The two stood in the awkward atmosphere for a while before Hephaestus moved to a corner of the room and grabbed a package wrapped in a green ribbon. She handed the package to the confused Vahn and explained the reason behind it.
“It’s a gift to celebrate your joining of the Familia. Go ahead and open it…” Hephaestus felt awkward giving him the gift after everything that had happened.
Vahn opened the package and was surprised to find a strange looking hammer on the inside. He pulled it out and inspected it more closely. The body of the hammer was made of a cool metal wrapped with a fire-resistant cloth. Vahn gripped it and noticed it fit perfectly in his hand, almost like the hammer was an extension of his arm. The head of the hammer was a combination of magisteel and a dark red crystalline metal that Vahn had never seen before. The two different metals twisted around each other before converging near the striking area of the hammer.
“This is a hammer I personally forged using the magisteel ingot you had created and Hihi’irokane metal. The combination of metals makes the hammer incredibly durable, and since it was partially constructed with magisteel you had tempered yourself, it is extremely receptive to your mana.” As Hephaestus began explaining the functions of the hammer, she started to become a bit restless. Giving a sidelong glance at Vahn, she continued. “I crafted this hammer to represent my desire for you to become a capable blacksmith in the future. It is the culmination of your first success and my hope that you will one day forge a weapon that can satisfy me…”
Vahn continued handling the ‘familiar’ feeling hammer as he listened. When Hephaestus mentioned him forging a weapon that could satisfy her in the future, he nodded with confidence, unaware of the hidden meaning in the words. After she saw his affirmation, Hephaestus revealed a pleased smile.
“Okay, Vahn. Now that you have a new hammer, I want you to try creating another ingot. As you’ve seen for yourself, there have been some changes to the ‘eternal flame’ since your last visit. I want to see if you’re able to properly control the flame since the changes were a result of the ‘eternal flame’ assimilating your mana.” Hephaestus dragged him towards the forge and had him sit down; she wanted to test her theory as soon as possible.
Vahn had some inhibitions about working metal using the ‘eternal flame’, but he believed that there wouldn’t be any issues unless he tried infusing his perception into the area immediately surrounding the location of the flame. He quickly began to work after taking some magisteel from the solution next to the mouth of the forge.
Even though he had yet to activate [Will of the Emperor], Vahn had almost no difficulty refining the metal. Though he could tell the heat from the flame was much stronger than his previous visit, it seemed to be much calmer in comparison. The strangest thing was after the metal reached a critical state, the flames seemed to automatically redirect the heat away from the metal.
Due to the ‘cooperation’ of the flame, Vahn managed to refine the metal while retaining 85% of its total volume. This was even more than when he had used [Will of the Emperor] in his previous attempt. From the side, Hephaestus was watching this entire process with bated breath. Her belief that Vahn descended from a divine lineage based on forging was now firmly cemented in her mind.
Vahn continued the process of shaping the ingot but had minimal success since he hadn’t been using his skill to forcibly shape the metal. He wanted to try using his own ability to form the ingot, but after 13 failures he ended up activating [Will of the Emperor] so that he complete the process. This time he avoided the situation of having a clash with the ‘eternal flame’ because he hadn’t tried inserting his spiritual sense within the flames dominion.
After he was finished, Hephaestus inspected the ingot before giving him an approving nod. “This is very well done considering its only your third time creating an ingot. After you increase your knowledge and improve your techniques, you’ll be able to begin converting the ingots into weapons and armor.”
Vahn was happy hearing her praise. It almost made him want to use his OP to try and enhance his [Blacksmith] skill further, but after seeing his dwindling OP pool, he decided against it. He was nearly out after converting all of his recent spoils into Valis, and he was now even further away from completing his quest which required 1,000,000. (A/N: Vahn currently has 18,090 OP)
“Before we begin discussing your future arrangements, I want your help conducting an experiment Vahn.” Vahn, hearing her statement, began paying close attention to Hephaestus’s words. “I want you to try imbuing your spiritual energy into the eternal flame. Wait, don’t give me that look. Let me explain…”
Vahn had begun to frown after hearing her request but allowed her to continue. “You see, if my speculation is correct you should now be able to interface directly with the ‘eternal flame’ without any difficulties. You should have noticed how cooperative it was when you were refining the ingot. Don’t worry, since I’m prepared this time, I can guarantee you won’t be in any danger.”
Vahn considered her words and had a few misgivings, but seeing the confidence in Hephaestus’s eyes, he sighed and sat back down in front of the forge. He stared into the golden flames while trying to calm his heart…After calming down he began activating [Will of the Emperor] and focused his intent into the dominion of the flame. Unlike last time, the flame didn’t attempt to seize his energy, instead, the ‘aura’ around the flame began to dance excitedly.
//Eternal Flame: Affection +17//
Though he was surprised by the notification, Vahn managed to maintain his calm due to the dreamlike quality of the flame. Instead of attacking him as it had done previously, the flame began to entangle with his energy which caused Vahn to feel a warm and calming sensation within his mind and body. The ‘eternal flame’ seemed to be asking permission to assimilate some of his energy, and Vahn released small amounts which caused the flame to burn brighter.
//Eternal Flame: Affection +2//
From the side, Hephaestus stared at the interaction with a mixture of excitement and curiosity. This further confirmed her suspicions of Vahn’s origin, but she was curious about which part of his bloodline allowed him to enhance a divine artifact like the ‘eternal flame’. The ‘eternal flame’ was a product of her own Divinity and it had accompanied her ever since her time in Heaven. Though it was now much weaker than it’s previous state, Vahn was very quickly bringing it to the pinnacle of its former glory. At this rate, she would even be able to forge quasi-divine tier equipment even without her Arcanum. (A/N: Arcanum is the actual godly power that is sealed before they descend from Heaven.)
Vahn continued infusing his energy into the eternal flame while in a dazed state. It wasn’t due to him having difficulties maintaining the connection, but because of the information that kept appearing in his mind.
//Eternal Flame: Affection +1//
//Eternal Flame: Affection +1//
//Eternal Flame: Affection +1//
//Eternal Flame: Aff…
At this point, the affection of the flame had reached 98 points and he was watching the number get ever closer to reaching 100. After an additional ten minutes, Vahn finally got his first ‘person’ to maximum affection. The moment the number hit 100 a series of alarms started sounding throughout his mind.
//Eternal Flame Has Reached Maximum Affection//
//Eternal Flame Wishes to become your subordinate: Y/N?//
//Quest Completed: [The Hearts Desire:C-SS]//
Completion Grade: SS
Rewards: ‘Gift’ Function unlocked, 10,000OP, 1x [Hearts Desire:Eternal Flame]
Grade Rewards: [Prometheus:A] Skill unlocked, 1x [Skill Enhancement Scroll:A], 50,000OP[Prometheus]
Allows the user to condense flame seeds that can be imbued into living creatures. Increases the potential of the recipient by a portion of the user’s capabilities. Each use of this skill causes an intense backlash to the user. Each successive use decreases pain tolerance by 10%. (Current:0). At 100%, the use of this skill will result in death. Decays by a rate of 1% per month.
Vahn was completely shocked after seeing all of the notifications. Hephaestus noticed his change, and quickly channeled a strange energy into his back which forcibly severed Vahn’s connection with the ‘eternal flame’.
“Are you okay, Vahn? Can you tell me what happened? Everything seemed to be going well from what I could tell.” Hephaestus was flustered as she promised nothing would happen to him. After seeing he had no visible signs of injury, she released a relieved sigh.
Vahn laughed awkwardly and explained what he had experienced. He told her that he felt a strange bond with the ‘eternal flame’ and a ‘voice’ in his head asking him to accept it as his subordinate. Hearing his explanation, it was Hephaestus’s turn to be shocked. After all, the ‘eternal flame’ was the product of her Divinity. It was a part of her, and the idea that it would subordinate itself to another was previously outside the realm of possibility.
Hephaestus turned to look at the vibrant golden flame and almost felt as if it was lamenting at having to separate from Vahn. As an experiment, she grabbed his hand and pulled him further away from the flame and noticed the vibrancy fade…
“Your bloodline must be more powerful than I imagined…I’ve never even heard of someone being able to subordinate the divine artifact of a god.” Hephaestus was now bringing Vahn closer to the flame, and it seemed to come alive with anticipation. She felt a little betrayed at seeing its reaction, but couldn’t blame Vahn since it was her request that led to this predicament.
Within Vahn’s mind, the same notification kept popping up over and over. The ‘eternal flame’ seemed intent on having his approval, but without Hephaestus’s permission, he wasn’t willing to accept. He could see she was struggling internally, so he decided to speak up to alleviate her concerns. “Don’t worry Hephaestus. I wouldn’t try to take away the items of the people I care about. I’m certain the flame will return to normal after a while.”
Hearing Vahn mention ‘people he cares about’ in reference to her, Hephaestus made up her mind. “No, Vahn. I want to see what happens if you’re able to subordinate my flame. Since this is an unprecedented situation, I am curious about the result. Besides, I trust that you wouldn’t run away with the flame after it came into your possession. It needs to reside in a specialized hearth or it would lose its power, so it can’t leave from this place to begin with.”
Since he had her permission, Vahn decided to agree to have the ‘eternal flame’ as his subordinate. Like Hephaestus, he was very curious about the effects he would receive after the process completed. Using a mental command, he accepted the notification and felt a ‘link’ connecting him and the flame within the forge.
His mind was spontaneously filled with happy feelings, and he could feel a gentle warmth coming from the invisible connection he had established with the ‘eternal flame’. Though he wasn’t able to hear any words, he could understand the intent it was releasing. Following it’s prompting, Vahn put his hand into the flame after making a small incision on his palm.
Hephaestus watched the process with fear, trepidation, and a moderate amount of anticipation. She too had a connection with the ‘eternal flame’, and after Vahn accepted it as a subordinate she was able to subtly feel his presence now connected with her soul using the flame as an intermediary.
After his hand was placed into the flame, his blood turned into particles of light which were absorbed into the aura of the ‘eternal flame’. After they vanished, the flame wrapped around his hand and imbued part of itself into his body. It flowed through the energy channels of his body before settling itself within his heart.
//[Heart of the Eternal Flame:SS] Obtained//[Heart of the Eternal Flame]
Passive: Gives the possessor perfect affinity with the element of fire. Enhances blood circulation and stamina recovery. Immune to all yang based fires below Soul Tier: 4
Active: Allows attacks to possess a burning effect.
Vahn had gained yet another skill, and he could feel a powerful energy like molten metal through his body. His heart felt like a furnace as it pumped the energy-rich blood through his body.
(A/N: Alternate Title: A Blazing Affection!!! Next Chapter Teaser: Cyclops of the Twin Peaks!?)