Checkpoints were already being built on the Bloodstained Highway. Richard had set the tax to 10% of all goods that passed through, the portions corresponding to whole items able to be replaced with gold. This was rather low for Faelor, with many of his allies opposing it. However, he decided to implement this ‘inconceivable’ tax anyway, stating that any caravan that refused to pay the fee would be disallowed in the Bloodstained Lands. The safety of those who tried to sneak in could not be guaranteed.
This tax rate was low enough that it wasn’t worth it to risk annihilation. There was also no need to take a detour and go through the Iron Triangle Empire, whose taxes were much higher. In fact, since the core of the empire was in the northeast, the southern mountains had disappointing security. Even after paying the toll, it wasn’t unlikely for one to meet brigands and bandits.
Richard dispatched a few cavalry groups to roam the Bloodstained Lands, able to turn into bandits if they found caravans that hadn’t paid tax. At the same time, they would solidly support any caravans that had paid against actual bandits. He was pulling wool over the people’s eyes, preparing to announce the merger of the entire Bloodstained Lands into his own territory. He would then march towards the barbarians’ ancestral plains and the Ashen Plateau, constricting around the territories of the barbarians and dwarves. At that time, he would just take all the goods of any caravans that flouted his laws.
With a combination of a low tax rate, massive business opportunity and severe consequences for not paying up, he believed any caravan that wished to pass through the Bloodstained Lands would come to the right decision.
With all of his zealous supporters parroting his words and the stunned silence of the other nobles from his previous battles, he easily passed the proposal. Of course, he knew that it was impossible to make the nobles, especially those of the Iron Triangle Empire, admit to his rulership of this territory without a few battles. However, he was prepared for that.
He had only been in Norland for a few days, but a month had passed in Faelor. This meant he had another hundred humanoid knights. Seeing his cavalry pass the 1,000 mark, he realised he was running short on weapons and equipment once more. This was the pinch of burning through one’s money; an elite army of a thousand men had taken over ten million in investment. Of course, this was because of his high standards for equipment. With Faelor’s standards, even 5,000 gold’s worth of armour was first-class for a knight.
After making arrangements for his troops, Richard suddenly paused and looked at the followers seated in a circle in the meeting room. A sudden headache started to come over him; he had no idea of who to leave behind on Faelor to take care of the situation. Gangdor, Waterflower, Tiramisu… His gaze swept past every follower, stopping at Io.
Although he hated the fellow’s guts, the battle priest was the real deal. He had shown an excellent understanding of combat over the numerous battles, knowledge second only to Richard himself. Of course, Richard’s abilities could not be reproduced; his blessings of wisdom and truth, the connection with the broodmother’s elites… these advantages left the entire battlefield transparent to him. Without them, he would be no more powerful than Io.
On top of that, Io had outstanding intelligence. He also appeared elegant and could integrate into the upper classes, being not one whit inferior when it came to scheming. He truly was the best candidate to be put in charge of a plane.
However, Richard sighed and nodded in front of everyone, eliminating Io first and foremost. Faelor was his base, the foundation of his future empire. He could not allow defiance here, so the first priority for a commander was loyalty. Passing ability at command was fine; the proxy only needed to keep control of what they already had. Richard would return himself for any important battles, taking care of things.
The second candidate was Flowsand. The young priestess lost to Io in terms of tactical knowledge, but outside of that there were no fields where she was inferior. This was someone who could call forth miracles; she hadn’t commanded large-scale battles before, but if she was given the chance to hone herself she could well become a famous general. Richard knew just how precise her judgement was, boosting their warriors with barriers or healing spells moments before enemy attacks. However, getting a titled priestess to become a general seemed too insignificant a position for someone of her calibre.
He gave her a long look, deciding to keep her by his side. Sometimes, decisions could not be made based on rationality alone. He wanted her next to him, and there was no need for anything else.
Seeing his gaze shift to the next person, a slight smile of satisfaction appeared at the corner of Flowsand’s lips.
In the end, Richard came to a difficult decision. He raised his hand and pointed at Gangdor, “You’ll stay behind.”
The brute immediately jumped up, “What? Boss, no way! How can you leave me in this stupid place? Look, there aren’t any wars at all now, just leave Olar behind. That kid’s really good at dealing with the noble ladies!”
Richard continued to point at him, leaving no room for discussion, “You’re the one. Olar’s coming with me, but I’ll leave Io for you.”
The slight smile on the battle priest’s face immediately froze and he suddenly stood up. Just as he was about to object, Flowsand coughed abruptly from his side. He turned towards her, only to find the priestess staring blankly at the fingernails on her left hand. Her fingers were long and filled with power, the glossy nails even looking perfect. There didn’t seem to be any areas that needed adornment.
“You have something to say?” Richard asked, an ominous glint in his eyes. At this point, Io was a joke to him. He had beaten the man down before, and now that he had journeyed to the Battlefield of Despair his understanding of killing had been raised to another level. If the battle priest dared to challenge him, he would be beaten down every single time.
Out of his expectations, Io actually sat back down while looking glum, “It can’t be helped.”
The valour in Richard’s heart had no place to go. He was startled for a bit, but he eventually just said, “Fine.”
At that moment, Io had remembered Flowsand’s most practical threat. She would create a female battle priest instead of boosting his limit to level 18, and he knew himself that two level 16 battle priests were definitely more useful than a single level 18 one. He was extraordinary, but the brutal truth was that the one who created and could allow him to advance was even more so.
‘The fellow finally isn’t scheming,’ Flowsand thought as Io finally bowed down to reality, ‘Hmph, don’t think that’s enough. I’ll still create a girl next time!’
Richard arranged for Gangdor and Io to stay behind and guard Faelor, giving the former absolute command. In the meanwhile, he silently told the broodmother to have her troops obey Gangdor if there was a conflict of interest. This way, he had two layers of insurance. Just the thousand humanoids armed from head to toe would allow Gangdor to defeat armies several times his size head-on, and on top of that the Archeron soldiers, knights, and mages would obey him as well. Zendrall was also staying behind, and he would naturally stand on the brute’s side.
Three people had their own thoughts and arrangements in the room. It was just that Richard and Flowsand were active, while Io was passive.
Having taken care of everything, Richard wrote a letter to the Direwolf Duke to mention that he was leaving in seven days, and would be gone for about half a year. Bevry, although now weaker than him, was still the most reliable of all his allies on this plane.
These seven days were necessary to finish preparations on this end. Richard made use of the time to meditate and grow his mana pool, as well as putting some research into improving his spells. He would reach level 14 in a few months, catching up to Io.
He didn’t slack off when it came to runes either. Inspiration had flowed freely after his trip to the Land of Dusk, and he finally completed the Cryptic Heart rune and used a night to tattoo it onto Flowsand’s ribs. Of course, the two vigorous youths didn’t waste the rest of the night after the rune was drawn either.
The battle that night had been rather intense. He had his ups and downs, but he eventually fell and was devoured by Flowsand completely.
Two days before they returned to Norland, Richard chose to find some time to relax. He left his laboratory at dusk, walking around the camp.
As his aimless wandering brought him close to Zim’s residence, he suddenly heard a peal of showy laughter resounding from within. This unrestrained laugh held great power within, and was very easy to recognise. Even he would turn tail upon hearing it, and every great noble of the Sequoia Kingdom, including the three dukes, would feel a terrible headache from the sound.
Because it belonged to Countess Katrina.
He immediately turned to leave, but a young, expressionless woman with a tall figure suddenly appeared before his eyes. She was dressed in military clothing, her deep-set face making her a classic beauty. This was the Countess’ trusted aid, Anna.
Anna was no stranger to Richard; she had commanded the Countess’ army during the Bloodstained Highway project. This young beauty was level 14, and had a strong understanding of tactics. She was a rather striking person amongst the nobles, but considering her individual characteristics she was nothing special.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Ying
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA