Chapter 987: Fate…?

Now that Vahn had placed conquering the Dungeon as his highest priority, there were several small matters he needed to attend before he could fully focus on the historic task. Fortunately, because of how young his Empire was, there weren’t any major events taking place that required his full attention. Many of the dignitaries that had thrown their lot in with him had already left the City, this time under the protection of the HDF, while those who had been marked for ‘removal’ were being shadowed by Chloe’s Shadow Corps. Only a few had actually come forward to accept responsibility for their crimes while the majority of such people were still clinging to some small hope of taking advantage of the situation or avoiding repercussions. As for their ultimate fate, Vahn expected he would find a report on his desk at some point that detailed, very briefly, their execution or imprisonment…

Fare more important, at least from Vahn’s perspective, were the matters related to the existence of Shizune’s cousin and, after having been informed of the situation by Jeanne, Helen. The former had been formally introduced to her distant relative and, though things were a bit awkward between them, it didn’t seem like Kiyone was in any real danger. Due to her age, there was a fair chance she would be able to forget the tragic experience she had been forced through without any significant aftereffects. With the assistance of Preasia, she wouldn’t even have to worry about having nightmares in the future since everyone who received long-term treatment from the relatively famous ‘Fluffy Saintess’ had reported a stark increase in their own ability to manipulate their dreams, experiencing a lucidity that only those who had entered the Dreamscape could ever hope to achieve.

With Shizune showing a great deal of concern for her young cousin, combined with the fact that Anubis seemed to have taken over the responsibility of raising Kiyone, Vahn knew he didn’t have to worry too much about the young Kitsune. Infinitely more troublesome was the matter of Helen who, for the first time after settling in Spero, used the underground tunnels that connected to the Manor in order to pay a ‘surprise’ visit. Vahn had been in the middle of listening to Ina give an explanation of her latest creation when he sensed two massive auras moving in the underground passages below. Though neither was hostile, it had still caught his attention since it was an ‘abnormal’ situation that he hadn’t been expecting to occur.

Always paying close attention to her Papa’s reactions, as she had been trying to impress him, Ina noticed his focus shift away from her almost instantly. She set aside the ornate gauntlet in her hand, a slight frown on her face as she asked, “Are you leaving…?” Even as she asked the question, Ina’s eyes had already turned kaleidoscopic as she peered into her own future to see what would occur. Vahn gave a wry smile in response before pulled a thin cloak out of his Inventory and setting it around Ina’s shoulders before pulling her into a hug. She didn’t put up any resistance at all and just enjoyed the moment for a few seconds before releasing a small sigh and saying, “I’ll be in my workshop for the rest of the day so please stop by if you’re not busy…”

Vahn knew Ina’s words were her way of ‘manipulating’ the outcome of her visions as, with the passage of time, she had become increasingly familiar with her rather unique Innate. Since he had every intention of returning to spend more time with this adorable daughter of his, Vahn had no inhibitions at all when he stroked her platinum blonde hair and said, “Of course. I already have a good idea about what Helen wants to discuss so it shouldn’t take much time…You should-” Before he was able to continue his words, Helen snorted through her nose, breaking free from the hug as she complained, “Even if I look like this, I’m not even four years old, Papa. You shouldn’t be harping over such things so soon…!”

Having been taught the unique forging techniques of Hephaestus and Tsubaki, Ina had long ago picked up the habits of the latter, much to Vahn’s increasing worry. She was already at the point where her physical appearance was nearing full maturity, giving her the appearance of a young woman around seventeen years of age. Though she hadn’t taken after her mother completely, unlike Vana, Ina still had more than enough charm to almost instantly captivate the heart of any ‘sensible’ man that laid eyes on her. Vahn didn’t have any such feelings but, seeing his daughter wearing nothing but a glorified sports bra and a pair of small shorts, especially when her slightly tanned skin was covered in sweat, always made him feel a mixture of awkwardness and concern. This was the reason why he had pulled out a cloak to cover her before they hugged as, even though he knew it wasn’t something he should mind, Vahn wanted to avoid having Ina develop the personality trait of not minding her decency just because he was around…

Without a retort to Ina’s words, Vahn just allowed his smile to become gentle as he crossed his arms and lightly shook his head. Ina produced a pouting expression when she saw this but, knowing he was about to leave, it didn’t last too long before she released a sigh and said, “I suppose I’m not your average child…” As much as she wanted her Papa to spoil her, Ina knew he was just trying to do what he thought was best, even if she didn’t outright agree with the methods he had chosen…

Though she had been receiving an education from the women in the Manor, Ina never fully understood why she had to care about such things as, no matter how often she thought about leaving the Manor, there didn’t seem to be anything for her in the ‘outside’ world. The two people she cared about the most were here, most of the time, while everyone else in the Manor treated her with extreme kindness and understanding. Every time she had looked into the future to see what might await her, Ina would have a frown on her face since there seemed to be an endless number of frivolous and shallow men trying to mislead her with words and take advantage of her. As a result, Ina had actually started to harbor a small hatred for men in the ‘outside’ as, compared to her Papa, everyone else seemed incredibly boorish. This was especially true for the few ‘gods’ that had appeared within her vision, something that had disgusted her so much that Ina had no choice but to ‘complain’ to her Second Mother, Loki, about…

Considering the matter settled, as he couldn’t see the aura possessed by any of his children, Vahn lightly rubbed Ina’s head before giving her a small peck on the forehead and departing the workshop. Ina followed his departure with her eyes until he had completely exited the room before, moments later, the sound of a hammer could once again be heard echoing through the corridors. Once the door closed behind him, this sound vanished in its entirety but, knowing that his daughter was once again hard at work, Vahn felt strangely gratified and proud. If Hephaestus had been the one to hear the hammer strikes, however, her expression would have been one of exasperation and empathy for her daughter’s plight…

Without making any detours, Vahn proceeded towards the ‘central hub’ beneath the Manor, a large circular room that had several passages leading to different buildings that were of significance to the Alliance. Jeanne and Helen had been waiting there for him as, even though the latter’s understanding of Vahn was still rather shallow, Jeanne had been closely observing the man she called ‘Lord’. She knew he would be aware of their presence long before they even reached the Manor proper so, instead of causing an incident by escorting Helen upstairs, she had her friend wait on a small stone bench as the two awaited Vahn’s inevitable arrival.

Upon entering into the heavily reinforced stone chamber, Vahn experienced a small shock as, compared to the past, he didn’t feel any particular ‘pause’ upon witnessing Helen. In fact, though she was still awe-inspiringly beautiful, Vahn felt like he had an extreme level of clarity compared to the past as, even without activating his [Will of the Emperor], it seemed to be passively preventing any abnormal sway in his thoughts. With this, Vahn could conclude that the mental resistances granted to him by his most reliable Innate had also received a large increase, causing him to produce a casual and confident smile to took both beautiful women by surprise. This was especially true for Helen who, for the first time since meeting Vahn, felt strangely ‘afraid’ after seeing him smile in such a manner…

Jeanne snapped out of her momentary stupor much faster than Helen but, instead of bowing as she often would in the past, she instinctually took a knee while greeting, “Thank you for granting us with your presence, your Majesty…” The moment she realized what she was doing, Jeanne blinked in surprise but, feeling that her actions were actually very ‘natural’, she dismissed her slight unease in an instant upon hearing Vahn casually utter, “Rise, Helen…tell me, to what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit…?” In response to this, almost as if she were compelled by some unseen force, Jeanne rose to her feet before immediately explaining, “Your Majesty, due to the significance of your next venture, this one had wanted to-“

Feeling slightly uneasy with Jeanne’s overly polite speech, Vahn raised his hand to interrupt her words before stating in a firm tone, “When we are not in an official setting, dismiss with such formalities. Though you may soon hold the status of the ‘Imperial Shield’, you do not need to lower yourself unnecessarily. After all, if there is to be true trust between us, I would rather practice mutual understanding and respect as, compared to subservience, it is infinitely more important that the people I entrust with the most important duties are those I genuinely respect.” Since Jeanne was given the official duty of protecting his family, Vahn adamantly refused to treat her as some simple servant or knight. Though Terra and Yggy were perfectly capable of protecting the Manor on their own, Jeanne’s power would be instrumental in guaranteeing his children were safe when they decided to venture out into the City in the future…

Taking a deep breath that caused her relatively modest breasts to protrude outward pridefully, Jeanne allowed a smile to adorn her uniquely beautiful face. If not for the presence of Helen, Vahn felt he might even be charmed by such a pristine smiling expression but, even with his [Will of the Emperor] shielding him from Helene’s influence, it was nearly impossible to compare the two side-by-side. Though Helen had a complete lack of expression, simply being in her presence made the rest of the world almost feel as though it had lost color. It was almost as if the world itself ‘refused’ to even try and compete with her ‘Innate’ beauty, giving way to her cold and apathetic visage without contest…

Without waiting for Jeanne to fully recover her senses, Vahn gave her a small nod before turning his attention to Helen and asking, “I suppose you also wish to accompany me when I enter into the Dungeon, yes…?” Though Jeanne had yet to explain the situation, Vahn could only imagine a few scenarios that would lead to Helen coming to him personally. Each of these related to a request and, given her nature, Vahn knew any request of Helen’s would undoubtedly relate to the ‘fate’ she had assigned herself. She was someone who had bound herself intrinsically with the fate she believed had been assigned to her, something Vahn simply couldn’t understand since he often did his best to go directly against such concepts. Even though he had tried to ‘free’ her on several occasions, Jeanne had shielded both her heart and mind to outside assistance, to the point she didn’t seem capable of ever moving forward.

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Having already recovered from her very momentary shock, Helen gave a small nod in response to Vahn’s question before bowing politely as she stated, “Though you may not believe my assistance is required, I believe my presence will be necessary if you wish to conquer the Dungeon…” Since she also had an interest in the mirror Vahn had discovered, Helen wanted to accompany Vahn at least once. She had a lot of time to think after their last meeting and, after considering each of his words seriously, Helen had ‘convinced’ herself that her fate was entwined with the Dungeon. Each of the questions he had asked her had been, in her mind, distorted to reflect the inescapable fate she believed had been assigned to her from ‘creation’. Now that Vahn was going to be venturing into the lowest Floors of the Dungeon, Helen had convinced herself that it was her ‘fate’ to accompany him as, even though Vahn seemed to genuinely believe he didn’t need her help, Helen ‘knew’ her presence would be necessary if he wanted to overcome whatever trials awaited him…

Though his first instinct was to shut down Helen completely, as he was absolutely certain her presence wouldn’t be required, Vahn eventually nodded his head in approval of Helen’s request. Since she hadn’t listened to his words during their previous meetings, Vahn decided this would be a good opportunity to prove to her, without any shadow of a doubt, how foolish her mentality was. Even if Nuwa had orchestrated things to put Helen into a position where she would become the ‘key’ to someone else’s rise to godhood, Vahn had no such need for assistance. Nuwa, as powerful as she may be, could spend several iterations of eternity without ever reaching even a fraction of The Path’s true power. She was easily one of the most powerful Goddesses within this world, if not the most powerful, but that still only made her the most powerful in a record that, in the grand scheme of things, was entirely inconsequential…

Having expected Vahn to refuse her, Helen was slightly taken aback by his quick assent before the gears in her mind shifted to ‘align’ things in accordance with her skewed perspective. She quickly convinced herself that he had seen reason and, as prideful as he may be, Vahn wasn’t a fool that would refuse her assistance without due consideration for the negative consequences his hubris could bring. This caused Vahn’s impression upon her heart to transition towards a favorable direction, allowing Helen to profer forward a small smile in lieu of words. Seeing that Vahn was seemingly unaffected by her rare display of emotion, Helen’s smile became even more natural before she gave a polite bow and said, “I will now go to make my preparations. Please inform me when you are ready to leave, Vahn…”

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Completely ignoring the small flash of white skin as Helen bowed, Vahn turned his attention back to Jeanne as he said, “We’ll likely be departing tomorrow morning. Now, as I have a prior arrangement, I’ll be excusing myself. Please, take care of yourselves until our next meeting…” Though Vahn directed his words towards both girls, Jeanne misconstrued things to mean, ‘protect Helen for me’, while Helen had twisted them to mean, ‘things will be inconvenient if something happens to you before the time arrives’. As a result, Jeanne gave a full salute, exclaiming, “Leave it to me, your Majesty…!” while Helen gained a resolute light in her eyes as she gave a small yet determined nod in response. Vahn didn’t really know what to make of their responses so he just shook his head with a bemused smile on his face before exiting the rather cold and dull chamber…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Preasia, the Fluffy Saintess (UwU)…!’,’RIP, Ina’s love life…’,’Helen is an eight-hundred-year-old Chuuni…’)

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