Chapter 666: Ripples

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Things became relatively peaceful for a short while after Vahn had laid his head down to rest but, as it was like to do, the peace didn’t last for very long. A few hours after she had gone to sleep, Vana woke up with a loud cry that seemed to be able to pass through the soundproofing of the room with ease, causing Vahn to bolt up from Tsubaki’s lap in less time than it takes an electron to circumnavigate a nucleus. If not for Tsubaki laughing out from behind him, Vahn would have entered a high alert state but instead calm down enough to hear her say, “Don’t worry, Vahn, she is probably just hungry. It isn’t uncommon for newborns to eat every 2-3 hours between their naps~.”

The tension released from Vahn’s body, visibly causing his shoulders to sag as he reached down and gingerly picked up Vana’s body. Mona would likely be showing up within a few minutes so, for the time being, Vahn just rested her against his chest and gently traced circles along Vana’s back. She was still hungry but, after feeling the calming energy entering her body, Vana stopped crying and made adorable baby sounds that tickled Vahn’s ears. Tsubaki had walked over to his side, peering into the other cradles to see if Ina and Erika had been awoken by Vana’s cries. Surprisingly, they didn’t seem bothered by the fact, even though it was obvious that both of them had been alerted by the outburst.

Since they were already awake, Tsubaki picked up Ina’s body, showing an almost silly smile on her face as she cooed, “My goodness, you’re such a cute little baby~.” Unlike Hephaestus and Loki, who didn’t produce milk during their pregnancies, Tsubaki suffered no such limitation. As if it was the natural thing to do, she pulled aside the loose fabric of her kimono and held Ina against her exposed teat, letting the little one feed off her milk with a contented smile on her face. Though Mona might be their hired wetnurse, it didn’t mean the other mothers couldn’t help her out and spend time with the other children. After all, it actually made them more capable of producing milk in the long term and helped to relieve any discomfort and sensitivity in their breasts.

Vahn looked at Tsubaki, showing an affectionate smile that caused Tsubaki to poke her tongue out at him before she turned away and gently rocked Ina’s body. Not long after that, Mona showed up, pausing for a brief moment when she saw Tsubaki before taking Vana from Vahn’s hands. He gave her a polite nod and a small smile in response, deciding it was best he take a momentary leave to avoid making things awkward. When he left the room, Vahn felt a small amount of melancholy but continued forward, checking on Hephaestus and Loki before deciding to take a bath and head to bed. As much as he would like to just watch over the children all day, Vahn had other responsibilities and it would make the girls uneasy if he spent all his time cooped up within the maternity ward…

At this point, it was already late in the day so Vahn was the only person using the large open onsen, a rare occurrence given the sheer number of people living in the Manor. He enjoyed the hot water against his skin, floating around aimlessly for a few minutes before deciding to head to bed. Tomorrow would be a busy day and Vahn wanted to rest his mind before it was time to take action. There was a fair chance that, even though he would be performing a show of force, his enemies could misunderstand things and use it as an excuse to try and attack him. The fact that he intended to give them time to evacuate the border fortresses before he destroyed them might cause them to believe he lacked the resolve to take lives. This wasn’t true, as he would likely end up killing a fair number of people, but the Rakia Kingdom wasn’t exactly known for their brilliant leadership and tactical planning…

Unsurprisingly, Eina had been waiting in his room, already laying in the bed before she rose up to smile at him upon his entrance. The girls were a little worried he was going to push himself too hard so Eina had been ‘elected’ to comfort him for the evening. Vahn felt a little a guilty, as he hadn’t really spent much time with the other girls since his return, but still climbed into the bed with his lovable wife and enjoyed the rest of the evening at her side. Though she wasn’t that far along in her own pregnancy, Vahn felt comfortable hugging her gently from behind as he stroked her slightly protruding belly. She carried yet another one of his reasons for becoming stronger and facing his enemies head-on and Vahn didn’t want to let her down…

Though it hadn’t been publically circulated that Hephaestus and Loki had both given birth, there were still murmurs around the City since the defenses of the Manor had suddenly shot up. It was already known that Vahn had returned, especially with some of the rumors being spread through Hermes’ network, so many informed individuals assumed he had actually returned because the event had already happened. Some of the gods and goddesses within the City were already planning to request audiences with Hephaestus, Loki, or Hestia in order to learn the truth of the matter while other forces, chiefly those bothered by the power and influence consolidated within the Manor, began putting their own plans in motion.

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With Freya proactively eliminating anyone that openly machinated against the Alliance, many of the dissidents had decided to lay low and only discuss their plans during secret meetings or with the use of relatively rare communication scrolls. There were several Familias, chiefly serving as personal harems to many gods, that felt threatened by the Alliance. After seeing the extents they Alliance had gone to in order to deal with the Elven Kingdom, those forces had all banded together to avoid being picked off individually. Though their combined strength could barely oppose a single S-Rank Familia, it didn’t mean they weren’t able to plot behind the scenes in order to weaken the influence of the Alliance…

Freya had spooked him in the past but, after failing to take up residence in any of the ‘respectable’ countries surrounding Orario, Apollo had eventually returned to the City. He lived far less extravagantly than before, deciding to instead reside in one of the smaller districts near Daedalus Street. With his charisma and influence, he had slowly united many of the smaller dissident forces within the City, creating an Alliance of their own with the purpose of undermining the power of the Alliance. Their main target wasn’t the Alliance itself, but the various merchants and nobles that held power within the City. By bribing the right people, the ‘True God Alliance’, as they had decided to call themselves, had been causing various problems for the Alliance itself.

Though Freya and Loki had control over the northern and southern gates, there were plenty of ways to get illegal goods, chiefly Elven slaves and other contraband materials, into the City. As a result, Apollo’s own Familia had increased from a small eleven official members to a startling eighty-three, mainly comprised of Half-Elves and a few pure-blooded Elves. Since the Elven Kingdom didn’t ‘export’ those that had a lot of power, many were only around Level 1 or 2 but, with enough ‘guidance’, they could still become powerful assets under the influence of the Falna. Apollo, along with the various gods of the True God Alliance, had been sending his ‘children’ into the Dungeon to become stronger. They had a long term plan of producing a large number of ‘elites’ to contend against the forces of the Alliance, not directly, but by arson, assassination, and attacking trade routes for the weaker merchant Familias…

Having made the decision to lay low on the surface, Apollo had instead cleared out many of the underground chambers near his residence, linking them together to make a small subterranean palace. Though the surface building looked like a downtrodden Manor, in desperate need of repair, the underground area was adorned with gold and ivory and Apollo himself was currently sitting on his throne, showing a cruel smile on his face as he tightly gripped the hair of the girl servicing him. They were very useful for his plans, but Apollo was also quite fond of how appealing Elven men and women could be, already expanding his own personal harem to include many of his favorite slaves.

A large set of stone doors opened at the entrance of his chamber, making the arrival of a rather beautiful young man very apparent. He appeared to be around twenty years old, having silky black hair tied up into a ponytail. Though human, his looks could easily rival that of some of the most handsome Elves and he was adorned with black militaristic garb that still showed his lean and fit figure. Apollo smiled, not minding the intrusion as he pushed the Elven woman to the side, rising to his feet with arms spread as he said, “Ah, Hyakinthos, all the worldly treasures within my throne room pale before your beauty. Tell me, my child, what news do you bring me this evening? Or, did you perhaps wish to spend some time with me…it has been a while~.”

Without waiting for a response, Apollo had already neared Hyakinthos’ side, caressing the beautiful young man’s face before sealing his lips. There was a fervent and almost passionate look in Hyakinthos’ eyes as he reciprocated his god’s affections, entering into a long kiss before remember his purpose. With a fair amount of reluctance, he turned his head to the side, eliciting a small bout of laughter from Apollo as he mused, “How unfortunate…well, there is always a place for you at my side…after all, the nights can be oh so lonely~.” Hyakinthos nodded his head, taking a moment to fix his clothing before saying, “I am always willing to serve, Apollo-sama…”

Apollo smiled, happy at the words produced by his trusted Captain, turning to the ‘groveling’ Elven woman and saying, “See, wench, this is how you should behave. Hyakinthos isn’t even my slave and still shows me the proper respect…tsk…” The Elven woman, named Elize, bowed her head low to hide the indignant look on her face as she said, “Yes, Apollo-sama…My apologies, Apollo-sama…” Shaking his head, clearly annoyed by her presence, Apollo waved his hand and said, “Begone…I’ve grown tired of you. Go to the training cell and reflect on your actions.” Hearing Apollo’s words, the Elven woman visible trembled, tears staining her face as she fought to stifle her cries. She knew there was no point in trying to convince him to show mercy and, as hesitant as she was to go to that nightmarish place again, she slowly moved her feet forward, compelled to obey by the slave collar around her neck…

Once they were alone, Apollo sat back on his throne, making no effort to conceal his ‘dignity’ as he asked, “Well then, my faithful Hyakinthos, what brings you into my throne room this evening?” Bowing in a deferential and respectful manner, Hyakinthos said, “Apollo-sama, Cassandra had another ‘vision’, this time more clearly than the others…” Apollo frowned, tempted to dismiss the matter if not for the fact that one of Cassandra’s ‘visions’ had actually born fruit. When they were looking for a place to settle outside of the City, she had seen a vision of half of their Familia being taken out by a rock slide. He had dismissed her at the time but, fortunately, Hyakinthos had been on the alert as a precaution, allowing them to narrowly evade the fate that would have befallen them.

Giving Hyakinthos a gesture, urging him to continue, the beautiful man said, “In her most recent vision, the Apollo Familia had been completely wiped out by a man with onyx-black skin, covered in glowing golden tattoos…” Apollo inadvertently swallowed, gripping the arms of his throne as he asked, “Are there any more details to the vision, such as a time frame or what triggers the event? Who is the man from the vision…is it…?” Hyakinthos nodded with a solemn look on his face, saying, “Though it is obviously somewhat different than our reports, it is undoubtedly Vahn Mason within the vision. He must have developed some kind of new ability that greatly enhances his power…as for what triggered the event, Cassandra was unable to determine because everything had happened in what she described as an ‘instant’…”

Before Hyakinthos gave his report, Apollo had been planning to hold a meeting to try and get Loki and Hephaestus to show off their children during the next Denatus. He believed that the spawn between Vahn and a goddess was unnatural, going against the order of the world and a clear afront to all gods within Heaven. By ‘exposing’ them for the abominable monsters they were, Apollo hoped to turn the tides against the Alliance and allow them to publically shame Vahn Mason. Now, however, Apollo felt like this action would have been the catalyst leading to their destruction. Hyakinthos might not have said it directly, but it was easy to see from the boy’s complexion that he had likely been forced back to Heaven as well…

After taking several deep breaths to calm his nerves, Apollo stated, “Hear me, Hyakinthos…we will continue increasing the strength of our forces until we have a strong enough team to pick off the individual members of the Hestia Familia. Don’t let anyone antagonize Vahn Mason directly and make sure all the slaves have a self-immolation talisman carved into their bodies. I don’t want any of their corpses giving away our presence until we’re prepared to strike…” Though he looked down on Vahn, Apollo wasn’t foolish enough to try and fight against him directly, at least for the time being. Until they had more information about that ‘onyx black form’, he wouldn’t send his forces against the Hestia Familia, instead, targetting the weaker Familias within the Alliance…

Hyakinthos bowed low, holding his position for several seconds as he said, “Yes, Apollo-sama. I will make your will known and carry it out without question…” After he was finished speaking, Hyakinthos raised his head and planned to immediately execute his new orders. However, he didn’t make it too far before Apollo called out, “Halt, Hyakinthos…I require your services. This news, as shameful as it may be, has affected my heart. Please, help put it at ease…” Apollo gave Hyakthinos an appraising look, earning a small blush from his Captain’s face as the latter said, “Yes, Apollo-sama!” in a slightly excited voice. Without any hesitation at all, Hyakinthos approached the throne where Apollo was sitting, loosening the collar of his military-style coat and kneeling down…

Thousands of kilometers away from Orario, in a massive forest beneath the canopy of a giant tree, more than ten kilometers tall, there was several women gathered around a reflecting pool. Each of them had an almost ethereal beauty to them, having flawless faces, unblemished complexions, eyes deeper than the ocean, and a pair of long pointed ears adorning their heads. Though their beauty was enough to topple kingdoms, their disposition seemed entirely removed from the rest of the world, almost as if they were unaffected by anything else happening outside of the Sanctum they currently stood in.

Amongst them, there were three unique beauties, all adorned in ceremonial robes and holding ornate wooden staves that contained so much power they caused the mana around them to fluctuate and distort. These three women, with the exception of the one at the very center, were the elders of the High Priestess faction. As for the girl in the center, who was somewhat short for a High Elf, standing only 158cm tall, she was the current High Priestess, having been groomed by the woman to her right, the former High Priestess, Irisalia Els Lainu. Though never holding the title of High Priestess herself, the woman on the left, named Deina Els Lainu, was the half-sister to Irisalia and one of the most powerful Mages in the previous generation.

With the exception of the current High Priestess, the youngest woman present, each High Elves, was nearly 150 years old. Though they weren’t all as prodigious as Riveria, their average strength was also Level 6, with Irisalia and Deina both currently standing at the peak of Level 7. As for their rather diminutive High Priestess, she was currently only Level 5 but, considering that she was only 38 years old, this was rather amazing for a High Elf that had never left the forest. The reason for her becoming the High Priestess so early, even though Irisalia was only 371 years old, was because the young High Elf possessed various unique abilities, including one related to Divination.

Having an almost unmatched intelligence, combined with the power of foresight, her guidance allowed the High Priestess Faction to avoid many potential dangers as she had even predicted the current inner turmoil of the Kingdom itself. Other than Riveria, she was the ‘hope’ for the future of the Elven Kingdom, being kept as a closely guarded secret from the rest of the world, especially the Nobles and members of the Sage Council. In fact, other than Irisalia and Deina, none of the other Priestesses even knew the girl’s name, simply referring to her as Venerable High Priestess within the Inner Sanctum. Irisialia and Deina did much the same but, when they were counseling the girl in private, they still referred to her by her true name, Sylfia Dal Alfan, direct descendant in the line of Wishe…

The group, consisting of thirteen Priestesses, two Elders, and the High Priestess herself, had been observing the changes within the reflecting pool they had gathered around. Sylfia’s ability allowed her to reflect her vision onto the surface of the water so it wasn’t uncommon for them to gather like this. Typically, the ‘clarity’ of the vision determined how accurate things were and allowed them to understand how difficult it would be to change ‘troublesome’ situations in their favor. Unfortunately, there were some things that weren’t so easily changed, such as in the case where the vision was almost perfectly clear…

Currently, the entire chamber had become absolutely silent as Sylfia stared down at the looping projection with her pupils dilated and a pale complexion on her face. Within the image of the reflecting pool, everyone could see what looked like a ‘demon’, covered in onyx-black skin with glowing white hair and strange runes covering its body. Chaotic energy danced around the figure, shrouded in darkness and lightning elemental energy as the forest burned behind it. The most terrifying thing was the demon’s eyes, reflecting a mystical light that seemed as if could peer through all things, currently locked on Syflia with its penetrating gaze. As for why the room had become silent, it was due to the fact that the image had a crystal clear quality, almost as if it was part of reality itself…

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