Chapter 52: Embrace

Hephaestus was surprised at seeing the ‘eternal flame’ imbue a fragment of its essence into Vahn’s heart. She could now feel the rhythm of his heartbeat gently echo within the interior of her soul. It was almost imperceptible, but when she focused she was easily able to detect its presence. Since the ‘eternal spirit’ was a part of her and had now imbued itself into Vahn, they now had a permanent connection with each other that could never be severed. This thought caused her own heartbeat to accelerate as she looked at the young boy that had introduced so much mystery and intrigue into her life.

Vahn could feel something within him draw his gaze towards Hephaestus. He saw her aura was gently radiating like the warm glow of the sun. It had a mellow yellow color tinged with pink. When he made eye contact, she gave the most radiant smile he had ever seen on her face…

//[Hephaestus]: Affection +8//

//[Hephaestus]: Affection has reached Affection:90[Fated Bond?], Intrigue:100[Overprotective]//

Within his mind, Vahn could see her affection update and the notification for the heart’s desire quest now had two active notifications. Though he was confused about the sudden change in the situation, Vahn returned the smile since he was able to feel her care and concern and wanted to reciprocate the feelings.

After Vahn had subordinated the ‘eternal flame’, Hephaestus was relieved seeing that the core of the flame still existed within the forge. She would still be able to continue her livelihood in the future and had one fewer concern to deal with. Now she could focus her attention on resolving the biggest problem before her, dealing with Vahn’s unique circumstances.

“Vahn, as we discussed previously, you need to protect your identity until you are strong enough to defend yourself against outside threats. Once you are exposed as a demi-god that can activate a pseudo-divine state, many Familia will actively try to get their hands on you. In the worst case scenario, they may even try to have you assassinated to prevent future troubles. I will do my best to protect you and provide support, but for now, I will leave your protection and training to my most trusted child, Tsubaki.”

Vahn nodded his head and listened in silence. At this point, they were both sitting on the couch in her office, and they were in close enough proximity that he could feel the body heat radiating from her. To prevent himself from being distracted, he pushed his focus to the limits while trying to maintain his facial expression. Ever since the event with her Divinity earlier, Vahn was overly conscious of her presence.

As she continued explaining, Hephaestus started to blush slightly because she was able to feel Vahn’s heartbeat accelerating. Though he was showing a stoic and honest appearance, she was aware he was putting a lot of effort into maintaining his demeanor.

“Tomorrow morning, I will accompany you to her residence. Once we arrive, I want you to live there from now on. She will be able to train you in smithing while helping improve your combat abilities. Since she is both a Master Smith and Level 5 Adventurer, she is the most qualified person in the City to help increase your strength. I have already let her know of our visit, and she has closed her workshop to all but her contracted clientele until you are capable of defending yourself.”

Hearing that he would be staying with a master blacksmith and level 5 adventurer, Vahn was pretty excited. However, once he heard she would be closing her workshop to help him, Vahn began to worry. “Wouldn’t it hurt her livelihood if she drops everything just to help me train? I’m capable of increasing my strength on my own, I don’t want people to have to sacrifice their wellbeing at my expense.”

In response to his concerns, Hephaestus covered her mouth and simply laughed. Vahn wanted to ask why she was laughing, but Hephaestus took the initiative in explaining. “Tsubaki has accumulated quite an amount of wealth over the years. If she wanted to she could retire at any time and live the rest of her life in luxury without any concerns. As one of the few Master Blacksmiths in the City, she can make several tens of millions of Valis on a single contract. Right now she manages seven active contracts and earns more than 300,000,000 Valis a year without having to leave her workshop.”

Vahn was stunned hearing the astronomical numbers. He remembered that the dagger Hestia obtained for Bell was worth 200,000,000 Valis, but he didn’t think a mortal blacksmith would have such insane earning potential. He began to get excited at the opportunity of vastly increasing his own wealth in the future.

After Vahn’s mind was blown by Hephaestus’s statement, the two continued talking about various topics until late into the night. At some point, the distance between them had shrunk even further, and Hephaestus used the opportunity to hug him as she had previously. She used the excuse that she had promised to hug him again earlier, and this was her making good on her word.

Vahn didn’t resist and just allowed himself to rest in her embrace. Though he never realized it before, it was very calming to be held by another person. It felt like, deep in his heart, something that had been lost was slowly being regained. He was so comfortable in Hephaestus’s arms that he even began to fall asleep…

“Wake up Vahn. There isn’t much time left in the day and you’ll need to prepare everything before tomorrow morning.” Hephaestus gently roused Vahn who had fallen asleep in her arms. Seeing his peacefully sleeping expression, she was almost unwilling to awaken him but knew it was necessary.

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Vahn reluctantly removed himself from her embrace and released a long yawn while stretching. He shook the sleep out of his body before looking into Hephaestus’s smiling face. Seeing her calm after he fell asleep in her arms, Vahn was somewhat embarrassed. He continued stretching out his body to hide this fact, but Hephaestus could easily see through his attempts due to their current bond.

(A/N: WTF, writing the first sentence made me yawn.)

After bidding farewell, Vahn finally left Hephaestus’s workshop. On his way out he passed by the security guards who had continued holding their perimeter since he first arrived. Vahn was very impressed with their dedication and professionalism.

When the head guard, Zaff, saw the tired boy exit the building he approached with a somewhat callous expression on his face. “Hehe, you kept us waiting for quite a while kid. Had I known you were going to be inside for five hours I would have split my men into shifts.”

Vahn gave a helpless shrug before politely bowing and apologizing for the inconvenience. Given the current time, he had been napping for nearly an hour and a half which caused the men to have to wait outside even longer. Though he didn’t state the reason, he honestly issued his apology and promised to treat the men if the opportunity presented itself in the future.

Zaff laughed and informed his men who gave a loud, albeit tired sounding, hurrah. He then split the group and had some men send a message to their headquarters to arrange for a personnel transfer. Then, noticing Vahn was still in the area, he patted the young boy on the back and sent him on his way. “Make sure not to cause any trouble for the Lady, you hear?”

Vahn nodded before making his way through the darkness towards the inn.

After making his way through the entrance, Vahn almost felt his soul leave his body when he saw the face of Lili who had apparently been waiting for him. From her expression and aura, he could tell she was very angry with a bit of concern mixed in. Without saying anything, she stood from the chair she was sitting in and came very close to his body…and began sniffing.

“You told me you had business with the Hephaestus Familia, but now you come home with a woman’s scent on your body.” Lili sighed after recognizing the presence of the foreign aroma. Judging by how prominent it was, he was likely in contact with a girl for several hours.

Vahn noticed she was disappointed, probably assuming he had lied as an excuse to have a rendezvous with a woman without her knowing. He sighed and shook his head before explaining the situation.

“I was with a woman, but it wasn’t anything I need to keep secret. I was meeting with Hephaestus herself and we were talking about my future living arrangements. Various other things happened, but it wasn’t like what you’re expecting…” Vahn’s words began to trail at the end after remembering the incident with Hephaestus’s Divinity.

Lili saw the change of expression and almost flared up, but just gave an exasperated sigh instead. She remembered that she was making an effort to overcome her selfish tendencies, but found it hard to contain herself when it came to Vahn. After calming herself down, she asked about what had been arranged.

Vahn explained the details and that he would be staying with the Captain of the Hephaestus Familia to train his blacksmithing and combat capabilities. He also discussed the plans for Lili’s future training and that she should continue her morning routine for tomorrow until he was able to discuss things with Tsubaki. As long as Tsubaki agreed, he wanted Lili to train there as well. As for their afternoon ventures into the dungeon, Vahn was determined to keep doing so. Even if Tsubaki refused to train Lili he would be able to impart what he had learned to her in the dungeon later in the day.

Lili recognized the name Tsubaki, as she was quite famous within the City. Though she had never seen her, there were plenty of rumors in regards to her skill as both a blacksmith and adventurer. She knew it was a good opportunity for Vahn, and it made her happy hearing that he had taken her into consideration when talking about the future. She decided to forgive him for arriving so late but resolved to find out his exact relationship with Hephaestus in the future. Lili didn’t have a lot of confidence she could compete with a goddess…

After their discussion, Lili showed him where she had placed all of the weapons that had been delivered in the afternoon. Vahn stored away all but the hammer since Lili intended to use it for her training in the morning.

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The two then made their way to their rooms and Vahn gave Lili a hug as he had been doing so ever since the first instance. At this point, it had become a routine that concluded the end of their day, but Vahn felt strange compared to all the previous times. Unlike when he was being hugged by Hephaestus, Vahn didn’t feel much security in the embrace. It felt like he was holding onto something fragile and it stirred his feelings of wanting to protect the small girl in his arms.

After they parted ways, Vahn began pondering the difference between the two embraces within his mind. He wondered if Lili felt the same way he did when he was being embraced by Hephaestus. If so, he could empathize with her desire to be held. He had felt so comfortable being held by Hephaestus that he even fell asleep while enjoying her warmth.

Laying in his bed, Vahn roused the memories from that moment and replayed the scene within his mind. During his absentminded state he could feel the ‘eternal flame’ pulsing in his chest. It seemed to be comforting him in a very similar manner as Hephaestus. He quietly listened to the gentle rhythm and slowly embraced the coming sleep filled with a comforting warmth.

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