The fifth release of the week is finally here! Hope you guys enjoy the read and cya next week!

Duke Fisablen woke up really early in the morning. With the coming of old age, his need for sleep diminished. However, he never thought of himself as old despite being at the age of seventy. As a rank 3 blademaster, his body was as fit as a man in his fifties. He was still so healthy he could release his pent-up desires the night before on two maidservants in his palace.

The reason he couldn't sleep was probably due to all his worries.

I wonder what happened to Xanthi... She still hasn't returned. I heard from an informant in Shabaj she was hunting down that Norton child with two other blademasters, but she hasn't contacted me since the chase started. What was that child called again? I think he was the swordsmanship section of the knighthood tournament's champion. Poor Jinuindor... For such a rare talent to die at the hands of the Nortons like that...

The duke felt his rage well up every time he thought about it.

Xanthi should be fine. She's a rank 3 blademaster, after all. I sure was surprised when she broke through three years ago. I resolved myself to attack the greater and lesser golden creeks thanks to her breakthrough. The Hubet tribe there aren't people to mess with lightly... They have seven fighters on par with blademasters.

Duke Fisablen had had to work together with Xanthi to kill six of the blademaster-level fighters to cause panic in the tribe before the military attack could be launched. They wiped the tribe out in one go and conquered the creeks.

As a rank 3 blademaster, Xanthi should have nothing to fear when traveling across Grindia. All she had to be wary of were the old hidden masters. Even if she met other rank 3 blademasters she could still escape unscathed.

She must just be having too much fun and forgetting to report back in time... Well, women are free spirited I suppose, thought the duke as he shook his head and stopped worrying about Xanthi.

He never even dreamed that Lorist would deal with his lover and make her the second highness' captive.

With his dominion peaceful, and Viscount Kristoph taking care of the golden creeks, he focused on the citadels and basic infrastructure at the golden creeks' construction. So far, House Fisablen had forcefully moved more than 200 thousand young men and women from Melein and settled them down at the creeks. They planned to move another 300 thousand citizens from Eastwild make the creeks the house's new headquarters over the rest of the year.

As for the lack of manpower at Eastwild, Winston's citizens being moved there would have to suffice. Coupled with some of the domesticated barbarians, Eastwild's population could still be maintained at approximately 500 thousand. As Sylvia was put in charge of dealing with the development of Eastwild's irrigation infrastructure, he hoped the dominion's agricultural growth would make it self-sufficient within the next two years so they would no longer have to rely on importing large amounts of food from the salt merchant committee. While House Fisablen's dominion was not lacking in meats, it would be quite a waste to let the commoners feast on meat all the time. All they needed was a filled stomach.

Currently, House Fisablen relied on their livestock to trade for resources with other nations. While the house had started to earn much more from mining gold following Goldcreek's occupation, the mining operations themselves cost quite a bit to set up. Gold could also be kept for times of need, while livestock was another story altogether. House Fisablen was provided with livestock by the grassland barbarian tribes annually, almost 100 thousand animals each time. It didn't come at any cost to the house either. They were able to exchange the livestock for lots of goods from the salt merchant committee, which was in turn used to trade for more livestock at a marked-up rate with the barbarian tribes. The trade netted the house quite a bit of profit.

The moment he thought of Princess Sylvia, Duke Fisablen's expression darkened.

Sylvia was so obedient and delightful when she was younger... Why did she grow into such a rebellious woman? She actually fell for that kid leading the Nortons... What's so good about him anyway? He doesn't even take a duke like me seriously. To be honest, he would make a decent husband, but he isn't on our side. In fact, the Nortons are secretly our enemies...

The duke felt like he had been slapped in the face when Lorist refused his conditions for the marriage up front.

Rumors were not to be believed so readily. It was widely said among the nobles that House Norton's new leader was someone who didn't have a shred of ambition and only knew how to turtle up in his dominion like a coward. He even formed the alliance of four houses for protection. If other noble houses had that kind of military power, they would've started a war by now. However, Duke Fisablen didn't share their opinions. When he analyzed Lorist's actions and predicted his moves, he couldn't help but be awed.

Even though he didn't know of the saying, 'one can easily be king by erecting high walls and stockpiling food', he didn't look down on Lorist's plans in the slightest. The Northlands had been turned into a tank since House Norton consolidated the strength of their three allies. They were at a point where they could attack and retreat as they pleased. When word of Madras'conquest spread out, the duke was surprised, but not dumbfounded. The four houses did have the might required to end a nation.

It's no wonder that kid dared refuse my conditions. He had that kind of confidence all along. When it comes to his personal strength and the might of his house, he's not the slightest bit inferior to House Fisablen. In fact, he's better in many respects...

Duke Fisablen took a deep breath.

And to think I tried to put a leash on him using Sylvia in hopes of being able to keep his house out of my way... It's a shame he's far too stubborn... Or, maybe he knew that was what I was going for all along and crudely refused my third request.

There's no doubt House Norton is going to turn against us completely soon. The last batch of arms they sent over was just a ruse. The apology Count Kenmays sent last year said they would raise prices two or three-fold. It seems they want to bleed our newfound gold out of me.

However, that wasn't the main thing that worried him. Even though the four houses knew the house wiped out Melein and established a trade route to the four central duchies, they still raised the price of goods. Weren't they worried the house would order what they needed from the duchies instead? The duchies had more than enough salt to go around.

It all pointed at only one conclusion: the houses were trying to stretch their claws into Iblia. Perhaps, wiping out Madras had given them the confidence to ignore the house's existence. It was common knowledge that Iblia mainly relied on House Fisablen and declaring war on the kingdom was akin to challenging the duke himself.

What he regretted most was taking too much time to deal with the kingdom's nobles. Fortunately, two of the four houses of The Northlands relocated their dominions at the same time. He believed they would only settle down this year. The soonest they would act was next year.

Perhaps I should send out an envoy to prod the waters. Even if it'll cost me two million gold Fordes to strike up another deal with them, at least I get to buy a year of peace, thought he.

Hopefully, my plans for Winston can be completed this year so we will be ready for them and can fight them over there. We're too tight on time. The three citadels must be completed this year. We still need to train the garrison legion to man them and move Winston's people away... There's too much to do!

The two maidservants pleasured to unconsciousness by the duke finally woke up. Seeing the duke breathing heavily, clad in nothing but his night robe, they hurriedly brought over some warm water and shyly cleaned up his body while letting him cop a feel or two. The two were planning to give the duke some quick morning stimulation, but he refused their offer and left with his sword to train.

By the time Lorist arrived at Rose Palace, Duke Fisablen had ended his training and was enjoying a hearty breakfast in his study after his bath. He looked over stacks of documents as he ate. Just as he was dealing with some of the kingdom's matters, a horn rang out. It did nothing but cause the duke to crease his brows, however. He thought it was just the soldiers gathering to train at the plaza causing trouble.

It was to be expected, many of the soldiers were picked from the Southern noble's private forces. Many had already awakened their battleforce. Though they were mostly bronze or iron ranks, some might think it was a good time to cause trouble now that First Frontier Legion was away.

No worries, I'll just take my personal guard and kill off a few of them later. I'm sure the rest will quiet down and become obedient.

He always ruled with an iron fist. How would the rowdy grassland barbarians obey him otherwise? He employed the carrot and stick approach. If they obeyed orders, they would be rewarded; if they didn't, death was the way to go.

But when the alarm bell signaling an enemy attack sounded, he finally lost his cool.

This isn't just some disobedient soldiers... Who's attacking?

Just when the duke was about to send the palace guard out to check the situation, a loud bam echoed through the castle as the main doors were kicked open.

A familiar voice declared as arrogantly as possible, "Duke Fisablen! You have an honored guest! Aren't you gonna come over to receive me?!"

"Who dares act so impudently?!" roared the duke.

The moment he left his room, he saw Lorist fighting off a bunch of palace guards near the collapsed doors. With but a flash of the sword, a loyal palace guard's limbs fell all over as he tumbled to the ground and joined the 40 or so corpses already there.

"Stand down!" yelled the duke.

The guards were the house's elites. Following the knighthood tournament, he had taken a page out of Lorist's book and picked two thousand soldiers with awakened battleforce to serve in his personal guard. He was planning to have them train beside him for another three years before assigning them as squad leaders to his main force. It would not only increase the loyalty of his troops, but also the strength of his forces through an effective chain of command.

"Hehe, Your Grace, Norton Lorist pays his respects!" greeted Lorist after he stopped chasing down the small fry.

While the duke appeared calm on the surface, he was actually quite unnerved.

Lorist? How did he come all the way here and bust down my door?

He had been incredibly wary of Lorist ever since the latter killed a gold-ranked knight with one move during the duke's banquet ahead of the tournament. If he was armed, he wouldn't have any trouble taking out a gold-ranked knight instantly either, given his prowess as a rank 3 blademaster.  But even he wasn't confident he could do the same unarmed like Lorist.

"Yo-you... How did you get here?" asked he.

As he spoke he secretly made a gesture with his left hand behind him.

"Haha, Lord Duke, I came to visit with my forces, of course! Since Iblia no longer has a king, it's about time the kingdom goes with it. Our four houses have come to help it along. Come, Lord Duke. Let us discuss what lies ahead for the two of us."

From how he was still holding his sword, it didn't appear he wanted to talk about anything though.

"Dream on! I'll not permit Iblia to fall!" roared the duke.

"Oh really?" Lorist snickered, "I'm afraid it's not up to you anymore. Pops, your First Frontier Legion has already been wiped out completely. Not one made it out alive. How'd you think we got here? Listen to the cheers outside. That's the sound of our victorious occupation of Windbury. It's over, pops. Drop your weapon and surrender. I'll give House Fisablen a chance for survival on behalf of Sylvia. You'd better be obedient though! Hahaha..."

Lorist laughed heartily now that the duke was in front of him. There was no way he could escape now. As long as the duke was felled by his hands, all his troubles would be solved.

"Bullshit!" the duke cried, "Norton brat, I'll never yield to the likes of you in the name of House Fisablen! You better forget about making me surrender. As long as I have a sword in my hand, I'll fight you to the end!"

"Is that so?" Lorist said mockingly, "No worries. I'll fight you until you discard your sword and kneel before me. Let's see what kind of crap you can spout then! En garde!"

Lorist dashed forward and launched a flurry of attacks.


Three sword clashes saw Duke Fisablen knocked backwards three meters.

"Not bad, pops. Your foundations are much stronger than that old hag. It seems I'll have to break a sweat to take you down," praised Lorist.

"What do you mean?" asked the duke as he carefully circled Lorist, sword raised, as if he was trying to find an opening to attack.

"Don't you get it? By old hag, I mean Blademaster Xanthi. She's a rank 3 too, right? She didn't even take ten hits. She's currently in a cell in the imperial capital."

While Lorist appeared confident in being able to take down the duke, even engaging in small talk, he was still extremely cautious. If he failed because of too much gloating, he would become a huge joke. The duke had been a rank 3 blademaster for a long time already and might still have some tricks up his sleeves.

"You're... you're lying!"

Duke Fisablen messed up his footwork in a fit of slight panic.

Lorist didn't take advantage of it, however.

"Oh really? Do you think House Norton will let you beat us around as you wish? You knew Reidy was my disciple and even dared to chase him down yourself. Did you think I was someone you could afford to piss off? Don't mistake a resting tiger for a cat! You think our four houses wouldn't know what you're trying to do at Winston? How idealistic of you to think we would let you turn Winston into the stage for our battle. Dream on!"

"You're going too far! I... I'll take you down here!"

The duke's face flushed angrily as he prepared to leap at Lorist.

"Well said!" replied Lorist as he made his preparation to receive the rain of attacks.

He didn't think the duke would actually jump back instead after feinting and shout.


The moment the order rang out, more than a hundred longbowmen hiding in the corners of the palace appeared and fired at Lorist all at once.

"Sol!" cursed he.

I didn't think he'd do something so shameless! He's a rank 3 blademaster, isn't he?! How dare he ambush others with hidden bowmen?!

Lorist had to deal with the hundred longbowmen first. A good number were of the silver rank. The arrows they fired were quick, accurate and powerful. He had to leap about and deflect a good number of them before he managed to approach the archers. The moment he did, he launched into a bout of massacre. However, he lost track of the duke as a result.

The loud neigh of a warhorse sounded from the outside. Lorist leaped up a beam on the main hall and saw the duke leaving Rose Palace with tens of guards towards the south gate. Before he rode away, the duke even gave Lorist a glance from afar.

Darn it, that old pest is trying to escape! Lorist leaped down from the beam and headed for the gate as well.