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After seeing off Shiroyasha and escorting Mordred back to her Community, Vahn encountered Leticia, Heng'e, Mirajane, and, somewhat surprisingly, Nono en route to his recently constructed Throne Room.
"Good morning, girls. My day just got 400% better."
In response to Vahn's greeting, the first three girls, each dressed as Maids, offered polite bows, replying, "Good morning, Master." As for Nono, she returned a faint smile before performing a half-hearted curtsy and saying, "I had a dream about you last night." in her characteristically gentle and soothing tone.
Raising his brows, Vahn remarked, "Oh…?" as he extended his arm for Nono to grasp. She happily did so while the other three girls exchanged glances with each other before promptly returning to their respective duties. Such interplay always made Vahn feel a little awkward, but, now that he had reclaimed his status as an Emperor, he was doing his best to get used to it.
Speaking aloud the thoughts that Vahn had elected to keep hidden, Nono craned her head up at him and asked, "Are you lonely…?"
Without needing to consider his response, Vahn shook his head, gently patting the hand Nono was using to cling to his arm as he explained, "Let's just say I've never been fond of formalities between close family, friends, and lovers. Even if I'm an Emperor, a Sage, a God, or something even greater, it doesn't change that fact I'm still me…"
Not sure how she should respond to Vahn's words, Nono simply hummed before leaning her head against his shoulder and closing her eyes. If he was feeling lonely, she would do her best to stay as close as possible to put him at ease.
Understanding Nono's thoughts, a low chuckle emanated from Vahn's throat before he enjoyed the remainder of their journey in silence.
Similar to the one he had constructed back in Avalon, Vahn's newest Throne Room was circular in shape. It also had a tiered gallery, but, unlike the previous one, there were seven tiers representing the various Gates of the Little Garden. If you looked at it from above, the room served as a current and constantly updating map that showed the position and Gate number of each and every single Community.
Though most people wouldn't understand the purpose of the room's layout, those that did would quickly become solemn. Some thought he was mad, but, recalling the words Indra had spoken near the end of the Gift Game, none were brave enough to voice their thoughts aloud…
Seemingly oblivious to the chamber's oppressive ambiance, Nono accompanied Vahn all the way to his Throne before unhesitantly taking a seat next to him. This earned her an appreciative smile from Vahn, who, taking advantage of the fact they were alone, leaned in to plant a chaste but lasting kiss on his lips.
Though her reactions lacked any sort of vigor, Nono's heart was aflutter as she happily reciprocated Vahn's affection. It had been months since she made the 'selfish' decision to entrust every aspect of their relationship to him. Most of that time had been spent studying healing and sleeping alongside members of the Eurasia Family. She had basically become an honorary member of said family, so, as time passed, her personality and aura had gained an ethereal, dream-like quality…
Separating after nearly twenty minutes, Vahn took a moment to admire Nono's panting expression before brushing aside her sweat-dampened bangs and asking, "You mentioned something about a dream? It must have been quite something for you to leave your bedchamber…"
Nodding her head nearly thirty seconds later, Nono took a moment to nestle closer to Vahn's chest before whispering, "It's difficult to explain…I didn't actually see you. It was more like you were there with me…almost like you were seeing the world through my eyes…"
Despite a number of objectively terrifying memories appearing along the periphery of her thoughts, Nono's aura remained as calm and placid as the surface of a subterranean lake. Even in the midst of the incredibly realistic dream, she never once felt as though she was in danger. So long as Vahn was nearby, she knew there was nothing in this world that could harm her.
"I saw it…a being of pure destruction…three heads bound by stakes…wings of pure darkness…skin whiter than bone…red eyes that could pierce through the veil of all things…"
Opening her eyes, a hazy glow could be seen emanating from the depths of Nono's aquamarine eyes as she appended, "It looked straight at me…through me…"
For the first time since she began her recounting, Nono's voice and aura wavered. She wasn't truly afraid, but, recalling the creature's gaze, she couldn't help feeling exposed and vulnerable. Even in the literal heart of the Aldrnari Empire, she could still feel its gaze upon her…
Noticing something that Nono couldn't, Vahn reached his hand between her still-developing yet already extraordinary breasts. Instead of grasping at them, however, he extended his hand into her body without her notice. Immediately thereafter, the feeling that she was being watched faded from Nono's mind as Vahn removed what could best be described as a parasitic tumor attached to her fate.
As the mystical light faded from her eyes, Nono looked down to find Vahn's hand buried in the center of her chest. A hint of confusion flickered across her face before shifting into a naturally seductive smile as she looked up and purred, "Naughty…" in the type of voice that would send shivers through a person's spine.
Retracting his hand from Nono's chest, Vahn bent down to plant another kiss on her lips before whispering, "You really know how to bring out the beast in me…"
Instead of responding to Vahn with words of her own, Nono guided his hand to her left breast before playfully snapping her teeth. She may have developed the habit of letting him take the lead but that didn't mean she would just lay there and do nothing. Rather, the moment Vahn managed to flip her switch, Nono could become exceptionally proactive. It was almost as though she spent the majority of the time they were apart storing energy…
Following his unplanned tryst with Nono, Vahn was lost in thought regarding the parasite he had found in her body. It wasn't difficult to imagine where it had come from, but, knowing there were still methods people could use to influence the people he cared about, Vahn couldn't help feeling annoyed.
"I never imagined a day might come where someone was able to touch my bottom line without even existing…"
(*At least you were able to notice it before it could mature into something legitimately threatening. Now you can coordinate with Da Vinci to develop countermeasures.*)
Though he nodded his head in response to Sis's words, Vahn's mood didn't improve. Even if he and Da Vinci were able to develop a means to safeguard every single person affiliated with the Aldrnari Empire, that still left trillions of people as potential hosts for the 'parasite' he rightly associated with the Demon God. So long as a single person carried the 'parasite' within them, the Demon God was fated to return no matter how many times it was killed, defeated, or sealed.
(*Sounds like your only options are to seal it away or reach the pinnacle of existence and eliminate it directly.*)
Nodding his head a second time, the image of Enkidu briefly appeared in Vahn's mind. As far as he knew, there was absolutely nothing on par with his Limit Broken Enkidu in terms of its ability to seal. The only caveat was that it simply didn't feel 'right' to use his Enkidu in such a manner. It was more than capable of sealing the Demon God, but, based on its 'temperament', Vahn knew it wouldn't be particularly enthused if he used it for such a purpose.
As strange as it sounded, Enkidu seemed more interested in binding women and rectifying fertility issues than sealing away Vahn's enemies. It didn't help that the latter genuinely disdained the very notion of sealing people away or imprisoning them for all eternity.
Though he was confident that Enkidu would comply if he forced the issue, Vahn was unwilling to burden the ever-faithful chain with such a responsibility. Neither of them would be comfortable with such an arrangement, so, after a prolonged period of deliberation, Vahn exhaled a tired sigh before shaking his head and muttering, "Whatever…so long as I can shove him back into the seal when he awakens, I should be able to buy more than enough time to reach the pinnacle…"
With others managing to seal the Demon God on more than one occasion, Vahn was absolutely confident he could do the same. He was pretty sure that Izayoi and the other Problem Children were supposed to be the ones to defeat him. Considering their current levels, there was even a chance that Vahn may not even need to act. Any reasonably powerful member of his Community could 'fodder' all three Problem Children with relative ease.
Feeling a little better about the situation, Vahn allowed the flow of time to return to normal. He had effectively separated himself from the Principal Axis in order to afford himself a functionally infinite amount of time to think. Now that he had organized his thoughts, he was ready to tackle the sixty-three audiences scheduled for the first half of the day…
Though she lamented being forced to stand in a queue like some common riff-raff, Amaterasu did her best to appear calm and dignified as she awaited her turn for an audience with Vahn.
Fortunately, while most recently risen powerhouses would go out of their way to put on airs and drag things out, Vahn didn't seem particularly concerned with such pressure tactics. Barely a minute would pass between the moment an individual first entered his Throne Room and the moment they returned. More importantly, everyone that emerged would invariably have a smile or a considerably relieved expression on their face.
After the fiasco regarding Nanako, Amaterasu wouldn't be surprised if Vahn decided to hold a grudge. Had their positions been reversed, she would have readily forced him to beg and grovel in exchange for her forgiveness. Even then, the chances of her actually forgiving him were very nearly zero.
Banking on the fact that Vahn was considerably more magnanimous than she, Amaterasu waited a few weeks for tensions to die down before requesting an audience. She doubted he would forgive her immediately, but, so long as she demonstrated her sincerity and a genuine desire to cooperate, there was a good chance they could work something out.
Assuring herself that everything was going to be okay, Amaterasu's back straightened even further when her name was called. Her nervousness intensified as she drew closer to the Throne Room, but, compared to the pressure she experienced within the actual chamber, it was like exiting an area of zero gravity only to find yourself in the deepest depths of the abyss.
"Hmmm? I thought I sensed you waiting outside. You are incredibly brazen to enter this place of your own accord…"
Recovering her senses in response to Vahn's words, Amaterasu swallowed the knot forming in her throat before attempting to lower herself to the ground. Instead, an invisible force prevented her from doing so as Vahn commented, "I am not your God and you owe me no loyalty. Now, tell me, what compelled you to visit me so soon after our previous encounter…?"
Feeling another knot forming in her throat, Amaterasu made several attempts to clear it before ultimately giving up and replying, "I came seeking to make amends for my past behavior…now that I have had the opportunity to better understand the situation, I have come to understand just how foolish my actions were…"
Surprising Amaterasu, Vahn rolled his eyes in response to her words before waving his hand and saying, "That is usually the case when people allow their ego to guide their decisions. Due to the perceived difference in our status, you allowed your arrogance to blind you. Well, lucky for you, I don't really care about such things. So long as you stay away from my bottom line, you are free to live and act however you please. Just remember the warning I gave you prior to ripping you into pieces. Every action has consequences. For those who believe themselves beyond reproach, I am that consequence…"
Without waiting for Amaterasu's response, Vahn waved his hand to deposit her near the exit of the hallway leading up to his Throne Room. Shock briefly marred her face, but, shortly thereafter, it was replaced by the same expression of relief exhibited by every other person that had come seeking to apologize for past grievances. She was a little upset by Vahn's casual dismissal, but, knowing there were no hard feelings between them, Amaterasu exited the hall with significantly less anxiety than she had entered it…
The Sage Dragon Emperor was truly magnanimous…
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Nono behaves like such a stoner…','Evil is not so easily subdued…','You know you messed up when you have Kemonomimi and Vahn didn't even try to pet you…')
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