Chapter 38 - What was Lost : What was Found
Vahn was floating in the void. He couldn't determine which direction was up as his body slowly rotated through space. There was a warmth permeating through his body, reminding him of a feeling he had lost long ago. As time passed a chill began to set in his body; he could feel the warmth begin to fade and a panic began to spread throughout his consciousness. He began a desperate search for the feeling, but no matter how much he struggled; no matter how much time passed, he could not find it again.
Eventually, he gave up searching and began seeking solace in the stillness brought about by the chill which had permeated every fiber of his being. But, even though he gave up searching, he wanted to protect the memory of the warmth deep within. He curled his body into the smallest form he could manage and imagined the warmth still existed, a distant echo of a memory which he should have never allowed to be lost.
The concept of time had long been lost as his body drifted aimlessly through the endless void. The stillness had been a part of him for so long he even lost the concepts that had defined him in the first place. His curled body had turned into an ambiguous shape and taken on a spherical nature. Thoughts, emotions, even dreams had long faded...remnants of a time long forgotten. Only the memory of the warmth kept his body from dispersing in the endless, eternal, darkness of the void.
One day the thoughtless sphere came across a small light within the darkness, stirring something within the remnant spirit contained within. From the tiny, almost inconsequential light, it could feel the now ancient warmth it had so desperately sought in the past. It quickly sought solace within the comfort of the light, but in its haste nearly extinguished the light entirely. It became conflicted, both wanting to take the light for itself, but unwilling to seize it for fear of losing it once again.
It began to gently surround the light, allowing it's gentle touch to slowly warm its now cold and desolate frame. Every now and then it would split a small part of itself to nurture the light, hoping that it would one day grow and help it reclaim what it had lost. When it split these fragments, the light would emit fragmentary images of times and places the entity had never experienced. Within the images, it could see a figure, the source of the lights warmth. It leads smaller, but powerful lights, to confront the darkness and create a path through the abyss. The being hoped that one day the light and its companions would be able to-
Vahn woke up in a cold sweat. His head was throbbing with a powerful migraine similar to the times he had overused [Will of the Emperor]. He desperately tried to remember what he had been dreaming about, but the more he focused on the thoughts the faster they would vanish. The only thing still remaining by the time he had calmed down was a deep, all-encompassing loneliness...
"You're awake. I was worried you would end up sleeping all day." A gentle voice broke the empty feelings that had began to take root in his heart. Vahn turned to see the source and saw Hephaestus giving him a worried look.
"Sorry...I was having a dream, no, a nightmare...." Vahn shook his head to dispel the remaining negative feelings before leaving the couch. Hephaestus, who was currently sitting at her desk working on diagrams, gave him a gentle smile while setting her pen aside. "What are your plans for today? Since you've officially joined my Familia, you can have your own workshop, but I think it would be better for you to apprentice under someone else for the time being. If you're not busy I'll introduce you to a veteran blacksmith. She is quite capable, and someone I can trust to teach you everything you need to know for the future."
Vahn shook his head with an apologetic look. "I've already made plans to meet up with someone this morning, and I still need to report my level up to the guild and renew my booking at the Inn. Hopefully, they haven't let someone else take the room yet."
Hephaestus nodded in understanding, remembering his haste from the previous night. Even though she had already accepted him into the Familia, it wasn't appropriate to force him to change his current plans and living conditions until he was able to sort everything out. "Very well then. I'll give you a week to get everything sorted, but you'll have to report to me if anything changes. Though there aren't many requirements for being in the Familia, you'll still be acting as a representative of our brand. You'll have to put more thought into your future actions. I don't want you running around causing a bunch of problems for me to clean up."
After informing him of everything he needed to keep in mind, Hephaestus began escorting him from the workshop. She was back to her usual attitude and had begun to wear her eyepatch again while Vahn was asleep. Once they had reached the entrance, Vahn gave a polite bow before waving goodbye. Seeing this, Hephaestus stopped him with a small hint of a blush on her face. "Make sure you let me know if you run into any problems. You're a child of my Familia now, and I won't let anyone bully my children."
Hearing her words, Vahn gave her his best smile before saying, "Thanks Hephaestus. I believe in you..." As he began to turn away, he continued his words. "And one day, I hope you'll be able to believe in me." He then ran towards the direction of the guild, leaving a smiling Hephaestus leaning against the door frame with her arms crossed.
She watched his retreating figure until it had disappeared, then sighed as she returned to her workshop. After entering, she looked towards the now empty couch where Vahn had slept the night before. After securely locking the door, she made her way over before falling face first into the cushions. For some reason, the room that was full of peerless equipment now felt empty. From the couch, she could smell a peculiar fragrance that hadn't been there previously, and she began to blush after identifying the source...
Remembering his back as he left, Hephaestus had seen hints of the loneliness contained in the small silhouette. But beneath that, she also saw a powerful desire to grow stronger, as well as an intrigue in the world around him. His last words stirred her heart a bit, and her attempts to maintain her calm demeanor had worn away at her energy as she returned to her workshop. Once she was in the security of the room, she felt an exhaustion build up in her and decided to use the couch to take a small nap.
After a while, she fell asleep. While Vahn had slept the night before, she spent much of the time watching his various expressions. When he had started having his nightmare, she began gently rubbing his head to soothe his unease. This continued well into the morning, until he began to show signs of awakening which prompted her to return to her desk and pretend to be working. Once he had awoken, she wanted to ask what he was dreaming about, but seeing the pained expression on his face made Hephaestus swallow her words and try to act casually. All these factors had acc.u.mulated in the fatigue of the red-haired goddess as she fell into the land of dreams herself.
Vahn made his way to the Guild, and was sad seeing that none of his acquaintances were available. He saw Fauna dealing with customers at the mission counter, while Eina, probably due to her adorable looks, had a long line of customers in front of her desk. He ended up being seen by a gentlemanly looking elf with green hair that gave him looks of contempt before changing to shock after seeing the number of cores Vahn had submitted. After finding out Vahn had been entering the tower for less than a week and had become level 2, he almost thought the boy before him was a monster in the guise of a human. However, once he found out Vahn had been accepted by the Hephaestus Familia and officially registered as an Adventurer, he gave a curt and respectful bow before processing the exchange.
On his way out, Vahn caught the sight of Eina and the two waved at each other. He was happy to see that when the young half-elf made eye contact with him, there was a slight blush on her cheeks. Vahn felt a tickling sensation in his heart and resolved to try and tease her more in the future. Seeing the combination of her cute looks and serious nature trying to hide shyness brought a smile to his face for reasons he couldn't explain.
He made his way to the Hearths Embrace before booking his room for an additional week. The proprietress, Milan, had tried to keep him for a few minutes. She wanted to know what he had been up to the previous week and advised that, if he were in trouble, he could come to her. "I may not look like it, but I used to be a Level 3 back in my active days. If some hoodlums are bothering you I'll give 'em a good beating~".
Vahn smiled and thanked her for her kindness, assuring her that nothing serious had happened and promised to tell her about the details later. After having him promise, she finally let him go before giving him a small lunchbox. "My daughter made it especially for you~. Make sure you eat it all or you'll break her heart~nya."
Vahn looked around and noticed the little girl was missing, and Milan laughed seeing his questioning expression. "She stayed up late because you hadn't shown up to renew the room. You know she lost her father to the dungeon, so she was very worried. Make sure you make it up to her later, okay?"
Accepting the lunchbox, Vahn promised he would buy Tina a present before returning this evening. Milan patted his back while pushing him towards the exit and telling him to take care of himself. "Remember, a man always keeps his promises~nya!"
After leaving the Inn, Vahn began running towards the Babel Plaza. It was already nearing 9 AM, and he was worried Lili had been waiting for a very long time. Adventurers typically entered the dungeon at even earlier times, and since they had agreed to meet in the morning she had likely been in the area for several hours by now.
He continued running for nearly half an hour before finally reaching his destination. Looking around, he couldn't see Lili anywhere, and he began to worry she had left after he failed to show up on time. Finding a nearby bench, he sat down and began waiting. Even if she didn't show up, he would continue waiting for the rest of the day as a means of atoning for his actions.
Three hours later, as Vahn continued to stare aimlessly at the sky in contemplation, he felt a sudden weight added to the bench near him. He looked over and saw Lili staring into his face with annoyance and displeasure written on her face. She had adopted the look of an elven child with blond hair and light-hazelnut colored eyes.
"You're late." She said with a pout.
"Sorry Lili, I got caught up trying to take care of a few things." All Vahn could do was awkwardly apologize why trying to appease the young Pallum.
She stared at him before closing the distance and smelling his clothing. "It was a woman, wasn't it?"
Vahn was shocked, "Eh? Yes?" He didn't understand why she now had an angry expression after sniffing his body.
"Grrrr, I want to meet her later. Promise me." A glint had appeared in her eyes as she began pressuring Vahn for his word.
Vahn could feel a chill run down his back as he nodded his head like a clucking chicken. "Yes, sure. I'll introduce you to them later."
"THEM!? There is more than one!?" The young girl acted like she was undergoing an intense struggle and began acting out a tragic play on the bench. After a few seconds had past, she gave Vahn a fierce look before nodding after coming to some kind of understanding.
"I want to meet them all." She got very close to his body before staring into his face with a determined expression.
Vahn just continued to nod, before giving in to the urge to pat her head. He understood she was a bit jealous but didn't understand the reasons. She probably just wanted to keep him to herself, since he had just recently saved her life. He thought petting her on the head would help ease some of the insecurities she was feeling.
When Vahn had started patting her head, Lili tensed up for a moment before entrusting her body to Vahn. All her frustrations seemed to fade away in the face of the emergent pleasant sensation coming from her head. She wanted to snuggle and leave her mark on his body to warn any females that got too close...
"Well, let's get to training." Vahn stopped petting the girl that had begun to lose herself to her delusions. He stood from the bench and waited for her to react before heading towards the dungeon.
"Wait, Vahn-sama! Don't leave me behind!" Seeing his departure, Lili began to chase after his back. She wouldn't allow herself to fall behind anymore...