Chapter 39 - Anyone Can Become Strong
Vahn and Lili made their way into the 'Beginner's Road' on the first floor of the dungeon. Vahn looked around and found the entrance to the path he had taken when he first entered the dungeon. He continued leading the way as Lili trailed behind him as the two made small talk.
"Lili, what is your goal in entering the dungeon?" Vahn decided to be direct, so he asked her why she wanted to become stronger.
Lili looked into his eyes and saw his seriousness. She began to seriously contemplate the question before speaking. "I want to become strong enough to survive...and to protect the things I care about." During the last half of the sentence, she stared at his face, only to see him nod while thinking about her words.
"That's enough for now, but I want you to have a bigger dream. Everyone wants to protect something, be it their way of life or the people close to them. I learned that it's important to also have a goal to work towards since you won't be able to become stronger just by wanting strength."
Lili nodded while hanging her head. She didn't disagree with him, but couldn't think of any goal besides just earning her freedom. Even now she was just escaping instead of directly facing her problems. Suddenly, something clicked in her mind and she looked curiously towards Vahn.
"Vahn-sama, why aren't you surprised by my appearance? It slipped my mind, but you were able to instantly recognize me even though my magic changed my appearance."
Vahn laughed at her question, which caused her to frown slightly. "That's easy. I was waiting in the area we agreed to meet, and you were the one that mentioned I was 'late'. Besides, even if you change your appearance a little, I can easily tell you apart from others."
"Eh, how come?" Not many people had been able to see through her disguise before, so she wanted to know why he was able to do so.
Vahn thought for a brief moment, but couldn't tell her it was because he had seen her change form in the manga. He decided to tell a half-truth that should make her overlook any misgivings she might have. Looking towards the top of her head, he could see her pinkish-blue aura and decided that would suffice. "It's because you're cute and have a very unique aura. No matter what form you take I'd be able to easily recognize you." He decided to compliment her since girls seemed to be happy whenever he was polite to them.
Hearing his reasons, Lili began to blush fiercely and hugged Vahn from behind. "Uuuuuu, it's not fair to say things like that Vahn-sama..." She began putting strength into her arms as she rubbed her head against his back.
Vahn was surprised at the effectiveness of his simple compliment. He began to think he should try complimenting people more often if it's able to make them this happy. Seeing the way people reacted to his words also made him feel a variety of emotions, and it was very interesting since he had so few noteworthy interactions before coming to this world.
Eventually, Lili separated herself from his back before assuming her original form. As long as they were in the dungeon and weren't around other people she should be fine. Besides, she wanted Vahn to get used to the real her as much as possible. To hide her previous embarrassment, she tried continuing the conversation from earlier.
"Vahn-sama, why do you want to become stronger?" She was very curious about his reasons since he had gone out of his way to protect someone he had never met before. As far as she could tell, he had a very heroic disposition, but she could still see a painful and solemn expression on his face from time to time.
Vahn stopped walking and looked directly into her chestnut colored eyes. "I want to become strong enough to change the fates of those bound by the whims of others. I don't want to see people suffer just because it makes someone else's life convenient. And..." He looked towards the ceiling as if he could see through to something far off into the distance. "There is someone I must become stronger for..."
Though she felt a warm feeling while he was stating his convictions, Lili felt her heart tense up when he spoke about becoming stronger for a specific person. 'Is it his lover?'. She became saddened at the thought she had already lost the race before she even had a chance to compete. Through her dejection, she decided to ask, even though the answer might disappoint her.
"Who is it you need to become so strong for...your lover?" She couldn't look him in the eyes, afraid he might see through her false bravado.
"Ah, no, I don't have anything like a lover. It's my Mother. I want to become strong enough to reunite with her, but I don't know how strong I'll have to become before I'm able to do so." Though he couldn't understand why she was acting so strangely, Vahn decided to be honest with her.
Hearing that the person in question was his mother, Lili released a heavy sigh. She also noted he specifically said he didn't have a lover, so if she tried her best she should still have a chance. Now she just had to meet the women he mentioned earlier to get a better understanding of the situation. A fierce competitiveness began burning in her eyes as she pumped her tiny fists in front of her chest.
She seemed to be a lot more excitable than Vahn remembered, but he wanted to think it was a healthy change. Maybe it was because he had met her so much sooner than Bell, so she hadn't yet devolved to the state of mind she had in the canon storyline?
"Well Lili, for now, I want you to start thinking of a goal for yourself. While we train your foundation you can think of why you want to grow stronger, while I'll think of how to make you stronger." This was the best solution he could think of for now. As long as he was able to give her time, she should be able to find a reason for herself even without his interference.
Lili nodded before shaking her head moments later. "I'm not sure I can become stronger Vahn-sama. I already learned early on that I don't have the talent to be an Adventurer. Since I'm a Pallum, my body is weak and my small stature makes it difficult to directly engage stronger monsters. Its probably better that I just focus on being a Supporter while you continue to work towards your own goals. I'm happy just being at your side."
She tried to give him a smile, but Vahn could see the melancholic undertones and believed that she was forcing herself. He also noticed the aura around her body began to flicker slightly, so he understood her emotions were becoming unstable.
"Are you an idiot?" He decided he needed to be a bit harsh, or else she might not be willing to listen to his words. "What made you decided you couldn't be an Adventurer just because you were a Pallum? One of the strongest Adventurers in the entire City is a Pallum, and he has even reached Level 6. You think just because you failed once or twice when you were just a kid you have no talent? That is completely ridiculous."
Lili became absolutely shocked after hearing her kind and gentle Vahn-sama calling her an idiot before berating her. 'Eh? Did I say something wrong?'. She couldn't process the sudden change and just absentmindedly listened as the continued.
"You might not believe it after seeing me now, but there was a long period of time when I couldn't do anything. I lived at the convenience of others, and couldn't even make a single decision to change that reality. There was even a time when I tried to take my own life, only to be prevented from doing so and facing severe repercussions for my failure..." The entire time he was speaking, he continued locking eyes with the now terrified girl.
"My life continued in that fashion until a series of events changed the conditions I had grown accustomed to. I had completely given up, but by the grace of external forces, I was guided back towards a path where I could live as I please. So as not to fail to meet their expectations, I continued to train tirelessly while constantly seeking to improve my own capabilities. It wasn't until facing death on numerous occasions and experiencing the kindness of several people that I reached my current strength." At this point Vahn had begun showing a smile on his face as he remembered all the past events and interactions that have defined his life in this world.
Lili had begun to tremble as he spoke. When he first began she could see the pain he had experienced through his expressions and how he conveyed his words. She knew he wasn't lying to her and had likely experienced a terrible suffering in the past. When he continued and started talking about his efforts to become stronger, she could see an impassioned expression on his face filled with desire and a hint of confidence. Lastly, she could see the appreciation on his face as he reflected upon everything that had happened...
She began to wonder, 'Can I really become stronger?'. Everything she has experienced seemed to scream at the impossibility, but the boy before her inspired something inside of her. She wanted to believe. She wanted to see if the boy could really change the frail image she had of herself. Most importantly, she wanted to become strong enough to meet his expectations...she didn't want to fail.
Lili looked towards Vahn who had returned her gaze. She had tears in her eyes as she questioned, 'Vahn-sama...can I really become stronger? Can I be like you?"
Vahn smiled before reaching out and placing his hand on her head. As he gently patted the tearful girl who had experienced so much tragedy in her life, he put on the most confident airs he could manage.
"As long as they are willing to put in the effort, Lili...Anyone can become strong."