Richard rushed through Dragon Valley until he was at the portal, jumping on the back of a Maranos clone that was heading over to the other side. A few of his followers that were chatting idly nearby saw him and exchanged glances.
“Master is in a really good mood today,” Zangru commented.
Phaser nodded in agreement, “He looks excited. Did he just sleep with some priestess of the goddesses?”
“Who knows? It isn’t really special even if he does. So many of them have been waiting for years; if they don’t succeed soon, the goddesses might just punish them.”
“Why don’t you sleep with them? That way, they won’t come seduce Master.”
“Not interested. Don’t forget, I’m the same as you.”
“We’re nowhere near similar!”
“Guys…” Tiramisu suddenly interrupted, “Why do I feel like Master just got beaten up?”
Zangru froze, “Beaten up? Who here can even do that? Don’t joke around!”
The ogre nodded in agreement, but he still looked confused. While there was no way to fault Zangru’s words, his own instincts were telling him otherwise.
“I think Boss was beaten too!” Medium Rare suddenly agreed. Not as prudent as his brother, he was loud enough for Richard who had just walked back through to hear. Shivering under his Master’s glare, he brought up a hand to cover his mouth.
Richard grunted before shaking his head, ignoring them and hurrying back to his room. Not long after, he sent them an announcement that he would be going to Norland for a while. Only minutes afterwards, a cloned brain soared into the skies above Dragon Valley and sped towards Bluewater.
Those followers present watched as he disappeared, the atmosphere stifling. A billion conversations were had between eyes alone, but nobody could actually understand.
Eventually, Zangru spoke up, “Was Master really… beaten up?”
“But who did it?” Phaser countered, leaving everyone silent once more.
Over 7,000 kilometres away, Bluewater was a long journey even by cloned brain. The broodmother had already arranged for a journey with zero downtime, but it would still take nearly two days to make it all the way.
There were currently four separate logistical convoys moving through the Iron Triangle Empire, seven if the flying chrysalides were included. An enormous and complicated web currently kept the Crimson Army supplied even if it was so far away from home, and the brain of this network was Raymond.
The man had stationed himself in a small town within the Empire, located centrally to the network and allowing him to monitor most of it in real time. He gave out dozens of orders every day, doing a better job than even the Thinker could accomplish. While the Thinker was proficient at handling mundane tasks, Raymond could predict Richard’s moves to an extent and prepare correspondingly.
Early in the morning, he arrived in his office as always and connected to every cloned brain nearby. He suddenly found a large number of them moving in a strange manner, establishing a route that was not in his plans. Eyeing the map, he quickly realised that they were making a straight line from Dragon Valley to Bluewater, but there was a small detour in the middle that would put his little town on the road.
Slightly startled, a wry smile appeared on his face as he walked to the window and opened it. Far in the distance, a tiny black speck zoomed closer before flying overhead, a familiar figure leaping off and flying to the ground.
“Long time no see, Richard. Come in,” Raymond said with a forced smile, stepping away from the window. Richard nodded and flew straight in, circling around the room once before occupying his seat.
Scanning through the room once, Richard focused on the former rival who had now become an aide to his plans. Time had flown quickly in Faelor, and Raymond was already in his thirties, now with a little beard and looking very much like a middle-aged man. The delicate handsomeness of years past had turned into a more mature elegance.
Watching Raymond stroke his beard without speaking, Richard eventually sighed, “You’re not going to say anything?”
“I tend to wait for the other party to speak first, it averts unnecessary mistakes.”
“Fair enough. But you’re not going to tell me you don’t know about the soul-mending project, will you?”
“Of course not, I’m the one that gave the broodmother access to it.”
“You… You nearly destroyed me.”
“Unfortunately, it did not work out. No, I should say it didn’t work entirely. The broodmother is still completely free, and while you’re working together you can’t rely on her as much as you did in the past. You’ve been weakened greatly. Like I’ve said multiple times; never use mana to judge a Scholar.”
Richard actually calmed down, looking at him carefully, “You’ve planned my death ever since I set foot in Faust. You trapped my father and personally led an army into Faelor to kill me, as though you would never be at ease if I don’t die. Was I such a huge threat?”
“That is only a rivalry from generations past. You were the most outstanding of the young Archerons, there was nothing wrong with being hostile to you. I believe circumstances have proved that even my overestimations weren’t enough.”
“But that wasn’t the only reason, was it? Whatever, it’s all in the past. Right now, I have to decide how to deal with you. Should I kill you? You don’t care either way. Torture is an option, but I believe you have a thousand ways to deal with that. Can’t even hurt those close to you, you’re an emotionless machine who doesn’t care in the slightest. Even the Josephs don’t really matter to you, do they?”
Raymond went silent for a while before nodding, “You are correct.”
“What I don’t understand is the purpose of you Scholars. What’s the significance of your existence?”
“Our objective has always been clear. We are to explore the mysteries of the world and bring all of Norland up the ladder of evolution.”
“A bunch of machines with no sense of responsibility like you? That’s such a joke.”
“Many races grow foolish just because of burden and emotion. We only free ourselves of those fetters.”
“You mean you’re a bunch of lunatics,” Richard shook his head.
“We’re a bunch of clear-headed sages,” Raymond corrected him with a smile, “So what do you plan on doing? Kill me? That obviously isn’t the best choice, the benefits of keeping me still outweigh the hostility I’be shown you. The soul-mending plan has already been executed, and the broodmother has made a deal with me to keep your war machine running smoothly. In fact, you can just give me Faelor; two Norland years and the plane will be yours. You will be the ruler of every corner of it, from the four cardinals to the divine kingdoms in the sky.”
He paused and flashed a flattering smile, “Richard, I know your biggest weakness is a lack of leaders. Salwyn and I are the only ones who are fit to be leaders, but he is a local and now an emperor. No matter what you offer, will he truly serve you? Even if—”
“Ah!” Raymond was interrupted by a soft shriek as Reyna entered with the breakfast tray, dropping the moment she saw Richard. Richard didn’t even look at her, stopping the tray with a thought and having it float back into her hand.
“R-Richard… My Lord… Why are you here? I mean… It’s so sudden…” She was quieted down when Richard waved for her to stop speaking, only able to plead with her eyes.
Raymond continued, “So, you can see the best option, can’t you? You’re someone fated to do big things, and so many rely on you for their lives and livelihoods. Emotions have no part in decisions like these. Isn’t it great to leave things as they are? Leave the trivial matters to me, and you take care of the broad strokes. It’s a perfect match! You should continue on your way and let me start on breakfast.”
“Heh,” Richard suddenly chuckled, “You’re right. What’s happened has happened, and I should consider how to maximise profits.”
“Exact—” Raymond’s smile suddenly froze, the hand that was stroking his beard stuck in mid-air. He slowly looked down at the dagger that had just been thrust into his heart, following the other end up Richard’s hands to stare at his face.
“You… actually…” Completely shocked, he couldn’t even form proper sentences.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Ying
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA