Chapter 777: Brink

Though his ‘Lightning Emperor’ mode gave him incredible speed, far above the standards of the world, Vahn was learning very quickly that it wasn’t that suitable for use inside closed areas. He was still able to move through the various corridors and rooms at high speed, but it wasn’t actually that much higher than if he were using normal [Shundo]. However, as he had already transformed, Vahn felt it would be a waste to transition back, at least for the time being. If necessary, even if it meant potentially spawning a Juggernaut, he was willing to bore ‘through’ the Dungeon in order to track down the errant Bell, who had immediately been promoted to the top of his bucket list.

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Vahn knew that Bell wasn’t exactly the most sensible person, always seeming to ignore the advice that people gave him, but he hadn’t expected to get wrapped up in the boy’s quirks from the start. Once he found Bell, Vahn intended to, at the very least, harshly reprimand the youth for not considering his actions. Depending on the circumstances, that lesson might become something a little more physical, assuming he was the one to even discover Bell from the start. Part of him felt like Ais would be the one to discover Bell’s location, even though she had immediately gone down to the Second Floor with Tiona and Tione…

Ever since I can remember, at least after the time Grandpa had saved me, it had always been my dream to become a Hero. Hearing all the stories about great men and women who faced adversity and, against all odds, overcame the trials that prevented their rise…I had hoped, by aspiring to be a Hero myself, that I would be able to create a legend that could be passed down through the ages. Along the way, I would make lots of friends, save damsels in distress, and, if I was lucky, maybe even surround myself with several cute girls. I never told Grandpa, but it had been my dream to have a Harem filled with girls of various different shapes and sizes, comprised of the members of several different races. It didn’t matter if it was a long-eared Rabbit Hume, an adorable Pallum girl, or even a goddess…in truth, however, I just wanted a real family to call my own, other than just my Grandpa…

I now understood why the stories of Heroes and Heroines were fairy tales or, at the very least, something that only a few exceptional men and women could become. My overzealous attitude, believing I was something special, caused me to overstep my boundaries a great deal. All because I was too embarrassed to talk directly with the beautiful girl that had the red marks on her face and ended up getting teased by her companions. I wanted to show them I wasn’t just some useless kid that would burden them and, even though the nice people at the Guild had told me not to venture into the Dungeon before joining a Familia, I ignored their advice and now had to pay the price…

Still, I didn’t feel like it was entirely my fault as, at least when I was fighting Goblins, it wasn’t that difficult of a battle. As for the monster before me, it shouldn’t even have been on this Floor at all, at least if the information provided by the Guild staff was accurate. Since they were very helpful and gave me lots of advice, I believe that their words had been the truth. That’s why, even though I was probably going to die in a few moments, I only blamed my terrible luck and lack of foresight for the current predicament I was facing…at least, that’s what I was trying to tell myself within my mind while my mouth only managed a guttural scream that sounded almost inhuman in its savagery…

Swinging my dagger forward, a simple blade of around 30cm long that was a bit heavy in the handle, it bounced off the hard surface of the strange blue lizards body and, as if to taunt me for my attempt, the lizard hissed before swinging its body like a whip, striking my abdomen with its tail. A very sharp pain spread through my body, almost like something inside of me had ‘broken’ while an overwhelming sense of powerlessness rose up from my stomach…or was that my lunch? It was hard to tell what was going on at this point and the only thing I could really discern was that a volume of liquid, filled with some dangerous looking bits, had burst forth from my mouth after I was pushed back into the hard Dungeon wall behind.

Though I had managed to get up and run after the first couple of hits, it didn’t seem like my body was listening to me anymore. I didn’t want to die, especially before I was even able to have a serious conversation with a single girl, but my body simply wouldn’t listen. The only thing I got for my efforts was sharp and agonizing pain but, as if to exacerbate and mock my situation, something was blocking my throat, preventing me from even crying out any longer. As for the strange blue lizard, nearly 4m long and possessing thick blue hide as it skulked forward on four legs, I could swear it was laughing at me. Then, like a cat toying with a small field mouse, it began to move forward with a predatory glint in its deep red eyes, now reflecting the image of my own terrified face within their depths…

Step by step, almost as if time had slowed to a crawl, the strange lizard made its way forward until it was right next to my feet. As though it was intending to make things as painful as possible, it opened its mouth and aimed for my legs with its long and serrated jaws, lined with three rows of teeth that glistened with viscous green saliva. At this moment, just as another wave of pain was about to greet my existence, I was able to understand why my body had been getting progressively slower as the fight went on. It seemed to have some kind of paralytic venom, even possessing a light layer covering its durable blue hide…

Just as the lizard was about to bite down on my legs, I tried to muster what remained of my strength, pulling forth from reserves I didn’t even know I had. Even so, other than moving my head away from the Dungeon wall slightly, my body simply refused to allow me to evade the sharp teeth. I could only watch helplessly as the lizards head lowered towards my legs, jaws agape as its head fell lifelessly to the ground in between my calves. Like a broken faucet under a large amount of pressure, blood shot out from the now exposed viscera of the neck and, even though it had completely soaked my body, the only action available to me was staring slack-jawed at the decapitated blue lizard as its body broke down into small particles of purple dust…

“Haaaaa…it looks like I made it in time. From now on, don’t do such reckless things, okay, kid…?”

Even before I turned my head towards the voice, I could already sense a powerful and almost overbearing pressure weighing down on my body. The most noticeable thing, however, was the intense light that made it almost impossible to look directly at the source, which seemed to be a boy around my own age. When I looked towards him, it was like looking at a statue that had been carved from black marble as some great master sculptors take on ‘perfection’. This look, however, caused me to realize I could actually move and, instead of being blocked, a natural, “Eh…?” came out of my mouth. Then, when the boy reached out his hand to pull me up, I absentmindedly grabbed it, feeling a powerful warmth spread through my body that chased away all the negative emotions that had been building up inside…

After helping Bell stand, Vahn looked into the dazed boy’s red eyes, noticing they actually had a very unique and ‘clear’ feeling to them. His hair was also startlingly white, with a slightly translucent appearance that made it seem like fibers of pristine white jade. The weirdest thing was, unlike how he appeared within the manga, Bell’s facial features were like a blend between a handsome boy and a cute girl. His face was slightly rounded in a youthful manner and, if not for the blood covering nearly half of it, Vahn had the strangest impression that Bell would have actually looked ‘cute’. This, combined with the fact that Bell was actually thinner and smaller than he had expected, almost made the young Hero look more like a girl than the boy Vahn knew him to be…

Since it didn’t seem like he was capable of forming any words at the moment, Vahn waved his hand in front of Bell’s face and asked, “You okay, kid? I healed your physical wounds, so you’ll be fine after returning to the surface and relaxing for a bit…sorry, I can’t do anything if you experienced a trauma. If that’s the case, the only thing you can do is work hard to overcome it…” Though he had always considered what he might say after meeting Bell, watching the boy simply stand there in a daze was making it very difficult to find his words. Fortunately, or perhaps not, Vahn had already sent messages to the other girls and, as they were only a few Floors apart, they immediately teleported to his side.

Upon seeing a group of beautiful girls ‘pop’ into existence, Bell’s eyes widened and he backpedaled several times until colliding into the wall once again. Much like how Lefiya would in the past, his blood covered face became beet red and he uttered a ‘wawawawa’ sound. Then, as if compelled by some tug of fate, Ais, who had teleported the closest to Bell, walked forward with a curious and reminiscent expression on her face as she asked, “Are you okay…can you stand?” This caused Bell to release a ‘squeak’ but, unlike how he had originally run away, he just quietly stammered, “Ah…I’m okay…I’m…ah…I…”

Though Ais had extended her hand to help Bell stand, he didn’t reach out to grab it and just kept looking into her face as a deep blush began to spread across his own. Seeing this, Vahn released a sigh while Tiona and Tione just looked at Bell, the boy who was supposed to become very strong one day, like he was some kind of strange animal. They had never seen an effeminate boy with white hair and red eyes before, causing Tione to incredulously ask, “Are you sure this is the right kid…? He doesn’t really look on anything special…well, other than his appearance?”

Seemingly tired of extending her hand, Ais frowned slightly before turning her head towards Vahn and mentally communicating, (“This boy…it feels like I know him. It’s hard to explain…almost like it is something sealed away in my memory…”). Vahn gave a small nod in response, saying, (“It is likely related to the ‘blank’ period in your memories that we talked about. Though he might not have a direct connection to your past, there is a good chance there is an indirect one. For the time being, just let me know if you realize anything and, if you feel any awkwardness or discomfort, please tell me…”)

Vahn knew there was definitely more to the relationship with Bell and Ais than he had seen within the limited amount of manga he had read. Her reactions towards him had always been strange and, though it could just be a result of the crush he had on her, Bell’s ‘pursuit’ of Ais had definitely been unnatural. He obviously didn’t truly ‘love’ her, not in any obvious or meaningful way, or he wouldn’t have paid so little attention to his emotions and influenced so many other girls in his life. After all, it was his ‘focus’ on Ais that had caused some resentment to build up within the girls around him, even though it wasn’t truly that obvious that Bell had ‘loved’ her. It was like they were inextricably drawn to each other, which might have turned into love over time, but definitely wasn’t love from the start…

Moving forward, Vahn reached out and, as Bell seemed incapable of ‘functioning’ right now, picked him up by the scruff of his tanned tunic and brought the boy to his feet. Since the latter only weighed around 60kg, it was almost like picking up a slightly heavier pebble, even though Vahn’s Power was his lowest parameter. When the catatonic boy was finally back on his feet, Vahn released a sigh and asked, “What is your name, kid? Why are you here in the Dungeon on your own? How did you even encounter a variant Dungeon Lizard on the First Floor…?” Generally, variant monsters didn’t even start appearing until you reached the Seventh Floor…after all, if such strong monsters could appear in an area with Rookie Adventures, the statistics of deaths recorded by the Guild would be much higher…

Hearing Vahn questioning him, Bell’s mouth just opened and closed a few times before suddenly trying to run off. Vahn, however, quickly grabbed the boy’s shoulder, asking, “You’re not just going to run away after I saved your life, are you? I understand that you might want to hurry out of the Dungeon, but wouldn’t it just cause misunderstandings if you run off…?” To this, Bell showed a face of embarrassment and hung his head as though he was contemplating what to say. He noticed that Vahn’s grip on his shoulder strap hadn’t loosened at all so, even though he wanted to run away and escape his embarrassment, it didn’t seem like that would be possible…

After several long seconds of silence, Bell released a sigh and it seemed like all the tension in his body was slowly released as he muttered, “My name is Bell Cranel…thank you for saving me…I’m sorry for trying to run away…” Then, with Vahn’s hand still on his shoulder, Bell tried to bow in a polite manner with an apologetic expression on his face. Vahn’s brows raised slightly when he saw this and he couldn’t help but smile before hearing a ping sound within his mind. Turning his attention to the system notification, Vahn resisted taking in a sharp breath and instinctually let go of Bell’s shoulder as he read…

//Bell Cranel’s Affection+44, Intrigue+50//

//Bell Cranel Affection:95(Reverence), Intrigue:100(Insatiable Curiosity)//

Bell, being released from the seemingly immovable grip, put on a bright smile with blood still covering his fair skin, almost as though he was oblivious to the fact he was covered in blood. With glittering red eyes, he excitedly asked, “Ah, I never got your name! Please, can you tell me who you are? Who are these girls behind you? How did they appear out of thin air!?” Reaching out, Bell clasped Vahn’s hand, which had been hovering in the air, and seemed intent to keep holding onto it as his excitement continued to build. Vahn noticed his Affection go up another two points and was unable to resist the urge to pull his hand away, shocking Bell slightly in the process.

Though he was jolted by the ambient lightning energy, Bell just flinched slightly before resuming his smiling expression as if nothing had happened. From behind, Tione suddenly whispered, “This kid…is he an idiot…?” Tiona began laughing when she heard this while Fenrir just lightly nodded her head while continuing to watch the events play out. Chloe, Lili, Naaza, and Arnya had already been summoned back to the Manor by his Avatar, who was now explaining the situation to the rest of the girls. Even so, Vahn couldn’t help but think that Bell was definitely a little scatterbrained, not that it stopped him from putting on a casual smile as he said, “My name is Vahn, Vahn Mason, Ca-“

Before he was able to finish, Bell’s eyes became round like saucers as he practically jumped forward, asking, “You’re Vahn Mason!? THE Vahn Mason!? Captain of the Hestia Familia? Commander in Chief of the Alliance!? The strongest Adventurer within the City, possessing the dual title of ‘Flame Emperor’ and the alias ‘Sage Aldrnari’!?” Then, without giving his response, Bell had already let go of his hand and started sorting through a small brown bag at his waist before pulling out a small broken pencil and a piece of paper as he excitedly asked, “Can I have your autograph!?”

Vahn absentmindedly accepted the bloodstained piece of paper and quickly signed his signature, something he had gotten used to when the children at the School would approach him. This action caused him to suddenly see Bell as though he were one of the children in his charge and, considering how excitable the boy seemed to be, that didn’t seem to be beyond the realm of possibility. Thus, adopting a softer smile, Vahn said, “Bell, there is nothing wrong with trying to venture into the Dungeon in order to become stronger. However, you’ll learn that real strength is a combination of experience, wisdom, insight, and power…you can’t just run headlong into situations without making the proper preparations. Though you may become strong enough to do so one day, you’ll never reach that point if you end up dying to a random monster before you’re even able to get your footing…”

The entire time Vahn was speaking, Bell’s eyes continued to glimmer and it was almost like he was gravitating towards Vahn, only stopping when he was looking up into the latter’s face with an expression that made him appear like a small and excitable animal. Vahn nearly took a step back but, instead of backing down, brought his hand up to Bell’s shoulder and pushed him back to create some distance between them. Still, the smile on his face didn’t fade as he asked, “I can’t let you join my Familia, but I can help you find a good place within the Alliance if you’re interested…?”

As if completely unaware of the distance Vahn had created between them, Bell tried to grab the former’s hand again and ended up falling forward since Vahn had moved to evade. This put him on a crash course towards Tiona and Tione but, unlike what might have been expected to happen, both girls immediately stepped far outside Bell’s trajectory. As they were aware of the boy’s [Luck] Development Ability, even if it hadn’t awakened, they were more than prepared to avoid any ‘accidents’ from happening. Vahn had also stepped in, grabbing Bell but the scruff of his tunic and holding him up so the latter didn’t fall flat on his face.

Releasing a deep and profound sigh, Vahn once again asked, “So, did you want to join one of the Alliance Familia?” This time, with a face filled with embarrassment, Bell rubbed the back of his head, smearing more blood into his white hair as he said, “Yes, please…thank you…”

Setting Bell back on the ground, Vahn lightly tapped his shoulder and said, “You have to be careful and less excitable in the future…though some people might not mind, it would be pretty easy to offend someone if you end up tripping and falling into their women. Since you seem to know me, you should know that I’m pretty protective of the girls around me…please keep that in mind, Bell…” While speaking, Vahn put a little bit of strength into his hand, squeezing Bell’s shoulder since he had very nearly had one of his ‘accidents’, seeming to make a beeline towards Tiona’s chest as he fell. Vahn knew it wasn’t exactly Bell’s fault, as he had actually been ‘victim’ to the skill’s influence before, but it still made his mind buzz slightly knowing that another man had almost touched the breasts of one of his women…even if Tiona didn’t have much to touch…

Bell had an apologetic expression on his face again as he made no effort to even struggle out of Vahn’s grasp. The fact that he was being held up by another person didn’t really seem to phase the boy at all, seemingly more focused on the fact he had almost offended the person he respected. Thus, while still being held up by his scruff, Bell brought his hands together and exclaimed, “Please forgive me! It was never my intention to do something so-so-so…uncouth! Waaaaaaaaah, I’m sorry, please don’t be mad…” Hearing this, Vahn let go of Bell’s collar and just released a sigh as he turned to the girls and said, “I’ll send all of you back to the Manor and take Bell over to the Loki Familia to get him situated.”

Fenrir, Ais, and Tione all nodded their heads in affirmation while Tiona waved playfully towards Bell and said, “Sorry, little rabbit, but I’m already taken. If you touch my breasts, even by accident, I might break your fingers, okay~?” Then, as though she didn’t just threaten bodily harm, Tiona began to laugh happily before vanishing in a magical light. When she was gone, Bell stared blankly towards space as the complexion on his face became slightly pale. It took him a few seconds to compose himself after the fact before he turned to Vahn with a wry smile and said, “I’ll be more careful in the future…hahahaha…”

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