Chapter 616: Preparations

With a week left before they were supposed to go on the Expedition, Vahn had everyone take a break from the Dungeon so they could relax. The next Expedition could potentially go on for upwards of two months, as they would be constructing a permanant defensive line and establishing the infrastructure for the Supply Depot. Vahn would be leaving behind a rallying whistle with Hestia and Loki in the event that either of them went into labor while he was away. With the [Hero’s Reprieve], he could instantly return to the surface and be at their side so there wasn’t any chance he might miss the birth of his children. At this point, Hephaestus had completely stopped working in her forge and was usually with Epona and Hestia while Syr typically served them.

Though nobody forced her into it, Syr had taken up the role of ‘Head Maid’ at some point before Vahn had even realized it. Her reasoning seemed to be that, while things were stable at the Manor, she needed to have another job so she wasn’t just simply lounging about all day. Since Emiru and Maemi still ventured into the Dungeon, she usually cleaned around the house and had already memorized all the secret passageways, even those underground. The most unexpected thing of all was that she often had Tina, Milan, Shizune, and Chloe helping out so Vahn got to see them all in the ‘standard’ maid outfits that were worn by Emiru and Maemi. Shizune and Chloe, both having dark hair, actually looked surprisingly suitable to the role while Tina simply looked adorable. As for Milan, she had been a proprietress for many years at an Inn so she was what Vahn could describe as a ‘natural’ when it came to being a maid…

To prepare for the long expedition, Vahn had a few things to take care of on the surface so he went to the Clubhouse early in the morning to fill their stocks. This time around, he was greeted by Rune, a small Pallum girl with light pink hair and wine-red eyes. She was very startled when he showed up and flustered about as she said, “W-Welcome, M-m-master Vahn!” Vahn just politely smiled at the 108cm tall girl and said, “Good morning, Rune. It’s pretty early, so I’ll take some cider and some baked goods. Please tell Sebas I’ve matters to discuss…” Rune bowed at a steep angle, nearly losing her balance in the process, before embarrassedly running off to carry out Vahn’s orders. Within the Terpsichore Familia, she was a musician that played the lyre and typically had a very upbeat personality when performing.

With Rune running off, Vahn was immediately approached by a red-haired youth with a cheeky grin on his face and a glimmering light in his grey-blue eyes. Vahn smiled and raised his hand to stop Welf from trying to put his arm across his shoulders, causing Welf to instead awkwardly rub the back of his head and said, “Hey man, haven’t seen you around in a while.” Guiding Welf toward his private table, Vahn explained, “Yeah, I’ve been busy creating a prototype armor for the girls lately. I’ve finished four sets so far and, though they’re not quite masterpieces, they are very close. How has your research been going?”

Welf immediately released a deep sigh when hearing Vahn ask about his research, shaking his head in exasperation as he said, “I was able to make a lot of progress with your notes, but my current skills just aren’t up to snuff to make any real progress just yet. Right now, I’m focusing on self-study and refining my skills to become a better [Blacksmith]. Chasing after things that are beyond my level will just cause me to slip up, so I’ve decided to do it step by step…” At this point, Welf had already been Level 2 for a while and had access to the [Blacksmith] Development Ability nearly two years before he would have originally obtained it. He was already off to a strong start so Vahn just pulled out a few blacksmithing texts and handed them over, saying, “These are some foreign techniques that may help push your skills to the next level.”

Seeing the books Vahn set on the table, Welf had a somewhat conflicted look in his eyes but still accepted them, saying, “Thanks, Vahn. One day, I’ll become skilled enough that I don’t have to rely on your assistance so much. Until then, know that I’m really grateful…haaaaaa…” Welf released a sigh at the end of his words and scratched his unkempt red hair in a small fit of frustration. He had already learned that relying on others, while also working hard to improve yourself, wasn’t a sign of weakness. Without the girls, he would probably still be stuck at Level 1 and wouldn’t be able to obtain nearly as many resources. His skills had already increased greatly and he had become much stronger, making it even easier to manage his workflow. Still, he was just a fifteen-year-old boy and, as a result of his prideful nature, it was somewhat difficult to accept assistance all the time.

Vahn could guess what Welf was thinking but knew he needed to sort through things like that on his own, choosing to keep silent because Welf was certainly maturing compared to the past. Soon, Sebas came over and Welf immediately excused himself since he had actually already been drinking with the two people he had invited into the Clubhouse. Rather than being the loner he had been in the Manga, Welf had opened up a lot, especially after meeting Sonia, Maia, Vesta, and Kris. He now understood the importance of comrades and had made a few friends with other junior blacksmiths of the Hephaestus Familia. Welf was the only person in their small group with the [Blacksmith] Development Ability right now so they all looked up to him, at least when Vahn wasn’t around. Being the ‘youngest [Master Smith] in history’ made Vahn somewhat famous amongst aspiring blacksmiths after all.

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Sebas sat down with his documents and had a somewhat stern expression on his face as he said, “Apologies, Master Vahn, but Rune broke the cider bottle when she was preparing the drink. Since she had a bit of a panic attack, I sent her to rest for a bit…” Rune was typically a very hard worker but, like most of the girls in the Clubhouse, she tried a little ‘too hard’ whenever Vahn was around. Vahn just smiled in response and said, “It’s fine, Sebas. I can understand why thing could be difficult when I’m around, hahahaha.” Though he didn’t consider himself too prideful, Vahn always felt like his status was elevated a bit whenever he was at the Clubhouse. Everyone called him ‘Master’ as if it was perfectly natural while Terpsichore herself typically treated him in a somewhat deferential manner.

True to his professional and gentlemanly nature, Sebas’ expression softened a bit after he heard Vahn’s words and he patiently waited for Vahn to continue the conversation. Feeling a little embarrassed, Vahn tapped the table before grabbing the documents and asking, “Have any new members joined since my last visit?” Sebas shook his head and said, “There was a new official member, Master Gilbert, and his two recommended members, Stale and Merkovah. Since Master Gilbert possessed the obsidian tab, he was given full membership from the outset while the other two are still pending review through the vetting process.” The only person that could give out the ‘obsidian tab’ was Vahn so anyone that possessed one would immediately be a full member.

Remembering how hard Gilbert had worked after taking away the Elves, Vahn smiled in satisfaction and said, “Gilbert is a good man, but his companions may be troublesome. Make sure they don’t get carried away…hmmm…” Vahn knew there were some guards within the Eirene Familia that could get a little carried away as a result of their ‘righteous disposition’. It typically never became a problem, as Eirene was very strict in her management of the Familia, but Vahn knew there were always a few bad apples in any large group.

Vahn had previously heard from Eirene that she had been forced to expel members in the past for accepting things like bribes and providing benefits to criminal Familia’s around the red light district. According to Eirene, the existence of alcohol, drugs, gambling, pleasure, and power could even lead good men down dark paths if they were exposed to it for too long. This was one of the reasons she admired Vahn so much because, even though he was at the center of power, he never deviated from the ‘righteous’ path…

Sebas nodded his head and made a small note in a pocket journal using an ornate pen that Vahn had given to him in the past. Vahn was also making a few modifications to the documents Sebas had given him, explaining, “I’m going to double the stock of supplies, but you may need to allocate them carefully since I’ll be gone for up to two months this time around.” Vahn knew it probably wouldn’t be an issue, as many of the members of the Clubhouse would actually be going on the Expedition with him. He just didn’t want the Clubhouse to have a reputation of running low on goods, especially since it was treated as a very high-end establishment.

Thus far, there had been more than twenty officials trying to ‘buy’ membership, sometimes even pressuring existing members for their recommendations. With the vetting process, none of them had been successful and they had actually removed membership from one person who sold his recommendations for 10,000,000 Valis. It might seem like a lot, but some of the items that could be taken out from the Clubhouse could exceed that if sold so Sebas had immediately kicked him out for taking advantage of his membership. Losing membership also ‘blacklisted’ you indefinitely, with only Vahn himself being able to override the decision, though only once.

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Sebas also knew that, other than a few people from the Eirene and Hephaestus Familias, most of the ‘senior’ members of the Clubhouse would also be gone. He understood Vahn’s intentions well, however, and would do his best to ensure there weren’t any issues. Though he only started working here a few months ago, managing the Clubhouse had become his pride and he took his job very seriously. His salary was actually a monstrous 700,000 Valis a week, excluding tips, so Sebas wouldn’t allow any mishaps to happen under his management. He also had a great deal of respect for the ‘system’ Vahn had created because many people in his position would use their power and authority to take advantage of people. Vahn, instead, supported young women in an environment where the could promote themselves without actually having to ‘sell’ benefits just to survive. This had given Sebas enough confidence to have his own granddaughter work at the Clubhouse, happy she would never have to experience the tragedy her mother went through.

After arranging all the documents, Sebas bowed politely to Vahn and said, “If you’ll excuse me, Master Vahn.” before returning to the bar and sending Ki’Lani, the brown-haired Hume Bunny, to check the inventory. Vahn never made any mistakes when it came to resupplying, but they always did a secondary check to confirm everything was accounted for. The system they had in place didn’t allow for many exploitable gaps so Vahn was always very satisfied when he saw how hard everyone was working. There was just something about cute women, working earnestly with smiles on their faces, that made Vahn both happy and proud.

Soon after Sebas had left, a rather plain looking woman with a massive aura walked over, carrying a bottle of pale golden cider as she asked, “May I join you, Vahn~?” Rising from his own chair, Vahn pulled out the one next to him, causing the woman to giggle before sitting down and saying, “My, thank you very much~.” This woman was none other than Terpsichore herself and, though she looked somewhat plain at a glance, her disposition, expression, and appeal, could all change in an instant. At times, she was a vibrant and youthful woman while, at others, she could look like a lovelorn widow with a distant and melancholic look in her eyes. She was very peculiar and Vahn found her presence to be somewhat refreshing since, though she ‘acted’ a lot, her emotions always showed on the surface since she truly invested herself into the character she was portraying.

Terpsichore filled Vahn’s glass before pouring one for herself, provided by Vahn since she had originally only brought one for him. Vahn took his seat and said, “I never expected you to join me during a meal like this, Terpsichore.” This time, Terpsichore looked similar to a pure maiden as her dull eyes glittered with an innocent light as she said, “I saw how flustered Rune was when she made a mistake and thought it would be better if I helped fix any negative impression you may have had. How is it, do you feel happy now that I’m here~?” Terpsichore twirled a strand of her silvery grey hair with her finger in mock bashfulness as she peered up at Vahn with glittering soft-purple eyes.

Vahn gave a polite smile in response and said, “I know everyone here works very hard, especially when I’m around. I’m not going to blame Rune for making a single mistake, so please tell her not to be bothered by it when you see her later…” As he was speaking, Renka came onto the stage wearing her moderately skimpy dancer’s outfit and smiled immediately after locking eyes with him. Her icy blue eyes reflected a playful light as she began dancing with the accompaniment of upbeat music that could cause the listener to feel a bit of excitement. Terpsichore chimed in from the side and said, “Renka seems uncharacteristically fond of you…ufufu~.”

Instead of a youthful and innocent look, Terpsichore now had a somewhat sensual and ‘older sister’ type appearance with a teasing tone in her voice. Her pale purple eyes were now a deep purple that almost felt like they could absorb the viewer into their depths. Vahn knew she was just playing around so he smiled and said, “She is a rather beautiful girl, so it makes me happy to get just a little of her attention. If I weren’t already so taken by the women at the Manor, I’m not sure I could restrain myself from approaching her.” Vahn sent a wink at Terpsichore, causing the ‘mature’ goddess to begin laughing in an elegant manner before her appearance became plain, almost completely neutral. Her deep purple eyes were now a mute grey in color as she said, “You are a good man, Vahn Mason. I can never fully express my gratitude for this ‘paradise’ you’ve made…it isn’t easy to pursue the path of an entertainer, so I’m happy all of my children have such a ‘safe’ environment to grow up in…”

In Familias that focused on entertainment, the majority of their members were women and, even though they often started with lofty aspirations, this would fade with time. Many girls would eventually be targetted by their clients and, in order to earn enough money to support their lifestyles, several would end up ‘selling favors’ to various men. Before the red light district had been established, prostitutes were actually called songstresses because many singers, dancers, and even musicians, ended up selling their bodies after a few years of struggling to get by. Most people in the present didn’t spend a lot of money on entertainment, at least not in regards to the ‘arts’, so it was very difficult for many entertainment Familias to be successful.

Before the Terpsichore Familia started working at the Clubhouse, Vahn had heard about some of their struggles from Loki and took pity on them. He allowed all of the girls to work within the Clubhouse, offering them great benefits, not in exchange for their bodies, but so they would be able to pursue their interests without having to make compromises. Many women simply wanted to save up money when they were younger so they didn’t have to worry so much when they had children. Since there weren’t too many people that wanted to become Adventurers, as it was very dangerous and taxing on both the mind and body, many young women ended up ‘willingly’ working in the red light district for a few years just to save up. It was almost impossible to open a business normally so, if you weren’t in a Familia, there were few other options if you wanted to save up a large amount of money in a short period of time…

When he heard Terpsichore’s words, Vahn had a somewhat sad smile on his face as he said, “I just want people to be happy…nobody should have to sell themselves just to get by… it’s ridiculous. If they can be happy being performers, I think they should have an environment that promotes that. After all, seeing the emotions they put into their songs, music, and dances makes me feel inspired to work hard as well…” Terpsichore nodded her head and showed a happy smile as she said, “Yes, the arts have always been intended to inspire the people to better themselves. It breaks my heart when performers are profaned and exploited just because of their beauty…society can be very cruel at times. I’m glad there are at least a few people like you in this world, Vahn Mason…” Terpsichore’s eyes had become blue like sapphires and she gave off the impression of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, full of hope and aspirations for the future.

At this point, Renka’s first dance had come to an end and her fit body was covered in a light layer of sweat as a result of her exertion. However, she didn’t seem tired at all and instead showed an eager and happy smile on her face as she began her second dance. Many of her dances emphasized her hips and made use of her long tiger-like tail, so it was quite the tantalizing sight since she had a powerful and athletic body. Vahn had a calm smile on his face and simply appreciated the sight while enjoying his cider with the accompaniment of Terpsichore. His food had arrived at one point, freshly baked apple pie, so Vahn was in a great mood and felt a strong urge to help even more people find happiness in the future.

As if she was intent on dancing the entire time he was present, Renka worked hard for nearly an entire hour before Selena came out and ushered her off the stage at the end of her twentieth dance. At this point, her skin was practically glistening and her dancer’s garb had started to soak through a bit with her sweat, causing Welf’s group to become absolutely silent as they were enamored by the sight. It was expressly forbidden to do things like catcalling and heckling, so they could only sit close to the table and enjoy the show in silence. Vahn did much the same but also made a bit of small talk with Terpsichore, essentially agreeing to build a theatre complex in the school so the student would have a stage to perform on.

When she was leaving the stage, Renka cast a few glances over at Vahn and he could feel her melancholy from the changes in her aura. He felt a little guilty about it, but Vahn actually used the girls at the Clubhouse to ‘temper’ himself so he had more resistance against girls. They had all taken vows to not be forward in their approaches so, other than appealing to him through her performance, Renka couldn’t actually try to flirt with and pander to Vahn. It was very obvious she liked him, but that wasn’t really a unique thing since most of the girls were fond of him. He was incredibly rich, powerful, handsome, kind, and, most importantly, supported their lifestyles and appreciated their art. With the current social climate, it would be very strange for young women to not like him, something Vahn himself was very aware of.

Terpsichore watched Renka’s departure alongside Vahn and, once she had disappeared into the back room, said, “You know, Renka approached me about leaving the Familia recently…” Vahn arched his brows when he heard this, turning to Terpsichore as she explained, “Her tribe has always cultivated warriors so she isn’t really suited to being a real performer. This job has given her a lot of time to relax and calm her mind so she isn’t as depressed and eager as in the past. Knowing how much effort you put in to make the City a better place, she feels inspired by you and wants to help out by joining the Hestia Familia. I think, even if she couldn’t become your woman, she would be happy as a warrior underneath your banner…”

Hearing Terpsichore’s words, Vahn was at a bit of a loss since he actually recognized Renka’s potential as a warrior as well. He actually thought it was a bit of a shame that someone so capable was ‘just’ a dancer since she was almost Level 4 even though she was only nineteen years old. Though she wasn’t as prodigious as some of the other girls in the Manor, Vahn knew Renka didn’t have nearly as many resources to promote her growth and got to where she was as a result of her individual efforts. With proper guidance, she could easily become even stronger, likely reaching the peak of Level 6 or 7 in the future.

After thinking it over, Vahn squinted and said, “There are too many things going on with the Alliance right now, so it wouldn’t be a good idea for her to join the Hestia Familia. If she just wanted to help out, she could always join one of the other Familia in the Alliance and that would give her the opportunity to grow further…” Even as he spoke, Vahn understood that Renka ‘specifically’ wanted to work under him and would likely not even consider joining a different Familia. Thinking this far, Vahn felt a little awkward because he simultaneously wanted to help Renka but knew things were never ‘simple’ when it involved him. If she began living at the Manor, just as the goddesses had ‘lectured’ him, she would almost certainly get involved with him at one point. Even now, Vahn was very ‘interested’ in her so it probably wouldn’t even take that long if she was ‘proactive’…

Releasing a sigh, Vahn said, “For the time being, I think she should stay here and think about her decision. There is no rush and she is still young…” Terpsichore began laughing at this point and her eyes had turned peach-colored as she said, “I think she will be happy to know you are so ‘flustered’ thinking about her joining your Familia. Don’t worry, she also wanted to complete her current ‘vow’ and will stay with my Familia until next June at the earliest~.” With few exceptions, most gods actually required their ‘children’ to take vows after joining their Familias. This prevented people from joining and leaving at their convenience, benefitting from the resources of the Familia without making any real contributions. It was already very difficult to keep members in entertainment Familias, so they typically had two-year contracts just so the ‘troupe’ wouldn’t diminish entirely.

It was currently around the end of February, so that meant there were a good sixteen months before he actually had to ‘worry’ about Renka. A lot could change in that period of time so Vahn felt relieved knowing he wouldn’t have to make a decision on the matter so soon. That was also around the same time that Bell should be showing up in the City so Vahn suspected he wouldn’t be that troubled even if she did end up joining the Hestia Familia. He would undoubtedly be very busy, especially when Enyo’s forces began moving, and there would also be several children running around by then. Vahn believed he would become more ‘stable’ when his kids were around so it should prevent him from being involved with other women, excluding the ones already in the Manor…

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