Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos Chapter 1448
After refusing Benienma's offer to stay in her premium suite, several times, Vahn eventually managed to convince the 'young' Proprietress to show them to Shirou. She had tried insisting that her guests not be disturbed, but, after asking how long Shirou had checked in for, she 'begrudgingly' led the way.
Though Benienma wouldn't make her guests leave, she couldn't force them to stay longer than they had checked in for. The hard part was 'remembering' how long you had been inside, as, despite only a few hours passing from your perspective, days, weeks, or even months could pass in the outside world. There had even been instances where humans wandered into a Yokai district for what felt like a few days, only to discover decades had passed since they were 'spirited away'.
All the while Benienma was leading the way, Vahn was having a staring contest with the spherical sparrow that was sitting atop her head. It was a curious yokai that seemed to possess an amorphous body, allowing it to freely pivot its 'face' without having to move around. This was enough to creep out Artoria, but, as he 'technically' possessed an amorphous form, Vahn was just stared back at the tiny 'sparrow' with a casual smile on his face...
Following Benienma's lead, the group arrived outside one of the premium suites, which, until they were standing outside, completely blocked even Vahn's perception. Privacy, or, more accurately, isolation, seemed to be one of the key selling points of the Enma-tei. Until the door was opened, it was almost like the interior was in a completely isolated world, a feature Vahn was intending to learn more about when time allowed. For now, he just stared pointedly at Musashi and Shirou, the latter showing an expression of surprise while the former was half-naked, nursing a large gourd of sake in her embrace...
Though he had already seen this scene, Vahn still ran his hand through his hair, taking a deep breath to keep calm before saying, "You know, I promised you wouldn't like it if I was required to 'convince' your group. Should I consider your inability to complete a simple task a declaration of war...?"
Hearing Vahn's words, Shirou's wry smile turned into a serious expression, his face paling slightly as he answered, "It doesn't have to come to that. I expected something like this might happen so I met with most of our group prior to my stay here. Most of us are in agreement...as for the rest, we will try to deal with them on our own."
As he had spent the previous two days gleaning insights into the future, Vahn couldn't simply take Shirou's words at face value. Thus, rather than beat around the bush, he simply asked, "Who is the man with golden hair and the woman protecting him? If I'm not wrong, they should be Jason and the Goddess Chang'e..."
Even without Shirou answering, Vahn knew he had hit the nail on the head based solely on the man's complexion. With this knowledge at his disposal, he raised his hand to silence Shirou, a cold glint in his eyes as he said, "I have already made my decision regarding that man's fate. You needn't concern yourself with him any longer. As for Chang'e...she was never going to be a combatant on your side. I will provide you with a supplemental Heroic Spirit to replace Jason, someone that should be able to pacify that Goddess' wrath."
Vahn didn't know why Chang'e was so fond of Jason, but, if he had to guess, it was solely due to the fact he had tried to court her. She seemed to be the kind of person that dedicated herself wholly to the person that tried to win her favor, albeit with the unfortunate side-effect of isolating them from everyone else. It could have been virtually anyone, and, until Jason was dealt with, she would use all of her power to support him. This would have made him a surprisingly dangerous opponent three years ago, but, at his current level, Vahn was confident in dealing with Jason in an instant.
After hearing Vahn mention 'dealing' with Jason, Musashi's eyes rolled forward, her drunken state rapidly fading away as she stated, "You should leave Jason to us. There is a lot of resentment in our group regarding him, so, as strange as it might seem, dealing with him will be the glue that binds us all together."
While she had been speaking, Musashi casually fixed her disheveled yukata, not minding the fact that Vahn, Artoria, and a silent Benienma were watching. She was many things, but a shy person was not one of them. If she was bothered by such things, she would wear a sarashi to bind her chest and an outfit that covered more skin, rather than a modified kimono that exposed her back and showed off a large portion of her thighs...
In response to Musashi's statement, Vahn met her gaze, a stern look visible in his eyes as he stated, "I don't remember leaving it open for discussion. We have had two negotiations prior to this, both ending in my opinion of your group lowering slightly. I have already decided to deal with this matter, making it a personal affair of the Empire. If you want to bond over something, travel around helping people or try to come up with a scheme to get back at me. Even if Jason is disgusting, he is still your former ally. If you try to unify everyone else against him, you'll be planting the seed of doubt in the minds of your other companions..."
Musashi was annoyed at the first half of Vahn's words, but, hearing the reasoning in the latter half, the words that had been forming on the tip of her tongue ended up being swallowed. Vahn was the type that went at his own pace but, based on his words and actions, he was also the type that put a significant amount of thought into everything he did. He seemed to be in control of everything, even trespassing Yokai territory without any discernible difficulty...
While Musashi still seemed to be at a loss as to how she should respond, Vahn turned his attention to Benienma, causing the petite Yokai to perk up as she asked, "Is there something, Kyaku-sama? If I can be of service, please, leave it to me-dechi...!"
As this was his first time hearing Benienma's verbal tick, Vahn blinked in surprise, a smile spreading across his face as he resisted the urge to pat her head and answered, "Please inform the Master of the mountain we will be along shortly. Also, so you don't end up harming yourself, my official title is Sage Dragon Emperor. You may simply refer to me as Ten'n-sama."
Since 'identity' was a very important commodity within Yokai society, Benienma's improper method of addressing him could actually be used against her. Considering the presumed status of the other Yokai inside, leaving her uninformed would be unnecessary cruelty, one that could result in her own identity being 'stolen' as a result. The master of the mountain seemed to be strong enough to keep everyone in line, but, seeing how Shirou and Musashi had been ensnared, it was pretty obvious she didn't completely inhibit their mischief.
Hearing Vahn's words, Benienma's eyes became round as saucers, but, more noticeably, the beak on her forehead had opened slightly. This peculiarity piqued Vahn's curiosity, his instincts as a master of the [Hands of Nirvana] compelling him to learn the secrets of a Yokai's body. Now was neither the time nor the place, however, so he just offered a polite smile while waiting for the petite sparrow to recover her senses.
After several long seconds, Benienma seemed to process his words, resulting in her bowing nearly ninety degrees as she exclaimed, "Forgive me, Ten'n-sama! I have been rude to you-dechi...!!"
Seeing how Benienma reacted, Vahn was tempted to inform her that Artoria was also an Empress, but, as it seemed like she might genuinely collapse, he elected to stop teasing her. Instead, he shook his head slightly, saying, "You needn't worry about such things. Now, please convey my message to your Master. I'm certain she is already expecting us..."
Hearing Vahn's reminder, Benienma showed an exaggerated expression of surprise and, after a series of deep bows, she frantically stammered, "T-t-thank you for your clemency, Ten'n-sama! Leave it to Benienma-dechi! I will inform Raikou-sama of your arrival this instant-dechi...!!"
After another deep bow, this time exceeding ninety degrees, Benienma quickly spun around on her geta before scampering off down the impossibly long corridor. It took her less than a second before she was no longer in view, leaving nothing but a few scattered feathers to indicate her departure. It was a rather amusing sight, forcing Vahn to restrain a laugh as Artoria muttered, "She is an excitable child, isn't she...?"
Answering Artoria's question, Musashi took it upon herself to explain, "Don't let her appearance fool you. The form Yokai take is used to deceive humans, not represent things like age. Beni-chan might look like an adorable little girl but she is actually around130-300 years old, if I remember correctly?"
Since she had looked toward him for confirmation, Shirou nodded her head, adding, "The tale of the Tongue Cut Sparrow was originally published in 1885, but it was derived from an old wives tale that originated in the early seventeen-hundreds. Like Musashi said, you shouldn't let the appearance of a Yokai fool you. A number end up taking the form of children or young women to exploit the gaps in a person's mentality. This gives them a few weaknesses associated with normal humans, but, if you can't see through their true nature, even damaging a Yokai is difficult...well, that last part probably doesn't apply to either of you."
Due to the nature of Yokai, they were exceptionally weak to things like the Holy Element and Sealing, effectively making Artoria a hard-counter to even the most powerful of their kind. Rather, due to her existence as one of the pillars that supported the Surface world, there weren't many foes that could even hope to damage her. As for Vahn...well, his existence itself was an anomaly, his capabilities hard to even conceptualize, let alone comprehend...
Unaware of what Shirou was thinking, Vahn still had a casual smile on his face as he asked, "Will the two of you be joining us? It doesn't really matter, either way, but your presence could make things go a little smoother. If not, you should patiently wait outside this territory. I'm not weak enough to get ensnared by the tricks of a few Yokai so you shouldn't be kept waiting too long."
Since things quickly became troublesome whenever he had to deal with Yokai, Shirou refused Vahn's offer to attend what he imagined to be an 'eventful' banquet. As for Musashi, she was actually very tempted to join, but, knowing Shirou would be left to wait alone, potentially for hours, it was difficult for her to decide. They were supposed to be on the same side, so, if she abandoned him in order to enjoy a few more drinks, it would be a 'little' difficult to face him later...
Instead of waiting for the duo to make their decision, Vahn lightly shook his head, saying, "If you get stuck in here, that is your own problem." before turning away, Artoria following close behind.
With Vahn's reminder, Shirou and Musashi quickly alighted from the room, choosing to follow him to the entrance. The Enma-tei's interior could become an inescapable maze if you let your mind wander so, while Musashi wouldn't have any trouble escaping, 'remembering' to escape could be an issue if they were left alone. Fortunately, as a Divine and Heroic Spirit, they could easily manifest clothing to replace their yukatas without having to wait for Benienma to return their original attire.*
After exiting through the ryokan's back entrance, a small pavilion that connected to the path leading up the mountain, Vahn gave a curt nod to Musashi and Shirou, saying, "We're going." before linking his arm with Artoria's. This action wasn't missed by Shirou, causing him to observe their departure in silence while Musashi, having made up her mind, eventually said, "I'll follow them. At least one of us should keep an eye on them, especially when they are dealing with the more troublesome members of our group. What will you do...?"
Hearing Musashi's statement, Shirou inhaled through his nose, his expression returning to normal as he answered, "I'll wait outside. You know I can't deal with Raikou, Shuten, and Kiyohime. Besides, my instincts are telling me to stay far away from that banquet..."
Recalling how Raikou had 'persistently' tried to get him to address her as Mother, with a crazed look in her eyes, a shiver passed through Shirou's body. She gave off a more dangerous impression than everyone else in her group, so, while she was actually a very kind and caring person, on the surface, it wasn't a good idea to get involved with her.
With his mind made up, Shirou gave a curt nod toward Musashi before vanishing into thin air, his presence disappearing along with him. This caused Musashi to issue a light chuckle, amused by how quickly he fled. She understood his concerns, as Raikou even scared her a little, but such tension was the 'spice of life'. There were few things as exhilarating as trying to keep your calm while surrounded by some of the most terrifying monsters in Japanese folklore, so, while she anticipated things going south, there was no way Musashi would miss the show.
Without putting further thought into it, Musashi quickly caught up to location of Vahn and Artoria, following a few paces behind them so as not to interrupt the 'rosy atmosphere' that had surrounded them...
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Benienma invites you to stay as her guest...forever ()...','The burden of memories inherited from another...','Musashi, fearless...or foolish?')
*(A/N: Due to the 'etiquette' of a ryokan, guests are encouraged to wear yukatas -informal kimonos- to emphasize the fact they are there to relax.)
https://bit.ly/2XBzAYu <-(p.atreon link)
Discord Invite: https://discord.gg/Jwa8PKh