Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos Chapter 1449
After scaling nine sets of 108 stone steps, Vahn, Artoria, and their tagalong, Musashi, reached what appeared to be a large Shinto Shrine Temple. Much of the structure was formed from wood that had been painted in reddish-orange, accented with pale gold, deep blacks, and a variety of vibrant colors to contrast the base white of the walls. As for the floor, it was all highly polished marble, embossed with the image of a serpentine dragon possessing eight heads.
It didn't take a comprehensive understanding of Japanese folklore to understand that the carving depicted the legendary Yamata-no-Orochi. This, combined with the various statues depicting other legendary monsters, made the Temple appear to be a place where monsters were worshipped, or, more accurately, enshrined. Even the murals adorning the walls appeared to depict various fables, strung together similar to a 'Parade of One-Hundred Demons'...
Taking Vahn's silent observation as an opportunity, Musashi, owing to her Japanese origin, decided to speak up, explaining, "This is the 'Friendly Demon Shrine'. Don't let the name fool you though, as, while they may appear to be friendly on the surface, the 'demons' within are more troublesome than anything else."
Hearing Musashi's remark, Vahn issued a light 'mmm' before looking over his shoulder, a deadpan expression his face as he muttered, "An interesting thing to hear from someone who has caused me quite a bit of trouble..."
As she couldn't exactly refute Vahn's words, Musashi's mouth hung open for a few seconds, closing only when the duo began moving forward again. She had wanted to warn him not to underestimate the Oni within, but, seeing how he was acting, Musashi decided to just let him dig his own grave. So long as it didn't turn into a full-blown conflict, she wouldn't mind seeing Vahn suffer a few setbacks, even if it was just wishful thinking on her part.
After entering the Temple proper, Vahn had a small smile on his face as, waiting for them, Benienma and a host of chubby, sparrow-like, yokai were flittering about. Perhaps as a result of her inability to greet them properly last time, Benienma had her hands neatly folded in her lap, sitting in a proper seiza that allowed her to bow steeply toward them as she said, "Welcome, Ten'n-sama, Kg-sama. We are honored by your visit-dechi..."
Hearing Benienma address Artoria as 'Kg-sama', Vahn gave an approving nod while, at his side, the person in question, raised her chin somewhat pridefully. She had been a little bothered by the fact that her introduction had been overlooked, but, as she was currently fulfilling her duty as an Imperial Knight, she tried not to let it bother. It was still nice to hear, however, so she couldn't help but adopt a smile of her own, all while Musashi stood silently in the background...
Following Benienma's flock of sparrow-yokai, Vahn, Artoria, and Musashi found themselves in a large meditation hall that had been modified to suit a banquet. There, a buxom woman with hazy-purple eyes sat surrounded by three decidedly 'youthful' looking figures. This included a scantily clad Yokai with short purple hair, fair skin that was tinged with a slight purple hue, and two horns protruding from her head, possessing a slightly fleshy quality that transitioned from the color of her skin to dark red.
Much like her scantily-clad counterpart, there was another Yokai sitting close enough to the former that they could touch shoulders if either moved to the left or right. She also had horns protruding from her head, but, instead of possessing a fleshy quality, they seemed to pierce through her scalp, possessing a metallic sheen that transitioned from the color of wrought iron to rust-red. This wasn't her most prominent feature, however, as she possessed intricate tribal tattoos, extending from her blood-red hands to form complex bands around her body. Even this paled in comparison to the fact that the youthful-looking Yokai was attired in a loose yellow kimono, matching the color of her hair.
Due to the Yokai's pale complexion and the way she allowed her kimono to drape off her shoulders, Vahn briefly overlapped the image of a banana with the rather feral-looking woman. This brought a smile to his face, but, as if she had sensed what he was thinking, the yellow-haired girl furrowed her brows slightly while, at the center of her head, a third eye squinted accusingly toward him...
While the horned duo stood out quite a bit, Vahn was more unnerved by the young woman who sat on the left side of the buxom, purple-clad, host. Though he got a 'dangerous' feeling from all four of them, this rather demure-looking woman, possessing light-green hair triggered a very different kind of reaction. She appeared to be nothing more than a delicate maiden at a glance, but, going by the set of ivory-white horns at the side of her head, branching into three distinct points, it was clear she was anything but 'normal'...
Almost immediately after gazing into the woman's glimmering golden eyes, Vahn noticed her pupils contract into thin lines, her smile growing to almost unnatural proportions behind the fan she used to conceal the lower half of her face. This all but confirmed his earlier suspicions, this being that each of the Yokai present before him, excluding Raikou and Benienma, were descended from Dragons...
As soon as this thought crossed his mind, the Yokai with short purple hair, her expression affixed in a perpetually seductive grin, mused, "My, my, this is rather unexpected...I had heard you were called the Sage Dragon Emperor, but I never expected someone so...tantalizing to appear..."
Toward the end of her words, the scantily-clad Yokai traced her wine-red tongue across her lips, all while allowing her kimono, which was left open at the front, to slide further down her shoulders. This allowed the functionally naked figure to be seen, covered by little more than a few black bands that left absolutely nothing to the imagination.
In response to the woman's blatant attempt at seduction, the banana-like Yokai showed a distressed expression on her face, exclaiming, "You! Don't think I'll let you take Shuten away from me!" with fire blazing around her.
For a brief moment, it appeared as though the yellow-haired Yokai was about to attack, indicated by the fangs of her lower jaw growing to the point they protruded from her mouth. Fortunately, Raikou and Shuten seemed against the idea of a direct engagement, the former adopting a smile that made the temperature in the surroundings drop several degrees while the latter openly stated, "My body is mine to give freely. Though I must admit, the thought of being 'taken' is quite exciting~"
Following Shuten's words, an aromatic fragrance of fruit spread throughout the room, heavy with the scent of alcohol and pheromones. It was to such an extent that Vahn could feel a slight tickle in his nose, but, immediately after feeling his body heat up a bit, his natural resistances filtered out the effects. This caused Shuten to stare mischievously back at him, her own face appearing to be deeply intoxicated, even as Raikou rather unceremoniously smacked the back of her head with an iron fan...
With Shuten nursing a large bump on the back of her head, Raikou adopted an admonishing look as she plainly stated, "I told you two to be on your best behavior. Ibaraki-chan, I'm still thinking about your punishment for damaging the tatami in my room. Do you really want to make things worse...?"
Hearing Raikou's words, Ibaraki paled slightly, something that seemed impossible due to her already fair complexion. At the same time, the flames emanating from behind her back faded away, sizzling out of existence as a cold sweat seemed to cover her body. As for Shuten, she didn't seem bothered by Raikou's threats, giggling drunkenly as she propped herself up, leaning against the table with her elbows on the surface as she alternated between staring at Vahn, Artoria, and Musashi.
As he had seen similar scenes play out in his mind, Vahn wasn't surprised by how everyone at the table was reacting to his presence. He was now in a state where the aura of a True Dragon naturally mixed with his original, the result of his previous evolution. Fortunately, while Shuten and Ibaraki both had dragon's blood flowing through their veins, it seemed to be suppressed in a similar nature to Artoria's.
The real problem was the girl with pale-green hair as, from the time her pupils had contracted, he had been receiving notifications within his mind. At the same time, though it was almost inaudible, he could hear the girl murmuring something along the likes of, 'mine, mine, mine, mine, mine' as if it were a mantra. This, combined with how her aura coiled around him like a serpent, made it clear she was both unhinged, and controlled by her draconic instincts.
Fortunately, at least for the moment, the girl seemed to prioritize appearing as a gentle and demure woman, 'shyly' hiding behind her fan as she periodically stole glances at both him and Artoria. This hadn't gone unnoticed by the latter, but, considering the 'killing intent' that would radiate off of the woman whenever their gazes met, it would be stranger if Artoria hadn't noticed.
Before things could get further out of hand, Vahn, maintaining a calm and confident demeanor, said, "I have come here for one specific reason, to ascertain whether or not you would abide by the terms I had previously set forth. I understand the nature of Yokai makes it difficult for you to easily mesh in a structured group. The Common Law, however, is written so that it doesn't conflict with the nature of most Spirits. It may be marginally more difficult for Heroic Spirits with legends pertaining to great tragedies, but, that is something we can deal with on a case by case basis..."
Immediately following Vahn's words, Shuten rose to a seated position, boldly stating, "I'm not going to fight. I refuse. My nose is pretty sharp so I can tell you aren't an evil person. I'd rather join the side that is trying to create a better world for Spirits than fight against it. Even if I did intend to battle you, it would be in the dead of night, preferably within the confines of your chambers, ufufufu~"
Rather than refute Shuten's words outright, Vahn actually nodded his head slightly, not in affirmation of her words but due to the fact she was, more or less, following the script he had mapped out in his mind. This was one of the benefits of being able to see the Flow of Fate, as, using context clues from the scenes he had witnessed, combined with the information provided by Sis, he could easily control the flow of a conversation.
Before Shuten could take advantage of his 'acquiescence', Vahn interrupted her, stating, "I do intend to make a safe haven for Yokai, but, I'm content enough with the host of amazing women already at my side. If you could convince them to accept you, that would be one thing, but, based on your behavior, I can't see that happening. I'm not going to invite chaotic elements into my home, no matter what form you take."
For the first time since Vahn's arrival, Shuten's smile vanished from her, replaced by a serious yet pouting expression. This caused Ibaraki to glare daggers at him, but, before the fiery-tempered Yokai could lash out, Vahn added, "If you do not wish to fight, you are free to live your lives in peace. I can provide a sanctuary, not just for you, but for all Yokai. You would still be bound by the Common Law, but, so long as you don't kill, maim, or traumatize others, expanding your population and providing you with adequate resources is well within the means of the Empire."
Though Vahn still intended to establish a 'Heroes Faction', he also understood that some of their current members weren't exactly suited to the role of guiding humanity. Shuten's and Ibaraki's true names were undoubtedly Shuten-douji and Ibaraki-douji, two Oni who had devastated Japan during their respective eras. Shuten was even considered one of Japan's 'Three Great Monsters', so, while he wouldn't kill her for simply doing as her nature dictated, she was simply too dangerous to be left on her own. The pheromone attack from earlier would have been enough to functionally lobotomize a normal human being, so, if she were ever let loose in a crowd, there would be absolute chaos...
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Poor Musashi, relegated to a background character...','Hereabouts, there be dragons!','Vahn's about to cripple the Heroes Faction before they even get a chance to act xD...')
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