Terra’s barrier ended up lasting nearly twenty hours but the storm raging overhead continued for nearly three days and nights before it finally cleared up. Vahn had been tempted to chase away to clouds but he also understood that his pure flame orb had likely been one of the causes for the bad weather. Though it was obvious that Zeus had influenced the event, Vahn’s last usage of the orb had caused it to rain for a few hours previously.
With the flame elemental energy dispersing through the air, causing it to heat up, it created a large draft as the heated air rose further into the atmosphere. When the air cooled later, it would intermix with small dust particles that would become frozen as the temperature continued to drop. Eventually, rain clouds would form and, as the attack Vahn had used was on a somewhat ‘drastic’ scale, Zeus wasn’t solely responsible for the current foul weather plaguing the City.
Of course, this didn’t stop Loki from pinning it completely on him, quickly circulating the fact that Zeus had antagonized the Alliance. She even spun things slightly to make it as if he had been peeping in on underaged girls with ‘ill intentions’. Those that remembered Zeus from the past, completely bought these rumors without questioning them in the slightest. Since it was also known that Vahn was very protective of the women around him, especially the younger ones, everyone readily placed the blame on Zeus. This didn’t just extend to the general populous either, as the matter had been inflated within the majority of Familia in the City, as most of them were run by goddesses that favored the Alliance. Many of the goddesses had ‘suffered’ slights from Zeus in the past, so they were the first to take up the torch to slander his name, not that he didn’t deserve it.
As for the ‘infamous’ god in question, Zeus hadn’t made an appearance ever since he disappeared from the skies above the City. Even so, Vahn remained on alert until the weather began to return to normal, mid-morning of the fourth day. The long period of cold rain had made the temperature in the City cold and humid but Vahn found it very refreshing as he stood in the sky overlooking the territories of the Alliance. Fenrir, as she was prone to doing, hovered at his side a bit shakily. Her ability to levitate still needed a lot of work, but she managed to stay in the sky by creating footholds with [Koku Shundo], linking both points to the same spot over and over. It made her body flicker strangely, but Vahn thought it was actually an ingenious way to familiarize yourself with the incredibly useful spell.
He made a mental note to add it into the advanced training block for the future magic classes that would be held at the Sage Aldrnari School, a name that still made him feel more than a little embarrassment. Still, it was very useful naming the School in such a fashion as it served to increase his own reputation while also serving as a legacy for the Alliance itself. In the far future, when Scholars looked back on these moments, they would be able to track the transition from the old era into the new, marking the establishment of the Sage Aldrnari School as the moment things began to change. Besides, he didn’t really use his Sage title for much just yet, something that Riveria would occasionally complain to him about.
Her pregnancy had progressed into its third trimester and it looked like she had a little over two months left before she was due. Even while pregnant, however, Riveria had constantly been trying to do things to help her people back within the Elven Kingdom. The blockade was still ongoing and the inner turmoil had increased greatly at this point. Since the High Priestess Faction had created some distance with the Alliance, Riveria had been making use of her contacts to help Elves flee the forest. This led to a very small exodus of the Elven people, who had been coming into the City with the assistance of the Alliance, even though some of the Nobles tried to accuse them of the same backdoor methods they themselves used.
Unlike the crooked Nobles, however, the Alliance offered protection and work to the Elven refugees without forcing them into slavery. As long as the Elves made public vows promising they were not agents of the Elven Kingdom, they would be given leeway to take up residence in the Alliance controlled territories. Since there were a lot of vacant residences, this killed two birds with one stone. Not only did the Alliance manage to allocate their properties more effectively, but there were now almost 1,400 Elves that had migrated into the City, the majority of which had now created a small community for themselves.
Riveria actually wanted to visit and show her support but Vahn had managed to talk her down until she had delivered their child. Understanding the importance of the budding life within her body, Riveria obediently stayed within the Manor. She spent the majority of her time between sitting in Terra’s Garden, writing letters to the Elven Kingdom, while the rest of her time was split between sitting in the Library or occasionally coming to find him. It was during these moments when Riveria showed a side of herself that made Vahn feel much closer to the beautiful High Elf. Though it was only something as simple as ‘complaining’ to him, just knowing she confided in him willingly, all while allowing him to hold her body, made Vahn feel like he was doing his duty as her Husband…
Around the time the rain had stopped, Vahn had been playing chess with Erika, the latter of which had a very serious expression on her face as a result of intense concentration. Vahn had a gentle smile but, even though he tried to hide it, there was a humorous glint in his eye that made Erika feel frustrated. They had already played eight rounds in a row and, even though she had done her best, Erika had lost every single one of them. It wasn’t that he was actually good at chess, but Vahn had a few books on the subject and ‘knew’ the best move for almost any given action she took. The thing was, if he didn’t actually try to win, Erika would instantly see through it and be even more upset…thus his current winning streak.
After staring at the board for nearly twenty minutes straight, Erika clenched her teeth before gently setting the crystal king on its side. She had visualized several hundred different moves in sequence but none of her moves ever resulted in her victory. Vahn began to wave his finger, using telekinesis to move the pieces back into place while Erika flopped onto her back and released a loud sigh. Vahn chuckled lightly, saying, “Your belly is showing…”, causing Erika to blush as she pulled down the hem of her off-black tunic. Though her clothes were different, Vahn noticed Erika dressed in a similar color scheme as himself, something that always made him happy.
Once the pieces were reset, Erika sat back up and began staring at the board again as she asked, “Papa, how is it that you are able to know the counter to all my moves? Is it really possible that you have memorized every move and its counter…?” To this question, Vahn shook his head and honestly answered, “Though there are a fixed number of variables in the pieces themselves, the number of iterations in which they can be moved is functionally without limit. There is no ‘perfect’ counter to every strategy, but I do know counters to most of the moves you would make. Though you are a very intelligent girl, to the point where you’re very likely unmatched in the entire Continent, your mind doesn’t have the flexibility of someone more experienced…as for how I’m able to win…well, I’ve just memorized a lot of books on the subject and compiled them together in my head.”
As he explained, it wasn’t as if he truly knew every possible move and its counter as, according to one of the books he had read about chess, there were potentially anywhere between 10^80 and 10^82 potential combinations. Some estimates even put the total number exceeding a googleplex, totaling more than one-hundred zeroes in sequence. In theory, it was possible for Erika to come up with numerous strategies to counter his own moves. However, she would have to stop thinking about the ‘best’ move in the present, or in the future, and instead, start considering how her moves could influence the opponent so that her seemingly ‘weak’ moves could circumvent the logic derived from the game’s core mechanics. It was a very difficult thing to achieve but Vahn felt that Erika had the potential to pull it off in the future…
For several minutes, Erika just sat in front of the board, staring at the pieces on the table as she mulled over her Papa’s words. She knew he was telling to truth and, knowing there was a quantifiable chance of her victory, Erika was determined to find it. It felt like she would become more ‘complete’ if she performed the seemingly impossible task before her. If she managed to pull it off, Erika believed that her future would be limitless. It would make other ‘seemingly impossible’ decisions she had to make much easier to deal with…
Finally, after eight minutes had passed, Erika moved her first piece, quietly muttering, “Crystal Pawn, D4…” Vahn’s eyes glanced over the board, somewhat confused at what strategy Erika had come up with to use such a basic opener. Still, deciding to see how things played out, Vahn grabbed his left center pawn, saying, “Onyx Pawn, E6…” For a very brief moment, Erika’s eyes parted and Vahn could see her aquamarine green eyes peer at the pieces. Grabbing her rightmost knight, Erika muttered, “Crystal Knight, F3…”
Vahn noticed that Erika’s moves weren’t anything exceptional but, that small peer through her slit-like eyelids brought a smile to his face. She seemed to be cooking up something and he wanted to see how far this brilliant daughter of his could go. Right now, they were playing a round of ten and, if he managed to sweep her, Erika had to wear a brand new pair of pajamas he ‘made’ for her. Since she didn’t seem too keen on the koala pajamas, Vahn found out what Erika’s favorite animal was and handcrafted her a very powerful set of tiger pajamas. She claimed to like tigers because, not only were they very powerful and territorial, but they could also be very sneaky. When she saw the jammies he had made for her, however, Erika adamantly refused to wear them…thus leading to this situation.
Picking up his next piece, Vahn smiled as he said, “Onyx Pawn, F5…” while imagining that adorable image of his daughter wearing the A-Rank pajamas he had made for her. Erika trembled slightly, almost as though a shiver had run up her spine as she grabbed her second knight, saying, “Crystal Knight, C3…” Seeing this move, Vahn blinked and re-evaluated the board before grabbing his own knight, stating, “Onyx Knight, F6…” At this point, he realized there was something different about Erika’s way of playing. She was simultaneously more casual, but also decisive in the moves she was making…almost as if she had already mapped out the entire game within her mind.
The next series of moves confirmed Vahn’s suspicions as he carried out each of his moves in sequence, eliminating possibilities while opening up others. Erika had started by moving her bishop into the G5 square, leading him to counter with his bishop at E7. When she used her bishop to take his knight, Vahn realized what had changed almost instantly. It was almost like Erika was proactively sacrificing her pieces, obviously attempting to set up a board state that would be preferable for her strategy. Thus, after her bishop took his F6 knight, Vahn moved to take her bishop, now setting his own on the F6 square.
It was at this moment that Erika’s eyes closed once again, a small smile appearing on her face as she said, “Crystal Pawn, E4…” before asking, “Papa, how did you and Mother meet~?” Vahn had been considering his next move but, hearing Erika’s question, uttered a confused ‘Nn?’. Moving his pawn to take her E4 pawn, Vahn said, “That is a peculiar question to ask…are you really that curious, or did you just want to distract me~?” Erika picked up her knight, decisively taking his E4 pawn as she said, “I’m curious. I can see that you…love each other…but I’m not sure how you fell in love. Mother, she…” Even without finishing her sentence, Vahn knew what Erika was trying to say so he grabbed his pawn and moved it to the B6 position before saying, “Honestly, our first meeting almost made us into enemies…”
Erika wasn’t surprised at all by her Papa’s words but, seeing the loving and reminiscent look in his eyes, she felt fluttery in her stomach as she muttered, “Crystal Knight, E5…” Vahn persued the board, still unsure about Erika’s strategy. She seemed to be setting up a position to pin in his king with her queen so Vahn did a king-rook swap, placing his king at G8 while his rook fell into a defensive position at F8. Then, considering what he wanted to say, Vahn smiled and explained, “She had made me angry, talking about how people had a certain value and, in order to get what I wanted, I needed to ‘exchange’ for it…honestly, I was very angry at the time…”
Nodding her head, Erika moved her bishop to the D3 square before asking, “Then how did you manage to fall in love? Did you…fall into her scheme?” It wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility so Erika began to feel slightly anxious. She was scared to know if the only reason she existed was that her Mother had plotted against her Papa. He was one of the most important people in her life, and Erika didn’t want to imagine that he only loved her because he had been ‘tricked’ into doing so…
Moving his own bishop to B7, Vahn smiled as he explained, “I got to see your mother exposed, without any tricks or schemes. She laid her heart bare in a situation outside of even her own control…it was at that moment we truly began to love each other. Ever since then, even though she still has her quirks, your Mother had always worked hard for our family…she is a good goddess, but an even greater woman…and, even if she might not come off as such, she is also an excellent mother.” Vahn sent a small wink towards Erika, earning a parted eye from his brilliant daughter who then hung her head as she muttered, “Crystal Queen, H5…”
Though she had lowered her head, Vahn noticed the small smile on his daughter’s lips. She seemed to be relieved by his words and Vahn’s heart melted seeing her bashful behavior. Even though she had moved her queen into a position to try and pin in his king, Vahn was still very happy at this moment as he chimed, “Onyx Queen, E7~.” Erika gave a small nod in response before quietly muttering, “Crystal Queen takes H7 Pawn…Check”
Vahn was still in a jovial mood, but he was somewhat confused by Erika’s move, essentially giving up her queen in exchange for a pawn. He realized she was up to something but, as any other move would lose him the game, Vahn had no choice but to take her queen with his king, moving it into the H7 position. However, the moment he made this move, patterns flashed in Vahn’s eyes as a large grin appeared on his face. At the same time, Erika also smiled more radiantly than he had ever seen before as she playfully asked, “Checkmate~?”
Even though there were still numerous potential moves, Vahn could tell that each successive move only put his king further into a compromising position. By moving her pieces in a strange pattern and maneuvering them as if she were haphazardly sacrificing them, Erika had put him into a position where his ‘optimal’ moves, which would make it appear as though he was winning, would assuredly lead to his defeat. They were currently on the twelfth move, relatively early in the game, but Vahn could see his demise on the eighteenth…
Realizing what had just happened, Vahn began laughing in a loud and unconstrained voice, causing Erika to flinch as she peered through her slightly open eyes at him, clearly confused. She became even more so when, after Vahn had laughed his heart out, he then collapsed backward with a mournful expression on his face as he muttered, “I never knew it was possible to feel pride, joy, and sadness, all at the same time…is this what it means to be a parent…?”
As he stated, Vahn was very proud that Erika had been able to get the final victory against him. At the same time, he was very happy for her, to the point where he hadn’t been able to contain it at all. Still, knowing that he had lost and, as a result, the painstaking hours he had put into her tiger pajamas were a waste, Vahn couldn’t help but ‘mourn’ his defeat. He was completely unaware of the conflict going on his daughter’s mind, as she was also feeling a mixture of emotions. The fact that she had won made her feel incredibly vindicated and, hearing her Papa talk about how he had come to love her Mother, only made this happiness more apparent. However, when she saw her Papa’s ‘mournful’ expression, Erika’s tiny heart twisted in its chest and she began to regret winning all of a sudden.
Erika didn’t like this feeling and, even though it made her cheeks feel like they were on fire, she mustered up her resolve and asked, “Since I won…does that mean I can ask for a reward…?” Vahn, who had been laying on the ground, rolled up into a seated position and smiled as he said, “Of course. As long as it’s something within my power, your Papa will grant you a single wish~.” Seeing her Papa’s quick recovery, while still having a visible sadness in his eyes, Erika stalled for a moment before hesitantly asking, “Can…can…*inaudible*…” Vahn craned his head, inclining his ear towards Erika as he said, “I can’t really hear you, Erika…please speak up…”
With a beet red face, Erika’s thoughts raced as she restructured her request and asked, “Can you make a matching set of t-t-tiger pajamas for Doppel? I want to see w-what it looks like if w-we wear the same outfit…” It took Vahn a moment, but he soon realized that, while Erika’s request was for Doppel, she also expressed that she was going to wear the tiger pajamas he had made for her. This brought an amused smile to his face and, as Erika looked towards him with confusion, Vahn pulled out ‘two’ pairs of matching tiger pajamas. Since she and Doppel were almost inseparable, Vahn had, of course, already made a pair for both of them. Seeing the surprised blush on his daughter’s face made Vahn feel like he had reached the apex of what it meant to be a contented father…