Chapter 953: Anguish : Relenting

Contrasting the entertained feelings she would usually derive from observing others, Kali’s expression had turned dull as she observed the awkward battle between Mars and Khodiva. They were both restraining themselves a great deal, far more than Kali herself had expected. Not only did this annoy her, as she disliked watching people hold back excessively, but the fact that they had so easily done as she stated caused Kali to feel deeply perturbed. She didn’t think it was even possible for two Berserkers to repress their instincts, especially in combat. Now, Kali was starting to wonder if she had made a mistake in the words she had so confidently spouted towards Vahn over their long sea voyage…

By the time the twenty minutes had transpired, both Mars and Khodiva were breathing heavily as a large amount of blood marred both of their bodies. Much of this came from Khodiva’s mouth, which was now gnawed apart by her own teeth, but there was a fair amount coming from spots where the two girls had almost lost control. This resulted in deep bruises and a few areas where the skin had been torn but, much to Kali’s ire, they had managed to restrain themselves without either side emerging victorious. Now, Mars fell limp against Khodiva’s body and, even though the latter’s instincts should have caused her to panic, she tolerated the weight of the slightly older Amazoness as the two of them focused solely on their breathing.

Feeling extremely annoyed, Kali’s face was fixed with a deep frown as she looked towards the two handlers and said, “Separate them. Make that whelp drink a low-quality Elixir so she doesn’t get an infection in her mouth…” Kali noticed her words, even as she spoke them, seemed extremely venomous in nature. The only positive outcome from this situation was the fact that her body had quickly cooled down as her annoyance continued to build. Now, her body felt cold while her brown skin felt both clammy and dry from the buildup of moisture and the oppressive heat coming from the small bonfire in the center of her chambers.

The two Amazonesses that had been watching their charges fight also had conflicted expressions on their faces since they had both expected the girls to practically tear each other apart. Seeing their goddess’ expression only served to increase the incongruity they were feeling and, if not for the fact Kali had given them orders, at least Khodiva’s handler had planned to beat her since she also didn’t know how to react to this situation. She had always looked at Khodiva like a wild animal that would tear out her throat if she ever dropped her guard so the fact she had managed to go twenty minutes, self-mutilating in order to restrain herself, had caused the once-proud Amazoness to feel strangely unnerved…

After having everyone else leave her tent, including Mars’ handler, Kali had the young girl sitting in front of her as she began to update her Status Board. She didn’t know why the thought crossed her mind, but Kali felt a little annoyed by the fact that Mars, while only ten years old, was slightly taller than she was. Since she was naked, Kali could even see that her secondary sexual traits were developing well, unlike her never-changing form. In the past, this never bothered her but, as if taking advantage of the strange state of her mind, Kali was inordinately perceptive about things she would have overlooked in the past…

Mars remained absolutely silent as the slight burning sensation of her Status Board being activated spread across her back. She let out a sigh of relief when the familiar sensation presented itself and hoped that her strength might have increased even more in the four months since she last had the chance to get it updated. Bringing a small smile to her face, Khodiva felt her goddess’ fingers trace around her back before she plainly stated, “You have grown a lot since the last time I saw you. Your Power and Agility both increased by more than a hundred points while your Magic parameter had gone up by seventy-three…” As she spoke, Kali wasn’t entirely focused and was just going through the motions almost mechanically as she took out a piece of Status Paper and copied the information before placing it in a large pile near the side of her lounge.

When the process was completed, Kali lightly pat Mars’ back, causing the Status Board to slowly vanish as she asked, “Mars…do you have a dream…?” In the past, Kali wouldn’t really care about this kind of thing since it was something that would generally require a lot of foresight and introspection to come up with a concise answer. Now, after watching the annoying wrestling match between the two Berserkers, Kali was reminded of the youngling versions of Tiona and Tione. She was also beginning to develop a few doubts about her understanding of the nature of Amazonesses and wondered if it was ‘nurture’ that had caused their culture to develop this way. Though it was inarguable that the base instinct of Amazonesses made them prone to violence and bloodshed, a seed of doubt was now firmly planted in the diminutive goddess’ heart…

Deciding she simply wasn’t suited to thinking about such things, Kali shook her head slightly and patiently waited for the confused Mars to come up with an answer. Eventually, the young girl hung her head, almost as if she were ashamed, before saying, “I am afraid to say, Kali-sama…” These words caused Kali’s eyes to widen slightly as it indicated that Mars not only had a dream but, because of the environment she had been raised in, was genuinely ashamed of it. Instead of living freely and uninhibitedly, she was another Amazoness who had been ‘forced’ to live a life that was filled with restrictions, making it so that even a ‘blood-crazed’ Berserker was too ashamed to even mention her dream…

For several seconds, Kali fell completely silent before squinting her eyes and saying, “An Amazoness shouldn’t be so afraid of something so trivial. If you have a dream, you should be doing everything in your power to make it come true. Now, tell me what your dream is…” These words caused Mars to shrink her body while still hanging her head. She could tell that her goddess was upset and was afraid that her words could get her in even more trouble. Even so, Mars still obeyed Kali’s command and muttered, “I heard in Orario there is something called ‘Soccer’ that made people respect and revere Amazonesses. I thought it might be nice to have a large crowd cheering for me…instead of looking at me like I’m dangerous…”

Kali visibly tilted to the right, completely caught off guard by Mars’ answer, even though she knew about the growing popularity of sports within Telskyura. It wasn’t often talked about, but the Fishing Tribe had even developed a version of the game where they played with a makeshift soccer ball within the turbulent sea. Up north, towards the swamps and jungles, it was one of the most popular ways to pass time when not hunting and gathering food. Even in the Warrior Tribe, there were many who were trying to pass strict tests to prepare themselves for venturing out of the country, many of them intending to head straight for Orario to get a taste of the growing sports culture…

After coming to her senses, Kali asked, “How did you learn about the existence of Soccer…?” Even as the words left her lips, Kali already knew the answer. Though she wasn’t allowed to leave the Coliseum yet, Mars was considered an adult and had already started the training that would prepare her for living outside of the country. Thus, when Mars raised her head and explained, “Rudra taught me how to play…I…I’ve been practicing…it helps me stay calm…”, Kali wasn’t too surprised. The thing that had caught her attention was the fact that Mars had claimed it was playing sports that had allowed her to become as calm as she had. Since Kali had known the girl since she was an infant, she was very aware that Mars had only started to mellow out in the last year or so, just after becoming an ‘adult’…

Once again, Kali fell into an uncharacteristic silence before noticing that Mars was resisting the urge to look back out of curiosity. This caused Kali to frown, not because of Mars’ reaction, but because she was reminded of Vahn’s remark about her thinking too much. She could even remember the way the light from the fire was silhouetting him and the warmth of his body against her skin. This caused a ticklish feeling in her lower body that caused her muscles to tense up slightly as an aching heat began to build within her abdomen. Kali’s frown deepened even further but she quickly adopted a more neutral expression and said, “I’ll be going to Orario in the future for personal reasons. As long as you continue to work hard, I’ll make sure there is space for you on my ship when the time comes…”

Hearing her goddess’ words, Mars was shaken to the core, causing her eyes to widen in surprise as her mouth gaped open slightly. Kali snorted through her nose when she saw this, kicking Mars’ exposed rump and saying, “Get out of here you brat…!” Though she held back her strength, Mars still flew a few meters before deftly landing on her feet and quickly exiting the chamber. Just as she left, however, Mars looked back with a genuine smile on her face and muttered, “Thank you, Kali-sama…!” before running toward where her handler was waiting. Kali watched as the older Amazoness wrapped Mars in a cloth before placing restraints on her hands and neck, objects intended to keep Mars from attacking others if her instincts got triggered…

Kali was left alone in her chambers as she frustratingly tapped the armrest of her lounge, this time resisting the urge to let her thoughts wander. She instead chose to focus on her conversation with Loki and Freya, including the benefits associated with joining the Alliance and the establishment of the ‘Divine Council’. Kali knew she would probably end up joining it in the future but hadn’t really put any thought into it at the time. Now, she was seriously considering just letting Loki stress over these matters and just going with the flow of events, much like how she always had. All of the strange feelings and thoughts plaguing her in recent memory had caused her to feel anxious, yet another thing she wasn’t accustomed to feeling…

After spending much of his afternoon observing the various activities of Amazonesses going about their daily lives, Vahn knew it was about time for him to tend to Kali. He had felt guilty about leaving her earlier so his perception had allowed him to absentmindedly keep track of what she was doing after he left. Though he didn’t watch every event play out, Vahn had witnessed part of the wrestling match between Khodiva and a slightly older Amazoness. His main focus was on Kali’s fluctuating aura, especially after the match had ended and she spent some alone time with the two girls while updating their Status Boards. Kali had been in a chaotic state for quite a while and it was only around an hour prior that she had started to calm down and began lounging about once again.

Knowing that Kali would try something to get even with him, Vahn had already steeled himself before making his way toward her chambers at a steady gait. He passed many Amazonesses along the way, many of which had seen his battle against Tiona earlier that morning. They all looked at him with heated expressions but made no attempt to get close to him. Instead, they kept a respectable distance while some of the weaker Amazonesses lowered their heads slightly and made way for him. Even the group of Amazonesses guarding Kali’s chambers looked toward him with genuine appreciation and reverence in their eyes as they parted the thick curtains and allowed him to enter.

Vahn had given the guards a polite nod while willfully ignoring the existence of the Amazoness who had left her post with uncommon speed, likely to instigate whatever Kali had planned for him. Though he would like to believe Kali wouldn’t take things too far, Vahn had been ‘surprised’ by her too often to convince himself she was outwardly considerate of others. Kali would certainly make concessions or even outright compromise, but many of her actions were based on whims and wants, not logic and reasoning. If she had decided to get ‘even’ with him, there were few limits to what Kali would do, even if she knew it would make him uncomfortable or outright upset him…

Kali had been laying on her back, balancing a goblet of wine on her almost nonexistent chest as she absentmindedly stared towards the ceiling of her chambers. When Vahn entered, she was genuinely surprised and nearly spilled the goblet, dislodging a few droplets onto the lounge and her exposed skin in the process of catching it. Vahn’s steps had paused when he witnessed this, causing Kali to feel aggrieved as her earlier inhibitions vanished. She had been wondering if she should cancel her evening plans but, after having already made them, Kali simply refused to take a step back and try to set things right. Just as the heat in her body began to build once again, so too did Kali’s desire to get ‘even’ with Vahn for his earlier teasing…

Seeing the swift transition of Kali, Vahn resisted the urge to produce a wry smile as he made his way over and ‘casually’ used cleaning magic to remove the beads of wine from Kali’s body. She might have appreciated it more if he removed them in a more ‘intimate’ way, but Vahn had already seen the deep pink spreading through her aura. Fortunately, he already had a plan that would allow her to calm down so before Kali could say anything to grate on his nerves, Vahn simply stated, “Come, I’ll brush your hair for a bit and help you relax…” Though she would never admit it, Kali liked to sit on his lap and snuggle up with him, especially if he was pampering her.

Knowing the ‘trap’ Vahn was setting for her, Kali resisted the urge to comply and instead smiled snidely as she said, “If you want me to sit on you so badly, why don’t you get down on your hands and knees? Maybe if you apologize while letting me ride on you like a beast, I might forgive you for your earlier behavior…” Even Kali felt bothered by her own words so it was no surprise when Vahn frowned slightly before shaking his head. He didn’t answer her question and simply sat on the lounge in silence, patiently waiting for whatever she had prepared for him.

Kali felt a strange pain in her heart seeing Vahn act dismissively toward her but, at the same time, the recognition of this feeling caused her to feel angry once again. There had been a lot of things that had bothered her today and, though she simply couldn’t admit it, Kali wanted to relax and have Vahn pamper her again. Even though this was the case, Kali still buried the feelings as she made her way over to the lounge, laying down on the cushions to Vahn’s right before placing her bare feet in his lap. She didn’t say anything but, after a few seconds had passed without Vahn taking action, Kali began to flex her toes reflexively to get his attention…

Resisting the urge to sigh, Vahn exhaled slowly through his nose before grabbing Kali’s foot with his left hand and using his thumb to gently massage the smooth indentation under her ankle. He sent threads of calming energy into her body and, using his domain as a proxy, influenced the ‘troubled’ areas so that Kali could begin to relax. She was making a show of ignoring him but couldn’t help releasing a contented sigh as her body slouched against the soft cushions. Vahn felt like Kali was too accustomed to being pampered but, at the same time, he preferred when she was quietly accepting his affections instead of being so aggressive. He wondered if beating her in a duel would simplify matters as both Tiona and Tione had mellowed out a great deal after he defeated them in direct combat…

While mulling over his thoughts, Vahn continued to absentmindedly massage Kali’s feet before slowly moving up her calves. Around this time, his perception, which had been keeping track of most things within the Coliseum, snapped to focus on the group approaching Kali’s chambers. His [Eyes of Truth] habitually activated as Vahn turned his gaze, peering through the obstructing walls to see first hand what Kali had arranged. He saw a group of nearly twenty younglings that were adorned in ceremonial attire that barely covered their tops and bottoms. They each had a series of jeweled ringlets and were carrying tall glass vials filled with a golden oil or trays with candled incense.

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Kali had started relaxing to the point that her thighs were now resting atop Vahn’s as she had been habitually moving closer to his body. Sensing the arrival of other presences, Kali’s eyes came back into focus as she pulled her legs free and sat in a more natural and presentable manner. She looked upwards at Vahn with her blood-red eyes and had an almost vicious smile on her face as she said, “I will teach you not to take your teasing too far. If you want to try and tame me, you’ll have to take more decisive actions than just a bit of touching. Let me show you that, as exciting as touching can be, it is the decision of the recipient how they choose to respond to it…”

Almost in timing with Kali’s words, the group of adorned Amazonesses were marched into her chambers and, under the direction of the older members, quickly prepared for their rarely practiced event. Some of the girls were eyeing Vahn with gazes that made his skin crawl as the relatively small auras present around their bodies was transitioning to a deep pink. As their bodies began to naturally heat up, Vahn noticed that the pale white cloth that was clinging to their skin started to turn transparent. At this point, Kali leaned towards him and whispered, “If you look away or show disinterest, they will be highly offended and resentful…I wonder, what will you do, Vahn Mason~?”

Whenever Kali was ‘distancing’ herself from him, she always called him but his full name, almost as if trying to clearly demonstrate there was a difference between them. Vahn looked down at her, seeing a ‘challenge’ contained within her eyes as she waited for his response. He could either let Kali get her way, allowing her to feel appeased until the next time she was offended or, inversely, decide not to play along at all. Kali would probably grow increasingly frustrated with him as a result and, as she said, the girls that had been gathered for what he assumed to be a ‘presenting ceremony’ would be adversely affected. She was essentially challenging his bottom line and seeing if he was willing to compromise and treat her as an equal, at least until he truly claimed her for himself…

Vahn had been previously warned about ‘presenting behaviors’ by Kali herself so he knew things would become awkward very quickly if he allowed the girls to act as they pleased. Depending on how he reacted to them, there was a chance some of the girls could outright imprint upon him, undergoing a subtle mental shift that became the driving force behind their desire to grow stronger. This was something they had been directly trying to avoid so having Kali put him on the spot like this caused Vahn’s mind to buzz. His indecision, the very thing Kali always rebuked him for, ended up delaying his response until the oldest of the girls turned her dark brown eyes toward him and said, “Allow me, Vahn-sama…” in a demure yet excited voice.

The moment he heard the girls words, Vahn’s body tensed up and he almost instinctually called out to put a stop to things. His actions caused many of the girls to stir as the one who had spoken showed a face of genuine worry and anxiety as she worried that her words had offended him. Vahn could see the panic in her face and it caused his heart to twist in his chest a bit as he swallowed his words and sat back against the lounge. This caused the young Amazoness to release a sigh of relief before she smiled radiantly and spread her arms and legs wide. The younger Amazonesses around her began to oil up her body, causing her healthy brown skin to have a slightly golden hue before she used measured yet excited steps to make her way to Vahn’s side…

(A/N: For those expecting the scene to be described in detail, you’ll have to accept my apology this time around. Remember, these girls aren’t even ‘technically’ adults so, even though I’ve depicted it as part of their culture, I’m not comfortable with going into too many details about the presentation ceremony. As I said previously, it is a way for younger and weaker Amazonesses to appeal to stronger Amazonesses for a variety of benefits. There is nothing too risque going on in this scene but I’m aware that it could make a lot of people, myself included, uncomfortable if I got into too many details.)

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Nature vs. Nurture’,’I had a dream my life would be…so different from this hell I’m living…so different now from what it seemed…’,’Kali has grown complacent, pushing the acceptable limits, even though she knows she shouldn’t…’)

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