“I never thought I’d see this sight again.”
The plaza was filled to its maximum capacity with the refugees from the Meta District. The formerly bustling area with laughter and smiles was now replaced with a feeling of dread and uncertainty of what was to come.
Isaac looked down at the plaza from the rooftop. It was a sight all too familiar to him, too similar to the memories he didn’t want to remember. Isaac watched the scene with a cigarette in his mouth when Cordnell approached him with a report.
“We have finished evacuating the citizens from Meta District.”
“Can we not use this place?”
“No. This district is also included in the battlefield, and the Department of Administration has ordered us to evacuate the citizens out of here.”
“I guess there’s no choice. Send them over to the remaining three districts.”
Cordnell stepped back after receiving his order, and the moment he did so, Trentor quickly stepped into Cordnell’s position.
“The Order of Heavy Combat Knights, which has been on standby in Port City, have moved into the Meta District with the arrival of the mercenaries and are now constructing their base camp.”
“That’s quick of them.”
Trentor’s report was quickly followed up with a report from Kalden.
“The construction of our defense line will finish in the next two days.”
“That’s unexpected. I thought it’d be much closer than this.”
“It’s thanks to the many citizen volunteers.”
“I guess they do know it’ll be unlikely finding a better boss than me.”
“… It is volunteering on paper, but it looked more like the citizens were taking advantage of what is probably their last well-paying job.”
Trentor discredited Isaac when Isaac tried to compliment himself. As Trentor said, it was obvious that the war was already lost, and there were many citizens who openly complained that Isaac unnecessarily escalated the situation by provoking the Marquis.
“The people of New Port City know they won’t receive the same amount of pay no matter who takes control of the city. Perhaps we should use this opportunity to recruit volunteers…”
“That’s just a waste of money.”
Isaac cut off Kalden before he could finish giving his advice. This was met with Cordnell’s frustrated response.
“How can money be a problem right now? We have to stop them someway, somehow!”
“What’s the point of stopping them when I’ll be bankrupt anyway?”
“Then are you going to just watch it all crumble down?”
“Let’s say I do recruit volunteers. What are you going to do about the money that will be required to arm, train and feed them? Don’t you think you shouldn’t waste money like that when we don’t even have that many days left?”
“Then what was the point of building that wall! That is the greatest example of wasting money!”
Isaac had barricaded all roads leading to the Ceta District from the Meta District, isolating Meta District as a whole. All of the buildings next to the barricade were also stuffed with miscellaneous object to prevent people from sneaking through. Cordnell could understand the reason up to this point. But Isaac didn’t find this to be enough and demolished all buildings behind the barricades. He then used the debris to create a giant wall with a height of 10m. But the construction of this massive wall designed to surround the whole Meta District required materials beyond what could be scavenged from the demolished buildings, so Isaac began buying whatever materials he could use to finish the construction, even buying perfectly sound ships and scuttling them to scraps to add onto the barricade. That was the greatest, most colossal waste of money Cordnell had ever seen.
“Who cares? It’s not like I can take it with me when I die. Can’t you at least let me use my own money as I wish.”
“Even if you were to build a solid barricade like this, it won’t even buy you a day’s worth of time when there aren’t any soldiers manning it!”
“I told you guys before that you don’t need to know. Once all of your work is finished, I order you to move over to Port City. And make sure you don’t get hit by a stray arrow by some piss-poor luck.”
The three didn’t attempt to hide their disappointment at Isaac’s cold words. As they disappeared, Soland quickly came up to their place as if he had been waiting for this opportunity.
“As expected, the Full Hammer mercenary band has started raiding the area the moment they arrived.”
“It’s as the rumors say. How’s the preparation?”
“I have led the project personally using only my most trusted men.”
“Good. All that’s left is to wait now.”
Isaac nodded at Soland’s report. But when he shuffled to light another cigarette in his mouth, he saw a hint of hesitation harbored in the corner of Soland’s eyes.
“What? Are you regretting it now?”
“That’s not it.”
“Then why are you acting like a puppy that needs to take a shit?”
“No matter how concealed the elves and North Bears are during their mission, they will be found out.”
Soland’s worry was met with Isaac’s smirk.
“They often say that you can forgive a commander that has lost a battle, but you cannot forgive a commander that has failed to maintain proper vigilance.”
“Was there a line like that? It sounds rather impressive.”
“But the problem is, no matter how well the commander drills his men to maintain a good watch, it’s the soldiers who have to perform guard duty.”
“Well, no high ranking officer would do such work in the first place.”
“And the Marquis only deployed their knights in the war. These proud knights would never take guard duty themselves, so the duty would naturally fall to the mercenaries. Now, if you were the mercenaries, would you maintain a proper watch over the surrounding, or would you just act like you’re doing your job, especially in a war that is so clearly decided already? I’m sure they’ve found the money we’ve left as bait by now, so they’ll be even more enthusiastic about raiding the area.”
“Won’t the knights run a patrol around the area?”
“That’s where the loophole is. Any military activity is forbidden by both sides until the starting date of the war, so would the soldiers care to stay on guard in this situation? When the difference in military strength is so large that it’ll be more difficult to lose? When the elves and North Bears, who pose some threat to them, have already moved over to Port City? I’m sure that forcing them to stay on guard duty will cause more discord than order, especially when some lucky men happened to find secret stashes hidden under the rubble.”
“… Is that why you told us to hide the money around?”
“How else would we be able to make our notorious Full Hammer mercenary band our scapegoat?”
In times of war, intelligence gathering is one of the most important works. Any competent commander would try their best even in a war that is as predetermined as this one. Sadly, Dike Duberon, the commander of the knightly order that the Marquis is so proud, of wasn’t such an individual.
“He’s buying any magical artifacts that he can get his hands on? I guess he’s still trying to cling on to dear life.”
Dike’s insult brought laughter from all of the knights around him.
“We shouldn’t let our guard down. He must be planning something in secret.”
Anton’s warning only triggered a look of dissatisfaction from Dike’s drunken face.
“Viscount Anton, may I take that as an insult to the glorious knightly order of the Marquis?”
“That’s not what I’m…”
“That pathetic barricade and the wall Isaac has built would only need a day to be removed with the strength of our order!”
“It can’t possibly take a day! Just give us a half a day and we’ll do it!”
“Even that’s too long!”
“No! It’ll take us that long if we spare some time for our meals.”
“Kuahaha! That’s exactly it!”
Dike and the officers of the knights cheered and hurrahed as they applauded the witty joke from one of them.
“It’s a pity there’s no women around here. Why don’t we enjoy ourselves with the Blue Roses that New Port City is so famous for once we take control of that place?”
Dike’s proposal was met with shouts of excitement and elation from the knights. Anton watched the sight, his frustration clear as he bit down on his lip. But all he could do was watch before walking away from the party.
“Ha! How did that coward manage to gain the title of the Marquis’ sword when he couldn’t even enter the campus?”
Dike’s insults wounded Anton’s pride deeply. Anton was just a servant when he first worked for the Marquis. It all changed however, when his talent with the sword was noticed, and through sheer effort, Anton managed to climb to where he was now. He was thankful to the Marquis for supporting him to this day and swore his loyalty in return, but he couldn’t attain the seat of commander of the knights.
Since the knightly order was the Marquis’s greatest military asset and something he invested almost all of his wealth into, he couldn’t risk giving the position of commanding officer to someone outside his family. That was why Dike was given the seat of Commander instead after just barely graduating from the Campus’s School of Military, while Anton was relegated to the butler of Marquis despite the title he held.
Dike was a womanizer; while the knights paraded down New Port City, he was busy fancying the noble ladies in Port City while the knights paraded down New Port City. It was him who demanded revenge despite Anton’s urging against it and ordered the assault on the defenseless women.
As a result, the knights who held the ludicrous bounty on their heads were summoned back to the Marquis’ land in order to keep secret the disgrace that the knights were used to assault a group of women, and even back at home the knights had to hide their faces.
“Sigh… just what is he plotting.”
Anton knew that Isaac must have had a plan, a plan beyond just trying to save himself. The greatest evidence was the way the barricades were built. It was aimed to surround the Meta district, not to defend Ceta District. But Anton couldn’t figure out the reasoning behind it.
No matter how thick and strong the barricade was, it would be taken down in less than an hour thanks to the power of the knights. The same was true for the wall. The knights were armed with war hammers in case they had to level simple structures in siege battles. It was only a matter of time.
“Why does he not run, when his demise is so plainly obvious?”
There was an opinion back in the Marquis’ land to lose on purpose at this point. With the significant support from Port City betting on New Port City’s victory, New Port City was going to face an insurmountable debt if they were to win, forcing them into bankruptcy.
Many were convinced by the idea of giving Isaac a taste of his own medicine, but everyone agreed that the Marquis couldn’t let the first battle of his glorious knights end in defeat.
“Is he really just making a last stand?”
Anton walked the empty streets as he muttered to himself. But he quickly brushed the thought away as he shook his head. Anton couldn’t forget Isaac’s uncaring, apathetic eyes. Anton had seen those eyes before, back when he was young and traveled the battlefields for experience.
It was an old mercenary, whose battered body was soon to be forced into retirement. The mercenary killed his enemies without emotions as his victims cried out in pain for mercy. Even as he suffered a fatal wound at Anton’s hands, he died laughing at his own death.
Whenever Anton saw Isaac, he was reminded of that mercenary.
“Shit, seems like someone’s already been here.”
“Let’s hurry up and look somewhere else.”
“I heard Marco’s group hit the jackpot?”
“They found a secret stash of some idiot, and it turned out to have 3 thousand Giga inside!”
“Shit! I should have been there instead! Huh?”
Anton walked into a group of mercenaries who were talking to themselves as they came out of the alleyway. Finding Anton surprised the mercenaries at first, but they quickly recovered and greeted him with a very casual demeanor.
“Hello, sir knight.”
“What are you lot doing?”
“Not much. We’re just scouting around to see if there’s anyone hiding around here.”
It seemed very doubtful that these mercenaries were acting as they claimed, especially when their bags seemed heavy with valuable goods. Anton was close to bursting out in anger at the sight, but sighed weakly and passed through the mercenaries.
Anton didn’t know why those pieces of trash were recruited into the war with them, but until the battle started, Anton had no commanding authority over the mercenaries. Even if he did have the authority, those notorious pieces of garbage would find all kinds of excuses to disobey his orders.
“It’s a mess.”
Any competent commander would despair at the scene in front of Anton’s eyes. There were many groups littered across the area, where the mercenaries boasted of the loot that they had stolen from the nearby houses and shops. There was no way that a proper guard duty was in place in this situation, and even if such orders were given, it was obvious that they’d quickly devolve back into this situation unless they were watched from the side at all times. The knights who should have been leading them with example were busy having a party, and Anton wasn’t going to start a lonely fight to regain discipline especially when it was clearly going to end poorly for him.
“The wind is blowing.”
The collateral damage from the war was also significant, especially when it involved giant trade cities such as New Port City, because they acted as centres of transportation. When such cities were warring, all goods which flowed through the city had no choice but to wait until the war was over. It was especially harsh for this war, since now was harvest season. The season was also accompanied by a constant gale called the ‘breath of the wind’ which blew from the south to the north, allowing quick passage for any ships. The southern provinces were the center of agriculture, and all of their products which should have been transported to New Port City to be sold were now left to rot until the war was over.
“I should at least warn them of the dangers of fire.”
Anton muttered to himself as he looked at the mercenaries, who made campfires wherever they pleased and hosted a feast of alcohol and barbecues. There was no telling how badly the fire would spread when such strong winds were blowing.
Anton was heading through the port to get to where the commanders of the mercenaries were when he noticed that the port was empty. In the Meta District, there were six ships which should have been docked at the port. The two giant sailing ships named Meritho and Zrovenho were owned by the Marquis and were on standby after transporting the order of knights. The remaining four medium-sized sailboats were owned by the war merchants who transported the Full Hammer mercenary band, which should also have been on standby to take back their spoils of war. However, it was clear that they were no longer on standby.
“Hey! Where are the ships going?”
Anton saw the four ships leave the port and demanded answers from the group of mercenaries, who were busy cooking some mysterious meat nearby.
“The owner of the ships told them to set sail because there was something he needed to transport immediately.”
“At this time of the day?”
“It’s not like you can choose what time of the day you make profit in war.”
Anton frowned as he watched the mercenaries snicker and drown themselves in alcohol. They were the lowest of scum who had not even a semblance of discipline in them. Anton quickly left the port, too irritated to even stay with them.
It is expected that guards patrol the area even in times of peace to protect the ships, but the constant parties and what seems like a predetermined victory had eaten away at their sense of duty. Everyone had let their guard down to the point that not a single person stood on guard duty properly.
The same was the case for the ships themselves. All of the sailors of the ships disembarked to enjoy a brief vacation. Those unlucky enough to stay on the ships were unlikely to have the willpower to stay on guard, so they ended up getting drunk on the decks. Meanwhile, the captains and navigators of the ships were busy attending Dike’s parties in the hopes of currying his favor.
The ships were packed tightly next to each other to connect the bridges. In the cold, dark water under the ships, a single head appeared from underneath. The man who looked to his surrounding muttered to himself in dissatisfaction.
“Don’t you think this is too much?”
“Shh! Quiet. Let’s just get our job done quickly.”
Tens of other people appeared after him and warned the man who muttered to himself.
“You all know what you need to do right? Don’t let your guard down.”
“So why’s he telling us to make holes on perfectly good ships?”
“I know right? And not just that, but he decided to complicate things even more by making the holes very small at first, but then larger as we go up. Why’s he got to complicate things like that?”
“Has anyone ever understood how that man’s thought process works? If you want to keep on boasting, move.”
Tens of swift shadows quickly snuck in and out of the ships. One of those shadows got onto the main mast of one ship. The shadow admired the view for a moment, then took out a small magical lamp and spun it, letting out pulses of green light.
The Meta District was desolate; it had fallen into complete darkness, complemented by an eerie silence. The only sign of humans was at the port, where small lights flickered and faint laughter occasionally broke the silence.
Isaac was at the roof of the tallest of the buildings designated to become part of the wall behind the barricades.
“W, what is all this?”
Cordnell and Isaac’s hubaes, who followed Isaac to the roof, couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Many of the buildings were connected together to form the giant wall, and elves and North Bears could be seen running on top of the wall in a hurry.
“Just what are you planning?”
The four who remained in New Port City were confused by Isaac’s actions, but Isaac ignored them.
“I am hungry. Start cooking.”
Isaac made his order, and one of the North Bears quickly began cooking a piece of meat on a barbecue.
“And what are you elves doing? My ears are bored. I’d like to request an upbeat music. But I don’t mind playing it myself if you don’t want to.”
The elves quickly responded to Isaac’s threat and picked up their instruments and played music. The north bears brought a range of alcohol up to the roof.
There was a party happening as people laughed and ate, but Cordnell and Isaac’s hubaes weren’t in a mood to participate.
“Hohoho, don’t just stand around like statues. Come, and enjoy some wine.”
Milena approached them and smiled with her eyes as she handed them glasses of wine. The four took the wine in confusion, still unable to understand what was happening. Meanwhile, Isaac quickly sat down on the soft chair which was already prepared for him, which provided him the best view of Meta District.
“We’ve received the signal.”
Soland approached Isaac after enough time had passed for Isaac to finish his cigarette and drink Rizzly’s hand-poured wine. Isaac turned after hearing Soland speak and looked to the lake where a faint green circle could be seen. Isaac took out another cigarette and muttered to himself.
“I wonder how many will live?”
Isaac looked down onto the Meta District, and in the abyss outside the port, faint embers could be seen shining through the darkness.
END OF VOLUME 3