Chapter 854: Believe

After what felt like an unbelievably long period of time, the darkness clouding Vahn’s mind faded away, replaced by the appearance of the curious Artemis looking back at him. She was still wearing only the cloak he had wrapped around her body, causing Vahn to blink a few times to collect himself before saying, “You have gone through a lot, Artemis…I…” It was always very difficult to experience the [Hearts Desire] of a goddess and Vahn could still feel the echoes of her pain and anxiety. He was accustomed to the feeling of loneliness that gods would experience but this was the first time, even from his own perspective, where he had felt genuine loss…it was one of the most painful things he had ever experienced…

Just as he lowered his head in thought, Vahn found a pair of pristine white arms wrap around his head before two inordinately soft and warm cushions enveloped his face. He didn’t need to open he eyes to know that Artemis had hugged him into her breasts and, though he had tried to keep a sense of propriety between them earlier, Vahn didn’t care about that right now. For the time being, the comfort of another person was almost enough to bring him to tears and, knowing that Artemis had been experiencing the same thing, Vahn tightly wrapped his arms around her in return…

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Back in the Dungeon, Vahn had been sitting in the area above the encampment, watching over the construction efforts with Fenrir sitting in his lap. Her ears had twitched the moment he exited the [Hearts Desire] and he was now hugging her body as well, wanting to ease the feeling of intense loss that still existed within his mind. She didn’t offer any complaints and instead altered her body to be fluffier as she began lightly patting his head, saying, “There, there, everything will be okay, Master…” Vahn nodded his head, knowing this to be the truth but still saying, “For now, I just want to stay like this…” In response, Fenrir released a quiet ‘Nn’ before whispering, “As long as it takes…Fenrir will be here with Master…”

For the better part of an hour, Vahn found comfort in the two girls and did his best to return that same comfort to them. This was especially the case for Artemis, who he knew must be suffering a great deal since it was her pain that had influenced him so greatly. Their positions slowly reversed as the time had passed, now with Artemis resting her head on his shoulder as Vahn slowly and gently combed his fingers through her hair while lightly stroking her back. At one point, she had started crying very silently so Vahn had started humming the same tune that Tiona often hummed in the past. He had ‘stolen’ the tune from her, often using it when he was cradling his children and spending time within the maternity ward…

Vahn always felt the tune had a calming effect and, combined with his [Grooming], hoped it was enough to ease the burden on Artemis’ heart, at least a little. At the same time, he wondered what exactly he could do to make her ‘desire’ a reality. There were obvious things, such as defeating Antares and freeing her, but Vahn felt like the thing she genuinely sought, at least for the time being, was salvation for her children. With the [Tears of the Moon Goddess], it might be possible to resurrect one of them…if so much time hadn’t already passed. The soul in a person’s body, and the attached ego, wouldn’t linger for long around their corpse. Though there could be something anchoring them there for a few hours, it was extremely unlikely that any soul’s attachment to the world would persist for several days…

Since he couldn’t save her former family, Vahn felt that incorporating Artemis into his own would be the next best thing. Even if he couldn’t heal her heart on his own, existences like Hestia and Hephaestus would undoubtedly help Artemis regain her happiness. As a goddess, Artemis knew how the cycle of souls worked and she would eventually be able to move on from the loss she had suffered. By interacting with the children around the Manor, or perhaps having one of her own, Vahn believed her smile would return in full one day…as they already had a promise of 10,000 years of love, Vahn swore to make those years happy…

As if she could feel his resolve, Artemis raised her face, crystalline green eyes still moist with her tears as she said, “Hestia was right…it is a very liberating thing, knowing there is at least one person in the world that can truly empathize with you…thank you, Vahn, for being sad on my behalf…” Artemis wasn’t sure exactly how much Vahn had seen in the [Hearts Desire], but she knew it was supposed to be all of the significant events from her past. There weren’t many memories she kept close at heart but those that left the deepest impression were undoubtedly very lonely. Knowing that he had shared those painful memories with her, fully understanding of what she had gone through, Artemis suddenly felt much closer to him…

Without putting much thought into the action, Artemis brought her left hand to the side of Vahn’s face and leaned in, overlapping their lips once again. This time, she wasn’t as flustered as before so they ended up in a gentle and loving embrace with Vahn slowly taking the lead and guiding her tongue with his own. Artemis’ heart began to beat very rapidly but, at the same time, there was a sense of peace with her heart that hadn’t been present before. She felt incredible comfort in Vahn’s arms as the inhibitions that had been present within her mind for eons slowly faded away…replaced by feelings of warmth and security. Artemis knew that Vahn would never hurt her, nor would he take advantage of the memories they now shared…it was a very freeing realization.

Vahn knew that, though she would likely agree if he asked, Artemis wasn’t ready for something like sex. Until he could make her happy naturally, Vahn swore he wouldn’t push Artemis to do something she wasn’t wholly prepared for. At the same time, however, he knew that she sought a greater sense of closeness and, perhaps for the first time in her life, genuinely wanted to be desired by another person. As a result, Vahn let his hands roam while gently peppering her neck collarbone, and shoulders with his kisses. He made sure to moderate his actions but, until the time that Fafnir sent a small whisper into his mind, Vahn continued to shorten the distance between himself and Artemis…

When Fafnir gently touched down on the ground, Artemis didn’t seem to notice they had arrived at all, neck craned to the side as she released a hot sigh. Her left hand was clutching Vahn’s hair as he kissed around the connective tissue between her left breast and shoulder. Their intimate act had gone on for well over four hours and Artemis’ aura was now a deep red that clung to his body like a shroud. During that entire time, Vahn never did anything more than holding her in his embrace, touching her back and sides without once deviating to attend her breasts and the sacred wellspring below. Now, when he brought his head up, peering into her dazed expression, Vahn saw a very different kind of hope in Artemis’ eyes that brought a smile to his face as he said, “We’ve arrived…”

Artemis blinked slowly, clearly confused as she looked around at the surroundings and saw wild trees and various other types of flora in the surroundings. Realizing where they were, she released a long and hot sigh before resting her head against Vahn’s chest and saying, “I never knew…is this why people are so drawn to love…?” Though she wasn’t looking at his face, Vahn shook his head and tightly embraced Artemis’ body as he said, “This is intimacy…something that you should only share with those you love and have a physical attraction to. As for ‘love’ itself…it is a very complex emotion that can have as many different forms as there are people and gods in the world…only you can answer the question of what love means to you…for me, love is the sincere desire to protect others and ensure they can live happy lives. Even if I had to shoulder the weight of Heaven itself, I would do so if it could make the lives of my loved ones easier…”

Vahn knew that Artemis’ form of love actually matched his own a great deal, as she had always lived to protect others and had always been drawn to the close kinship of Beast People. He had experienced the long periods of time when she watched over the ancient beast tribes, longing for the same closeness members of the same tribe generally shared with each other. Gods in Heaven didn’t have this same level of closeness and the only true companion she had ever found within Heaven was Hestia, a Goddess of Family…in a way, Artemis was very similar to him, desiring a family of her own and simply lacking an understanding of how to obtain it after the trauma she had experienced during her creation…

For several minutes, Artemis rested against Vahn’s chest as her aura slowly stabilized, becoming a sunny yellow with small strands of purple and dark blue mixed in. She knew that Vahn’s fight with Antares was going to take place much sooner than expected and, though her trust in him had already reached an extreme, Artemis was still worried. If possible, she would like to spend the next week with him so they could become even closer…then, even if he wasn’t able to save her, the feelings they shared may be strong enough to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes her to reform…

Though he wasn’t trying to rush Artemis, Vahn knew he needed time to come up with a solution so he gently separated her from his body, a soft smile on his face as he whispered, “We must go, Artemis…your children are still waiting for us…I don’t want to leave them there with that monster for even a moment longer…” Because of how important they were to her, Vahn had experienced several years worth of Artemis’ memories with her Familia. He felt close with all twenty members, knowing each of their quirks and names by heart. Knowing they were laying on that cold stone floor, surrounded by darkness without having a proper burial…it was unacceptable.

His words were enough to make Artemis’ aura flare up, a light of conviction within her eyes as she nodded in agreement, saying, “You’re right, Vahn. We can’t leave them with that monster…!” In an effort to increase the bond between her and Vahn, Artemis had been trying her best not to think about anything other than the present moment. However, Vahn’s words had reminded her of the reality of the situation and, imagining her children laying on the ground within the presence of that monster filled her with indignation. They were all great girls who deserved much better than how they had been treated…they should have been able to live free and happy lives, just as Vahn wanted for everyone…she should have supported their love and allowed them to stretch their wings…

Sensing that Artemis was starting to lose herself in negativity, Vahn plopped his hand onto her head and reminded, “Change into your raiment, Artemis…you’ll need to direct Fafnir towards the location of the Elsos Ruins…” Though Vahn had a map of the Dark Continent, the Elsos Ruins simply weren’t listed anywhere, even after purchasing one-hundred different maps. It was possible that maps were an advancement that hadn’t existed during the time of its construction and, considering that it would probably be destroyed after Antares’ awakening, not being listed on generic maps wasn’t that difficult to rationalize…

Artemis looked down at her figure, noticing several red marks where Vahn had kissed her bare skin. Her face immediately felt hot and she quickly brought her hands together, manifesting her raiment as Vahn watched with unconcealed intrigue. The raiment of a god was something he still hadn’t been able to comprehend as each goddess had a different way of manifesting theirs. Hestia’s took on the form of petals, Hephaestus’ would have flames snake across her body before taking shape, and Loki’s had an inky liquid that would cover her body before solidifying. Though there were examples like Freya, who had a very similar mechanism to Hestia, the ways in which a raiment would manifest were distinct and, for the moment, indecipherable…

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Once Artemis was fully clothed, it was as if the atmosphere around her body had changed entirely. While naked, though she was incredibly mature and alluring, Artemis felt very frail and stirred up Vahn’s desire to protect. Now that she was wearing her raiment, Artemis had the aura of a warrior and her disposition turned calm and stoic. Vahn knew that clothes could really change a person, as he had experienced it himself multiple times in the past, so this wasn’t too surprising. He did, however, wonder what kind of ‘feeling’ Artemis would give off if she were to wear elegant or cute clothing…both seemed very suitable for her.

Unaware of what Vahn was thinking, Artemis walked over to where her dagger was located and gingerly picked it up after Fafnir’s scales moved aside. After fixing it to her belt, she smiled gently and stroked Fafnir’s back, saying, “Thank you for keeping it safe…this dagger is very precious to me…” A thunderous rumble emerged from Fafnir’s throat as it was very pleased by Artemis’ praise, telepathically exclaiming, “You are very welcome, Artemis~!” These words caused Artemis’ smile to broaden but Vahn hadn’t missed the fluctuation in her aura that indicated she was a little embarrassed. As for the reason, Artemis had turned her head to the side where she and Vahn had been sitting previously…

Having already arrived at her side, Vahn placed his hand naturally around Artemis’ waist and said, “You’ll have to guide Fafnir from here onwards…you know the way, correct…?” Though there was a very subtle blush on her cheeks, Artemis leaned into Vahn and said, “Yes…it is on the north-western end of the Dark Continent…as we get closer, I’m certain the route will become clear…” Vahn nodded his head and put a bit of strength in the hand around Artemis’ waist as he said, “Do not waver, Artemis…remember Lante’s words and believe in the power of love…as for everything else…you can leave that to me…”

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