Vahn felt something poking at his cheek, and he was slowly awakened from his unconscious state. While he was worrying about the future, he had finally managed to fall asleep and get some rest. Opening his eyes, Vahn froze up a bit as he saw Tiona smiling at him while poking his cheek. “Wake up sleepy head. It’s time for us to go~” Tiona no longer had her amorous, and mad appearance, from earlier. Instead, she had returned to her normal and cheerful state which allowed Vahn’s body to relax a bit.
Accepting the hand she had offered, Vahn was raised to his feet and noticed that all the tents that were previously in the area had vanished. Now there was a large group of people being briefed and split into groups as they made their way toward the stairs. “Were you able to rest any?” Tiona, who was standing to his right, seemed to be overly concerned about the state of his body. Since she was unable to control herself earlier, she worried she may have injured Vahn.
Vahn stretched his body before smiling toward her. “I feel great. Turns out I just needed a bit of rest after being high-strung for so long.” Tiona nodded and showed a cheerful smile, and just as she was about to say something, Vahn placed his hand on her head. “Don’t worry about it Tiona, I don’t blame you for anything. I’d rather we put everything behind us and look toward the future from now on.” Vahn had noticed she was acting down, and he wanted to cheer her up a bit.
Tiona rubbed her hair against his palm and let out a satisfied laugh as she nestled herself closer toward him. Vahn didn’t shy away from her affection, but he could see people giving them stares from the distance. Amongst the group of onlookers, Vahn saw Finn sighing with his hand on his forehead. Next to Finn, Riveria and Ais both looked over with their blank expressions, while Lefiya seemed to have calmed down a lot as she looked toward him with a small smile on her face.
Though everyone had different reactions, there was one person who seemed to be genuinely upset by the show of affection. Bete, who was standing amongst the elite members of the Loki Familia, looked at Vahn with a glare and a grimace. “You two gonna keep acting like idiots, or are you ready to do some actual work?” Tiona, who had been enjoying the moment, looked at Bete with a fierce expression. Ais also seemed offended as she muttered in a low and cold voice. “Jerk.”
Bete’s hair seemed to rise a bit as his expression turned very sour. It looked like he had just swallowed a bug, but instead of saying anything, he just glared toward Vahn with a dark expression in his eyes. “Really, a manly man. Hiding behind women suits you…” He spoke the words in a cruel and condescending manner which caused Vahn to frown deeply. Vahn didn’t know what Bete had against him; there hadn’t been anything between them, but Bete seemed adamant about trying to pick a fight with him.
Looking directly into Bete’s face, Vahn asked, “What do you have against me? I have never done anything to you.” Even if it was his ‘normal’ personality, Vahn was dissatisfied with the common poor treatment he received from Bete. Hearing Vahn’s question, Bete smiled and said snidely, “It is because you’re weak, yet you have people building expectations for you. Without strength, what can you do!? How can you protect anyone!?” Bete’s voice cracked a bit as he shouted out.
Vahn hadn’t known at the time, but Bete had lost most of the people he cared about due to his own selfishness and weakness. Nearly three years prior, Bete had been the Captain of the Vidar Familia. After he had obtained level 3 and became confident in his strength, he left the City to seek revenge against a fierce monster that had wiped out his clan. Unfortunately, when he should have returned back to the City in glory, he was instead met with tragedy. The majority of his Familia had been killed or injured while on an expedition, and to make matters worse, his Vice-Captain and lover had also died. Devastated, Bete spent the next few months squandering away all of his money while wasting away in pubs. It wasn’t until he had picked a fight with Finn and Gareth in a drunken stupor that he was torn away from his cycle of self-destruction.
After those events, Bete’s personality had changed a great deal. He was now focused entirely on increasing his strength, and whenever he saw those weaker than him, especially other males, he became irritated seeing how complacent they were. He couldn’t tolerate how they went about seemingly without a care, unaware that a single moment of carelessness could cost them everything they loved.
Though Vahn didn’t understand the reason, he could see Bete’s aura fluctuate as a deep blue color began to spread until it encompassed the green that had been present till now. He understood that, though Bete was trying to hide it behind his anger, he was suffering inside as he lashed out at Vahn.
It was very frustrating seeing how complex people could be, but he still didn’t think Bete had any right to take out his emotions on him.
Staring into the light-grey, pain-filled eyes of Bete, Vahn spoke, “Two years.” Bete frowned after hearing the low voice of Vahn. He screamed out, “What ‘two years’, huh!?” Vahn held the eye-contact as he continued in a firm voice, “In two years, I will prove to you that I am not the weakling you think. I will become stronger than you, strong enough to protect everything! Just because you failed, doesn’t mean I will fail!” The longer Vahn spoke, the more his emotions began to build, so by the end of his words, he had practically shouted.
Bete gnashed his teeth and looked like he was about to charge at Vahn. He had anger in his eyes and the onlookers thought he wanted to tear the brave dark-haired boy apart. Ais, Tiona, and Tione became alert and prepared to intercept if he tried to attack. However, contrary to expectations, Bete spoke through clenched teeth, “Don’t f*** it up.” With those parting words, Bete spit onto the ground and went to stand next to Gareth.
The moment he stood next to him, Gareth reached his hand over and patted Bete on the shoulder with a proud look on his face. Bete saw the look and clicked his tongue as he looked away from everyone. As nobody had expected Bete to suddenly stand down, there was a moment of silence among the entire group until Gareth loudly ‘harumphed’. Finn, who was also among the stunned onlookers, immediately clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention.
“Okay, it’s time for us to move out. We don’t have long to get everything set up, so we need to make haste to the 14th floor. Everyone keep your wits about you and stay safe.” Everyone in the area nodded toward Finn while some made small cheers and tried to psyche themselves up. Vahn could see that the morale of the group was actually pretty low, as most people had little to no confidence when it came to fighting something like a Juggernaut.
Vahn wanted to do something to change the atmosphere, so he let his domain expand until it covered the majority of the expedition party. Most people didn’t notice, but he got a few curious looks from some within the crowd. The one who was most interested was obviously Riveria, as she began to wonder what he was trying to do ‘this’ time. Reaching out his hands, Vahn tried channeling his [Hands of Nirvana] and infusing the effects into the domain. As he had been able to infuse almost all of his previous skills, Vahn was hoping he would be able to do so this time as well.
The gentle white light in his palms slowly dispersed as an almost imperceptible wave passed through the crowd. Suddenly, everyone felt warm energy penetrating their bodies, and all of their anxieties were slowly dissipating. Looking toward the boy who was standing with his arms outstretched toward them, they realized he was trying to help cheer everyone up. Some of the people in the crowd recognized Vahn from the earlier ‘events’, while others knew about him from the images that had circulated in the Hephaestus Familia recently.
Vahn noticed his attempt was a success, so he began trying to infuse the energy with greater efficiency this time around. The white light began to spread from his palms, as some people in the crowd began to get riled up due to his efforts. Some of them began laughing while others looked toward their comrades and saw the conviction in each other’s eyes. Nobody wanted to die, but it didn’t mean they had to go into the situation expecting to. Seeing such a small boy working so hard was a powerful motivation for a lot of the veteran adventurers.
Finn gave Vahn an appreciative smile as he loudly shouted out, “Let’s go kill ourselves a Juggernaut! Nothing can stop us if we work together~!” This time, instead of a dismissive acknowledgment of his orders, everyone in the camp loudly cheered, “Oooooooou~! Kill the Juggernaut!!” They loudly began making their way toward the stairs in much higher spirits.
Tiona, who had been standing next to Vahn, gave him a hug from behind and laughed in his ears. “Ahahaha, you really are a hero~! Just a casual wave of your hands and everyone became so much braver!” Feeling Tiona on his back, Vahn noticed there was a soft, yet very subtle-feeling pressing into him. His emotions began to rise a bit as a notification sounded in his mind.
//[Hands of Nirvana] increased to rank: B//
Suddenly, the light glow from his hands intensified as his emotions seemed to be conveyed into the area of his domain. Accompanying the ‘healing’ light, now people felt an excitement begin to well up inside of them. They began to cheer even louder, and Vahn felt like the entire atmosphere began to shift toward a peculiar direction. Tiona, who had been leaning on his back began to laugh out loud as she gave Vahn a big kiss on his cheek.
Releasing his neck, she lifted up the huge weapon she had left on the side and hefted it onto her shoulder. “Let’s go, let’s go~! Onwards to victory~!!” Tiona was in incredibly high spirits as she flailed her left arm about and practically danced while following along with the marching party. Vahn was in a slight daze as he watched her figure, and it wasn’t until the main group of the Loki Familia passed by him that he snapped out of it.
Ais approached him and stared at the light emitting from his hands. Reaching out her own, she traced her fingers through the light before she issued a small smile on her face. “It is a good feeling. Is this what you used on Lefiya?” Hearing Ais mention her name, Lefiya, who was standing behind her began to blush after recalling the earlier events. She had been the first to notice that the ‘light’ was what had ‘healed’ her earlier, but hearing Ais mention things made her blush slightly.
Vahn nodded his head at Ais’s question which prompted her to grab his hand and place it on top of her head. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth slightly as she enjoyed the sensation coming from his palms. “Nnn, it is very comfortable.” Vahn was shocked at her actions, and his energy fluctuated a bit and almost dispersed.
Sensing his struggles, Ais blushed a bit before removing his hand. She began to follow along with the rest of the group before looking back toward Vahn. “Let’s go Vahn…” She extended her hand out and Vahn walked forward to grab it. Ais had only intended to motion for him to follow, but seeing Vahn grab her hand and feeling the warm energy, she decided to keep her mouth shut. She walked alongside Vahn as they trailed slightly behind the main group. Lefiya, who was not much further behind them had a befuddled expression and looked like she was suffering from conflicting emotions.
Vahn and Ais noticed the writing elf, and after a brief hesitation, Ais extended her other hand. “Lefiya, come…” Lefiya, who had been losing herself in her own delusions, immediately snapped out of it. Seeing the extended hand, her face beamed and a slight blush appeared on her cheeks. She quickly closed the distance and grabbed the outstretched hand. She now had a content smile on her face as she walked side-by-side with Ais…and Vahn.
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Hand holding? Lewd!’,’The Lonely Elf’,’Will of the Emperor is bae’)