Vahn awoke the next morning in a groggy state. He had been in high tensions the entire day yesterday, and even though he recovered his energy and stamina, it didn’t prevent him from feeling mentally exhausted. When he lifted himself up from his bed and looked over, he was surprised to see that Hephaestus had disappeared sometime during the night. He felt a little sad at the thought but assumed she likely had things to take care of and didn’t want to wake him.
As he had no plans for the day, Vahn wanted to make sure everything was running smoothly in the house. He felt a bit guilty about the fact that, the morning after he told the children their new schedule, he ended up leaving them behind for Anubis to deal with. As the ‘Alpha’, he needed to keep his word whenever possible, or it could create problems of trust in the future.
Exiting the room, Vahn nearly fell over when he came across Anubis who had been waiting outside his door. As if she didn’t see his fumble, Anubis said in a polite tone, “Good morning Master.” She followed her words with a polite bow and Vahn returned the greeting. He noticed that, even after he spoke, she continued to bow toward him so he reached out his hand and pet her head a bit. When his hand came into contact with her ears, Anubis’s tail began to sway back and forth a bit before Vahn pulled away.
Apparently satisfied, Anubis smiled at Vahn before informing him, “Lady Hephaestus had left earlier, but she told me to pass a message to you. She said she was going to prepare a few things and that you should put your best efforts into improving your forging skills.” Vahn imagined the image of a blushing Hephaestus telling him to do his best, and it made his heart feel warm as he showed a happy smile.
Afterward, the two made their way to the training area that Vahn had designated on the northern side of the property. The children had awoken early, just as he had ordered them to the other day. They were now patiently waiting for his arrival while sitting on their knees in a seiza-like posture. The moment Vahn took his place before them, they all bowed low and shouted in unison, “Good morning, Master!”
Though he sighed a bit in his mind, Vahn nodded and acted confidently before the seven bowing children. In a firm voice, he said, “Raise your heads and prepare yourselves. I will be teaching you a method of improving your footwork, as well as a variety of skills called ‘Close Quarters Combat’ techniques. I have a rough understanding of how strong everyone is, but from here on out we’ll also be performing live sparing to familiarize everyone with actual combat.”
Vahn saw that the children were staring at him with serious expressions, so he nodded his head and continued, “As I said previously, you’ll be left to your own devices after our training ends, but I forbid anyone from entering the dungeon alone or without informing either myself or Anubis. You already have experience working as a team, so I have confidence you’ll be able to grow even stronger after training. Your goal now should be…” Vahn paused for a moment and looked at the glowing eyes of each chienthrope child. After he passed over the entire group, he continued, “Level 5.”
All of the children were very surprised by his claim, and even Anubis didn’t understand why he gave them such a ‘high’ goal to start out with. Noticing their confusions, Vahn explained with a serious tone, “I have met people near your age that are already Level 5 and have yet to reach their full potential. They work hard and I imagine they will be able to obtain even higher accomplishments in the future. If you’re satisfied with just ‘the next level’, you will never be able to go beyond your limits. Have confidence in your actions, trust your training, and never settle for easy to achieve goals.”
Anubis had a thoughtful look in her eyes, but the smile on her face couldn’t conceal the appreciation she had for Vahn’s words. Each of the children was staring at him with fervent expressions as they shouted at the top of their lungs, “YES, MASTER VAHN!” They seemed to be in incredibly high-tension as their tails beat against the sides of their hips and they looked like they wanted to jump up from the ground and immediately begin training.
Vahn smiled with a hint of pride in his eyes as he slowly released his domain while transforming into his Báihǔ form. Since he didn’t put any intent into the domain, the children weren’t able to sense it at all, but Anubis’s eyes glowed like moonlight as she observed his change. Like Hephaestus and Loki, she suspected that Vahn had a ‘Divinity’ and it made her even more certain of her desire to follow him.
While Vahn had been hyping himself up for the coming training session, he suddenly heard a notification in his head that made him lose a bit of his momentum. The system had informed him that Anubis’s Loyalty had just shot up to 98 and he noticed she was looking at him with a similar fervor to the children. Matching her gaze, he slowly asked, “What will you do? Do you want to train, or will you watch at the side?”
Anubis shook her head while continuing to smile as she said in a happy sounding tone, “I am perfectly happy watching from the side. If you need my assistance, please let me know Master.” She then bowed slightly and walked away while Vahn followed the figure of her wagging tail with his eyes. Vahn found that specific trait of a chienthrope to be very interesting and seeing the bushy tail coming from the shapely hips of Anubis, Vahn actually swallowed a bit as a small desire to pet her tail emerged from his mind.
Almost as if sensing something, Anubis’s ears twitched as she turned her head to look at Vahn and asked, “Do you want to touch my tail, Master?” Though she didn’t know why, Anubis felt like her instincts had told her that Vahn had such a desire. It made her heart flutter a bit, and she couldn’t help but ask the question with a hint of anticipation.
Vahn’s brows shot up by her question and he covered his embarrassment with a cough before saying, “I’m going to train the children. I don’t have time for that right now.” Since he was a bit flustered, Vahn allowed a small verbal slip which wasn’t missed by Anubis. Her tail began to wag at a slightly faster pace as she laughed while covering her mouth with her sleeve and saying, “Later then…when there is time.”
Her words made Vahn’s heart rate quicken, but he put the matter to the back of his mind as he began training with the kids. As he expected, they each possessed incredibly lithe and flexible bodies, and their method of fighting relied heavily on their instincts and senses. This is the reason Vahn had used his Báihǔ form from the beginning, so he would be able to teach them in the most effective manner.
Perhaps due to their young age, but they absorbed everything he said like a sponge and were quickly learning the routines for their future training. By the time the sun had peaked over the outer walls and breakfast had approached, the children had memorized all of the basic forms. Vahn attributed to their identities as Level 2s and their willingness to assist each other when they made mistakes. He noticed they had a powerful bond and acted very close but never acted against the hierarchy.
Rasui and Maat put in an insane amount of efforts into their training and all of the other kids were somewhat deferential to them. Whenever they had concerns, they would immediately ask the two children Vahn had put in charge. Rasui and Maat would do their best to explain, but if the matter was too complicated they would ask Vahn before returning to the child that asked. Vahn noticed this was always the case and, unless he directly instructed one of the kids, they would always get to Rasui and Maat first. He began to understand how much emphasis they played on the hierarchy and how much respect they had for him as the ‘Alpha’.
After training, the entire group at breakfast together in a similar fashion as they had done so previously. The biggest difference was, now the group had a large circular low tabled to congregate around. Everyone worked together to ensure everyone else had the proper food and portions before waiting for Vahn to give the order to eat. Vahn felt strange having the children so reliant on his actions, but it also made him feel strangely confident in everything he did. He wanted the kids to continue placing their trust in him because it made him feel like a more reliable person as a whole.
Once breakfast had completed, the entire group helped clean up the table before tending to the dishes. Everyone had their own assigned roles, and because they cooperated together, they finished the process in an incredibly short period of time. Vahn continued to watch them with interest as Anubis maintained her constant presence behind and to his left.
Vahn had noticed that, unless she was unable to do so, Anubis always stood slightly adjacent and to his left. When he had asked about it, she informed him that, as a servant, it was her duty to always stand at his side. When he asked why she never stood at his right, she gave him a soft smile before saying that the spot at his right was reserved for his wife. Seeing her expression, Vahn felt a hint of danger as he turned away and began ruminating over the idea.
He once thought that people had to be married to be ‘lovers’, but after having multiple lovers now, he hadn’t thought much about marriage. Though he had learned from Riveria that polygamy was very common in Eden, he still never thought about the prospect of having multiple wives himself. Now that he was trying to balance several relationships, Vahn had to seriously consider the matter for the future.
After everything had been cleaned up by the children, Vahn released them to their own devices for the rest of the day. The group immediately broke up into what he had expected were pre-designated teams as all but one person left from the house after receiving Valis from Anubis. Vahn had left quite an amount with her, and she seemed to have been delegated the role of handling and distributing the funds.
Once the two groups of three left, Vahn looked curiously at the remaining person and asked, “Nanu, are you not going out with the rest?” The young girl who had remained behind was Nanu, one of the two unfortunate girls Vahn had previously pinned with an arrow. He always felt guilty whenever he was around her and Chione. Of the three, she was the smallest and stood around 130cm with short, very dark brown, hair that was cut into a bob that framed her face. She had the same olive-brown skin as the rest of the Southern Tribe as well as their characteristic fuzzy tail, pointed ears, and rose-colored eyes.
Hearing Vahn’s question, she bowed her head a bit but didn’t lose her composure. She continued to stare at him with respect as she answered, “Master, I have been asked to assist you. I also possess the [Blacksmith] development ability and received some instruction from Tsubaki-sama yesterday. She informed me to act as your assistant and work on developing my own skills.”
Vahn hadn’t expected one of the children to have the [Blacksmith] development ability and decided to find out the rest of their capabilities later. Since Anubis knew all of their statuses, she should be aware of their skills and abilities and wouldn’t keep the information from him. Vahn wasn’t going to turn away Nanu’s assistance, as it would go against his words of telling the children to do as they please. If Nanu wanted to become a blacksmith in the future and decided the best method would be to act as his assistant, he didn’t have any reason to refuse.
Almost as if on some divinely-inspired queue, several people began showing up outside of Vahn’s house. Curious, he exited through the courtyard and noticed a familiar red-haired goddess instructing the group. Hephaestus, after the experiences of the previous day, decided to take matters into her own hands and procured a ton of resources which she was now shipping to Vahn’s workshop. Since he would be unable to enter the dungeon and secure funds, she wanted to make sure he had plenty of resources at his disposal without having to worry about cost.
Vahn walked up to her and, noticing his presence, Hephaestus immediately began to blush before turning away. Vahn was surprised by her reaction and the fact she seemed to be trying to ignore him, so he got closer and asked, “Hephaestus, what is all this?” Hearing his words, Hephaestus sighed a bit before giving him a sidewards glance and saying, “It’s materials so you can develop your forging ability faster. If I find out you’re slacking off, don’t blame me if I beat you into a pulp. From now on, unless you make plans and confirm them with Tsubaki, you’re on house arrest except on the weekends. I’ll stop by to monitor your progress when I’m free.”
After she finished her words, Hephaestus kept guiding the burly men into carrying the materials inside while she instructed another group to begin establishing barriers and formations around the house. The resources she had acquired for Vahn would easily net more than 2 Billion Valis if someone decided to steal them, so she had people working to secure the perimeter around Tsubaki’s manor and Vahn’s residence.
Seeing the determination of Hephaestus and hearing her firm proclamation from earlier, Vahn just stood at the side and watched her work. He couldn’t help but feel that she needed to relax more, and decided that he would help her do so in the future.
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Hephaestus is just about fed up’,’Future Exploits of the Godhand’,’New Apprentice’)