Chapter 806: Bestowal

Resisting the urge to pinch Loki’s butt, Vahn did his best to keep a stoic expression on his face as Alicia glanced towards him briefly before turning away with a flustered expression. Loki began cackling as she ‘casually’ guided Alicia away so Vahn would be free to talk with Bell. Seeing this, Vahn was full of mixed feelings because he knew that, while Loki was teasing Alicia, there was some truth to her words. His impression of Alicia had never been bad and, if she genuinely showed an interest in him, Vahn wouldn’t be averse to the idea. It ultimately depended on if she wanted a permanant relationship which, considering she was an Elf, was more than likely the case. If that were so, he would have to politely decline her advances and then ‘punish’ Loki for putting him a difficult spot when they were alone…

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Moving to where Bell was, Vahn extended a hand to help the boy stand before surprising Line and Plum by ‘pulling’ away all the excess ointment and forming it into a small ball. With a slightly stern expression, Vahn looked at Line and scolded, “Line, medicines like this are very expensive. Please, keep that in mind…” Though the ointment was significantly cheaper than an Elixir, that didn’t mean it was something that could be squandered without consideration. He may not be the best person to lecture others about not to waste resources, but Line seemed like a calm and intelligent girl and it was a little unexpected for her to lose her cool.

Line lowered her head, showing an expression of embarrassment as she muttered, “I understand…” before sending a complex look towards the smiling Bell. For Plum, this was her first time meeting Vahn up close and she had turned into an immovable statue with her mouth slightly agape. Though he didn’t have the title of Braver, Vahn had become the true hero of Pallums the world over. It was because of his efforts to help the Pallum people that her family had tried their luck at fleeing to the City in the first place. Thus, for Plum, seeing the person that so many Pallums looked up to within arms reach of her was a very big impact…

As he was already accustomed to such looks, Vahn didn’t pay too much attention to it and simply pulled out another [Effigy of the Hero], placing it into the small girl’s hands and allowing her to absentmindedly stare at it before turning to Bell and saying, “Bell…grit your teeth…” To this, Bell showed a face of confusion and uttered an ‘Eh?’, completely unable to react to Vahn bringing his middle finger to his head and flicking him with enough force to knock the boy end-over-end a few times. Vahn noticed that the flow of energy around Bell’s body actually protected him, which was both interesting and annoying, but let it slide for the time being.

With a teary-eyed expression, Bell rubbed his forehead and asked, “What was that for…?” as if he was completely incapable of understanding the error of his ways. Vahn, understanding this was likely a product of fate, in conjunction with Bell’s [Luck], felt a powerful urge to sigh before explaining, “Line should have already told you about it, but that effigy you used would have been enough to pay the salaries of thousands of people, including all of their living expenses for years. The fact that you used it just to kill a monster…haaaa…”

Though he didn’t really care that Bell used the effigy, as that was its intended purpose, Vahn didn’t want him to start treating it as some consumable item that would allow him to get through sticky situations. It was meant to be a last resort and, while the Killer Ant Queen was a major threat, Bell didn’t actually ‘need’ to stick around and fight it. In fact, with Plum’s own enhancements from her effigy, they would have been able to escape with relative ease. If that event had been something orchestrated by Enyo’s forces, the fact that Bell would have lost the ability to fight afterward would have gotten his entire party wiped…

Bell suddenly showed an extremely apologetic expression on his face while Plum tightly gripped the effigy in her palms as if it were a precious treasure. In fact, after having experienced its function for herself, she knew it was exactly that. Having Vahn give her a second one was almost like receiving a third chance at life, one which she would have already lost if not for the original one he had given her. This realization made her feel a little choked up without any means of truly expressing herself with any words or actions she could think of.

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Since reprimanding Bell wasn’t exactly his reason for coming here, Vahn just released a small sigh before helping him rise to his feet again, saying, “The only reason I’m going to forgive you is that you used it to at least try to help the people you care about. However, you have to remember that this item is extremely precious and is meant to help you preserve your life in a dangerous situation. You already experienced the fact that you won’t be able to take any actions after the fact, so treat this as a lesson and make sure you never use it in such a haphazard manner again. I understand you may not have been in the right state of mind after watching your companion get seriously injured, but this will be the last time I show you leniency…remember, Bell, a hero isn’t someone who gambles with their lives and the lives of others. Become strong enough that the effigy is nothing more than a reminder of your mortality, not a crutch you can use to overcome your enemies…”

Taking another [Effigy of the Hero], Vahn placed it into Bell’s hand and reiterated, “Think about the hero you want to become…is it the type that relies on handouts from others just to protect the things you hold dear…?” Bell had been somewhat absentminded when he had been handed the new effigy but, after hearing Vahn’s words, he squeezed it tightly and even considered giving it back to Vahn in order to prove his convictions. Vahn, noticing this change in Bell, just snorted and said, “You will keep it until I’m confident you are capable enough to avoid having the need for it. If you want to prove something, bring that effigy back to me in one piece after you become strong…”

This time, Bell’s expression shown a fierce resolution burning in his eyes and Vahn could even see the ‘fate’ around his body become slightly more powerful. He didn’t know if this was a good or a bad thing, as it meant Bell could potentially influence a greater number of people both positively and negatively. There was even a strand that came from Bell’s body and tried to contact him, something Vahn hadn’t quite expected to occur at all. However, when the thing tendril of energy got near him, it suddenly shrunk back like it had received a powerful shock and retreated into the energy around Bell’s body once again.

Seeing this, Vahn couldn’t help but smile, causing Bell to misunderstand slightly as he interpreted Vahn’s smile as encouragement. This caused Bell to produce a radiant smile of his own, which seemed infectious as it was quickly followed by Line and Plum showing happy expressions of their own. Vahn was slightly taken aback by this but chose to ignore it as he turned to Line, asking, “I had a few questions about the battle between the Killer Ant Queen. Since Bell was out of commission, I figured you would be the best person to answer my questions, Line.”

Hearing this, Line nodded her head, a more serious expression on her face as she said, “Please, ask away, Vahn-sama…” Though he was a little bothered by the sudden address of ‘sama’, Vahn buried it in his heart and just smile casually as he asked, “Tell me, did you notice anything strange about the Killer Ant Queen’s behavior? Also, were you able to collect the monster core and Drop Items?” To this, Line inclined her head to the side and seemed to lose herself in reflection before answering, “It was strange that we encountered her on the 11th Floor, as Killer Ants have never been sighted down there previously. Also, though I didn’t have time to loot all the items, I did manage to get the magic core from the Killer Ant Queen. However, when I inquired about it at the Guild they acted strangely and, even when I asked for the core to be returned, one of their managers came out explaining that it had been destroyed during the identification process…”

Vahn wasn’t exactly surprised to hear that the Guild would have taken such action as Ouranos was obviously keeping a lot of secrets about the Dungeon. Since Ouranos was helping to keep the seal in place, Vahn knew he had to be aware of some of the threats that others were simply not privy to, even in the godly community. Vahn would need to come up with a means to make Ouranos more forthright about the situation in the future but, for the time being, simply pulled out the strange plant monster’s magic core and asked, “Did it look like this…?”

Even without Line answering, the look on her face told Vahn everything he needed to know, confirming his suspicions, at least based on the variables he had analyzed. Without waiting for her to explain, he stowed the core away and asked, “Tell me, Line, Plum, are you going to become permanant party members to Bell?” This questions had caught the two girls off guard but Plum collected herself rather quickly, putting on a resolute look as she said, “Yes, I will follow Bell-sama for as long as it takes, even if he is a big idiot…!”

Though she had received a trauma after nearly dying, Plum had already become accustomed to death, including the thought of her own, long before Bell had saved her. The fact that he had fought tooth and nail for her twice had already left a deep impression on her heart that wouldn’t fade away so easily. As for Line, she had a somewhat tired expression on her face and didn’t seem to know how to answer until she saw Bell smiling back at her. She felt her heart thumping in her chest and, even though she felt like she would regret it, averted her eyes and said, “If someone doesn’t look after this idiot, he’ll end up getting himself and Plum killed…”

Bell’s smile broke slightly but he managed to prevent it from fading away completely as he internally remarked, (“Why are they both calling me an idiot…I’m not that bad, am I…?”). As for Vahn, he had already nodded his head and said, “If that is the case, head over to the Hearth Manor in the next few days and we’ll get the three of you fitting with some suitable equipment. Since I have a feeling things are going to get pretty hectic in the next couple of months, I’d feel better if the three of you were prepared to deal with any situation that might arise. That goes for you as well, Plum…even if you don’t like fighting, or just want to act as a Supporter, you need to become strong enough to protect yourself when Line and Bell are fighting serious threats…”

Plum nodded her head, even though she had a few inhibitions about trying to become strong as a Pallum, while Line somewhat hesitantly asked, “Are…you going to make the equipment…?” Vahn, understanding some of her concerns, smiled politely and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll have Tsubaki take your measurements in private. Depending on your needs, it may be me, Tsubaki, or even Hephaestus that forges your equipment. As for the price, that isn’t something you’ll need to worry about unless I catch you trying to exploit or resale the things you’re given~.” Since he said this in a teasing voice, Line blushed slightly as Plum and Bell were shocked to learn they would be receiving equipment made by three of the most reputed [Master Smith]s in the entire City, including the most prolific goddess of forging in both Heaven and the Mortal World…

Seeing the surprise on their faces, Vahn felt a small amount of pride before turning his attention to Bell and wondering if he was about to make a grievous error. For the last year and a half, Vahn had been keeping two [Grimoire of Guidance] on his person, never quite sure the best method to make use of them. Since it allowed him to bestow any non-Innate skill, magic, or development ability, it was easily one of the most useful items he had ever received from a quest. Since he had yet to discover the means to acquire more of them, even though he had ‘wanted’ it quite a bit, Vahn had been keeping them safely stowed away in his Inventory. Right now, however, he was wondering if he should use a [Grimoire of Guidance] in a way he had never quite considered in the past…

Vahn wanted to help the three of them become strong enough to face whatever would endanger them in the future but, for the time being, he could only really afford to give out a single flame seed. Since Bell already had [Liaris Freese], Vahn didn’t want to waste it on him, especially since the skill itself was a growth-type Innate. However, this didn’t mean Vahn couldn’t teach Bell [Promethus] itself, even though the actual skill he was thinking about bestowing upon Bell was the [Pactio]. For someone like Bell, having a means to increase his Magic parameter, while also helping to empower the girls around him, these were two extremely useful boons that many would cry tears of blood to obtain. Vahn was just worried that Bell might take things too far and get in the habit of bestowing the [Pactio] to any girl he randomly started to fancy…

This thought caused Vahn to release a sigh, confusing the three people and causing them to give him strange looks. He was just thinking about the parallels between him and Bell, specifically about his own inability to refuse the affections of women. In truth, Vahn was worried Bell would be like an unrestrained version of himself but, after remembering one key feature of this record, calmed down as he said, “Bell, I have a gift that I think will be extremely beneficial in your journey. However, in order to receive it, I would need you to make a life-long vow to never, under any circumstances, bestow this skill upon other people. In fact, before you’re able to use it, I would require that you go through extensive measure ensuring that others aren’t even able to observe the skill besides those who have also made vows to keep the secret…”

These words had caught the interest of Loki, who had been listening in with Alicia from the side after teasing the latter for a bit. She used this moment to walk over, asking, “Vahn, have you considered this decision of yours properly? I understand that you have high expectations for the boy, but he hasn’t really done anything deserving of the amount of attention you’ve shown him, right~?” To this, Bell, who had been somewhat confused by what was going on, took a deep breath and exclaimed, “Loki-sama, please trust me! I won’t let Vahn’s expectations go to waste; just watch me, I’ll surely become a hero that can protect everyone!”

Hearing this, Loki just snorted and said, “You brat. It is easy to take big but, without all of the help and support you have been given, where would you be right now? Hell, if Vahn didn’t save you, wouldn’t you already have failed to achieve your dream…?” These harsh words of Loki caused Bell to shy away slightly but the resolute look in his eyes didn’t fade in the slightest as he confidently said, “I know…I really do know that I’ve done a lot of foolish things…but! I won’t always be the foolish and childish person that needs to rely on others! In order to create a world where everyone can smile happily, I’ll never give up trying to improve myself!”

Resisting the urge to strangle Bell, Loki turned her slightly parted eyes toward Vahn and remained silent for several seconds before releasing an exasperated sigh. She could also see the similarities between the two boys and knew that Vahn probably saw himself in the young Bell. Since there was nothing wrong with Vahn trying to support the people he had taken an interest in, Loki decided to take a step back but not before asking, “Which skill are you thinking of giving him…?”

For a brief moment, Vahn was tempted to tease Loki by saying he would give Bell the [Charm] Development Ability but, as this would also reveal to the girls present that he had it, Vahn decided to play it safe. With a serious expression on his face, he simply stated, “[Pactio]…”, causing Loki to take a deep breath through her nose like she was about to lash out at him. Instead, she turned a fierce glare towards Bell and warned, “If you use that skill Vahn is going to teach you haphazardly, I’ll castrate you myself, Bell…” This caused Bell to instinctually close his legs together as Loki then turned her attention to Line and Plum before saying, “Though the skill Bell gets can drastically improve your power, make sure you think about the consequences before accepting it…haaaa…”

Turning her back, Loki began walking towards the door as she stated, “I’m going to look into a few things on my own and try to squeeze out some information from that old man. I’ll see you back at the Manor this evening Vahn…” Then, without requiring a response, Loki exited through the door to go investigate some of her own hunches. She had already discussed things with Vahn before they had even headed to meet up with Bell so, now that things had been ‘confirmed’, Loki had a few threads to follow. It helped that she had several members of the Hermes Familia as part of her network now, especially since they had been the gophers of the Guild for years…

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