After Vahn had calmed down, he stared at the wreckage of the forest around him. Though he still had a lot of emotions swirling about in his body, he was at least able to rid himself of the majority of the problematic ones through physical exertion. There were more than a dozen trees that had been turned to mulch and several giant boulders that had been ground into fine powder in his immediate area.
Releasing a powerful sigh, Vahn began making his way back to the campsite. He still needed to meet the representative of the Hephaestus Familia to explain the situation. Now that he would be joining the expedition, he would have to follow along with the plans of those in charge. After seeing how well everyone coordinated with each other, Vahn didn’t want to be the one to cause chaos and unrest in the group.
Arriving at the camp, Vahn made his way toward the largest red tent. Several people gave him strange looks, as he wasn’t part of the original party, but nobody stopped him. Once he made it to the tent, he entered through the opening and came across a mature man eating breakfast alongside a woman. The man looked to be in his early thirties and had a powerful build with a neatly trimmed beard that merged into the blazing red hair on his head. The woman next to him had a beautiful, yet sleepy looking, face with drooping purple eyes and green hair fixed into a loose ponytail. She had a supple figure without any fat and rather large breasts restrained by the dark purple breastplate she was wearing.
The moment Vahn entered the tent, the man put down his utensils and spoke in an amicable manner. “You must be Vahn Mason, the ‘Vulcan’, correct?” Vahn was surprised that he was identified, but didn’t think it was that odd as he had been left inside a tent earlier. Seeing his surprise, the man continued, “No worries kiddo. Riveria and the little amazon girl came by and explained things. Also, you’re pretty famous within the Familia, so it was pretty easy to identify you.” At the last part, the man started laughing and Vahn thought it was odd.
“Famous? Why? I haven’t done anything…” As Vahn spoke, the woman began to laugh with a bell-like tone that sent a chill down one’s spine. “Hephaestus-sama is quite fond of you and spread your image around in the Familia, Mr. Vulcan~” The lady looked at him with her sleepy eyes and Vahn almost averted his away instead of looking toward her.
In response, the man nodded his head and continued, “Yes, that is correct. Goddess Hephaestus told us that, if we were to meet a boy of your description in the dungeon, we should do our best to ensure your safety. I never expected to see you here on the 18th floor, much less accompanying the main party of the Loki Familia!” The man started laughing and nearly knocked the glasses on the table over.
The woman gave the man a sidewards glance and he quickly stopped laughing. After pretending to cough for a bit, the man spoke up.”Ah, let me introduce myself. I’m Grant Messer, Level 3 and representative of the Hephaestus Familia for this commission. People call me the ‘Sledgehammer’.” As he said his title, the man patted the massive brown and orange hammer to his right.
After his introduction, the woman smiled toward Vahn and said, “And I’m Meryl Messer, his wife, also Level 3 and people call me the ‘Witch’. Though, I would prefer if you just call me Meryl. I’ve never been fond of my nickname.” When the woman had said her alias, Vahn saw a cold glint in her eyes that made him feel that, if he called her by that, he would likely pay a price.
Once all the introductions were made, Grant talked to Vahn about the purpose of their mission and his role should he decide to join them. They were currently on an expedition to collect various items between the 25th and 30th floor, with their ultimate goal being the bones and scales of the Bloodsaurus on the 30th floor. If Vahn joined the expedition, as he was both a capable fighter and apprentice blacksmith, he could either protect the group alongside the vanguard or stay in the back and perform maintenance and various other tasks.
After a bit of discussion, it was agreed that Vahn was better served at the vanguard. Though he had picked up a lot of skills with Tsubaki, he wanted to continue improving his strength. If he spent the entire trip in the backline, it would defeat the purpose of joining the expedition in the first place. Vahn wanted to quickly complete his quest and return to the surface. He began feeling that, the longer he stayed within, the more difficult it would be to deal with things in the future.
While they were discussing things and having a polite conversation, Riveria showed up at the entrance of the tent. She had a ‘serious’ look on her face and, seeing Vahn present, she nodded before stating the purpose of her visit to Grant. “Finn is gathering together all the decision-makers for an important discussion. As the representatives of the Hephaestus Familia, he needs you, Meryl, and Vahn to attend.”
Grant nodded without questioning the order, but Vahn was somewhat confused. “Why does Finn need me to attend?” Vahn had only known Finn for a very short period of time, and definitely wasn’t one of the ‘decision-makers’ in the expedition party. In fact, he wasn’t even a member more than an hour ago…
Riveria looked toward Vahn and spoke plainly,”You are the only person present that has any information pertaining to the upcoming mission. Finn will explain the details, but know that we have been tasked with an urgent mission by the Guild.” Hearing her words, Vahn suddenly understood what she was talking about. As he had anticipated, the Loki Familia had likely been assigned to subjugate the Juggernaut. Grant, who was also listening, frowned but kept his words to himself for the time being.
The group made their way to the largest tent in the center of the camp where Vahn saw all the main members of the Loki Familia’s ace party, including Bete who seemed down in the dumps. The moment Bete saw Vahn enter with the Hephaestus Familia members, he snarled and almost lashed out but Finn stopped him. “There is no time for that Bete, stand down. We have important matters to discuss.” Ever since the fiasco with Tione earlier, Finn had been a bit on-edge and appeared to be a little impatient.
Bete clicked his tongue and just sat at the periphery of the group while ignoring everyone. A large table occupied the center area of the tent, and there were several stumps that had been collected from the nearby forest to act as chairs. After sitting down with the rest of the group, Tiona, who had been watching Vahn since his entrance, exchanged seats to sit next to Vahn.
Vahn felt awkward the moment she sat next to him, and when he looked at her smiling face the emotions he had fought hard to expel earlier began to build back up. To counteract the emotions, Vahn began to channel his [Will of the Emperor] and his domain slowly spread out through the tent with his [Stealth] applied. Though it was almost imperceptible, nearly everyone in the tent except Grant and Meryl noticed it.
Finn frowned, and Tiona had a confused expression on her face as she noticed Vahn was trying to ignore her. She felt a peculiar sensation in her chest after seeing his efforts to avoid interacting with her. Before anyone else said anything about the current situation, Riveria spoke up while slowly moving her hand through the air. “Fascinating…this space almost seems to be isolated with concealment and sound-dampening properties. This should prevent anyone from outside the tent from picking up on our discussion. What a versatile skill…”
After listening to Riveria’s explanation, Finn’s expression loosened as he though Vahn was just trying to ensure the privacy of the information they would be discussing. He found Vahn’s caution commendable and thought the skill was also quite useful. “Thanks, Vahn, it saves us a lot of trouble this way. Now we don’t have to worry about causing a panic before we make a decision.”
Vahn wasn’t paying much attention to what was said, but hearing someone call his name he slowly nodded. Right now he was trying to focus his awareness on other things within the tent instead of the warm body sitting to his right. Even now he could ‘feel’ Tiona looking at him, but Vahn was doing everything in his power to avoid acknowledging this fact. Tiona, from the side, seemed to notice this and her brows began to furrow as if she was going to pout.
Finn noticed the atmosphere between Tiona and Vahn, but he decided to ignore it for the time being. There were important things to be discussed, and they could work out their problems later. “Okay, I’d like to thank everyone for gathering on such short notice. As you may be aware, the Loki Familia has been assigned an emergency mission by the Guild which was accepted by our Goddess, Loki. We understand that this puts the Hephaestus Familia in a difficult situation and are willing to refund the entire original commission fee as well as a contract cancelation fee. However, if possible, we would like to borrow the services of the Hephaestus Familia for the time being. Once we are able to accomplish our mission we will continue the expedition if there are further difficulties.”
Finn explained the basic premise of the meeting without revealing too many details. Grant, who was experienced with such things, knew that he had the option of denying the mission and retreating to safety. Unless he decided to help the Loki Familia, they wouldn’t reveal any of the information about their mission as other parties could interfere with its completion and contest for rewards.
After discussing things with his wife for a few minutes, Grant turned towards Vahn and asked,”What are you going to do kid?” Vahn was curious why Grant would ask him, but he considered things on his own before responding,”I am going to help. I probably have some relation to the mission, and if possible, I would like to take part.” Grant, hearing Vahn’s reply, nodded his head looked toward Finn. “The Hephaestus Familia will take part in the Loki Familia’s emergency mission, but we expect to be compensated for any equipment and consumables used to ensure its completion. We also expect 20% of the posted rewards as well as the right to purchase any materials or drops earned at a premium.”
Finn nodded his head and agreed to the terms. If things went well, it would be better to give up part of their rewards and continue the expedition. If the Hephaestus Familia left now, the penalty for breaking the contract would be immense and it would potentially damage the reputation of the Loki Familia. This was the best possible outcome in a lot of ways, and Finn knew that Vahn was the reason for Grant’s cooperation. He too had heard of the rumors surrounding Vahn and Hephaestus, and this made Finn believe there was some truth to the matter.
“Very well, then I will explain the details of our mission. We have been given the task of subjugating the Juggernaut that has appeared on the 13th floor. If possible, we are also to investigate any strange occurrences that have happened and report back to the Guild at the earliest possible time. As it is an emergency mission, we have been given 30 hours to complete it. As I received word two hours ago, that only leaves us less than 28 hours to form a strategy to defeat the Juggernaut and conduct the investigation.” Finn said the explanation with full seriousness while making eye contact will everyone present.
Hearing the mission entailed killing a Juggernaut, Grant immediately began regretting his decision to lend their aide. Though they were unlikely to participate in the combat, if the Loki Familia failed to kill the Juggernaut it would likely wipe out the entire expedition team, the Hephaestus Familia included. His face was set with a deep frown, but a gentle hand was placed on his thigh by his wife Meryl. Looking into her perpetually ‘calming’ eyes, Grant found his conviction before nodding to Finn.
Finn gave the two an appreciative smile before nodding his head at Vahn. “Okay Vahn, I would like you to recount everything you know about the Juggernaut. We need as much information you have about its size, characteristics, location, and anything else you may find important. Please, don’t hold anything back as this may concern the lives of everyone present.”
Vahn felt like the words weighed heavily on his body, and he couldn’t help but look at the expressions of everyone in the tent. There was a solemn atmosphere and everyone had a serious look on their faces as Vahn slowly scanned them. When his eyes had made the full rounds, he set his sight on the person sitting next to him. Unlike everyone else, Tiona looked toward Vahn with a gentle and encouraging smile.
Suddenly, all of the tension seemed to go away and Vahn felt the pressure that had been weighing him down vanish. Unable to contain the ‘relief’ he had felt, Vahn released a sigh before a smile appeared on his lips. Looking toward Finn, he began recounting all the information about the Juggernaut, including how it seemed to have suffered a severe amount of damage from an unknown source.
(A/N: Alternate Title: ‘Trauma’, ‘Round 2…’,’Negotiations’)