The Two Stars Of The Empire
To combat the army of 100,000, we need to dispatch 500,000 soldiers.
Such an implication was almost comical, but nobody laughed. Salwyn had once claimed he could take on Richard when he had three times the troops, but the other generals would need fivefold. The Emperor sighed deeply, “We’ve lost Salwyn to Richard. Even if I get that many together, who will lead them?”
The marshal hesitated for a moment before probing, “Your Majesty, Lord Rislant might be able to step up to the task.”
Rislant was once considered on par with Salwyn, another star of the Empire, but his unwillingness to battle Richard had greatly diminished his standing. Still, the Emperor nodded slowly, “Alright, pass the decree; Rislant is to return to the capital within three days. Make sure the messenger gets to him immediately.”
As the guard who received the order rushed out, the Emperor thought to himself for a while before continuing, “The Empire is in troubled times. I’m sending a troop of royal swordsmen to Mount Knowles to guard it from bandits.”
Many of the ministers had to suppress a shiver. Mount Knowles was the core of Rislant’s territory, where his family and children lived. It was right next to imperial lands, just how could there be any bandits there?
Regardless of the movements by the Iron Triangle Empire, Richard had already started planning for the upcoming battle. Nearly a thousand flying beasts of all types now patrolled the skies of the Iron Triangle Empire, with ten cloned brains forming a network that allowed for the information to be passed on quickly. So long as the Empire mobilised more than a thousand men, he would know in only a few hours.
He had already gathered the army for the assault, the entire force now organised with the logistical and auxiliary forces right behind. Even with many having stopped off in the middle to set up the supply route, he still had more than 300,000 men on hand. 30,000 elites had already set off ahead of the pack, making inroads into the Empire.
Within a carriage in the moving army, Richard was sat opposite Salwyn with a holographic map between them. Fiddling around with a crystal ball while occasionally making changes to the display, he left Salwyn turning paler with every passing minute.
Knowing the formations of the imperial army by heart, the prince realised just how badly Richard was outplaying them as he saw the arrangements being made. Depressed yet curious, he eventually lifted his head and asked, “Just how do you do it?”
“Hard to believe? This is normal, it’s just the difference between our planes.”
“So you really are an invader,” Salwyn didn’t seem too surprised.
“Heh, don’t go around hoping your gods will catch me. After all, once I’m done with your puny empire, I’m going for them next.”
“You’re challenging the pantheon?”
“What? No!” Richard shook his head with a smile, shaking the crystal ball in his hand, “I’m just picking them off one by one. I don’t think they’re quite prepared to ally with each other right now; in fact, they just might defect if I give them enough. Just like the three goddesses.”
Salwyn went silent for a while before asking, “Do they know you’re an invader? The goddesses?”
“What do you think?”
“But… That’s betrayal!”
“Is it? If they didn’t, they would have been destroyed by their peers.”
Salwyn sighed, looking Richard in the eye, “And why did you keep me alive?”
“Because you’re a talent. If you weren’t bound to this plane, your achievements would have been great. I don’t want to let those like you go to waste.”
Understanding the multiple implications in those words, the prince pondered over it for a while before smiling bitterly, “And what’s your real motive here? To conquer us?”
“Yes, I’m here to conquer you.”
“And then? Plunder us, or just destroy us all?”
Richard chuckled, “Neither. I just want trade.”
“Eh?” Salwyn frowned, “Why trade?”
“Because it gets me more than just destroying or plundering you.” This was a theory Blackgold posited as well. The gold-obsessed dwarf believed he could earn ten times as much from a plane when implementing trade as compared to just pillaging it.
Salwyn remained silent for a long while. He wasn’t just a naive commander, but also a potential emperor. He could understand Richard’s reasoning, and also that he would have to make a decision soon before he lost the chance. He raised his head to look Richard in the eye, “How can I believe you?”
Richard snickered, “You can’t. I have no reason to promise you anything, you’ll just have to work hard and try to influence my decisions.”
These words made it quite clear: they would be lord and servant. Still, Salwyn stroked his moustache and considered things before sighing, “What will I become?”
“You’ll help me govern the Iron Triangle Empire,” Richard responded immediately.
“After it’s conquered?” there was a hint of pain in those words.
“Not necessarily. The Empire can keep existing, and the royal blood can continue too. It’s just that the person on the throne needs to change, and I think you’ll do a good job with that.”
“But it won’t be the same as before, will it?”
“Of course not. You will have to pledge your loyalty to me, eternally. My will supersedes everything else, no exceptions.”
“Then I’ll go down as a traitor to the Empire. I’ll be cursed for decades after I die, maybe even centuries!”
Richard just smiled quietly.
Salwyn felt lost and hopeless. Death was easy— as a noble who was also a grand mage, he had many ways to die immediately without the worry of his soul being trapped. He knew Richard had a necromancer around, but that wasn’t much of a deterrent. Still, it was a serious matter. He didn’t know whether Richard would respond with just picking a new scapegoat, or he’d just level the Empire entirely.
Attempting to influence the Crimson Duke’s decision? The idea almost made him laugh. Richard’s voice still carried the carefreeness of a youth, like the alluring voice of a siren on the seas. There were two choices before him, but the bait had been placed on the more challenging of the two.
“How many shadowspears do you have?” he changed the topic. Outside their carriage was a regiment of shadowspear knights that had left him with terrible nightmares for the past decade. Nobody would willingly take on these powerful cavalrymen who didn’t hesitate to fight to the death, but now their equipment was even better while their coordination remained unparalleled. It was difficult for him to imagine the power of a thousand such soldiers, but their escort alone contained that number.
“A little under five thousand, but the numbers aren’t going to grow.”
“Huh? Why not?” Salwyn asked with shock.
The answer, however, would leave anyone feeling hopeless, “Because I’ll have stronger ones pretty soon.”
“Like those rune knights?”
“Those too, but their numbers won’t be comparable to my new army’s.”
“Sigh… Do you need me to lead troops in this war?”
“Not for now. You’re still unfamiliar with my army composition and style, just shadow me for some time to familiarise yourself. I’ll just be using your name.”
The carriage fell silent once more as the relationship of the two within changed tremendously.
The war between the Crimson Dukedom and Iron Triangle Empire had shaken western Faelor completely. Those who knew of the situation did not believe the Iron Triangle Empire would emerge victorious, but plenty of lesser nobles and commoners fervently believed in the strength of their ruler. The Empire could gather nearly a million soldiers if pushed, while Richard’s side had less than a hundred thousand. This innocent comparison of numbers was something anyone could understand.
However, two messages spread through the land like wildfire over the next few days. The good news was that Commander Rislant had been recalled from the eastern front to take on Richard. One of the two greatest generals had come to save them from the Crimson Duke’s tyranny.
The bad news was that Prince Salwyn had just been put in command of Richard’s troops. The other of the two greatest generals was coming to conquer them on the tyrant’s behalf.