"Your Grace, here's the record. Everything we got is in it," said Malek as he put a beastskin on the desk.

The pair was in the mayor's residence in the middle of the city. It was now Lorist's base of operations. Wessia's chairman and some other officials had ordered everything's burning when they left and half of the building was now ash. Only a third was saved. Lorist stared out of the window at the rubble outside. A few holes punctured the ground outside as the men dug for any buried treasure. He sighed gloomily.

"Today's the 33rd of the 2nd. The rainy season will start in the next day or two. Is everything ready? It'll be hard to stay in this ruin through it..."

"Everything's ready, Your Grace. We've gathered the captives in the western district and have them under tight watch, Potterfang is there, too. Josk is watching over our defenses. And the refugees are being housed in the eastern district. They're calm and willing to serve us. Dulles is inventorying our supplies."

"And our men? Are they settled in?"

"They are, Your Grace. Loze is stationing Tigersoar in the southern district and Firmrock in the northern one. The temporary camps are ready. The rainy season won't be a problem."

"Well done. You've been very thorough."

Lorist walked to the desk. He picked up a beastskin and scanned it.

"We only got four million gold Fordes?"

"Yes, Your Grace. We found everything in the main treasury. The captured treasurers say it's Wessia's reserves. It was supposed to pay the soldiers' salaries. The leftovers were in case of emergencies.

"In total we have about 10 million in spoils. Most of the food couldn't be salvaged though. Most of the spoils are metals. It's all worthless to us right now."

It was to be expected. Wessia was a military contractor. Most of their wealth lay in the materials they used to make weapons and the weapons themselves. Such things were useless to House Norton right now. And most of the value would be lost in transportation costs.

In physical value they were worth something, but shipping back home would cost about as much as they were worth. As for the weapons… The house could make far better weapons so they were only worth as much as the materials that could be salvaged from them.

The best option would be to sell them immediately, but the territory to the south was enemy territory, besides the fact that he would not sell it to them, they wouldn't buy it even if he gave them an offer. And his allies were either not nearby, or didn't have the wealth to make the purchase. Auguslo might seem like a good choice, but he would never pay what the weapons were worth. Most likely he'd make an empty promise of payment and Lorist would never see the money.

"I've checked all the documents over the last three weeks. I've found nothing about the alloy's production, they must have been destroyed in the fire. Have Reidy and Els found any Wessian material engineers? Our best spoil would be the knowledge of making the alloys they used for the gates."

"I am not privy to such knowledge, Milord. I know nothing of their possible progress," Malek answered, his stoic expression still intact.

"Oh, I forgot. I shouldn't have asked you. Forget it. Too many unexpected things have happened recently. There is no chance we can catch up to our original schedule. At least we still achieved our most important objectives. I leave the logistics for this coming season in your hands!" Lorist said, patting Malek's shoulder.

"Don't worry, Your Grace. I will not disappoint you. In that regard, though, our biggest issue is food. We'd banked on using the spoils to tide us over, but, as you know, that didn't work out. I've had someone run the numbers. While we can last through the rainy season itself, we'll be running on empty and won't last a week or two afterwards if we're not resupplied the moment the rain stops."

"Lasting the rainy season is enough. We'll be resupplied as soon as the rain stops and the winter harvests will solve all our problems. We can sweep the surrounding lands once the rain clears if we need a few more weeks for supplies to arrive. Potterfang will head out to Kanbona with Firmrock once the rain clears, it should also have some good stashes.

"Jaeger will arrive with the supply train so we can begin moving the refugees back home then as well. It should lower consumption so our supplies should stretch even further."

Lorist couldn't be more furious that Wessia would spite him so much. All he'd been planning to do was wipe them out, it was no reason to spoil his plans this badly.

The fight would have been over a few days earlier if not for the fires. He had to give up catching the leaders quickly so he could fight the fire and try to save as much as he could. But, in spite of his quick reaction and efforts, they only saved a third of the resources. It would be really tight to get everyone through the rainy season.

Reidy and Els entered as Malek left. When Wessia's newly formed miner forces surrendered, Lorist left the two in charge of finding talented people. Their current confident gazes told him they had found a good few.

"Here's the list, You Grace. We found 178 people. Most are technicians but a few are technical supervisors. None of their family died in the fight so they don't have a death grudge against us," Els reported.

"We found the master refiner who made the material used to construct the gates. He's called Modira, 47 years old and single. His acquaintances all describe him as completely obsessed with his work," Reidy added.

"Oh? How'd you find him?"

"Actually, he found us," Reidy laughed awkwardly, "We were busy asking around when he suddenly grabbed a guard and refused to let go. He kept muttering incoherently. We initially thought he was attacking and almost killed him. Luckily we noticed he was staring at the guard's armor. He didn't pay anything any attention. He just stared at the armor as he muttered to himself. When we asked around, we learned who he was and about his obsession with metalwork and metal alchemy. Do you want to meet him, Your Grace?"

"What's he doing now?"

"He refused to let go of the armor, so we put him in a tent with a set of steel gloves. He's busy looking at the gloves. He hasn't even bothered to eat or drink anything. He just keeps asking for more beastskins and writing material."

"Leave him be for now, then. We'll send him to the factories when he goes back. Put him to work under Grandmaster Sid."

"Yes, Your Grace."


The path up the mountain was a bloody one. Corpses were constantly rolling down the mountainside.

"We cannot press the attack, Your Majesty. It's too slippery. We can barely keep our footing even without the constant hail of arrows! We've lost three hundred men already and we haven't even reached the castle!" Ripleid reported.

He was the king's most trusted knight and the colonel in command of Blizzardblitz. His shame at being unable to accomplish his mission was unbearable. How could he not conquer a castle despite surprise and triple their numbers?

His king's expression was equally grim. He'd launched his attack at the very end of the previous year and everything had gone smoothly. He wiped out Zitram's entire army and pushed deep into enemy territory, wiping out 30 Union noble houses only to be halted by this tiny fortress.

He wanted to torture and eventually kill Duke Zitram, the traitor that had rallied ten thousand men against him and was the person behind his ambush last time he was here. He was made a duke when he joined the Union as a result. The bastard didn't stand his ground when Auguslo had Lorist invade last time. Instead he withdrew to a safe place and weathered the storm. He continued to rule over the lands he had left thereafter and never gave Auguslo an excuse to take action against him. He had yet to catch the bastard though. The duke kept evading him at every turn.

Auguslo underestimated how effective Zitraim's defenses and alarms were. He was discovered almost immediately, and the duke was ready for him when he got to his castle. He couldn't make a quick breach and had to wait for the catapults to catch up and batter down the walls. When he made it inside the castle, however, he realized the duke had already escaped. He couldn't go after him quickly, however, because the late winter melt and rainy season slowed him to a crawl. Zitram made it to his nearby cliff-side fortress with his remaining men.

The approach to the fortress was almost suicidal. The constant rain made the road muddy and landslides were frequent. He could only send small groups up at a time lest their weight cause the soaked cliff-side to collapse and make further attack impossible. These small groups, however, were easy pickings for the defenders' archers.

"If only the men would hurry up with the catapults! We'll pound that thing into rubble and send it down the cliff!" Ripleid grumbled.

"The roads are muddy and hard to travel," the king countered, "The rainy season is on us. We can't get the catapults up here quickly, if at all. Don't worry. The bastard isn't going anywhere. Withdraw for now and set up camp at the bottom of the mountain. It won't be too late to finish him off after the rainy season."

"Understood, Your Majesty."