Standing in front of Forgefires Stronghold, Richard couldn’t help but admire the dwarven capital. In front of him was a mountain a thousand metres tall, a few hundred of which looked to be carved out by giant axemen. The slices were in picturesque disorder, each a building about ten metres tall with all sorts of windows, entrances, and ventilation paths. Giant, carved stones decorated the entire city, with a sculpture that was several dozen metres high towering over the entire city. This was the statue of the great founder of Forgefires, Toro Anvil, said to be a being approaching the legendary realm.

Far in the distance, the bottom parts of the mountains nearby looked like a giant beehive with dwarves entering and exiting from every hole like ants. Richard was rather moved at the sight; this was a race of workers, constantly excavating, building, and forging. Although their numbers weren’t incredibly large, centuries of diligent digging had created this miraculous scene before his eyes.

Indeed, a strong perseverance was the basis of many miracles.

After some simple interrogations, they passed through two tunnels and entered through the gates of the stronghold to arrive at a magnificent hall that was nearly a hundred metres high. Standing in this place that had a perimeter of 500 metres, Richard felt like an ant. At the end of a tightly shut metal door nearing ten metres in height, with four passages on its sides. These passages were just like the ones he had seen before, rather wide but awkward for humans to walk in due to the height. When fighting in this sort of terrain, one would only be able to display two-thirds of their power at most.

Richard looked up, seeing numerous windows of varying sizes on the wall opposite him. Near the ceiling was a large natural hole; if an intruder rushed in, the dwarves only needed to close the gates and they would be faced against an attack from all sides. Even heavy infantry could not take a warhammer tossed from so high up.

Richard frowned slightly at the sight. He hadn’t expected the dwarven fort to be so impenetrable. At the very least, his current army couldn’t even begin to consider attacking Forgefires.

The dwarves of Faelor were known to be a race that worshipped their ancestors; there was no lack of tribes whose ancestors had become gods. A kingdom of such a race had worshipped that statue of Toro Anvil for more than a millennium, infusing it with a powerful soul. There was a high possibility of it becoming a demigod or sacred spirit, leagues ahead of the orcish statue he had stolen from the Cracked Canyon. Richard estimated that the statue was comparable to the head of a greater devil.

He had to put aside any thoughts of attacking the stronghold. Without a guarantee of being able to weaken the dwarves greatly, he wouldn’t have much of an advantage in the negotiations. Thankfully, he had made ample preparations for this, ready with a second plan. They would trade as equals.

Of course, the first plan was basically to conquer the dwarves completely.

Once they entered Forgefires, Firebeard brought Richard and his party to a large forge deep within the fortress for a look, perhaps to show off. Lava could be seen pouring out of the cracks in the ground, rising to the surface and splitting into several small streams. Flowing past the legs of a few statues, the berserk fires were tamed and the flow grew smoother. These pathways then led underneath the great furnace, constantly heating it up to melt the ore within.

“Those statues are special,” he said to Firebeard, “I smell the power of fire and steel in them.”

Firebeard immediately grew proud, “Those are the statues of the most outstanding smiths of Anvil’s descendants. They house the valiant souls of the grandmasters, controlling the lava to turn a source of destruction into fire for the great forge!”

“Valiant souls?!” Richard seemed shocked.

“Of course! When they were alive, these grandmaster smiths were all saints. Nearing death, they willingly sealed their souls into these statues out of their matchless passion for ores and metals, turning into valiant souls that protect the Kingdom.”

Richard turned to give Flowsand a look, finding a similar fervour and regret in her eyes. There were such valuable offerings right before their eyes, but they could not take them away; this was quite an uncomfortable feeling. Every one of these statues was worth a lesser ceremony.

“So, how is the lava pushed all the way up here?” he continued to ask, “The cracks in the ground are hundreds of metres deep.”

“That is the power of Toro Anvil!” Firebeard looked very passionate, “Had he not restricted the might of the magma underneath, Forgefires would not exist today.”

Richard continued questioning the dwarf, but outside of learning that there was a shrine to Toro deep underground he could glean nothing else. Firebeard himself had never been to the shrine; the high temperature there was something ordinary dwarves could not withstand. Only saints with special protective equipment could enter the place.

After the tour of the stronghold came to an end, Richard finally met the dwarven king in the throne room. It was the 22nd generation of Toro Anvil’s bloodline, Bamor Steelhammer.

The throne room was just as grand as the rest of the city hall, the twenty-metre-tall ceiling inspiring reverence for some reason. At the end of the hall was a tall flight of stairs with the throne at the top, the King sat upon it looking over Richard and his entourage. On the cliff-wall behind him was a mural of Toro Anvil creating the great forge, while at both sides of the throne were curved platforms with four high-backed iron chairs each. These chairs seated the eight elders of Forgefires; Firebeard introduced them and mentioned that half of them were descendants of Anvil while the rest were outstanding dwarves from other regions.

There was a totem carved into the back of each chair, representing the domains of the elders: exploration, excavation, mining, smelting, refining, brewing, offerings, and battle. This set of domains showed just how passionate dwarves were about metal, but the fact that even brewing had an elder assigned to it was out of Richard’s expectations.

After an exchange of pleasantries, King Bamor got to the point, “Human, your attention to etiquette is impressive; we see your respect for the dwarves. If not for that, you would not have been able to come here. In front of Forgefires, your army of 10,000 is nothing!”

“Indeed,” Richard expressed agreement, “Forgefires will not fall.”

“Forgefires Stronghold hasn’t fallen since the day it was built,” the King exclaimed in a thunderous voice.

“The defences of Forgefires are astonishing, but that means nothing to me.” These words caused the faces of all the dwarves to change, but Richard’s continuation eased them up, “I did not cross the Bloodstained Lands to make war. I hope to befriend Forgefires, forming an alliance that can stand the test of time.”

Bamor nodded his head slowly, “Many of my kin still live in human slave camps, but you seem different from them. Fine, let me see what you have brought.”

Richard waved his arms, and four Archeron warriors delivered the little wine barrels they had been carrying to the foot of the stairs. The royal guards then delivered them to the King, who picked up one that was decorated black and gold and opened the stopcock. A concentrated smell of alcohol immediately caused his expression to change; he took in a deep breath of the aroma and shouted, “Bring my golden cup!”

The guards darted away, returning quickly with nine wine cups of different styles. It wasn’t just the king; every elder present had their own favourite cups. The quality and styles of the cups were all different, the only common point being that they were massive.

Bamor and the elders had grown anxious in the mere three minutes it had taken for the guards to return. If not for the presence of the humans in the hall, they definitely would have started drinking straight from the barrel.

The King personally poured every cup, completely emptying the barrel by the time he was done. The smell permeating through the hall left the guards gulping their saliva down as he raised his golden cup, “For the Forge!”

“For the Forge!” The elders drained their cups in a single gulp, and the throats of the guards moved a little.

Richard suddenly had a thought: if he’d poisoned the alcohol, could he not have eliminated the ruling class of Forgefires in one go? However, he immediately gave up on this unrealistic idea. All dwarves had strong physiques that were resistant to poison, and each of the elders present was a saint. Bamor himself was level 18, qualifying to be a saint even in Norland. Regular poison wouldn’t even give these fellows a stomachache. Besides, Forgefires still had hundreds of thousands of citizens. Even if nine leaders were killed, another nine could quickly replace them.

Bamor wished to continue drinking, his eyes sweeping past the other three barrels before he turned towards Richard. Each of the four barrels was decorated differently, and the quality could be judged from their style. He had moved directly for the best barrel, not touching the other three.

He suddenly turned to an elder next to him, asking in a whisper, “What is this human called again?”

“Richard.” This elder was rather meticulous.

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