Chapter 268: Network

(A/N: I’m going to do some intermission/side story/perspective chapters to flesh things out a bit for the future plot. Let me know what you think and if you’d like more of this kind of thing in the future~!)

When Vahn finally left her workshop and returned to the Hearth Manor, Hephaestus went back inside and collapsed on the nearest chair before resting her head against the table. She had a silly expression on her face and rolled her head back and forward on her arms as she thought back to the previous day’s experiences. Her first time, as well as the following 34 times after, was more than she had ever expected. Even though Hephaestus had experience with gods in Heaven, there was nothing that remotely compared to her time with Vahn.

Not only did he not mind her past, but he treated her gently and affectionately from start to finish. Even when she got bold and acted out of character, Vahn was always there guiding her along the path to greater pleasures. It was a far cry from the selfishness she had experienced from others and couldn’t even think of them in the same vein as Vahn. Hephaestus had never felt so loved, nor did she love someone so much in her entire long life that spanned eons.

Even now, though they had already parted, Hephaestus could still feel the phantom presence of Vahn within her. There was a gentle warmth in her body that persisted no matter how much time passed and Hephaestus couldn’t help but feel it was a result of her apparent pregnancy. It was hard to believe, but she knew Vahn wouldn’t mislead her on the matter to Hephaestus affectionately stroked the area above her womb with a dazed and joyous expression on her face.

Everything she would experience from now on would be a unique experience that had never been shared by another goddess before. Even though goddesses of fertility could conceive children, they didn’t do it through the normal method at all. Instead of ovulating naturally, their Divinity would allow them to conceive at any time and the child would always, without exception, be a normal mortal of the same race as the father. What Hephaestus was experiencing was a landmark achievement for any goddess, something that had long been desired by thousands without any hope to obtain.

Only allowed on

Though she didn’t care much, Hephaestus knew she and Vahn had written a new chapter in the history of this world and she was looking forward to every small step along their shared path. While she was thinking about the future, Hephaestus had a thought and a big smile appeared on her face as she made her way to her office and pulled out a scroll from the shelf. Nearby were several color-coded quills that, when used, would cause the words she wrote to appear on a variety of other scrolls throughout the City. Ever since their meeting, which was joking referred to as the ‘Vahnatus’ by some, Hephaestus had issued partnered scrolls to each major ‘faction’. By using a colored quill, she could write messages that only went to a specific group while the black quill went to everyone on the entire network.

Taking a peach-colored quill, Hephaestus wrote a message to one of her old acquaintances who was in charge of a small D-Ranked Familia in the western section of the City. She was a kind goddess named Epona and her principle Divinities were in Fertility and Equestrianism. Hephaestus had known her for a long time and, though they weren’t good friends, she knew Epona could be trusted. The main reason her Familia had never grown large was due to the fact that she ran it like a Hostel that accepted short stays from adventurer’s down on their luck for little to no cost. Even after fifty years, her Familia only had nine people, and three of them were her actual children.

While waiting for Epona’s arrival, Hephaestus started sending more messages on the network to inform the other girls about Vahn’s movements. It was common practice that, whenever Vahn showed up somewhere, someone would try to inform the network just in case something happened. When he left, they would send another message with his intended destination and to let the people on the other end prepare if necessary. It wasn’t meant to constrain Vahn’s actions, just to give the girls time to prepare themselves for his arrival. Though it wasn’t commented on too often, Vahn had a propensity to take things very seriously in any given moment and it could be a trying experience for both him and the girls he was involved with.

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The main holders of the scrolls were Hephaestus, Eina, Loki, Hestia, Syr, Tsubaki, and Anubis. Of course, after the network became more popular, Hephaestus and Loki had teamed up to give a smaller scroll to each of the main girls around Vahn. Because communication scrolls weren’t commonly used, the ink was incredibly expensive and they actually purchased a large quantity that was meant to be distributed at each of their planned meetings. To facilitate their own use, Loki had actually taken on a request for an expedition to venture to the 28th floor and actually acquire more materials for its production. Though they hadn’t told Vahn, it was ironically their desire to maintain the network around him that lead to the current expedition of the Loki Familia.

Remembering the amount of effort Loki had been putting into the matters concerning Vahn, Hephaestus couldn’t help but release a sigh. She was the most aware of how badly Loki wanted a child of her own since they had known each other for a very long time even during their stay in Heaven. Since she had been acquainted with Hestia, Hephaestus often interacted with the somewhat troublesome goddess and she had even maintained a cooperative relationship between their two Familia even before the Alliance was formed.

Now that she was pregnant with Vahn’s child, Hephaestus only had to confirm it before letting Loki, Anubis, and Hestia know about the matter. They had already discussed it in the past and, even though Hestia and Loki have something of a rivalry between each other, Hestia agreed that she wouldn’t do anything that would affect the relationship between Loki and Vahn. Since Hestia had been on the fence about her own feelings, she didn’t have much say in the matters of who Vahn had children with especially since they had a prior promise with each other. As for Anubis, though she also wanted a child in the future, she wasn’t in any rush to put pressure on Vahn at present and didn’t mind waiting several years if necessary.

Ever since the negotiations between the Alliance and Ouranos, Anubis had been focusing her efforts on helping her Familia improve their strength and provide them with a proper education. She knew Vahn was in a tricky situation and wanted to increase the independence of her own Familia so they wouldn’t be a restrictive force in his life in the future. This was why, even though she was unnaturally fond of Vahn’s massages, Anubis had avoided contact with him much since their separation. Since she intended to serve Vahn for the rest of her life, Anubis wasn’t in a hurry to push things forward and force Vahn to take their matters into consideration for the time being.

For the other girls, Tsubaki had made some jokes in passing about her record with Vahn but most of the girls in the network saw through her facade. To try and incite her further, Anubis had actually avoided the date they had arranged between her, Vahn, and Tsubaki just to bring the two somewhat closer together. When they heard that Tsubaki actually punched Vahn and left him kneeling in the streets, they couldn’t help tease her when they found out about it later. She tried to play it off as just getting another point over him, but it was dismissed by the rest of the group.

One of the most troublesome girls, and this was something both Hephaestus and Eina realized early on, was the girl named Syr. Since Vahn spent a lot of time with Chloe at the Hostess of Fertility, they had long been aware that he might influence some of the other girls as well. When they learned of the existence of Syr after their first meeting, Hephaestus and Eina quickly realized she was a central figure in the group. Ever since then, even though Vahn mainly just pursued Chloe, Syr had slowly broken down his defenses and introduced other girls into his life.

Now, other than Chloe, Vahn had advanced his relationship with Ryuu while also developing some small degree of familiarity with girls like Arnya, Lunoire, and especially Syr. Though she didn’t act in a way that showed she was trying to interfere with others, Syr’s actions had been a big red flag within the upper echelons of the group on the network. They had heard about her confession to Vahn and knew she was pursuing him and, as time progressed, her influence in his matters increased imperceptibly to the point where she had become a powerful voice within the network. Matters only accelerated further when she assumed protective responsibility for Milan and Tina after the ‘incident’ and how she was the first to pitch the idea of Ryuu protecting Vahn in the dungeon.

Remembering the elegant and gentle grey-haired, grey-eyed, girl, Hephaestus couldn’t help but release an exasperated sigh. Syr seemed to be the type that was great at managing things behind the scenes and even Loki complimented her ability to subtly manipulate people. They thought she would be a good choice in helping manage things around Vahn, but they also had some inhibitions about her motivations. Since they all knew that Syr liked Vahn, it was a little strange to them how she was steadily building up his relationships with other girls instead of trying to progress on her own…

While she was lost in thoughts, Hephaestus heard a knocking on the door and was broken from her reverie as happy feelings began to push away the negativity that had begun to build up. Without wasting any time, Hephaestus opened the door to her workshop and welcome the very motherly looking goddess inside with a smile on her face. Epona was around 160cm tall and was a rather plump, yet beautiful, goddess with curly orange hair that had been arranged into a loose bun. She had light-purple eyes and a perpetual smile on her face that made everyone that saw her feel calm. For her attire, she wore a traditional yellow dress that went down to her ankles and had something similar to a red smock overtop.

Before Hephaestus even broached the topic, Epona had a curious expression on her face as she tilted her head and viewed Hephaestus. She wasn’t sure why, but something seemed to be different about Hephaestus and it caused a peculiar feeling to buzz in her mind. After a while, Epona saw that Hephaestus was wearing her normal outfit and there didn’t seem to be anything different about her appearance at all, excluding the happy expression that had replaced her perpetually ‘cool’ look. Thinking about why she might be happy, Epona curiously inspected her a second time and noticed that Hephaestus was actually pregnant.

With a gentle smile on her face, Epona was about to congratulate Hephaestus before her own words got stuck in her throat. Hephaestus had just been about to ask and had seen Epona’s reaction which caused the smile on her face to become incredibly vibrant. Though she believed Vahn’s words, it was a distinctly different feeling to get confirmation from a source she knew to be reliable regarding such things.

Epona’s eyes widened and she asked, “How?” Hephaestus still had a big smile on her face but she shook her head and said, “I’ll be explained later at the upcoming Denatus. I need you to keep this an absolute secret for the time being.” With her eyes still opened wide, Epona nodded her head like a chicken and said, “Yes, sure, certainly, I won’t tell a word. But, Hephaestus, how is this possible? I can tell you didn’t suddenly develop a Divinity related to fertility…the energy in your body is like the convergence of life energy…it is far different than how I get pregnant.”

Since Hephaestus couldn’t explain matters yet, she just talked a bit about how things would be revealed at the upcoming Denatus. Unable to press Hephaestus further, Epona put the matter to the back of her mind as they began discussing how the pregnancy would likely progress. Since Epona had more than twenty children over the course of the fifty years, she was a wealth of information for prospective mothers. She told Hephaestus about what she should expect, the signs to watch out for, and also cautioned her on the dangers of overworking and ingesting anything that could alter the body and affect her mental state. Since Hephaestus’s experience would be a completely unique development, Epona even offered to be Hephaestus’s midwife, to which he happily agreed and thanked Epona for.

After nearly four hours of lecturing from the razzled and jubilant Epona, the two finally parted ways and Hephaestus nearly skipped back to her room to share the news on the network. Not even twenty seconds later, she got a response from Loki who was suddenly in very high spirits. If not for her being leashed in by some of the other girls that showed up, she might have gone knocking straight on Vahn’s door. Loki was eventually settled by none other than Hestia, who reiterated that Vahn was currently on a mission to track down a girl named Haruhime. Afterward, Loki calmed down a bit since she knew it would be adverse to her position if she tried to pressure Vahn on the matter. Instead, she said she would pass information to the expedition party and have them return early in the event that things grew out of their control. She also told Hestia that, if Vahn was in any kind of trouble, Loki would be willing to mobilize all her forces to help Vahn out…

Once the conversation had calmed down a bit, Syr actually changed the atmosphere a bit by asking about Hephaestus’s experience with Vahn. Though Hephaestus didn’t immediately answer, Syr’s question caused some of the other girls to express interest, including Loki and Hestia. Since she wasn’t ashamed of her interactions with Vahn, Hephaestus eventually caved in and started recounting several of the details about their interaction. The more she talked, the more heated things became and she even boldly declared to the group that she had let Vahn leave his maker’s mark on her backside…

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