VOLUME 4 BEGINS with a pleasant bonfire.
Nobody took the fire seriously when it all started. Despite the constant reminders and warnings, there had been multiple incidents regarding fire during their stay. So everyone simply covered their drunk, aching heads with their blankets, wondering which retard it was this time that was shouting ‘fire!’
However, they came to the realization that something was different when the shouts of ‘fire!’ came from all directions and the bell rang incessantly, eventually waking them from their slumber.
Dang! Dang! Dang!
The loud noise of the bell mixed with shouts, screams, cries, and tantrums in the streets, deafening everyone’s ears. Without a proper chain of command, all they could do was shout at each other to put out the fire. Soldiers are so used to acting in accord to what they’ve been told that they become powerless when there aren’t any orders. Every officer who should have been leading their men at this time was still in a drunken slumber, and most of the soldiers were in no better shape, struggling to stay on their feet.
Anton was perhaps the only person with a clear mind in this situation, but he lacked the authority to command the mercenaries. The only thing he could do was to wake Dike up, even if he had to punch him to give the orders.
Anton rushed out of his residence. He could see the fire flickering above the houses from afar, and the mercenaries were running around in circles, too disoriented and disorganized to act. He quickly rushed over to Dike’s residence, shouting at any mercenaries he met to extinguish the fire.
It seemed Dike had gotten wind of the grave situation and staggered out of his residence with his equipment on.
“What happened here!”
“It seems those foolish mercenaries have finally caused a problem.”
Anton’s voice was filled with contempt, expressing his discontent at all of Dike’s actions until now. If the Meta District was damaged by the fire, the cost of rebuilding the district would fall entirely on the Marquis even after they had won the war. This was why Anton warned time and time again to watch out for fires, yet the warning fell on deaf ears, leading to the current situation.
“Then we need to extinguish the fire!”
Dike spoke out in a panic. Anton could feel the frustration welling in his heart from witnessing such a one-dimensional reaction from his commander.
“The commanding authority over the mercenaries has yet to be transferred to the knights. We need to meet up with the leader of the mercenaries quickly and attain the commanding authority before we begin to fight against the fire…”
“B, before all that, we will go to the ships first.”
“What? It isn’t too late now. If we act now…”
“Shut it! I’m sure those who started the fire will deal with it themselves! Can you not see? The fire is coming to us as we speak! The ship is the safest place, so we will go there first!”
“The wind blows northward at this time of the year!”
“That’s even more of a reason that the ship is the safest place! You can burn to death if that is your wish, but I am not joining you!”
Dike pushed Anton aside with his arm and quickly rushed over to the port, and the knights reluctantly followed behind their commander.
“Kuuk! That incompetent fool!”
Anton had no choice but to run with Dike despite the frustration. As long as Anton’s loyalty to the Marquis still existed, he had to protect Dike, who was a blood relative to the Marquis.
“The ships… where are they!”
It seemed Dike wasn’t the only person to seek refuge in the ships, as the port was busy with mercenaries who were deep in confusion. They were attempting to force themselves onto the ships owned by the Marquis. As expected of the mercenary band notorious for their greed, they seemed more focused on keeping their prized loot than following the chain of command or camaraderie.
It was true that the ships were the safest place once the fire started. But when they arrived at the port, the only ships that were still docked were the sail boats owned by the Marquis, while the four ships the mercenaries came on were missing.
“Make a path! Those ships are owned by the knights! Any who try to get on a ship will be punished on the spot!”
One of the knights tried to threaten them, but it only proved that an empty threat was no better than never making one.
“What! Are they trying to save only themselves?”
“There’s plenty of room in there! Just let us in with you!”
The mercenaries were making a commotion as Dike and his men forced their way through the crowd, hungover. But as they made their way to the ships, Dike made a bad decision.
“Shut up! You damn maggots! Just jump into the water if you have to! It was you lot who started the whole mess in the first place! So get out there and put out that fire! How dare you speak of running from the battlefield! You will all be executed for desertion at this rate!”
Anton screamed in his mind. The mercenaries were agitated enough at this point, and threatening something like execution was like adding oil to the fire.
“So they just want to save themselves?”
“How are we supposed to put out that giant fire? We don’t even know the way around here, much less than where the firehouse is.”
“I’d rather run away with the ship than burn to death.”
Witnessing the signs of mutiny developing within the mercenaries, Anton drew his sword and shouted.
“All men draw your swords! Group 4, 5, 6 will escort the captain to the ship; the rest will stop the mercenaries! Kill all who oppose us!”
Having heard their orders, the knights drew their swords, and Anton slew some of the mercenaries without hesitation to set an example.
“I am Anton Smith, the sword of Marquis Duberon! Any who block my path will die at my hands!”
There wasn’t a single mercenary here who didn’t know of Anton’s reputation. The mercenaries backed off at Anton’s show of force, and the knights and Dike quickly capitalized on the situation to get on the ships. Anton and the group of knights tasked with stopping the mercenaries also slowly backed up toward the ships.
“Where is the commander of your band? The mercenaries are to follow your commander’s orders and extinguish the fire! The longer you hesitate, the more it will chip away at your pay!”
Anton’s words finally seemed to calm the mercenaries. The reason they worked as mercenaries was because they needed the pay. The mercenaries seemed like they were about to calm down and search for their commander, and Anton made a sigh of relief. But just as he was about to sheathe his sword, one of the mercenaries screamed in panic.
“The ships are trying to leave!”
Anton turned around in dismay, unable to believe the mercenary’s words. But just as the mercenary said, the two ships were lowering their sails and raising the anchors.
Anton screamed at Dike whose actions reignited the mercenaries’ rage.
“I knew those nobles were never trustworthy!”
“So you want to save your own skin, is it?”
“We’re going to die anyway if we stay here! Let’s get on the ships!”
The mercenaries quickly roused themselves into a frenzy as they charged to get on the ships.
“Kuk! Stop them!”
Anton ordered the knights as he cut down a mercenary who came right at him. However, the knights were hard-pressed to stand their ground. Although they went through harsh training to get to where they are now, they were also very new to a real combat situation.They weren’t able to stop the experienced mercenaries from getting on the ships, especially when they were heavily outnumbered. Plus, the mercenaries’ main goal wasn’t to fight the knights, but to get on the ships.
One by one, the mercenaries breached through the knights’ defense and made their way onto the ships. The fight now spread to the decks of the ships, where the knights and the mercenaries were in a struggle to gain control of the ships. And while the fight ensued, the ships slowly made their way out of the ports, but it seemed the combat on the decks had caused a fire to start on one of the ships.
“No! Come back!”
When the ships were about to leave the port completely, some of the desperate mercenaries jumped into the lake in hopes of chasing after it.
“Calm down! Where the hell are the commanders and captains of the mercenaries?”
“It’s their fault! It’s because of them that we couldn’t get on the ships!”
The desperation and bitterness from facing the impending doom was now directed at Anton and his knights.
Anton frowned ever so slightly at the sight of the situation and glimpsed behind to see how his knights were faring. Although they were breathing heavily, there didn’t seem to be any casualties other than light wounds. Anton was quite happy to see that the knights, which the Marquis was so proud of, prove their reputation, but he was quickly engulfed by the sadness that his knights had to suffer through such shameful casualties because of an incapable leader.
Anton stomped the wooden floor with his foot, destroying it as a show of force and shouted.
“There is no time to waste here! As you can see, the port is constructed of wood, which will catch fire at a moment’s notice! Bring in anything you can use to fight the fire onto the port. We will defend the port with our lives! Follow my order if you want to live!”
The mercenaries seemed like they were about to submit to Anton’s show of force, but one of the mercenaries shouted out.
“The canal! We can just cross over to Port City through the canal!”
Anton’s eyes flickered, and he quickly refuted that claim.
“We are currently preparing for war! We are not allowed to leave the war’s designated area at all costs!”
“Who cares about the damn rules when we’re about to burn to death!”
The mercenaries ignored Anton and immediately made a run toward the canal.
“Stop them! Kill all who try to cross over to Port City! Don’t let anyone get into Port City!’
The knights immediately chased after the mercenaries. According to the rules of provincial war, participating forces are forbidden from entering neutral ground. If they were to break this rule, the battle was nulled on the spot; in order to uphold this rule, the faction which broke the rule was automatically declared the loser for the following battle if the rule was broken purposefully by that side. Any complaint against the decision was met with the Central’s involvement.
Even if this was caused by an unprecedented event such as a disaster, it would still be a significant penalty for the Marquis. So, the knights had no choice but to stop the mercenaries from getting to Port City, even if they had to kill them all.
The burning mercenary screamed in pain, and Anton gave the mercenary the relief of a quick death. Anton breathed heavily as he looked at his surroundings. There was raging fire everywhere he looked, and the smoke began to blur his vision.
“We cannot determine as of now. All of our knights have scattered across the entire district to chase the mercenaries.”
The fire didn’t show any signs of slowing, instead becoming larger and stronger. The mercenaries who tried to swim to Port City only found that the fire had spread to all of the buildings by the canal, and they soon changed direction toward Ceta District. The knights had spread out in pursuit after the mercenaries during the chaos. Anton now only had a hundred or so knights still following him.
New Port City was already a giant overpopulated slum. It was a maze of poorly-constructed hovels, interconnected by a web of narrow alleyways and dead ends. Even a native of New Port City would sometimes get lost in the city, and it was impossible to expect the knights to regroup in this city, especially with the chaos of fire and the smoke blurring their vision. Now, fighting the fire was a lost cause. Their only way out was to find a safe haven while avoiding the fire. Each time the breath of the wind blew, it added to the fire like a blast furnace. But the most dangerous of it all was the smoke. They might have been able to run away from the fire, but not the smoke.
This was Anton and the knights’ greatest worry. The armor they wore was strong enough to block many fire spells from a rank 1 magical knight, but it didn’t offer any protection against smoke.
As they are living creatures who require air to breath, even Anton, who was ever so close to becoming a master, was at risk of suffocation.
While Anton was in a desperate scramble searching for a way to reach safe haven, he heard one of the knights scream out in panic.
“Sir Anton, the ships!”
Anton’s eyes were opened wide at those words. Of the two ships that sailed into the middle of the lake, one was burning bright like a bonfire while the other was sinking to the bottom of the lake.
Exhausted, Anton collapsed to his knees. The knights quickly came to lift Anton back on his feet, but Anton still looked to the lake in despair.
“The knights…. They were supposed to be the glory of the Marquis…”
The armor the knights used boasted an impenetrable defense, but was so heavy that it was impossible to even lift without the lightweight magic. The lightweight magic however didn’t reduce the weight of the object itself, instead lowering the wearer’s perceived weight of the armor.
So, any knight who fell into the lake had no chance of survival. The knights whom the Marquis had poured his all into were now given a watery grave without a single achievement under their name.
“What shall we do now?”
The knights asked for Anton’s order, their desperation fueled by the sound of raging fire. The fire sounded like a demon’s ominous whispers about their imminent death.
Anton forced himself onto his feet. The least he could do now was to save what remained of the knights.
“We will go to Ceta District.”
“It’s an emergency. Port City may be out of bounds as it is neutral ground, but New Port City has the responsibility to care for us since they are participating in the war. He has no right to refuse us. All units prepare to move! We will break through the fire and head to Ceta District!”
The knights quickly made their way toward Ceta District at Anton’s orders. As they made their way, they regrouped any men who they met on the way, be it a mercenary or a knight. They made their way through the fire, making new paths by destroying buildings. But at the end of their destination, they were met with a giant wall of flame. Above it all was Isaac looking down on them.
“Aah, this can’t be…”
Cordnell and Isaac’s hubaes couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. It almost seemed surreal to them.
The city burned in front of their eyes. The fires that started in Meta District were designed to envelop the district from the beginning. The fire passed from street to street, building to building. Screams of pain and agony echoed into the air, but they were surrounded by vibrant music and endless laughter. They drank their wine and cooked their meat to the rhythm of the music.
Unable to hold his turbulent emotions, Cordnell threw up on the floor; Selia curled up on the floor, her hands firmly blocking her ears. Kalden and Trentor were at Isaac’s side, begging for mercy.
“We have to save the people!”
“We’ve got to stop the fire!”
Despite their plea, Isaac watched the fire with a straight face and called out for Rizzly.
“Make the preparations.”
“Yes. All units prepare your arrows!”
With Rizzly’s shout, all of the elves and North Bears who were smiling and laughing in the party scattered to their designated positions. They each prepared burning arrows for their bows.
“What the? Sir Isaac, this is against the laws which dictate provincial war!”
“You will be blamed for setting the city on fire!”
“Who says I’m setting fire to the city?”
Isaac flicked the cigarette out of his hand, and Rizzly shouted out his order.
Like shooting stars, the arrows arced their way toward the barricades that stood in front of their 10m wall. The arrows hit their mark, and the barricades were quickly consumed by the fire. When it was set ablaze, it resembled that of a red snake, writhing from the distance.
“Aah… You are mad. You are completely mad!”
Kalden screamed at Isaac. With the port and buildings lining the canal engulfed in flame, the only way the survivors could find safe haven was to jump into the lake or escape into the Ceta District. With this move, Isaac blocked their only path of escape with this move. What was most crazy about this situation was that the four of them were the only people who were taking this situation seriously. Isaac, the elves, and North Bears seemed uncaring of the fire, as if it were a spectacle happening beyond their reach.
“I think we need to make our preparations.”
Rizzly looked at Meta District when he spoke to Isaac. The breath of the wind wasn’t a constant wind which blew from the south to the north. It was a sudden gust which came from moment to moment like a deep breathe, which was where its name came from.
And riding that wind, the fire which spread across all of Meta District was starting to make its way toward Ceta District. Although the barricade was set on fire as backfire, the wind could just as easily spread the backfire into Ceta District.
“Huh? That man’s still alive?”
Isaac smirked and got off his feet when he noticed Anton.
“Was this all your scheme!”
There was a brooding hatred and anger in his voice. Isaac tried to speak back to Anton, but realized his voice wouldn’t carry over to where he was and shrugged.
“I swear, everyone around me suspects me first when something bad happens. And I’m always innocent.”
The syndicate bosses shook their heads in dismay when Isaac proclaimed his innocence, and thought not to cross Isaac ever in the future.
“You will never be forgiven for this!”
Isaac looked at Anton emotionlessly while Anton screamed his lungs out. Isaac then smiled as if he was entertained.
Lanburton seemed to calculate something when he was called out.
“If we can correctly guess when the breath will come, the elves alone will be more than enough.”
‘W, what are you going to do?”
Cordnell spoke out in fear, unable to figure out what Isaac was planning to do next. But he quickly figured it out when all of the elves lined up against the buildings which stood behind the flaming wall. The elves summoned their wind spirits, and sent a gust of wind against the breath of the wind. When wind meets wind, it becomes a twister. And the flame quickly rode the twister, turning it into a pillar of flame.
The people quickly scattered, trying to avoid the flaming pillar as Anton screamed out.
“I curse you! Isaac! I will have my revenge even in my death!”
It was a wall of flames about 10 meters tall. Anton lost his mind and tried to break through the wall alone, but he was pulled away by the knights. Even as he was being pulled away by the knights in search of safety, Anton continued to shout out Isaac and cursed him with every word he knew.
Isaac looked at the whole situation without a care and simply enjoyed the cigarette in his mouth, when Cordnell grabbed at Isaac’s arm and said his piece.
“How could you do this? There are still survivors in there!”
“Now is the season of northerly winds. If I am to stop this fire, I have to make backfire.”
“That’s a lie! You didn’t need to encircle it completely! You could have made an opening to accept the refugees and…”
“Why should I?”
“Do I look naïve enough to extend a helping hand to those who came to take everything from me? You’re wrong. There is only one thing I will say to them.”
Isaac shook Cordnell’s hand off and opened his arm toward the burning city and the barricade, and shouted.
“What a bonfire!”
In response to Kalden’s shout, Isaac turned. The engulfing flame acted like a backlight, casting a shadow on Isaac’s face. However, they could still see the expression Isaac was making – a chilling, sinister smile. The smile was etched deeply into the memories of those who witnessed it.
“If I can’t have it, no one will.”