"This is an operation by no means to be despised in war, although it is rare, and less brilliant than a great strategic combination which renders victory certain even before the battle is fought." ~ Loze, on surprise attacks, in his book A Treatise on War.

On the 5th day of the 7th month, Year 1781, the four house alliance launched a surprise attack on the four central dutchies' Shabaj.

On the 6th day of that month, House Norton's Tigersoar attacked the dutchy's second legion. The battle lasted for half a day before the legion finally crumbled. The legion's general, the gold-ranked knight, Morind, escaped with what remained of the once-proud legion and withdrew to Farkel.

On the month's 9th day, House Shazin's and various other nobles' forces encircled Messen Castle. Duke Shabaj guessed that his enemy was just above 100 thousand strong and didn't dare to send the legion he had in the city out. He huddled in the castle and waited for reinforcements.

On the 11th day, Felim's Pegasus and Duke Fisablen's reserve and third frontier legion arrived at Jigzai and began raiding the region. The troops defending the area soon fell into complete chaos. The neighboring provinces -- Samora of Farkel and Freewood of Forund -- were greatly alarmed. The reinforcements originally intended for Shabaj were diverted to Samora.

Lorist's sudden attack had caught the four duchies completely off guard. They had focused their attention on Auguslo, not much had been spared for anyone else on his side. It didn't help that the logistics of effectively gathering information on an entire kingdom's nobles, each acting independently, was impractical.  Do not forget that Lorist's Furybear was quite the novelty in its day. No one else had thought of setting up a network of professional informants.

The dutchies had both considered themselves and been considered by others the enemies of the four houses since the day of their defeat at the hands of Lorist at the behest of Duke Fisablen. Shabaj, who shared a border with Southern, had created a second legion to prepare for the inevitable, eventual invasion and sealed its borders with the four houses' lands. Felim who resided in Southern also sent Pegasus to watch the border. The two sides had apparently completely antagonized each other; it was no longer a question of if they would go to war, but when.

The locked border prevented people from crossing, but with it, information. The duchies' informants had to send their reports from Southern to the imperial capital, through the two southwestern provinces, from there it traveled all the way to Handra, before crossing over to Shabaj. Though they were only two provinces apart, the information had to make a huge detour and it took up to three months to reach the other of the border.

The battle in Southern had happened three years ago by now. The reports the duchies managed to obtain were only about the conflict between House Fisablen and House Norton, such as Firmrock's attack on Boblige and the long-term defense they had set up on the border. They also got word of how Duke Fisablen had defeated Jaeger and House Felim's development of its new dominion.

The duchies had dropped there guard. Unlike Auguslo, the four houses' attention wasn't focused on them. They were still caught up in a war with House Fisablen. Given that the two sides were still entangled, the duchies reasoned they wouldn't be a target for quite a while. They regretted believing House Fisablen about how the four houses were nobles of Andinaq, causing them to send their forces to reinforce the duke. In the end, not only did they manage to antagonize the alliance, they also suffered a huge loss, nearly 60 thousand elite infantry.

Just three years had passed since the loss but they had already dropped their guard. The way they saw it, with House Fisablen giving them trouble in the great northeastern plains, the alliance wouldn't have enough resources to turn on them. So, they focused on Andinaq's king. They were aware that he hated them to the bone for betraying the empire and had had his eye on them for a long time. They didn't dare to be careless and overlook the man called the new generation's war god.

Hence why the news of Auguslo breaking through and becoming a blademaster was such a shocked. His tour of the northeastern territories drew their attention even more. He even convinced Duke Fisablen to return to the fold. By the time news of the planned expedition reached their ears, it was already well into the 5th month. Even they would require some time to rally their armies. Shabaj's reinforcements would arrive only barely in time.

Each duchy normally only had one standing legion, with the exception of Shabaj. The moment there was an invasion, they would rally more men, split the usual force in half, and fill their ranks until they became two legions -- their experienced veterans leading the new recruits. This way, the overall strength of their legions didn't decrease by much. One of the legions would stay at home and defend the duchy from whence it hailed and the other would mobilize to meet the enemy. If the war dragged on the two legions would switch regularly so neither ever became too fatigued.

After receiving word that Auguslo was going to attack them through Southern, Handra, Farkel, and Forund all ran conscription campaigns and sent their legions to Rimad whilst keeping a close eye on the king's movements. The king was going to return to the imperial capital to move Whitelion from the borders of the two southwestern provinces to Southern. By the time that was completed, it would already be the 8th month, and the attack would only take place in the middle of the month. The reinforcements would've erected their defenses around Rimad already. The only thing left was to wait.

The duchies weren't in a rush and did everything according to plan. They indeed hadn't predicted that Lorist would attack more than 50 days earlier than planned without waiting for the king. It completely flabbergasted the dukes.

Didn't they say Auguslo's Whitelion was still only at Delamock? Weren't they going to join up with Duke Kenmays's two heavy-armored divisions? Given their speed, it would take at least a month more to reach Southern! Why has The Northlands and House Fisablen started already? Aren't they afraid of the king's rage?

Dukes Farkel and Forund snapped out of their days, and started to panic, when news came from the frontlines. Felim's Pegasus and Duke Fisablen's two light cavalry legions had barged into their duchies and begun raiding the settlements. Not only did they take wealth and riches, but also citizens. The two dukes cursed Duke Fisablen angrily for forgetting how they helped him and betraying them. Hey conscripted more men and started setting up defenses at their borders. At the same time, they asked Duke Handra for help. Given the situation, neither of them could be bothered with Duke Shabaj.

Their forces were mainly infantry, though, they lacked cavalry entirely. They had agreed to aid the duke three years earlier because they had been guaranteed a steady supply of steeds but the plan was ruined by Duke Norton. Not only did he break the trade route with House Fisablen, he also unknowingly disrupted their supply of steeds.

Though there were some in the duchies, there weren't enough to form a proper cavalry unit. As a result, their forces were completely helpless when faced with Fisablen's two legions and Felim's Pegasus. With their hit-and-run tactics, Farkel and Forund's garrisons were forced to act defensively. They had to sit in the settlements and wait to be attacked. This persisted until the reinforcements arrived Samora's border.

Once the three legions secured the border, however, they suffered horrendously. Duke Fisablen's suggestion to leave Third Frontier at the border to hold the enemy's reinforcements while the reserves barged into Forund through Freewood all the way to Forund's capital, Paetro, had struck home… hard. The fires of war spread across the dutchy. Duke Forund was completely overwhelmed. He tried to hold down the fort as best he could whilst he sent word of his predicament to the other dukes.

Lorist had Tigersoar press forward and destroy all the crucial forts and attack the village strongholds around Rimad after eradicating the dutchy's second legion. At the same time, he instructed his two divisions from Jaeger to sweeping across the province and capture all the civilians and scattered soldiers. They were to be moved to The Northlands.

Loze finally arrived in Messen two months after the war began and join up with Shazin. The whole of Rimad had already been swept through. Only wasteland was left.

Duke Shabaj, who had been cooped up in the castle, finally made the decision to break out. The city had a native population of 70 thousand, which had swollen to 100 thousand with the refugees from the countryside. There were enough people to defend the city and the food stores could last for a year but the duke was getting too worried. He hadn't just sat around and waited for the hand fate had dealt him to be revealed. He tried his best to engage Shazin's forces but he didn't gain much.

The reason was simple. Shazin had a stalwart defense. The city had three main gates and House Shazins' forces could be split into two light infantry and two light cavalry divisions. Count Shazin stationed his two infantry divisions at the two side gates. He left the main gate to the other nobles. Their mission was to hold the camp when Shabaj's first legion attacked so the count could lead his two light cavalry divisions in a counterattack.

By putting up a false show of strength, Shazin managed to dupe the duke for a while, during which he hurriedly pressed the construction of the small forts. By the time the duke was aware of what was going on, the forts were already complete. Duke Shabak had once tried to use three divisions to attack the stronghold near the north gate, but Shazin's two light cavalry divisions' responded with an easy pincer. The men were forced to drop their equipment to escape. The attack cost the duke five thousand men.

He didn't sally forth again. He might be a rank 1 blademaster but he hadn't reached the rank through his own efforts and insight. He had relied on large amounts of precious medicines to raise his strength, he feared death immensely and never led his men personally. It was so bad he didn't dare send his rank 2 blademaster bodyguard. If he did, Shazin would've suffered quite severe losses.

The duke had sent out lots of informants and messengers to request aid, only a few ever returned. Those that did, brought bad news. When they reported the situation of his allies, the other dutchies, the duke slumped into his throne, despondent. Farkel had sealed its borders and Forund couldn't even adequately protect itself. They obviously couldn't send help. Staying in the castle only delayed the inevitable.  When he was informed of Tigersoar's arrival, he only had one thought: escape! Escape as soon as possible!

Loze was caught off guard completely. He had decided to let Tigersoar rest before launching the final assault, but, that night, the city's gates opened and what appeared to be every able-bodied man in the city charged out.

The duke had one division occupy the enemy, and escaped towards Jigzai. Loze and Shazin, just about to go to sleep, heard the alarms and thought the duke was launching a surprise attack. As they ordered men around and had others gather information, they realized -- about an hour later -- that something was off. Some soldiers reported that the gates had been left open. The strongholds attacked also sent word that one of the duchy's regiments had escaped.

The two finally realized what was happening and set off in pursuit. Before leaving, though, they had the men move in to occupy the city and wrote to Lorist. The city's easy conquest was completely unexpected. Lorist hurried there with Jaeger.

He arrived just as another war was about to start. Both Loze and Shazin had left to pursue the duke.  When the nobles realized the city had been taken, they demanded to be let in to collect their spoils, but, without any such orders from their superiors, the occupying forces denied them entry. The nobles' ire had risen to the point they were about to attack the city.

Seeing the noble's men chanting "Enter the city, plunder wealth, get women!", Lorist put a quick end to the confrontation. He gathered the nobles and divided the spoils. He needed manpower and Shazin needed wealth, he would take the citizenry, and Shazin would keep everything in the castle. The rest of the city was left to the nobles, divided by lot-drawing. Each noble could scour his lot to his heart's content and keep whatever he found, minus the people, of course. Lorist put Jaeger in charge of overseeing the looting and keeping everyone honest.

Some of the nobles were dissatisfied that the wouldn't get any women but eventually yielded. Once everything was decided and arranged the citizenry were quickly moved out of the city. Cries and wails burst of the city walls like a damn overflowing.

Lorist shut his eyes.

"Tell the civilians we're protecting them by chasing them out. If they fall into nobles' hands, or that of their men… well, you know what'll happen," he told Jinolio.