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Chapter 543 – Small Steps
Though she wasn’t having much trouble during the actual fighting, Tina’s stamina was greatly lacking and she typically had to take a break after every engagement. Vahn didn’t really blame her for this, as she was still very young and this had been the case even when Haruhime, Maemi, and Emiru started out. Instead, he did his best to praise her for her efforts, especially when she had been able to overcome the odds and defeat a group of four Goblins, though she had gotten a decently sized gash in her leg during the fight. Vahn had quickly transferred it away, but he suspected she would have been able to continue even with the injury as, even though she frowned deeply with slightly moist eyes, Tina’s focus didn’t break when she received the wound.
Milan watched the fight play out from the side with a concerned expression as her sword bobbed impatiently. When she saw Tina take a hit, she nearly jumped forward but was stopped by Vahn who shook his head and said, “Tina is a strong girl, Milan. Look at the resolve in her eyes…she will be okay.” Milan’s concern didn’t really fade with his words, but she could also see that Tina hadn’t really been slowed down after taking a hit and instead increased her focus. She could also see that, though there was a bit of blood around the area, the wound was completely gone. After releasing a sigh, Milan nodded her head and waited patiently because she knew Vahn wouldn’t let any real harm come to Tina…
After defeating the four Goblins, Tina collapsed to the ground and released a hot breath before gasping for air. Though she had forcefully regulated her breathing during the fight, the depletion of her stamina immediately caught up with her after the fight had ended. Vahn appeared next to her in an instant and helped prop her body up so that she could breathe more easily while he helped treat her body. He smiled down at her from above and said, “Well done, Tina…you really do have what it takes to become a strong girl.” while infusing energy into her body. Tina showed a cheerful smile, but it was very obvious her mental fatigue was catching up with her. They had already been in the Dungeon for around three hours, during which she had killed a total of 28 Goblins, so Vahn figured it wasn’t a bad idea to head back.
Once he had made his decision, Vahn looked to Milan and said, “We’re gonna head back now. Tina is already pus.h.i.+ng herself beyond her limits, so her parameters have probably increased greatly at this point. There is no need to rush things, so let’s go relax at home together.” Vahn crouched down in front of Tina as he spoke, prompting her to climb on his back happily as leaned her head against his shoulder with a tired expression. Milan saw her daughter’s look and laughed as she reached out and gently stroked Tina’s hair, saying, “Well done, Tina. Sleep now…we’ll protect you~.” Tina lazily nodded her head and mumbled, “Mama…Papa…nyaafuuu…” as her eyelids drooped to a close very quickly. Instead of simply replenis.h.i.+ng her stamina earlier, Vahn had actually helped Tina’s mind relax so she had gotten sleepy very quickly. He knew it was dangerous to strain your mind too much, especially when you were still relatively weak, so he was going to let her recover naturally this time.
While they were on the way back, Milan had a very peaceful expression on her face and a gentle smile as she said, “Vahn…thank you for everything, truly. You take such good care of us…even though we had no real relation to each other at first. Thank you for-” Before Milan could continue her words, Vahn had turned around suddenly and she had nearly walked face-first into his body. She came to a quick pause as Vahn leaned forward and gave her a quick peck on the lips before smiling and saying, “Milan, never thank me for things I ought to do. You and Tina are my important family. Even if I hadn’t gotten wrapped up in my current lifestyle, I know I could have been happy with you and Tina at the Hearth’s Embrace…you treated me like family long before I opened up to the two of you. However, I won’t thank you…not anymore…I would rather live showing you my grat.i.tude instead.”
Milan’s tail twitched about agitatedly as she hung her head with a powerful urge to cry welling up inside of her as she leaned against Vahn’s chest. She also believed that, even though things would have been a bit awkward, they could have been a happy little family together when Vahn matured a bit. However, she didn’t regret everything that had happened, even the bad things, as it allowed her to get even closer to Vahn while also providing opportunities for both her and Tina to rise above their previous lifestyle. Just by being a.s.sociated with Vahn, they had found themselves at the core of the Alliance, one of the more precarious yet secure spots they could ever be in. Even the armor she was wearing would have cost her nearly 800MV, something she could have never even imagined affording in the past…and it was simply given to her so she could protect herself and her daughter.
Vahn could see that Milan’s aura suddenly started to release a wispy red hue as her ‘tensions’ steadily began to rise. He laughed and kissed the top of her head, saying, “We’re still in the Dungeon, Milan. Let’s go home…” In response to his words, Milan lifted her head with moist eyes and a slight blush beginning to rise on her cheeks. She had been thinking about all the things she could do to show Vahn her grat.i.tude but, no matter how much she thought about it, Milan knew she would be the one to get the most benefits. Imagining what Vahn could do for her made her body start to heat up and she even felt a bit of blame for the boy that was now taller than her, even though she used to feel like he was a small child just a few months prior…
It didn’t take them too long to exit the 1st Floor, as it wasn’t nearly as complex as some of the deeper floors could be, so they began their return journey to the Hearth Manor looking like a typical family of Cat People. Vahn had the sleeping Tina on his back while Milan followed at his side with a beautiful smile and a loving expression visible on her face. They drew a fair amount of attention to themselves, but most people simply smiled thinking that they were a couple that had taken their daughter in the Dungeon for training. Few people could recognize Vahn in his current form, because he had raven black hair, cat ears, and a tail following about behind him. Instead of aquamarine green eyes, they were closer to a neutral gold in color as he had tried to match the color of Milan and Tina.
As they neared the Manor, Vahn kept pa.s.sing his eyes around the area but most of his focus had been placed on Milan and Tina. If his enemies were paying attention to his movements, they likely knew the strength of everyone in the Manor. Vahn was building a ‘habit’ that could potentially be exploited by them in the future and had already discussed it with Milan, Chloe, Tina, and s.h.i.+zune so they wouldn’t be caught off guard if they were suddenly attacked. From the moment he had reached the surface, Fafnir had been following them through the shadows and Vahn was expecting that they would be attacked in the next few days once they had created a ‘pattern’ that could be exploited.
From what Vahn could tell, the earth mage was likely someone that had awakened their own Innate and it gave them some mastery over earth elemental laws. However, the actual strength of the person didn’t seem that high so they were likely an a.s.sa.s.sin that specialized in observation and setting traps. Since Terra had destroyed their large formation, they would probably resort to other means like trying to catch people off guard during their trips to and from the Dungeon. Vahn was certain he was the primary target, so being with a Level 3 and a Level 1 made him a lot ‘softer’ than normal. There was a chance the mage would try to target the other girls, but their reaction speed was fast enough to respond even if the floor below them suddenly collapsed.
After around twenty minutes, they uneventfully reached the Manor and made their way into the interior where Hestia was waiting to greet them with a happy smile on her face as she said, “Welcome home, Vahn, Milan, and…Tina~? Oh, she fell asleep? How adorable~.” Hestia walked over and poked Tina’s cheek and laughed playfully as Vahn looked around the area before checking the Status Log to see what everyone was up to. So as not to leave the Manor unguarded, Arnya, Lunoire, Chloe, Tsubaki, Aki, and, though they weren’t true combatants, s.h.i.+zune and Preasia behind. There were also the guild girls, such as Eina, Rose, Misha, Mona, Sierra, and Pram, while Hephaestus, Hestia, and Syr were the typical stay-at-home group. As for why Arnya and Aki didn’t enter the Dungeon, even though they were rather strong, it was due to their pregnancies as Arnya generally had a bad case of morning sickness almost every day.
Vahn followed Hestia into the study and sat on the sofa after s.h.i.+fting Tina’s body and carrying her with his arms. By focusing on the individual components, Vahn put her armor into his inventory and s.h.i.+fted it up into her room where the rest of her equipment was located. The only thing he couldn’t transfer was her weapon, but it was safely stored in its sheath. He helped Milan do the same and they spent a bit of time talking as Vahn stroked the sleeping Tina’s head with small amounts of energy flowing through his palms. She had been napping for around forty minutes by now so it should be okay to slowly wake her up so he could update her Status Board.
Hestia looked at the sleeping Tina with a gentle smile on her face before turning to Vahn and Milan, asking, “How did she do?” Vahn made eye contact with Milan, so she smiled and explained, “She ended up defeating twenty-eight Goblins, including four at the same time. Her stamina is still a bit lacking, but she has the correct mentality to become a strong Adventurer. With the nurturing of everyone in the Hestia Familia, she may even be at the same Level as me before long, fufufufu~” Though it sounded difficult to believe in ‘normal’ circ.u.mstances, it wasn’t an exaggeration at all saying that Tina could reach Level 3 within a year.
Milan had worked hard for more than seven years to reach her Level, but that was with a normal amount of resources and having to manage their expenses properly to obtain any worthwhile earnings. It wasn’t like now, where they could almost keep the entirety of their earnings from drop items while only having to relinquish monster cores so that Vahn could use his ‘creation’ divinity, something that also benefited them greatly.
Vahn knew that, even without a flame seed, it was actually possible that she would reach Level 3 normally, but he wanted her to take things slowly if possible. As he absentmindedly stroked the sleeping girl’s hair, Vahn said, “I wish she wouldn’t be in such a rush to grow up…but I guess that’s a natural part of life.” Hestia laughed at Vahn’s words as her stark blue eyes glimmered slightly before saying, “Vahn, you’re the one that has been growing up faster than anyone else. You have changed so much in such a short period of time…now you’re even starting to sound like a real ‘Papa’, ehehehe~.”
Milan’s heart had also melted a bit at Vahn’s words so she released a sigh and leaned against his shoulder, saying, “I also wish things could stay like this for a while longer…seeing Tina grow up into a young lady right before my eyes is a little heartbreaking, even though I’m very proud of her~.” With her words coming to an end, the three of them just cuddled up with each other for a few minutes in silence as Vahn slowly stirred Tina to awareness. She had always been bad at waking up, so it took a bit longer than he expected, not that he was in a hurry to bring the current situation to an end. Having the mature Milan at his right, the beautiful and infinitely kind Hestia to his left, and the adorable little Tina on his lap, made Vahn feel strangely ‘complete’ at this moment.
Tina eventually stretched out her body a bit, even before opening up her eyes, before peeking through her droopy eyelids and seeing three faces looking down on her. Milan gently reproached her by saying, “If you sleep with your tummy out, you’ll get a cold~” while poking the exposed navel of her daughter. Tina immediately flinched up in embarra.s.sment and covered her face with both hands as she said, “Moooomnyaaa, don’t tease meeeee~!” causing everyone in the room to laugh. When the atmosphere settled down a short while later, Vahn said, “Let’s take a bath and warm up our bodies a bit while I check Tina’s Status Board. Afterward, I’ll get a jump start on my salon services~”
Hearing Vahn’s words, the girls got progressively happier and were practically beaming by the time he mentioned opening up his ‘salon’. Even Tina was very interested in trying to become more beautiful, as she had previously been a somewhat ‘plain’ girl. Working at the Inn hadn’t been a glamorous job and she didn’t really dress up in nice clothes and take care of her appearance that well. Now, however, she talked a lot with girls like s.h.i.+zune, Haruhime, and Syr so that she could take better care of her appearance for the future. She had also experienced Vahn’s ma.s.sage in the past, and thinking she would be able to experience it again made her feel very excited.
Hestia ended up joining them in the bath, as was to be expected since she had nothing better to do, so Vahn ended up pampering all three girls a bit since it wasn’t that difficult with just the four of them present. Tina was a well-behaved girl, so she washed all the important bits herself while Vahn just took care of her hair, ears, and her back. Hestia was a bit bolder, or perhaps just more spoiled, so Vahn washed everything from the tips of her fingers to her toes, and each part in between with only one obvious exception. Even without her asking, Vahn often treated her like a princess at times because he knew it helped ease her heart and mind and he really thought that the spoiled and lazy Hestia was the most natural version of her. Before all this started, however, Vahn had made sure to check Tina’s Status Board as it was very important to mark her progress….
Name: Tina Yuel
Race: Cat Person
Skill: [Eclipse: Innate(sealed)]
Development Skill: [Abnormal Resistance:(sealed)]
(A/N: Being exposed to poisons/toxins/paralysis/sleep is the only requirement to unlock [Abnormal Resistance]. Goblins’ claws can cause serious infections and can unlock this skill for consideration. Because it is so easy to unlock, this is why [Abnormal Resistance] is usually the skill most people awaken at Level 2 unless the somehow met the requirements for [Hunter], [Luck], or have studied things like [Mixing], [Blacksmithing], etc…)
(A/N: Alternate t.i.tles: ‘Tina gets a boo boo’,’Mutual Affection’,’Tiny Tina’s Triumph’)
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