Though he hadn’t actually expected the Smiling Reaper to show up, Vahn was somewhat disappointed that the day had come to an end uneventfully. At this point, he had screened the majority of potential teachers and staff, filling far more roles than he initially expected. Excluding the Department Heads, Vahn had initially only planned on 108 positions but, after meeting with several interesting people, he had already increased this number to 153. Most of the additional hires were mother’s and widowed women that either made a good impression on him or simply needed a little help getting their lives back on track. Vahn figured giving the widowed women a stable income, while also allowing their children to attend the School, would be very beneficial for everyone involved.
After leaving the cafe, Vahn and Fenrir took to the sky and quickly made their way across the City at a very high speed. Their destination was the various Manors and territories managed by the Noble factions. Vahn and Fenrir would just be making a quick pass over the properties to see if he could pick up anything before making their way back to the Hearth Manor. It wasn’t very likely that they would find the Smiling Reaper using this method, but there was still a chance. Vahn didn’t really want to have to visit the nobles himself to try and track her down so this was the only method available to him without directly trying to deal with the troublesome group of people.
If Loki’s intuition was correct, the Smiling Reaper was likely working for one of the top three Noble houses, which made sense as anyone possessing such a powerful subordinate wasn’t likely to hold a lesser position. Even if they had a lot of influence, Noble families would be hard-pressed buying the loyalty of any Adventurer over Level 3. It might be possible if their Familia had disbanded, but most people that got above that Level threshold typically retired and continued to help their Familia prosper. After fighting alongside their companions for what could potentially be several decades, most people weren’t willing to become the ‘dogs’ of the Nobles, as it would generally ruin any reputation they might have had.
Though there would certainly be exceptions, it wouldn’t be enough to make a difference when the other party had someone above Level 6. With the various schemes and infighting between the Nobles houses, the Smiling Reaper would have undoubtedly come into play at some point. This meant that she was almost exclusively restricted to the more successful houses since their power and influence would actually be necessary to keep someone as powerful as her a secret. The Nobles had a lot of sway when it came to spreading information and had very large networks to control the various rumors that circulated through the City. With enough time, any powerful family would be able to cover up the Smiling Reapers exploits, turning her into the urban legend most believed her to be.
As they were the most likely culprits, Vahn and Fenrir first arrived on the periphery of the McKenneth family properties. When he saw the massive size of the Manor and the surrounding property, Vahn understood that his own extravagance wasn’t nearly as ‘excessive’ as he had believed. The McKenneth family estate had enough space to fit several Hearth Manors on its property and seemed capable of housing several thousand people with room to spare. Knowing that the family itself only consisted of several tens of people, Vahn felt that, other than to display their status, such a massive estate served no actual purpose. It just made things unnecessarily more difficult to defend and maintain, requiring several hundred staff and maintenance workers just to keep things looking adequately extravagant.
Shaking his head, Vahn compressed his domain until there was a dense layer of air that had been compressed around them. He then created several golden wards in thin air before rooting them along the inner membrane of his domain. After a few seconds had passed, the wards became transparent while the outer membrane of air slowly faded away from the view of any observers. Vahn and Fenrir could easily see outside but, anyone looking at them from outside the ‘bubble’ he had created would only see empty space. Unless they had a way to probe into the bubble directly, they wouldn’t even be able to detect Vahn and Fenrir with high-end detection formations.
Once his preparations were finished, Vahn and Fenrir floated over the McKenneth Manor as he inspected the insides with his [Eyes of Truth]. Vahn’s ability to sense affection allowed him to see the auras of people, but it was his [Eyes of Truth] that allowed him to see their physical, mana, and spiritual bodies. If he wanted to find the Smiling Reaper, he needed to see her directly so he could differentiate her aura from other people. Unfortunately, this ability was somewhat ‘invasive’ and, anyone with adequately enhanced perception would be able to detect his visual probe. Vahn had experienced this with Eva, most of the gods he had met, and Rufina, formerly Revis. He assumed the Smiling Reaper would be yet another such individual and, though he couldn’t be certain, this may have been the reason she had ‘known’ about his disguise.
Vahn scanned over every room of the 6 floor Manor, focusing on every sign of life he had detected within his vision. There were a few areas where he couldn’t probe, protected by powerful barriers that were of similar quality to the one located in his Guest Residence, but Vahn assumed most of them were just safehouses and vaults. Eventually, after inspecting some of the servant’s quarters, Vahn started to find rooms that were far more lavish than others. His eyes passed over an area where a single presence was located and, after seeing who was inside, he quickly averted his eyes to continue searching. Though he didn’t possess the [Luck] Development Ability, Vahn noticed he had a knack for experiencing and seeing things that he shouldn’t have. If he had the opportunity, Vahn made a mental note to apologize to Allisandra in the future in some manner…
After inadvertently catching sight of the young noblewoman changing, Vahn finally found a room near the very center of the Manor that seemed to be what he was looking for. There were powerful formations to prevent spying but it wasn’t nearly as secure as some areas. He had to strain his eyes a bit, but Vahn managed to peer through the barriers as he saw a middle-aged man with dark purple hair and similarly lavender eyes as Allisandra. Though they had never met before, Vahn felt like this man had a true air of nobility surrounding him and he could guess it was either Allisandra’s father, Marcus Vale McKenneth, or one of her uncles. However, given the location of the study, Vahn assumed it was the former since it wouldn’t have made much sense for someone other than the owner of the residence to be within the central study.
Within the room, Vahn could see four maids present while an elderly butler was attending the man he assumed to be Marcus. As he couldn’t hear what they were talking about, Vahn decided to do a little bit of spying since he had the opportunity. Using his domain as a medium, Vahn carefully carved a ward on the underside of the man’s chair while creating a duplicate ward next to his own ear. This allowed him to transmit sounds over short distances, depending on the amount of energy used to establish the signal. With the number of barriers surrounding the room, Vahn had to muster up a fair amount of his own energy but assumed it would be worth it…
Unfortunately, after spying on the man for nearly an hour, Vahn didn’t learn anything about the Smiling Reaper and just heard the man, who he confirmed to be Marcus, complaining about his children. Vahn felt a little guilty for spying on the man and eventually broke the connection to go inspect the next estate. It made him uncomfortable to hear a father talking about his children in such a way since Vahn couldn’t imagine ever doing the same. He knew his parenting methods weren’t exactly ‘normal’, but Vahn felt that his interactions with his children were much preferred over the normal methods. He couldn’t understand how parents took ‘secondary’ roles in raising their children and found faults in their actions, even though they didn’t do anything to prevent things from getting out of hand. Marcus seemed to have a lot of complaints about his children but, as far as Vahn could tell, most of the things he was complaining about could have been circumvented if Marcus took action and properly guided his children…
After leaving the territory of the McKenneth family, Vahn landed on the roof of a nearby restaurant and decided to take a break while he replenished his energy reserves. Patting his lap, Fenrir happily moved over and sat down as her transformation slowly broke, ensuring she was ‘adequately fluffy’ for him. Vahn even felt that her hair had become softer than normal so he asked in an amused tone, “Are you trying to make yourself more pettable~?” Fenrir laughed lightly while pulling up her legs into his lap and letting her tail poke out through the front. She curled it up toward him and said, “Try touching my tail, Master~.”
Reaching out his hand, Vahn touched the white tuft at the end of Fenrir’s tail, surprised by how soft it had become compared to the past. Fenrir always had somewhat bristly fur and, while it was still pleasant to pet, it sometimes poked you if you went against the natural flow of the fur. Now, however, her hair was almost as soft as Haruhime’s though, as soon as he had this thought, Fenrir released a silent ‘Kuu…’ Vahn chuckled lightly before hugging her body close to his and saying, “I don’t mind if you want to have a small rivalry with Haruhime, but never think its important to me to compare the two of you. She might have a softer tail, at least for now, but you should know that I spent much more time petting you than brushing through her hair and fur…”
Fenrir’s large fluffy ears perked up, amusing Vahn because they framed his face and tickled him a little since he had been leaning down slightly. However, when she suddenly said, “Master should actually spend a little more time with Haruhime. She has been behaving herself ever since the children have been born, but I can tell she has been a little lonely. I’m sure everyone would enjoy having some time to be pampered by you, Master…” In the past, her Master had always groomed, combed, and pet everyone whenever he had a chance. Now, however, this habit wasn’t nearly as prominent as before and, much like they had stopped fighting over his lap, many of the girls stopped approaching him to proactively receive pampering.
Vahn remembered the previous incident with Shizune and how ‘awkward’ her behavior had been when she climbed into his lap. If the other girls were going through something similar, essentially refusing to fight for his attention now that the children had been born, Vahn might have to be more ‘proactive’ in his own approach. Just like he needed to maintain his social circles better, Vahn needed to make sure none of the girls were troubling themselves by holding back on his account. Yes, he loved his daughters very dearly, but Vahn didn’t want the other people he loved to make sacrifices for his own happiness. After all, they had all agreed to work together and share each other’s happiness, not just focus on making him happy from the shadows…
It only took him around ten minutes to replenish his reserves, but Vahn spent nearly a half hour just cuddling up with the ‘extra fluffy’ Fenrir. Since it had been a good opportunity, Vahn brought out her favorite brush and combed through her hair, the fur around her arms and legs, and finishing off by tracing his fingers and brush through her fluffy and soft tail. Since she had been straddling his hips for the final segment, staring up into his face with her large scarlet eyes, Vahn had found the experience both pleasant and stimulating. In the end, he gave her a kiss on the lips and, though it was very dangerous, gently probed the inside of her mouth while tracing his tongue across her surprisingly smooth teeth. Fenrir, feeling her Master’s tongue sneak its way through her lips, kept her teeth very tightly closed while enjoying the fluttery feeling in her stomach.
After their affection session came to an end, Vahn and Fenrir went to investigate the other two priority targets to see if they could find any traces of the Smiling Reaper. Unfortunately, by the time the sun started its downward descent on the horizon, they hadn’t found any traces whatsoever. Not wanting to miss dinner time, Vahn eventually gave up for the day and returned to the Hearth Manor. He still needed to talk to the girls about potentially splitting his body into two parts and, as everyone should be gathered for dinner time, it was a good opportunity to bring it up. At the very least, even if he didn’t use his Avatar to interact with the girls, he could use it outside the Manor to gather information and potentially act as his proxy at the School.
With their mastery over [Koku Shundo], it didn’t take long for Vahn and Fenrir to arrive at the Manor and, as he had hoped, most of the girls were outside of the orb and eating dinner. Even before he entered the residence, Vahn had a happy smile on his face since it was always better when everyone was together. As for those that were missing, he assumed they had either needed to rest after training hard or wanted to finish polishing up on something they had been working on. Mikoto had a habit of exhausting herself on occasion and, from the moment she moved into the orb, Nanu had been training her fluffy little butt off to become a more capable warrior and blacksmith.
Even though he was coming in through the back entrance, Hestia had still left the dining room to come and intercept him at the door. Unless she was busy with something, she had always tried to be there every time he returned home, all so that she could greet him and say those magical words that always brought a smile to his face. This time was much the same as Hestia bounded over to him with a lovely smile on her face and gave him a tight hug, pressing her inexplicably soft breasts into his stomach while saying, “Welcome home, Vahn~.” Vahn stroked her silky black hair, running his fingers along its length while saying, “I’m home…” in a soft tone of voice.
Not long after their embrace had started, a pitter-patter of footsteps could be heard from the hallway as Ina came running over with a happy smile on her face. Hestia moved to the side, yet another example showing Vahn that the girls were making way for the children, as Ina jumped forward into his open arms. Much like Hestia, she gave him as firm a hug as she could manage while happily shouting, “Welcome home, Papa~! You’re just in time for dinner. Can I sit in your lap tonight?” Vahn stood up, carrying Ina along with him as he laughed lightly and said, “Sure, that sounds like it could be fun. However, you’ll have to eat plenty of vegetables without complaining…”
Ina put on an expression as if she had just been informed that the sky was falling but eventually nodded her head and said, “As long as Papa is feeding me, I feel that it will taste better than normal…” This caused Vahn to laugh even louder while Hestia and Fenrir followed along behind him, both showing small smiles on their faces. Vahn felt they were very understanding and reaffirmed his desire to try and allocate his time better in the future. If necessary, he could just arrange things so that he could spend time with both the girls and his children at the same time. Though it wouldn’t be nearly as intimate as it could be, there were far more ways of sharing affection than just simply indulgence…
For the rest of the evening, Vahn took turns between feeding Ina and Vana while Erika sat on the opposite side of Loki and sent him periodic glances through her slightly parted eyes. He also discussed his [Avatar Creation] ability, surprising everyone present with how ‘ridiculous’ such an ability seemed. However, considering who was speaking, it wasn’t actually that surprising and he got permission to move forward with his plan of creating a second body. Once he was finished, they would then evaluate if it is a viable alternative and, even if he wouldn’t be able to perfectly split his focus between them, it could still be very useful. After all, there was a possibility that, if he truly managed to master such an ability, Vahn’s efficiency would more than double if he worked alongside himself to accomplish his goals. Of course, the most important thing was that, if things didn’t work out as expected, it was possible to absorb the Avatar back into the body and reunite the two halves of the soul again.
The only person who had any inhibitions about it from the very beginning was, surprisingly, Anubis. As a Goddess of Death, she had a very strong affinity towards souls and didn’t think it was a good idea to split one into two parts. Since the reason she had been drawn to Vahn in the past was because of his unique soul, she was more than a little worried something would go wrong. However, as Sis had explained that his soul was indestructible and couldn’t be influenced by external forces, Vahn assured her it would be okay. Thus, as a result of her fierce loyalty and the assurance he had given her, Anubis eventually took a step back and decided to trust in her Master…
Once dinner had come to an end, most of the girls moved back into the orb and, as he had stayed with Loki and Erika the previous night, Vahn was going to spend the night with Hephaestus, Ina, and Vana tonight. One of the things they had discussed was how he should be allocating his time between the real world and the orb in the future and it was ultimately decided he would spend at least two nights in the week sleeping in the real world with the various mother-daughter pairs. The rest of his nights would be spent in the orb and, as far as having the children enter the orbs was concerned, that matter was set aside until his experiments with the Avatar were finished.
After they had moved over to Hephaestus’ room, Vahn helped Ina and Vana wear their pajamas, giving Vana her favorite frog onesie while Ina dressed up like a small vanilla-colored bunny rabbit. There was even a large tuft of a tail on the backside and, as he felt it completed the ensemble, Vahn had given her a large carrot-shaped pillow. Unfortunately, she seemed less inclined to care about the carrot-pillow and preferred to snuggle up with him instead. Thus, after laying next to his beautiful wife, Vahn let Ina snuggle up next to him while Vana nestled into Hephaestus’ embrace. Vahn and Hephaestus were facing each other while the two girls slept between them, able to see the love and affection in each other’s eyes while embracing their daughters as if shielding them from the rest of the world….