Chapter 801: Preparations

Though she didn’t catch it at first, Asfi quickly noticed the gaze of Ina and the fact that Vahn had averted his eyes. A bit of heat reached cheeks as she defensively pressed the front of her skirt to make it harder to see. Then, in an effort to calm herself, Asfi focused on lowering the [Levitation Platform] to the ground before setting it on the table. When she was finished, as if nothing had happened, Asfi turned to face everyone with a stoic expression on her face and asked, “Is there anything else…?”

Loki and Tsubaki both laughed boisterously at Asfi’s behavior while Hestia and Hephaestus had somewhat wry smiles on their faces. This caused the blush to return to Asfi’s face as she averted her eyes to the side, making eye contact with Ina in the process. She noticed the girl had a small frown on her face, filling Asfi with a bit of trepidation that she had no easy means of dealing with. Since Ina was Vahn’s daughter, Asfi wanted to try and make a good impression on her but, given how Ina had been acting, Asfi was certain she didn’t appreciate her presence here…

Vahn also noticed that Ina didn’t seem that fond of Asfi but he assumed it was just because Asfi was an ‘outsider’ and potentially ate into the time they could spend together. As he was ought to do, Vahn reached out his hand and pat his daughter’s head, causing her to startle slightly before immediately calming down. Instead of staring towards Asfi, she turned her eyes to the side and stared at the [Levitation Platform] with a glimmer of intrigue in her eyes. Contrary to expectations, she was actually more than a little interested in Asfi’s abilities and had a ton of questions to ask her. Though she was a little annoyed that there was another girl to divert her Papa’s attention, Ina had already gotten used to the fact that she couldn’t always be with him. There was also the simple fact that she could look into her own future and see herself getting along with Asfi, making it a lot easier to accept her…eventually…

Since there were a lot of things she wanted to talk to Asfi about, Loki cut through the atmosphere with her words, saying, “Okay, that was pretty interesting but there are a lot of things we still need to discuss. I’m sure you have a lot of questions as well, so let’s move to a private room in the west wing. There are a lot of empty rooms where you can take up residence in as well so we’ll get you situated afterward.” Then, turning to Haruhime, Loki added, “Haruhime, you seem to have the closest relationship with Asfi so I’ll have you come to our meeting. When we’re done, you’ll be in charge of looking after her until she gets acclimated to the Manor.”

As she had already expected something similar to happen, Haruhime just smiled politely as her four tails flickered behind her. Ever since she had grown her fourth, Haruhime’s tails had a natural inclination to curve around her body whenever she was standing idly. They would also frame her body like a fan whenever she was in combat and always seemed to be moving around in a mesmerizing manner. Though she could proactively control them, almost with the dexterity of a hand, Haruhime let them ‘act as they pleased’ in normal circumstances. As a result, it was easy to see that she was pleased by the outcome and, at least from Vahn’s perspective, he could see a slightly mischevious glint in her eyes…

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With Asfi heading off with Loki and Haruhime, the other girls were all planning to go their separate ways as Hephaestus, Tsubaki, and Ina carried off the [Levitation Platform] to study. As for Hestia, she stayed behind and came to Vahn’s side, grasping his hand in a comforting manner as she asked, “Are you okay, Vahn…?” Since her bond with Vahn was inarguably the strongest amongst the girls, Hestia had felt the turmoil he had gone through earlier. She had been talking with Hephaestus, the other goddess that could ‘literally’ feel what Vahn experienced, and decided who should comfort him. Since Vahn’s other body had been with Loki at the time, they hadn’t had the chance to get him to relax and open up his heart if necessary.

Feeling Hestia’s concern, Vahn produced a soft smile and, somewhat surprising her, reduced his height to more closely resemble her’s as he hugged her inexplicably soft body and buried his face in her breasts. Hestia blushed a little at the sudden intimate contact before bringing up her hand and patting the top of Vahn’s head, saying, “You did the right thing Vahn…good boy…” Being talked to in the same way he would sometimes talk to the more emotionally unstable girls, Vahn felt a small urge to laugh but just kept silent and held Hestia for a while. Though he had already calmed down a lot after Lulune’s ‘reminder’, Vahn was still reliant on the girls of the Manor for his stability…

With the inclusion of Asfi in the Manor, there were a few ripples that had been made, especially as the reality of her situation began to settle in. She was shaken to the core when she learned about the existence of the orbs and how powerful each of the girls in the Manor was. At the same time, Asfi’s presence was a topic of interest for the girls themselves, with Haruhime acting as something of an intermediary to facilitate her adaptation. She also stepped in to help Asfi begin her training, meaning that latter spent a lot of time at the Fox Shrine with Chloe, Shizune, and Tina.

Asfi immediately started training as hard as she could, facilitated by Vahn giving her a ‘flame seed’ and, though her face had turned a ruddy crimson, bestowed upon her a [Pactio]. Asfi’s raiment took on a form nobody had quite expected, with her having a white blouse, short black skirt, and what looked like a white lab coat. As for her artifact, it took on the form of a series of belts and pouches that actually worked as interspatial storage compartments. It would seem that Asfi’s propensity to try and prepare for anything had manifested itself as an organized storage for the magic items, equipment, and consumables that she would keep on hand…

Because she had access to an almost unlimited number of supplies and also benefitted from the existence of four skilled blacksmiths, with three being [Master Smith]s, Asfi could make significantly more powerful items than in the past. Vahn had quickly tested a theory he had formed and, working alongside Asfi during the production of an item, he had managed to forge an A-Rank bracelet that she was also able to use her [Mystery] on. Generally, an item maker could only bestow a miracle on the items they had created but, with the two of them working alongside each other, Asfi was able to get around this restriction. At the same time, Vahn was over the moon since Asfi’s [Mystery] was actually able to emulate the ‘storing’ function he had been struggling to crack for years.

It took a few tries but, after showing Asfi the functionality of the gems that could store items within their internal structure, she was eventually able to bestow this effect on any item with a ‘core’. The best part of this was the fact that the items were able to benefit from the abilities derived from his [Master Smith] without any conflict with her [Mystery] Development Ability. Though it wasn’t exactly more useful than the interspatial bracelets that he had already developed, the fact that the girls could instantly transform into a combat-ready state was meaningful. Yes, they could do something similar with their [Pactio], but not every girl had a raiment and artifact suited for combat. This innovation would be instrumental for their protection in the future and also served as another unique product that only the Alliance could create.

Adding to the changes was the fact that Asfi’s Affection had quickly reached 100 during the [Pactio] ceremony, unfortunately without awarding him the [Mystery] Development Ability. Instead, Vahn received Asfi’s [Metalworking] at C-Rank, a pendant that allowed the wearer to breathe underwater, and a few thousand Origin Points. Though he had been a little disappointed to have missed out on the [Mystery] Development Ability, Vahn admonished himself for the thought and got over it pretty quickly. After all, he didn’t actually need the ability and, if he truly wanted to learn it, the only requirement was that he put in the effort to do so…

Though it was difficult for her to process, most of these events had happened over a four day period, meaning not even a day had passed in the real world. Asfi now perfectly understood how the girls had been able to increase their strength so quickly, especially after experiencing her own growth in a short period of time. Even without killing any monsters, just using the techniques demonstrated by the girls had started to increase her parameters rather quickly, especially her Magic. She was also looking forward to being able to cast the same spells as the other girls as her own magic, [Kalov Argol] had ‘literally’ always left a bad taste in her mouth. Since it had the visual impact of watching her vomit out a large volume of pungent liquid, she very rarely ever used it, especially if other people were around…

After exiting the orb, Asfi ended up returning to the Traveler’s Inn because she was still the Captain of the Hermes Familia and needed to organize things in accordance with Loki’s intentions. Their Familia would be serving as an extension of Loki’s own information network while the more unique members would become part of the expedition party heading down to the 50th Floor. They would be acting as scouts and serve as lookouts to make sure things were running smoothly, as Vahn himself could not always be observing everything taking place during the construction. As they ‘had’ to be loyal, and already possessed very keen observational skills, they would make adequate observers and informants during the long construction process.

At the same time, Hermes had already learned of the fact that his Familia had been purchased and hadn’t been surprised, even for a moment. Instead, he ended up having a long conversation with Loki, Freya, and Hephaestus before disappearing to go on ‘vacation’. Vahn hadn’t been present for the meeting, as there was a high chance he would have entered into conflict with Hermes, but he heard about the details after the fact.

Hermes currently had no authority over his own Familia and, according to the contract that Vahn and Loki had agreed to when taking ownership of his ‘children’, he was only required to stop by once a month to update their Status Boards. Thus, without detailing what he would be doing over the next year, Hermes simply ‘disappeared’ after the meeting, apparently to return to Heaven temporarily. He was one of the only gods that could freely travel between the mortal world and Heaven without destroying his avatar and was probably putting into motion the next step of whatever plan he had machinated…

As they were used to their god being absent, none of the Hermes Familia members seemed to care at all about the changes. Though they had been surprised by the fact that Vahn had purchased them, the shock had worn off very quickly with the passage of the evening. With a few exceptions, almost everyone in the Hermes Familia had experience with being purchased previously and Vahn being their owner was inarguably better than most other arrangements. The fact that he announced he would be paying them a salary, even though they were his ‘belongings’, caused many of the members that had previous concerns to settle down very quickly. They were able to intuit from this fact alone that Vahn wasn’t actually treating them as possessions, at least for the time being…

One thing that Vahn had both expected, yet was still surprised about, was the fact that Lulune and Pot had essentially spread a lot of rumors over the course of a single evening. Since many of the girls in the Hermes Familia had already harbored ‘intentions’ towards him, the words of the two girls had caused many of them to feel emboldened. This was especially the case for the Beast Human girls as both Lulune and Pot had ‘verified’ the rumors that Vahn had a tendency to pet the heads of girls. Lulune also came forward about the fact that Vahn had actually grabbed Asfi’s butt and made remarks about her own tail and ears.

When Vahn learned about these things from Asfi after the fact, he immediately regretted not telling Lulune that she should have kept quiet about ‘everything’ that happened during their discussion. Instead, the only things she wasn’t allowed to talk about were the secrets they had shared, allowing her to freely cause misunderstandings with her propensity to say whatever was on her mind. Even Elilly had contributed to the misunderstanding, proclaiming something about him being the type of man who showed compassion to all women. Since Elilly was currently a very hot topic within the Familia, her words had been the final straw that now turned the Traveler’s Inn into a ‘landmine’ that Vahn would have to be cautious of in the future…

This didn’t mean he would actually avoid going there, however, since many things could be avoided by him simply ‘telling’ the girls not to pester him. After all, even if he didn’t truly treat them like his possessions, his word was ‘absolute’ to the Hermes Familia members for the next year. As a result, he stopped by on the evening of the second day and took care of one of the things that had been bothering him.

Dodon, the man who seemed like a kind soul who had been brutalized by his tribe, was someone Vahn felt deserved a better lot in life. His file showed that the reason for his exile had been the result of an internal struggle where the wife of the tribe’s chief had actually been in love with him. Since the chief didn’t want his then-fiancee to elope with another man, he simply used his authority to brutalize Dodon before burning down his house and chasing him out of the village. The only reason he was still alive is that the chief’s fiancee had threatened to kill herself if he didn’t allow Dodon to flee safely.

Strangely, Dodon didn’t seem to harbor any ill will towards his tribe, even after he had been treated so poorly. This was because, even though he had lost respect for the chief, he genuinely cared for the villagers that he had spent his entire life growing alongside. Though he had regrets about the fact that his childhood friend ended up marrying the much older Chief, Dodon knew she would be taken care of since the Chief wasn’t simply fond of her, but actually loved her a great deal. Thus, Dodon accepted his lot in life and now his only desire was to look over the weaker members of the Familia and make sure they don’t have to suffer. Most of the money he earned actually went to the younger members of the Familia, especially the Pallum girls like Tallow, Meryl, and Pot.

With all of these factors, Vahn had a great deal of respect for Dodon’s character and decided that he would heal the man and allow him to live without the burden of being a disfigured mute. Though Dodon himself had politely declined the offer, Vahn didn’t leave the man much of a choice and ‘selfishly’ healed Dodon’s body. This allowed Vahn to see the extent of the damage on Dodon’s body and made the respect he held towards the man even stronger. After he finished healing him, Vahn pat the muscular man’s shoulder and gave him a tab for entry into the Clubhouse as a VIP member. Then, for the first time, Dodon rubbed the back of his head and, after remaining silent for nearly a minute, muttered in a deep baritone voice, “Thanks…”

Contrary to his expectations, Dodon donned his previous disguise and, when Vahn asked why, the behemoth of a man simply explained, “My silence has become something many members of the Familia rely on. I am someone they can talk to, an existence that will listen to their troubles without judgment. Even if I can now speak, the identity I have assumed for the last five years is something important to both myself, and my companions…still, thank you for healing me, Vahn. I’m certain I will sleep much better now that the aches and pains in my body are gone…” Then, without any other explanations, Dodon bowed politely and excused himself from the room as Vahn stared with an absentminded expression on his face…

With Dodon as the precedent, Vahn also healed many of the injuries of other Hermes Familia members, both male and female. Many of them had either sustained an injury in their work, or were subjected to the whims of their ‘clients’ in the past. This was especially true for some of the female members who, after being healed, would generally spend a few minutes in front of a standing mirror and inspecting their bodies. Some of them shed tears, as many women were very self-conscious about their appearance, while others tried to proposition him after the fact. Vahn politely declined their offers, even though he was more than a little tempted by some of the more flirtatious girls.

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As a result of his efforts, his reputation within the Hermes Familia immediately became very positive, even though some of the girls complained about him being a ‘prude’. Most of this was said in jest, as it was very easy for them to see that Vahn had an appreciation for their bodies, but it still ended up being an ‘affectionate’ complaint when they were gossiping about him. As for the girls who had been lucky enough to receive his touch directly. Since he needed to touch the damaged areas to remove scars and repair damaged muscles, they ended up being the ‘winners’ amongst the girls within the Familia, claiming the first advantage in a ‘competition’ that had apparently been started between them…

In this manner, the days before the expedition continued to count down and Vahn was in the final phase of his own preparations. They had already confirmed the members that would be heading towards the 50th Floor, consisting of nearly six-hundred construction workers and a total of two-hundred Adventurers over Level 3. With the logistics group and Supporters, generally those that were Level 2 or lower, the total number of members had exceeded a thousand, coming to a record high 1308 personnel. It was the largest expedition since the establishment of Orario and was also the most ambitious project in History, being the construction of a settlement on a Floor that many had no hope of reaching in the past.

Since he wouldn’t be able to lead and direct such a large group of people on his own, the Expedition had three Commanders that would be in charge of groups around 400-450 members. As an official operation of the Alliance, every Familia was pitching in their support, giving Vahn access to a wide array of talent to choose from. To command each unit, he had selected Finn, leaving Gareth in charge of Lil Geirr, and Shakti, as the Ganesha Familia would be playing a major role in the establishment of Haven. As for the final unit, it would actually be commanded by Haruhime. Though she would officially be classified as the Rearguard Commander, this was an important moment for her to accumulate leadership experience while also serving in the capacity of the Hestia Familia’s Vice-Captain.

Haruhime wasn’t the only one with a key role, however, as many of the girls had been assigned as part of a strike team that would constantly be moving to protect all three units. Ais would be pairing up with Tiona and Tione while Arnya and Lefiya acted as ranged artillery. The second strike team would be led by Fenrir and included Mikoto, Chloe, Shizune, and, as she refused to be left behind once again, Tina. As a Level 5, Vahn didn’t really have a justifiable reason to refuse her and, with Milan giving her permission, Tina would be acting as the group’s vanguard. Her defensive capabilities had actually reached a monstrous level, especially after getting her own [Pactio], so there weren’t many enemies that could threaten her.

Not only did Tina’s [Eclipse] allow her to sap the strength of her opponents, increasing her own, but her artifact took on the form of a shield, just like her mother’s. The biggest difference was that Tina’s shield took on the form of a small buckler that, when struck by an attack, caused a strange sphere comprised of hexagonal panels to appear around her body for an instant. At the same time, whatever struck her shield became rooted to the spot, essentially making Tina almost impervious to damage and indefinitely stunning an enemy. Though it wasn’t impossible to break out of, as Lili and Tiona had both managed to pull it off, the amount of strength required to do so was immense…

The remaining members that would be entering into the Dungeon with the expedition were Lili, Ryuu, and, in order to give her a chance to vent out her frustrations, Alexa. Lili and Ryuu would be charged with protecting Haruhime and, should any large enemies show up that Ais and Fenrir couldn’t easily deal with, they would take it out with their almost unstoppable offensive power. As for Alexa, Vahn would be watching over her personally while serving as the Supreme Commander in the case of an emergency situation. His own power was at the level that he would be able to defeat almost any enemy the moment he took action so he decided to let the girls cut loose a bit to warm up for whatever Enyo would throw at them.

With that in mind, while every resident of the Manor was gathered around, Vahn entered into the Space-Time orb to retrieve Alexa. They would be celebrating her 120th birthday in the real world while also welcoming her into the Hearth Manor as it’s newest resident. Though she wouldn’t have much time to venture around, as it was currently the day before the expedition, Vahn still wanted to take her around the City to experience the sights and sounds of society for the first time. The fact that he would probably end up riding on her back for this tour was something he selectively chose to ignore…

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