“The Marquis delayed their compensation to the families of the fallen, you say?”
“Yes. With the war likely to drag on for a while, they are trying to stem their expenditures.”
“How long are they delaying it for?”
“They say they’ll make due on their payments once the war is over.”
“By then, everyone who’s struggling to make a living will be out on the streets! You think the Department of Administration will just stay put?”
It was paramount that compensation to the families of the dead was immediate. How else could they continue their livelihood. Not to mention, if the Marquis were to lose the war, all of its burdens would be shifted to the Count, and if the Count were to protest that its responsibility was entirely on the Marquis, months to years would be spent idly in the law courts, all while families of the deceased would be waiting helplessly. Therefore, the Department of Administration could not let this pass.
“Um… It may be because of us.”
“They cited the anonymous compensation through the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds as their excuse.”
“Tsk. It seems there’s always someone who tries to abuse the charity of others. Then again, this is one of humanity’s special traits. It’d be strange if it didn’t happen. But the Department of Administration wouldn’t have just accepted that pathetic excuse by itself?”
“It seems the Strategy had their hand in it too.”
“What meaningless hindrances…”
The Directorate of Strategy must have intervened in this, what with their lack of any friendly ties with Isaac. If the war was prolonged, they could dump all financial responsibilities on Isaac.
Even if Isaac was sitting on a fortune, he was bound to take a severe hit if things progressed this way. It was obvious what the Strategy’s intention was. A move to force Isaac into a blunder through recklessly. It’d be nice if it succeeded, and it wouldn’t matter if it failed.
“What shall we do?”
“You’d think they would reconsider at least once or twice before provoking me, what with all the history between us. Just how incompetent do they take me for? I was planning to stay on the line but scrap that.”
“… What are you planning?”
Saints worriedly asked Isaac.
“Didn’t we receive a new guest from the Marquis as the Chief Promoter recently?”
“Yes. The troublemaker Viscount Aintz, youngest son of Marquis, arrived.”
“The youngest son? Ah! That dumbass who botched the first battle? I guess even the Marquis is done dealing with his stupidity and decided to keep him in here. That’s going to make my job easier.”
“Shall I bring him here?”
“Hm? What could I possibly achieve by bringing him here? Tell Smartass to give him a very relaxing, luxurious stay. Let him enjoy everything. Alcohol, women, gambling, and more. You tell Smartass to keep that man so deep in debt he’ll have no choice but to reach out to his family for help, and Smartass will know what to do.”
“So you’re going to keep the Marquis in debt even if they win?”
“Debt? Debt exists to be repaid. Now that I think about it, all these Marquis’ have issues with their halfwits and numbskull sons. Is that why they’re high nobles?”
TLN: This is a pun in Korean. 후레자식 is an insult meaning “ingrate” or “son of a bitch,” and the word for “Marquis” is 후작 (taking the first letter and combining 자식 into 작).
Saints didn’t comprehend the meaning in Isaac’s comment, but Isaac’s snickering clued Saints into the boring joke. Saint’s heart trembled, fearing another one of Isaac’s insane plots.
After their first deployment, Isaac stayed in New Port City, receiving information at his desk and only handing out orders. The agents seemed to follow his orders to the letter, likely because they didn’t want to see Isaac in such a frenzy again. They hunted those who were suspected as turncoats within the Count’s ranks and handed over all the supplies they stole to Saints.
Ever since what had happened in Marquis’ supply base, Rivelia watched and reported Isaac’s every move with absolute vigilance. But on rare occasions, she’d be spotted staring blankly into the air, worrying those around her.
Isaac didn’t care about Rivelia’s act and spent his time idly, handing out orders to his agents, who had been divided into three separate task forces. For the few missions significant enough to warrant his participation, Isaac took Rivelia with him. And every time he did, countless civilians died alongside combatants, not even counting the massive collateral damage.
The war between Count and Marquis had been prolonged. Everyone expected the war to end within a month despite its large scale, yet the war was at a fierce stalemate with each side neck and neck. Some began to worry at the state of war, but the public didn’t dare presume the presence of someone behind the scenes orchestrating this result.
“You’re telling me to complete the mission quickly? I thought I didn’t have a deadline on this mission?”
Isaac complained about the news Mazelan gave him.
-You think we aren’t aware of what you’re trying to scheme?
Isaac shrugged nonchalantly at Mazelan, who seemed colder than usual.
“You’d have to be a fool to not know, since I never bothered to hide it.”
-… Every single one of them are precious citizens of the Empire.
“About that. I’m not from around here, so I don’t have any attachment to them.”
Mazelan shouted out furiously, and Isaac replied with a cruel smile.
“It’s not the innocent lives of the Empire you’re missing, but the waste of manpower from the deaths of the soldiers. Do the Empire’s nobles not count as innocents here?”
-… Did you figure it out?
“I’d be a fool if I didn’t figure it out. In fact, isn’t this precisely the reason you guys left this to me?”
Mazelan let out a deep sigh before he asked.
-How much do you know?
“Really, do I even need to know about the intricacies? Especially when all I need to do is accomplish the mission?”
-Please cut us some slack. Even the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds are complaining.
“Why are they making a commotion?”
-Because they’ve mass produced the war supplies, only to have them sit in storage thanks to you.
“You know I’m not friendly enough with them to care for their situation.”
-You’ve already made enough haven’t you?
“It’s just additional income. Fine. I can’t just outright reject a request from my respected sunbae. I’ll finish the war before the winter comes.”
-That’s too long!
Isaac frowned deeply, frustrated at Mazelan’s outburst.
“You think I’m not aware of Strategy’s subtle sabotage? In fact, they weren’t even subtle but very blatant. I’ve been holding my tongue, but Strategy can’t even wait until winter?”
-Hng. You know nobody likes you. And if you prolong it until winter, Pendleton will intervene.
“What the, what’s wrong with him? Does he even have any pretext for intervening?”
Isaac asked back dumbfoundedly when Mazelan mentioned the Pendletons.
-You know precisely why he’s intervening. He’s been more than patient, considering his personality. Though the Emperor and the Queen are barely holding him at bay, the Emperor is becoming less and less enthusiastic on his part, mainly because of your disconcerting actions. And there’s a limit to how much the Queen can do alone.”
“Since you started the subject, let me ask. What did that damsel learn when she was young? How can that damsel have her head stuck in swordsmanship and innocent to the point being a flaw?”
-From Duke Pendleton’s perspective, it’s to keep her from seeing the world’s ugliness rear its head.
“Wow! My lovely daughter, only see the good in this world and live in the light. I will take care of all that is dark. Something like that?”
“Jeez. Has he decided to condemn his family to ruin or something… Then again, is the Pendleton family so powerful that it doesn’t matter?”
-Anyhow, Duke Pendleton is furious. Even we won’t know how to clean up the mess once he steps in, so finish your work before he explodes.
“Che. I’ll finish my work before autumn ends.”
“That’s the biggest concession I’ll make.”
Mazelan held his tongue after Isaac’s final statement.
Count Wolfgang was shocked by the news he had received not even a day after hearing the news of victory. The route of Reinrant’s battalion due to a suspicious ambush.
After rallying the remnants of the defeated battalion, not even half of its original numbers had survived. Chaos ensued within the ranks due to a lack of information, but when scouts returned with the news of Reinrant’s death and complete annihilation of his cavalry unit, there was only silence.
Count Wolfgang, who was planning to ride the momentum from the initial victory, had no choice but to fall back. An ambush that forwent a war judge’s oversight automatically disqualified the aggressing party, so Count Wolfgang immediately reported the attack to the Department of Administration.
But another unbelievable piece of news reached Count Wolfgang not even a day after he withdrew his army. Marquis Lichten’s supply base had been pillaged, and all of the guards were murdered.
Wolfgang first suspected it to be an inside job, but when he heard that even the civilians were butchered, that suspicion faded.
Supplies be damned, civilian deaths in war were rare incidents. The war was no longer the issue.
Central had to intervene. But Count Wolfgang couldn’t just sit idly by, so he protested strongly and pointed at Marquis Lichten as the culprit. In response, the Marquis argued that it was one of Count Wolfgang’s schemes.
While both sides exchanged accusations, Central concluded their investigation very quickly – quite unusual for them. They explained the group that destroyed Reinrant’s battalion and robbed the supply base had nothing to do with either families. They were the congregation of deserters and defeated soldiers that had become bandits. Their name was Black Bandits, and Central gave the Marquis and Count permission to kill them on sight.
Meanwhile, the Marquis exploited the fact that they didn’t hear any news of a ceasefire, and immediately advanced into Wolfgang’s territory. All Wolfgang could do was swear vengeance in the name of his dead companion and rally his troops.
The war went on into a stalemate, further infuriating Count Wolfgang.
Count Wolfgang had won each and every battle thus far. They had never lost grasp of tactical superiority thanks to the Marquis’ incapable leaders. Yet they were losing in the war, which drove him insane.
“We’ve been had again!”
Count Wolfgang couldn’t hold back his wrath and slammed the table with his fist. He had lost count at this point.
His plan to finish the war within a month was but a scrap of paper at this point. The war that started in summer was now approaching autumn.
Soon, it would be harvest season. Considering the movement of merchants and flow of goods that entail it, the area they could fight in would shrink. They were already at a disadvantage in numbers against the Marquis, but the shrinking battlefield would then further limit their mobility. When the large forces of the Marquis amassed, their battle lines would collapse.
During this situation, his main force never had the chance to properly rest because of the constant ambushes from those Black Bandits, what with their preposterous names. Their stamina and morale plummeted each day.
Plus the constant raids of his supply bases and supply lines had to be addressed with a greater number of escorts, and the growing number of deserters made the war even more difficult.
The Count hadn’t been taking the beating idly. He attempted to use dummy supply transports and even prepared ambushes at his supply bases. But these Black Bandits nonchalantly destroyed the Count’s elites with sheer force alone.
This power was beyond what one would expect from mere bandits. Survivors would murmur about the “white devils,” who massacred their friends mercilessly. Within the slits of their cone-shaped hoods, only bloodthirst could be seen in their eyes.
One would mock them at first, asking why they’re called the “Black Bandits” when they wore white. But soon after, they’d watch the hoods turn black. How Wolfgang detested them when he realised the dye was the blood of his loyal soldiers. This was no mob born from the war. This was an armed organisation created precisely for this task from the start.
“I hear the Marquis aren’t in any better shape.”
Willeim, Wolfgangs advisor and friend, muttered bitterly. In fact the Marquis had suffered even more. The Count could manage to rally his forces even in defeat because thanks to a few capable officers. But the foolish, incapable officers from the Marquis were the first to run when they heard the name ‘Black Bandits.’
Their armies were never in control, and their soldiers had no faith in their leaders. But the Marquis couldn’t be happy with that result, since Marquis’s routed forces often became bandits themselves.