Chapter 641: Rumination

Passing through the ‘Dead Floors’ between the 30th and 36th only took the Expedition around seven hours, setting yet another record that would be hard to follow for most groups. As he had intended, Ais, Tiona, and Tione had an opportunity to put their skills on display while Lefiya and Haruhime continued to barrage enemies with their ranged magic. They didn’t have the benefit of Vahn replenishing their reserves indefinitely, but it didn’t stop the girls from spamming their abilities since they wanted to increase their [Spirit Healing] Development Ability further. Though they could become much stronger when learning Eva’s magic system, Vahn already told them that increasing their base parameters would still be highly beneficial.

Though Terra already ‘exceeded’ Level 10, she actually wasn’t as strong as she could have been if her Soul Tier had been higher. There was also a severe loss in potential parameter gain between levels and it wouldn’t be impossible for other people to eventually grow much stronger than she was. An example would be Vahn himself, who would have around 65,000 parameters at Level 10 while Terra hovered around 42-45,000. This meant that, at the same Level, Vahn would have more parameters to work with when using enhancement magic and his spells would be inarguably stronger. Of course, his magic power itself would probably be significantly weaker than Terra’s for a long while because of her heritage as a True Dragon. He would inevitably become much stronger, as his existence itself didn’t have limitations, but it wasn’t too surprising that she would outgrow him with an extra century in her favor…

Shortly after entering the 37th floor, the beginning of the White Palace, Vahn watched as Ais flittered about and tore through entire waves of enemies. Vahn had already given them permission to use their artifacts, as long as they didn’t use their outfits themselves, so Ais had taken to the skies alongside Tiona. With her [Ariel], Ais was a truly terrifying combatant in the sky and cut through the hordes like a beautiful doll-shaped blender. As for Tiona, she had already learned to conserve some of her own ‘mana’, Vahn wasn’t really sure what she used to maintain her transformation, and had ended up smashing down with her [Dance of the Amazon] instead. She was already very skilled at twirling around and now didn’t have to rely on ‘leaping’ to generate momentum, instead, using her ability to fly to the fullest effect to enhance her mobility.

Asfi had been silent throughout the journey but couldn’t help drawing in a sharp breath when she saw Ais slay a Variant Barbarian, more than 5m tall, with a single swipe of her sword. Vahn looked over at her with a playful smile on her face, asking, “They’re pretty amazing, aren’t they~?” Hearing Vahn’s words, Asfi nodded with a serious expression on her face before hesitating for several seconds. Seemingly unable to resist the temptation, Asfi asked, “Is this because of their own efforts or the items you’ve forged for them? I’ve never heard of a wand that can let someone transform completely, even allowing someone famous for their inability to use magic the freedom to fly around and cast spells…”

Vahn smiled while fluffing up Fenrir’s ears with his fingers, contemplating his words for a while before saying, “Well, I’ve always done my best to try and make their dreams come true. Tiona always wanted to be able to use magic and desired to be treated like a princess. It took a bit of effort, and a great deal of luck, but I managed to procure an item that would allow her to do the former while the latter resulted in my pampering her on occasion. It’s the same for all the other girls, and I’ll never stop trying my best to make sure they are happy…isn’t that right, Fenrir~?” Fenrir lazily nodded her head, dangling her feet off the edge of Vahn’s knees while leaning against his chest, seemingly unaffected by the fighting going on around them.

Asfi furrowed her brows slightly at Vahn’s response and wondered if there was even a purpose for him agreeing to have her create a Magic Item for him. Though she might be able to make something similar to Ais’, Asfi knew she wouldn’t be able to make something like the wand used by Tiona, regardless of how much effort she put into it. All of her masterpieces seemed like baubles compared to some of the things Vahn seemingly made just to make the girls around him happy. It was very vexing and Asfi felt like she was losing confidence in her abilities. Compared to someone like Vahn, it was almost like she was just playing around…

Sensing the change in Asfi’s aura, Vahn gave her a curious look that caused her to avert her eyes with a slight frown on her face. Vahn’s raised one of his brows in response, asking, “Are you trying to compare yourself to me…?” Though she didn’t show any external response, Asfi’s aura flared up even more, causing Vahn to feel a little awkward. This was something he never really understood since he felt it was ‘inspiring’ to see people with greater capabilities, as it meant there was more to learn. He didn’t understand why people like Welf, Bete, and now Asfi, felt the need to compare themselves to him. After all, they were more than capable of being happy in their own lives, making use of their own capabilities to become successful.

Vahn ‘needed’ to be as strong as he was since there were many things he wanted to protect, including the happiness of those around him. Asfi likely had things she wanted to protect as well and Vahn was certain she had been doing her best, just as he had. Rather than feel insecure about her own capabilities, she should instead aspire towards greater heights instead. Thus, with a serious expression on his face, Vahn said, “Asfi, people are as capable as they choose to be in order to protect the things they care about. You didn’t become the Captain of the Hermes Familia on accident, nor did you become one of the most well-known Artificers in the entire City by chance. Comparing yourself to me, when we’ve both done our best for our own lives, does a disservice to us both…don’t sell yourself short or you’ll have insulted everyone that ever looked up to you…”

Asfi slowly turned her head to match Vahn’s gaze, seeing the seriousness in his expression and the ‘conviction’ in his eyes. She knew he was right, as she had gotten to this point in her life based on the efforts she had put in. There were thousands of people that looked up to her and it wasn’t an exaggeration to say she was a household name in a City that housed millions of people. Before comparing herself to Vahn, all of her accomplishments were things that others had aspired towards and never been able to achieve. If she saw those people resent and feel bad about themselves simply because they compared themselves to her, Asfi might even look down on them for discrediting her own efforts…

Realizing the truth to Vahn’s words, Asfi frowned slightly before closing her eyes for several long seconds of silence. Once she collected herself, she matched Vahn’s gaze once again and said, “Forgive me…I see I have erred in my ways and have insulted a great many people as a result of my behavior. I will endeavor to be better…thank you for your guidance, Vahn.” Vahn chuckled in response to her words before saying, “Whenever you see someone that is further along in something you want to study, you should see that as a point to overcome, not a height you can never reach. That is one of the ‘secrets’ behind all of our strengths…”

Vahn smiled down at Fenrir, resting his head against her’s as he explained, “You see, instead of getting wrapped up in the idea that we can’t be better, everyone at the Hearth Manor is constantly trying to improve. Many of my accomplishments were dependant on the assistance of other people and I wouldn’t even be the person I am today without the help and guidance of others. I’m sure, with your ‘status’, you understand the importance of having capable people to feed off of each other to develop their capabilities further. Well, we do much the same and that is the reason why the girls are becoming stronger so quickly…we share each other’s burdens and never stop doing our best, not for ourselves, but for everyone’s shared happiness.”

Asfi was slightly taken aback by Vahn’s words but she couldn’t help but consider them very seriously, especially after witnessing the strength of the girls around him. As he said, Asfi knew how important it was to have capable people managing the affairs of the Kingdom. She also needed reliable vassals to maintain order and deter the corrupt nobles and merchants that constantly threatened the stability of the Kingdom for their own greed. The main reason she had even come to Orario, other than to increase her own strength, was to scout capable people and establish a network with various Familia. She wouldn’t have joined someone like Hermes if not for the fact it allowed her to protect her identity and have greater freedom to move about and make her own plans…

The one thing she couldn’t really understand, though she could rationalize it somewhat, was how the people in the Hearth Manor were able to grow so quickly. Yes, Vahn might be explaining it to her right now, but Asfi knew there was far more to the situation than he was making apparent. She could tell he was being sincere in his words but also understood he seemed to lack ‘common sense’, even though he was very perceptive. Others may have helped him reach this point, but the fact he got to it so quickly shows that his capabilities were monstrous from the start. The fact that he was beginning to drag other people along with his momentum, all for the sake of ‘shared happiness’, was both commendable and ‘terrifying’ at the same time. Given their rate of growth, Asfi could see the residents of the Hearth Familia becoming inordinately more powerful than everyone else…meaning they wouldn’t have anyone that could challenge their power…

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Recalling the words Hermes shared with her before accepting this mission, Asfi felt like she had fallen into a trap of sorts and swore to punish her god once she returned. It was very obvious that she had been ‘sacrificed’, though not in the sense that Vahn may believe. Though she was loyal to the Hermes Familia right now, Asfi needed to return to her homeland in the future to prevent causing problems within the royal court. Associating with Vahn had the chance of guaranteeing she could meet her objectives since the power and authority of the Alliance would certainly expand beyond the City in the future.

Just by becoming friends with the boy, Asfi knew he would aid her if she requested it of him but it was a very difficult matter for her pride to tolerate such one-sided support. However, there didn’t really seem to be anything she could give him since he was already surrounded by so many capable people. Though Hermes seemed to intend for her to become ‘involved’ with Vahn, Asfi didn’t feel like that would be fair to either of them, especially considering the number of girls in his life. If it was just a ‘fling’, in exchange for assistance and mutual benefits, Asfi wouldn’t mind making such a sacrifice. The problem was, she could tell Vahn wasn’t the type to trade benefits and his existence was simply too ‘big’ for her to escape if she actually tried. It was impossible to ‘use’ him in a conventional setting because the women around him simply wouldn’t allow it…meaning she would be trapped from the very moment she let the boy touch her heart.

Unaware of what Asfi was thinking, Vahn just cocked his head to the side for a few moments before turning away and allowing her to think. She seemed ‘impressed’ when he was speaking but quickly became very serious and ruminating a few seconds later. He decided to just ignore her for the time being since he still wanted to investigate her origins later on. She was probably thinking of ‘sacrificing’ herself in some manner so Vahn figured he could just find out the situation of her homeland and resolve a few things before she did something foolish. Though she might try to come to him after the fact, it wouldn’t be that easy since he would already be wrapped up in the matters of his own family.

Vahn didn’t really mind being friends with Asfi, considering he had few females he could consider friends, so he didn’t mind helping her out. He just didn’t want another girl coming to him out of ‘obligation’ since it was always a difficult thing to rationalize and ‘care’ about. Though he had read a fair number of books on the subjects, Vahn didn’t understand how Kingdoms and Empires could get so bad in almost every conceivable instance. The Aristocratic society seemed especially foolish and it didn’t make any sense why incompetents constantly found themselves in power. Vahn didn’t mind that Kingdoms and such existed, but it was silly to consider that people were ‘special’ by virtue of their birth and could come into power they didn’t earn for themselves…he just couldn’t understand it as it seemed ridiculously selfish and egotistical…

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Seeing that the convoy had approached a Coliseum, Vahn gave Fenrir a tight hug before saying, “Tell Finn I want to give you the chance to solo the Coliseum. You can take the others with you, but I want to have a better gauge for your power and it’ll save the Expedition a lot of time.” Fenrir showed a confident grin before nodding her head and saying, “Fenrir is the strongest~!” Like a flash of blue lightning, Fenrir charged forward and conveyed his message to Main Party, causing Finn to look back with a questioning look on his face. Vahn gave him an affirmative gesture that made the Pallum show a wry smile before eventually allowing Fenrir to proceed with Ais and Tiona in tow.

As if she found her words, Asfu suddenly asked, “Exactly how strong is Fenrir…?” Realizing she may have said something invasive, Asfi furrowed her brows slightly before giving Vahn a curious glance as he simply laughed it off. When he was apparently content with laughing at her, Vahn showed a smile and explained, “Let’s just say that Ottar can only enjoy his Title for as long as Fenrir is content being the ‘Vanargandr’~.” Asfi’s eyes widened slightly but she became outright numb when Vahn continued, saying, “However, another one of my companions is much stronger than Fenrir already. The others will probably outgrow her in the next two years, at least if Fenrir stopped training…and I’m guessing you’d want to know my own strength as well? Let’s see, I’m currently a little weaker than Fenrir and would probably lose to Ais if she fought me seriously…but, that won’t be the case for much longer~.” Vahn sent a playful wink toward Asfi because it was ‘fun’ seeing her fluster when he said increasingly ‘unbelievable’ things.

Seeing that Asfi was having trouble believing him, Vahn leaned back with his arms behind his head, eyes closed as he said, “Asfi, even if you have trouble believing it, that is the truth of the matter. I won’t stop until each of the people I want to protect become untouchable by the normal standards of the world. Though I want to protect them personally, I can’t always be at their sides when they need me and will ensure they break the ‘limits’ that people are currently bound by. Then, together, we will help change this world for the betterment of everyone…not through conflict, though some won’t be avoidable, but through dialogue, education, and cooperation…” As the Alliance’s attempt to create a School was already circulating through the City, it wasn’t a secret that needed to be kept close to the chest.

Asfi swallowed as she heard Vahn’s words, feeling that there was an irrefutable truth behind each of them even though it was very difficult to believe. However, it was more difficult to believe that there would have ever been such a thing as a 14-year-old [Master Smith]. It was also an observed fact that each of the people that joined the Hestia Familia have set records that were ‘impossible’ to obtain without a ridiculous amount of resources.

Though they had the support of several S-Rank Familias, the girls would have still had to put in an inhuman amount of efforts to reach their current Levels in such a short period of time. However, it wasn’t as if the resources had been saved specifically for their use so this couldn’t be the reason behind their growth, meaning it was, in fact, Vahn’s influence that allowed them to become strong. If he could extend that influence to a large number of people, it wasn’t hard to imagine that the Alliance, especially the Hestia Familia, would be able to bring about great changes in the world…

Asfi found herself at a point where she may have to make a very important decision for the future since, should she miss such an opportunity, not just herself, but her entire Kingdom may be swept aside in the wake of Vahn’s ‘revolution’. This was likely why Hermes wanted to try to get closer to him as well, as it would become progressively more difficult to reach the core of the Alliance as time passed. It was already very difficult to get near Vahn since Loki, Freya, and Hephaestus collaborated to protect him from the influence of external forces. They also didn’t bat an eye at creating a blockage against a powerful nation, forcing economic sanctions and manipulating the upper echelons of the City to support their decisions. This meant they didn’t care about foreign dignitaries and royalty at all, at least if they represented factions that were in opposition to Vahn…

Though there had been several loud explosions going on, silence had returned to the Dungeon after a ‘surprisingly’ short period of time had passed. Asfi was broken out of her thoughts by the sound of cheering as Fenrir, Tiona, and Ais returned to the convoy, informing everyone that it was safe to move forward. It generally took around 15-20 minutes to clear a Coliseum, if the party doing so was very powerful, but it hadn’t even been 4 minutes since the trio entered. Asfi felt a chill pass over her body before the cart made its way through the Coliseum, which had become an icy tundra from floor to ceiling, thousands of monsters frozen to death without ever having been able to fight back…

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