Book 3, Chapter 142

Ambition

North of Lausanne was an ancient red-brick building with four floors. This was the institution where the elders held meetings; although it wasn’t large, it held five hundred years of history. Although there had been renovations and decorations along the way, the outer appearance still remained the same as when the town had first been constructed. A large number of decisions that affected the entire Sequoia Kingdom.

The fourth floor had a total of thirty offices, sixteen of which were occupied. However, this place hadn’t always been half-empty; in the prime of the Association’s days, there were grand mages who couldn’t even get an office here. The Association’s influence over the Sequoia Kingdom wasn’t nearly as grand as before.

Even as the influence of the Mage Association grew over the past century, the number of mages had actually decreased. There were now less than 600 registered mages from the Kingdom that were level 8 or higher.

However, this was only a surface decline. The income of the Association hadn’t decreased at all; while the reducing number of mages had affected their output of enchanted equipment and other magic devices, this had also allowed them to increase the price twofold. In the same period of time, the price of wheat in the Kingdom had only risen by 5%. The profits of the elders in the Association had actually increased; the cake hadn’t gotten smaller, but the number of those who could eat from it had.

Most of the grand mages of the Association didn’t like working in this building; they basically never appeared here outside of meetings. However, there were still some people who liked the smell of power in this place, willing to stay here. Grand Mage Leon was here almost every day, sitting around.

As the most outstanding genius of the Sequoia Kingdom in recent years, Leon was unwilling to hand over his responsibilities to someone else. He had become the youngest elder in the Association, even getting to the position of vice-chairman last year. His robes had changed from the red of the elders to a dark gold.

There were only three dark gold mages in the entire Association—  the chairman, Leon, and a level 18 grand mage. The level 18 mage was the most powerful in the organisation, but often wasn’t in Lausanne. His magic tower was constructed in the northern borders of the Kingdom, said to be guarding a gigantic magic crystal mine. There was an entire tribe of dwarven slaves digging ores for him there.

Leon was sipping on a cup of black coffee in his office, concentrated on the report in his hands. In front of his desk was a tall middle-aged mage, the golden robes indicating that he had a high rank within the association.

“You’ve confiscated a total of ten sets of enchanted equipment?” Leon inquired.

“Yes, sir. These ten sets can arm a soldier from head to toe!”

“Where are the goods? Let me take a look.”

“They are waiting downstairs, please follow me.”

A moment later, the golden-robed mage personally opened up two magic chests in a dark showroom and displayed the equipment inside. Leon picked up a sword and activated it, illuminating the table with blue light.

“Not bad. It’s a top-notch longsword that I can’t pick apart at all. Technique, material, enchantments… everything is top of the line. Based on your judgement, what is the quality of this sword?”

“It should be about the same as the quality goods of the Association,” the golden-robed mage said carefully.

Leon couldn’t help but laugh as he tossed the sword into the chest, “Quality goods? You think those weaklings can make goods of this standard? I wouldn’t be able to make something like this if I enchanted it myself. Only old Bank who works on enchantments day in and day out can surpass this. But Bank only produces a few enchanted items in a month. The items in these two chests would take him a year to make.”

The golden-robed mage was startled by Leon’s words, his gaze upon the chests warping.

“And these things came from Richard’s hands?” Leon asked again.

“Yes, I looked into it thoroughly. This equipment was sent back by Baron Schachter, meant for Earl Burr’s personal guard. Baron Schachter was an active member of the Bloodstained Highway project and is still in the Bloodstained Lands. There’s no doubt about it, the source of this equipment has to be Richard…

“Sir,” the mage continued after a while, his tone filled with worry, “I heard Richard is selling cheaper than the Association! This is terrible, at this rate all the nobles are going to look for him instead.”

However, this comment did not elicit the praise the mage had expected. Leon just snickered, “Is that so strange? It’s not that Richard is selling cheap, our price is just too high! Think about it, what are the costs of creating a piece of enchanted equipment? Even the base lafite we sell at thrice the average price in the Kingdom, and then there’s the enchanting fees. Take Master Moxy, for instance, who’s adept at sharpness enchantments. The formations are readily available for him, and he only uses about a grade 6 spell’s worth of mana to finish an enchantment in three minutes. That earns him a profit of 500 gold. Hmph, even I’d be willing to do something so lucrative! That’s how high our cost is!”

The gold-robed mage was shocked, not having expected the vice-chairman to take apart the Association without sugarcoating it at all. He had no answer for this statement. Experience told him this conversation could be an opportunity, but it was also a fatal trap.

Leon softened his tone, “Actually, the quality of the enchanted equipment that the Association produced a hundred years ago was much better than it is now, not far off from what is in front of us. The selling price then was also lower than Richard’s. However, that is a hundred years ago.”

The mage only vaguely nodded in agreement, changing the topic, “Sir, how do we deal with Earl Burr’s goods?”

“Did you figure out Richard’s background?”

The mage braced himself, “I’m still looking into it. We’ve found out that Richard seems to have a relationship with the Whiterock Dukedom, but our relationship with the Mage Association there isn’t great. We can only do this in secret… This will need time.”

Leon nodded, “There’s no hurry, he can’t run anywhere. But I can’t just let this thing with Earl Burr go either… Right, isn’t there a law that bulk transactions of enchanted equipment have to go through the Association?”

“That is right.”

Leon’s voice turned icy, “Alright then. Take some men and capture Earl Burr. Bring him to Lausanne in secret to be put on trial. He is to be accused of smuggling magic equipment.”

The golden-robed mage was shocked, “Sir, it isn’t simple to capture a true noble!”

“There is a precedent,” Leon countered.

“That’s different, that was just a baron. This is an earl! If you’re not careful, the imperial family and other powerful nobles could intervene!”

Leon snickered, “No, Burr is a neutral noble. They have no enemies, but also no protectors. We just have to capture him, the worst that could come out of it is some period of protest. Do they actually have the guts to go against us? This is the time for us to show our power!”

The mage shivered inside, finally realising that Leon’s ambition was definitely not limited to becoming chairman.

……

In the meanwhile, Richard had a rare period of tranquility for half a month. His life every day was just creating runes and meditating, recovering his mana pool as fast as he could. The quiet lifestyle greatly increased his rune output, allowing him to craft eight in fifteen days. In the meanwhile, he had already recovered to level 12.

The situation in the Bloodstained Lands was quite stable. Richard’s followers worked separately to purge all the bandits that threatened the Bloodstained Highway trade route. With the route just being a trove of gold, many bandits smelled money and flocked over. They didn’t dare to lay their hands on the larger caravans, but even the small groups were worth salivating over. On top of that, many amongst them had devious intentions, like the remaining Red Cossack soldiers.

The immense profits from the trade route could drive anyone insane. The bandits of the Bloodstained Lands were fierce and merciless, and persuasion was obviously useless. Threatening them had no effect either, which was why Richard gave the order to kill any bandits found within fifty kilometres of the route. Once enough were sent to their graves, the survivors would naturally grow smart enough not to touch his treasure.

The Iron Triangle Empire was extremely furious that Richard had wiped out all of their strongholds in the Bloodstained Lands and had already dispatched envoys requesting the Sequoia Kingdom to hand Richard over. Of course, they would not comply. The profits of half the nobles in the Kingdom were already intertwined with Richard’s, and although it would affect the balance of power they would boost the Kingdom’s strength. Why would they cut their own arm off? The Empire had expected this outcome as well, it had just been an act to appease their own subordinates.

Such was politics, such was diplomacy.

The Empire had already battled Richard twice. In the first instance, Salwyn had suffered massive losses at Bluewater. In the second, Richard had destroyed nine camps and a caravan. Already hurting from the loss of Camp Bluesquare, Earl Lambert’s elites with the caravan had been killed off as well. In addition, three of the nine destroyed camps were his. That left the Earl with a total of 4,000 elites and two saints dead. Even a Duke would lose sleep over such losses.

However, the Iron Triangle Empire had numerous troubles on other fronts. Rislant was losing badly to the Dragon Church, and the expedition towards the coast wasn’t going smoothly either. The Empire couldn’t afford to declare war on the Sequoia Kingdom. On top of that, while the benefits of the Bloodstained Highway would be tremendous, it was much more important for the Empire’s future to take control of the coast.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Hestia

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA