Chapter 28 - Date with Chloe Lolo (1/2)
Vahn wasn't able to sleep well that night. He kept worrying about tomorrow and feared the rising of the Sun. He would wake up periodically throughout the night before spending a few minutes trying to fall asleep. At one point he began to dream...
Strapped to a table within a sterile room Vahn was unable to move. It's not that he didn't want to, but the rig that had been affixed to his body prevented him from doing so. His eyes were forced open by rubber prongs that prevented him from blinking. The only thing he could do was stare at the bright, blinding light that shone down on him from above. He could hear the movement of unseen creatures within the darkness as they poked and prodded his body with various tools, each more terrible than the last. The worst part was the terrible pain emitted from the bands on his arms and legs. Though he had lost feeling when they were first applied, over time the numbness was replaced by a very painful sensation. He began to worry that he would lose function in the limbs if the bands weren't removed. From the shadows, he heard muffled sounds like words...one of the creatures laughed...Vahn could see a large saw exit the darkness...
Vahn awoke in a cold sweat gasping for air. He felt a numb sensation from his arms and legs and began to panic before he confirmed their presence. ("It was just a dream...") he sighed as he lay back in his now damp bed. From the window, rays of light had started to creep in through the wooden blinds, causing Vahn to give up trying to go back to sleep.
Escaping from his bed, he made an extra effort to clean himself to prepare for the date. He hadn't really taken the opportunity to bathe ever since entering the City, other than when the medics had wiped him down during his treatment. Though he didn't mind too much, judging by how people reacted when he was walking around he probably stank quite a bit. Thinking about this, he remembered how Chloe constantly tried sticking to him and began to wonder if there was something wrong with her nose.
After dressing himself, he realized there was still two hours until the start of the date. He wasn't really sure how to pass the time, and he remembered how in manga one of the characters would always show up very early. Thinking it was probably the appropriate thing to do, he prepared to leave the Inn and head for the meet-up location.
They had decided to meet up outside the tower of Babel before browsing the various shops inside. Vahn figured that even if he showed up early, he would just use the extra time to grab some breakfast and laze around on a bench until Chloe arrived. It would give him some time to look through his system and decide what he needed to prepare for the coming months. He still had plenty of time to complete his quest, but he wasn't satisfied just grinding away endlessly on kobolds, goblins, and lizards. His goal was to advance down to the safe zone on the 18th floor, Rivira, relying on his own strength.
As he exited the stairs leading to the reception/dining area, Vahn came across the small cat-girl, Tina. Unlike the dark purple aura she had previously, now it had turned into a combination of yellows and greens. When Vahn entered the room, she approached him with a concerned look.
"Mister. I don't know what happened, but you should try to cheer up. It's sad to see you walk around with such a sad face..." She looked at him with her large upturned golden eyes and a slight frown.
Hearing what she said, Vahn touched his hand to his face and could feel that the muscles were tense. Without realizing it, he had been wearing a grim expression on his face and caused the young girl to worry.
Vahn relaxed his expression and tried giving her a smile. "I thought you were afraid of me?" He inquired, noticing that she was not shying away like she had during their previous meetings.
She gave him a look like she couldn't understand what he was saying, "I'm not afraid~nya! I was just listening to my Mom. The way you kept staring at my ears and tail was very creepy~nya!" She exclaimed loudly causing her mother to investigate from the back room. Seeing that her daughter was interacting with Vahn, she gave a light chuckle before returning to her duties.
Vahn noticed her actions and felt very awkward. "S-sorry...I had just never seen a Cat Person before and got carried away. I didn't mean to creep you out or anything..." He turned towards Tina and bowed as he apologized.
The young girl began to stamp her feet as she scolded, "Geez! You need to have more backbone~nya! Girls won't like you if you always look so glum nyaa~know!? After her remark, she blushed a bit before running through the same door her mother just left through.
Vahn stared at her retreating figure in confusion before making his way out of the Inn. He took his time and arrived at the Babel plaza after walking for fifty minutes. He saw one of the various clocks indicate he still had more than an hour before Chloe was expected to arrive, so he purchased a kebab from a nearby stall.
He had only seen kebabs in manga, so he was very curious about the dish. He put the lamb-based skewer into his mouth and let the spicy juices soak into his tongue before swallowing. As expected, it was delicious. Just like all the food he had tasted since coming to this world and leaving the forest, Vahn loved the taste. He began to contemplate purchasing a cooking manual through the system and learning to replicate the dishes so he could eat them whenever he wanted.
Complimenting the vendor, Vahn bought an extra skewer and left a generous tip before heading towards the rendezvous point. As he approached the location, he could see the lithe figure of Chloe in the distance. Pausing, Vahn checked the time and noted there was still 53 minutes before they were supposed to meet up.
He made his way over and caught the attention of Chloe as he approached. She smiled and started walking in his direction. Once they got near each other, she sized up his appearance before speaking.
"As expected, you still wore that dark getup~nya."
Vahn glanced at his attire before looking over Chloe's appearance. Almost as if to contrast the matte color of his clothes, she wore a beige pinafore dress with a navy blue undershirt that accented her hair and made the dress stand out. Around her neck was a lime green embroidered choker, and she completed the ensemble with white stocking and grey long boots.
"Sorry, I didn't really have anything else to wear. I don't own many clothes and these are the most useful among those in my possession...By the way, why are you here so early?"
Chole listened to the first part of his explanation while nodding her head. When she heard the second part, she began to smile and looked directly into Vahn's eyes. "Nyahaha~ I thought someone might show up very early and decided to surprise you~. Well, did it work~nya?"
Vahn nodded as he started eating the kebab he had been holding. Seeing his curt response and the fact he had decided to continue eating, Chloe felt her ears twitch a bit.
She closed the distance and locked arms with the unsuspecting Vahn. "Nyaa~whats that~. I want a bite~Gimme~"
Vahn flinched at the unexpected touch. He looked down at the arm Chloe was nuzzling and marveled at the soft sensation pressing against him. In his dazed state, hearing her ask for the kebab, he mindlessly held it towards her.
"Nyaaaaaa~ahm!" *munch* *munch* "Oh~It's very spicy~nya!"
Seeing Chloe devour the kebab, Vahn was torn from the mystical feeling pressing against his left arm. He stared at the now empty skewer and felt his eyes begin to moisten...
Before he was able to complain, Chloe released his arm and began pulling his hand towards the entrance of Babel. "Don't worry about it~nya. We can buy more food while shopping. I'll even treat you if you like~"
Nodding in response, Vahn allowed himself to be dragged into the tower. Upon entering, he looked towards the entrance of the dungeon and began to think about what he should do the next time he entered. He still needed to earn money for living expenses and also stockpile OP for his quest...
"Now then, first things first. We need to shop for some clothes~nya! Clothing doesn't always have to be practical like you're expecting a fight ya know? Wearing comfortable clothing is one of the things that can bring happiness to people~."
Hearing her mention the phrase "happiness" Vahn stopped thinking about the dungeon. "You mean wearing clothes can make people happy?"
Seeing that she had finally caught his attention, Chloe beamed. "Yes, yes, certainly~. Don't you prefer to wear new and clean clothes instead of things that had been covered in grime and sweat~? Also, it's not just wearing clothes yourself that can make people happy~"
"What do you mean?" he inquired.
"Well, how did you feel when you saw how I was dressed~nya?" Chloe stared into his eyes as she asked the question and held his hand between both of her palms.
Vahn thought back to when he saw Chloe near their rendezvous point. The first thing he remembered after seeing her silhouette...was her smile. She seemed happy to see him, and her outfit made all of her expressions stand out more-so than normal. The clothing seemed to enhance the atmosphere coming from her body and drew the eye to all of her actions...
"I felt...I thought it suited you. It matched your personality a lot more than the clothes you wore at the pub." Vahn tried his best to summarize his feelings as he stared at the two hands cradling his own.
"Right~right~? It's that type of feeling. Clothing not only changes how you see others, but it also changes how you see yourself. By dressing up, you can appeal to those around you and even impress the people you interact with~nya."
Vahn nodded as he listened to her words. He remembered how everyone gave him strange looks as he walked around town, and how he stood out from the crowd due to his clashing appearance. Even the people that seemed to not mind his presence all wore expressions of confusion when they first laid eyes on him...except for one person.
He looked towards the girl that was fiddling around with his fingers as an unknown emotion tickled his heart. Without thinking he asked, "Why don't you look at me like everyone else?"
Hearing his question, she stopped playing with his fingers and looked directly into his eyes. After a few seconds, she gave a gentle smile that seemed to resonate with something in Vahn's mind.
"Its because I can see the boy hiding beneath the appearance. I can see that you are in a pain that you believe nobody else can understand..."
Vahn began to tense up and made an effort to extricate his hand. Though she wasn't gripping it hard, he noticed Chloe held his hand in a firm manner that didn't allow him to free himself without forcefully doing so.
"I can't understand your pain Vahn, but I want you to know that there are people in the world that can empathize with what you're going through. Know that you'll never be alone as long as you are willing to accept the hand people extend to you. And maybe, one day, when the pain begins to fade...you'll be able to offer your own hand to someone else that needs it."
Chloe continued to stare into his eyes the entire time she spoke. Vahn could feel his body shaking and gave up trying to remove his hand from hers. He kept replaying her words in his mind, wanting to believe them, but something deep within him still resisted.
While he was still ruminating over the words, he could feel a gentle tug pulling in forward. He looked up to see Chloe still staring with her gentle expression as she guided him deeper into the tower, completely ignoring the looks given by the crowd around them.
"Let's get you some new clothes Vahn. I'm sure you'll be surprised by how much a fresh appearance can change how you feel..."
Vahn nodded his head and didn't resist her guidance. As she pulled him along towards their destination, he used his free hand to wipe away at the tears that had appeared without him noticing...