“What are you asking of me?” I asked calmly.
If I was caught so off guard by a woman propositioning me, then I never would have succeeded up until this point. Although Lilith and Artemis trusted this woman named Mother, I didn’t know her much at all.
“Well, I’m not saying it’s going to be now. Rather, I’d like to allow you to live with me.”
“Yes… gods and goddesses live all across the heavenly plane. It’s as vast as your mortal realm. Like with humans, ranking is very important to gods. The lower gods explore the lower planes, like your forest of beginnings. However, the higher gods live in areas that normal gods typically aren’t allowed. I live in one such area called the celestial palace.”
“You want me to come live with you in a palace?”
“Yes… but the palace has strict restrictions. Thus, I will be taking you to a place where you technically have no right to be.”
“Are you saying it will be dangerous?”
“Oh, my, yes, I should think so.”
“Then, why would I want to go.”
“The answer to that should be obvious. The women in the celestial palace are all high-level goddesses. They are all beauties, but more than that, they’re all virgins.”
“Mm… your power is connected to your existence as a harem god. By forming connections and adding women to your harem, your power will grow rapidly. This is the way that Lilith had worked out that you can reach the strength to defeat Procreation.
“I must warn you though. The women, me included, are all the women of another.”
“You’re in a relationship, but all virgins?”
“Well, I’m not.” She let out a laugh, her bosom shaking as her melodic laugh filled the strange space we were in. “However, all of my sisters are. They wouldn’t dare touch our beloved. They are… ahem… eccentric. You can not let them catch you there. I’m afraid you’ll be a fox trying to sneak into the hen cage, to eat your fill. This is where the danger comes from.”
“How could I hope to hide?”
“Our beloved is extremely busy. They are the highest god in existence that still deals with the matters of humans. They are always out of the palace, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they don’t visit. I should add that I am the second highest goddess associated with humans.”
“Yeah… who are you?”
“You might call me the goddess of life.” She responded.
She was the goddess of life? Wait… that was only the second goddess? What god would be linked to humanity that was more powerful than life itself?
“L-life… wait… do you have a connection to Procreation? He’s not one of your children, is he?”
“We… have a history.” Mother blushed. “Ah! It’s not like we slept together… although he’s tried to seduce me almost since his creation. He has never succeeded. I will tell you that I once allowed him in the celestial palace as well. After 1000 years, he wasn’t able to score with a single woman. I’m making you the same promises I made him. There is no guarantee that you will come out of this with more power.”
“I’m offering you my assistance because my daughters asked me to. If you wish for my heart, let alone my body, it won’t be easy. I’ve only been with one man my entire life, and while I would like to experience another, only the right man will be able to have me.”
This conversation was a lot to take in. There seemed to be a group of women in this place called the celestial palace run by a mysterious and powerful master. Mother would sneak me into the castle with the intent of letting me seduce the women. If I was caught by the master, I would die. If I displeased the women, I had to assume I’d die then too. Only if I managed to win the women and claim their virgin godliness would I be able to raise my level. At first, it seemed too good to be true. Now, it seemed like an impossibility.
“So, are you willing to come?” Mother asked. “I will need an answer quickly. I’m also a busy woman, and sneaking you into the palace will require a bit of finesse.”
“I guess, I just have one last question.”
“What do you get out of it?”
“Heh… I have my own plans. I’ll just say that I believe the right man will help me achieve my dream. It might be you. It might be someone else. As I said, I am only giving you the opportunity. Success is dependent on you.”
“Fine, I’ll do it.” I agreed.
What other choice did I have? If I turned down the opportunity to mingle with higher plane gods, just how many low plane gods would I have to seduce? At that point, wouldn’t Procreation realize I was around? If he had once been allowed in this so-called palace, then that means he normally wasn’t allowed there. Although it had its risks, it might be the safest place for me to try to gain power. Even if the difficulty was high, I had to give it my best. I had to do what Procreation couldn’t.
“Good!” Mother snapped her finger, and the world started to spin.
Although it was all darkness, I had a feeling of vertigo. It only lasted a moment, and then I felt my feet hit solid ground. I blinked, looking around to see a massive starry sky. It looked like I was in space. As I turned around, my eyes fell on a massive palace. It was ornate and beautiful. Something that resembled the Aurora Borealis fluttered around it. The castle was black as night, but it also was filled with innumerable lights. It truly earned the name celestial palace. It looked like the sky at night. It was also vast, a massive building that probably included thousands of rooms.
A noise caused me to look to see Mother walking casually up to a door. We weren’t standing in front of the palace, but a side area, which included a small side door. As Mother approached the door, it swung open. Before I could even open my mouth, Artemis burst out and threw herself at Mother. Mother smoothly sidestepped, and Artemis went flying.
“Mother! Ahhh!” Artemis landed and skidded across the ground, stopping near my feet.
She glanced up at me. “Hi, Hakaru!”
“You’re here too!”
“Hehe… I bet you didn’t think I had connections with the upper gods!” Artemis stood up proudly, even though she had a skid of dirt up the front of her clothing. “In fact, I’m Beloved’s favorite!”
“Beloved… so, you love them too?” I asked.
She let out a cry and then grabbed my arm. “Hakaru… I love you. I do. You have my heart. However, Beloved is Beloved.”
“I see… is Lilith here?”
Artemis shook her head. “One of the reasons Lilith wanted to spend so much time with you was because she’s not allowed to enter the palace. It will be some time before you can see her again. She says she’ll be waiting in the forest of beginnings for your return. Well, she had some enemies too, and also doesn’t want Procreation to know she exists.”
“At least, I can rest easy knowing she’s in the safe place we built together.” My heart ached slightly as I thought about it.
This had all happened so quickly. I know we had been waiting for years for Mother to answer, but now that she appeared, it all felt like it was happening too fast. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to Lilith.
“I’ve done my part and brought you here.” Mother nodded. “From here on, you’re on your own. Artemis can be your guide.”
“Thank you, Mother!” Artemis ran with her arms outstretched toward Mother again.
Mother put out her hand and caught the other girl’s forehead, keeping her from hugging mother.
“Mom, just a little hug!” She cried.
The other woman sighed and then flicked her forehead. Artemis’s eyes rolled up into the back of her head and then she collapsed to the floor.
“Silly girl…” Mother sighed, but when she noticed me looking questioningly, she shrugged. “Daughter is as obsessed with me as she is Master. I’m afraid she’s fallen for us, but since I’m more obtainable, she desperately wants to reunite. Of course, if we reunited, all of humanity would be wiped out.”
She let out a little laugh like it was a joke, but I felt a cold chill. She was speaking the complete truth. If Artemis and Mother got together, humanity would end. That was the power these gods stood at. It was rather terrifying. However, it also made sense. Artemis was the god of virginity. How could life flourish if everyone was a virgin? It seemed like the relationships between gods and goddesses were far more complex than I ever imagined.
Mother looked down at her unconscious daughter and sighed. “Well, it looks like I’ll be the one giving you the tour after all. Artemis isn’t that reliable anyway. She goes through phases, you see? Sometimes, she wants nothing to do with the celestial palace. Right now, I think she’s interested in it because you’re here.”
“Alright, then.” I picked up Artemis, which caused Mother to look with a small smile.
Although she avoided close physical contact with Artemis, I could see a loving look in her eyes. She really did love her children. Although Mother had given me many warnings, since the moment I met her, I felt a calmness in my heart. One of the reasons I was able to keep my cool, other than the years of training in the forest, was because I didn’t get worked up around her. She had a very peaceful and warm nature. She reminded me of my mother as if I could trust her. I found myself wanting to lie in her bosom and rest, however, I resisted the urge.
The pair of us entered the celestial palace. The hallways were just as ornate as the outside. Countless pictures filled the hallways. At first, I had thought they were different pictures of different people, but as I walked I began to realize that every one was an image of the same person. They were just wearing many different outfits. I even saw some famous works like the Mona Lisa, except the face was replaced with this woman. It was odd, but something told me I shouldn’t ask.
Boom! A door exploded open, and a beautiful woman stumbled out. She had fiery red hair, and she was wielding a sword.
“Who took it!” She shouted. “I’ll kill you!”
Her eyes seemed to jump to me instantly. She immediately ran at me. She was extremely attractive, just as beautiful as Life, but she had a dangerous aura to her beauty, like getting too close to her might be bad for my health. Two other girls poked their heads out of her room. They were wearing maid outfits. They watched shyly as the sword woman stormed up to me, pointing her sword.
“Was it you? Did you steal it?”
“Steal what?” I asked.
“Never mind, I’ll just kill you and find out afterward!” She raised her sword and then attacked.
A soft hand grabbed her sword carefully by the tip and then picked it off of her. The red-head blinked before spinning around.
“Forth, what do you think you’re doing?”
“Forth?” I blinked.
“Ah… it’s another name of mine. I prefer Mother though…”
“Hmph… that’s your ‘human’ name.” The red-head snorted.
“Don’t you like your human name? It’s War… isn’t it?”
“That’s not relevant!”
“What are you looking for, sister, maybe we can help?”
“Hmph… and who is this then?”
“My name is Hakaru,” I responded before I could help myself.
“What is that? Another humanoid god?” War shot Life a look. “You’re not tempting fate again, are you? Don’t you remember what beloved did to the last humanoid god you snuck into the palace?”
“That was thousands of years ago.” Life blushed. “That won’t happen again!”
“Seventh still can’t get the ash stains off the floor.” She sighed. “Well, do what you wish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
She grabbed back her sword, shot me a pitying look, and then walked back to her bedroom, gesturing the two maids aside before entering.
“Was that…” I swallowed to get some spit back in my mouth.
“One of the virgin maidens? Hehe… it is, good luck.”
“Gods of our level can have many roles. She has a name you humans recognize too, but I won’t tell you what.”
It was probably Ares, right?
“Why not?” I asked instead.
“I’ve said before. I have a close relationship with humans. My sisters… they do not. They’ve all but ignored humans, and remain distant and aloof. Even if you called them by their names, they wouldn’t acknowledge them. Fifth has had a little bit of contact with humans, that’s War here, by the way, but the others will be even less friendly. Except… maybe tenth. She’s a little strange.”
“How many live here in the palace?”
“Hundreds. However, most are just servants and hanger ons.”
“I mean, how many have numbers?”
“Just the ten. It’s a measure of our position. Well, it doesn’t reflect our strength as gods or anything. As I said, besides Beloved, I’d be second if that was the case.” She sighed. “Well, let me show you the girls. What happens after that is up to you.”