Book 6, Chapter 77

Trump Card

“Did you really give up 1,500 men for some divine items?” Martin kept up with Richard, but neither the followers nor the rune knights sensed anything amiss.

“Heh, the divine items and the priests,” Richard clarified.

“You’re looking for ransom!” the cardinal cried out in realisation.

“Not really… Hmm… this book looks good, take it.” Richard threw a holy book from the altar towards one of his rune knights.

Martin shrugged, “That book is nothing special, but… so long as you like it. If it isn’t ransom you’re looking for, what is your purpose in all this? Hmm… Is it a threat? Telling us not to mess with you?”

Richard was a little taken aback, “You… You’re too smart for your own good. Your Archbishop Hendrick almost killed me in Klandor, and he was planning to threaten me with a war in Norland. I want to make it perfectly clear what the consequences of that decision will be.”

“Hendrick? He’s just a mongrel of the Church. Indispensable to our growth, certainly, but you need not worry too much about him. He is destined to be sacrificed one day.”

Richard stared at the mysterious young cardinal, “What do you think of the strength I showed in this war?”

“It’s sure to leave a lasting impression. Even Hendrick should be aware of the consequences of a war with you now; the Church will reconsider any thoughts of provoking battle.” Martin flung his arms up, “Of course, if a war happens anyway, that means the consequences have been considered.”

“Ha. They’ll realise that dealing with me will require too great of a price for them to pay.”

“That’s their problem to solve. Now, I see you’re starting to appreciate me a little more.”

Richard’s eyes immediately went wide as he realised that he had said ‘them’ and not ‘you’ to the youth. He’d subconsciously regarded this fellow as an ally or a friend for some reason. A frown quickly rose upon his face, “Is this an ability?”

“An innate gift, just like a bloodline ability. It has nothing to do with religion, so I just consider it my extraordinary charm. It really isn’t much, only having people feel closer to me. I cannot convince anyone to change their convictions directly, that requires more conventional methods.”

Martin spoke casually, but Richard understood that the power of such an ability would be amplified in fields like politics and religion. He couldn’t help but shudder at the thought of being able to convince most people with just a smile.

“My Lord,” a rune knight ran over and interrupted the conversation, “All the priests have been gathered, should I put them into a carriage? Some of them are severely injured.”

As Richard considered it, Martin suddenly interjected, “I have a suggestion. Since you are looking to push the Church away, you need not capture those who hold divine posts. They have sacrificed their bodies and overdrawn themselves in battle, they will not be able to survive the bumpy road. Although the Lord considers them to be sacrificial lambs, further deaths would sour your relationship with the Church further. I am your best choice; if you capture me, you can name any price you want.”

“Just how much are you worth?” Richard looked him over.

“I am one of only two cardinals this young in the Church of Glory, the other being Messia. How much do you think I am worth?”

“So you’re the same Saint Martin that’s next in line to be pope, then?”

Martin shook his head, “I am only a candidate for the papacy, one of two. It could be Messia as well.”

“That’s fine. Let’s go take a look at anything else that’s worth taking.”

“Right. There isn’t a single item in this cathedral more valuable than the book in my hands. Of course, you can continue to look for other things, but there are a few items of sentimental value that I suggest you leave behind. Taking those would greatly upset the Church.”

“It looks like you’re trying to help me,” Richard stared at Martin.

“I’m only helping myself.”

“Sigh, alright. You, the holy book in your hands, and whatever unimportant things I want. That’s what I can take?”

“Yes.”

By this point, the rune knights had already searched the entire cathedral and gathered everything that seemed to be of value. Richard eventually chose three swords, a broken shield, and a golden goblet, leaving behind the Radiant Lord’s former longsword and the holy robe of Saint Louis. The goblet didn’t even qualify as a magic item, but looking at the choices Martin raised an eyebrow in surprise.

……

The sudden capture of the Saint Louis Cathedral shook the entire Sacred Tree Empire. Richard had charged straight into their lands and conquered Tobia in only a few days, embarrassing all the nobles of the northeast. The Emperor immediately issued orders to all nearby nobles to mobilise their entire armies, barring him from escaping the Sacred Tree Empire under all circumstances.

An even larger storm brewed in the Church of Glory. Saint Martin’s capture was grave news; although he hadn’t been confirmed yet, he was most certainly the most favoured candidate for the papacy. Messia would likely be sent to oversee the darker sides of the Church, including the Inquisition. The pope sighed in relief that there had been no shameful blasphemy of the cathedral and that the priests had not been harmed, immediately sending out an envoy to meet Richard and negotiate for Martin’s release. Knowing that the divine sword and robe were still present, they couldn’t care less about anything else.

Whatever be the case, Richard had already met his objectives for the surprise attack. He led his now-smaller army back through the Solam lands, destroying many scattered branches of the army in quick succession and disappearing before he could be found. After a total of seven battles, most of Duke Solam’s auxiliary forces had been completely wiped out. There were battles where the numeric advantage was dozens of times in the side of the defenders, but Richard still won by a large margin.

……

When Solam received the latest reports for battle, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He summoned the general who had overseen the war and questioned him, but the general could only curse, “They’re not human! They’re war machines, war machines!”

After a few rounds of questioning, the Duke finally realised that Richard’s troops had unbelievably good coordination, moving like a single entity and constantly spreading out the damage to ensure that none of them died. The Dukedom just didn’t have the kind of elites required to deal with them head-on.

In the middle of the night, Solam finally realised that this was something he had to do himself. Leaving his troops behind and strengthening his resolve despite his fear of Sharon, he moved to assassinate Richard in the darkness.

The moon had almost completed its arc by the time the  Duke discovered the location of Richard’s troops. His face clouded by murderous intent, he drew his swords and slowly snuck into the camp.

……

Richard’s troops were camping in the mountains, and he was sitting in the centre of the campsite while flipping through the book he had taken from the cathedral. Martin was sat nearby, explaining parts that he couldn’t quite understand the context to. There were two shadowspears right next to the youth, seemingly guarding him.

“He’s here.” One of the knights suddenly took off his helmet.

“Already?” Richard closed the book as a cold light flashed past his eyes, “Impeccable timing. You can take off the armour.”

“It was getting quite uncomfortable.” The knight seemed to mutter something under his breath, and the suit of armour immediately disassembled on its own to reveal a priest in black robes.

Seeing the famous Dark Priest Asiris, Martin chuckled, “I didn’t expect you to have such great preparations. To think you kept it secret all this while.”

All this while, Asiris had been posing as a shadowspear knight to keep the enemy off-guard. Richard had considered that Solam would try to attack him directly, and the Dark Priest was the best at stopping an opponent from fleeing. After all his time spent working on new spells, he could now stop even some ordinary legends from escaping a battle.

An earth-shattering battle took place in the mountains that night. Duke Solam managed to escape the trap, but he sustained grievous injuries that left him on the brink of death. The Sacred Tree Empire’s hopes of trapping Richard were thus completely destroyed.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Styles

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA