Chapter 791: Shift

Somewhat unexpectedly, Vahn spent the better part of three days within the orb looking after Shizune after their first time together. In that time, they didn’t have sex again and it was just him looking over her, cooking meals together, chatting about various subjects, bathing in a small tub, and then cuddling up together when they were tired. Vahn understood the ‘aftercare’ for someone like Shizune needed to be taken very seriously and, as she had undergone a defining moment in her life, leaving her so suddenly thereafter could have been harmful to her mentality. Vahn didn’t want her to ever have the thought that he just ‘stopped by’ to have sex with her, like one of her clients from the past. He wanted her to understand his care and concern for her until she herself eventually said she was okay and chased him off…

After leaving the ‘fox shrine, Vahn made his way over to the central building of the orb, seeing that the clocktower showed it was nearing 9PM in the real world. His main body and Shizune had ended up missing out on dinner in the real world, but he had still eaten a lively meal with everyone using his avatar. Currently, he was sharing a bed with Aki, Arnya, and his daughters, Anise, and Meinya. As was ‘tradition’ within the Manor, the adorable little kittens both had animal pajamas, with Meinya wearing tiger while Anise wore light blue pajamas with a cartoonish cat appearance. The best part, from Vahn’s perspective, were the holes that allowed for the girls’ ears and tails to poke through, bringing together the image very nicely…

Not too surprisingly, Vahn found Tsubaki, Haruhime, Chloe, and even Syr sitting within the small room where some of the girls would gather when they weren’t training. Since it was the evening in the real world, some of the girls that spent their days in the real world would come into the orb to either get more rest or work on various small projects. Though he was a little surprised to see Tsubaki right now, she seemed to understand his concerns and immediately adopted a natural smile as she said, “Sakuya is having a slumber party with Aisha and Autumn. They are sleeping in Demeter’s room tonight.”

With an understanding nod, Vahn made his way over to the low square table and sat down next to Tsubaki and explained, “I think Shizune will be okay, but she’ll need everyone’s help to look after her for the next couple of weeks. Though I believe I made the correct decision, the only way to know for sure is to observe her while showing both physical and emotional support. If any of you have advice that might prove beneficial, I’m open ears…” Since he knew they were likely waiting for him from the start to talk about Shizune’s state, Vahn didn’t foot around the issue and brought it up directly.

Chloe, being the most familiar with Shizune, leaned forward with her head resting on her palms, smiling as she said, “You are generally very perceptive when it comes to things like this, so I’m sure Shizune will be fine if you just follow your intuition. Though others might struggle to pull it off, you have always been able to heal the hearts of troubled girls…nyahahaha~.” In truth, Chloe had been very worried about her not-so-young disciple but, after Vahn stayed with Shizune for almost three days, likely just taking care of her, the worries in her heart were alleviated. If the man she loved spent three days of his busy schedule tending to her wellbeing, Chloe felt like she would be over the moon with happiness as a result. Though she and Shizune weren’t exactly the same, Chloe felt like her prided apprentice wasn’t that dissimilar to herself and should be feeling the same way…

Seemingly agreeing with Chloe’s sentiment, Haruhime had an elegant smile while her four tails danced around behind her, adding, “I didn’t have to suffer nearly as much as Shizune, but I believe I can empathize with her. Though it had been a struggle for her, I think it was a good thing she had so much time to live a ‘normal’ life for the last few years…as long as people treat her normally, she should be able to live a happier life in the future. Don’t worry, Master, I will make sure to look after her properly~.” Because of their similar background, Haruhime and Shizune had always been very close, often spending time together and talking about their homeland, the past, and the future…

Vahn’s smile softened when he heard Chloe and Haruhime affirm that everyone would be okay but, out of a habit that had formed over the last few years, Vahn still turned to Syr to get her opinion. She had a similarly elegant smile as Haruhime, subtly changed over the years from her normal gentle and calm appearance. Though it wouldn’t be as prevalent as the Vanir, Syr’s own pseudo-divinity had been developing with time and she had a strangely ‘seductive’ aura to her, even when she was just smiling normally. This, combined with her beauty that could even rival goddesses, gave Syr an almost otherworldly appeal that few could ever hope to match.

Though she had already know Vahn would look to her for an opinion, Syr still felt happy when his aquamarine eyes fell upon her. The thing that gave her the greatest sense of fulfillment had always been when Vahn would rely on her, as it was the purpose she had given herself from the very beginning. Thus, the already beautiful smile on her face turned even more radiant as she asked, “When you left, did you do so on your own, or because Shizune asked you to…?”

Even without having to answer himself, Syr had already intuited the answer based on the subtle changes in Vahn’s demeanor, causing her to give a small nod and say, “If that is the case, she will be fine. Unless she tried to hide one of her familiars inside of your shadow to spy on you, she probably just needs a bit of time to sort her own thoughts and feelings. This is a good thing, so long as you make yourself available if she needs you…she might come to find you just to see if her presence is an inconvenience to you. Don’t worry, though, as she will eventually calm down after spending time with the other girls. This is a good time for her to improve her relationship with everyone, not just you~.”

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For someone with such a heavy psychological trauma, it was very important for them to have a large support group to help them stabilize. For the last four and a half years, from Shizune’s perspective, she had been constantly surrounded by people who understood her past, supported her happiness in the present, and were genuinely concerned for her future. Now, she also had the thing she had convinced herself that she ‘wanted’ so, after enough time had passed under these unchanging conditions, the odds of her making meaningful steps towards a full recovery were possible.

With Tsubaki, Chloe, Haruhime, and Syr all showing their support and confidence, Vahn felt like a burden had been lifted off of his heart. Surprisingly, the burden didn’t feel that heavy, leading Vahn to believe that Shizune was actually further along in her recovery than he expected. Still, deciding to take Syr’s advice seriously, Vahn made the decision to make himself available within the orb for the next few days, only spending a few hours in the real world with his daughters and visiting Alexa.

If he kept both of his bodies within the orb for a long period of time, he could always be available to look after Shizune while also going around and spending time with the other girls without burdening her heart and mind. If she was paying attention to the events transpiring around her, instead of just the things going on in her own life, it would be a sign that Shizune was recovering steadily. Eventually, after a few weeks had passed within the orb, she might even have a completely different personality compared to the past. This time, instead of hiding behind a facade, there was a genuine chance that she could open her heart to others and be happy…

As he wasn’t particularly busy, and would need to wait for his other body to wake up in the morning, Vahn decided to spend some time chatting with the four girls as other residents of the orb would stop by from time to time, joining in on the pleasant atmosphere. After a few hours had passed, nearly everyone within the orb had ended up arriving in the room, causing things to become even more lively as time passed. Eventually, bringing a smile to the face of many people, even Shizune showed up to ‘investigate’ what was going on. Vahn had noticed one of her familiars had arrived a few minutes before she did so it wasn’t exactly a random decision on her part and instead showed that she simply wanted to come and spend time with everyone, a stark contrast to how she had been distancing herself recently…

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With Shizune’s presence, the atmosphere got to the point that it was almost as though they were celebrating, delicious food and alcohol readily available. There was even a bit of entertainment as Lili and Tiona both took a small dosage of ‘Fallen’ to weaken their strength and began to wrestle around on the floor in nothing by their skivvies. Though it could have been mistaken as an attempt to appeal to him, the fact they were being egged on by the other drunk girls was a testament to the truth of the matter. As for Vahn himself, he just watched the wrestling match with moderated intrigue while Shizune curled up in his lap with a ruddy red face and a contented smile as she slept peacefully through the rest of the impromptu party.

Following through with his intent, Vahn started spending a greater amount of time in the orb with both of his bodies, leaving only when it was time to visit Alexa and to eat meals with the rest of the Manor’s residents. He also spent a bit of time playing with his children, but still spent nearly twenty-two hours in the orb using his Avatar while his main body was averaging around fourteen. If accounting for both of his bodies, this equated to Vahn spending an average of 216 hours within the Sub-Space orb daily. He used this time to work on his training, spend time with the girls, and, making good on his internalized promise, watching over Shizune.

Slowly but surely, Shizune started to show noticeable changes in her behavioral patterns and, though she started off by just wanting to spend time with him alone, it had quickly developed into her wanting to train with the other girls. Because she knew he was pandering to her a great deal, Shizune had started to feel slightly guilty since it was almost as though she were selfishly monopolizing Vahn’s time. Since she still wanted to spend time with him, the natural solution was just to accompany Vahn to spend time with the other girls as well. Training was the most practical method to justify this and, as a result of simply making herself more available, combined with how amicable most of the girls were, Shizune was starting to open her heart to more people.

After around five days had passed within the real world, Shizune’s personality had nearly done a one-eighty compared to the past. With nearly a month to adapt to the changes in her life, including spending a few intimate moments with Vahn, Shizune had started to behave more and more like Chloe. Though she still had a heavy burden on her heart that may never truly go away, Shizune was truly beginning to move on from her past and accepting the new and happy life she had within this unique and special place. Here, she had dozens of people who cared for her, a man who loved her, and absolute security from both a financial and livelihood perspective. She now realized that her options for the future were functionally limitless, no longer bound by the worry that she might be forced to leave if she acted out more than was ‘acceptable’…

As a result of this change, for better or worse, Shizune had stopped holding herself back and, by the end of a month’s time within the orb, she had developed a strangely slovenly and teasing disposition. Whenever she wasn’t training, Shizune would wear nothing but a loose kimono with her hair tied up in a somewhat messy yet strangely stylish ponytail. She could often be found sitting at the edge of her shrine, leaning against one of the pillars with a long kiseru in her hands, a unique pipe that originated from the Far East. Vahn had seen Tsubaki use one on occasion and it was apparently a means of calming the nerves and allowing a person to focus on introspection and relaxation. When he asked Shizune about it, she had laughed and, after shifting her body in a somewhat seductive manner, explained that she was thinking about ‘their’ future together, including the number of children she wanted to have…

In this manner, things were progressing relatively peacefully for the residents of the Hearth Manor, and the Alliance in general. Though the City was alive with rumors regarding the upcoming expedition, many somehow deducing that the Alliance wanted to build a headquarters within the Dungeon, things hadn’t gotten too out of hand. Other than the Nobles trying to form together a small expedition party of their own, likely to try and follow behind the Alliance and try to make a claim of their own within the 50th Floor, Vahn wasn’t even remotely worried about such a possibility. After all, even if such a group pitched up tents and tried to force a bit of contention, there was no way they would be able to stay down there for long. Given the fact that Enyo’s forced would likely emerge to try and repel the Alliance, smaller groups would either move out of the way or become victims of their Masters’ greed and hubris.

A group of Adventurers, more specifically ‘freelance’ Adventurers, simply lacked the logistical power and individual power required to get a foothold in the depths of the Dungeon. The fact they would need to rely on the Alliance to clear the way automatically made them unqualified to ‘compete’. There was also the fact that they couldn’t genuinely afford to offend the Alliance so, other than trying to claim an area far away from the central region where Haven would be built, there was no way they could even build an actual settlement. Since there was no way the Alliance would provide such people with building materials and supplies, any attempt for them to establish themselves was doomed to failure from the start.

The Nobles themselves were aware of this but, if they didn’t at least try to secure their future, it would be the same as standing idly by as their power is slowly stripped away from them. Though they had implemented regulations that had favored their families over the last thousand years, things were changing much faster than they could adapt to. The Alliance wasn’t exactly introducing change forcibly within the City, but the living conditions within their territory had impacted the mentality of everyone outside as well.

The same citizens who had kept their frustrations withheld in the past, even though they didn’t like the system of taxation and exploitation of the Nobles, were now advocating for real change. After all, there were few people who could live next to a prosperous district and simply be content with the lot they had been given in life, especially if they could band together and bring about change. As a result of this shift in the mentality of the civilian populous, the Noble families were slowly losing their influence as any attempts to try and forcibly repress the dissidence would be the same as giving themselves a ‘death’ sentence.

A civilian council had been formed while Vahn was enacting his policy changes within the Elven Kingdom and expanding the Alliance’s territory and influence. They had been very vocal in portraying the Nobles out to be to corrupt crooks their families had become after holding power and influence for far too long. There were a seemingly infinite number of incidents they could reference where one of the Nobles, especially those in the younger generation, exploited their power to ruin and take advantage of others. Since these weren’t exactly isolated incidents, as many people within the City had been subjected to this reality, the momentum had quickly built in favor of the new civilian council.

To make matters worse for the Noble faction, the representative of the civilian council had actually gone to meet with Vahn who, that very same day, announced that the Alliance was backing their efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone within the City. Though some of the Nobles tried to use their networks to paint the representative out to be a ‘whore who sold her body for benefits’, as she was a very attractive woman, this only served to create a bigger backlash for themselves. One of the earliest actions of the civilian council had been to identify the members of the Nobles’ network and publically oust them, making almost anything they tried to say in taverns and pubs earn the Nobles even greater admonishment from the people.

So that their fealty towards their purpose couldn’t be questioned, every member acting on the civilian council made a huge show of taking a public vow, swearing that they would never use their positions for personal gains and, should the general public find them unsuitable for the role, they would step down and allow for the populous to elect a replacement. Like this, for the first time in the record of danmachi, a small democratic society had taken root within the city, something that many of the gods found rather amusing. Few of them believed such a society would be able to last, considering that humans could be very fickle and constantly sought ways to exploit the systems they themselves established, but it was still a very ‘interesting’ development, nonetheless.

Of course, those same gods knew there was an ‘exception’ to the rule of mortals, though they weren’t even sure if he should be classified as such anymore. At this point, more than a hundred gods associated with Vahn through the Alliance and, with very few exceptions, they had extremely positive impressions of him. Most of the things he did were considered ‘impossible’, even from their perspective as entities who had lived for several hundred million years. At the same time, his personal capacity seemed limitless and almost every action he took was revolutionary in both concept and implementation.

In just two years, he had become the center of an organization that had greater financial clout, logistical support, and military might than any other organization in history. With his efforts, Orario was becoming even more powerful than ever before, with the economy practically booming with vitality. The living conditions of almost everyone had been steadily improving and the rapport he had built with the citizenship was so great that Vahn could potentially, for the first time in history, unify the entire city under the rule of a single person. Even now, though they mainly said it as a joke, people had already started to refer to him by a slightly modified name than the one which had become popularized after his battle with Ottar. Instead of ‘Flame Emperor’, many people had begun to ‘affectionately’ refer to Vahn as the ‘God of Progress’ and ‘The Immortal Emperor of Orario’…

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