While Vahn was going about his everyday life and making plans of his own, there were others moving within the background with their own intentions. Chief amongst them was the beautiful, silver-haired, goddess that was waiting in a large, temple-like, room for her guests to arrive. She sat at the head of long, rectangular, table as she sampled an exquisite red wine that cost more than the average adventurer would make in their entire lifetime. She had a lazy expression on her face because her guests had already been ten minutes late, even though they were the ones that scheduled the meeting.
Fortunately, she wasn’t waiting much longer as two butlers wearing white masks opened the 10m tall double doors leading into the room and escorting in two, decidedly different, red-haired goddesses. They were respectively Hephaestus and Loki and, alongside Freya, they were the three most prominent and influential gods within the entire City. Though the Loki Familia was recognized as the current ‘Number 1’, it was, in fact, the Freya Familia that held the highest combat potential amongst all the Familia. However, that could change quickly if Loki and Hephaestus were to team up since the logistical support Hephaestus could provide would be a nightmare for any of her enemies. If Freya truly decided to cut ties with the Hephaestus Familia over this matter, she would irreversibly impact the combat potential of her own forces and stunt the growth of her children. Though there were other [Master Smith]s within the City, not a single one of them could hold a candle to the equipment produced by Hephaestus herself.
As they entered the hall, Freya rose from her seat and assumed an incredibly elegant demeanor as a flawless smile appeared on her face and she said, “Welcome to my home, Hephaestus, Loki…it is good to see the two of you. It’s not often we get together like this, so please, enjoy the food and wine at your leisure.” Hephaestus had a plain, almost cold, expression on her face as she stated, “I’m afraid it will be rather difficult to accept your hospitality after the stunt you pulled yesterday. Though I’d like things to stay amenable between us, you seem intent to force my hand on the matter…” More than anyone else, Hephaestus had committed herself to protect Vahn from harm, and the beautiful goddess before her was, perhaps, the greatest threat to their shared happiness.
Freya’s expression broke a little, but she kept her elegant demeanor as she turned to Loki and asked, “Loki, surely you didn’t come here to make trouble for me? Haven’t we had a cooperative relationship for a very long time? I’d like to think we were even considered to be friends…” Loki’s smile widened a bit and she nodded her head theatrically as she said, “Certainly~! I’m actually quite fond of you, especially that impeccable body of your’s~. Unfortunately, things have changed rather drastically as of late and I’m afraid I’ll be siding with Hephaestus this time around. Sorry, sorry, please forgive me just this once, kekekeke~.”
Seeing Loki’s behavior, Freya released a sigh before gesturing to the chairs at her left and right before sitting back down. She had a mildly perturbed expression on her face, but her smile hadn’t faded as she mused, “Well, isn’t this quite the inconvenience…I wonder what action I ever took to sleight two goddesses that I had a cooperative relationship for so many years? I never expected that one mortal boy would be able to drive a wedge in a relationship that has spanned eons…I’m rather heartbroken honestly.” Loki sat down and sloshed the wine in her glass before downing to contents in one go before releasing a long sigh. She opened her squinted eyes and stared at Freya as she said, “With how long we’ve known each other, you think either of us would actually buy that? The only person using Vahn to drive a wedge in our relationship is you yourself. If you didn’t want to cause, you could have simply dropped the matter without it ever having come to this.”
Freya squinted her eyes slightly and remarked, “Unless you care to explain how it’s fair that I have to be the only one to take a step back on this matter, you’ll be hard pressed to find the fault lays with me. My love for talent and potential is well known, but I’ve never been so rudely treated before I even made an attempt to approach someone. I can’t help but feel there is more than a fair amount of injustice that I’ve been forced to suffer just to…appease my own ‘friends’.” Seeing Freya’s glance, Hephaestus’s expression turned sour as she responded, “If Vahn was exposed to someone like you early on, you would ruin his entire life with the excuse of pushing his potential further. Tell me, is there a ‘single’ man within your entire Familia that hasn’t been personally ‘cultivated’ by you both physically and mentally?”
Before Freya could respond, Loki added to Hephaestus’s words, “I’ve met with Vahn several times and I have to agree with Hephaestus on this one. With how you stick your nose into things, I’m sure you’ve realized some of the unique qualities of that boy. Not only is he incredibly perceptive, but there is a very high chance he would have an immunity to your charm. If you tried to push him while he was in an unstable state, you would break him long before he ever reached his full potential. And that is only one of the many reasons we’re keeping him from you…”
Freya sat in silence for nearly a minute as she ruminated over the words of Hephaestus and Loki before eventually asking, “The two of you were the ones that scheduled this meeting…tell me, why have you come here? Don’t tell me it was to simply tell me to stay away from that boy…I’ve already taken a vow to not interfere with him, so what more can you ask for?” Though she was annoyed at the current situation, Freya couldn’t risk making an enemy out of both Loki and Hephaestus. It would simply create a huge inconvenience for her and undermine everything she had planned for the future.
Hephaestus was the one to respond and she stated firmly, “Before we even discuss terms, I want to swear a vow of non-interference, not just in Vahn’s life, but in the lives of those around him-” Before Hephaestus’s final word fell, Freya’s wine glass cracked in her hands as she gave an immediate reply, “I refuse…How ridiculous would it be to have such a restriction placed on me without having gained a single thing? Negotiations are based on compromise, where both sides come to terms and decided a ‘fair’ exchange. You expect me to make such an agreement before we even discuss matters…Hephaestus, you are severely overestimating my patience.”
The two goddesses locked eyes with each other, neither taking a step back until Loki laughed and poured another glass of wine for herself. Freya gave her a sidelong glance through her slightly squinted eyes and asked, “Do you find this situation to be humorous? Will the two of you really go to war with me over the matter of a single mortal?” Loki began to laugh even more boisterously after hearing Freya’s words before saying, “Wrong again Freya, it would be you opposing us since we’re already deeply involved in this matter. Try to twist the perspective around and play the role of the victim all you like, but I’m afraid you’ll find we’re not so receptive to your little act.”
Freya’s beautiful smile turned into a light frown after seeing that neither goddess was giving her any grounds to stand on. She was absolutely sure there was something unique about Vahn and their actions only egged her onward and increased her desire to obtain him for herself. There was no reason for Hephaestus and Loki to team up if Vahn were just a normal boy, and that made the current situation very difficult for her to tolerate. She could tell that, if it were up to them, Hephaestus and Loki would never give her an opening to approach Vahn at all. The more she pushed, the more resistant they would become until things eventually escalated into a full-blown war that destabilized the entire City…all for a single boy.
After a few minutes of heavy silence, Freya looked up at the two goddesses and said, “Give me a single reason…I want to know what is so special about that child…tell me, and I may agree to your terms.” This was the moment they had been waiting for and, even though they knew it might make the problem worse, Hephaestus and Loki had already agreed to tell Freya a bit of information about Vahn. They wouldn’t be able to keep her from learning about it at the upcoming Denatus, so if they were able to restrict her a bit now, that would be the best case scenario.
Loki picked up a large turkey leg in her hands and raised her wine glass as if she were making a toast as she said, “There is something worth celebrating Freya, did you know~? Vahn has already become a [Master Smith] and the wedding between him and Hephaestus has already been set with Ouranos’s approval~!” Freya furrowed her brows a bit, because it would mar her reputation greatly if she did something like ‘stealing’ the husband of another goddess. Not only would she lose face within the mortal world, but her reputation in the godly community would take a hit because of the overuse of her own charm ability. She turned to Hephaestus and saw the small smile on her face before stating in a cold tone, “I suppose congratulations are in order…”
Before she could continue further, Loki laughed in a very mischevious manner and said in a low voice, “Oh, certainly, though not for the reason you might expect~.” Freya looked between Loki and Hephaestus for a few seconds until Loki’s expression turned very serious all of a sudden and she said, “Hephaestus…is pregnant.” For a very brief moment, Freya didn’t understand Loki’s words before things finally clicked in her mind and she stood up from the table with shock clearly present on her face. A glow appeared in her eyes as she scanned over Hephaestus’s body and noticed a strange convergence of energy within her womb. There wasn’t yet a soul present, but Freya was clearly able to see that Loki’s words were true.
Freya gnashed her teeth and stated firmly, “There is no way I’ll back down on this matter, no matter what the two of you try to do. If Vahn has that capability, you have no right to deny him from me.” It was Hephaestus’s turn to stand up as she shouted loudly, “It is the right of Vahn, and Vahn himself, to decide who he wants to help get pregnant! Nobody, not even a goddess, has the right to make that decision for him. This is one of the reasons we’re forced to take this kind of action, because your irrational and possessive nature wouldn’t just destroy Vahn, but it would compromise the potential happiness of many other goddesses!”
Tensions between Hephaestus and Freya had reached a boiling point, but Loki continued to sit in her chair while taking large bites out of the turkey leg in her hand. Before they started arguing further, Loki stated plainly, “You’re misunderstanding something on a fundamental level here Freya. If you want to understand the situation better, you’ll take the vow that Hephaestus mentioned. I can guarantee that, depending on how things play out, you’ll be able to have children of your own in the future if you take a step back on this matter. We’ll be explaining more in the future, but nobody is allowed to know the process unless they’ve taken a vow to protect the information.”
Hearing Loki’s words, Freya mulled them over in her mind a bit as she tried to make sense of what Loki had said. She had assumed that Vahn was the one that had to impregnate goddesses, but Loki’s words seemed to imply there was something more behind it. If she tried to push forward and cause conflict between their groups, there would be a chance that she’d eventually obtain Vahn just to find out she had made a grievous mistake. After regulating her breathing for a bit, Freya sat in her chair and resumed a small amount of her elegant demeanor as she said, “I will take the vow, but only if the two of you make a vow to tell me the information without trying to deceive me. I won’t be the only one to suffer restrictions if you can’t even guarantee the credibility of the information.”
Hephaestus eventually sat down as well and said, “We expected you would say something like that before we came here.” From within the satchel she had been carrying, Hephaestus pulled out an incredibly expensive contract scroll alongside several lower-grade scrolls. She allowed Freya to overlook the documents for a while until she eventually handed them back and said, “This is acceptable.” The document laid out the information they would provide for her without directly stating the details. It included a bit about their speculation of Vahn’s origins as well as the basic procedure that was required for a goddess to get pregnant. It also included several provisions and penalties that were sufficiently harsh enough to get Freya to accede to their demands.
Loki and Hephaestus signed the scrolls before Freya confirmed the contract with her own signature and sent it up in a blaze of magical fire. After the flames entered each of their chests, Freya re-read her own contract before signing it and returning it to Hephaestus. It basically stated that she was unable to approach Vahn without being escorted by Hephaestus and Loki in the future. Unless he specifically went to look for her, she had to reach out to him through the two goddesses, but it was much better than not being able to meet him at all. The only thing she had to guarantee was that she didn’t take any actions that would cause harm to befall Vahn, or those mentioned on the terms of the contract. Freya was somewhat surprised by the number of names, but she had investigated most of them previously and understood they were relatively important to Vahn. Now that she knew a bit about his ‘capabilities’, Freya had a bit of understanding about how he was able to get close to so many people in such a short amount of time.
After Hephaestus confirmed the contract, Loki assumed a very business-like disposition as she handed over a document for Freya to peruse. While she was reading it, Loki explained, “I’m sure you’ve already speculated a bit yourself, but we can say conclusively that Vahn is an anomaly just by taking into consideration some of the information regarding his origins. He is, at the very least, 75% god and is capable of freely activating his own Pseudo-Divinity. We don’t know for certain, but there is a high chance his Divinities relate to Fertility, Fire, and a few other speculative things that aren’t important. The thing that concerns you is the fact that he has developed a technique that allows Goddesses to conceive children, but the resources that go into it are incredibly costly and it isn’t a simple procedure to perform. Vahn is required to be present, but he doesn’t have to be the one to do the deed to ensure conception.”
Freya had been listening closely to Loki’s words while going over the description of the process within the document. She noticed it had several runes along the side that made it impossible to view, or record, from any angle and could only be read for an hour before the information disappeared permanently. It was a magical tool called a ‘secret keeper scroll’ and was an incredibly valuable item because whoever read the information wouldn’t be able to speak or write about it to others. Because of the amount of effort they put in protecting the information, Freya believed that Hephaestus and Loki were telling her the truth and asked, “How often can the procedure be performed? What are the costs?”
Loki smiled before nodding to Hephaestus which caused her to rise from her chair. Freya watched her actions with intrigue as Hephaestus turned her back before lifting up the back of her shirt and revealing the ‘crest’ that Vahn had carved into her lower back. Freya furrowed her brows a little before a smile appeared on her face after she sensed the energy contained within. Answering the question she had been about to ask, Loki explained, “Other than the material goods necessary for the ritual, Vahn also has to carve a ‘blessing’ onto the body of the goddess undergoing the procedure. At the most, he can only use it every few weeks, but the cost and burden he has to bear on his soul is quite heavy. If he used it more than three times within a month, he would probably have to spend more than a year before he was able to use it again. There is a lot of information that still needs to be learned through trial and error, but we have plenty of time to learn more about the skill and the supporting procedure in the future. That is, assuming there isn’t any trouble…”
Hephaestus and Loki had decided that is was ‘necessary’ for the crest to be carved by Vahn, since it would serve as ‘proof’ for others that the procedure had been used on them. It also had the added effect that, even though Vahn couldn’t actually give them a blessing, he was still able to detect the location of anyone who had his crest carved into their body. Loki herself had been looking forward to receiving her own ever since Hephaestus started bragging about it on the network. Though it was somewhat ‘possessive’ of Vahn to leave his crest on others, it was also a very ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ thing that she had never experienced before.
Freya had an especially serious expression on her face as she contemplated everything she had just learned. She knew that there was probably more about the situation that she wasn’t privy to, but she couldn’t really fault Hephaestus and Loki for wanting to protect Vahn given the current revelations. Though she still had a powerful desire to obtain him for herself, Freya realized it wasn’t necessary to provoke the two goddesses to eventually benefit from the situation. Given Vahn’s 75% divinity, Freya knew his children would have even thicker blood and it wasn’t a big deal to wait for another fifteen, or fifty, years before she could reap an even greater harvest. There was also a very high probability she could control the situation a bit to receive a child of her own. Though she might be able to conceive with anyone, Freya was firmly resolved to have a child that Vahn sired himself…the only matter was how to go about guaranteeing she had the opportunity.
As Freya was lost in her thoughts, Loki chimed in to cause a little chaos in her mindset as she said, “Oh yeah, I’ll probably be getting pregnant myself soon. I’m sure you’ve been keeping track of things, but I’ve already made the preparations so Vahn will be ‘out of commission’ for a while. If you’re wondering about how to best benefit from the situation, the best thing you can do is stay out of the way and not interfere. Once Vahn has stabilized a bit and grown stronger at his own pace, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to potentially interact with him. However, I’m sure you can understand why it wouldn’t be appropriate to make a move right now…”
Freya nodded her head and stated, “This is a completely new situation that has never before been present within the history of this world. Until that status of the children birthed by goddesses is confirmed, it’s dangerous to push forward with so many unknown factors to account for. For the time being, I’ll take a step back and not interfere with anything…actually, I’ll even take your side on matters in the future. The plebian masses already see us in the same light, so it wouldn’t cause any major stirs. I don’t want another goddess to try and step in while butting me out of things for their own convenience…” Freya squinted her eyes and turned to see the mischevious smile on Loki’s face. She knew she had played according to Loki’s script and ‘willingly’ walked into the circle of protection surrounding Vahn.
Picking up a new glass, since her previous one was broken, Freya filled it with wine before raising it slightly and saying, “Fine, I’ll play along for the time being…but I don’t want to be out of the loop on things. From now, up until Hephaestus gives birth, I want to know about all the developments so I can build up my own expectations. My only concern is that Vahn doesn’t die before I’m able to get what I want…” As if to allay her concerns, Hephaestus stated plainly, “Vahn isn’t so weak as to fall to normal circumstances. Unless there are people actively plotting against him, he is more than capable of overcoming almost any situation. By the time the Denatus comes to pass, there should be a lot of people siding with us on this matter and Vahn will only ever venture deep into the dungeon after his probation ends. He’ll accompany the Loki Familia on their expeditions and be well protected at all times…”
Freya sloshed around the contents of her glass for a bit before taking a sip and saying, “I’m not entirely satisfied with that. I won’t interfere with Vahn’s life directly, but I’ll have my Familia dealing with the dangers surrounding him in order to ensure his safety. I’m certain the two of you can understand my concerns seeing how far you’ve gone to protect him yourselves…Hmm, I’m guessing that was another one of Loki’s plans?” In response to her words, Loki raised her own glass high and said, “Aren’t we all cooperating to ensure each other’s happiness~? Not only you, but a lot of people would probably lose their s*** if Vahn actually ended up getting killed by someone’s plot. I can say with absolute certainty that a certain goddess of forging would probably start a crusade~.”
Though the atmosphere was still somewhat serious, Hephaestus’s ‘cool’ expression broke a bit when a blush touched her cheeks. Freya and Loki saw her reaction and began to laugh which caused her blush to deepen further as she ‘resentfully’ said, “I only crushed a minor Familia that was causing problems…I’m not the one that destroyed an entire section of the entertainment district, nor am I the one that has been sending their people all over the City to collect information and provide excess security around the Hearth Manor.” As if the alcohol had started to affect her, Loki had a rosy blush on her face as she began to laugh in a ‘sheepish’ manner that looked more shameless than embarrassed. Freya herself just sipped away at her wine as if she hadn’t heard Hephaestus’s quip at all. She noticed that the incredibly expensive wine suddenly had a somewhat bittersweet taste that she hadn’t noticed previously…