Chapter 40 - Capabilities : Desire Within the Dungeon
After Lili had calmed down, the two began discussing her current strengths and weaknesses. At this point, they were both standing outside the entrance to the second floor, and Vahn needed a better understanding of her current abilities.
"That skill you use to disguise yourself, does it give you any other benefits? And what other skills do you possess?" This is what Vahn was most interested in. From his perspective, the ability to transform was quite powerful, and he even envied it a bit.
"My transformation comes from my magic [Cinder*Ella]. It lets me change into anything of similar size and weight, though I can push the ability to change my size for a short period of time...As for other abilities, I possess a skill called [Artel Assist] which increases my parameters based on the amount of weight I'm carrying, though the buff isn't that great and the weight itself restricts my movement..."
Vahn nodded with his hand to his chin. He was thinking about a way to use the two abilities to their greatest potential in the future...but for now, he should help her strengthen her foundation. Though he couldn't give her the manuals from the system, that didn't prevent him from using the information within his head to offer advice to aid in her growth. For now, he'd teach her the basic CQC (Close Quarters Combat) skills he developed in the forest. Even if they weren't that useful for killing monsters, it would give her the ability to protect herself in the future.
"For now we'll start strengthening your foundation. I know a series of exercises to help increase your familiarity with combat that will also help improve the mobility of your body while increasing your reaction time. We might be able to use your [Artel Assist] to help aid your stamina training, and we'll also practice actual combat. For now, we'll restrict it to the monsters on the upper levels, and then move on to sparring later in the afternoon. What weapons do you prefer?"
Seeing how seriously Vahn was treating the training, Lili began amping herself up for the coming trials. "Yes, Master Vahn! Since I'm a Pallum, I have enhanced vision which allows me to see in the dark so I use a bow to attack monsters from the backline. Though I can use my [Cinder*Ella] to adopt the traits of other races, I haven't used them in combat!"
"Ah, it just so happens that I also use a bow, but it won't be a very practical method to increase your parameters. Even if you can gain the exilia from monsters, it would mainly influence your dex. We'll have to train a method that allows you to increase all of your parameters until you find a combat style that suits you." Vahn was considering purchasing a weapon for Lili, but couldn't think of a good option...
"Master Vahn also uses a bow?" Lili gave him a questioning look since she had only ever seen him use a sword till now.
Hearing her question, Vahn swapped to the bow in his secondary slot. Lili startled seeing the sword disappear while an emerald green bow took its place. "Is that your storage magic? It seems to be very useful if you're able to swap out weapons so quickly."
Vahn nodded while leading the way into the second floor. Since he didn't have a way to explain his storage magic in detail, he wanted to avoid talking about it whenever possible. After a few minutes they came across a group of kobolds, and Vahn quickly loosed three arrows, precisely hitting the core of each monster.
"Ah, that's amazing Master Vahn! You have impeccable aim~" Lili was jumping behind him while cheering loudly.
Vahn shook his head and turned towards her. "Lili, unless we're in the corridors between floors you have to retain your focus. A small lapse in concentration is all it takes to lead to a pitiful end. And you can stop calling me Master. Just call me Vahn. Hearing you praise me while calling me Master worries me for some reason..."
"U-understood...Vahn...sama" Hearing her still address him with 'sama' Vahn let out a sigh. At least it was better than being called 'Master' over and over. Hopefully, she would be able to break the habit on her own in the future.
"For the next group, I want you to engage them using your crossbow. If things get dicey I'll make sure to intercept, but you should try your best to eliminate them on your own." He continued to progress further into the second floor until the encountered a group of three kobolds and two goblins.
Lili drew her crossbow and began to fire rapidly. Most of her bolts found their target, but she was a little off from hitting the cores so the monsters began charging towards her. She stood still and kept firing bolts as quickly as she could, but was only able to kill the two goblins before the kobolds had approached her. Just as they were about to lunge, three arrows accurately pierced the bodies of the kobolds mid-leap turning them to dust in the process.
Lili had a ghastly expression on her face and lost feeling in her legs. She collapsed on the spot while stuttering towards Vahn, "T-t-thanks Vahn-s-sama. I'm s-s-sorry I failed."
Vahn could see fear written all over her face, and he tried comforting her by kneeling down and petting the top of her head. "It's okay Lili. You didn't fail...I just wanted to see how you fought monsters without support. From now on I'll show you how to properly fight using ranged weapons."
While she was still powerless to move, more kobolds had begun spawning from the walls of the dungeon. This time it was a group of five, and Vahn immediately moved to close the gap between them. Lili, from her seated position, stared at his charge in a confused manner. 'Why is he getting close if he is using a bow?'
The answer to her question came in the following few seconds, as she watched Vahn nimbly dodge the kobolds and use the blind spots created by their movements to easily target their cores. In the span of just a few breaths, he was able to easily deal with the entire group without having to reposition or open a distance between the monsters. She began to understand what he meant by 'proper'...
Vahn approached the still seated Lili before smiling and saying, "Did you see? Though using ranged weapons does provide an advantage in eliminating monsters from a distance, if you have to sacrifice your mobility in exchange it isn't worth it. You struggled to hit the monsters at a distance, but if you had used their movements to target their weaknesses at a close range you would have been able to slay them all without using so many bolts. Do you understand?"
Lili nodded before accepting the hand he had offered to her. "But Vahn-sama...I'm not nearly as agile as you are. I can't evade the attacks of kobolds at such a close range, and it would be very dangerous if I got surrounded..." Though she agreed with Vahn's statement, she didn't believe she could replicate the methods he used. There was too large a gap between their stats...
"Yes, that is true, at least for now. Though you seem to think being a Pallum is a disadvantage, it should allow you to have more nimble movements when you polish your skills. Since you have a lower center of gravity and an easier to manipulate pivot, your agility growth should be much higher than most races. I think it's because you're too used to attacking from the backline and carrying a lot of weight that you've neglected the benefits of your own bloodline. And if you're that concerned, can't you just use [Cinder*Ella] to use the traits of a Cat Person or Elf? They both have very high agility and dexterity after all."
Lili was surprised hearing his explanation. She often used her magic to disguise and fool people, but whenever she entered the dungeon it was always as a Pallum Supporter. She hadn't practiced combat as other races or tried to adapt their racial traits for training...Remembering Vahn's words from earlier, she began to believe she really had neglected to make an effort in becoming stronger. It seemed she was content with just surviving and trying to escape all this time...
Vahn noticed she had become dejected while mulling over his words, and he let out a sigh while patting her head again. ("She is such high maintenance...I really wish she could develop some confidence. Well, I guess that's my job from now on.").
The two continued advancing into the dungeon and engaging each group of monsters they came across. Lili began trying to develop her agility and footwork by fighting the monsters up close, but she was only able to make small improvements. Much of the time was spent with Vahn trying to console her and dispatching the majority of the mobs, while she would later collect the cores. This continued later into the afternoon before they both made their way to the 1st-floor corridor.
"Okay, now we'll move on to actual sparring. For now, we'll avoid the use of weapons. I want you to try to attack me using your arms and legs. I'll only be on the defensive, but don't think I won't counter attack if you show an opening. There are never any absolutes, and you should always be prepared for the unexpected." Vahn got into the fighting stance he had honed during his time in the forest. Though he didn't possess any specific style, he had become quite capable using mixed martial arts.
Lili nodded seriously before trying to launch a barrage of weak punches in his direction. Vahn became a bit fl.u.s.tered at the adorable action, and almost allowed himself to be hit due to his urge to laugh. Luckily, he managed to save some face by quickly side-stepping the flurry of attacks before patting her on the back.
"You should only attack with intent. If you flail about you'll lose your balance and expose yourself to the opponent. Come, attack me again! Don't think about it, just act!"
This time Lili tried kicking his legs, and he easily managed to stay outside her range. She tried several more times before suddenly launching a punch towards his abdomen. After the repeated kicks, Vahn had begun to anticipate a change in the attack pattern so he easily diverted the momentum of the punch. As a result, Lili began to fall face-first towards the ground, but Vahn caught her before she made contact.
"Remember, never overcommit to the attack. Though its good to change your attack pattern, you need to target the opponent where they are exposed. Look for the gaps in the movements, and try to attack when they are shifting their weight since it's difficult to change direction when you've yet to complete a movement."
He continued to explain while holding Lili in his arms. The young Pallum's face had turned crimson and she was barely able to hear his voice through the pounding in her ears as a result of her heart rate increasing. When he finally returned her to her feet, she just stood there blankly for a few moments.
Seeing her lack of focus, Vahn closed the distance before issuing a punch directly towards her face. His fist stopped just centimeters before making contact, causing Lili to fall onto her butt with a startled expression.
"A momentary loss of focus leaves you open to devastating counter-attacks. If I was an enemy or a monster you would have been severely injured or killed by that attack." Vahn extended his hands to help her up, but she just stared at the outstretched hand without accepting it.
Lili continued sitting silently, unable to process the series of events. Though she knew he was serious in making her stronger, she didn't expect that he would be so intense during the training. Her mind was a roller-coaster of ups and downs, and she wasn't able to easily stabilize her emotions. In some moments she was happy, like when he prevented her from falling, while others she became terrified seeing the ferocious nature of his attacks. Though she believed he wouldn't harm her, the strike to her face had drained all the strength from her body. She didn't want to continue anymore and feared to grab the hand before her...
(*Shit. I scared her. It's only the first day of training and I immediately moved on to real life combat and sparring...I'm such an idiot.*) Vahn withdrew his hand with a sad expression. Though Lili flinched when he pulled away, she didn't make an attempt to stop him.
She watched as he moved towards the wall of the dungeon...and began punching it. She was terrified by his actions and began to believe he may have gone crazy, but as she saw his hands begin to bleed a painful feeling spread in her heart. She shouted, "Vahn-sama, stop! What are you doing!? Your hands, they-"
Vahn sighed, hearing her call out to him. He stopped hitting the wall and rested with his back against it. "I'm sorry Lili. I shouldn't be pushing you so hard on the first day. I...I didn't want to scare you...I just don't want to see you harmed in the future. I'm afraid that, when I'm not around, something terrible may happen to you. By helping you grow stronger, I believed I could prevent that from happening...but I don't want to grow stronger at the expense of you growing afraid of me."
Lili began to feel a mixture of sadness and anger in her heart. She was sad seeing how quickly he punished himself on her behalf, but angry seeing the extent he pushes himself when left to his own thoughts. "Are you an idiot!?" She began to cry, unable to express her emotions with words.
She walked towards Vahn and took his hands into her own. Seeing the torn flesh around his knuckles, she began to regret being afraid earlier. He was just doing his best to help he grow strong, but she began to act like she was terrified...terrified of the person that had just the day before sacrificed himself to save her life.
Vahn continued to watch as she began bandaging his hands. He wanted to save her the effort and use a healing potion but felt like it wasn't the best time to speak up...
After she had tended to his wounds, she stepped back and did a full servile bow with her face to the ground. "Please help me get stronger Vahn-sama. I won't complain anymore, and I won't be afraid no matter how harshly you treat me. Just please don't punish yourself for someone like me. It pains my heart to see you do that to yourself."
From his position, Vahn could only see the top of her head. But even though she was hiding it, he was able to see the tears dropping onto the floor. He didn't know what to say, and began feeling like his self-inflicted punishment had gone too far. Vahn hadn't even considered how she would feel seeing his actions, he just wanted to take out his conflicting emotions on the hardest surface in the area.
Seeing the determination in her actions, Vahn couldn't bring himself to try to explain the situation. He just sighed within his own mind before standing up and approaching the still bowing Lili. Noticing his approach, she looked towards him with her tear stain faced. She began to speak but was prevented from doing so when Vahn hugged her to his chest. She just stood there accepting his embrace as he stroked the back of her hair while her tears and snot stained his mantle.
"Lili, you're already far stronger than you know. I swear I will do my best to make you realize it for yourself..."
The two continued to hug until finally separated several minutes later. By now Lili's tears had begun to dry, but there was still the trace of their previous existence still on her face. Vahn was worried, but she simply gave him a beaming smile, dashing away any concerns he had in the process.
"I will do my best, Vahn-sama~!"
//[Liliruca Arde] affection has reached Affection:90[Love], Intrigue:59[Curious]//
//Quest Triggered: 'The Hearts Desire' [Repeatable]//
[The Hearts Desire: Obtain 100 Affection/Intrigue with any person.]
Rewards: 'Gift' function permanently unlocked on first completion, 10,000OP[Current: 0], 1x 'Hearts Desire'[Current: 0]
Failure Condition: Death