Chapter 418: The Passing of the Torch
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In the morning, the body of the queen was found lying in her bed. The best doctors, shamans, and mages of the court were immediately called to investigate, unsure if she had suffered from foul play. Yet, they all came to the same conclusion. Even the guardian spirit of the royal family could only say that she died of natural causes.

Everyone knew that Queen Sylvia was quite old for a kitsune, but… it was simply hard to picture the bright, energetic woman that was always goofing around as someone near the end of her lifespan. When it struck, those around her mourned. Her children, her friends, they all attended her funeral. Even the Empress of the elven empire appeared.

However, the one struck perhaps the hardest by all of this was her eldest child. A woman of almost twenty years by the name of Bria. Her silver hair was cut short, just above her shoulders, her blue eyes watering as she walked back to her room.

She was so distraught that she did not immediately recognize the presence of another figure in her room, closing the door behind her and walking over towards her bed. Once she collapsed onto the bed, and belatedly realized that she wasn’t alone, her head shot up to look at the figure. The other party was naturally someone that she recognized, someone that any kitsune would recognize. “L-lady Udona.” She wiped at her eyes, doing her best to look composed in front of the goddess.

Yet Udona simply shook her head, standing up from the chair along the wall and walking over. Without a word, she wrapped the surprised Bria in a hug, holding her firmly against her chest. Bria was able to see the look of loss in Udona’s expression as well, a look that would be forever burned into her heart, something that made her look far more real than any statue or painting.

And seeing that look was enough, causing Bria to start crying anew into the body of the goddess. “Why… why did she have to die?” She knew it was impudent of her to ask the goddess to have favored her mother above others, to let her live while the poor and starving were left to suffer. Yet it was her mother, and she was still mourning.

“She chose this.” Udona whispered sadly, stroking through Bria’s silver hair. “She wanted you to have your chance to shine. Your chance to stand tall, not in her shadow. Don’t worry, Bria, she is still watching over you. And… she wanted me to tell you something after I guided her beyond.”

Bria lifted her head, the tears still trailing down her cheeks. She just waited to hear her mother’s final message, until Udona leaned forward to press her forehead against Bria’s. “She said that she loves you, and that she wants you to be the brilliant woman she knows you can be.”

“Mom… mom said that?” Bria asked, her speech broken by her cries. Udona only nodded her head slightly to confirm, and Bria wrapped her arms around Udona, holding the goddess. “You were there for her… at the end, weren’t you?”

“Your mother was an amazing woman.” Udona said in answer. “How could I not be?”

Bria paused, thinking about that, before lowering her head once again. “Thank you… you let her smile. I know she was happy to have you there for her…”

Udona’s body seemed to freeze at that, before she squeezed Bria just a bit harder. “Of course… isn’t that what I’m supposed to do? Life is so much more beautiful when you can enjoy it.”

Bria gave a small, jerky nod as she agreed. Eventually, she pulled her head back, seeming to realize the implications of actually crying against and hugging a goddess. “I’m sorry… I’ve shown you something disgraceful.”

Udona furrowed her brow, almost pouting as she brought one of her hands up and lightly flicked Bria’s nose with a finger. The younger kitsune recoiled, bringing her hands up to cover her nose as her face flushed red. “None of that.” Udona told her more firmly. “I didn’t come here looking for some composed queen-to-be. I came here because… you needed someone. And maybe I wanted to be it, okay?”

Bria blinked in confusion, her hands still covering her nose. “You mean…?” She wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, but knew it was far more than other people received from the goddess.

“I mean I wanna be friends.” Udona spoke, still in that same firm tone, which was now ruined by the upwards twitching of her lips. “I want to be here for you when you need someone, and I want you to be here for me when I just wanna complain or hang out.”

“O-okay.” What else was Bria supposed to say at a time like this? How was she supposed to tell a goddess no, even if she wanted to?

I gave a small smile as I watched Udona ‘introducing’ herself to the new kitsune queen. While it had apparently become something of a tradition for her to become friends with the queens of Kirol, I didn’t plan to hold it against her. If anything, it was nice that she was able to keep meeting people that accepted her like that.

Thinking of that, I wondered how her guild was doing in Vision Expanse. It had been around twenty years now since its first launch, and numerous other games had been released in that time. While the popularity of the game did indeed suffer a bit, it was still ‘a world created by the Keeper’.

Looking back through Earth’s records, I was quite surprised by what I saw. Legion had retired from the professional gaming scene, most of their members beyond the prime of their youth. Instead, Legion had set up various businesses within Vision Expanse, using the income earned from that as their retirement funds. Most of these businesses were set up within their space stations, orbiting both of the known worlds.

The one exception to this was the elf, Crystal Heart. After her guild leader decided to retire, he had granted her the Sky Citadel, which she now used to travel through space. Even after becoming friends with Aurivy, she still wished to hunt the Mad King. Though, I suspected that it was now more of a game of hide and seek than a true grudge.

The impact this game had was quite far-reaching, as much as I had originally hoped. Numerous space exploration programs had begun, with both Earth and Desbar managing to successfully reach their own moon. To my surprise, it was Desbar that showed the greatest success there, setting up a small colony on the moon with the help of numerous druids and engineers.

I imagined that Spica similarly contributed to this success, as Demacry already had the experience with sending people into space. Still, the fact that they were moving beyond their own worlds and properly settling into the space age was exciting to me.

Oi, lad! Tubrock’s voice suddenly called out into my mind. Lorek should be ready for the merge whenever ye want. Terra says it’s just a step shy of entering the games.

Good. I responded, nodding my head in satisfaction. This put us one step closer to advancing.

Also, I finished the golem body for the spell lass ye made a while back.

I blinked when I heard that, having almost forgotten that I asked Tubrock to make that after the meeting. Ah, right. Can you send it down to Tsubaki? She should know what to do with it.

After that brief exchange, I looked to the Underworld, wanting to see the results of the new additions that had been made there.

Above the Governor's Palace, a golden moon recently came into being. When it did, the Goddess of Death descended from her heavenly castle to make an announcement to all. “Behold, the Realm of Eternity.” Her voice seemed to echo through the entire Underworld, everyone looking up towards that golden moon.

“Those who earn sufficient karmic merits shall be granted access to this new realm. Here, one needs not worry about time. Their spirits will no longer degrade, and they will no longer be forced to re-enter the cycle of rebirth.”

“However, with fitting rewards come fitting punishments. Let it be known, those of true evil shall similarly be removed from the cycle. They will not be granted eternal pleasure, but rather torment. Their souls will be driven to the abyss for all time. This is my decree.”

After she left those words, she once more vanished into the mists. And then, soon afterwards, a young halfling within one of the satellite cities found himself glowing with golden light. A voice entered his mind, the same voice that had just resonated throughout the world. You have been chosen, my child. Do you wish for eternity?

The voice was kind and gentle, causing the halfling to look around in surprise. He was not aware of any great deeds that he had done, yet he was truly the first worthy of this Eternity. In his life, he had died in order to save his family, leading away a monster that they had no hope of defeating so that they could escape. In his previous lives, he had steadily built up his karma as a hero or inventor, and had long since reached the point that Irena could no longer bestow rewards on him.

“I… are you sure?” The boy asked hesitantly. “Why me?”

Your soul has long since become too bright. There is no longer a reward I can offer you, aside from eternity itself. I wish to grant you peace, a peace in which you can watch over those you loved in the living world without having to fight anymore.

He hesitated once again, before nodding. As soon as he consented, a golden stairway seemed to stretch out from that giant moon, landing directly before him. Naturally, there were those that saw this and hoped to take a shortcut to their ‘due rewards’.

As soon as these poor souls charged forward, they found themselves being slammed back by an invisible force. They were unable to even approach within ten meters of those stairs. Yet the boy himself stepped on them with no interference.

Almost in a daze, he began walking up as the stairway began vanishing behind him. The distance seemed like it would take hours, even days for him to cross, yet he could see the end coming closer and closer with every step he took. After only a mere minute of climbing, the moon was close enough that he could see a golden gateway at the end of the stairs.

Once he reached that gate, it opened of its own accord, the boy able to walk in. He found a lavishly decorated palace, but even more surprising was that he was not alone. Young men and women clad in golden clothes lined up before him, bowing in reverence.

“We greet Hazel Bandicurt.” They said in unison before lifting their heads. These were the Caretakers. Existences created with the Realm of Eternity to serve those within.

As Hazel stood there in a daze, a different scene was playing out within the Underworld. While he had accumulated so many karmic merits that he had been granted access, there were numerous souls that had done the opposite. Those who had stooped to such evils that black chains wrapped in dark fire reached out from the ground to pull them in.

Their screams echoed in the Underworld, but the goddess was not unjust. Those who had made an effort to begin repenting, or those who had accumulated their sins in previous lives while having lived a more noble one more recently were spared. Only those who were truly evil to their core were dragged to the abyss.