Chapter 701: Happiness

After parting with his counterpart within the orb, Vahn awoke back in the real world with Ina snuggled up into a small shape against his chest. Terra was standing at the side with a gentle smile on her face as she said, “Welcome back, Master~.” As if awakened by Terra’s words, Ina opened up her eyes and stretched her body in a lazy manner, nearly falling out of the chair if not for Vahn catching her. Realizing what had almost happened, Ina laughed in a sheepish manner before hugging her Papa tightly and saying, “Papa is the best~.” Vahn just chuckled in response, lifting her body up to carry her as he turned to Terra and said, “I’ll stop by a little later…” Accompanying his words, Vahn sent Terra a wink that caused the mature True Dragons eyes to squint happily as an expectant light flickered within their sky-blue depths.

Carrying Ina, Vahn proceeded to his next destination, the final leg of his journey since he had failed to meet her earlier. After walking for a few minutes, he eventually came to the clearing where some of the girls would come to spend time, especially when it was sunny outside. There, sitting at the base of one of the trees, Vahn saw Aki sitting with a cloth bundle slung around her body. She was accompanied by Chloe and Shizune, the latter of which was playfully poking at the squishy cheeks of Anise. Vahn could feel the everpresent warmth in his heart expand slightly at the sight while both Chloe and Aki almost immediately noticed his presence.

After arriving at their side, Vahn let Ina down so she could properly interact with her younger sister. Like the rest of the Vanir, Ina cared deeply for her younger siblings, even though she didn’t always show it through her actions. Shizune moved off to the side to make room so Vahn sat down next to Aki, who immediately proceeded to lean into his shoulder with a soft smile on her face. Ever since giving birth, Aki has become even more motherly than during her pregnancy and, though she had been hesitating about the decision, Vahn knew she was also considering ‘retirement’. Her dream had always been to start a family and, now that she had a daughter to look after, Aki wasn’t too fond of spending days, or months, away from her Daughter. She never really cared about strength and just wanted to be happy, something she had already obtained at Vahn’s side.

Seeing the lovey-dovey interaction between Aki and Vahn, Chloe laughed in a ‘mischevious’ manner while musing, “Nyahaha, how envious~.” Chloe knew that, if she had made her resolve in the past, she very likely could have had her own child by now. However, she didn’t regret her decision and, now that she could increase her strength even faster, Chloe wanted to become strong enough to support the family she already had. Everything else could wait until later, after all, she was wasn’t even twenty years old yet.

Shizune also felt somewhat envious as she witnessed the sight and a small part of her heart felt like it had become a void, something she believed only Vahn could fill. It was a strange thought to have, but Shizune sometimes felt a bit of regret that her body was in such a state. She had just celebrated her eighteenth birthday a little less than two months ago but her body hadn’t changed from the form she returned to after consuming the [Virgin’s Promise]. She knew Vahn was the cause behind her current state and, though she had been given permission to make use of the orb without restriction, it bothered her a little that she was still treated like a child.

After hesitating for a few moments, Shizune noticed that Ina had left a rare ‘gap’ to exploit so she edged closer to Vahn. Seeing him turn his gaze to her, Shizune swallowed and lowered her head before somewhat awkwardly sitting down in his lap. It wasn’t the first time she had done so but Shizune felt her actions were a little shameless, considering the circumstances. Ina noticed this almost immediately and, for a brief moment, her brows furrowed in anger while the magical light in her eyes became more vibrant. Vahn casually stroked Shizune’s head, fluffing up her ears with his fingers while saying, “Ina, it isn’t polite to glare at people like that…” Shizune felt a ticklish feeling in her heart when Vahn ‘reprimanded’ Ina on her behalf while the latter showed an almost ‘betrayed’ look on her face.

Vahn, noticing Ina’s reaction, looked directly into her eyes with a calm expression on his face and a questioning look present in his aquamarine eyes. Ina took a breath when he suddenly looked directly at her in such a manner. She suddenly felt very guilty as images of all the times her Papa pampered her replayed themselves in her mind, seemingly without end. In truth, ever since the Vanir were born, Vahn had been spending most of his free time with them. This left some of the girls feeling a little lonely, especially Shizune, Lili, and Tina. Ina had been slowly becoming more aware of her own actions of late and, seeing her Papa petting the happily smiling Shizune, reminded her that the happiness her Papa brings wasn’t something the ‘belonged’ to her…

With a pouting expression on her face, Ina began to sniffle a little before averting her eyes and staring at the small form of Anise, held within Aki’s embrace. The latter looked at Ina’s appearance, feeling her heart doing flips in her chest while Vahn’s was practically being twisted like a wrung cloth. In truth, he found it ‘very’ difficult to be firm with his children but, not wanting them to become spoiled and inconsiderate of others, he had no choice but to swallow the bitter pill of parenting. Fortunately, he wasn’t alone in the matter as Aki suddenly loosened the cloth wrapped around her and asked, “Do you want to try holding her…?”

Ina, with tears still threatening to escape her eyes, suddenly uttered a surprised, ‘Eh?’ after hearing Aki’s question. Before she knew what was happening, Aki was very gingerly handing Anise over to her while Ina completely froze up, not knowing what to do and being terrified of moving. Aki just chuckled, helping Ina position her small arms while gently saying, “Here…hold her gently…keep your arms under her…make sure you support the head properly…” Ina mechanically followed Aki’s instructions while everyone silently watched the heartwarming scene. Eventually, Aki confirmed that Ina had a proper hold on her daughter and, though she had a bit of hesitation, smiled encouragingly as she said, “There you go…look, she seems happy to be held by her big sister…”

Now that she was holding onto Anise by herself, Ina felt very flustered and it didn’t seem like she could divert her attention between dealing with Anise and her own feelings of jealousy. Ultimately, because she is a very kind girl, Ina decided to focus on the infant in her arms. She gently cradled Anise in her arms with an awed look that very quickly transitioned into a smile that seemed to cause the colors in nature to become less vibrant by comparison. Everyone continued to watch Ina hold onto Anise in silence, even Shizune, who had started to feel very guilty about ‘fighting’ for Vahn’s affection with a four-month-old…

As Aki had said, Anise seemed very happy to be held by Ina, laughing happily with an adorable smile on her tiny face. Ina felt very encouraged by this and released a tiny ‘kyaaa’ sound before saying, “Anise, you’re so cute~! Naa, naa, can you try saying Ina~!?” Ina’s sudden rebound caused Aki and Chloe to chuckle lightly while Vahn released a relieved sigh. Thinking this was an opportune time to be a ‘good’ father, Vahn smiled as he softly said, “Everyone within the Manor is family, Ina, just like you and Anise. We share our happiness together and, it is the bonds we forge through this happiness, that make us strong. You are a very kind girl and clever girl…I believe you have the ability to make everyone else happy with your smile…please remember that.”

Ina had become silent as he was speaking but kept most of her focus on Anise, still feeling very ‘aware’ of the small bundle in her arms. When he was finished, she nodded her head while producing a small smile as she said, “I understand, Papa…I want to be a good big sister that my cute little sisters can look up to.” Then, after making sure she was holding onto Anise properly, Ina looked towards him and said, “But, I still care about Papa more…you are my most precious person…” As she was speaking, Ina let her gaze wander to Shizune, adding, “I know Papa won’t be taken away by others, but I can’t help feeling a little sad at times…”

Shizune produced a rare blush, hanging her head in shame under the hard gaze of Ina, someone much younger than her. However, when she felt Vahn’s palm land on her head, diffusing comforting and warm energy through her body, Shizune perked up a little. She turned her head towards him, somewhat afraid to match Ina’s gaze while Vahn looked toward his daughter with a gentle and proud look on his face. Ina had every right to be clingy and affectionate, considering her age, but she also possessed a startling degree of maturity and a high degree of understanding. This was one of the reasons why he was always honest and direct with his children, as it made them consider all of his words very carefully.

Aki eventually took Anise back from Ina, causing the small Vanir to release a sigh of relief before smiling when her Papa gestured for her to come closer. There was plenty enough space on his lap for the two small girls so Vahn pulled Shizune to his left thigh while Ina sat on his right. However, seemingly unsatisfied with the ‘even’ split, Ina moved closer to the center of his lap while sending a glance towards Shizune. The latter just laughed in an awkward manner while Vahn produced a wry smile and stroked both of their heads. Ina calmed down very quickly after that, turning her eyes away from Shizune and just enjoying the moment.

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Aki and Chloe looked at the sight with strangely envious looks, something Vahn noticed was directed towards his hands. With the same wry smile on his face, he sent a wink towards Chloe that caused her to snicker with a playful smile on her face. As for Aki, she just giggled and laid her head against his shoulder while absentmindedly staring into her daughter’s eyes. Aki felt like these moments were far more precious and significant than any of her past experiences and, if it were up to her, these days would continue on forever. She knew this was impossible, especially considering they resided at the core of the Alliance, but she couldn’t help but wish it to be so…

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While Vahn had been busy spending quality time with his family and children, the rest of the world had been moving along at its own pace. The Noble factions, after being rebuffed by the Alliance, had been very offended by Vahn’s dismissal of their proposal. To them, it was his ‘honor’ to even be given such an opportunity but, after considering his status and the face he was part of a Familia, there wasn’t much they could do. Though they could ‘inconvenience’ the Alliance, taking things too far could result in a very detrimental backlash to them. After all, Familia was outside the natural jurisdiction of the laws they had established for controlling the populous.

Though the Noble families were the founders of the City, it was only because the existence of the Ouranos Familia, which later became the Guild, that they were able to find their footing around the Dungeon’s entrance. As a result, the Guild actually had the greatest amount of power and influence in the City, especially since they were the ones that monitored and regulated the various Familias residing in Orario. After all, no matter how ‘noble’ they claimed themselves to be, mortals couldn’t be directly compared to gods. If they actually tried to pass laws and restrictions to control and regulate gods, their families would have ceased to exist a long time ago as a result of their ‘hubris’.

Understanding this, the de-facto leader of the Noble Faction, Marcus Vale McKenneth, was currently sitting inside a lavish study with maids standing at all four corners of the room. There was also a very mature looking maid standing to his left while a gentlemanly looking butler stood at his right. Across from him, the reason for his current mood, was his daughter Allisandra bowing her head with an apologetic and fretful look on her face. She felt terribly aggrieved by Vahn’s treatment towards her and, after reporting her failure during the negotiations, now had to deal with her father’s ire. His countenance was extremely cold right now as he looked down on her with an icy and piercing gaze, asking, “So, how is it that, after assuring me time and again that things will go well, you still return to me without anything to show for it?”

With an expression that looked like she had swallowed a bug, Allisandra looked up and tried to explain but, seeing her Father’s icy gaze, she became pale. The words that had made its way to the tip of her tongue retreated into her throat as she swallowed hard and averted her eyes downward once again. Marcus snorted, hardening his expression even more as he said, “I had to trade several favors to secure you this opportunity. Your failure has tarnished our family name and made a mockery of our honor. For the time being, you will be on house arrest until a fitting punishment can be meted against you…begone from my sight.” Unable to refute her Father’s words, Allisandra just bowed her head before backing out of the room with a face full of regret.

Seeing his daughter go, Marcus couldn’t help but sigh while the mature maid next to him began to chuckle lightly. Furrowing his brows, he asked, “Oh? Do you find this situation entertaining, Beatrix?” In response, the mature maid smiled and said, “Forgive me, Master, I couldn’t help but find your treatment of Lady Allisandra rather interesting. It’s rare to see you act so firmly with her, especially after you doted on her so much in the past~.” Hearing his Head Maid’s words, Marcus snorted once again. He grabbed the wine glass she had previously filled, nearly emptying its contents in one gulp before saying, “If I don’t at least put on a show of punishing her, those fools in the other families would never let me hear the end of it. Until this matter passes, make sure she doesn’t leave the Manor. Also, if she misbehaves during this period, make sure the only meals she receives are the same served to the staff…”

Beatrix smiled and, even though it earned her another glare from her Master, she couldn’t help but chuckle lightly once again. In response to his glare, she just poked her tongue out at him while his Head Butler, Klein, made a coughing sound before asking, “Master, what are your orders in regards to the other families? I don’t imagine they will let this matter go so easily…” Hearing this, Marcus scowled before finishing the remainder of his wine and saying, “Those bastards are seeking death. We’d be hard-pressed to put pressure on a single powerful Familia, much less forty. I regret ever throwing my lot in with those fools…”

If not for the fact that their family was allied with several of the other Noble houses, Marcus wouldn’t want anything to do with them now that the Alliance had come into power. He could tell that there was a great change coming to the City and, if they didn’t compromise and take a step back, it could very well spell the end of their families. After all, they wouldn’t just be dealing with the Alliance itself, but almost all the goddesses and their respective allies. Vahn Mason, that inexplicably existence, was almost an untouchable entity after the revelations of his capabilities. The fact that some of the families were still trying to get influence over the boy, even though they had never managed any success, baffled Marcus to no end.

Everyone thought they could get a piece of the pie that was Vahn Mason, saying things like he was still young and easily exploited if they could get their hands on him. However, with influential and intelligent goddesses like Loki, Hephaestus, and Freya surrounding him, what chance did they truly believe they had? They had no leverage to use against him and, if they tried to ‘force’ him to yield, history had shown they would likely pay a steep price. Vahn himself could be offended, seemingly without consequence, but targeting the people close to the boy was almost a death sentence. The fact that he was willing to offend the Elven Kingdom, Rakia Kingdom, and the Iron Hills, showed that Vahn wasn’t someone to trifle with. Even united, the Noble families wouldn’t have been able to contest against a single one of those forces, yet Vahn boldly took a hard stance against all three…

While he was thinking about Vahn’s interactions with the other countries, Marcus suddenly remembered the reports that had come in about the devastation on Rakia Kingdom’s borders. Though many people claimed that it was just Vahn’s dragons that did all the work, most of the people in power knew the truth of the matter. Vahn had left numerous survivors amongst the forces manning the fortresses, all of which had attested to the fact that Vahn himself had headed the assault. He was seemingly unstoppable and, no matter how many enemies were thrown at him, Vahn returned from the journey entirely unscathed. It was only after he personally defeated the border forces, and freed all the slaves, that his dragon annihilated the durable defensive structures.

Ever since he had received that report, Marcus had decided it was best not to antagonize Vahn and had tried to shift the momentum within the Noble faction more towards ‘cooperation’. If they were able to actually work alongside the Alliance, there were numerous benefits they could obtain. Even now, there was a large number of rare materials and resources that seemed to flow endlessly out of the Alliance. This had completely crippled the Dwarven Merchants that had previously tried to stir up trouble. Many Noble families had tried to find out the source of the Alliance’s reserves but, failing to do so, they instead tried to purchase up the items to profit later. Unfortunately, none of their efforts had proved fruitful as goddesses like Minerva and Fortuna weren’t so easily exploited…

Tapping the armrest of his chair, Marcus released a heavy sigh before saying, “Arrange a meeting with the Deval and Reinhardt families. I feel a storm approaching the City and, if our families are going to weather it, we’ll need to stand together…” At this point, Marcus felt that many of the Noble houses had decayed a great deal. They were too accustomed to the peace brought about after the end of the extinction war against the Goliaths. Ever since then, their families had prospered a lot from the reconstruction efforts and the expansion of various business enterprises. Now, their progeny had become lazy and entitled, exploiting their power and authority against commoners without restraint.

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There were very few praiseworthy successors to the households at present, as even his own sons were shameless fools. The only saving grace for Marcus had been his daughter, Allisandra, and his youngest son, Duke. However, Allisandra had been becoming progressively more haughty with time and, as a result of his eldest’s son’s tampering, Duke had started to misbehave and cause trouble with the servants. Remembering an incident where his nine-year-old son had tried to get one of the maids to strip down and kneel to him, Marcus couldn’t help but shake his head in an exasperated manner…

After watching Klein leave to carry out his orders, Marcus turned his attention to Beatrix at his side, frowning when he saw her playful look. Not only was she his Head Maid, but Beatrix was also his personal bodyguard and Guard Captain of his security detail. Though she looked to be in her late twenties, it had been a long time since she had a two-digit age. She had been serving their family since his Grandfather’s generation and was one of their most powerful cards. It always troubled him that she never seemed to take him seriously, stating that she could never show complete respect towards someone whose diapers she had to change.

Releasing what felt like the hundredth sigh for today, Marcus stated in a solemn tone, “The Alliance’s School should be opening soon. They’ll need to hire a large staff for such a massive institution. Investigate who the Alliance is trying to recruit and see if we can’t buy some of their loyalties…” Though his instincts were telling him to avoid having anything to do with the Alliance at present, Marcus couldn’t help but try and seek some benefits from the situation. Even without taking action now, they could always try to pressure some of the School’s employees later on. Depending on the situation, it may be possible to get some of their own personnel into the School and discover some of the secrets the Alliance kept hidden…

Beatrix laughed in a mischevious manner before saying, “Certainly. Leave it to me, Master~.” Then, swaying her hips slightly as she walked, Beatrix quickly disappeared from the room. Almost as if an invisible tension had faded from the atmosphere, Marcus slumped slightly in his chair while shaking his head. Sending Beatrix to take care of the matter almost guaranteed it would be dealt with but the cost wasn’t always something easy to bear. He just hoped she didn’t get too carried away with ‘playing’ around this time…

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