For the time remaining, leading up to the evening before the expedition, Vahn spent the majority of his time within his workshop making steady progress on the prototype under-armor. The Danmachi record had a twenty-four hour day and it was common for Vahn to spent ten hours in his workshop, two hours training during the morning, and the rest of his time with the girls within the Manor. He knew it was a bit ‘unfair’ to invest so much time on his own focus, but Vahn was of the mindset that the girls needed to be proactively pursuing things of their interest as well. Even without him saying this outright, this seemed to be the consensus on the network and Vahn had been hearing about the extra training and hobbies everyone had been picking up.
Through constant practice, Tsubaki had been the first person within the ‘dance’ group to pick up the [Featherfoot] skill under the guidance of Haruhime. This had been a landmark achievement in the group that spurred the others to put in more effort as well. Riveria was keeping track of everyone’s progress and compiling it in a data log that was accessible to everyone within the Manor. Vahn himself had filled out several paragraphs about his own progress while also considering how best to use his the [Grimoire of Guidance]. The fact it allowed him to ‘teach’ someone a Development Ability made it very difficult to make a decision…
Vahn had the potential to create Development Abilities that had never existed before which meant that he could teach someone like Riveria his [Mentor] ability. There was also a short period of time where Vahn considered teaching Welf [Blacksmith] but decided against it since it seemed somewhat wasteful considering he would learn it on his own. If he held on to it long enough, Vahn’s options would increase and there was a fair chance he might even be able to put his [Shundo] or [Magia Erebea] into the grimoire instead. Having another person able to use such magic would increase the overall strength of the Alliance by a great deal. Just imagining someone like Ais moving around with [Shundo] and [Ariel] active sent chills down Vahn’s back…
Thus, unable able to make a decision at the moment, Vahn spent his time invested entirely on the prototype he had been designing. His idea to make the base out of Cadmus skin ended up going through without a hitch and Vahn found the pristine white base preferable over the stark black Shadowsilk. It also had the benefit of being lined with the unique scale pattern of the Cadmus, which Vahn could use as a guideline for when he was implanting his own in the future. As for the additional materials he intended to use, other than the scales created by Fafnir, Vahn had decided on a composite of adamantium with a hollowed core that had been filled to the brim with his own blood before converting it into a crystalline structure. Even though they were simple in design, each test plate was at least B-Rank without any other enhancements so Vahn was planning to push them even further in the future.
Hephaestus and Tsubaki had also been checking on his progress over the last few days and had been giving him reliable input that would increase the overall quality in the later stages. Hephaestus’ knowledge of forging was like a vast ocean compared to Vahn’s and she was able to demonstrate to him how to alter the basic structure of the metals he was forging using the eternal flame as a medium. Vahn learned how to layer metals in specific patterns to make them even stronger before infusing flame elemental energy into the entire thing to solidify it. When he checked the process with his [Eyes of Truth], Vahn could see that the alternating ‘flow’ of the molecules made the metal far more durable than normal. The downside to this, however, was that it lost its flexibility and was harder to work with later on without melting it down entirely.
Thus, with the combined effort of three [Master Smith]s, Vahn had made a great deal of progress on the prototype before stowing it away safely in his inventory the evening before they departed for the Dungeon. Even though there was a negligible chance it would get stolen from the Manor, Vahn wasn’t going to gamble on it at all. Afterward, he spent the remaining time preparing for the expedition itself by cleaning up his inventory to make space for the materials they would harvest later. It was decided that Vahn would keep the size of his ‘storage magic’ a secret since it would cause the Supporters in the expedition to become complacent. It was also a simple truth that the Alliance was still in the early stages of development and Vahn’s ‘capabilities’ would cause more problems than provide solutions in the interim.
As for those that would be accompanying him on the expedition, there was an understandable concern about leaving the Manor unguarded so the group had been split into two core parties. Vahn would primarily be taking along Fenrir, Haruhime, Mikoto, Lili, and Naaza while Ryuu, Aki, Emiru, Maemi, Tsubaki, and Milan would stay back at the Manor with Hestia, Eina, Syr, Chloe, Arnya, Lunoire, Tina, Shizune, and Preasia. As for the members of the Loki Familia, they would all be participating since it was an expedition led by their Familia and they were the core members that represented the strength of the Familia. Besides, there was no way to convince any of the battle junky girls to stay on the surface when there was ‘adventure’ to be had down below.
During the early dinner, the day before the expedition, Vahn went over the details they would need to pay attention to while they were in the Dungeon once again. It was known that there was an organization within the Dungeon that would be trying to target them so they needed to be on guard against ambushes. Though it wasn’t likely they would target the expedition itself, there was no way of actually knowing how things would play out since the enemy seemed to exercise some control over the Dungeon itself. Enyo, the name of their true enemy, was the greatest threat to the Alliance presently and Vahn didn’t want to see a single person fall to her schemes.
Vahn also discussed the need to keep a look out for the ‘Xenos’ and try to avoid conflict, unless they were under attack by the group. As entities that lived within the Dungeon, they had access to all kind of paths and shortcuts inaccessible to most people. If the Alliance could bring the Xenos into the fold, it would make it much easier to venture into the Dungeon in the future since they could avoid several dangers and even store supplies with the Xenos. Unfortunately, the Xenos would likely avoid the expedition party due to the sheer size of the group so it was unlikely they would meet any time soon.
As for why Vahn could discuss these things openly at dinner, it was because Misha, Rose, and Mona ate away from the rest of the group when it was mentioned they would be talking about private matters related to the Alliance. Vahn had tried to apologize to Rose in the past, since it was never his intention to ‘peep’ on her, but she had beaten him to the punch and given an overly serious apology that Vahn had no choice but to accept. Ever since then, however, she had been relatively distant and always sat at the farthest point during dinner alongside Misha and, because she was trying to make things less awkward, Eina. Now that they were officially working at the Hearth Manor, the three had set up a counter in the relatively large foyer to post available missions while the building they would be working out of in the future was being constructed.
Eina’s job as Liaison made her the representative in charge of the two girls but also required her to perform duties of her own, such as working the counter and officiating missions. Misha’s job was very similar to Eina’s, though much less official, while Rose was required to take inventory and process any materials that are obtained through the Alliance and exchanged to the Guild. It took a little longer than normal for the conversion, as they couldn’t keep a vault of Valis on the premises, but it was still very convenient for the Alliance that she was present. Now, instead of taking their haul all the way from the Twilight Manor to the Guild, the Loki Familia would be able to store things at the relatively close Hearth Manor instead.
All things considered, it was very ‘interesting’ to have a small Guild office within their own home and it was something Vahn found very exciting since, when he had accepted a few tasks to complete during the expedition, they had all turned into official Quests within his system. Not only would he get the posted rewards, but Vahn could also acquire bonus OP and potentially even obtain extra items and materials. Unfortunately, there was a restriction that only allowed him to accept five quests at a time and they were all under the ‘optional’ category. He was also restricted by the rank of the Familia itself since Eina was only allowed to issue missions to them according to their standing. Even though they were considered the core of the Alliance, it didn’t mean they were above the requirements of rank and would still have to put in the effort to improve themselves in the future…
Since they would be gone for an entire month, or longer, Vahn had been spending his evenings ‘proactively’ and had been inviting the group staying behind into his room. Other than Eina, the other girls didn’t seem to mind group play that much and some even thought it was ‘fun’ when everyone was together. The most ‘popular’ combinations were the girls from the Hostess of Fertility, the ‘kitten’ group, and the ‘mature’ group. It hadn’t been his idea, as Chloe was the one that brought it up, but Vahn ended up sleeping with her, Arnya, Aki, and Milan all at the same time and it was borderline ‘addictive’ being tended to by the four Cat Persons. As for the ‘mature’ group, they consisted of Hephaestus, Hestia, Loki, and Tsubaki. Milan might have been considered in the same group, but she had enjoyed her time with the other ‘kittens’ since it seemed awkward to intervene in the fun of several goddesses. As for Tsubaki, she didn’t seem to mind it at all and even proactively contended with Loki and Hephaestus…
As for the evening before the expedition itself, Vahn spent the night alone with Eina and relaxed his mind and body in the comfort she brought him. Even when they had sex, it was a relatively short-lived experience and, true to his word, Vahn let Eina take care of everything. It was a little strange to be ‘relaxing’ during sex but Vahn felt like it was very ‘Eina-like’ and allowed himself to relax without imposing on the gentle girl. The remaining time, up until he inevitably fell asleep, was spent with Eina massaging his body and saying words that would comfort his mind. She never talked about any of the troublesome things that were going on and instead focused her efforts on talking about the beautiful future they would create together. As for her actual massage technique, Vahn had scribed for her the basics of the [Hands of Nirvana] technique and she was proactively trying to learn how to use it…
Vahn awoke with the warmth of Eina hugging him from behind, as she had fallen asleep on his back once again, and it made it very difficult for him to want to move. Fortunately, she seemed to wake up soon after him and kissed the back of his head before squeezing his body firmly and rolling off of his back. Vahn looked into her glimmering, emerald green, eyes and saw the care and concern contained within so he comforted her with a long and passionate kiss before saying, “I won’t let anything happen, Eina…and I’ll be back soon…” Eina nodded her head with a gentle smile on her face as she stroked the side of his and said, “I believe in you, Vahn…don’t keep us waiting too long…”
After spending a few extra minutes cuddling with Eina, Vahn ended up leaving the room behind with a renewed confidence in his gait. It wasn’t that he didn’t expect nothing would happen at all, quite the contrary, but Vahn wasn’t going to let anything stop his momentum anymore. There were too many things he cared about to remain complacent and this would be the first expedition where Vahn was able to break through the Lower Floors and enter the Deep Floors. He had been looking forward to this moment for some time and, given that everyone in the Manor was already awake, it was an excitement shared by everyone else as well.
Though they wouldn’t be accompanying the expeditionary party, all of the girls that would be staying behind woke up early to send Vahn, and the accompanying girls, on their way. They enjoyed a lively breakfast together and talked about the things they would be working on while Vahn was away. Since they had enough time to think about it now, Chloe and Arnya had decided they would be joining the Hestia Familia in the future and it seemed like Lunoire was contemplating it as well. Vahn was happy they had made such a decision since it would greatly bolster the strength of his own Familia in the future. He was also curious about what Innates they might have locked away and was looking forward to uncovering their ‘secrets’ when he returned.
After breakfast ended, Vahn had a round of embraces with everyone as Misha and Rose watched the group with awkward expressions. At this point, neither girl was ‘surprised’ by the status of everyone in the Familia and it was very obvious that Vahn was very ‘important’ to most of, if not all, of the girls. Misha didn’t seem like the type to harp over such things but Vahn had learned through Eina that Rose was a little bothered about this fact. Because Vahn was so important to so many people, Rose found it hard to accept that he was still venturing into the Dungeon and putting himself at danger. If he died, there would be a lot of people that would be hurt by his passing and he would end up leaving Hephaestus and Eina alone. Eina, however, had told her that it was important to live as you pleased without concerning yourself so much with death since it would make all of your decisions harder in the future. Trusting in the people you cared about was a basic requirement for ‘love’, so it wasn’t appropriate to have such a negative train of thought all the time…
Though she didn’t seem to believe Eina’s words at all, Rose still ruminated over them a bit and watched the interactions between Vahn and the rest of the residents in the manner with her discerning gaze and unveiled skepticism. Vahn didn’t really know how to deal with such a woman and simply allowed her to fall into the momentum of the network as time passed. Unless she wanted to open herself up to him, Vahn wasn’t going to go out of his way to ‘convince’ her that his life wasn’t lived so haphazardly. He was the most aware of what he stood to lose, especially after the Divination, so there was no way he would ‘waste’ his life away by dying early. It was actually far more likely that those around him would die, as he had the support of The Path, so Vahn had to be extra cautious to ensure they were safe.
Thus, with a focus on caution and a healthy thirst for Adventure, Vahn boarded Fafnir’s back with Fenrir, Riveria, Ais, Tiona, Tione, Lefiya, Lili, Naaza, Haruhime, and Mikoto as they flew toward Babel Plaza in order to unite with the larger expeditionary party. Vahn would be part of the main group, focused on gaining exillia and looting items, while the rest of the members of the Hestia Familia were just going along to gain experience. They would fall into the second party, under the command of Raul, though Haruhime would be their actual leader. Fenrir might cause a few problems but Vahn was confident things would go well since she seemed to be putting an emphasis on getting along better with others lately…
After a short two-minute flight, Fafnir landed in Babel Plaza after a large crowd of people cleared a path for it. Even though it wasn’t ‘uncommon’ to see Fafnir anymore, it was still a very intimidating sight for most people and there was a fair amount that would simply run away the moment it showed up. The group they landed near, however, didn’t have any major response to Fafnir’s presence and some of them moved forward without caution at all. Vahn waved at the approaching party and returned Finn’s smile as the small Pallum boy greeted, “Good morning, Vahn. I see everyone showed up, and a bit early to boot. Excellent!” Vahn nodded his head before introducing all of the members that would be accompanying him and the roles they were suited to.
Finn listened to Vahn’s explanation patiently while Gareth and Riveria began a conversation at the side. Once he had an understanding of the situation, Finn nodded his head and smiled before saying, “Very well, we’ll have Haruhime act as the Hestia Familia representative in the second group under Raul’s command. I’ve been informed to allow you to act at your own discretion by Loki-sama, but please defer to Riveria, or myself, if there is anything important, Vahn. As for this little one…” Finn had turned his attention to Fenrir who, unlike her past self, was standing in her combat attire without hiding her body with a cloak. She was very obviously not of the races of the surface and it was no longer a secret that Vahn was a capable tamer that could evolve monsters.
Vahn put his hand on Fenrir’s head and said, “I’ll look after her as much as I can, but she can be a little hostile to those that insult her and the members of our Familia, especially myself…” Finn nodded his head in understanding as he looked back toward his own party where Bete was ‘dealing’ with Lena, who was clinging to his side. With a wry smile on his face, Finn turned to Fenrir and said in a gentle tone, “Bete might be a little abrasive and snide, but he isn’t an actual threat to Vahn and the rest. Please take that fact into consideration and do your best…” Though Fenrir was taller than he was, Finn talked to her as if he was dealing with a child. Fenrir didn’t seem too fond of the Pallum boy but nodded her head and said, “Fenrir will be a good girl…” Finn laughed in response before saying, “That is all I can ask for…”
Afterward, the group made it’s final preparations while Finn and Vahn made polite conversation with each other. Vahn, however, noticed that Finn kept sending glances off to the side and his aura would flicker periodically. Since he didn’t actually have to turn his head to see where Finn was looking, Vahn knew he kept sending glances to Lili. After a while, Finn’s interest seemed to outgrow what he could contain so he asked in a curious tone, “That Pallum girl, Lili, was it? I remember seeing her at the wedding but I was unable to speak with her at the time…do you think you could introduce me later?” Vahn furrowed his brows slightly at Finn’s request and asked, “Why the sudden interest in one of my Familia members?” Finn hadn’t’ missed Vahn’s reaction and showed a somewhat awkward face as he said, “I have long been seeking a capable Pallum wife so that we can leave an heir to the Pallum people in the future. The way Lili carries herself shows that she is a capable woman with a lot of potential for growth in the future. I expect she would make a worthy wife in the future…”
Toward the end of his words, Finn began to speak softer since he could see from Vahn’s expression that he had offended the boy. Vahn didn’t mind people taking an interest in those close to him, especially if he wasn’t in a relationship with them yet, but it made him annoyed hearing how Finn spoke about Lili. Because of his ideals, Finn was a relatively close-minded person when it came to the subject of love and had even caused Tione to feel no small amount of indignation as a result. Now, even though he knew nothing about Lili, he had started eyeing her as a ‘worthy’ partner. One of the things that irked Vahn the most was the prospect of anyone being ‘worthy’ or ‘unworthy’ for anyone else…
In a relatively cold tone, Vahn said, “First of all, Finn, Lili is still a child so it isn’t appropriate to speak about her in such a manner at all. As for what the future holds, that is entirely up to Lili and you should be aware that she has, at least for the time being, chosen to pursue me. That may change in the future, but it will be through your own efforts and her decision, not any intervention on my part. However, you should know that I will not stand idly by if you try to pressure her…” Even Fenrir’s hair had started to stand up slightly as she looked at Finn with glowing scarlet eyes. As for Finn, he had an awkward smile on his face and, when Vahn had finished speaking, said, “But Lili is a Pallum…she isn’t suitable to be in a relationship with a human…”
Vahn squinted his eyes and stared directly at Finn without saying anything until the man’s eye began to twitch and he said, “My apologies, Vahn, I spoke out of turn…please don’t be offended by my behavior, as it was never my intent to do so. I will endeavor to not make such mistakes in the future.” Vahn continued to stare at Finn for a while and could see the earnestness in the man’s behavior, even though there was still a mild fluctuation in his aura. Since he would have to work with Finn in the future, Vahn eventually nodded his head in a curt manner before saying, “We are allies that are inextricably bound together in the future. I will not cause any problems as long as you maintain a sense of propriety on the matter…” Finn’s smile twitched slightly at Vahn’s words before he nodded and said, “Very well, Vahn, I will keep that in mind.” However, though he agreed with Vahn’s words, Finn couldn’t help but send his glance at Lili once again before he returned to his position within the group…