Vahn arrived in the dining room and noticed the atmosphere was somewhat low. He could see the auras of Naaza and Lili drooping downwards and there were tinges of blue that marred their typically vibrant yellow auras. Vahn looked towards Tsubaki who seemed unaffected by the mood and she just smiled while nodding toward his seat.
After he sat down, Lili started placing food on everyone’s plates, but Vahn could see that is was much slower than normal. She seemed to be repressing her emotions and was doing her best to avoid looking directly at him. “Lili, what’s wrong? Why are you and Naaza behaving so strangely?” Vahn asked with a gentle tone as he was looking between the two disconsolate girls.
Hearing his question, both girls flinched slightly before turning towards him with sad looks on their faces. Vahn frowned, but Tsubaki spoke up before he could continue questioning. “When we were preparing breakfast I told them you were likely going to be spending a lot of time in the dungeon. Since neither of them is strong enough to accompany you, I told them they would have to remain behind unless they managed to increase their strength. Now they’re sad because they won’t be able to have so much time with you, isn’t that right girls?”
Naaza wasn’t as affected as Lili, but hearing Tsubaki’s words she felt saddened. She only ever got to spend time with Vahn when he was training or helping her develop potion recipes. Now that he would be spending most of his time in the dungeon, she was unsure of how to react. She even harbored thoughts of returning to the Miach Familia, but something deep inside prevented her from making that decision.
Lili was greatly affected and tears could be seen in her eyes as she stared towards Vahn. She could see a conviction in his eyes, and ever since she heard him challenge the Loki Familia she had a feeling he would end up moving forward on his own. Though Lili knew he wasn’t abandoning her, it still hurt her heart knowing that he would be venturing deep into that dark place on his own. For the last month she had been putting in so much effort to grow, but no matter what she did Lili was unable to keep up with his progress.
Vahn nodded his head with understanding before thinking for a few moments. After he found the words he was looking for, he smiled toward the two doleful girls. “This is necessary for me to grow. I have an affinity with the dungeon after all. The entire reason I came to Orario was to delve into its depths so I can bring out my full potential and grow stronger. It also gave me the opportunity to meet both of you, so I will not shy away from my current path. I will continue to grow and become stronger so that I can protect the people I care about. Please don’t be sad, instead, I ask that you wish me well so that I have fewer worries while I’m away. I promise I will always come back…this place is my home.”
The more Vahn spoke, the more the two girls seemed to struggle. At this point, even Naaza had begun to tear up while Lili hung her head low as tears seasoned her rice. Vahn waited for both of them to relax while Tsubaki started eating with an uncharacteristic expressionless face. Vahn was influenced by this more than the two crying girls, as he was unable to recall a time when Tsubaki wasn’t smiling…other than when she was fighting with her sword.
After a few minutes, Lili spoke out. “Vahn…I swear I will become stronger. I may not be able to follow you now, but one day I will be able to catch up to you. I will never stop trying.” Lili spoke each word with conviction, and it seemed to influence Naaza who also said a few words. “Make sure you always return, no matter how injured you are…I will heal you up at no charge.” Naaza tried to laugh as she spoke the last words, but her voice choked a bit in the attempt.
Vahn smiled towards the two girls; He really appreciated their concern for him and it made his desire to grow stronger to protect them more prevalent in his mind. Not only the people present, but Vahn also resolved to protect everyone. Even if he couldn’t do it now, as long as he made the effort there were no limits to his growth. He would weather any pain and suffering to ensure that those who believe in him never have to experience it themselves.
After breakfast, Tsubaki made true on her words as she put Vahn through a hellish final training session. She beat him to the point he had to struggle to prevent [Rakshasa Body] from activating. Vahn felt like she was releasing a lot of pent up resentment on his defenseless body and he was unable to determine the cause of her violent actions. Throughout the entire process, her usually smiling face remained unseen as she emotionlessly thrashed his body.
By the time the training had ended, Vahn was incapable of moving any muscles in his body. He began to suspect Tsubaki was trying to prevent him from entering the dungeon, but as this thought was passing through his mind he felt a warm sensation spread throughout his body. Tsubaki held in her hand a crimson liquid and was pouring it onto Vahn’s exposed chest. The liquid soaked into his flesh and an irresistible heat began to spread through his body.
Vahn clenched his teeth to resist the sensation as Tsubaki began to explain her actions. “This is a potion made using mermaid’s blood as a catalyst and is mixed with various rare herbs that promote parameter development. Its total worth is more than 200,000,000V so make sure I don’t regret using it on you.” Tsubaki emptied the remainder of the contents and all the bruises on Vahn’s body vanished.
Vahn felt like his body was burning, which was a peculiar feeling since he had become fire-proof after obtaining [Heart of the Eternal Flame]. After the pain faded, it felt like all the pores on his body had opened and each of his muscles felt full of strength. When he arose from the ground, he could hear his bones popping with each movement. Curious about the phenomenon, Vahn started stretching and noticed his flexibility had increased remarkably. After checking his status, his eye nearly turned round from shock.
Name: [Vahn Mason]
Race: Human, *sealed*
Parameter: [Danmachi: 1-4]
Soul Strength: Tier 2 (Hero Soul)[Karma]: 1,008 [OP]: 143,050 [Valis]: 339,000
Tsubaki saw the shock on his face before slapping him on the back and laughing. “I’m sure you feel full of power, but don’t let it go to your head. The biggest effect of the potion is it resolves any damage you may have suffered to your foundation in the past. Make sure you work hard or I’ll beat you even worse next time!”
Vahn nodded his head like a clucking chicken before he left to make preparations for entering the dungeon. Since he only intended to return when he was overly fatigued or hit a dead-end in his progress, there were several things Vahn needed to prepare. Most important of all, he wanted to make sure he had enough good food to last for up to a month.
After consoling Lili, who seemed unwilling to let him go, for several minutes Vahn finally managed to separate from her. Naaza also gave him a short hug before breaking away with a blush which Vahn found interesting. It was rare to see Naaza act so adorable and he almost wanted to tease her for it. However, considering that he would be leaving shortly he didn’t want to upset either of them further.
On his way towards Babel, Vahn made a large detour to visit the crepe stand he hadn’t visited in a while. After exchanging pleasantries with Ivaan, who was pleased to see him, Vahn ended up buying up the entire stock of crepes. Ivaan was surprised hearing Vahn’s demand, but Vahn assured him that it was for a good cause so Ivaan consented to the exchange. Thanking him for his kindness, Vahn left an extra large tip that brought the total expenditure to 37,000V.
Leaving the stand, Vahn ducked into an alleyway and put the large basket full of crepes into his storage. As he was in the area, Vahn made another detour to visit Hephaestus. He had learned from Tsubaki she had left early to tend to her work that had piled up during the Denatus. Vahn wanted to let her know he would be venturing into the dungeon, as he was worried she may overreact if he was exposed to danger without her knowing.
It didn’t take long for Vahn to come across the familiar building that had changed his life so recently. He stood outside and observed the structure before taking a deep breath and entering the premise. The head guard, Zaff, noticed his entrance and immediately sent someone to inform Hephaestus. After doing so he walked forward to greet Vahn. “Heya Vulcan. Heard you’ve been up to some heroic deeds lately.”
Vahn laughed slightly at the comment. He wasn’t surprised the guards that worked for Hephaestus already knew about his alias, and he wasn’t ashamed to be addressed as such. “Good morning Zaff, thanks for your help in the past.” Vahn handed him a slip that he had received from Chloe the other day. As long as someone exchanged it, they would be able to enjoy a discount on all alcohol at the Hostess of Fertility between 7 PM and closing.
Zaff received the slip and his gruff face lit up with a smile. He was no stranger to the item as it was one of the most sought-after commodities that few patrons had the chance to receive. “Hehe, good lad. I’m sure the boys’ll toast you thrice for your kindness.” Zaff patted Vahn’s shoulder before returning to his post and having one of the other guards pass the word to the rest of the members. The man who heard the news showed a big smile before hastily making his rounds.
Hephaestus finally showed up in the door and smiled after seeing Vahn. She waved toward him and he followed her to the private workshop at the back of the store. After they entered, she closed the door before sitting at her worktable. “Good morning Vahn, I’m happy to see you so soon.” Vahn could hear a slight tremble in her voice and noticed a light blush on her face.
“I’m happy to see you again Hephaestus. There was something I had wanted to tell you this morning, but you had vanished before I was able.” As he spoke Vahn approached the desk until he stood directly opposite of Hephaestus. He could see her swallow before asking, “What did you want to tell me Vahn?”
Vahn took a deep breath before explaining everything he had realized since this morning. He conveyed his desire to grow stronger while also becoming a more capable blacksmith. Vahn swore that he would one day forge an item worthy of her praise. Hearing his proclamation, Hephaestus showed a gentle smile but her happiness quickly turned to awe as he continued.
“I promise Hephaestus, once I am strong enough I will drive away the loneliness in your heart. I will make it known to the entire world that I, Vahn Mason, am privileged to be at your side. Those that would besmirch you will realize their foolishness and I will start by doing this…” As Vahn gave his impassioned speech he reached over the table and grabbed Hephaestus face.
Hephaestus’s body completely froze up when Vahn grabbed her face and pulled her forward. She closed her eyes and prepared for the inevitable contact as an anticipation began to build in her wildly fluctuating heart. But, instead of the expected outcome, she felt a searing sensation on her now uncovered right eye. The pain spread throughout her body, and she was unable to resist its encroachment.
It felt like something within her body was changing and she began to panic, never believing that one day the boy she showed so much affection for may one day betray her. An anguish spread from her heart at the thought and Hephaestus felt like she wanted to cry as a result of the heartbreak and pain, but before she was able to cry out the pain began to rapidly subside. The heat from her eye vanished and she looked towards Vahn who was showing her a deeply affectionate smile.
Vahn ignored her questioning look as he grabbed a large polished blade from the display. He approached the muddle-headed Hephaestus before holding the flat of the blade toward her. Hephaestus was confused and stared into the blade as if it contained the answers to all the questions that were dancing chaotically through her mind.
Seeing her own reflection, Hephaestus felt something was strange before noticing something that shook her to the very core of her being. The deformity that had plagued her for her entire existence was gone. The eye still burned with a crimson hue, but the flesh around the socket had been completely mended and appeared identical to the left side of her face. She reached with her hand and felt the smooth skin that was previously coarse and rough.
She looked towards Vahn as the tears she had been holding back earlier began to fall freely. “How…?” Hephaestus couldn’t think of anything else but this question. No matter how hard she had tried in the past, nothing was able to remove the perpetual blemish from her face. It was almost like she was cursed to bear the ugly mark until the end of time.
Vahn smiled before he reached out and patted her head, just like he had always done for Naaza and Lili when they were emotional. “I said I would take away your loneliness and make those idiots regret. I intend to keep my promise.”
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘How to Train your Goddess’, ‘See with eyes unclouded’, ‘Tears of Happiness are the most Beautiful’, ‘Vahn hits puberty’, ‘Cyclopean Loan Shark’)