Chapter 852: Dream

The hour-long ascent into the sky had been relatively silent as Artemis didn’t know quite what to say and Vahn was currently back on the 50th Floor of the Dungeon helping the chefs in the mess hall prepare breakfast for the current construction crew rotation. Maemi and Emiru were both helping out and it had been eating up a fair amount of his attention, at least until Artemis wriggled about suddenly. Without thinking about it too much, Vahn casually picked up Artemis by her pits and asked, “Is your butt getting numb from sitting down? Fafnir’s barrier will block the wind and you don’t have to worry about falling off now that we’re already at cruising speed. Feel free to walk around and stretch if your legs are falling asleep…”

Artemis had turned statuesque when Vahn suddenly lifted up her body like she didn’t have any weight whatsoever. It was also the first time she had ever been ‘handled’ before and she didn’t know exactly what the chaotic feelings inside of her meant. When Vahn set her back down, it felt like her cheeks were on fire and, instead of getting up to move around, Artemis buried her face into her hands out of instinct. Now Vahn was paying closer attention to her and realized his words and actions were indeed a little embarrassing for such a ‘mature’ woman. However, he had noticed how Artemis’ aura had been flaring with a variety of different colors during the flight so it was very likely she wanted to say or do something to break the silence.

Thinking about what they could talk about to let her relax, Vahn tightened his grip around Artemis’ waist, just a little, before asking, “What kind of place is the Dark Continent, Artemis? Why did you decide to stay there instead of around Orario with the majority of the other gods…?” Though he could always use the [Heart’s Desire: Artemis], Vahn wanted to hear Artemis’ own recounting of things before he broached the subject and asked permission to view her past. The amount of information he could obtain from a goddess’ [Heart’s Desire] was more than a little extreme and it would expose a great deal of personal information about them that they didn’t necessarily want to be known…

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Though she had flinched when Vahn tightened his embrace, Artemis relaxed a little when she heard his question, deciding to regulate her breathing before answering, “I stay there precisely because other gods have abandoned that place. Without protection, those who have sought shelter and peace within that inhospitable place would one day be wiped out completely…I pray that they are able to tide through this calamity safely…” Knowing that her failure may have already resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, Artemis felt a heavy burden on her heart…made lighter by the comforting embrace of the boy behind her…

Artemis went on to explain that the majority of people residing on the Dark Continent were those who had either been exiled from their people or sought to escape persecution from the troubled societies of Eden. Most of them were Beast People, with the other largest groups belonging to Half-Races and Amazonesses. There was an entirely separate tribe of Amazons on the Dark Continent, having broken away from the influence of the mainland hundreds of years ago to build a more progressive society for themselves. To avoid being hunted down by some of the more zealous Amazons from the mainland, they had adopted a nomadic society that was constantly on the move…

Vahn continued to listen to Artemis talk about the Dark Continent for quite a while, asking questions to guide the conversation along so that she wouldn’t fall into another bout of melancholy. At the same time, she had started holding his hands around her waist, fiddling with his fingers absentmindedly as she told him all about the hardy people of the Dark Continent. He noticed she avoided talking about her Familia and, based on his understanding of the situation, Vahn knew better than to ask about it. For Artemis to have been in a situation where Antares was able to devour her, it was very likely her Familia had also been nearby. Unless they were very powerful, the odds that they had been wiped out after Antares’ awakening were very high…

Eventually, Artemis wrapped up her explanation by talking about how the Dark Continent had two seasons, a temperate Summer and a six month long Winter. The reason why it was known as the Dark Continent was that, during those long winter months, there would be thick cloud coverage that would obstruct the sun for weeks at a time. Fortunately for the residents of the Dark Continent, there were a variety of caves and ruins where communities would seek shelter from the extreme weather. This also meant they had to rely heavily on hunting and preparing supplies in advance to avoid having people starve and die due to exposure…

Vahn was impressed that people would actually ‘willingly’ live in such a harsh environment but, considering how messed up some of the countries back in Eden were, he could see their reasoning. Hopefully, by the time he was finished with bringing reforms, such individuals would be able to migrate back to Eden and live their lives in relative peace. Since she had asked about it, Vahn spent the better part of two hours explaining to Artemis all of the changes he had been trying to introduce in the world. Much like he had when she was speaking, Artemis was relatively quiet during Vahn’s rather idealistic speech, only asking questions when she was curious about something in particular.

Like this, more than three hours of the flight had passed and now Artemis was reclining against Vahn as she listened to the rather fantastical vision he had of the future. She already knew about the Alliance, and many of Vahn’s greater feats, through Hestia, but having the details laid out made everything seem simultaneously more ‘real’ yet still unbelievable at the same time. When he finished talking about his plans with Haven, Artemis released a sad sigh and said, “Vahn…I wish we had met sooner…I would have liked to help you create such a wonderful world…” Though she wasn’t fond of living in highly populated areas, Artemis felt that it wouldn’t be that bad to spend her days working towards Vahn’s dream…together with him, Hestia, Hephaestus, and the other interesting girls he had mentioned…

With Artemis laying against him, Vahn had one of his palms resting on her abdomen while his other hand had its finger interlocked with those of Artemis’. Hearing her words, Vahn gently moved his left hand in a calming motion while putting strength into his right hand as he stated in a very serious tone, “One thing you’ll learn about me, Artemis…I don’t give up on the things I’ve set my sights on. I have already decided to save you…even if you give up on yourself, I’ll pull you back from the abyss against your will if I have to…I’d rather you resent me for eternity than see Hestia cry when I return…”

Artemis had felt a little giddy when Vahn began moving his left hand but, hearing his words, she couldn’t help curling up in an insecure display as she muttered, “I know my current state better than anyone, Vahn…but…” Now, Artemis twisted her body around so that she was facing him as she smiled somewhat sadly and added, “I won’t give up…I want to keep my promise to Hestia but, even more than that, I want to believe in the power of love that my children believed it…!” During her words, Artemis had grabbed the sides of Vahn’s face, the smallest spark of hope contained within her crystalline green eyes that reflected nothing by his own face within their depths…

Vahn brought his own hand up, caressing Artemis’ cheek and wiping away a stray tear that had marred her impeccably beautiful face. With unshakable resolve contained within his voice, Vahn stated with utmost sincerity, “That is more than enough, Artemis…so long as you believe in love…no, even if you never truly loved me, I would never betray the hope you placed in me. No matter what happens, I promise you that this story will have a happy ending…!” Vahn was feeling fired up, even if his words caused Sis to giggle within the recesses of his mind…

Hearing Vahn’s words, Artemis felt like the tiny flame in her heart had ignited into a bonfire, causing her body to heat up as her breathing accelerated slightly. She didn’t know what else to say so, whilst still holding her hands to his face, Artemis smiled as she explained, “You know, even though it has been less than a thousand years since gods descended upon this world…it is a popular belief that those gods who choose to live amongst mortals are guaranteed ten-thousand years of love…I never believed in such things before…but…I…I don’t think I’d mind…if it was ten-thousand years with someone like you…”

By the end of her words, Artemis’ face had gained a ruddy hue that made her delicate and mature appearance look truly divine. Vahn felt his own heart racing upon hearing her confession and a natural smile had spread across his lips as he said, “Then it’s a promise, Artemis…ten-thousand years…” With his words falling upon her ears, Artemis’ eyes widened in slow motion as she deeply inhaled through her nose before, for the first time in more than 439 million years, she kissed a member of the opposite sex. Her face turned beet red in an instant as Vahn fell back against Fafnir’s back with the rather awkward goddess falling against him, bumping their teeth somewhat painfully in the process…

Artemis flinched, holding her hand to her mouth as she muttered, “I’m sorry, I…” Before she was able to finish, however, Vahn had already sat back up and started caressing the side of Artemis’ face, easing the pain as he smiled radiantly and said, “There is no rush, Artemis…thank you, though…your lips are strangely sweet…and very soft…hahahaha-.” Artemis’ blush had deepened at first but, after a few seconds had passed, her smile blossomed like a beautiful flower as she said, “I’m glad…I was a little worried.”

Vahn continued to smile, stroking Artemis’ cheek long after she was completely healed. The two spent several minutes just staring at each other, Vahn wondering if he should ‘push’ her a little while Artemis was wondering if she should ask him to teach her how to kiss. She knew he must have had a lot of practice, as the number of girls that had come up in the conversation was actually a little extreme…just before she was able to muster up her courage, however, Vahn suddenly said, “Artemis…I…” Vahn was thinking about broaching the subject of the [Heart’s Desire] as it would make some of his plans to resolve this situation easier to implement with more information at his disposal…

Seeing the ‘serious’ expression on Vahn’s face, Artemis swallowed audibly, placing her hands over her rapidly beating heart as she interrupted him, saying words she never thought would leave her lips, “It’s fine…since it may weaken Antares…and because I wanted us to be closer…if…if you really want to…I…I…I…” By the end of her words, Artemis had both eyes closed tightly as she clenched her fist, overcoming the seemingly insurmountable hesitation in her heart as her clothing vanished like an illusion. The dagger in her belt fell to Fafnir’s back, black scales deforming to ‘catch’ it while Vahn just stared with the widest-eyed expression he may have ever produced since arriving in the record…

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Fortunately, this state only lasted for around two seconds before Vahn came to his senses and pulled out a cloak for Artemis to cover herself, tightly embracing her so she didn’t misunderstand as he took a few deep breaths and explained, “Don’t misunderstand, Artemis, I am ‘extremely’ interested in you…if the circumstances were more appropriate, I wouldn’t even hesitate to eat you up right here and now. However, what you’re going through right now could be heavily affecting your mentality…don’t be rash…remember, I already promised you ten-thousand years of love…” Though his ‘instincts’ had been screaming at him to accept the situation as it was, Vahn didn’t want the guilt of taking advantage of Artemis when she wasn’t exactly in a stable condition. There was also a chance she may try and rationalize their moment together and use it as the justification for doing something extreme if things went south faster than he could control…

Artemis felt like her heart was going to burst when she discarded her raiment but, after Vahn embraced her tightly with a warm cloak, this feeling changed to relief in an instant. Her heart was still beating rapidly and she almost couldn’t believe what had just happened, including the fact that Vahn didn’t act how she had expected. Part of her was happy that his character was strong enough that he wouldn’t immediately make love to someone without consideration for time, place, and occasion. Truthfully, if they did one day have sex, Artemis didn’t think that doing it on the back of a True Dragon was the best place…

Vahn waited for Artemis to calm down, stroking her back gently as he held her in his embrace, ‘ignoring’ the fact that her body heat was transferring into his. When her breathing had calmed down, he explained, “For those I share a close bond with, I’m able to create items that embody our relationship…at the same time, I’m able to produce an item called [Heart’s Desire], which allows me to experience the significant memories of a person, giving me insight into what their true heart’s desire is…I wanted your permission to use it…”

Artemis had been very quiet from the moment he wrapped the cloak around her but, now that Vahn had explained the situation better, a sigh of relief escaped her lips. Her complexion quickly reverted back to normal as a gentle smile bloomed on her face as she said, “Hestia actually told me about the [Hearts Desire] previously…if it’s you, Vahn, I don’t mind sharing my everything…” It was actually the existence of the [Hearts Desire] that emboldened Artemis to try and push their relationship forward even faster. Hestia and Hephaestus had described it as an item that allowed Vahn to empathize greatly with anyone and, as all of the other goddesses had trusted him with their [Hearts Desire], Artemis wasn’t afraid he would misuse the information…

With her permission, Vahn adjusted the cloak so that Artemis’ body was properly covered before pulling out a beautiful green orb. It was identical to the color of Artemis’ eyes and he actually felt like it was a bit of a waste to destroy something so beautiful. Of course, such sentiment wouldn’t prevent him from doing what was necessary so, without any outward displays of hesitation, Vahn crushed the orb and embraced the phenomenon of time slowing to a crawl as his mind faded into darkness. The next time Vahn opened ‘his’ eyes, a massive crescent moon dominated his vision, sparkling with a dull and beautiful blue…

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