As was often the case, Vahn ended up sparring against Tiona and Tione using his Báihǔ form to give him a bit of an edge, though still not enough to guarantee victory. He was very familiar with how Tione fought, at least until she entered a [Berserk] state, so the only danger was typically Tiona. However, their coordination had been greatly increased and it had gotten to the point where Tione played more of a support role and exploited the opening created by her younger twin. Vahn didn’t mind this much at all, though, as it was very fun fighting against the two girls as they were very lively and seemed to greatly enjoy fighting.
Tina and Milan had shown up shortly after the training began and Vahn was aware of the mother-daughter duo since their gazes were almost immediately drawn to him when they came outside. This was very ‘normal’ for most of the girls but today was a little ‘special’ since his instincts were still acting up in response to Tina’s unique Development Ability. Because of this, Vahn lost a bit of his focus against the two girls and ended up taking Tiona’s beautiful little foot straight to the side of his face, sending him skidding across the ground for nearly four meters before he bounced back to his feet. Tiona kept her leg raised with a playful look on her face, dangling her foot teasingly towards Vahn has he wiped a trace of blood from his lips.
Deciding there was no ‘practical’ way to counter Tina’s influence, other than completely avoiding her, Vahn set the matter to the back of his mind and kicked off towards Tiona to ‘punish’ her for teasing him. This resulting in a few internecine struggles where Vahn would try to grab Tiona’s foot, only for Tione to come in and interfere before he could gain any significant advantage. Though they had originally been ‘sparring’, it was more like a game of tag by the end as Tiona ran around the training field avoiding Vahn while Tione ran interference from the side. Vahn also began laughing towards the end and eventually managed to ‘catch’ Tiona and tumble along the ground with her for a bit, causing her to ‘steal’ a kiss from him and say, “You got me, ehehehe~” in a cheerful tune.
Though it was very tempting to continue, Vahn just smiled before helping Tiona to her feet and saying, “After I finish my current project, I’ll be designing Aegis armor for the two of you so make sure to visit my workshop periodically…” Ais had already been stress testing her armor quite a bit and even wore it as ‘casual’ attire around the Manor these days. Though she wore a small skirt around her waist, she didn’t seem to be bothered by the almost skin-tight fabric of the top and just wore a small coat over her upper body when she went out into the City. Vahn had modified it to look like outerwear, as he expected many of the girls would just wear it in lieu of other clothing, so it wasn’t really an issue. If anything, it made Vahn want to design it to appear even more aesthetically pleasing to the eye, as he wanted to help enhances the girls’ beauty even further…
Hearing they were finally getting outfits of their own, Tione and Tiona immediately became excited, especially the elder of the two sisters. She was still waiting for Vahn to forge her a weapon to use but having armor like Ais’ was arguably even better. Since Ais was constantly ‘showing off’ her own armor, Tione had been a little irked and was somewhat envious of how useful the armor seemed to be. According to Ais, it perfectly fit her body to an extent that it almost felt like a second layer of skin, providing comfort in both hot and cold environments. It also let blood slide off of it without staining the fabric at all and had very high defensive capabilities, even though it looked rather delicate at a glance.
After separating from the two bubbly girls, Vahn went over to where Tina and Milan had been doing their own training, this time with Arnya watching from the side since Maemi and Emiru had already left to start preparing breakfast. Vahn always found Tina to be especially adorable when she was seriously fighting against other people because her serious expression and small size created an interesting ‘gap’ in his expectations. She still couldn’t get any advantage against Milan, as a result of the massive difference in their parameters, but her growth had been very inspiring so far. At her current pace, she was even growing faster than Ais was, at least when she first started training with the Loki Familia. Knowing this made Tina work even harder but also altered her personality slightly as she became more ‘free-spirited’ and prone to laughter when out of combat…
Making use of her small frame, Tina ducked under Milan’s practice sword and struck up at her mother’s wrist with her round buckler. Milan had turned her hand sideways to avoid letting Tina hit directly against her joint before twisted her torso and intercepting Tina’s lunging strike with the edge of her kite shield. This caused Tina’s momentum to carry forward and she tried to find her footing to twist her body around, somehow getting her legs tangled up in the process and stumbling forward. Vahn had just walked over and started paying attention to the fight so he was a little caught off guard by the sudden ‘accident’.
Since such ‘events’ weren’t that uncommon around Tina, even though she wasn’t ‘normally’ clumsy, Vahn knew what was happening. In the past, Vahn would have tried to grab her so she didn’t fall forward but he had learned his lesson so, instead of grabbing her with his hands, Vahn created a malleable ‘barrier’ in the shape of a sphere that Tina fell into before bouncing away with a ‘boin’ sound. Even though her momentum shouldn’t have carried her back quickly, Tina ‘somehow’ managed to trip once again, this time with her mother stepping in to catch her with an exasperated expression on her face. As for Tina, she had a very embarrassed look and was blushing fiercely before burying her face into Milan’s stomach to avoid Vahn’s gaze.
Even with another ‘accident’ occurring, Vahn could still feel his instincts firing at full cylinders and he wondered if Tina’s [Luck] was getting stronger the more they tried to offset its influence. It could also be related to her embarrassment, or potentially even the thoughts that were running through her mind. So that she didn’t become another ‘delusional’ girl, Vahn figured it would be best to ask Tsubaki or Mikoto to teach her meditation so Tina could calm her mind. She was becoming a very high-tension girl these days and Vahn was worried, not just for Tina’s safety, but his own. There were still more than two years before she was considered an adult in accordance with common law so Vahn wanted to avoid any particularly ‘dangerous’ situations…
After training came to an end, everyone had already started splitting off into various different teams before grabbing breakfast and heading off toward the Dungeon. Vahn had stayed back with Milan and Tina for a bit so she could calm down before they also headed out. Because of past incidents, Tina made sure to use the bathroom before leaving and also had Milan check the straps of her equipment to make sure they weren’t loose. They didn’t really need to update her Status Board right now, as Vahn had previously checked it on Monday, but there was a chance she could have awakened new skills or abilities and it would be useful to know beforehand. Thus, after they had finished eating breakfast, and before they set out, Tina had exposed her back with a flushed face and let Vahn update her Status Board.
Name: Tina Yuel
Race: Cat Person
Skill: [Eclipse: Innate(sealed)], [Shield Bash:H], [Counter:I]
Development Skill: [Abnormal Resistance:(sealed)], [Luck:(sealed)]
As was common, Tina walked between Milan and Vahn, holding both of their hands with a smile on her face as they walked toward the Dungeon. Vahn and Milan also shared a few looks between them and enjoyed the cool morning air as if they were a family of three simply going on an early morning stroll. If not for the fact that Tina and Milan had shields and swords strapped to their backs, it would have been nearly impossible to see them as anything other than a happy family. As for Vahn, the majority of his equipment was stowed away in his inventory and he looked like a classic brawler with his arm guards and loose-fitting clothing. Since he was in his Báihǔ form, he cut a ‘fierce’ and handsome figure that drew the eyes of many people as they moved along. His Báihǔ form was one of his most recognizable forms so many people recognized them and were sensible enough to stay away since it was also well-known that Vahn was very ‘protective’ of the girls he was with, having broken quite a number of fingers and arms over the last few weeks…
Once they reached the Dungeon, the trio went down to the 5th Floor, which was actually visited by Tina in the past. The main reason Shizune had wanted to go into the 5th Floor the previous day was that Tina had already moved into it herself. It was good they were ‘competing’ against each other since a healthy rivalry could make them both grow faster. Though Vahn found it funny that Shizune, the mature woman in the body of a young girl, was competing against an actual child, he never said anything about it and even encouraged the behavior. Releasing her hand, Vahn tapped Tina’s back gently and said, “Just like before, we’ll follow closely…”
Tina nodded her head and said, “Leave it to me, Vahnya~!” before checking her equipment once again to confirm everything was in order. She herself had also realized there was an abnormal number of accidents occurring lately, even though she was awakening a rare Development Ability called [Luck]. Since she didn’t want to make a mistake in front of Vahn, Tina was trying her best to make sure all of her equipment was in proper order before another accident happened. Every time she embarrassed herself in front of Vahn, it felt like she was suffering long term damage that mad her heart more fragile than before…she really didn’t want Vahn to see her as a clumsy child.
After checking everything, Tina gave a firm nod and began venturing into the Dungeon with a practiced caution while her steps themselves were very confident. She had previously managed to fight off eight Killer Ants by herself and wanted to go for nine, no, ten, before Vahn had to step in to save her. One of the things she was never embarrassed about was Vahn coming in to save her from harm when she overextends a bit because it was very pleasant to be ‘rescued’ by the boy she liked. Recognizing she needed to focus, Tina shook the idle thoughts from her head and sniffed around in the air as she walked forward at a steady pace.
A few minutes after entering the 5th Floor, Tina’s ears twitched and she turned her golden eyes toward one of the adjacent corridors, reflecting a subtle glow as a result of her night vision capabilities. She couldn’t tell their numbers just yet, but Tina was confident it was between five and ten Killer Ants, the exact numbers she wanted to face. Unlike Shizune, Tina didn’t really make use of ranged combat at all since she wanted to be a true vanguard that was skilled in both offense and defense. Increasing her pace a bit, Tina held up her shield in a ready stance before breaking into the room and darting her eyes around to identify the composition of the enemies. Also unlike Shizune, Tina was trying to get used to identifying enemies on the move because she knew there wouldn’t always be time to evaluate the situation from the outset…
The room was around 40m in diameter and there were a total of six Killer Ants present, a number that Tina was confident she could deal with easily if not for the War Shadow lurking about nearby. A War Shadow was almost beyond her capabilities so Tina unhesitantly turned around and ran back into the corridor she just came from. She wasn’t ‘fleeing’ outright and just wanted to draw the monsters into terrain where she had a better advantage since she didn’t want to get surrounded. As she anticipated, the War Shadow moved much faster than the Killer Ants and chased after her into the corridor. As she didn’t want to be the type that shied away from strong enemies, Tina turned back when she was confident they had created enough distance from the trailing Killer Ants.
Without any consideration for if it had been lured into a trap, the War Shadow moved forward with a speed far exceeding Tina’s and used its wispy black claws to try and rake them across her small body. Tina used her buckler to intercept the War Shadow’s attack, bending at the knees as a result of the Power difference before fearlessly cutting toward the monster’s wrist at almost the exact same time. This was her [Counter] in full effect and Tina managed to slice off the hand of the War Shadow, forcing it to reel back as a result of the unexpected pain. Though her knees and shoulder felt a bit stiff, Tina stepped forward and kept her body low so she could absorb the impact of the much larger monster’s attacks if necessary.
The War Shadow seemed more cautious now and swiped at Tina while moving towards the Killer Ants behind. Since it had much higher agility than Tina herself, the War Shadow could easily stay out of her rather short range as it slowly opened up the distance between them even while moving backward. Tina realized she wouldn’t be able to end things easily at this rate and decided it would be better to open up a distance again. If the War Shadow gave up the chase, she would at least be able to lead the Killer Ants to a more suitable location. However, the moment she turned around, the War Shadow stepped forward as Tina had expected, causing her to twist her waist as quickly as possible. Instead of trying to receive the blow with her shield, Tina stepped toward the War Shadow’s body and slammed her buckler into its torso with her [Shield Bash] while cutting up toward its arm.
Unprepared for Tina’s very nimble maneuver, the War Shadow had been stunned by her [Shield Bash] and ended up losing its arm in the process. Before it could regret trying to chase after her, Tina had already coiled back her sword before piercing it up into the eye of the War Shadow, causing it to turn into dust as she dashed through the particles and headed toward the approaching Killer Ants without worrying about the loot items just yet. Her adrenaline was already pushing her body to the limits but Tina had come to enjoy this kind of feeling in the past, causing a smile to appear on her face as she sought to exceed her limits even further.
Vahn and Milan were watching Tina from a bit of a distance away, both smiling in appreciation at the determination of the young cat girl. She wasn’t hot-headed like Tiona, Tione, and Ais, but it was clear that Tina was drawn to combat and had the potential to be a powerful Adventurer even if she hadn’t been nurtured by the Hestia Familia. Since Milan had actually been a capable Adventurer in her own right, it made sense that her daughter shared a bit of her talent. With the support provided by Vahn, Tina’s future was functionally limitless now and this made Milan believe her previous actions had been correct. As for Vahn, he just thought it was very inspiring to watch someone so small fearlessly charging into enemies with a fearless smile on their face…
Because of the increased range of her [Little Fang], compared to Shizune’s [Moonshadow, Tina was able to accurately pierce through the heads of Killer Ants without having to expose herself. Though she couldn’t easily hit the magic core, dealing catastrophic damage to the brain was easily enough and often safer than trying to destroy a 2cm long core at the center of its thorax. Tina was the type to move around without fearing the attacks of the enemies, often using her shield to redirect and intercept the mandibles of the Killer Ants when they tried to attack her. Her range was still a small issue, as her arms were rather short, but Tina had already gotten used to the monster’s attack patterns and managed to kill all six Killer Ants in under three minutes.
Though she was breathing very heavily, with ears twitching about in response to the clicking and clattering of approaching Killer Ants, Tina showed no signs of backing down. Most young girls would have been fearful of giant bugs with razor-sharp mandibles but Tina’s eyes reflected a fearless light as she held her sword and shield at the ready. She had already ingested a potion to help her stamina replenish and was doing her best to regulate every breath in an attempt to conserve as much energy as possible. When the first Killer Ant showed up, however, Tina’s body was like a coiled spring that had been released as she launched herself towards it. Without any hesitation, Tina drove her sword into the front of its head before immediately jumping away to prepare for the next enemy to appear…
It was tense moments like this that always made Milan very worried but Vahn generally comforted her by placing his hand on her shoulder and stepping forward, ready to move at the first sign of danger. Milan knew Tina wasn’t in any real danger, but there were few mothers that could stand idly by as their children were swarmed by monsters with a calm expression on their faces. Vahn was decidedly calmer but there was an incredible amount of focus in his eyes as they reflected an intimidating light. He was using his domain to stall the movements of some of the monsters to create larger gaps between their charges. Tina was pushing herself to the limit, much like how Haruhime, Maemi, and Emiru had during the same situation in the past. Vahn wanted her to feel a greater sense of accomplishment so he was ‘delaying’ monsters to give her a chance to recover her stance and prepare her next attack.
After cutting down the seventeenth Killer Ant, Tina’s smile had completely faded to be replaced by a very serious and intense look. Her body was covered in hemolymph, the ‘blood-like’ substance that came from insect monsters, and she was taking very labored breaths. The sword in her hand was already heavy because of its composition of Adamantine increasing its weight, but Tina felt like it was especially heavy at this moment. She couldn’t even hold it out straight anymore and had to angle it up and hold it close to her body while using her shield to deflect yet another Killer Ant’s strike. Her arm ached and it felt like all of the muscles in her body were beginning to seize up as they refused to listen to her commands. However, Tina didn’t back down and, even though her sword was heavy in her hand, lunged forward and buried it into the side of the monster’s head after deflecting its attack to the side.
Satisfied with her eighteenth kill, Tina simply smiled as she watched the pincers of the next Killer Ant close in on her. She had done her best and knew that Vahn would reward her greatly after he inevitably stepped in to save her. Though she knew it wasn’t good to be overly reliant on him, Tina had absolute trust in Vahn when he was around. As expected, before the sharp mandibles managed to close in around on her, the Killer Ant completely froze before all of the surrounding monsters turned statuesque. Tina released the tensions of her body at this moment and felt the familiar warmth embrace her before she collapsed against the ground. Though she knew it might make him look at her strangely, Tina began to laugh in an awkward manner between labored breaths while hugging his arm and rubbing her cheek against it.