After the birth of his daughters, time seemed to move much faster than normal, something which Vahn was both grateful for and lamented greatly. He spent the majority of his time helping the girls master their [Pactio]s, as forging equipment for them wasn't nearly as important as the development of their new skills and abilities. The rest of his time was spent between his duties for the Alliance, educating the girls so they would be able to use the new magic system, and, perhaps most importantly, spending time with his children. Ina and Vana now looked to be closer to a year old, with the latter being much more lively and energetic than her younger twin. It was more than a little likely it was a result of their differing dietary habits, but Vana was already a few centimeters taller than Ina and seemed to contain nearly limitless energy, at least until naptime.
Ina, unlike her sister, spent the majority of her time, especially after learning to walk on her own, following Vahn around, though he would usually carry her. She looked like a doll that had been sculpted from divine-grade materials, with her light blonde hair now extending past her shoulders with slight curls at the end. Most striking, however, were her pale blue eyes, which had become more pronounced with time and always seemed to glimmer with intrigue, especially when she watched Vahn work and train. Of course, this wasn't all she spent her time on, as her tendency to take things apart had developed further, causing Hephaestus to begin teaching her a few things for around two hours a day. As expected, she had a natural talent for crafting things and already had a very surprising amount of dexterity for someone that was around 12-14 months old, physically. She could already make small trinkets that didn't require any forging and, after seeing that Erika could already read, had taken up a few simple books of her own.
One of the important discoveries that had been made recently was, after Erika appeared to be around a year old, it was decided that they would receive their Falna. It wasn't that uncommon for children to receive their Falna shortly after birth, especially if they were born into a Familia. Though it wouldn't make a drastic difference in their parameters, it would help them become marginally stronger as they trained. Unfortunately, the moment Loki tried to conduct the ceremony on Erika, the hieroglyphs began to fade away, almost as if the existence of the Vanir couldn't be bound by the influence of the Falna. Current speculation was, as they were already very close to being gods, who were unable to receive Falna from other gods, the blessing simply had no effect on them. This didn't mean they wouldn't be able to increase their strength, just that there would be no 'shortcuts' in their path towards the peak.
By virtue of their existence, a god already had very high potential and, though they didn't have actual Levels, they could still be graded by the power systems used in the world. Ultimately, it depended on their efforts with how strong they became but, the most concerning matter, was whether or not the Vanir would be able to increase their strength in the Dungeon. There was a very high chance that the Dungeon may recognize their presence itself as a major threat, especially with the mixture of source energy and pseudo-divine energy. Vahn was already slightly worried that his presence was increasing the strength of monsters in the Deeper Floors and it now seemed as if he would have to take into consideration the influence of his own children...
Fortunately, they had made several other discoveries over the last few weeks, including the fact that the guardians possessed by the Vanir could increase their strength very quickly. Though they were very small at first, Ina's tiger cub was now larger than most dogs while Vana's dragon pup was around the size of a pony. The only exception amongst the three was Erika's doppelganger, which seemed to be roughly the same dimensions as Erika herself, though their features were distinctly different. Most importantly, however, was that the strength of their guardians directly influence the power of the girls, especially when they were fused together. They provided a large amount of energy to the girls, allowing Vana to already create large fireballs, much to the lamentation of Emiru and Maemi, who often had to clean up the mess after Vana accidentally burned something.
Vana was still very smart for her age but, unlike Ina and the startlingly intelligent Erika, she was very emotional and prone to outbursts. She never sought out attention proactively but, the moment you stopped paying attention to her, Vana would become teary-eyed and do something to draw your attention back to her. This was mainly aimed towards her younger twin though, when asked how she felt about Ina, Vana simply said she loved her sister but didn't want to 'lose' against her. What she didn't want to 'lose' at, Vana herself didn't know, it just made her feel sad if she didn't get to play around when Ina was playing. For someone like Vana, who was constantly full of energy and getting into trouble, it broke Vahn's heart to see her sad so he always relented and tried to play with both of them whenever possible.
Erika wasn't nearly as 'clingy' as Ina and Vana but she had gotten into the habit of asking Vahn to help her study and to teach her new things. She also seemed to enjoy sitting in his lap and reading books, assuming there was nobody else around. For some reason, Erika seemed especially aware of how other people looked at her and, though she only looked like a 15-17 month old child, she didn't like being treated as such. The only exceptions were when she was with her 'Papa', who always made her feel safe and, no matter what she did, seemed to accept to her. Unlike her Mother, and some of the other girls and goddesses, her Papa didn't seem to have any expectations towards her other than the desire that she is happy. This made Erika feel very comfortable around him, though she had slowly started to open up to others, becoming good friends with Vana after the latter could walk around and form simple sentences. She didn't much like Ina, however, as her presence made it difficult to have any time to spend with her Papa...
Of course, Vahn wasn't only splitting his time between Ina, Vana, and Erika, as, at this point, Aki and Arnya had both given birth to two healthy young girls with Tsubaki expecting any day. Both Aki and Arnya, taking notes out of Loki's book, ended up naming their daughters differently than their first choices, Aki deciding upon Anise while Arnya chose Meinya. When Vahn helped them deliver the children, he once against got to experience the overwhelming sight of new life being born into the world. Though they weren't visually as stunning as the Vanir at birth, Vahn felt like his daughters, especially with their stubby tails and droopy ears, were exceptionally adorable. Anise had been born with a tuft of black hair, having similarly black eyes and a small pointed nub at her lower back. As for Meinya, she unexpectedly had a mix between brown and white hair with similar rings on her tail as compared to her mother.
Ina seemed a little saddened by the birth of new children within the Manor but, after being talked to by Vahn and Hephaestus for a bit, she decided to be a good 'big' sister. As for Vana and Erika, the former was very interested in her new sisters, spending time watching them in the cribs and saying a few quiet words when nobody was looking. Erika seemed the least affected but, from Vahn's perspective, she had undergone the biggest change since the presence of Anise and Meinya seemed to be the catalyst for her wanting to spend more time with him and 'uncharacteristically' acting her age...
Much like his other daughters, Anise and Meinya came into the world with guardians of their own but, to Vahn confusion, lacked the inclusion of what he was referring to as a soul-grade artifact. Also, likely as result of the difference in their inherent soul tier, Anise and Meinya were considerably weaker than the Vanir at birth while their guardians, while still being strong, had markedly less potential than the 'primordial' grade creatures assigned to the Vanir. Anise ended up getting what looked like a grey wolf pup, called a Steel-backed Wolf while Meinya obtained a brown bear cub with tufts of red fur, descending from the Mountain Tyrant Bear species. Each was very powerful in their own right but the auras they emitted were significantly weaker than the Celestial Winged Tiger, True Flame Dragon, and even Erika's Doppelganger...
Even so, it didn't matter to Vahn at all how much potential the girls might have at birth since, if they worked hard, it wouldn't be impossible for them to even exceed the Vanir in power. They still had strands of source energy coiling around in their bodies and, with capable mothers like Aki and Arnya, combined with the resources of teaching methods available to them, both could become very powerful. Most importantly, Vahn learned that all of his daughters could make use of the consumable items within his shop now, as their body could actually adapt and process the energy contained within the items. This meant he could help them train and refine their bodies through the system shop, even if the efficacy was limited by the development of their source energy.
Vahn was currently walking alongside Arnya, carrying Meinya in his hands as they leisurely strolled through the illusory forest, which was now much larger than in the past. Though she wasn't 'gifted' with an affinity for space magic, Terra had set up a large ward to encompass the forest, causing the interior to increase exponentially in size while it seemed completely unchanged from the outside. Other than passing through a viscous membrane, which only a select few like Vahn, Riveria, Ryuu, and Lefiya could sense, you would enter into the now massive forest. Terra also arranged it so there were some scenic paths to travel that could be safely walked, including one that led directly to the clearing in the center, now more than 1km in diameter.
When they reached the center, Vahn saw the familiar figure of Mikoto, training hard while Haruhime sat at the side with a small picnic basket. Mikoto, sensing his arrival, momentarily stopped her training, nearly bowing out of habit before seeing Vahn's slight frown and deciding against it. By the time Vahn neared her, Haruhime had also walked over as Vahn said, "I'm going to be making a supply run down to the 39th Floor this Friday. I wanted you two to accompany me this time around, though I don't expect anything will happen." One of Vahn's duties had been making sure the supplies of Lil Geirr never ran out. This would be his second trip down after his previous return, making the round trip in as little as sixteen hours.
Mikoto gripped her katana tightly, showing a small smile as she nodded her head and said, "Thank you for this opportunity, Master." Knowing that Vahn was giving her a chance to test her skills, Mikoto was determined to show him her growth. These past few months, much like several of the other girls, she had also been contemplating her own future. She wasn't ready to have a child just yet, as it would interfere with the development of her magical power and bring a temporary halt to her training. Her hope was to wait until she was around 18-20 years old, when her magical power began to stabilize, before finally committing to the deed. However, she also understood that there were no guarantees in life and, though just a little, she began to open up and try to spend more time with Vahn when the opportunity presented itself.
Haruhime was also very happy to accompany Vahn, especially if the giddy Shirohime was any indicator. The little fox had been enjoying her time around the Manor more and more these days, especially since the number of people she could interact with had increased. Though she was fairly jealous of the fact that her 'counterpart' wasn't able to get Vahn's attention as much as in the past, Shirohime simply couldn't dislike the children. She often spent time playing with Ina and Vana, though Erika was her favorite since Vana would sometimes pull her hair and Ina would outright ignore her when Vahn was around...
After Shirohime crawled up to his shoulder, looking down at Meinya with glimmering gold eyes, Vahn smiled and explained, "Our goal this time around, other than resupplying Lil Geirr, is to capture and subjugate another rare monster. Mikoko, I'll be relying on your scouting abilities to track down the unique energy signatures of any variant species and I want you both to practice using your [Pactio] in a live combat scenario. Fenrir will be accompanying us, but it will just be the four of us going down this time around." Haruhime showed an elegant smile as a thoughtful look appeared in her eyes. She didn't say what was on her mind but, judging by the fluctuations in her aura, Vahn expected Haruhime wanted to use the opportunity to spend some more time with him.
As he already expected something like this to happen, Vahn had actually cleared up three days of his schedule since he wanted to try to capture a Unicorn or one of the variant species with a strong elemental affinity. Loki's Wyvern ended up becoming a large black dragon named Khaos, as it was one of the few names Vahn could find that related to both space and time that also suited a dragon. Its form was only 11m at present, making it much smaller than Fafnir and Terra, but the energy contained within its body was rather terrifying, It was presently only Level 3, but Vahn could tell it would become much stronger once it trained. The presence of Khaos seemed to motivate Fafnir quite a bit as well, now spending most of its free time 'pestering' Terra to help it train. Terra's response was to 'throw' Fafnir's spirit into one of the test orbs she had been working on, having her memory fragment deal with her 'troublesome' younger brother since she would much rather just soak up some sunlight.
Terra had already finished the basic structure for a few of the orbs they were going to make use of but, as she was still trying to refine the laws contained within the orbs, they have yet to be used by anyone in the Manor. Fafnir became her 'willing' test subject and, as it was able to increase its strength a fair amount, didn't seem to mind becoming her guinea pig. Dragons, especially True Dragons, placed and instinctual emphasis on strength-based hierarchies. Since Terra was currently much stronger than it was, Fafnir had essentially become Terra's lackey, only ignoring her orders if it conflicted with one that Vahn had issued. Vahn had even found it, though it was entirely unnecessary, protecting Terra's egg when she had flown off to strengthen a section of her dominion. Seeing the slimmed down version of Fafnir, as it was getting progressively better at transformation magic, coiled around Terra's egg in a protective pose made Vahn shake his head with a wry smile...
After parting with Haruhime and Mikoto, now carrying Shirohime on his head, Vahn made his way back to the Manor. Along the way, he passed by the sleeping figure of Khaos, covered with red and black scales with four black horns framing its head like a crown, covered in small purple veins that radiated a frightening magic power. It opened its eyes as he passed, sending an icy but reverential voice into Vahn's head as it said, ("Good morning, Master. Mistress Loki had something to discuss with you...") before putting its head down. Khaos had a significantly easier time maintaining its form compared to all of Vahn's other subordinates as it could fly into space and absorb the chaotic energies present to sustain itself. However, it still spent a fair amount of time just lazing about and, if it was certain it could get away with it, complaining about Loki.
Arnya laughed at Khaos's lazy behavior, nudging Vahn's arm to get him to continue forward since the latter had stopped moving. Before they reached the Manor, Arnya took Meinya from his hands, giving him a quick peck on the lips and saying, "Go see what Loki wants. I'll be in the maternity ward if you still want to spend time with Meinya." Then, without waiting for Vahn's response, Arnya happily made her way inside ahead of him, tail swaying about in a playful manner. She had been in very high spirits ever since her daughter was born, spending most of her waking moments accompanying Meinya and tending to her every need. Unlike the Vanir, Meinya was fed exclusively by Arnya and, though she sometimes relied on others to help babysit, Arnya was the primary caretaker of her daughter. She only really took breaks for morning training and sleeping, often times only really getting a few hours in every night and, much like Mona had in the past, taking small 'cat-naps' during the day.
Vahn already had an idea of what Loki wanted to talk about as, very recently, the Dwarves of the Iron Hills had started to try and counterpressure Orario after getting annoyed with the constant requests for aid from the Elven Kingdom. Though they had no intention of actually fighting on the Elves' behalf, the Dwarves didn't mind trying to take advantage of the situation for their own benefits. They were actually trying to play both sides at present, greatly increasing the price of goods they were bringing into the City while also allowing smugglers to make use of their routes into the Western Forest in exchange for a toll fee. In exchange, the Elven Kingdom had sent several lesser clans of Elves to reside within the Iron Hills, totaling nearly 1,300 people, to act as 'breeding stock' for some of the larger Slavers Clans. The slave trade was one of the most successful business enterprises at present and, being notoriously greedy and focused on wealth, the Dwarves were the most successful slavers on the continent. Generally, the only way they could get Elven slaves were if they were either sick, criminal exiles, or males. Having 'fresh' stock was a major boon so, though they weren't putting that much effort into it, the Dwarves had finally decided to 'help' out the Elves...
(A/N: I'm feeling a bit out of it from traveling so I'm not entirely sure how many chapters I will release today. At the bare minimum, there will be three and, if I'm feeling better after writing those, I'll put out 1-2 more, aiming for 15k words today. Tomorrow's releases should happen at the normal time, so you can expect them to come out ten minutes before the reset and every two hours after that.)
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Slow down (TT_TT)','Loki, Goddess of Tricksters, Master of Khaos','Shameless Dwarves (o,...,o)~!')
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