Chapter 900: Aftermath : Answers

Before the dawning of the third day, loud gongs resonated throughout the vast Undercities, disregarding those that would be trying to sleep at such times. Even so, there were many who had been awake, drinking their stress away within the various taverns and bars. This caused a crowd to quickly gather as the surviving members of the Elder Council announced the surrender of the Iron Hills in the war against Orario. Though there was more than a little dissent, especially when the decree freeing all slaves was made, it wasn’t too surprising to most that they had surrendered. After all, there was simply no way they could fight against an enemy that could blow away half a mountain in an instant.

The ninety hours following the surrender, every former slave was slowly rounded up and transported to the outskirts of Orario. It was fortunate that the first batch of refugees had been moved earlier, as they were able to expand the encampment to create space for the remaining groups that would follow. Though this caused the eastern side of Orario to be surrounded by an ocean of tents, it was a temporary measure that they were steadying working towards a solution for. The city had the capacity to accommodate all of the refugees but, out of consideration for public order and to bolster future infrastructure, several large groups would move to create towns and villages in the surrounding areas.

Many would end up moving to the hidden fortresses that had previously been occupied by the Dwarves, bolstering the population and allowing for quicker construction and growth. So that they would have goods for trade, each of the villages had been given partial ownership of resources coming out of the mines. Those that entered the Alliance-controlled mines would have to pay taxes on the unprocessed minerals while a select few within the town would be specialized in processing the materials for additional fees. As a mining town, the wealth of its citizens would slowly increase with the passage of time until, after a decade or so, they would be flourishing in a home of their own creation.

There were more than a few ‘hiccups’ during the migration of refugees between the Iron Hills and Orario, primarily from prominent slave owners and merchants. When these same people were captured and promptly executed, however, this trend died down relatively quickly. Though some still tried to get away with ordering their slaves to move elsewhere until the incident had passed, they were quickly identified and snuffed out after a very short investigation. Since the possession of slaves was treated as a capital offense under the surrender agreement, those that attempted to resist the change out of greed and arrogance were quickly put to the blade.

By the end of this event, which would later become known as the Fifteen Day War, the number of Dwarves that had lost their lives totaled 24,197, more than six percent of their entire population. As for the number of slaves to have died, however, they numbered more than 73,000, with an accurate account being impossible at the time. Those that had been liberated during the Fifteen Day War totaled precisely 811,471 freed peoples, many belonging to the Pallum and various Beast Tribes. For these individuals, instead of calling it the Fifteen Day War, it became a historical event that was celebrated in their various towns, known as Independence Day. Vahn became the ‘true’ Hero of the Pallum peoples while, amongst the Beast People tribes, Vahn, and various iterations of his name, became a very popular name for baby boys in the years that followed…

Without a large slave population, the Dwarves entered into a phase of civil strife and general unrest, as everyone fought amongst themselves to seize power and benefits. As expected, many tried to flee the Iron Hills to take up residence in other countries but the usual outcome for such attempts primarily resulted in their stockpiled wealth being seized before they were imprisoned for desertion. Though some exceptions were made, generally related to women and children, this was only if the persons in question were cleared of any crimes that they may have perpetrated in the past. Even then, they were put into a very long and arduous queue that required them to go through several investigations before they were processed as proper citizens…

The previous Eight Noble Houses no longer existed after the surrender, at least not in the same capacity as before. Many were tried for acts of cruelty, resulting in the majority of Patriarchs to take the fall to ensure their families future survival. At the same time, the Iron Hills was required to pay massive reparations towards the former slaves, bankrupting many smaller families while even the former Eight Noble Houses had to dig deep into their treasury to make the cut. For those that were unable to pay, they would have their assets seized while having to shoulder a heavy debt. In these cases, they were given the chance to work off their debt by entering into contracts to either become farmers or miners, a stop-gap measure to ensure the economy of the Iron Hills wasn’t entirely crippled.

In the end, the abundant wealth of the Iron Hills had taken a significant blow while the country was forced into an era of introspection and internal growth. Since it was ‘illegal’ for them to try and flee their country, they were forced to set aside their pride and start working together for the benefit of the community. For too long, the Dwarves had exploited others for benefits while promoting an individualistic mentality that compromised their entire social structure. Now that they didn’t have slaves to keep their society functioning, they were ‘forced’ to learn that people needed to work together in order to survive…

Fortunately, there were many Dwarves that had made their home outside of Orario, having long ago escaped their country after disagreeing with how their society worked. Now that their people were ‘suffering’, however, many Dwarves returned to their homeland to help rebuild. Since the country was now ‘open’ to external migrants, some brought along large caravans full of supplies. Though there were some amongst these groups who sought to build their own power and influence in the restructuring society, the ideals they had built outside of the Iron Hills would be necessary for the country’s future survival…

Following the migration of the refugees to the outskirts of Orario, Vahn hadn’t immediately returned to the City himself. Instead, he had been the spearhead for investigations into criminal acts while also seeking out any information on Tsubaki’s father. Within the Undercities, there were only two families with the surname Collbrande, both belonging to the same lineage. If a family were able to produce a Master of any form of craft, they would have the privilege of becoming a Lesser Noble family. As a result, there was a Collbrande Main Family and, serving as the business extension of the Main Family, there was also a Collbrande Branch Family. Vahn knew he would be able to get the information he sought relatively quickly, even though there were no public figures within the family that matched Tsubaki’s father’s name…Jorfaic Collbrande.

Determined to get the answers he sought, Vahn made his presence known at the Collbrande Main Family’s workshop and residence. Even as Lesser Nobles, they hadn’t lived a lavish and outgoing lifestyle and, honoring their craft, spent much of their wealth on accumulating resources to create more masterworks, few of which they actually sold. As a result, there were several display cases that were covered in powerful runes to prevent theft. This was one of the first times Vahn had seen so many S-Rank and A-Rank items on display together, outside of Hephaestus’ workshop.

At the front of the Workshop, there were two Dwarves present, each having powerful builds that could easily be noted as a result of their high exposure. The first was a man, standing around 161cm tall with a stocky yet muscular build, muscles so developed it seemed they were trying to break out of their fleshy restraints. As for his companion, she was a female Dwarf with a height of 174cm, as was often the case amongst Dwarves. They were one of the few races where females were ‘much’ larger than their male counterparts, with some even reaching upwards of 190cm tall while the tallest male Dwarf Vahn had seen was around 168cm.

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Like their male counterparts, female Dwarves were usually burly and muscular, though they weren’t nearly as stout and stocky in comparison. At the same time, they could be very beautiful, as there was a certain appeal to muscular women with a ‘natural’ quality to them, while most male Dwarves seemed strangely ‘old’, even when young. Since Dwarves would begin growing beards as early as eight years old, while already developing muscular builds, many young male Dwarves had a similar appearance to middle-aged men once they had reached adulthood. It was a strange contrast, as female Dwarves looked relatively normal, even though their limbs were a little thicker than the average human.

Having noticed the presence of someone in their workshop, the man and woman both turned their attention to Vahn. For a brief moment, their brains didn’t seem able to process what they were witnessing as their expressions slowly paled. Vahn understood there were many reasons behind such a reaction but still gave a casual smile as he said, “Sorry for disturbing you. I know things are a little chaotic right now, but I had a few questions I’d like to ask. If possible, I’d like to speak with your clan’s Matriarch…” Unlike the Patriarch, who usually ran the business and work-related tasks within the family, the Matriarch generally made sure the internal affairs of the family were running smoothly. There could be a lot of infighting between even kin so it was necessary to have someone to act as a mediator at such times, often making the Matriarch one of the most influential members of the entire family…

The man sent a nod to the woman, causing her to give a quick bow before she ran into the back of the workshop, likely to deliver Vahn’s message. As for the man, he had a very wary expression on his face as he asked in a polite tone, “Might I ask why you have come here…Sir?” It was obvious he didn’t know exactly how to address Vahn so the latter just gestured to relax as he explained, “As I stated previously, I’ve come here seeking information. Don’t worry, your Collbrande family only had a few slaves and I don’t believe you had hidden any away during the migration. I’m here for personal reasons this time around so you can relax…” What Vahn didn’t say was that, if the info he got was negative in nature, he couldn’t exactly guarantee he wouldn’t seek some trouble with them.

As could be expected in such circumstances, Vahn’s presence within the Workshop had drawn a great deal of attention from the Collbrande family members. Not only the Matriarch, but the Patriarch and other influential members of the family showed up very quickly to ‘greet’ Vahn. There were several wearing the attire of [Blacksmith]s while the Patriarch and another middle-aged man had seals carved onto their gloves that denoted them as [Mastersmith]s. As for the Matriarch, she stood at 170cm tall, even while hunched over with greyish-white hair and milky eyes, having long lost their light due to age. Even so, Vahn could sense she had strength similar to a peak Level 3 while her aura was aged to the point that she should be around 250 years old, at the least…

Since he had asked to speak with the Matriarch, even the two [Mastersmith]s didn’t step into the conversation as the elderly woman walked forward with the assistance of another female Dwarf. Vahn felt more than a little awkward having such an old woman move about on his behalf so he held up his hand and said, “Please, you don’t have to go to such lengths for me.” At least for the time being, he could afford to be polite, given the circumstances. Though there were a few with greyish auras, it wasn’t nearly as bad as some other families Vahn had seen during his cursory investigations. As a result, he set out a comfortable sofa for the Matriarch to sit on before pulling out tea and snacks out of habit…

Though she couldn’t see what was going on, the Matriarch’s other senses were still very sharp. She understood what was happening and gave a wrinkled smile after sitting down, remarking, “You’re a very polite boy, Vahn Mason. With current events ongoing, it is rather peculiar to learn this fact…haaaa…this is why we Matriarchs have always cautioned our juniors about acting without consideration for others. We have truly wrought this fate upon ourselves…” Because of their importance within the Dwarven community, most female Dwarves never left the borders of the Iron Hills. They would often become somewhat ‘jaded’ with reality, especially in their later years, after watching centuries of pointless infighting and selfish antics.

After glancing around the room for a brief moment, Vahn’s smile became somewhat melancholic as he stated, “My dream is to make a world where people can be happy while working to reach their potential. The institution of slavery is flawed from the start and, though it will be a hard lesson, the Dwarven people will become stronger after overcoming this trial. There are great changes coming to the world in the near future, many of which have already been set in motion. Even if the Iron Hills had never declared war on Orario…” Given the reaction of everyone present, Vahn let his words fade away since it was obvious most Dwarves weren’t exactly ‘happy’ about their recent surrender.

The Matriarch of the Collbrande Family, however, gave a sad smile, nodding her head before asking, “Tell me, Vahn, why have you come here seeking this old bag of bones? What can the Collbrande family do for you…?” Typically, anyone coming into their Workshop would request equipment but, given Vahn’s status as a [Mastersmith], especially one that cohabitated with Hephaestus, this was unlikely. As proud as their family was in regards to their masterpieces, there was simply no comparison between their creations and the creations of the most prodigious and prolific forging Goddess…

Understanding the Matriarch’s confusion, Vahn got straight to the point, asking, “What do you know of a man named Jorfaic Collbrande…?” As he asked the question, Vahn noticed that several auras in the room fluctuated, some quite severely. His eyes scanned over the Patriarch and the second [Mastersmith] as a fierce glimmer emerged flashed across his aquamarine irises. When the Matriarch, after several seconds of silence, finally answered, there was a deep solemnity in her voice as she lowered her head and said, “Jorfaic Collbrande…is a man who was exiled from the family more than forty years ago…”

(A/N: I have officially completed my move so my schedule is ‘relatively’ open, at least for the next couple of days~!)

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Historic Moments’,’Sexual Dimorphism’,’Revelations…’)

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