Unaware of the restructuring of power that was going on throughout the City, not just within the Freya Familia, Vahn had returned to his daily lifestyle. Eirene now came around the Manor far more often, generally just to chat with the other goddesses and interact with the Vanir, while Demeter would sometimes come along with her. She was another goddess Vahn had to take into consideration for the future, though that matter could be delayed for a while, as she was currently more focused on some of the developments in the Plains Region to the west. Thus, with that matter set aside for the future, the only things Vahn really had to worry about was Riveria’s impending delivery, which shouldn’t be far from the opening of the School.
Both of these events were very ‘major’, so Vahn had been working to smooth things over while also following up with Rufina, who had actually been a little annoyed he hadn’t stopped by sooner. It had been nearly eight months since he had left her at the Ganesha Familia, only stopping by twice since then, both times within the first week after he had left her there. Her Affection, which had been hovering in the mid-eighties, had dropped all the way down to 49, even though she strangely still had the (Trust) bracket parameter.
This had been the result of Shakti often explaining to her the things that were occurring in the Alliance, with the majority of her news centering around Vahn and the matters within the Hearth Manor. Rufina couldn’t truly blame him for wanting to spend time with his newborn children and, considering her situation would inconvenience anyone, she had tried just focusing on her new life without worrying about what Vahn was up to. Her impression of him was that he was an honest boy so she knew, one day, he would eventually come around and make good on her promise.
As she had expected, though much later than she would have liked, Vahn did eventually show up, carrying with him several different files. Each contained a woman that loosely resemble Rufina in appearance, all possessing similarly red hair and having disappeared in the Dungeon. The unfortunate thing was, none of them had been reputed for having any rare skills, especially ones related to taming. Also, the strongest among them was only Level 3 and, though Rufina might have become stronger while under Enyo’s influence, the woman in the file would have made her a great deal older than she appeared. Thus, though the investigation had gone on for a full eight months, there hadn’t been any major breakthroughs in discovering Rufina’s original identity.
Vahn did, however, impart unto her one of the pieces of information Loki had told him, being that Rufina’s disappearance may have been covered up. During the investigation, which had included going through the records maintained by the Guild, and several infamous information brokers, Loki noticed there were a few Adventurers who had gone missing that weren’t documented by the Guild, even though they had been properly registered.
Though it could just be a clerical error, the number was far too great to be a simple coincidence, especially since every member had belonged to a Familia that had disbanded, with their gods no longer being present to give a proper accounting. This meant that their disappearance had been effectively erased and it had taken Loki a great deal of effort just to send and receive messages from Heaven, trying to verify if her instincts proved accurate. In more than half the cases, she had been able to discover that several Adventurers, generally around Level 3-4, had simply been ‘removed’ from the Guilds records, dating back nearly a thousand years…
When she had heard this, Rufina had very decisively stated, “You should stop trying to investigate my past. I have a bad feeling about this and I’ve learned to always trust my instincts…I’ve already started building a new life here, none of that matters anymore. Besides, I wouldn’t even know how to deal with people I don’t even remember…it would be too awkward…” However, though she had said this, Vahn could clearly see that Rufina wanted to know, even if her fears were also just as visible. There were few people who would simply be okay with not knowing who they were, especially if they might have had some important family members who had been worrying about them. Yes, it would probably be awkward, but that was just how life was at times…
Instead of agreeing to drop the matter, Vahn became even more determined to find the truth, smiling to Rufina as he said, “Sorry, Rufina, but I can be pretty obstinate at times. I made you a promise and, even if it ends up leading me into a sticky situation, I’m confident enough to walk out of it just fine. I might not look like it, but I’m pretty strong…after all, I even managed to defeat you, right~?” At the same time that Rufina’s Affection jumped back up to 61, her fist also came flying towards his face with a great deal of force behind it. Vahn, transitioning into his Xuánwǔ form in an instant, just caught her fist in his palm, completely negating the attack and ‘storing’ it in the scales on his forearm.
As he had been seriously training his [Rakshasa Body] again, Vahn had slowly been learning some of the secrets he had overlooked in the past, the ability to store kinetic energy being one of them. Though there was a limit to how much he could hold, which constantly drained his energy to keep contained, Vahn found that this particular ability was exceptionally suited for physical fighters. It had become the bane of Tiona’s existence, giving Vahn a slight edge of her, even though things usually ended up with him being pummeled, regardless of his efforts.
Rufina’s eyes widened in shock, both as a result of watching Vahn transform and seeing how easily he dealt with her attack. She had been very annoyed by his words and hadn’t held anything back, assuming he would dodge, not take on the attack directly. For a brief moment, when he smiled at her, Rufina felt her heart pulse with a giddy feeling sensation spreading through her stomach. She jerked her fist free of his hand, snorting as she said, “Do whatever the f*** you want. It’s not like I can do s*** when you leave this place again…” Without another word, Rufina stormed off in a huff, refusing to look back as Vahn watched her with a mild incredulity on his face.
Shaking his head, Vahn turned his attention to the other person that had been sitting in on their conversation, Shakti. As the Captain of the Ganesha Familia, she had been given permission to hear about all the details relating to the investigation of Rufina’s background. Over the last eight months, she had actually grown very fond of the free-spirited, though admittedly brash, redhead. Since anyone with amnesia had a reason to be high-strung, Shakti had always been very patient with Rufina and, after witnessing the monstrous talent the latter had, it was her hope to one day groom her into the next Captain of the Familia.
Producing a wry smile of her own, Shakti rose to her feet and bowed politely before saying, “She means well, that woman…don’t let her barbed tongue get to you. And, though she didn’t say it, I’m sure she is grateful for everything you’re doing, Vahn. The only thing I think would make her happier is if you stopped by more often…after all, she isn’t that good at making friends, though a few of us have been able to tolerate her long enough to at least be considered close acquaintances…” Shakti nearly laughed at her own words but managed to cover it up by coughing into her hand.
Vahn, however, didn’t mind laughing and did so willingly, causing Shaki to frown slightly as the image of a loud-mouthed elephant appeared in her head. Bowing one last time, Shakti said, “If you’ll excuse me, I should be going. I need to make sure Rufina didn’t run off and start smashing a poor inanimate object out of frustration…” There were more than a few target dummies, stones, and even metal poles that had become victims of Rufina’s wrath. Her physical strength was the only thing more monstrous than her talent with taming, making her the one woman that even the bold and unrestrained men in her Familia couldn’t easily approach…excluding herself, which her annoying god kept harping over…
Understanding that his welcome had run out, Vahn rose to his feet and return a polite bow to Shakti before saying, “I look forward to the exhibition…” Shakti nodded her head in response, saying, “Yes, I’m certain it will be quite the sight. It does annoy me a little, however, knowing that you’ll be stealing the spotlight once again…try not to go overboard, Vahn Mason.” With her words finished, Shakti made her way out of the room while Vahn rubbed the back of his head. Truthfully, stealing the show from the Ganesha Familia wasn’t really his intention, it simply…couldn’t be helped?
In order to increase the popularity of the School, Vahn had arranged things with Ganesha to do a public display of some of the things they would be teaching, especially magic. They would also have members of the Terpsichore Familia doing performances, mainly focused on music and dance, while the girls would be demonstrating sports like Volleyball and Soccer, two things Vahn expected to be a big hit with the crowds. His memory fragment had been working on uniforms for them to wear, which would be both easy on the eyes, but also enough to protect the girls’ dignity. Vahn wasn’t really comfortable with other men eyeing the girls but, as they were all fine with putting on the performance, he wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it…as long as nobody in the stands took things too far.
While making his way back to the Manor, using the direct route by going through the sky, Vahn decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stop by Maria’s Orphanage. Many of the children there had wanted to attend the School and, as he had been very busy, it had been nearly eight months since he last visited. Realizing this, Vahn felt a little sick to his stomach and quickly made his way over without minding the stares and pointing from pedestrians below. It was already known that he could fly through the sky, one of the many things he was famous for, so Vahn didn’t bother with trying to keep it concealed. If anything, it would make the popularity of the School skyrocket, especially since only graduates would even have the chance to learn skills like [Shundo] by attending the Academy.
After a short flight, Vahn dropped down in front of the Orphanage, startling two children who had been playing with one of the rubber balls he had left them in the past. Though momentarily spooked by his sudden appearance, the two had vibrant smiles on their faces once they realized who had dropped in on them. Without showing any restraint, the two young boys ran over, almost as if they were trying to tackle him to the ground, shouting, “Vahn! It’s been so long since you last came by! Everyone, Vahn’s back! Heeeeeeeeey~!” Moments later, Vahn found himself hounded by a group of more than twenty children, aging between four and nine years old. The only ten-year-old among them, while also being the eldest, was Rye, standing at the back with his arms crossed and a face full of accusation.
Vahn, after pacifying the horde of children with sweets, made his way over to the young boy, showing an apologetic expression as he said, “Sorry for now stopping by. How had everyone been, Rye…?” As he was already aware, based on Rye’s body language and the color of his aura, the boy hadn’t actually been angry. The moment Vahn apologized, he gave a curt nod before smiling vibrantly and saying, “Everyone has been great! Some people even got lucky enough to get adopted, though most of us still wanted to stick around to attend your School. Isn’t it supposed to be opening very soon!? I can’t wait to learn how to be an awesome swordsman!”
Nodding his head, Vahn smiled, explaining, “Yes, it’ll be opening right after the end of the Spring Harvest and the next Monster Feria. I’ll talk to Maria about getting all of you tickets, after all, you were a big help last time around.” Hearing this, not only Rye, but all the children present began to get very riled up, screaming and squealing happily as they made their way into the interior of the Orphanage. Along the way, though he could sense them, Vahn still turned to Rye and asked, “So, where are Fina and Roux? I don’t see them anywhere…”
Rye began rubbing his index finger under his nose, smiling in an awkward manner as he said, “Well, that…you shouldn’t really ask…yeah.” Vahn blinked, slightly surprised by Rye’s words and, as the boy had suggested, he decided not to pry any further. He could easily come up with a few different ideas that were likely very close to the truth, many of which weren’t really appropriate to talk about. Since he could sense that both girls were safe, even if they were off in one of the side rooms for privacy, Vahn decided to just focus on the children around him. After all, they would eventually show up and, being the sensible Papa he had become, Vahn knew it was important for young girls to have privacy.
Unsurprisingly, the two concerned parties showed up a few minutes into one of the stories he had been telling. Vahn had to halt mid-sentence as a cream-colored projectile shot towards his chest, shouting, “Vaaaaaahn~!” before nuzzling against him happily. This was none other than Finna, tail wagging happily while she ‘discreetly’ tried to sneak a few deep breaths of his aroma. Vahn knew the young Chienthrope had a crush on him and, as his [Grooming] would only exacerbate the situation, he just gave her a normal head pat as she happily giggled under his touch.
With decidedly less motivation, Roux also walked over, appearing just as quiet and reserved as normal. One ‘massive’ change, however, was the fact that, though it wasn’t exactly girly, Roux wasn’t wearing baggy boy’s clothing. Instead, she had on a pair of shorts that had a skirt attachment and, similar to Fina, whom she had likely borrowed the clothes from, Roux was wearing a white sleeveless tunic. It was a bit worn, having a few visible stains, but it was very apparent that Roux had tried to dress up a bit, presumably as a result of his arrival. Vahn didn’t miss the few strands of pink that were spreading through her aura, clear evidence that she had also developed a bit of a crush on him.
Feeling Rye pinch his side, while Fina gave him a look that said, ‘say something nice’, Vahn smiled to Roux and said, “You look very cute today, Roux. That kind of clothing suits you very well…” Hearing this, Roux tightly gripped the hem of her skirt, clearly unaccustomed with wearing such clothing as she began to blush a deep red. For several seconds, the entire room became silent, the tension thick enough that it could be cut with a knife. Eventually, however, Roux raised her large eyes, uttering, “Thank you…” in a quiet voice…before running away. Fina hopped up out of his lap immediately after, chasing after the retreating Roux while shouting, “Ah, Roux, now is the moment to strike! Don’t run away~!”
From the side, Maria watched this entire scene play out, chuckling lightly to herself before returning to the kitchen to prepare lunch. She wasn’t even remotely surprised when a stack of fresh ingredients was already waiting for her arrival when she got there…