"If your ally is a narcissist of an egotist, never give them any glory; it will be your undoing. If you enemy is a narcissist or an egotist, give them all the gory; it will be their undoing."



On the 14th day of the 6th month, seven days after the Battle of Cape Romani, Lorist finally finished making his arrangements and led the remaining ships to Armatrin Harbor. Senbaud left for Silowas with Firebird legion, the other captured sailors, and more than 300 privately owned merchant vessels a day earlier.

The Battle of Cape Romani was a costly victory. They'd lost two thousand men, and serious damage to their ships. The 16 whaling ships were completely incapacitated. It would take them months to repair and costs thousands of gold coins. Lorist decided it wasn't worth it; they were weak and outdated, so they would join the enemy ships at the bottom of the ocean as the foundations for the new castle and harbour.

Lorist arrived at Armatrin Harbor on the 21st of the 6th.

"The king sent a messenger a while back. He's asked us to deploy as quickly as possible. We've stalled saying we're waiting for you to arrive. He will notice the ships you brought and demand we deploy immediately. No doubt he'll think it's our supplies and won't let us delay any longer," Potterfang immediately reported.

Lorist laughed and waved.

"No worries. If he sends another messenger, just tell him he doesn't have to worry about the Union launching an offensive this year. We've taken their supply fleets so they don't have the means. In fact, it'll be surprising if they can hold the front-lines."

"So, we're going to attack the bay and take Morante?"

"We don't need to anymore. We're going to disguise ourselves of survivors of the battle and sail straight for Morante. The sentry legion and Firmrock should start preparing and embarking immediately. Tigersoar and Jaeger will remain here. They'll leave for the front-lines only after we take Morante. Without support from the city, their forces will crumble quickly. Wait for them to receive news of the city falling, then attack. Hit them while they're panicking and disorganized. Take as many prisoners as you can. We need a lot of new subjects for our new province."

"Understood, Your Grace!" replied all the high officers.

Lorist didn't expect that, instead of just sending a messenger, Auguslo came personally with Kenmays and Fisablen the next day. Apparently the loss of two of their strongholds on the plains the previous year had put a lot of pressure on the young would-be emperor. His forces were on the brink of collapsing. The enemy need only give them a light shove and they'd crumble. But, they didn't. He'd not been attacked even once this entire year, and half of it had already come and gone. The thought that the Union might be saddled with a problem somewhere else didn't even cross his mind, so he was left sleepless, worrying about the plot the Union had to be brewing. As such he was desperate to get Lorist on the front-lines. A swordsaint and a couple hundred additional men would at least make him feel safer.

He was hysterical when he saw thousands embarking in the harbour. Lorist had to jump in and explain everything to him to calm him down. He quickly explained the goings-on on the sea for the last year. He made sure the emphasize that it was thanks to his and his men's valiant efforts that the Union could not launch any offensives, and to go into depth about how the Union had now shifted focus to him and his men. The Union had sent a hundred thousand men to Silowas, and he was moving to counter them with his two legions now embarking. He could not afford to lose Silowas, you sea. Without the island he could not support the front-lines.

Auguslo nearly emptied his stomach from relief. He could finally stop worrying about a Union plot. He decided to shower Lorist with praise rather than lunch. Among the many things he promised was to enshrine his name on a monument he was planning to build in celebration of the war and the empire's refounding.

He only stopped once Lorist tried to run away. He expressed his sincere understanding for Lorist's predicament, and suggested he give him control of the two legions he was leaving behind, Tigersoar and Jaeger. He promised to put pressure on the Union on land to pull some attention away from Lorist and increase his chances of victory at sea.

Lorist quickly turned him down.

"I appreciate Your Majesty's goodwill, but now isn't a good time. The kingdom is in a dangerous predicament and we have to remain united to resist the Union. It's not that I'm unwilling to hand Jaeger and Tigersoar over they just can't leave the harbour. I have a great track record but it is not perfect. If our retaliation fails, we have to be able to mobilize them immediately."

Lorist took out a map of the sea off the coast and showed it to the king.

"I have word that the Union gathered 100 thousand men in the south. Jigda's also sent 50 thousand. I suspect they sent Firebird.

"They are all going to be sent against Silowas. If that is the case, I need to be ready to stand against them. There is, however, a chance that it's a ruse to get me to move my forces away from Armatrin so they can attack it instead. If that is the case and they take the city, they'll cut off our supply lines. If that is their plan, then you can be sure they'll push on the front-lines at the same time.

"I have to keep the two legions here in case that is their plan, and for in case I fail to hold Silowas."

Auguslo wiped the sweat off his forehead. This scenario was enough to give him sleepless nights again. This plan was absolutely terrifying, partly because it would be devastating, and because it was just too innovative. This had never been done before. He would never have thought of it and would have been caught completely off guard. It wasn't that people were too dumb to think about it, it was that noble honour didn't make it an option to even think about. There was only honor in fighting for land on land and fighting for water on water. Using naval forces to win a fight on land just didn't make any sense. It was, in a word, ignoble, so no one would even think about doing it.

"Your considerations are all-encompassing as usual, Locke," Auguslo said, "Tell me if you need any help. We cannot afford to lose either Armatrin of Silowas, so I will help in any way I can to make sure that doesn't happen."

"You don't have to do anything on this end. Just keep the Union occupied so they can't afford to send even more men against me. I suggest striking at a few inconsequential places. You don't have to win any actual victories, just make the enemy think you're getting restless or are testing the waters for an impending major offensive. If you can make them burn supplies, that would be even better, since they can't resupply easily now.

"If you can hold on until I wipe out Invincible, then this was will end in our victory, even if it doesn't immediately."

"Alright," Auguslo agreed energetically, "Locke, I trust you will win and shatter the Union. Don't disappoint me."

I knew you loved to give out moral support, but this is just ridiculous...

"There is one more thing… I beg you treat the nobles I caught at sea as befits their standing. If we're to end this war quickly, we cannot make mortal enemies out of the entire Union. If we can show that we are the better men, the hearts of the Union's people will soften, if only slightly. If, however, we slaughter them again, the Union will only harden their hearts and resolve again to fight us to the death."

"You're right. I've vented my anger already, so now is the time to be pragmatic. I will spare the nobles and treat them as befits their standing."

Lorist returned to his tent after dealing with his visitors to find his men giggling uncontrollably.

"What's with you guys? Did you swallow too many poppy seeds?"

Loze smiled.

"Isn't turning the king down like that a little much, Your Grace? If he finds out you already destroyed Invincible, he'll not take it well and we might have him as an enemy again."

"You are right, but if he knows we're going after Morante, he'll demand to take part. When we take the city, he'll demand the lion's share of the plunder. Then he'll try to take all the glory. Morante's plunder and the glory of taking it is the lynchpin of our strategy for making a profit from this war. If we lose that, then why even bother?

"I'm also worried that if the king gets the glory for taking the city, then he'll expand his ambitions to the whole continent. He'll certainly demand to be given the plains, and the Union will never settle for that. They can still stomach losing the lands they took from the Empire, but they will never give up their historical territory. We can take and plunder the city, but we don't have the means to hold on to it long-term. If the Union refuses to come to the table, the citizens will eventually rise up. If they do, we'll lose the city and many good soldiers. Even if that doesn't happen, we can't keep this war going much longer. The kingdom will lose if we don't end this quickly.

"If we're the only people involved in taking the city, then we can just tear it down if worse comes to worst and leave. But the king will never let us abandon the city if he's involved. We'll have to hold it and we'll lose our entire army within its walls.

"Understand now? We must keep this plan a secret until it's accomplished."

"We won't disappoint, Your Grace!"

"Alright. Potterfang, Els, I want you ready to leave by tomorrow morning. We leave in the afternoon. Loze, Freiyar, head to the front-lines as soon as you hear we've taken the Morante. The Union has 400 thousand men on the plains. Even in their disarray they won't cave immediately. Push forward with the entire army, the king and our allies included when you see them start to withdraw or move forces away.

"We have to wipe that entire army out and leave the Union bare. They won't come to the table as long as they have a hope of winning."

"Yes, Your Grace."