Chapter 68: Denatus

Naaza started staying within Tsubaki’s house from that day forward. She had been assigned a room within the same corridor as Lili, which was on the opposite side of the building in the eastern wing. Tsubaki’s room was located at the furthest section of the hall and connected to the corridor heading towards the western wing and onsen. During the first night Naaza stayed, Tsubaki managed to get both her and Lili to take a bath together so she could talk to them in private.

After that, Naaza had a change in personality and started acting more proactive in her interactions with everyone. Though she was somewhat shy around Vahn, she was constantly engaging him in conversations about medicine and mixtures. She was very surprised seeing how quickly Vahn ‘learned’ the information and was shocked that he was able to make modifications to the process after hearing about it only once.

When Lili and Vahn weren’t training or entering the dungeon, Naaza would often find Vahn to compare notes and ask for advice. She had even convinced Tsubaki to allow her to set up a workshop of her own and began brewing potions according to the ‘theories’ Vahn had conveyed to her.

Previously, Naaza had only been able to make low-grade potions easily while she struggled to create mid-grade ones. Now, however, she was rapidly increasing her success rate under Vahn’s guidance. She even began to suspect he had a lot of experience with mixing, but after seeing him attempt the process himself, she immediately threw that thought out the window.

Unlike forging, which Vahn was able to perform easily with the support of [Will of the Emperor] and [Heart of the Eternal Flame], Vahn struggled with compounding and mixing. Though he possessed all the theoretical knowledge to develop the medicines, he had difficulties when it came to infusing his energy into the solution. Most of his attempts ended up causing the flasks to shatter mere moments after he began.

Naaza was unable to make sense of the nonsensical scene. As she had been observing his training, Naaza knew Vahn was incredibly proficient with controlling his mana. But for some reason, no matter how little he infused into the solutions they ended up exploding! It was like the ingredients themselves were reacting explosively the moment his ‘mana’ began bonding with the solution. She was determined to find the cause, as it would be such a waste for someone to possess so much talent yet be unable to make even basic healing potions.

While Naaza was busy trying to crack the mysterious case of Vahn’s inexplicable ability to destroy flasks, on the 30th floor of Babel Tower dozens of gods from Familia throughout the City had begun to converge. Today was the first day of their quarterly meeting known as the ‘Denatus’. It was at this meeting they would make decisions that could shape the very fate of Orario and determine the lives of countless adventurers and citizens.

The room was filled with beautiful and handsome figures attired in formal wear. They boisterously interacted with each other while issuing compliments and boasting about their favorite ‘children’. Some of them were even placing bets and talking about the upcoming ‘Monster Feria’ that would be taking place before the next ‘Denatus’ meeting.

Within the crowd, a lithe and sensual figure moved which caused the heads of both gods and goddesses alike to turn. Many of the goddesses showed discontented expressions, while all but a few of the gods were unable to pull their eyes away. The figure, as if completely unfazed by the looks of the crowd moved towards an area of the floor where a red-haired goddess could be seen.

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“Ara, Hephaestus. It’s rare to see you show up so early on the first day.” The figure spoke in a gentle tone with a slight hint of seduction which caused Hephaestus to grimace before grabbing a new glass of wine from the nearby table. “Freya. To what do I owe the pleasure of meeting the Goddess of the Rank 2 Familia?”

Freya giggled while covering her mouth with her silken-gloved hand.”It certainly is frustrating. Unfortunately, my love for talent prevents me from moving and expanding freely. Speaking of talent, I heard your Familia had a promising young ‘child’?”

Hearing Freya mention Vahn, Hephaestus frowned and sipped on her wine. “Indeed. Not that they have anything to do with you.” Hephaestus knew exactly what kind of person Freya was, and would never allow her to sink her claws into one of the people she decided to protect.

The persistent smile on Freya’s face twitched very slightly, but unless someone was paying very close attention they wouldn’t have noticed. “So cold. Talent is the treasure of everyone, you shouldn’t try to keep it to yourself. Why not allow it to grow freely and make its own decisions?” Seeing how hostile Hephaestus was acting, her interest in the boy called Vahn was only increased.

Hephaestus saw the look in Freya’s eyes and approached mere inches away from her. “I will say this once Freya. If you try to lay your hands on that child, I will do everything in my power to make you pay the price. That boy is not someone that deserves to suffer your ‘love’.” She stared directly into Freya’s eyes as she slowly spoke each word. There was no hidden meaning, and if Freya tried to test her she would find out the hard way the might of the wealthiest Familia.

Freya’s smile faded away and was replaced with a slight frown. The perfect brow on her face crumpled ever so slightly due to how offended and angry she was. “You would go so far for a single child Hephaestus? How can you expect him to grow if you’re so overprotective?” She couldn’t understand why the usually cold and detached Hephaestus was so concerned with a single mortal. It wasn’t even the first time Freya had ‘scouted’ talent from the Hephaestus Familia without complaint.

Suddenly, a ridiculous thought passed through her mind. “You…could it be you fell in love with him?” The frown on Freya’s face immediately faded and was replaced with a calculating smile. If the child was capable enough to awaken the desire to protect in someone frigid like Hephaestus, it may be worth starting a war trying to win him over.

Hephaestus realized her threat wasn’t working and she felt a bit of anxiety in her heart. But, seeing how Freya began ‘calculating’, all the anxiety immediately vanished and was replaced by a seething hatred. “From now on your Familia can acquire it’s equipment elsewhere. I’ll not allow any of my capable blacksmiths to forge a single piece of equipment for the followers of someone so depraved. I will have each of them make an oath with the Guild as a witness. If so much as a single dagger finds its way into your Familia’s hands I will strip them of their Falna and demand compensation from you.”

Freya was shocked hearing the new threat. Even if she could forge a contract with the other master smiths in the city, there were far too few to equip her entire Familia reliably. Without making use of the expertise of the Hephaestus Familia, Freya would be hard pressed ensuring her ‘children’ are properly cared for in the future.

Looking into Hephaestus’s eye, Freya could see she was deadly serious. It seems that if she wanted to mess with Hephaestus’s favorite ‘child’ it was akin to playing with fire…”Fine, what do you want? I’m sure you have some kind of compromise in mind, yes?” Freya grit her teeth as she spoke the words. Some of the crowd that had been observing from the side began to sweat after seeing her ‘dark’ expression. It was very rare anyone was ever willing to get on the bad side of Freya.

“You will make a vow before Ouranos to stay away from Vahn in the future. I don’t care if he approaches you on his own, but if I find out he gets entrapped by one of your schemes I will have you disband your mockery of a Familia.” Hephaestus made her conditions as plainly as possible without any room for discussion.

Freya thought for a moment before asking, “Are you saying if I accidentally bump into him on the street I suddenly have to disband my entire Familia? And what happens if ‘he approaches me on his own’. What does that mean?”

Hephaestus explained in an impatient tone. “Unlike you, I don’t manipulate my children to please my own sick fantasies. If Vahn ends up leaving my Familia or interacts with you by his own will, I will not stop him. But, if it turns out he only came to you after interacting with your children or through one of your schemes I will demand an answer from you before Ouranos. And make no mistake, I will let Vahn know EXACTLY what kind of goddess you are.”

Freya frowned more and more the longer Hephaestus spoke. She hated not being able to get what she wanted, and the fact such a delicious morsel was being kept from her was vexing. “I will agree to make a vow, and even include a clause to not scheme to entrap your child. However, I want you to make a vow that you will not slander me before we meet. I will not approach your precious Vahn, but if he happens to come to me by some twist of fate, it would be unfair if you made him develop some kind of bias.”

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Hephaestus wasn’t happy with the terms, but unless an unexpected event occurred this was likely her best chance to prevent Freya from getting her hands on Vahn in the future. She would just have to trust Vahn is capable of seeing through Freya’s guise if the time came. After remembering how cautious and observant Vahn was, Hephaestus nodded. “Fine. We have an agreement. After the Denatus ends we will each for the vows.”

Freya nodded and grabbed a nearby wine glass before drinking its contents within an instant. After glaring slightly at Hephaestus, she turned away while wearing her characteristic smile and elegant demeanor. She looked for another interesting target before leaving Hephaestus, the source of her current unease, behind.

Hephaestus watched Freya slither away before downing her own cup of wine. Now that her first objective had gone well, she needed to focus on securing a good alias for Vahn. She began looking for other gods to pull to her side and saw Miach speaking with a god she had never seen before. It was a handsome god with black hair and eyes wearing eastern attire. He was either newly descended or migrated to Orario from a foreign nation.

Miach noticed the approaching Hephaestus and bowed politely. “Greetings Hephaestus. Once again, thank you for your child’s efforts. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to assist you should you require my aid.” Hephaestus gave him a curt nod before saying, “My Familia has never had bad relations with the Miach Familia and has even received your kindness in the past. Please set aside your deference and we can act as equals. If anything, I only ask that you show kindness to my children in the future.”

The black-haired god observed the interaction and displayed a friendly smile. “So you are the goddess Miach had been telling me about. Your child, Vahn was it? He seems to possess a heroic spirit and commendable nature. I would love the opportunity to meet such an admirable young man and believe he would be a good influence on my own children.”

Hephaestus eyed the new face and asked, “You are…?”. Even though he seemed amicable, she wasn’t willing to expose Vahn to anyone without determining if they were trustworthy.

The god bowed deeply. “Forgive my late introduction. My name is Takemikazuchi and my Familia just migrated here from the Far East. As I’ve yet to make many acquaintances, I would be grateful to receive your guidance.” Takemikazuchi showed his respectful nature as he politely gave his introduction.

Hephaestus felt like Takemikazuchi was very similar to Miach, as they were both respectful and very handsome gods. As she didn’t think he would be a bad influence on Vahn, Hephaestus also introduced herself. “Greetings Takemikazuchi. I am Hephaestus, Goddess of the Hephaestus Familia. Please feel free to defer to my Familia if you have any concerns regarding equipment in the future. As for my children, or Vahn specifically, it would be up to him if he wanted to interact with your children in the future.”

Take* smiled after hearing her response. He believed such a righteous child would be able to get along with his children, and he didn’t mind Hephaestus leaving the decision to Vahn. “I have received your kindness Hephaestus. Please let me know if you are in need of assistance. I believe our Familia would be well served by cooperating in the future!”

Hephaestus nodded; it wasn’t uncommon for gods to try and solicit her for benefits after working to establish amicable relations. But, unlike previous cases, she decided to humor this new god as she was in need of allies for the coming meeting. “Actually, there is something I could use both of your help with…”

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Freya gets forced, what a twist!’, ‘Hephaestus is bae’, ‘Play with fire and you might get burned. Play with a ‘Goddess of Forging’ and you WILL get burned’, ‘Meeting of the two Gigolos’)

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