Having reached an agreement with the leadership of the 4th Army Corps, Vahn entered the Little Garden to find Kallavan’s unconscious body surrounded by numerous petite figures with dark-skin, various shades of green hair, and inordinately long, elf-like, ears.
Sensing Vahn’s presence, each of the girls, including the one who had been jabbing Kallavan with a stick, immediately abandoned the unconscious man in order to flock around him. In response, Vahn attempted to pacify them with head pats, but, as was often the case, he ultimately ended up being forced to the ground as the child-like Spirits attempted to climb all over his body.
Fortunately, almost immediately after Vahn had been tackled to the ground, the sensual sound of a mature woman’s voice could be heard echoing through the surroundings, saying, “Now, now, girls. What have I told you about inconveniencing your father when he is busy? Run along now.”
Though a few appeared reluctant, each of the Spirits promptly disappeared once an inordinately beautiful woman with fair skin, chestnut brown hair, and deep purple eyes manifested from within the void. This allowed Vahn to roll to a seated position, an appreciative smile developing across his face as he said, “Good morning, Rose. How are you feeling today?”
Returning a smile of her own, Rose leisured approached Vahn’s side, replying, “I’m better now.” as a series of large, thorn-covered, vines pushed him to his feet. Then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, she wrapped her arms around his body before promptly placing her head against his chest. This caused several lingering Spirits to cry out in protest, but, as if she were oblivious to their protestations, Rose continued enjoying Vahn’s warmth for several seconds before explaining, “That man attempted to assault Noelle. I don’t believe he intended to harm her, but that doesn’t absolve him of guilt. Anyone who would default to taking hostages without first attempting to understand the situation isn’t a good person…”
Seeing the rather dangerous glimmer in Rose’s eyes, Vahn took the initiative to hold her head against his chest, gently caressing her fragrant hair as he said, “Don’t worry. Once this is all over with, he’ll never be allowed access to the First Layer. Rather, unless there are some extenuating circumstances, you won’t have to worry about seeing him in the Little Garden.”
Though she wasn’t completely satisfied with the outcome, Rose still nodded in response to Vahn’s words. The decision was ultimately his to make, and, while she disdained anyone with the audacity to attack one of her ‘children’, she was willing to drop the matter since nobody had been hurt…
Feeling thorn-covered vines gradually coiling around his legs, a wry smile developed across Vahn’s face as he said, “I’ll pay a visit to the City of Flowers a little later. For now, I still have other matters to attend. If you keep this up, the others are going to pout.”
Giggling in response to Vahn’s words, Rose gave his body one final squeeze before releasing him to reply, “I’ll hold you to your word. Don’t keep us waiting for too long.”
With that said, the roses comprising Rose’s garments began to rapidly flake away, but, before the tantalizing flesh beneath could be revealed, so too did her actual body. In the end, the only thing that remained in her wake was a circular pattern of rose petals, as, like the other World Tree Spirits, Rose’s actual body had been elsewhere. In fact, she was the Spirit of the World Tree that dominated the centermost island. This actually made her the youngest among the other Spirits, but, in spite of this, everyone called her Mother since she served as the center of their formation and represented the literal ‘heart’ of the Little Garden’s Nine Layers.
As the pale-purple petals in the surrounding slowly melted away like fresh snow, Vahn walked over to where Kallavan was still lying unconscious. Then, after suppressing the urge to unceremoniously kick the man awake, he bent down to press his middle and index finger between the man’s brows, a thin thread of energy emerging from the very tips of his fingers.
Startling awake, Kallavan’s blue eyes locked onto Vahn, but, despite his best efforts, he found that he was unable to move so much as a single muscle. He couldn’t even breathe of his own accord, and, were it not for Vahn manually controlling the expansion and contraction of his diaphragm, it wouldn’t be long before he died from asphyxiation. He no longer had the blessings of Shinsu, so, while his body was unbelievably powerful compared to the average person, he was considerably more ‘mortal’ than before.
Since he didn’t really care about Kallavan’s excuses, Vahn prevented the man from speaking as he plainly remarked, “It’s a curious thing, really…for some reason, whenever someone loses power they acquired using underhanded means, they always default to acting like skittish thugs and cowards. I wonder…how does it feel to be on the receiving end of someone else’s ‘magnanimity’. Do you think the people you murdered at Jahad’s behest felt this way before you unceremoniously killed them?”
Unable to respond, all Kallavan could do was glare back at Vahn with hate-filled eyes. At the same time, however, his chaotic aura noticeably mellowed. He might have been blinded by his power, but he wasn’t a fool. He could see the reason contained within Vahn’s words, so, while he couldn’t help but resent the ‘arrogant’ God, it didn’t prevent him from reflecting on his past actions.
Nodding in approval, Vahn resisted the urge to give Kallavan’s face a few smacks as he pulled the man up by his collar and said, “I already spoke with your people. Things aren’t going to be easy for you moving forward, but, even without the Essence of Bravery, you’re still a High Ranker. If you put in the effort, you might even surpass your previous self in power. This time, however, I would advise you to spend some time trying to empathize with those who have chosen to follow you. They might be a bunch of misfits, but there are some good people supporting you. If you learn to treat them as equals, rather than servants, you will all be stronger for it.”
Finished with what he wanted to say, Vahn allowed feeling and control to return to Kallavan’s body before subsequently ejecting him from the Little Garden. Elpathion, Cheonhee, and Sharon were all waiting for him on the outside, so, even though he was still severely injured, he wouldn’t be left to fend for himself. He would also be able to use Shinsu again, so, by this time tomorrow, there was a chance he would be fully recovered.
With that out of the way, Vahn smacked his hands together a few times before promptly teleporting to one of the most secretive and secure regions of the Little Garden, a sub-texture between the First and Second Layers. Here, a total of 289 World Tree Spirits had taken up residence, and, as a result of being located within Rose’s body, the interior resembled the nook of a tree with countless flowering plants and trees. The latter served as the abodes of the various residents, but, with flowers covering virtually every surface, the remarkably beautiful and fragrant sub-texture had come to be known as the City of Flowers.
Reacting to Vahn’s sudden appearance, several dozen child-like Dryads and a number of different kinds of fae began to flock towards him with expectant smiles on their faces. This caused the smile on Vahn’s face to twitch, as, despite their individual charms, being flocked by a veritable horde of ‘lolis’ could be quite stressful. They had no concept of personal space, so, whenever he visited the City of Flowers, it was only ever a matter of time before they swarmed him like bees to honey…
Fortunately, just as a few palm-sized Pixies attempted to claim Vahn’s head as their domain, Rose promptly manifested out of thin air, deftly plucking a squirrel-sized dragon with insect-like wings from his body before saying, “Behave. You will have plenty of time to play later. For now, let Vahn relax. If we’re too forceful, we’ll end up scaring him off…”
Since it couldn’t speak, the miniature dragon just flicked its tongue towards Rose as the swarming Fae reluctantly dispersed. The only ones who chose to remain were those who had already claimed a part of Vahn as their perch. This included three diminutive pixies, a palm-sized bird reminiscent of a griffin, and a young Dryad wearing a smock comprised almost entirely of oversized sakura petals.
Though she wanted to admonish them for their defiance, Vahn prevented Rose’s lecture by shaking his head and picking up the green-skinned girl. She had the appearance of a 4-6-year-old, so, while he was against being swarmed, he would feel guilty if he sent her off with a chiding from Rose…
Understanding that Vahn intended to use the young Dryad as a ‘shield’ of sorts, Rose couldn’t help turning her eyes up at him with a ‘knowing’ look on her face. This caused Vahn’s smile to turn even wrier, but, having ‘suffered’ quite a bit at the hands of the overly-affectionate Tree Spirits, he didn’t mind being a little shameless…
In the wake of Kallavan’s ‘betrayal’, the 4th Army Corps was temporarily placed under the command of Senna until a replacement Commander could be found. As for Kallavan, he managed to avoid the typical penalty associated with treason, death. Instead, he was demoted from the position of Corps Commander, the second-highest position in the Jahad Army, to the rank of Staff Sergeant. This was a loss of thirteen ranks, but, compared to the death penalty, it was a relatively tame punishment. So long as he made an effort, it wouldn’t take him long to rise through the ranks, so, in a way, it wasn’t an exaggeration to say that Kallavan had received a ‘slap on the wrists’.
If anything, the greatest blow to Kallavan was the fact he had been transferred from the 4th to the 2nd Army Corps. This all but guaranteed that someone representing the interests of the Ten Great Families would be placed in charge of the 4th Army Corps, and, as a result, it was only a matter of time before the entire unit was dissolved. The 4th Army Corps had always been the outcasts of the Jahad Army, so, now that they had the chance to remove a persistent thorn from their side, those who valued bloodline over everything else were bound to take action.
Fortunately, Kallavan, Elpathion, and Cheonhee had been anticipating an event like this for several hundred years. As a result, nearly every member of the 4th Army Corps had qualified for retirement and a rather sizeable pension. They had also signed contracts that allowed them to stockpile leave, so, even if the new Corps Commander attempted to forcibly transfer them, they could simply go on paid vacation, potentially for years, until their discharge papers were approved. This was a standard contract within the Jahad Army, so, unless the Corps Commander intended to take the issue directly to Adori, there was very little they could do without directly violating the Imperial Code of Conduct and risking an inquiry.
Simply put, so long as they didn’t do anything extreme, the members of the 4th Army Corps always had the option of retiring and joining the reserve forces until Kallavan managed to restore his rank and position. This might take several years, but, considering most of them could survive for tens-of-thousands-of-years without issue, enjoying a few decades of retirement was practically the blink of an eye. Then, even if it took decades longer, they would eventually be able to rebuild the 4th Army Corps in Kallavan’s image, once again becoming a group of misfits who believed in justice above all else…
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Vahn be like, “Be still my right foot…”‘,’An endless sea of lolis, fae, and other adorable creatures…’,’Bureaucracy at its finest xD…’)
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