As Hephaestus’s workshop was close to the Inn, Vahn managed to arrive shortly after parting ways with Lili. When he entered the building, one of the security guards immediately approached which caused Vahn to assume an alert stance. When the large man got near him, he asked. “Are you Vahn Mason?”
Vahn nodded without breaking his stance. Seeing his affirmation, the man turned towards his companions and one of them ran into the back room. The others cleared out the few remaining customers from the workshop while ignoring their protests. Once everyone was gone, the large man who had previously asked Vahn about his identity spoke.
“Lady Hephaestus informed us to clear out the store and report to her immediately after your arrival. You don’t have to be on guard, not that you would be able to resist if we wanted to harm you.” The man was more than 190cm tall and had a build like a bear. Though Vahn didn’t know it at this time, the man, named Zaff, was a former level 4 Adventurer from a disbanded Familia that had retired and become a security contractor.
Hearing they were acting on Hephaestus’s order, Vahn decided to relax a bit, but didn’t completely drop his guard. Seeing that Vahn was still alert, the man gave him an appreciative nod before directing his men outside of the workshop. They had been informed to secure the perimeter and prevent anyone from approaching for the time being. Before he left, he turned towards Vahn and offered him a bit of advice. “It’s good that you know better than to fully believe in what people tell you. Make sure you keep your senses sharp, it’ll save your life one day.”
Vahn nodded and watched the man leave. He agreed with the guards’ statement since he had almost died due to his negligence previously. The only reason he dropped his guard now was that he was able to see the man’s aura showed no aggression towards him. It was a stable and calming blue with a tinge of green around the edges.
After a few minutes of standing in silence, Hephaestus came out from the back room. Vahn could see she was covered in soot and sweat. Before his arrival, she was probably forging an item in her personal workshop. Remembering his experience with the ‘eternal flame’, Vahn had some misgivings about entering there in the future.
Unfortunately, without asking him anything, Hephaestus grabbed his hand and pulled him into the place he would much rather avoid. When he arrived, he saw that the ‘eternal flame’ which used to be a mixture of fiery reds and oranges now glowed with a gentle golden color. He even noticed something completely different about the flame…the fact it had a slight aura coming from it.
Hephaestus saw him looking at the flame and spoke for the first time. “I see you’ve noticed the changes as well. I need you to explain EXACTLY what happened when you were forging with the ‘eternal flame’ last time. Don’t leave out a single detail.”
Vahn could see the seriousness in her eye and began recalling the events as he remembered. Without mentioning the existence of [Will of the Emperor], he spoke about how he was able to solidify his domain and use it to contain the shape of the ingot when he was heating it. During the process, the ‘eternal flame’ began interfering with his mental energy and started consuming it, but after finalizing the procedure of forming the ingot he was able to concentrate his mana and forcibly sever the connection.
As he narrated the events, Hephaestus listened while observing him in silence. She was considering every word Vahn spoke and matching it against her own memories of the event. When Vahn got to the part about how the flame started devouring his mental energy, an unprecedented seriousness emanated from her body. She allowed him to complete his recount before asking in a firm tone.
“Vahn, you said you grew up with your Grandfather in the forest. Though I feel as if that isn’t the whole truth, I need to ask you, have you ever met your parents?”
After seeing how serious Hephaestus was, Vahn also adopted a similar atmosphere for himself. He considered his words before speaking the truth. “Though I have a memory of my mother, I’ve never met my father. I was taken from my mother when I was very young and raised by a group of terrible people until I reached the age of fourteen. After that, the place I was held was attacked and I managed to escape after the oversight of one of the attackers. After wandering for a while, I was helped by a kind woman named Klyscha before being dropped off in the Western Forests for training…that is the truth.”
For the first time since they started associating with each other, Hephaestus couldn’t sense any falsehood in Vahn’s words. As she expected, he wasn’t raised by his grandfather and probably used it as an excuse to avoid suspicion. The matters that concerned her now was his actual origins. If he was taken away from his parents and held captive for the majority of his life, he probably can’t explain the situation to the extent she requires.
As she looked towards the boy who was waiting for her response, Hephaestus began to feel a pain in her heart. Since he was likely telling the truth, that meant he never had the experience of being raised and cared for by a real family. She even thought it was his lack of interactions and social awareness that made him unafraid of her eye…
She released a sigh before showing Vahn a caring smile. “I’m sorry for questioning you Vahn. It must have been very difficult for you getting this far. From now on I promise I won’t let anything like that happen to you again.” As they were both close to each other, she pulled Vahn into her embrace and began to gently rub his head.
Vahn was completely taken by surprise by the show of affection. Since he was still tense from the serious atmosphere, he never expected to be spontaneously hugged. At first, he wanted to struggle, but feeling the soft sensation pressing against his face and the soothing motion on the back of his head, Vahn began to relax. He felt all the tension slowly melt away from his body as Hephaestus gently continued her embrace.
After a surprisingly long amount of time, Hephaestus finally released his head and allowed Vahn to regain his freedom. Vahn felt at a loss when she released her embrace, and his expression caused Hephaestus to turn her head with a blush. “I can hug you more later…*ahem*. Right now we need to talk about other important matters. I think I may have some clues about your origin, and it will be very important you pay attention or you could be in serious danger if your identity is exposed.”
Though Vahn was already aware of his origins, he still listened to her words seriously. It was likely her advice would still be important for him, even if it wasn’t because of the reason she speculated.
“First of all, it is very likely that one of your parents was a god or goddess. Without understanding your powers, I can’t speculate which…but I can say that the other parent was most likely a demi-god or something equal in status. That means your bloodline is significantly purer than most children of gods since you possess three-quarters of a divine heritage. That domain you’re able to use is very similar to the divinity possessed by us gods except on a much smaller scale.” As she spoke till this point, Hephaestus began to release her own Divinity.
From Vahn’s perspective, he could see the aura around Hephaestus’s body grow until it permeated the air around them. He could feel a pressure weighing down on his body, and could actually ‘feel’ the emotions present in the aura she released. This caused Vahn to feel flustered as, even though the aura was pressuring him, the pink color seemed to infuse with his body and made him feel giddy.
Hephaestus was confused while watching Vahn succumb to her Divinity. Like most mortals, he was definitely affected by the pressure, but her aura seemed to have a different effect on his body at the same time. She quickly pulled it back to alleviate the pressure he was experiencing and began to physically inspect his body.
Vahn was breathing heavily and could feel his body heating up after Hephaestus released her aura. Even though she had pulled it back, he could still feel the same giddiness causing a fluttering sensation in his chest. When Hephaestus approached and started checking to see if he was hurt, the feeling increased in intensity and he began to panic. From her body, he could smell an aroma that was making it difficult to think and he separated from her touch.
Hephaestus was surprised seeing Vahn push her away and open up a distance between them. She could see a blush on his face and a feverish look in his eyes as he seemed to struggle with his rationality. It was at this moment that Hephaestus realized her Divinity must have influenced him strangely and sent him into a state…of arousal.
She began to panic as well. Her Divinity was derived from forging and not love or beauty; it shouldn’t have the ability to charm people. Hephaestus deduced that it was likely that one of his parents had a synergistic relationship with forging. It made sense to her seeing the changes in her own ‘eternal flame’ after absorbing Vahn’s energy…but that was beside the point. Right now she had no idea how to deal with the young boy before her.
Hephaestus was not inexperienced with men. Though she never had a long-term partner due to how the other gods treated her, there were several instances where she hooked up with a god after a banquet or ceremony. She kept her dignity during many of the encounters, there were a few very rare instances where she gave in to her passions and slept with them. Though she felt terrible after the fact, it also helped stabilize the trauma she had in her heart. She felt that since people were willing to sleep with her, she wasn’t as terrible a monster as they made her feel. It wasn’t until she met Hestia later that she underwent a purification ceremony to recover her own chastity.
Now, seeing the boy struggle because of her own error, she began to have an internal struggle of her own. He was still very young, and though she wanted to ‘help’ him, there was no easy way of doing so. In the worst case scenario, she may end up leaving a trauma in his heart after he only recently started interacting with people.
While she was trying to rationalize her decision and find her resolve, Vahn was listening to Sis advise him. Even though his mental state was in disorder, he still had enough wherewithal to activate [Will of the Emperor]. Though it was difficult at first, the energy began spreading through his body and suppressing the strange feelings. The familiar cooling sensation began to clear his mind and allowed him to push the skill further until is permeated his entire body and started spreading out in the form of his domain.
Hephaestus, who was biting her lip in frustration, noticed the change and saw Vahn regaining his clarity. She released a heavy sigh but felt that there was an empty feeling in her heart. It was like she had missed an opportunity, but she ignored the feeling and helped to calm Vahn.
“Sorry, Vahn. I didn’t expect my Divinity would have that kind of effect on you. It’s likely that one of your parents had some relation to the divinity of forging, and as a result, it causes…a peculiar reaction when absorbed by your body. Fortunately, you were able to counteract the effects with your own pseudo-divine state.” She tried speaking rationally, but couldn’t hold back a blush from appearing on her face.
Vahn listened and nodded mechanically at the explanation. Though it was likely the Divinity that enhanced the effect, Vahn realized that interacting with the auras of people made him able to experience their emotions. He would have to be careful in the future…or the consequences could be irreversible.