Over the next few days, things went from bad to worse for Ace and his group.
First, Milianna was fired from her job. Even though they didn't give a reason, it didn't take a genius to see it was because of Ace's actions.
Then Killian was ejected from the orphanage on the grounds that he was a bad seed, and they were worried he would affect the other children. Luckily, he was allowed to move in with Ace and Milianna.
To make things worse, Lance was told his services as a guard would no longer be required. It made him sad to think that his former employers would behave like this, but he found solace in how his relationship with Milianna had taken a large step forward.
The night he brought Ace and Killian home, Ace had explained exactly what happened, making sure to retell how Lance went above and beyond to keep to his word of protecting him. Milianna was deeply saddened and angry about her son being treated like that, but when she heard how Lance stood up for him, she couldn't help but tear up and fall into the man's arms, thanking him.
It had been three days since then. After Milianna lost her job, Lance knew that she wouldn't be able to afford payments for their current accommodation, so he offered her the spare rooms at his place. It was only a small cottage, but it was more than big enough for the four of them.
Milianna originally wanted to refuse, not wanting to impose, but Ace said that at times like this, they were all better off sticking together.
It had been a week since they moved in with the former guard. Ace and Killian had just finished morning training and returned to their new home.
"I don't know what we should do next; I only have enough savings to allow us to eat for another month. I'm too useless!" Lance said dejectedly.
"No, you're not useless at all. If it weren't for us, you wouldn't be in this situation in the first place." Milianna said, trying her best to comfort him.
Seeing the looks of worry on the faces of his mother and Lance, Ace decided enough was enough.
"Why do you have to overthink things? If you simplify everything, the answers become obvious.
The only thing we really need to spend money on is food, right? But do we really need to spend money to buy something we can just hunt ourselves? Lance, you're a rank three warrior who would often go hunting back when you worked for the Baruchs. Just hunt a few weak magical beasts every day.
Mom, you're the best chef in Wushan Town. If you cook the beasts that Lance hunts, it's problem solved. At most, you might need to buy some seasoning, but seasoning is far less expensive than raw beast meat.
We only need to do this for another year and a half or so, at which point me and Kil will be old enough to take the entrance exams for mage and warrior schools, even if neither of us can become mages; you said it yourself our talents as warriors are second to none. At that point, we can reassess our options before making an informed decision about the future."
Both his mother and Lance looked at him with blank eyes as they processed everything he said.
"Ooh, and if you need backup when hun…"
"Not a chance!" Both Lance and Milianna said in unison.
"You're far too young and weak to start hunting magical beasts," Milianna said, not wanting to even imagine her son putting himself in harm's way.
'This was the age Luffy, Sabo, and I began hunting animals and training to be pirates.' Ace thought to himself as he momentarily lost himself in his happy memories of a simpler time. It wasn't until he heard Lance's voice that he was woke from his little daydream.
"Your mother's right. Leave the hunting to me; you two just need to focus on your training." Lance said with renewed vigour.
"But it's dangerous out there. Will you be alright by yourself?" Milianna said, unable to hide her concern.
"I only need to hunt rank 1 and 2 beasts at most, which means I only need to stay on the periphery of the wilderness. I'll be fine, plus it'll be a good form of training. I've been too static recently." Lance said with a hint of excitement.
Ace couldn't tell if he was excited to go out hunting or to be able to provide for his mother, but either way, he approved.
"You're such a wise kid; you know that, right? Sometimes it's hard to believe you're only six." Milianna said as she approached her son.
"You said it yourself; I'm a genius!" Ace replied with a smile.
"Yes, you are!" Milianna agreed as she stroked his cheek lovingly.
The following year and a half flew by in a flash. The town still ostracised them, but they didn't care. They were more than happy with their current way of life.
Ace had never felt so completely at peace. He liked Lance more and more as time went by, he had made a great friend for life in Killian, and his mother showed him nothing but love every single day, and seeing her so happy with Lance made him happy.
By now, he'd already reached the peak of the first rank as a warrior and guessed that he would achieve a breakthrough any day now. His observation haki had also reached a ceiling. He guessed he would have to wait till he reached the second rank before continuing training it.
Now he could extend his observation up to 1250 meters and 12.5 meters when compressed.
He wasn't the only one to improve over the last year and a half; Killian had become a late-stage rank one warrior; Ace guessed he'd be ready to make a breakthrough in a month or two.
Lance had also improved, having reached the peak of the third rank. According to him, he could make a breakthrough at any moment. This time spent hunting was obviously of great benefit to his training.
Ace had to admit that seeing Lance going hunting every day made him jealous. Even though he enjoyed the training, he missed the excitement of letting loose that came with a good battle against a powerful opponent. But he didn't want to do anything else to worry his mother unnecessarily, so he suppressed his urge, knowing that he'd get the chance in the future.