The shout of the girl cut through the tense atmosphere and drew the eyes of everyone in the area towards the source. The party of adventurers saw that, though she was in a disheveled state, the girl was without injury. Judging by how the ‘monster’ was able to heal their allies, they began to believe he had been telling the truth since the beginning.
The elf, who had kept his guard up the entire time, decided to speak to the girl to confirm the situation. “I am Rein Valst of the Tyche Familia. Chienthrope girl, explain the situation.” His tone was arrogant and he kept his bow at the ready while maintaining a distance with Vahn.
The girl, who identified herself as Naaza Erisuis, began recounting the story from before Vahn arrived. She spoke of how a duo of high-class adventurers that her party had met earlier in the day arrived later with a horde of monsters in close pursuit. The duo used Naaza’s party to draw the attention of the monsters before abandoning the fight and fleeing.
“Pass Parade!” The leader of the party spat in contempt after hearing Naaza’s recounting of events. Kiting a group of monsters to another group to drop aggro was one of the most frowned-upon and hated actions anyone could do to another group. There were many weaker parties that had been completely wiped as a result of the desperate act. Anyone found to perform a ‘pass parade’ would be severely punished by the guild once the matter came to light.
Naaza continued after nodding through gritted teeth. She had tears in her eyes as she talked about how her allies tried to resist the horde but were slowly overwhelmed by the sheer number of creatures. To make matters worse, at one point the variant War Shadow showed up and started massacring both her allies and monsters alike. It seemed to derive pleasure from the slaughter and before she knew it, Naaza was the only one remaining of her party.
At this point, Naaza paused in her story and seemed to struggle with explaining something. She had gotten to the part about how the White Shadow tortured her and began shaking in fear. Remembering how the monster reveled while slowly torturing her…the sadistic glee it had as it severed one of her arms before tossing it into the mouth of a Frog Shooter. Unable to drive the image from her mind, Naaza collapsed and vomited.
The party of five began to feel pity for the girl. She had survived something that most people would never be able to walk away from and now had to live with the sequelae of the event. The purple-haired cat girl, who had awoken at this point, began rubbing Naaza’s back in an effort to comfort the traumatized girl.
After a few minutes, Naaza managed to recover her senses and continued the story. She skipped over the parts about how she was tortured, and everyone seemed to agree it wasn’t necessary, allowing her to continue detailing how Vahn had shown up at the last minute to save her. Not only had he defeated the White Shadow and all the remaining monsters, he even managed to restore her body after she had passed out. The next thing she remembered was waking up to see everyone fighting her savior which lead to this moment.
Everyone except the elf had apologetic and embarrassed expressions on their face. They were able to infer that, after Vahn had saved the girl he was waiting for her to awaken before escorting her out of the dungeon. They misunderstood the situation, as Vahn was surrounded by ‘corpses’, and assumed he had been the culprit behind the slaughter. The leader of the group seemed to be trying to come up with a way to apologize, but the elf spoke out before he was able to.
“It does not change the fact that this boy is a monster. All humanoid monsters are targets for extermination, no matter if they are intelligent or the type to go around saving people. We don’t know his purpose for being here, and this may all be an elaborate setup for future plans. By earning your empathy, he may use it as a means of wreaking havoc on a larger group of people after earning your trust.”
The atmosphere became tense as the arrogant and accusatory words of the elf transmitted to the group. The leader of the party shouted, “Rein, shut your goddamn mouth! Are you trying to get us all killed!?” Rein scoffed and gave a sideward glance towards his supposed leader. “If he attacks us now, he’ll just be revealing his true nature. I suggest we report this incident to the Guild and inform them of the potential exploitation of this girl. We can’t have her leading people to their deaths just because she falls for a monsters ploy.”
As his words fell, laughter started spreading throughout the room. Everyone was stunned and turned towards the ‘monster’ who seemed to be cackling in an ‘evil’ manner. It was almost like he was losing his mind, and the entire group, minus Naaza, began preparing for the ensuing battle. After a few seconds, Vahn stopped laughing before looking into the eyes of the elf with a condescending gaze.
“Thria*Mimos!” Vahn spoke each word with a powerful, venomous undertone. The moment the final syllable fell, his body began to change into a new shape. Instead of the tiger-like qualities, he was now converting his appearance to appear more wolf-like. The onlookers stared with slack-jawed expressions while even the elf seemed to be discontent with how things were developing.
Naaza, the only person that had kept a relative calm in the changing situation, released a relieved sigh before speaking. “It’s a magic spell. You accusing someone of being a monster was baseless! Not only were you trying to kill him, to begin with, but when you failed to do so you planned to drag his reputation through the mud!? Despicable!”
Now that things had been cleared up, Naaza was very pissed off at the arrogant elf. He not only intended to insult her savior, but his actions would have dragged her and her Familia down as well. Nobody would want to associate with a Familia that had been tricked by a ‘monster’.
The elf was offended by the insult, but seeing as how even his own companions were staring at him with contempt, he tried changing the momentum of the conversation. “Even if he possesses a magic to transform into a beast, it doesn’t prove he isn’t a monster. None of us here have seen him take the form of any of the civilized races!” As the words fell, another change began to occur which drew everyone’s attention away from him.
Vahn, who at this point had recovered greatly, began turning back into his normal state. As he had been out of combat for a while now, the energy maintaining his [Rakshasa Body] had long depleted and was being supported by his willpower and emotions alone. Hearing the arrogant elf’s words, Vahn allowed the transformation to disperse.
Now, he stood before the entire group in his normal form with dark hair and tanned skin. His green eyes stared fiercely at the elf, almost as if he was daring him to say something else. “Satisfied? Or is your pride so important that you’re willing to put your life on the line to continue this charade!?”
The face of the elf contorted as if he had swallowed something foul. He wanted to refute the words and was thinking about the best way to do so. Vahn, seeing his state spoke out once again. “My name is Vahn Mason. I’m a member of the Hephaestus Familia and a protege of it’s Captain, Tsubaki Collbrande. You said you were Rein Valst of the Tyche Familia? Good, I am sure our gods would be willing to settle this matter.”
As Vahn dropped that bombshell, he began to walk towards the exit. He had already saved the girl, who he was surprised to find out was Naaza from the original story. Now that he had prevented her from losing an arm, the Miach family would never go into debt and lose most of its power. Vahn hoped she would be happier than her counterpart from the manga.
Seeing the person named Vahn leaving, the party began to think of him as a ‘monster’ in a new meaning. Their Familia was only a C-Rank Familia with the strongest adventurers being their own group at level 2. There was no way they could afford to offend a titanic S-Rank Familia like the Hephaestus Familia! The leader spoke out in a hurry and tried to catch up to the departing figure.
“Wait, wait, wait! Can’t we talk about this? There is no need to make this a conflict between our two Familia! Come, I’ll have everyone apologize. Rein, get your pointy-eared ass over here!” The boaz man was incredibly flustered. He wanted to wring the neck of his companion for escalating things to such an extent. If nothing else, he could have at least prevented exposing their names and which Familia they belonged to!
The moment he caught up to Vahn, he tried to amicably place his arm on the boy’s shoulder before receiving a powerful back-hand strike which cracked several of his ribs and left a dent in his armor. Vahn glared into his pain-filled expression and spoke with a cold tone. “The next time you try to lay your hands on me, do so with the conviction of facing death.”
Without sparing any more words for the awe-struck group, Vahn continued on his way. Naaza, who had also been surprised by the sudden change, woke up from her stupor and chased after him. She wasn’t fond of this group and thought they were a bunch of prideful jerks. Even if Vahn seemed a little cruel, he had saved her life and healed her wounds. Following him was much better than staying with this contemptible party.
Vahn didn’t say anything after she had caught up with him, he just gave her a curt nod and a small smile. She seemed even more surprised after seeing how quickly Vahn’s ‘cold’ nature had diminished after separating with the group. Though, after thinking about it, she understood he was likely very angry after being attacked by the group. Seeing as how he was willing to save her, he must have a kind-hearted nature.
Naaza released a relieved sigh and returned a smile of her own. “I’m Naaza. Thank you for saving me Vahn.” In response, Vahn slowly shook his head but his smile didn’t fade. Naaza was confused, but her concerns were immediately answered when he responded, “You’ll be safe after we get you out of this dark and dreary dungeon. You’re still in shock from the events, and once the reality of the situation hits it will be very painful. For now, focus on keeping your bearings. I promise I will protect you until you are able to reunite with your Familia above ground.”
Hearing his kind words, Naaza began tearing up. Though she had been trying to maintain her calm after recounting her story earlier, she was affected deeply by the loss of her friends. She had even given up any hope of living before Vahn had saved her. Now he was even promising to protect her while showing he understood the internal struggles happening within her mind.
She covered her mouth to try and stifle her sobbing, but the tears began to overpower her resistance and she collapsed to the ground in grief. Vahn, seeing that his words had the opposite effect, bent down and took her into his arms. His actions caused Naaza to stop holding back her tears as she began loudly wailing within his embrace.
Vahn held her in a gentle, but firm embrace as he consoled the bereaved girl. He continued tending to her even when the group of five passed by him with awkward expressions on their faces. Vahn gave them a solemn look without saying anything, and they at least had the wherewithal to not interfere with the current situation. They continued on their way, likely planning to leave the dungeon and report the situation to their Familia.
After several minutes passed, Naaza had stopped crying and was now gently snoring in Vahn’s arms. He looked down into the tear-stained face of the girl and felt pity. Various thoughts began to sprout in his mind, but Vahn decided to worry about them later. For now, he picked up Naaza’s body and held her close as he started running through the dungeon towards the staircase where he had parted with Lili.
(A/N: ‘Pride before the Fall’, ‘My Goddess is bigger than your Goddess’, ‘Innate Skill [Face Slap: SSS]’)