Faelor’s sky was a clear blue and the sun shone brightly. Raymond was sitting in his yard, calmly sipping on tea as he scanned through books on history, geography, religion, and various other features of Faelor. A large dog was lazily resting at his feet, its golden fur glimmering in the sunlight. This creature had no name, but in crucial moments it could erupt with a shocking amount of strength that dwarfed most inhabitants of the Bloodstained Lands. It was actually a creation of the broodmother, hiding level 13 strength while it acted as Raymond’s companion, protector, and supervisor. Even at full strength, Raymond would never be able to defeat this dog.
The door to the yard was unlocked, but with orders from Richard that he couldn’t go out it was completely useless. Any such desires had long since washed away; all Raymond did these days was sip on his tea and read books to pass the time.
“Any news?” the Joseph youth asked as Richard entered the yard and took a seat across him.
“I met Her Highness Reyna when I was in Norland,” Richard revealed.
“Reyna?” Raymond raised a brow, “If you’re coming here personally, it must have been complicated.”
“Not really. She just tried to take me hostage and force me to release you.”
Raymond sighed, “That girl’s talented, but she’s completely green and naive. How would she be able to capture you? Let me guess, she’s in your hands now.”
Richard laughed, “No, actually, we never came to blows. Right now, I think she’s wondering how best to please me so you have an easier time.”
“I don’t really feel like I’m suffering though,” Raymond said calmly.
“That’s only temporary,” Richard sneered.
“What, you want to torture me? Do your worst.”
“Haha, I recently acquired a soul shepherd and a bastard child of a god. Which one would you prefer?”
Raymond paled a little for the first time since Richard had arrived. Either fate would damn his soul eternally, with death being only the beginning of his suffering. Watching him stay silent, Richard poured himself a cup of tea and tasted it, “Reyna doesn’t have much to offer, she knows this herself. I never exposed her identity, and she should at least be smart enough to realise why. I believe she’ll eventually give up everything for your sake, what do you think?”
“That’s quite possible.”
“You don’t wish to help her in any way?”
“… I’m utterly powerless.”
Richard fixed his gaze on Raymond and sighed, “You’re such a disappointment.”
“No, you should be happy,” Raymond said glumly, “I’m not someone who gives up easily, and it’s impossible for our hatred to fade. However, isn’t the sight of me struggling exactly what you want to see? I’m not giving you what you want.”
Richard swirled the teacup in his hand, “Do you remember what I said that day during your last war? You were just an inconvenience to take care of, nothing more. It doesn’t really matter to me whether you’re in pain, or I’d have sent Nyra to you long ago. The only reason you’re even alive is so you serve out the sentence for your crimes.”
Raymond burst into laughter, “My crimes? What about yours? What difference is there between our actions?”
“Everything,” Richard replied indifferently, “I’m more confident in mine than you are in yours. Also, I’m the victor.”
The laughter suddenly ceased.
“If you want your presence to be felt, then feel free to give me suggestions about my actions. Be it real advice or traps, I welcome it all.” Richard waved goodbye, returning to his work.
The door to the yard closed once more, but Raymond remained seated. The sky was clear and sunny, the beauty of spring littering the backyard, but winter hadn’t yet left his heart.
Spring, summer, and autumn turned out to be completely peaceful. The period of truce had already passed by, but none of the human countries were in a hurry to wage new wars. This year, annexing territories was done more over the table or on the bed instead of a battlefield. Political marriages had always been an effective way to merge fiefs, and without Richard stirring the pot in the Bloodstained Lands nobody was foolish enough to provoke him.
The activities of Richard’s main army weren’t concealed at all. All neighbouring countries knew that his forces were making inroads into the barbarian ancestral plains, already having surmounted the precipitous Wall of the Trade Winds. Most of the famed generals had been transferred into the expedition as well, and the only big names still in Bluewater were affiliated to the churches.
Some thought Richard’s defences were particularly weak right now, but most intellectuals did not subscribe to that theory. So long as Richard was still present, nobody had the guts to attack. The incident with the fifth division of the Iron Triangle Empire clearly illustrated that point: his followers had failed to withstand their rapid charge through the Bloodstained Lands, but once he stepped out himself he had completely annihilated them with half the numbers. His forces had even struck back and captured the Empire’s garrison itself.
By this time, Richard’s military prowess was already acknowledged to be the greatest in the western mainland, far surpassing Salwyn and Rislant.
In fact, Richard’s silence only worried the strategists of the plane. He was holed up for now, but if his forces managed to open up the border regions of the ancestral plains then he would have a vast backyard of his own to pull warriors from. Such an outstanding general with an equally powerful army and control of multiple strategic locations… The very thought caused them to shudder; he would be basically impossible to defeat.
In comparison, far fewer people were worried about the mythical land in the centre of the Land of Turmoil. One could see by the fact that Richard was still sourcing soldiers locally that the passage had to be difficult. Powerhouses could pass through, but ordinary soldiers could not. This also abated worries about an army of hundreds of thousands that would one day rush through the Bloodstained Lands and slaughter the countries nearby. However, those worries would certainly return if the barbarian plains were tamed.
Richard himself didn’t pay any attention to the thoughts of others, burying himself into his world of magic and runes as he sharpened his skills bit by bit. As time slowly flowed by, his strength grew accordingly.
People were constantly streaming in and out the planar portal, but Richard’s activities were constrained to his lab and meditation room. Flowsand was in the barbarian plains, and in a rare occurrence, Rosie had tagged along for a while to gain the experience she needed to continue levelling up properly.
Many still travelled great distances to enter the Bloodstained Lands and join his ranks. Numerous others came especially for faith, hoping to worship the graces of the god Richard served. These ascetics exhausted all their resources to get here, but were only rebuffed and told that the god did not need new worshippers. Fortunately, the three goddesses were extremely generous in such situations and gave them all a place to stay. Those who came for the power of Richard’s backer ended up being converted into fervent worshippers by them instead.
Almost every few days the three goddesses were sending down oracles, performing miracles, or even directly strengthening some of their most powerful worshippers in joy. Flowsand had a single statement that both described and ridiculed their situation, “The beggars have just gotten a windfall, it’s understandable.”
Autumn soon passed as well, giving way to the frosty winds of winter. One day, the broodmother passed on the news that she had finally finished her evolution to level 9. It was only then that Richard looked up from his workbench and glanced at the calendar on the wall, realising that nearly a year had passed.
It was time to return to Norland.
He looked back down at his workbench, staring at the Lifesbane he had just finished. This rune was already different from the original blueprint, the buff even greater but the capacity requirement instead reduced. The cost came in the form of a more difficult process of creation, but to him that was nothing. He fetched a case from the shelf beside him, taking out a similar-looking rune.
He removed his clothing and started to mobilise his mana, causing complicated patterns to appear on his arm. The two runes slowly floated up and wrapped around his forearms, a mist of blood erupting from within as they fused into his body. Taking a few minutes to recompose himself, he rung the bell to call Rosie who had returned last month.
“You finished?” he asked.
“It’s all done!” Rosie’s face was gleaming with pride as she passed a case of her own to him. She had just taken a very important step.
“Mm, not bad at all. Even better than I had expected!” Richard praised her before pointing at the workbench, “Help me clean that up a bit, I need some rest. Pack your things after that, we’re heading to Norland in about a week.”
Rosie hummed an affirmative, starting to organise the scattered ingredients on the table. However, Richard suddenly palmed his head and laughed, “Right, I almost forgot. I promised you a prize if you completed all three.
“Let me think…” Although he said that, Richard’s eyes were bright and clear. He evidently knew exactly what he would give her, but Rosie’s heart started thumping like it was being hammered on by a dwarf.
Seeing her look of anticipation, he chuckled, “Let’s see, why not hold a rune convention for you when we return to Norland? That stuff is more than enough for a budding runemaster.”
“WHAT?” Rosie cried in shock, “A… convention? My very own convention?”
“Yep,” Richard nodded.
“Is… that okay?” She tried her best to calm her raging heart, barely regaining composure, “Master… That is what I should call you. Everything I am, everything I have, you gave to me. It doesn’t matter if I can become a runemaster, even a grand runemaster in the future. I don’t need my own reputation and glory, because—”
“Because I gave you a new life?” Richard cut her off with a laugh. He had heard her say it multiple times.
Rosie took a deep breath, “Nothing matters more to me than that.”
“If so, shouldn’t your new life have a convention that is yours? It’s already settled, you’re getting one.” He pressed a finger on her lips, “No need to argue. Rosie, I did give you a new life. However, you’ve repaid that favour many times over already. Don’t overthink it, this is what you deserve. When the time is right, I’ll give you your freedom too.”
“W-What…” the girl seemed to lose all life, “You’re… getting rid of me?”
“Hahaha… Why would I do that? I’m giving you the freedom to choose yourself. If you want to stay by my side, you can do so of your own volition, not as my slave.”
Rosie lowered her head, barely managing to squeeze out a thank you after great effort. Richard wiped the tears off her cheeks before returning to his own room as he opened a mental connection to his followers.
“Get over here. It’s time to kick some asses back home.”
What followed was a number of excited shrieks that shocked him to the point of near fainting.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Karen
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA