As it was already dark on the 50th floor, Vahn carried both girls back using [Shundo] since it was always better to avoid engagements during the night. He had confronted Naaza earlier about increasing her level, but she had wanted to wait and see if she could break through the ‘limit’ in her Dexterity as she had already managed the feat with her Magic parameter. Vahn cautioned her about overtaxing her body by pushing it beyond the bounds of its ‘container’, but Naaza had remained firm on the matter since it was only an additional two points in Dexterity and she could potentially even reach it after a single extended fight…
Keeping that in mind, Vahn looked for signs of any enemies within the forests of the 50th floor but hadn’t managed to spot anything along the way. By the time they had reached the encampment, Vahn had a slight feeling of regret inside of himself since he felt like he should have simply extended their time on the 51st floor a little so that she could reach her goal. The fact that she had stopped at 998 bothered him a fair amount because it was almost like fate was teasing him a little. Vahn even suspected that, when they tried to get the last few points to help her growth, that would be the precise moment when their enemies appeared.
Once they reached the plateau, the smell of roasted meat reached the three which caused Naaza’s stomach to growl as she averted her eyes from Vahn. Though they had eaten a few snacks during their excursion, they hadn’t enjoyed any large meals and Naaza had been pushing her body quite hard. Constantly using your mana could actually drain away at your stamina while also leading to mental exhaustion so it wasn’t surprising that she would be hungry. Unlike Fenrir, who could subsist entirely on the energy she received from him, Naaza’s hunger was only quelled by actual sustenance like food.
After dropping off the two girls near the canteen setup, Vahn made his way toward the Command Tent to ‘report’ to Finn about the day’s findings. He had actually been mapping out the areas he passed through along the way and was planning to hand it over to the diminutive Captain while seeing if he had any new information. As one of the ‘decision makers’ within the group, Vahn was privy to any information that could affect the success of their current missions. Though the Loki Familia obviously had its secrets, Vahn was a bit of a ‘unique’ case amongst other outsiders since Loki herself was one of his lovers.
Vahn tapped the bronze bell near the entrance before Finn’s voice could be heard from the inside giving him permission to enter. Though it was subtle, Vahn could hear a bit of exasperation in his voice and also noticed that Finn’s aura was slightly chaotic, though primarily stable. Even when they had been in the thick of battle, the experienced Pallum remained mostly unperturbed so Vahn was beginning to feel a bit of concern as he stepped into the tent. However, when he saw Finn’s reaction to his presence Vahn realized his conjecture had been inaccurate and a frown appeared on his face.
Finn showed a wry smile and said, “Welcome, Vahn, it’s good to see you have returned safely…” before releasing a sigh and saying, “Your intuition is correct…I had a bit of trouble with Lili earlier.” Hearing his words, Vahn’s frown grew deeper and he said in a firm tone, “I warned you about trying to pressure her Finn. She is still just a child and she has spent the majority of her life experiencing great difficulties. If you continue this little charade, you’ll find that I’m not the type that will stand idly at the side while someone ‘badgers’ my companion!”
With both hands raised in a ‘surrender’ gesture, Finn winced slightly as he said, “You’re misunderstanding a bit, Vahn. I just wanted to apologize to her for my previous actions but she didn’t even give me an opportunity to speak before causing a bit of a scene and scurrying off to her tent…” Though Finn had an apologetic look on his face, Vahn wasn’t truly convinced by his words at all as his aura fluctuated slightly as he spoke. It could have been the result of him remembering the ‘difficult’ scenario, but Vahn had grown to associate such fluctuations with dismissal and attempting to cover up motives. In other words, though Finn was telling the truth, there were undoubtedly lies mixed within his words.
Vahn walked forward until he stood right in front of Finn’s desk before pulling out a chain from his inventory and taking a seat. He continued to make eye contact with the Pallum, who required a tall chair to even sit ‘normally’ at the desk, before saying, “From now on, you should stop trying to get closer to Lili. Much less courting her, I don’t even want you bothering her unless she is the one to come to you for aide…” Finn’s eyes opened slightly wider after hearing Vahn’s words before a conflicted expression appeared on his face and he said, “Vahn, I’m not going to force Lili into anything, but you must understand my situation a bit. Though she might not be fond of me presently, our feelings can grow for each other with time and I would-“
Before Finn could finish his words, the air around them began to sparkle with a golden luster as Vahn’s eyes turned an icy blue and he said, “Your situation is entirely your business, not something others need to take into consideration to live their own lives. You may have your own goals Finn, some of which are very profound and even noble, but that has nothing to do with anyone that does not share your aspirations. Lili has already decided on the path she wants to walk so your current behavior is off-putting at best and obscene at worst. You’re a sensible person, one that carries a great burden on your shoulders, but it is a burden you had decided to bear of your own volition. If you continue trying to force others onto that type of path, while also purporting that you’re ‘waiting’ for ideal candidates to appear, you’re simply a hypocrite. You’re trying to shape Lili into something she doesn’t want to be in order to serve ‘your’ needs, not the supposed needs of your people…”
Just as Vahn stared at him unwaveringly, Finn returned his gaze with the light of conviction within his eyes. After waiting for Vahn’s words to fall, and taking an adequate amount of time to process them, Finn said in a calm tone, “You are right, Vahn…but I must still act in the way I see fit. Though she might feel a bit of pressure from my advances, I will never force Lili to accept my reasons…” Finn wanted to continue his words but he could feel his instincts warning him of impending danger and he could see the coldness that had set within Vahn’s expression.
Though he considered himself tolerant, Finn couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed by Vahn’s actions so he said in a firm tone, “Vahn, there is nothing wrong with being ambitious and sharing love between other races, but there are simply too many incompatibilities between Humans and Pallums to have a healthy relationship. From human standards, Lili’s body is around the size of an eight to ten-year-old girl so it isn’t ‘right’ for you to allow her to pursue you like this. You might not have seen what it’s like for a Pallum to be pregnant with the child of a human, but I have and it’s absolutely horrifying. You’re more likely to kill her than make her happy!”
Contrary to Finn’s expectations, Vahn had actually seen a Pallum that was pregnant with a human child as the girl observed in the red light district was such an example. He had later seen a ‘normal’ Pallum pregnancy and had actually been rather surprised by the difference between them. Finn wasn’t wrong to be worried about Lili’s well-being when it came to the matter of pregnancy, because there was a real threat of her dying during childbirth as a result of the size of the fetus compared to her body. However, this wasn’t a restriction that Vahn actually faced as there were several ways he could guarantee her safety and the safe delivery of their future children.
Without flinching in the slightest from Finn’s relatively harsh words, Vahn continued to stare directly at him as he said, “Just like Lili, there are many things you are unaware of regarding me, Finn. From now on, I would encourage you to consult Riveria and Loki on such things as, even though they might not reveal to you my secrets, they will allow you to make more informed decisions in the future. I can ensure you that Lili is in absolutely no danger from being with me, so if that is your only concern I’ll have you take a step back and reflect on your current actions before we discuss this matter again. Know that I find your behavior reprehensible because you are making too many decisions based on your own shallow understanding of the situation and actually consider yourself to be in the right based solely on your ignorance…”
Finn had been somewhat confused by Vahn’s composure during his earlier exclamation and the confidence he felt radiating from the boy actually made him feel like he had erred greatly. He knew full-well that Vahn was a ‘unique’ existence compared to the vast majority of people and, as he said, that was about all he knew about him. Though he was part of the Alliance, Finn wasn’t privy to the secrets of the Hearth Manor as even Loki refused to budge on the matter. He had tried to discern some things from Riveria, but she had simply closed her eyes in response before saying she couldn’t speak on the matter.
Though he wanted to refute, or even rebuke Vahn for his words, Finn found himself unwilling to find any meaningful things to say under the stalwart gaze of the boy in front of him. He had never been concerned with the height difference between himself and others in the past, but Finn couldn’t help but feel a bit of pressure from Vahn’s presence. The sad fact of the matter is, his lack of information about both Vahn and Lili were a severe detriment if he wanted to have any rational discussion as he knew little to nothing about either of them. Realizing this, Finn ground his teeth a bit before a numb sensation spread through his thumb and it began to tingle, signaling to his mind that there was much more at play than his understanding allowed him to rationalize.
After having stared at each other for nearly three minutes in silence, Finn eventually released a sigh before rubbing his forehead and saying, “Forgive me, Vahn, as I let my own assumptions affect my judgment. As you say, I will consult with Riveria on matters from now on and do my best to not interfere with Lili or the other girls within the Hestia Familia in an attempt to approach her. I will trust that you are acting in the girl’s best interest on the matter, especially considering that there are many other notable female presences in your life…I’m not sure why I hadn’t realized it previously, but I don’t imagine they would allow anything to happen if she were actually in any danger…”
Though he obviously couldn’t fully accept things, Vahn could sense the sincerity in Finn’s words so he eased off his own pressure and the golden aura around them completely vanished. If push came to shove, Vahn didn’t mind coming into conflict with Finn because he knew the ‘dutiful’ Pallum would eventually have to back down regardless of his own desires. Fighting Vahn seriously would not only damage his status as the Captain of the Loki Familia, but it would also create tension between him and Loki while also causing Lili to have an even worse impression of him.
If Finn actually mustered up the resolve to kill Vahn, not that he would be able to easily accomplish such a feat, his goals as ‘Braver’ would never be met because he would have earned the ire of the entire goddess community while also offending the High Elves and losing the trust of almost every member of the main party of the Loki Familia. Things were simply stacked too heavily in Vahn’s favor and that was what enabled him to stare down the seemingly harmless Pallum as his instincts screamed at him to ‘run’.
With tensions easing greatly between them both, Vahn stated his original reason for visiting and also handed over the maps he had created. Finn briefed him about the events that had taken place during the day, including the loss of one of their Level 4 Adventurers who had died as a result of an ambush from a Deformis Spider. It wasn’t someone that Vahn knew so he didn’t really feel anything other than a mild empathy for the deceased’s surviving companions. Though it wouldn’t bring them back, Vahn swore to dedicate the next group of Deformis Spiders he killed as a parting gift to the deceased. He was very aware of concepts such as reincarnation, and even transmigration, so Vahn hoped it would give them some peace while simultaneously blessing their next life…
After getting caught up on matters, Vahn ended up leaving the Command Tent without any special courtesies shared between them as he was currently not very fond of Finn. Though the Pallum had apologized, Vahn knew there would always be a small part of him that still sought Lili as a potential wife in the future. However, Vahn would never allow that to come about any longer unless it was expressly desired by Lili herself, and not simply through her words. She had been working too hard to simply become a cog in someone else’s machinations and Vahn wanted to do everything he could to guarantee she lived the life she chose for herself.
Arriving at his own tent, Vahn detected several presences inside before passing through the barrier that had been inscribed into the dual-layered fabric that led to the inside. Since the tent also doubled as a private bath for the girls, Vahn wouldn’t allow it to be unprotected so that any random passerby could sneak a peek at the contents contained within. Though he didn’t consider himself the ‘jealous’ type, Vahn wanted to protect the dignity of the girls as he knew they would be offended and upset it a stranger managed to take in the sight of their naked figures.
Since only Vahn could pass through the barrier, other than the girls themselves, none of them were surprised by his arrival as they all exchanged greetings. Other than Naaza, who Vahn could sense eating near the canteen, everyone else was present including a very disgruntled Lili. Without any hesitation, nor explanation of any kind, Vahn walked forward before standing over the rather small girl as she looked up at him with a hopeful light in her eyes. Vahn was never good at hiding his expressions so she had already seen through his state and expectations had begun to rise inside of her. With a soft expression and a gentle smile on his face, Vahn leaned down and embraced Lili’s body tightly as he said, “I won’t allow anyone to take you from me, Lili…the only person that can make decisions about your life from here on is you yourself and, as you have blessed me with the opportunity to care for you, I will not shy away from the responsibilities entailed…it may be a little belated, and I’m not well-versed in such feelings, but I want you to know that I care about you deeply…and that I love you dearly…”
Vahn had avoided saying such words to Lili for a long time because he knew they were somewhat ‘dangerous’ for her to hear. However, now that he had butted heads directly with Finn, Vahn wanted to return to her some of the hope and expectations she had been placing in him for the last five months. Though she wasn’t one of the closest people to his heart, Lili was still one of the most important people in his life and someone he had once resolved himself to protect regardless of the cost. With the same resolve that he had when he nearly died for her in the Dungeon, Vahn now spoke comforting words into her ears before she hugged him with a surprising amount of strength and began crying. Though it took her a bit of time to compose herself, Lili managed to mutter through trembling lips, “I love you…Vahn…” before tightening her grip even more…
//Liliruca Arde Has Reached Maximum Affection//
//Quest Completed: [The Hearts Desire: C-SS]//
Completion Grade: A
Rewards: 10,000OP, 1x[Hearts Desire: Liliruca Arde]
Grade Rewards: 1x[Heroine’s Prayer], 1x[Burden of Love], 9,000OP[Heroine’s Prayer]
Use: When the person this item is bound to is in mortal peril, this crystalized prayer will activate and cause them to enter an ‘Immune’ state. Duration: 30S
Soulbound:(Vahn Mason)[Burden of Love]
Use: When the person this item is bound to makes a heartfelt promise with the originator, they must see it through to completion. Success will reward the bound dependant upon the severity of the promise made. Failure to complete the promise with cause an increasing amount of pressure to weigh on the bound unless they receive the forgiveness of the originator.