After things had settled down, Chloe left the two to finish their meal. Lili still seemed a bit down, but she looked a lot better than before. She ate away at the children’s menu without complaint while making small talk with Vahn. Once they had finished and settled the bill, Vahn and Lili bid farewell to Chloe and headed home.
On the path back to the Inn, Lili remained quiet and just looked around at the various passersby. She saw people traveling in groups, families with their children, and even individuals simply enjoying the evening atmosphere. There were also a few couples that were walking around in the night markets, most likely enjoying the final hours of their dates. When Lili saw them, she would just stare for a few moments before continuing forward without saying anything.
Vahn could tell she was thinking about a lot of things, but the stability in her aura made him feel as though things were changing for the better. Though he often ran around the City to save time, Vahn just continued along the path while enjoying the same atmosphere. The cool night air was very calming, and the warmth generated by the flow of people made his heart feel at ease. When Lili would get distracted, he would just patiently wait for her, giving her as much time as she needed.
After more than an hour, they were finally nearing the Inn when Lili decided to stop so they could speak. Most of the pedestrians had already disappeared at this time, and only a few hard-working vendors and adventurers could be seen in the nightscape of the city. Lili leads the way towards the small plaza that served as a central point for the markets near the Inn.
For a few minutes, the two just stood there in silence. Vahn could see the aura around Lili fluctuate periodically before stabilizing again. Finally, she seemed to have made up her mind, turning towards Vahn with a serious expression. “Vahn…I want to apologize. For my selfishness…and insecurities…and so many other things. Even though you had saved me and put in so much effort to help me grow, I was just focused on my own thoughts…” She began to have trouble breathing as tears began to appear in her eyes.
“I just…I just wanted to do something to help secure my own happiness. I thought I could rely on your kindness to escape all my problems…and even if I wasn’t able to become strong, I thought you would still help me. I even thought of using my own body as compensation to make you dedicate yourself to me…I really am a selfish woman…no, a selfish child, just like Chloe said.” While she was speaking, she continued to hold eye contact with Vahn who maintained a calm expression on his face.
“I know you won’t abandon me, even though I did so many foolish things…but, I don’t want to just rely on your kindness anymore. I want to become stronger…I want to see what it is like to walk on a path where I’m not reliant on others to live. And…I want to be able to repay this debt of gratitude I owe you…using my own power.” She was shaking while trying her best to hold back the tears that continued to stream down her face. Lili didn’t want to lose anything anymore just because she couldn’t hold onto it with her own strength.
Vahn could feel an indescribable pain coursing through his body as he watched the small girl state her convictions through tears and muffled-sobs. He didn’t expect it would be so hard to just stand by and listen as someone poured their heart out to him. After her words ceased, he felt an overwhelming urge to just hug the girl and help drive away all the negative feelings she was keeping within her heart…but he couldn’t, not now. Vahn balled his hands into fists, holding back his emotions as he waited for her to continue.
“From now on, please don’t hold back in my training. I will do whatever it takes…I will prove that I’m worthy to walk at your side…not just a burden that weighs you down!” Lili mustered the remainder of her strength and shouted the final words. For her, it was both a confession and her heartfelt desire. Even if he never returned her feelings, she still wanted him to know.
Vahn heavily placed his palm on her head, causing Lili to flinch. It wasn’t the gentle patting he often gave her; it was almost as though he was angry. She looked through her tear stained eyes and saw Vahn looking at her with a pained and dissatisfied expression on his face. Lili began to wonder if she had upset him, and her heart began to twist in her chest.
“You’re an idiot Lili…” Vahn released an exasperated sigh as he spoke the words.
“Eh..? Vahn?” Lili was confused and heartbroken. She couldn’t make sense of his derisive words, especially after everything that had happened.
Before she could process what was happening, Vahn pulled her into a powerful hug. She could feel his warmth begin to spread through her body. And on the side of her face, she could feel a wetness that didn’t come from her eyes.
“You are such an idiot…don’t say things like “worthy” or “burden”. Everything I’ve done for you was by my own will. Even if I thought I had to protect you, I never once thought you were a burden that wasn’t worth saving. It breaks my heart to heart to hear you say something so cruel…” Vahn continued hugging Lili as warms tears slowly streamed down his face. He couldn’t bear the words she spoke any longer.
“Vahn…” Lili sunk her face into his chest, enjoying the sensation. She didn’t try to take advantage of the situation, she just allowed herself to be held by Vahn. Through his chest, she could feel the powerful beating of Vahn’s heart…it was slow and rhythmic…and seemed to contain a powerful vitality that helped comfort something deep within her soul.
Vahn continued to hug her tightly for a few minutes until they had both long stopped crying. When he pulled away, Lili didn’t try latching onto him like previously. Instead, they just stared at each other before displaying awkward smiles seeing their unsightly appearance. The young boy and girl began laughing, driving away all of the negative emotions that had settled in the atmosphere.
Once they had collected themselves, they headed to the Inn. After exchanging pleasantries with Milan who had given them strange looks, they two headed to their respective rooms. Before they each entered, Vahn stopped Lili and gave her a gentle hug. Though she was shocked, Lili just accepted it without resisting.
“Good night Lili. Tomorrow will be difficult, and I won’t go easy on you anymore so get plenty of rest. I cannot help replace what you had lost in the past, but I will do my best to guarantee you are able to find a path where you can seize your future.” Vahn spoke the words gently, but firmly. Lili just nodded before eventually turning towards her room when the hug ended.
Before she closed the door, Lili looked into Vahn’s eyes. “I will do it Vahn sama…no matter how long it takes, or how much I have to struggle. I swear.” With those parting words, she closed the door, leaving a grinning Vahn in the hallway.
Within his own room, Vahn laid down on his bed with a powerful feeling of exhaustion. He recalled the events of the day and could barely make sense of everything that happened. (“Sis, why are people so difficult? Why do they have to expend so much effort to break away from suffering and try to find happiness?”) Vahn stared at the ceiling while remembering all the people he had interacted with, in both his present world and past life.
(*That isn’t a question I know the answer to Vahn. You will have to find the answers for yourself through experience. All I can do is help guide you along ‘The Path’ until you become strong enough to possess the ‘freedom’ you desire.*)
Vahn nodded. With ‘The Path’ he had an advantage over almost everyone else within the stories he could recall in his mind. Most people had to go through life dealing with the lot they were given at birth…even Vahn himself was a victim of unfortunate circumstance. Now, he had to power to control his fate, and as long as he put in the effort there were very few things that could halt his momentum.
He began thinking about how best to use his power, and what worlds he should visit in the future. There were many things he wanted to experience, but after interacting with people like Chloe, Lili, and Hephaestus, Vahn began having doubts about the path he was taking. Though he originally just wanted power and the ability to travel through the worlds of his dreams, now it was becoming harder and harder to think of himself as a bystander. Now he was proactively beginning to drive events within the world, and depending on his decisions he could completely alter the events he knew from the canon…
Releasing a sigh, Vahn tried to stop worrying about things. If he let himself get caught up in self-doubt, he would just create unnecessary stress for himself. The best thing he could do now was to continue growing stronger so that he could deal with each situation as they arose. With that thought in mind, Vahn decided to take the time to review all of his current stats and items before going to sleep.
Name: [Vahn Mason]Age: 14
Race: Human, *sealed*
Parameter: [Danmachi: 1-4]-Level:2(2)
Soul Strength: Tier 2 (Hero Soul)
[Valis]: 49,700(A/N: I Actually feel like I forgot something here)
Skills: [Will of the Emperor:SSS], [Rakshasa Body:H][Bow Mastery:C], [Stealth:D], [Chainbreaker:S], [Call of the Reaper:B],[Yggdrasil’s Favor:S], [Veil of the Traveler: S], [Swordsman:D], [Featherfoot:E]
Development Skills: [Wound Transfer:B], [Spirit Healing:B], [Blacksmith:D] [[ITEMS]]Equipment: [Runic Tamahagane Blade:A], [Plague Mask:E], [Nullifying Mantle:C], [Mithril Poniard:B], [Damascus-Steel Gauntlets:C], [Scout’s Guille Suit:F], [Handloomed Shadowsilk Tunic:D], [Runic Tempered Yew Shortbow:B], [Decanter of Replenishment:B], 1x Hephaestus’ Favor, 1x Skill Enhancement Scroll, Etc…[[QUESTS]][Birth of a Legend:SS], [The Hearts Desire:C-SS(repeatable)]
His Magic was still increasing at an alarming rate, probably due to his contest of wills against the ‘eternal flame’. The rest of his stats were trailing far behind, but Vahn thought it was due to the minimal effort he had used in hunting monsters with Lili. He would have to fight much stronger monsters if he wanted to experience the rapid growth he had in the previous week.
One thing that caught his eye was the ‘1x Hephaestus’ Favor’ that he had overlooked after completing the optional quest. He had been so focused at the time, and then immediately moved onto forging and other stuff that he never had the chance to determine its use.[Hephaestus’ Favor] x1
Use: After consumption exponentially increases the likelihood of a successful request from the ‘Goddess of Forging, Hephaestus’. Success rate determined by Affection.
Vahn was surprised after reading the items description. It was his first unique item, and he wasn’t sure if it was good or bad. After a bit of thought, he figured it could be used to ask her to forge a weapon for him in the future, though he would probably have to increase his affection with Hephaestus before then…
Thinking of Affection, Vahn decided to see the values of all the current people whose auras he had touched.[Liliruca Arde]: Affection:94(Love), Intrigue:66(Concerned)
[Chloe Lolo]: Affection:78(Trust), Intrigue:89(Hope for the Future)
[Eina Tulle]:59(Confused), Intrigue:72(Uncertain but Interested)
[Hephaestus]: Affection: 82(Belief), Intrigue:100(Insatiable Curiosity)
[Milan Yuel]: Affection: 55(Amicable), Intrigue:51(Neutral)
[Tina Yuel]:Affection: 68(Crush), Intrigue:53(Confused)
[Nicholas Grimm]:47(Disatisfied), Intrigue:60(Curious)
Seeing Tina on the list, Vahn could help but cringe remembering his earlier failure. He was also very curious when Nicholas had been added to the list. Vahn didn’t remember ever touching him, but it was likely after he had lost consciousness outside of the dungeon. Since he didn’t see any names he didn’t recognize, he wasn’t sure though. There were likely several doctors that had touched him when he was asleep, so maybe the system only included people he was familiar with beforehand?
The thing that concerned him the most was the fact Hephaestus’s intrigue had hit 100, which Sis informed him was the max. The thought anyone possessed an ‘insatiable curiosity’ towards him actually terrified Vahn. He didn’t know to what extent she would go to in order to satiate her curiosity in the future…
Meanwhile, Hephaestus was experiencing shock after trying to forge metal in the ‘eternal flame’. The temperature was not only significantly stronger, but the flame was much easier to manage. It seemed to proactively regulate the heat when the raw metal began to reach its peak, allowing her to almost completely ignore tending to the metal herself…
She looked towards a nearby wall and her gaze seemed to penetrate through the structure of the building. If anyone was to draw a line tracing her gaze, they would find out she was looking directly towards where Vahn was presently bathing in a cold sweat.