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Far away in Norland, the portal in Blackrose Castle started to flicker as Richard stepped through. A throng of servants immediately surrounded him as he started walking through, some rushing in and out with every order he passed, “Prepare the communication circle and portal to the Deepblue, you have half an hour. Has my map been updated? It better be in five minutes. Tell the steward to meet me in the study, and Nyris too.”
The entire castle was roused by the arrival of its lord, the ambient volume rising sharply as the officers sent out orders to their subordinates. Richard himself quickly reached his study, but he was in no state to deal with his documents right now. He wanted nothing more than to head to the Deepblue immediately, but that portal was only used very rarely and was left turned off when not in use. Worse still, the portal was currently in the midst of its regular maintenance cycle; the mages working on it could only speed up and finish.
He certainly did have other ways to get to the Deepblue quickly, but he still wasn’t skilled enough at teleportation to be able to manage that without depleting his mana. All three human empires were currently paying attention to him, and he couldn’t afford that moment of weakness.
Thankfully, the communication circle was much faster to set up. Richard felt his heart thumping the moment he heard Blackgold’s voice, but he found that the legendary mage had left to explore a new plane for an unknown length of time. Although frustrated and worried by that, he could only enquire about the general situation in the Deepblue before cutting off the channel.
If he really was going to have a child, it would be with Sharon, Alice, Rosie, or Coco. Rosie had already confirmed to him that she wasn’t pregnant, and he himself felt strongly like the child had to be in the belly of the legendary mage. This could only be confirmed by Sharon herself, but given her character she wasn’t one to announce this. Given that she had left, it was unlikely to be her; after all, she was one of the most experienced plane wanderers in Norland and knew the dangers.
Standing there as the holographic image of the grey dwarf winked out, Richard suddenly felt an intense throb in his heart. A strange feeling of desolation overcame him, as though he had just lost something valuable. His expression immediately soured with anxiety, his subconscious mind screaming for him to prevent something from happening, but he just couldn’t understand what it was. He didn’t know what he needed to stop, what he had to do to stop it, just that it was of paramount importance. This was another warning from Intuition, but this evolution of his blessing of truth was proving vaguer and stranger by the day.
“Is something wrong, Your Grace?”
Richard’s attention was drawn to the two mages who were maintaining the spell, both their expressions uneasy from a small leak of his aura. Shaking his head, he reined himself back in and said that he was fine before returning to his study. A mage had already updated the map and was waiting for him to go through it, but a single look and he knitted his brows, “What is Alice doing at Lightflow Valley right now? She’s a complete idiot; does she think she can conquer that place all on her own?”
The river flowing through Lightflow Valley was a tributary of the sacred river of the Church of Glory; of the twelve original saints, two had been born in that region. It was considered somewhat akin to a hallowed ground, set apart from secular wars. Even if Alice managed to defeat the Empire’s troops and paladins, the Church of Glory would do everything it could to reclaim the territory. They wouldn’t even mind declaring war on himself; after all, his relationship with the Earl wasn’t particularly a secret.
Hearing Richard’s enraged question, the mage instantly panicked, “Y-Your Grace, the Earl said this wasn’t an expedition to conquer. S-She is just venting some frustrations…”
“She’s what?” Richard’s eyebrows only knitted further. Every warrior was a precious resource that he spent huge amounts of money to protect; survival was enough to turn weaklings into seasoned veterans. Throwing away troops just to vent frustrations was extremely stupid.
More importantly, the fact that she dared go into battle clearly indicated that she wasn’t pregnant. But that just left Coco… Richard pushed the notion away instantly; her body was just far too weak, she couldn’t possibly bear his child. A child’s base potential was often the average of that of their parents— this was why he was the most talented of Gaton’s children— but even so, Coco’s weakness wasn’t enough to offset his own strength. Was it…
As he was considering the possibilities, the old steward suddenly barged into the study with a huge smile on his face, “Master, I have great news! Miss Coco is with child!”
“Coco?” Richard was a little stunned and confused. While it was true that one weaker parent sometimes ensured that there weren’t any bloodline conflicts limiting the chance of conception, weak bodies just couldn’t even support the child’s formation. He was a little disappointed that it wasn’t Sharon, but much more worried about the fact that she just wouldn’t be able to carry the child to term.
A lot of his life had been spent without any desire for children, but as his empire continued to expand, Richard was starting to come around to the idea. The Archeron Family was growing more and more unstable with time, and the primary reason was that he always put himself in danger and there was no set successor. He hadn’t announced any contingencies, so his siblings, Sauron, Goliath, and Alice were all playing their hands just in case. This was completely unlike what had happened with Gaton’s death in the Rosie Plane; even though that was so sudden, Richard had gotten formal control of the family. With his own talent winning Philip’s favour and the recognition of the other families, the rest of the family was eventually forced to bow down.
No matter how weak Coco’s child would be, it would still be a continuation of his bloodline. He muttered to himself for a while before looking at the steward, “Increase her allowance, you choose by how much. Make sure she’s given the best care possible; if you aren’t attentive, she might suffer a miscarriage. Don’t tire her, don’t frighten her, don’t harass her. You have blanket authority to deal with offenders as you see fit.”
“Yes, Master,” the steward nodded.
Just as the steward left, another figure rushed into the study like the wind. She almost knocked straight into Richard, stopping just a few feet short before stabilising herself. Her chest heaved up and down as she looked up, gasping for breath, “Richard… you’re… back…”
“How are things?” Richard asked with a smile.
Nyris took a moment to regain her breath, “It’s going well. We’re continuing to eat into the forest, and tens of thousands of trees are going down every day. I’m only keeping it there because we can’t send everything out; if we had the astral chrysalis or something, I could be pushing so much more out. Right, the Golden World Tree is fifty metres tall now; come pay a visit if you can, it’s beautiful…”
She spoke quickly as ever, but the situation in the Forest Plane was so complicated that it took more than an hour to finish a detailed report. Outside of the Golden World Tree, the broodmother’s avatar had already grown to level 8. Perhaps it was due to their common relationship with Richard, but she and the tree got along in perfect harmony and could even replenish each other’s energy. The avatar’s combat drones kept them safe, while the tree suppressed all intelligent opposition.
Normally, the Golden World Tree would have to spend a thousand years just in its first growth period. However, it was already able to force the will of the forest hundreds of kilometres away, taking control of that territory entirely. In terms of coverage alone, it already exceeded most mature trees of life.
Nyris’s battles had been going well, making use of small armies of elites just like Richard did elsewhere. She had just received a shipment of ten tonnes of the latest version of gunpowder, this batch so powerful that she could blow up tens of thousands of the thickest trees with it. However, she already had eight small hills of wood ringing Emerald City that still hadn’t been shipped out. She would need time to take care of that first.
At this point, the wood wasn’t even a focus anymore. Her real goal was to wipe out any elven presence nearby, especially when it came to their druids. Having taken dozens of them out recently, she was now finishing up the path to the tree of life. This was an enormous undertaking that had started when Richard was still actively overseeing things there, but she was finally about to finish it.
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