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Before escorting Tamamo and Kenshin to their encampment, Vahn joined the two girls in watching the destruction of Kotoamatsukami's planet.
As outlandish as it may sound, witnessing the destruction of a planet was a strangely grounding experience. It was something very few people were able to observe directly, so, whenever he got the opportunity, Vahn would find a nice vantage point to observe the planet's final moments. He was gradually becoming the type of person that found beauty in all things, even destruction…
Before dealing with the planets belonging to the Akuma and TrÄyastriá¹Åa Communities, Vahn decided to wrap things up with Karyou.
After suffering defeat at the hands, or, more accurately, the fur-covered paws of Usalia, Karyou had been brooding and recovering at the center of her planet. Her first action near the start of the Gift Game had been setting her planet ablaze and destroying each of the Teleportation Nexi. As a result, the only way for most people to reach her core was to bore through nearly 6000km of molten stone and metal.
Ignoring the wards Karyou had set to prevent it, Vahn teleported just outside of her throne room before adopting a wry smile as he stared up at the massive, superheated metal doors marking the entrance to a domain of destructive flames. Karyou's last line of defense had been to fill her control room with magmous flames running from floor to ceiling. Without a tremendous resistance against them, passing through the door was like trying to trespass the core of a star.
Likening Karyou to a pouting teen that had closed themselves off in their room, Vahn made his way up to the superheated door. Even temperatures exceeding tens of millions of degrees had very little effect on him. He had also become intimately familiar with the Law of Destruction during his time in the Actualized World of Dragon Ball, so, even when a sudden and intense wave of destructive intent washed over his body, he just smiled and said, "It's me, Vahn. I don't have to come inside if you-"
Before Vahn could finish speaking, the massive set of superheated doors spontaneously opened. A tidal surge of liquid flames poured from within, but, instead of attempting to sweep him away, they flowed around him to form a channel between Vahn and the delicate, raven-haired figure seated on the throne.
"Vahn Aldrnari Mason…what do you want?"
Though it was difficult to say they were on friendly terms, Karyou had always been the type to repay her debts. This included debts of charity and kindness, so, with Vahn coming to her aid and helping to preserve her dignity, Karyou felt she owed it to him to at least hear him out.
Crossing his hand over his heart, Vahn offered a polite bow before raising his head to answer, "The Gift Game will soon draw to its conclusion. I came to inform you that your elder brother and sister have already retired. I thought it would be rude of me to-"
"Kouryuu is one thing, but you mean to tell me that Wu has been defeated? Impossible. Even if that annoying Fox Goddess made use of her Authority, she wouldn't be able to beat Wu without paying a price. Tell me, what trickery did her opponent use?"
Understanding that it would probably harm Wu's reputation if he mentioned that her planet had been destroyed by complete accident, Vahn maintained a relaxed smile as he explained, "Wu was not defeated in a contest of speed, strength, or wit. Her planet was suddenly destroyed while she was protecting someone elsewhere."
Furrowing her brows, Karyou's crimson eyes appeared to be attempting to look through Vahn. He was remarkably proficient at fooling his enemies, but, whenever it came to people he trusted or felt sorry for, his expression and aura gave him away. Karyou couldn't tell he was lying, but, feeling that something was amiss, she stated, "You aren't telling the whole truth…"
Rather than trying to refute Karyou's claim, Vahn nodded his head and affirmed, "Your intuition is telling you the truth. However, I can say with certainty that I am not withholding information with the intent to deceive or exploit. I just reasoned that it would be more appropriate for you to learn the truth from your brother and sister directly."
Sensing no falsehoods within Vahn's words, Karyou fell silent for a moment as she considered her options. Wu was significantly more caring towards her than Kouryuu, so, unlike the latter, Karyou wasn't particularly concerned that she might receive a beating. She may even receive a 'reward' if she secured a lower-digit Gate and simply swapped places with Wu once it was over.
With that thought in mind, Karyou asked, "Which Communities still remain?"
Seeing through Karyou's intentions, a wry smile developed across Vahn's face as he answered, "The Akuma, TrÄyastriá¹Åa, and Sage Dragon's Hearth Communities."
Furrowing her brows, Karyou gave up the notion of trying to secure a better position through her own efforts. Instead, she stared deep into Vahn's eyes as she asked, "Are you willfully choosing to place me beneath the Akuma Community? I was under the impression you were an ally to the Jade Palace…"
Shaking his head, Vahn adopted a more casual expression as he explained, "I am on friendly terms with the Jade Emperor, Erlang Shen, and a handful of others within the Jade Palace. However, as a Community that aspires to maintain neutrality, the Sage Dragon's Hearth does not forge alliances. We act in the interest of balance and ensuring the people of the Little Garden have the same rights as those who presume to rule over them. As fond as I am of the Jade Emperor and certain members of his court, the values of the Aldrnari Empire and the Heavenly Domain are drastically different. We have absolutely no obligation to act in their interest."
Though she kept her brows furrowed, Karyou didn't question Vahn's statement. In hindsight, she realized that the Jade Palace, or, more specifically, the members of the Jade Court would demand she hand over her lower-digit Gate. She could refuse, but, as a Community comprised of a single individual, she wouldn't be able to protect such a coveted Gate without the protection of a larger organization.
As that thought crossed Karyou's mind, so too did the words Wu had spoken to her in the weeks leading up to the Gift Game. Wu, between her ramblings, had implied that Vahn might be able to do something about her mother's injury and the corruption that was gradually spreading through her body. Karyou didn't take this seriously at the time, but, even if there was only a 0.000000001% chance that Vahn could help, it was infinitely better than nothing.
"You said I could make use of your Community's services without needing to pay, correct…?"
Recalling the conversation he and Karyou had the previous day, Vahn nodded his head. Before he could clarify, however, Karyou beat him to the punch, stating, "I need your help. Help me acquire a lower-digit Gate and I will join your Aldrnari Empire as a vassal. After that, so long as you can fulfill two of my requests…I will never refuse a single thing you ask of me…"
Though she disdained men to the very core of her being, Karyou trusted Wu's judgment. The latter never stopped talking about Vahn whenever they were together. She wasn't entirely sure what Wu saw in him, but, if Vahn really could help her mother, Karyou wouldn't mind becoming his servant…
Stopping time, Vahn took a moment to massage his temples and drag his hand along his face. Sis, viewing this as a perfect opportunity, chimed in to tease, (*Look on the bright side. As one of Wu's only friends, it was only a matter of time before you became entangled in Karyou's affairs. At least this way, you can secure the 1002nd and 1009th Gates at the same time.*)
Hearing Sis's words, Vahn's eyes widened as realization donned on him. His original intention had been to let Indra occupy the 1009th Gate. This would allow him to ease a lot of the fear and anxiety people held towards him and Aldrnari Empire as Indra was one of the original creators of the Little Garden. By demonstrating a willingness to cooperate with the existing powers, Vahn could ensure the establishment of his Empire was a lot smoother than it otherwise might be.
The caveat was that it was only a matter of time before Vahn instigated as Last Embryo scenario. In order to do so, he would need to occupy six of the Gates between the Digits of 1000 and 1010. The opportunity to seize two of these Gates in a single game wasn't something he should ignore…
Shaking his head, Vahn allowed the flow of time to resume as he calmly answered, "I am more than willing to help you even without such conditions. As much as I appreciate your intentions, I would much rather forge a contract that prohibits you from making such guarantees…no one should have to 'sacrifice' themselves just to help the people they love…"
Not expecting Vahn's response, Karyou found herself at a genuine loss for words. Anyone else in his position would have readily accepted such an offer. She may be on the shorter side but the number of people that had coveted her body could form a mountain linking the Heavens and Earth. Hearing Vahn deny her in such an earnest manner was touching, but, at the same time, Karyou couldn't help feeling mildly offended by how quickly he had refused…
Though they couldn't compare to Dragons and the Young Masters of insignificant clans, Phoenixes were among the most prideful creatures in the entire Heavenly Domain. Karyou's bloodline was far from pure, but, having never met her father, the only major influencers in her life were her mother, Wu, and her chosen siblings. Her mother was a remarkably kind person, but, as the manifestation of the Divine Phoenix, she wouldn't even look at or meet with people she considered beneath her.
Making no effort to conceal her displeasure, Karyou asked, "Is there something about me you find lacking…?"
Recalling that Vahn had seen her 'true' form, Karyou's eyes sharpened as the temperature of the surrounding flames began to increase. In response, Vahn's expression morphed into a deadpan as he concealed telepathically replied, ("Are you seriously asking me a question like despite knowing about my relationship with Wu?")
Blinking in surprise, a hint of confusion briefly appeared in Karyou's expression before realization donned upon her. She and Wu had remarkably similar proportions. If anything, she was actually a little more developed in certain regions, so, upon comprehending Vahn's words, the faintest hint of a blush colored Karyou's cheeks as she appended, "Forgive me…I may have spoken out of turn…"
Exhaling a sigh, Vahn shook his head in mild exasperation before saying, "Don't worry about it. Just make sure to stop by the Sage Dragon's Hearth when you get the opportunity. Any friend of Wu's is a friend of mine."
Nodding her head in affirmation, Karyou decided to save a bit of face by promptly announcing her intention to withdraw. When her body vanished, so too did the flames filling the throne room. The temperature was still unbearable for most people, but, from the perspective of someone like Vahn, it was actually a little chilly…
In the midst of Vahn's conversation with Karyou, a figure resembling a zombie with black and white hair appeared on the planet belonging to the Sage Dragon's Hearth.
Unperturbed by the figure's ghastly appearance, an abnormally petite girl with coordinating hair color and an outfit reminiscent of a grinning cat made her way over, saying, "You don't have to look so dispirited, Ryouma. Even if the Captain refuses to give you the time of day, you still have us."
Exhaling a depressive sigh, Ryouma looked down at the petite girl with dead fish eyes as he said, "In the end, I had to promise not to ask her out for thirteen years. I appreciate your concern, Cheshire. I really do. It's just difficult to be happy when the person you like doesn't like you back…"
Resisting the urge to smack Ryouma with her oversized, paw-shaped hammer, Cheshire forced a smile as she said, "As I said before, you still have us. I understand that you really like the Captain but you're going to make everyone sad if you stay like this. Come on. Let's go ahead and prepare for our raid. Who knows? If we do well, the Captain may even change her mind…"
Though the first half of Cheshire's statement did little to improve his mood, the final part was like fuel on the cinders of Ryouma's motivation. Infernos appeared within the depths of his obsidian-black eyes, and, along with them, a powerful aura burst out from his body as he pumped his fist and shouted, "You're right! Alright, everyone! Let's do this…!"
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'I imagine Vahn sitting in the middle of a burning room and being like, "This is fine."','What are Vahn's preferences, you ask? The easy answer is, "Yes." The best answer is, "Booty."')
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