With the return of the girls, there was a massive transition within the City itself since news of the Expeditions success, and the construction of Lil Geirr, had started spreading through the City. Also, though it had been kept under wraps previously, it eventually got out that Loki and Hephaestus had given birth, earning a great deal of intrigue from the godly community, causing a disgruntled Vahn to put on a pretense of amicability as he met with more than a hundred gods over the course of a single week. Fortunately, most of them were able to realize they were bothering him and simply excused themselves after sharing pleasantries. Some, however, weren’t as tactful and there was even one god, who had been ejected from the premises, after trying to arrange a marriage between one of his children and one of Vahn’s daughters.
Though such arrangements weren’t that uncommon in the world, the fact that the god’s son was already twenty-eight years old gave Vahn a powerful urge to force the god back to Heaven. Fortunately, Hestia and Loki had both been present at the time, releasing their Divinities and swearing to declare War upon his Familia if he ever had the audacity to make such an offer again. That night, Vahn spent several hours sitting atop the Manor with only Fenrir to keep him company, sitting in his lap quietly as he contemplated the future.
Vahn had already talked it over with all the current goddesses he associated with, at least if there was a chance they would one day bear his children. They were in agreement that, even though the Vanir reached maturity at a very young age, the same restrictions that applied to other races would be imposed on them. Until they reached fourteen years of age, chronologically, they would have to continue their studies and avoid relationships, except in the case where there was an obvious, and mutual, connection.
To Vahn, it was far too soon to discuss matters of marriage and, though it was common in this world, he was more than a little offended at the prospect that people thought he would make such decisions on his daughters’ behalf. Even thinking about it made him feel as though he had betrayed their trust, even though he never had any intention of making such arrangements. He simply couldn’t understand how any Father, or parent for that matter, would treat their own flesh and blood as something to be exchanged for benefits…
As dawn crept into the world, Vahn saw some of the girls exiting the Manor, keeping up their morning training without slacking off. Tina, surprisingly, was one of the first to come out, wearing some casual training attire while Milan followed behind her. Vahn perked up a bit when he saw Tina overlay her hands together, pointing towards one of the large metal slabs he had put in the yard for testing spells. They had the ability to absorb magic and, after arranging things with Terra, even supplemented the massive formation in the ground using the ambient energy.
After a long chant, more than eight verses long, a white prism emerged from Tina’s palms before creating a beam of light nearly a meter wide, striking the black metallic pillar for eight seconds. Completely spent of her mana, Tina plopped onto the ground, drawing several deep breaths before climbing to her feet. One of the best methods to train your magic power, other than studying, was to use spells and then train while your body was recovering. During the formative years of a person’s life, their cells were far more adaptive, allowing ambient mana to reside within the interior of each cell while strengthening the magic circuits. Though Tina hadn’t been able to use magic previously, the Grimoire that had been given to her ended up containing a powerful magic spell, called [Light of Purification]. It was a powerful light-based magic and, amazingly, gave Tina a slight light affinity when she absorbed the energy contained within the grimoire.
Knowing that a grimoire could change the elemental structure of a person’s mana, Vahn had asked Loki to secure as many as possible. It would take time, but Vahn wanted to make sure each girl could adapt several elements, covering any weaknesses they might have. Because of how the magic system was structured, people would take increased damage when facing spells that countered their own affinity. Though it might not have a great effect, Vahn wanted to cover everyone’s weaknesses to the best of his ability, not minding the cost of grimoires in the slightest.
Vahn spent the rest of the morning watching the girls train, taking special notice of the interaction between Chloe and Shizune, both working hard to master their shadow-related abilities. Shizune now had three Goblins at her command and a single Kobold, each possessing around half the strength of their constituent parts. Shizune could fuse similar shadows together, further bolstering the strength of her Shadow Summons, but currently had them split apart since Chloe was actually a natural counter to her. Unless she focused her senses adequately, Shizune couldn’t even damage Chloe with her shadows since the latter could simply move through the summons as if they were illusions. It was their hope, which had been going well thus far, that they would both increase their proficiency while training to overcome the weaknesses of their [Pactio]s.
Of course, though he wasn’t paying special attention to her, Tiona had one of the most impressive transformations. She was currently fighting against Ais, Tione, Naaza, and Lili, all at the same time. Unless she suffered an instantaneous fatal blow, Tiona could rapidly regenerate almost any injury, often adapting to become ‘immune’ to whatever damaged her. When Lili had smashed into Tiona’s arms with her staff, fracturing the latter’s bones, Tiona’s skin took on a bronze coloration and, though it wasn’t obvious from the outside, her bones had become much harder, with several layers of protection surrounding the precious marrow that powered her regeneration further.
Each girl was going all out in their training, though they weren’t proactively trying to kill each other since wasting a [Effigy of the Hero] was a rather big deal. Though several months had passed, seeing Vahn get his head blown off had left a deep impression on everyone’s minds and they treated the small humanoid figures with a deep reverence. Life was, after all, a very precious thing and nobody wanted to be responsible for the death of a close ally. Thus, though Ais would sometimes bury her sword within Tiona’s flesh, she never aimed for a vital point and only used her [Ariel] very sparingly, primarily for quick movement since Tiona’s speed rapidly increased during the fight.
By the end of training, the only two left standing were Ais and Tiona, the latter now having small scales covering most of her body with her hair now extending to the middle of her back. Since her hair was somewhat unkempt, with a metallic sheen to it, Tiona looked a bit feral and, given the fact that the tattoos on her body glimmered with a golden light, she cast an awe-inspiring sight for those fortunate enough to behold her form. As for Ais, most of her training gear had been damaged at this point, even showing off her left breast where a small trickle of blood could be seen. Fortunately, the only male presence in the Manor was Vahn, thus Ais didn’t mind being seen as she continued to brandish her sword in preparation for Tiona’s attack.
Much like Fenrir, Tiona’s hair stood up like the haunches of a crazed animal as she leaped toward Ais with enough force to crack the ground, which was very impressive considering that Terra had reinforced it greatly. Fortunately, the formation now how a self-repairing function and, even though there had been several craters created during the fight, everything returned to normal after a few minutes. Terra had picked this up after inspecting the structure of the Dungeon, as part of it was now encompassed in her territory. Thus, as impressive a feat as Tiona’s strength was, the cracks she made were gone a few seconds later, much like the small craters that resulted from her final skirmish with Ais.
After being charged by Tiona, Ais took to the sky, spinning her body as a blade of wind was launched from her sword. Tiona, unable to fly without the assistance of her wand, jumped to meet Ais in the air, crossing her arms to defend against the blade of wind. Even through her defenses, the blade cut into her flesh, fortunately dissipating once it hit her reinforced bones. However, the chaotic wind energy began to wreak havoc in her body as a result, something Tiona completely ignored as she flipped through the air and kicked against the side of Ais’ sword. Much like Tione had in the past, Tiona’s ability triggered without warning, making her strike several times stronger as Ais’ arm buckled under the tremendous might of Tiona’s kick, fracturing the bone in several places as she was sent careening towards the ground below.
Fortunately, as she had become very accustomed to flight, Ais managed to right herself as she landed on the ground, creating a large crater as both of her legs complained against the strain of her fall. Even so, Ais stood up, using her Wings of Light as support while a tempest of wind energy surrounded her body. Tiona gave a wry smile as she made herself into the smallest shape she could manage, knowing that Ais’ counterattack would likely be very fierce. As capable as she might be, Tiona was unable to dodge while in the air. She had forgone the use of her wand during the spar, as the purpose of their battle was to familiarize themselves with their [Pactio] forms, not rely on external transformations.
Not giving Tiona the chance to land, as this would spell her loss, Ais created a large tornado of wind elemental energy before lunging towards the still airborne Amazoness. Though she had resisted the blades of wind cutting through her body, rapidly healing the wounds while absorbing the ambient energy contained in Ais’ attack, Tiona’s defense wasn’t high enough to counter Ais’ final attack. Knowing she would be overcome, Tiona aimed for an internecine outcome instead, twisted her body in the air to avoid taking a critical hit from Ais as she bured her fist into the young swordswoman’s shoulder. Tiona ended up having her side completely gouged, sending a large volume of blood from her wound while Ais’ shoulder had been almost completely turned to dust. They both fell towards the ground, having lost consciousness as a result of their final strikes.
Vahn, having completely recovered from his earlier mood, moved to catch both of their figures as Lefiya came forward, holding her pitcher with both hands as a worried look appeared on her face. Fortunately, though the wounds were rather serious, Tiona was already regenerating even before Vahn caught her while Ais, having channeled a large amount of wind elemental energy in her body, had cushioned the shockwave from Tiona’s strike. They were truly geniuses when it came to combat, especially Ais, as she was able to emulate enhancement magic using her [Ariel] without having actually learned how to use the proper spell. If she had trained under Eva, Vahn was certain that Ais would have been able to learn [Magia Erebea] since she was already able to infuse her cells with mana, even if it was limited to wind energy.
Tiona woke up a few minutes later, breathing sharply when she sat up since her wound hadn’t completely healed just yet. As for Ais, she had passed out more from mental exhaustion than a lack of stamina, thus she was still sleeping with her wounds already completely healed by Lefiya. Unless the person was already dead, her artifact could heal any wound without a single sign that an injury had even existed. Unfortunately, this only applied to physical wounds and there was still a bit of instability in Ais’ mana circuits until Vahn had repaired them. Knowing she still had room to improve, Lefiya wanted to learn how to use [Hands of Nirvana] in the future, becoming one of the few practitioners of the rare ability. Thus far, the only people learning it were Eina, Preasia, and Naaza, the latter of which had only recently started learning the skill since she had an affinity for healing magic.
Since she didn’t remember how the fight had ended, Tiona had a defeated expression on her face as she plopped down on the ground, sprawling out her arms and legs as she said, “Graaaah, I want to become even stronger~! Vaaaaahn, teach me a cool skill!” As if realizing the key to her growth was in a Vahn-shaped package, Tiona rolled to her feet and launched herself at Vahn, clinging to him as if her momentary lamentation had never existed. Vahn, already drawing the attention of everyone with his presence, released a small sigh before smiling as he said, “Sure.” He then went on to demonstrate [Shundo] for everyone, giving a detailed explanation about each aspect of the spell before watching their own attempts.
Tiona already had some success with the skill in the past but, after having Vahn fix all her mistakes, she began to get the hang of it after a few hours. Though their training had originally come to an end at the normal time, Vahn’s instruction had caused everyone to stick around and work on the skill. Emiru, Maemi, and Milan, who had gone inside to prepare breakfast, brought out large baskets full of food, accompanied by the rest of the girls, including the small figures of Ina, Vana, and Erika. It hadn’t been planned, but things progressed to the point where everyone was simply enjoying their time together, training and talking about various things in a good mood.
Ina threw a small wrench into things when she woke up, immediately ‘snapping’ her eyes towards Vahn’s figure the moment she came into awareness. As for Vana and Erika, the former seemed excited by the presence of so many people and happily enjoyed the attention of everyone during the impromptu outdoor gathering. Erika, being the most mature of the three, even though she was technically the youngest, sat at the outskirts with Syr, watching the ongoing training with slightly parted eyes. She couldn’t follow the movements of everyone but, seeing them pop in and out of existence made her aquamarine eyes glimmer with intrigue. Even Doppel, who didn’t seem capable of speech, watched everything happening with unblinking eyes as she cemented the image of such powerful existences in her mind… (A/N: Doppel can only repeat words that Erika uses. She/It doesn’t have the mental faculties to process the meaning behind her words just yet.)
Though he continued to coach everyone, Vahn began playing around with Ina and, after realizing what was going on, Vana. She wasn’t nearly as attached to him as Ina was but, whenever Vahn was playing with the latter, Vana always wanted his attention as well. Being the doting father he was, Vahn couldn’t deny his daughter’s pouting expression so he ended up flying around in the sky with the laughing twins while their guardians chased after him with teary eyes. If they could speak, Vahn had no doubt they would have been cursing him for bullying them all the time. As for why he knew they weren’t actually forming words, it was because he could understand any language, even those used by the monsters within the Dungeon.
Erika, seeing her ‘Papa’ flying through the sky, almost wanted to join in but, after noticing the looks she was receiving from everyone else, lowered her head with a small blush on her face. Loki, seeing her daughter’s reaction, laughed in a mischevious manner, hugging her from behind as Erika tried to free herself. As if she was unaware of her daughter’s discomfort, Loki rubbed her cheek against Erika in an affectionate manner, musing, “You know, you have to be more honest with yourself, Erika. Your Papa is a smart man, but he isn’t that good at reading people that keep their thoughts to themselves. There will be even more children for him to tend to in the future, so make sure you enjoy the opportunities you have while they are available…” Loki always spoke to her daughter without a filter, never treating her like a child since she knew it would adversely affect her rapid mental development.
Though she had a slight resentment towards her Mother, who never seemed to respect her personal space, Erika always listened closely to all of her words. Reflecting upon them, Erika realized there was a great deal of truth to the matter since she had already been informed that, in as little as five years, she would have reached physical maturity and would likely cease growing for hundreds of years thereafter. Though there were many concepts she didn’t understand yet, Erika knew that time was a very valuable thing and, while she had a great deal to work with, there were severe limitations on the actions she could take now.
Deciding she didn’t want to grow apart from her Papa, as he was like a beacon of light in her life with the steadfastness of a mountain, Erika’s eyes wavered before she called out in a small voice, “P-Papa…” In the blink of an eye, even though he had been several tens of meters overhead, Vahn appeared at Erika’s side, showing a gentle smile as he asked, “Did you call for me, Erika~?” Though she felt very embarrassed, Erika nodded her head and said, “I want to play with Papa…” in a shy tone of voice. When everyone around her showed kind looks, Erika felt her cheeks heat up and wanted to hide her face. This caused Doppel to ‘panic’ for a brief moment before a shell of hair wrapped around her body, creating a cocoon to protect her from the view of everyone except Vahn.
Vahn found his daughter’s actions to be very adorable so he hugged Ina and Vana close for a few seconds, coaxing the girls into letting him spend some time with Erika. Ina was very reluctant to part but, understanding that Vana would want to copy her, decided to relinquish ‘her’ Papa for a few minutes. She gave herself the excuse that she was hungry and, after her Papa had passed her over, Ina hid her face against her Mama’s chest and muttered, “Mama, hungry…” in an almost sobbing tone. Hephaestus felt her heart melt, understanding that her daughter had made a very mature decision for someone as young as she was. She hugged her daughter in a warm embrace, saying in a soothing tone, “I’m so proud of you, Ina…you are such a good girl.” Ina’s only response was to sniffle a little, causing Vana to show a concerned face and begin crying a little until Hephaestus carried both girls into the Manor for feeding…
As reluctant as he was to see them go, Vahn didn’t make any attempts to stop their departure, following their retreat with his gaze until they disappeared inside the Manor. Like Hephaestus, he was very proud of Ina, as such decisions weren’t something you would expect from someone that was less than a month old. When he picked up Erika, she had a strangely solemn look on her face as she said, “I’m sorry…” in a quiet voice. Vahn felt like his heart was going to break when he heard the uncharacteristically apologetic tone Erika used. He held her close, patting her back as he slowly rose into the air as Doppel clung to his leg. Vahn gave a smile towards the small humanoid creature, not minding the constrictive force of its hair as he ascended high above the Manor.
Erika, feeling the warmth of her Papa and the comforting energy in her back, eventually calmed down enough to open her eyes. She was very surprised to be so high up but, knowing she was safely in her Papa’s arms, got over her momentary fear and released some of the tension in her tiny grip. Vahn, understanding that Erika was a very intelligent girl, softly said, “Erika, you are an incredible young girl. It makes me so proud to have you as my daughter…” Though he tried to keep a stoic appearance in front of his daughter, Vahn couldn’t fight the moisture building in his eyes, something that caused Erika’s to open wide. Seeing her reaction, Vahn laughed, hugging her close as he said, “I love you, Erika. Please, if you ever feel lonely, I will always try to make time for you. It doesn’t matter how old you get, after all, I’m your Papa…”
(A/N: BTW, my personal rating for the strength of [Pactio]s puts Tiona at first place, Ryuu at second place, and Shizune at third place. However, the [Pactio] with the most functionality is Riveria’s while my ‘favorite’ of them all is Mikoto’s (UwU)~! Oh, this is also the last chapter for today since the first one was like 5k words, while they were all more than a little over 2k words each xD.)