With the concurrent arrival of the Princess of Vespertatia and the infamous Sage Dragon Emperor, rumors spread like ripples, not just within Ariadne, but throughout the Empire as a whole. After all, the former was practically a legendary existence among the peoples of Mundus Magicus, and, after his battle with Rakan, Vahn had become a common topic of discussion. People had taken notice of the fact that the Empire had never placed a bounty on him, and, after his deeds within the Coliseum came to light, specifically his actions of freeing slaves and eliminating corrupt officials, a number of people had begun to view him in a very different light.
Without knowing the purpose behind Arika's and Vahn's visit, speculation and hearsay were able to run rampant throughout the Empire. Some believed the duo had allied to either prevent the war or root out corruption, instilling hope in the hearts of those who wanted to live in peace. Others, such as members of the Second Prince's and Grand Duke's faction, wasted little time in trying to pressure the Emperor into a more decisive response. They feared that their interests in Ariadne were directly threatened by the presence of Arika and Vahn, but, unable to do anything about the former, they, at the very least, wanted the latter removed.
Unfortunately for the Second Prince and the Grand Duke, the Emperor directly refused to organize a military response against someone who apparently had the ability to teleport vast distances in an instant. They had no way to pin him down, and, due to the growing tensions between Ariadne and the Empire, sending a fleet into their territory might as well be a declaration of war against one of their strongest allies.
The Emperor knew that, immediately after entering a conflict with Ariadne, the Megalomesembrian Confederacy would invade from the East. This would force them into a war on two fronts, drastically reducing public support and troop morale, two of the most important factors when determining the outcome of a war. He would not undermine the war effort just to further the agenda of a dissenting faction that seemed more concerned with their own profits than the survival of the Empire.
After growing tired of hearing the same arguments time and again, the Emperor ultimately dangled the word 'treason' over the heads of his younger brother and second son. This wouldn't be enough to stop them from conspiring behind the scenes, but it was more than enough to force their silence during Court proceedings. As for what they did on their own time, using their own assets, he didn't particularly care. If they wanted to pick a fight with an Ancient Dragon, it would fall on their heads to deal with, not the Empire and its people.
Though he turned a blind eye to it, the Emperor was well aware of the ambitions of his second son and younger brother. They ultimately lacked the power and support to actually make a play for the throne, so, even if they machinated behind the scenes, it didn't matter so long as their actions were a benefit to the Empire. Now, however, their actions directly threatened the stability of the Empire at a time when unity was of paramount importance. If they did not properly conceal their hand, he would be left with no choice but to execute them for the crime of treason.
Despite knowing the fate that would await him if his son succeeded in his coup, the Emperor didn't have the heart to order the execution of his own child. Though he would do so if forced, the burden would eat away at him like a poison of the mind, forcing him to install his daughter as the Empress before she was ready to rule. Even if she would have the support of Vrixho, he didn't want to place such a heavy burden on a child, so, until her time as Empress came, Michael wanted Theo to enjoy her life to the fullest...
Though he was aware of the rumors circulating throughout Ariadne and the Empire, Vahn had more on his mind than politics. He had already started training Arika, and, after a series of discussions, he had decided to teach a few classes in the Imperial Academy, specifically acting as an Advisor in the Junior Division of the Academy. This was originally to allow Asuna the opportunity to attend school and interact with children her own age, but, as fate would have it, the Academy was actually divided into Divisions based on gender.
Since the Imperial Academy had been specifically developed to cater to the needs of the Nobility, it would create a lot of problems if there was a mixed curriculum. The last thing most affluent families wanted was for their heirs and progeny to develop relationships outside the arrangements that had already been made for most of them. Marriage was a powerful political tool that was used to forge or strengthen alliances between different families. Some children even had their marriages decided from the moment they were born, so, to prevent any 'accidents' from occurring, males and females were almost entirely separated until graduation.
Due to his unique status, Sidra made an exception to the existing policy, allowing Vahn to become an Advisor within the Junior Division of the Imperial Academy. This made him the only male among a faculty and student body consisting entirely of females and curious young children. It didn't even take three days before a 'fan club' had formed, forcing a wry on Vahn's face whenever a gaggle of admittedly adorable Demihuman girls flocked around him in order to have their membership cards signed.
To further exacerbate matters, Vahn's looks and general demeanor made him 'very' popular among members of the faculty. He was constantly refusing dinner invitations and a few more 'direct' offers for company. One chienthropic woman with droopy ears and a shaggy tail was even bold enough to directly 'gift' him a duplicate of her room key, packaged neatly in her still-warm panties. Though he ended up teleporting the gift back into her room following the incident, they lacy garment had reappeared in his desk the following day, this time attached with a note imploring him to hold onto it, 'just in case'...
Needless to say, Vahn was feeling a very 'unique' kind of fatigue, but, with Asuna quickly becoming the most popular girl in her class, he persevered. He actually had quite a bit of experience refusing solicitations, so, seeing Asuna becoming more expressive with each passing day, Vahn decided not to let the advances of his co-workers bother him. It wasn't as if they had malicious intentions, and, if he hadn't 'wowed' them so many times with his knowledge, sometimes teasing them in the process, things probably wouldn't have devolved so quickly. This was often the case, so, rather than shift the blame to others, Vahn accepted his responsibility in exacerbating the situation, choosing to tolerate their affections while doing his best to properly guide the growing number of young girls that came to him for everything from simple questions about homework to far more personal problems such as bullying or troubles back home...
Because he was so willing to listen to everyone's problems, Vahn had basically become a guidance counselor and emotional anchor for some of the more troubled children. Not only did he seriously listen to their concerns, but, if it was something he could help with, he would either offer advice or personally resolve the problem. Some even came to him with outright 'mortifying' claims, so, after a very serious discussion with Sidra, a scholarship had been created to support anyone suffering from victimization and persecution, the children of Nobles included.
After crippling and killing quite a number of people, Vahn's name spread even more waves through the Empire, but, after the crimes of the accused had been made known, public outrage was directed more towards the Nobility than himself. There had even been a trafficking ring that targetted young and underprivileged children, specifically those who performed well academically, but, due to their background, lacked the funds to further their education. They were pressured to do things that no child should ever be forced to experience, and, worst of all, the Arch-Dean had been the one selling their files, taking advantage of his position to access the entire student directory.
Though Hugo had been publically executed for his crimes, it did little to mend the growing divide between Ariadne and the Empire. Grandmaster Sidra outright refused the appointment of a new Arch-Dean, casting doubt upon the Emperor and the selection process itself. After all, Hugo had been personally appointed by the Emperor, and, though this had been more than thirty years prior, allowing more than enough time for someone to be swayed by corruption, the people didn't care for such excuses. All that mattered to them was that yet another Noble had taken advantage of his position to commit egregious crimes for personal gain, tarnishing the reputation of all.
In the hopes of easing the tensions between Ariadne and the Empire, the Emperor rescinded more than seventy percent of the land permits that had been issued. Since many of the Nobles with ties to Ariadne had been involved in the Arch-Dean's scandal, the Grandmaster would never allow the property to be retained by the offending families. One of the largest estates had more than thirty 'playrooms' that had been used to commit all manner of heinous acts, and, thanks to the efforts of Vahn, they had more than enough evidence to prove the involvement of several Noble families.
After learning about the trafficking ring, Vahn wasted no time in raiding the estate, acting before those charged with burning the books and hiding the evidence were able to. As a result, a number of families had their rank completely revoked, and, for the first time in more than a hundred years, Ariadne was almost completely liberated from Imperial intervention. This had nearly prompted the Grandmaster to declare independence from the Empire, but, with war looming on the horizon, such actions would adversely impact Aridane just as much as the Empire.
This was where one of Vahn's 'biggest' problems came from, as, in an attempt to restore diplomatic and public relations with Ariadne, an Ambassador had been selected to represent the Empire. While this wasn't uncommon, ripples spread throughout the Empire and abroad once it came to light that the Third Imperial Princess was the one assigned the duty. Though she would have always held the title at some point, as was customary for all members of the Imperial Family, the fact Theodora had only recently turned eleven years old made the appointment completely unexpected.
In the original history, Theodora hadn't been appointed the position of Ambassador until after the Great Magic War had begun. To others, her nomination seemed like a desperate attempt to restore relations with Ariadne, but, knowing what he knew, Vahn suspected, and subsequently confirmed, that she had been specifically chosen to prevent him from causing further damage to the Empire.
It wasn't known to others, for a number of reasons, but the Emperor, Vrixho Nagasha, and Jack Rakan were well-aware of the fact that Theo had received guidance from Vahn. They also believed they had a good read on his character, so, understanding he was less of an enemy than they were to themselves, the Emperor confidently assigned the task to his daughter. This served a number of different purposes, but, most importantly, it allowed them to put a positive spin on Vahn's actions while simultaneously guaranteeing Theo's protection.
The main hope was that Theo would be able to convince Vahn to allow her to take credit whenever he rooted out corruption within the Empire. They couldn't prevent him from exposing the vile and wicked acts of the more unscrupulous Nobles, so, rather than instigate a conflict that would cause even more problems, they were hoping that Vahn would help to secure Theo's future position. This would allow them to preserve the reputation of the Imperial Family while simultaneously increasing Theo's favorability amongst the people. She was already very popular, so, if her first action as Ambassador helped to repair the relations with Ariadne while subsequently addressing the matter of corruption among the Nobility, her popularity would skyrocket...
What the Emperor had accounted for, but couldn't do anything about, was that his daughter was a very 'spirited' girl. She didn't particularly care for things like politics and reputation, so, rather than fully commit to the responsibilities of an Ambassador, she spent most of her time pestering Vahn to help with her training. As a result, she had developed a 'friendly' rivalry with Arika and Fenrir, to the point that hardly a day passed without them sparring for hours at a time.
Truthfully, Vahn was somewhat grateful for Theo's inclusion in the training as her presence diffused a lot of the burgeoning tensions between Arika and Fenrir. The former had been growing frustrated after failing to win any of her matches against Fenrir. She wasn't exactly prideful, but, after suffering a number of one-sided defeats, Arika couldn't help harboring a bit of resentment toward the easy-going Vanargandr. She believed that Fenrir was proactively trying to embarrass her, as, whenever he was around, Arika was bound to suffer a quick and decisive defeat.
Due to her growing affections, Arika didn't like appearing weak and helpless in front of Vahn, so, every time Fenrir defeated her, a small amount of resentment would take root in her heart. It wasn't until Theo's arrival, allowing her to view things externally, that Arika realized the truth of the matter.
Rather than trying the shame other people, Fenrir simply got more excited whenever her beloved 'Master' was watching her fight. This was the same for Theo, and, after thinking about it, Arika knew she also put in more effort when Vahn was watching. He was more than just a teacher to them, so, whenever he was around, they couldn't help but want to show off. Her resentment toward Fenrir was entirely fabricated, the result of a burgeoning inferiority complex that made her feel ashamed to display weakness in front of the person whose recognition she desired...
The trigger for Arika's realization came after Theor had suffered an exceptionally one-sided defeat at the hands of Fenrir. Had it been her, Arika would felt extremely bitter, but, due to her outgoing personality, Theo didn't seem to mind her loss in the slightest. Rather, she took advantage of the fact she had suffered a number of injuries to get Vahn to personally attend her wounds, earning a fair amount of praise throughout the process. This caused her to realize how petty she had been, as, immediately after the treatment, Vahn caressed both Fenrir's and Theo's heads with an appreciative smile on his face, a stark contrast to the wry look he would give her whenever she walked away to treat her own wounds...
Following her realization, Arika sought out Fenrir in private, offering a sincere apology for the way she had been behaving. From then onwards, their rivalry had become marginally more friendly, and, rather than pouting whenever she suffered a defeat, Arika would ask for advice and put more effort into her training. As a result, she received more praise from Vahn, and, though not nearly as much as Asuna, she was gradually becoming more expressive. She also became something of a big sister to Theo, helping the young Hellasian improve her skills as a Mage and offering advice to help her become a better ruler.
The kinship between Arika and Theo wasn't unexpected, as, even in the original timeline, the two had been relatively close. The problem arose when Theo acquired the knowledge that Arika, Fenrir, and even Asuna often shared the same bath with Vahn. Rather, due to Asuna pouting or giving him the silent treatment whenever he tried to convince her to bathe with Fenrir or Arika, it had become relatively normal for them to share the same bathe and bed.
Though he would like to say his relationship with Arika and Asuna was strictly platonic, bordering on familial love, Vahn wasn't dense. Arika had stopped wearing her full set of pajamas to bed, often foregoing the use of bottoms, and, after a while, she even began wearing more intricate types of panties. Previously, she had always worn relatively plain white panties, and, though they were made of a type of elastic silk, they were considerably tame compared to the red or black lace panties she often wore 'only' to sleep in...
Needless to say, Theo had been quite surprised by the revelation, as, prior to that moment, she just assumed Vahn was a close friend to the Ostian Royal Family. She, like everyone else, had absolutely no idea that Vahn had been cohabitating with the two Princesses. Such information would cause a considerable amount of turmoil should it be made public, but, rather than concern herself with such things, Theo instead focused on how 'unfair' the arrangement was. She complained that Vahn had already seen her naked, but, rather than take 'responsibility', he just taught her a few tricks before 'running away' without even offering an apology...
When Vahn heard Theo's accusations, several days after the inciting incident, he was left at a loss for words. Theo clearly didn't view him in the same way as Arika, but, after learning she was the only one being left out, she insisted they all bathe together from then onwards, pointing out that he had already built an onsen and a beach house within the 24:1 diorama. Rather than part ways after their training, she argued it was not only more efficient to bathe together, but, after already deciding to help Arika create a better world, it was a method to strengthen their bonds.
In the end, Theo just wanted to spend more time with everyone, as, despite her popularity, she had very few friends in the Empire. Her position didn't allow her to get close to others easily, and, after the death of her mother, she had struggled to remain positive. Though the training wasn't easy, she was having more fun playing with everyone than she had at any other moment in her life. She had also grown rather fond of Vahn's pampering, and, though she hadn't developed any tender feelings toward him, she had even more trust in him than she did Rakan and her own father.
Vahn had learned a lot about Theo's past after spending days at a time training her, so, after a long discussion regarding boundaries, he ultimately relented. From then onward, their bathing party had increased from four to five, and, due to her outgoing and somewhat mischievous nature, it wasn't long before Theo was completely ignoring the boundaries he had tried to establish. There was a brief period where she behaved bashfully, but, after getting used to sharing a bath with others, it became just another opportunity for her to play around and have fun, often at Vahn's expense...
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'It is hard to be both an Emperor and a father','Chienthropes can be pretty dangerous (OwO)...','The dangers of living alongside people whose very existence qualifies as a fateful encounter xD...')
(A/N: Since it wasn't expressly stated, a little more than three weeks have passed since Vahn arrived in Ariadne. With the Sub-Space Orb and Diorama, around three months have passed. Also, I have a migraine so this might be the only chapter for the Friday block. It took me almost six hours just to write and edit this.)
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