Vahn and Ryuu sat together before the gravesite until the crystals overhead had made the transition from being red, like sunset, until they began to glimmer like stars in the dark night sky. Ryuu released an uncharacteristic sigh, so Vahn asked, “Is everything okay, Ryuu?” She separated from his shoulder before turning toward him with a gentle smile as she said, “I was just thinking about a few matters…It’s been a long time since I thought about the future and I only just realized I hadn’t been considering matters properly for a long time. Ever since Syr saved me…I’ve just been living day-to-day, at least until…” Ryuu’s face showed a light blush and she squeezed Vahn’s hand without continuing her words.
Vahn stroked her hand with his thumb and stared into her sky blue eyes for several long seconds, unable to think of an answer to alleviate her concerns. After a short moment of hesitation, Vahn assumed a thoughtful look as he ruminated over matters as he spoke, “Ryuu…I don’t really know what the future holds. So much has changed in such a short period of time that living in the moment is all I’ve been able to do. Without so many people supporting me, I feel like I would have probably fallen in the Dungeon alone at some point…now, all I can do is my best to prepare for the future, but I also don’t know the best path to take. All I’ve understood after arriving at the City is…when we work together, we’re capable of overcoming anything…”
Ryuu squinted her eyes and tilted her head slightly as she said, “Maybe that is what it means to live…enjoying each moment, hoping for the future, but not living to shape it. Working hard to overcome your own limits and finding capable allies to stand with…it reminds me a lot of the past.” Ryuu’s smile widened a bit in reminiscence before she turned to Vahn and said, “I think it’s fine…to live in the moment. If we make the most of it, only compromising for everyone’s shared happiness, I think things will always turn out for the better. I want to see it…the future you’ll create by trying your best…it seems so…full of light.” Ryuu laughed in a gentle tone before continuing, “Sorry, I was thinking of how Chloe described you…that girl is quite devoted. She even became strong enough to confront Syr…well, just a bit.”
Vahn imagined the scene of the cool and mischevious Chloe confronting the stoic, elegant, and somewhat manipulative Syr. He already knew Chloe did her best to protect him in her own way, but he never imagined she would clash against Syr, likely on his behalf…even though she was only Level 1, Vahn couldn’t easily imagining anyone getting an edge against the beautiful demigoddess. She had a way to see the true nature and desires of a person and her ability to manipulate them was based on that principle. By guiding them in the direction they would have chosen for themselves, but making it appear as though she was the reason they arrived at that point, Syr was able to earn the trust of people on a fundamental level. She had even done the same when she took him to the Orphanage since there was no part of his character that would have been able to resist helping the children, especially since they had a connection to her…
Ryuu leaned against Vahn’s shoulder and released a relieved sigh as she said, “I can see why Syr places all of her hopes in you…even though you know her character, you don’t shy away from it at all. You have an accepting heart capable of empathizing with everyone you meet…even your enemies at times. It’s good that someone like you appeared in her…our lives…she was a very sad and lonely girl before, even though she always had a smile on her face. She plays her schemes up a bit, but she is fundamentally a very kind and gentle girl who helps everyone she can…” Vahn nodded and said, “I know…I can’t say with absolute certainty, but I feel like I know Syr almost better than anyone else. We’re on similar wavelengths most of the time and can read each other well…hahahaha.”
After he finished laughing, Vahn leaned forward so Ryuu moved away from his body as he stood up from the ground before helping her stand. She dusted off her leaf-green cloak a bit before Vahn leaned forward and planted another kiss on her somewhat pale pink lips. After they parted, Vahn moved Ryuu’s hair to the side and gently stroked her left ear with his right hand. Her teeth chattered almost imperceptibly as she tilted her head with a light blush. Vahn smiled at her reaction and said, “I wish I could see you like this more often…I know I’ve said it before, but your presence has a calming effect on my mind and body.” Ryuu grabbed his hand before he could do anything else and said in a quiet tone, “Soon…well…” She shook her head and said, “Let’s go, it should almost be time for my shift and the others may be getting worried.”
Ryuu tried to move forward while still holding Vahn’s hand but he stood his ground, even though he had nearly been knocked off balance by their parameter difference. She looked back with a confused look and Vahn smiled as he said, “This is a rare opportunity, so let’s take our time returning. There is something about escorting a beautiful elf through an enchanted forest in the middle of the night that makes my heart beat excitedly.” To indicate this, Vahn pulled Ryuu’s hand until it rested against his chest. He had been telling the truth, as most of Ryuu’s behaviors stirred something inside of him and made him want to spend time with her. There was also a strange desire to ‘tease’ her a bit, and Vahn felt like it was something about the racial traits of half-elves and Elves in general. Something about their stoic, composed appearances and gentle demeanors made Vahn want to get a rise out of them.
For a few moments, Ryuu felt Vahn’s heart beating powerfully in his chest as she considered showing that her heart was also beating quite hard. Imagining Vahn placing his hand on her breast only made the beating faster so she decided against mentioning it as she fell into a spot close to Vahn’s side. He smiled in return and they held hands the entire way back, which took nearly forty minutes considering their relatively leisurely pace. She also felt like it was a calming experience to walk through the forest together and even entrusted herself to Vahn’s guidance as she walked along with her eyes closed and enjoyed the cool wind against her skin alongside the comforting warmth coming from Vahn’s body.
When they arrived at the camp, it had been Maemi that was on duty as she came forward to greet the two that had already separated. Ryuu still had an aversion to public displays of affection, but Vahn didn’t hold it against her since she had allowed him to escort her for such a long period of time. As Maemi had indeed been covering Ryuu’s shift, Vahn sent her off to join Emiru after refusing to let Ryuu take over and cover both shifts. Since he had been the reason for the scheduling conflict, Vahn ‘ordered’ her to get some rest as he assumed the post himself. She didn’t have much resistance against him when it was just the two of them, so Ryuu eventually nodded her head and said, “Good night, Vahn.” Vahn watched her walk off to the tent she shared with Aki before climbing up a tall tree, out of the common line of sight, and laying on the branch while spreading his domain to his limit. If anything entered within 451m of their location, Vahn would be able to detect them, even if they had a powerful stealth ability.
After twenty minutes passed, Vahn called out in a quiet voice, “Go ahead, I don’t mind.” With his permission, the small figure that had been sneaking around since he first took his post eventually popped up and trotted over to the base of the tree he was resting on. A few seconds later, the figure scuttled up the tree before stepping onto the same branch and saying, “Fenrir smelled Vahn come back…Vahn not sleep inside tent?” Vahn laughed before gesturing to the small girl as she gingerly crawled onto his stomach before curling up into a small ball seemingly giving up hearing the answer to her question as she almost immediately fell asleep.
A gentle smile appeared on Vahn’s face as he affectionately caressed the somewhat prickly hair of the spoiled little wolf girl. Every time he was together with her, Vahn felt like his soul was being healed, almost like she was therapeutic to him. Other than the desire to spend time together, Fenrir had no complex thoughts regarding him and, even though she could literally rip him apart, Vahn felt comfortable around her. Though he didn’t show it enough, Vahn felt like Fafnir and Fenrir were like his own children, and he worried a lot about their growth and mental development.
Unfortunately, unless they could get recognition from the citizens of Orario, it was impossible for Fafnir to flit about aboveground. His massive, and intimidating, body was more than enough to send crowds running. There was also a very real chance that he would draw the attention of disreputable sorts that would try to claim him for themselves. Though the somewhat childish dragon was a very powerful Level 5, it wasn’t remotely close to being unbeatable. Even Hestia, with a simple spear, would be able to slay Fafnir if she managed to contact the blue scar covering a large swath of its chest.
As for Fenrir, she was arguably more troublesome than the massive Fafnir, since she was something of an unstable existence. If he was away for a few days, Vahn was absolutely certain she would go on a rampage and potentially even harm her own allies. Other than himself, Vahn didn’t know anyone that would be able to reliably calm her down, as even Ryuu was unable to do so without a great deal of effort. Vahn assumed Preasia might be capable of the feat, but she wasn’t the type that would venture into the Dungeon unless there was a drastic change in her personality. She was a timid, somewhat docile girl, and disliked dark, cold, and humid places like the Dungeon. Vahn was very aware of her reasons, so he had absolutely no intention of trying to force the issue, even though he knew she would probably try if he asked.
Since he had been worried about it, Vahn had been discussing the matter with Hephaestus, Eina, and Loki to try and find a solution. The best bet seemed to expose Fafnir’s existence during the Monster Feria and showing to the entire City that he was perfectly ‘tame’. Vahn felt a little uncomfortable publicizing such a thing because he had long stopped feeling like they were his subordinates. Though he could ‘force’ them to obey his orders through exploiting their Loyalty, Vahn was happier earning their trust through his actions and guidance. He felt that this was the reason Fafnir and Fenrir were so affectionate to him, and even treated him as something akin to a father figure. Of course, there was the slightly unnerving fact that both of them would ‘accidentally’ call him Master every now and then.
After finishing up Ryuu’s shift, Vahn stayed on his post for an additional two hours and covered Maemi’s actual shift as well. When his time was finally up, Vahn patted Fenrir’s back to stir her awake before carrying her down to the ground. She only made a cursory effort to wake up before laying her face on his shoulder and hugging loosely around his neck as he carried her like a sleeping child towards the tents. Vahn woke up Haruhime and gave her a few minutes to get ready before retiring to his own tent alongside the sleeping Fenrir. Since he didn’t get to spoil her much recently, Vahn let her sleep with him, as it had been a while since they shared a bed together. She actually got very stressed out if she slept alone and had never spent a night after becoming a girl alone.
Even after retiring to his tent, Vahn kept his domain active as he fell asleep cuddling the somewhat hot body of Fenrir. Her normal body temperature was around 40 degrees Celcius, so she was much warmer than most people, not that it made much of a difference to Vahn. Even if he took a dip in molten orichalcum, which could reach temperatures of 1200 degrees, Vahn would remain completely unphased. Of course, Vahn didn’t use his [Heart of the Eternal Flame] and actually kept his body somewhat cooler than normal so she could sleep comfortably.
The next morning, Vahn awoke around 5 AM and roused Fenrir from her ‘happy’ slumber before exiting the tent to muster everyone else. He had assumed she was ‘happy’ because she had her somewhat crooked smile on her sleeping face. After everyone awoke, Vahn passed out some crepes that he had stored within his inventory. When had free time after visiting Hephaestus’s workshop, Vahn had stopped over and visited the middle-aged man, named Ivaan, that ran the crepe stand he used to frequent often in the past. He bought the entire stock before leaving the kindly man a tip of 100,000V as gratitude for how delicious his crepes were. As he accepted the large tip, he teasingly asked Vahn if he were single and offered to introduce his granddaughter to him. Vahn laughed away the offer as he imagined the reactions of the other girls on the network if he picked up a vendor’s offered grandaughter.
Vahn was happy to see that everyone enjoyed the crepes and he planned to patronize Ivaan’s stall more often in the future. If possible, he’d even be willing to act as an investor to popularize the delicious treat. Though he knew the man enjoyed serving customers, they had often made small talk and Vahn heard some of the complaints that he had about life. Ivaan’s son made a living as an Adventurer, but he had never been able to exceed Level 2 even though he was nearly thirty years old. Because his son was often away in the dungeon, Ivaan had looked after his granddaughter since she was a baby and had opened the crepe stand to help support the relatively small family. Vahn thought it would be better if he could hire people to work for him as he ran the business from the background while looking after his family without having to spend hours a day working a stall in the market.
After collecting all the tents, Vahn stowed them away in his inventory before leading the group toward the stairs leading up to the 17th floor. He was supposed to meet the Loki Familia in the adjoining room to the Wall of Despair, and there was a real possibility they had left even earlier to ‘reserve’ the spawn. There were few parties that would try to contend with the Loki Familia for the rights to a Monster Rex, as they currently hold the record of the most kills within the entire City. The Familia as a whole had slain a total of 139 Monster Rex(s) that they had reported to the Guild and gotten credit for. The Freya Familia was a distant second place, as they had only eliminated a total of 71 reported kills.
As expected, the Hestia Familia ascended the stairs and quickly came across Tiona who had come running down the stairs in a lively manner before leaping downwards more than twenty meters trusting that Vahn could catch her. Vahn then had to carry her body upstairs as she clung around his neck while claiming to be ‘recharging’ her ‘Vahnobtainium’ reserves. Vahn had been made aware of the phrase in the past, but he always felt awkward to be addressed as some sort of commodity that replenished the energy of others. However, when he thought about it in detail, it was actually something he commonly did by using [Yggdrasil’s Favor] and [Hands of Nirvana]. Since he could ‘rationalize’ the characterization, Vahn decided to not make a big deal of it as he actually enjoyed physical contact quite a bit. Tiona’s lively disposition and cheerful smile were infectious while her body was both firm, and soft, at the same time as she pressed herself against him.
When they got to the top of the stairs, Finn had an awkward smile on his face as he said, “Tiona, you shouldn’t separate from the party like that, even if you’re going to meet up with our…allies.” Releasing a short sight, Finn corrected his expression before saying in an amicable manner, “Good morning, friends from the Hestia Familia. Though we’re unable to ‘cooperate’ officially, I look forward to working alongside you on this endeavor.” Disinterested in Finn’s words, Ais walked over before poking the loose face of Tiona who had yet to separate from Vahn as she said, “Tiona, very sneaky.” In response, Tiona began laughing as she said sheepishly, “I wuuuuv him so much though~.” She then proceeded to give Vahn a big kiss on the cheek before eventually standing on her own feet and walking over to the group with a playful laughter ringing in the air. Ais watched her back for a brief moment before turning her attention back to Vahn before showing a small smile and reaching forward to hug him silently for a few seconds. When Vahn asked what she was doing, she muttered in a confident tone, “Recharging…”