With Loki's departure, Vahn turned to Bell and had the boy make his vow before asking the other girls if they were willing to do the same. Plum agreed very quickly and, though she showed a bit of hesitation, Line eventually gave in and made a similar vow. As for Alicia, she made a similar vow but modified it to instead protect the information and ensure that anything Vahn taught Bell wasn't exposed to the outside world. With her 99(Exalted), Vahn wasn't too surprised by this rather bold vow of Alicia's and considered that, if she wanted a [Pactio] of her own, he would give one to her...
Once everyone had completed their vows, Vahn pulled out one of the precious [Grimoire of Guidance]s and activated it, feeling a strange haze pass through his mind for a brief moment. When the feeling had vanished, the grimoire now had the title 'Pactio' with his name written in golden lettering on the bottom. The cover now showed the faces of two nondescript people, with indeterminant sexes, kissing each other as a magic circle was formed around them. Vahn handed the book to Bell and said, "This grimoire will teach you incredibly rare magic that allows you to bestow power to another person by creating a contract with a kiss. When the contract is complete, they will be able to transform into a powerful form that can also make use of a magical artifact that suits their nature. At the same time, as they would be using your magic power to enhance their own strength, it will increase the growth of your Magic parameter by a great deal. Make sure you pick up the [Spirit Healing] Development Ability the next time you Level up, as it will enhance the efficacy of every [Pactio] you have formed..."
The moment the [Grimoire of Guidance] had entered his hands, Bell had felt a link between him and the book as, even without reading it, a flood of information poured into his mind. He hadn't even been able to hear Vahn's explanation as the grimoire slowly dissolved into magical energy that entered into his body. As for the girls, they were shocked by the explanation of the skill and both Line and Plum now had slightly flushed faces. Their auras had become slightly chaotic and Vahn could see them gravitate towards Bell a little, even though Line had turned her face away. The only exception among them was Alicia who seemed to fall into deep thought after the revelation before finally saying, "I don't want to kiss Bell, but I am also interested in a [Pactio] of my own...if...if it wouldn't be too much trouble...ano..."
Since he had already expected this, Vahn returned a casual smile to Alicia before gesturing to have her join him off to the side for a private conversation. Bell didn't actually need his guidance to make use of the spell, as his own understanding and comprehension were included in the grimoire, so Vahn just left him a piece of contract chalk and left the trio to their own devices. Bell, with a beet red face, had started scrawling a [Pactio] contract circle on the ground while Line and Plum looked from the side with slightly differing expressions. Vahn noticed that Plum was standing much closer to the circle than Line was but turned his attention to Alicia for the time being and explained, "Alicia, I'll be honest with you since we have been friendly with each other ever since the first expedition..."
Alicia inhaled somewhat audibly through her nose before nodding her head, swallowing a bit as she waited for him to continue. Vahn was beginning to feel a little nervous himself because, much like when he had talked with girls like Aisha and Lulune, it wasn't easy to say what he was thinking. Even so, he knew she deserved his honesty so he bit the bullet and explained, "As you know, I already have a number of committed relationships with the girls inside of the Hearth Manor, including Riveria. At the same time, I understand the nature of Elves and am afraid I may not be able to meet your expectations. If possible, I'd rather us be friends than develop a permanant relationship with each other...still, if you're fine with that, I don't mind giving you a [Pactio]. Also...ummm..."
Though she had been very nervous at first, Alicia began laughing when she saw how flustered Vahn was becoming while trying to explain himself. In truth, she had once resented Vahn in the past for 'stealing' Riveria, someone who she was very loyal towards. However, after witnessing how much Vahn had done for not only Riveria, but the entire Elven people, Alicia had developed a fondness for him. She had even, on occasion, thought about offering to become a servant within the Hearth Manor so she could help look after Riveria's and Vahn's son.
Since she knew Riveria was sometimes busy with the School, Alicia had thought it would be an opportunity for her to support the two people she respected most in the world. At the same time, knowing a bit about Vahn's interpersonal relationships, Alicia couldn't lie and say she had never thought about the other activities private maids would sometimes perform for their Masters. Now that Vahn was trying to foot around the issue of having a physical relationship with her, even if they didn't have any deeper emotions, Alicia could feel her heart fluttering as she genuinely considered the matter. Though she was an Elf, and had her own pride, things were rapidly changing for her people and Vahn was the crux of everything...even if people may have judged her in the past, Alicia knew there would be far more Elves that would now envy her instead...
Bringing her hands together and smiling with a somewhat strange light in her eyes, Alicia stepped a little closer to Vahn and said, "If Riverisama will not resent me, I don't mind, even if you never have a place for me in your heart, Vahn-sama. Just receiving your affections, even for a single night, almost makes me feel like I'm in a dream...if it doesn't displease you, please consider accepting my affections. Though I may never be worthy of your love, I believe my life would be fulfilling just supporting you and Riverisama...yes, just the thought of it makes my heartbeat quicken...!" By the time she was finished speaking, there was almost a near-zero distance between Vahn and Alicia, with the only thing seemingly holding her back being Vahn's permission.
Vahn felt a fluttery feeling in his own stomach as he fought to collect himself and said, "It is my hope that you will find someone that can truly make you happy, Alicia...but if you truly believe this is something you want, I..." Vahn's words were left to trail as he took a deep breath and allowed Alicia, who had grabbed his face with her gloved hands, to kiss him with a little more passion than he had expected. At the same time, a system notification occurred in his mind that Vahn checked from the perspective of his main body, currently sitting on a wagon as the expedition continued cutting a swath of destruction through the Dungeon.
//Alicia Forestlight has reached 100 Affection//
//Quest: [The Hearts Desire:C-SS] Cannot Be Completed Due To Special Circumstances//
//Alicia Forestlight's Affection(Exalted) Has been upgraded to Hidden Parameter: (Allegiance)//
//System Function: Unit Management Upgraded To Reflect [Retainer] Status//
Name: Alicia Forestlight
Soul Strength: 2
Bust Size: 88cm
Waist Size: 63cm
Hip Size: 84cm
//System Function: Unit Modification Unlocked//
-[Modify Race] (Variable)
-[Modify Gender] (1,000,000OP : 5,000 LP/AP)
-[Modify Physical Details] (Variable : Variable)
-[Modify Preferences] (Variable : Variable)
-[Modify Affinity] (500,000OP : 1,000 LP/AP)
-[Reset Status] (700,000OP : 500 LP/AP)
System Warning: Modifications may have inadvertent effects and unforeseen consequences. Use extreme caution when using [Unit Modification] Function as the actions of Subordinates and Retainers directly impact the accrual of Karma by the Host(Vahn Mason).
Vahn was gobsmacked by the sheer amount of information that flowed into his mind after the changes to his 'Unit Management'. Since he knew she would be able to provide more information, Vahn asked, ("Sis, what exactly does all of this mean? I have a general idea...but...") For better or worse, Sis immediately replied, (*It is as you suspect, Vahn. As long as you have enough Origin Points, Loyalty, or Allegiance, you can now freely modify almost everything about those that have chosen to follow you...please, make sure you properly consider any decision you may wish to make before following through with it. Just as you were always worried about influencing the thoughts and actions of your subordinates, you shouldn't toy with the lives of those who have chosen to follow you without their consent.*)
With Sis' affirmation, Vahn felt a tremble run up his spine because he knew how powerful this function was. All of his system functions had been incredible powers that far exceeded the restrictions of the Laws, but this was something Vahn had never quite expected to get. With this, he could potentially modify any of his subordinates freely, meaning he could make them extremely powerful, or even just shape them to his preferences. Though it would consume their Loyalty and Allegiance, it was still a ridiculously powerful function that gave him power far beyond what any one person should have, at least with a Tier 3 Soul. This was on a level that even the gods in Danmachi wouldn't be able to achieve, causing Vahn to feel a little scared of his own existence...
He had previously confirmed that the only reason his 'orders' to his subordinates were effective was that they themselves would have acceded to his orders, even without him 'forcing' them to. In fact, if he tried to give them an order that they would normally follow, they would instead experience a large drop in Loyalty and come to him for confirmation. The thing that 'compelled' them to follow his orders was the link they shared with each other, which allowed them to 'feel' and better understand his intentions. It wasn't that he was mind controlling or brainwashing them, but they were willingly changing themselves to match his expectations after 'understanding' what he wanted...
This new functionality, however, was at a much higher level than what he had been able to accomplish with Loyalty previously. Now, as long as he had the resources to spend, he could change everything about his subordinates and retainers, with the only exception being their mentality itself. If the [Rename] function did what he expected, it meant he would even be able to use his [Keeper of the Akashic Tome] to completely change their fate. This would allow him to help Fenrir with her current 'problem', but it also put a lot of pressure on him to use the ability responsibly...
Though the link they shared, Fenrir had been very aware of the change in her Master's mental state and had brought her paw to his shoulder with a concerned expression on her face. Vahn returned a smile towards her and, swallowing his inhibitions, asked, "Fenrir, if I were able to rename you and allow you to become both more powerful...and also help your body change...what would you want me to do...?" Ultimately, Vahn decided the best method to use the ability would always be to confer with the recipients of the effects themselves. He knew there would always be circumstances where the girls would potentially want to change 'something' about themselves and, once it was known he had this ability, Vahn expected the number of 'retainers' he had would increase very quickly.
Fenrir felt her heart pulse powerfully in her chest a few times as excitement began to well up inside her. For her Master to ask her something like this, she knew he must have a way to follow through and this thought alone made it hard to hold back her excitement. With an expression showing her willingness, Fenrir smiled with a look of profound expectation as she said, "I love the name Master gave me, but if it meant I could finally...Master, please, no matter what I become, I would be happy as long as we can be together..."
At this point, Alexa had also started listening in and couldn't help feeling a little bit of resentment that her Papa would probably end up having another girl in the future. However, instead of letting her emotions get the better of her, Alexa just reminded herself that her Papa would surely find a solution to help her find happiness in the future. For the time being, she kept her eyes closed and just snuggled up on his lap, pretending to be asleep even though she knew her Papa had undoubtedly noticed she was awake. When his warm hand began patting her head, Alexa allowed herself to smile and decided to 'ignore' whatever he and Fenrir talked about.
While promising Fenrir that he would find a good opportunity to [Rename] her, Vahn was also back in the Twilight Manor with Alicia, letting her know about his 'power'. He couldn't give her all of the details, but he could still explain some of the functions since Alicia had already promised to protect any secrets that were exposed to her. She listened attentively and, much like Lefiya, asked Vahn to try and 'order' her. He wasn't sure how Allegiance compared to Loyalty and, after trying to send her a mental command, noticed that it was impossible to do so. This highlighted that the two were fundamentally different than each other so Vahn tried giving her a verbal order this time, saying, "Mmm...touch your toes..."
Alicia showed a face of confusion before nodding her head and bending over to touch her toes once before standing up. She was still a little confused and asked, "Why did you ask me to touch my toes?" As for Vahn, he noticed that there hadn't been any change in her Allegiance and asked, "Did you feel any kind of strange compulsion, or did you just follow my order on your own volition?" To this, Alicia returned a small smile and admitted, "Well, I thought there was a reason behind your words and figured following them would help clarify things. Was I supposed to try and resist...?"
Vahn nodded his head, explaining, "Under normal circumstances, whenever someone had a high degree of loyalty and becomes linked with me, I would be able to order them with just a thought. Since I didn't feel the same kind of link, I was curious to see if there were similar effects...this time, try to refuse my order after I give it to you, okay...?" Alicia nodded her head as Vahn tried to think of something more 'complex' for her to do before saying, "Do a backflip..." This time, Alicia didn't show a face of confusion and instead had a slightly complicated look before, after a few seconds had passed, she jumped up and performed a perfect backflip before landing on her feet.
While she was doing that, Vahn noticed that her Allegiance actually drained by one point for every second that had passed until Alicia performed the feat. From this, he understood that his Retainers could resist his order but, if they had enough Allegiance towards him, they would eventually follow regardless. From Alicia's perspective, she found herself feeling progressively more 'bothered' by the sense that she had 'failed' Vahn by resisting his order. Convincing herself that he would forgive her, she then proceeded to follow his order and felt the feeling vanish instantly, causing her to sigh in relief before saying, "I can see what you mean by compulsion...still, I do not believe you would ever give me any orders that would endanger me so I'm actually glad that you have a means of sensing my Allegiance towards you..."
Vahn felt a little awkward hearing Alicia's words but still managed a smile when he saw her Allegiance was actually slowly increasing. Since she deserved to know, he then explained, "It isn't as simple as me just giving you orders, Alicia, but there are other abilities I can use if your Allegiance is high enough. With your permission, I could even modify your race, elemental affinity, your appearance, or even your gender...an extreme example would even allow me to rename you, giving you a name that would greatly increase your power..." Though it felt extremely awkward explaining this, Vahn actually wanted to ask Alicia to allow him to test the functions and was hoping she would propose the idea herself.
When she heard Vahn's explanation, Alicia was very surprised, especially when he mentioned even having the power to change her gender. She began to wonder what kind of existence Vahn was but, at the same time, felt excited by the prospect that her decision to serve him was infinitely more meaningful than she had expected. Though she couldn't sense it herself, Alicia imagined her Allegiance towards him was rapidly increasing as a small smile appeared on her face. Since she was very interested in some of the things he mentioned, Alicia asked, "Does that mean you can change my hair and eye color...or perhaps even turn me into a High Elf...?" If the latter was true, Alicia felt like she wouldn't mind dedicating a lot more than just one of her lives to Vahn...
With an affirming nod, Vahn explained, "Changing your race would require your Allegiance towards me to be much higher, but modifying your physical features isn't that difficult..." Vahn pulled out a mirror for Alicia to make use of and, understanding his intentions, Alicia looked into her own face and said, "I know it may be uncouth of me to admit, but I've always wanted to have beautiful jade green hair like Riverisama...I don't mind my golden hair, but I wish it was at least straight so it would be easier to manage...ufufufu~."
Even as Alicia was speaking, Vahn was already testing the system function and it showed him that such changes would only cost 7,000OP and, to his surprise, 0AP. It could be because she herself desired the change, but Alicia's request didn't cost him any of her Allegiance as he confirmed the changes within the system. Then, in an instant, a somewhat terrifying sight occurred that caused Vahn and Alicia to both pale as her golden hair simply fell from her head. Fortunately, silky jade-green strands began to grow from her scalp a few moments later until it had grown to around the center of her back. This enhanced Alicia's beauty a great deal, especially since she already had beautiful green eyes to accompany her now jade-green hair.
Vahn noticed that Alicia's Allegiance was rapidly increasing as she ran her fingers through her own hair, muttering, "It is beautiful..." She then turned her attention away from her own reflection and had a look of intrigue in her eyes as smiled radiantly and said, "I didn't think you were lying to me, but I can see now that my decision to follow you is something that will redefine my understanding of the world. Please, as it is your power, you need only tell me your wish and I will abide by it, Vahn-sama..." Since he could change her hair so quickly, Alicia knew the other things Vahn had mentioned were also well within her power. She was actually a little excited to see how much she would change at the 'whims' of this young boy before her...unaware that he was actually more mentally 'mature' than she was...
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'That feeling in your stomach is the resentment of all other men in the world, Vahn...','Holy shitballs, Unit Management just became ridiculously OP','Poor Alicia, just volunteered to become an experimental subject for a curious idiot who tends to get carried away...')
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