Chapter 19: The Hearths Embrace

At a cafe located outside of the Guild of Orario, a beautiful woman sat staring aimlessly as adventurers went about their business. Seated across from her was a handsome gentleman with a fervent expression as he made an earnest effort to try and earn her attention.

The woman sighed in her mind. Listening to the feeble attempts of the fool across from her, she began to wonder why she had allowed him to accompany her in the first place. As a God, his looks were pleasing to the eye, but after a time she had grown bored with his company.

As the fool drolled on endlessly, she continued to stare at the various adventures. It had become a past time of hers to seek out those with talent, and she often spent her free time observing any newcomers entering and exiting the establishment. Unlike the seemingly unchanging Gods she often associated with, she had gained an appreciation for the seemingly endless variations of mortals. To her, they were the only excitement in the perpetuity of her life. She especially liked those with unique souls harboring untold potential for growth.

She grew progressively more dissatisfied with the company of her fellow God and began to ignore him entirely. Just as she was about to dismiss him and conclude her hobby for the day, she noticed a peculiarity within the flow of people. There stood a young boy, garbed in black attire from head to toe. Compared the vibrancy of the rest of the crowd, he stood out as he began moving further down the street almost as if opposing the flow of everyone else. Ordinarily, she would dismiss his existence as a mild anomaly that lacked tact and common sense, but for reasons uncertain, she continued to follow the boy with her eyes.

Sensing the change in atmosphere, the male God followed the sight of the Goddess he was trying to woo. There he observed an unkempt boy barely considered a young man. The boy was garbed in a black tunic that seemed to absorb the light, whereas the rest of his clothing was simply tacky and soiled.

Testing the waters he looked towards the Goddess and spoke. “He his dressed rather…interestingly, isn’t he? I wonder how he can walk so calmly through the crowd dressed in such a foolish outfit. Maybe he is trying to become a clown?” he laughed at his own joke.

Hearing the abrasive sound, the female Goddess flinched before scornfully turning towards the foolish God.

“You may leave. I’ve grown bored with your company. Perhaps you should consider evaluating yourself before you so carelessly speak of others.”

Angered by the admonishment he experienced, the God stood up before lashing out. “Freya, don’t think you’re so much better than everyone else just because your Familia is a little bit bigger. We don’t all have the same ‘benefits’ to provide our children.”

A gleam passed through the eyes of Freya as she sized up the insect in front of her. “Oh? You make it sound like you weren’t wishing to enjoy those same ‘benefits’. You must feel so inferior that mortals are able to experience something you’ll never be able to obtain.”

“Y-y-you! How dare you insult me in such a manner!?” he shouted.

Freya looked directly into his eyes and waited for several breaths before speaking. “Do you perhaps wish for a ‘War’?”

The male God immediately stopped any words that were able to leave his throat. He stared into the eyes of Freya and saw the seriousness contained within. With cold sweat dripping down his back, he bowed slightly towards her in his most gentlemanly manner.

“I spoke out of turn. If you’ll please excuse me, I have other matters to attend.” Without waiting for her response he immediately left the private booth, desperate to escape the pressure of the gaze at his back.

Freya continued to watch as he exited the room. She made a special note to have Ottarl disappear some of the foolish Gods’ children in the near future.

Turning towards the window, she looked for the silhouette of the boy that had caught her eye. After about two minutes she eventually gave up and prepared to leave for the day. She was unable to understand just what had caught her eye about the abnormal child but decided that if they crossed paths in the future she would be certain to discover the reason.

Meanwhile, Vahn continued his journey towards the tower of Babel. After about twenty minutes he had arrived in an area that seemed to double as both residential area and marketplace. Considering it would be beneficial to live in an area with readily available commodities that was also in close proximity to the Guild, Vahn decided to enter a nearby Inn called ‘The Hearths Embrace’.

Entering the Inn, Vahn caught the attention of a uniformed girl who seemed to be around 10 years old. She had chestnut brown hair split into two lively pigtails. Her most notable feature was the cat ears that danced playfully on the top of her head. The ears accented the relatively plain facial features of the girl who still had a bit of baby fat in her cheeks.

The girl looked towards Vahn with her large golden eyes and shouted, “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeelcome~! Would you like to stay the nya-ight~? Or would you like to order some food~nya?”

Vahn was completely at a loss as he stared directly at the twitching ears on the girls head. Though he knew of their existence and had even seen a girl with rabbit ears from a distance, he was caught off guard by the overwhelming presence of the girl before him. He couldn’t pull his eyes away from the ears….(“Ah, they twitched!”)

The girl began to back away under the gaze of the boy in front of her. Though she didn’t sense any danger coming from the look, it still made her rather uncomfortable.

“Mooooooooooooom, there is a customer that needs you~nya!” She shouted before running into the back room.

Vahn watched as the girl turned away, and turned his eyes downwards. As he had expected, once the girl turned away she was chased by a tail that poked through a ribbon near the waist of her uniform. As he watched the girl disappear into the back room, he couldn’t help but marvel at the existence of cat ears and tail in reality. He was very curious how they were attached, and if the girl had stayed any longer he might have asked.

Moments later a much larger version of the girl entered through the door. They shared many of the same features, but the woman before him was far more mature. She stood around 1.7 meters tall and had a very athletic looking figure that was noticeable even through the maid-like blue uniform she was wearing. Vahn let his eyes wander over the woman before turning his attention towards her chest, where some modest sized breasts could be seen.

He briefly stared for a few moments before fixing his gaze towards the head of the mature Cat Person to observe her ears. In the process, he also noticed that the aura emitting from her body was a mixture of oranges and reds that appeared very similar to a weak flame. Though he was unaware of what each color meant, he could determine she was likely angry from how the ‘flame’ flickered back and forth.

After her daughter, Tina had informed her of the arrival of a strange man, the woman, Milan Yuel, exited the kitchen. The moment she stepped through the door, she could feel the wandering gaze from the young man in front of her. As a woman and proprietor of an Inn, she was very sensitive to the gazes of others. She noticed the boy had a look on intrigue on his face and dismissed the thought of lecturing him, at least until his eyes had landed on her breasts…

She began to get angry at the boy who continued to hold his gaze for a few moments before looking towards the top of her head. (‘Is he looking at my ears?’) she wondered. As that thought passed her mind, she noticed that the moment his gaze fixed on her ears his expression froze and he began to look a little apologetic?

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Out of curiosity, she spoke towards the young man. “What brings you to my Inn young man?”

Vahn noticed that the flame-like aura had begun to fade and looked into the eyes of the woman who had just addressed him. “Please forgive my intrusion, Ma’am. I had just entered the City today and was looking for a place to room for several days. Your Inn caught my attention as it seems to be in a very convenient location.”

Milan looked towards the boy and re-evaluated him. He definitely had the looks of a traveler but wasn’t sure he would be able to afford room and board given the quality of his clothing. “Is that so? Well, rooms are 2100 Valis a night with an additional 400 Valis for meals and water. You can choose to eat at the bar or have the food placed within the compartment near your room if you prefer.”

Vahn nodded before asking, “Is it alright to pay for just the room? I have my own plans for food and water.”

“Aye, but make sure you don’t bring outside food into the Inn during meal times. It’s bad for business if other customers start getting similar thoughts.” Milan nodded at the boys’ question and assumed he wouldn’t have any difficulties paying given his leisurely expression. “How many nights would you like to stay? We give a 10% discount if you book more than a week at a time.”

Vahn noted that with the 10% discount he would have just enough to be able to pay for an entire week in advance. He began to marvel at the apparent foresight of ‘The Path’. He wasn’t worried about spending all his money either since he would be able to earn more than enough once he entered the dungeon.

“I would like to book a room for one week, Ma’am.” He handed over the entire sack of coins he had received from the Guild.

After confirming the amount and issuing his change, Milan looked towards the boy who kept sneaking glances at her ear and tail. She checked the logbook that he had just signed before asking, “Tell me Vahn Mason, have you never seen a Cat Person before?”

Vahn was surprised at the question and didn’t know what to say. He thought for a few moments before responding, “Yes Ma’am. I lived in the forest with my Grandfather and had only ever interacted with humans before today.”

Judging by the honest expression on the boy’s face, Milan nodded in understanding. “I see, I see. I’ll let it slide for today, but you’d do well to remember it’s very impolite to stare at a lady without permission. You about scared my daughter half to death, she almost thought you were going to eat her up!” Milan laughed as she watched the boys’ expression become increasingly flustered.

Vahn bowed his head and offered his most sincere apology while the mature woman before him simply laughed. Confused, he turned towards her just as she covered her mouth and continued to giggle for a moment. He noticed that the aura around her body had turned into a yellow color with a tinge of sky blue along the edges.

(“I really wish I knew what these colors meant. I can kind of understand that darker colors mean the person doesn’t like me, but what does yellow and sky blue mean?”) Vahn couldn’t help but wonder as a bold thought crossed his mind.

“Excuse me Mrs…umm….”

“Milan Yuel. I’m the Proprietress of this here establishment.” Milan could see the apprehension in his body, but the curiosity within his eyes didn’t escape her attention.

“Mrs. Yuel, I know it may not be appropriate to ask, but could I…um…touch your ears?” Though he wasn’t aware of the reason, Vahn became progressively more nervous with each word. He could also see the aura around Milan fluctuate slightly as the yellow color became more prominent.

“Ara~ Sure, but only one touch. Any more than that and I might hold you responsible~nya.” Milan was very amused with how Vahn was acting and couldn’t help but tease him a bit.

Though he wasn’t sure what she meant by holding him responsible, he understood it was something very dangerous. Overcoming his fear he stretched out his hand while Milan leaned forward slightly with a sly grin on her face. As his hand came into contact with the ear, his body jumped when the ear spontaneously twitched.

He began to reach out again before Milan interrupted him, “Ara~ Didn’t I say just one touch? Fufufu~.” She squinted her eyes while looking at his outstretched hand.

Vahn quickly pulled back his hand and apologized.

“Fufufu~ It’s quite alright Vahn. Here is your key, you’ll find your room on the second floor towards the far end on the right. Make sure you don’t lose your key or else there is a fee to replace it and the lock~.” Satisfied with the boys’ response, she sent him on his way with a grin and wave.

Vahn quickly entered the stairwell and made his way towards the second floor. He couldn’t help but feel like he had been messed with, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Fortunately, he was able to succeed in his plan during the brief moment of contact.

‘View Affection: Milan Yuel {[Affection: 53[Amicable], Intrigue:59[Playful]}

Uncertain of the meaning behind the numbers or how they related to the colors, Vahn finally found his room. He unlocked the door and took a look around the place he would be staying for the foreseeable future. Though the room was much smaller than his cave, it was still around 50 meters squared and contained a large single bed, writing desk with lamp, and a small separate area for bathing.

Vahn laid in his bed and enjoyed the warm atmosphere that permeated throughout the room. Even though his cave wasn’t cold, there was something fulfilling about living in a room that has been prepared and tended to by other people.

It had been a long day, so Vahn decided to take a short nap before heading out for dinner. There was a specific place that was often shown in the manga he wanted to visit, but for now, he was just happy to have a place to live that was surrounded by interesting people.

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He began to look towards the future as he slowly fell asleep…

//Milan Yuel: Affection + 1//

With that notification sounding in his head Vahn lost consciousness.

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