What can you do when you are faced with a provincial war you can neither avoid nor win and lose everything even if you do win? All the while the government is favoring the other side?
The answer is simple. Destroy the game itself.
The concept of war of this world was but a mockery of what Isaac considered to truly be war.
How can there be my team, an enemy team, rules which both sides must follow, and an umpire who oversees the entire battle and determines the winner in a war?
This is not a war but a mere sport in which one puts their lives on the line to play.
That’s why it’s easy to destroy the game. The game cannot start if there aren’t any players to compete in it. Removing the players was simple enough. They were stationed in the middle of the slums that 30 thousand people once called home – the Meta District.
No matter how small of an area these 30 thousand people occupied in the slums, 2 thousand men were nowhere near enough to fight the fire, which had expanded across the entire district. The slums never had proper facilities to deal with the fire, and with the lack of manpower on top of that, the slums may as well have been a giant stack of firewood.
Burning the Meta District wasn’t a plan that Isaac had haphazardly concocted at a whim, as he kept one old habit from the time he lived as a soldier.
Wargames. A game which all military officials must learn. A game where the participants analyze their position, authority, the designated battlefield. You study the strength and level of allies’ training and the terrain. You create an imaginary foe under specific conditions and form a plan to best deal with them under those circumstances.
You trust nothing and formulate plans after plan to best retaliate against attacks.
Burning the Meta District was one of Isaac’s old wargames where he drew up the hypothetical of fighting against an overwhelming force where retreat was not possible. Isaac gave up on the game halfway through, wondering why he was even cornering himself to this point. Isaac simply picked up from where he left off and adjusted the plan accordingly.
There was one condition which followed Isaac’s plan: that he could not be found out no matter what. But the method of siege warfare approved for the Marquis made it far easier for Isaac. By providing them with a landing zone, a base camp, and even the date of the invasion, all Isaac had to do was think of how to block out all the escape routes and annihilate the enemy.
The disaster which struck Meta District shocked everyone. It was a catastrophe where nearly two thousand people burned to death.
The Marquis was hit the hardest by this. When he heard the news that his cherished Order of Heavy Combat Knights was completely destroyed without a single battle, he fainted on the spot.
The main fire which consumed Meta District finally petered out around noon the next day. Only ashes remained where the slums used to be.
“I guess the Meta district was pretty large, now that we have a clear view of it.”
Even now, there were still smouldering flames which still burnt in the area, and gray smoke billowed into the air each time the breath of the wind blew.
Civilian ships going to and from Port City were floating in the lake, witnesses to the aftermath of the firestorm in the Meta District.
Isaac snickered as he watched the entire area from the rooftop of a building. Soland, who listened to isaac’s snicker, seemed somewhat disturbed.
Although he admitted to himself that this was necessary, Soland still felt disheartened to see the district, which he ruled over after painstakingly rising through the ranks, turn to nothing.
“Seems like the fire’s almost gone, so we better extinguish the remaining fires. Why don’t you look for some lucky survivors while you’re at it? And don’t forget to pick up all of the knight’s equipment on the way. We’ll need to send them back to the marquis. I hear they are rather expensive.”
“I thought there weren’t supposed to be any knights who survived?”
“Huh? That’s why I told you. Find the survivors and gather their equipment.”
“I’ll form a search party led by the North Bears.”
Soland caught on to what Isaac was implying and backed off with a bow.
Mercenaries didn’t need to be considered at this point. The knights, on the other hand, were professional soldiers. According to the rules, the army was still considered intact even if only a single knight survived. No matter how close to death the survivor was, if the knight was alive, the Marquis could still proceed with the battle and fight for a conclusion whether it was victory or defeat, which would spell Isaac’s doom. Therefore, no knight could remain alive.
With Soland gone, Cordnell and Isaac’s hubaes came up as a group with a stiff face.
“We’ll be leaving.”
“I never thought Sir Isaac would be such a cruel person. I cannot see myself working under such a person.”
Kalden’s announcement was met with Isaac’s serious tone.
“Hey! Watch your mouth. You’re making it sound like I set fire to my own city.”
Isaac’s hypocritical criticism was met with the look of disdain from the group.
“Do you really think you can hide that secret when the fire investigation team from Gabelin comes to investigate? The secret will be found out. Even if it didn’t, the Marquis will likely send out another army, and once they find out that you started the fire, the Marquis will want your head.”
“We’ll find out about that once the investigation starts. So you’re really leaving?”
Cordnell replied, and everyone around him nodded in agreement. Isaac shrugged.
“Well, I won’t stop anyone if they want to leave this place, but do you think you can handle it? There’ll be rumours following you no matter where you guys go.”
“What? What rumours?”
The group looked surprised, and Isaac made a commotion as if he didn’t know.
“Isn’t that obvious? You guys stayed here while everyone else evacuated. And even you guys, who are considered my administrators, suspected me when the fire began. What do you think it’ll look like to those on the outside? There will be rumours about you wherever you go. That you aided in burning the city down.”
“I, impossible! Since when did we help that happen?”
“That’s just how the world runs; you are guilty by association. Well, I guess you can convince them that you weren’t associated with the fire with enough evidence; the only thing is that you’ll have to do that every time you meet a new person. But it’ll still be better than working for someone like me right?”
Isaac nodded to Selia’s cry as if he understood.
“That’s right! It’s really frustrating when people wrongly blame you for something you’ve never done.”
Selia’s mouth went agape like a goldfish, unable to utter a word. Cordnell quickly regained his composure and shouted out.
“Then what will you do about the Marquis? You may have bought time until the results of the investigation comes, but even if the fire started as accidents as Sir Isaac says, the provincial war will still continue. What are you going to do if the marquis sends another army? What will you do then?”
“I wonder? I guess the war would continue, but I’m betting that it will never conclude.”
Everyone was thrown in confusion, unable to understand what Isaac was saying. Isaac’s eyes turned to the Meta District, and the four’s eyes followed with him.
“I wonder how much it’ll cost to rebuild the Meta District.”
The four faces went pale after hearing Isaac’s words. They could already picture the rudimentary plan for removing all the debris and reconstructing all of the buildings. The time required to clear the debris, the time required for reconstruction, the cost of the raw materials, labor costs, and the administrative manpower needed until the project was finished. On top of it all, there was the issue of taking care of the refugees while the construction was in progress. They could come up with a giant list of everything that’d cost money and could only sigh at how much it’d be.
There was no way Isaac was going to do it himself, so the job would naturally fall on them.
“Make an estimate of the costs for reconstructing Meta District on top of the compensation we will need to pay for the refugees.”
“… It’ll be an astronomical sum of money.”
Reconstructing a city wasn’t going to happen in a day or two. The longer it took to rebuild, the exponentially higher the cost would be.
Selia shouted out in surprise, not expecting Isaac to call out her name.
“Send a message to the Marquis.”
“… A message?”
“Yes. The message will be something along the lines of ‘the mistake your army made caused a fire, turning the city to ashes. There are many refugees. How will you take responsibility for this?’ And add the estimate along with the message.”
“B, but what will you do if the investigation team determines that it was our act of arson?”
“I’m sure the marquis will still claim credit for causing the fire, even if there is proof that I had gone insane and started the fire myself.”
“Huh? How could that be?”
There was no reason for the Marquis to admit to the mistake, especially when they’d be gritting their teeth and scheming for revenge.
The four looked with doubt in their eyes. Isaac snorted and lit a cigarette.
“People can live with or without laws, but they shouldn’t let laws dictate their lives. If you look at the rules of the provincial war, it will state that whoever wins the war must pay for all the damages caused to the civilians, whether it be financial or bodily harm.”
The four exclaimed in astonishment. There definitely was a rule like that. That is why the commanders preferred open battles. Siege battles were bound to have collateral damage, and such damages were going to add onto the winner’s responsibility.
So unless it is extremely dire situation, siege battles don’t occur frequently; even if it did, siege weapons such as trebuchets aren’t used often in fear of harming civilians. One may think that this rule could be abused by defenders staying in their castles and avoiding the fight, but if it became obvious that one side was going to hole themselves in a castle, the opponent would utilise all weapons of war to devastate the castle as badly as possible and retreat freely as they proclaimed their defeat. Once the battle was over, the first thing that happens is calculating the damages to the civilians and their due compensation. Only after this responsibility is taken care of could the winner claim their winner’s rights. If they cannot pay to repair the damages, they weren’t able to utilize their winner’s rights.
The burning of the Meta District was also considered damaging to civilian assets. So whoever would be declared the victor of this war had to reconstruct Meta District and pay for every expense until it was complete. If the investigation concluded that Isaac caused the fire, Isaac would be executed immediately, and victory would naturally fall to the Marquis. Doing so would also throw an impossible burden onto the Marquis’s shoulders, even though he claimed victory.
“But even if the Marquis admits defeat, what will you do about the insurmountable winnings you will need to pay out to the gambling business?”
Trentor pointed out that fact, and Isaac simply shook his head.
“Wars’ results are only determined after battle. If there is no battle, there is no victor or loser.”
“The Marquis can still admit defeat without a battle.”
“With the gambling business going on, we can simply state that the Marquis and Port City rigged the war for a huge return. If we deny payment and send this case to the court, I’m sure it’ll take long enough for my term as lord’s representative to finish beforehand.”
“B, but the marquis wouldn’t be burdened at all if Port City were to pay for the reconstruction of the Meta District.”
Kalden’s opinion was met with Isaac’s cluck of disapproval.
“You really need to study up on law. How can you know less than I do?”
Kalden’s head drooped in disgrace when Isaac taunted him. It was possibly the greatest insult he had ever received.
“Any third parties who have profited in any way, shape, or form from the war aren’t allowed to intervene in the administration of the province where the war took place. That’s the law. It was made to prevent war merchants from meddling with the province after the war had finished, but it will also count for this situation too.”
“But I’m sure the three from Port City could secretly support the Marquis from the shadows with the financial power they hold.”
“Like I said, there’s no result if there is no winner and loser. Since there is no result, the gamble must continue until the results are finally in. That means that the money is frozen. The three from Port City threw all of their money into this bet right? How much do you think they still have left with them? I’ve already made a deal with the elves and North Bears to keep a close eye on the three’s money in case the Marquis goes insane and actually takes over New Port City.”
“How could this…”
The four were at a loss for words. Since when did Isaac come up with such a meticulous plan with no exploitable loopholes? They wanted to find something to fight against Isaac’s reasoning but failed.
“So tell them to wait if they aren’t confident that they can deal with the consequences whether they win or not; they can leave everything to us to rebuild the place.”
“B, but we can’t just continue to buy time like this. Once the reconstruction of Meta District is over, the Marquis will invade again. And we can’t just delay the construction indefinitely too, since there are too many refugees distributed among the rest of the districts. The city was already overpopulated as it was. With the sudden influx of people in the rest of the city, it’ll be a matter of time until the refugees revolt.”
“Fire can happen at any time and any place, you see. Anything can be a cause for a fire, from simple carelessness to some lunatic burning everything to the ground after losing everything he had. That is why it’s important to watch out for fires.”
Isaac seemed to be strongly emphasizing the dangers of fires, but the four knew the hidden message underneath. That he was prepared to burn the city every time they invaded.
‘You said it wasn’t arson!’
The four thought to themselves. There was nothing else they’d wish for at this moment if they could punch the shameless look on Isaac’s face.
“Truth be told, with the uncertainty of sunbae’s future as it is, I think it’ll be too dangerous to stay with you any longer or else the world will truly blame us for starting the fire.”
They already seemed prepared to leave, so Isaac didn’t bother stopping them.
“I guess so. I’m sure you lot can live comfortably without having to work if you embezzled some funds with you. Make sure you do it at an acceptable level. But before you do leave, I want you guys to finish this job first.”
The four sighed with relief when Isaac approved of their leave, when Dinozo came to Isaac.
“We’ve received a message from Gabelin.”
“What is it?”
“It seems they want a report on the fire that happened last night.”
‘That was quick.’
The fire was only starting to die out at this point in time. The departments should still have been in some form of chaos over the incident that no one could have expected to occur. But the response was too quick for a governing department to make. Either the department was very capable or…
‘Have they been watching me the whole time?’
But if they did watch him, they should have stopped the fire before it started.
It was a mystery.
The government gave the rights to the waterways to the Marquis for something in return. There was no way that the government was going to sit idly by as Isaac destroyed their plan by lighting a fire from underneath.
‘Shall I make a jab at them?’
Those high in the office think the world runs the way they want by uttering a single world. Well, that may be true when you look at how the world actually runs, but delinquents like Isaac were the type to not do as they are told. And he definitely wasn’t going to obey like a dog and respond to their call when he was abandoned just moments ago for reasons unknown.
“Tell them I don’t want to.”
Everyone looked with surprise when Isaac responded uncaringly.
“T-this is a government order!”
“So? What about it?”
“Angering the capital’s departments in this situation is like committing suicide! What will you do if they make a conclusion favoring the Marquis?”
Isaac was apathetic as he lit another cigarette.
“Like I’ve said before, a small ember could lead to a giant fire. That’s what’s so scary about fires. A smouldering ember from the burnt city could ride the wind and consume the Ceta District, or some careless individual could drop his cigarette on the floor and burn down an entire city.”
This was blackmail. Everyone was sure of it when they heard Isaac say it. He was going to burn down everything if he was going to die anyway. The scariest thing was that Isaac really seemed like the type to do it.
The capital government wasn’t an easy target. Each and every department in the Capital had some form of an armed force under them. Just one of them could eliminate Isaac silently. Disguising it as an accident was easy enough for them. And no one was going to investigate the scene thoroughly.
“Just to make sure, what will happen if sunbaenim was to die from an unfortunate accident?”
“I’ve already written down my will. If I die, all of my wealth is to be burnt with me.”
“… I assume it is the elves and the North Bears that have been tasked with that will.”
The smile of Isaac’s face was sinister. No matter how powerful the Empire’s government was, it only commanded such authority over humans. The influence it had over non-humans was minimal. Plus, the North Bears supported Isaac unquestioningly, and the elves were never going to miss the opportunity of burning a city down firsthand. There weren’t many opportunities to do such an act for a good reason.
“Then what shall we say to the government?”
Isaac put out the cigarette on the ashtray when Kalden asked his question.
“Before all that, have you found Mazelan sunbae yet?”
“We’ve been looking high and low for him, but we cannot find even a trace of where he is.
“Just where is that fellow going around? If he’s lost his job, why can’t he come here to play around? Damn I’m jealous.”
“He wasn’t fired but exiled.”
“That’s why I’m jealous.”
“Anyway, contact the government and tell them that I will refuse all messages from them unless it’s from Mazelan sunbae. Any work sent to New Port City must be ordered by Mazelan sunbae, otherwise it will be ignored. If they really think this city is important, they’ll reinstate Mazelan sunbae. This is the least we can do for him for all the help he’s given us.”
While everyone sighed wondering how they could clean up all of this mess, Isaac got off his seat and looked at the Meta District one last time before he headed to the City Hall. Only ashes remained. The smell of smoke rode the breath of the wind, traveling throughout New Port City. It was a familiar smell, one he didn’t want to remind himself of. The familiar scene which he hated so much brought a wicked smile on his face.
“Why is it so hard to go to some backwater village?”
He didn’t want a life being led along by someone else. He didn’t fear death, but he wasn’t going to let someone else profit from his death like a rebellious, greedy child.
Opening a way for the knights to escape was always possible. With the city burnt down and damages to the civilians already made, the result was going to be the same even if he allowed them to evacuate. But the reason why he exterminated them was to send a message. A message to the superiors who tried to use Isaac as a pawn for their games.
It was a warning: if they wanted to use Isaac, they must prepare for the collateral that will come with it. And this warning disturbed an unprecedented individual.