Chapter 803: Staging

Waking up early the next morning, Vahn was able to see the adorably ‘terrible’ sleeping habits of his daughters snuggled up next to him, with each other, or splayed out across the bed. His main body was ‘pinned’ by Alexa, who was also using her wings as an impromptu blanket for some of the other girls, while his avatar’s chest had been claimed by Ina. The thing Vahn found most amusing, even though it was a little inconvenient, was how Meinya was splayed out at the head of the bed with her leg resting across his forehead. Her little tummy was exposed in her tiger jammies and Vahn was tempted to poke her if not for the fact it would disturb the others.

Very carefully, Vahn stirred Alexa awake and began to extricate the girls from his main body before moving them near his avatar. At the same time, he let warm and calming energy suffuse from his domain so they would naturally gravitate towards him while sleeping. Doppel ended up ‘waking’ while he was moving around, but Vahn wasn’t even sure if she actually slept in the first place. His perception of her internal structure made it impossible to know if she was asleep since her ‘cells’ were always in an active state. Though it didn’t appear that way on the surface, everything from the follicles of hair on her head, to the muted brown skin on her body, each part of her acted as sensory receptors that had all six senses active at all times…

Patting the young Doppelganger on the head, earning a somewhat silly smile from her as she attempted to let go of his leg and cling to his main body. Since he didn’t really have time to play right now, Vahn pinched her nose and made a gesture to be quiet. Though she had a somewhat ‘sad’ expression for a brief moment, Doppel still nodded her head before cocooning herself around his avatar’s leg with her hair. Both seeing and feeling this, Vahn smiled before grabbing Alexa and gently levitating their bodies from the bed. Seeing himself surrounded by his eleven children, Vahn couldn’t help but take a ‘snapshot’ and storing it away in his mind before exiting the room with Alexa in tow.

Once they were out of the room, Vahn set Alexa down on the floor and she remained silent for a few seconds before saying, “Papa…you really do care about them a lot…don’t you?” Vahn gave the most assured nod he had ever managed, reaching out his hand in the same motion to rub her head as he said, “I care deeply about all of my children, Alexa. Never forget, that includes you as well…” Seeing her wings droop slightly at his words, Vahn felt a little sad before Alexa perked up a moment later, a smile on her face as she said, “I understand, Papa. When we return from the Dungeon, I will do my best to get along with all my siblings. I won’t let anyone, or anything, bring harm to them…!”

Though he knew there was more that Alexa wasn’t saying, Vahn still smiled and ruffled the young True Dragon’s hair as he said, “You really are amazing, Alexa. Though I care about all of my children dearly, you are a point of pride that I would proudly tout to the entire world. Come…we don’t want to keep the others waiting for too long.” Seeing Alexa practically puff out her chest in pride when he mentioned he was proud of her, Vahn’s smile softened further. Then, accepting her outstretched hand, Vahn led the way down to the dining room where the majority of the adults were already gathering…

With the exception of Mona, everyone that generally resided in the Manor was gathered together to eat breakfast before sending off the expedition group. As for Mona herself, had been given leeway to sleep through the night while Lili, Naaza, Eina, and Demeter looked after the children. Since Lili would be away from her daughters for what could easily be a few months, she had wanted to spend some more time with them before leaving. Though she seemed to spend a lot of time in the orb, the truth of the matter was that she would come out every few hours, which only amounted to a half hour or so in the real world, to check up on them. Her breasts didn’t produce much milk, even though she was much larger than other Pallums he had seen, but Lili still liked to just hold her daughters so they didn’t forget her warmth.

After taking a seat between Hestia and Hephaestus, the two goddesses leaned into his shoulders slightly as Alexa took a seat behind him instead of at the table. It was a little awkward but Vahn left her to her own devices as she leaned against his back and appeared to continue napping. He had noticed this with Terra, Fafnir, and Khaos, but True Dragons seemed to have pretty lazy personalities as they could easily spend entire days just lounging under the sun. Though Alexa trained hard to grow stronger, and also spent a lot of time studying, it didn’t mean she invested all of her time focused on those pursuits. In fact, out of a twenty-four hour day, Alexa would generally sleep up to ten hours…

Breakfast was a lively affair and Vahn could tell that everyone was excited at the prospect of entering into the Dungeon, even though they knew it would be dangerous. Amongst the girls that would be accompanying him, there wasn’t a single one who showed even a hint of fear. In fact, Vahn could see a fiery resolution and a great deal of expectation in many of the girls’ eyes, something that was especially prevalent in Ais, Tiona, Haruhime, and Lefiya. Tiona was the type that got easily riled up at just the thought of a fun battle while Haruhime seemed to be excited by the prospect of acting publically as his Vice-Captain. As for Lefiya, she never shied away from the opportunity to show off as his apprentice and, in an effort to support Ais, was almost giddy with anticipation for the battles to come.

Ais was, of course, the most excited for the expedition since, even though her personality had changed a great deal, her hatred and resolution to kill all evil monsters still burned strong. Since her fate was also tied to the Dungeon, to the point it had been ‘calling’ to her over the last month, the only thing that had kept her from charging into its depths on her own was the combined efforts of everyone present. As for the reason behind this, it was because Preasia had been helping her make sense of some of the memories within her mind, something Vahn himself had the opportunity to experience.

When he first saw Ais as a little girl, Vahn felt slightly dazed and wondered if their child would be as adorable as she was. As for her mother, Aria, Vahn found her to be an exceptionally beautiful woman who, from Ais’ memories, seemed to be very kind and gentle. The most peculiar thing, however, wasn’t Ais’ mother, but her father, Albert Waldenstein. Even in the dreamscape, Ais’ ability to recall the man was severely lacking, making it appear as those he was an enigma without a face. However, his basic features could still be made out and it was plain for each of them to see that the man had ‘a lot’ of similarities with Bell.

Not only did they have very similar hairstyles, with Bell’s already being a unique anomaly within the world, but even their armor choices were surprisingly similar. The only key difference was the hair color, the fact that Albert was much taller, and that he used a sword that Ais had trouble envisioning as well. This wasn’t the strangest thing, though, which was the fact that everything that Albert said within the dreamscape sound almost ‘synthetic’ in nature, much like how Sis’ voice had in the past. It was like Ais’ memories had been tampered with and fabricated, something that he hoped to get to the bottom of in the near future…

As far as Bell himself was concerned, he had been on his own journey over the last month and had actually managed to reach Level 2 after fighting against the exceptionally rare Killer Ant Queen. According to what he heard from Loki, the boy nearly died and, if not for the fact Vahn had given [Effigy of the Hero]s to each of his companions, the small Pallum girl at his side would have certainly died. She ended up getting one of her legs severed and had bled out while Bell fought desperately to protect her while Line tried to treat the wounds. Unfortunately, this didn’t go that well but, fortunately, she had the [Effigy of the Hero] to immediately recover her wounds after taking fatal damage.

When Bell had seen this, and understood the use of the item after seeing how full of energy Plum was, the dumb boy practically ‘suicided’ into the mass of Killer Ants just to trigger his own. The boost he had gotten from the [Effigy of the Hero] had been enough to give him the edge against the Killer Ant Queen and, using the pair of daggers that Welf had forged for him, Bell managed to decapitate her before destroying the large monster core. Since the other Killer Ants had been connected to her through some kind of mental link, they all stopped moving when the Queen was dead, allowing Line to systematically kill the unresponsive ants before moving her two unresponsive companions to a safe area…

Vahn had felt a little dizzy when he heard the report from Loki, who had not been pleased with the boy and put him on house arrest until he received ‘proper’ training. Since he would potentially be a liability, as a Level 2 that seemed to trigger dangerous events wasn’t conducive to their mission, he wouldn’t be accompanying the expedition. Vahn suspected that ‘something’ would happen over the next few months that would get Bell wrapped up in things, but that would have to be something his avatar dealt with. At the same time, Vahn had been considering forging a growth weapon for Bell, just like in the original series, but had been putting it off since it might be better to just give the boy an S-Rank weapon. Though a growth weapon would be very beneficial for him in the long run, an S-Rank weapon would help Bell survive the situations he idiotically threw himself into…

As they both sensed what he was thinking about, Hephaestus and Hestia turned toward Vahn with curious expressions, bringing a smile to his face as he said, “I was just thinking about matters of the future. On that note, though I’m sure you’re all getting tired of me repeating this, make sure you aren’t dropping your guard during the expedition. Remember, communication is one of the most important factors for avoiding dangerous situations. We have the benefit of using telepathy to remain in touch so use it the moment you notice something strange. There is no way Enyo will just watch as we begin building a base on the 50th Floor so we will need to remain on alert and avoid being separated…”

The lively atmosphere had become slightly more tense with his words but all of the girls nodded their heads in understanding without voicing any complaints. They had all been training hard for what felt like more than six years, all so that they wouldn’t be caught off guard during this expedition. If they made a mistake at this point, just the embarrassment along might be enough to make them wish they were dead…

Seeing everyone treating this matter seriously, Vahn smiled appreciatively and said, “Once we defeat Enyo and establish Haven, the Alliance will become a force that is almost impossible to root out. We will be in a position to bring about change to the entire world and increase the quality of life for all people. Truly, I can never express the gratitude I feel for each and everyone one of you…the only thing that can eclipse that feeling is the amount of love I have…hahahahaha~.” Vahn felt a little foolish to say something so cheesy but, at this moment, he meant every single word of it. The girls also seemed to buy into it as the tense atmosphere immediately vanished and was replaced by a warmth that he would never tire of…

Once breakfast had come to an end, the expedition group was getting ready to head out while Vahn shared an embrace with all the girls that would remain behind. Though he would still be able to spend time with them, the benefit of having two bodies, it didn’t mean they wouldn’t show him support while he ventured into the Dungeon. Then, with Fenrir, Ais, Tiona, Tione, Haruhime, Lefiya, Mikoto, Ryuu, Lili, Arnya, Chloe, Shizune, Tina, Emiru, Maemi, and Alexa, Vahn headed towards the rendezvous where the expedition was currently staging their supplies.

Asfi had wanted to come along, but Vahn had her stay behind this time since she was a little weak and better suited for the production of magic items, at least for the time being. Since he could easily transfer them into his Inventory, for use in the Dungeon, she was inarguably more useful on the Surface than within the Dungeon itself. She reluctantly agreed to this, not that she would have had a choice if he ‘told’ her to stay, but perked up very quickly when Vahn had pinched her pert little rump and reminded her that they would potentially have some privacy in the near future…

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While flying through the sky towards their destination, Vahn noticed that one of the girls was showing signs of hesitation and looked back to see Tina staring towards the Manor that was quickly becoming smaller in the distance. Every time she had gone into the Dungeon before now, Milan had accompanied her. Though she wasn’t genuinely afraid, the fact that her mother was staying behind in the Manor this time around made Tina feel a little nervous. Since she would also become an ‘adult’ in the Dungeon this time around, lacking the moral support of her mother was a first for her. Vahn was tempted to remind her about the fact that her mother could even ‘experience’ her first time alongside her, but kept it to himself for the time being and just pulled her closer to his side to grab her hand. This helped her calm down almost instantly but also prompted Tiona to nearly tackle him out of the sky as she ‘landed’ on his back and gave him a hug from behind…

After a few small hiccups, and a fair amount of laughter, the peculiar flying troupe landed in the Babel Plaza under the curious eyes of a massive crowd. Though it wasn’t even 5 AM yet, there were already thousands of people gathered around, creating something of an impromptu festival as they prepared to send off the largest expedition in history. There were a lot of stalls that had been set up, selling delicious food and last minute supplies, while many people were spending a final few moments with their friends before separating for what could be a two year period. To prevent ‘stowaways’, and people from trying to solicit the members of the expedition, a large area of the Plaza had been cordoned off, not that it was that effective with this many people…

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Vahn sent the girls off to make their own preparations while he approached a small platform where Finn was talking with a group of eleven people, with Shakti and Rufina among them. Both girls noticed his presence before he had even touched down, as a massive group of flying people stuck out like a sore thumb, and Vahn could swear he saw Rufina flinch slightly. As for why this was the case, it was because she wasn’t supposed to be accompanying the expedition according to the original plan.

Since Rufina had lost years of her life to the Dungeon in the past, Vahn hadn’t really wanted her going back into its depths, especially since Enyo was bound to attack them. However, the decision was ultimately her’s and, if this is what she had decided for herself, Vahn wouldn’t force the issue. Instead, he walked up to the group with Alexa, Fenrir, and Haruhime following behind him and smiled before saying, “Good morning, everyone. It’s good to see the two of you, Shakti, Rufina. With capable tamers like you accompanying us, I think the domestication plan has a fair chance at success.”

Rufina visibly relaxed when she heard how easygoing Vahn was, barely containing a sigh before turning it into a ‘hmph’ as she said, “Though I’m not a freak like you, I’m still the best tamer in this City. If you really want to try and raise monsters within the 50th Floor, you’ll need my help…be grateful!” To this, Vahn just gave a complacent nod, annoying Rufina even further as he placed his hand on Alexa’s head and said, “This is my daughter, Alexa. Since this is her first time in the Dungeon, I’ll be looking after her personally. Don’t worry, she may look young, but she is a True Dragon who could fight on par with a Level 6 with a reasonable chance of victory~.”

These words, stated as casually as a morning greeting, caused the entire group to visibly shudder while Finn, having long given up on trying to understand Vahn, simply gave a wry smile as he said, “I hope my children are as capable as yours are in the future. My oldest is a real handful and I’m almost positive she is trying to make me go bald…hahahaha~.” As if to emphasize this fact, Finn’s handsome face actually showed signs of compounding fatigue and his blonde hair was frayed in a few spots.

Vahn knew the reliable Pallum had been working very hard over the last year and a half and, once they reached the 50th Floor, he decided to help Finn ease some of his burdens. For the time being, he just handed over an emerald green potion and said, “Just a sip of this potion would help replenish your vitality and stamina, allowing you to continue fighting for hours. Be careful that you don’t tax your mind too much, though, as the only cure for that is proper rest…” To this, Finn just showed a gratified smile and accepted the potion before immediately sampling it. In an instant, the small bags under his eyes softened and he suddenly seemed full of energy compared to before.

Feeling how effective the potion was, much like anything Vahn would give him, Finn’s smile grew even wider as he said, “The productions of the Hearth Manor never cease to amaze me. Thank you for the potion, Vahn, I greatly appreciate it.” Vahn nodded his head and, out of general courtesy, handed out potions to everyone present before asking, “I trust most of the preparations have been taken care of…?” To this, Finn nodded his head and began explaining what extra preparations had been made before handing over a list of all the supplies that would still be carried on the carts. It was mainly things like basic rations, for anyone that was hungry during the movement, and an assortment of extra weapons and armor.

The Hephaestus Familia had gone all out to mass produce equipment for the expedition this time around, just like other Familias has contributed their own specialties. Since the Alliance was comprised of about 70% production-based Familia, the number of consumable goods and resources they could come forth with was monstrous. Since nobody wanted to be accused of holding back, considering how important this expedition was to the Alliance, everyone had put in an extra effort and they were currently carrying around nearly twice the requisition amount. Some of this was because the Alliance was paying a premium on the goods, assuming they passed the quality check, but it was still very helpful.

After arranging things with Finn, Vahn moved the majority of the excess supplies into his Inventory, mainly consisting of things like camping equipment and materials for repairing equipment. This would greatly increase their movement speed, which would be very important with how large their expedition was. They would be trying to blaze through the Dungeon and reach the 50th Floor within five days, a feat that would be nearly impossible with such an oversized group. However, with his aura helping to keep people energized, the hearty food that would be provided during meals, and the girls practically slaughtering any monsters along the way, their momentum would be nigh unstoppable…

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