The rain poured continuously.

"We'll rendezvous at Armatrin Harbor," Lorist said as he tapped the red dot on the map with his wooden pointer, "You know this was our first stop on our way north with the convoy. Armatrin is the only port within Lormo."

The meeting room was quite empty. Only Charade, Spiel, Kedan, Malek, Camorra, Terman, and Reidy were present. Apart from Spiel, Kedan, and Camorra, the rest went all the way back to the days of the convoy.

"I picked Armatrin because it's only a day and a half away from Hidegold Bay, and only two from the front-lines. Even if Northsea can't destroy Invincible as planned, it won't stop us from reinforcing Bluwek.

"It would be ideal if they did; then we could strike Morante from there, but failing that won't derail our plans. Our minimum goal, then, is to reinforce the king. We'll take over the city's defenses and free some of his troops up so he can go on the offensive. I have no intention of driving my men into the enemy lines for just Yungechandler. We might have invested some in its development, but it's still a very poor province. It's not worth thousands of my subjects' lives.

"If this were also the only motivation, I wouldn't even have bothered going to war. But we need to teach the Union a lesson. They crossed my bottom line when they marched into my territory and joined in on our personal internal issues. They even dared to march on our forbidden grounds, slaughter our people there, and steal our secrets! They will pay back their transgression ten times over!"

Everyone knew Lorist was spouting bullshit. He wanted to plunder Morante, and this was just a convenient excuse. It was the richest city on the continent, he could probably make his entire fortune over in just that city, a fortune that took him a year and 5 provinces to accumulate. It would also be the biggest medal under his belt possible since he would be the first man in history to conquer the city.

Lorist would never admit it, however. He had to have an excuse that included everyone. Even if everyone knew why they were really going, appearances were still important.

Jinolio sat in a corner of the room noting everything down. His transcript would be copied and sent out to every city, town, village, fort and outpost in Lorist's territories, it would eventually even make its way to Hanayabarta and Shyarsia. It was also meant to make the men more capable in combat. History had proven time and time again that troops that believed justice was on their side fought harder and raided more thoroughly than when they either didn't know, or thought it wasn't.

"This war should not have happened in the first place. The Union occupied the empire's territory unjustly. Andinaq bears the empire's heritage and had to retake its lands. His Majesty didn't want to fight this war, he just wanted to take the land rightfully his. The Union betrayed our trust and threw their name in the dirt. His Majesty even rolled out the white road for them, but they spat on it! They are the cause for this war!

"We must punish them for their shame and vile behaviour! You, my men, my trusted children, have been chosen to bring down the sword of justice down on these demons. Fight! Fight knowing that you don't do this for yourself or your kings or lords. You fight for your family, your parents, your siblings, your wives, and your children!"

Lorist wiped the sweat from his forehead. Fortunately, he only had to give the speech for a couple of people in a small room. He didn't think he had a thick enough skin to lie through his teeth to thousands of loyal subjects when he could see them staring at him. This whole business was Malek's idea, god smite him. Lorist really need to hire a speechwriter. He knew Charade was bad, but he didn't think he was no good either.

Jinolio finished recording the nonsense and handed the draft to him. He signed it after giving it the once over and handed it back. After finishing with the bullshittery, it was time for serious business.

"Our agreement to reinforce the king will give us Yungechandler. I'm making Shadekampf the governor. Charade, see to it that the necessary staff are assigned to him. He'll report to you, so you should also make sure everything stays on track."

"If I may, Your Grace, Shadekampf is dealing with Wild Husbandry. We'll need to fill his position there if we move him. How about Hector?"

"Make whatever arrangements are needed."

"Spiel, we'll develop Wild Husbandry and Yungechandler at the same time. Adjust the budget accordingly."

"I will, Your Grace."

"Kedan, I'm putting you in charge of the reformed constabulary. I want only the best, most loyal men. We can't afford mistakes, don't disappoint me."

"Don't worry Your Grace. I will make sure only the most loyal men are selected and I'll swap them out every couple of years to make sure they don't get too cozy anywhere."

"Good. We can't have anymore wavering or split loyalties. They have to be upright individuals whose lives will be the examples for the peasantry. They also won't be allowed to get involved in the local governments and other matters of administration."

"Understood, Your Grace."

"Malek, what's the status of our active forces?"

Malek stood up and flipped through a folder in his hands.

"Firmrock should be on Silowas by now. They'll weather the rainy season there before moving on to Armatrin where they'll wait for the go ahead to march to the king's aid. Tigersoar and Jaeger are camped outside Vanades. They'll march to Armatrin once the rains stop and join Firmrock. The sentry legion moved out by sled and ski a week ago and have reached Flowater Creek where they're busy setting up the first supply hub.

"Camorra is responsible for the supplies, and will take over all the Ministry's logistics once he takes his post. General Terman and I will stay here and retrain the domain's garrisons. They'll be a loyal, reliable force when we're done with them, I promise."

Lorist nodded. He looked at Terman, was seated beside Malek.

"Are you frustrated I didn't allow the knight brigade to deploy? You've had to sit back for two battles. I'm sure your knights are getting restless."

"We obey your orders without question. We just hope to be given a chance to prove ourselves."

"It's not that I don't want to let you take part, we need a reliable force to hold down the fort here, you saw what happened the last time we didn't. I made you the deputy chief of the Special Investigations Unit so you could help settle everything faster. You will get your chance, my friend."

"I will look forward to that day."

"The key to this battle is Northsea. Malek, Senbaud made his report and asked to be held responsible for the two Blitzes and four LLDAWs we lost. Does the Ministry have any thoughts?"

"We've looked into it determined that the admiral is not responsible. He didn't make any mistakes or give any wrong orders. The fault lies with the commodore who fell for the enemy's trap, but he went down with his ship, so there's no one to be held responsible. The admiral deserves praise for salvaging the situation and preventing the enemy from capturing out ships."

"Do you believe Northsea can defeat Invincible?"

"It will be difficult, but it's possible. We've only faced a flotilla in combat so far, not the whole fleet. We can be certain our next engagement will be with at least double that number. The Union will undoubtedly deploy their remaining two flotillas and sail into combat with whatever is left of the fourth. We just don't have the numbers. Fourteen Blitzes isn't enough, even with the other ships that will be armed with cannons added, we can't match Invincible."

"Don't worry about ships. Bullhorn Bay's shipyards are working day and night to finish every ship they can. Grandmaster Sid has fashioned 300 bronze cannons and 16 we had on the whaling ships have also been moved to the larger ships. By the fourth month we'll still have a further 80 ships waiting to be retrofitted. I don't doubt we'll have the numbers and firepower to fight the enemy. As long as our captains, commodores, and admiral are trustworthy, we'll win."

"We still have a shortage of capable high-tier fighters. Senbaud reported that he saw a blademaster slaughtering his way across one of the Blitzes' decks before he sank it. We don't currently have anything to match that."

A sinister smile cracked Lorist's face.

"High-tier fighters? No problem. I, Reidy, and Shuss will head for Silowas after the rainy season and join the fleet. I wonder if Invincible has a swordsaint."