Training The Followers
Richard gathered all his followers once the ceremony ended, entering Faelor once more.
The plane was ridden with the dark clouds of winter, especially for the n.o.bles who had no choice but to watch Richard's ascent into dominance. The 500-knight patrol of the Sequoia Kingdom had given him even more glory than the defeat of the invaders, showcasing a sheer suppression in individual strength, equipment, and magic. The dozens of saints and multiple sub-legendary experts at Richard's side scared them all witless, and the higher-ups of some of the churches acknowledged in private that his clergy was powerful beyond levels. Guesses were abundant that a greater God lost to history had awoken once more.
All sounds of dissent had completely vanished ever since that week. Even the King didn't dare to condemn Richard's action, the royal family retreating to lick its wounds after most of its military forces were harmed and its core legion was completely decimated. It would take at least half a decade for them to recover.
The astute n.o.bles realised something else. Richard now had full control of the borderlands of the Sequoia Kingdom, effectively holding a monopoly on the slave trade through both the Bloodstained Lands and the Iron Triangle Empire. The loss of the lifeblood of the labour force was a heavy blow.
The political balance had begun to break down as well. The new Direwolf Duke had managed to consolidate his power based on Richard's backing alone and was definitely going to be the firmest of allies. If not for the official difference in status, Toffler would even be considered Richard's vassal. Duke Grasberg's reputation had grown despite his own weakening in the battle against the invaders, and his silence spoke louder than words ever could.
Zim had fallen deep asleep. Rumours were spreading that the Viscount had been stopped from joining the battle by Duke Grasberg, and unable to charge out of the castle despite multiple attempts he suddenly entered a deep sleep. This was another natural ally that would reveal himself once he awakened, and those in the know understood that his becoming a saint would greatly alter royal succession as well.
However, Richard's subordinates had cause to be worried as well. The Baruch Kingdom was growing extremely unstable, Lutheris having sent down two prophecies in a single day commanding the capture of the heretic Zangru. The WarGod's fury was evident for everyone to see, and from the looks of it there were chances he would send a chosen or even an avatar to hunt Zangru down. The Church of Valour was still silent, but considering their strong relationship with the royal family this only meant their reply would be that much stronger when it came.
The three Goddesses had already become a powerful force that was developing quickly in the Bloodstained Lands. Although individually still weak, together they had shunned off the moniker of trash Gods they used to be labelled with. The God backing Richard himself still hadn't come forward, and one couldn't even guess their domain. The only guarantee was that this God was immensely powerful.
Many could see the seeds of a divine war starting to sprout.
With a month having passed in plane time, Richard's first action was to contact the broodmother. He found that forty level 12 shadowspear knights had been produced, alongside ten elites that were one level higher. The heavy infantry and javelineers were still in the pipeline, while production for the flamewing serpents was just about to begin.
"Send a cloned brain," he told her, "I have another crystal for you."
Joy immediately flooded their connection and Richard felt the cloned brain starting to move at maximum speed. The impatience reminded him of Zangru and how she'd mentioned his blood would shave time off her next advancement as well, "And what about level 9?"
"Apologies, Master. Even my best efforts at analysis have concluded that Zangru's power is too dark and extreme. Fortunately, I managed to fuse that strength with the abilities you have obtained to temper a path that will not limit me in the future. I estimate it will take me half a year to completely break through."
"Alright, that works. For now, focus on the elite shadowspears; I need a hundred of them. As for bonuses… Hmm, what's Greater Regeneration?"
He had never seen this new ability before. The broodmother explained that it had come from the analysis of Zangru, and adding it to his soldiers would allow them to heal automatically from non-fatal wounds within two days. The elites could even sacrifice their lifespan for the temporary equivalent of a Restoration spell in the midst of battle.
Richard immediately grew excited, "Add it to all the elites."
"This will significantly increase the cost of production, Master." The broodmother had recently started paying attention to cost.
Having taken care of matters with the broodmother, Richard gathered all his followers at the command room and began to assign tasks. His greatest elites were the broodmother's drones and the about 2,500 Norlanders that now served him. 10,000 Faelorians were in the army as well, some his own and others from the n.o.bles under him, but only 8,000 of that could be counted on once his campaigns began. There were also about 30,000 rookies that had recently joined his ranks. They still needed two more months of basic training, but once that was done they could be sent to the battlefield to gain experience. With such forces, it would be disappointing not to be waging war.
When everyone had gathered, Richard just analysed the updated map of the regions surrounding the Bloodstained Lands for a long while, "Hmm… Is anyone from the Sequoia Kingdom causing trouble?"
"No, the king's as obedient as a rabbit," Gangdor said.
"And what about the Iron Triangle?" Richard frowned a little.
"Their army doesn't have the guts to step out of their territory.
Richard frowned even more. Just as he was starting to mutter to himself, Olar piped up, "There's some movements from the Baruch Kingdom. They're expanding their army crazily, and word is that they're looking for the dead and injured of the invaders that were stolen from their hands."
"Lutheris is still too powerful for me right now, it's best not to provoke them yet," Richard immediately rejected the suggestion. However, many of the followers brightened up at his words; this meant they would start battling a church someday!
"Let's take care of the Iron Triangle whelps!" Gangdor eventually roared, "It's time to punish them!" He had fought the Iron Triangle Empire multiple times now, and had nearly died as Salwyn's hands.
Richard nodded, slapping the map in front of him, "Bring a thousand people each, but stay flexible. Gather all the slavers from the Empire at Camp Bluesquare and take their equipment. Those that have paid taxes so far will be released, but n.o.body is allowed to enter the Bloodstained Lands again. Do more stuff to push them over the brink, and once they decide to fight, be merciless. You can work together or alone, doesn't matter, but notify me if things go wrong. I'll send reinforcements with a cloned brain, and if that still doesn't work I'll take the field myself."
Richard then assigned soldiers to each. In only a few days groups of elites gathered up and left Bluewater, making a beeline for the border with the Iron Triangle Empire.
In the meanwhile, Richard immersed himself in a world of meditation and runecrafting.
Days passed, and the situation in the north rapidly began to heat up. An air of nervousness filled the borders as many slavers were detained and 'checked' at Camp Bluesquare. They were still as gruff as ever, but the mere sight of Richard's banner turned them into meek mice. Although most of them weren't affected yet, a group that wanted to enter the Bloodstained Lands had been stopped at the borders. Richard's army and the border troops of the Empire than engaged in a series of skirmishes that resulted in dozens of losses in less than a week, lighting the fuse for war.
The border troops of the Empire were normally quite overbearing, and those assigned to it right now were still basking in the glory of taking Walvis Bay. The belligerence from Richard's forces enraged them completely, and they gathered 50,000 men to try and wipe Richard out once and for all. The commander and vice-commander were both sub-legendary beings that belonged to the First Regiment, and the only reason they had avoided the Bloodstained Lands so far was the agreement with the churches not to harm those who had fought off the invaders. Now that Richard was provoking them of his own accord, they were just bursting with joy that they wouldn't have to wait out the entire year of the agreement.
Salwyn seemed to be the only one that had learned from his defeats. All of the other seventy-odd princes had never possessed the qualifications to lead the imperial army, so they just chalked the losses up to incompetence. The fact that the genius on par with Rislant now spent his days drowning his sorrows in alcohol as the last of his armies and allies were taken away only convinced them that they were right. In fact, Salwyn now had less than 5,000 men serving him in total, and even that number was going to dwindle. He had basically lost all hope for the throne, and the amount of land he possessed as a prince was definitely not enough to feed all of his men.
With the deliberate pushes from both sides, the scale of the conflict rapidly grew to thousands of men. Gangdor, Kellac, Olar, and Io led 2,000 men for a decisive battle with a 5,000-strong border army. They had already called on Richard for the broodmother's support, so a cloned brain led a thousand humanoid knights to flank from behind and allowed them to utterly defeat the border troops. More than a thousand enemy soldiers were killed before the army dispersed.
The fires of war burnt tall as the imperial commander personally brought out his full strength for the war. Although he wasn't an unpredictable genius like Salwyn, he and his generals were all competent tacticians that would make no obvious mistakes. At the very least, Richard's followers weren't capable of finding a hole in the offence and were beaten badly.
Unable to mount a frontal attack, Richard's followers decided to try guerrilla warfare instead. However, the harassment bore no fruit. The commander was a veteran, and wouldn't make such low-levelled mistakes. Richard's men continued to be pushed back for weeks on end.