Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos Chapter 1452
Following the conclusion of the banquet, Vahn, Artoria, and Musashi were escorted to the edge of the Yokai's territory by Benienma and her flock of sparrow Yokai. She seemed to consider it part of her duties as the owner of an Enma-tei, ignoring the fact they hadn't actually been her guests. Still, Vahn found the petite Yokai rather endearing, and, if not for the ever-watchful sparrow seated atop her head, he wouldn't have been able to resist giving her head a pat.
With a casual smile on his face, Vahn lightly muttered, "Please, raise your head. You have shown us an adequate amount of hospitality. Thank you, Benienma-okami. Once you open your Enma-tei in the capital, we intend to patron your facility. I'm looking forward to experiencing the services your ryokan provides."
As she could easily deduce if the other person was lying, Benienma was so excited by Vahn's words that the feathers around her collar flared up to emphasize her agitation. She then smiled radiantly, taking advantage of her child-like features to appear more as a poster girl than a proprietress as she happily exclaimed, "Un~! I'll pull out all the stops next time-dechi! I look forward to your patronage, Ten'n-sama, Kg-sama!!"
Following her outburst, Benienma performed another series of bows before skipping back up the path with her arms spread out in excitement. She really gave off the impression of a child, causing Artoria to mutter, "She is quite adorable, isn't she? I'm rather curious about visiting her ryokan. The next time, let's go together..."
Hearing his Empress' words, Vahn was tempted to give her a big hug, but, due to the presence of Musashi, he just smiled and answered, "Of course. I imagine the Enma-tei will be pretty popular in the future. Before I go with anyone else, I'll make sure to book a room for us. Due to how time flows within the Yokai District, we can afford to stay for a few days without much time passing back in the real world."
Though she didn't completely understand the meaning behind Vahn's words, as she wasn't sensitive to the flow of time, Artoria nodded her head in agreement. Then, in a burst of bluish-white magical energy, she discarded her kimono, donning her armor once again. As for Vahn, he quite liked the feel of a yukata, so, for the time being, he elected to continue wearing it. He could always change before the battle against Jason, even if it wasn't actually necessary to do so.
Turning to Musashi, who had been in a dour mood ever since he refused to produce more sake for her, Vahn's smile faded away as he remarked, "You would think we're long-time friends with how you expect me to treat you. Though I don't actually mind sharing drinks, even with my enemies, do you consider it 'normal' for an Emperor to pay tribute to someone who has tried to assassinate them?"
Hearing Vahn's remark, Musashi was at a loss for words, realizing she hadn't really done anything to deserve a 'reward' from Vahn. He had gifted the sake to Shuten after identifying her status amongst the other Yokai, basically winning them all over by successfully 'taming' her. The Yokai would become citizens of the Empire in the near future, a stark contrast to her, the enemy of the Empire.
Before Musashi could beat herself up over her own thoughts, Vahn surprised her by pulling out a small porcelain container, this one much smaller than the gourd gifted to Shuten. She managed to catch it out of the air despite her absentminded state, earning a small nod of approval from Vahn before he explained, "That is a special drink known as [Shj Sake]. As a Divine Spirit of Japanese origin, I don't need to tell you what it represents. Now, lets us be on our way. Though only a few minutes have passed since our separation, I would feel guilty if we left Shirou waiting for too long."
Without waiting for Musashi's response, Vahn linked his arms with Artoria, escorting her down the final few steps. By the time the reached the last one, their figures had vanished, departing the realm of Yokai. As for Musashi, she stared at the small porcelain container in hand, a thoughtful expression on her face as she muttered, "You really like messing with people, don't you...? To give an alcoholic a legendary sake, knowing they can't drink it...hahahahaha...!"
Though her words indicated the small container was useless to her, Musashi still loosened her collar, inserting the surprisingly warm object into the valley of her breasts. She knew Vahn had undoubtedly machinated things to play out like this, as, due to her nature as a Divine Spirit, it was impossible for her to discard an 'offering'. Now, she would always carry around a constant reminder of the fact that there were a number of paths still open to her...
As he was considered an ally, Shirou's small shack was still present on the path leading into Raikou's territory. He didn't imagine Vahn would have any trouble tracking him down, but, when the man in question appeared merely fifteen minutes after their separation, he showed a confused expression, saying, "I expected you to stay for a while...were there any problems?"
Vahn wasn't exactly a stickler for rules and formalities, but, hearing Shirou question him as if it were perfectly natural, he couldn't help but feel slightly annoyed. He hadn't missed the glances the young Hero had been stealing at Artoria, so, instead of answering the question, he stated, "I'm going to be meeting with Tamamo-no-Mae after this. You will go with Musashi to gather your other companions to discuss supplemental Heroes to replace those you'll be losing. While you're at it, tell Sut-Typhon and Lovecraft that Azathoth is already on our side...I don't care if they decide to punish sinners for their misdeeds. Arbitrarily, spreading fear and chaos will not be tolerated. Even Outer Gods are not exempt when it comes to the Common Law."
With nothing else to say, Vahn released a burst of aura, pushing Shirou back a few steps as he and Artoria took to the sky. The latter seemed like she wanted to say something, but, as she had also felt Shirou's eyes lingering on her, she elected to simply follow her husband. While they may have similar memories, the man below was not the same person she had made a promise with. He was nothing more than a pale imitation of the man she had dedicated her heart to, someone who would sacrifice himself if it meant protecting others. The Shirou she knew was a stalwart protector, not an Assassin who had strayed so far from his path that he was betrayed by his own allies...
Seeing the duo take off, Shirou's eyes reflected a deep melancholy. He then released a tired sigh, muttering to himself, "I'm not even the real deal. Letting someone else's memories influence me...I've become soft. She seems happy following that man. Don't let your emotions get in the way..."
After 'convincing' himself, Shirou ran his fingers through his hair, slicking back his bangs to change his natural hairstyle to the one he defaulted to whenever he was trying to be resolute. This was the same style that his 'future' self had worn when they met during the Holy Grail War, an event that felt, quite literally, like a lifetime ago. Though he had convinced his future self that he wouldn't follow the same path, fate was a fickle mistress and time had the ability to weather away even the strongest of convictions...
As numerous regrets gnawed away at his mind like parasitic worms, Shirou felt a fluctuation in the surrounding space, followed by the emergence of Musashi. Based on how she was looking around, it was obvious she was searching for Vahn and Artoria, causing him to smile wryly as he explained, "He already took off. They're going to be visiting Tamamo next. Tell me, what exactly happened while you were inside?"
Hearing Shirou's question, Musashi was reminded of the peculiar events that took place during the banquet. This caused her to released an exasperated sigh, pulling out her personal gourd of sake as she said, "You're gonna want to have a drink. Come inside and take a seat. I've got a lot to tell you about the last three-and-a-half hours..."
After flying a fair distance from the location of Shirou's safehouse, Vahn brought himself and Artoria to a stop. He realized he was behaving a little childishly, so, after thinking about it for a few minutes, he looked toward Artoria and said, "Sorry...I guess you can say I'm a little jealous, even if I shouldn't be. It might sound a little hypocritical, especially with so many women at my side, but I don't like the way that man looks at you."
Before responding to Vahn's words, Artoria closed the remaining distance between them, discarding the metallic sections of her armor as she gently embraced him. His jealousy actually made her a little happy, even if it also made filled her heart with feelings of guilt. As for the matter of his harem, she, nor the vast majority of the women supporting him, were bothered by it. He treated them well, often going out of his way to try and make them happy, so they had very few complaints outside of their concern for his mental wellness...
Feeling Artoria's warmth, Vahn found his tensions slowly melting away. Even the smell of her hair had a calming effect on his mind, resulting in him embracing her closely to enjoy her fragrance even more. This, of course, made Artoria's heart beat a little quicker, so, before things got out of hand, he ultimately loosened his grip on her body, resting his head against hers as he muttered, "Truly, you are too good for me..."
Hearing Vahn's characteristic remark, Artoria's smile became somewhat wry, followed by her placing her hand against his face and stating, "You're just enough for me. Even if part of my heart belongs to someone else, the largest pieces are filled with love for you. No matter how much time passes, this will always be the case. Never forget it...that is your responsibility as my husband, my lover, and my Master..."
Punctuating her words, Artoria ignored her usual inhibitions, stealing a kiss from Vahn to prevent him from saying anything further. He had a bad habit of using flowery, often unnecessary, words, so, before he could get up to his usual habits, she decided to convince him directly.
Since it was pretty rare for Artoria to go on the offensive, Vahn happily entangled his tongue with hers. He knew she had been a little frustrated ever since he released his draconic aura, so, now that they were alone, this type of behavior wasn't wholly unexpected. He could also feel her aura envelop his body, it's color a vibrant gold mixed together with passionate pinks, representing her mountain-sized affection for him...
By the time their lips parted, Vahn's mood had improved considerably, an affectionate smile on his face as he stared into her slightly hazy silver eyes. This caused him to swallow audibly, but, as now was neither the time nor the place for such things, he managed to restrain his urges, saying, "Let us be on our way. The sooner we resolve this matter, the sooner we can return. I have been waiting to give you something for some time...I believe it is time..."
Borrowing Artoria's tactic, Vahn punctuated his statement with a kiss, basically conveying that it was meant to be a surprise. Then, after relinquishing her from his embrace, he ran his fingers through her hair, love and affection visible in his gaze as he slowly separated from her. This gave Artoria an urge to follow after him, but, as her instincts were telling her to wrap things up as quickly as possible, she held back, donning her armor instead.
With their hearts and minds healed by each other's presence, Vahn and Arotia set their sights on the sky above. Though there seemed to be nothing there, they knew the Control Program was aware of virtually everything taking place within the Photonic Abyss. Thus, with renewed confidence, and a bit of expectation visible on his face, Vahn stated, "Teleport me outside of Tamamo-no-Mae's territory." in a decisive tone of voice...
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Benienma's Enma-tei will become world famous-dechi!','Echoes of a man that no longer exists...','Onwards, to the vulpine waifu's domain...!')
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