Path To Power

The broodmother was definitely the core of his army. Richard was slowly realising more and more just how true Ferlyn’s words had been when she said the broodmother was a powerful weapon in planar wars. With her around, he was bound to have an endless army in his hand sooner or later. Why would he let her go into battle personally? He already could use his army to trap the enemy powerhouses and render them dead.

If he could use the terrain to stop someone like Odom from fleeing, his spellcasters could then disrupt the enemy while the humanoids ground away at their energy. When a barrage of ranged attacks from the outer circle drowned out the enemy, Richard would only lose a few dozen warriors in exchange for the chance to finish them off on the spot. Besides, even if the enemy survived the initial volley he still had the elite humanoids and free Archerons with enchanted crossbows to bring to bear.

With the army set up, he had to think of his own commandership. The blessings of wisdom and truth had truly been rewarding— he hadn’t yet met anyone who could compare to him in terms of tactical control— but before his blessing of wisdom had levelled up he had been limited to being able to shadow and command fifty targets simultaneously. Even if he made use of his second mind, that would only add five more troops at most. The difficulties were starting to show with his current army, his precision and control over the situation weakened. The most ideal case for him was a war between about 1,000 elites on each side.

He was someone who used the tactics of a wolf pack, controlling the scale of every battle before engaging in an endless series of skirmishes to tear away at his opponents bit by bit. He did not need an advantage in numbers; he could basically guarantee victory in a fight against two equal armies.

However, the biggest problem right now was his individual power. Richard was primarily a mage, most of his strength in battle focused around his spells. His Archeron and elven bloodlines supported that somewhat, the latter divided into five separate affinities to nature, restoration, the moon, the astral, and the elements. His abilities had been unlocked by luck before, but now things were different. The Deepblue Fantasy actually allowed him to choose which bloodline to strengthen and how, giving him the option to unlock specific abilities. It truly was worthy of coming from Sharon herself.

His problem now was in choosing which bloodline he had to strengthen first. The restoration affinity prioritised his ability to heal, while the elemental affinity would grow his elemental spells. The former didn’t brook much discussion at all, while the latter wasn’t indispensable either. Without an infinite supply of astral rays to boost his bloodline, he couldn’t just distribute them evenly. He would only consider the elemental affinity when his mana pool was approaching its peak.

The moon affinity would strengthen his moonforce and by extension the power of the secret swords of Silvermoon. This wasn’t a must either. On the other hand, the nature affinity was different. Nature’s Beckon was one of his staple spells, and the affinity would directly boost its powers. On top of that, it would increase his harmony with the environment, especially in forest and grassland areas. This would resonate with his blessing of Truth, sharpening his instincts and his sense for danger. These unremarkable areas were extremely useful, collectively worth much more than a simple boost to his fireballs.

And then there was the astral affinity. Two branches were already growing out of the main trunk, a fresh leaf on each branch. Richard had already fully experienced the combined might of this affinity with the Deepblue Fantasy before, so he was currently transferring every astral ray he could to the bloodline. Although this slowed his growth for now, that slowdown was well worth the permanent boost to his growth rate that the affinity would grant him.

Just like Io had said, level was still the most important indicator of one’s capabilities. He believed the battle priest would be in for a huge surprise when the astral affinity was strengthened to a certain extent.

And then there was the Archeron bloodline, something that gave him a headache. The lava flowing in his blood had seemingly endless secrets hidden within. His luck so far had been half-decent; although Eruption wasn’t worth much, Blaze was definitely a powerful ability. However, he did not know what ability he would unlock next. There were hundreds of possibilities with the Archeron bloodline, and although Blaze truly was great that meant nothing for what his next one would be. There was no lack of examples of people forced to switch classes after unlocking a truly powerful ability in the family; it was said that the bloodline inherited from demons carried over its chaotic properties as well.

A question suddenly popped into Richard’s mind. He wondered what Gaton’s bloodline ability was; nobody had ever brought it up before. Regardless, he decided to ignore the Archeron Bloodline in favour of the astral ability. Level may not be everything, but it was a prerequisite for many tasks.

With that choice made, the only thing he had left to look at was his close-combat abilities. Richard had no expertise in this field whatsoever, but there were still a few paths for him to take. The secret swords, assassination techniques, and even the clerical martial arts were all worthy choices. However, he did not have too much time to spend on this matter at all. Any martial arts that required training his body for extended periods of time did not suit him.

Richard pondered over it for a long time, but he couldn’t come to any conclusion. Instead, he was distracted by a random thought as a fundamental issue popped up in his mind: what exactly did being powerful entail? What kind of path did one take to obtain power?

Richard had seen numerous powerhouses in his life, greatest of which was his own master. Sharon always behaved in a quirky manner, and while he knew she was powerful he had no idea exactly how much. The only basis he had to estimate her strength was the rune on her body, the Deepblue Aria. Although incomplete, this was a grade 6 rune! It was still a mystery exactly what kind of power the rune possessed, but his master was a perfect blend of an unimaginable bloodline, powerful runes, and divine talent. Nyris had also let slip that the mage wasn’t even human, instead hailing from a formidable race. It was simply impossible for her to lack power.

Thus, after some thought, he eliminated Sharon as a role model. There was no way for someone like him to replicate her path.

Next came Gaton, Mordred, and Beye. Gaton’s capabilities remained a mystery to him, mostly because he actively abstained from learning anything about the man. However, he had a good impression of Mordred who had come to fetch him when he was young. The man was quiet yet powerful, but even here Richard had no specific idea. Still, one could get an idea of his power from the tone and expression others had when they called him the Devil King in private. Even the rest of Gaton’s knights seemed to subtly fear him.

Although they had only met once, Beye had left an extremely deep impression on Richard’s mind. He discovered that her aura was similar to Mordred’s, the only difference being that Mordred chose to hide his. Fuschia’s response that night indicated the woman could fight well above her level… Perhaps she was the best ideal for the path he should take. Richard had no way to understand Gaton and Mordred for now, but that was not true in her case. He had an opening to study her from: Life’s Bane.

Richard retrieved the Life’s Bane blueprint and studied it carefully under the magic light. He was already thoroughly familiar with the composition of the rune, and knew exactly how to craft it in theory. It was just that most of the lines required him to gather large amounts of mana that his current mana pool could not support.

In fact, the blueprint was actually quite useful. Even the encrypted parts of the magic arrays that made up the rune were annotated on it, making comprehending the rune’s working much easier.

All nonstandard runes were unique to the runemasters crafting them, even if they had the same effect. Many runemasters added useless distractions to throw off anyone trying to copy their runes, but there was a more brilliant way of stopping others from imitating one’s runes. That was to encrypt a portion of the arrays that made up the rune, inserting useless formulae that made the rune difficult to reverse engineer. The trick was used often in powerful custom runes, making it difficult to decipher exactly how the runes worked. If one’s mathematics was advanced enough, they could make their runes effectively impossible to decipher, needing hundreds of years to resolve. This was a timescale where trying to analyse another runemaster’s creations became useless. One could as well just design the thing themselves.

For most runemasters, imitation was a loss-making endeavour. If they had no creativity, they were fated to live out their lives crafting standard runes. Without the skill to craft higher-grade runes, a vast mana pool was useless. Encrypting runes was just an act done to prevent extraordinary runes from being duplicated by ordinary mages.

Of course, Life’s Bane was one such extraordinary rune. However, the blueprint Beye had given him also had instructions to decipher the encrypted formulae with. Given his intelligence, Richard was easily able to decode the functions of the rune. In fact, the true difficulty of this rune lay in its overbearing demand for precision when it came to the overlaying function. That did not pose a problem for him, so he was only limited by his level as a mage.

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