Here's the second release of the week, released earlier to celebrate the launch of "The Sword and The Shadow"! Please check out the announcement on the home page!

The rain fell ceaselessly.

Grindia's rainy season saw rain fall nonstop for up to a whole month. It might last more than a month or two in the southern parts of the continent and those areas were the most susceptible to floods.

Lorist was currently staying at the former duke's mansion in Gildusk, located at the south end of The Northlands. He paced about in the study, glancing at the map on the table from time to time. The door received a series if knocks before Howard entered the room.

"Your Grace, Baron Charade, Baron Camorra, and Baron Freiyar have arrived."

"Quick, invite them in," ordered Lorist, elated.

"Greetings, Your Grace," greeted the three as they saluted.

"No need for the formalities. I hate having to keep up appearances in front of insiders. Take a seat," said Lorist with a wave of his hand.

"What would you like to drink? Fruit wine, tea, or macks?" asked Lorist.

"Your Grace, I think I'll have a cup of your special brew instead. It's been really moist lately, so having some of your wine to warm up would be ideal," said Charade.

"No way. We're going to have a meeting. I can't have you getting yourself drunk! Don't push it if you don't have good alcohol tolerance. This is not normal wheat or fruit wine. You can drink those without much problem. Drinking a small cup of strong liquor is like drinking five bottles of fruit wine in one go. If you want some, I'll let each of you take a bottle with you to enjoy at home."

"I hold you to your word. Hehe... One whole bottle... Howard, you better remember this well. I guess I'll have macks for now," brightly smiled Charade.

"Sol, I got tricked again."

Camorra requested tea and Freiyar asked for fruit wine.

"It's already been raining for about two weeks. It will continue in The Northlands for another ten or so days. After the rainy season, I will head to the frontlines. The war will also start then. Whether we can expand The Northlands' influence will depend on the outcome of this war.

"After I head to the frontlines, Baron Charade will be in charge of the affairs here. Considering that it'll be drawn out, The Northlands' development in the next two years will be in the southern area. We will set up settlements Haven, Harvest, and Vigor. They're to be modeled on Salus. Each settlement will have six to eight towns. Also, have eight knight manors constructed so that future gold-ranked knights can be rewarded.

"Gildusk will also be redesigned and renovated from the ground up. It will be called City of the Bellowing Bear and will be The Northlands' capital. Apart from these, outside this manor, near the current eastern city outskirts, I will have a special area built. We will sell the land to honorary nobles of The Northlands who wish to erect their own castles and manors. The castles they intend to build must first be certified, of course, and we must keep a blueprint too. Additionally, only those with honorary titles given by our house will be qualified to purchase land. It will be auctioned off to the richest buyer, naturally."

Lorist shrugged as he continued, "We have no choice but to do it as the war with House Fisablen will no doubt cost us a lot. This plan was drafted by Baron Spiel. Currently, House Norton stands strong and the honorary titles we acknowledge are worth quite a lot. I believe our profits will range from 100 thousand to one million. If we include the profit generated from the sale of land, the house will earn up to three million. The construction of castles will no doubt require materials and manpower, so it'll also help stimulate our economy. That's why I agreed to let the honorary nobles build their manors there.

"Baron Charade, as the chief supervisor of The Northlands, you have to pay attention to these three matters. You may put Shadekampf in charge of designing the three settlements. Apart from Salus, Felicitas, Redriver, and Greatriver, which has just finished construction in the eastern part of The Northlands, Shadekampf will be responsible for the other settlements. The fellow has already garnered lots of experience and will definitely be one of your most valuable aides.

"You should first consider Gildusk's renovation. The city will be the center of administration for The Northlands so everything has to be perfect. The other matter concerns the special area where the honorary nobles will be able to purchase land. You will head the pricing negotiations since you're the best at it in the house. Don't disappoint me. The last thing concerns Count Felim's subjects. After we conquer Southern, Count Felim will move his subjects to his original dominion in batches. You have to help out with the move. The Northlands will only truly belong to House Norton after their relocation."

Charade stood up to show his dedication.

"Your Grace, please be assured that your orders will be carried out according to your specifications."

Lorist nodded and turned to Freiyar.

"Baron Freiyar, you will be relocated here from your previous post at Silowas because of the upcoming campaign. This time around, you'll be deployed on the battlefield."

Freiyar smiled excitedly.

"Your Grace, I've always looked forward to being sent back to the frontlines. Staying at the rear for so long is making me rust up..."

Lorist waved his hand at him.

"Come and look at the map here. The local defense legion is our largest unit, with 25 brigades forming five divisions of 75 thousand men in total. You will relocate here to plan the legion's defense stations as well as coordinate the divisions on missions in Winston.

"The first local defense division, including the first to fifth brigades, will be stationed at the old dominion near Firmrock Castle. They'll be spread across Firmrock Castle, Hidebull Citadel, Tortoise Hill Citadel, Northsea, and Bladedge Castle. Originally, Bladedge Castle was the main base of the Ragebear Knights. However, they will follow me to the frontlines this time around and will be stationed nearby in the future. Bladedge Castle will have to be defended by the fifth local defense brigade.

"The second local defense division, including the sixth to tenth brigades, will be stationed to the south of Firmrock Castle. More specifically, the metal suspension bridge in the eastern part of The Northlands, Hendliff Suspension Bridge in the south, the floating bridge on the Metropoulos river, the citadel in the western part of the Bladedge Mountains that connects to the internal part of the dominion, as well as Gildusk.

"The third local defense division, namely the 11th to 15th divisions stationed at Silowas right now, will be moved here and put under Gold-ranked Knight Jades' command.

"The fourth local defense division, including the 16th to 20th brigades, is currently stationed in Delamock. Two of the divisions are located at Kobo and Vanades, with the other three supervising the 100 thousand plus captive laborers currently building the main highway. The division's commander will be Baron Belnick.

"Freiyar, you will personally command the fifth division, 21st to 25th brigades. THere are some strategic positions we have to take in as soon as possible when we invade Winston. They are Pedro, Dawok, Windbury, Twilight Lake Town roughly 50 kilometers from the capital, and the mountain stronghold, Sehak, the crossing point from Winston to Southern.

"Apart from Windbury, the other four places, have to be renovated into fortified citadels. Sehak used to be a crossing point between the two provinces, but it's been worn down after many battles. We'll have to erect a new citadel there to secure Winston properly.

"If we can exterminate the duke's Frontier Legion stationed at Windbury as planned, then our renovation and construction efforts will proceed without problems. But if it doesn't go according to plan, you will have to hold your stations while you complete your construction efforts. Duke Fisablen will definitely not leave us to ourselves to fortify those locales. He will definitely do everything he can to slow hamper our progress. This is the main reason I ordered you to relocate here."

Freiyar laughed out loud and thumped his chest.

"Your Grace, the local defense legion is particularly adept at defense. Even if we don't have fortified citadels, we still have our own ways to make the enemy bleed. To be honest, I'm getting more and more impatient to set foot on the battlefield."

Lorist punched Freiyar's chest as he laughed.

"I trust you will carry out your duties to my satisfaction."

Freiyar performed a knight's salute.

"The local defense legion will not let you down, Your Grace."

The last one to receive orders was Baron Camorra.

"I called you here to appoint you to the position of Logistics Commandant. You will be the chief logistics officer of our forces, so every shipment of resources to the frontlines must receive your screening and permission. You will control their allocation as well."

Camorra nodded respectfully.

"Yes, Your Grace."

"We have long been preparing for this war. From weapons to food and vehicles for transportation, we have almost everything ready. This is a summary of our inventory," said Lorist as he handed a thick folder to Camorra.

"However, there are a few things that you have to pay attention to. For your escort, I have already ordered Firmrock and Tigersoar to each send a brigade of retired soldiers. Viscount Eidis and the other old nobles of Winston have also picked out elite soldiers to form a division of security troops to take care of the convoys' safety. You won't have to worry about manpower on that front.

"You also have to pay attention to the one million gold Fordes' worth of resources, House Kenmays's 500 thousand gold Fordes, as well as Count Shazin's resources worth 300 thousand. Everything is support for Count Felim's relocation to Southern to settle down in his family dominion. Since Southern is more or less a wasteland right now, they will not be able to set up a stable foundation without our aid. As this shipment is only for that, I want you to place extra care and concern on it.

"Our houses have more than enough for our troops, so you don't have to worry about that. The largest problem we might face, however, is the allocation of manpower. On the one hand, our house will try to stop Duke Fisablen from moving Winston's youth to his dominion. On the other, we need you to relocate the youth.

"I'm sure you've heard about the renovation and construction efforts following the occupation of Windbury when I talked to Freiyar just now. We will no doubt require lots of manpower. I've already ordered the dominion to mobilize four experienced construction units, each number roughly a hundred men. That's why we still require approximately four units of ten thousand comprised of Winston's able-bodied youth to facilitate the construction effort.

"If the war turns out well and we successfully exterminate the duke's Frontier Legion and complete the citadels' construction, the workforce will have to head to Southern and help Firmrock set up the defensive infrastructure there. Moats will have to be dug for the implementation of our iron cage tactic.

"Other than that, if we have any captives, we will use them to work on the roads between Winston and Southern. All the equipment and resources will be transported to Windbury once it's secured and your logistics operation center will be moved there as well to make it easier for you to support the war effort in Southern.

"The whole logistics affair will no doubt be incredibly chaotic. You're the only suitable person of which I can think. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?"

Camorra nodded and simply.

"Your Grace, I will need permission to promote and encourage those of the escort team as well as the laborers. I can only raise their morale and promote efficiency if I can do that."

"No problem. You may design some reward schemes and show them to me when you're done," agreed Lorist magnanimously.

"Then there won't be any problems," said Camorra as he accepted the post.

"Oh, Baron Charade, how many people have moved from Winston in the past 1 month or so during winter?" asked Lorist when he recalled another matter of which he had put Charade in charge.

"Your Grace, Firmrock Legion's first division arrived at Viscount Eidis's old dominion near Dawok on the 10th of the 11th. The skis and sleds are functional until the 29th of the 2nd. So far the house has moved 87 thousand people from Winston, 32179 of whom are youths. The house has urgently allocated up to 100 thousand sets of cold-resistant clothing," reported Charade, uttering one number after another flawlessly.

The youths Charade referred to were men between 16 and 35.

"That doesn't sound right. Didn't Viscount Eidis say there are approximately 30 thousand people in their dominion, and that the subjects of the other three houses combined only numbered 40 thousand? Why are there so many?" asked Lorist curiously.

"When they returned in the winter, they managed to convince another seven noble houses with similar fates to switch sides as well. That's what I was going to report to you. Baron Potterfang and Baron Malek promised the seven nobles that if they cooperated, they would also be able to receive House Norton's entitlement and be given the opportunity to become your vassals."

Lorist nodded.

"Ah, those are the conditions I told Potterfang and Malek before they left. Winston's old nobles go all the way back to the time of the empire. Unlike the nobles of Southern that attempted to take advantage of the empire to extend their influence and power, the nobles of Winston sacrificed a lot for the former empire. Additionally, they didn't involve themselves in the empire's civil war, so I'm willing to give them a chance."

"You're right, Your Grace. The seven nobles have already emptied their current dominions and are bringing all their family members to The Northlands. We have temporarily arranged for their accommodation at the former noble mansions of Gildusk. They wish to have an audience with you and hope they will be given a chance to fight against Iblia.

"So far, there are still approximately ten thousand commoners at Dawok, most are young widows. Viscount Eidis said that if there are no women in the town, Duke Fisablen's ambassadors will notice and have their suspicions raised. Lord Potterfang also agrees and stationed a division of wheelbarrow-carroballista troops and a division of heavy-armored infantry, totaling 30 thousand men, at the town. The rest are hiding in ambush in Baron Wade's castle."

"Wait, what about was the allocation of 100 thousand cold-resistant clothing you mentioned?" asked Lorist.

"Your Grace, you're not seriously expecting the Firmrock soldiers to disguise themselves as Viscount Eidis's subjects clad in the equipment of our forces, are you? I had no choice but to trade the cold-resistant clothes for the cruddy apparel of the commoners being moved here. It will also help ensure their safe travel to The Northlands in this weather. Our forces will don the beaten-up clothes of the transported commoners so they can fool the Frontier Legion scouts," explained Charade.

"Apologies, I forgot to take that into account. Also, notify the seven nobles that they may meet me and have lunch tomorrow. And Baron Camorra, you may pick 20 thousand men from the youths just arrived to group them up. When we attack Winston, they can travel there with baron Freiyar's local defense legion to the strategic locations to begin construction efforts," instructed Lorist.

"Understood, Your Grace."