Waiting just long enough for the man to voraciously devour the apple, Vahn proceeded to ask in a stern and questioning tone, “What exactly happened here? Why are you all imprisoned in this place?” In response to this, the man used the grimy stained sleeve of his ashen-grey yukata to wipe his mouth before answering, “That vile woman was the epitome of vanity. Ever since she the Old Master passed away, she has grown out of control and has been slowly bleeding this village dry. She forced many of the other Kitsune women away and imprisoned the children of those who refused before charging them with unsubstantiated crimes to set an example for the rest of the villagers. I don’t know who you are, young man, but please take these children away from this hell hole before it is too late…!”
Vahn listened intently to the man’s words but, even though there was certainly some truth to what was said, he could tell there was something ‘off’ about how the man phrased things. Ultimately, it didn’t really matter what the truth of the matter was, however, so Vahn just shook his head before turning away and saying, “I would not have come here if that was not my intent. Don’t worry, these girls will be safe under my care…” It wouldn’t take many resources to take care of an additional seven children, especially since he could just install them into the School, so Vahn wasn’t particularly worried about anything. He would have the girls monitored for any abnormalities but, from what he could ‘see’, they were just normal Kitsune girls with the only unique quality being that one of them had a similar affinity to Shizune, being Darkness(pure), Fire, and Lightning(lesser). Since this was likely her cousin, Vahn didn’t find this odd as even the woman above had almost the exact same affinity, likely the result of some heritage their family possessed.
After turning away from the middle-aged man, Vahn went to where Lili and Fenrir had collected the children while the man himself raised his body, surprised by how much his energy had recovered. He then proceeded to head towards the only door within the prison, obviously intent on leaving without further discussion. Since he was only Level 2 and didn’t have any particularly dangerous qualities to him, even possessing a mellow blue aura, Vahn didn’t see the need to stop him. This resulted in him missing the glance the man gave him just before he ascended the stairs leading towards the surface, his dark brown eyes turning into a frosty blue for a brief moment before he continued to ascend the steps.
Vahn had noticed the abnormal pulse but, feeling nothing amiss, he allowed the man to continue acting mysterious as he performed a cursory examination of the sleeping girls’ bodies to make sure they wouldn’t have any lingering health problems. With the medicine he had provided earlier, the chances of this being an issue were relatively slim but, being a practiced physician, Vahn wasn’t going to take chances since he felt compelled to protect these girls until they could take care of themselves. The oldest seemed to be around eleven years old, based on the structure of her bones, while the youngest was around six or seven years old. They each had bristly fox-like tails which, after being exposed to the grim in the prison for a long period of time, had become oily and abrasive. Vahn found this rather sad since some of the more malnourished girls even had areas on their tails where the fur had started to fall out in clumps…
After finishing the physical examination of the girls, Vahn had Lili bring them to a seated position while he placed his palm against their backs and began probing the interior of their body in a far more meticulous manner. He didn’t want to overlook anything so he sent gentle waves of Source Energy through their bodies while inspecting the structure of their mana circuits and the condition of their organs. This caused the still-sleeping girls to wriggle about but Lili managed to keep them still long enough for Vahn to complete his secondary inspection. One had even awoken for a brief moment, just long enough for Lili to give her a waterskin full of a diluted version of Terra’s sap. She ended up falling asleep while desperately clinging to the waterskin, something that caused Lili, Fenrir, and Vahn to feel a deeply seeded resentment towards the woman above…
Fenrir ended up rising to her feet but Vahn stopped her before she could proceed any further. Before he could say anything, however, Lili suddenly reminded him, “Did you already forget about what happened with Alosrin, Vahn…? The kind of punishment you bestowed upon that woman would only work if she truly intended to reflect. It is far more likely that, after realizing what you had done to her body, she would take it out on others since, as far as she knows, there are no practical means to cure her condition. Unless you plan to bring Shizune over to deal with the situation soon, you shouldn’t just let her wander around freely…” Knowing Vahn could be ‘forgetful’ at times, Lili had made a point of documenting everything that happened during his exploits, all in the hopes of being a guiding voice whenever he made decisions that weren’t well thought out.
Vahn was slightly taken aback by Lili’s words but, realizing there was a great deal of truth to what she said, he nodded in response while a conflicted frown adorned his face. Back in the Dungeon, where he, Ais, and Shizune were still seated, Vahn turned to the silent Kitsune watching the events play out through the mirror and asked, “Do you mind if we deal with that woman now, or would you rather deal with her yourself later? I can also bring her back to Orario if you want to-.” Before Vahn could finish listing out her options, Shizune plainly stated, “If it were up to me, I would cut off that vile woman’s arms and legs before turning her into a daruma…”
Hearing Shizune’s words, Vahn felt his mind blank and nearly took in a cold breath, knowing full well what a ‘daruma’ referred to in this context. Fortunately, he didn’t have to convince Shizune that such an extreme act was, inarguably, wrong, as she followed up by saying, “But…I don’t really care for her. Honestly, I don’t want to know why she did what she did; I don’t really want to know anything about her, especially how we are related…just kill her and be done with it, Vahn. There has been enough suffering today…” Towards the end of her words, Shizune leaned against his shoulder while gripping the fabric of his tunic with her delicate fingers. They were almost completely white as a result of how tightly she was clenching them but Vahn pretended he didn’t notice as he gently stroked her back to comfort her vexed heart…
With Shizune’s consent, Vahn looked upwards before extending his finger in the direction of the still unconscious Kitsune woman. At the same time, Fenrir lifted her own hand, placing it above his as she said, “Master, let me…you cannot keep doing everything on your own. I intend to follow you forever and, even if just a little, I want to take away some of your burdens.” In response to this, Lili nodded her head, expressing that she was in full agreement with Fenrir. This made Vahn’s own tensed heart relax a bit but, instead of smiling to show how grateful he was, he simply nodded his head and said, “Very well…” in a soft tone of voice.
Without delaying for even a moment, Fenrir gave a small nod of her own before her scarlet eyes began to shimmer like gemstones. In the next moment, she had already disappeared from the prison and Vahn could sense her quickly passing through the manor’s corridors before arriving at where the Kitsune woman was located. After that, the temperature in the surroundings seemed to drop a few degrees as Fenrir released a massive amount of Ice Elemental energy, freezing the central area of the manor after manifesting a giant pillar of ice that was nearly 30m tall. It had crashed through the ornate roof, causing several areas of the manor to collapse but ultimately leaving the underground prison unaffected.
Lili showed a strangely ‘envious’ expression on her face but remained silent as Vahn continued to observe Fenrir before starting on a long-distance teleportation ward. It was too dangerous to move the girls in his Qinglong form and, knowing there was a chance he would come across Alexa on the return trip, Vahn decided to play it safe and use a more stable means of transferring the girls back to the City. It would take a massive amount of energy to complete the transfer but he had an excess of materials that had been stockpiling as a result of the time he spent traveling to Telskyura. Though he could only perform such a distant teleportation a few times, making a single trip wouldn’t put much of a dent in his perpetually growing material reserves…
With things wrapping up rather quickly back in the Far East, Vahn spent a bit of time consoling Shizune before inevitably asking, “Do you still want to search for the One-Eyed Black Dragon, or shall we return to the surface and take it easy for a little while…?” Though Shizune’s magic was actually more powerful when she felt negative emotions, Vahn didn’t want her to push herself since there was simply no need to do so. They had plenty of time to prepare for the battle against the One-Eyed Black Dragon and, even though he may be busy in the next few days, Vahn could still make time to accompany them with one of his bodies.
Not wanting to have wasted Vahn’s time, Shizune spent a few more seconds in silence before finally separating from him as she replied, “At the very least, we should map between the 71st and 73rd Floors before returning. Even if we don’t find the One-Eyed Black Dragon, just knowing one path forward will save a lot of time in the future…besides, we can just find a ‘safe’ area before sending my shadows out to search for us. As long as you can provide me with enough mana, I can easily create a few thousand shadows without having to take any risks…” Shizune almost added that she could even use her shadows to harvest magic cores to create new shadows, even stronger than her current ones, but Vahn was already aware of this simple fact. This was how she had increased her ‘army’ to such an extreme size in a short period of time, to the point she had long exceeded the critical amount necessary to be a literal one-woman army…
Understanding Shizune’s intent, Vahn gave a small nod before picking up her rather light body into his arms. This caused Shizune’s eyes to briefly widen before she smiled happily moments later and nuzzled her face against his chest. Ais gave a very small pout in response to this but, after sending her a short telepathic message, she also had a small smile on her face as the trio made their way towards the entrance to the 71st Floor. It didn’t take long for them to leave the area containing the statue and its mirror artifact, causing Vahn and company to miss the small smile that had appeared on the statue’s face as it seemed to follow their exit with its eyes. The surface of the mirror emanated a vibrant white light before showing a crystal clear image of Vahn back in the Far East, closely following his every action as he drew out the structure of the teleportation ward…
(A/N: Today’s chapter is very short due to time constraints. I almost didn’t have time to write one but decided to pump one out quickly (53 mins) since I know that I ‘missed’ a day only recently. If there are typos and errors, I will try to fix them when I can get back to my computer. Once again, thank you for your patience and I hope you can bear with me until the Summer season has come to an end. By the time August comes around, EPIC will be my primary focus until it is COMPLETELY finished.)
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Vile Vixen…!’,’Shizune can be a bit ‘extreme’ at times…’,’Sneaky Statue OwO…’)
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