After promising to use ‘normal’ mannequins from now on, Vahn helped to remove the dresses by placing them into his inventory while they were still attached to their bodies. Other than with Loki, he had never used this capability before so both Hephaestus and Eina were startled when they were suddenly bereft of clothing. They had taken off their bras earlier, so Eina was left wearing nothing put pale pink panties with white stockings, while Hephaestus simple had on a pare of vanilla lace panties. She used to wear more ‘normal’ panties, but now wore expensive designer underwear whenever she came over to visit Vahn. Though it had already been ‘assumed’ in the past, a lot of the girls knew Vahn had a thing for clothing and she decided to play up to it a bit. Now that he was actually making clothing, including lingerie, it was pretty much cemented in the minds of the girls that Vahn enjoyed dressing them up.
Before they put their clothing back on, Vahn gave the [Blazing Passion Panties] to Hephaestus and the [Cool Passion Panties] to Eina so he could get their input. Vahn earned a few looks that made his cheeks feel hot, but they both tried them on without any real complaints. Vahn didn’t get to see Eina’s naked body often and he was surprised to find out she was now ‘bare’ down below. It didn’t look like she had shaved, so Vahn assumed she had either had it waxed or applied an ointment to remove the roots. He knew it was a tradition for Elven women to ‘purify’ their bodies before getting married, but he hadn’t expected Eina to follow the tradition since Half-Elves were scorned by Elven society. She had noticed his look and ended up turning her back to him but that only made Vahn’s heart palpitate because he got an even clearer view when she bent over to wear the panties.
Eina was able to slip into her stark blue panties easily, but Hephaestus struggled a bit by the time the blazing red pair reached her thighs. Even though they were made of a stretchy fabric, Hephaestus’ butt was rather large, not that it was fat at all since it was actually very toned, and she was unable to wear the relatively small pair of panties. Hephaestus had a blush on her face as she finished pulling up the too-small pair of panties until they had firmly seated themselves on her hip. Vahn swallowed a mouthful of saliva because the fabric bit into her skin and created a tantalizing sight because the stretched fabric had turned transparent in almost every area except the groin.
With a fierce blush on her face, Hephaestus looked at Vahn and said in an awkward tone, “They’re a little small…but otherwise comfortable.” Tsubaki cracked up at Hephaestus’ remark before tracing the lining of the panties that were cutting into her butt with her index finger. Because Hephaestus had a powerful body, her pliant cheeks were actually somewhat resistant to the fabric and it looked like the only thing keeping it from snapping was the quality of the material. Hephaestus smacked away Tsubaki’s hand and glared at her before peeling the tight garment off of her body and changing into something more suited to her figure. As they had already agreed to wear the dresses during the wedding, Vahn promised to make her a more suitable pair before the event.
After Eina and Hephaestus had properly worn their clothes, they spent a bit of time in Vahn’s workshop as he sketched out designs and got their input on how he could improve his personal line for the girls. Hephaestus and Tsubaki were both skilled [Master Smith]s as well, so they also contributed their own designs while Vahn explained the ‘mechanics’ behind how he was able to draw so much potential out of the fabric. Hephaestus had already completely seen through it with her god’s eye, but Tsubaki had only gleaned into bits and pieces after inspecting the fabric for a few hours.
Vahn knew from their explanation that his ‘naming’ ability was somewhat unique since they were only able to give abilities to equipment after careful planning and preparation. Generally, even Hephaestus only put 1-3 abilities onto a high-quality piece of equipment while the vast majority was left as a ‘blank slate’ since most Adventurers wouldn’t be able to make proper use of such abilities anyways. However, though they typically had fewer abilities, Vahn knew that almost every ability Hephaestus put her effort into imbuing was nearly guaranteed to be S-Rank.
Tsubaki inevitably decided to focus more on creating weapons than expand her skill set to include clothing, as she wasn’t that fond of creating armor in the first place. Because she was a warrior before she was a blacksmith, Tsubaki preferred to make powerful weapons and personally test them by venturing into the Dungeon completely solo. Her record clear had taken her all the way to the 37th floor since she claimed she would also venture deeper than her age through her own efforts. Since he had experienced what the Lower Floors were like, Vahn was somewhat shocked to know how far Tsubaki had been able to venture on her own. He knew that Ais, Tiona, and Tione actually had similar records, but for some reason, he had never imagined Tsubaki in the same vein, even though he knew she was another ‘battle maniac’ like the other three.
It eventually came time for Hephaestus to leave and, since she didn’t have an escort on hand, Vahn escorted her back to her workshop with the use of [Shundo] while also holding Eina in his other arm. She had been busy training her ‘replacement’ at the Guild lately, so she wasn’t able to stay at the Manor for too long. After the wedding, however, she would become a permanent resident even though her official office wouldn’t be inside the Hearth Manor. She wasn’t the only one that was being sent by the Guild either, as there was also a need for an appraiser and official notary to report missions that had been accepted and completed by the Alliance. Eina was going to be the ‘Branch Head’ and ‘Liason’, but she couldn’t manage the entire Alliance’s matters on her own.
Because of the ‘no male’ policy of the Hestia Familia, the two additional personnel that were being sent over were named Misha Flott, one of Eina’s longtime friends, and Rose Fannett, who was one of the senior Guild personnel and had relations with the Loki Familia in the past. Vahn was slightly concerned about the presence of two more women in the Manor, especially considering they were 17 and 24 respectively, but Eina ‘assured’ him it wouldn’t be a problem, at least for the time being, with a somewhat scary look in her eyes.
Misha was apparently a ‘closet’ lesbian while Rose had sworn off being in a relationship with any Adventurer that actively went into the Dungeon, as she was afraid of being left ‘alone’ if they died. The fact that she was a werewolf was still a bit of a red flag for Vahn personally, however, as he couldn’t deny he was ‘interested’ in women of exotic species. The only other werewolf he had ever met was Bete, which showed that they were very rare and it didn’t help matters any that Eina professed she was a very beautiful and mature woman that had been confessed to many times over the years.
After dropping off the two girls at their respective destinations, Vahn decided that he wanted to do what he had failed to accomplish the previous day, which was to visit the gods of the Alliance and stop by Welf’s workshop. He had already informed everyone at the Manor that he would be out for a few hours, so there weren’t any problems with him running around the City freely for a while. Though it hadn’t yet ranked up, Vahn’s [Shundo] had become much more fluid over the last few weeks and his transition speed was much faster than in the past. A trip that would typically take ten minutes in the past, at his full speed, now only took him seven minutes instead. One day, Vahn even wanted to learn the evolution of the technique that would allow him to even use the magic ability on the void itself. (A/N: Btw, the ‘void’ is typically just the ‘air’ or ‘space’ around a person.)
As he approached from the west, Vahn first arrived at the Miach Familia Manor that was still under constructions even now. Their members were staying in a temporary residence in one of the previously purchased buildings and Vahn got to officially meet their members for the first time. Other than Miach himself, there were only eight people present and Vahn noticed that the majority of them were female with the exception being a single male member. He wasn’t aware of it in the past, but most of the active males had died as a result of the ‘Pass Parade’ that nearly cost Naaza her arm in the past. One of the reasons she hadn’t stayed with the Miach Familia was because several of the girls, even though they couldn’t blame her for the accident, would still feel a bit of resentment if she were around. Three of them had lovers that died while the rest were simply ‘fans’ of Miach himself and didn’t want any additional ‘competition’.
Miach received Vahn in high spirits and introduced him to everyone in the Familia, but Vahn could tell he wasn’t actually nearly as welcome as Miach wanted him to be. Before the Alliance was established, nearly a third of his members had actually left the Familia and now it had become a somewhat awkward place to be. There were several people trying to join now, fortunately, so things should improve in the near future for the relatively small Familia that specialized in the production of medicine and potions. The fact that they had powerful allies, as well as a massive Manor and large plot of land, would make them very ‘popular’ for prospective alchemists and budding Adventurers in the future.
After enjoying a short conversation over tea, Vahn left the awkward residence and headed through the yard of his own Manor before leaping over the eastern walls and heading to the Manor in the east. Loki’s residence was being built in the north, while the Anubis Familia would be residing in the south. Vahn wanted to visit Anubis and the pack last, as it would probably eat away the majority of his time once he arrived. Stepping into the construction site, Vahn saw the large shrine that was being constructed in the style of the Far East, as well as the massive dojo-like structure that was being built adjacent to it. Takemikazuchi was a principal god of Swords, Storms, and Martial Prowess with the lesser divinity of War. His Familia was being turned into the same type of Familia he had run in the Far East, where he trained orphans and those that wished for a better life to become great warriors.
Presently, the Takemikazuchi Familia had been reduced to a total of five members though, like the Miach Familia, there were several prospective members trying to join. Take’ refused the vast majority of those that attempted to get close to him, as he wasn’t fond of those that simply looked at the Familia as a means of getting closer to the Hephaestus, Loki, and Hestia Familias. He would rather walk the area of Daedelus Street and look for orphans than accept the ‘seemingly’ powerful Adventurers that were showing up at his doorstep and making bold claims. One of the reasons for this was due to the fact that Ouka, the Captain of the Familia, was still very young and was currently only Level 2. If he accepted ‘veteran’ Adventurers, it would undoubtedly cause conflict even if they genuinely wanted to join the Familia without ulterior motives.
Taki’, Ouka, and the timid Chigusa, all showed up to receive Vahn once his presence was known on the premises. Even though they could stay in a temporary residence, they had already started living inside the Shrine and had been proactively assisting in the construction. When they saw Vahn, Take’ had an amiable smile on his face as he bowed politely and said, “Welcome to our home, Vahn. It is a pleasure to see you in good health.” As he was typically well-mannered, Vahn returned the proper courtesy which prompted by Ouka and Chigusa to bow politely as well. Ouka had his characteristic serious expression while Chigusa had a small smile on her face as she stared through the part in her bangs with her faded green eye. She allowed her hair to cover part of her face, which was somewhat strange since Vahn expected it would interfere with her responses during a fight.
After moving to one of the completed rooms, Chigusa prepared tea for everyone while Vahn sat on a cushion across from Take’ while Ouka kneeled on the tatami mat floor in a proud seiza. As it was the polite thing to do, everyone waited for Chigusa to serve the tea and sit at the side before both Vahn and Take’ lifted their cups and took a sip at the same time. Vahn’s eyes flashed slightly at the fragrance and taste as he recognized it to be the same leaves he had given Take’ in the past. Understanding Vahn’s reaction, Take’ chuckled in a calm manner and said, “My apologies, but the leaves you gave me are the best we have to offer presently. Even though we’ve received an inordinate amount of support from the Hephaestus Familia, we’ve tried to manage our other affairs without overly relying on the kindness of others.”
Vahn shook his head and, with a polite smile on his face, simply stated, “It’s quite alright, as this happens to be my favorite brand of tea.” Take inclined his body forward slightly in a nascent bow and said, “Your words have eased a heavy burden from my heart. As our benefactor, I was worried you would find our lack of decorum dissatisfactory.” After he spoke, Take locked eyes with Vahn and they both smile before laughing amiably and setting their tea down before assuming a much more casual demeanor. Now that they had gotten the niceties out of the way, they didn’t have to continue putting on an act and allowed the tension in the air to dissipate. Even Ouka’s shoulders drooped slightly as Chigusa released small bell-like laughter.
Now that everyone was relaxed, Vahn asked, “So, how have things been for the Takemikazuchi Familia lately?” Take released a small sigh before shaking his head and saying, “Honestly, things have been going both good and bad for our small Familia. Having the backing of the Alliance has drawn a lot of attention to us and we simply don’t have the capacity to deal with the situation smoothly. Not many people are tolerant of the culture of the Far East and I’ve had to turn away almost every Adventurer trying to make ‘use’ of my Familia as a stepping stone.” As Take’ spoke, Ouka hung his head with a somewhat difficult expression on his face and Vahn could see him gripping his hands tightly. Chigua looked over at him with clear concern but it didn’t seem like Ouka had any attention to spare her as he was lost in his own self-deprecating thoughts.
Vahn cocked his head in a thoughtful manner before saying, “I can probably help Ouka become stronger and you can always reach out to Hephaestus and Loki if you’re having trouble finding members. Loki ‘adopts’ a lot of orphaned children into her Familia to train them as Supporters and future Adventurers, but they would probably be better suited under your tutelage instead. They had hundreds of members, but only three main groups that lead the expeditions, so they wouldn’t be hurting after losing a few of the younger members at all.” Take nodded with an appreciative look in his eyes while Ouka raised his head and asked, “What do you mean by saying you can help me become stronger? I don’t need the pity of the man I see as my rival…”
Hearing Ouka call him his ‘rival’, Vahn felt a small flame ignite inside of him as a serious expression appeared on his face and he stated in a firm tone, “You have the resolve to consider yourself my rival, but lack the conviction to do whatever it takes to actually become stronger?” Vahn shook his head in a disapproving manner before continuing, “You’re still just a kid…” Even though Ouka was older than he was, Vahn couldn’t help but find his mentality somewhat childish. The fact that he held his pride so close to his chest like it was something precious, even to the point of allowing it to restrict his growth, was something Vahn found ridiculous. Just knowing he had a girl doting on him from the side yet he was seemingly unable to realize it made Vahn somewhat annoyed.
Ouka stood up after hearing Vahn call him a ‘kid’ and glared down at him with fierce eyes as he said, “I’ve heard rumors of your strength but have yet to witness it for myself. I wonder how strong the mighty Sage Aldrnari really is to go around calling the conviction of others into question?” Take’ frowned slightly before releasing an almost inaudible sigh through his nose as Chigua flustered slightly and stood up to ‘block’ Ouka. When Chigusa blocked his path, Ouka placed his large hand on her shoulder and moved her to the side as he took a step toward Vahn. Chigusa wasn’t hurt at all by his actions, but Vahn felt annoyed by how Ouka was able to ‘toss’ aside the girl that loved him. The fact that Vahn knew Ouka had affection for her made it even worse because he couldn’t see how someone could possess so much pride that they ignored the fact they were hurting their loved ones.
Vahn sent a glance at Take’ and saw the resignation present in his eyes and the slightly apologetic smile on his face. Take’ understood that Ouka needed to be taught a lesson so he wasn’t going to interfere in the guidance Vahn was about to confer to the prideful ‘boy’. Understanding Takemikazuchi’s intent, Vahn’s inhibitions faded in an instant and he leaped up and struck the guard of Ouka and sent him flying through the bamboo door and out into the corridor. Ouka managed to right himself without falling to the floor, but the only thing he got for his persistence was Vahn’s foot colliding with the side of his head which sent him crashing through the wall and out into the adjacent courtyard.
As he wasn’t trying to actually injure him, for the most part, Vahn was holding back a great deal but was still easily able to overwhelm Ouka. Though they were similar in age, Ouka was only at the middle ranges of Level 2 while Vahn already had the requisite stats to reach Level 4. Even if Ouka fought desperately, there was simply no way he could put up any meaningful resistance against Vahn at all. Of course, this didn’t stop him from rising back to his feet, rubbing his cheek with the back of his hand, and then spitting out a mouthful of blood as he glared at the approaching Vahn.
Seeing Ouka’s expression, Vahn furrowed his brows slightly and asked, “Is this the limit of someone that considers themselves my rival? You looked so powerful when you were pushing aside a small girl earlier…strange.” Hearing Vahn’s words, Ouka showed a bit of confusion for a moment before gnashing his teeth and charging forward with a fierce momentum and trying to grapple with Vahn. From the moment his movement began, Vahn felt like the world had slowed down marginally and he was able to see every individual muscle on Ouka’s body moving in concert with each other to support his blow. It was obvious Ouka was very skilled, but their parameters were simply incomparable with each other so Vahn twisted his body before spinning in the air and using Ouka’s face as a springboard and landing back on his feet.
Vahn could tell that, at the very best, Ouka only had around 800 Agility, compared to his nearly 2200. Even Vahn’s Power and Dexterity, the things that Ouka likely excelled at, were at the very least more than a thousand points higher. Since the return for parameters was exponential, and not linear, this meant that Vahn was several times stronger than the maximum output Ouka could manage. It was almost like an adult fighting against a child, even though Ouka was nearly 20cm larger than he was. Vahn suddenly felt a like like he had swapped positions with Tsubaki and now he was looking at Ouka like his former self.
Before Ouka could stand up, Vahn used [Shundo] to appear next to his body before kicking him hard in the ribs and sending him tumbling across the grassy courtyard for several meters. Chigusa had shown up at this point and tried to go to his aid, but Vahn shouted, “Stand back! Let’s see how far his pride can take him. He already pushed you to the side earlier, so let him follow through until the end. Don’t worry, I’ll ‘hold back’ properly and even heal his wounds afterward.” Chigusa had startled slightly at Vahn’s shout, but she still stood in between him and Ouka with a fierce resolve in her eyes as she said, “No, this isn’t right. We’re supposed to be allies, not enemies with each other! Aren’t you supposed to be a nice boy that is looked up to by Mikoto and Haruhime-sama!?”
Vahn nodded appreciatively at Chigusa and began to say, “You’re right, Chig-” but Ouka had used the brief moment to stand up and place his hand on Chigusa’s shoulder. She looked back at him with a concerned expression and saw the ferocity in his eyes as he said, “Chigusa, let me fight…I need to know the difference between him and me…” Chigusa’s eyes teared up slightly and she muttered, “Ouka…please…” As if he had remembered Vahn’s earlier ‘accusation’, Ouka didn’t push Chigusa to the side and just walked around her before assuming a battle-ready stance once again. Seeing his action, Vahn nodded his head before assuming his own stance and saying, “Looks like you aren’t a complete fool after all…”
Ouka’s eyes squinted slightly and he tried to rush Vahn again in an attempt to tackle him to the ground. He knew he wasn’t a match for Vahn in speed, so the only chance he had was to take the fight low in the hopes that he could outmaneuver Vahn using what he was proficient at. Vahn, however, completely ignored his attempt and stepped forward before locking hands with Ouka and closing his fingers like a vice as he smiled into the fiercely scowling face of Ouka. Gnashing his teeth, Ouka’s incredibly muscular arms increased in size marginally and Vahn could tell he was using some kind of skill to increase his power. For a very brief moment, he felt himself be pushed back since Ouka had a greater momentum due to the size difference between them.
Of course, Ouka’s advantage didn’t last long at all as Vahn lowered his hips and used his body as a pivot to leverage Ouka’s own momentum against him. Before he was able to react at all, Vahn had lifted his large frame off of the ground before slamming him back down, hard. Though Ouka suffered a severe blow, he actually tightened his grip on Vahn’s hands in a vain attempt at trying to display his pride, but Vahn simply shook his head and said, “What use is pride if it only hurts yourself and those around you? Having pride in your convictions, strength, friends, and bonds, these are all worthwhile things. If the only thing you have pride in is your pride itself, then you’ll end up a mockery when facing a stronger opponent. How do you expect to become stronger when you can’t even break free from your own mentality? As I see it, you’re simply just an arrogant child playing at being a man…”
His words finished, Vahn squeezed Ouka’s hands tightly and forced his grip to loosen before throwing him over to the side where Chigua was flustering about with a conflicted expression on her face. When he was speaking earlier, Vahn had been bearing his [Will of the Emperor] down on Ouka and it had caused the boy to lose consciousness at the end. Hopefully, this lesson would serve as the catalyst for Ouka’s future growth since Vahn really did want to see him as a rival as well. If the prideful boy could open his heart to others after his defeat, he would become much stronger in the future. To assist in this, Vahn walked over and handed some ointment and bandages to Chigusa who was ‘shielding’ Ouka once again.
Chigusa had a confused expression on her face when she saw Vahn’s gentle expression and the first-aid supplies he was holding out for her. Vahn showed a small smile and said, “This fool needs someone to look after him…he would probably resent me a bit if I was the one to tend to his wounds, so I’ll leave it to the girl he likes.” In the end, Vahn sent a wink at Chigusa and she blushed slightly as she accepted the supplies and said, “Ouka…doesn’t…” Vahn shook his head and stated in a firm tone, “No, I can see it clearly. I have the ability to see auras and the fact that both of your auras gravitate towards each other shows you have mutual feelings. His pride probably prevents him from approaching you easily, so you’ll have to take the initiative if you want to develop as a couple in the future. You know, Chigusa, it is often the support of women that makes a boy turn into a capable man…I should know since I wouldn’t be where I am today without amazing girls at my back.”
Hearing Vahn’s words, Chigusa had a bashful expression and she began to fidget before kneeling next to the unconscious Ouka and lifting up his body. Even though she was a small girl, she was actually a powerful tank that specialized in Power and Endurance, so she was easily able to lift the nearly 90kg Ouka as if he had no weight at all. As she carried the unconscious Ouka toward the waiting Takemikazuchi, Chigusa sent a grateful smile at Vahn and he could see a conviction contained within her eyes that hadn’t been there previously. Her aura was sticking closely to Ouka body and, even though he wasn’t aware of it himself, Ouka’s was intermixing with her’s as if driven by some primal instinct. Vahn smiled before waving at similarly smiling Take’ and deciding to take his leave so Ouka had time to think without his presence putting pressure on him.
Watching Vahn’s back, Take’s smile increased in size and he turned to Chigusa and said in a calm manner as if the Captain of his Familia wasn’t currently beaten to the point of unconsciousness, “Vahn is right, Chigusa. Ouka has carried a heavy burden before he was ready to bear it so his mentality has warped slightly as a result. You have my apologies, as it is primarily my fault he has become like this…please, take care of him for me from now on.” Chigusa flushed slightly at Takemikazuchi’s words before nodding her head and saying in a resolved voice, “I will do my best…so that Ouka can do his best as well. I will be a strong woman so that he can become a strong man!” Take smiled before trying to help her carry Ouka’s body into the room so he could receive treatment. Chigusa, however, shook her head and said, “No, Vahn-sama left Ouka’s care to me, and I’ll see it through until the end.” Hearing her words, Take’ nodded his head before making way for the young girl as he remarked in his mind, (“Vahn-sama? What am I then, sashimi? Hahahaha.”)