Chapter 574: Small Steps

While Vahn was busy spending time with the expectant mothers at the Hearth Manor, two others were busy winning current and future battles. As was to be expected, the Alliance was the popular topic amongst the godly assembly and, now that the number of pregnant goddesses had increased from two to five, many gods felt pressured. This was especially true for the various gods that had either butted heads with the members of the Alliance, and those that had former relationships with the goddesses ‘claimed’ by Vahn. Many of them were quite egotistical as a result of their various Divinities and the long lives they had lived, so it was very difficult for them to accept the existence of someone like Vahn, the ‘natural enemy’ of the status quo.

Unfortunately for them, they had absolutely no grounds to stand on since one of the principles vows they made before descending was to not try and oppress mortals, nor restrict the natural progress of civilization. They were allowed to have their Familias, even taking advantage of mortals for their own gains, but they couldn’t easily interfere with things like politics and other ‘mortal’ affairs. Regardless of how they felt about him, Vahn was still a mortal who was born in accordance with the natural order of the world itself. Trying to oppose change could lead to stagnation and it was one of the things heavily frowned upon, especially by the senior gods that had lived much longer lives.

With Ouranos ‘making way’ for Vahn, even to the extent of making small concessions for the Alliance in accordance with their contributions to the City, many gods that didn’t necessarily run things in an above-board manner were beginning to sweat. Fortunately, they were actually somewhat few in number compared to the gods and goddesses that supported the Alliance. This meant that order hadn’t actually been disrupted much at all, as the only ones that were worried about the Alliance gaining more power were those that had the propensity to seize it for themselves.

As the goddess of the Sage Aldrnari, Hestia enjoyed a great deal of popularity that made the diminutive goddess bubbly with excitement. She loved being the center of attention of such affairs and, as most of the ‘troublesome’ gods knew better than to try and antagonize the Alliance directly, she spent the entire banquet surrounded by goddesses that wanted to get closer to her and, by association, Vahn himself. Fortunately, as she could be a bit airheaded at times, Hestia had actually been given the ‘eleventh’ seat at Ouranos’ table and was ‘protected’ by the existence of Loki, Hephaestus, Freya, Demeter, and Eirene.

During the ‘social’ part of the banquet, Hermes had ‘pestered’ Hestia a bit, asking several questions about Vahn, the Hearth Manor, and any other ‘juicy’ tidbits of information he could glean. Hestia was very tight-lipped about most things, but she couldn’t help but ‘brag’ about how quickly the ‘children’ in her family were growing. It was no secret that Vahn’s own growth was ridiculous, but he wasn’t unique in that aspect as everyone that proactively fought alongside him had grown at a much faster rate than ‘normal’. Hermes had been swirling around the contents of his chalice as he mused, “Truly, I’m quite envious of how strong your children are becoming, Hestia. Perhaps you’d like to share a few words of advice for how I can bolster the growth of my own kiddos?”

Before Hestia could ‘proudly’ give some advice, Loki had interrupted by asking, “Oh, how can Hestia give you advice when you’re so ‘secretive’ about the growth of your children, Hermes~?” It was a well-known fact, at least amongst the influential gods and goddesses, that the members of the Hermes Familia were one of the few ‘exceptions’ allowed by the Guild when it came to reporting Levels. Since they often took care of secret missions for various gods, including Ouranos himself, the strength of the Hermes Familia was ‘unknown’ and, though their Captain was only Level 4, it was ‘obvious’ to many people that Asfi was not the ‘ace’ of the Familia.

Hermes parted his eyes slightly, much like Loki herself, before saying in a bemused tone, “Well, I’ve never been the type to be overly concerned with the path my children wish to follow. I’d much rather they live free and unfettered, unbound by general rules and regulations~.” This time, Freya intruded into the conversation by laughing elegantly and saying, “Indeed, it is certainly better when children are allowed to grow freely. Seeing them reach for greater heights is one of the greatest pleasures we gods can enjoy…fufufu~.” Hearing Freya say such things left a bit of a bitter taste in the mouths of many gods, as her form of ‘freedom’ and ‘pleasure’ were very different from the norm.

Hephaestus released a sigh before taking a sip of the grape juice in her wine glass and saying, “The members of the Hestia Familia are capable of such growth because they are passionate and work hard to obtain their goals. It’s as simple as that, Hermes…” Though she had already grown accustomed to the ‘games’ played by the gods, Hephaestus wasn’t fond of Hermes trying to glean information from Hestia related to Vahn, or any of the girls surrounding him. He had already become a member of the Alliance, but Hermes hadn’t actually done anything to contribute to its success. Other than the members of his Familia sometimes ‘snooping’ around, he hadn’t even contributed to the defense of the Alliance territory, often claiming that he ‘didn’t know’ where his children were or ‘couldn’t make’ them work if they didn’t want to.

Realizing the combined front of the goddesses were a bit of a tough nut to crack, Hermes showed a smile and changed the topic, saying, “I see your pregnancies have been going well. I was quite surprised when I heard that you got pregnant with the child of the ‘King’, Freya…I would have thought…” Though he was tempted to mess with her a bit, Hermes allowed his words to trail when he saw the cold look in Freya’s eyes. She had never really been the type to allow people to slight her and it wouldn’t do him any good to make an enemy out of her, even if they were both members of the Alliance. It was very obvious that Freya wasn’t ‘satisfied’ with her current pregnancy, even though she had the same elegant disposition, as usual, so Hermes could tell she had to ‘settle’ on the issue.

Ouranos could see the tensions building at the table and said, “You’re all gods, so don’t squabble amongst yourselves on petty issues…hmm…” As he looked at the table of the most influential gods and goddesses within the City, Ouranos noted that far more than half of them were now members of the Alliance. He expected things would likely become somewhat troublesome in the future since he had already received reports about the matter regarding the Elven Kingdom and Vahn’s ‘intrusion’ into the Daedelus Street Undercity. Times were beginning to change and Vahn was the catalyst for it all, something Ouranos found both interesting and mildly concerning. Fortunately, he could tell that Vahn was a ‘righteous’ and ‘heroic’ boy by nature, so things should progress in a positive direction even if left alone…

Without any major events taking place, the first day of the Denatus had ended. As it was the time typically used for gods to socialize and catch up with each other after short periods of separation, there was little to discuss and most simply mingled with each other to discuss potential benefits. Thus, other than a few delays when they transitioned from the floor segment into the banquet, everything else had gone smoothly. More than seventy percent of the godly community within the City directly supported the existence of the Alliance, which was to be expected since around 61% of those gathered were goddesses. As for the rest, the majority were those that kept to themselves and focused on the internal matters of their own Familia and simply couldn’t be bothered to get involved with such affairs.

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The smallest group, comprised of a total of thirteen gods and a single goddess, were somewhat hostile toward the Alliance but kept to themselves as a matter of ‘self-preservation’. Ilmarinen, the ‘Eternal Hammer’ that had previously ‘associated’ with Hephaestus had been forced back to Heaven after the event because he couldn’t tolerate the idea of shouldering such a massive debt. His example was still fresh in their minds, as the passage of three months was essentially a blink for many gods, so they kept to themselves. Even Apollo, who had been one of their ‘strongest’ allies, had been laying low since the last Denatus and hadn’t even bothered to show up this time around…

As the second day began, things had gotten far tenser than during the previous banquet since they had moved on to the ‘open-floor’ segment of the Denatus. The Alliance put on a united front from the outset and immediately took the opportunity to step forward and make their case to the godly assembly, with Ouranos presiding over as ‘Moderator’. Though she was arguably in the most important position, Hestia ended up taking standing at the side of Hephaestus as Loki stood forward as the representative of the Alliance, saying, “There are several matters that need to be addressed before we move on to more pleasant topics of discussion…”

The entire room became quiet since it was quite the sight when seven of the top ten gods were gathered together alongside five less-influential, but moderately well-known gods. Loki herself was known to be somewhat hard to deal with by almost every god present, so seeing her speak with Hephaestus and Freya at her sides brought a solemn silence over the crowd. As if she was enjoying every moment of it, Loki had a cruel and maniacal smile on her face as she continued, saying, “The most important thing we wish to discuss is the existence of several entities within the Alliance that need to be taken into consideration and assigned an elevated status…”

Loki looked around at the room before turning her head and making eye contact with Ouranos, saying, “As many of the more powerful Familias know, there are creatures known as Xenos that are either intelligent monsters…or those that have taken on humanoid appearances…” The Xenos were actually a closely guarded secret by the Guild, but it was still well-known amongst the exploration type Familias that such creatures existed. Ouranos worked alongside them to give them some form of protection, but he still allowed the hunt and capture of Xenos without taking action since it would jeopardize the authority of the Guild and call into question his position as a neutral mediator. Loki bringing this up could be a major problem, but the brunt of the trouble would be faced by the Alliance itself, something Ouranos was secretly grateful for even though his expression didn’t change in the slightest.

Small whispers could be heard amongst the congregation until Loki said, “As most of you know, there are actually three ‘Xenos’ within the Alliance itself, all considered ‘tamed monsters’ of Vahn Mason, known publically as the Sage Aldrnari. What I propose is that all Xenos, especially those that have integrated into Familias, be treated with the same rights as all surface dwellers. It has never been our place to judge those that live on the surface, and we shouldn’t force entities that have obtained consciousness to live the life of monsters and refugees within the darkness of the Dungeon!” This time, there was more than whispers amongst the godly community as one god stood up to ask, “Your propose to allow monsters to live on the surface, in our Cities and homes? Surely you jest, Loki…”

Loki stared directly at the rather handsome god, named Neit, and asked, “Why would you suggest such a thing, Neit~?” As the god of a C-Rank exploration Familia, with Divinities related to War, Justice, and Passion, Neit had always urged his ‘children’ to never show mercy to monsters. He didn’t get along well with tamer Familias, such as the Ganesha Familia, and was an advocate of clearing the surface of all ‘evil’ creatures. He actually supported the Alliance on most things, as he had a lot of respect for both the Loki and Freya Familias, but he couldn’t stay quiet when one of the leaders of such a Familia was saying such ‘ridiculous’ things.

Without wavering under her gaze, Neit said, “Monsters are evil, soulless, creatures that prey upon the races that live on the surface. If we start allowing them to roam about freely, who is going to take responsibility when they begin claiming more victims!? How many people are you willing to sacrifice just because of a boy and his pets!?” Loki began laughing almost immediately after Neit finished speaking, making the god blush slightly in embarrassment before he asked, “What’s so funny, Loki!?” Just as before, Loki had another sudden change, this time ceasing her laughter as she put on a serious look and asked, “Tell me, Neit, has a surface dweller ever killed another surface dweller?”

Neit experienced a momentary pause in his mental processes before saying, “Of course there has been…peo-” Before he could try to explain, Loki interrupted him and asked, “Then what is the difference between introducing intelligent monsters into the mix? Throughout History, there are literally countless instances of the races of the surface killing each other, killing themselves, and even going to war over simple differences in opinion. You claim monsters, even sentient ones, would be a problem because they ‘might’ go around killing people, but why aren’t you up in arms trying to change policies to prevent criminals, drug traffickers, and slave traders?”

Loki didn’t mean to make a patsy out of Neit, especially since he wasn’t really a bad god that got on her nerves, but someone had to be made an example of in order to get her point across. Before the stunned god could think of a response to her words, Loki looked around and said, “I have seen and interacted with the entities known as Fafnir, Fenrir, and Terra, the three ‘Xenos’ that live alongside the residents of the Hearth Manor. They are not the monsters some would claim them to be, often showing compassion, understanding, and even wisdom…traits some ‘people’ never possess…”

For several seconds, Loki allowed her words to linger in the air before introducing a bit of chaos into the godly congregation by saying, “Also, your claim about monsters being soulless…that is correct. However, if the Xenos are really the soulless creatures many people label them as, then why are some of them able to obtain the blessing of a god?” This time, there was a great deal of noise within the large hall and it seemed that even the supporters of the Alliance couldn’t quite believe what Loki was trying to say. It wasn’t until Ouranos rumbled, “Silence!” in a thundering voice that order was restored.

If she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes, Loki wouldn’t have believed her own words so she wasn’t surprised by their reaction at all. Once silence was restored, Loki explained, “I cannot say for certain that all Xenos possess a soul, but it is irrefutable that the three residing in the Hearth Manor do. Not only do Fenrir and Terra possess functional Status Boards, but they’re even able to gain exilia from killing monsters, just like any other race found on the surface world. Also, it has been verified by several gods and goddesses that all three of them do indeed possess a soul…” With Freya and Anubis standing near her, it was difficult to refute Loki’s words because it wasn’t really something that could be ‘hidden’. Any god within the assembly, assuming they had a Divinity related to Life or Death, would be able to determine the veracity of Loki’s claim with their own eyes.

Deciding to use the momentary lull to make a point, Ouranos stepped in and said in a deep voice that resonated throughout the entire hall, “I have also verified the matter myself, confirming that the entities known as Fafnir and Fenrir do indeed possess souls. Also, as Loki pointed out, it is not uncommon for those that live on the surface to fight and squabble amongst themselves. Though their form may be different, it is inarguable that any creature that possesses a soul has the right to live and decide its own fate without the interference of the gods unless they expressly choose to follow us. I would move to recognize those Xenos that abide by the laws and regulations of the surface world as citizens…”

Unlike when Loki spoke, there were no gods bold enough to speak out against Ouranos, especially when he made a point that drove at the heart of the matter. When they came down to the mortal world, they had to take several vows so as not to restrict the growth of mortals. Though there would always be those that flock to them in order to gain greater power, allowing the gods themselves to take advantage of them and gain benefits, they weren’t allowed to ‘force’ people into their Familias. There were obvious loopholes to this, which had been exploited for the last 998 years, but that was still something that the mortals themselves allowed as it was always their ‘choice’ to resist.

Loki was trying hard not to laugh after she heard Ouranos’ decree, but she eventually managed to collect herself and say, “The Xenos species is something that naturally occurs in accordance with fate and it is our duty to promote their growth as sentient creatures. The gods have always watched over the mortal world since its inception and we have seen many naturally occurring miracles that we had come to accept with the passage of time. Other than the first men to walk this world, all the other races were the ‘impossible’ product of the union between man and spirits, something the gods themselves had determined to be impossible. Now that the Xenos are emerging into the world, they should be treated in the same manner and given the rights to spread and procreate like every other species…it is their right as sentient creatures and not something we have any reason to deny them.”

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Recognizing it was her turn, Hestia stepped forward at this point as her small stature and infinitely kind expression seemed to spread throughout the entire hall. Other than Ouranos, she was the most senior god present and her aura was vast and gentle, making every other god within the congregation turn silent as they waited for her to speak. Her crystal-clear blue eyes appeared deeper than the ocean, glimmering with a gentle light as Hestia said, “We all came down to the mortal world seeking change, enjoyment, freedom, and happiness. How can we be worthy of such things when we would deny them to the creatures naturally born into this world? Fenrir is an adorable and innocent little Xenos with a big belly, but an even bigger heart. Fafnir might look scary, but he is very kind and has a childish wonder that can rarely be found even amongst the other sentient races. As for Terra, I believe she is a truly unique entity with remarkable intelligence and a great love for nature…none of these three should be treated as monsters…they are all children, born into this world naturally without having chosen the fate that was assigned them. We should allow them to live it as they please, supporting them along their way to keep them on a brighter path…not push them away and trap them in the darkness. Much like we escaped the confines of Heaven, we should allow them the freedom they long for…”

Much like how Vahn often felt during her ‘lectures’, all the gods present remained silent and seemed to fall into a bit of a daze hearing Hestia’s words. Even when she had finished, nobody spoke for several seconds until one childish looking goddess, named Bastet, stood up and said in an excited manner, “I completely agree! It is our duty as gods to guide the children of the surface world toward the future, not keep them buried is such a dreary place like the Dungeon~!” Though she was one of the newer goddesses to come to Orario, after having been invited by Anubis, Bastet loved the City and how vibrant the culture was compared to those found in the Southern Sands. Having even more variety seemed like a very interesting thing and she felt very excited by the prospect of being involved with such a drastic change in the City.

With one goddess taking the first step, many other goddesses began showing their support since they were already on the side of the Alliance in the first place. As the number of those in agreement increased, other gods began jumping on the bandwagon until nearly the entirety of the godly congregation was in support of the idea. They couldn’t actually change the laws, as that was a matter regulated by the mortal politicians, but they could still easily propagate the idea that it was acceptable, at least within Orario, for the Xenos to walk on the surface. It would certainly take time for real change to come about, as there would always be resistance amongst the general populace regarding something like ‘monsters’ roaming on the surface, but these were the important first steps that could change the fate of hundreds, or even thousands, of sentient creatures…

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