Chapter 620: Stirring

With less than three days remaining until the start of what could be a very long Expedition, Vahn began spending the majority of his time mingling with the girls within the Manor. They were going to be apart for a while and Vahn wanted to comfort them as much as he could while also discussing what actions would be taken while he was away. Construction on the School had already started at this point and it would be continuing for the next 3-5 months. Since the Alliance controlled all the territory in the ‘Section 4’ District of Orario, even including the entertainment district after Freya seized power in the area. This gave them a territory nearly 3,800km² with several residential districts that were slowly being converted into large plots of land to construct Manors for the Alliance Familias and the School. There was even a smaller Coliseum being built in the area, but this would be for combat training for the students and holding smaller tournaments for the public to witness.

Vahn had been a little surprised by how much land the Alliance possessed, especially after learning Freya ‘conquered’ the entire entertainment district, eliminating several of the gangs in the area. Unfortunately, before he could even pitch the idea, Loki explained that such a district was ‘necessary’ for people in the current social climate. It was a place where Adventurers could go to release tensions and also served as a place where people could elevate their social status without putting their lives at risk in the Dungeon. Since many politicians and businessmen also frequented the area, it was also a place where secret dealings could be held and served as the backbone for the black markets. It was also impossible to get rid of the entertainment district since it was where most of the people in the entire City went to release stress, meaning they would cause a great deal of tension by even trying to regulate it harshly.

To ‘pacify’ Vahn, Loki told him how Freya had essentially ‘negotiated’ with all of the Familias in the area, as most of the successful brothels and businesses were governed by gods of beauty, sex, passion, pleasure, entertainment, etc. She got the majority of them to sign contracts enforcing better regulations and living standards for their ’employees’ and had each of them assigned ‘territory’ that they would be responsible for managing. Though it was impossible to prevent crime from occurring, they needed to have more serious consequences in place to deter people from repeating their actions. As for things like slavery, the black market, and even gambling circuits, they couldn’t be abolished in the current climate since slavery wasn’t illegal, the black market was necessary for getting some important foreign imports, and gambling was too profitable and enjoyed by far too many people.

Though it seemed to be a cruel institution, ‘legal’ slavery was actually necessary in the current political climate since the vast majority of slaves were either criminals or people that ‘willingly’ became slaves, such as Emiru and Maemi. Since there wasn’t a functional judicial system in place, there wasn’t enough funding for infrastructure like prisons and such. Even the few that existed were typically very cruel places as corruption caused things like torture, ****, and trafficking to be very prevalent. Systems had existed in the past, but they were exploited by the people that passed the laws, often using them as justification to eliminate their enemies and simply do whatever they wanted.

Since slaves were a large part of the population on the continent, it was determined that the criminal slavery system would be instituted instead. Depending on the severity of their crimes, people would be bound to different types of contracts that also determined what kind of owner could purchase them. As for other types of slaves, that was sometimes the only way people from the various beast tribes could escape poverty and things like famine. Many people sold themselves into slavery in the hopes of a better life, often dictating the terms of their contract in exchange for higher purchasing prices. This allowed them to hope for a better future while also helping their villages, tribes, or families survive through trying times.

The biggest ‘justification’ behind it was the fact that the slave trade was simply too profitable and Orario was actually the ‘safest’ place for slaves since there were systems in place to protect them. Without exception, every other country and culture on the entire Continent had a slavery system that was far worse than the one that existed in Orario, meaning it was the ‘desired’ place for many people. Slave traders often brought their ‘stock’ to the City to sell since they could also charge a premium for exotic slaves that they picked up when making the rounds to various tribes. If Orario outlawed slavery, it would simply result in the ‘merchants’ trading elsewhere, often causing the slave to end up in far worse conditions.

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Vahn still wasn’t that happy about the situation since he believed it was a very tragic thing for such a practice to be the ‘norm’. However, unless he could change the values of the entire Continent, there was no way to get around it without causing even greater suffering. Loki told him that, when people were unable to go into slavery as a means of escaping poverty, they often were either killed or starved to death. If a tribe was struggling to get by, they would have to do things like killing the elderly or abandoning their children to starve in the woods, which could be a far worse fate in some cases since there were many ‘cautionary tales’ of young girls being captured by Goblins.

The main reason behind that was due to the fact that, without a Falna or the opportunity to increase their strength, women were often more ‘expendable’ during times of crisis. With few exceptions, the males were often physically stronger and this meant they were ‘necessary’ for hunting, farming, and hard labor. As a result, most villages prioritized strong and capable men and invested most of their resources into nourishing them for future use, whereas young girls were either sold as slaves, abandoned, or outright killed. This only happened when the villages were facing a crisis, fortunately, so you could often tell if a tribe was flourishing based on the number of females around.

Orario was an exception to this rule, however, because the various agricultural Familias had taken control of the entire Plains region to the southwest. Since they were able to sell their produce directly to Orario, things like famine almost never occurred and, though the population was regulated a bit, there were far fewer ‘tragic’ events taking place. Many of the people convicted of lesser crimes were often sent to the plains to become farmers, generally settling in the area because of the peaceful living conditions and how ‘accepting’ the communities often were. As for why most people didn’t simply migrate to the Plains, it was because the area was strictly managed and villages were required to conduct censuses and report their numbers to the City.

For a place out in the countryside, that was also the largest food-producing region in the area, the population needed to be regulated or it would simply ‘explode’ over time. This would mean more resources would be required to maintain the increasing numbers, further increasing the workforce and potentially increasing the amount of food produced. However, the production could barely keep up with the growth of a population that was unregulated, something that had been documented throughout history. Since they exported the majority of the food, through a surprisingly complex system that ensured prices were kept at a stable level, the population ‘had’ to be regulated and people need to get permission for every child they had.

In the past, before these regulations were in place, farmers simply had as many children as possible since it allowed them to have an easier time managing the fields. However, this caused a lot of conflicts over time since some families became far more powerful than others, often stealing farmland or entering feuds with each other. In other cases, the numbers in the villages continued to increase to the point where it was very difficult to allocate land, requiring them to expand further and establish smaller settlements and communities. This would eventually lead to further conflict and competition, causing prices to fluctuate greatly as villages fought against each other for contracts. In the most extreme cases, it wasn’t that uncommon for ‘hostile’ farmers to burn the fields of their competitors during the harvest season…

Now, after the gods descended to the world, things had become incredibly regulated and most of the farmers lived relatively peaceful lives. When the population increased too much, they would send their children out into the world as explorers, hunters, or Adventurers. If the population got too low, Orario would send some of the more ‘tame’ criminal slaves to help fill out the ranks, typically comprising of women since they were often in short supply at times. For 997 years, this system had worked almost flawlessly since it was all regulated by gods and goddesses that typically worked together to ensure everyone was well-fed and happy. It was nearly impossible for any ‘private’ farms to exist at this point unless it was on privately managed land, often far away from the Plains since the entire region was already the property of various Familias.

After being convinced by Loki, Vahn accepted there wasn’t much he could do other than improve the living conditions of people in general, specifically through education and mentorship. By providing opportunities to young people, allowing them to become stable and functional adults, the status quo would slowly change over time as the authority of the Alliance increased. They wouldn’t be able to implement ‘fast’ changes, as that would lead to potential backlash and destabilize a system that had been maintained for nearly a thousand years. It would be better to ‘target’ the countries outside the City first since things were decidedly more chaotic and dysfunctional there.

Using Riveria’s old idea, Vahn intended for the Alliance to generally vet and accept refugees from other races and slowly increase the quality of life for those in the younger generation. They shouldn’t really allow adults to get involved as, after reaching a certain age, most people had already solidified their understanding of the world, even if it was wrong. This meant they were far more prone to becoming corrupt and trying to seize power in a selfish manner to promote their own quality of life over others.

Children were far easier to work with, especially if they were refugees or slaves from the countryside that had an earnest desire for a better life. Giving them a structured environment to grow, treating them as if they ‘belonged’ to something greater than themselves, these were the paths to true reform as they would easily exceed the capabilities of other people. As long as their morals were strong, it wouldn’t be that difficult to bring about drastic change after a few decades had passed. Those that ‘graduate’ from the school would likely go on to have their own children, raising them in a better environment and wanting them to receive the same type of education, thus perpetuating the cycle further…

Vahn’s idea for the school system, after talking it over with various goddesses and Riveria, was to teach Physical Combat, Magical Studies, Monster Ecology, History, Medicine, Arts, and Business. When they built the Academy in Haven, they would teach a more advanced version of those classes for anyone that was able to earn a scholarship or complete the test to reach the 50th Floor. One of the most important things they would be working on is developing the idea that, while people were unique and had special traits, everyone had nearly limitless potential.

Though you could use your racial traits to give you an advantage in some aspects, it didn’t mean you couldn’t be surpassed by those that worked hard. Merit, accomplishments, and personal accolades were more important than factors of birth, as nobody was ‘entitled’ to anything simply as a result of the race and position they were born to. Demigods could be considered a bit of an exception to this, especially in the case of the Vanir, but Vahn intended to teach them in a similar manner in the hopes they wouldn’t give in to corruption and misuse their power. He would treat his children well, yes, but he would ‘never’ allow them to act like they had a special birthright that made them better than others. Their capabilities may be higher, but they weren’t born into the world having achieved anything and were thus required to ‘prove’ themselves before obtaining any position of power or authority.

This wouldn’t work in ‘most’ cases, but Vahn’s situation was a bit unique since there was a very real possibility he would live forever in this world. Even if he didn’t manage to get the anchor before he had to leave, he was involved with many goddesses that would likely carry on his legacy when he was gone. Since he would undoubtedly return, Vahn was trying to plan around ‘eternity’ instead of simply a few generations and the transfer of power. He thought it was a little ridiculous that power could be ‘inherited’, sometimes by people that were grossly unsuited for the position. The devotion to clans seemed ridiculous to him, especially in the event where they used it as a justification to do terrible things. It almost always ended up with people becoming morally corrupt while most ‘good’ people rarely cared about such things, freely loving people regardless of their race, ethnicity, or affiliation.

Vahn had already prepared himself for the ‘inevitable’ situation where he would likely have to watch some of his descendants grow old and die while others obtained immortality through their own means. It was a very sad thing, but death was also a ‘natural’ part of life that needed to be accepted in every instance where the person didn’t overcome it themselves. His presence in the record already paved the path for others to obtain immortality, something he may help guide them along but never ‘giving’ to them. If Vahn made every one of his descendants immortal, they would also want their descendants to be immortal, perpetuating an endless cycle where his lineage would eventually overrun the entire world. This went against the natural cycle, especially in instances where those that obtained immorality did immoral and intrinsically evil deeds at the expense of others.

Though it would be difficult, Vahn knew it was his ‘duty’ to be as impartial as possible on matters or else he would end up as a hypocrite and likely fall to corruption himself with time. He didn’t want to become some kind of ‘evil’ god that ruled over the entire multiverse while molding it to his preference. One day, Vahn truly wanted to reunite with his mother and he believed she would be very sad if she learned that was the type of life he lived. Fortunately, he had capable guides like Sis with him and could rely on the companionship of his ‘subordinates’ when he visited other records in the future. Vahn never wanted to lose himself and become like the ‘Emperor’ in the Divination, as the image of Hephaestus ‘thanking’ him often haunted his thoughts…

As usual, Vahn woke up slightly before 5 AM, this time with the combination of Milan, Chloe, Emiru, and Maemi in his bed. Since he was going to be away for a long period of time, the schedule had been disregarded for the past few days so Vahn could spend some ‘quality’ time with all the girls. As for the reason behind the current combination…well, Vahn was somewhat fond of being tended to by Cat People, even though Maemi and Emiru were Snow Leopards. His [Petting] was especially effective against them and it was always strangely calming to be licked and cuddled by affectionate cat girls…

Pulling out Eva’s orb, Vahn’s smile widened greatly because, instead of a magical formation blocking his perception from entering, the orb was now pitch black with a stable blue glow in the center. Today was the day he was supposed to be leaving for the Expedition but, fate seemed to have aligned with his hopes since Eva’s orb was no in an active state once again. Vahn’s excitement was so great that it had ‘alerted’ the sleeping kittens who awoke to find him holding the orb in his hands with a large smile on his face. Chloe tilted her head to the side and asked, “It’s awake nyow~?” with a bit of intrigue and curiosity visible on her face.

Nodding, Vahn explained, “Yes, I’m almost certain the orb is active again…it seems my trip into the Dungeon will be far longer than I expected. However, my strength will explode and there will be almost nothing that could threaten me or my family in the future…” Hearing his words, Maemi and Emiru were also very excited whereas Chloe seemed to become a little thoughtful. She knew that Vahn would be experiencing up to seven days for every one day that passed, meaning it would more than a full year before he returned, at least from his perspective. He had already changed a great deal over a relatively short period of time so she was a little worried about his mental health. Snaking her way out of the bed with very lithe movements, Chloe said, “I think it would be a good idea to talk about this and potentially delay the Expedition for a bit.”

Though Maemi and Emiru didn’t seem to understand Chloe’s concern, Milan nodded firmly and pressed her hand to Vahn’s chest, feeling his increased heart rate as she said, “The orb is a very powerful tool, but it can cause you to lose your sense of ‘connection’ with the real world. Please don’t change too much, Vahn…we need you…” Vahn was a little surprised by the behavior of Chloe and Milan, but he could also understand their concerns after he remembered his past actions. It actually had become someone ‘difficult’ to keep track of things in the real world because the majority of his time was spent in the orb. He didn’t feel that his bonds with the girls had weakened much, but his mind had become very reliant on the orb to deal with all the rapid changes to his life at the time. Since things would be relatively ‘stagnant’ in the Dungeon, they were probably worried that his bonds would slowly fade away with time…

Realizing their concerns, Vahn showed a soft and loving smile as he calmly stated, “Even if I had to bear the burden of eternity in isolation, I would never forget the bonds I have forged with everyone. They are what gives me the strength to continue moving forward…each of you is an intrinsic part of what makes me who I am. Besides, if I get strong quickly, I could probably even make a trip to the surface in less than a day just to come and visit everyone…” At this point, Vahn felt like he had truly fallen in love with most of the girls, even if it wasn’t at the same level for everyone. It was to the point that the goddesses believed he actually may have a Divinity related to Love since he was so compassionate and empathetic towards others. This was one of the reasons they didn’t proactively try to interfere with any new relationships he had, essentially feeling it was ‘natural’ given the nature of Vahn’s existence…

Chloe gave a somewhat mischevious smile but the light of love was burning strongly in her eyes as she buttoned up her tunic and said, “I believe in you, Vahn. We’ll still need to talk about it at breakfast though, as it’s a very important topic that needs to be discussed with everyone. There are some things we’ll need to take care of on our end to make sure your transition is smooth when you finally do return to the surface, after all.” She didn’t say it, but Chloe felt it was very fortunate that Vahn’s return would be around the same time as the birth of his children. Such a ‘significant’ event would essentially strengthen his bonds with everyone since he would probably want to ‘share’ his love and happiness. Realizing this, she was actually a little troubled that she hadn’t taken the opportunity to get pregnant herself, especially now she wasn’t really that active and just trained Shizune…

Vahn also knew it was very important to talk about the orb with everyone, even though they had already discussed it in length several times. Speaking about something that ‘might’ happen wasn’t as important as addressing something ‘as’ it was happening. It was actually a little inconvenient that the orb was awakening right now, as he wouldn’t be able to talk about his progress as easily with people like Riveria, Loki, Hephaestus, and Eina. The only people that were accompanying him into the Dungeon were Tiona, Ais, Tione, Lefiya, Haruhime, and Fenrir. Though Lefiya and Haruhime would probably be very helpful, both being prodigious and talented mages, Vahn wouldn’t really have anyone to seek advice from. He was almost tempted to ask Terra to come along with him, but that would be a ‘terrible’ idea since she was the guardian of the Manor along with Fafnir.

Realizing all the ‘complications’ that would arise now that the orb was awakened, Vahn understood why Chloe would say its very important to address the issues right now. However, it was also necessary to establish a ‘baseline’ for the discussion so Vahn held the orb in his hand and said, “Before we head down, I want to enter the orb and talk with Eva as well. If necessary, I can limit the amount of time I spend in the orb so it is less impactful on my mind…though that will probably not happen…” Thinking till this point, Vahn actually changed his mind because he remembered a ‘promise’ he had made previously. After remembering this, Vahn shook his head and said, “Actually, let’s get everyone together and talk about it right now. I also need to take Fafnir, Fenrir, and Terra into the orb with me since I promised them I would…”

Fafnir was actually very fond of Eva and had been wanting to meet her again for a while now, especially since it wanted to get even stronger. Terra was interested in Eva for the same reasons and was also curious about the ‘garden’ Vahn had created within the orb. As for Fenrir…she wanted to use the orb as an opportunity to ‘mature’ and would probably spend a good 4-8 years within the orb. Knowing this made Vahn a little worried because he could imagine Fenrir being ‘especially clingy’ every time he returned to the orb, much like how Eva had been in the past. Hopefully, she would also mellow out a bit and actually ‘mature’, though that was also a thought that made Vahn a little sad at the same time…

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Milan saw the look on his face and ran her fingers through his hair, softly saying, “Don’t worry, Vahn…everything will be fine.” Hearing her words, Vahn nodded his head and decided to ‘believe’ that the future would also be a better place. Fenrir would inevitably ‘mature’ with time and it really wasn’t ‘fair’ for him to force her to remain childish and innocent. Since she would be at his side, potentially for all eternity, Vahn wanted her to become a stable and reliable existence. Besides, he didn’t think her base nature would change that much and she would probably at least ‘act’ in a similar manner. She had always been very impressionable and observant, copying the actions and behaviors of other people. Being exposed to Terra and Eva for a four year period would probably change her a great deal…’hopefully’ for the better.

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