Chapter 56: *Spoiler: Title at End*

Vahn and Lili continued towards the inn with low spirits. Lili was very concerned for Vahn, while he was still focusing his attention towards the dangerous feeling that had penetrated through him. He needed to get stronger, and it seemed as if he was running out of time.

On the route, Vahn also diverted some of his attention towards his stats and resources. Luckily, he had managed to obtain a decent amount of OP for completing the heart’s desire quest with the ‘eternal flame’. His pool of OP had been running low as of late due to his interactions with Lili and other expenses.

He needed to do his best to earn points to prepare for the worst-case scenario where he and the people he wants to protect are endangered. He started to compile a list of potential life-saving items and resources he could use in conjunction with his skills to protect himself and others. One of the items he desperately wanted to purchase was another [Effigy of the Hero], but they were priced at 100,000 OP each.

After another twenty minutes, they arrived at the inn. Yesterday was Vahn’s final day, and as he expected Tina was waiting in the dining area for their arrival. Seeing the two enter with in low spirits, she took a deep breath like she wanted to cry, but managed to swallow her emotions and approach them. She thought they were both feeling down because they were leaving the inn today.

“Are you leaving?” The young girl gave a cursory glance at Lili before staring into Vahn’s face. She saw the boy nod his head, and even though she was trying her best to hold back her emotions, she couldn’t help but feel her eyes water.

Vahn, perhaps out of habit due to his interactions with Lili, reached out his hand and started gently patting her head. He continued to console the girl until she was able to calm herself. She then moved away from his hand with a blush and gave him a ‘mean’ look. “My mom says that if a guy ever touches my ears, he has to take responsibility or he isn’t a man…so you can’t forget~nya!”

Though he felt helpless about the situation, he just nodded away and said he’d do his best. Hearing his response, she gave a happy nod before scampering away. From the side, Lili whispered into his ear, “How many times have you touched my ears Vahn? Does that mean you’re going to take responsibility, hmmm~?” Vahn began to sweat while thinking it may be best to interact with fewer women in the future.

After they collected all of Lili’s belongings, they made their way downstairs and were intercepted by both Milan and Tina. Milan was holding a long wooden container loosely wrapped with a ribbon, while Tina held a large embroidered cloth which held various baked goods. Milan had a gentle smile on her face, but Vahn could see a hint of melancholy in her eyes as she cradled the container in her arms.

“I wanted you to have this Vahn…” She handed him the container somewhat reluctantly, and Vahn received it in a reverential manner. He understood it was likely very important to her, and just holding it began to make him feel nervous. Looking towards Milan, he saw her give a gentle nod so he opened the container. Inside he saw a stylish bluish-blake straightsword with the motiff of a golden lion creating a flame-like pattern along the blade.

“It’s made of mithril, and is a memento of my late husband. I hope that it is able to protect you from harm so you don’t leave painful memories for those you leave behind. Always remember to return to them, and if things get difficult you’ll never be turned away from our doors.” Each word she spoke directly impacted Vahn’s heart. He took the blade from the container and noticed that it was much heavier than he expected…

Tina, who had been standing with her head down hugging the cloth in her arms, walked forward after her mothers urging. Vahn looked towards the girl and saw that her ears were folded down on her head as she refused to look direclty at him. He felt very bad for the girl and slowly reached out his hand…and paused after remembering her earlier words.

Tina looked up slightly after feeling the presence and saw the outstretched hand a few inches away from her head. Without waiting for Vahn to make up his mind, she nuzzled against the hand on her own. Vahn was surprised at her sudden action, but chose not to pull his hand away. He made eye contact with Milan who was behind her daughter and she gave him a mischevious grin that made his heart tickle.

After exchanging a few more words and leaving his contact info with the mother-daughter duo, Vahn lead the way out of the inn. He noticed that the cold night air created a chill that caused his body to feel slightly numb. From behind, the yet to close door of the inn seemed to contain an infinite warmth that he was reluctant to part with.

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He looked back and saw Milan lightly comforting Tina who was hugging her waist and stiffling tears.

As if noticing his gaze, Milan looked towards him and gave an awkward smile before shooing him away with her free hand. Vahn nodded slowly, and turned away with his hand raised. Lili, who had been watching the situation from start to finish continued to stay behind for a few moments before speaking to the crying Tina.

“If you want to be able to follow him, you’ll need to become a lot stronger. I’ll do my best as well, so make sure you don’t fall too far behind…” She said the words in a low voice, but Tina who was still hugging her mother nodded her head in response.

As she turned ot leave, she heard the young girl respond with a sobbing voice,”You have a head start, but I will become stronger than you one day.” Turning her head, Lili saw the resolution in Tina’s eyes. She nodded and then turned to leave, following the path Vahn had set out through the night.

It was nearly 8 PM by the time they arrived outside Tsubaki’s courtyard, and the two stepped through the threshold of the door and heard laughter coming from the inside. Hearing the shrill noise, Vahn flinched slightly before hestitating. Lili, who was at his side had a confused expression on her face after seeing him hesitate just outside the door.

After a few seconds, Vahn released a pent-up sigh and slowly opened the door. Inside he could see Tsubaki holding a red-haired boy in a headlock while he struggled to break free of her grasp. The boy seemed to be around his age and had a somewhat lanky build with unkempt wirey hair. He was trying his best to remove Tsubaki’s arm from around his neck and seemed to be a few second short of collapsing if his purple face was any indicator.

Tsubaki noticed Vahn and a small girl enter, and she ceased her wild laughter and released the boy she had been tormenting. She plopped up from the ground, leaving her victim struggling for air on the floor. “You’re a bit earlier than I expected Vahn! Tell me, is this the little girl that you were talking about earlier?” As she spoke Tsubaki rapidly approached Lili who, in response, tried to hide behind Vahn.

“Good evening Tsubaki…And yes, this is Lili, the girl I told you about earlier.” Vahn was beginning to sweat at the fact Lili was hiding behind him. He had a terrible premonition that things weren’t going to be as smooth as he expected.

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Tsubaki grinned as she continued staring at the hiding Lili. She looked towards Vahn before speaking, “Hahaha, she seems to think you’ll be able to protect her Vahn~” Before either of the two could respond, Tsubaki quickly managed to subdue Vahn and planted him squarely on the ground. The panicked Lili tried to react, but before she could utter a word she had been seized by the overbearing Tsubaki.

Tsubaki, for the second time that day, was now sitting on the collapsed Vahn while holding Lili in her arms and rubbing their cheeks together. “Aren’t you super cute!? You’re like a tiny animal~ It’s no wonder Vahn wants to protect you so badly! Hahaha!”

The red-haired boy who had been released earlier looked towards the trio with a sceptical look. He had never seen the two strange children before, and it was strange seeing Tsubaki act so closely with others. Yes, she hade a very forward and open personality, but she wasn’t the type that would force herself on people she wasn’t familiar with.

Seeing that their play wasn’t going to end any time soon, he lost his patience before speaking up. “Hey, Tsubaki, who are these kids? Isn’t your place supposed to be closed right now?” Tsubaki seemed to remember his existence as she looked toward him with her uncovered eye. She gave a big grin which caused the boy to sweat buckets.

“This is Vahn Mason and his friend Lili. They’re going to be living here from now on and receive training. Vahn, Lili, that red-headed brat over there is Welf Crozzo. Make sure to get along, as the two of you may be rivals in the future!” Tsubaki released Vahn and Lili while introducing everyone. Vahn was annoyed how easily she was able to get the better of him, while Lili was very startled at everything that happened. As they were collecting themselves they heard a loud shout.

“What do you mean they’re going to be living here!? Since when do you train people? What makes you think these brats can be my rivals!?” Welf seemed to be annoyed at the idea that Tsubaki, one of the people he swore to overcome, had taken in two brats at disciples. Even though he had known Tsubaki for four years, she never taught him anything personally.

After hearing Tsubaki mention his name, Vahn was able to tell that the aggressive young boy was the same Welf he knew from the manga. He was much shorter than expected, around 163cm, and he seemed a lot less laid back the Welf from his memories. Hearing him call both he and Lili brats when they were around the same age irked him a bit. Before he could say anything, Tsbubaki spoke to Welf.

“Silly brat, what makes you think you’re better than other people? Vahn was entrusted to me directly by Hephaestus-sama herself. Why not try complaining to her if you’re disatisfied!” Hearing that Vahn was brought here by Hephaestus, Welf was shocked at first, but his shock quickly turned to anger as he glared direclty at Vahn.

He could see that the boy was handsome with tanned skin. Though he looked small, Welf could see he actually had well defined muscles and a strange aura that made the hair on the back of his neck stand. “You, Vahn was it? Whats your relationship with Hephaestus-sama!?” Because of the help she had provided for him, Welf had made Hephaestus his goal. He, like many others, also dreamt of one day crafting a piece of equipment that could impress the aloof goddess and steal her heart.

Vahn didn’t like how Welf was treating him in such a hostile manner. He pulled out the hammer Hephaestus had formed for him and pointed it towards the glaring boy. “My relationship with Hephaestus doesn’t matter. The only thing you need to know is, you’ll never be a rival to me. You aren’t even qualified!”

Though he heard Vahn’s abrasive words, the only thing Welf was focused on at this moment was the hammer in front of him. He could see that it wasn’t something that had been forged by an ordinary blacksmith. The untarnished head and the stylish body were things that could only be made by someone with the abilities of a Master Smith.

The most important thing that caught his eyere were the two marks engraved on the neck of the hammer. The first was a subtly glowing seal used to denote an item had been personally forged by Hephaestus herself. And next to it, against all reasoning, there was a second mark in the shape of two winged snakes coiling around a scale. Items typically only possessed a single maker’s mark, that of their creator itself. The fact this hammer had two marks indicated it had not only been forged by Hephaestus, but in conjunction with another blacksmith!

Title: Welf Crozzo

(A/N: Alternate Titles: Raging hot habanero!, Burn, flames of youth!, etc)

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