Chapter 781: Balance

Though it would undoubtedly change in the near future, Bell, for the time being, was only venturing into the first few floors of the Dungeon. Vahn had Fafnir keeping tabs on him and had even snuck an [Effigy of the Hero] into the equipment he had provided for Bell. With his character, even if he found the item, Bell wouldn’t discard it. Since there was a chance Line would also find out about it, probably from going over his equipment and helping him manage things, she would certainly tell him to keep it safe. Thus, though he didn’t drop his guard down around Bell’s ‘fate’, Vahn found himself with more free time than he had expected.

As he own strength had reached a bit of a bottleneck, though only as a result of his lack of ‘effort’ towards training, Vahn decided to use this as an opportunity increase his own power before the expedition to the 50th Floor. At the same time, he was also spending time with his children and helping to get things situated within the School. Though they had only accepted one-thousand students in the first batch, there were now a little more than 1700 students after two more stages of enrollment. Vahn was happy to see that things were going well, even though there had been a few hiccups along the way.

Though he had expected there to be issues, especially since it was a new system that hadn’t previously existed, most of them had been dealt with relatively easily. The biggest problem had been some of the teachers being ‘bought’ by members of the Noble faction but, as Vahn would personally interview them between semesters, it wasn’t that difficult to root them out. At the same time, the Alliance put a little pressure on the Nobles themselves, who had given ground quickly since there was already a precedent of Vahn simply ‘removing’ corrupt families that took things too far. Though they were still doing things in the background, there was actually a slight transition in their policies and, though it had failed the first time, there was now building support for a School of their own that was currently under construction.

Vahn wasn’t worried that the School created by the Nobles would even be a threat to what they were trying to accomplish, especially considering that it was supposed to cater to the children of nobles, influential businessmen, and privileged families. Given how such a gathering would only be able to try and exploit each other for their own benefits, even as children, Vahn knew it was destined to fail unless much larger changes were made. After all, cycling funds within their own social circle actually did more damage to the economy in the long run because a few wealthy individuals would stockpile money, requiring more to be made and harming the intrinsic value contained within the currency.

He still had a lot to learn, but Vahn had received guidance from goddesses with Divinities related to Wealth, Fortune, and Merchants. Inarguably, as long as you had a stable source of material goods, the best way to bolster an economy was investing in infrastructure and enabling lower income families to have more expendable wealth. Consolidating money at the top was fruitless, as it actually put a heavier burden on the lower rungs of society who made up the actual foundation of the economy. It would be like making a pyramid out of frail wood and then putting a massive golden block at the very top. Yes, the golden block would look pretty and valuable, but the foundation holding it up would eventually break down, destabilizing everything in the process after the ‘weight’ of the wealthy crashed down upon society.

The biggest problem with this concept, which seemed to be the trend in almost any long-lasting family that consolidated power, was that it almost exclusively led to corruption. They became so focused on increasing their own personal wealth, often at the expense of others, that they ended up invalidating the purpose of their wealth after enough time had passed. To make sure their money still had value, the Nobles would have to enact policies to ‘revitalize’ the currency, often creating systems that would stimulate the growth of infrastructure and the economy in general. The downside is, at the same time, the changes they would introduce would just cause the cycle to repeat itself since the methods they used would eventually break down as a result of having an unstable foundation…it was simply ridiculous…

Fortunately, though it was more than a little ‘unfair’ in the grand scheme of things, Vahn was blessed to have no real interest in money. He also had access to the system shop and could even make materials with his own body, giving him a functionally infinite number of resources. Since he had no interest in accumulating wealth, he would often just ‘gift’ out items that he made, enabling other people to increase their ability to bolster their own personal finances. Slowly but surely, the general wealth of everyone around him was steadily increasing and, as they were feeding those funds into the economy, the general earnings of everyone within the Alliance was going up.

People would use the money the make to invest in their property, purchasing produce, and acquiring equipment and consumables that would increase their chances of survival in the Dungeon. This meant there were a larger amount of Drop Items feeding back into the Alliance, giving Vahn a large amount of additional OP even without doing anything other than being a ‘decent’ person. Though he could only do this with an existence like The Path enabling him, something inaccessible by most people, Vahn still endeavored to simply be good to people. He believed that, if you treated people with dignity and helped them provide for their future happiness, they would eventually return that kindness to you or, at the very least, share it with others.

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Though there would always be the issue of greedy people wanting more power for themselves, the Alliance was able to circumvent the majority of such issues. The Hearth Manor not only had the largest concentration of wealth, but it was also the central hub for the distribution of rare materials. This, combined with the fact that almost everyone within the Hearth Manor was a ‘powerhouse’ in their own right, with a very strong sense of unity, meant that corruption would never be a prevalent issue within the Alliance. This would persist until, at the very least, the tier restriction of the world was removed…after all, with goddesses still holding the ‘real’ power within the Alliance, they were existences that were fundamentally disinterested in anything other than their personal interests. Though they would consolidate power and wealth, if necessary, they weren’t intrinsically drawn to it like mortals, having a limited lifespan, would be.

Even the various merchant gods didn’t actually care much for the wealth the acquired, simply using it as a means to an end, so there was little chance of it being an issue in the interim. Though some goddesses, such as Freya, were compelled to consolidate their wealth, it was for the purpose of ‘display’ and ‘status’, not so that they could exploit a broken system and take advantage of mortals. She was, singularly, the wealthiest person in the entire City, having personal assets that would easily ballpark in the several hundred billion Valis range, on the low end. However, she used this to build massive Manors, adorned with masterpiece-quality works of art, and to show off her own status by purchasing ridiculously expensive clothes, products, and accessories. She had even brought over a bottle of wine for him one evening, claiming that its value was actually one billion Valis, as it was the closest wine within the mortal world to being ‘divine’ in quality.

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When Vahn looked up the bottle of wine within the system shop, he was surprised to find that it was actually worth 300,000OP, making it one of the most expensive beverages he had ever sampled without having to outright buy it from the shop. It was almost tragic that he couldn’t actually get drunk, as the wine could even cause gods to quickly bow down after a single glass, but it still had one of the richest flavor profiles he had ever tasted. Strangely, even after the entire bottle had been finished, it was nearly impossible to actually describe the taste. If he had to put his thoughts to word, Vahn could only describe that it tasted ‘reminiscent’, ‘refreshing’, and, though it could have been a result of drinking privately with Freya, ‘sensual’ in nature. It was almost like meeting your lover after having been separated for a long time, celebrating your reunion while experiencing the same emotions that made you fall in love in the first place…it was almost addicting, even though his body generally filtered out such things completely…

After that fateful encounter with Freya, when he had wholeheartedly put in an effort to ‘defeat’ her, she had changed a great deal, at least when she was around him. Vahn eventually learned about the event that the citizenry had called the ‘Purge’ or the ‘Refinement’ of the Freya Familia. He was surprised to learn that she had reduced the members of her Familia by nearly 70%, even ousting some of her previously touted ‘Elites’. At the same time, her Familia had started to rapidly develop the strength of its remaining members while also serving as something of an ‘enforcement’ unit for the Alliance.

Though he would have been resistant to the idea under normal circumstances, Vahn had been wrapped up in the personal affairs of the Elven Kingdom, the Alliance, and Orario in general. He knew that there were situations where the most meaningful response was swift and decisive action. Since Freya had also been seen spending time with her first child, even showing up at some social events with him in her arms, Vahn couldn’t really say much about how she managed her own Familia. She was putting in efforts to be a better mother, just as they had agreed, even confiding in him that the reason she had reduced the number of people in her Familia was to prevent future troubles that would endanger his life…

The former Freya Familia was full of people that were almost ‘unhealthily’ devoted to Freya, with some of the Elites actually fighting amongst themselves for her favor. Freya claimed that she had been afraid that some of the more powerful members would eventually try to kill her children in the future. At the same time, she had also wanted to ‘free’ some of the people who had been dedicating themselves to her solely as a result of infatuation. Now that she was unable to show her ‘favor’ to any of them, it would have caused inner turmoil within her Familia if she didn’t cull the dissent from the start. Her actions, though extreme, had caused the remaining members to take their duties very seriously and, though some of their actions were dictated by fear, that was slowly beginning to evolve into a different form of reverence than what had been present in the past…

In the end, the biggest trouble that had resulted from Freya’s actions, at least in a manner that affected the lives of the people in the Manor, was how badly Arnya’s brother, Allen, had been injured. On the day of the ‘purge’, many of the Freya Familia’s Elites had been seriously injured or killed, with Allen being one of the ‘unfortunate’ survivors. Most of the bones in his body had been broken from his battle against Ottar, something Vahn could easily understand, but the biggest problem had been his recovery. Though healing magic and Elixirs had been used on him, the damage that he had sustained to his spine was simply catastrophic. As a result, Allen could barely walk after his recovery and, as a result, the Adventurer who had previously been considered the fastest in the City was now forced to hobble along at the pace of an elderly townsperson.

Though Vahn could have healed Allen’s injury, Arnya surprisingly asked him not to, as she had learned of his wounds first and had gone to visit him during his recovery. When she met him, he lashed out at her, calling her several terrible things and even outright threatening violence upon her, Vahn, and their children. From his perspective, Vahn had taken everything he cared about away from him, including the goddess he loved and his only remaining family. As a result of these accusations, Arnya actually injured him even worse, demonstrating her [Pactio] and causing the pommels of nearly twenty spears to smash into his already severely injured body…

Vahn actually pitied Allen a great deal, knowing that his actions had actually been a very big impact on the man’s life. However, the only reason this was truly an issue is that Allen had been a very unstable existence every since the annihilation of his clan. There were some deeply rooted psychological issues that had sprouted into a corrupting force that had warped his existence into something cruel and sadistic by nature. Since he had tried to heal his heart by relying on things like sex, almost insane levels of training, and enacting violence upon others…Allen was simply too far gone to be reasoned with, at least until he experienced a major setback that forced him to put matters into perspective.

It would take time, likely even several years, but there was hope that Allen would eventually recover, even if it wasn’t physically. Arnya would still visit him on occasion and, even though he had been kicked out of the Freya Familia, he had been given severance pay and provided residence within the Alliance’s Territory. When she visited, they would almost always argue and get into a small scuffle, which Arnya would inevitably win, but he was slowly starting to mellow out since Arnya genuinely did care about him. With nobody else showing any concerns for him, Allen truly only had Arnya to rely on during these trying times and, as he was too prideful to consider things like suicide, the man was being worn down by Arnya’s persistence…

As for the main culprit behind Allen’s tragic fate, excluding himself and the events of his past, Freya was currently sitting naked upon the bed with his legs across her lap, massaging them with an almost ‘eager to please’ look on her face. She had purchased the Southern Manor from Anubis, as they had previously arranged in the past, and it had already been refurbished into a palatial structure that would make people spit up blood if they learned its sole purpose was just a very ornate love nest for the two of them. Within the massive building, there weren’t even any guards present, including members of the Freya Familia. Everyone was forced to stay outside, with powerful barriers and wards set up to prevent anyone other than Vahn and Freya herself from entering.

Watching Freya press her perfect, seemingly delicate, fingers into this thighs, massaging deeply into the tissue, Vahn had a complacent smile on his face. Ever since their first time together, Freya had always been surprisingly deferential towards him, at least when they were alone. Instead of trying to be forward and progress things according to her previously selfish and possessive personality, she would now make idle conversation with him, offer things like oil massages, bring expensive drinks for them to enjoy together, or simply wash his back in the bath. The reason for this was because she wanted to be ‘rewarded’ for her efforts, knowing it was the only way she could get the thing she really wanted from Vahn…

Slowly but surely, Freya’s hands made their way further up his right thigh, letting her breasts dangle freely as she leaned forward and continued her efforts. Vahn watched as her hands got progressively closer to his proudly standing tower of Babel, never actually touching it for fear of inadvertently offending him. Truthfully, he didn’t really know how to treat Freya when they were together, especially since he had made an effort to ‘break’ her in the past. There was always a small amount of guilt inside of him since that day but, knowing that Freya would probably revert back to her bad habits if he gave her any leeway, Vahn allowed things to progress in this rather peculiar manner.

Though her hands lingered around his inner thigh for a moment, Freya just released a hot sigh before moving her hands down to his left calf and massaging his other leg now. Seeing this, Vahn’s smile softened slightly as he said, “You know, Lenneth is almost able to read through some of the easier books on her own now…she really likes stories with happy endings…” For a brief moment, a small smile spread across Freya’s face and her hands came to a stop before she returned to the ‘duty’ she had assigned herself. Still, a few seconds later, when she was massaging near his knee, Freya turned her silver eyes up toward him and said, “I already told you that Ottar had taken his first steps but, did you know his father actually has him pulling small stones while crawling around? Honestly, I’m a little worried…”

Vahn knew that Freya had seriously considered her words, framing them in a way that was meant to appeal towards him. Still, even if she didn’t truly care about the young Ottar, the fact that she was making an effort could be seen by almost anyone who associated with her over the last year. Thus, though he knew her words weren’t truly how she felt, Vahn’s smile grew marginally in size as he reached out with his right hand. Freya, though it looked like she tried to hide the fact, ended up swallowing as she shifted her body and crawled to his side. Vahn brought her loosely into his embrace and allowed her to rest against his chest. Then, as if realizing she wasn’t going to get the ‘bigger’ prize just yet, Freya let the tension flow out of her body as she entrusted her weight against him and released a hot sigh that tickled his chest.

One of the things that Vahn had been trying to ‘teach’ Freya, which she had come to appreciate, even if only a little, was the fact that they could be intimate without having sex. He wanted her to get used to the idea of simply ‘being’ with each other, hoping that it would be a positive influence on her after enough time had passed. Since she knew he would certainly ‘reward’ her plentily later, Freya had been slowly learning to enjoy moments like this. After all, it really was a refreshing way to pass the time, especially since he would generally lightly stroke her head, back, and even her stomach. This touch would always carry with it a strange energy that caused people to feel relaxed a calm, with even goddesses being subject to its influence…

Freya was actually the reason his [Grooming] had increased so much over the last year, as well as the increase in his [Hands of Nirvana], a skill he thought wouldn’t develop much further within this record. As her pregnancy had continued to develop, Vahn had to come up with other methods to keep Freya satisfied, mainly using his skilled hands to pacify her. This was what encouraged her to begin learning massage techniques for herself, even going so far as to ask for a copy of the [Hands of Nirvana] and had been seriously studying it. When she learned that Eina, Preasia, Naaza, and Lefiya were also learning it, Freya had actually shown a bit of her competitive side by trying to become the most proficient in the skill in an effort to appeal to him…

After about an hour of just laying together, making small talk about various things going on throughout the City, Vahn began tracing his index finger around Freya’s navel, allowing a thread of stimulating energy to flow from his fingertip. Even though it was only a small amount, Vahn had to resist the urge to chuckle when he saw Freya’s rosy pink aura ‘immediately’ turn almost blood red. He had tried to be sneaky about it, just to see how she would react, but it would seem that Freya’s Divinity related to Sex wasn’t really something that could be fooled that easily. She turned her eyes towards him, now having a subtle violet emerging from their depths as she asked, “Is it time…?”

Before he even answered, Freya’s breathing had started to accelerate and Vahn could feel her heart beating rapidly through her soft and immaculately sculpted breasts. Instead of saying anything, Vahn squinted his eyes slightly and slowly traced his fingers further down, allowing threads of energy to accurately strike all the sensitive spots within Freya’s body. Understanding this as ‘permission’, Freya immediately transitioned from being a rather docile and deferential woman into a much more passionate and ‘greedy’ existence. She never took things too far, understanding that she could only get what she wanted when he was willing to give it to her, but she was still ‘very’ proactive…

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