Chapter 328: Story Time

Vahn ended up being surrounded by eleven children, with the oldest being Rye, who was only nine years old. The youngest was only four and Vahn felt a twisting ache in his heart seeing such young and innocent kids living as orphans. Even without being told, Vahn could tell from Maria’s reaction when hearing that he was an Adventurer that most of the children here likely lost their families in the dungeon. Because of this, though some of the children resented Adventurer’s a bit, they all had an interest in the subject and happily listened to Vahn’s stories. Because they had tried to sit on the damage pues and floor, Vahn set down a large futon for them to use and passed out snacks.

Since he didn’t think his personal stories were worth telling, Vahn told them some of the heroics stories he had memorized in his mind. Because he enjoyed getting a rise out of them, Vahn added sound effects and even used his domain to create a few tricks using flames and props that he purchased through the system. He even used his [Thria*Mimos] ability to copy the racial traits of some of the kids and put on a small thematic demonstrastion for them when he got to the climax of the story. The kids were in high tensions and shouted along with the story and reacted to everything he said with wide eyes and excitement. Because he had been thinking about being a good father, Vahn felt like he needed to be good to these children or he wouldn’t be worthy of raising his own. Their reactions egged him on further and he got more and more excited even though he had long realized that Syr and Maria were quietly watching from a distance.

When Vahn made eye contact with Syr, she gave him a playful wink before leaning against her palm and watching him play with the children. Vahn returned a small smile to her and focused his attention on the kids, because he realized it was probably her intention to introduce him to the children from the outset. Even though he knew she probably wanted him to donate to the Orphanage and help take care of the kids, Vahn didn’t feel adverse to the situation at all. Most of the kids were cheerful and kind, even though life had seen fit to put them through an unjust situation at an early age. If possible, he’d like to see each of the kids grow up happy and healthy…

As Vahn was beginning a new story, he briefly locked eyes with a small half-elf girl with gold hair and pale-grey eyes. Vahn smiled at the child and asked, “What is your name little lady? What kind of stories do you like?” Vahn had noticed they were relatively docile and there were periods during his earlier stories where they stared off blankly into space. Hearing Vahn address her, the girl looked up and said, “Umm…you think I’m a…?” Vahn tilted his head as if he were trying to understand what she was trying to say.

The young half-elf averted her eyes and asked quietly, “You don’t think I’m a boy?” Vahn noticed that she kept her hair short and dressed like the other boys in the orphanage, but he thought she was just a tomboy. Even though they were very young, they had a very ‘handsome’ appearance, but there was no way someone like Vahn would be fooled by surface appearances. His understanding of the physiology of every race within the record could be said to be well above most experts. There were also subtle differences between the auras of boys and girls, so the young half-elf couldn’t trick him even if she was a specialist and master of disguise.

Vahn noticed some of the kids had strange reactions, but he just politely smiled and asked, “Would you rather I pretend you are a boy?” The half-elf girl looked up at Vahn’s face for several seconds without saying anything. After an awkward silence persisted in the air for a while, they little girl said, “I like stories where the hero saves the princess…” Vahn squinted his eyes because he realized she had tried to sweep aside the matter without addressing it. He assumed she had some form of trauma that made her want to act like a boy, so Vahn decided to play along as he started narrating a story about a hero that slew the dragon that protected a castle where a sleeping princess waited for rescue.

Not long after the story, Maria walked over and clapped her hands to get the children’s attention before saying, “Lunch is ready children, make sure to thank Vahn before running off to wash your hands. Since its a special occassion, I prepared some treats for everyone.” Maria had a gentle smile on her face, even though she spoke with a firm and guiding tone. The children all listened to her words and ran off to a side room, probably where the bath and sink was located. Once again, the little chienthrope named Fina stayed behind as she tugged on Vahn’s tunic and waved him down to her level. He leaned down as she cupped her hand near his ear and whispered quietly, “Roux is scared of being a girl, so she tries to act like a boy. Don’t be mad with her, okay?”

Vahn smiled kindly at patted Fina’s head as he said in a gentle tone, “You’re a very kind girl Fina. Make sure to take care of her, and don’t worry, I won’t be upset over something like that.” The cream-haired chienthrope giggled sheepishly before leaning forward and planting a sneaky kiss on his cheek before running off laughing. When she ran off, Syr walked over and giggled before saying, “Ara~? Do I need to warn the other girls on the network about a future competitor?” Vahn shook his head with a wry smile and said, “She’ll be happier with someone near her own age. She is similar to Tina, in a way, and I think she just has a small crush on me for being handsome…”

Syr released a bell-like chuckle and asked in a teasing voice, “Oh, do you really think so highly of yourself~?” Vahn scanned the surroundings briefly and knew that only he and Syr were around so he unabashedly unequipped his tunic before striking a ‘heroic’ pose that he used as the reference for one of Eva’s sculpts. Syr was unable to adapt to the sudden change and immdiately burried her face into her hands with a fierce blush on her face as she berrated in a ‘harsh’ tone, “You dummy~! This isn’t the time or the place for things like that. I’m going to tell all the girls, just you wait, hmph, hmph!” Vahn pretended to be heavily affected by Syr’s words and put on a heavy act of dejection as he muttered, “So I guess you don’t think I’m handsome…” Even though he could equip it instantly, Vahn put on a show of slowly wearing his tunic while refusing to look at Syr. He knew that, the moment she saw his face, Syr would be able to see through his act without issue.

Hearing Vahn’s words, Syr peeked up through her hands with an ‘Eh?’ sound as she watched him wear his tunic. She furrowed her brows slightly, because she was around 99% sure that Vahn was teasing her. However, that 1% scared her enough to flusteredly remark, “No, don’t misunderstand Vahn, I think you’re very handsome…uhhh, what are you making me say you bully.” Though she was accustomed to teasing and manipulating others, Syr was actually incredibly bad at receiving the teasing of others. Her face was beet red while her aura fluttered about chaoticly as she bured her face into her palms in an abashed manner.

Vahn released a ‘relieved’ sigh before he finished buttoning his tunic and looking toward Syr with a small smile. The moment she saw his face, Syr bit her bottom lip because she knew she had walked right into Vahn’s trap. She wanted to complain, but Vahn closed to distance between them in the blink of an eye before stroking the side of her face gently and saying, “How fortunate…I’m afraid I wouldn’t be worthy of such a beautiful girl if I weren’t handsome enough.” The moment Syr opened her mouth to say something, Vahn leaned forward and sealed her slightly parted lips for a few seconds until he detected a presence approaching. He pulled away and stared into her ‘aggreived’ face with a smile before stepping away and creating a small distance between them.

The person to show up had been Rye, and he saw the fiercely flushing Syr with teary eyes before he pointed his index finger straight at Vahn and shouted, “Ah, I told you not to hurt big sis! I thought you were a cool guy, but it looks like I’ll have to teach you a lesson~! Oooooh, just you wait Vahn!” Rye then ran over and grabbed Syr’s hand as he pulled her along towards the dining area and said, “Come on sis, you don’t need to listen to this guy!” Syr allowed herself to be pulled along as she looked back at Vahn with a slightly confused expression as if she didn’t know how to deal with the situation. Vahn sent her a wink that made her blush harder before she shot out her tongue and followed along with Rye.

Vahn released a short sigh before turning his attention to the rather disheveled church that was in a rather sorry state of disrepair. Since it was located near Daedelus Street, this Orphanage was one of the poorer ones and Maria likely moved to this area to care for the numerous children that needed her help. She seemed like a very selfless person, so it was rather unfortunate that her Orphanage was in such a state. He suspected that Syr had probably brought him by so that he would help contribute to the orphanage in the future, and everything he saw made him want to do what he could.

Though he hadn’t seen it much, Vahn had noticed hundreds of orphans and homeless people within Daedelus street, including some living in the underground tunnels below the streets. Vahn didn’t have anything to compare it to personally, but he knew the social structure of this world could benefit from the development of infrastructure and the introduction of an organized education system. There were massive gaps in the technological development of different nations, and the main focus for most wealthy, or those apsiring to be wealthy, was becoming an Adventurer.

Because this not only increased their wealth, but their strength as well, it was a very lucrative path for many people to follow. The unfortunate downside of this, however, as the several thousand people that died within the dungeon each year. It was due to the average lifespan of most races in this world not exceeding 50 that had brought the age of adulthood down to 14 for the majority. It wasn’t uncommon for people to start building families in their later teens, and to have multiple children in their twenties depending on their financial situation. There were few people that lived to die of old age, because there was also no established medical system and elixers were incredibly expensive. For any major illness, it could typically cost hundred of thousands of Valis to try and cure, and it could potentially cost millions if it was something serious. This was well out of the affordable range for most people, since it was even possible to buy a small Manor for as little as 300-500,000V.

There were also concepts like slavery in this world, and there was a massive difference in the treatment of different races within established society. Vahn was beginning to realize that the world at large was a complicated mess and that he would have to contend against these matters in the future. He wanted his children to grow up in a world of acceptance, surrounded by endless posibilities instead of a self-perpetuating cycle of hatred and sadness. It wouldn’t be easy, and he might not even accomplish it within his entire stay within the record, but Vahn felt like it was worth making an effort. By the time he conquered the dungeon, there would be few things that could sotp his momentum, even at the political level. His existence already irreverstibly altered the status quo of the world and he now had powerful allies at his back to help him move forward.

The moment the other children started exiting the bathroom, Vahn smiled at them and followed along behind as they made their way to the dining room together. One of the children, a young boy around six years old with blue hair and eyes, looked up and asked with a hopeful expression in his eyes, “Will you tell more story after lunch?” Vahn smiled and ruffled the small boy’s hair and said in a kind tone, “Sure, I’ll tell one especially for you…ah, you never told me your name.” The boy smiled widely and Vahn noticed he was missing a few of his baby teeth as he said, “I’m Tristan!” Vahn quickly scanned through his memories before nodding and saying, “Sure, I know just the story to tell…it’s called, ‘Tristan, the Brave’. It’s about a hero that travels to a foreign land to slay an evil spirit and remove a curse that is destroying the kingdom’s crops.”

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Hearing that the story’s hero shared the same name as him, little Tristan got fired up and asked excitedly, “Is that really the name of the story!?” Vahn laughed at his excitement and pulled a blue book that was surprisingly close to the color of Tristan’s hair. He was too young to read the golden text, but Vahn said confidently, “These words say the tile of the book, and when you learn to read you’ll be able to understand that they say ‘Tristan, the Brave’.” Little Tristan nodded his head happily as he traced his hands over the familiar letter of his own name and said, “It has my name on it…I wonder if I can be a hero too?”

At this point, they had already arrived in the dining room and several children looked over when Tristan asked his question. Vahn scanned over the expectant eyes, including those of Syr and Maria, before he kneeled down next to Tristan and placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Without any hesitation in his voice, Vahn said confidently while looking into the deep blue eyes of the boy, “If you put in the effort and work hard, you can be anything you choose to be…hero, adventurer, or a proud craftsman. For those that are willing to work hard, there are no limits in life, just different paths…it is up to you where you wish to walk. Never give up, and you’ll one day be able to look back on life and compare yourself with the hero in the book. Depending on how things play out, and your own convictions, you might find their accomplishments to pale in comparison to your own. Work hard, Tristan, I believe in you…”

As if he had set off a small explosion, every kid at the table started making a ruckus and asking Vahn if they could be the various things they wanted to be in the future. Seven of them wanted to be Adventurers, and Vahn enourged them to work hard and find a Familia full of people they could trust. If they did their jobs as supporters, they would be able to become Adventurers as early as twelve, but only if they worked hard and trained seriously. Fina, unlike the majority of the children, wanted to be a doctor and help at the Orphanage when she got older. Tristan wanted to be a ‘hero’, just like in the story. The little half-elf girl, Roux, said she wanted to be a scholar and a doctor. As for the remaining two, they were too young to have a proper understanding of what was going on, so they just excitedly joined in on the conversation and said silly things as everyone sat down to enjoy the meal.

Vahn noticed the dishes weren’t very nutritious, and even the ‘treats’ offered by Maria were just hard candies. He was afraid to embarrass her, so he just offered a few small pieces of jerky to compliment the meal, as there was almost no meat within the relatively thin vegetable soup and hard black bread. Before he left, he planned to leave purchase a few goods that would keep well within the winter and also wanted to give them a few small futons for the childrens to use, as well as a number of thick blankets. As for Valis, Vahn passed his eyes over all the children and decided that it wouldn’t be difficult to support them financially so he decided to give Maria 110,000V, 10,000 for each child present. It wasn’t much, but Vahn didn’t want to spoil them and would leave the final decision to Syr and Maria. He could always make other contributions to the Orphanage other than Valis, and that would be able to make the children happy without drawing the attention of anyone with bad intentions.

After the lunch, Vahn told a few more stories to the children while also passively recovering any wounds they had on their bodies, including the several cuts on Rye. He gave them a few small toys and games to play with when he was away and told them the importance of looking out for each other, even though the entire group seemed to get along well. The kids were excited to receive so many things from Vahn, especially when he gave them each their own small futon and three blankets each. Several of the younger children had to share a bed, and a large number of the blankets had old stains and holes in them. Before he left with Syr, Vahn talked with her and Maria about things that he wanted to do to help the children from now on. Maria had an appreciative look on her face and gave Vahn a very sincere bow as she expressed her gratitude for his kindness.

On their way back to the Hostess of Fertility, Vahn escorted Syr along in silence for a while as she held onto his arm tightly and leaned into his shoulder. Over the course of his stay within the orphanage, her affection had increased from 451 to 779 and he knew she was probably in a very good mood even though he didn’t do anything other than what he thought he should do. In fact, he felt like he didn’t do enough and even wanted to find a way to help more people, not just the children at Maria’s Orphanage. After nearly twenty minutes of silence, just as they exited Daedelus Street, Vahn stopped and looked into Syr’s eyes as he said in a serious tone, “Syr…there are so many things I don’t understand…but I know that there are some things that just aren’t right. Please, if you think of anything I can do to help, never be afraid to reach out to me…I want to do what I can to make sure every child has the right to a brighter future…”

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As he was speaking, Vahn thought about, not only his own past, but Syr’s tragic origins as well. Even though they were in the middle of the street, Vahn wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her tightly as he said, “What we went through…I don’t want any other children to have to experience such tragedy. Lets do our best from now on…it may never be possible, but I feel it is a goal worth aspiring towards…” The moment Vahn’s words finished, he heard a few loud notifications in his head, including one which showed that Syr’s love parameter had jumped from 779 to 1002 in an instant. He looked into her eyes and could see they were wavering slightly but there was a powerful light deep within. She reached up and grabbed the sides of his face before an amorous blushed appeared on her’s and she said, “I feel like I love you more and more every time you open your foolish little mouth…uuuh Vahn, you hopelessly optimistic and handsome boy~!” Before he could say anything to ‘defend’ himself, Syr leaned forward and passionately kissed him while completely disregarding the gawking onlookers.

Vahn enjoyed her fragrance and the invasive little tongue that gingerly traced around the inside of his mouth in an inexperienced fashion. He held her body close and, since there were more than a few people that weren’t minding their own business, used Shundo to disappear from the streets. They reappeared on top of a nearby building, and Syr didn’t even seem to notice the change in scenery as she tightly grasped the collar of his tunic and sought his lips for nearly an entire minute. By the time she pulled away and looked at the surroundings, Syr had a silly expression on her blushing face as she asked, “Ano…how did we get on the roof?” Vahn held her body closer and then used Shundo to appear more than 400m away on a different roof in a split second. There was no burst of speed, or change in momentum, so Syr thought they had teleported as she looked around with an expression of shock. Before she could clarify matters, Vahn leaned closely and whispered, “I wonder if I can get us all the way to the Hostess of Fertility within the duration of a single kiss…” Syr’s eyes opened wide and it seemed like she wanted to rebuke him, but it was Vahn’s turn to take the initiatve and seize her lips as they vanished from the roof yet again.

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