Chapter 71: *Spoiler: Title at End*

Hephaestus awoke in a daze. She felt a comfortable feeling and a gentle warmth which confused her. As she opened her eyes, she realized she was hugging someone’s waist and immediately separated from the figure as various thoughts raced through her mind. Seeing that the person she had been clinging to was Vahn, Hephaestus released a relieved sigh. She looked towards the sleeping Vahn and a blush appeared on her face as she began recalling the events of the previous night.

Looking around, Hephaestus noticed they were the only two in the dining room and it was still very early in the morning. It would probably be another hour or two before people came to prepare for breakfast. Using the opportunity, she lay down next to Vahn and propped her head up with her arm. She watched his sleeping face and found it to be very cute. Unlike his apathetic appearance when he was awake, Vahn always seemed a lot more content while sleeping.

Out of curiosity, Hephaestus reached forward with a finger and pressed lightly against his cheek. It was still a bit squishy due to his young age and lack of tension. Hephaestus found it cute to watch him grimace slightly while she teased him. She felt like she could watch him sleep for hours without getting bored. He was so defenseless and adorable that it made her want to protect him so he could continue to sleep in peace.

Suddenly, Hephaestus could feel the beating within her soul begin to increase. She could feel Vahn’s heart rate speeding up and she began paying attention to it. It was a steady rhythm and she was able to sense happy feelings through their connection. Hephaestus really enjoyed spending her idle time listening to his heart rate, and it had even been her favorite pastime as of late. She often spent the time before bed thinking about Vahn and wondering how he was improving.

After a while, Hephaestus had a thought and decided that listening within her soul wasn’t as interesting. Since Vahn was right next to her, she wanted to listen to the beating directly. As long as she was careful not to disturb him, it shouldn’t be a problem. And, even if he woke up, she could pretend to have just awoken herself. Convincing herself, Hephaestus slowly placed her head on Vahn’s chest.

Unlike when she listened within her soul, she could now feel the actual beating of Vahn’s heart. Every time it contracted it created a powerful echo through his body that resonated through her ear. The longer she listened, the more powerful the beating seemed to become and Hephaestus even felt like she was merging with the rhythm.

The ‘eternal flame’ within Vahn’s chest seemed to react to her presence and began to emit it’s powerful heat as it increased the energy contained within Vahn’s blood. Hephaestus could feel the familiar presence that had accompanied her since her creation and began to feel a more powerful connection to Vahn. He not only managed to subordinate her flame but now his internal rhythm and pulse were slowly becoming a part of Hephaestus’s existence. The familiar presence that had accompanied her since time immemorial made her believe the boy before her would also be there no matter how much time passed…

//’Hephaestus’Has Reached Maximum Affection//

//Quest Completed: [The Hearts Desire:C-SS]//

Completion Grade: A

Rewards:10,000OP, 1x [Hearts Desire: Hephaestus]

Grade Rewards: [Blacksmith] skill increased to S. Skill [Metallurgy:C] obtained.

Vahn was awoken by the system notification with a start. Feeling a pressure on his chest, he could see Hephaestus with a dazed expression as she appeared to be listening to his heart. She noticed his awakening and lifted her head and displayed a radiant smile. She held the gentle smile for several seconds before her eye slowly widened and a blush appeared on her face.

Hephaestus pulled away from Vahn and began coughing to clear the awkwardness of what had just happened. For some reason, as she had been listening to Vahn’s heart, she went into a trance and felt powerful emotions erupt from deep within her. When she saw his face looking at her, Hephaestus had been so happy she couldn’t help but smile before realizing he had been watching her lay on his chest while obviously awake…

After she composed herself, Hephaestus showed her characteristic ‘cool’ smile and said, “Good morning Vahn. Did you sleep well?” As she asked the question, Hephaestus couldn’t help but try to forcefully repress the rising heat in her cheeks.

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Vahn was still in a daze at the current events. While Hephaestus had been moving about in a flustered manner, he had read the system notification and realized what had happened. It seems that, while they were sleeping, Hephaestus’s affection had reached 100 which caused his quest notification to sound. Seeing the rewards, Vahn was very happy and he showed it by smiling to Hephaestus.

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“Good morning Hephaestus. It was a very comfortable sleep.” Vahn stood up and began to stretch his body while Hephaestus continued sitting as if her brain had malfunctioned. She could also see, from the corner of her eye, a dark-skinned face peeking through the crack of the door holding in its laughter. Noticing Tsubaki, Hephaestus blushed fiercely before glaring in her direction.

Tsubaki opened the door and pretended to have just arrived, even though Hephaestus was still giving her a death stare. “Good morning Hephaestus-sama. Good morning Vahn. I didn’t expect that you would both be here so early. Don’t tell me you slept in the dining room?” Tsubaki looked between both of them with a cheeky grin.

Vahn hadn’t noticed her peeking through the door, so he responded casually. “Yeah. I guess the alcohol got to us and we ended up passing out in the dining room. I’m gonna go wash my face and then wake the other two if they’re still sleeping.” While yawning, Vahn exited the room and went about performing his daily routine.

After he left, Tsubaki smiled even bigger before looking towards Hephaestus. She was about to say something, but before the words came out Hephaestus charged her while screaming. “Tsubaki, yoooooooou-” Hephaestus really wanted to strangle Tsubaki to relieve some of the tension that had been building within her heart.

Vahn continued to the bathroom where he came across Naaza who was in her pajamas. She wasn’t much a morning person, so she just groaned a bit when Vahn greeted her. They both brushed their teeth together before Naaza went to wake up Lili. Since Vahn had nothing to do presently, he decided to check out the new skill he had obtained and contemplated using the new item [Hearts Desire: Heaphaestus]. He was really curious about what the taciturn Goddess that had a soft side truly desired within her heart.

[Metallurgy]

Rank:C

Allows the user to sense anomalies within metal and understand it’s composition.

The skill was pretty straightforward and would probably be of use when he was forging items. He would be able to more accurately determine if the ore was properly refined. It would also prevent him from leaving defects in his future products since he would be able to sense them through his perception in the future. Overall, it would be very useful for his current lifestyle so Vahn was pleased.

Moving on, he decided to try and use the [Hearts Desire].

[Hearts Desire: Hephaestus]

Rank: Unique

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

Seeing the warning, Vahn was slightly apprehensive as he stared at the crimson red gem that seemed to issue a steady pulse in his hand. It was very beautiful and was reminiscent of the time he had seen Hephaestus’s eye. Remembering the pain on her face at the time, Vahn decided not to concern himself with any negative aspects of the item. He wanted to know what he could do to help Hephaestus become happy. He crushed the gem and it absorbed into his skin as time began to slow.

In a manner very similar to the previous time he used the item, the air around Vahn froze and he became unable to move. A series of images began to flash through his mind and a voice began speaking from within his subconsciousness…

‘Vahn’ was sitting in a dark room surrounded by dead, lifeless artifacts. Even though any random passerby would think they were divinely inspired masterpieces, he knew the truth…all of these items were just a waste of materials. No matter how much time was spent in their creation, none of the items were able to satisfy him. Everything was flawed and worthless; this wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to create something unique and beautiful…something that could help fill the emptiness that had accompanied him for so long.

‘Vahn’ picked up a nearby shield that had a flawless mirror-like surface. Looking at the reflection within the shield, Vahn could see the face of Hephaestus without her eyepatch reflected. It was a sad and lonely expression that matched the feelings within his chest. Looking deep into the crimson eye, he could see Hephaestus begin to tear up as she dropped to her knees and wept. Vahn could feel the emptiness spreading within her and her tears seemed to coalesce like a river that threatened to drown the entire world.

For a very long time, this was the only emotion Vahn could feel. Then, almost as if it had happened within an instant, a warmth began to spread throughout the emptiness within his heart. He could feel a gentle rhythm drive away all the negative feelings that had been building within him. Turning his head, he sought after the source of the rhythm and came across a ‘small’ version of himself.

The smaller ‘Vahn’ seemed so fragile, almost like a small flame that struggled to burn against the violent currents of time. It was almost like any single small breeze would be able to eliminate the existence in its entirety, but against all odds, it continued to burn strong. Even the river of tears that encompassed the entire room seemed to slowly be evaporating under its gentle warmth. Vahn reached down and picked up the smaller version of himself and held it against his chest.

As he came into contact with his body, the smaller version of himself sunk into his flesh and a powerful warmth began permeating through his body. Vahn felt determined to protect this tiny ‘flame-like’ version of himself no matter what it took. Even if he had to sacrifice himself, as long as the flame was prevented from being extinguished, he would be happy…

Time started again as Vahn returned to a clear state of mind. The memory of everything he had experienced was deeply embedded within his being. With a single thought he could recall the entire sequence of events including every emotion, thought, and feeling. Vahn knew he was experiencing things from Hephaestus’s perspective and the fact she had felt lonely for such a long period of time deeply left a deep impression in his heart where the ‘eternal flame’ rested.

He put his hand over his heart and tried feeling the emotions contained within. The ‘eternal flame’ seemed to understand his intent as feelings of pride, expectation, but most notably…loneliness was emitted from the flames connection. As a part of Hephaestus, it also carried the same feelings she possessed through the ages.

Vahn began to understand everything the vision wanted to convey. Deep within her heart, beyond all the trauma she experienced due to her deformity, beyond all the items she had created that were touted as peerless, the thing her heart truly desired was companionship. She worked so hard to impress people so they would treat her well, but nobody was able to see beyond her skill as a blacksmith. Whenever they saw her eye, they treated her like a monster and avoided her. And no matter how much time passed, this never seemed to change.

Staring into the mirror of the bathroom, Vahn looked into his own aquamarine eyes. He could see…anger. He was angry with how Hephaestus, someone that was so fragile and gentle in front of him, had been mistreated for such a ridiculous reason. Gritting his teeth, Vahn cemented a conviction deep within himself. He would show each and every one of them how foolish they were.

He conveyed his feelings through the ‘eternal flame’ in his heart and it seemed to dance with joy and expectation.

Smiling at his reflection, Vahn left the bathroom and headed towards the place where everyone was waiting for his arrival. The time for weakness and complacency was over.

Title: Hephaestus’s Desire

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Gods are stupid’, ‘Hephaestus ‘eternal bae”, ‘Conviction: Feelings’, ‘Is it really though?’, ‘I wonder if anyone remembers about metallurgy after that scene’)

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