Three burst fireballs and two Nature’s Beckon spells were stored inside the Book of Holding. Richard had added four hundred points to his mana pool in the past month; even if he used Sacrifice with a grade 7 spell, he wouldn’t drop in level.
He had also completed two rune sets on top of the Cryptic Heart rune on Flowsand’s body, and with the 700 knights the broodmother sent him came the mounts he needed for his rune knights. He picked five level 12 Archeron warriors to form his first squadron, giving them a full set of runes that boosted them to near level 15. On top of that, Richard armed them with superior-grade equipment from head to toe.
Everything was prepared. All that was left was the pretext for war. And when Schachter rushed towards Bluewater City, he had no idea that he would soon become that very pretext.
Richard was in a rather good mood when the two met, a stark contrast from the baron. There was naturally a reason for this; meditation had been exceptionally effective in the past month, skyrocketing his mana growth to twofold what it was in the past. His growth rate was now nearly an order of magnitude beyond the regular mage, mainly because of the increased frequency of the more powerful astral rays. On top of that, the constant use of his blessings strengthened them as well.
Baron Schachter seemed travel-worn, hair dishevelled and the dirty strands sticking together. His eyes were completely bloodshot, a result of not having slept properly for a long time. The man was thinner than when they had last met, more haggard. It seemed like he had aged an entire decade in the time they had not met.
Schachter subconsciously wrung his hands, his voice tinged with insanity, “Sir Richard, you must help me! My father and family will be done for!”
Richard first instructed his servants to bring over a cup of black tea with some added alcohol, trying to calm the baron down, “There’s no hurry, Schachter. Take your time and explain what’s happened; you’re safe here.”
Schachter finally relaxed, flashing a ruesome smile, “Sir Richard, the disaster to my family is actually because of that magic equipment you gave me….”
His narration was messy, but it wasn’t long before Richard understood what had transpired. After confiscating the magic equipment that Schachter had sent to Earl Burr, the Mage Association had contacted him in secret. They promised to ignore his flouting the law completely as long as he admitted he had bought magic equipment illegally, even tempting him with the return of the equipment as well as discounted prices in the future.
When the enticement was combined with silent threats, the Earl eventually gave in and admitted that he had broken the laws of the Mage Association and bought a large batch of magic equipment, even writing it down. The Association had gone silent for a while after this, but they didn’t return the seized equipment. Feeling uneasy, Earl Burr hadn’t dared to ask for it either.
However, a dozen black-robed enforcer mages from the Association had assaulted the Earl’s castle one week ago, using hundreds of elite knights to apprehend the man and occupy the castle. The Earl had then been taken to Lausanne, jailed in a secret prison. The admission of guilt that was meant to be a secret compromise had now turned into the most effective of weapons in court.
Interestingly enough, the Association had hidden the name of the supplier in public. They hadn’t mentioned Richard’s name at all. Still, when the news got out, the entire Sequoia Kingdom went into an uproar. The Association’s domineering moves immediately left all the nobles uneasy and infuriated, condemning them without end. Even the King would not be willing to put an earl on trial so casually, but the mages had done just that. While they had a very good excuse for it, the nobles still wanted to know who exactly had given them so much authority.
However, Burr was a neutral noble who didn’t align with either the royal family or any of the three dukes. This normally allowed him to avoid any conflicts, but this also meant he had no powerful allies to help him out of his emergency. For some reason, the royal family and the three dukes remained surprisingly quiet. The other nobles applied constant pressure to the Association, but the mages refused to answer.
With nobody at the helm, the aggressive protests eventually petered out. With nobody willing to stand out and battle such a powerful organisation, the public opinion was meaningless. Earl Burr was allowed to be put on trial.
“What will happen your father?” Richard asked after hearing everything.
“The best outcome is a large fine and the confiscation of all the magic equipment,” Schachter smiled bitterly, hesitating for a while before he continued, “As for the worst… He will be imprisoned, perhaps even executed.”
Richard immediately frowned, “Executed? Does the Mage Association even have the right to do that? Even the King cannot kill an earl so easily.”
“There are many ways to do it. They can secretly kill him in prison, telling the public that he died of sickness, age, or even suicide…”
Richard thought it over, realising that this was a likely outcome. At the very least, that would leave some honour for the other nobles, even if the excuse was rather flimsy.
“How about the territory?”
Schachter spread his arms, “Divided up, and then gradually taken apart. That’s it.” With the leader of the family dying such a dishonourable death, even the most powerful of successors would not be able to keep control of the family’s entire wealth. The Mage Association definitely wouldn’t allow the successor of someone they killed to grow so easily either. It was all too likely for the inheritance to be split up, internal strife and external invasions tearing the Earl’s lands apart.
Richard nodded, lifting his cup and tasting the black tea, “I can help you with this, but do you have the courage to oppose the Mage Association? And I don’t mean in court.”
Schachter was surprised at first, seemingly a little flustered, but then he calmed down. His expression grew cold and merciless, hoarse voice ringing out viciously, “Yes! I will draw on every able fighter in my territory, giving you 2,000 warriors! However, only half of them can really battle. The other don’t have full equipment and their training isn’t complete.”
Richard knew that a baron would have to use everything to bring out 2,000 warriors. “Fine,” he answered, “Return and gather your army. When your men are ready, I will join the battle.”
Baron Schachter abruptly stood up and shouted, “One week! The army will be ready in one week!”
Richard took out a map of the Bloodstained Lands and pointed at his territory that was still being developed, “Good. This is my territory, assemble the regiment here. I will join you in a week.”
Schachter suddenly knelt on one knee and gestured with subservience, a courtesy reserved for a vassal with his lord. He then strode out of the hall.
All this while, Flowsand had been watching the conversation within the hall. As Richard started to amble back and forth around the hall, she finally spoke up, “This is a little strange. The Mage Association is basically challenging the authority of the King and the dukes, why are they so silent? We should ask Bevry, there must be a reason. And then there’s the Association not mentioning you but letting Schachter get away…” Considering the speed and power with which they had captured Earl Burr, it was impossible for Schachter to have escaped alive if the Mage Association didn’t want him to leave.
Richard nodded, “Seems like this is a more difficult opponent than we’d expected. There’s no need to ask the Duke anything; they just want to drag me into this. As for the royal family, they likely plan on grabbing my shares in the Bloodstained Highway. The profits from the route can be measured in tens of millions of gold every year, so they likely want to use a royal decree to take control of it and fix their image.”
“What do you plan on doing?”
“What else? We’ll only talk after battle! No matter what they’re planning, we want war as well. We can find out how powerful the Mage Association is after we meet them on the battlefield!”
“That’s good! Io has been hoping for war every day.”
Hearing the name of the battle priest, Richard snorted. Flowsand mirrored his action, referring to something else as she said, “At least the battle priests of the Church don’t have the habit of stripping at random!”
Richard stiffened up for a moment before suddenly grabbing her by the waist, dragging her into the bedroom. She scolded him and struggled for a while, but eventually gave in. However, she didn’t use the martial arts of the church during the entire process; who knew if Richard would be able to win if she had.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Ying
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA