Chapter 982: Preparations

Two days after his Coronation, Vahn found himself seated, once again, in the banquet hall within Babel Tower. This time, there was only the Divine Council and several of the more influential gods of the Alliance present as they were openly discussing the matter of the One-Eyed Black Dragon, his meeting with foreign dignitaries, and his upcoming visit to the Far East. Now that he was an Emperor, such things couldn’t simply remain a secret as his affairs, especially in foreign lands, were now important matters of the Empire. This didn’t mean Vahn was going out of his way to divulge his important plans and secrets but, as the Divine Council was literally supposed to help keep his Empire on the right track, they needed to be privy to certain information.

Though he had already explained it to them previously, Vahn was doing his best to remain stone-faced as Loki and Kali snickered at him from the side. Many of the other gods present either had expressions of incredulity or bemusement as the last person Vahn wanted to hear weigh in on the matter, Dian Cecht, raised both brows high as he asked, “Did you really manage to win over that overgrown lizard? Good gracious, man, what is it with you and women…!?”

Vahn furrowed his brows almost imperceptibly as he sent Dian Cecht a glance and plainly stated, “If a time comes when I require relationship advice, I’ll make sure you are at the top of the list, Dian Cecht. For the time being, however, I’d ask that you show a basic level of decency and, instead of addressing me as man, you will refer to me as Sage Emperor. Though you may be a member of the Divine Council, it does not grant you the right to look down on my position and title without regards of propriety…” As he had never been a fan of Dian Cecht’s nature, Vahn didn’t appreciate that the elderly looking god seemed to be looking down on him with his thoughtless remark. Fortunately, there were many in the Divine Council who also gave him judging looks so the ‘old man’ simply gnashed his teeth before crossing his arms in silence.

Shaking her head in admonition, Loki gave Dian Cecht a quick glance before turning her gaze towards Vahn and asking, “Well, what are you planning to do from now on…?” Though she already knew the answer, it was Loki who had advised Vahn to come forward with a few things so that the Divine Council was able to ‘feel’ as if they had some say in matters. In response to this, Vahn gave a small nod before explaining, “With very few exceptions, there are few alive today who have experienced the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s supposed tyranny. Though she is certainly a bit overbearing, I was able to determine it was due to the nature of True Dragons that she had taken action in the past. So long as nobody goes out of their way to antagonize her, the One-Eyed Black Dragon is relatively harmless. For the time being, I will continue to observe her in order to affirm my judgment and, if it turns out I was wrong, I intend to deal with her personally this time around…”

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She may have thought her intentions hadn’t been seen through, but Vahn was constantly thinking about how best to protect the people he cared about. He could see the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s aura and knew she had intentions towards the other women around him. She simply couldn’t allow anyone to directly compete against her and, lacking the pacifistic nature of Terra, the odds of conflict arising between her and the other girls in the Manor wasn’t something he could ignore. There were even texts mentioning that True Dragons would kill competing brood so that their own would be allowed to propagate, a notion that Vahn found appalling in the extreme. If things ever developed to the point that the One-Eyed Black Dragon, or anyone for that matter, tried to endanger his children…well, even Vahn didn’t know how terrifying he could become…

Sensing the change in the atmosphere, many of the gods looked toward Vahn with solemn yet inquisitive looks as they were wondering what he was thinking about to emanate such pressure. The only ones who truly understood were Hestia, Hephaestus, and Loki, each producing wry smiles as their eyes turned gentle. They knew Vahn’s mind would wander down dangerous tangents whenever he was thinking about how best to protect the people he cared about as, even with all the power in his possession, Vahn knew he wasn’t omnipotent. It only took a series of small incidents for something truly tragic to occur, something they all strove to prevent by practicing extreme diligence when it came to the children…

With his negative thoughts drifting away, Vahn opened his eyes and, as if laying the matter of the One-Eyed Black Dragon to rest, said, “Tomorrow morning, I’ll be meeting with the dignitaries I had invited from outside the City. At present, the Empire’s territory is limited to Orario, The Plains, and some fringe territories located near the northern and eastern mountain ranges. In the coming days, I will add the territory of the Western Forests, Westport, and the Iron Hills to my dominion. This meeting will also determine which nations, countries, and clans will be joining the Empire and which will need to be dealt with after the fact. My penultimate goal is to unify the entire Continent as, with the present state of the world, the dream I have envisioned for the future will never be a reality…”

Vahn knew he already had more than enough power to start ‘forcibly’ recruiting other countries, if necessary, but his main focus, for the time being, would be on diplomacy and ‘private’ affairs. Even if a country didn’t want to be part of the Empire, he wasn’t particularly troubled by their desire for independence and sovereignty. The only exceptions to this would be those supposed Nobles and Aristocrats who treat their country as their own personal playground, worrying more about consolidating and securing their own power than ensuring that their people are able to prosper. Even then, Vahn wouldn’t outright ‘force’ them to join the Empire, at least on the surface.

Though it could be easily misconstrued as Tyranny, being that it wasn’t far from the mark, Vahn intended to depose every corrupt Noble and, if necessary, replace them with a governing body that was more in line with his will. Since the people he would be dealing with were the type that had horrendous crimes to their names, to the point that simply listing out their crimes would take several hours, Vahn didn’t feel as if his actions were ‘unfair’ to any party involved. If not for their actions, he would have never been required to bring a reckoning upon them. Therefore, even if he earned the ire of the populace in that region for a short while, Vahn was prepared for a few rebel groups to pop up at the behest of anyone that escaped his net and tried to undermine his rule from the shadows…

In response to Vahn’s proclamation, the Divine Council entered a short period of discussion before ultimately deciding he was not deviating from the ‘correct’ path. Though this wasn’t something they would have been able to prevent, as Vahn’s position granted him the authority to make decisions in regards to foreign affairs, it never hurt to listen to their counsel. Among them, gods like Fortuna, Minerva, Takemikazuchi, and Indra were especially helpful. They either had a strong grasp on politics, possessed a Divinity directly related to Wisdom, or were highly principled by nature. Since Vahn didn’t believe that his logic and perspective were infallible, it was the counsel of wiser gods that he would rely upon before taking ‘drastic’ action as an Emperor. Though this would likely change when he assigned Ministers in the future, Vahn wasn’t shy when it came to asking for advice from people who had lived far longer than himself.

The last order of business, though there were some who still wanted to discuss the One-Eyed Black Dragon, was related to Vahn’s ‘visit’ to the Far East. It was at this point that gods like Takemikazuchi spoke out though not nearly as earnestly as Tenjin. His eyes glimmered with slight anticipation from the moment the discussion had started as, over the past year, his impression of Vahn had increased a great deal. When it was mentioned that he would be visiting in the near future, Tenjin had placed down his ceramic teacup with a bit more force than necessary before asking, “Do you intend to annex the Far East as a territory of the Aldrnari Empire…?”

Hearing Tenjin’s question, Vahn paused for a brief moment before ultimately shaking his head and saying, “There may come a time when such action is necessary but, until I have managed to unify the Continent under a single banner, it would be irresponsible to try and meddle too much in affairs abroad. Instead, I will help to establish a more reliable means of transportation between Eden and the Far East while also building rapport with those capable of guiding our eastern neighbor along a path of mutual cooperation and benefit…” Though he had the option of interfering directly with the politics of the Far East, Vahn decided to leave the matter to the generation that was currently being trained for that exact purpose. He didn’t want to change the culture of the Far East too much, as he was actually quite fond of it, so Vahn wanted to take a more roundabout approach in order to convert them into a powerful ally instead of a vassal state.

Tenjin clearly understood Vahn’s intentions, causing the smile on his face to broaden slightly since he, at least for a moment, was worried about how he would explain things to the families that had followed him on the harsh voyage between the Far East and Eden. Many of the young hopefuls that were attending the Sage Aldrnari School were training diligently in order to reclaim their homeland and guide it towards a better future. Though Tenjin had no doubts Vahn could do much the same, he held a small amount of pride as a god from the Far East that made accepting too much help unacceptable. He firmly believed that it was the people, standing in unity, who had the responsibility to fix the problems of their homeland. If Vahn did everything himself, the people would become too dependent on him and, in turn, lose one of the most important motivating factors for ‘real’ growth…

Believing Vahn had thought things through to this point, Tenjin gave a polite bow to express his gratitude before releasing the tensions in his body. As for Vahn himself, he went on to explain the purpose behind his visit to the Far East and any potential actions he may take, largely dependent on how he was ‘received’ during his stay. There was a fair chance he would come into contact with Inari, Fuujin, and Susanoo, as they undoubtedly knew of his existence at this point, but that was something that couldn’t really be avoided. Vahn would try and compromise with them but, depending on the circumstances, he openly admitted that he may be forced to take action to avoid future troubles.

In order to support Vahn’s decision, Tenjin had spoken up several times during the discussion before eventually suggesting, “I believe the most prudent course of action during your trip to the Far East would be to visit the Shrine of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. Though she has no standing military, Amaterasu enjoys a seat of almost untouchable power since she has the faith of many commoners supporting her. You can use her status as an intermediary to facilitate communication with other gods in the Far East. There is even a fair chance her Ladyship is willing to meet with you personally, Vahn…” Though his words were serious throughout, Tenjin obviously placed a bit of emphasis on his final statement as he looked directly into Vahn’s eyes with a ‘glimmer’ contained within.

Knowing what the ‘elderly’ god was intending, Vahn breathed in a little deeper than normal while resisting to urge to produce a wry and understanding smile. He was already going to meet with Amaterasu at some point, as she was both a goddess suitable for making an Eternal Vow as well as a goddess who had expressed interest in meeting him, but Vahn’s instincts had prevented him from making the trip thus far. For some reason, whenever he pictured the enigmatic goddess, what came to mind was a small girl that was trying too hard to be an adult. He could imagine a petite figure enshrined behind a curtain that blocked the view of anyone she had an audience with. Her voice would undoubtedly be gentle and full of wisdom with the presence of the curtain but Vahn imagined she was the type to fluster if forced to meet someone face-to-face…

It was ultimately decided that Vahn would be visiting the Far East within the next three months while his main focus needed to be on the development of the Empire, as the next decade or so would be paramount to ensuring there were no major issues that would crop up in the near future. As for the matter with the One-Eyed Black Dragon, the Divine Council had agreed to allow Vahn to handle things in the manner he had chosen, even if it meant he had to ‘fool’ the public by staging an event. Since he was, in fact, capable of fighting against the One-Eyed Black Dragon, it didn’t really matter all that much if he actually killed her or not. In fact, depending on how things were spun, it was actually a far more terrifying to know that Vahn had yet another True Dragon on his side, especially one that had become the very symbol of fear throughout the Continent…

Even without anyone pointing it out, Vahn was very aware of what ‘influence’ the One-Eyed Black Dragon would have if he publicized the fact she was his ‘subordinate’. This would undoubtedly lead to many countries outright surrendering to him without much of a fight but, instead of a foundation built on hope for the future, Vahn’s Empire would have the ‘literal’ symbol of fear as its most predominant feature. No matter how benevolent he was, his actions would always be seen through a lens of bias where people would never fully be able to place their trust in him. After all, they would see it as him ‘obviously’ being able to do whatever he wanted as, if anyone went against him, the One-Eyed Black Dragon would ‘undoubtedly’ be used to destroy his enemies…

Imagining the trouble that the One-Eyed Black Dragon brought along with her, Vahn couldn’t avoid releasing a tired sigh as he was flying through the air with seven goddesses in tow. The discussion had come to an end without any major hiccups and they were now on their way back to the Hearth Manor to enjoy an early dinner. Vahn was carrying Eirene in a bridal carry, as she had ‘won’ the right after an intense round of rock-paper-scissors, so she had noticed his sigh the moment Vahn allowed it to escape his lips. This brought a gentle smile to her face as her blue eyes gained a touch of softness to them when she asked, “Are you really that worried, Vahn…?”

Hearing this question, Vahn was silent for a few seconds before eventually shaking his head and saying, “No. If I wanted, I could have avoided this outcome entirely. Though I’ll have to deal with a few troublesome things along the way, I’m confident that I’ll be able to handle them all without any major difficulty. If nothing else, it is good to have a powerful ally at my side when I’m venturing deeper into the Dungeon. With the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s aid, I may even be able to reach the bottom of the Dungeon before the year ends…” Because he had used the mirror, Vahn knew what enemies he would encounter within the Dungeon, some of which were likely stronger than the One-Eyed Black Dragon’s avatar. Still, if he went all out, Vahn knew it wouldn’t actually be that difficult to breach into the 99th Floor of the Dungeon before accessing the secret 100th Floor where the strange table and candle were located…

Seeing the confidence return to Vahn’s eyes, Eirene gave a small nod before resting her head against his chest and enjoying the sound of his heartbeat. It had a slow and steady rhythm that seemed to resonate with inviolable power. Since she had ‘melded’ with him a few times at this point, Eirene found that she had become exceptionally fond of simple intimacy and small displays of affection. Just listening to the sound of Vahn’s heartbeat brought her a sense of peace that she could have never imagined in the past, even as a ‘literal’ Goddess of Peace. His embrace also made her feel warm and protected, almost as if there was nothing in the three realms that would be able to harm her while they were together…

Though he didn’t know exactly what she was thinking, Vahn had noticed the small ‘shift’ in Eirene’s aura so he held her a bit more firmly as he blazed a trail through the sky. In the periphery, there was Hephaestus, Hestia, Loki, Freya, Demeter, and Fortuna sending small ‘glares’ towards their fellow goddess. This wasn’t the result of the intimate display between Vahn and Eirene, as such displays were extremely commonplace around Vahn, but due to the fact that they had lost the previous game of rock-paper-scissors. Each of them, with the exception of Fortuna, had also melded with Vahn so, much like Eirene, they had also grown a little ‘too’ fond of simply being in contact with him. As he was also very aware of this, Vahn had prepared himself for a rather long night as the cool afternoon air passed through his hair…

(A/N: I wanted everyone to know that my time is even more stretch atm since I’m now on the West Coast (2-hour difference than my previous time). This means that I have even less time to pump out a chapter before the daily reset so if there are days when chapters come out a bit late, please forgive me. All of this will come to an end around Mid-August so your patience during these trying times is greatly appreciated. Fortunately, depending on how things play out, I may be able to avoid having Vahn’s time in Danmachi come to an end before I return. If that is the case, you can expect a lot of chapters of the new arc in sequence, making things feel exciting and refreshing compared to the current pace xD…)

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘RIP Dignity’,’Don’t disrespect Amaterasu-chan…!’,’Dual Cultivation has lasting effects xD…’)

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