Book 6, Chapter 11

A New Path

All of Bluewater erupted once the meeting came to an end, the machines of war starting to turn at high speed. The bells of the three churches tolled fourteen times each, signifying a summon to every single priest and cleric. The army camps bustled as the soldiers inspected their weapons and armour, the enormous warehouses being opened up to transport supplies.

Richard’s soldiers were armed and supplied to an unprecedented level, even the simple things such as cookware designed to isolate rain and mud. With competent leaders, unequalled equipment and unsurpassed salaries, the Crimson Army was a heaven to any professional soldier.

In terms of high-end power, Richard’s followers far exceeded anyone at their level. It was even widely acknowledged that only someone who could hold their own in the Crimson Dukedom qualified to be called on the verge of the legendary realm. The rune knights were a more effective core troop than any Faelor had even seen, and the heartless murderers that were the broodmother’s drones struck terror in enemies’ hearts.

As dusk fell, numerous wyverns took flight from the oasis, heading towards the human kingdoms to bring news of Richard’s attack to the neighbouring countries. Two were even headed to the Iron Triangle Empire, one for the Church of Cerces and the other straight for the imperial palace. Long flights were often difficult, but even on a wyvern the broodmother’s elite knights would have no problems whatsoever.

While all this was happening, Richard chose to have dinner within his magical laboratory, inspecting Rosie’s work. Of course, he prefaced it all by ‘inspecting’ Rosie as well, and unlike Flowsand the ursa essence actually showed its effectiveness within minutes. The girl had her own tenacity, refusing to give in even though she was on the verge of fainting within ten minutes. This would normally prompt Richard to speed up and finish off as fast as he could, but the young lady quickly realised just how big of a mistake that was. Richard seemed to have boundless stamina, and only stopped when they were an hour in. It took almost half an hour afterwards for her to regain the energy to move.

Once they were done, she quietly stood at his side as he went around to inspect the laboratory. He was surprised by the sheer number of completed runes within, and even more astonished at the fact that she had mastered all but the last spell formation he had taught her.

On one shelf in the corner was a stack of rune designs he had never seen before, something that piqued his curiosity. However, Rosie suddenly grew nervous as he reached out to grab them, “Those… Those are some designs I came up with… When I had free time…”

Richard just shrugged and started inspecting the first of the blueprints, finding it to be an elementary rune that was a little more intricate than normal. After an audible expression of delight, he continued onto the second and the third.

“But…” Rosie continued, her voice almost a squeak, “After I designed them, I tried to craft some. I used some materials without your permission, you can cut the costs from my—”

“Stop playing innocent with me,” Richard laughed as he held her cheeks in one hand and caressed them, “You think I don’t see that this is for a rune set?”

“What?” Rosie was startled, “You haven’t even seen the other two…”

“Except I’ve crafted dozens of Savage Barrier sets, and I know when I see a weaker version. Now tell me, how many did you craft?”

“… Twenty.”

“You what?” Richard’s eyes widened in shock as he made a few quick calculations, “Did you even step out of the lab in all these years?”

“I spent 31 days in the barbarian plains when I was feeling burnt out and needed inspiration. Outside of that, I rewarded myself with a full day of sleep on every birthday.”

For a moment, Richard couldn’t find any words to say. Even he didn’t have the incredible determination to hole himself up crafting runes for four entire years. Eventually, he just sighed, “You know, there’s no need to do this.”

Rosie’s pretence of being an innocent little girl finally faded away, “You gave me a chance and I took it. This is an entire world for me to conquer, an opportunity to shape my dreams. But I don’t have your talent, I don’t have your skills. All I do have is my hard work. I know you’re not invincible, I know there might be a day you fall in battle. I also know I’d be powerless to help.

“But I can do one thing. I can make sure you never have to worry about me. I want you to feel assured that, even without your support, I can do well on my own. This set is proof of that.”

Richard fell silent, only picking up the last two rune designs and reading through them with full attention. He went through the first three again as well, stopping on some portions for minutes at a time.

This truly was a weak elementary rune set. The combined strength was barely two-thirds of what he was used to crafting even on a bad day, and many of the arrays had been simplified or removed altogether to reduce the burden on the runemaster. That did not mean there were no upsides to this, however; anyone with the ability to craft basic runes could make this set.

Runemasters were organised into a strict hierarchy, with most elementary runemasters not even recognised as practitioners of the craft. However, these runemasters with minimal talent made up the majority of those crafting elementary runes, and although few actually had a breadth of knowledge they could still craft a set like this with a decent success rate.

“This…” Richard didn’t know how to evaluate this set. A rune knight formed from it would barely be beyond one with disparate runes, even a level 17 warrior equipped as such only equalling a naked saint, but it could truly be crafted by even the worst runemasters with little issue. Prior to this, even an elementary set required a dozen elementary runemasters cooperating to finish; it was only true talents who could do things on their own.

“You… Just might have paved the path for a new generation of runes…” Richard said eventually, putting down the designs. Seeing Rosie stunned by the high praise, he sighed and continued, “But you see, I… erm… I value…”

Rosie laughed softly at his stuttering, “I know you’re happy for me, but I also know you’re not interested romantically. I just needed to show you that you didn’t do wrong in taking me in. Now, tell me what you want to say, no need to feel burdened or embarrassed.”

Richard was left speechless for another moment.

“Oh right, I also recruited a few rune knight candidates when you were out. The plan was to test on them after you approved it, so you’ll have twenty more rune knights if you want. They won’t be very useful, but they’re a thing.”

At this point, Richard came to a sudden realisation and looked straight into Rosie’s eyes, “What do you want?”

Surprise flashed past Rosie’s face for a moment, but she quickly calmed herself, “I hear there are a lot of talented mages in the Deepblue. I want ten who can craft elementary runes or at least a variety of magic arrays.”

“I’ll get you thirty,” Richard said softly, glancing at the blueprints once more, “You want to develop this more?”

“Mm, I want to head in this direction. Runes can be complicated, as complicated as Lifesbane and Crimson Inferno, but they can also be made simple and affordable. If I can halve the costs for a 20% drop in power, that’s definitely worth it!” One could clearly see the excitement in Rosie’s eyes.

“Good thoughts, but make sure to control them a little. Don’t spread these designs around, I don’t want there to be a day when my own elites are trampled down by a mob of warriors with inferior runes.”

Rosie went silent for a moment, finally considering a problem that hadn’t come across her mind so far. Richard left her alone to ponder the ramifications of easing access to runes, and what that would mean for more skilled runemasters like her or himself. There was a certain utility to standard runes in how they could be crafted by almost anyone, but if sets became easy to buy the market would plummet.

Still, he wrote a letter the moment he returned to his study, having someone send it to Blackgold. Foundational magic arrays weren’t complicated to learn, and the grey dwarf was already working on a batch of apprentice runemasters. He was planning to put an entire fifty under Rosie’s hands to see how far she could go.

As the stars twinkled in the night sky, he thought about how his own followers had continued to pursue their dreams all this while. 

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Styles

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA