After returning to the ground, Vahn asked Terra for her assistance in leveling out the area while doing his best to ignore the mild teasing looks of some of the girls. They weren’t making fun of him, but Vahn realized they had understood he was trying to show off and had ‘spectacularly’ failed. The worst part of the situation was that Tine, a girl that idolized him a bit, had given him a harsh reprimand in front of everyone and it made Vahn feel very guilty and apologetic. However, it wasn’t all bad, as now Tina’s nervousness and tensions had almost completely faded away…
Once the ground was repaired, Vahn felt more at ease and he hurried over to the mother-daughter pair that was waiting for him. Tina still had a look of blame in her eyes, but there was also a bit of humor and a slight smile on her face as the realization she was about to enter the Dungeon set it. Though Vahn could be a goofball, sometimes prone to making mistakes, he was still just a young boy not much older than she was. However, he was far more reliable than someone his age typically should be and she felt more excited than worried about what would happen when they went into the Dungeon.
As they were preparing to leave, Vahn had adopted a thoughtful expression upon his face for a brief moment for saying, “I have an interesting idea…hmmm~.” Milan and Tina looked at him with curious eyes as a slight glint passed through Tina’s as she questioned whether or not Vahn was going to do something ‘strange’ so soon after his previous blunder. However, her heart fluttered a bit after realizing what he was up to and a slightly flushed expression appeared on her face as she lowered her head. Though he didn’t change his hair to a chestnut brown, as he had used Chloe as a template, Vahn’s human ears vanished in a magical light as a thick layer of hair grew in their place. Atop his head, there was a pair of black cat ears and a tail had poked out from his backside, something he had grown rather accustomed to at this point.
Vahn smiled toward the gentle-faced Milan before petting the top of Tina’s head and saying, “Let’s go, Tina, Milan…” Tina peered up into his face with slightly watery eyes and said in a hesitant voice, “Papa…” before hugging him around the waist. It wasn’t the first time she had said the word, as she sometimes let it slip when they were spending time together, but it still made Vahn’s heart feel warm. He stroked the top of her head for a short while before they all made their way, hand-in-hand, towards the Dungeon. Tina stood between the two of them with a mixture of happiness and mild conflict, choosing instead to enjoy the moment than actually worry about the perception of others. It didn’t matter what other people thought at all, and Tina didn’t want to let the opinions of others interfere with her happiness…
Once the trio reached the 1st Floor, Vahn gave his Mentor’s Mark to the two girls, even though Milan likely wouldn’t have too many opportunities to benefit from it. Tina seemed especially fond of the cartoon-like character and poked at it with her finger until they finally reached the first long corridor, known as the Beginning Road. Vahn brought the group to a stop and said, “From here onwards, you will set the pace, Tina, while your mother and I will support you from behind. Make sure to use your head and consider the situation properly. Though you may sustain mild injuries, know that such pain can further your growth and I will always be here to restore you to the same adorable state you currently have.” Vahn stroked the young cat girl’s head as he spoke and a resolute look appeared in her eyes as she equipped her shield and pulled out her growth weapon, which was humorously named [Little Fang].
Though she likely wouldn’t be fighting much, Milan also held her sword and shield at the ready, obviously intent not to let anything happen to her daughter. As for Vahn, he scanned around the area with his [Eyes of Truth], not too concerned with the monsters, but what may be hiding beyond the walls. His current domain reached out to 523m, so he could even see down to the Floor below them, meaning that Vahn was very difficult to catch by surprise. He knew that the largest chance of something happening would be between the 18th and 30th Floors, but the fact he was with Tina and Milan made him very cautious regarding surprise attacks. Even on their way over to the Dungeon, Vahn had kept his wits about him as he searched for the presence of the earth mage he knew had to be around…
It took them a while to get away from the larger volume of Adventurer’s that were wandering about, as the early floors could get a bit crowded early in the mornings, but they eventually found an area where others weren’t present. The Mentor’s Marks hadn’t activated, meaning there was someone within 2km of them, but that was to be expected this early in the Dungeon. Vahn suspected that it still had some effect, as the awareness of the mark might incite the growth of the recipient somewhat, so he still intended to compare the data later on. As Tina was still very young, tracking her growth was arguably more important than normal and Vahn actually didn’t want her increasing her strength too quickly just yet.
The Falna provided by the gods actually had an anti-aging effect of sorts, which is why most people never left their Familia even after they retired, and the efficacy of the effect was based on your Level. If Tina did get to around Level 3-4 within the next year, she might end up looking like a girl in her early teens even when she was transitioning into her twenties. With nourishment from his source energy and his [Hands of Nirvana], Vahn was very worried that her growth would be greatly stunted just because she wanted to get stronger, faster.
Tina’s ears began to twitch about and she crouched down slightly, a habit she had picked up in her training as lowering your body made you a smaller target and allowed you to analyze the situation while being in an alert status. Her tiny nose twitched about slightly as her nostrils flared open and closed, smelling for the presence of the enemy she had detected. As their ears were often more reliable than their noses, at first, many Beast Humans relied on hearing the presence of enemies before using their enhanced sense of smell to identify what they had come across. On average, even a Goblin would have around 3-4x Tina’s current parameters, so caution was advised and she needed to pick fights with fewer enemies so she didn’t get overwhelmed.
After a short while, Tina muttered, “Goblins…but I can’t tell how many…nyaa…” before looking back to see Vahn raising two fingers. Tina’s face hardened but she didn’t back down as pushing yourself beyond your limits was the best way to get stronger. Though she lacked in parameters, at least for now, her training gave her the edge over the relatively mindless monsters and her equipment actually weighed things in her favor greatly, assuming she didn’t make any mistakes. Her shield, breastplate, and shin guards were all made of Adamantine and had the Durandal and Shock Absorption properties while her weapon, [Little Fang], was also made of Adamantine, and a composite of other materials, which gave it the Durandal, Piercing, Impeccable Edge, and Growth abilities. It could deal more than enough damage to overwhelm the defenses of the Goblins so she just needed to fight smartly and stay on the move to avoid getting surrounded…
Tina slowly edged along the walls of the corridor before peaking into the door leading toward one of the various rooms of the 1st Floor. She could see two Goblins ambling about without any awareness of their surroundings, but they were on the far side of the 30m wide room and she would have to expose herself first if she wanted to fight them. After thinking for a short while, she picked up a stone and tossed it against the wall, alerting the two Goblins as they went to investigate the source of the sound. As there were several rocks present within the room, Tina stayed low to the ground and used them as cover as she positioned herself in waiting. Vahn watched all of this with intrigue because Tina’s caution and rational mindset were rather commendable. There was also something interesting about watching a young girl, inarguably still a child, skulking about as she snuck up on monsters with a minuscule killing intent radiating from her body.
After finding nothing amiss, the Goblins split up and began looking around the area in a somewhat complacent manner as Tina pressed herself against a rock and slowed her breathing to a crawl. She waited very patiently with her body tense like a spring until one of the Goblins approached her hiding spot. Without any discernable hesitation, likely as a result of her fights within the forest, Tina pounced forth and smashed her buckler into the face of the Goblin while piercing her sword into its chest, clearly aiming for the monster core contained within. Though she seemed to be caught slightly off guard by the occurrence, Vahn watched the blade of her shortsword pierce into the Goblin’s chest without any noticeable resistance, as was to be expected from a weapon forged by Hephaestus and possessing the Piercing attribute.
Other than the ‘smashing’ down of her shield bash, the Goblin didn’t even get to utter its characteristic guttural cry as it dispersed into a puff of purple dust. Tina quickly overcame her momentary shock and held her buckler up as she charged toward the second Goblin, which had turned to match her charge with a loud ‘war cry’ of , ‘Giiigiiigiiiiiiii~!’. As if she were trying to compete with it, Tina released a loud, ‘Nnyyaaaaaaa~!’ as she unhesitantly charged shield-first toward the Goblin. However, she wasn’t actually foolish enough to develop the habit of always using her shield to hit monsters, many of which would be much larger than her, so she instead slid her left foot forward when they were about to collide and brought her body low to the ground as she smashed the shield into the Goblin’s knee before completing the movement by sliding forward with her sword thrusting upward into its body.
Vahn had a pleased smile on his face and made eye contact with Milan, who looked very proud of her daughter’s achievement. However, though he was smiling, Vahn was lamenting in the back of his mind because he still remembered his first fight with a goblin. His opponent had been a surface monster, meaning it was much weaker than the Dungeon version, and his parameters had been much higher than Tina’s currently were. Yes, he didn’t have the benefit of training like she did, but Vahn realized now that his own fear and inhibitions had severely restricted his ability to make proper use of his parameters. It made him feel a little ashamed to see a girl of eleven years old accomplish what the fourteen-year-old nearly died trying to attempt…
Tina came over to them after collecting the two monster cores and it was very obvious that things hadn’t exactly been that easy on her. Though she had a smile on her face, her complexion was somewhat pale and her body was trembling from the increase in adrenaline and the fear she had faced while charging toward the monsters. Vahn showed a gentle smile and comforted her by stroking her head and infusing calming energy into her body as he said, “You did very well, Tina. It may be hard to believe, but you even did better than when I first fought against monsters in the past, hahaha~.” Tina was breathing a little heavily, but her face beamed at Vahn’s praise as she enjoyed the warm energy spreading through her body from her head.
Milan also reached out and pinched the tip of Tina’s ear, causing it to flicker about as the mature cat girl laughed and said, “Tina, you are doing exceptionally well for someone just starting out. However, you must never let it get to your head because not everyone has the benefits of powerful equipment, okay? If you see people in need, especially those around your age or younger than you are, do your best to look after them. Also, never let anyone eye your equipment in detail as there are numerous people that would try to take advantage of, and even rob you.” Tina nodded her head seriously because she knew that, once her parameters had normalized and her strength reached an adequate level, she would be venturing into the Dungeon with people other than Vahn.
Though it was unlikely they would end up in a situation where they teamed up with others, it wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibilities. Many people, especially those older and higher leveled than she was, would be very envious of her equipment and there was no telling what cruel things they might do in an effort to obtain it from her. After the kidnapping incident, she had developed a powerful mistrust of most people and, even when she was a waitress at the Hostess of Fertility, never got too close to them.
After helping Tina replenish her relatively low stamina pool, the trio continued further into the Dungeon so she could continue building more experience while increasing her parameters. Vahn would be checking their Status Board before and after they enter the Dungeon, or whenever they managed to accomplish a small ‘feat’. This would allow Tina and, when he entered with her tomorrow, Shizune to familiarize themselves with their own bodies as their parameters increased. Since they were still young, they would only be fighting for about four hours every other day so that they could properly rest, recuperate, and adapt to the changes in their bodies. They didn’t have the benefit of the other girls, who had already matured somewhat and had trained under the influence of a flame seed, so they had to take it slow and increase their strength the ‘normal’ way.
The next opponent Tina faced was just a single Goblin, but this one had a natural weapon in the form of a thin rock club. She raised her shield once again but, instead of dashing forward, slowly stepped around the body of the Goblin as it noticed her presence and began its mindless charge. It leaped through the air and tried to bash her with its club but Tina took a wider step and let the club graze ineffectively across her buckler. She then stabbed forward in a fast motion beneath the cover of the buckler and pierced the side of the Goblin, not killing it, but grievously wounding it. The type of combat style her mother employed was a reactive one where she attacked the enemy through the gaps of their own attacks. It was based more on stabbing than slashing, which was a habit that Tina had picked up through their training.
Without lowering her shield for even a moment, Tina stepped forward while peering over the lip of the shield and once again stabbed the Goblin that tried to stop the flow of blood as it madly tried to sweep at her with its club. Tina’s eyes remained focused as she received each blow by angling her shield slightly, allowing the rounded shape of the shield to make the Goblin’s strikes slide powerlessly away from her body. Whenever this happened, a large gap would appear in the monster’s defenses and Tina would stab forward without any discernable hesitation in an effort to pierce the core contained at the center of the chest. Vahn realized her propensity for targetting just the core might be a weakness in the future, but she had plenty of time to correct it with proper guidance.
After the fourth blow, which had caused the Goblin a fair amount of grief, Tina’s blade found purchase and she clipped against the edges of the monster core, dispersing the Goblin into a cloud of dust. She released a heavy sigh before picking up the core and trotting over to them with an awkward smile on her face. Remembering Vahn’s previous words, Tina showed an apologetic expression and said, “I’m sorry, Vahn…I wasn’t trying to torment it…” The first blow had been intended to make the Goblin unable to fight properly, but the three follow up strikes made Tina feel a bit guilty because it was almost like she was torturing the creature.
Vahn shook his head and sat down against the wall, patting his lap so that Tina would sit with him. He stroked the top of her head and explained in a gentle tone, “The most important thing is that you have a kind heart and that you aren’t willingly trying to cause pain in others, Tina. You shouldn’t feel guilty that you bring accidental suffering to creatures that are actively trying to kill you. Instead, just focus on refining your skills further so that you can do better in the future…okay?” Tina nodded her head and rested against Vahn’s chest as Milan sat down next to them. It was still a bit early, but they hadn’t actually eaten breakfast yet since Tina hadn’t been hungry as a result of her previous nerves. Thus, they snuggled up next to each other an spent a few minutes enjoying a light breakfast while letting Tina’s body replenish its stamina naturally…