After learning about the situation through Finn and Gareth, Vahn couldn't do much but shake his head with a fair amount of exasperation before taking his own meal to go and pacify Lili. Since the swelling on Finn's face was still fresh, Vahn assumed she hadn't eaten yet and grabbed an extra bowl for her. Finn had apologized for his behavior and asked Vahn to 'explain' the situation on his behalf but Vahn ignored the request and said, "How you choose to live is your own choice, Finn, just as it is Lili's to choose the path she wishes to walk..."
Vahn couldn't really understand Finn's perspective at all, especially considering that Finn could have easily helped any random Pallum become stronger. If he truly believed Pallums were capable of greatness, why was he 'waiting' for a strong Pallum to appear before taking action? As a Level 6, bordering on Level 7, he could easily reach out and mentor a host of Pallums that would likely follow his words simply to express their gratitude to him. He might want to wait for a Pallum to become strong through their own efforts, but Vahn couldn't see how anyone that overcame struggles like that would willingly throw their lot in with Finn. His ideals, though for the greater good, were also very selfish and borderline egotistical.
When he arrived at his own tent, Lili was still in a huff and looked to the entrance with a fierce expression before realizing it was Vahn. As if her anger had been an illusion, Lili showed a happy smile and said, "Welcome back, Vahn~!" before running over and hugging his waist. Haruhime, Mikoto, and Naaza all greeted him as well before Vahn asked, "Have you all eaten? I brought enough food for everyone..." Since they had been sorting supplies earlier, the girls hadn't eaten yet so Vahn passed out bowls for everyone before adding cookies and tea to the meal.
Once everyone was settled, Vahn turned to Lili and said, "I saw the imprint on Finn's face..." Hearing his words, Lili hung her head and her aura began to flicker chaotically until Vahn placed his hand atop her head and said, "Don't worry about it, Lili...I have no doubt he deserved that, and likely even more." Seeing that Vahn wasn't upset that she had 'attacked' the Captain of another Familia, Lili showed a cheerful grin before saying, "That guy is a big jerk! Even though he has never done anything for me at all, he thinks he can just come and ask me to betray the people I care about just to suit his needs? Ridiculous!"
As she spoke, Lili would intermittently munch on the small cookies Vahn had set out and she looked similar to a tiny, albeit frustrated, animal. Haruhime seemed to agree with Lili's words and nodded her head as she said, "He seems like a capable man, but I can't help but feel that his thought process is a little 'abstract'. It's difficult to comprehend how someone can rationalize their behavior and act like that..." Lili scowled for a brief moment before saying, "If he wants a 'pet' wife so badly, he should just take a stroll around Daedelus Street for a single afternoon. I'm sure he could find more than a hundred Pallum girls that could use his help. Instead, he tries to 'poach' me out from under Vahn's nose as a matter of 'convenience'!?"
The thing that offended Lili the most about Finn was the fact that he took an interest in her 'only' because of the steps she had made to improve her life. If she had continued to live and be exploited by the Soma Familia, he probably wouldn't have even batted an eye at her, even if she were right in front of him. Her case, though tragic, isn't something that is unique even within the City of Orario, much less the other countries around the continent. Finn put in efforts to act as the role model for Pallums, but how many was he actually inspiring to achieve greatness? The only thing that was going through Lili's mind before Vahn saved her was how to survive another day. By the time Finn's message reached most Pallums, they would have already 'overcome' their childhood and have a deeply rooted prejudice. If Finn spent his time actually helping Pallums grow stronger, he could slowly build up a foundation to enact real change in the world instead of just 'hoping' for it to happen naturally...
However, there was one thing she was grateful for, though it seemed a bit strange to think about, and that was that Finn wasn't the one to actually save her. Because of his 'failure', Lili had been able to meet with Vahn and, as a result of that fated encounter, she learned what it meant to become stronger in order to overcome her fate. Vahn didn't simply 'want' her to become stronger by showing her the results of his efforts, but he 'showed' her how to become stronger. Not only that, but Vahn cared for her and introduced her to people that would support the path she had decided to walk, even though she didn't always act in an 'appropriate' manner.
Though she still lacked the relationship she wanted with Vahn, Lili had already received so much from him and it was all simply because he chose to do it, not because he wanted to 'use' her like Finn. In fact, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that she was the one using Vahn since she relied on him for so many of the things she had obtained. She would have been happy just to stay at his side as a Supporter, but Vahn had instead allowed her to become a capable Adventurer in a relatively short period of time. If someone told her six months ago that she'd be well on her way to Level 3 by the year's end, Lili would have looked at them like they were an imbecile...even if that person was her future self.
After sipping on the rich stew in her bowl, Lili turned her head up at the smiling Vahn and said in a soft tone, "Vahn, thanks for being the one to save me..." As if they understood Lili's words, both Haruhime and Naaza nodded at the same time and turned their eyes to Vahn. Unlike Finn, who touted being a hero and tried to live by example, Vahn took proactive action and saved people, even at the cost of himself at times. Naaza still had phantom pains in her arm after waking up from a nightmare and Haruhime still had a mild phobia of most men as a result of her time in the brothel.
Hearing Lili's words, and seeing the reactions of the other two, Vahn's smile widened marginally and he said, "I'm glad fate brought us together like this...my only regret is not being there sooner..." Since Vahn knew of Lili's existence, he could have potentially arrived nearly a half a year earlier to save her. However, this would have likely resulted in him never saving Naaza so it wasn't incorrect to say 'fate' brought them together. Though he often lamented the influence of such things, especially when it was related to karma, Vahn knew it was due to such things he was able to 'save' people.
Haruhime laughed while covering her mouth with her fingers and said, "Indeed, it isn't wrong to say our meeting was 'fated'. Putting it that way suddenly makes me feel like a heroine in a heroic tale...fufufu~." Lili nodded her head and said, "I'm certain stories will be written about Vahn in the future and they will include the times he saved us. That's why we need to work hard to become strong so, when future generations learn of our story, they will understand anyone is capable of becoming stronger as long as the right person reaches out to them. Unlike that crap that Finn spews, Vahn is the real 'hero' that people should emulate..."
It was very obvious that Lili wasn't a fan of Finn, not that Vahn could blame her, and she seemed intent to deride him at every available opportunity. Her comment about Finn finding a wife by saving other Pallums resonated strongly with Vahn's own thoughts so he couldn't help but agree with Lili's relatively abrasive words. Vahn had actually decided to ask Finn the reasons why he didn't take such action since it was obviously a better alternative to 'waiting' for a suitable partner to show up. Finn was already 40 years old so he would need to take more 'proactive' measures if he wanted to actually leave behind a suitable 'heir' for his legacy...
As a result of the conversation shifting to 'fated' meetings, Vahn spent about two hours simply chatting away with the girls. He had tried to extricate himself from the conversation at one point but Tiona, Tione, Ais, and Lefiya had shown up part of the way through and things became somewhat lively after the fact. Tione seemed to be a bit 'off' after hearing about Finn making advances on Lili, but she eventually got caught up in the momentum of everyone else when they were talking about the 'future', primarily related to being with Vahn. Other than Tiona and Ais, the other six girls had yet to actually advance their relationship with Vahn to the level they would like and, now that Vahn was present and involved in the conversation, they began talking about their shared future together.
After freeing himself from the girls, Vahn spent the rest of the day making preparations for the departure, which involved him making the rounds and getting to know the various smaller parties within the expedition. He was especially popular with the other blacksmiths, almost all of which were from the Hephaestus Familia, and showed off a few his skills. For many other blacksmiths, reaching [Master Smith] was an ambition they all shared and it was 'inspiring' to meet someone as young as Vahn who had already climbed to such heights. Though there were some negative emotions mixed into some of their words, such things quickly vanished after they saw Vahn show off his skills. After all, if you couldn't appreciate the workmanship of another person, you wouldn't be able to call yourself a real blacksmith.
Vahn also used the opportunity to explore a bit of the 18th floor with Fenrir because he wanted to spend a little bit of time with her while also scouting for any abnormalities that might be present. He was able to find several points where the Dungeon fused with the artificially created one so Vahn updated their locations on a map that he would update periodically whenever new discoveries were made. Because he had his own minimap as a reference, Vahn was easily able to create detailed maps for other people use make use of in the future. As for Fenrir, she was simply happy to 'play' with Vahn and was in an especially good mood when he gave her a ride on his shoulders during the return trip.
After his return, Vahn was invited to take a bath with the girls but declined their offer since there was a fair chance that other girls from the expeditionary party might wander into the area. Of the 308 personnel, 97 of them were female so Vahn didn't favor the odds much. Since they wouldn't be able to bathe normally, at least until they reached the 50th floor, most of the girls were doing their best to enjoy the moment while they could. As for the girls in Vahn's tent, they would have a much easier time since Vahn could simply set out a tub for them to make use of. If things got bad enough in the camp, however, Vahn intended to give basins for the rest of the expedition to use after setting up some large tents to separate genders. It was difficult for Vahn to tolerate having people go through unnecessary hardship, especially when he could contribute and help bolster the morale of the entire expedition through relatively simple actions on his part...
(A/N: Sorry guys, I had to cut this chapter short at 2045 words because I have to take care of personal stuff. It's nothing serious, so things should catch up by tomorrow morning~!)
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Venting...','Vahn is the Hero of this story','Convenience : Morale')
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