A fierce battle was currently underway in the vast barbarian plains. One side consisted of a few hundred barbarians including the elderly and children, everyone capable of holding a weapon engaged in battle to try and break their way out of the encirclement. However, the small tribe was no match for the 2,000 or so people surrounding them.
The aggressors didn’t really look like an army; they were a mix of different races using all sorts of weapons and not even in a standard uniform. It looked like they’d been put together in haste, but the battle flag flying amidst their core was one that struck terror into the hearts of every local of the barbarian planes— the Apocalypse Tree, the standard of the Crimson Duke.
Somehow, despite the chaotic mix of soldiers, the army was surprisingly competent. The soldiers had great chemistry and were arrayed in neat formations that cut off all routes of escape, the spearmen and crossbowmen forcing the barbarians to retreat further and further even as they took down any stragglers.
The commander at the back suddenly pointed her sword straight upwards, prompting a loud horn that had her men part ways. Moving through the opened path, she came before the encircled tribe, “Surrender now, and I can guarantee that your elderly and children will be treated just like any normal citizens of the Crimson Dukedom. All adults will be put into fifteen years of hard labour or military service, after which you will gain freedom. You have one minute to think it over; keep struggling, and you will be slaves unto your death.”
Her voice was sharp and melodious, yet full of a murderous spirit. It was hard to make out anything about her physique— she was covered in black armour and a thick cloak with a cloth veil covering all of her face save her eyes— but the nonchalance with which she stared at the near hundred collapsed bodies on the field spoke volumes of her experience.
An old man in shaman’s clothing soon walked out from amidst the tribe, arriving before the commander and sighing before prostrating himself at her feet in surrender. The surrounding soldiers from the Crimson Dukedom immediately erupted into revelry; another victory!
Every tribe that surrendered was a large amount of money for this specific army, a good chunk of which trickled down to every soldier. Most barbarians were powerful warriors regardless of gender, so they normally chose military service and would be loaned out to the nobility as bodyguards. With the close bonds these people shared with their elderly and children, loyalty was not an issue and the pay was thus high.
The commander jumped off her horse and watched her subordinates taking in the barbarian warriors, pulling her mask down to reveal an exquisite smile. A mage next to her quickly stepped forward, “The profit is about 13,000 gold after deducting the warriors’ pay, my Lady. This is enough to buy the Zaart brothers; their presence will help our operations greatly.”
The woman sighed, “Or we could but a hundred warhorses. It should be at least as useful.”
“We can buy horses at any time, outstanding rangers like them are rare. We need their scouting abilities.”
“Alright, I’ll think over it… What’s that?” the woman’s eyes immediately narrowed as she looked into the distance.
One of her subordinates immediately crouched down and put an ear to the ground, listening for a few moments before jumping back up, “A ten-man heavy cavalry squad.”
Why would heavy cavalry be around the barbarian plains? The terrain in this place was complicated and the climate terrible, the days scorching hot and the nights freezing cold. One couldn’t even reliably find water for hundreds of kilometres at a time; this wasn’t a place for heavy cavalry. The only exception to this was Richard’s shadowspear knights and another humanoid drone that was created specifically for these plains, but this commander didn’t have access to either of those core soldiers.
Although there weren’t many, she still gathered her troops into a defensive line while the light cavalrymen mounted their horses as a precaution. There were far too many ways with magic and the divine to hide traces of an army, and this could be an illusion used to mask an incoming enemy.
However, once the cavalrymen did appear, the warriors sighed in relief and dispersed. The sinister black armour and lofty mounts were a signature of the shadowspear knights, and from the looks of it this was a messenger squad. There had never been news of these soldiers betraying the Crimson Dukedom, so there was no need for them to worry about it. At this point, it was common knowledge that these soldiers weren’t normal humans.
The woman sighed and waited for the elite shadowspear leading the squad to gallop towards her. The drone dismounted and bowed formally before speaking, “Lady Sisley, I come bearing orders from General Gangdor. His Grace has returned to Faelor and is gathering his followers, saints, grand mages, and any generals with more than 3,000 soldiers in Bluewater City; they’re to gather by the month. You are to join them immediately, your army can withdraw to a nearby fortress until new orders are given.”
Sisley asked the knight a few questions before letting him leave, standing in a daze for a while as the conversation played through her head. A single thought dominated everything: was she really worth the summoning?
The entire situation was strange. Richard was gathering his core team, but she had been forgotten ever since the Schumpeters had given her to him as a peace offering. Starting from a paltry few hundred gold in Faelor with only a dozen subordinates, she had been sent off to the life of a mercenary. It had taken years to build this army of 2,000, and in recent times she had been allowed to join in on the colonisation of the barbarian plains with a payment of gold and equipment. She was starting to hire talented warriors and mages, growing the scale of her battles as she hoped to snowball into a truly formidable force.
However, she wasn’t there yet. Richard’s orders were clearly for those commanding 3,000 men or above, and she didn’t qualify for that requirement. For the orders to come from Gangdor meant that he was putting his own name on the line and vouching for her in advance. This wasn’t the first time the brutish man had shown her kindness; he had provided her a lot of aid throughout her growth, making sure the Dukedom never gave her any troubles when it came to selling her spoils or employing warriors.
Sisley sighed and looked around at her closest subordinates whose eyes were shining with glee; this army had never been considered an official part of the Crimson Dukedom, and being drafted into the official forces would mean a lot to these half-mercenaries. Their status would grow immediately, and the equipment and pay were twice as good as what she could afford right now. Being a soldier for the Crimson Duke was a life with just as much luxury as responsibility, unlike now where they were fighting just to make a living.
Suddenly feeling a little stifled, she took off her helmet and let her gleaming black hair come loose, taking a few deep breaths before looking around, “You heard what he said. Don’t go around making trouble when I’m not here, stay on the defensive.”
The cheers that erupted around her before she even finished left her a little surprised. Truthfully, she didn’t want to go meet Richard, at least not yet. However, even if it was for these men that had followed her all this while, she had to.
Within Bluewater, Richard ended his routine meditation at the crack of dawn. This was the third day since he had come back to Faelor, and he had a special person to visit.
He returned to the magic section of the inner city, entering a quiet courtyard behind the laboratory. The place wasn’t large, with only a small wooden building that wasn’t even locked, but he gingerly opened the door and entered the living room that had become a library with a hundred bookshelves.
He walked over and casually looked through a few pieces of paper laid on a desk, spending an entire half hour immersed in a world of jumbled formulae and abstract diagrams. It all looked to be broken, but it didn’t take him long to see the link between them. Of course, any grand runemaster would gasp at the sight; someone here was working on improving a fundamental activation unit!
Trying to improve singular activation units was no simple task, requiring prohibitively large calculations for the slightest change. Every unit had been altered and improved over centuries, with even legendary beings having contributed to some; these structures were near perfect. And yet, having spent some time validating the conjectures within these pages, Richard found that the change was likely to be positive!
Footsteps echoed in the corridors as an old man eventually came down to the living room, freezing up in disbelief, “Richard?”
Richard turned around to look at the white-haired man whose movements were visibly slowed, locking onto the still-youthful eyes as he waved the writing in his hand, “Interesting idea. To think you could actually come up with improvements on this scale… You really are talented, Perrin.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: OMA
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA