Chapter 35 - Hephaestus Familia (2/2)
Vahn had begun to regret his decision. His thoughts began racing a mile a minute through his mind as he tried coming up with a believable story.
"He died several months ago. He was a hunter in the Western Forests where he raised me. When I was younger he would tell me stories of his youth and his travels as an Adventurer. I came to the City after his death to follow a similar path."
Before he could continue further, Hephaestus began questioning him again. "Oh? And where did these adventures of his take place? How long ago was this? And have you used this sword at all after he left it to you?" She continued pressuring him to find holes in his story.
Vahn began to get visibly fl.u.s.tered, and his [Will of the Emperor] began to activate subconsciously. Hephaestus noticed this and began to smile like she had obtained victory. "These should all be relatively easy questions to answer Vahn. Unless of course, you're planning to lie and can't come up with a viable story?"
Hearing her words, Vahn looked directly into her eye. "Miss Haphaestus, everyone has things they want to protect. I thought you were just going to ask about the sword, not my family and background. I don't think that was part of our original agreement at all." He decided to take a firm stand to prevent himself from divulging too much information. [Will of the Emperor] seemed to affirm his stance as it began to emit a subtle pressure on Hephaestus's body and mind.
She squinted her eye and looked seriously at the boy in front of her. Perhaps she did overextend her boundaries by asking so many personal questions. She couldn't really fault him for his anger and her trying to divulge his secrets. Sighing, she eased her expression a bit before continuing. "My bad. I won't ask about your past, but I'm still curious if you've used the sword since obtaining it. That should be an easy enough question to answer."
Vahn calmed down and began to repress his [Will of the Emperor] a bit. He thought about the question a bit before deciding it wasn't too far outside their original agreement. "Yes. I've been using the sword in the dungeon for a few days now."
Hearing his words, Hephaestus felt her curiosity grow exponentially. She had determined the blade was a composite iron that had been reforged more than one-hundred times using a variety of unique techniques. Though the blade was carved with a powerful enchantment, she could infer it only increased the sharpness of the blade and not its durability. Given the low quality of the materials, there would be no way to prevent the blade from acc.u.mulating the signs of use. However, the blade before her was in a pristine condition...almost as if it had been forged and polished hours ago.
"And how far into the dungeon have you ventured? What level are you? Since you have a temporary pass, I'm assuming you are a freelancer, right?"
Vahn noticed she had begun to deviate from the topic again, but since the questions didn't ask about his past he decided to respond. He didn't want to offend her by avoiding questions that most people would be willing to answer. "I've gone down to the 7th floor alone, and I'm still level 1 since I've never joined a Familia before."
Hephaestus's eyebrow shot up hearing his response. He was still lv 1 but had gone into the 7th floor of the dungeon alone? This confirmed her suspicion that the boy was keeping a secret, and she began to wonder how to get him to divulge it before a plan began to form in her mind.
"Vahn, I've understood the composition of this sword and know that it isn't made of a very durable material. How are you able to keep the blade in such pristine shape if what you've said is true? The blade should wear down after cutting through so many monsters, and their body fluids should dull the blade after continued use. I can tell there is an enchantment to enhance the sharpness, but it still wouldn't explain the current state." Instead of looking directly at him, she began to closely inspect the runes on the blade, pretending she was only mildly interested in the answer.
Vahn didn't think the question was abnormal, so he told her that he maintained the blade using whetstones.
Hephaestus couldn't help thinking, 'he maintains the blade himself using whetstones?'. As a master blacksmith, she had used hundreds-of-thousands of whetstones during her time, and nothing would be able to emulate the result of the blade in her hands. "Can I see one of the whetstones you use? I'm quite curious what material can bring out so much l.u.s.ter in a sword."
Without thinking too much, Vahn decided to hand over one of the whetstones. As far as he knew, there wasn't a difference between the ones he used and normal stones. When he passed the flat piece of rock to Hephaestus, both of their eyes lit up when the stone launched itself out of her hand of its own volition.
They both stared at the stone that had fallen to the floor with blank expressions. Hephaestus looked incredulously towards Vahn for an explanation as Sis began speaking in his mind. (*Vahn, you can't give items to people that were obtained through the system without activating the 'Gift' function. That is especially the case for items obtained from other records.*)
Vahn remembered that this was indeed the case, and moved to pick up the stone. He returned an awkward smile at Hephaestus who continued to stare at his movements. "Sorry Miss Hephaestus, it doesn't seem like others can use the stone."
Hephaestus was very curious about the implications behind his words and asked that she be allowed to examine the stone while he held it. Nodding, Vahn moved forwards and extended his hand holding the stone. Hephaestus used her eye to look as closely as possible but was unable to see anything unique about the whetstone in his hand. It seemed to be made of Novaculite and other dense minerals, and she was unable to sense any enchantments or curses that would prevent others from holding it.
As a test, she tried using her tools to interact with the stone without making physical contact, but there seemed to be a small rebounding force repelling the tools on contact. She was more confused that she had ever been and began to develop a powerful curiosity about the origin of the stone. "Vahn, where did you obtain this whetstone? It seems like a common stone, but has a mysterious force even my 'god's eye' can't detect."
Vahn began to realize he had made a mistake. What he thought was a simple whetstone ended up drawing unnecessary interest from the Goddess before him, and he was unable to think of an explanation. While he was thinking, Hephaestus reached towards one of the weapons that had been displayed near her desk. She used a strange cloth to mar the surface of the blade and reduce the l.u.s.ter it emitted.
Turning to Vahn, she handed him the blade. "I want to see your skills. Show me how you use that whetstone. Since I can't handle it myself, I want to see how it affects a high-quality item."
Since Vahn didn't know how to dig himself out of his current predicament, he decided it would be best to just move forward without stepping back. If he retreated now he would feel pathetic, and he didn't want to create friction between himself and the third most powerful Goddess within the City. He grabbed the blade and began using the whetstone as he had done many times before.
Hephaestus stared closely, and the first thing she noticed was that he had no idea how to properly handle a whetstone. She began to suspect he had been lying to her the entire time, but as the stone came into contact with the blade her concerns vanished. The moment the whetstone touched the marred blade, it began to glow with a subtle white luminance that only a god would be able to see. Each successive stroke of the whetstone increased the luminance until the third stroke, where the blade flashed a bright light before being restored to its pinnacle state. Even the nick in the blade she had left had completely vanished.
She grabbed the sword as he handed it to her, and began to inspect it from every conceivable angle. The blade was in perfect condition! It was even polished to a state unattained by the previous sword, as it had yet to be sharpened properly since it was just a display piece. Now the blade had a cold gleam that seemed to be able to cut anyone that stared at it too intensely. As a test, she used another one of the display pieces and crossed the two blades and inspected the result. The first sword had easily cut into the blade of the second, even though their materials and construction were of similar qualities...
She looked towards the stone in Vahn's hand with intrigue but noticed that it had turned into dust. "What happened to the whetstone?" She couldn't understand how the stone turned to dust when it was previously in a whole, unused, state.
Vahn shrugged at the question and gave what he thought was an obvious response, "They always break after one use."
She could tell he was speaking the truth and lamented at the loss of the godly tool. Even if the whetstone was a single-use item, it could be a powerful asset to any familia adventuring into the dungeon. If it could restore the state of damaged weapons to their optimal form, it would be an incredibly useful tool for long expeditions. "Can you tell me how you found that stone Vahn? It could save a lot of lives in the dungeon if people didn't have to worry about their weapons breaking down from overuse."
Vahn shook his head and decided to speak the truth. "I can't really tell you where I got them since it is an important secret I can't divulge to anyone..."
//Optional Quest Triggered//
[Quest: Convince Hephaestus to Reveal her Eye]
Rewards: Development Ability: [Blacksmith], 1x Hephaestus' Favor
Failure Conditions: Death, 30 seconds pass [0:19S]
Penalty: 100 Karma
Vahn was surprised at the notification that appeared mid-sentence and became shocked after seeing the failure conditions. He had less than 20 seconds remaining!? Since he was unable to come up with a viable excuse, he decided to repeat his last sentence. "I can't really tell you where I got them since it's a secret, but I can use them to assist the Hephaestus Familia if..."
Though she was disappointed he was unwilling to divulge the information about the whetstones, she became curious seeing the hesitation in his body as he slowly trailed his words. "If what Vahn?"
"I will use the whetstones to aid your familia if you let me see what is under your eyepatch. Since its something deeply related to my secret, it would only be fair to reveal something of your own..."
Hearing the continuation of his words, all the curiosity she had previously faded away. Now there was a melancholic and sad expression on her face, and Vahn almost blurted out an apology by reflex. He kept trying to think of how to convince her to reveal her eye and began to panic as the timer counted down.
Hephaestus sighed but noticed that Vahn had begun to panic when her mood changed. She thought he was just curious and hadn't meant to offend her. He was right; she had tried time-and-again to pry out his secrets without exchanging anything even after offending him earlier. If he wanted to see her eye in exchange for those magical whetstones, it was a fair trade considering the benefits she could gain for her Familia.
"Very well Vahn...but know that what lays under my eyepatch isn't something interesting or mysterious. In fact, it might even disgust you...do you still want to see whats underneath?" She looked into his eyes as he began to calm down. She could see his eyes were clear as he returned her gaze before giving a gentle smile.
"Please. I really want to see." Vahn knew she was often looked down on by the gods in heaven, and that was the reason she had become friends with Hestia. Hestia was the only Goddess that had seen her eye without showing fear or disgust. Though he hadn't thought to ask before the quest triggered, he was genuinely curious what made so many gods ostracize one of their own, especially when she was such an accomplished blacksmith.
Hephaestus saw he didn't waver, so she removed her eyepatch. After a brief hesitation, she slowly looked at the boy to gauge his reaction. Though she tried to pretend she wasn't worried, her eye had been a trauma to her for so long that she subconsciously lost confidence whenever anyone gazed upon it. She looked towards him, expecting to see the familiar disgust or contempt that everyone except her best friend Hestia showed...but it wasn't there. He still had the gentle smile on his face as he gazed directly into her disfigured eye. There wasn't any disgust or feigned calmness, only an undisguised intrigue, relief, and even...concern?
As various thought began circulating through her head, Vahn continued to observe the eye. The white sclera had turned completely black, surrounding the glowing crimson eye at its core. The eye looked almost demonic, a thought that would only be emphasized when seeing the malformed skin around the socket. It seemed like the skin had dried into a wrinkled red mess like a bloodstain surrounding her eye.
Vahn was actually relieved seeing the eye since it wasn't nearly as bad as he expected given the mentions in the story. If anything, he even thought it looked kind of cool...but he could see by the expression on Hephaestus's face that it brought her a lot of pain. He began thinking of ways to cure it and started inquiring with Sis for a solution.
Hephaestus continued to stare into the face of the boy and noticed that he was able to easily look directly at her for such a long period of time without changing. Her interest in the boy began to grow, as he was only the second person in her several-million-year lifespan to react this way. She almost felt the urge to cry as she continued to enjoy the kindness in his gaze.
"You aren't afraid of my eye Kid? Isn't it disgusting like a monster?" She saw his expression change for the first time since removing her eyepatch. He seemed confused at her question.
"That's a dumb question. Though your eye might be different, it doesn't change who you are. Why would I be afraid of you after all our interactions so far?" This was genuinely what Vahn thought since he always respected the actions Hephaestus took in the anime. She was always kind to the people she cared about and even forged Bell a 200,000,000V dagger just for her friend Hestia. She didn't deserve to be looked at like a monster by those around her since she was actually a kind and gentle girl.
Hephaestus was shocked. She couldn't see any falsity in his words and could tell that he was actually offended not by her eye, but the fact she thought he would be afraid of it. She decided she had to re-evaluate this kid and began to examine his features a bit and noticed that he was actually quite handsome, albeit a bit young...Given a few years, he would likely grow to be a capable Adventurer, and he was currently without a Familia. There was also the unique aura he possessed which likely meant his "Grandfather" wasn't a simple adventurer turned hunter...
A lightbulb went off inside her head as she looked towards Vahn with both her eyes gleaming. "Vahn, would you like to join my Familia?"