Endless Path : Infinite Cosmos

Chapter 33 - Liliruca Arde / Past : Future



Chapter 33 - Liliruca Arde / Past : Future

Vahn ran towards the entrance of the dungeon as fast as he could. Behind him, Lili continued desperately chasing as she became short of breath...

A few hours before...

After agreeing to train Lili, they began getting to know each other better. She told him about her past, how her parents mistreated her and forced her to work as soon as she was capable of performing manual labor. She detailed the suffering she experienced after they both died in the dungeon.

Though she tried becoming an adventurer herself, she was unable to make any progress into the dungeon since she was just a child. Whenever she tried to team up with others in the familia, they would force her to perform all the menial chores like looting magic cores and carrying the luggage. Eventually, it escalated to full-on exploitation, as they started taking away her earnings for their own use. Fearing for her life, she ended up fleeing the familia and became a street orphan.

Eventually, a kind elderly couple picked her up, and for a time she was happy. They bought her nice clothes and treated her well for the first time in her life, and she did her best to help out in the shop and earn their praise.

Unfortunately, the group that had been taking her money ended up tracking her down. As punishment for her escape, they trashed the shop of the elderly couple before leaving a devastated Lili behind. The old couple that had been so kind to her before now looked at her with eyes of blame and scorn.

That night, she cried in an alleyway as she hid from the rain. Several days later, the same men that had forced her to a corner offered her a job. She would have to act as their supporter when they entered the dungeon, and in exchange, they would give her 1% of the earnings. If she refused, they would make sure that anyone who showed her kindness would meet the same fate as the couple.

Swallowing her tears, she accepted their offer...and that is when her true hell began. The men would often keep what little she earned while giving various reasons, often citing her incompetence as an excuse. The leader of the group even came up with the idea of forcing her to pay a 'protection fee' for keeping her from harm in the dungeon. Because of this, there were times when she would go days without eating until she collapsed from hunger. They would then give her rotten vegetables and stale bread while she tried to recover her strength.

After that things got even worse. Whenever the men got bored, they would force her to perform embarrassing acts like walking on all fours and barking like a dog while begging for food. As she continued to age, some of them even tried forcing her to engage in s.e.x.u.a.l acts, and when she resisted they beat her until she was unable to move. When they were done, they poured defective recovery potions onto her wounds and dropped her body into an alleyway to survive the night.

Following that event, she stopped talking, and even when they tried forcing her to act like an animal she just stood there until they got frustrated and beat her. She learned not to resist, as it only brought them a sadistic glee and extended the duration of the beating. All she could think about was preserving her dignity and saving enough money to buy her freedom and escape the familia for good...

Other than working for her tormentors, she started working as a 'Support-for-Hire' for newbie adventurers. She would find targets that had yet to become accustomed to the dungeon and lure them into a situation of false-security before stealing their valuables. Though she did her best to ensure they would be able to escape, things didn't always go as planned.

One of the young adventurers she had tricked ended up believing she hadn't abandoned him and continued fighting instead of running away. Lili watched in horror as he inevitably succ.u.mbed to the assault, and for the first time, she saw someone die. She was unable to sleep for more than a week after that, as flashbacks of watching the boy be ripped limb-from-limb replayed itself endlessly in her mind.

Seeing the state she was in, the people that had been exploiting her increased their efforts in tormenting her. They refused to let her stay inside if she was unwilling to work, and even emptied waste bins onto her while forcing her to stay in the trash pile with her 'real family'...

...

Vahn listened in silence as Lili continued her story. It was far worse than anything shown in the manga, and he genuinely wondered how she was able to survive for so long. At least he had a mother who loved him, even though he wasn't able to meet her until his death...but Lili, her parents treated her as a tool to make their lives easier. While he got to experience the kindness of Klyscha and obtain 'The Path', Lili had to continue living in a world surrounded by people that tormented and exploited her. When he heard the part where she was almost r.a.p.ed, he nearly shattered the bones in his hand after hitting the dungeon wall.

He had experienced a tragic fate far beyond the comprehension of others, but no matter how bad the experiments got the researchers always took care of his body and tended to his basic needs. Vahn had never truly experienced the darkness and depravity that exists within 'civilized' society.

After she was finished telling her story, Lili looked towards Vahn to gauge his expression. It was the first time in her life she had spoken so much about herself, and she felt like if she saw disgust or disbelief on his face..she would fall to a place she would never be able to return from.

She wasn't looking for pity or understanding, she just wanted to expose everything to the boy who had gone so far to help her. And what she saw brought the first real smile she had shown since her happy days back in the flower shop. She didn't see any pity in his eyes, nor things like contempt or disgust. Instead, there was a righteous flame burning within. She could see that he was imagining all the things in her past and that if he could, he would change it and save her from that fate.

The darkness that had been building in the back of her mind began to dissipate, so she did the only thing she could think of to convey her feelings. She smiled.

Vahn, noticing the change, reached out his hand...wiping away the tears that had begun to mar her smiling face.

---

After that, they continued to talk, this time about the future. Vahn told her his intention of becoming she strongest adventurer, which brought a smile to her face.

Lili began to ask him various questions about his life, likes, and dislikes. She wanted to know where he came from, what kinds of foods he enjoyed, things that he hated...and even asked about his preference in women.

Vahn answered each question to the best of his ability while trying to skim over areas that would reveal the existence of the system. He told her that he lived in the Western Forests with his grandpa before coming to Orario after he passed away. For food, he said he liked pretty much anything he has eaten after arriving in the City. As for dislikes...he hated people that exploited others for their own benefit.

When she heard him mention that, Lili smiled and nuzzled against him. Feeling her touch, Vahn smiled and gently patted her head.

When he got to the part about his preference in women, Lili began listening closely with a fierce glint in her eyes. "I'm not too sure. I haven't really met anyone I don't like so far..."

Hearing him, she couldn't help but respond, "Eeehh? That isn't a real answer Vahn-sama!" She began to pout, thinking he was just beating around the bush.

Vahn really didn't know what to say to make her understand. He felt it would be awkward to say he liked girls like Chloe, because it wasn't really anything about her appearance that drew him to her. After he got over his apprehension with how she used to look at him, he just began to enjoy her company...

Lili changed the topic after seeing the serious expression on his face, "By the way Vahn-sama. What familia are you in?" Given his strength, she assumed he was probably a core member in a B rank familia.

"Ah, I'm not in a familia yet. I just arrived in the City six..days....ago." Vahn trailed off the last part of his sentence and began to release a cold sweat. Lili noticed his expression and wanted to ask, but Vahn grabbed her hand and started running up the stairs at a fast pace.

"Vahn-saaaaamaaa- What's going ooooon!?" Unable to keep pace, she half ran, half allowed-herself-to-be-dragged up the stairs.

Vahn noticed she was struggling and released her arm while slowing his pace a bit. "I just remembered that my temporary identification slip expires today! I also need to renew my room at the Inn I'm staying at before the day ends!" Vahn checked the time within the system as he ran. It was already 6:29 PM and the gate closed at 9:00 PM. Though he wouldn't get in any trouble unless he was caught, he didn't want to walk around the City illegally and cause unnecessary trouble.

"Wait, Vahn-sama! I can't leave behind my pack!" Though it didn't have much, it still contained all of her possessions. Lili didn't want to leave it behind to be lost in the dungeon.

Vahn stopped before returning to the rest area and picking up the pack. Lili tried to take it from him, but he just stored the entire thing into his inventory. She stared at him with a slack-jawed expression while he 'revealed' the existence of his storage magic. Without further explaining he started running upstairs, leaving a dumbfounded Lili behind.

"Then what use do I have..." Knowing Vahn had such a convenient magic, she wouldn't be able to use the excuse of following him as Supporter easily in the future. She began trying to think of ways to spend more time with him, before hearing a shout from further up the path.

"Lili, are you coming!?" Vahn was confused since Lili hadn't been following him. He ended up stopping and shouting to get her attention.

She startled before shouting back, "A-ah, yes Vahn-sama! I'm coming, don't leave me behind!"

(A/N: Don't ask me why I had to add "don't leave me behind" to the end of that sentence.)

---

Return to the present...

The two continued to run before stopping at the corridor to the first floor. Vahn removed the backpack from his inventory before returning it to Lili's possession. Seeing her gasping for air, he let her catch her breath and handed over his [Decanter of Replenishment].

Lili stared at the mouth of the canteen for a few moments before taking a few large gulps of water. She attempted to drain it dry but was surprised after finding the amount never seemed to decrease. Her excuse to continue the 'indirect kiss' flew out the window as she dejectedly returned the canteen.

Vahn also took a drink since he was rather thirsty and noticed a crimson blush appear on Lili's face. He looked at her curiously before putting away the canteen. "What's wrong Lili?"

She simply turned her head away before picking up her backpack and headed towards the entrance. Vahn followed after her until they finally arrived on the first floor of Babel. At the entrance Lili made Vahn promise to meet her the following morning before saying she had to take care of a few things.

Vahn stared at the retreating figure of the small girl bearing a burden far greater than her size. He hoped he would be able to allow her to walk freely along her own path in the future...

(*Vahn, are you forgetting something?*) Sis interrupted his momentary reverie with an exasperated tone.

Vahn looked at the nearby clock and saw it was nearly 7:00 PM and began running towards the direction of the Guild.