An enormous insect was flying across the Bloodstained Lands at a hundred kilometres an hour. Its torso abnormally large compared to its head and abdomen, three pairs of wings flapped ferociously to keep it a few hundred feet in the air. Flanking its sides were dozens of bats, making for a small aerial legion.
A dark figure appeared at the end of the horizon, rapidly growing in size. Noticing the giant insect and the bats, this bird of prey immediately determined they were rare delicacies and cried loudly. Its wings started flapping faster as it headed straight for the group.
Although a number of bats were surrounding the insect, they were only level 8 and couldn’t compare to the level 15 strength of their hunter. This was an ironfeather eagle indigenous to the Bloodstained Lands, one of the most vicious creatures in the ecosystem. The teeth and claws of the bats couldn’t even break through its natural armour, while the eagle’s beak swallowed a bat with every swipe.
Even after eating all of the bats, this five-metre-long bird was only barely satisfied. However, just as it turned towards the giant insect it saw dozens of compound eyes lighting up on the head and back of its prey. A shrill echo rang through its mind, the piercing sound immediately causing it to black out.
*Thud!* The eagle hit the ground hard, regaining its senses from the violent impact. However, the fall had rendered it too dizzy to fly, its wings flapping randomly to no avail. The giant insect had already used this opportunity to charge down from the sky and aim another shriek at the bird’s head. This time, it would not recover.
Two soul screams were the limit of this insect’s capabilities. It was now extremely weak and hungry, its powerful teeth biting through the eagle’s skull in one go. It was not meant for fighting, the entirety of its chest occupied by its brain. This was what the broodmother called a cloned brain, a hub that could transmit her orders to drones far beyond her normal reach. Under special circumstances, it could even act with a certain amount of autonomy.
Gangdor’s victory had completely shocked the nobility in the vicinity of the Bloodstained Lands. The Killer Whales were the most powerful slaving group in this territory, backed by Duke Felsik of the Iron Triangle Empire. When the bodies of its members were erected on wooden stakes beside the razed checkpoint, when even its saint was stripped and hung up without dignity nor honour, the slavers of the region felt true fear.
When Richard returned to Faelor, letters of protest and condemnation were piled up on his desk. He sent Flowsand off to get some rest before sitting behind his desk, casually taking a few documents at the top of the pile and opening them up. All these letters seemed to be complaints that Gangdor was attacking the nobles’ slaving groups in the Bloodstained Lands for no reason.
He had wanted to toss them all out, but after some thought he put them back down. Fist repeatedly knocking against the table, he assessed the consequences repeatedly. Eventually he decided to call Gangdor over and ask him for the specifics of the series of events. While he had absolute trust in his subordinates, he still had to know why something so monumental had occurred. He hadn’t realised that his train of thought was slowly changing, taking small steps towards the conduct of a true leader.
Having wiped out many slaving groups, Gangdor was already back in Bluewater. The intimidation tactics had worked; now, any group that met Richard’s patrols immediately gave up resistance. Most of them even registered, paying the standard tax, while those that hadn’t were only required to pay twice the normal tax and were let go. This system did leave some groups lucky enough to evade taxes, but there was no need to worry about such a thing. The large fish wouldn’t be able to slip through.
Richard sensed Gangdor’s location and left the study, heading in the direction of the barracks. Approaching Gangdor’s room, he was quite surprised to hear thundering laughter from many different voices within. Seven or eight people were seated around the table, completely drunk.
He immediately noticed the two fallen clerics Kars and Marvin, as well as Zim and some other nobles and generals. However, most surprising of all was the presence of Io! The battle priest was still the most handsome one present, but he was no longer as arrogant as before. He had one hand around Zim’s neck, fiercely pouring alcohol down the viscount’s throat. He looked an absolute drunkard that lacked any semblance of a holy man.
Zim’s face was wrinkled up as he gulped the alcohol down, quickly losing the drinking match. He slowly slid under the table in three large cups, while Io still sat ramrod straight.
The battle priest suddenly noticed Richard standing by the door, a ferocious glint flashing in his eyes. “RICHARD!” he smacked the table hard, “COME, drink! Don’t think I won’t be able to destroy you this time!”
Richard snickered, gladly prepared to take on the challenge, but Io’s movements started to stiffen and he slowly fell backwards. In a few moments he fell to the ground with a dull thud, dead to the world. Richard gaped, but couldn’t find anything to say and shook his head helplessly. The plan to teach the fellow another lesson would have to wait.
He could sense Gangdor’s presence here, but the brute was nowhere to be seen. However, just as he was about to call out, a sturdy figure suddenly popped up from under the table, looking at him sternly, “Boss, you’re back! You’re just in time, let’s have a drink together. Watch me destroy these guys!”
Having said this, he disappeared under the table. A few seconds later, he re-emerged and mightily surveyed the area, waving his hand heroically at the scattered people around the table, “Boss, look! These guys are no match for me!”
He then disappeared once more.
Richard was left completely speechless. How was this fellow destroying anyone? He was just getting destroyed himself!
When the brute appeared for the third time, his eyes were vacant. Staring ahead in a daze, he bellowed, “Waterflower! If you’ve got the skills, let’s compete again! I might not be able to beat you in fighting, but my drinking no match you are!” When he slid down this time, he didn’t come up again.
Richard sighed, thankful that he hadn’t brought Waterflower along. If he had, Gangdor would have been in a lot of trouble over the coming days.
Seeing the table of people all over the place, a smile flashed across Richard’s face. Everyone in the room, even the nobles, were extremely loyal to him. These were the old allies that had been with him from the first battles of the Bloodstained Highway. He retreated from the room, waving for a guard to call over a cleric from one of the three goddesses to help them sober up. He then returned to his study, beginning to flip through the nobles’ complaints.
It was only afternoon the next day that Gangdor charged into the study, scratching his head in embarrassment, “Boss! I drank a little too much yesterday, didn’t realise you were back. We brothers just got back from battle and were celebrating when those guys dared to talk about my tolerance. How could I stand for that? That’s why I showed off and drank till all of them dropped!”
“Yes, yes, you showed off.” Richard’s knowing smile caused Gangdor’s face to turn completely red. Still, he didn’t pursue the matter and instead patted the letters that were piled high on one side, “Come, tell me what this is all about.”
Gangdor gave the pile a look and grinned, answering nonchalantly, “All I did was cut down a few slavers who wanted to escape taxes.”
The brute then explained everything in great detail, from the cause to the outcome as well as how he was dealing with the aftermath. Richard had already looked through the complaints from the nobles so he knew Gangdor hadn’t concealed or destroyed any letters, piling them all up in wait of his return from Norland.
Gangdor’s approach to the matter mirrored his own style, something that showed the brute’s meticulous side. Richard himself would only have been more fierce in his approach, not less. The only regret was that they hadn’t figured out who was behind the original attack on the checkpoint, but the identity itself was no longer important. Even if the true killer was still alive and free, Richard’s power had been consolidated.
He took another look at the letters and a cold expression flashed across his face. These nobles had no tact, daring to threaten him with military action! The map of the Sequoia Kingdom flashed into mind, marks appearing on the territories of the nobles who were hooting the loudest. A red arrow set off from the Bloodstained Lands, making a large arc that linked it all together. 3,000 elites and he would be able to plough through all of them in just ten days. If these nobles were still in their territories, they could be captured and dragged back to the Bloodstained Lands.
However, Richard shook his head and gave up on the tempting idea. The nobles couldn’t be foolish enough to forget their own power, they were likely acting out for a reason. Someone behind the scenes likely hoped for him to try and level their castles, pitting himself against all of the nobles in the Kingdom. This was something that left even his close allies feeling unsafe.
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