After fitting Vana into her pajamas and laying her into the bed, Vahn and Hephaestus spent the better part of twenty minutes just watching over her poor sleeping posture, marveling at how absolutely adorable Vana was. Hephaestus also explained a little about what they had discussed in regards to Anubis because, after all, Anubis was slightly ‘abnormal’ at times. Ultimately, she would be staying in the central area near the first floor, not that far away from where Maemi and Emiru resided. Anubis took her role as a servant very seriously so, now that she had taken up residence within the Manor, she intended to become a maid ‘apprenticing’ under Syr, Emiru, and Maemi.
Just imagining Anubis in a maid outfit brought a small smile to his face, something Hephaestus had noticed before asking in a sensual whisper, “Nnn, do you think a maid outfit would suit me, Vahn~?” As she asked, Vahn created a very vivid image of Hephaestus wearing a maid outfit in his mind and, while it was very appealing, it seemed more ‘sexy’ than appropriate. Even though his facial expression didn’t change, Hephaestus seemed to know what he was thinking as she made a slight pouting face and mumbled, “Looks like I’ll need to ask Loki for a favor…” Vahn felt like his skin was turning a little clammy so he pulled her into his embrace and said, “Any outfit you wear would look amazing, Hephaestus…”
Seeing Vahn fluster, even though he did his best to control his facial expression, made Hephaestus giggle as she returned his hug and gave him a quick peck on the lips. She wasn’t really that upset since, out of curiosity, Hephaestus had tried on a maid outfit previously. Her figure and appearance weren’t really suitable for frilly and cute clothing but she could pull off the cool and borderline ‘heroic’ look if she wanted to. It wasn’t like she really needs to dress up in order to have ‘fun’ with Vahn, either, Hephaestus was just ‘slightly’ curious about trying something fresh. As for why she even considered wearing cute clothing, it was because Vahn had shown a very large preference for ‘cute’ things ever since his daughters were born…
Though she enjoyed watching over Vana’s sleeping figure, Vahn eventually left the room under Hephaestus’ insistence. He still needed to complete his rounds and, as a few hours had passed, it was very likely that Ina was already awake. She would either be eating lunch or holing herself up inside his workshop around this time of day. After all, unless she was practicing under Hephaestus’ guidance, Ina had a tendency to play around with his tools and some of the practice items he had left out for her. Since she liked to take things apart, Vahn left various small objects like complex clocks, basic machines, and other items that had a lot of small parts. Just like Vana, he wanted his Ina to develop her gift without any real restraint, so long as it didn’t endanger her or other people.
Since he hadn’t detected her in the dining room, Vahn made his way towards his rarely used workshop where he could sense a small figure sitting on the floor. This was undoubtedly Ina so Vahn picked up the pace of his steps to reach the entrance of his workshop a little faster. When he entered through the door and saw his lovable little princess wearing the little blue coveralls he had given her, currently with the top half tied around her waist, Vahn had to pause and ‘record’ the image in his memory for posterity. She was wearing an off-grey sleeveless top on her upper body and, as a result of working with small parts very often, had a pair of goggles resting on her forehead as she poked her tongue out with a look of fierce concentration.
Not wanting to disturb her, Vahn snuck up behind her to see what she was working on, this time noticing she was disassembling one of the practice mechanisms he had given her. Its original purpose was to act as a grappling hook and it seemed like Ina had been interested in the mechanism that shot the grappling line nearly 100m in an instant. It wasn’t really that useful in a record like Danmachi, but Vahn didn’t regret the minuscule expenditure of OP since Ina seemed intrigued by it. The way she happily took it apart and carefully analyzed each piece brought a smile to his face and it felt like he could spend his entire day just watching her play around without ever getting bored.
Eventually, Ina got to a stopping point in her work and, as a result of her intense concentration, tugged at the collar of her shirt to air it out while wiping the sweat from her brow. She released a contented sigh and mumbled, “I wonder what Papa is up to…” as a magical haze spread through her eyes. Almost immediately after, Ina snapped her head around with a happy smile as she shouted, “Papa!”, jumping at him the moment she realized he was there. Vahn spun around, swinging the jubilant Ina playfully in his embrace while she giggled and hugged him with all the strength she could manage.
After the initial excitement faded, Ina suddenly stopped laughing as a small frown covered her face, complaining, “Papa, you didn’t play with me at all yesterday…it was very lonely, you know…?” This time, Ina hugged his neck very tightly and her little body trembled slightly as if she was afraid to let him go. Vahn felt his heart melt as he gently stroked her back while taking a seat among the various disassembled contraptions. He waited for Ina’s trembling to calm down before softly saying, “Papa is sorry for not telling you I would be away. I’ll try to do better in the future…” Ina just nodded her head without saying anything for a few minutes as she continued to hold onto his neck. It wasn’t until Vahn began inquiring about what she had been working on that she reluctantly parted from him and began casually explaining her work.
Hearing her ‘dismissively’ talk about the things she had been so excited about previously, Vahn couldn’t help but feel he had wronged the young Vanir. Wondering what he could do to make it up to her, Ina seemed to already have something in mind as she suddenly said, “Papa, I haven’t had lunch yet and I’m feeling very tired…can you feed me…?” As if receiving some form of Divine grace, Vahn produced a gentle smile before picking Ina up in a princess carry and setting her down on the nearby sofa. There was a table adjacent where the girls that watched over his work in the past used to eat their snacks. Vahn set out a variety of sweets that he knew Ina would enjoy before happily tending to his spoiled little princess who, after eating the first bite of strawberry shortcake, seemed to forgive him previous absence entirely. She released a girly squeal while holding her cheek in a happy and excited manner that made his own heart thump twice in his chest. (A/N: Doki Doki~!)
Vahn spent the better part of an hour pampering Ina as she slowly became more energetic, happily talking about her work and the ideas she had in mind. She had apparently gotten an idea about making an amalgamation of several items and, after seeing the designs he had made for the Aegis outfits, wanted to make a customized suit of her own. Vahn knew it would probably take her a few years to get to the point where she could produce such a complex creation but, given how invested she was in her crafts, he knew it would one day be possible. When her eyes began to glow slightly and she started smiling radiantly, Vahn figured that Ina was able to see much the same.
At this point, they knew that Ina’s ‘vision’ was a type of foresight that related to things she ‘would’ have seen depending on a variety of circumstances. She couldn’t really see the future of other people but, as long as it is something she would have seen on her own, Ina could peer into her own future and glean some insights into her life and the projects she was working on. This time, she saw herself far more mature than she currently was, wearing an ornate white suit while her Papa smiled at her from the side. She could see the undisguised look of pride and affection in his eyes, something she saw in almost all of her visions when he was included. This was one of the reasons why Ina had been so fond of him since her birth, being that she had peered into her own future and saw how happy she was around the boy that would be her precious Papa…
As her power began to deactivate, Ina saw some glimpses of the near future and began to laugh happily before hopping off the sofa and pulling her Papa’s hand, saying, “Papa, let’s go take a bath~!” Vahn chuckled lightly as he allowed his daughter to tug at his arm for a few moments before rising from the sofa and picking her up. Unlike Vana and Erika, Ina was very fond of being carried and preferred to be held either in one arm, so she could put her arm around his neck, or like a princess. This time, Vahn carried her like a princess so Ina happily laughed while grabbing onto his tunic with her left hand and enjoying the moment. When they reached the large onsen, which was currently empty, Vahn helped wash Ina’s body before the latter very awkwardly tried to wash his back. She was very small, only 64cm tall, and could barely reach his shoulders with the sponge unless he slumped down for her. Even so, Ina was always happy to spend time together like this and, as it was very rare to have the massive onsen all to themselves, she was happy for the alone time with her Papa.
After the bath came to an end, Vahn gave Ina a pure white sundress since she preferred to wear light and cute clothing as her casual wear. Since they would be going outside, he also gave her a circular straw hat to cover her head before lifting her onto his shoulder and heading towards Terra’s Garden. The last person on his rotation was going to be Alex, even though they should have ‘objectively’ been first. However, as Alex was an amazing and mature little youngster, Vahn wasn’t too worried they would be upset by his delayed arrival. At this point, Alex was nearly ten years old and, though their appearance hadn’t changed much, the level of maturity they showed always made him feel a strong sense of pride.
Ina enjoyed the peace and quiet of the illusory woods while hugging her Papa’s neck with her tiny arms. When they arrived at the Garden, Terra had already worn her gown because she had detected their approach almost as soon as Vahn left the Manor. She was smart enough that, even though she still preferred to be in her ‘natural’ form, it would be inappropriate to do so around the ‘younglings’. Thus, instead of sunbathing in the buff, Terra stood at the side of the wellspring with an elegant smile on her face while holding the small Space-Time orb in her hand. When her Master and Ina approached, she quietly mused, “Good afternoon, Master. I was wondering when you would stop by~.” Then, turning her eyes to Ina, Terra’s smile reached her eyes as she giggled lightly and said, “Ina, you seem to be in high spirits today. Did you really miss your Papa that much~?”
Aware that Terra was teasing her, Ina furrowed her brows ever so slightly while tightening the grip she had on her Papa’s neck. Without any discernable hesitation or embarrassment, she matched Terra’s gaze and said, “Of course I missed my Papa! He is my favorite person in the entire world and I’m his precious little princess, isn’t that right, Papa!?” Vahn chuckled lightly before nodding his head and calmly stating, “That is indeed the case. Ina is like the sun in the sky that brings light to the entire world. Your Papa would be very sad if he couldn’t see the sun every day~.” Vahn’s words carried a great deal of truth to them since he had actually experienced ‘very’ long periods of time without being able to see the natural sky and the sun above.
Happy with her Papa’s response, Ina giggled before giving him a kiss on the cheek and turning to Terra with a ‘triumphant’ look on her face. Terra, however, just giggled in turn while flittering her wings lightly. In truth, she found Ina to be very adorable and, seeing how happy she made her Master, Terra was quite fond of the small Vanir. She guided them to the side, where some comfortable seats had been fashioned out of completely natural materials. There was a hemispherical chair that was filled with a soft and plush moss-like substance that was cool to the touch and very comfortable to sit on. Because of its peculiar shape, it also provided a small canopy for whoever was sitting inside, allowing them to relax in the artificial shade.
Vahn accepted the orb from Terra while reminding both her and Ina, “Remember, you can only stay inside for a few hours, Ina. You’ll have to come back outside after playing for a bit, okay~?” Ina bobbed her head with a nod while reaching out her tiny hand and placing it on the orb in his palm. Her small body slumped against his while both he and Terra laughed at her adorable actions. Alex got along well with almost everyone but he was especially close with Ina and Erika since Ina’s curiosity and ingenuity was an interesting talking point while Erika’s nature was very similar to Alex’s. They were both the scholarly type so Alex was one of the few ‘friends’ that Erika had made, even though everyone treated her very well.
Since Ina was already inside the orb, Vahn shared a brief kiss with Terra before entrusting her to watch over them while he was in the orb. While he had been sitting down, Vahn’s secondary process had been absorbing the memories of his fragment within the orb so Vahn had a clear understanding of what had transpired while he was away. He was very grateful for this functionality since his counterpart had been researching a variety of things when he wasn’t looking after Alex. The latter was a very independent existence so, unless Alex asked for help, both his and Terra’s memory fragments allowed them to do whatever they wanted.
Once he got inside the orb, Vahn saw his memory fragment watching over Ina and Alex from the distance, as they had already started playing together long before his arrival. After all, though only twenty seconds had passed in the real world, that equated to twenty minutes within the Spirit-Time orb. Then, as if sensing his arrival, the memory fragment turned towards him with a wry smile while stroking the back of his hair. Vahn, having downloaded the memories of his fragment, understood that he felt somewhat lonely without being able to see his children. However, understanding the nature of its own existence, the memory fragment never tried to get close to the children when they visited. After all, none of the Vanir even seemed to recognize his memory fragment as their Papa, with Ina even shrinking away from him the first time they met.
Vahn walked over, patting his memory fragment on the shoulder as he said, “Thank you for everything. Know that I share your memories and the pain contained within and it has helped me mature a great deal. Just remember, if it gets too hard, you can always fuse together with me again and I can create another fragment…” However, as he had expected, the fragment shook his head with a calm smile and said, “No, it’s fine. I actually realized this would be a good opportunity for your emotional growth as well and, though it has been painful, I’m willing to tolerate it for the benefit of our family…”
Because they had seen how ‘Emperor Vahn’ behaved, both Vahn and his memory fragment were afraid he would ‘break’ in the event that something terrible happened. Thus, using the time dilation of the Spirit-Time orb, they had been ‘adapting’ to a mentality that was more accepting of pain and loss. Since the memory fragment didn’t have any Innates to rely on, its thoughts and actions had been very ‘genuine’, something Vahn had benefited a great deal from since he had always been reliant on ‘View Affection’ and his [Will of the Emperor].
Vahn pat the back of his memory fragment a few times before walking off to join Ina and Alex, both having noticed his arrival long ago. The memory fragment watched him go with a small smile on his face before taking a deep breath and heading toward the homely looking cottage where he resided with Terra’s fragment and Alex. When he reached the entrance of their small abode, Terra had already been waiting for him with a gentle and loving smile on her face. She closed the distance between herself and Vahn’s memory fragment before casually wrapping her arms and wings around his body. In truth, one of the biggest changes in Vahn’s life had been his relationship with Terra as, at this point, he had more than ten years of memories with her. Her memory fragment took very good care of both his own fragment and Alex, something Vahn had appreciated greatly.
Vahn knew it wasn’t easy for Terra to actually be with someone that didn’t ‘feel’ like him so, in order to make it up to her, he always tried to treat the real Terra well when they were alone together. As for his memory fragment, he was also very affectionate towards Terra’s fragment and, if not for the fact that he was constantly surrounded by the women he loved, Vahn feared his fragments affections for Terra would have had an even more impactful effect on his mind. Fortunately, this was also a form of training since, at some point in the future, Vahn knew he may have to be away from the girls for hundreds of years before he was able to link the Danmachi record to a higher tiered world…