Richard’s men pursued the fleeing enemies from Kvensen for a dozen days, wiping them out completely. This way, the greatest threat on the path to the Ashen Plateau was completely exterminated. The battle with Camp Kvensen had resulted in nearly 5,000 losses on his side, but the damage to the tribes was several times that number.

There were still 200 kilometres or so left on the path to the Ashen Plateau in the northwest, but there were no powerful organisations left. The next strategic location was the ruins of Zhubvar, the capital of the former troll empire. Legend had it that the river streams around Zhubvar slowly dried out over time, turning the vast forest that covered this place into a barren land. The troll empire fell into decline, eventually dying out. There were still a few small troll tribes within the ruins, but even if their exceptional vitality made them natural nemeses of humans a single tribe only had a hundred inhabitants at most. There was no need for Richard to use his entire army to defeat them, just a few of the drones would be enough.

The ruins weren’t said to hold any valuable treasures. The trolls were a race that preferred wood and stone, their ability to process metal very primitive. Most troll encampments had nothing of value for humans.

However, Richard was not here for wealth. He wanted to gather all sorts of offerings.

Mountain ranges dotted the western Bloodstained Lands, the terrain fickle and complicated. There were few human settlements here, most groups who moved about being powerful slavers. The land was rather barren, so there weren’t any specialty products that made the risk of travelling all this way worth it. Only the dwarven countries in the northwest were worthy of trade, but the existence of Camp Kvensen had restricted large-scale movements in the area. It was nearly impossible to pass through this land alive with heavy ores in hand. The returns of such an attempt weren’t worth the risks, so few were willing to step foot in this place.

However, Richard’s eradication of Kvensen changed everything, Most of the precious minerals from the dwarven lands could now be transported back by human armies, and the volumes would be enough for the profit to be counted in tens of millions. The remaining races in the Bloodstained Lands, be they orcs, ogres, or trolls, weren’t so foolish as to challenge a huge army with 10,000 people.

Richard had his troops set up camp at the edge of the former troll empire, allowing the noble generals under him to reorganise their troops and recuperate. On the other hand, he brought along his own followers and several hundred of the broodmother’s troops to search through the ruins of Zhubvar.

Small hills were everywhere within the troll lands, giant wilted trees towering into the sky with cracked rocks and dry soil on the surface of the ground. Richard passed through the dead forest and walked two whole days without seeing many signs of life outside of the occasional few vultures.

From the second day onwards, they started to notice stone carvings half-buried in the ground, as well as wooden totems and rocky alleys covered by weeds. They had officially entered the troll lands.

It was sometime around noon. Richard was at the edge of a cliff, carefully moving his upper half to peer down into the depths below. This valley was several hundred metres deep, thorn-like stone pillars towering out of the darkness. Around the stone pillars were rather smooth rocks, while the bottom of the cliff was clearly weathered away. A long time ago, this place was once the valley of a torrential river; now, however, it had been dried up for many years. One could only see a few short shrubs growing in the shadows at the foot of the valley.

The two walls of the valley were separated by dozens of metres. Wind howled at the mouth, creating terrifying sharp whistles. Far into the distance on the other side, one could see a lush area; the forests there still had some life. The snaking valley was blocking his path, so long he couldn’t see to its ends. It was unknown how long a detour would take.

A short distance away were two bulky rectangular pillars with obvious signs of erosion on them. At the top were the carvings of a beast with long teeth, clearly in the style of the trolls. Opposite the cliff were two other pillars that were similar, although one was broken in half. It seemed like there had been a rope bridge over this valley a long time ago, but time had worn away the ropes.

“Rope,” Richard called out after another look around the cliff walls. A moment later, a few free Archeron soldiers dragged over a thick rope that was several hundred metres long. Richard had made ample preparations for this expedition, bringing over all the Archerons present. They might not have great individual abilities, but each possessed plentiful experience in battle and expeditions. They were prime candidates for ruin exploration.

A few large bats flew down from the sky with a thought, biting at an end of the rope and flying to the other side of the valley. The rope was pulled farther and farther until it finally crossed the other cliff, after which a surprising scene occurred. The bats actually managed to fly in loops to wind the rope around the stone pillar, even adding a tight knot! The free Archeron soldiers who had never seen any such thing before were stunned at the sight. Who would have thought that bats could tie knots too?

With the first rope past the cliff, the next bit was easy. Rolf, whose forte was agility, took another rope and bounded across to tie the second rope for the bridge. The first knot was fixed as well, and freshly-cut wooden boards were affixed to the bridge. After an hour’s time, a rope bridge connected the two ends. Richard was the first to cross it on his unicorn, followed by the knights and humanoid warriors.

Once they crossed the river valley, they spent an entire afternoon passing through a mountain range until they found more greenery under their feet. The air was finally starting to hold some moisture, so Richard found some level ground for with a clear view where they could set up camp and rest. One could already see a sparse forest further ahead, with the occasional cries of some ferocious beasts ringing in the distance. The troops had been fatigued by the day’s trek, so it would not be a good decision to continue through the night.

Some enormous bonfires were set up in the camp, large enough to drive away any nearby wild beasts. Sentinels spread out in twos and threes, vigilantly watching the hills throughout the night. Half of Richard’s ten or so elite bats were flying out into the mountains to scout the areas they would pass through the next day, while the other half were resting in the camp. However, there was always one bat circling the camp.

In the central tent, Richard was using a magic chest as his worktable as he quickly drew something on magic paper. His pen moved quickly, tracing a map of the mountain range that slowly grew more and more detailed. He was drawing what his elite bats were seeing on the magic paper; a formation had already been inscribed that would turn this paper into a holographic map.

The elite bats could patrol a range of thirty metres. Richard was already seeing a few things that gathered his interest on the map, so soon after he was done drawing it he poured his mana into the formation and activated the hologram.

Damaged buildings could be seen at the edge of the map. While only a few broken walls remained, one could see that the entire region had been set up in a neat square formation. The trolls loved squares and rectangles. These ruins were at the bottom of a gentle hill. At one side was a long, even grand flight of steps that headed towards the edge of the map.

Richard examined the map for a while before patting Flowsand who was beside him, “Take a look. This should be Zhubvar.”

Flowsand pressed close to him, having a close look before nodding, “While it’s just a small part, it does seem to be the style of the trolls. Looking at these steps, there could be an enormous city that can fit tens of thousands at the end. That should be the capital of the troll empire. Look at the sides of the steps, that should be where the guards were stationed… Hmm? Why isn’t there anything at the end?”

“The bats could only fly so far.”

Flowsand nodded, “We need to be careful tomorrow, it’s possible a fair number of trolls are still around. I suspect that there are a few wells or the like near the capital. Have you planned our route yet?”

“Yes, I thought it through. Look here, if we walk along this path we’ll be pretty safe. There isn’t any place we can be ambushe—”

“Take care of that yourself, don’t bother me! I’m busy!” Flowsand rubbed her head against Richard’s, grabbing a cushion before she continued to flip through the Book of Time. Letters and pictures kept appearing on the empty page, which she would read and then change with her divine power.

“What are you looking at?” Richard asked nonchalantly, stowing the map away.

“I’m learning the history and language of the troll civilisation,” she responded without looking up.

Richard was shocked, “You mean these trolls are the same as the ones in Norland?”

“The characteristics are about the same, but their history and culture are worlds apart. I’m obviously looking at information on the trolls of Faelor.”

“The Book of Time also has information on Faelor?” Richard was starting to grow more and more interested in the tome in Flowsand’s hands.

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