Chapter 522: Clubhouse

After seeing off Loki, Eirene, and Demeter, Vahn sent Fafnir to watch over them from the shadows before making his way to his ‘clubhouse’ for the first time. It had already been completed during the expedition, but Vahn had been so busy at the Manor that he had never made the time to check it out. Since he would be taking Tina and Shizune into the Dungeon in the next few days, he wanted to at least furnish the building before creating keys for everyone that he wanted to invite over. He had already sent out notifications to Finn, Gareth, Raul, Cruz, Welf, and Ouka to hold a small celebration this afternoon so he needed to be there to avoid having them waiting. Fortunately, he had asked them to stop by a little later, as he had wanted to set up furniture and his private room, so there was still plenty of time to look around before they arrived.

Even without using [Shundo], Vahn reached the Clubhouse after ‘walking’ for around five minutes. Terra had informed him about the formation she had broken so Vahn was trying to ‘bait’ out the earth mage by pretending to be complacent. He had casually strolled through the streets with an appearance as though he was very tired, aimlessly looking toward the sky with his hands behind his head. Unfortunately, other than a few curious glances from pedestrians that recognized him, there were no signs of the danger lurking in the shadows. Vahn felt very confident in being able to defeat the mage in their next encounter, regardless of how fast they tried to run away…

Vahn’s Clubhouse was a relatively discreet looking building with a spartan design that was only a single story. However, discerning eyes would see that the high wall and the entire grounds of the building were covered in a dense array of magical formations that would even give trouble to a Level 5 trying to forcibly break into it. Those with perception like Vahn would also note that, though it was only a single story above ground, there were an additional two levels below including a passageway that connected into the large building located next door, which happened to be Hephaestus’ new workshop front. As a result, the security in the area was very high and Vahn could sense several ‘neutral’ and ‘amicable’ gazes on him from the surroundings.

Curiously, there was already someone present standing outside of the tall wall carrying a large bottle that was covered with a fine cloth. Welf’s perception was lacking so Vahn managed to walk all the way up to him before patting him on the shoulder, nearly causing the red-haired youth to drop the bottle. He turned around with an angry expression before smiling when he saw who had ‘ambushed’ him. Vahn was briefly reminded that he ‘promised’ to punch Welf the next time he saw him but, seeing his smiling and friendly expression, he decided to let the matter lay. After all, he had no reason to envy Welf for his relationship with four Amazons, especially considering his current situation at the Hearth Manor. He had even parted with three beautiful goddesses earlier, two of which would likely become his future lovers. Thinking this, Vahn felt a strange urge to slap himself instead of the ‘cheekily’ smiling Welf…

Welf saw Vahn’s weird expression but held up the bottle in his arms without asking and said in a cheerful voice, “Hey man, I brought some pretty good stuff imported in from the Far East. I figured it would be a good present for the celebration!” Vahn accepted the bottle gratefully and said, “Thanks, Welf, I look forward to sampling it with the others.” After stowing it away in his inventory, Vahn pulled out a communication scroll, logbook, and a pouch with several vials of ink for Welf’s use, explaining, “This will help us keep in touch in the future. The green pen lets you communicate directly to me while the others connect to other scrolls. If you look on the cover, there is an index in case you forget…”

Though it was an imported bottle of sake, Welf had only spent 23,000 Valis to obtain it, which was a large part of his savings right now. Receiving what easily amounted to several million Valis worth of goods from Vahn made Welf sigh deeply, but he still accepted them and said, “Thanks, it’ll be good to talk about some of the things I’ve been researching with you. I’ve actually been making a fair amount of progress these days, though I feel like I’m still scratching away at the surface…” Welf’s research was actually similar in nature to what Vahn was working on, though the direction was decidedly different. Though he wasn’t sure if it would help, Vahn pulled out a journal and handed it over to Welf, saying, “This has a bunch of notes about magic formations, runes, and even the structure of magic circles. You should be able to make some headway if you combine this with your own research.”

Welf was well aware of how ‘monstrous’ Vahn could be since he had once tried to consider himself as his rival. Vahn’s feats were well documented and he had even received the title of ‘Sage’ from the Elves, being the first human to carry the title. Combined with the fact that he was the youngest [Master Smith] in history, Welf had no illusions about surpassing him. There was a big difference between being ambitious and trying to surmount true ‘genius’, especially since he knew Vahn was incredibly hard-working. Since they were comparable in age, it was easy to see the differences between them so Welf couldn’t rationalize trying to compete against him at all…

Opening the journal Vahn had given him, Welf released a sigh before snapping it shut and placing his arm around Vahn and saying, “Thanks, man…” Even the random page he had opened to was very insightful so Welf knew it would be a great boon towards his own research. Since Vahn could casually hand it over, it once against emphasized the vast disparity between them. At least he had the benefit of being one of Vahn’s friends, especially considering the many ‘benefits’ he had already received. Though he still needed a bit of work, as the girls weren’t content with letting him Level-Up easily, he was approaching Level 2 and would likely obtain it within the next 4-5 months.

Vahn wasn’t too comfortable with Welf putting his arm around his shoulder, even if it was a display of friendship, but he decided not to let it bother him as he walked toward the Clubhouse and said, “This is my first time checking out ‘our’ Clubhouse, so lets look around for a bit before the others show up.” Welf had felt how ‘tense’ Vahn had been when he touched him, which was a little surprising since Vahn seem unphased by most things. He removed his arm and nodded his head, saying, “I honestly expected this place to be a bit bigger…well, considering its a Clubhouse created for you, it probably has a few hidden functions, eh? Let’s check it out!”

Without waiting for Vahn to lead the way, seemingly forgetting he didn’t have a key yet, Welf walked face-first into the invisible barrier without any hesitation. Vahn nearly burst out laughing at the sight but stifled the urge after seeing Welf holding his nose and showing an embarrassed expression. Vahn pulled out a large black loop that had several crystalline tabs attached to it. He took off one of the tabs and handed it to Welf who gave him a somewhat ‘resentful’ look as he snatched it away. Welf had always been a prideful boy, so his embarrassment was rather ‘heavy’ compared to most people. Since he looked up to Vahn quite a bit, it was even worse since it felt like he lost a lot of face…

After dripping his blood onto the key, Welf gingerly felt around with his hand to make sure the barrier wasn’t preventing his access anymore. He released a relieved sigh and put the ‘key’ into his pocket before returning to normal and saying, “Let’s check it out!” Vahn nodded his head and followed behind Welf, still stifling the urge to laugh because there was a dribble of blood coming out of Welf’s nose, even when he acted normally…

The first floor of the Clubhouse was actually a wide-open space that had been fitted like a pub. There was an unstocked bar with several shelves as well as a slightly elevated area at one side of the room that looked like a stage. Vahn could easily imagine having several circular tables within the room filled to the brim with people boisterously drinking and having a good time. He wasn’t sure how long it would take, but Vahn felt an urge to extend his network to the point where they could fill up the room in its entirety. For now, he just stocked the bar with a variety of different drinks under 100OP since he didn’t really want to outshine Welf’s gift right now. He knew it was probably very ‘expensive’ for Welf, so Vahn was trying to be considerate. Other than the [Dwarven Drought], which was set under the bar in a small keg, Vahn chose relatively cheap alcohols from other records to fill out the shelves.

Beyond the ‘pub’ area, Vahn found a complete kitchenette that was already stocked with utensils, pots, pans, spices, and other cooking accessories. Knowing that Vahn actually liked to cook, Hephaestus had incorporated a kitchen into the Clubhouse so he could experiment with developing new dishes without being badgered by the other girls. There was also a corridor leading to a ‘secret’ staircase on the opposite side of a wall. You had to walk all the way down the corridor before looping back to be able to see it, making it both easily accessible but also secretive. Without his [Eyes of Truth], Vahn wouldn’t have found it as quickly as he did.

Seeing the ‘hidden’ staircase, Welf shook his head in an exasperated manner before saying, “As I expected…hahaha, nothing is ever what it seems when you’re involved, Vahn!” Without waiting, Welf began to walk forward again before he came to a stop at the top of the stairwell. Reaching out with his hand, Welf made sure there wasn’t another barrier barring his entrance before sending a ‘glare’ at Vahn when he heard a muffled snicker…

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The first subterranean floor of the Clubhouse was a series of rooms that all had formations that allowed a person to register for access. Vahn realized these were rooms where people could rest after partying and getting drunk, and there were also workbenches and tools that could be accessed from a supply closet. The room furthest at the end was much larger than the rest and Vahn could tell that it had been intended for his use since the symbol of the Alliance, specifically prepared for him, was on the door. It also had much stronger protective measures than the other rooms, including soundproofing and hardened tiles on the floor, reinforced concrete walls, and several ventilation shafts. If he wanted to, Vahn could easily turn the room into a forge or atelier for mixing and alchemy.

After Welf picked a room for himself, they followed another looping corridor that led to the final staircase. This time, however, Vahn placed his hand on Welf’s shoulder as he tried to walk forward. Unlike the second floor, this one did have another barrier so Vahn wanted to avoid seeing Welf embarrass himself once again. The only way to get access beyond this point was if Vahn personally allowed people to enter, which he would have to be inside to allow. After leaving Welf outside of the barrier, Vahn walked forward and placed his hand against a previously invisible rune. This temporarily disabled the barrier and allowed Welf to walk down the stairs as they inspected the bottom floor.

The third floor was one massive room that had several supporting pillars reinforcing the above structures. It was completely dry without any humidity at all and there were several magic cores that allowed the temperature of the room to be regulated within specific areas. Vahn realized this floor was essentially intended to be private storage where he could keep items for use in the clubhouse without having to stock them in his Inventory. He could even see a ‘trapdoor’ like mechanism that connected to his room above, so it would be useful if he was doing long-term research that he wanted to keep a secret. It wasn’t that big of a distraction having the girls enter his workshop, but there were definitely things Vahn wanted to look into that he wasn’t comfortable with the girls finding out about early on.

Welf looked around the area a bit before they both made their way back to the top floor to prepare for the celebration. It was a good opportunity, so Vahn decided to actually cook some food while Welf left to take his ‘network kit’ back to his workshop. He only lived two blocks away, so he would be able to return before the celebration officially started. Carrying around several million valis worth of goods was somewhat uncomfortable and Welf was afraid he would lose or damage it when he got drunk later…

As it was meant to be a celebration, Vahn decided he would make steaks for the meal using large cuts from one of the tails he had acquired on the 58th Floor. Dragon parts were worth a great deal of Valis and ‘dragon steaks’ were considered a rare delicacy that few could enjoy. Even a single cut weighed more than 10kg so there was plenty to go around after he cut it into thin strips. He made sure that the strips were small enough to eat with chopsticks, as he was fond of using them, and only lightly sauteed with butter, chives, garlic, and a pinch of allspice. Because everyone would enjoy eating according to their own preferences, Vahn set out a massive hot plate in the middle of the room where they would be able to cook the meat further. He also set out a variety of pickled fruits and vegetables with some lightly salted almonds.

By the time Welf had returned, the top floor had ‘evolved’ after Vahn decorated a bit and it was now filled with warmth and a rich mouthwatering aroma. He could hear Vahn cooking from the kitchen and felt a little guilty as he eyed the tantalizing meat that was set on plates around a square table. He had no idea what kind of meat it was, but Welf knew it had to be delicious since he couldn’t do anything about the waterworks in his own mouth. He hadn’t even been that hungry before, but now it felt like he hadn’t eaten in months and it was very difficult to stop himself from beginning to eat without permission…

Vahn walked out of the kitchen with a wok in hand, stir-frying some green beans with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and some diced garlic cloves. Seeing Welf’s ‘hungry’ look, Vahn smiled and said, “Welf, this place is supposed to be a Clubhouse where we can hang out and do whatever we want. If you’re hungry, feel free to eat. If you want to cook, feel free to cook. I don’t even mind if you want to set up your own workshop here in the future, just don’t make a big mess unless you have the sense to clean up after yourself.”

Hearing Vahn’s works, Welf’s eyes were set ablaze as he sat down at the table and grabbed a pair of chopsticks and started eating. From the very first bite, Welf’s eyes turned round as saucers as he said, “Wow! This is the best meat I’ve ever had! What the hell did you do to make it so damn tasty!?” Vahn laughed and said, “I’ve still got a ways to go to be a capable chef, but I have the benefit of having some premium ingredients. That there is dragon meat, so make sure you savor it properly. Go ahead and try cooking it against the hot plate I set out; I’m fond of cooking it all the way through and seasoning it with a bit of that brown sauce. It’s made with soy sauce, brown sugar, and a few other extra ingredients. Seriously though, don’t make a mess unless you plan to clean it up…”

As Vahn had been explaining things, Welf was eating piece after piece of meat without any regards for table manners at all. Things would likely get even ‘worse’ when other people showed up and alcohol got involved so Vahn just shook his head before emptying the stir-fry vegetables into a pan to simmer and stay warm. He poured a bit of soy sauce into the pan, added a half cup of water, and then covered it with a lid to let it steam until someone wanted to eat it. Afterward, Vahn prepared several other dishes and only stopped when he detected the arrival of several people outside. Based solely on their auras, Vahn could tell it was Gareth and Finn though, on the periphery of his domain, Vahn could also sense Bete pacing about in an alleyway nearby.

Vahn set his pan to simmer before going outside to see Gareth and Finn wearing casual clothing waiting outside the entrance. Gareth stroked his beard while Finn showed an amiable smile and said, “Good afternoon, Vahn, thanks for your invitation today.” Gareth laughed while tapping against the barrier and said, “Let us in, kiddo, I’ve been looking forward to this for a while! Grahahaha~!”

After giving the two their keys, Vahn looked in the direction of Bete and asked, “What’s going on with Bete?” Gareth shook his head and said, “That boy can’t swallow his own pride and simply open up to others. He came all the way here and now it looks like he plans to return…” At the end of his words, Gareth released a long sigh because they had walked for more than an hour to reach here. As for Finn, his smile had become a little awkward until Vahn also shook his head and said, “Go ahead and make your way inside. There is plenty of food that I personally prepared and there is a fully stocked bar if you’re thirsty. As I told Welf, though, don’t make a mess unless you’re going to clean it up. This place is meant to be used by everyone to relax and hang out, so I don’t want to see it ruined haphazardly…”

Vahn gave Finn and Gareth their ‘network kits’ before disappearing from sight with his [Shundo], leaving the two veteran Adventurers smiling at each other before making their way inside. The moment Gareth smelled the aroma in the air, he shouted, “Dragon Steak! Grahahahaha~!” and left Finn behind with an awkward expression on his face…

Shortly after he disappeared from the Clubhouse, Vahn reappeared inside the same alleyway where Bete was still pacing about in a frustrated manner. The Werewolf immediately noted Vahn’s presence and showed an annoyed expression on his face as he asked, “What the f*** do you want, kid!?” Vahn smiled gently, pissing off Bete even more, but, before he was able to make another snide remark, Vahn had vanished once again. All of Bete instincts triggered and he jumped back nearly 30m before landing in the center of the street. His eyes darted around looking for any indication of Vahn before a sense of dread overwhelmed him and he rolled to the side. Looking back, he saw Vahn standing in the spot he had just evacuated with a plain expression on his face.

Vahn knew Bete wouldn’t be able to move forward unless he taught the angsty Werewolf a ‘lesson’ that left nothing to question. While doing his best to remain calm, Vahn said in a low tone, “There is no reason for animosity between us, Bete. I would like for us to be friends in the future, as we’re already allies that have fought on the same battlefield…” Bete’s face turned sour and he spat, “I don’t need-” Before he could finish, Bete felt like an ocean of pressure was squeezing his entire body as Vahn disappeared once again. He felt a hot sensation at the back of his neck that made all the hair on his body stand on end as Vahn said, “The greatest mistake anyone can make is underestimating their opponent based on a false perception of strength and personal bias. Even before we went on the expedition, I would have been your opponent, Bete. Now that I’ve become even stronger, there is no contest to be had between us unless I hold back…”

The moment he could move his body, Bete’s instincts to him to kick out but the only thing he felt was empty air before he saw Vahn standing several meters away. Vahn shook his head and said plainly, “If you truly had any pride, and not just baseless arrogance, you would have admitted defeat the moment my fingers touched your neck…” Waving his hand, Vahn let his fingers generate a massive amount of heat that even started burning away at his tunic. Though they were twenty meters apart, even Bete could feel the heat and knew Vahn could have ended the fight in an instant if he hadn’t stopped his attack. However, this didn’t make Bete happy at all since it felt like Vahn was ‘taunting’ and making fun of him.

Seeing Bete’s reaction, Vahn released a sigh and said, “If you really wish to fight, Bete, we can settle things whenever you’re ready. However, will you really be satisfied with that? How with Lena feel when you get injured?” Hearing Vahn mention his lover, Bete’s expression became fierce and he shouted, “Don’t mention Lena you bastard! You think you can actually hurt me!? Without your flames and that b******* magic, you’re just a human child without any-” Instead of maintaining his calm, Vahn glared at Bete and snapped, “Bete, what the hell is your problem!? You criticize me for my strength yet, even when I put in the effort to become strong enough to protect the people I care about, you don’t change your tone at all!? What exactly do you want me to do to compromise with your stupid ass!? Do I really need to beat the arrogance out of you before you’ll stop barking like a fool!?”

Vahn couldn’t understand how Bete could be so obstinate about things when there wasn’t actually any reason for animosity between them. He was starting to feel like Bete wouldn’t take a step back unless Vahn forced him to do so. If that is what it took, Vahn wasn’t going to keep playing games with Bete so he allowed his full aura to disperse and converge on the scowling Werewolf. They had already drawn a crowd, but Vahn didn’t care at all since Bete had genuinely pissed him off. He couldn’t tolerate that he always tried to make concessions and compromises yet it didn’t seem to matter to him at all!

Bete’s instincts had ‘exploded’ at this point and every fiber of his being was telling him there was only a single course of action left to him, running away. He gripped his fists into a ball to stop the shaking and, instead of trying to talk with Vahn, kicked forward with enough force to shatter the cobblestone street below. Spinning around mid-air, Bete tried kicking Vahn’s head to force him back. As long as he could pressure him, Bete was confident he would be able to get– Unable to complete the though, Bete found himself smashing into Vahn’s scaled arm as a wave of green flashed, completely dispersing his blow. Before he could react further, Bete found Vahn’s vice-like grip around his ankle as the world around him turned into a blur…

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