Chapter 57: Cowardice : Reconciliation

Welf stared at the hammer in Vahn’s hand with an incredulous expression on his face. “Where did you get that hammer?” Though he expected the answer, he couldn’t help but ask the question to confirm his suspicions.

Vahn could see Welf’s aura, which had been a mixture of reds and blues, suddenly turn a mild yellow tinged with green along the edge. With how Welf looked at the hammer gifted to him by Hephaestus, Vahn began to feel annoyance and anger. He felt a possessiveness in Welf’s expression like he would try to steal the hammer if he could.

Vahn grimaced before saying, “I see no reason to tell you. Worry about your own equipment before you start eyeing that of other’s.” His words seemed to awaken Welf, who quickly made his way towards Vahn.

The two glared at each other, separated by only a few feet. Welf looked down at Vahn and, with an ordering tone, asked, “You’re saying that hammer belongs to you? Then explain the maker’s marks. Why do you possess an item forged by Hephaestus, and who does the other symbol belong to!?”

Vahn was confused by the question as he had never paid much attention to the markings on the hammer. He knew blacksmiths often marked the items they made for recognition, but he hadn’t realized Hephaestus had left the same mark as his sword on his hammer. He noticed the neck of the hammer had both marks side-by-side, and he somewhat understood why Welf was angry. But, he still didn’t like how Welf, who was weaker than him, was trying to intimidate him.

Vahn squinted his eyes and simply stated, “That’s my business. Who are you to ask?” Welf grit his teeth and balled his hands into fists. He stepped forward to grab Vahn by the collar as Vahn prepared to break his wrists for the attempt. Moments before Vahn grasped the soon to be broken wrist, they were both knocked to the ground by a fist from above.

“Nice passion, but no violence in my workshop! If you want to fight, do it in a more productive manner.” Tsubaki was standing over Vahn and Welf who were both twitching on the ground with giant lumps on their heads. For the first time since their meeting, they both had the same thought going through their mind: (You’re the violent one!)

Four people now sat around a low table drinking tea. They were Tsubaki, Vahn, Welf, and Lili, and the atmosphere was tense due to the earlier conflict. On Vahn and Welf’s head, there was still the evidence of a lump which made the tense atmosphere seem almost comical. Tsubaki, noticing this, began laughing out loud while they each gave her a sidewards glance.

After some time had passed, Tsubaki was finally able to stop laughing. She smiled after seeing how the tense atmosphere had subsided quite a bit. “Okay, I’m going to explain a few things since the two of you don’t seem to be able to talk without pissing each other off.” She gave them both a look using her eye, and they each nodded as a result of the pressure.

“Heh, you two are cute when you’re obedient.” They both flinched after hearing her words. “Anyways, let’s get some things out of the way. Welf, Vahn is a lot stronger than you. If I didn’t step in earlier you’d be nursing a broken wrist for the next few months. You’ll have a hard time doing any blacksmithing if that happens, so pull back on the aggressive behavior.”

Hearing Tsubaki mentioning that he was weaker than Vahn, Welf was dissatisfied. He looked towards the ‘small’ kid and couldn’t see how he could be considered strong. While he was thinking, Tsubaki continued. “It’s true. Unlike you who likes to sit around boasting about becoming a great blacksmith, Vahn here ventures into the dungeon to improve his skill. Even though you’re the same age, he is already Level 2 and capable of fighting weaker Level 3’s.”

Welf was surprised to hear Vahn was already Level 2. Though it wasn’t unheard of, it was very rare for people in a production Familia to increase in level quickly. However, his surprise turned into utter disbelief when she continued.

“Vahn also possesses the [Blacksmith] development ability and, even though he is a novice at forging, he has managed to earn the approval of Hephaestus. That hammer is probably something she gave him to represent her trust and encourage him to improve, isn’t that right Vahn?”

Vahn nodded his head but was mildly distracted seeing the gloomy aura around Welf. He had an incredulous expression and seemed to be repressing a lot of pent-up frustration. Vahn remembered that Welf, even though he was an excellent blacksmith, was severely restricted by his own stigma. Due to his ‘bloodline’, he was adamant in not forging magic swords and this mentality prevented him from growing.

In some ways, they were similar. They were both victims of their ‘bloodline’, though Vahn’s was in a far more literal sense. While Welf was able to run away, Vahn was forced to suffer for fourteen years. However, unlike Welf who continues to run away even now, Vahn has accepted his ‘heritage’ and works towards becoming strong enough to not be exploited by others. He didn’t know why, but Vahn was very annoyed seeing Welf’s actions.

“You’re a coward,” Vahn spoke directly, interrupting the conversation that Tsubaki was going to continue. At first, she was going to reprimand Vahn but decided to see how things played out. She knew well of Welf’s past and wondered if Vahn had noticed something with his unnaturally high perception.

Welf, who had still been struggling internally all this time, turned towards Vahn before slamming his fists onto the table. Tea spilled as cups were knocked over and Welf shouted at Vahn, “What did you say!? Who is a coward!?” Hearing this boy he had never met call him a ‘coward’, Welf was understandably pissed off.

“If you’re not a coward, then why are you struggling so much with your own thoughts? When you heard Tsubaki say I was stronger than you, you didn’t believe her. And after you heard I had the [Blacksmith] development skill, you started acting like it was impossible. Your actions are like saying you can’t believe I’m better than you, but whatever made you think you were comparable to me in the first place!? What are you doing to set yourself apart from others!? What gives you the right to look down on their determination and efforts!?”

Vahn shouted out, each sentence louder and more fierce than the last. For some reason, he just hated how Welf acted like he was a victim when he is able to live a free and happy life surrounded by kind and gentle people.

Welf, who was on the receiving end of the shouting was in a cold sweat. Though Vahn hadn’t realized it himself, his out of control emotions had activated his [Will of the Emperor] and were suppressing the Level 1 Welf. Every word Vahn spoke made him feel an increased pressure, and each one struck deeply at Welf’s self-consciousness and anxieties.

“Calm down Vahn! You need to control your power!” Tsubaki was thinking she let the situation get out of hand. Though she agreed with Vahn’s statement, she couldn’t allow him to press any further or it might shatter Welf’s pride. Though he was unwilling to create magic sword due to his past, he was still a very capable and talented blacksmith. It would be a big loss for the Familia if he gave up trying to improve.

Hearing Tsubaki shout, Vahn realized he had been using his skill to pressure Welf, so he quickly calmed his breathing and sat down. “I’m sorry…I just can’t stand to see someone act so arrogant when they have no idea how hard others work.”

Welf, who was still in a cold sweat, wanted to retort after the pressure eased. However, no matter how much thought he put into it, he wasn’t able to refute Vahn’s words. In his heart, he knew Vahn was right…he really was a coward. Once he awakened his bloodline and was pressured by his family, he ran away from home to avoid becoming something he hated.

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He fled all the way to a City where his family had no influence and then joined a powerful Familia using the reputation of ‘Crozzo’ in conjunction with his own talent. Even though he worked hard to become a blacksmith recognized by Hephaestus, he was entirely reliant on the Familia for his livelihood and wellbeing. Without their help, he never would have been able to establish himself when he was just 10 years old…(A/N: Welf ran away from home at age 10 and joined the Hephaestus Familia shortly after.)

He looked at Vahn, a boy similar in age to him. Even though he was jealous that Vahn was Level 2 and possessed the [Blacksmith] skill, it wasn’t like he didn’t earn it. Vahn must have put in a lot of efforts, and since he was still young it meant he was pressured into doing so by circumstance. Otherwise, there would be no reason for such a person to join a production Familia specializing in blacksmithing while also making a living in the dungeon. If he only recently joined, that means he previously spent all his time hunting monsters to get by…

It was at this point that Welf took note of the girl who had been sitting quietly all this time. He remembered she was called Lili, and she seemed very concerned with Vahn. Welf saw in her eyes a deep reliance on the boy, unlike how she looked at Welf in disgust. He could infer that she was in a similar situation as Vahn; someone that had to work hard to earn a living by putting their life on the line. The fact she was doing such a dangerous job when she was so small made Welf feel guilty at how leisurely he spent his time.

Welf had calmed down by now, and he made eye contact with Vahn who was still grimacing. Welf sighed, “You’re right Vahn. I shouldn’t be envious of someone because they possess something I lack. I will work hard, and one day, I’ll surpass you using my own efforts.” Seeing how far Vahn was able to get at the same age, Welf solidified his convictions and intended to double his own efforts in the future.

Vahn noticed that Welf’s aura had stabilized and was showing a mellow orange with blues around the edges. Even though he was still angry, he knew Welf wasn’t a bad guy from seeing his interactions with Bell in the manga. Vahn decided to reconcile as well saying, “If you want to surpass me, you can’t hold anything back. Don’t expect me to slow down my own progress while you’re stuck trying to overcome yourself.”

The two stared into the other’s eyes, each with their own convictions. Lili, who was spectating at the side, was completely confounded by the sudden change. The two boys, who were previously moments away from fighting, were now gazing passionately into each other’s eyes! She had no idea how to interpret the situation and decided she needed to protect Vahn from Welf in the future.

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Tsubaki suddenly started laughing, causing the other three at the table to look at her with confusion. “Good! So manly! The best way to settle things is to both become stronger and more capable. Let your actions and accomplishments speak for themselves!” She smiled, nodding at the change in atmosphere. Feeling thirsty, she reached for her cup but found it had been overturned since earlier.

Tsubaki felt a vein bulge in her head and she threw the emptied cup at Welf’s face. The cup bounced directly off Welf’s forehead and continued its path towards Vahn who managed to catch it out of the air. “Don’t go into other people’s houses and make a mess! Next time you knock over my drink you’ll be replenishing the entire Familia’s quench tanks for a whole week!

(A/N: Alternate Title: Hot-blooded Men Within The Cyclops’ Den!)

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