Chapter 98: Strategy

As Vahn had been recounting his experience, Riveria and Finn had been taking notes. Once he was finished, the two compared notes and began discussing strategy with the other members present. “It’s good that the Juggernaut is already injured, but we need to discover how such a thing happened. It may have something to do with the reason it was summoned in the first place.”

Riveria nodded, “Yes, anything capable of dealing such a serious blow to a Level 7 creature could easily cause enough damage to the dungeon to summon it. The question is, why would they do such a thing? There may be more to this than anyone suspects…” Riveria spoke seriously and all the veterans of the group seemed to agree with her.

On the side, Vahn was sweating a bit hearing their words. He knew how the Juggernaut was injured and, as far as he knew, it had nothing to do with why it was summoned. There was no way to explain how he was the person that nearly destroyed it. As far as everyone in the room was concerned, he was just an abnormally strong Level 2, which was a far cry from the combat potential required to deal such a heavy blow to a Juggernaut. For now, he just sat silently and waited for the discussion to conclude.

It was ultimately decided that the group would be split into two lines of defense and one garrison unit. As the Juggernaut would immediately take action the moment the stepped onto the floor, it would require a team of elites to draw it into a position and fight it in direct combat. A secondary line would be in a room not too far away from where the majority of the combat potential would prepare an encirclement to attack the creature. The third group, the garrison, would actually be stationed near the holes on the lower floors. Vahn had provided an incredibly detailed map, so they were able to consider working the plan from multiple floors. In the worst case scenario, people could retreat down the holes where they would be received by the waiting members and treated.

It was decided, after asking for his agreement, that Vahn would be in the second group. As he only had the combat potential of a high-tier Level 3, there was no way he could be part of the group that draws the attention of the Juggernaut. That group would be lead by Finn, who would also be accompanied by Gareth, Bete, and Ais. The second group was lead by Riveria, as magic wasn’t effective against the Juggernaut and she was lacking in speed. Her support units consisted of Tione, Tiona, Lefiya, as well as the majority of Level 3 or higher adventurers. Everyone else was in the third group, which was led by Meryl with the support of the majority of the Hephaestus Familia.

After nearly two hours of planning and discussion, they now had slightly more than 25 hours to execute the mission so everyone went about performing their duties. Finn wanted the entire camp prepared and ready to move within three hours and they would begin their march to the 14th floor at the earliest possible time. Taking into consideration the setup and communicating the strategy with the other members, Finn expected there would be less than 18 hours to actually subjugate the Juggernaut.

Though it seemed like a lot of time, the logistics behind the operation were a nightmare. Every setback could hold up the entire group for hours and could lead to further problems if not addressed immediately. If the leadership broke down, the entire group could end up being wiped out. Taking into account all the possible issues that may arise, the estimated 18 hours was likely closer to 10.

While trying to leave the tent, Vahn was ‘captured’ by Tiona. She had noticed he was being especially cautious of her, so instead of sticking to him like normal, she just tugged at his sleeve with a bit of strength. Vahn, feeling his sleeve being pulled, almost tried to jerk his arm away, but, seeing the somewhat sad expression on Tiona’s face, he couldn’t muster the courage.

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Noticing that Vahn hadn’t tried to run away as she expected, Tiona smiled and got a little bit closer without directly touching him. “Are you angry with me Vahn? I didn’t mean to upset you earlier…I just got caught up in the moment and couldn’t help myself.” Unlike her normal, vibrant, self, Tiona was acting in a reserved manner. Seeing her uncharacteristic behavior and the drooping aura coming from her body, Vahn felt an itching in his heart and wanted to make her go back to normal.

“No, I’m not angry or anything Tiona. I was just surprised…I don’t really know how to deal with that type of thing. Until now, I’ve never really even thought about girls, or kissing, or anything like that. I’ve just focused on becoming stronger and trying to live freely…” Vahn looked into her eyes as he tried to explain his feelings, but the more he talked, the more confused he became. Everything he was saying was the truth, but as he said it, he felt like that wasn’t how he had been living at all.

Though he did try to become stronger, it was only after certain events triggered him to do so. He did spend a lot of time training, but that was only because he felt like he needed to. Hephaestus and Tsubaki both had expectations for him, and Vahn didn’t want to let either of them down. However, most of his time other than that was spent idling around. He enjoyed relaxing and talking to people, spending time in comfort, and he especially liked when he was embraced by the other girls. Before Tiona’s kiss, he never thought anything of it, but now Vahn was overly aware that the things he had been doing were slightly abnormal.

Tiona could see him struggling internally, and she wanted to hug him to make him feel better. But, thinking he might still be uncomfortable, Tiona did the same thing he had done for her when she was feeling down. Reaching out her hand, she started gently stroking his hair with a smile on her face. Vahn, feeling the touch, let his thought slowly fade as he just enjoyed the sensation. He wondered if this was how the other girls felt when he rubbed their heads…it was relaxing and helped calm the turmoil in his mind.

Seeing that he had cheered up a bit, Tiona smiled and said, “You don’t have to be in such a rush. Just take things slow and try your best to understand how you feel. I just don’t want to see you acting so strangely over something so small Vahn. The way you were earlier today, and especially yesterday, was much much cooler. Even if you’re stuck like that for a long time, I think it is better than getting caught up in the expectations of others?” Tiona wasn’t entirely sure of her own advice, but she felt that the heroic Vahn that pushed himself beyond his limits was the ideal him…at least in her mind.

Vahn recalled all his actions in the past, and focused on key moments, primarily those where he had been most happy. In each and every one of them, he was either enjoying the comfort of another person or reveling in overcoming his own limits. He felt that Tiona was right, but he still didn’t know what to do with the feelings that, even now, were bubbling inside of him. Though it was different from the excitement he experienced in fights, it was almost overwhelming and Vahn felt like his heart was going to twist itself into a knot from his own frustration.

Tiona was patiently waiting for Vahn to work through things while she continued to pat his head. She noticed he had become a lot more relaxed, and tried closing the distance between them a bit to probe things out. Seeing that he didn’t shy away from her, Tiona felt emboldened and decided to give Vahn a hug. She noticed his body flinched a bit, but he didn’t try to escape her embrace. After a while, Vahn completely relaxed and Tiona began to gently hum a song while caressing his head.

The anxieties in his mind cleared up once again, and Vahn just listened to the humming of Tiona. He could feel the reverberations of the tune resonating from her collarbone as the notes spread throughout his body. He was reminded of the time when Hephaestus had embraced him, and Vahn couldn’t help but wonder why it was always so comforting to be held by another person. Slowly, he wrapped his own arms around Tiona and asked, “What is that song you’re always humming…”

Tiona laughed a bit and responded, “I’m not sure…I just remember it from my childhood. I remember someone always holding me and humming that tune, and it always made me feel safe and happy. Now, whenever I feel happy, I can’t help but hum to express it…” Tiona, having been embraced by Vahn in return, spoke the words in a slightly higher pitch.

Vahn could tell from her voice that she was happy, but he decided to ask anyway. “Are you happy right now?” Tiona tightened her grip on Vahn and rested her head on his shoulder. “I am, but I was also humming because I wanted you to experience the same thing I used to experience when hearing that song. You seemed so lonely and confused, and I wanted you to feel safe and happy.”

Vahn released a sigh, and as his breath tickled her neck, Tiona squirmed slightly before looking toward him. Matching her eyes, Vahn’s heart began to beat faster and the feelings that started to diminish returned in full force. He could see that her lips were a bit moist, and from her expression, Vahn could see a hint of expectation in the depths of her eyes. Swallowing his saliva, Vahn decided to speak out his mind. “I feel like I want to try kissing, but every time I think about it…weird feelings spread in my chest and I get dizzy. I don’t like feeling like this, but for some reason, I can’t get the thoughts out of my head. I think I may be going crazy…”

Tiona smiled widely after hearing Vahn say he wanted to ‘try kissing’. From his words, she realized Vahn was way more innocent than she had expected. It was no wonder he didn’t seem to be shy around other people, it was like he had no experience interacting with anyone. She began to believe he may not even know about the relations between man and woman, so she decided to ask. “Vahn, do you know how babies are made?”

Vahn nearly faltered at the question, but because he had decided to confide in her he gave what he thought to be the correct answer. “It should be sex…” Tiona nodded her head in approval; maybe he knew more than she expected? “Okay, but do you know what sex is?” For Tiona, this was something very important to her future, and she wanted to make sure Vahn didn’t have any misunderstandings.

Swallowing his saliva, Vahn contemplated for a moment before answering. Though he knew sex was required to make babies, none of the books he had read went into any details about the process. Even in his previous life, other than a basic education and learning to read and write, Vahn had no education regarding sex. In fact, in his entire life, he had only ever met two women…and he wasn’t fond of either. Trying to recall some of the things he had seen in books, Vahn gave a hesitant response.”Umm, it’s when…a boy and a girl get married…and then the girl gets a fat belly and a baby is born.”

Tiona was stunned at his response, but before she could say anything, laughter could be heard coming from inside the tent. Turning her head, she could see Tione, Ais, and Lefiya, who had been eavesdropping their conversation. Lefiya had a blushing face, while Ais had her usual expression, but Tione was laughing so hard that it looked like she would fall over. Tiona felt pissed off seeing her reaction, especially since she was laughing at Vahn.

“Don’t laugh Tione! I think it’s cute how innocent he is. It makes everything that happens after more meaningful!” Tiona was in a flurry and had even let go of Vahn; it was almost like she was preparing to fight her sister if she couldn’t control herself. Tione, completely unfazed by her angry stance, continued laughing. “At least I don’t have to worry about you getting the march on me any more! Hahahaha….marriage….fat belly…hahahahaha.”

Hearing her sister continue laughing, Tiona was about to enter into a berserker rage and teach her a lesson. Just as she was about to step forward, two things occurred which made her nearly fall over after stopping her momentum. Vahn, who had been standing behind her asked a question while Ais, who was standing next to Tione, knocked Tione on the head with her fist and made a declaration.

“Is that wrong?” & “It’s not nice to laugh at people.”

(A/N: Alternate Title: ‘Doki Doki Vahn~’,’Tiona’s Concerns for the Future’,’Ais’s hammer of justice’,’Lefiya’s overactive imagination’)

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