Chapter 42 - Showdown Within the Hearths Embrace
Vahn and Lili made their way towards the 'Hearth's Embrace' and stopped at a small stall that sold trinkets and gifts. Since he didn't know what to buy as a gift for a young girl, he decided to ask Lili since she was around the same age as Tina.
"Eh? You want me to help you pick a gift for another girl...?" She began to pout while giving him a look of dissatisfaction.
Vahn nodded while picking up and examining some animal shaped charms. "Yeah, I've never bought a gift for anyone before, so I'm not really sure what to get."
Never bought a gift before? The words repeated themselves in Lili's mind over and over. ('I have to get him to buy me something as well. I can't let the first gift he ever purchases go to some random Inn employee!') She began forming a plan in her head...
"Vahn-sa...Vahn. How about in exchange for me helping you pick a gift, you buy me one as well? It doesn't have to be something expensive, but I would like something to remember our meeting and the first day of training by. Ah! I know, I can buy you a gift and we can exchange presents!" She began getting fired up at the thought of exchanging gifts. As far as she knew, if he had never given a gift, wasn't it almost as likely he had never received any!?
"Sure, Lili. I don't really see a reason not to reward you for your help. Though, you don't really need to get me anything." From manga, Vahn remembered that girls liked gifts and sweets, and he could see from her aura that she was happy at the idea of receiving a present.
Lili began dragging Vahn around the stalls until she came upon an area that sold ornamental brooches and accessories for women. After asking Vahn more than a fair amount of questions about Tina, she finally selected a small green brooch shaped like a fish.
Vahn inspected the small brooch and noticed it was a similar aquamarine color as his eyes, and thought it was a bit strange to purchase it. Seeing his hesitation, Lili insisted that it would be well-received so he eventually gave in. As a precaution, he also purchased some salted caramel wrapped in a decorative container. After having the two items packaged, Lili ended up dragging him to another section of the store.
When they were browsing around earlier, Lili had found an object that caught her eye and thought it would be the ideal exchange item. Within the display case were a pair of lockets shaped to represent hearts. The larger of the two was silver in color, while the slightly smaller locket was a vibrant bronze similar to brass. Though other items could be stored inside them, what drew Lili's attention was how the smaller bronze locket could be seated inside the silver locket, turning the two individual parts into a singular whole.
Vahn noticed the item on display and thought it was kind of cool how two different pieces of jewelry were made to be able to fit together. Without thinking too much about it, he ended up asking the shopkeep to ring up the item, but Lili interrupted...
"I want to pay for the silver locket myself. You can buy the bronze locket, and then we'll exchange them." Lili seemed adamant at the idea, and Vahn recalled that she had gotten excited at the idea of purchasing gifts for each other. He decided to give in to her whimsy, even though he noticed that the silver locket was the more expensive of the two. Vahn figured there always time to make up for the difference later.
After they had finished the purchase, Lili had the two of them stop a few meters away from the stall. She had Vahn kneel down so she could more easily reach around his neck. With a blush on her face, she connected the locket around his neck before staring into Vahn's face with an anticipatory look. Realizing what she wanted, he took the small bronze locket and placed it around her small, fragile, neck in return. (A/N: Flashbacks anyone?)
//[Liliruca Arde] Affection +3//
Once the exchange was completed, the two walked towards the direction of the Inn. Lili became very quiet for the duration of the trip and kept fiddling with the locket. She would mumble to herself while releasing a dream-like expression on her face.
Vahn, seeing how much she liked the locket, became certain that girls must really love receiving gifts. He hadn't expected to get a whopping three additional affection for a trinket that only cost 800 Valis. Looking at his own locket, he could feel a discomforting pressure from around his neck. However, this discomfort was offset by the sense of warmth he could feel emanating from the cold metal.
They finally arrived outside the Inn, and Lili seemed to become more alert than she had appeared even when they were in the dungeon. There was a glint in her eye like she was about to face a dangerous enemy. Vahn was very surprised, ('Why doesn't she show this kind of motivation in the dungeon?') Thinking it would be a dangerous question, he decided to lead the way through the Inn's entrance.
"Weeeeeeeeeeeeeelcome~! Would you like to stay the nya-ight~?" In a manner almost identical to the first time he stepped into the Inn, a young cat girl excitedly greeted them when they stepped through the door.
"Ah, Mister-nya~!? You're finally back! I'm super angry-nya!" The small 120cm tall cat girl rushed forward before standing directly in front of Vahn. "Kneel." She stomped her tiny foot and gave him a fierce look with her arms across her non-existent chest.
Though he was confused, Vahn figured it was best to listen to her for the time being. It was his fault for worrying her in the first place, and there wasn't any harm in allowing her to release her pent-up emotions. Besides, he also found her attempts at acting mature to be rather adorable.
Just as Tina was about to begin lecturing, she paused after seeing the small cloaked girl standing behind Vahn. The two made eye contact, and Tina could feel her instincts screaming that the girl before her was an 'enemy'.
Turning her focus away from the kneeling Vahn, she began sizing up the slightly smaller girl in front of her. At first, she smiled after noticing that the girl was shorter than she was, but when her eyes came across the chest area she felt an impact to her mental state. Tina began to pat her flat chest with a sad expression which quickly turned to anger when she noticed the small girl proudly 'puff' out with a gloating look on her face. Between the two shapely mounds, Tina could even see the existence of a small brass locket that seemed very similar to the silver locket worn by the kneeling Vahn!
"Who are you-nya? What is your relationship with Mister-nya?" Tina refused to yield before the unknown girl before her. She looked directly into her eyes, trying to pry out any information she could obtain.
Lili smiled while continuing to flaunt her 'weapons'. She began to fiddle with the locket before giving the cat girl a cheeky look and responding, "I'm Vahn-sama's partner and Supporter. He is also training me from sunrise to sunset~What about you, 'little' girl~?"
From the side, Vahn could see an illusion of sparks colliding between the area where the twos line-of-sight crossed. He could also see that both of their auras were dancing around like flames and he began to feel a cold sweat streak down his back. Thinking he needed to step in to prevent a fight from starting, he tried standing and separating the two.
"Lili, Tina, why are you glaring at each other after just meeting? Lili, Tina is the daughter of the Proprietress I mentioned earlier. Both she and her mother have shown me kindness after I arrived in the City, so I don't want to see you making trouble with them for no reason." As he admonished Lili, she began showing an ashamed expression while Tina began beaming with a smile on her face.
"And Tina, Lili is an important companion and student of mine. I am training her to become stronger, while she helps supplement for my own lack of knowledge. There would be many things I couldn't do without her, including this..." Seeing the demeanor of the two invert, with Lili now showing a smile while Tina began to sulk, Vahn pulled out his trump card.
"Here you go Tina. A present to apologize for making you worry, and some salted caramel to thank you for the delicious lunch you prepared on my behalf. Thanks, I really appreciate it." As he spoke he passed the two items to the young cat girl and she received them with a gleeful expression. When she saw the fish-shaped brooch that matched Vahn's eyes, she was extremely happy.
Tina held the brooch in her hands as she glanced at the girl introduced as Lili. Since Vahn had said Lili helped pick out the present, she wanted to thank her, but seeing the locket around Lili's neck made her annoyed. With a sudden burst of inspiration, she handed the brooch back to Vahn before asking him to pin it to the collar of her blouse.
Vahn received the brooch and did as she asked, noticing a fierce blush spread on her cheeks in the process.
//[Tina Yuel] Affection +8//
Hearing the notification, Vahn almost tripped and fumbled with the brooch in his right hand. He managed to catch himself but noticed a stillness spread through the atmosphere. Looking around he saw Lili with a shocked expression, while Tina was blushing so fiercely that the aura emitting from her body created the illusion of steam. From his left hand, Vahn could feel an incredibly subtle but soft sensation on his palm. Perhaps due to some base instinct, he slightly squeezed the hand which caused the blushing Tina to mewl and immediately dash towards the back room.
"Vaaaaahn-nya~ Yoooou perveeert~idiot~demon~nya!!!" She quickly dashed through the door, leaving a stunned Vahn still holding out his hand.
("Sis, what did I just grab?") Vahn was very confused at the turn of events and tried asking the only person that would be able to help him make sense of his predicament.
(*Pervert.*) Hearing Sis also call him a pervert, Vahn almost fell over for the second time. 'What on earth had he done to be labeled as a pervert by two girls in such a brief period of time!?' He looked towards his last hope of getting an answer, Lili, who was staring at him with a sad expression on her face.
"Vahn-sama...do you like smaller ones?" As she asked the question, she closed both hands over her chest and Vahn began to realize the seriousness of his offense. When he slipped he must have accidentally touched Tina's b.o.o.b.s...and then he even squeezed.
Even the dense Vahn understood he had done something inexcusable, but he didn't know what he had to do to remedy the situation. For now, he just looked towards Lili and gave an awkward smile. "I...I don't really have a preference...I think."
Lili released a sigh of relief while patting her own developing chest. "Thank goodness Vahn-sama~" As she spoke she began to close the gap between them.
A terrible premonition began to arise within Vahn's mind and he began to backstep to keep the distance from shortening. He could see an evil look in Lili's eyes as she approached him with a 'kind' smile on her face. Eventually, he backed up into a wall and lost all possibility of further retreat.
Lili continued to close the gap until she was standing just beneath him. While looking upwards with those same fearful eyes, she suddenly reached back her right hand...and smacked him across the face.
"VAHN-SAMA, YOU PERVERT!"
The pain from the slap and the fact he had been called a pervert three times in such a short period dealt critical damage to Vahn's mental state. As he used one hand to cover his burning face, Lili ended up seizing his free hand...and placed it directly onto her chest.
"I won't lose..." She mumbled almost inaudibly.