Chapter 832: Much to Learn

While Vahn was making his preparations to descend into the Dungeon, he was doing quite the opposite within the Xenos’ Hidden Village. He was just entering into his fifth day amongst the Xenos people and, compared to his interactions with people on the surface world, Vahn found their companionship very refreshing. Spending time lounging about and drinking with Lyd and Gros was a great way to pass the time and, though it caused a fair number of ‘incidents’, Vahn enjoyed how they did everything as a community.

Though it could be a result of simply never having clothes to wear, many of the Xenos didn’t mind their appearance much and it wasn’t uncommon for groups of their tribe to partake in communal bathing, or even just napping together. There was no sense of shame, nor were things like social propriety and facades present within their community. Everyone just lived freely amongst each other, helping out when things were difficult, and supporting their shared dreams. Though there were sometimes disagreements, there was never any true infighting and, if there were ever any real disputes, they were almost always settled through mediation and discussion, not violence…

Vahn found himself growing fonder of the Xenos as the days passed, to the point that their sense of ‘boundaries’, or the lack thereof, no longer bothered him. Currently, he found himself relaxing in the hot springs with Lyd sitting at his side as they both drank sake from a wooden platform floating within the water. At the same time, the somewhat mischevious Marie was touching the tips of his toes with her tailfin, her heart-shaped pupils glimmering with amusement. There were several other Xenos present as well, including Gros, Xude, and his current ‘stalker’, Naho. Though they knew better than to ‘cling’ to him now, it didn’t stop the girls from trying to ‘play’ around and push the boundaries a bit…

Throwing back another cup of sake, Lyd released a small burp that caused a wisp of flame to escape his reptilian maw before he smiled and said, “You know, I wouldn’t mind if things just stayed like this, Vahn. Now that we can move up to the surface whenever we want, it almost feels like there isn’t really a need to. Having you here has been great for all of us and, with everything you’ve revealed about the surface…well, some of it doesn’t really sound all the pleasant…” As if she had been waiting for the conversation to start, Marie nodded her head and swam up next to Vahn, resting against his chest as if it were completely natural as she said, “Vahn stay with us…everyone happy…Vahn make everyone happy…Marie make Vahn happy~”

Marie was a strikingly beautiful Mermaid-Xenos with gradient, emerald-blue, hair that loosely hung around her shoulders. She had jade-colored eyes with heart-shaped pupils that reflected pink whenever the light struck them perfectly. This was her natural [Charm] and, much like how Syr had been negatively affected by her’s, Marie was one of the Xenos that was constantly in danger of being hunted. There was no end to the number of deviants who sought her out for her beauty and, much like Unicorn Blood, the blood of a mermaid was used as an ingredient to make things like the false [Elixir of Immortality].

A Mermaid’s blood could ‘literally’ heal any non-fatal wound and also allowed things like detached limbs to be reconnected with relative ease. If she got captured, the only thing awaiting her was a life of perpetual **** and, much like his former self, having her blood constantly harvested until she eventually died. This was one of the reasons behind why, even though he was trying to deny the advances of other Xenos, it was very difficult for Vahn to shun Marie…the number of parallels he shared with the rather innocent and child-like Xenos were many, causing Vahn to take a silent oath to protect her from harm…

The only problem with this was that Marie seemed to understand his intentions and had grown very attached to him ever since their first meeting. Though she was limited to areas where there was water, it didn’t stop her from behaving much like Naho, with marginally greater success as she also knew ‘when’ to get close to him. Since he had been unable to convince her to wear even a single strip of clothing at this point, Marie’s presence had caused Vahn a few troubles…not that he could genuinely stay mad at her…

Contemplating Lyd’s and Marie’s words, which had come up several times in the last day or two, Vahn lightly shook his head before patting Marie’s, saying, “Though I have enjoyed my time here in the Xenos’ Hidden Village, my home is on the surface…I’m sure, once you meet my family, you will understand why I cannot bear to part with them for long periods of time. I actually have to manage two bodies at once just to divide my time and, even then, it really isn’t enough…” When he said this, Marie just had a complacent smile on her face, showing no signs that she had even processed a single word he had said. As for Lyd, he released a laugh before striking Vahn’s shoulder a little heavily as he said, “That’s one of the things I like about you, Vahn. You always treat us Xenos as equals, even when we can barely understand half the things you say…! Gyahahahahahaha~!”

Acting on Lyd’s cue, Marie also started to laugh as she hugged Vahn’s arm, musing, “Vahn funny, stay always…ehehehehe~.” Unable to really get his message through to her, at least for the time being, Vahn joined the two in their laughter as, from a short distance away, Gros mumbled, “Things really have become much more pleasant ever since Master showed up…” To his left, the Harpy-Xenos, Fear, nodded her head and said, “Vahn is already like family. We should do our best to make sure he can be happy…” This was a sentiment shared by many of the nearby Xenos, all hearing the rather quietly spoken words with their enhanced senses…

Vahn had also heard the quiet conversation occurring a short distance from him but gave no indication that he was listening in as he gently tried to remove Marie from his arm. He honestly didn’t mind having his arm sandwiched between her rather plump bosom but, with the looks some of the other Xenos were giving them, Vahn wanted to avoid triggering ‘another’ incident. Fortunately, Marie let go of his arm rather easily and just dove into the hot spring pool, swimming around in a quick circle before she popped back up and giggled playfully. Vahn returned a smile to her and took the opportunity to ‘escape’ the hot springs before things got out of hand.

Lyd and Gros also followed behind, both wearing clothes Vahn had given them as they moved through the tunnels leading towards the village. Fenrir was waiting for him at the entrance, surrounded by a posse of Kobolds, Goblins, Horned Rabbits, and Almiraj. She had become something of a de facto leader for their group over the last few days and, not wanting her naked body to be seen by other people, refrained from partaking of the hot springs bath. This was probably for the best, considering that she was prone to jealousy when watching her Master interact with other girls, especially those outside of the Manor…

Considering it might be better for her to accompany him on his excursion back to the 39th Floor, Vahn pet her fluffy ears as he asked, “Do you want to come with me back to Lil Geirr? I’ll be entering into the Dungeon in a few hours and it’ll be just the two of us for a little while.” These words caused Fenrir’s ears to perk up like an alerted rabbit, an eager smile spreading across her face as she exclaimed, “Yes, I want to go hunting with Master~!” Though she didn’t mind the peaceful life within the Xenos Hidden Village, Fenrir had been pretty bored over the last few days. Since her Master was always focused on ‘other’ things, she found herself just ‘educating’ the weaker Xenos on how to be ‘good’ for the future.

Vahn nodded his head and, in the blink of an eye, Fenrir was already gone from the spot, now standing at his side back at the Manor. Lyd showed a face of confusion when he saw this, much like the other surrounding Xenos, causing Vahn to explain, “For those that have been named by my [Keeper of the Akashic Tome], I’m able to transport them between my two bodies in an instant. I really wasn’t lying when I said there are literally two of me…things get really busy for me at times…” Lyd nodded his head in understanding and showed a thoughtful expression while Gros’ brows perked up slightly as he asked, “Does that mean you can bring me to the surface right now, Master?”

Nodding his head in affirmation, Vahn said, “Yes, but there would be a few problems with that for the time being. Though you would probably be an exception, the presence of males within my home isn’t really accepted. Also, calling you to my side right now wouldn’t really be the best time to do so, as I’ll be heading into the Dungeon with Fenrir shortly. She probably wouldn’t react well if I brought you along right after saying it would be just the two of us…” Since it was a good segue, Vahn also went on to explain the ‘decision’ that was made by the goddesses, alerting them to the fact that they would be given their own territory to manage. The Alliance would still be protecting them, and they would still fall under the influence of Terra’s dominion, but the majority of the Xenos wouldn’t be allowed within the confines of the Hearth Manor.

This revelation was received surprisingly well, another credit to how reasonable and understanding the Xenos could be at times. Gros even brought up the idea of changing his sex into a female in order to prevent problems, something that had caused Vahn’s brain to dull for a short while before shaking his head and saying not to mind it. If one of their leaders spontaneously changed gender to gain access to the Manor, Vahn wouldn’t be surprised if ‘most’ of the male Xenos did the same. He explained that the main issue was simply the number of people, the potential dangers of having children running around, and the future complications that would be present when trying to transition the Xenos into general society. It was simply better for them to have a territory of their own instead of living within a much smaller region where the number of complications would drastically increase…

Gros didn’t really argue on the matter, accepting it at face value, while the other Xenos didn’t show any signs of being troubled by the changes at all. For the majority of the Xenos, they had never actually thought about what it truly meant to live on the surface and were just happy to have the opportunity. Since they had expected to be confined within the Dungeon for their entire lives, just having a place to call ‘home’ on the surface was more than enough for them. At this point, the trust they had towards Vahn had almost reached an extreme level and, even though it had only been five days, the lowest Affection he had with a Xenos was 93.

For better or worse, the Xenos was very trusting, especially to those that could empathize with their dream and proactively tried to help them. Vahn was glad he had been the one to earn their trust as, given their nature, it wouldn’t have been difficult for someone to fool and manipulate them. Just imagining these good ‘people’ dying because of the machinations of another person made Vahn feel solemn indignation inside of his heart. It wasn’t right for anyone to have to suffer unjustly and, with what he had observed of the Xenos thus far, Vahn felt they were something that should be protected. Those on the surface could learn a lot about life from watching the Xenos, assuming they could see beyond surface appearance and their personal bias…

For the rest of the day, Vahn discussed the migration of the Xenos to the surface, spent some time fostering positive rapport with their members, cut a swath of destruction through the Dungeon with Fenrir, and then spent the night surrounded by the warmth of the girls at Lil Geirr and the fluffiness of the Almiraj-Xenos within the hidden village. Naho also managed to get their permission to intrude into the small and homely den but, fortunately, she was also on the fluffy side of life. Thus, with a contented smile on both of his faces, Vahn drifted to sleep, ruminating over the hopes and dreams of those that had placed their trust in him…

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After more than ten days of hard training, Bell had managed to duck under the sheath of Alicia, twisting his body in a manner that even people far more skilled than him couldn’t manage. He traced the dagger in his right hand along a smooth arc, aimed towards Alicia’s flank, and nearly clipped her before she twisted away from the dagger’s trajectory and kicked Bell’s backside. Because of the awkward angle he had been at, Bell’s feet slipped out from under him and he slid along the ground after smacking his head against the hard floor of the training arena. Alicia winced slightly when she heard the loud ‘cracking’ sound but, given Bell’s Endurance, it was unlikely he had suffered any serious injuries.

As expected, Bell rolled into a sitting position and nursed the bump on the back of his head, sighing as he said, “Miss Alicia, you don’t have to be so rough…ataaa…” To this, Alicia just laughed lightly, moving a few strands of her now jade-green hair behind her ear as she said, “You are improving very quickly, Bell. The fact that you can almost land a hit on me, someone near the peak of Level 4, even while you’re merely a fresh Level 2…well, it’s rather unbelievable. Once your probation is finished, I’m certain you will be able to increase your strength very quickly…just remember, strength is useless if you can’t even protect the things you care about…”

While speaking, Alicia turned her attention to Line and Plum, both sitting against the wall and leaning against each other, fast asleep. Much like Bell, they had also been training hard to master their [Pactio]s, increasing their own strength to avoid a negative outcome during their next stint within the Dungeon. It was currently late in the evening but Bell had been insistent on continuing their spar, causing Alicia to forget the time. Now, seeing the two girls snuggled up next to each other, Alicia smiled affectionately and said, “Those girls have been doing their best, Bell…if you let them down, well, I’m not the only person you’d have to worry about…fufufufu~.”

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Bell had adopted a resolute look when Alicia mentioned protecting the people he cares about but, hearing her follow-up words, a shiver ran up his spine. Just imagining the expression of Loki if he got Line or Plum killed caused Bell to swallow hard with nervousness. However, it was the image of Vahn’s disappointed face that weighed most heavily on his mind. Vahn had not only saved his life, but the amount of support he had given Bell made the latter feel a great deal of pressure. Since it was his dream to be a hero, much like Vahn, Bell didn’t want to become the type of person that got his comrades injured, especially after they had trained so hard together…he would never be able to hold his head up high if he erred so grievously…

Seeing Bell treat her words seriously, Alicia nodded her head and said, “I’ll talk to Loki-sama about redacting your probation soon. I believe you may be able to reach Level 3 in a relatively short period of time, potentially even soon enough to attend the rotation of personnel down to Lil Geirr. It would be a good experience for you, diving deeper into the Dungeon and experiencing the many mysteries that await those willing to probe its depths…” These words got Bell hyped up and, without due consideration for the two sleeping girls, he loudly exclaimed, “Alright! Thank you so much, Miss Alicia~!”

As he spoke, Bell moved forward very quickly and tried to grab Alicia’s hands in his excitement only to have her sheath smack him dead center in his forehead. At the same time, Line and Plum had been startled awake by Bell’s loud cry, seeing him ‘jumping’ towards Alicia with his arms spread, face filled with a heavy sheath. They immediately assumed it was his ‘bad habit’ acting up and, without bothering to question Bell on the matter, began lecturing him in earnest…

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