Book 5, Chapter 23

Trust

Lina seemed to be in half a daze, a struggle playing out right on her face at the mention of what would happen to Sisley if she returned. Richard quickly noticed her feelings, causing an expression of annoyance to crawl up on his face, “What, you want me to give up territory in Norland?”

The Dragon Mage’s expression was still blank as she asked, “Territory? What territory…”

Richard gave her a death stare for a few minutes before sighing helplessly, “You… Fine, I understand. Sisley!”

The young lady immediately leapt up from the ground, rushing straight to Richard’s side. Her chest was heaving violently as her eyes filled with longing. Richard looked intently at her, but after a while he gave up on trying to decipher whether her expressions were genuine. He couldn’t find a single flaw in this would-be facade, even though he knew that someone who could be so cruel to their own family definitely wasn’t as helpless and simplistic as she looked.

Perhaps it was just a rash decision in her youth… However, the possibility of such a thing was quite low. It was most likely that she was just a gifted actress. Still, he patted her on the head, “I’ll send you to one of my private planes with a small number of troops. Prove your worth to me.”

Sisley immediately grew excited, her face full of glee, “You’re not sending me away anymore?”

“I know you’re just acting, but I can’t see that with my eyes. Consider this your win; I’m— no, Lina’s giving you a chance. This will be the first and last time you will ever possibly be trusted; use it well.”

Sisley tilted her head, the pitiful look immediately vanishing into her cunning, beautiful self, “I won’t let you down!”

Richard nodded, “Then I look forward to it.”

After sending Sisley off, Richard looked at Lina and shrugged once more before turning to leave.

“Richard, wait!” Lina called out behind him, finally snapping out of her reverie, “Was I wrong? After all, it could be an earldom…”

“It would be an earldom,” Richard waved her off with a smile. Sisley might not be worth that much, but the prospect of peace with him was. Even Alice and Goliath were only earls. Gaton himself had taken three years of constant warfare to become a Marquess.

“I….” Lina couldn’t find any words.

“Anyway, it’s done. Exchanging an earldom for your happiness is worth it.”

“But—”

“Lina, you’re much more valuable than you think you are. For me, at least, an earldom is worth much less than your trust.” Having said that, Richard waved once more to her before leaving the room.

Lina suddenly felt like she was suffocating, forced to find a sofa and plop down. The different smiles of two very different men seemed to pop up before her eyes; Gaton was full of passion and severity, while Richard was gentle and caring. However, they both carried similar levels of charm.

……

Since this visit was unplanned, Richard didn’t really have any visitors waiting for him. However, the number of people who wanted an audience with him were still piling up. The old steward had diligently sorted out the invitations, placing the letters from those who were more important aside. Richard gave himself half an hour to read through these and decide appropriately.

One of the letters in particular drew his interest, so much so that he made an exception to read it twice. It was from Foster.

This apprentice of Lunor’s was expressing a newfound admiration for Richard, humbly apologising for former slights. He then went on to talk about his passion for runes and just how gifted he was at the art, before closing off by indicating his desire to become a student of Richard’s. He was even willing to undergo a ceremony at the Church of the Eternal Dragon for this.

The letter left Richard utterly speechless at the sheer shamelessness of some people. Foster did indeed have talent, and with the resources he had as Lunor’s student he should have been able to craft grade 3 runes eventually, so why did he want to become a student of a rival? Changing one’s master in such a manner was frowned upon everywhere.

Eventually, he just crushed up the letter and threw it into the wastebasket. Finishing off his work for the evening, he went to sleep.

The next morning, five heads had been sent to his doorstep. He acknowledged the envoy who had delivered them before returning to Faelor.

……

With all of his followers present, the situation in Faelor was fine. It had been nearly a year since the holy war, and nothing big had happened in his time. He had spent most of his time here delving into runecrafting while trying to strengthen his bloodlines, with the only exception being a short month-long war with the Iron Triangle Empire. It had only been a quick run along the southern portions of the Empire, destroying three battalions of troops, two clerical legions that amassed more than 300 paladins from the Goddess of Time, and three of the ten major cities in the area.

The war had rattled the foundation of the Iron Triangle Empire. Just as the entire army was mobilised, Richard had taken his loot and retreated from the Empire’s territories. 20,000 soldiers were ransomed off at an astronomical sum and a promise to never provoke the Crimson Dukedom.

By this point, every famous general of the Empire outside of Rislant had succumbed to Richard’s army. However, the Emperor didn’t even mention allowing Rislant to go to war; he was tasked to continue his wars with the Dragon Church. The fall of this last bastion would be a devastating blow.

Of course, Richard had neither the intention nor the ability to completely destroy the Iron Triangle Empire. Once they’d reached an agreement, his army was transferred back to the barbarian plains while he returned to the world of runes.

However, upon this return from Norland, he didn’t resume this reclusive life. He was extremely restless, just wandering Bluewater City for the better part of a day. It was only when Faylen ‘chanced’ upon him for the seventh time that he returned to his courtyard, summoning the astral chrysalis and having it ferry him straight to the broodmother in the Land of Turmoil.

The journey was swift yet steady, but as they reached the Land of Turmoil Richard was shocked at the sight. What was once a land of trees and forests had been turned completely barren, devoid of all but soil and rocks. Even insects didn’t live here anymore, forget troggs and goblins that bred fast enough not to care about the dangers.

However, as he looked ahead he saw that a new, smaller forest close to the centre. This entire forest was made up of a single kind of a tree, each grown to the same height, looking the exact same, with their luscious leaves flying in the wind. These trees had been planted at exact distances from each other, so mechanical that it sent shivers up one’s spine. When the astral chrysalis quietly brushed through the forest, these trees seemed to sway gently in greeting.

At the centre of the forest was what looked almost like an enormous beehive, with two smaller hives nearby. In the blank space between the three was the broodmother, sitting in place while her fog was carried off by the wind.

“You’re finally here, Master,” the broodmother’s voice echoed in his mind.

“If I hadn’t come, I would never have seen just how much you changed the place,” Richard responded as he leapt off the astral chrysalis, looking up at the creature that he could once have held in his hands.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Styles

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA