Chapter 364: Bonds, Old and New

When Vahn awoke the next morning, his mind had turned a lot calmer and he could feel the pleasant warmth of the girls spreading through his body. During the night, perhaps because he kept his room relatively cold, Lefya had snuggled up closer to him with a somewhat silly expression on her face and it made Vahn feel a pleasant feeling in his heart. Tiona had somehow been ripped from him and was currently sprawled out in a very unladylike manner and Ais had taken her spot and looked like a flawless doll with her fair white skin, beautiful golden hair, and impeccable facial features. Vahn could imagine her somewhat slowly peeling Tiona away from him through the night before sneakily moving across her body and it made a smile appear on his face.

Perhaps she had never broken the habit, but Fenrir woke up nearly at the same time as he had before turning her head up at him with her slightly glowing scarlet eyes in an inquisitive manner. Vahn scratched the back of her head affectionately and said, “Good morning, Fenrir. Let’s have another interesting day today, shall we?” Fenrir nuzzled up against his chest while enjoying Vahn’s caress as she said, “Lot’s of new people…Fenrir will do her best. Be happy, Vahn, Fenrir will protect you.” Vahn chuckled lightly at Fenrir’s words as the other girls around slowly woke up after hearing their conversation. Since they ventured into the dungeon, they were all used to waking up early like the majority of Adventurers within the City.

Ais opened her eyes without moving and stared at Vahn’s face for a bit before saying in a quiet voice, “Good morning…Vahn…do you feel better now?” Vahn nodded his head before he felt Lefiya pull herself away from his body quickly with a squeak. He looked over and saw the bashful elf covering her face with both hands with her face nearly glowing from how red it was. She opened her fingers slightly to look back at him with her dark blue eyes and said, “I-I-I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…uuuuuuuuuuuh~.” Vahn, curious about her reaction turned his eyes to where she was looking and saw a rather large drool stand on his light grey tunic where she had been resting her head. Reaching out his hand, Vahn gently stroked Lefiya’s head and made her face turn a deep crimson as her ears waggled up and down without avoiding his touch.

Tiona woke up as well and almost immediately bounded up to her feet and stood on the bed as she pointed down at Ais and said, “Eeeeei!? Ais, you’re sneaky~!” Ais looked up at Tiona with a plain expression on her face before turning her head in a somewhat coy manner and muttering, “I wanted to sleep next to Vahn…it’s better to take turns?” Ais looked back to Tiona with an ‘innocent’ expression that made the Amazoness laugh playfully before tackling Ais with open arms and rubbing their faces together as she said, “Aaaah, I can’t be mad at you Ais, you’re too cuuuute~!”

After everyone had awoken, Vahn helped Fenrir get dressed while the other girls returned to their room on the second floor to change as well. Since she was going to be doing her morning training, Vahn helped Fenrir change into her combat attire after helping strip down her previous clothes. Unlike how she acted in the past, Fenrir obediently worked together with Vahn so it was easier for him to help her get the garments on her body. She still didn’t like clothes all that much, but Fenrir was fond of wearing the things Vahn had given her. The other outfits she wore were so that others would spoil and compliment her, but she still preferred the ‘cute’ clothes Vahn ‘made’ for her through the system shop, even though she didn’t know of its existence.

A few minutes later, Vahn went to the back courtyard and there were already a few people gathered to conduct their morning training routine. Daily practice was one of the most important things, especially when you were just starting out. Even when they ventured into the dungeon, the girls still woke up early in the morning to do an hour of training before taking a bath and enjoying a hearty breakfast.

Seeing Vahn’s arrival, everyone present gave him a morning greeting and Vahn felt a bit of warmth in his heart to fight against the freezing cold air as he returned their greetings. Fenrir went off to train with Aki alongside Emirua, Maemi, Tina, and even Shizune. She was wearing a similar tight vest and short to Tina and Vahn suspected she had probably borrowed the clothing for training. Even though they were still too ‘young’ to enter the Dungeon, it didn’t stop the two from building up their foundation for future growth. Even Milan and decided to train a bit and was sparring with Mikoto in order to hone her skills that had become a bit rusty with time.

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Not long after Vahn sat down to meditate, Tiona, Ais, Lefiya, and Tione, all showed up in the backyard and watched the other girls train for a moment before walking over and taking seats near Vahn. Turning his head, Vahn asked, “Do you not train in the mornings?” Tiona was the one to answer his question as she said with a smile, “Amazons might spar every now and then, but we do all our training in actual combat. Ais used to train hard in the past, but after he strength stopped increasing rapidly she focused more on killing monsters instead. As for Lefiya…ehehehe, she is super lazy ya know~?” Hearing Tiona’s words, Lefiya pouted and said in a blaming tone, “Tiona, don’t say such cruel things…I just focus more on my magic development and elves don’t have strong bodies like Amazons…”

Tiona laughed at Lefiya’s pouting face before bounding over and hugging her from behind and saying, “Ayaya, don’t be sad Lefiya, I was just teasing you~!” Vahn smiled at their interaction and he thought the way Tiona associated with people was very refreshing. She was always so bubbly and vibrant and Vahn was happy they would get to spend more time together from now on. Her presence, alongside the other girls in the Loki Familia, would also serve as inspiration for the other girls since they were more than just a little stronger than the girls in his Familia.

Remembering the small training arc in the manga between Bell and Ais, Vahn turned to the taciturn girl and asked, “Ais, I was wondering if you could help Haruhime train every now and then. She might just be Level 2, but you’ll be surprised at her strength.” When Ais gave him an inquisitive look, Vahn pointed at Haruhime and continued, “Looking at her now, It’s hard to believe she has only been training for a few weeks and was initially just a Level 1 with almost no parameter development.” Ais looked at where Vahn was pointing and saw a familiar girl that she had met in the past during Vahn’s duel with Tione. She hadn’t known about Haruhime’s growth but, hearing what Vahn had just said, she began watching Haruhime with a serious expression of interest on her face.

After a few minutes, Ais asked, “She is Level 2 now…? You helped her?” As a Level 5, Ais could easily see through Haruhime’s strength and knew it shouldn’t be so easy to become stronger in such a short period of time. Even she had taken nearly a year to reach Level 2, and her talent wasn’t the type of thing that could be taken for granted. Vahn, hearing Ais’s question, nodded his head but said, “I watched over her, but her growth is entirely related to her own efforts. Without the desire to grow stronger, she wouldn’t have gotten to this point as quickly as she had. Though she might have the benefits of my ‘flame seed’ and my [Mentor] skill, she still put in the effort and has created a small miracle on her own.”

Ais turned her attention back to Haruhime who was fluttering about in an elegant manner while training with Ryuu. Even though she was two levels lower than Ryuu, she was strangely able to put a little pressure on the veteran Adventurer and Ais was very interested in her growth. She believed Vahn’s words completely and knew that Haruhime must have put in effort greater than her past self if she had gotten this far in such a short period of time. After a few moments of contemplation, Ais stood up from the ground and walked over toward Haruhime and interrupted their training in order to see for herself how capable Haruhime was. Ryuu turned her attention over toward Vahn and saw him nod his head before having Ais take care of Haruhime’s training for the time being. Haruhime got fired up and put in even more effort as she ‘sparred’ with Ais who spent most of her time just deflecting Haruhime’s attacks with relative ease.

Seeing that Ais was getting involved in the training, Tiona asked in a playful tone, “Tione, should we help those two get stronger~? They seem like the type to fight based on their instincts and I think it’ll be good for us to get closer to the other set of twins, ehehehehe~.” Tione had been watching everything happening silently before nodding her head in a curt manner after hearing Tiona’s words. Vahn was grateful they decided to take the initiative to interact with the other girls but it seemed like Lefiya took a bit of a mental impact at being the only one left out. Seeing her behavior, Vahn decided to extend a helping hand to the flustered elf girl and said, “Lefiya, why don’t you try talking to those girls over there…” Vahn pointed over toward where Naaza and Preasia were sitting together while they watched Lili perform a strange training of her own. She was wearing a relatively small training outfit that consisted of what looked like a mesh sports bra and a pair of small red shorts. She was upside down supporting her body on her fingertips as she very slowly moved her body into different positions without losing her balance for an instant. Vahn could see the lines of her muscles and was impressed with the control she showed over her own body that was producing steam because of how cold it was outside.

Lefiya looked over for a few moments before blankly staring at Lili’s ‘intense’ training methods. Since Lili was a very ‘small’ girl, being a Pallum, it was a strange sight for Lefiya to see someone her size putting in so much effort to improve their physical ability. While she was hesitating, Lili’s body underwent a sudden change as a magical light shone and she spontaneously grew a fluffy tail and ears like a chienthrope without losing her balance. Lefiya made a slight, ‘Eh?’ sound before watching as Lili’s body glowed against, this time with a pair of rabbit ears and a small tuft of a tail popping out of the exposed skin above her shorts. Vahn noticed Lefiya’s reaction and said, “That’s Lili’s unique magic, [Cinder*Ella]. She can use it to mimic the racial traits of other races and has even gotten to the point where she can copy animals. I’ve even seen her turn into a small rabbit in the past…hahaha.” Remembering the adorable rabbit version of Lili, Vahn started to laugh in a humorous manner.

Hearing Vahn’s explanation, Lefiya said in a somewhat serious tone, “Transformation magic is one of the rarest and most difficult magic to develop…incredible.” Without saying anything else, Lefiya stood up before dusting off her dress and trotting over to where the three girls were. Vahn could see the intrigue on Lefiya’s face and it caused him to smile contentedly. He hoped that a girl like Lefiya would be able to help Lili open up more. Since Lefiya was an incredibly talented mage, she should be able to help Lili understand her magic better and the two should develop as friends, especially if Lefiya told Lili that he had asked her to come over. Lili was actually a very smart girl, she had to be in order to survive, so she would be able to infer that he was trying to help her get along with the other girls.

As expected, the moment Lefiya walked over, Lili pressed off from the ground with her hands before listening to Lefiya’s explanation. Moments later, Lili looked over and Vahn showed her a gentle smile before nodding his head which made the small Pallum girl sigh before showing a somewhat awkward smile as she started talking with Lefiya. Vahn continued to watch them for a while and noticed that, after they exchanged a few words, Lili’s expression turned more natural and she seemed to enjoy the conversation she was having with Lefiya. Naaza and Preasia were also involved and Vahn nodded his head in satisfaction seeing the auras between the four girls stabilize and mesh together a bit. Though he hadn’t arranged for Preasia to get close to them, he had mentioned to Naaza the fact that she wanted to learn compounding and mixing. Naaza probably approached Preasia on her own initiative and exposed her and Lili to each other naturally since the two girls often spent time together ever since living together at Tsubaki’s. Vahn was hoping that, through interacting with more people, Lili’s heart would slowly start to heal and she wouldn’t treat people so distantly.

After the training session came to an end, Vahn decided to address everyone and told the twins that they would be putting off their three-day excursion until the Monday of next week. Since everyone was supposed to have the weekends off, Vahn didn’t want to take them into the dungeon on a Thursday as it would eat into their free times. He also wanted to take a short break himself to deal with all the changes that were happening within, and around, the Manor. Vahn encouraged everyone to get to know each other better over the next few days and said he would call on them if there were any matters that required their participation. Most of them would still be venturing into the Dungeon and Vahn asked if the girls from the Loki Familia, specifically Tiona, Ais, and Tione, could accompany them and help guide the girls’ training. Everyone was much more understanding than Vahn expected as they all easily consented to his decision.

When Vahn had finished his explanation, the entire group made their way to the baths and Vahn’s mind blanked for a short moment when he remembered that he would probably be bathing with even more girls now. It even turned into a bigger situation than his mind anticipated since, after learning that the wall was going to be torn down anyways, the Amazon sisters decided to take it upon themselves to open a large hole in it. With nothing to ‘bar’ their entrance, everyone ended up on the men’s side of the bath, including the girls Vahn had been ‘distant’ with. Emiru, Maemi, and Preasia all stared at his naked figure with various degrees of blushes on their faces and Vahn felt especially uncomfortable with the unwavering gaze of the sheep girl.

Fortunately, he was able to distract himself by helping tend to other girls like Fenrir and Ais. One unexpected thing, which also helped Vahn calm down, was when Lefiya offered to help wash his back with a fierce blush on her face. Vahn realized she was trying her best to open up to him and it made him feel happy as they created a small congo line where he was washing Ais’s back while Lefiya washed his. He also suspected that Lefiya had made her offer because she lost the ‘right’ to wash Ais and decided Vahn was the next best option.

After the relatively chaotic bath, everyone got dressed together before making their way to the dining room and enjoying a lively breakfast. Syr had stayed over the previous night and had taken charge of the kitchen before helping the other girls, specifically Milan, Tina, Shizune, Emiru, and Maemi, make breakfast for everyone. Vahn had been looking forward to the new menu but what showed up before him was rather…unexpected. Though Syr had helped prepare the food, the only person she made anything for was Vahn himself.

What ended up in front of him was something that didn’t look quite edible and Vahn had the peculiar realization that he couldn’t even describe what the dish looked like. It was like when he was looking at something about his Soul Tier and was simply incomprehensible. Under the watchful eyes of Syr, Vahn ‘happily’ ate the food and discovered that it didn’t actually taste bad. Everything, including the texture, aroma, and flavor were all somewhat difficult to describe but Vahn knew it wasn’t ‘bad’ somehow. Since it wasn’t difficult to eat, Vahn showed a polite smile and thank Syr for her efforts before scarfing down the entire meal as she smiled happily at his ‘praise’. Since she could easily read Vahn’s expression, Syr knew he didn’t actually think anything bad about the food and this made her feel happy since the reaction of most people was less than ‘receptive’.

After breakfast, Ryuu escorted Syr back to the Hostess of Fertility in order to help the girls start moving. Vahn offered to come along to carry the luggage, but Syr politely declined and told him to relax a bit since she was worried he was pushing himself too hard. After sharing a short embrace with the two girls, they departed through the early morning mist as Vahn sent a mental command to Fafnir to have it follow the two girls to protect them. The incident last night was still fresh in his mind and Vahn was concerned that some people might heckle the two girls after seeing them exit through the front gate. He also decided that, when construction started on the Manor, Vahn would have several ’emergency’ exits built into the underground that would connect to the surrounding Manors of the Alliance. This would allow them to move about freely without drawing the attention of anyone on the surface.

Soon after Ryuu and Syr left, the other girls started splitting up into three different parties before heading off to the Dungeon for their daily training. The first group consisted of Ais, Haruhime, and Mikoto since they seemed to have bonded a bit after their earlier training. Group number two was comprised of Tione, Aki, Emiru, and Maemi while the final group consisted of Tiona, Naaza, Lili, and, surprisingly, Milan. She had decided to start making an effort to become stronger and wanted to polish up her skills in actual combat while also watching over the somewhat ‘troublesome’ girls of the third group. As for those that stayed behind, Fenrir didn’t enter the dungeon because Ryuu was with Syr. Riveria and Lefiya were also planning to stay back because Riveria wanted to discuss Vahn’s research and also talk about their future training regarding magic.

The final ‘stay at home’ group ended up consisting of Vahn, Riveria, Lefiya, Fenrir, Preasia, Tina, and Shizune. Hestia was also home, but she liked to laze around until it was nearly time for lunch unless there was something going on that required her attention. She just stayed up in her room talking to the other girls on the network to pass the time while munching on snacks that she had received from Vahn. As for Vahn and the rest, they ended up all gathering in the library in the west wing and helped Riveria reorganize things to change the layout into something similar to a school before everyone sat down for her ‘lecture’. Rather than sit around with nothing to do, the girls decided to attend Riveria’s lessons with Vahn in order to increase their own understanding of magic. They also wanted to be able to help with his research if possible since it would allow them to spend more time with him.

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Riveria didn’t see a big difference between teaching one person and teaching a group since, as long as they listened properly, it didn’t require any additional effort. She had Lefiya acting as her assistant and used a blackboard that Vahn had set out for her to start her introductory lessons on magic starting from the history of magic itself which dated back to the Age of Heroes. There are four documented ages in history, which included the ‘Age of Myths’, ‘Age of Darkness’, ‘Age of Heroes’, and the current age, which was called the ‘New Age’ since there had yet to be anything to define it. Many people were beginning to refer to it as the ‘Age of Adventure’, but that would be for future scholars to decide just as they had determined that the ‘Age of Heroes’ ended nearly a thousand years ago when the Tower of Babel was used to seal the dungeon after Albert Wallenstein, the Hero King, failed to defeat the One-Eyed Black Dragon, which was then simply known as the Black Dragon…

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