chapter 88: turning point

As I turned to look at the other races, I suppressed a shiver that ran down my spine. I did not enjoy what I had done with the halflings and centaurs, or how I had personally been involved with that massacre… However, I knew that I had to do it, or else one of the races would have gone completely extinct.

While I was thinking about that, I felt a hand being placed on my shoulder, Terra looking at me with a warm smile. “It’s alright. You did what you needed to do.” She spoke in a gentle voice.
I nodded my head slightly, looking to her expression. “One of your incarnations died?” I asked, noticing how lucid she was. Though, it made sense after all that time that her incarnation among the halflings would have passed away. If anything, it’d be impressive for the one in the ninja village to still be around.
She responded with a small nod. “I was in the first wave of attackers against Alkazar. Though, I’d prefer to stick to just one incarnation for a while again, until we really need me to help with something.”
“That’s fine.” I agreed. She had earned a break after helping me resolve the situation with the war. “Now, let’s see what else is going on in the world.” I nodded. While I did not enjoy the fact that I had personally led the slaughter of thousands, I found it… hard to truly sympathize with them. Maybe it was because they seemed like such fleeting existences to me now.
Is this what it means to develop a God Complex?

At the third peak of the Crown Range, a mountain range formed naturally in the shape of a king’s crown, there was a rather unexpected event occurring with the dwarves of the Iron Kingdom who lived there. Specifically, one dwarf in particular.
Horshaft was the appointed quartermaster, in charge of maintaining the stores of food and drink within the mountain. Each colony had at least one such person, so this was not a particularly special position. However, it was important, as it required him to ensure that the food and drink stored within the caves did not rot.
For the food, this could often be taken care of by simply smelling or looking at them, as the signs would typically be obvious. However, for the drink, things became difficult, as he had to personally taste it to determine its quality from time to time. Yet, Horshaft was a clever dwarf. He knew that they often used salt to treat the food that they preserved, in order to purify it of disease and allow it to keep for longer periods of time.
As such, it was only natural that he tried to save his own health by using the same tactics to purify the liquids they had stored. An assortment of juices, in a variety of colors were all stored within wooden barrels, hollowed out trees with crafted tops and bottoms. Horshaft personally saw to ‘purifying’ each of these barrels, nodding proudly to himself when he was done. Salt was a fairly precious resource, but he saw it as well worth the expenditure if it could keep the drink good for longer.
After that, he continued his work. It wasn’t until over two weeks later that he was due to check those barrels again, so he did not worry about them going bad yet. These juices were not the typical drink used on a regular basis after all, and were mostly handed out as a reward for good service, or to celebrate the crafting of a particularly impressive item.
Thus, two weeks passed before Horshaft cracked open the top of one of the barrels again, finding it bubbling strangely. He naturally began to fear that his ‘innovative’ idea had ruined the entire batch, something which would easily cost him his job. However, he had to be sure before reporting such a failure to the wardens of the mountain.
Taking his bronze cup from nearby, he dipped it into a yellow liquid that was the squeezed juices of the alpa berry. This particular beverage was most commonly enjoyed during the winter, for the warmth it caused to spread through the body. As winter was still months away, it would be unsuitable for any other than the quartermaster to consume it.
Yet, when he sipped at the drink experimentally, the taste seemed different than what he was used to from alpa juice. There was still that warmth that spread throughout him, but it seemed strange. The sensation didn’t stop at his body, and soon he felt it touching at his mind as well. Horshaft found himself light headed and giddy. The pains from running up and down the mountain seemed to fade away.

Unable to help himself, he took a second, much bigger drink of the juice, and the sensation only seemed to grow stronger. Not one to forget his ‘duties’, he moved on to the next barrel, cracking it open as well. When he saw this one bubbling slightly, it only made him laugh in response, the previous worries disappearing. Once again, he dipped his chalice into this purple liquid, and took a big gulp of it.
“Horshaft!” A booming voice echoed into his cave, causing him to jump in fright, stumbling and nearly spilling his drink. He recognized the voice as one of the wardens, and feared that his secret may have been discovered. Soon, a figure walked through the mouth of the cave, clad in shining bronze armor.
“W-warden Joff, I can-hic-explain!” He spoke, finding his voice to be slurred slightly.
“Explain?” The warden asked in a suspicious tone. “What can you explain?” In truth, the warden was here to inform Horshaft that a new type of weapon had been smithed, and that they wanted the barrel of jula juice that now stood open next to Horshaft. However, hearing the other party’s guilty tone, he couldn’t help but question.
“E-explain?” Horshaft stuttered, looking around nervously. Hearing the warden’s question, it was clear his secret was safe. “I uhm… I thought you were going to reprimand me for being late… for… checking the foods?” He asked.
Joff was no fool, but he truly did not have any reason to continue question Horshaft. “Damned fool. I came to tell you that there is a new weapon from Olsen’s forge. Cap off the jula juice and bring it with you. The entire peak has been invited to celebrate.”
Horshaft’s eyes widened in fear as he heard what Joff said. There were a thousand dwarves on this peak alone, and only two barrels of jula juice. Still, there was enough for all of them to at least have a single glass. However, he still wasn’t sure why the juices were acting as they were. But… he couldn’t refuse the warden and tell him that all of the juices had gone bad. Otherwise, not just  the warden, but the entire peak would be against him. He’d be lucky if he was able to keep his life.
“U-understood.” He nodded his head, moving to put the wooden cap back on the large barrel of juice, while the warden went to collect the other one. He began to notice that as he walked, his steps were unsteady, and he had some difficulty going in a straight line. Thankfully, there were paths carved into the side of the mountain that made their trip short, otherwise it was very likely that he would have stumbled and wasted an entire barrel of wine.
When the two of them arrived to Olsen’s forge, they found him proudly holding up a long sheet of bronze with sharpened edges. This weapon, which would later be known as a sword, was still very crude. However, it was undoubtedly the first metal weapon that had been crafted with an edge. While it was still crude, the edge was sharper than any stone dagger.
Horshaft watched with a pale expression as the two barrels were set out on the stone table. Cups were passed around as people began to fill it with the jula juice. He wanted to speak up as he saw them drinking, but couldn’t find the words.
The first to show an effect was the blacksmiths, who looked at the barrels in surprise as they felt the pain starting to fade from their muscles. Then came the miners, and finally the guards. None of them had quite as much to drink as Horshaft had, so they didn’t feel much more than a slight dizziness after a few minutes, but they couldn’t help but marvel at how different the drink tasted and acted.

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“Did… did they just…?”
“Yup.” Terra said with a small grin, still looking over my shoulder. “They just discovered wine. They’re not really the first though. Humans and beastkin have been making beer for around fifty years now. Though it will be interesting to see how the dwarves react to it.”

I could only nod my head slightly at that. I was interested in checking out how the other races were doing, but part of me wanted to see how this developed as well. In any stories that I would hear in my previous world, dwarves were notorious drunkards. I had to wonder how introducing alcohol into this would influence their culture from now on.
I decided to take it a step at a time. Navigating through the options, I put what could be considered a waypoint on the mountain where the wine was discovered. I figured that I could come back and look at them again later after letting a bit more time pass. After that, I turned to look at the humans.
Even more than the dwarves, I was worried about the situation with the humans. It had been decades now since Bihena’s incarnation was at war with a neighboring country, so I wanted to see how that had been resolved. What I found… surprised me.
Originally, there were more kingdoms in the human continent than I could be bothered to count. Hanbei was just one small country that had begun developing martial arts, but now things had changed. Now, at the very center of the occupied territory, the massive country of Hanbei had taken root. The first human kingdom, Thuul, was nowhere to be seen. The same could be said for most of the countries that had previously surrounded Hanbei.
Pulling up the information, I found that Hanbei had continued to develop the martial arts Bihena was passing down. What’s more, there was a sharp increase in the number of herbalists, alchemists, and monks aside from simply martial artists. Seeing this, I couldn’t help myself but take a closer look, only to find a rather sad scene unfolding before me.

The first queen of Hanbei, the woman who the kingdom was named after, sat upon her wooden throne. Although the years had been kind to her, those close to the queen knew the truth. The red bar of her life hovering above her head had all but emptied. She was dying, falling to a sickness that had been ravaging her for years. Despite her seemingly divine wisdom, there were some things that the hands of mortals could not touch.
Hanbei herself naturally knew this as well, but it seemed that she never gave the illness much thought. It was as if she did not mind her passing, for she had done all she wanted to do in life. “Ryu, my son, come forward.” She spoke in a weary voice. Her face was unblemished, her hair still an almost perfect black. Anyone who saw her could easily mistake her for a young woman barely of age.
Right now, she was sitting before her court, rows of assembled monks sitting on the ground. One of them, a man in his early adulthood, stood up. His head was shaven, his build slim. He wore a golden robe with a red sash, and slowly approached his mother. His own father had passed years ago, from the very disease that now afflicted his mother.
To those of the kingdom, this made Ryu’s father the greatest of sinners. His illness caused the death of their queen, who in a single lifetime gave them so much. This inevitably caused their anger to shift to Ryu himself, who was shielded by his mother. “Yes, your highness.” Even with his status as her son, Ryu always maintained a formal stance, not wishing to draw the anger of those around him.
However, Hanbei simply laughed, a touch of sadness in her sweet voice. “For once in your life, call me your mother.” She said, her eyes closing. “I can feel my time is near. Let me hear it once before I go and meet the goddess.”
There was a sudden commotion of voices whispering amongst one another at this. Not because she asked to be called as Ryu’s mother, but because she said her death was near. This was the first time that their queen had acknowledged her illness so openly, and it worried them.

However, her son simply stood there, his eyes red as he clenched his fists tightly. “Yes… mother.” He said gently, lowering his head. How could he not know that it was essentially his own father who was now killing his mother?
“Thank you, Ryu. Now, I have taught you all everything that I could in my lifetime. I have led you on the path of peace, shown you a way to grow and flourish without the need to spill blood. I have given you medicine and calm, peace within and without. I only ask of one thing from you, my most trusted aides.” As she said that, she opened her eyes slightly, looking at the other monks seated on the hard floor.
“You may ask anything of us, your highness.” One of the monks near the front clasped his hands together and spoke. He was without a doubt the one with the highest seniority, a childhood friend of Hanbei.
“I ask of you to treat my son well.” She spoke slowly, pushing herself to her feet. “I am going on one last journey, and I wish for my son to inherit my kingdom. Let me leave him one good thing in his life.” Her words greatly surprised all of those present, but none more than Ryu himself.
“Your highness! You are in no condition to go anywhere.” That same monk spoke, an anxious expression on his face. He had no desire for the throne, for he knew that he did not have the wisdom to match this friend that he has followed all his life.
However, the queen weakly chuckled. “It is precisely because of my condition that I must take this journey.” She said as she walked towards the monks. All of them shot to their feet in an instant, moving to let her pass unobstructed. “My life’s wish was not to establish a kingdom. That only happened because all of you made it so, and I chose to stay in this position to better this kingdom.”
“No… what I have really wanted, for all my life, was to see the sea.” She said as she reached the wooden door to the temple that served as her palace. She looked far in the distance, beyond the horizon, as if she could see something nobody else could. “We have had traders speak of the sea that lies at the end of the world, and I have always wished to see it with my own eyes. I have always wondered… If I go out beyond the end of the world, will I meet the goddess? Will she welcome me into her arms?”
Those around her fell silent at her words, so she simply continued to talk. “I know I won’t make it to the sea anymore… Even if I ran with all my might, I simply don’t have the time. However, I want to make the journey. Let it be the last thing I do.”
She did not say anything else as she left the temple, walking down the stone steps. Her kingdom was one where slavery had been prohibited, where anyone could live in harmony with anyone else. In the entire human realm, it could be considered to be the happiest kingdom, and also the strongest. For she did not simply give them the wisdom to maintain peace, but the strength to prevent war.
As Hanbei walked down the streets, people exited their homes to greet her, though none thought to stop her. It was rare for Hanbei to leave her temple in recent times, but she seemed to have somewhere to go. They simply watched as she walked out of the city, out past the horizon.

Only allowed on

I watched the scene of Bihena’s incarnation leaving the city, where she walked for three days and nights before finally collapsing. Ultimately, she didn’t even make it past the borders of her kingdom before meeting her death. At almost the same time, I heard a relieved shout from down the halls. “Finally dead!” Bihena shouted, seeming happy to be free from her burdens as queen.

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