Book 6, Chapter 12

Touring The North

An enormous elephant was walking across the boundless ancestral plains, upon it a howdah that housed two people in traditional barbarian outfits. One of the two was staring at the clouds above, while another was gazing into the distant horizon.

Nobody here could tell, but these were two heavenly guardians out on a quest to earn offerings. If Richard were here, he would recognise Nyra and Io immediately.

“Richard is back,” the battle priest said lazily, “Do we need to go see him?”

“Of course,” Nyra said in her signature monotony, “I’m not as stupid as you to offend him.”

“We can find offerings ourselves now, can’t we? Why should I have to listen to that bastard? I want to live with a little dignity.”

“Can we? Two years of fighting and we have only performed one greater sacrifice. It will be a long time before we advance.”

“That’s because we’re both priests! It would be so much easier if we had a saint helping, and it doesn’t help that this place is so barren. Thousands of barbarians and not one motherfucker is worth even a lesser sacrifice!”

“And how much do you think he’s made in this time? Weren’t you proud of the greater sacrifice?”

“How am I supposed to compete with him? He’s—”

“He’s good to us. Even if we’re not helping him deliberately, there’s no need to antagonise him either. Hehe, and if you think we can even remotely compare to the number of offerings he’ll have brought back… Well, just don’t forget your dignity.”

“What do you mean? What are your plans?”

“I’m prepared to grovel at his feet if that will help. Like I told you, you better keep to yourself. Richard will only be willing to give out so many offerings, and there definitely isn’t enough for two people.”

Io suddenly heard warning bells ringing in his mind. Although he was early by a few years, he had to admit that Nyra outdid him in many scenarios.

……

It only took a day and night for the giant elephant to make it all the way to Bluewater. With two priests buffing, healing, and revitalising it, it had charged across the plains without pause. The creature immediately caught attention, but the two just dropped it off in the army camp and went to see Flowsand.

When they saw the huge chest of offerings right in the middle of Flowsand’s room, Io and Nyra almost lost their breaths. All kinds of offerings had been placed within, and every single one was top-tier. Three, five… As they counted more and more, the two heavenly guardians let out audible gasps. All they saw was the passage to level 19, 20, or even the legendary realm.

“These are…” Io asked with a dry voice.

Busy looking through the offerings, Flowsand didn’t even look up, “Richard’s back.”

“Oh,” Io laughed, “So my Lord is— OW!”

Nyra quietly withdrew her hand from Io’s groin, coughing faintly, “Ahem, dignity.”

……

The Iron Triangle Emperor held an emergency meeting the very night that Richard’s messenger arrived, calling in every important official from their beds. When the half dozen sleepy ministers gathered in the palace hall, they each found a letter placed on their seats. The ink was still fresh; the contents had just been copied.

The Emperor himself was sitting hunched on his throne, expression darker than the night sky outside. The traditional dim torches of the hall caused his shadow to cover the entirety of the wall behind him, and the flickering flames seemed to bring the ever-present portraits of previous emperors to life.

“Read,” was the only word he said once everyone gathered, prompting the ministers to comb through the letter word after word.

The contents of the letter were quite simple, containing two demands and one notice. The first demand was that the Crimson Dukedom had to be allowed to buy the Empire’s stock of coldsteel at fair prices, while the second was an ‘invitation’ extended to Prince Salwyn. The notice was that Richard was bringing an entourage with him on holiday in the Empire, and that he hoped nobody would obstruct him.

The letter mentioned no consequences of refusing anything, but everyone present knew the implicit threat behind. The Iron Triangle had been forced into a corner even when Richard was absent, so now that he was back there would be no resistance. The only one who had dared to stand up against him was Salwyn, and the prince had been hurt far too much by his own comrades to do so anymore.

The ministers looked the letter over again and again, but they didn’t express their opinions for a long time. It was almost like the thin piece of paper had no end. It took an entire day and night for the meeting to conclude, but there was no public news about the decision. Salwyn was sent an order to head over to the capital immediately, but nobody told him why.

While the Empire was making its own decisions, Richard had taken Waterflower and Flowsand’s group of three on a trip into the Iron Triangle Empire. Their destination was the Valley of Darkness, the prison for those who offended the God of Valour so greatly that even death was not enough of a punishment. Richard was partly looking for Essien, but also just going to see how a land of divine punishment looked.

Five people rode their magic steeds across the border, calmly heading into the Empire without any caution at all. Even without his unicorn Richard had great presence, the mounts so flashy that they signalled his presence from miles away.

He didn’t need to tell the Empire that he was crossing— there would have been no way to even notice his group— but he was itching for a fight and hoped that the enemies would bite the bait. He hadn’t waited for Tiramisu nor even taken Gangdor along, with no elite knights or rune knights in his entourage. It was an assassination almost begging to happen.

It was currently in the depths of winter, but even the half-metre deep snow posed no problems for the magic mounts. However, Richard’s party came across quite a few people on their way, and few of them were poor or sick. The Empire was sparsely populated, but in the midst of winter its citizens had nothing to do but drink, gamble, and get into brawls. Every town they visited was full of people, and hailing from an old empire everyone seemed to be doing quite well.

Urban planning, cold isolation, farming arrangements… everything was well above passable even with Norland’s standards. Perhaps it was because of the climate and food, but the people were generally tall and strong as well.

The party was certainly a dazzling one; Io and Richard were amongst the most handsome of men, and the three women didn’t lose out in beauty. Some small troubles came their way as a result, but they were more annoyances than anything else. The worst part was when a cavalryman, knight, a baron, and even an earl grew enamoured with the women in a row. It took hundreds of unconscious soldiers before the earl finally gave in, and Richard took the opportunity to rob him of tens of thousands of gold.

The five had a rather jolly time along the way, but there weren’t any major incidents until they arrived in the vicinity of the Valley of Darkness. Richard decided to rest in a small nearby town before heading in, the land belonging to Earl Panzev who was said to have descended from a legendary being.

Richard chose to live in the only inn in the town, a small place but quite clean. The hearth was warm in the evening darkness, with a broth constantly bubbling over a fire to spread a rich aroma all around. It wasn’t particularly exquisite food, but having spent so long in the cold Richard’s group gobbled it down alongside the bread and all the other side dishes. Wine disappeared down their gullets like it was water, but not one member of the party seemed to even be tipsy. The north’s wines were particularly strong, but then again everyone here was a drunk to some extent.

There was a bard in the hall, and Richard almost instinctively ripped his own ears out at the loud and hoarse voice, but after a few lines the distinct song quickly became bearable. It hearkened back to a time long ago when the original settlers were struggling to survive in this land, and strangely enough the hoarse voice was a perfect fit.

The five people ate and drank, feeling for a moment that such a simple life would be great.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: OMA

Edited By: Theo