Chapter 60: Hell : Desire

The shout awakened Vahn, who had fallen asleep within Tsubaki’s embrace. His mind was still in a haze and his body felt incredibly relaxed and lethargic. From his perspective, he could see Lili wide-eyed at the door looking towards him. He yawned and stood to exit the onsen while Tsubaki, who had previously released his body, began moving towards Lili who was pointing a shaking finger in her direction.

Vahn slowly dressed amidst the chaos that followed. Tsubaki had grabbed Lili who was stuttering curses and flailing about and began undressing her. Lili, with a bright red face, kept stealing glances towards Vahn in the process. Seeing that he was just dazedly putting on his clothes, she felt perplexed and gave Tsubaki an opportunity to strip the last bastion of her dignity. Lili yelped and tried to protect her sensitive areas as Tsubaki took her towards the onsen while laughing boisterously.

After he was dressed, Vahn headed towards his room to prepare to sleep. He lay down in his bed tightly embracing the large pillow that had been given to him with a futon earlier in the day. Hugging the pillow tightly, he quickly began falling asleep once again. As he drifted further into unconsciousness, his grasp of the pillow tightened as if by increasing his grip he could obtain more warmth from the inanimate object. With the feeling of something ‘missing’, Vahn fell asleep.

Vahn awoke very early the next day, nearly two hours before he had to be up. He absentmindedly stared around at the ‘foreign’ room and remember that he had started staying with Tsubaki the previous day. After his thoughts turned to Tsubaki, visions of the dream he had begun to surface in his mind…

After Vahn had fallen asleep, he imagined a 3m tall Tsubaki toying with him and he made futile efforts at escaping. No matter how hard he tried, he was unable to free himself from her monstrous strength and began to lose hope. Just as he was on the verge of giving up, the giant figure gently embraced his body between her bosom and he feared he may suffocate to death instead of being crushed. However, the suffocating feeling never came. Instead, he was wrapped in an endless warmth that seemed to soak through his entire body. The warmth was so comfortable that Vahn actually fell asleep within his own dream…

Due to the strange dream, Vahn was still in a somewhat dazed state as he exited the room to wash his face. Lili had found out he was neglecting his dental hygiene, and she had helped him create a habit of brushing his teeth before beginning each day. Though Vahn was annoyed at first, he quickly got used to the small ceremony and now performed it without being forced.

As he was leaving the bathroom, he could hear the sound of wind being torn from the nearby courtyard. He followed the sound and saw Tsubaki wielding a fierce-looking katana with a crimson red grip. Each movement seemed to cut through the void and generate devastatingly powerful winds that continued circulating around her body as her blade danced in the moonlight.

Seeing the peerless skill and technique of Tsubaki, Vahn’s stagnant mind immediately awakened. He watched her every move, each with purpose and intent that carried seamlessly into the next series of movements. Vahn nearly compared the ‘dance’ to his own techniques but felt doing so would be an insult to the bewitchingly elegant display of skill. Instead, he continued watching in abject silence, afraid that a single movement or sound of his would tarnish the inviolable atmosphere.

About ten minutes before their training was set to begin, Tsubaki brought her ‘dance’ to an end. She slowly sheathed the katana before kneeling in silence. After her breathing settled, she smiled and spoke. “I’m not too fond of performing for an audience. Did you enjoy the show?”

Vahn nodded his head without thinking and then spoke the words that came to his mind. “It was beautiful…unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.” He was still replaying the moves in his mind, trying to keep the memories from fading.

As he continued to absentmindedly stare, his vision suddenly reversed and he saw the ground approaching from above. Without being able to react, he landed heavily on the ground and felt the wind escape his lungs. He looked towards Tsubaki who was standing, arms akimbo and loudly roaring in laughter.

“Training starts on time every day. Why are you still standing around like an idiot when your enemy is right in front of you? That brings our score to 3 to 101!” While she was proudly speaking, she turned towards a wall lining the courtyard. From Vahn’s perspective, Tsubaki disappeared from her spot before walking out from behind the wall carrying Lili under her arm.

After the initial throw, training began in earnest. Tsubaki was ruthless with Vahn and constantly threw him about while subjecting his body to endless torment. But, when she was training Lili, she showed a much gentler and patient side. When Vahn initially saw her carefully explaining different stances and techniques to Lili, he nearly thought he was still dreaming before the pain in his back flared up and caused him to sharply inhale.

Tsubaki had taken very different approaches to their individual training. Since Lili was a Pallum and small in stature, Tsubaki wanted to help develop actual techniques and agility. After learning about Lili’s skills, Tsubaki started explaining the importance of geographical positioning and exploiting enemy weak points. She wanted Lili to become a technical specialist that could make use of a variety of weapons in conjunction with the environment to gain an advantage.

For Vahn, Tsubaki noticed he had incredible natural talent. Due to his high perception and adaptability, she was grooming him to develop his own fighting style. By constantly sparing with Vahn, he was slowly beginning to adapt to her speed and refining his defensive capabilities. Tsubaki wanted him to have the instincts to naturally protect himself from harm, as she believed it was one of the things he currently lacked the most.

After two hours of hard training, Vahn had now been thrown a total of 187 times. He tried to counterattack on many occasions, and was having a marginal amount of success, but never landed a blow on Tsubaki. She seemed especially aware of ‘mishaps’ and didn’t drop her guard as she had the previous day. Vahn was very frustrated because, when Tsubaki would use the minimum distance to evade his counter, she would laugh and taunt him for his efforts.

As the sun had already risen, they all took a break to eat breakfast. Vahn was forced to wait at the table while Tsubaki dragged Lili towards the kitchen to prepare the meal. While he sat in silence, Vahn began to wonder why Tsubaki always seemed to be dragging Lili around with her, but he wasn’t able to come up with any reason. It was probably a quirk of Tsubaki’s personality that liked cute things, as Lili was very small and adorable.

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Vahn decided to pass the time by inspecting his stats and items. His parameters hadn’t been growing very quickly since he wasn’t delving any deeper into the dungeon, but he felt like his foundation was rapidly expanding.

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[[Stats]]

Name: [Vahn Mason]

Age: 14

Race: Human, *sealed*

Parameter: [Danmachi: 1-4]

-Level:2(2)

-Power:1001+(I38)->(H119)

-Endurance:1108+(I51)->(G240)

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-Dexterity:887+(I41)->(H101)

-Agility:940+(I40)->(H192)

-Magic:1611+(G244)->(E444)

Total:5547+(414)->(1096)

Soul Strength: Tier 2 (Hero Soul)

[Karma]: 931

[OP]: 78,090

[Valis]: 149,300

————————————————————————-

Like always, his magic was growing much faster than all of his other parameters due to the constant use of [Will of the Emperor]. His endurance was also increasing somewhat faster than the rest of his stats, and Vahn accredited this to [Rakshasa Body] as well as the constant torment of Tsubaki. He wondered if by the time he finished his training if he would develop an indestructible body just because of his endurance…

The items that he was most concerned with were his two [Skill Enhancement Scroll: A], and the [Hearts Desire: Eternal Flame] he had obtained when increasing the affection of the ‘eternal flame’ to 100. Since there was a lot going on at the time, it had completely slipped his mind until now. Opening the description, Vahn was both confused and terrified.

[Hearts Desire: Eternal Flame]

Rank: Unique

Use: Allows the user to see the inner desires of the target (Eternal Flame). Fulfilling the revealed desire unlocks hidden parameters of the target. //System Warning: Use with extreme caution//

Vahn didn’t understand how a flame could have hidden desires but remembered how expressive it was when they made contact. Though it wasn’t very intelligent, it obviously had enough sentience to interact with its surroundings and understand people. After careful deliberation, Vahn decided to ignore the system warning and ‘use’ the item.

The air seemed to freeze around him, and time seemed to come to a crawl. Vahn was unable to move as a series of images began playing inside his head. He was in the bed of a forge, looking up into the darkness with only his light to illuminate the spacious room. Suddenly, through the darkness, Vahn was able to see his own face appearing like a giant from his low perspective. The ‘big’ version of himself slowly reached out his arm as a flame began to dance in his palm. Within the interior of the flame, Vahn could vaguely see the appearance of what looked like…an embryo?

The time around his body seemed to return to normal as the ‘frozen’ air thawed. Vahn regained his movement and began to ponder over the images. He must have been viewing things from the perspective of the ‘eternal flame’, but he had no idea what it’s desire was. The flame held by the ‘big’ version of himself was obviously the piece split off from the main body, but when he inspected it within his heart he was unable to see anything like an embryo. He had no idea how to fulfill the flames desire as its emotions had been very vague during the vision. All he felt was anticipation…and happiness?

Unsure what to make of the images, he decided to put it to the back of his mind until he was able to discuss the matter with Hephaestus. Vahn was certain she would be willing to assist him once he completed his training. For now, he decided to focus on how he should use his Skill Enhancement Scrolls as they served no purpose just sitting in his inventory.

Vahn was comparing the usefulness of his current skills while also browsing through the shop for things that could be useful in the future. If not for his current quest and the restrictions it placed on his OP usage, there were many things Vahn wanted to buy. That terrifying feeling he felt the previous day was still fresh in his mind, and every moment seemed to draw him closer and closer to the unknown danger.

While he was lost in his own worries, the door opened revealing Lili and Tsubaki carrying in a large pot. After taking their seats, Tsubaki opened the container and a fragrant aroma that Vahn had become familiar with began to spread throughout the room. For the third time in a row, Tsubaki had cooked fried-rice for their meal…

“Tsubaki, why is it that you only cook fried rice?” Vahn, though he didn’t mind the food at all, decided to ask the question that appeared in his mind. After doing so, he started eating the delicious food before noticing a dark atmosphere spreading throughout the room. He paused mid-bite and looked towards Tsubaki with his eyes.

Tsubaki had a dark expression on her face, concealing the area beneath her bangs in shadows. The smile, which she was always wearing, had distorted into a creepy grin as she laughed hollowly. A strange, grating laughter began to echo in the room, a far cry from the cheerful laugh Vahn had grown accustomed to.

Lili, noticing the tense atmosphere, tried to clear things up by whispering towards Vahn using her smallest voice. “Vahn…Tsubaki-sama doesn’t know how to cook anything other than rice. Everything else ends up burnt or inedible…”

Though she was doing her best to be quiet, the shadow on Tsubaki’s face grew darker as her ears twitched. Because of her enhanced senses as a warrior and master smith, she was easily able to hear the muttering of Lili. Her laughter stopped, and she looked towards the duo who stared at her with horrified expressions.

“Make sure to eat a lot. We still have a lot of fun and exciting training left to do…” She began to laugh evilly as the two dropped their utensils. Vahn looked at the food as if it would be his last while Lili began trembling in fear due to her mistake.

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Doki Doki Flame Spirit’, ‘Shokugeki no Cyclops’, ‘Don’t underestimate at Level 5’)

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