The airship accelerated toward the castle, its crew in a slight panic having noticed the anomaly as well. The ship landed violently on the landing site on the castle’s roof and hastily unloaded everyone out like unclaimed baggage before taking off again.
There was an air of tension among the Security agents, their faces stiffened at the possibility of being thrown into battle right after they finished training. It seemed the veteran agents had explained the meaning of the anomaly to the others.
“Where is that ship going now?”
“This is where personnel are dropped off. The ship is now traveling to the landing zone on the other side to drop off its supplies.”
“But this place seems rather empty right now.”
“It’s an emergency. Let’s head to the headquarters for now.”
Mazelan stepped off boldly with a serious face. But Isaac remained unmoved, watching Mazelan’s back as he took out a cigarette and put it into his mouth.
With Isaac staying put, both Rivelia and the Security agents stood their ground as well, carefully observing Isaac’s mood.
Isaac scratched his neck at this familiar atmosphere. The heavy and cold feeling. The tingling sense of wariness against something, whatever it was. The familiar feeling that he didn’t want to get used to. The feeling of an upcoming battle.
“How do I explain this…”
“What are you doing? Hurry up and get over here!”
Mazelan shouted out his frustration when he saw Isaac standing still blankly. Isaac responded with a sluggish shrug.
“You go and do your thing. I’m going to tour the castle.”
“What bullshit are you talking about?!”
Mazelan stomped his way back to Isaac, and Isaac exhaled some smoke leisurely as he replied .
“What’s the point of me going when it’s obvious how busy and chaotic it will be there? It’ll be much better to look around the place instead of sitting quietly in that room.”
“I’m more worried about leaving you here alone!”
“You could take this damsel with you instead.”
“… My mission is to assist the Director of Security.”
Rivelia’s clear refusal stunned Mazelan, whose feet shuffled in a panic. It was at this moment a sizable man with sweat dripping all over his body appeared, speaking to them as he wiped the sweat off his forehead with a handkerchief.
“I, it’s been a while, Lord Mazelan.”
“Saints? You were here?”
The two seemed to have been acquaintances, as Mazelan furrowed his brows while Saints groveled embarrassingly as he continued to wipe away his sweat.
“Do you know him?”
“… He used to work for me when I still worked in the Department of Supplies. Never mind that, what is going on? I didn’t get any news of an emergency state?”
“The wind suddenly started blowing an hour ago and has gained strength ever since.”
“Without any signs?”
“Yes. The wind suddenly started without any warning.”
“Impossible! What of General Noxvil?”
Saints hesitated to answer Mazelan but caved under his furious glare.
“General Noxvil was deployed in a long-range scouting mission three days ago.”
“Now of all times!”
Mazelan clicked his tongue with frustration. A head commander leading a scouting mission was ludicrous. Not to mention that nothing in the Forbidden Lands called for scouting missions.
This was Noxvil’s show of discontent, of his disapproval for the newly founded Directorate of Security and its new Director. He wouldn’t be seeing them. This move conceded quite a lot to Isaac, and Mazelan would have been happy to hear of Noxvil’s absence if it weren’t for the winds. But in this state of emergency, the absence of head commander was critical.
“So what measures have you prepared!”
Mazelan’s eyebrow curved upward when Saints still couldn’t come up with an answer.
“Just what have you been doing in the last hour!”
Saints panicked at the sound of Mazelan’s deafening shout. Mazelan sighed, realising that nothing would happen if he remained here. Mazelan glared at Isaac, who was still unwilling to move, and then he turned back at Saints. Saints’s neck shrank under Mazelan’s glare, and Mazelan spoke to him, disappointed.
“I guess there’s no choice. I will head to the headquarters. You can stay with him and show him around the garrison.”
Saints replied with great surprise – so much so that his wide-open eyes finally peered out from underneath thick layers of fat. Mazelan spoke back with a clear show of annoyance.
“Then shall I do it instead?”
“N, no sir!”
Saints quickly shook his head, sweat flying off his face. Mazelan flinched and stepped back and turned to face Isaac.
“Don’t make a scene! Just have a quick look around and come to the headquarters! We don’t know how this situation will develop!”
Isaac responded nonchalantly, as if the events that unfolded in front of him were water under the bridge. Mazelan groaned, displeased by Isaac’s attitude, and stomped into the distance. Now there was only Rivelia, who looked at her surroundings cautiously, and Saints, who cautiously stole glimpses at Rivelia. Isaac stepped on the cigarette he was smoking and turned to Saints.
Saints noticed Isaac’s eyes were upon him, and immediately groveled with a pitiful laugh. Isaac smirked and asked.
“So, your name’s Saints?”
“Y, yes sir! It is an honour to meet you, Director Isaac.”
“You know who I am?”
“W, why you are Isaac, Director of Security.”
“I see you’ve done your homework.”
“Hehe, thank you.”
“I can understand that a gate opens when the wind blows, but why is that a problem?”
Saints had a puzzled look when he heard Isaac’s question, unsure if Isaac really didn’t know of the reason. But that quickly changed when Rivelia shot a deadly glare at Saints, who immediately started explaining.
“Central can detect strange phenomena that occur when a Gate opens. So when it is detected, Central deploys troops into the Forbidden Lands to prepare for its defence.”
“But the wind is blowing without such phenomena?”
“That’s right. Placing these flags is part of our defensive strategy to discern the Gate’s random location.”
“The wind blows just before a gate opens, so the gate will be situated where the wind is blowing toward.”
Wind was just moving air. The difference in atmospheric pressure that occurred when a gate opened was being used to discern the location of the gate.
“So why is there such a commotion?”
“Simply put, there aren’t enough troops here currently to face the oncoming expeditionary forces.”
Isaac returned Saint’s explanation with a puzzled look.
“Didn’t you say this was a garrison? Shouldn’t you have enough men to defend the Gate on your own?”
Saints hesitated to answer at first, but Isaac’s questioning glares pressured him into an answer, although too shameful to meet Isaac in the eye.
“It hasn’t been long since the garrison was founded. We haven’t even finished structuring our garrison, so there is much we are lacking.”
“It hasn’t been long since it was founded?”
“Yes. Truth is, this location originally served as a rally point for regular troops that were deployed here and as a rear base during battles. Before, it was a simple forward base to detect the phenomenon of the Gate’s opening. The building was stationed with barely enough men to maintain essential facilities. But after suffering near complete annihilation in the last battle, General Noxvil insisted on the need for a new battalion that can support the regular troops into immediate battle. But it has been a difficult process, especially because of some hardships in recruitment.”
“Hm, I thought I was wrong for a second when you said this was a garrison, but it’s as I had suspected.”
Although they were all capable enough to enter Central as individuals, not all of them were going to be righteous. There was bound to be a few that would abuse their authority for corruption.
How would Central deal with such actions? The answer would be simple for heavier crimes, but disposing of criminals with lighter charges or those that demonstrated potential to change would be an extreme waste of manpower. The Forbidden Lands was a world cut off from the rest of the world, but someone had to be deployed here. There was no better place than here to exile these petty criminals.
Isaac thought this prediction was wrong when Mazelan explained that this was a garrison and even had a commander leading them, but now it all made sense to Isaac. No one from Central would enjoy being deployed here, where there was no avenue for success or gaining merit.
Naturally, those that were deployed – more accurately exiled – here were those not in Central’s favour. Of course they couldn’t even organize themselves properly.
Isaac went into a deep thought, but when he noticed Saints looking at him nervously, Isaac cleaned up his thoughts and asked.
“So what did you do to get yourself in here?”
“I understand that this place is an exile’s destination, so tell me. If you sound useful, I just might take you with me out of here.”
Saint’s eyes gleamed and immediately rubbed his hands together and goveled.
“Hehe, in truth, I am innocent.”
“That’s what they all say.”
“It’s related to you as well, Director Isaac.”
“Yes. Hehehe. Truth is, I was the one managing Central’s funds in Port City’s casino…”
Saints’s voice faded as he continued, and Isaac smirked at Saints’s behaviour. Saints’s capabilities were basically proven if he was in charge of Central’s money laundering operations. He was most likely exiled here because he was unfortunate enough to be caught in the incident that led to an investigation revealing some of his embezzlement, but his position within Central was likely to be high if he was part of officer corp even if it was only in name. Isaac remembered how much Cordnell had been suffering from overwork.
“Alright. You work for me now.”
“There’s only one man who’s managing my money, and he’s been having a tough time because of the workload. You might prove to be useful. I personally don’t care about embezzlement on a minor scale, so work hard.”
“I swear my loyalty to you!”
Saints shouted out as he prostrated in front of Isaac.
What wouldn’t he do to escape this place! And New Port City was the city of dreams! Cuisine from throughout the empire, flocks of beautiful women, and enough alcohol and gambling to meet your wildest dreams! It was heaven for Saints.
Rivelia had a deep urge to intervene as she watched the scene unfold, but she simply bottled her feelings up inside.
“Then show me around this place.”
“Huh? W, where would you like to see?”
“Hm? I wonder?”
Isaac thought of a few places before he asked.
“Is there a storage space where you keep the equipment stolen from the Expeditionary Forces?”
“Yes. Other than the few we send back for research purposes, they aren’t allowed to leave this place and are stored here.”
“Good. Let’s go there.”
“B, but only those of rank Team Leader and above can enter that place.”
“Really? Alright. You heard that?”
Isaac turned to Rivelia who responded immediately.
“Shall I tell them to stay here?”
Isaac was about to nod in approval of her actions, but Isaac’s head turned; a foul stench had caught the wind. Isaac watched his agents standing still as a stone, covered in puke from head to toe. Isaac asked Saints
“Is there any place they can get cleaned up?”
“We are well aware of the status of new recruits when they come here, so our baths are properly maintained at all times.”
“You heard that?”
Isaac reaffirmed Rivelia, and she nodded and turned to the agents.
“All agents are to reassemble after cleaning up under the veteran agents’ leadership.”
The agents replied to Rivelia’s order with a silent salute, and Isaac turned to Saints, who gulped in admiration.
“Lead the way.”
Isaac and Rivelia followed behind Saints and walked the castle’s corridors, looking around with excitement. The corridor was lit up by light bulbs spaced evenly away from one another, linked together by tangles of wires littered on the ground.
“You use electricity here.”
“We do. The mana expenditure is too great to use mana crystals in Forbidden Lands.”
“But how do you manage it still? There should be a limited amount of power.”
“”We use the reclaimed resources that the expeditionary forces left behind, of course.”
“And you can last 10 years with that?”
“The problem is there is too much for us to handle. We can’t even throw it away, so we are constantly expanding the storage space.”
Isaac stopped in his tracks, surprised by Saints’ explanation. Saints looked nervously at Isaac, worried that he’d made a mistake.
“… You have so much that you need to expand your storage?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“Let’s head there first.”
“It’s next to where we were originally heading anyway.”
Rivelia noticed Isaac’s expression change and carefully observed him with a glint in her eyes. Saints wondered why Isaac was acting such a way and led the two.
Many agents passed them as they made their way, but these agents seemed too preoccupied by the winds. Not one of them even sent a glimpse at Rivelia as they rushed to complete their duties.
The storage units Saints talked about were in plain sight the moment they left the castle gates. Tens of large warehouses were lined up, and far away, the airship was dropping off its supplies.
“Huh? Where’s all the security?”
“… Do you even have any in normal times?”
There were no fences, and the warehouses weren’t even locked.
“W, well there are quite a few that approach out of curiosity so…”
Saints mumbled as he looked about the surrounding, when he noticed two agents sprinting toward the castle. Saints shouted at the two.
“H, hey! where are you two going?!”
“Why do you want to know, fatty!?”
“Do you honestly think we are just going to guard the storage leisurely when the winds are blowing?! Why don’t you stop strolling around and move some supplies too!”
The two agents barraged Saints with insults and disappeared before they could catch them. Isaac summarized the situation after witnessing what just happened.
“What a fuckfest.”
“I-its because our chain of command hasn’t been structured appropriately yet…”
“Whatever. It’s obvious their attitudes have taken a turn for the worse after being exiled.”
“E, exile? How could you say that! We are…”
“Shut up and open up.”
Isaac cut Saints’ words with an order, and Saints checked the number of the warehouse and opened it with a grim look on his face.
“This is where we keep the goods we stole.”
Isaac couldn’t help but light a cigarette when all of the lights within the warehouses turned on to reveal what was inside. This was a lot more than he had expected. The warehouse was the size of two football fields, and the entire warehouse was stocked to the brim with columns of five barrels.
“Is this all of it?”
Isaac asked Saints, and Saints looked at the panel in front of the warehouse and answered.
“No. Everything inside this warehouse is a fuel called ‘petrol.’ We store something called ‘kerosene’ separate from this, and we have about the same amount for that too.”
EDN: For those of you who don’t know the difference, petrol (short for petroleum) refers to crude oil that is just extracted from the ground; kerosene is basically a refined version of it. Crude oil is composed of a variety of liquids, distinguished by their boiling point. Because kerosene has a higher boiling point, you can extract it by ‘burning away’ the parts of petroleum that have a lower boiling point, leaving you with kerosene and other liquids with even higher boiling points. See this website for a more detailed explanation. Each part has their own uses (e.g. kerosene is used as a fuel for jet engines, etc.).
“All these barrels are full?”
“Yes. Most of the mana crystal expenditure here comes from maintaining these warehouses. I hear that these goods from the other world quickly go bad if you leave them unattended even for a slightest moment.”
“Talk about putting the cart ahead of the horse.”
Saints tilted his head, unable to understand what Isaac had said. Isaac left Saints behind and left the warehouse, looking at the long line of other warehouses.
“This is all the fuel you stole?”
“No sir. Um… There’s five warehouses for fuel, ten for captured combat equipment, and one warehouse each for ammo, personal equipment, and rations. The rest are warehouses used by the garrison.”
Isaac cocked his head. If this much fuel and food had been stolen, that meant that over the course of the multi-day battle, the reserve forces tasked with logistics had crossed the Gate and created a defensive line at some point. Just what had this world been doing until that happened?
“I’m asking this because I seriously don’t know, but how does the battle for the Gate usually turn out?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I mean, the gate is open. How do you guys respond?”
“Well… We wait until our regular troops arrive. Once they, do we organise the troops and march toward the gate.”
“How long does that take?”
Isaac frowned and shouted out annoyingly, frustrated that Saints kept answering with questions.
“How much time does it take after the gate is opened for the battle to start!?”
“It varies from time to time, but mostly it takes a day or two after the gate is opened.”
“Because we can’t approach near the gate for the first one or two days after it’s open.”
“You can’t approach it?”
Saints looked at Isaac as if he was asking a rhetorical question. Just as Isaac was about to smack Saints out of displeasure, Rivelia stepped in.
“There is no mana in Forbidden Lands. But when the gate opens, it starts to suck in the surrounding mana.”
“What do you mean? How can it suck mana when there isn’t any to begin with?”
Isaac asked back with a frown, and Rivelia tapped the mana crystals in her coat and her chest.
“There’s mana here.”
“Hm, so when the gate opens, the zone in which mana is being drained expands, and if you stand within that area not only the mana from the crystals but even the mana inside your body is sucked out?”
“Yes. Until the Queen discovered this phenomenon, we had to use ordinary soldiers and armies instead of Central’s combat agents. We had to use sheer numbers to defend our position. The losses were horrendous.”
“There isn’t a single thing that old woman hasn’t had her hand in. Doesn’t that mean that combat as a whole is impossible?”
“This zone expands to about 1 kilometer and disappears after 2 days.”
“And there aren’t any missions until then?”
“Huh? What missions?”
To think they would wait until the enemy entered and finished preparing their defenses. Shouldn’t they use whatever they could, like what ranged weaponry they had, to harass them? Central, who possessed the most knowledge from the previous world, should most definitely possess military knowledge, and they most definitely didn’t have a reason to remain idle so foolishly.
“Then how long until the gate is closed?”
“Although this changes every time, it’s usually 4 to 5 days.”
Isaac turned to look at the warehouse containing the fuel and took out a cigarette.
The numbers still didn’t make sense. Even if the logistics corps finished preparations, they still needed to retreat before the gate closed. But this was too much fuel and rations. There was no way these expeditionary forces would come over to fight and retreat without a reason. Would they really engage in such meaningless battles of attrition, especially when there were so many smartasses in that world? When the monetary value of all these goods would be astronomical? And they would just throw it all away? Every single time until now? When they don’t have infinite funds?
“Let’s look at the other warehouses.”
Saints led the way to another storage unit without a fuss.
“This is where the heavy weaponry is stored.”
It wasn’t just food or fuel. Tens of vehicles of all types were lined up, covered in sheets and plastic vinyl. Not just armoured vehicles, but tanks, artillery and TOW guns. It seemed akin to a weapons market. Isaac’s face stiffened when he looked at the warehouses containing personal combat equipment.
EDN: TOW guns are American anti-tank missiles. Wikipedia article.
‘These aren’t for combat? What’s going on?’
Brand new equipment were contained neatly inside wooden crates, and these boxes filled the entire warehouse organised by type atop a pallet. It was enough to arm thousands of soldiers at the very least. There was no reason for them to bring so much personal equipment as supplies.
How was he supposed to analyse this?
The very fact the winds started blowing when he just arrived was suspicious enough. But Isaac couldn’t even joke at all. These weapons, fuel and rations enough to arm an entire division. They were brand new fresh-out-of-the factory weapons that were still in their cases. Rather than they were left behind, they were simply given to them. Who is it for? What was its price? Isaac glimpsed at his coat and asked.
“Do all agents participating in combat wear this?”
“Yes. Without it, we have no way to break through the expeditionary force’s firepower.”
“I assume there are casualties?”
“When the coat sustains more shock than it can handle, it will stop functioning for a brief moment. There is no possibility of survival if one is focused down by their guns in that brief window.”
“The mana crystals remain the same even if the wearer dies right?”
Saints bursted with rage when Isaac asked that question.
“These cruel expeditionary forces take the bodies of our dead when they withdraw!”
‘So that’s how it is.’
One thing Isaac couldn’t understand when he heard about the Gate was why the expeditionary forces kept making attempts despite lacking the guarantee that the Gate would remain open.
This was a desolate land completely barren and devoid of resources thanks to the constant storm. With the gate unstable, there was no way to establish a proper supply line. The Forbidden Lands were for explorers, not regular soldiers.
What was the reason they would keep opening these gates despite knowing they can’t reside here?
Isaac remembered Yoo-rah mentioning that they profited greatly each time they came and went and finally understood it.
After fighting, simply taking back 3 or 4 mana crystals from the dead body would be a huge profit. Isaac wasn’t entirely sure why they took bodies as well instead of just stripping the coat. Perhaps for dissection. There would surely be many prisoners as well, all of which would suffer untold atrocities too horrible to imagine.
Did that mean these supplies were left behind as a price for the mana crystals? Then who was the buyer? Central? Pendleton? Yoo-rah? Heaven? Hell? Or another unknown party? No, could Isaac even confirm this theory?
Isaac shouted out his frustration. The sudden shout surprised Rivelia and Saints, who looked at Isaac. Isaac took a deep breath of his cigarette and looked at the warehouses. The more he thought about how he got tangled up in this just to live a tiring life, the more frustrated he got.
Isaac felt that staying here any longer won’t get any answers and discarded his thoughts. Whoever was scheming, all Isaac had to do was outdo them. Isaac mindlessly opened a crate close to him and let out an exhausted mumble.
“Never thought I’d see Allah’s magic wand here.”
An RPG-7. A weapon that was bought en masse from the weapons merchants when the army was desperately trying to scrape together an answer for lack of firepower due to lack of supplies. Isaac reminisced how he and his men snickered when they received shipments of these rockets, joking to one another that they’d truly become terrorists. A bitter smile appeared on Isaac’s face.
The cheap and effective RPG-7s did bring some fun times, but being pushed back into a corner, where even these rockets were too few to use, wasn’t a pleasant memory.
But why would something that was practically a symbol of terrorism here? The Americans surely didn’t use these. The other nations that would join forces with the Americans were mostly western nations, but nations that used these were ex-communist nations and Middle Eastern ones.
There was no way the western powers would have struck a deal with ex-communist nations or Middle Eastern nations over this excellent opportunity. Unless world politics had changed while he was dead.
“U, um. Sir Isaac, if you just open it like that…”
Saints made a gentle complaint with a worried look on his face when Isaac opened the crate to check what was inside. Weapons were by nature to be treated strictly. If any of these weapons were to go missing, it’d be Saints who’d be on the receiving end of punishment.
“I’m just taking a few as souvenirs.”
“You think I can’t even cover for you?”
Saints immediately backed down. Saints wasn’t just blindly believing in Isaac’s words either. In his head, he was calculating how he could stay on Isaac’s good side, which would allow him to hitch a ride on the airship in the inevitable evacuation. So Saints needed to act oblivious to what or how many Isaac took with him. Isaac looked around to take a few items of his liking and finished looking about other warehouses too.
“That’s strange. This is all the ammo you have?”
“Yes. This warehouse alone contains all the ammo.”
“… This is too few.”
The ammo contained within the warehouse wasn’t just for small arms but included shells for tanks and artillery neatly packed inside crates and barrels. But there was only enough for a battalion to use in two or three battles. A regiment would run out of supplies in a single battle.
EDN: A regiment is composed of 2-6 battalions, and each battalion can have a specialized makeup. From largest to smallest (in US military terms), it’s brigade > regiment > battalion > company. This can vary in different nations, who may have slightly different hierarchies if at all.
“There’s plenty of fuel and equipment, but there are too few consumables…”
Now Isaac was getting a feel to what was happening. Someone, or some faction had joined forces with the expeditionary forces. In return, they received weapons and equipment, but the ammo used by these equipment were too few to use. Only the expeditionary forces could provide these supplies, so whoever joined forces was entirely reliant on the expeditionary forces’ assistance. This was one the armed superpowers’ favored tactics in inciting revolutions and fueling civil tensions in colonial wars.
EDN: It makes sense; sell guns but keep a tight leash on the ammunition to keep the buyer dependent on you. As far as I am knowledgeable, rebels (such as the Nicaraguan Contras funded by the CIA) were equipped with a sufficient supply to achieve their aims and often requested more aid from a superpower nation.
“How am I to use this fact…”
Whether Central knew of this fact was not of concern. How Isaac was to use this card was the problem.
“Why don’t we head back if you’re done looking around?”
Rivelia advised as she noticed that the winds that were getting stronger. Those words brought Isaac back from his thoughts, and he looked at the flags waving in the winds before nodding.
“Alright. Let’s head back to Mazelan sunbae. I’m done looking around.”