Chapter 687: Balance : Wisdom

By the time Vahn reached the Hearth Manor, it had been almost two days since he left. A mission that was only supposed to last a single afternoon ended up turning into something much greater as he had simply been unable to abandon people that needed help. In fact, before he had even returned to the City, rumors about his exploits had already started to circulate. When people saw Fafnir and Khaos flying over the City, it was almost like every resident of Orario had undergone some unspoken agreement to speak just a little quieter than normal. After all, destroying 53 fortresses was terrifying in its own right, but Vahn had also slain nearly twenty thousand soldiers and a total of seventeen of Rakia Kingdom’s elite forces.

Waiting outside for him, Vahn found Eina, Fenrir, and Hestia, all having just moved from the table they had set up while he was away. Vahn gave them a questioning look as Eina, with a somewhat tired expression on her face, smiled and said, “We wanted to make sure there was someone here when you returned. The others were here initially but Loki had them all rest and go about their days normally…” While she was speaking, several of the people Eina had been talked about showed up from the front entrance. When they saw Vahn, there was a mixture of excitement and relief on everyone’s faces. Vahn felt his own tensions begin to melt away as Hestia walked over, hugging tightly around his waist and saying, “Welcome home, Vahn…” Those three words were always like a magical spell that made Vahn feel very warm inside, causing the smile on his face to grow much larger as he returned her embrace and whispered, “I’m home…”

It was still very early in the day so everyone enjoyed a long and lively breakfast, not really talking about what Vahn had done during his journey to the Rakia Kingdom. Rumors had reached them long before everyone else and, after Vahn hadn’t shown up the previous day, he had telepathically communicated with them the situation. Thus, for the time being, they completely set the matters aside and simply enjoyed the company of each other. Even though he hadn’t been gone long, Vahn felt like he had returned after a long journey. When he saw his daughters, still sleepy from the previous night, Vahn felt choked up and, even though he promised he wouldn’t, Vahn cried while hugging Ina, Vana, and Erika.

Nobody asked why he started crying, already understanding he must have seen some very difficult things during the two-day mission. Even his daughters didn’t ask why he was sad, though Vana couldn’t help but join alongside him. She was the type that fell into the mood of others very quickly, possessing an empathetic and inclusive nature. As for Ina, she had a sad but strangely relieved expression on her face as she returned her Papa’s embrace and soothingly said, “It’s okay, Papa, don’t be sad…” Vahn nodded his head, finding comfort in his daughter’s words while consoling Vana. Erika, also contained in his embrace, had a slightly flushed expression but, contrary to the past, made no real efforts to try to get away. She looked very uncomfortable but continued to return his hug all the way until he had eventually calmed down…

The afternoon that day came very slow but, after spending some time with his daughters, Vahn had calmed down a great deal. They had continued to sit and eat together for a long time, making casual and fun conversation until, as a result of still being children, the group of Vanir girls began getting sleepy. Erika lasted the longest but, having been sitting with her Papa for such a long period of time, she eventually succumbed. When he helped carry them to their rooms, Vahn also stopped by the maternity ward, spending nearly a half hour just watching of Meinya and Anise as the two adorable ‘kittens’ slept. They spent a great deal of their time sleeping, a stark contrast to how his other three daughters were up and about after just a few short days. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Vahn stroked the two girls’ thin hair with his fingers in the most gentle manner he could manage before going to Terra’s Garden, wanting to see all of his children now that he was back.

Terra, against expectations, was fully clothed by the time he arrived, accompanied by Fenrir at his side. She gave a smile to him, squinting her eyes slightly as she held up the orb and asked, “Did you want to visit~?” Vahn nodded, walking over with a casual gait before wrapping his arms around Terra and hugging her tightly. She was one of the few girls that hadn’t shown up at the long breakfast but Vahn knew she had been ‘waiting’ for him just like everyone else. Knowing he may call on her at any moment, Terra had been in a battle-ready state for the last two days. It wasn’t until she sensed her Master’s return that she finally let herself relax, deciding to wait for him in the comfort of the Garden since she was certain he would stop by.

After spending a few minutes talking, Vahn ended up taking the orb from Terra and sinking his consciousness into it, leaving his body for his two trusted subordinates to watch over. He had no way of knowing, shortly after he sent his intent into the orb, they would have a short staring contest that, surprisingly, was lost by Terra. With a sigh, she averted her eyes and said, “I will protect our Master’s home, but there isn’t much I can do for his mind. Perhaps it is due to my nature as a True Dragon, but I can’t help having some ‘selfish’ notions towards him. If I could, I’d keep him locked away in this Garden, keeping him safe and sound from the rest of this dark world…it just isn’t fair that someone so kind has to be exposed to such terrible things…”

As one of Vahn’s loyal subordinates, Terra had felt the emotions he had experienced during his excursion, though not nearly as prominently as Fenrir and Hestia. Most of the girls, especially those with strong bonds connecting them to Vahn, hadn’t been able to sleep easily, if at all, during the past two days. Now that he had returned, Terra felt like she had failed him in some way and wished there was more she could have done for him. As for Fenrir, though she one of the strongest bonds with Vahn, she was surprisingly calm about everything. Terra, even though she could understand and rationalize everything going on around her, simply couldn’t ’empathize’ with people the same way as the petite Vanargandr that seems to devote all of her time and effort towards their Master…

Fenrir sat down next to her Master’s unconscious body, choosing not to directly respond to Terra until she could organize her own thoughts. Doing her best to control her magical power, Fenrir made the most humanoid hand she could manage, still covered in dense blue fur with ivory white claws at the tips. Using her, what Vahn would have described as ‘ridiculously soft’, paw pads, Fenrir moved some of the strands of hair from her Master’s ‘sleeping’ face. She still didn’t really know what to say and just trusted her instincts as she quietly stated, “I have seen Master grow from the very beginning…I believed he would be able to help me grow stronger and, even when I deviated from the path and almost gave in to my instincts, he always showed me great tolerance. It is only right that I am there for him when he needs me…even if I can’t be at his side during all the moments I wish I could have been there…”

Using the paw bad on her thumb, Fenrir traced around the bottom lip of her Master, taking a deep breath and sighing as she said, “In truth, I don’t think Master really needs us. Our existence just increases his burdens further and, if we had never imposed upon him, I believe Master would have still been perfectly happy. However, since he seeks happiness through us, we must do our best to meet his expectations. The road he had decided to walk isn’t easy but…” Terra smiled vibrantly at this point, folding her wings as she sat down on the other side of her Master and said, “But it is the road that leads to all of our happiness. He might have been happy alone, but the happiness we share with each other is far greater in magnitude…is that what you wanted to say~?” Fenrir showed a natural smile on her face in return, nodding her head in response to Terra’s words.

It may be the result of an Innate that didn’t understand, but their Master had a trait that inexplicably drew people towards him. Even in the Divination, when he seemed to have distanced himself from everyone, there were still a large number of people surrounding him. Most of his children showed him a great deal of respect and, even though he may have wronged them, none of the girls had truly left him. This was due to the fact that, even if he kept the entire world at arm’s length, Vahn would still take action to try and help others, working harder for their happiness instead of worrying about his own.

Though they had no way of knowing it, the true reason he had tried to distance himself from all the girls was in the hope that, after enough time passed, they would be able to move on. He didn’t want to lose any of the people close to him, but also couldn’t stand the idea of ‘controlling’ their lives as a result of his selfishness. Thus, Vahn decided to live on a lonely throne as he watched over the world from high above…still, even then, Fenrir was always nearby, constantly waiting for the moment he needed her again…

It had only been two days since his last visit but, in that small window of time, a little more than four additional months had passed within the orb. Alex was now nearly a year old, even though its body hadn’t really grown that much. The infancy of a True Dragon could stretch out for several years so, while Alex was already very strong for its age, nearly the peak of Level 2 without any Falna or enhancements, it still looked like a baby. Vahn didn’t really mind though since watching Alex bob about in the with its tiny wings always brought a smile to his face.

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Alex had previously been sitting atop a large tree, reading a book while looking out over the large expanse of forests that now dotted the interior of the orb. With its attunement to space elemental energies, Alex instantly sensed when its Father, who enjoyed being called ‘Papa’, entered the orb. Storing the book into its own pocket dimension, Alex flapped its wings and made a beeline towards its Father, wondering if he had brought anything new and exciting this time around. Though Alex really enjoyed the time it spent with the fragments of its Father and Mother, the feeling it got around its ‘real’ Papa was very pleasant. It was similar to the aura emitted by a True Dragon, something the memory fragment could never emulate since it didn’t have [Will of the Emperor] or [Rakshasa Body], not that Alex knew this.

Seeing Alex flying over to him, Vahn levitated himself, catching the small True Dragon in his arms with an ‘oof’ escaping his lips. Even though Alex was very small, it had a lot of power at its disposal already. Even its flying speed could reach upwards of 130km/h so, if Vahn didn’t defend himself, Alex was like a small cannonball impacting his diaphragm. Fortunately, any discomfort Vahn felt was momentary as he embraced the ‘wriggling’ figure of his sixth child, feeling soothed by the laughter and giggling as they tried to escape. Eventually, Alex, though choked giggles, shouted, “P-Papa, no more, I give up, Papahahahaha~!” Vahn finally released them, letting Alex flitter about while breathing a little heavily. There was an intelligent and curious light in their eyes but, after making eye contact, Alex seemed somewhat confused as it asked, “Papa, did something happen outside?”

Vahn, hearing Alex’s question, just laughed in response, letting his voice carry through the surrounding space for several seconds before he shook his head and explained, “Something did happen, but it has already been resolved. Even so, it seems like everyone can see through my facial expression regardless of how much I try to hide it. Even my children can read me so easily~.” Vahn ruffled Alex’s emerald green hair, earning a peal of playful laughter in response as Alex said, “That’s because Papa ‘feels’ different than normal. It’s like how Mama always feels kind of ‘scary’ while also being ‘gentle’ at the same time. Papa usually has a very ‘warm’ and ‘calming’ feeling coming from his body but right now it feels more ‘lukewarm’ and ‘uncertain’.”

Not quite expecting Alex’s explanation, Vahn tilted his head to the side and recalled how the girls had described interacting with his memory fragment in the past. Even Vahn felt somewhat unnerved around ‘himself’ and it seemed to be a ‘feeling’ shared by everyone else. This made it a little awkward when he absorbed the memory fragments memories but Vahn didn’t mind it too much since it always allowed him to see how Alex was growing up. There was also the benefit that it gave him practice behaving ‘normally’ around people since his memory fragment didn’t have the ‘crutch’ of View Affection to rely on. The only ‘downside’ was that, while Alex would go off and explore the woods, Terra’s memory fragment would sometimes get a little ‘experimental’ with his counterpart…

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Shaking those thoughts from his mind, Vahn slowly descended to the ground before letting Alex ride on his shoulder. Whenever Vahn visited, he and Alex spent most of their time together, generally just walking through the woods while talking about various topics. This time around, Alex began asking about ‘History’, somewhat surprising Vahn in the process. When asked about why Alex was so interested in it, the response was, “Well, isn’t it important to know about the past so that you can better make choices about the future? After all, if you don’t know about the mistakes people have made, how can you expect to learn from them? It would be very silly to do something that had already happened, already knowing the consequences but expecting you were an exception to the rule.”

Vahn laughed in a jubilant manner, genuinely impressed by how ‘wise’ and ‘scholarly’ Alex was, even though they were still very young. As he began to explain what he knew about various events in history, specifically discussing the past of event of the Danmachi record, Vahn was also wondering just how much knowledge Alex would possess by the time they emerged from the orb. While his memory fragment was studying on his behalf, Vahn didn’t place too much importance on the information. This was because he could already ‘store’ everything he had ever read, accessing it whenever he deemed necessary. As for things like forging and the like, Vahn discovered he wouldn’t obtain any OP from his memory fragment so, other than working on the basic template for the Aegis Armor, his memory fragment had been spendings its time very ‘leisurely’.

After reaching a large clearing, containing a pristine blue lake, Alex hopped off of his shoulder and stepped into the water with its bare feet. Vahn unequipped his boots while changing into a pair of swimming trunks in the same instance. Alex looked back, tilting its head slightly before nodding as it surprisingly said, “Papa has a very refined body. I can see why Mama fell in love with you.” Vahn blinked in response, walking over until he was standing on the lakebed. After thinking for a few seconds, Vahn asked, “Alex, are you lonely here in the orb?” Though everything was very scenic, there weren’t any animals anywhere in the orb. Even this large lake, more than 800m wide, didn’t have a single fish inside its depths.

Alex immediately shook its head before looking directly up at him, making Vahn feel somewhat awkward since Alex was only 64cm tall. With a calm expression and an almost ‘worldly’ look in its eyes, Alex smiled and said, “I’ve already made my decision, Papa. Mama already told me that I will live for a very long, potentially even forever. The years I spend in here are a great boon, as I’m able to study a variety of things and experience a peaceful and safe setting. Also, everyone comes to visit me so I’m not really lonely, especially with Papa’s and Mama’s memory fragments watching over me. Until I am strong enough to be able to protect everyone, I will continue to stay within this orb to strength my body and mind.”

Vahn, seeing the resolute look in Alex’s eyes, just smiled in response and ruffled the tiny True Dragon’s hair as he asked, “Want to go for a swim?” Alex nodded, showing a large smile before tossing away it leafy-green tunic and the small brown shorts they had been wearing. Without waiting for Vahn, Alex jumped in the water, diving deep into the lake before submerging a few seconds later and sending out a spout of water from their mouth. Vahn laughed, flexing his legs a bit as he jumped a few meters in the air and shouted, “Cannonbaaaalllll~!” His landing caused a large splash, earning laughter from Alex as the latter repeated the action by flying up into the air and, in a much more adorable voice, repeated, “Cannoball~!”

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