After Haruhime fully awoke, she noticed the state of her own body and began to act something bashfully as if she were embarrassed by her current state. Vahn shook his head before smiling and placing his palm atop hers and saying, “Relax, I feel nothing but pride after everything you accomplish. You can’t always be ladylike and elegant within the dungeon and there is something charming about a girl that can push through difficult situations without letting it affect them.” As he spoke, Vahn pulled out a large basic before filling it with water and heating it with his [Heart of the Eternal Flame]. It was the same basin he used to help bathe Fenrir in the past, and he also set out a change of clothing for Haruhime since he had prepared a few extra pairs just in case her clothing got damaged in the dungeon.
Haruhime graciously accepted the clothing before setting it to the side and loosening her obi. Vahn averted his eyes and let her undress for a few minutes as he wondered about what the others were up to. He knew Haruhime was probably trying to appeal to him, but Vahn maintained his sensibilities and upheld a sense of propriety as if she were his patient. Haruhime emitted a quiet “Muuu~” sound before dropping down into the water and saying, “Okay, I’m done…” Vahn passed his detection over her and noticed she had sat facing him before he casually walked around to her back without sparing her a glance.
Seeing his behavior, Haruhime submerged half her face into the water and blew bubbles before Vahn handed her some soap, and cleaning powder for her hair. To distract her, Vahn said, “I’d like to check your Status Board and see if anything has changed. Try to relax for a few minutes, Haruhime, I have a good feeling about your progress after that amazing fight earlier.” Haruhime nodded her head before moving her long, blond, hair to the side and wrapping it around the front of her body. Vahn marveled at her pale and unblemished back for a moment before pricking his finger and drawing a line of blood down her spine. After he was done, the hieroglyphs displaying her status appeared alongside the Hestia Familia crest.
Name: Sanjouno Haruhime
Skill: [Inari:Innate(sealed)], [Prometheus’s Blessing:A], [Heroic Strike:G], Featherfoot(I)
Magic: [Uchide no Kozuchi:B], [Kokonoe:D]
Development Skill: [Moon Priestess:Innate(sealed)], [Spirit Healing:D] [Heroic Strike]
Use: Raises power exponentially based on willpower and resolve.[Featherfoot]
Use: Increases comprehension of movement abilities and footwork. Provides a moderate increase to stealth related abilities.
When Vahn saw Haruhime’s new parameters, he could help but pause for a moment as a large smile covered his face. His silence was noticed by Haruhime and she looked back in curiosity to see his expression before they made eye contact with each other. Vahn’s smile became even wider and he said, “Haruhime, you really have amazing potential. Not only did your parameters increase to an incredible extent, but you even picked up two new skills!” Vahn showed Haruhime her Status paper and she stared at it with wide eyes for a moment before she tried to stand up from the basin with an ‘Eeeeeiiii~?”. Before she could, however, Vahn placed his palm on her head and lowered her back into the basin and said, “You’re supposed to be washing up, don’t overreact.”
Haruhime gave him a slightly ‘begrudging’ look that caused Vahn to laugh as he set the paper off to the side and said, “Here, I already brushed your hair earlier, but let me wash it as a reward for your efforts.” Hearing his words, Haruhime blanked for a short moment before happily handing over the cleaning powder and a loose comb so that Vahn could make good on his claim. Vahn accepted the comb and spent around ten minutes washing Haruhime’s incredibly long hair while paying extra attention to not damage it or pull on her scalp. Other than Hestia, Haruhime had the glossiest hair amongst all the girls around him and Vahn was really amazed at how healthy it looked, and felt, as he passed his fingers through it. When he was finished, Haruhime tried to get him to help wash her somewhat waterlogged tail, but Vahn handed her to comb and said, “Maybe next time; Work hard Haruhime…” After ruffling her hair a bit, Vahn gave her a small smile before making his way out of the ward and heading toward his workshop.
As he was leaving, Haruhime followed his retreat with her eyes until he had completely vanished from sight. After he was gone, she relaxed her body in the water and blew bubbled for a few seconds before rising from the water and reaching for the piece of paper Vahn had left. Seeing her own parameters and skills left her somewhat baffled since the majority of her stats had increased by more than one-hundred points. Since her prior parameters, other than magic, were all below 100, to begin with, this was an incredible increase. Even though the paper became damp from her touch, Haruhime still held onto it as she stared happily at the numbers as a small fire was lit inside her heart. Though she couldn’t see it, Haruhime imagined the flame seed within her chest blazing like an inferno.
Within his workshop, Vahn got to work on forging the final piece of Haruhime’s set items, the necklace that would emulate her ‘fortune’ charm that she had received from her mother in the past. Since it would be a symbolic item, Vahn put a lot of care into its design and construction before realizing he had no idea how to actually make small chains for necklaces. Vahn purchased a few texts on the process and was blown away but the ridiculous complexity of creating individual links for necklaces without using things like ‘machines’ to automate the process. He suddenly developed a deep respect for jewelers and craftsman as he purchased a few molds through the shop to make his job easier.
Because of the fine quality, and thinness of each individual link, it didn’t actually take too much time to melt down and shape the metal with the molds. The hard part was actually creating the gaps to segment the links together, and Vahn had to make incredibly precise cuts before welding the alloyed metals together and shaving off the imperfections with his [Eyes of Truth]. But the time he was done, it was actually nearing 11 PM and Vahn noticed everyone had returned and the majority of them had already gone to bed. He wasn’t too surprised, since he had a propensity to completely focus on his tasks when he was doing a complex procedure. Just like when he had made the [Promise] for Hephaestus, Vahn had completely immersed himself in his work and the girls probably didn’t want to disturb him. Unless there was an emergency, the only person that was allowed in Vahn’s workshop presently was himself.
Vahn finished up connecting the final piece, the actual ‘charm’ of the necklace before holding it in his hands and marveling at his own craftsmanship. The chain had been created using adamantine and orichalcum, just like the bracelets and anklets, and Vahn had interwoven the links together in a linking method called ‘foxtail’. Vahn thought it was suitable since Haruhime was a Renard and it would increase the durability of the chain so it wouldn’t snap easily. As for the ‘battery’ aspect, Vahn had left a crystallized plat of his blood within the core of the charm that hung from the chain. When he was finished, Vahn decided to name the necklace [Fox Maiden’s Fortune] in the hopes that it would act as the core of the set pieces and protect Haruhime from harm.[Fox Maiden’s Fortune]
Abilities: Durandal(C), Magical Amplification(B), Magic Vessel(A), Fox Maiden’s Set(B), Luck(C)
An ornate necklace designed to act as the core of the ‘Fox Maiden’s Set’. Enhances every piece of equipment within the same set and serves as a protective charm to shield the wearer from harm. This necklace carries the hopes of its creator to protect the wearer and enable them to walk their path safely, without fear of the future.
Restriction: Renard Only (Female)
After the necklace was completed, Vahn had a happy smile on his face as he exited his workshop and woke up the sleeping girl sitting in the hallway and leaning against the wall. The moment she opened her green eyes, Vahn held out the necklace and said, “Here you go, Huruhime…it’s called [Fox Maiden’s Fortune] and it will help protect you from now on.” The sleepy expression on Haruhime’s face vanished and she happily reached for the necklace with her characteristic, godlike, speed. She was almost about to wear it herself before the sheepishly handed it back to Vahn and asked, “Can you help me wear it~?” Vahn nodded his head as Haruhime turned around and he helped her latch the back. Since he was able to perfectly envision her body when he worked, Vahn had adjusted the length of the chain so that the charm perfectly situated itself in the gap under her collarbone without uncomfortably nestling into her cleavage. Since it had a squarish shape, Vahn had been worried that it would scratch her if it was too long.
Once the necklace was fixed around her neck, Haruhime held the small charm in her hands before squeezing it tightly and uttering a silent prayer. After she was finished, she turned around and gave Vahn a very loving smile before loosely embracing his body and saying, “Vahn, thank you for always looking out for me…I…” Though she didn’t finish her words, Vahn understood what she was trying to say but shook his head slightly and returned her embrace as he said, “I know, Haruhime…I’ll watch over you for as long as it takes.” For the same reason she held back her words, Vahn also kept his to himself as they gently held each other for several minutes until the atmosphere got a little awkward and they separated.
Vahn sent Haruhime off to bed after saying he needed to clean off his body and refusing her assistance in the matter. She gave up and went down the corridor connecting the central stairway as Vahn watched her back until she disappeared through the door at the end of the hallway. He released a short sigh before making his way to the men’s onsen and enjoying a relaxing bath while letting the cold winter air soak into his head and upper body. When he was finished, Vahn returned to his own room and it was nearly midnight by the time he fell onto the cold blankets and instantly fell asleep.
Even though he had gone to sleep late the previous night, Vahn still awoke at 5 AM, even though it would be nearly two hours before the sun rose. Because it was well below freezing in the mornings, the girls had rescheduled their training and were spending more time reading books and learning about the dungeon than actually exercising. As they were all currently in the process of delving into the dungeon for the first time, it was important that they had the proper mindset and took the extra precautions necessary to prevent anything adverse from happening. Since Vahn had the support of Sis, as well as dozens of compendiums regarding the dungeon, he didn’t have to study up much so he decided to eat a private breakfast with Hestia and Ryuu while Aki took care of the girls.
During their breakfast, Ryuu informed Vahn about everything that had happened with Fenrir the previous day while Hestia told him about any changes that had appeared on the network while also explaining their absence in the afternoon. They had been invited out by Hephaestus and Loki before going to the cafe that had become their common meeting point and discussing various matters that Vahn would learn about at a later date. She also ran upstairs and brought back a logbook for Vahn’s personal use that showed all the ‘bookings’ that had been made for his services. Vahn opened it to give it a cursory glance before his eyes widened a bit as he turned through several completed pages of bookings.
The moment he began ‘advertising’ his services, it had apparently exploded on the network and the girls had been vying for spots while making agreements with each other to jump the order a bit. Vahn had even noticed a few new names on the list, such as Tiona, Ais, Tione, Lefiya, and even Riveria had put forth her name, apparently out of curiosity. Vahn was looking forward to how the ‘new’ clients would react before he noticed that a number of slots had actually been reserved by Ais. He remembered the first time they were together and how he had ‘shocked’ her body a bit and wondered if she had a different understanding of the massage than expected.
There was also a second list, which including equipment specifications and bookings to have their measurements taken and documented. Vahn looked forward to the meetings, which also corresponded with each girl’s respective massage appointments. There was no specific date, and it was up to Vahn to reach out to the girls when he had free time and he began wondering if he should clear up his afternoon’s whenever possible. Depending on how early they left, Vahn could help one of the groups train in the dungeon from around 6-7 AM until around 2-3 in the afternoon. This was more than adequate for their current capabilities and was actually somewhat beyond their limits.
If not for his presence to heal their wounds and carry the drop items, the girls would be making much slower progress than normal. Haruhime’s currently ‘Max Floor’ was at 5, while the twins had apparently gone down to the 4th floor with Mikoto and Aki. They had accepted a mission from the Guild to collect 25 Dungeon Lizard hides and had taken until nearly 6 PM to finish. It wasn’t that they were taking their time, but that Dungeon Lizards didn’t often drop their hide and usually left small teeth and magic cores behind when defeated. Fortunately, they were able to successfully complete their mission and submit it to the Guild as the first official task completed by the Hestia Familia.
Vahn was thinking if the event was worth celebrating, but it was eventually decided that it was unnecessary since there were more important benchmarks to work toward, such as leveling up or increasing the overall rank of the Familia as a whole. Ryuu lectured Vahn that ‘celebrations’ should be more meaningful and that he shouldn’t over-glorify mild achievements or it would give the Familia strange expectations and breed complacency within their minds. They should be constantly striving to achieve great things, instead of celebrating every minor achievement. It should be their expectation to succeed, and not something they expected to be rewarded for when the accomplishment itself should be enough.
According to Ryuu, one of the number one causes of death in newer parties is becoming complacent after mild successes and overextending themselves expecting the same success to happen without as much effort. Since he had nearly died several times due to his own ‘overconfidence’, Vahn took all of Ryuu’s words to heart even though he had the bad habit of ‘pampering’ the girls when using his [Mentor] Development Ability. He was just unable to treat them poorly, especially when he was alone with Haruhime, or alongside the twins, Emiru and Maemi. They were just too adorable, and he actually experienced a bit of pressure by ‘holding back’ and having them work hard to grow stronger.
After breakfast, Vahn waited for the twins to gear up before packing away some essentials into his inventory, which included rations, first aid supplies, and extra changes of clothing for the twins, which also including underwear and ‘tape’, just in case. The rest of the Familia needed to visit the Guild to pick a new mission, so Vahn led the two through the City streets and headed toward the dungeon while asking about their progress the previous day. Their Status Boards hadn’t been updated, because Aki said it was better to wait until they had obtained a mild achievement or it would negatively influence their growth. If they constantly updated their status, they would definitely grow fast, but it would also cause them to face a bottleneck because they didn’t spend time acclimating themselves to their current strength and overcoming difficult situations.
Vahn also asked if they had made any progress in their [Gemini] skill, even though they were very obviously ‘synchronized’ ever since he saw them earlier. Not only did they match each other’s steps, while at his flanks, but they mirrored each other’s actions almost perfectly and responded in a synchronous manner to most of his questions unless he asked them something individually. Vahn felt it was a little weird, especially since they were on each side of him, but he also thought it was incredibly interesting and wanted to see how far they could develop the skill in the future. Their current limit was ‘fusing’ for a total of four seconds, but they would always pass out immediately after and only used it when they had returned to their room after dinner. When asked, they explained that the feeling wasn’t all that different from when they were in sync with each other, just that it felt ‘closer’. They also claimed that they experienced a strange feeling of ‘power’ and it was like their senses became much stronger before they eventually blacked out…
Hearing their words, Vahn decided he would help the twins develop their magic parameter a bit and also create some accessories for their use. Unless their internal mana developed, however, they wouldn’t be able to make use of their fused state for a long time. Vahn even contemplated having them cease going into the dungeon until he could come up with a solution for their diminutive mana pool. It was a well-documented fact that mana could be increased through meditation and study, but the twins were rather uneducated and couldn’t even read and write properly yet. They also didn’t have enough mana to make proper use of magical weapons, so Vahn was a little confused on how to encourage their growth for the time being.
A strange thought passed through his mind all of a sudden before a ruminating, somewhat speculative, smile appeared on his face as he cocked his head to the side in deep thought. It seemed like a strange method, but Vahn felt like he would be able to manage depending on the circumstances…he had decided that, when their training for the day came to an end, Vahn wanted to have the twins fuse together and he would try to feed his mana directly into their bodies. If they were able to sustain the form for a longer period of time, Vahn was confident the mana within their bodies would begin to develop further since it was a fusion derived from an Innate ability. Just like his own magical parameter, if they were able to level up the skill, their parameters should grow to match.