Hi guys, here's the second regular chapter of the week. The coming chapters will be a little more cliffhangery, so I'll try to release two at once.

Other than that, I just reviewed the poll results and they were rather close, with a difference of less than 50 votes out of ~700 at the time of writing. After reading the comments section of yesterday's release, I have decided to make a new poll with an added option suggested by a fellow reader, rleon14, that is, to add a cliffhanger tag with a progress bar that indicates that the concurrent chapters ought to be read in one go. In essence, chapters will not be withheld for those who want to read it right away and don't mind cliffhangers. But, there will be a [Cliffhanger 1/2] in the chapter title as a warning for those who prefer to hold back until all related chapters are out. I personally think that this is a rather good compromise and I would love to see your opinions on it. I will keep this poll up for a couple of days to ensure as many readers vote as possible.

So, please vote for your preferred chapter release method here:

On the 17th day of the 3rd month in Year 1771 of the Grindian Calendar, the battle that transpired at the Northlands would henceforth be known as 'The Raging Bear's Massacre'. The allied noble army led by Krissen Iblia (the Second Prince), King of the Iblia Kingdom, to admonish the Norton Family who refused to submit to him, engaged in a short-lasted conflict outside Firmrock Castle. Of the 100000-strong army, half of them left the battlefield at the early stages of the battle while the rest were completely wiped out. King Krissen Iblia only managed to flee the Northlands along with tens of his personal attendants.
Of the soldiers that remained on the battlefield to fight the Norton Family forces, there were up to 51000 men of the First Legion of the Iblia Kingdom. The Norton Family on the other hand had up to 45000 soldiers on their side. However, they made use of their arsenal of an estimated 3000 ballistas to launch ranged attacks. By the time the sixth volley was fired, the morale of the First Legion's troops had completely crumbled, with them being ordered to retreat after sustaining more than 10000 casualties. Subsequently, the Norton Family launched their pursuit and ended the battle in a landslide victory.
The various historians and military scholars of the Grindia Continent only had these words to say about that battle: unexpected victory. The Norton Family had relied mainly on their advantage with ranged weaponry to launch an attack against an enemy that was not well-prepared. The tight defensive formation the First Legion soldiers were in only boosted the effectiveness of the ballistas. Additionally, the First Legion troops were also unable to react well because they were almost constantly suppressed by ranged fire, causing them to eventually fall into ruin. Apart from the disparity in technology, the military tactics used by both sides were roughly on par and there was nothing else about that battle that was too eye-catching.
Count Kenmays rode over on horseback with two of his attendants from the distance and greeted Lorist. "Brother, that attack of yours was amazing! I can finally breath a sigh of relief now that the Second Prince is defeated. He actually imprisoned me for more than a month and even threatened my family! Gosh, you can't believe how frustrated I was."
As Count Kenmays's force of 20000 didn't leave the battlefield and merely set up camp nearby to take up a neutral position, Mons Malek commanded two carroballista brigades to watch the camp of the Kenmays Family cautiously and let the other three brigades partake in the pursuit of the enemy forces.
Lorist greeted the count with a smile and even gave him a hug after he got off his horse. "Well, I'm just relieved that no harm has been done to you. Now, you understand why I refused the Second Prince's invitation, right? I already knew long ago that he didn't hold any good intentions. If I had gone there, who knows if I will be able to make it back to my own dominion..."
Count Kenmays spat on the ground angrily and said, "Who would expect that a king with exalted status would actually resort to underhanded methods like that? He's nothing if not an insidious thug. What an embarrassment to us nobles. I will definitely not trust him in the future."
Lorist laughed and said, "Don't worry, you won't have to see him in the Northlands ever again. Also, bring a squad of troops with me to Gildusk City for some matters."
"Umm..." Count Kenmays was stunned. After a while, he recovered and stammered, "Lo-locke... You... Are you really going to kill him off? No-no matter what, he's still our king... Ki-killing a king is definitely not something you want associated with your family..."
Lorist shook his head and said, "I am not that irrational. I only want to chase him out of the Northlands. I will capture him before sending him off officially. However, if he does die on the battlefield for some reason, then that would save me a lot of trouble. The reason I want to go to Gildusk City is to bear witness for Baron Shazin and Baron Felim's signing of the agreement to split the city up so that they won't have any disagreements about territory in the future."
Count Kenmays asked curiously, "What's going on between those two?"
"I have divided the dominion of Duke Loggins into two halves for those two. They left the battlefield so quickly just now because they're afraid that they would get the short end of the stick if they're late to arrive," Lorist explained casually.
Upon hearing that, Count Kenmays's mercantile instinct to take advantage of every opportunity he could find tingled. He objected and said, "It's a little too much for only them to take the dominion, right? As your friend, I demand to be treated as an equal. You must also care for my family too, you know..."
Lorist faked a laugh and said, "My friend, your family has already taken over the whole of the eastern part of the Northlands, yet you want to stretch your influence over here? Listen to yourself, sheesh..."
"This..." Count Kenmays was speechless as that was indeed a fact. There wasn't really any more incentive for his family's dominion to expand. At most, they could take over two other dominions further to the east and connect the Kenmays Family dominion to that of Baron Felim. However, those two dominions were quite impoverished and would require lots of funds to develop. Count Kenmays felt that it would be better to leave them to be buffer zones between the Kenmays's and Felim's dominions.
"How about this, you ought to split some of the land you conquered in the eastern Northlands among the nobles who are living off your family and send those traditional nobles of the Northlands to me. I will take charge of assigning new dominions to them. As for the new nobles that have only come recently, we will send them out of the border. That way, the whole of the eastern Northlands will belong to the Kenmays Family. How does that sound?" Lorist suggested.
"I have to go back and discuss this with my father first. If he agrees with your proposition, then we will do it your way," Count Kenmays replied after giving it some thought.
At that moment, four horses could be seen approaching from the distance. It was Els and his two guards.
"Lock--, milord, you should see the results of firing the super carroballistas..." Since Count Kenmays was there, Els referred to Lorist formally instead of using his nickname.
Els headed to the fourth horse and heaved the corpse on it onto the floor. That corpse had a huge hole bore through the torso. It was obvious that it had been caused by the bolt fired by the super ballista.
Who's that old guy? Well, at any rate, it definitely isn't the Second Prince. He's not that chubby-looking. From the look of this corpse, the Second Prince should be at least ten years younger. This fellow looks to be around 60...
As the cheerful Els inspected the corpse, Count Kenmays's face turned completely pale once he recognized it. "This... this is Blademaster Louinse. H-how was it possible for you to have killed him?"
"Why isn't it possible?" Els said seriously. "This old guy was such a big idiot that he actually attempted to stop the bolt of the super ballista with a single sword! Even though he managed to divert the first bolt, he spat out blood on the spot and the second bolt that headed his way pierced him through completely and even knocked down the battle standard of the Second Prince, causing him to fall into a stupor. His guards feared that we would fire another one of those bolts and quickly brought the Second Prince with them to escape. That's how the whole legion's morale collapsed immediately.
"Look, milord. Wasn't my decision to use these two super ballistas worthwhile? You heard that guy say it too, right? This old guy is a Blademaster! A freaking Blademaster! Haha, with but a shot of our super ballista, the Second Prince lost a Blademaster. Hahahaha, I'm just so pumped up right now! To tell you the truth, I wasn't willing to believe the prisoners who said that this old man was a Blademaster at first! Haha, our super ballista is truly unparalleled!"
"It's just a fluke!" Lorist cursed to snap Els out of his giddy laughter. Lorist himself probably wouldn't have believed that they managed to kill a Blademaster with the two super ballistas before the battle even began, but the proof was right in front of him. It's no wonder Els was in such high spirits given that the alleged Blademaster's corpse was on the ground like that.
This result was completely out of anyone's expectations. The unfortunate Blademaster Louinse had actually sealed his own fate. The first bolt fired by the super ballista was actually slightly off course and it would have flown over the Second Prince and the rest and missed them entirely without causing any casualties. However, Blademaster Louinse, perhaps feeling that letting a ballista bolt fly past him like that was humiliating, decided to leap and parry the ballista bolt with his sword.
It's just that even the Blademaster himself underestimated the velocity at which the bolt was flying at. While he did manage to divert the bolt mid-air, as he wasn't able to pass the momentum to the ground in the air. All the force contained within the bolt was transferred through his sword into his body, badly injuring his internal organs and causing him to vomit blood. The truly unfortunate part was that the Blademaster had landed right in the trajectory of the second bolt.
Had the Blademaster stood still and not react, those two bolts fired by the super ballistas wouldn't have harmed anyone and would at most only cause some distress among the troops. But fortune is fickle by nature. Perhaps, it was the old Blademaster's fate to have died on that day. Needless to say, everyone else on the battlefield was dumbstruck as a mighty Blademaster had died that easily. If two more bolts like those before came again, who would be able to deflect them? Without much consideration, the Second Prince's guards hurriedly evacuated with their master, leaving the entire legion of troops to fend for themselves.
"Hey, what are you doing?! You can't get up there! Come down this instant!" Els shouted as he pointed to the super carroballista.
Lorist turned his head only to see that Count Kenmays had climbed his way up the super carroballista. At that moment, he was caressing the steel ballista as he would a stunning beauty, mumbling, "What a godly weapon..."
"Pull him down right now!" Els shouted angrily.
Count Kenmays was brought down from the carroballista by two guards in the end.
"What are you doing?" Lorist asked with a solemn look.
"Brother... Oh Brother Locke... You must sell me one of these godly weapons no matter what..." Count Kenmays said frantically as he clutched Lorist's hands.
"No way," Lorist said, shaking his head.
"Come on," pleaded the count once again with a wanting look.
"Nope, I'm serious," Lorist replied.
"Sigh..." Count Kenmays also understood that Lorist wouldn't sell him such a powerful weapon. But he knew that he had to try no matter what.
"Why are you sighing like that? These two super ballistas are made just for use against magical beasts. It's not like your family dominion is near the wildlands anyway, what would you do with one of these?" Lorist asked curiously.
"To defeat Blademasters of course!" Count Kenmays answered, much to Lorist's surprise.
"Do you know how many Blademasters are there in the Iblia Kingdom?" Count Kenmays asked.
"I have no idea," Lorist said. "I only know that the Andinaq Kingdom has two working for the Third Prince. I also heard that Duke Melein himself is a Blademaster. As for the Iblia Kingdom, I only know of two who work for the Second Prince, that's about it."
Count Kenmays stretched his palm out and said, "The Iblia Kingdom has a total of five Blademasters."
After saying that, he kicked the corpse of the old guy and said, "However, there's only four remaining. The Second Prince himself has two by his side, one of whom was the Second Prince's tutor when he was younger, Zarinan. However, that old fellow had always wanted to become a Sword Saint and often secludes himself to train and research the path of the sword. Before the new year, he visited the Northlands, and that was the only time I've seen him. He then left for Windbury City at the end of the 3rd month to escort the queen there. The other Blademaster is this old guy here, Louinse. He can be considered Zarinan's junior apprentice brother. Since Zarinan is busy training to become a Sword Saint, Louinse is the one who guards the Second Prince."
Count Kenmays kicked the corpse of the old man a few more times and said, "This old guy truly is the worst. The Second Prince relies on him to toy with the Gold ranked knights of the other nobles and he happily complies and doesn't stop until his opponent is completely humiliated. Not only that, he's a greedy prick who is also extremely lustful. That time, he forcefully took poor Viscountess Justine from me and even forced me to give him a gold Forde note worth 10000 gold coins! Oh, I better check if he still has it on his person..."
Count Kenmays searched the corpse so thoroughly that his hands were covered in blood, but he still couldn't locate the note.
Lorist turned to look at Els only to see the latter smirking. He instantly understood that Els had long searched the corpse of the Blademaster and took all his belongings.
As his attendant wiped the blood off his hands, the count said, "Apart from the aforementioned two Blademasters, the others usually stay with the Second Prince's father-in-law, Duke Fisablen. That's also one of the main factors for the Second Prince's fear of the duke. Firstly, Duke Fisablen himself is a Blademaster, as well as his trusted subordinate and family knight, Viscount Kristoph. The last Blademaster is a woman called Xanthi, but I don't know her family name. She's also Princess Sylvia's adoptive mother and is also rumored to be Duke Fisablen's lover. However, she had a miscarriage for some reason after her pregnancy and that was just around the time Princess Sylvia's parents passed away, causing her to decide to raise the princess as she would her own child.
"Currently, the suspension bridge built by my family connects to Duke Fisablen's sphere of influence, the Wild Husbandry Province. So, you can understand how much pressure the duke's Frontier Legion and his three Blademasters put on me. I can't even sleep well at night because of that. But, if I have that killer weapon of yours, I would feel much better..." Count Kenmays explained as he begged.
Lorist smiled and shook his head before he said, "My answer is still the same, I cannot afford to let this weapon out of my hands. But you shouldn't need to worry. Now that the Second Prince is out of the picture, the affairs of the Northlands will only be dictated by us four families. As long as we form an alliance, nobody will dare to cross us. We will definitely help each other as one no matter which one of us gets into trouble. Even if Duke Fisablen plots against you, he will have to take us three other families into consideration. If you're still worried, you should just destroy that metal suspension bridge of yours. I believe the Blademasters wouldn't bother to jump across a ravine just to cause trouble for your family."
"Hmph, in your dreams." Count Kenmays knew that Lorist was only joking as there was no way that they would destroy a bridge they had spent so much to build. Additionally, the toll collected from the bridge was also a good source of income.
Lorist remained at Firmrock Castle for another day and ordered Potterfang to have his three heavy-armored infantry brigades set up a prisoner camp in front of the castle to process the prisoners before transporting them to work at Blackmud Marsh. He also made sure Els dealt with bringing the two super carroballistas back to Firmrock Castle. After Count Kenmays had his forces head back to his family dominion, Lorist brought him along with a few other guards to Gildusk City.
After three days of travel, Lorist received word that the Second Prince was still on the loose and nobody had any idea where he had gone. Additionally, Baron Felim assaulted Freist Castle and Hendliff Suspension Bridge according to his agreement with Lorist and was currently attacking the two other towns and three bastides near that area. He reported good progress and it was only a matter of time before he conquers those places.
The dominion formerly belonging to Duke Loggins consisted of Gildusk City, Hendliff Suspension Bridge and Freist Castle, as well as three bastides and seven towns. Knight Hennard occupied Cherry Blossom Ridge, which was one of the bastides, and Evanson Town. Only two bastides and six towns remained for the taking.
As for the three bastides Baron Felim conquered, apart from one which used to be part of the duke's dominion, the other two belonged to some nearby landed nobles. As the three bastides were not too far apart from each other, Lorist assigned them under Baron felim's control. Since the landed nobles joined the Second Prince's war effort, Lorist didn't bother to show them any mercy.
On the other hand, Knight Hennard wanted to occupy another bastide and four other towns within the duke's dominion, as well as Gildusk City, the capital of the dominion. The messenger that came before noon reported that Baron Shazin Hennard's progress was much faster than that of Baron Felim. So far, apart from Gildusk City, he had already taken control of the four towns and bastide.
Along the way, the group witnessed batches of prisoners being escorted to Firmrock Castle, causing Lorist to marvel at the potential of men. In but a few short days, the remnant soldiers of the allied noble army had actually managed to flee that far before they were captured.
That night, Lorist had a few cups of wine with Count Kenmays at the campsite and chatted for quite a while. Just as he was about to take a rest, a messenger came riding into the camp.
The moment he entered the tent, he knelt down and said, "Lord Norton, please save our two leaders!"
What's going on?
After hearing the messenger's report, Lorist gasped in shock and said, "What? Did you say that Gold ranked Knight Tabik was captured and imprisoned in the duke's manor by Princess Sylvia? Knight Hennard was captured as well from attempting to save him?"
"That's right, Baron Felim has already surrounded the manor with his troops and requested the princess to release the two of them, but the she refused and threatened that she would kill those two should Baron Felim's troops dare to enter the manor. Right now, they're in a stalemate and Baron Felim urgently requested for you to hurry to Gildusk City to solve the problem and save our two leaders," said the messenger as he sobbed.