Here's the second release of the week, enjoy!



"Fire!"

Ten large, wooden constructions hummed momentarily.  Ten long staves flipped ninety degrees from the horizontal to the vertical. Ten basin sized lumps of rock arched through the sky. They shrunk over the course of two or three seconds until they vanished, as if they’d popped out of existence entirely. Three or four long seconds of silence passed before, in the distance, several dust clouds popped into existence, followed a second later by as many loud thumps and the sound of crashing and crushing stone. When the dust cleared, a heap of rubble became visible.  At the two edges of the mound, a few stones stood packed on one another, trying their best to remind the observer that there had indeed once been a wall.

Count Kenmays, Baron Felim, and Baron Shazin stared wide-eyed at the ruin in the distance. They had sworn just moments earlier that only through the reckless swarming of soldiers without regard for casualties, with the use of siege ladders, could that very wall be conquered. Only after wearing down the defending forces by paying a high price could one take it.

They never expected Lorist only needed to instruct Ovidis to bring ten thunderbolt catapults over and set them up about 350 meters from the wall.  Lorist only needed a few minutes to undo what was likely years’ work. They felt like complete fools for saying what they had.

"The next target will be the tower on the right. Prepare the flame meteors!" ordered Ovidis once more.

Flame meteors were spherical balls wrapped up in rope and doused with fuel. They were first placed inside a metal catapult bucket before a soldier set it aflame. The ten stone balls were soon burning brightly.

"Fire!"

The flaming balls soared through the air towards a rectangular structure on a hill in the distance. The structure was quite a bit smaller than the wall had been – granted, after the last volley the two were now about even – so several shots missed. They weren’t far off, though, and landed just beside it. Those that missed set fire to the leaves around the structure, whilst those that hit made three large holes in it.  Soon smoke billowed out the of the holes to join the smoke already rising from the ground around the tower.

"This is amazing," Felim praised, "With such a weapon in hand, we won’t have to worry about any castle standing in our way!"

"So this is where all your confidence came from!” Kenmays said, tugging on Lorist’s arm excitedly, “Hahaha, I bet Duke Madras can’t imagine that he won’t be able to resist our attack anyway regardless of how hard he tries to shrink up like a turtle! We'll be able to raze his defenses to the ground without anyone being able to stop us! Well, he only stands a chance if he confronts us in a field battle... Perhaps not even then! Hehe, he'll lose even faster if he comes out of his shell."

"Locke, give me a few! I want to obliterate the sentry outpost and the walls near the stream!" Shazin said with both his hands clasped.

It seemed that he held quite a deep grudge against those who manned the defenses at the northern stream.

"Don't be in such a rush. 'll sell you as many as you want after we take the duchy. However, Hennard, I will allow you to lead Ovidis to the stream so you can exact your revenge. We'll force the duke to gather his forces there in response to our surprise attack. After you return, gather your men to make as many rafts as possible. We will load our catapults onto the rafts and bring them across the river. Naturally, we'll be sending as many woodworkers and boat makers as we can to help you," said Lorist with a smile.

"No problem. I'll get the required materials and manpower ready when I return. However, Locke, won't we alert the duke of our activities if we start building rafts on our side of the shore?"

"Don't worry, it's all the better if they are alerted. What we want is for the for the duchy to concentrate there as much as possible so the defense at other places is weakened."

Shazin Hennard rubbed his palms together.

"Hehe, well, I was just saying what came through my mind. With Ovidis's Thunderbolt Brigade helping me out, I'm confident I'll be able to storm my way through and raze the seven citadels all the way across Sanderson Hills to the ground. My rage will only calm if I do so much."

Lorist shook his head and said, "I would advise against doing that, Hennard. Don't forget that Sanderson Hills is where your dominion will be. It won't be good for you if it’s ruined. Actually, I have a method to force the soldiers defending it to surrender and hand the seven citadels over. You don’t even have to bother considering how you will deploy your troops. It'll save you both time and effort, which is ideal."

"You're saying we should go straight for Vanades right after busting through the defense line at Metropoulos; that we should take Xith Castle and storm all the way to Sidgler in one go? So we're going to give this attack our all and capture Duke Madras dead or alive to force the rest of the soldiers to surrender, right?" asked Felim.

"Well, that's the best plan we have for now,” Lorist said, nodding, “Unless we have a better strategy when the time comes, that's how this will all play out. Our only worry after crossing the stream is encountering the duke’s heavy-armored soldiers, which would drag the conflict on unnecessarily. Even though we have a weapon like the catapults, we must still be wary of any accidents.

"Even if Duke Madras is nothing but an aging turtle, he's one that has years of experience. We must not be careless in the slightest. It's the 8th month right now, we'll launch a few probing attacks at the end of the 10th month to see if we can lure more of their troops to the wilds to weather the elements. If the soldiers spend their time camping outside in the winter to defend against our attacks, they'll be severely worn out by spring. That will be our chance to strike."

After Kenmays, Felim, and Shazin went their way, Potterfang met with Lorist.

"Milord, I heard you're going to sell the catapults to our allies?"

"That's right. What's wrong?"

Potterfang stood ramrod straight.

"Milord, I am against it. Even though the three houses are our allies, the catapults are secret weapons only our house has. It's the ideal tool for besieging castles and defending them. Selling these weapons might introduce a new threat for which we have to watch out."

“It’s not as serious as you think,” Lorist laughed, “The catapult will be outdated soon enough."

"Outdated? That can't be. How could anything outstrip the catapult?"

"Did you forget about the bronze cannons the Oceanic Legion employs? Grandmaster Sid and Professor Balbo have already perfected the cannons for ground use. Their power far exceeds that of the catapults. These catapults are only standing targets for our cannons. I've already instructed Howard to pick a group of reliable people and train them as cannoneers. In time, the gun carriage will be part of your legion’s arsenal."

"Understood, Milord. Please excuse my rudeness. I wasn't aware of it," said Potterfang.

“It’s fine,” Lorist said, waving his hand dismissively, “If I know you as well as I think I do, you must've been prompted to confront me about that issue by the others, right? I'm sure you know that we already have our own plans regarding this just from Charade's silence. If selling the catapults would truly have endangered our house, he would definitely have been the first to throw a tantrum."

"Milord, I should've known better..."

"Don't worry about it. Have you gathered the Oceanic Legion and Firmrock legion’s leaders yet? If they're here, we'll start the meeting right away."

......

Facing a group of knights gathered tightly together, Lorist used a long, fine stick to point to the large map.

"What I'm telling you now is our real attack plan; even our allies aren't aware of it. They believe we will launch our attack from the Metropoulos’ lower stream after Thunderbolt Brigade has pulverized the enemy’s defenses and forced them into the open. Actually, that part of the plan is just bait to lure Madras into deploying its forces by the river, thus pulling forces from other front’s, weakening them.

"Our true target is here," Lorist said as he pointed at a spot on the map, "Sidgler province’s Platinum Beach. We will launch our attack at the end of the 12th month."

Apart from Charade and the rest who could already see what was coming, many household knights expressed gasps of disbelief.

"This attack will be headed by Firmrock with the aid of the Oceanic Legion. You may ask any questions you have now," said Lorist as he looked at the chattering knights.

Potterfang stood up.

“Milord, going on shore during the winter season is a rather huge risk due to the winds. The waves and winds in the northern seas have always been rather harsh during winter and we may incur heavy casualties if we're not careful."

“Senbaud, I'll let you respond to Potterfang's query."

"Sir Potterfang,” Senbaud explained, “in the recent years, I've had people document the weather changes over the seasons in the northern seas and discovered that between the 32nd day of the 12th month and the 35th day, which is a few days before the coming of the new year, the northern seas will be incredibly calm. No accidents will occur If we sail to their shores during that time. Apart from using the smaller boats to travel ashore, Our Lord has also ordered us to prepare lots of wooden box parts. We only need ten hours to build two floating ports that connect to the shores for our comrades to go ashore from our ships safely."

Malek stood up next and asked, "Milord, how will we get our troops ashore without being detected by the local garrisons? Sidgler is the duke’s headquarters; if our movements are discovered, the odds of our surprise attack being successful will plummet greatly. After all, the enemy is cooped up in the city and has the defender’s advantage."

Lorist nodded in acknowledgment before he addressed the point.

"Actually, between the 32nd and 35th days of the 12th month in the past two years, I've sent people to go ashore on Platinum Beach for a survey. We noticed that the defenses at Sidgler during that time is rather lax because nobody expects there could be an attack at that time. Over here lies the city of Edelise, named after the duke's daughter. It’s also where the duke's household is situated.

"Every winter, Duke Madras will invite the nobles across his duchy to gather there for a celebration and to count down to the new year. That is when the defenses at Edelise will be at its most lax, which is also part of the reason I decided to launch an attack during the 12th month. Getting off the shore is so that we can capture all the nobles gathered at Edelise in one go. We won’t have to plow through entire duchy to find them this way.

"Our plan is to deploy, launch a surprise attack to conquer Edelise, and use the seal of the duke right away to transfer their soldiers away or take Xith Castle by surprise, followed by Vanades and Kobo. Through this one route, we will have conquered three cities in one go. This way, the duchy will be good as gone. I will be in one of the first batches of people to participate in this surprise attack."

"Milord, you don't have to take such a huge risk. Just leave this attack to us. We will not disappoint you,” Potterfang protested.

"Duke Madras has a rank 2 blademaster by his side,” Lorist argued, “He is my target. Firmrock will have to be transferred to a temporary campsite at the foot of Bladedge Mountains to prepare for the battle. In the meantime, Pog, Malek, you two must make sure to train the soldiers to board and disembark from the ships so they don't screw up during the actual mission."

"Understood, Milord."

"Freiyar, when the Firmrock legion leaves Silowas, I want you to lead a local defense division and defend the island."

"Yes, Milord."

"As long as we can conquer Kobo, the duchy’s bread basket, the troops guarding the seven citadels at Sanderson Hills, and those gathered near the riverbank will lose all their supplies and face surrender or collapse. That's how we take Madras during the winter. I hope you will all lead the house to success!"

"Yes, Milord!"

"Alright, meeting adjourned. Fiercetiger Loze, Dulles, Joe, and Yuriy, I want you to stay back for a bit."

Apart from the aforementioned four, Charade also stayed.

"If everything goes well, we will have to face House Fisablen right after taking Madras," Lorist said with a solemn tone, "After the relocation of Count Kenmays, Tigersoar will be stationed in the eastern area of The Northlands to apply pressure to the troops in Wild Husbandry. But given Tigersoar’s trait as a heavy-armored cavalry unit, it will find it hard to deal with the mobile and agile cavalry troops of Duke Fisablen. That's why I've already discussed forming a brand new light cavalry division similar to those of the duke with Charade, which shall be called the Jaeger legion, the troops will be known as mounted jaegers. Joe will be the legion commander and Yuriy his second-in-command."

Josk looked surprised and seemed to have something to say, but Lorist raised his hand to stop him.

"Joe, I don't think there is anyone more fitting to lead the legion than you. Yuriy is also working as your aide of his own will. The best countermeasure we have against the duke's cavalry are the mounted jaegers. The only other method we have to deal with them is to crush them with pure numbers in an open field battle, but we're fighting in the grasslands, the duke’s home turf, he won't afford us that kind of luxury. We will also suffer in terms of terrain. I have put my hopes in you. Do you think you're up to it?"

"Milord, I will definitely not let you down,” Josk started.

Lorist patted on Josk's shoulder.

"We don't have much time. After we take Madras, it will take about a year for the situation to stabilize, including having the Kenmays and Shazin houses relocate. But after the year passes, we will have to deal with House Fisablen. Joe, Yuriy, I have already ordered all the legions to allow you to recruit from them. You can pick whoever you think are fitting for the Jaeger legion, but make sure to leave some people in the groups from which you recruit. Even so, you only have a year to get the new legion in shape. Do you think you can do it?"

Josk and Yuriy stood up, saluted to Lorist, and said in unison, "Understood, Milord. Please be assured that you will not be disappointed."