While Hephaestus was working hard to prevent future troubles, Vahn was currently wrapped up in the present issue that presented itself. Tsubaki had elevated his training to a new level, and instead of just sparring and developing his physical abilities, she was now having him fight against her with weapons. The two stood five meters apart from each other, and all the hairs on Vahn’s body were raised as his senses screamed for him to flee.
Tsubaki was in a low stance with her hand resting slightly above the hilt of her katana. Her body was perfectly still, and from Vahn’s perspective, she didn’t even appear to breathe. The only thing he could focus on was the intent within her eye that made him unable to move. It wasn’t the predatory look he had seen in people that wanted to exploit him; the only thing Vahn could see from that singular, uncovered, eye was absolute confidence. A confidence that told him there was nothing he could do to stop what came next.
Seconds passed like minutes, as the two held their stances and faced off. Vahn held his sword in front of him preparing to receive the strike, while Tsubaki maintained her lowered stance with her katana still sheathed. The sweat on Vahn’s brow slowly made its way down his face until a drop rested on the edge of his nose. He could feel it tickle his skin every time he drew breath until he eventually tried to dislodge it by exhaling quickly.
The moment Vahn breathed out, Tsubaki’s body seemed to tilt ever so slightly before the image Vahn could see began to blur. He immediately understood the phenomenon as her after-image since he had seen it several times since their new training began. Vahn quickly stepped back and prepared to receive the yet unseen blow. His eyes darted around his front as he swept his back with his domain.
As his focus increased to the pinnacle, colors slowly faded away from the surroundings as time itself seemed to crawl. From his perception, Vahn could sense the approaching blade and, even though it had not yet reached, he experienced the illusion of the blade winds tearing apart his body. He twisted his hips and reoriented himself towards the blow and tried to parry, but to his surprise, the only thing he saw was Tsubaki still in a low stance.
Vahn’s parry collided with nothing and passed through the air leaving a gap in his defenses. Tsubaki used that exact moment to plant her foot into the ground as an incredibly loud sound of metal against metal began resonating in Vahn’s ears. At this point, from Vahn’s perspective, time itself seemed to halt for everything except the blade movement before him. A beam of light seemed to trace Tsubaki’s eye as the katana carried an unstoppable momentum towards Vahn’s neck.
The katana came within millimeters of separating Vahn’s head from the rest of his body when the seemingly unstoppable force suddenly dissipated. The blade now rested a hairsbreadth away from his jugular and Vahn just stood in absolute stillness as the blade was slowly lowered. Tsubaki sheathed the katana and the fiercely confident look on her face was replaced with a friendly smile.
“Your reaction speed is improving rapidly. You need to focus on making the proper decision after seeing what your opponent is doing instead of just trusting your initial reaction. If I had attacked normally you may have been able to parry my attack but, since I was able to fool you with my intent, you created a gap which I was able to exploit.” As Tsubaki explained his flaws, Vahn still just stood there blankly. It wasn’t until she patted him on the shoulder and told him to take a break that the tension finally subsided and he collapsed to the ground.
Naaza, who had been waiting at the side came to Vahn holding a warm towel and a cold container of water. She had been asked by Tsubaki to handle the after-care of Vahn’s training to killing intent. Every time their training came to an end, Vahn would end up in a semi-frozen state as his brain processed that he was still alive against all expectation. It was Naaza’a job to help him relax so the training could continue.
While this was going on, Lili was gnashing her teeth while being unable to move from her current position. She too volunteered to help Vahn recover, but Tsubaki denied her since Lili had her own training to undertake. Now she was stuck standing on a long reinforced beam while supporting a gigantic metal pillar. She needed to move the pillar from one end of the beam to the other without falling and could only rest if she did so standing on her hands.
Vahn awoke to the familiar sight of Naaza’s face looking down on him from above. He could feel a soft sensation on his neck which meant she was giving him a lap pillow. Noticing he had regained awareness, Naaza removed the towel from his head before bringing the container to his lips. Vahn had grown accustomed to this action recently, so he opened his mouth and drank the water she was offering. Afterward, he rested on her lap for another minute or so as his breathing stabilized.
“It looked like you almost had her that time.” Naaza issued a gentle laugh while continuing to wipe away the sweat on Vahn’s brow. Vahn, who was resting on her lap, released a long sigh before shaking his head slightly. “Every time I think I’m able to receive the attack Tsubaki always sees through it and changes her approach.”
Naaza nodded her head before replying, “Yes, but Tsubaki has been fighting for more than twenty years. If anything, it would be strange for you to be able to resist her attacks while still being level 2. I think she is just trying to have you adapt to the pressure of stronger opponents so you don’t freeze up in a tense situation.” Vahn also agreed with Naaza’s assessment, as it had been something Tsubaki herself had told him when their new training began.
Afterward, Vahn sparred against Tsubaki an additional nine times, bringing their total for the day to ten. He was still unable to prevent a single attack but was slowly beginning to develop a resistance against the aftereffects of the fight. Though Vahn didn’t mind being tended to by Naaza, it was slowly starting to make him feel awkward on the inside. Once, he had caught Naaza secretly sniffing at the cloth she used to wipe his sweat and it made Vahn feel a strange and numb sensation in his mind.
As the morning training had ended, Vahn was now in Tsubaki’s workshop refining various drop items for Tsubaki. She had fallen behind on some of her contracts, so Vahn wanted to help her by assisting with the processing of materials. Though he was unable to help in her in the actual forging process, he had a lot of knowledge on how to properly prepare the materials and quickly adapted to the position of her assistant. Tsubaki was very grateful for the help and used the opportunity when Vahn wasn’t busy to explain the process she used when creating equipment.
Today Tsubaki was creating a helmet using a composite of magisteel infused with adamantine. The helmet would be nearly indestructible when completed and had the added benefit of dispersing the shockwaves caused by heavy blows. Forging with adamantine was a long and arduous process because of the intractable quality of the material. It required the use of special tools and had to periodically be left in a mana-infused solution to weaken the durability of the metal.
Even Vahn’s ‘eternal flame’ was unable to distort the material without having been soaked for more than an hour. Tsubaki had given him a small ingot, hardly enough to forge a dagger, and Vahn had been allowed free-range to experiment with its use. Naaza was surprised seeing Vahn handling such an expensive material, as Adamantite was easily one of the most expensive materials by volume in the entire market. A single gram could go for as much as 15,000V due to the rarity of the metal, while Vahn was given an entire 500g of the substance.
Whenever Vahn wasn’t busy, he would constantly be trying different methods to shape the ingot. He had even purchased information on it from the shop, but both his physical strength and current forging techniques weren’t able to ease the process any. Adamantite wasn’t conductive by nature which made it hard to channel ‘energy’ into. Instead, it was commonly mixed with other materials like magisteel and mithril to work around that weakness. Vahn was determined to find the best method to work the material in the future, as he wanted to create an indestructible weapon for himself.
By the time 2 PM rolled around, Vahn and Lili were beginning their preparations for heading to the dungeon, but Tsubaki stopped them. She gave Vahn a large grin before asking, “Do you remember what today is?” Vahn couldn’t recall off the top of his head, so he began seriously considering the question.
Lili, at his side, spoke up. “Today is the day the Denatus ends. Vahn should be receiving his alias today, right?” Tsubaki gave a thumbs up and laughed. “Hahaha, that’s right! Good job Lili. You always were the type to pay attention to the details, especially when it comes to Vahn, huh?” Without waiting for an answer, Tsubaki started patting Lili’s head which caused her to squirm.
“Guuu, only Vahn can pet my ears. You should go pat Naaza instead Tsubaki-sama…” Lili was now covering her ears with her hands as she pulled away from Tsubaki. A gleam flashed through the crimson eye of the master smith as she quickly snatched Lili up and started hugging her closely against her cheek. “Hahaha, you’re so adorable Lili~. No need to be shy!”
“Vaaaaahn-, save meeeee!” Lili reached out towards Vahn who had been staring blankly at the sight. He had become used to seeing Lili handled by Tsubaki and knew there wasn’t anything he could do about it. Hell, when she was in the mood, Vahn couldn’t even protect himself from Tsubaki’s clutches. At this point, he had just learned to accept her contact and even began enjoying it when she wasn’t overexcited. It was always a relaxing experience when she would gently caress his head, and there were several instances where he had fallen asleep in her embrace.
They decided not to go into the dungeon today and instead spent the rest of the day relaxing. Naaza had taken the opportunity to invite Vahn to her workshop where they talked about various methods to improve the potions. Whenever they would talk, Naaza always had a notebook on hand and recorded all of the ‘insights’ Vahn had. Vahn didn’t mind, as he enjoyed the serious disposition Naaza had when it came to mixing. He wanted to see if she was able to create stronger potions in the future and even wanted to see if she could learn the [Alchemy] development skill in the future.
Lili was also there, as she had been spending a lot of time with Naaza as well recently. She had originally been learning how to mix medicines from books, so having someone with actual experience was a boon. Though they didn’t get along very well, they both had a mutual respect for each other and helped cover each other’s flaws. Lili even trained with Naaza, who was surprised to find out she wasn’t much stronger than someone that was only level 1. This made Naaza also consider if she should be training with Tsubaki, but for now, she wanted to focus on developing her [Mixing] skill.
The trio continued talking and performing small experiments until the evening came. Tsubaki showed up and informed them that Hephaestus had arrived, so the three of them cleaned up and made their way to the dining room. When they entered, they saw a somewhat dejected Hephaestus leaning against the table while supporting her head with her palm. She slowly stirred the coffee with a spoon and acted in a very lazy manner uncharacteristic of her.
Hephaestus saw them enter and seated herself properly before giving Vahn an awkward smile. “I’m sorry Vahn, I tried to get you a good one, but those fools wouldn’t listen to reason.” She sighed and started sipping at her coffee as everyone else sat down.
Though Vahn was slightly worried that he got a weird name, he didn’t think it was that big a deal so he tried to console her. “It’s alright Hephaestus. I can always get it changed when I hit Level 3, so it’s not a problem, even if it’s a weird name.” He gave Hephaestus a smile and noticed she seemed to relax a bit after hearing his words.
“Well, it’s not really a weird name per say…It’s more awkward than anything.” As Hephaestus spoke she began to blush slightly which caused everyone within the room to become confused. As Tsubaki hadn’t heard the news yet, even her interest was piqued as she began to tease her Goddess. “Eeeeh? Hephaestus-sama? Could it be something embarrassing?”
Hephaestus saw the strange looks everyone was giving her and her blush deepened slightly. She looked towards Vahn, the only person that had a relatively normal expression, and then released a sigh. “Vulcan…” As she spoke the word, Hephaestus couldn’t prevent from planting her face onto the table.
Tsubaki began laughing uncontrollably while the other three were confused. Vahn didn’t think the name sounded bad and wondered why Hephaestus was affected to such an extent. Lili decided to ask Tsubaki the meaning behind the word. “Tsubaki-sama…whats so funny about the name?” Tsubaki continued laughing while looking between Vahn and Lili.
“Hehehe, you want to know what it means Lili? Okay, I’ll tell you! Vulcan is a nickname for Hephaestus herself~ In other words it’s like announcing to the entire City that she and Vahn are inseparable! Hahaha!” Tsubaki ended up laughing to the point she fell to the ground. She seemed to really be enjoying the revelation.
Lili and Naaza had shocked expression on their faces as they looked towards Hephaestus who was presently burying her face into her arms. Vahn’s expression hadn’t changed much, and he was thinking about the name and reason Tsubaki gave. In a way, since they had a connection through the ‘eternal flame’, they really were inseparable. Vahn thought it was a suitable name, so he tried relieving the atmosphere a bit.
“It’s a good name Hephaestus. I will do my best so I don’t bring shame to it in the future.” Vahn showed a gratified expression on his face which only caused the embarrassed Hephaestus to groan loudly in frustration.
Title: Vahn’s Alias
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘There is no escaping now’,’Tsubaki is scary’,’RIP Hephaestus’, ‘You ain’t sneaky Naaza’)