The strand of hair appeared to be screaming, violently struggling its way out of Richard’s grip before burying itself amongst the rest. However, it then seemed to recall something and came out again, glaring at Richard as minuscule balls of purple energy started crackling at its tip. If he tried to touch it again, having his hand pierced would be the least of his problems.
Of course, Richard wasn’t that foolish. He simply laughed and turned around, leaving the fuming strand behind. The purple lightning crashed into the blue dome, disappearing without a sound as it left behind white sparks.
Richard didn’t notice Sharon’s lips curling into an imperceptible smile as he left, nor did he see her lazily shift her posture and start snoring softly. Instead, he exited the heavy steel gates only to see Blackgold and Fayr still waiting for him.
“Did you manage to meet Her Excellency?” “How is Her Excellency?”
Both grand mages were evidently worried. Sharon was the soul of the Deepblue. Right now, it was a focal point of wealth with connections all over the plane, but if something bad happened to her it was impossible for them alone to secure the place.
“I couldn’t tell,” Richard said after some time pondering, “There was some sort of energy around Master stopping any attempts to find out. From the looks of it, though, she should be fine.”
“Good! That’s good!” Although the grey dwarf had his doubts about Richard’s ability, the anxiety that had left in constantly sweating was finally relieved. The mere speed at which Blackgold was heaving his chest was a testament to how rapidly his heart was beating.
“Are the new griffins ready?” Richard asked, already beginning to walk.
“They are. Four in total, with enough stimulants to make the trip. Are you sure you have to leave immediately? You haven’t even eaten anything, and you need to rest.”
Richard shook his head, “No, I must leave now. The time in Faelor passes at ten times the rate of Norland, I can’t afford to while any away here.”
Blackgold and Fayr both understood Richard’s personality, so they did not advise otherwise.
Richard was somewhat familiar with the inner workings of the Deepblue, so he threw a sudden question in the dwarf’s way, “Mr. Blackgold, how long can the Deepblue maintain itself with Master asleep?”
The grey dwarf’s face contorted and he hesitated for a long while before answering, “Her Excellency didn’t open up any of her treasuries before going into hibernation, and I don’t think she intends it any other way. You should know we spend so much money all the time, something only sustained by her earning rate. Her Excellency is normally so busy she ignores minor matters like finance, so it’s normal for her to overlook things now. The reserves I have can only keep the Deepblue functioning for a year at most.”
“We old geezers can only take a third of our salaries,” Fayr suddenly said in an oddly cheery mood, “That will give us four more months.”
The grey dwarf frowned, a rare sight, “This is a matter of obligation and interests. Those of us who have followed Her Excellency for a long time naturally have no issues with that, but what of the others? Not every one of the grand mages is willing to contribute for nothing in return, and several of them are only interested in us for the resources. If we reduce the subsidies and they leave, that will be a huge blow to our reputation!”
Fayr sighed without retort. Blackgold was right; most of the numerous mages living in the Deepblue were here in self-interest. If they weren’t offered the right salaries, many of them would choose to leave.
Richard stopped in his tracks, “How much is the deficit for this year?”
Blackgold didn’t even need to think about that, “For this year, it should be between three to four million. It’s likely to increase next year, and I’m not even accounting for any major events.”
“And of those under the Deepblue’s employ, how many mages can you deploy?”
“31 great mages and 720 between levels 10 and 15. Out of that second number, 330 are level 10.” Fayr was well-aware of these numbers.
Richard nodded, “I’ll try to start making use of them over time. As for the financial issues, I’ll think of something.”
The grey dwarf was shocked, “The gap is nearly four million!”
“I know,” Richard said calmly. He then got on one of the griffins and waved to the grand mages, commanding it to take into the night sky.
It took another day for the griffin to land on the Archeron island. All four mounts reached their destination this time, and although all of them were extremely drained none of them died of exhaustion. The Deepblue’s griffins were much better than those elsewhere, far beyond the ones in the Archeron nests.
Richard had finished a quick meal before gathering all his equipment and walking toward the Church of the Eternal Dragon. Half an hour later, the teleportation gate shone brightly and he disappeared into it.
Taking into account his trip to the Deepblue, a month had passed in Faelor. When Richard returned to Bluewater, he found the city bustling with activity once more. Construction workers and materials were everywhere, the roads clogged up with pedestrians and carts.
Most of the denizens of this city in the past wore rugged, durable clothing that was well-suited to the environment in the Bloodstained Lands. Now, however, there was a marked increase in those wearing the elegant clothing of nobility.
The city itself was at least twice as populous in the past. Bickering and physical fighting could be heard frequently as conflicts both big and small grew ubiquitous. The place was far livelier than in the past, and that didn’t even take into account the campsites outside the city stretching as far as the eye could see. Numerous cargo cars were seen parked around the campsites, continuous and unbroken. It was practically impossible to find empty flat land now, some people already digging into the hills to expand.
There were several imposing structures in the distance, huge warehouses that could store several tonnes of resources.
When Richard had last been here, Bluewater Oasis was still reeling in the aftermath of war. Most could only take shelter in temporary tents, some even sleeping in simple holes with wooden boards on top. Seeing this active city upon his return, he couldn’t help but be astonished.
“My Lord, you’re back!” At this point in time, Olar was the only one of his followers who remained so formal with him.
Richard tossed the chest he was carrying to the ground and exhaled, “Where are the others?”
“Some people are patrolling, others quelling riots and training. Oh, and I don’t know where Waterflower and Phaser are.”
Richard exercised his aching body a little, sensing the locations of each of his followers with magic. Gangdor was patrolling and Zendrall was organising his warriors of darkness, while Tiramisu was busy suppressing a disturbance on some random street. Waterflower and Phaser were several dozen kilometres away from the city itself, but the moment he returned they had started on their way back.
“What happened while I was away?” Richard asked as he continued walking towards his command centre.
“The nobles are all elated after the success of the Bloodstained Highway Project. The first caravan heading west is gathering as we speak, planning to carry more than 6,000 tonnes of resources for trade. Half of that is food, while another 2,000 tonnes is construction materials for the two supply points. The food is for Forgefires, while the remaining thousand tonnes comes from whatever the nobles want to trade.”
“Have someone keep a close eye on the nobles, don’t let them try to fool us with wrong numbers.”
Olar nodded before changing the topic, “There’s another matter, Master. We received news just this morning that a caravan clashed with the warriors we had stationed at the Cracked Canyon. The battle left several dead.”
Richard stopped in his tracks and frowned, “Where is this caravan from? Why did they fight our troops?”
“The reports say it should belong to Earl Lambert of the Iron Triangle Empire. It’s huge, the escort alone numbering 1,500. The thousand men guarding the Canyon retreated after suffering some losses in the skirmish, allowing the caravan through. This Earl Lambet should be the original owner of Camp Bluesquare.”
“Why is there a caravan around the Cracked Canyon? Where were they headed?”
Olar was prepared for this question, “West, with a lot of alcohol amongst their cargo. It appears they wish to follow our trade route towards the Ashen Plateau.”
Richard laughed coldly, “We spent a fortune getting through the Bloodstained Lands and this fellow wants to take advantage of it? As if! Looks like the incident with Salwyn didn’t teach them enough of a lesson. Very well, let them continue moving for a day as we gather our warriors. We depart tomorrow; after this, no caravan without permission will dare to step foot on the route.
The next morning, Richard’s followers were fully prepared and waiting outside his tent. Aside from Richard’s men, there were plenty of noble youths who wanted to follow him to capture the Iron Triangle opportunists. However, Richard had restrictions for anyone wishing to join in: they were only permitted to bring one bodyguard, and any who joined had to be able to endure long hours of hard trekking. They personally had to be level 10 at minimum as well, alongside formal positions as titled knights or higher.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: JH
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA