seek shelter at some of the smaller villages in the area.” Though they likely wouldn’t be accepted in the villages maintained by the various Agricultural Familia, there were several small villages located in and around the Western Forests that they could take up residence in. Since they were seemingly capable of constructing a fortress, they could even build their own village after finding a peaceful place to settle down.
Realizing what Vahn was saying, the man had a slight glimmer of hope in his eyes that began to fade away almost as quickly as it appeared. However, it didn’t fade away entirely as he said, “My Lord, there be sev’ral other fortresses ‘asides this one…we’d never make it far before one o’ tha patrols picked up our trail…” Vahn shook his head once again, explaining, “I gave the Rakia Kingdom my warning and will be eliminating all the current border fortresses. I doubt they’ll have time to send out patrols while they’re busy trying to take care of damage control. Also, you can equip yourselves with the soldiers’ weapons and armor. With your numbers, a small patrol wouldn’t cause too much trouble. Some of you may die, yes, but it’s better than returning back to the Rakia Kingdom and living the lives of slaves, right?”
Not just the man, but several nearby people agreed to Vahn’s words, some even picking up the nearby weapons while others started stripping away the equipment of the now-deceased soldiers. Vahn was a little disturbed by the fact that none of them seemed to be bothered by the presence of corpses but, after considering where they came from, he wasn’t too surprised. Death was a very common thing within the Rakia Kingdom, especially amongst those in the lower rungs of society. Vahn wasn’t going to pry into how they had lived, or how they plan to live, so he just put the matter to the back of his mind for the time being as he started to arrange some supplies for them.
The slaves that had fled, fearing to go too far since it would have resulted in their death if they had been captured, slowly gathered together in the encampment. Many of the soldiers he had ‘spared’ ended up being killed by some of the slaves they had wronged in the past, not that it was any of Vahn’s concern. As long as they didn’t try to cruelly torment them, Vahn didn’t bother stopping anyone from seeking vengeance, especially in the case where it was a young woman bludgeoning a male soldier to death. Vahn hadn’t missed the fact that there would generally be numerous female slaves attacking the same men, generally aiming for the face and ‘unmentionables’ of said individual.
To give them a better chance at survival, Vahn purchased some simple weapons and rucksacks from the shop and distributed them to the people that were unarmed. He also weeded out some of the slaves that had much darker auras than normal, which had been made easier by the fact that they generally congregated together and were already trying to ‘run’ things in the newly formed group. Vahn didn’t plan to let the people simply trade hands to another group that would exploit them so, after identifying the ‘problem’ individuals, Vahn asked the opinion of the same man he had met previously, who he came to know as Gant, if they were ‘necessary’. Vahn wasn’t surprised to find out that the men were some of the patsies that pandered to the soldiers for benefits, often causing harm to their fellow slaves and acting arrogantly. Thus, without any major flair, Vahn crippled their mana circuits, distributed their equipment to other people, and then left them behind to fend for themselves in the vast wasteland…
Once everything had been taken care of, Vahn parted ways with the small caravan that had been established, waving towards the group as he mounted Fafnir and moved on to his next destination. All throughout, as if they couldn’t believe what was happening, there had been no cheering from any of the slaves. There weren’t even a lot of people who thanked him, not that Vahn was really bothered by it. They had gone through a lot, experiencing a level of cruelty that most people wouldn’t have been able to bear. Vahn only hoped that, one day in the far future, they would be able to find the happiness everyone should be allowed to seek. Perhaps, maybe after settling down in a nice clearing along the borders of the Western Forest, they would find it. After all, life was a precious thing and, as long as you continued living, there was always hope…