Chapter 329: Blunder

By the time they arrived the alleyway, nearly ten minutes had passed and Syr was breathing heavily because Vahn hadn’t given her many breaks along the way. The only thing she could do was hold onto his body as the scenery changed around her and her mind fluttered about in a daze. When Vahn finally pulled away, Syr tried to chase his mouth for a brief moment before opening her eyes widely and shaking Vahn’s collar as he laughed at her bashful reaction. Her face was redder than he had ever seen before and Vahn couldn’t help but want to tease her more as he hugged her waist tightly and sent a shiver up her spine when he said, “I think I forgot something at the Orphanage, want to head back with me~?”

Syr’s eyes opened wide and she bit her bottom lip with a pouty face as she pushed away from his body and stormed off into the women’s dormitory. She slammed the door behind her and left Vahn standing in the alleyway with a complacent smile since he could still sense her on the other side of the door. After a few minutes passed, Syr eventually opened the door a crack and peeked through it with her light grey eyes and a healthy blush on her face. She still had a pouty expression as she said, “It isn’t fair when you can sense that I’m still near…” Vahn’s smile widened marginally and he said, “It was a fun date Syr, thanks for going along with me.” For a brief moment, it looked like Syr lost her balance and nearly closed the door before she released a sigh and opened it enough to peak through again. Her expression righted itself a bit as she put on her characteristic gentle smile and said, “Don’t forget about Saturday…”

Vahn nodded his head and said, “Good night, Syr. Give the others my regards if it isn’t too much trouble…” As he spoke, Vahn turned his head to the various presences that were spying on him and Syr. When she slammed the door earlier, it had alerted the girls present and they came to investigate while trying to be sneaky. Syr followed his eyes before muttering in a small voice, “Guh…you girls, spying on me when I’m embarrassed…” A glimmer passed through Syr’s eyes before she turned her attention back to Vahn and said, “Good night, Vahn, I’ll see you soon~!” Before he could respond, the door closed and Vahn could see the presences within the dormitory quickly disperse as Syr rapidly approached their location. Vahn laughed for a bit before he disappeared from the spot with the use of Shundo.

By the time he arrived at the Hearth Manor, it was slightly after 10 PM and the sun had long disappeared beyond the horizon. As tomorrow was a day scheduled for entering the dungeon, most of the girls had already gone to sleep in preparation for waking up early. The only presences he detected still moving about were Aki and Ryuu who had been alerted to his arrival when he stepped through the formation surrounding the barrier. Vahn was reminded of his desire to spend time with Aki earlier, as well as his earlier conversation with Ryuu. For a short period of time, he had an urge to try and approach the two girls but didn’t think that Ryuu would be receptive to that type of thing. Ryuu was a somewhat reserved woman and Vahn imagined their first time would be a private affair. Because they were roommates, Vahn couldn’t easily make a move on Aki, and it would be somewhat awkward to ask her to join him in his room while Ryuu was staying quietly next door.

After releasing a short sigh, Vhan made his way into the Manor and headed toward the onsen to cool his head in the cold air and hot water. Though he wasn’t in high tensions like the past, Vahn was too ‘aware’ of the girls now that he had the logbooks that were given to him earlier in the day. Since he hadn’t checked them since then, Vahn decided to look through them for a bit to see if anything had changed. Fortunately, he learned he could actually check the information without removing the logbooks from his inventory, just like he could ‘download’ the information of other books. This allowed him to be somewhat discreet about the matter, even though it was impossible for someone to sneak up on him presently.

Vahn noticed a new message at the very top of the list that had been written by Syr. She thanked him for the date and how much effort he put into helping the children at the Orphanage. With a small smile on his face, Vahn continued to browse through the Secret Log for a bit and saw various well-wishes and small comments directed toward him. It seemed that a lot of girls had taken to writing kind words for his benefit, and Vahn took note of each of them with a happy smile on his face. He eventually came across a somewhat messy looking series of words that said, ‘The Goliath is going to respawn on Thursday. We were going to go hunt it if you wanted to come along~!’ -Tiona. Vahn recalled his last fight with the titanic creature and remembered his desire to fight it again. He figured that, if he offered them the drop items, the girls would probably let him solo it again. Even though he couldn’t proactively work alongside any of the Familia within the Alliance, the Guild wouldn’t be able to fault him for wanting to fight the Goliath, as it was a relatively rare spawn.

After going through the Secret Log, Vahn gave a cursory glance at the Status Log out of curiosity. Even though he was going to ‘cool off’, Vahn still had a strange desire to know what the girls were currently up to.

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[Status Log]

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Hephaestus: Busy: Available on request…

Eina: Free: Sleeping…

Loki: Free: I don’t mind a late night rendezvous…

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Syr: Busy: Good luck in the dungeon Vahn…

Tiona: Busy: Oooh, I want to see you fight again~!

Ryuu: Free: Thanks for spending time with Syr.

Ais: Busy: I’m curious how strong you have become…

Aki: Free: Don’t hesitate to knock if you are lonely…

Chloe: Busy: Syr is going bonkers~! What did you do on your date?

Arnya: Busy: The Witch has been awakened from her slumber…Vahn, help…

Tione: Free: Lets go fight the Monster Rex on the 17th floor on Thursday!

Aisha: Busy: Just let me know, I’ll come running if you need me…

Lunoire: Busy: Syr is scary tonight…

Anubis: Busy: The children have returned safely.

Lefiya: Busy: I will prepare snacks and potions…

Riveria: Busy: You should come fight the Monster Rex. I want to see your skills in action.

Tsubaki: Free: I wonder if I write something here if Vahn will really come? Ahahahaha…

Naaza: Free: It is good to be able to contact each other like this…

Lili: Free: I have returned Vahn! Please come find me whenever you want!

Nanu: Busy: I will get even stronger…

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Though he wasn’t too surprised that most people were ‘busy’, given how late it was, there were a few things that caused Vahn to pause in the middle of the corridor. Since there were so many people that wanted him to go fight the Monster Rex, Vahn had decided to take them up on the offer. The thing that truly brought him to a halt was the seemingly playful remark of Tsubaki. He knew she probably wasn’t serious, but Vahn had a powerful urge to show up just to ‘spite’ and tease her. Though he would probably take a hard hit for his efforts, Vahn wanted to see the mature bronze-skinned beauty blush a bit…

He had only been a few steps from the onsen, the method he had intended to use to calm his mind, but now he felt compelled to act on his instinct. After stepping into the changing room, Vahn pulled out his communication scroll and wrote that he would be attending the fight against the Goliath. Without stopping to change, he stepped outside in the open air onsen before disappearing from the enclosed area and into the freezing cold night air. He sent a brief comment about ‘going out for the night’ so that people wouldn’t worry too much about his sudden disappearance.

Now that he knew he could read the logbooks within his inventory, Vahn saw the various responses that were coming in questioning where he was heading. Hephaestus had even blatantly asked if there was an enemy that needed to be dealt with and it caused Vahn to smile. He was tempted to say ‘yes’, since he was heading off to a battle of sorts, but he didn’t want to trigger the network with his joke. He stopped on a rooftop and pulled out his scroll and quickly penned that everything was okay and that there wasn’t anything to worry about. He said he just wanted to get some fresh air because he had been lost in thought ever since his visit to the Orphanage earlier.

After he put away the scroll, Vahn continued toward Tsubaki’s workshop with a renewed vigor because she had even made a remark of her own in the red logbook joking that he was on his way to meet her. She got a few cheeky remarks from some of the girls, but Loki and Syr seemed to have seen through the truth as they said, ‘Oh, you’re in trouble now~’, and ‘Tsubaki…I feel like you’re pretty sneaky’. Since it was Loki and Syr speaking, the other girls that were paying attention to the event jumped on the bandwagon and started teasing Tsubaki. Though she didn’t respond for a while, Tsubaki eventually sent a message asking, ‘You don’t really think he is coming to my workshop right now, right?’. Answering her question was Hephaestus, who said, ‘Tsubaki, I just looked at the Status of everyone. I didn’t think you were that airheaded…’

As he leaped through the air, Vahn couldn’t help but let out a laugh that dispersed a large cloud of condensation. He didn’t get to see what was discussed on the larger network, but just reading the logs of what everyone was saying within his smaller network was very entertaining. Though it wasn’t likely as drastic as his imagination, he could imagine the flustered Tsubaki panicking after realizing her error. There was a good chance that she had gotten a little drunk after returning from the expedition, so she had likely intended her comment as an actual joke. Unfortunately, she underestimated their ‘vendetta’ and Vahn had occasionally been thinking of how to get even with her.

When he was around two minutes away, Vahn noticed that the information in the Status Logbook now listed Tsubaki as ‘Busy’ and she had erased her earlier message and written, ‘I’ve gone to sleep’. Reading the message, Vahn stopped atop a building and overlooked the residences in the far distance where a large number of workshops and Manors were close together. Since the logbook was supposed to state when a girl was being receptive to him, Vahn felt like he needed to pull back now that she changed her status to ‘Busy’. It was actually late at night, and there were likely several things she needed to take care of tomorrow since they had just returned from an expedition, even if it was just a ‘practice’ mission.

While he was lost in contemplation, Vahn noticed a new line of text, this time in the Secret Logbook that said, ‘If you’re almost here, I’ll pour a few drinks for you…but nothing more’. There wasn’t a signature attached to it, but Vahn knew it was from Tsubaki so he leaped forward with Shundo and advanced in the direction of her workshop. After a few short minutes, he arrived on a wall adjacent to her Manor before concealing his presence. Though she hadn’t been saying anything, Vahn was absolutely certain Lili had been paying attention to what everyone was saying on the network. He needed to sneak in without notice, or it would become a different problem entirely. Fortunately, because it was a Manor designed personally by Tsubaki, there was adequate soundproofing all throughout the house, including most of the rooms.

Vahn jumped off the wall while evading the complex defensive arrays that were set up all around Tsubaki’s Manor. He had the key to enter whenever he wanted, but Vahn wanted to surprise Tsubaki and avoid alerting Lili and Naaza, at least for the time being. He had already completely concealed his presence as he slowly maneuvered through the eastern courtyard and moved stealthily towards Tsubaki’s room. Along the way, Vahn noticed a powerful lump of mana and, even though it was very small, he knew that Lili had actually disguised herself and lay in ambush. He knew about her promotion to Level 2, but he hadn’t seen how her capabilities had increased ever since his probation started. She apparently had developed her magic to the point where she could disguise herself as a small animal, because Vahn could see what looked like a chestnut colored rabbit hiding in the shadows along the corridor. Since none of the rooms people slept in had windows open to the outside, the only way to get to Tsubaki’s room was through the corridor where Lili had posted herself, almost as if she were acting as a silent sentry protecting Tsubaki’s bedchamber.

Other than knocking her out, Vahn couldn’t find a solution to the current problem that wouldn’t create a bigger one in the future. He really did care about Lili, and he didn’t want to do anything to hurt her trust in him. Even though her Affection was locked at 99, Vahn knew her actual hidden parameters were probably very high. They had a future promise to be together, but it still didn’t stop her attempts to try and get closer to him sooner. Since he didn’t really spend much time with her ever since moving in with the Anubis Familia several months ago, Vahn could understand why she was so anxious. Prior to his solo journey into the dungeon, they spent a great deal of time together and that had spontaneously changed based on a decision he had made in his own interests.

Vahn released a muted sigh that didn’t pass beyond the area of his domain before he used Shundo to silently sneak up behind her. While he had his [Stealth] active through his domain, Vahn could conceal even his scent. [Featherfoot] made his steps absolutely silent and he could prevent any vibrations from traveling through the floor that would alert her to his presence. Since she was so focused on the corridor leading to Tsubaki’s room, she was caught completely off guard as Vahn reached forward and picked up the small rabbit by its sides. She immediately started kicking her feet as if she were an actual rabbit before seeing who had picked her up. The small bunny became somewhat limp in his hands as she stared at him with hazelnut colored eyes.

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Now that she had calmed down, Vahn whispered quietly, “You’ve made excellent progress Lili…I’m really impressed.” Vahn had been investigating her transformation and noticed that, even though she had shrunk her body by a great deal, the small rabbit in his hands still weighed slightly over 30kg. She also had a Pallum sized aura, even though she was in a very small form presently. He noticed she was either unable to speak in her form, or she was trying to put on an act so he said, “Welcome back…I heard you went on an expedition. It’s good that you’re safe.” As he spoke, Vahn cuddled the tiny rabbit a bit and it writhed about in his arms before he could feel the small shape begin to increase in size.

After a few seconds, the magical light that had encompassed Lili’s body faded away and she hung limply in Vahn’s arms since he had been holding her prior to her reversion. Her original size was only 110cm, so Vahn felt like he was holding one of the children back at the orphanage and it made a smile appear on his face before he set her down on the floor. She was wearing a pair of pink pajamas with, perhaps intentionally, small caricatures of bunny rabbits on them. Lili stared up at him with her light-chestnut colored eyes with a contemplative, yet sad, expression on her face as she asked, “You didn’t come here for me though, did you?”

Vahn squinted his eyes before shaking his head and saying, “Things are never that simple Lili, especially with everything that has happened. I’ll admit, I came here to tease Tsubaki a bit after her inciting words within the logbook. However, you’ve known me longer than anyone…you know I’m not making an effort to avoid you, or anything like that. I just want to give you time, since I hope you’ll grow closer to the others if I’m not putting pressure on you…” Whenever he was around her, Lili’s main focus was always on him. All of the goals she had set for herself were related to him, and she was the girl Vahn was most concerned about breaking down if something actually happened to him.

Lili continued to stare up at him quietly for a long while as a moisture slowly built up in her eyes. Vahn could see her aura flickering greatly and knew she felt very hurt by his words, even though she also seemed to agree with him. She eventually couldn’t bottle things up well anymore and tried to fall to the floor but Vahn caught her gently in his arms and comforted her for the first time in a while. Though she wasn’t being too loud, her cries caught the attention of Tsubaki who opened her door and was surprised to see Vahn holding the crying Lili in his arms. He gave her a wry smile since he didn’t get to surprise her to the same extent as he originally intended.

After around ten minutes, Lili finally stopped crying and just continued to nuzzle her face into Vahn’s collar in silence. Vahn felt her breath tickle his exposed skin so he rubbed her back and asked in a gentle tone, “Do you feel better now?” Lili released a lukewarm sigh before finally separating from his body with slightly swollen eyes. Her earlier tears hadn’t been an act, she just couldn’t keep bottling up the emotions she had been keeping at bay recently. A small frown appeared on her face and she bundled up her fists confidently and said, “I’ll do it Vahn…I’ll show you I can get to Level 3 before my birthday. I’ll even try to get along with the other girls…there are just so many of them that I’m afraid you’ll abandon me one day. I sometimes have trouble sleeping because I’m afraid that you’ll forget about me…”

Vahn shook his head and look straight into Lili’s eyes as he asked, “Do you truly feel that way, that I’d willingly abandon you..?” It wasn’t an act, Vahn showed a genuinely hurt expression before he swallowed the knot in his throat and asked, “Did you forget our first meeting so soon? My convictions then have never faded, not for a single moment. It is my concern for you, that you’ll lose your way, that prevents us from being together Lili…” From the moment she saw his hurt expression, Lili started to breathe heavily like she was about to start hyperventilating. As Vahn said, she knew him better than almost anyone else and she was also the most aware of how silly her fears were. If she were in danger, Lili knew that Vahn would move Heaven and Earth to try and save her…

Lili’s lower jaw began to quiver a bit as the stuttered, “I-I’m so-” Vahn shook his head before walking forward and embracing Lili again and stating firmly, “Never, ever, say such cruel things, Lili. I know you’re sorry, but it still breaks my heart to hear things like that. More than your apology, I’d rather you continue doing your best…not for my benefit, but for your own.” Lili nodded her head and held back her tears as she sniffled to prevent the fluids from draining from her nose. Vahn patted her back a few times before separating and handing her a small box. Lili hesitated for a brief moment before reaching forward and taking the box from Vahn’s hand. She opened it up and a surprised expression appeared on her face before the tears began falling from her already puffy eyes.

Though he had accidentally destroyed the first one when he ventured into the dungeon, Vahn had reforged the paired locket that he had purchased with Lili in the past. Within the box, there was a large orichalcum heart with a gap in the center where a smaller heart could be inlaid. Lili reached into he opening at the top of her pajamas and pulled out the silver chain before seating the small silver heart snuggly into the golden heart within the box. Vahn smiled and said with mock relief in his voice, “Whew…I was afraid it wouldn’t be a proper match. Looks like I got it right…lucky~.” Lili’s brows furrowed low before she removed the locket from the box and placed it around Vahn’s neck. She looked at him with a stern expression on her face and said, “Don’t break this one…I was very sad when I saw you weren’t wearing it anymore.”

Vahn smiled before ruffling her hair and whispering in a quiet voice, “Don’t worry, this time I made sure it was indestructible…” Lili little face blushed furiously as she gazed at the small golden locket around Vahn’s neck. She fiddled with the silver locket around her own neck before saying in a somewhat urgent manner, “I want one to…one that will never break, no matter what happens.” Vahn laughed at her concern and she became a little flustered until he reached out his hand and said, “Of course…” There was a second box within his palm, since he had long anticipated her request from the very moment he reforged his. Without removing her previous one, Lili let Vahn place the new locket around her neck and he played with them both for a short moment before saying, “Thank you Vahn…for always being with me when I feel like I’m going to break. Just like this locket, I’ll persist forever without backing down…” There was a renewed conviction in the small Pallums eyes as she quickly leaned forward and sneaked a kiss on Vahn’s lips before trotting off along the corridor. As if she were embarrassed to be seen normally, Lili transformed into a small rabbit before disappearing around the corner.

Vahn heard footsteps from behind and turned his head to see the smiling face of Tsubaki looking down on him. Answering a question he never asked, Tsubaki said, “She has really been working hard. Even when she is asleep, she always uses her magic to improve her own control over the spell. Though she has only been able to compress her body till now, she keeps bragging about one day being able to increase the size of her body…” Vahn quickly understood Tsubaki’s implication so he released a small sigh before extending his hand for Tsubaki to help him rise. She pulled him up with a cheeky smile on her face before Vahn repeated his actions of the past and drew his fingers along her abdomen. His control over [Hands of Nirvana] was much stronger than in the past, so Tsubaki’s legs buckled the moment he got his feet under him.

Tsubaki released a surprisingly sensual gasp as Vahn supported her body by her arms and whispered, “I didn’t forget the reason I came here…I think it’s about time we even up the score a bit, unless you want to give up and call it quits~?” Even Vahn didn’t know why, but he couldn’t help but tease Tsubaki ever since he moved out of her Manor. She had ‘tormented’ him quite a bit in the past, but it wasn’t until his ‘awakening’ that his desire to tease her arose. He truly believed it was a waste that she had given up having children, and if she showed any signs of opening her heart to him, Vahn was determined to give her a child of her own in the future.

Though she had taken a few deep breaths at first, Tsubaki gripped around Vahn’s arms, which he was using to support her, and put a bit of strength into her fingers. She could feel Vahn’s bones creak a bit under the force, but she noticed his face didn’t even flinch for a moment. A giddy feeling welled up in her stomach, in the same area where Vahn had touched earlier. Even now, there was a tingling sensation in her body like all of her nerves had been stimulated simultaneously and it was almost impossible to put any strength into her lower body. She looked up and locked eyes with the young boy that used to be under her care and saw the serious, yet playful, look in his eyes as he waited for her answer. For the first time, other than when she was in battle, Tsubaki could feel her pulse quicken as she gnashed her teeth and said, “I’m not going to give up against a snot-nosed brat that thinks he outgrew his britches…” Vahn’s serious expression morphed into a somewhat gentle one as he supported Tsubaki’s body before using Shundo to dash through the door she had left open previously. He kicked it closed behind him and said, “I wonder if your confidence will last until the end…”

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