The white snow was already wiped away. Only the damaged walls and the burning farms of the small towns remained. Corpses, frozen green, and large black blood holes littered the ground. The wind carried stifled moans and agonized cries. The once prosperous plains were now the gateway to hell.

Of the seven cities, Morante was the sole shining pearl. The rest were built solely to protect it. The Union, having angered King Andinaq had lost 300 thousand men on the plains around these cities. It was the biggest blow the Union had ever suffered, not even the centuries of war with the old empire had anything comparable. The slap still sat red on the Union's faces. It was a painful lesson to learn, without a strong military, no superpower would be one for long.

Three of the cities had been lost to their enemy -- Bluwek, Ritt, and Krido. Two of the provinces on the plains, Gudlink and Mauvlin, and five neighboring provinces were also now completely empty wastelands, raided clean by two Norton legions.

Their only saving grace was that the offensive stirred up memories of the old war and whipped their citizens into a furor. Twinhead Dragon's president swore an oath to wipe Andinaq of the face of the world if it was the last thing he did.

"For two centuries we have stood against those wolves in the north," his words had rung, "They have lusted after our plains for centuries. For generations our people have shed their blood to keep them safe, in return they've wanted nothing by freedom! Four decades of peace our ancestors won with blood, sweat, and tears. Now, having barely licked their wounds clean, the wolves come for the plains again! Once again we must fight, bleed, and die for our freedom! Let us put them down once and for all!"

His words were fuel on the fire. Tens of thousands answered the call and the Union now had another legion to throw at their enemy. The new forces were moved to Mass, Gypsy, and Robertway, the four yet to fall to the enemy.

"Does the Union think the last two hundred years haven't happened? Do they really think we have not learned from our predecessor's mistakes? Ptooey!" Auguslo spat as he watched dozens of catapults smash another stronghold's walls and the grey mass of Whitelion soldiers storm through the gap.

The plains were rich and prosperous because of the natural causeways and man-made canals that ran through it like veins through flesh. They fed fields and carried goods year round. During war, they were barriers to hold back the enemy. A simple fort became an impenetrable citadel when there was water between it and it's assailants.

"Your Majesty, even if the Union knows we can attack in the winter they can't counter it. They can only watch their us streak across the canals and smash their walls!" Ripleid commented.

Auguslo finally had a successful winter campaign last year. The spoils meant he could finally afford form-fitting winter wear for all of Whitelion, which he promptly ordered from House Norton. It didn't look any different from their usual winter wear, so they could easily launch surprise attacks. He wanted to clear out the rest of the plains in one swoop and march on Morante.

Though the Union made some preparations, it didn't occur to them that their man-made canals would freeze over. The usual barriers were rendered useless and one stronghold after another fell to catapult barrages. The garrisons defending the strongholds had nowhere to run and could only fight to their deaths or surrender. In just tens of days, Whitelion broke through the first line made of hundreds of ad hoc strongholds and made their way to Robertway.

Karitoke stood on Robertway's walls and watched the distant crumbling strongholds and enemy gathering in the ruins. All of the soldiers understood the enemy would begin their attack at noon, and none could say for sure whether they would survive. He used to be one of the enemy. He used to be one of the enemy king's direct subordinates, actually. Now, however, he stood opposite his former liege. Where the king used to trust him, he now hated him.

Eighteen years earlier he was a student in Dawn Academy. He was enamored with Iron Locke, and joined the swordsmanship society to be close to his idol. He was excited for his bright future, certain he would be the next legendary swordsman in the academy.

His life changed radically when Lorist left for his ancestral home. Charade convinced him to give everything up and join his idol. He was excited to use his talents to make a name for himself and maybe even become a noble. Would it not be great to be a vassal under his idol? The journey was arduous, but it polished his swordsmanship. He was one of just ten councilors chosen from the 36 students and instructors that followed Lorist, he could weigh in on the convoy's future in Lorist's absence. He even stood at the head of a small faction loyal to him.

When they set foot in Andinaq, he ran into the king, then known only as the second highness, who spared no effort to woo him into switching sides. Maybe it was the thought of being an imperial knight, regardless, he accepted and switched sides with seven of his fellow former students. He could still see Charade, Terma, Dulles, and Lundmorde's looks of disdain as he left the convoy. They cut to the bone and his self-esteem had yet to recover. He, however -- being the arrogant, naive idiot he was, covered up his pain with anger. He thought they were the fools. Lorist would just be a count and they could never be anything more than simple knights. He now served the future king as an imperial knight!

Oh how great it all sounded in his head. His fantasies were quickly shattered. He and his companions were just pawns, used and disposed at their king's leisure. A single fight with Madras saw two of them dead. Flowater Creek followed, and, while Auguslo became famous as the new generation's first god of war, only two of the original seven remained, Karitoke and Sander.

Lorist came to find him for the paradise gathering, and, on hearing of his misadventures, offered him a chance to return to his side, promising to take care of any objections or obstacles in his way, but he hesitated when he thought of the disdain his former companions would have for him and the humiliation he would have to suffer and didn't rejoin his idol.

Sander fell in Auguslo's crossing of Cloudsnap. With his last friend, and his only reason for staying dead, Karitoke left Auguslo and snuck back to Morante. But he found both himself, and the Union unrecognizable. They had recently implemented their nobility system and occupied their neighbouring territories. His plan was initially to become a mercenary, but there were all but no mercenaries left. He tried to become an instructor at his old academy, but they could barely keep their doors open. He could not fathom what had ripped the world apart so thoroughly. He stayed at home for a full year before he had the strength to walk outside again. If not for the fact that his parents were industrious citizens and that his elder brother was afraid he had come back to fight him for their parents' inheritance, he might have stayed there until he died of old age.

His parents were thrilled that he had become a gold-ranked knight. They prettymuch threatened him with suicide if he didn't join his father's guild so the man could get a promotion.

Now, he stood opposite both his idol and his former king. His mouth smiled bitterly as he watched Whitelion's flag flap over the Union fort. The seven pale-faced men around him were fellow garrison commanders. None were from big guilds and none had fought any real battles.

Karitoke currently had the rank of colonel and command of the second sentry legion's eleventh division. A command of eight thousand men. Apart from the thousand men from the first regiment directly under his command, all the men were passionate and idealistic Morantians and guards from various merchant guilds.

"No reason to be nervous. Our walls are tougher than the small strongholds. The catapults will do nothing to them. They can only shoot 300 meters,which our ballistae can match. As long as we destroy the catapults, they have no hope of taking the walls," Karitoke consoled his subordinates.

"I'm not kidding! The catapults are nothing to fear. You know why I had you stack the walls with sandbags? It'll make them much stronger against the catapults. As long as we hide behind them, the catapults can't to anything. You don't think our luck is that bad, right?"

"B-but... The catapults could make a hole in our walls for the enemy to rush in..." said one of the pale-faced leaders.

"I already envisioned that long ago. If they make a hole in our walls, we can use these sandbags to fill it up," replied Karitoke calmly.

"W-we're definitely going to die! I-it's better if we run immediately..." Everyone was on the brink of breaking down.

"Bastard! Where do you plan to run, huh? It's snowing and freezing all over! And do you think you can outrun the two wooden sticks the enemies wear beneath their feet? If you say anything else that'll affect our morale, I'll kill you myself!" raged Karitoke. Just as he was about to give that man a slap to snap him out of it, what happened next was beyond anyone's imagination. A thin layer of ice that formed on the ground caused him to slip and almost fall.

"Who the f*ck poured tea on the ground?!" yeled he,  before an idea popped up in his head. He recalled what Lorist said about watering the walls to reinforce them to fend off the magic beast attacks.

Elated, Karitoke proclaimed, "I have a way! A way to prevent the catapults from pulverizing our walls!"