Book 2, Chapter 118

Tug Of War

The battlefield was cleared very swiftly, and Richard mounted his horse as he led the sleepy army away with the bandits following behind. The rest of their journey proved to be a long and arduous tug of war, as the two entered a constant cycle of clashing and separating. The army’s march was erratic, first advancing northeast before they turned north after a few kilometres.

The large barbarians couldn’t ride horses, but thankfully they could move fast and had great endurance. However, they couldn’t compare to the short horses of the Bloodstained Lands. These horses were well-suited to the desert folk; although they weren’t great at short charges, their endurance and adaptability far surpassed the large horses from the human kingdoms.

The troops marched at average speed, with the wind wolves keeping close watch a few hundred metres away. Given their keen sense of smell and their heightened perception, Richard had a rough grasp of everything a kilometre around them. This was a good measure that allowed him to constantly adjust the direction of the army.

His final destination was far up north, in the lands of the Iron Triangle Empire. The Schumpeters’ base was most likely there, and within it an important Lighthouse of Time. Moreover, it was in a mountainous region filled with dense forest and a large amount of fierce magical beasts. Given the complicated terrain, the pursuing troops would have no way of demonstrating the strength of their numbers while Richard’s own troops could use their strengths to the utmost. After all, himself, Flowsand, and his core party were Richard’s strongest trump card.

Even now Richard had no idea how the pursuing bandits managed to track him down without mistake every time. He also didn’t understand how they had quietly gathered such a large number of troops. The first small engagements hadn’t raised much suspicion, but the attacks had soon grown unending and relentless. A few familiar faces were seen again and again, and Richard had sensed that his scattered enemies had banded together through unknown methods. He learnt that these people could ambush him instantly at any time and from any direction.

Richard’s biggest advantage was that he had no reinforcements. He only fended off the attacks mechanically, relying solely on his knowledge of the situation to constantly maneuver his troops as he eluded the encirclement each time. He wanted to crush the pursuers, escaping the ring completely.

When he first started, Richard had moved steadfastly towards the north. However, it had grown increasingly apparent that the enemies knew of his intentions, and the presence up north was much more obvious than elsewhere. Thus, he had decisively changed his path, making a sudden attack on the east and crushing the opposition in that direction. He then used the chance to escape the Red Cossack troops, forcing them to lag behind him.

As such, the wolf pack and its prey had traded blows. Both sides seemed to have reached their objectives; Richard was forced off his path, but he had also managed to escape Red Cossack’s trap. He also dealt heavy casualties to the enemy.

It went without saying that the scale of the battle was growing bigger every time. Besides trying to drive Richard further away from the Iron Triangle Empire, Red Cossack was also trying to force him off common trade routes. To the best of their knowledge, he had no foundation in the Bloodstained Lands. This made it difficult for him to seek substantial reinforcements, but it would not be hard for him to send news out. Red Cossack did not have the ability to shut down the entire intelligence network in the Bloodstained Lands, so they had to stop the news from spreading before Richard’s backers found out. Killing this arrogant joker who dared to challenge their prestige wasn’t worth it if the hunt ended in a war.

Realising their intentions, Richard had immediately worked to do what he could to stay on common roads. Even if he couldn’t hit the main road, he tried to ensure that he hit all the smaller routes he could. Of course he didn’t have any information to convey, but he could use it to control the enemy’s deployment. It also meant the occasional addition of manpower and supplies.

He passed two small caravans in his travels, quickly persuading them to give him their supplies and guards. Red Cossack was hot in pursuit behind him, and if they were spotted they would inevitably be wiped out. Such things were quite commonplace in the Bloodstained Lands; the large slaving groups often moonlighted as horse bandits.

Despite constantly losing men, Richard still had almost five hundred soldiers under his charge. If soldiers were ore, war was the best of furnaces. Some of the ore became strong metal under the flames, while the rest would become waste. Of course, ‘waste’ in the Bloodstained Lands was corpses.

As they continued to head north, Richard was quietly analysing his military strength. Altogether, an army of 821 had fallen down to 460. However, the ones who survived had grown to be cool-headed yet fierce warriors. As for him, his reward for the constant outstanding leadership was that his blessing of wisdom had advanced by a level.

There was little difference between the new grade of blessing and the old, the only enhancements being to his thinking speed and memory. In essence, he now had near photographic memory and could process much more of the information he was acquiring. The originally messy formations had grown much more organised, and his orders were now faster and clearer than ever. Consequently, his control of the battlefield had reached new heights.

An army of a few hundred soldiers was the best Richard could ask for at the present moment. It would allow him to perfectly display his commanding prowess. However, a clear train of thought and reaction was one thing, but drawing accurate conclusions was another matter altogether. Accurate strategic decisions had little to do with processing ability; the boost to the blessing only allowed for a smaller number of errors made in a hurry.

Even so, the effects clearly showed. The army had completely grown used to Richard’s command at this point, gelling together to form a cohesive unit. Just like during the earlier surprise attack, the troops would be prepared very quickly to form an invincible battlefront. This group of warriors from different races and backgrounds had been tempered, transformed into a well-oiled machines that destroyed enemies at an alarming rate.

……

About a hundred kilometres behind Richard, a train of carriages was making its way through the desolate desert.

This was no regular caravan. There were a few scarlet red carriages in the midst that ferried passengers, with an unassuming yet luxurious carriage that was drawn by a huge horse. The carriage’s four wheels were enhanced with shock-absorbing magic, making the rider feel like they were floating over even the most bumpy of roads.

Even if one were to ignore labour, the materials of the carriage alone were worth tens of thousands of gold coins. It definitely wasn’t just for comfort over long journeys. It was actually a magical war-carriage, used to provide a quiet and stable environment for mages during journeys to allow them to recuperate their mana. The interior of the carriage held a magic circle that could be activated with magic crystals, boosting the results of meditation.

The powerful mages of Norland had no need for such vehicles, while great mages and the like were too poor to afford one. Only in Faelor where mages had unusual status did such things appear. Were Richard to see this, his perspective as someone from the Deepblue would naturally allow him to discern its true use— it was something that allowed the mage to boast of their wealth and status.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Styles

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA