Chapter 337: Illusion, or Reality?

Since he had detected their arrival, Vahn parted ways with Gareth and left behind the small barrel for his own personal use. Gareth’s tolerance was incredible and he was able to work away, albeit slowly, at the miniature keg without any major difficulties. Vahn was curious how his body was able to process the alcohol so easily and he noticed some kind of strange, microscopic, creatures inside of his stomach that broke down the majority of the alcohol before process the rest as normal water. He knew these were bacteria since he had seen plenty in the bodies of others when viewing them with his [Eyes of Truth]. Since Dwarves were known for their tolerance, Vahn suspected there was a unique quality in their stomachs which allowed them to cultivate the special bacteria inside of their bodies without adversely affection their physiology at all. It was a very unique thing, so Vahn made sure to document it within a journal for future study.

After leaving the tent, Vahn saw the girls walking over and stepped forward to catch Tiona who had jumped at him the moment they made eye contact. She began rubbing her face against his and laughing cheerfully as she said, “Yay, Vahn~! I can’t wait to see you pummel that dumb monster tomorrow~!” Vahn placed his hands around Tiona’s waist before giving her a short kiss on the lips which caused her smile to increase in size. From behind her, or ahead of Vahn, Ais walked over and said, “Tiona, be careful.” Tiona laughed in a silly manner before dropping from Vahn’s body and saying in a playful tone, “I know, I know~! Just make sure you don’t hog him all to yourself, ahahaha~.”

Before Ais could step forward to get a hug of her own, Fenrir beat her to the punch and shouted, “Vahn, Fenrir is all clean now~!” Vahn habitually stroked her head and said, “Yes, that is very good Fenrir. Did you get along with everyone?” Fenrir’s body twitched a bit before she looked to the side as if she were refusing to make eye contact and said, “Fenrir is a good girl…” Vahn gave a wry smile before looking around at the other girls and seeing they all had somewhat awkward expressions on their faces. Ais was the least affected, but she walked over and tilted her head to the side to stare at Fenrir and said, “It is my turn…?” Fenrir looked at her and frowned deeply before finally letting go of Vahn’s waist. Ais smiled and said, “You are a good girl…thank you.”

Vahn shared a hug, and a short kiss, with Ais before they all started talking about the battle tomorrow. It was decided that Vahn would be fighting alone since he really wanted to test his own growth. The last major stint he spent in the dungeon ended not long after his fight against the Goliath, and it had been a somewhat close fight. His parameters had grown a fair bit, though not nearly as high as he’d like, but his overall capabilities had increased greatly. When they heard about his plan, Tiona got very excited because she imagined the image of Vahn fighting against the Goliath bare-handed again. She even had a small expectation that he might burn away his clothes, but Vahn assured her things ‘should’ go well.

As the crystals overhead started to dim slightly, Vahn decided it was time to head back to their own camp so he parted with the girls after a few short embraces and polite words. He even decided to give Tione a short hug, since she had been ‘struggling’ for a while at trying to keep her own cool. Perhaps unwilling to be left out, and at the incitement of Ais, Lefiya stepped forward to receive some head pats and a very brief hug. Vahn then let Fenrir ride on his back, since she had been asking, and then rapidly made his way through the forest with Fenrir happily pointing the way with her devastatingly sharp claws.

A few minutes later, they arrived near the campsite and Vahn carried Fenrir the rest of the way as she wobbled about on his back. She was very careful to prevent her claws from pricking him, but it didn’t stop her from moving about in a very hyperactive manner as she pointed toward every small bug and animal they came across. When a stray Almiraj had wandered along the path, she looked like she wanted to jump off his back to attack it but just growled until it ran away. Vahn laughed and asked, “Are you going to let it run away?” Fenrir nodded and said plainly, “Fenrir wants to stay with Vahn longer. Vahn not carry Fenrir when she has bloody fur.” Vahn mused and asked, “You sure you don’t want to get messy so I have to clean you again?” Fenrir didn’t seem to care that she had been ‘exposed’ and said, “Vahn said he would bathe Fenrir later. Fenrir enjoy sitting on Vahn’s back for now. Ehkekeke.”

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After arriving at the campsite, Vahn let Fenrir of his back and she separated without a struggle before running off toward the campfire where everyone was preparing dinner. Vahn walked over as well and Aki explained with a polite smile, “We checked the area, there aren’t any other Adventurers nearby so things should be relatively safe. We’ll be running security in shifts tonight, just to give the girls experience in guarding a camp.” Vahn nodded his head and patted Aki’s ears as he said, “Thanks for your efforts.” Aki laughed cheerfully and said, “It’s my pleasure, Vahn~.”

Not long after they arrived, dinner was prepared and Vahn enjoyed the roasted meat, even though it was somewhat bland. It was a very reminiscent smell and taste, so Vahn ate it gratefully and thanked the twins for their efforts since they had been the primary cooks this time around. After dinner, Vahn set up his own tent quickly before taking Fenrir over to the nearby pond and washing up. As promised, he helped clean her body thoroughly before washing her somewhat bristly hair and removing any stray debris that was contained within. She had already been cleaned earlier, but Vahn still went through the motions since she seemed to be enjoying herself. Afterward, he took a dip himself and washed off before meeting up with Ryuu. He had promised to go visit the grave site of the Astrea Familia with her and he didn’t want to keep her waiting for too long.

Ryuu had been waiting in her Adventurer attire near the outskirts of the camp and smiled at Vahn as he approached with an apologetic expression on his face. Without waiting for any excuses he might come up with, Ryuu nodded and said, “Let’s go, Vahn…” She then started running off through the woods and left Vahn to chase behind her after blanking for a short moment. After a few minutes, Vahn felt like his senses were being messed with a bit, but he was nearly immune to most illusions so managed to follow Ryuu easily. He used his [Eyes of Truth] to look around and saw several runes carved into trees, almost like a formation had been set up in the area.

Eventually, Ryuu turned behind her and smiled after noticing that Vahn had kept pace even through the illusion barrier called ‘Magical Forest Illusion’ that was meant to make people lose their way and wander back to the outskirts. When Vahn stopped next to her, she said, “It doesn’t seem like I can get away from you so easily…I’m glad.” Vahn blinked and asked, “Were you trying to run away?” Ryuu laughed, uncharacteristic of herself, and said with a cheerful smile on her face, “I’ve been running away for a long time…I think it’s about time I stop. I’m glad you came here with me…Vahn.” Ryuu reached into her pouch and pulled out some flowers that had been wrapped in a special container to prevent them from wilting. Without explaining anything, she walked over into the clearing where a mound full of weapons could be seen. Vahn could see various different weapons, nine in total, that were placed about and understood they likely served as the grave markers for her former comrades.

Ryuu placed the white flowers on the grave, one for each weapon, before kneeling down and placing her hands together in silent prayer. Vahn watched from the side, and he could see Ryuu’s aura dim a great deal and it made his heart ache for her. Though he might have been able to help if he had been present, there wasn’t anything he could do for her friends now that they had been dead for several years. The only thing he could do was support Ryuu and help her move forward so that she could honor the lives of her friends, instead of mourning their deaths. He knew she had already sought revenge for them in the past, but she didn’t seem to have moved on after the fact.

Vahn observed the grave for a bit but was primarily focused on Ryuu’s actions as she continued to pray in silence. He didn’t really know what the best course of action to take was, but Vahn decided that doing nothing wasn’t the answer. He took a deep breath before walking forward and standing next to Ryuu. He noticed she was paying attention to him, even though she didn’t look directly at him. Vahn stood straight in solemn silence for a while before sitting on his knees next to Ryuu. He then bowed reverently toward the grave site and said in a solemn voice, “Please, leave Ryuu to me from now on…I will make sure she is able to find her happiness again. I won’t let her feel lonely and lost anymore.”

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Ryuu turned her head toward Vahn but he didn’t match her gaze and continued to address the grave site, “I did not know you in life, but I will protect that which you left behind. Please rest easy knowing I will always do my best to provide sanctuary for Ryuu from no onwards. No matter how difficult things get, I will weather the storm at her side and protect her from harm. I hope your souls find comfort and you are able to live a free and unfettered life in all of your future incarnations…” As he finished his words, Vahn bowed low enough to touch the ground and remained silent for nearly a full minute before straightening his back. He turned to look at the blank face of Ryuu and smiled before saying, “Sorry, I made the decision on my own…it’s just, you have so few expressions…I’d rather see you happy than in pain with a sad expression on your face. You are far more beautiful when you smile, it’s like each time I see it I’ve obtained a rare treasure…”

Vahn’s own words echoed in his mind and he could feel his tensions rising as a warm feeling spread to his cheeks. Ryuu continued to look at him with a serious expression for a while before a small smile appeared on her face. As if a seed had been planted, her smile slowly widened until it bloomed into a beautiful arc that enhanced Ryuu’s beauty to a level that could rival goddesses. She reached out with her left hand and grabbed his right before saying in a whispering tone, “I’m glad you were the one to take my hand, Vahn…I feel like I can finally start moving forward again. I don’t want to make my comrades sad by continuing to live a life as a wanted criminal and vigilante.” Ryuu leaned against his shoulder and stared at the grave site with slightly moist eyes.

Vahn stroked the delicate hand of Ryuu for a while before saying in a quiet tone, “I believe you…I feel like this is the first time you took the initiative to grab my hand ever since we met…” Vahn felt a tiny movement against his neck and turned his head to see Ryuu’s ear droop a bit with a rosy hue to it as she turned to look at their connected hands. After a few seconds of silence, she looked up into Vahn’s eyes with her watery sky-blue gems and said, “You know…my best friend…Alise…she told me that if there were ever a boy that could grab my hand…that I should never let him go. I feel like I understand what she meant better now…” Ryuu squeezed Vahn’s hand with a bit of strength before asking with a somewhat bashful smile that he had never seen before, “Is it fine…if I hold onto you forever?” As her words fell, so to di Ryuu’s head as she peered up at Vahn’s face with upturned eyes and discreetly bit her bottom lip.

Vahn squinted his eyes slightly with a happy smile before reaching out with his left hand and tilted Ryuu’s face upward. Before she said anything further, Vahn whispered in a quiet tone, “It looks like I have a life debt to Ms. Alise…I should start paying it off as soon as possible.” Vahn then stroked the right side of Ryuu’s face before leaning forward and sharing what would become one of the longest and emotional kisses he would ever enjoy with an elf…

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//Ryuu Lion Affection has Reached the Maximum//

//Quest Completed: [The Hearts Desire:C-SS]//

Completion Grade: A

Rewards:10,000OP, 1x[Hearts Desire: Ryuu Lion]

Grade Rewards: 1x[Seed of the Tree of Life], 1x[Fairy Promenade], 8,000OP

[Seed of the Tree of Life]

Rank: Unique

Use: Can bloom anywhere, including barren wastelands, toxic swamps, and even the void itself. Promotes the growth of all plant life in an area 40x wider than the tree is tall. Cleans the air and creates a natural barrier against toxins, poisons, miasma, and evil creatures. The branches of this tree can be used to make powerful magic staves and relics while the leaves can be used to create potent potions and healing salves.

(Warning: Grows by a rate of 1m per month until maturity and then at an additional 1m per year for up to 1,000 years.)

[Fairy Promenade]

Rank: Unique

Use: When active, all trees, plant life, and animals open a path for the user to pass unhindered.

Prohibits those with malicious intent from following using the forces of nature itself to halt their advance. Duration:2H

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