The fact that a new ‘lake’ had appeared to the north of the City had been a big deal, especially with the rumors circulating about how it was created. Siegfried’s collapse of the land had caused it to merge together with an aqueduct and, after a bit of rainfall that appeared in the sky later that day, it had quickly turned into a small lake with a steep incline leading down to the crystal clear surface of the water below. Those that showed up in the area to investigate were awed by the sheer size of the sinkhole that had been created, as an attack capable of changing the landscape in a 3km radius was beyond the comprehension of most people. Knowing that the event was somehow related to Vahn, who had returned to the City, seemingly unscathed, left a deep impression on their hearts and minds.
As for Vahn himself, his only real concern at the time had been returning home to make good on his promise to spend time with Ina, Vana, Erika, Alexa, and his infant children, Meinya, Anise, and Sakuya. Though he did spend a fair amount of time debriefing with Loki, Hephaestus, Hestia, Anubis, Eina, and Syr, that hadn’t taken too long. Loki, being the ever-reliable goddess she had proven herself to be, decided to investigate matters through her own networks but, learning that Vahn had actually managed to place a tracking ward on Siegfried, she had nearly keeled over in laughter. After that, he had been ‘freed’ to spend time with his children while the Goddesses talked amongst themselves about how to deal with Zeus and Hera.
Though Zeus had been very troublesome to deal with, Hera was arguably the worse of the two since she often enabled Zeus’ antics. Her Familia had its fair share of capable Adventurers, but it almost existed solely to support the Zeus Familia back during their era. Many of her Familia members had actually been capable female Adventurer’s and Supporters, with only a few Elite men as her Executives, many of which had moved into the Hera Familia from Zeus’ own. This had been one of the methods they used to ’empower’ the mentality of Heroes, as being waited on by the members of the second most powerful Familia was a big ego boost for budding ‘Heroes’.
As for why Hera supported Zeus’ antics so willingly, it was because they were one of the few married couples amongst the gods. With Divinities related to Marriage, Family, and Domesticity, Hera had always supported her husband, regardless of the foolish decisions he made. To counteract his complete lack of regard for consequences, she had put in a serious effort to change her own nature to be calm and calculating. The only time her true nature showed through was during the times Zeus would, inevitably, cheat on her with another woman. It wasn’t uncommon for the women that had been favored by Zeus to simply ‘disappear’ soon after, with the only exceptions being those that miraculously got pregnant. Even so, the mothers always seemed to die during childbirth, or shortly thereafter…
It was surprising to any of the goddesses within the Hearth Manor that Hera was supporting Zeus, as it would have been far more surprising to learn she hadn’t been. Even so, the fact that she had shown up with two Heroes that had ‘died’ long ago raised several flags, especially since Vahn speculated that Siegfried had been around Level 9, while Jeanne seemed to be around the peak of Level 8. Currently, other than Vahn and Terra, they didn’t have any means to put up meaningful resistance against such powerhouses, especially if there were even more hidden cards held by Zeus and Hera than had been revealed. The fact that Vahn had the insight to mark Siegfried made Loki feel incredibly vindicated for having fallen in love with him…
Ultimately, it was decided that a larger focus would be placed on the training of everyone within the Manor, though the main focus would be on the ‘core’ of the group. This consisted of Ais, Tiona, Tione, Haruhime, Lili, Lefiya, Mikoto, and Arnya. Though the other girls would still become very powerful in their own rights, they didn’t have the same level of dedication to the pursuit of strength as aforementioned eight. It was likely that girls like Tina and Shizune might actually exceed the growth of the ‘older’ girls, but that would take a few years at the earliest. With the Sub-Space orb, this time would be greatly reduced, but it might affect them negatively to hole themselves up in the orb all the time.
As for everyone else in the Manor, with the obvious exclusion of Vahn, Terra, Fafnir, Khaos, and Fenrir, they would essentially fall into support roles, at least when it came to fighting against such powerful enemies. Emiru and Maemi, though possessing a strong drive to become stronger, weren’t really frontline combatants just yet. They also spent the least amount of time within the orb so, unless their service mentality changed, it wasn’t that likely for their strength to increase too much in the interim. Then there were the people like Tsubaki, Lunoire, and Milan, each capable warriors that could become stronger, but fundamentally lacked the resolve to do so in a meaningful way.
Tsubaki was a true warrior at heart but, now that she had a daughter of her own, she placed a much bigger focus on her daughter and preparing for her duties at the School. Though she would still live for a very long time, she already had the mentality of passing on the torch to the next generation. This was somewhat true for Milan as well, who had already retired previously and was now almost fully invested in the growth of her daughter. As for Lunoire, the ‘dream’ she had held close to her heart for so long had affected her mentality almost irreversibly.
Though she was currently working hard to become stronger, the desire to simply have a family of her own, and taking care of the children within the Manor was slowly beginning to drain away her motivation to train. This was a similar mentality to Aki, who had seriously been considering her own retirement and just becoming a ‘secretary’ for Vahn. To a lesser extent, Riveria and Ryuu were also affected by this mentality, though the latter truly intended to work hard to become stronger after the birth of her daughter. Riveria’s focus, however, was on the matters related to the Elven Kingdom and, as Vahn had been privy to hearing about quite often lately, how she planned to try and raise their son.
Riveria was too focused on the future and, though her pursuit of knowledge hadn’t really diminished, she was more than likely going to end up as just the Department Head of the School before becoming the Headmaster of the Academy that would be built in Haven. At the same time, she would be raising their son to potentially become the King of the Elves, though only if it was a path they chose to walk willingly. With how things had devolved, Riveria wasn’t even sure making an Elven ‘Kingdom’ was even a good idea anymore. Instead, she felt it might be better to just have a council of sorts to manage the affairs of their people, this time without allowing people to selfishly consolidate power based solely on blood purity.
Wrapping up the group, there were girls like Naaza, Preasia, Eina, Syr, and, to a lesser extent, Risna. Though they might become strong enough to protect themselves, they were considered non-combatants with a more support oriented role. Naaza wanted to become a capable [Alchemist], while Preasia’s dream, for lack of a better descriptive, was to be a physician. She was learning from Vahn personally and had made great strides in her understanding of medicines and herbal remedies by studying with Naaza and Lili.
As for Eina, she fell into the category of girls who were more focused on the children than other matters. She would continue her duties as the Guild Liaison, but it would be more of a formality in the future, with most of the matters of the Guild branch being handed over to Rose. Risna, her younger sister, simply wanted to become a prolific novelist in the future and, now that she had the Sub-Space orb to rely on, the efforts she had put into her writing had more than tripled. This left only Syr remaining, amongst the girls currently present in the Manor, and her only desire had been the same as it always had. She wanted to support the man she loved and, in order to make sure things ran smoothly, Syr took her position as the ‘Manager’ of the Manor’s affairs very seriously…
Being the core of everything, Vahn’s own power was one of the most important factors that would guarantee any problems that appeared in the future could be resolved without any sacrifices. At the same time that his ‘main’ body had been fighting against Siegfried, his Avatar had been within the orb using their shared connection to supplement Vahn’s source energy reserves. By making use of the dime dilation effect, and the fact that his reserves could be replenished in around twenty minutes by meditating to the [Mantra of Eternity], Vahn’s reserves during combat had been almost limitless. On average, it would have only taken him three minutes and twenty seconds to completely recover his reserves, a factor Vahn had exploited with the abundant overuse of his source energy.
The largest benefit, which Vahn himself hadn’t expected, was that he was able to use his perception of his second body to enhance that of his main body. Since he experienced the passage of time in both worlds simultaneously, Vahn had been able to observe the entire fight from the perspective of his Avatar in slow motion. During the first exchange, it felt like he had synchronized both of his minds and had actually been able to accelerate his own thinking by a factor of six times.
With his already enhanced perception, it was almost like time had completely come to a stop during the moments his focus had reached the peak. This was also why, after large and complex movements, Vahn had stalled for a short while. His brain could only make sense of so many stimuli at once so, anything too complex would leave him exposed for a short while thereafter. Siegfried had been able to exploit these ‘gaps’ with an awe-inspiring degree of ease, something that had deeply impacted both of Vahn’s minds. It was very fortunate for him that Siegfried had also been very cautious and observant during the fight, as it had made recovering his senses after taking big hits much easier. Had Siegfried gone all out, it would have taken Vahn a much longer period of time to actually come out ahead in the fight.
Now that things had settled down, Vahn was reflecting on the fight itself while teaching Ina how to dance, a request the latter had after his return. She was currently standing on his feet while Vahn walked her through the basics of performing a ballroom waltz. The fact that she was wearing an adorable little princess outfit distracted both of Vahn’s mind, though not enough that his body within the orb couldn’t keep his focus. He had realized through this fight that his power simply wasn’t enough for some of the enemies he might face in the future.
With how Karma influenced Fate, it was almost guaranteed that troublesome enemies would eventually find their way to him. Thus, while the goddesses were discussing matters on their own, Vahn was also thinking about how to increase his own power. At the bare minimum, he needed to completely master his [Magia Erebea] form, as he had managed to push the skill to SSS-Rank within the Divination. If he could freely make use of his elemental armaments, it would be possible to deal with most situations. However, even more than that, Vahn realized he needed to focus on mastering his own Innate abilities.
Had he not caught Siegfried by surprise with his Xuánwǔ form, the fight would have gone on for a much greater length of time. Just the fact that it was an Innate made it inarguably more powerful than [Magia Erebea] itself, with the only limit of the ability being Vahn’s understanding of its true capabilities. It was the same for all of his Innates and, now that it was apparent there were more than a few entities within this record that could threaten him and his family, Vahn wanted to seriously begin working towards mastering these abilities. After all, this mastery would follow him through all future records and, as he been revealed by Sis, mastering them was necessary to increase his Soul Tier.
Currently, Vahn had four Innates awakened meaning, if he was able to master them all, his Soul Tier would naturally be at Tier 4. He had already ‘mastered’ [Will of the Emperor], though he was still discovering its uses as his own perception of the world changed, so his next focus should be on his [Rakshasa Body]. Though his [Eyes of Truth] were very powerful, Vahn felt their utility wouldn’t be nearly as useful as the combat prowess provided by his [Rakshasa Body], at least for now. As for his [Keeper of the Akashic Tome], that was a difficult skill to master with his current understanding of things, as the cooldown of the ability made it hard to make use of.
Vahn had already learned a fair amount about the ability, but it would generally take around thirty days, on the low end, just to use it once. Fortunately, his naming didn’t seem ‘entirely’ dependent on this cooldown as, without a shadow of a doubt, the effects he was able to imbue into items through his intent were related to the ability. This meant he needed to create a bunch of items to increase his mastery quickly, something that would slow the development of his personal strength in the interim.
Thus, by process of elimination, [Rakshasa Body] needed to become his priority until he was able to at least maintain his Zhūquè form without consuming a massive amount of source energy, or burning apart all of his equipment. If possible, Vahn also wanted to be able to awaken his Azure Dragon form, as it seemed very powerful, but he wasn’t too sure if it was a good idea within this record. Each of the forms seemed to have an association with an elemental law, and a higher tiered law he didn’t fully understand.
The capabilities of the Azure Dragon seemed to be tied to Space and Lightning, but there was undoubtedly a greater potential hidden away in the form. With how Eva and Terra had reacted to his change, Vahn was certain this was the case. Still, having it as a trump card would undoubtedly be beneficial if he ‘needed’ to make use of it. If even the record itself was strained by the influence of that form, it wasn’t likely many enemies would be able to last against it…
Making his way towards the rest area where the girls usually took their breaks, Vahn found the person he was looking for, currently teasing Lili and playing with the latter’s exposed stomach. Lili had a red face as she swatted away Tiona’s hands, exclaiming, “Stop messing around, Tiona! If you end up harming my babies…I’ll…!” Though Lili had been in the middle of lashing out at Tiona, she immediately stopped when she saw his arrival within the rest area. Seemingly without any regard for the fact she was supposed to be pregnant, Lili ran over and leaped into his arms.
Because it hadn’t been ‘confirmed’ previously, Lili had still been making use of the Sub-Space orb, at least for the time being. Very soon, she would have to stay in the real world because, as most of the girls were aware at this point, Lili was undoubtedly pregnant. Vahn, of course, had been the first to notice the change but had waited for Lili to make the announcement herself, as it was a very meaningful thing for most women. Even so, now that her state had been confirmed, Vahn stroked her chestnut brown hair and lightly reprimanded, “You’re not supposed to be in here, Lili…”
Seemingly disregarding his words, Lili just laughed lightly and continued to squeeze him tightly around the waist. She had been in a very bubbly and clingy mood as of late, not that Vahn could really blame her. Naaza was handling things much better, having already started learning from the more experienced women what she needed to prepare for during her pregnancy. Much like Aki, she had already started to ‘transform’ from a young woman into that of a mother, practically glowing whenever Vahn saw her. The fact that her tail would lightly wag whenever they crossed paths, as if she were very happy to see him, always filled Vahn with a blissful contentedness.
Though he wouldn’t mind spending time with Lili, Vahn had come here with a different purpose so he gave her a kiss on the forehead and said, “You should return to the Manor and spend more time with Naaza. I have things to take care of right now, but I’ll come find you after I’m finished playing with the younglings…” Lili looked as though she wanted to argue at first but, hearing the latter half of Vahn’s words, a smile spread across her youthful face as she said, “I’ll be waiting~!” and disappeared from the space. Vahn issued a light chuckle before looking toward Tiona, currently sitting amongst Tione, Ais, and Lefiya. Noticing the look in his eyes, Tiona’s expression turned radiant as she pointed to herself and exclaimed, “You came here for me~? Ehehehehe~.”
Even without Vahn explaining his purpose, Tiona had bounded up to her feet and immediately transitioned into her [Pactio] form while Tione, Ais, and even Lefiya, gave her slightly envious looks. Vahn sent a wink towards them after being momentarily distracted by Tiona’s sudden ‘lack’ of clothing. He would never get used to the fact that her [Pactio] was essentially just two thin pieces of cloth that barely even covered the sensitive bits. Though she pulled it off with her amazingly athletic figure, Vahn felt like he would have to ‘punish’ any men that observed Tiona while she was in this form…
After stretching her body for a bit, Tiona smiled excitedly and said, “Let’s do this~!” in a chipper voice. Immediately thereafter, however, her eyes become somewhat fierce and playful as she launched herself towards him, tackling him away from the building as their spar began. Ais, Tione, and Lefiya followed after them, curious to see how the fight would progress and moderately hopeful they would have their own turn after the fact. At the very least, they would be able to learn the reasons for why Vahn had suddenly shown up to fight Tiona, though seeing him immediately transition into his White Tiger form gave them some insight into the matter.