After spending some time with Fenrir, Vahn left her with Haruhime as he and Ryuu went to her room to find out if anything had changed in the situation. Vahn learned that Loki and Hephaestus had arranged a meeting with Freya, but they hadn’t heard anything back from them yet. He was a bit concerned that something would go wrong, but Vahn also had a lot of trust in Hephaestus, and to a lesser extent, Loki as well. If they combined their talents, Vahn didn’t think things would develop in a negative direction, but he was a little sad that he couldn’t give Hephaestus a [Maternity Band] and see her reaction.
Once she finished checking through the logbook, Ryuu was planning to return to the Hostess of Fertility, but Vahn asked her to stay around the Manor because he still had thought about returning to the Dungeon once the other girls returned. Though he didn’t do much himself, Vahn had enjoyed returning to the dungeon, even though it had only been around a week that he was away from it. He wanted to perform a few more experiments and see how the twins’ growth was affected by his [Mentor] skill and also give everyone the opportunity to battle alongside each other to acclimate to working as a team. The majority of the girls in the Familia were around the same level of strength, so it was better that they get used to each others fighting styles early on before there is any significant strength gap between them.
Ryuu agreed to Vahn’s request with a smile and they returned to the study and enjoyed some afternoon tea alongside Haruhime and Fenrir. Now that she had a new dress, Fenrir was in a very ‘spoiled’ mood and was lazing about similar to host Hestia often acted in the past. Vahn got to see a unique interaction between Haruhime and Fenrir where they were brushing each other’s tails since they both had rather long, and fluffy, tails. Vahn and Ryuu sat next to each other, relatively close together, but not touching as they quietly enjoyed the atmosphere that had been created.
After a while, Fenrir rolled away from Haruhime before moving over to Vahn and crawling onto the sofa and handing him her brush. Without saying anything, she laid stomach-down on his lap and rested her head against Ryuu’s thighs as her tail thumped with expectation. Since Ryuu wasn’t immune to Fenrir’s behavior, she began to stroke the back of her long, midnight blue, hair and ears gently as Vahn began rhythmically brushing her tail while Haruhime had a somewhat dejected look on her face. When Fenrir saw her expression, she stated matter-of-factly, “Vahn is the best…Ryuu is nice too. Harume is fluffy, but not that good at brushy.”
For a short while after Fenrir’s claim, Haruhime stared with a mock elegance in her demeanor while the light had faded from her eyes. She mechanically brushed her own tail until she noticed Vahn was staring at her with a bit of concern in his eyes. Haruhime stuck out her tongue bashfully before checking the kettle and taking it to the kitchen to prepare more tea. After she left the room, Vahn asked, “Fenrir, do you not like Haruhime?” In response to his words, Fenrir groaned a little before she said, “Harume is nice, but she keeps secrets from Fenrir. She teaches me lots, but Fenrir thinks she is weird and treats other people nicer.”
Hearing Fenrir’s explanation, Vahn ruminated about why she would feel that way and realized it was probably all the warnings Haruhime had received about teaching Fenrir strange things. Vahn didn’t really pay much attention to how the girls interacted with each other when they were studying together. He was either in the Library reading books, or within his workshop designing equipment and conducting his experiments. Before he could say anything to her, Fenrir added on to her earlier words, “Don’t worry Vahn, Fenrir will be nice to Haruhime. Fenrir just likes Vahn the most and Vahn doesn’t brush Fenrir much anymore.”
Vahn’s brows furrowed a bit because he realized he hadn’t attended to Fenrir much ever since he asked her to take care of Preasia. Since he didn’t want to pressure Preasia, he didn’t show much affection to Fenrir when they were together. He realized she had probably been bottling things up without him noticing, but he actually felt a little proud that she had managed so well. Ironically, Vahn felt like Fenrir was getting better at managing her emotions than he was and it made him want to try harder.
After some time passed, it was around 4 PM and the rest of the girls arrived back at Hearth Manor. Vahn had been reading with Haruhime and Fenrir and studying monster ecology so they would be better prepared for the future. Ryuu added in tidbits based on her own experience while Haruhime proactively took notes in a small journal Vahn had given her. When the shopping party showed up, they actually had a small wheeled carriage full of various pieces of clothing and equipment and everyone seemed to be in a great mood. Vahn was happy to see that Hestia was also in high spirits until she saw him appear at the door and her aura immediately began to blaze as she leaped toward him like a bullet.
Vahn caught her out of the air as she rubbed her cheek against his and said, “Vaaaahn, I love, love, love you~!” Her words caused him to laugh as he patted her back until she whispered into his ear and said, “My body is ready whenever you want…” Though she didn’t strip, Vahn could see parts of her dress start to have cracks as if she were about to wilt on the spot. Vahn swallowed a bit since he was afraid he had ‘awakened’ something in Hestia when he had been trying to help her develop ‘brakes’ in the last week. Fortunately, Aki walked up while she was carrying some of the luggage and pinched the outside of Hestia’s thigh which caused the petite goddess to jump like a startled cat out of Vahn’s arms before rubbing the area under her butt. Before she could say anything, Aki stated clearly, “Hestia-sama, you don’t want to trouble Vahn do you~?”
Hestia’s eyes widened a bit before she looked around at her surroundings and her dress immediately became solid again as she laughed awkwardly and said, “Okay, we still have a lot of stuff to do so let’s move everything inside~! Ehehehe.” Everyone pretended they hadn’t seen anything as they began moving everything to their respective rooms with Vahn’s assistance. The twins had tried to pitch the idea of doing a ‘fashion show’, but it got shut down relatively quickly when Vahn mentioned going into the dungeon if they were up for it. Though they had a few inhibitions, the twins wanted to try fighting monsters and seeing how much they had improved with their training. They were jealous that Haruhime and Fenrir had gotten to go earlier, so they were willing to enter even if it meant staying overnight.
After they ate a light dinner, Vahn asked Aki to hold down the fort alongside Fenrir, Preasia, Haruhime, Mikoto, and perhaps most importantly, Hestia herself. Vahn was going to be entering the dungeon with Ryuu and the twins, Maemi and Emiru to see how their sealed Innate influenced their stats. Even in their sealed state, Innates had a big impact on a person’s development, and Vahn was curious to see what effects their shared ability would have on their growth. He had thought about taking Haruhime and Mikoto along, but Vahn realized her Level-Up magic wouldn’t actually have much use on the twins currently. Though a 30% stat increase was massive, it didn’t mean much when their parameters were all Rank-I.
Name: Maemi Rain
Skill: [Gemini: Innate(sealed)]
Development Skill: –
Name: Emiru Rain
Skill: [Gemini: Innate(sealed)]
Development Skill: –
Though they trained together, Vahn was very curious about how their parameters actually developed at the same rate and wanted to see what would happen if they diverged at some point. Since there was no way to guarantee they got the same amount of exilia from monsters, Vahn expected that they would begin to show differences as time passed. He had trouble believing that, if one twin worked harder than the other, that they would both continue to grow at the same rate. If that were the case, it would mean it is the property of their Innate ability and Vahn would have to observe their training closely from then onwards.
Since they had gone shopping for equipment, both of the twins were decked out in matching attire that consisted of dark-blue shorts without pockets. They had some pouches wrapped around their backsides, similar to how Aki wore hers, and Vahn thought it drew an interesting picture seeing their two relatively fluffy cat-like tails poking out from the back. For their tops, they wore something similar to a skin-tight tunic that Vahn saw a lot of female adventurers wearing within the dungeon. He still couldn’t wrap his head around why girls wore somewhat revealing clothing since it didn’t seem suitable for protection at all. Overtop the tight blouses, they wore relatively light breastplates to protect their organs with a pair of forearm protectors and shin guards overtop their black stockings. They had a pair of matching brown boots and both wielded somewhat thick daggers that looked more like curved cleavers and were around 40cm long.
After they were prepared, Vahn led the twins into the dungeon alongside Ryuu since he intended to try a few experiments to see how their parameters developed. Though they didn’t like to separate, Vahn wanted to see what would happen if he gave one of the sisters his Mentor Mark while the other sister trained with Ryuu. If their status diverged a lot, Vahn would help the other twin catch up and had explained his intentions in detail to which both girls replied synchronously, “We’ll do our best, Vahn-sama~!” Fired up by their own words, the girls then proceeded to play rock-paper-scissors together to see who got to accompany Vahn until they eventually settled on a coin flip after throwing out the same results twenty times in a row.
The final winner was Maemi who gave her identical twin, Emiru, a victory symbol with her fingers as the two groups split up before venturing into the first floor. Vahn gave Maemi the Mentor’s Mark on her upper arm as a small, silver, mark of her face appeared on his. She seemed very pleased and wasn’t paying attention to her surroundings so Vahn stated in a firm tone, “Maemi, make sure you stay focused at all times. This isn’t practice anymore, and you’ll be engaging in live combat from hereon. I will only help if you are in mortal peril, so expect that you could sustain injuries if you aren’t careful.” The happy expression on Maemi’s face turned serious with a bit of hesitation mixed in her eyes as she nodded her head and said, “I-I’ll do my best, Vahn-sama.”
For the first twenty minutes or so, Vahn demonstrated how to properly fight against monsters for Maemi as he was waiting for the mark to activate. The longer she watched him fight, the more resolute Maemi’s expression became until it finally came time for her to fight a monster for the first time. Her opponent ended up being a single Kobold and she tried to move forward to fight it but made a similar mistake as Vahn had on his first time encountering the monster. She stood her ground instead of making use of her high agility and tried to react to the Kobold’s attacks in a passive manner.
Though Vahn had told her he wouldn’t step in unless she was in mortal peril, he ended up stunning the Kobold with his domain as he shouted, “Maemi, you need to always be on the move in order to make it harder for your opponents to react to your attacks. Your agility is your highest parameter, make sure you’re using it to the full effect!” Startled by his words, Maemi began to sidestep around the Kobold as Vahn allowed it to move again. The Kobold was actually faster than she was, but it couldn’t change directions as quickly as Maemi could. She was actually very limber and agile, so it was strange that she had tried to fight the monster head on in the first place.
The entire fight lasted nearly seven minutes before Maemi eventually managed a glancing blow to the Kobold’s leg to caused it to fall to the ground. Though she hesitated briefly at the sight of blood, Vahn’s call woke her from her stupor as she stabbed into the area where the magic core was located. After the Kobold dispersed, she fell onto her butt and hung her head low as she took long and strained breaths. Since she had never been in a fight against a monster before, the adrenaline had gotten to her a bit and she had overtaxed her stamina and mental strength. Vahn wasn’t disappointed in her battle, since he had actually struggled immensely when he fought against a single goblin in the past. His first battle against a Kobold had nearly killed him, and Maemi’s current parameters are much lower than his were at the time.
Vahn walked over and began stroking her silver hair before she looked up at him with tired, lilac-colored, eyes with a hint of disappointment and a fair amount of fear contained in their depths. Vahn shook he head and said in a soft, gentle, tone, “You did very well Maemi…it might be hard to believe, but the first time I fought against a Kobold was only around four months ago. At that time, I had actually taken a serious wound to my abdomen before nearly losing my left leg due to the monsters ferocity…” Though her body began to shake after hearing his words, Maemi continued to look up at him as he explained, “Though it was a painful experience, I never stopped trying to improve until I eventually got to the point where I can fight on par with monsters that are more than ten meters in height…I can vault around the room at super-sonic speeds and crush boulders with a single punch…don’t give up just because things are a little scary. The fear is what keeps you alive, and the desire to overcome that fear is what allows you to become stronger. It is only through strength that you can protect the things you care about and defeat the fear that tries to take root within your heart…”
Though there was still a glimmer of fear within her eyes, Maemi nodded her head and said, “Yes, Vahn-sama…thank you for your guidance.” Vahn then helped her stand before giving her one of the several stamina potions he had purchased for their use. Since the girls had low endurance, Vahn had thought to supplement their weakness with consumables. They were somewhat expensive, nearly 10,000V each, but Vahn wasn’t overly concerned with the cost of items as long as he could protect the girls. After she gulped it down, a bit of her earlier vigor came back as Vahn stroked her rounded ears one last time before saying, “Here, I’ll show you something interesting…”
Vahn followed his minimap towards the largest group of monsters he could detect within the range of his domain. He eventually led Maemi to a room with a total of eleven monsters, all Kobolds, before handing her a cloak and saying, “Watch me…” She nodded her head and ducked down behind a large rock as Vahn took confident steps forward before transforming, not into his Báihǔ form, but into a Snow Leopard form emulating Maemi’s racial traits. He pulled out the same dagger he had kept ever since he first arrived in this world and gave it a reminiscent glance with his eyes before engaging the Kobolds that had started to charge at him.
Though it wasn’t a perfect copy, Vahn ’emulated’ Maemi’s movements but added a bit of fluidity to them as he effortlessly cut through the Kobolds while evading each attack at the minimum distance. His perception had developed to the point that, if he was in a focused state, the monsters appeared to move in slow motion while within his domain. He restrained his own speed to be similar to how fast he had seen Maemi move and didn’t suffer a single hit as he dragged the relatively weak dagger through the bodies of the Kobolds without getting a drop of blood on his clothes. When the final Kobold fell, Vahn looked over at the stunned Maemi who had glittering eyes as he said, “Though it would take a bit of practice, this is something you’re capable of…as for my own capabilities…” As Vahn’s words fell on her ears, the only thing Maemi could see was the flash of his silhouette as he vaulted around the floor, walls, and ceiling at a speed that she couldn’t track even with the enhanced vision of her species. Vahn eventually dropped to the center of the room, almost soundlessly, before he disappeared in an instant and appeared behind her before patting the top of her head and saying, “This is where you could get to in as little as four months…”
Maemi had a fiery expression in her eyes as if she were staring at her idol as she shouted in a chipper voice, “That was so amazing, Vahn-sama~! I can’t wait to be able to move like that….uuwwwwuuuu, I want to get stronger even more now!” Vahn raised his brow a bit and cocked his head to the side after hearing the adorable sound that Maemi made. She seemed to realize her ‘mistake’ as she placed her hands over her mouth and blushed slightly before moving away and saying, “W-we should find the n-next monsters. Yes, very quickly, let’s go~!”