This is the fifth release of the week! Cya guys next week~

Lorist kept sighing in his tent. The situation in Southern seemed to be building up to a huge conflict unlike what anyone had expected. He regretted that he didn't attack Duke Fisablen to stop him from constructing his own fortifications the moment Firmrock arrived at the frontlines. That way, even if he had sustained huge casualties, he could have driven House Fisablen's Frontier Legion out of Southern instead of merely standing off against them like he was now. As the enemy reinforcements increased, he could only take a defensive stance.

The tower outposts tactic was something he'd deployed by drawing inspiration from the tower defense games he played in his past life. Originally, he merely wanted them to encompass the area he controlled to stop enemy messengers from passing through to limit their communication. However, he had not foreseen how effective they would be against cavalry. So, he continued to build more and more and covered the area he controlled with a network of towers. Ragebear Knights and the three Tigersoar divisions he moved over were like the spiders perched on a net, they would devour anyone caught instantly.

The towers' construction was relatively simple. First, the foundations had to be secured, then the ground filled with rocks.  Green glue would be poured into the seams to secure them in place. Thereafter, evenly cut rocks would be stacked on top of the foundation until a tower was built. As the northwestern area of Southern was rather hilly, rocks were easy to come by. Given that the silver-ranked knights of Firmrock were already used to using their blade glows to cut rock, one day of hard work by ten silver-ranked knights was enough to gather the rocks required to build the towers. It would also train their battleforce, so it killed two birds with one stone.

All that was left was to fill in the seams with green clay again and a tower that could defend an area with a radius of 100 meters around it was ready. Given that it only took ten days to build one, towers were erected day after day and the area Lorist controlled expanded. A third of Southern was already under the four houses' control.

However, as the number of towers increased, Lorist realized that something was wrong. What he was doing was unlike the tower defense games he played. Each tower he built had to be manned. So far, there were a total of 170 towers, but a little more than one division's worth of men from Firmrock had been sent to man them. That was more than 17 thousand people.

A month ago when he arrived with Firmrock, they were faced with House Fisablen's two legions of 70 thousand men and a further 30 thousand grassland barbarian soldiers as well as a greatly fortified camp. If they were fighting a field battle, he didn't fear the duke's 100 thousand troops. However, leading 60 thousand soldiers of Firmrock and 10 thousand from Ragebear Knights to attack a heavily fortified camp was a rather foolish idea. So, he ordered three divisions from Tigersoar sent over to bolster his forces. By the time the three Tigersoar divisions arrived, House Fisablen's reserve legion had also arrived. The number of the duke's troops was still about 30 thousand above Lorist's.

House Felim's Pegasus was still exterminating bandits in the province's northwestern area. Since he couldn't afford to have his rear so chaotic on the frontlines, Lorist decided to wait for Pegasus to clear the area up first before ordering them to reinforce him. However, he didn't think so many grassland barbarians would answer Duke Fisablen's call. Their numbers neared 70 thousand. Lorist began to build his towers in response. It was not until he had built too many that he had split up Firmrock. Duke Fisablen, on the other hand, gained even more reinforcements: the 20 thousand Shabaj infantry.

All Lorist could do was look on as the enemy's numbers slowly grew to double his own. Frustrated and annoyed, he had no choice but to continue his tower tactic. If he didn't have enough soldiers, he would have to send an envoy to Count Kenmays and Count Shazin and request each send a division or two so they could man the towers instead of Firmrock's soldiers. That way, Firmrock's forces could remain consolidated and ready for an enemy attack.

How'd it turn out this way? I should have been the attacker, but now I'm playing a defensive game. I wanted to wipe out the duke's forces and the four duchies separately at first, but it seems they have now joined up against me. The war has evolved to the point all the plans I've drafted have to be put aside. I really don't know how this situation can develop in the future, thought Lorist.

All he could do now was respond to the situation on the fly. The tent's entrance opened and Potterfang walked in.

"Your Grace, Count Felim sent a messenger. According to him, Knight Bonawar is heavily injured."

"What?" Lorist said with surprise, "Knight Bonawar was injured? How? He's the commander of a legion! How could he have been in harm's way? Was it an assassination attempt or an ambush?"

Potterfang shook his head.

"I'm not sure myself. The messenger said he had heard it from someone else. Let's read the letter first."

Potterfang handed the letter over and Lorist gave it a quick look.

"Oh, it's about the issue with the mines. I see I'll have to make a trip there to solve the issue."

"Mine? What mine?" asked Potterfang.

"Just read the letter," Lorist said while he pointed to the letter on the table, "Andelik Hills is located near the border of Southern and Winston and there are two iron mines there, one larger than the other. Both are located within the old dominion of House Felim. When the second prince signed a treaty with the Union's Wessia Merchant Guild, he sold them a thirty-year mining permit. With the second prince now dead and Iblia gone, our alliance can naturally not be expected to honor that contract. Count Felim sent people to reclaim the mines, but it ended with Knight Bonawar being injured heavily by a blademaster guarding it. The blademaster even boasted that if we wanted the mines back, we would have to face his sword first. Wessia definitely won't hand the mines back so easily."

"Can't Count Felim just deploy Pegasus to retake the mines?" asked Potterfang without bothering to read the letter.

"He did, but the mines are on high ground and it's hard to attack. There's no way to encircle the mines and sending only a few up there is pointless. I have to make a trip to help the count out. His house's foundations rely on those two mines."

Lorist had no choice but to go as the four houses faced their enemies together. As House Felim didn't have their own blademaster, their gold-ranked knight was injured by an enemy blademaster. As the boss, Lorist ought to fight for his ally's sake. In the end, the trip took only around 6 days. It ended with the blademaster dead. It Lorist just three exchanges. The guild's supervisors and engineers were taken prisoner. The fellows who initially condemned Lorist that their guild would definitely not let him off turned rather timid after a few were hung. They answered when they were questioned and Lorist and Felim soon learned the truth of the matter.

They didn't think Wessia had invested so much money in the mines. Not only did they get new mining equipment, they also set up a refinery and smithy nearby. Within the smithy's storehouse were tens of thousands of sets of plate armor. According to the supervisor, the armor was ordered by Duke Fisablen. There were fifty thousand sets of armor in total and they were due for delivery to Windbury for the new garrison legion. Given that the city had already fallen and that the garrison legion was no more, the armor was left in the storehouses.

Apart from the armor, Felim's greatest gain was the hundreds of technicians and smiths. The refinery and smithy could continue to operate with them there and it would greatly speed up the growth of his old dominion. Thirteen thousand laborers were also liberated.

Originally, he had wanted the laborers to continue mining, but Lorist stopped him.

"Are you stupid? If you spare them from mining, they will instantly be completely loyal to you! Weren't you complaining about having nobody to recruit into your army? These miners are the perfect target! If you start recruiting them, you'll be able to form a smaller garrison legion. Not only that, you don't really lack weapons now, do you? With the refinery and smithy, you can already start making the gear you need, right?"

"But who will dig out the ores?"

While Felim was moved by Lorist's suggestion, he was still troubled that he had nobody suitable to mine.

"Mining? It's hardly skilled labor, right? Just use the bandits you caught. We also captured lots of grassland barbarians from the frontlines. They are fit and strong and a good fit for the task. Maybe you can set a mining quota. They will only be fed if they meet the quota. If they don't, it's their own fault," said Lorist mercilessly.

"But, we don't have enough prisoners. There are less than two thousand altogether."

"Worry not. The number will grow as the days pass. Didn't you see our enemy's camp? There're more than 100 thousand troops and about 70 thousand barbarians. We'll have lots of captives after this conflict," replied Lorist confidently.

But, a few days after Lorist returned to the frontlines, he was devastated to hear the report from the light cavalry scouts. The four duchies' reinforcements had arrived, roughly 60 thousand men in total. They also brought along carriages filled with resources.

Ten thousand men would already fill one's vision, not to say much about 60 thousand that brought carriage after carriage with them. They lined up like a long dragon leading to House Fisablen's camp. It took more than three days for the convoy to settle down. In the meantime, Ragebear Knights and the three Tigersoar legions had been waiting for an opportunity to attack but failed. The duke was rather cunning. He formed a tight defensive line with his frontier legion and the other barbarian troops to protect the reinforcements.

Looking at the distant cheering barbarian cavalry, Lorist turned down Terman's request for the Ragebear Knights to be allowed to attack.

"It's pointless. You'll only be falling into the duke's trap. If you attack they can grind you down with tens of thousands of barbarian soldiers. Even if your armor is strong, the warhorses can't fight that long. The moment your warhorses tire, heavy-armored units like you would be like fish on dry land. There are many ways to deal with you if that happens. Return to your post. Since the old guy's troops grow more and more numerous, it won't take long for him to go on the offensive. We have to be even more prepared."

House Fisablen currently had Third Frontier, which numbered 32 thousand men, Fifth Frontier with 45 thousand men, 18 thousand men from the reserve legion and 70 thousand barbarian soldiers. There was also the 80 thousand elite infantry from the four central duchies. The number of enemies Lorist had to face grew to a staggering 240 thousand plus. Facing them were the 60 thousand of Firmrock, 45 thousand of the three Tigersoar divisions. and the 15 thousand men of Ragebear Knights. For the last one, only three thousand knights and six thousand squires were combatants. The remaining six thousand were merely horse tamers and servants in charge of supporting the knights without any actual fighting capability.

However, Count Felim had also brought his two divisions of 20 thousand men to the frontlines, while Count Shazin was on the way with two divisions of 24 thousand men and would only arrive ten days later. Duke Kenmays, on the other hand, sent 15 thousand men, but it wasn't sure when they would arrive at the end of the month since they departed from rather far away. The alliance of four houses had 140 thousand men standing against the combined forces of House FIsablen and the four central duchies. There was a difference of 100 thousand men.

So, Lorist decided to go all the way with the tower tactic. At the broader areas up front, he constructed multiple tower clusters. Firmrock's soldiers also toiled through the night to connect the surrounding moats to make an uncrossable barrier.

Ten days passed. When the horn sounded on the other side, countless grassland barbarian troops rushed out of their camp. The first siege battle in Southern thus began.

However, that battle only lasted one day. The four central duchies mobilized 20 thousand of their elite infantry while Duke Fisablen deployed Third Frontier and 30 thousand grassland barbarians. As they were attacking the towers roughly 5 kilometers away from Lorist's camp, he deployed one Tigersoar division and three carroballistae brigades.

The attack on the towers was not a probe. Instead, they had discovered a weakness in Lorist's layout that allowed them to suffer fewer casualties. The duchies' 20 thousand elite infantrymen only suffered around three thousand casualties while the barbarians lost about ten thousand, mainly due to disobeying orders and being heavily punished by the Tigersoar division as a result.

Lorist looked solemnly at the enemies retreating in an orderly fashion from the mountain stronghold. While he had only lost little during that battle, three towers had been burned down and the 200 soldiers manning them lost. If the enemy was willing to pay the price of around 200 casualties, they would be able to reach the tower's base and set it on fire. While the outside of the towers was built with stone, the main structural support and floors within were constructed with wood and caught fire easily.

While the enemies retreated this time, there was no doubt that they would come back swiftly. They would definitely come up with even more methods to deal with the towers given their experience today.

The harsher battles ahead still lie ahead, thought Lorist.