This will be this week's 4th release.

I'd also like to let you guys know that this will be the last release of the week. My final exam paper is due next wednesday, so I will have to focus all my attention on studying. Rest assured that the missed chapter will definitely be made up for in the coming weeks (after the 8th) when I can continue translating at full force! See you guys until then!

"You two are as close to me as blood brothers. Don't be so tense around me. Relax," said Lorist.

His words didn't have the desired effect.

They looked each other in the eye and said even more respectfully, "Milord, if you have any instructions, we will definitely see it done even if it'll cost us our lives."

Lorist let out a troubled smile and sat back down on his swordtooth tiger skin seat, taking a deep breath. He realized that ever since he did not heed the advice of the others around him, ever since he insisted on killing the 100 thousand prisoners and using their heads -- along with those of the dead enemy soldiers -- to build the 33-meter-tall pyramid, all the household knights and soldiers looked at him with deep, fearful respect.

One time, when Lorist saw Els daydreaming, he secretly approached him and patted on his shoulder playfully. The moment Els turned back and realized that it was him, however, he was so shocked that he jumped almost three feet high. Charade also stopped interacting with him on an informal basis and maintained the demeanor of a proper subordinate; he refused to call Lorist by his nickname, 'Locke'.

Additionally, the slave fighters who had originally intended to return home had changed their minds almost instantly when Lorist asked them to reconsider joining the Nortons. Even those who did want to go home promised gingerly that they would bring their family members to the dominion before joining the house and stressed that they were not trying to run away from returning the grace he had showed them.

Sigh, guess I've become the demon king... Well, Dread's Monument was probably a big part of it.

Even the situation at Nupite was completely in order. Despite housing over 400 thousand people, everything went without a hitch. All of the liberated slaves obeyed the policies and directives of House Norton without so much as starting a street brawl. Everything looked eerily peaceful.

Sol, it seems that the liberated slaves fear me more than they did their former slavers.

Lorist was at a loss about what to do. It was one thing to kill the 100 thousand combatants they had captured. But Lorist's hatred for the pirates and slavers' descendants had driven him to kill off the civilians as well. The move made sense, he wanted to remove the seeds of vengeance from the get go so that they would not cause any trouble in the future, but that didn't mean it wouldn't strike fear into the hearts of others. One could even say the unintended consequences were beneficial; Lorist had wanted to deter others from making trouble for him in the future, and this did achieve that aim. It was just that his chosen approach seemed to be a little too effective. It had isolated him from even his own men.

The two, both of whom were technically Lorist's seniors -- his father's two illegitimate children -- Molocinque and Wellickson, were on edge regardless if what he said.  They behaved like they were walking on ice that shouldn't even be able to support their weight.

"Norton Molocinque, three-star-silver-ranked household knight and current regiment leader of the heavy-armored division's third brigade, you have shown true heroism and your troops adore you.

"Norton Wellickson, two-star-silver-ranked household knight and regiment leader of the light cavalry scouts division's third regiment, you have defended your station with bravery and courage despite your injury."

Lorist tossed the folder in his hand onto the table.

"Eight years have passed since I returned to the dominion and become the head of the house. As my elder brothers sharing the blood of my father, you have performed incredibly well. I am incredibly appreciative and have allowed you to bear the family name. I have asked you two to come because I intend to discuss the archipelago's defense with you.

"I believe you are well aware that the archipelago is now our overseas territory. I intend to form a garrison division for the archipelago comprising five brigades. Molocinque, I want you to be the division commander. Wellickson will be your aide."

Both Molocinque and Wellickson were shocked. It was already incredibly magnanimous of Lorist to see them as equals, given their illegitimate heritage, but now he was giving them such a responsibility, such a chance to prove themselves? This was not something they could have hoped for, much less expected. In other noble households, illegitimate children were usually oppressed and looked down upon, but here they had not only been made official members of the household, but were even being given a chance to make some contributions and build a name for themselves.

"Don't think too much about this. It is my fortune to have two talented brothers. In fact, I expect you to rack up more contributions house. My hope is that you will eventually be given noble ranks and enfeoffed land of your own so you can form your own branch families. This is the only way to grow House Norton's might stably. I've decided to give you this chance for this very reason. I hope you will use this opportunity to take charge and refine your abilities to manage and command. You must build a stable foundation for your future efforts," continued Lorist.

He rolled open a beastskin map of the archipelago.

"Come over and look. I'll brief you two on the strategy for the archipelago's defense," he called.

Once the two were leaning on the table and staring intently at the map, he began his brief.

"The garrison division the house is going to form will have three land-based brigades and two maritime brigades. Each will be made up of three thousand men. Their loadouts will be similar to the local defense brigades. The three land-based brigades will be stationed at the capital, the hilly area and Nupite respectively. We'll also construct several citadels at these locations."

Lorist tapped on the map as he explained.

"The two maritime brigades will be stationed at Nupite. They will have 16 armed ships under their command with which they will patrol the waters in and around the archipelago. Wellickson, you shall report to Senbaud right after this and begin learning the ropes of sailing and training your troops at sea. There's no rush, you have three years, so take your time to learn properly and train your troops well. My hope is that, starting three years from now, the archipelago will supply the house with a thousand elite soldiers annually.

"As for the three land-based brigades, Molocinque, they're yours to command. You also have three years to finish the three citadels' construction. Maintain order around the archipelago and cooperate with Hector to ease the liberated slaves into their new lives. I hope that the archipelago can be self sufficient within five years.

"Nupite's inner city will be given to Governer Hector as his main base of operations. He will form another city defense brigade there and it'll serve the governor's office directly. Remember, the governor's office is separate from the military's command structure.  The garrison has no control or say over the city defense brigade, understood?"

"I understand, Milord. I will definitely help Governor Hector out to defend the archipelago," saluted Molocinque.

Lorist nodded and said, "The detailed plans for the division is with Knight Charade. While the governor's office has power over the garrison division, that is only limited to annual supply and inventory checks. It doesn't mean they can direct military affairs. I believe you two won't let me down and taint the Norton name. Go now and report to Knight Charade to discuss the details and difficulties of the new divisions formation."

"Understood, Milord. We'll take our leave now."

In actuality, the largest benefit obtained from the Hanayabarta kingdom's extermination was not the wealth and resources, it was the manpower. The main reason Lorist had been unwilling to expand his military by recruiting civilians from his dominion was that he did not want to deprive the dominion of the manpower it needed to develop. The Norton forces were mainly two umbrella units, namely, the standing assault units, and the defense units that defended the towns.

The assault units consisted mainly of two heavy-armored divisions, two spear cavalry divisions, one carroballista division, one wheelbarrow ballista division, and a mounted archer brigade, scout brigade, the Thunderbolt Brigade, guard brigade, knight brigade, the female brigade and five other local defense brigades. There were 43 brigades totalling roughly 120 thousand people.

The defensive units consisted of the new recruit brigade, five police brigades -- formed mostly from retired soldiers from the main force and responsible for the defense and security of warehouses and factories as well as the transport of resources -- and the various garrison units of the towns and villages. They totalled 60 thousand men. The defense brigades don't receive as many benefits as those in the assault brigades. For example, the police brigades only pay half the salary of the assault brigades, and garrison soldiers got only a third of that. In essence, both the police and garrison units were considered half soldier and half civilian. Those in the new recruit brigade did not receive any salary at all, only an allowance and a few menial benefits.

With Lorist's formation of the new Oceanic Legion, which already had more than 17 thousand personnel, the Norton's forces totalled more than 200 thousand men. With the total civilian population of the dominion and its overseas territories being little more than 1.1 million, the soldier-to-civilian ratio was around one to five, which was already quite excessive. To expand the military even further would be utter madness.

Even so, Lorist had his reasons. While the number of troops was no less impressive, only around 80 thousand men from the assault brigades could truly be mobilized. For instance, the mobilization of only 45 thousand soldiers almost bankrupted the house. Despite all that, the military's expansion was an inevitability, with its growing influence and territory, and the prisoners whose term of service were expiring soon.

Slightly over 30 thousand youths had been taken captive after the Duke of The Northlands' defeat, and, after three years of service, their terms had expired. Around 10 thousand had been fit for military service and with their inclusion, the houses forces grew to 80 thousand. The house had no choice but to recruit them. It would've do them no good to have the released prisoners join and serve other noble families. Following the defeat of the second prince's 100-thousand-strong army, more than 60 thousand captives had been taken in. Coupled with the civilian youths who had wanted to join the military over the past few years, the house's forces had gradually grown to their present size.

In the first place, Lorist's recruitment of the released captives was so that the dominion's civilian population would grow. Given the benefits joining the military entailed, the captives that joined the force would definitely bring their families over to the dominion and settle down, inflating the population in the process. Not only that, those who qualified to join the military already had their battleforce awakened, so refusing them was akin to pushing them to serve other noble houses. Only idiots would push away such a great deal.

Apart from the captives, the house made no attempt to recruit soldiers from the civilian ranks, save for the formation of the Oceanic Legion, because that would adversely affect the dominion's development. Given its thriving state, manpower was in short supply and the liberated slaves were just what it needed.

Apart from the 40 thousand refugees and six thousand islanders abducted from Silowas, there were another 410 thousand slaves liberated, including over 100 thousand women and children. Of all of them, 170 thousand elected to stay at the archipelago. Most of them were second or third generation slaves that had been born there and had come to see the archipelago as their home.

Among the remaining 240 thousand slaves, 30 thousand wished to return to their homelands. Apart from that, most were able-bodied youths who had lost their families and had no homes to return to. Most were civilians of the former empire. They were either sold into slavery by their dominion lords or had their villages raided and pillaged by the slavers. Lorist ordered Potterfang to pick out 60 thousand to form 20 police brigades. He also intended to form a garrison division and a city defense brigade. This left only 120 thousand, whom Lorist intended to bring back to The Northlands to hasten its development.

The military's expansion was motivated mainly by the lack might required to defend the dominion. It was currently an era of chaos, so conflict was never in short supply. The second highness was currently leading his force across the Redlis kingdom. By the time he manages to reunite the empire, it would be entirely possible that he would set his sights on The Northlands. Lorist had already warned Count Kenmays, Baron Felim, and Baron Shazin to strengthen their military in preparation. The Nortons would not hide behind their allies either. They will stand together with them, side-by-side on the battlefield.

"Milord, Sir Senbaud has returned," reported Jim as he entered the tent, breaking Lorist out of his train of thought.

Senbaud was incredibly busy as he had to manage more than 300 ships for the transport of resources from the Hanayabarta archipelago to Silowas. He had already made more than two trips during the 9th and 10th months, but only a tenth of the resources had been transported so far.

Lorist was currently rather reckless with his financials given that the wealth of the whole Hanayabarta kingdom had just been added to the treasury of the Nortons. Putting other things aside, the money the kingdom had already amounted to 17 million gold Fordes. More than six million had come from the underground treasuries under the palace burned down by Lud III much to the shock of everyone.

Lorist did not really understand why the descendants of those pirates liked to bury their stuff underground. It only took some simple questioning on the servants of those slaver nobles for the underground vaults to be determined, easily netting them millions of gold Fordes' worth of goods. Looking at all the goods he unearthed, Charade smiled greedily with satisfaction and knew that all that would last the house for at least the next two to three decades to come.

"Have every knight and those above the regiment leader rank head to the main tent for a military meeting to discuss our future plans," instructed Lorist.

All those who were summoned did not really understand the reason for the meeting, given that the Hanayabarta kingdom had already been eliminated. All within the tent wondered whether Lorist intended to start another war.

"Silence! The Lord Count is here!" announced Els, causing the rest within the tent to quiet down and get into order hurriedly.

Lorist entered the tent with two blademasters, Engelich and Shuss, followed by Jim and Tarkel from behind.

"We pay our respects to our lord!" called out the household knights as they saluted.

"Alright, take your seats, gentlemen," said Lorist as he waved his hand dismissively, before he headed to the tigerskin chair. Engelich and Shuss stood at the sides of Lorist while Jim, Els and Tarkel all stood behind him.

"Tarkel, report the intelligence you gathered to everyone here," instructed Lorist.

"Understood," Tarkel said as he stepped forward and opened a folder in his hand, "The northern fleet of Chikdor Merchant Guild travels to the Hanayabarta archipelago to engage in trade every 5th and 10th month. Their fleet includes around 40 to 50 ships, among which are 16 to 20 large-class, long-distance cruisers with the rest being middle-class armed ships. Their crew number around six thousand men and there is one rank 1 blademaster among them.

"During every one of their trips, the northern fleet of the Chikdors would first travel to the Shyarsia kingdom to trade for spice before making their way to the Hanayabarta kingdom for trading and ordering daily goods, weapons, alcohol and fashion or luxury goods. It is said that the yearly profits obtained by the northern fleet amount up to 400 thousand gold Fordes annually.

"During the end of the 5th month this year, the third young master of the Chikdors, Moribak, had traveled to the Hanayabarta kingdom and revealed to the slavers during a banquet about our recruitment of more than 60 thousand refugees to Silowas to aid in development, which ended in the slavers' invasion of SIlowas, causing us to sustain major damages."

After Tarkel finished his report, he stood back down. Lorist looked at the household knights within the tent, furrowed his brow, and said, "I don't have any evidence whether the third young master had intentionally conspired with the slavers of the Hanayabarta kingdom. But based on the hostile relationship between Chikdor Merchant Guild and the Norton house, we will consider our two parties as being in a state of war. That is the reason I've called for this meeting. We shall discuss whether we should exterminate all of the ships of the northern fleet when they come to Port Nupite without letting a single one of them off!"