"The fog of war blinds you to your enemy's movements as much as it blinds your enemy to yours."



On the 26th of the 6th, the ships carrying Firmrock and the sentry legion arrived at Morante. Invincible's fourth flotilla never imagined House Norton's forces would disguise themselves as their own to sneak into the bay. The battle of Cape Romani took place almost 20 days earlier, but the fleet's complete defeat was still unknown.

Serihanem, who had successfully escaped, had struck bad luck. His ships were severely damaged from the battle. He was forced to beach them shortly after escaping to avoid sinking in the middle of the ocean. It took him much longer to get home as a result. His messenger to Morante was still on the road.

As far as the Union was concerned, Invincible must have won. They were just waiting for the good news. It was odd that it would take so long for news to get back, but they didn't dare send out anymore ships before they knew of the fleet's victory. It would be suicide. The fourth flotilla was no wiser either and they certainly didn't have the manpower to face the enemy, so they couldn't send out any ships either.

So, when ships with friendly flags sailed into the harbor, they immediately accepted the ruse and cheered. Lorist made it easy for them as well. He had some of his ships bombard the flotilla as his ships sailed into the harbor, making it look like these ships had broken through a gauntlet. The enemy rushed to defend them and didn't bother with the usual checks. They did eventually realize it was a ruse, but by then it was already too late.

Penelope watched two of his captor's blademasters leading units against the city's harbor defenses from the deck of one of the ships.

"This is the first time Morante has fallen. It's all my fault. If I hadn't been this incompetent..."

Lorist laughed.

"There's always a first. You should stop blaming yourself and giving credit where credit is due. It's not your incompetence that defeat your fleet, it's my brilliance. The Union wasn't built on a nobility system, it doesn't work with the kind of people and the kind of country the Union was. You destroyed yourselves. Morante used to be free and lively, I used to love the city.

"Now it's a rotting corpse. If by some miracle we don't conquer it today, it might hold out another decade, maybe even two or three, but it won't make it another fifty years. Someone else will come along and burn it. Seeing your city burn is much like a woman watching her rose being opened for the first time. It hurts really bad the first time, but by the third you hardly even notice, and by the fifth you enjoy it."

"Pffft!"

Jinolio and the guards burst out laughing. Even Duke Lorf couldn't contain his chuckle. The Union was his kingdom's overlords in all but name. He kept up a smile to placate them, but thought nothing of watching them burn if it didn't bode ill for him; in fact, he enjoyed the sight.

The Union officers within earshot turned red. They might have stabbed Lorist immediately of not for him being a swordsaint.

"D-d-duke Norton... Y-y-you're going too far. How is this noble behavior?" Penelope voiced his objection.

"My words may be crude, but they are true," Lorist rebutted calmly, "Apologies, gentlemen. I studied in this city for a decade and even worked as a mercenary here, so I tend to forget I'm a noble when I'm here. This is what Morante used to mean to me. If not for the sake of ending this war, I wouldn't have come for the city. I'd much rather burn everything outside the city and have it surrender without having to break a stone.

"Don't look at me like that. I've mastered gunpowder. If I move the cannons onto land, can you hold onto the plains? I am going straight for the city because I want to avoid another million deaths. My intentions are sincere. If the Union surrenders, we will withdraw without a word. Peace depends on you now, not me."

Penelope froze. Even Duke Lorf didn't think Lorist would start lecturing them. When Penelope snapped out of his reverie, he bowed respectfully.

"We will take your words to heart. We are willing to do all we can to stop this war."

Lorist stroked his nose as he nodded.

"If you do your best, we will soon have peace again. My word is my bond, I told you we'll leave once the Union surrenders, and we will. Alright, time is of the essence. Let us disembark. There is much to be done."

The surprise attack progressed quickly. Shuss and Els took the walls without trouble and the rest charged into the city. The locals even cheered them on, thinking they were reinforcements. The men didn't know how to react. Fortunately, they were disciplined and marched forward wordlessly. The invasion thus turned into a parade of sorts. Lorist's men marched through the streets in neat formation and the local spectated from the sidewalks, windows, and rooftops. Some of the more military-minded praised the army's armor and discipline. Everyone quickly cheered for their impending victory over the vile empire.

It wasn't that nobody questioned the Ragebear insignia on their armor. They just didn't think it was possible for House Norton's forces to march on Morante's streets openly. The men didn't lift their banners either, so they didn't have anything to corroborate the idea. In the end people assumed it must be a southern noble house that used a bear as well, but no one knew whom that might be.

The outer city's conquest was an easy matter. Most of the forces were on the front-lines, leaving the city only sparsely defended. Just eight thousand men manned the entire city's defenses and kept order in the streets. The two citadels nearby each only had a thousand men.

When Shuss and Els marched on the walls, the garrisons even thought they were their relief. They greeted the men smiling and gave up their positions willingly. They only realized something was off when their weapons were taken and their relief started tying them up. They fought as best they could, but without weapons, they were quickly overcome.

Reidy and Potterfang's march on the inner city failed, however. Unlike the outer walls' garrisons, the inner city's belonged to the big six guilds. Reidy was fortunate enough to capture 600 on the northern edge of the inner wall, but the patrols soon discovered them. The alarm sounded, and the enemy sent out blademasters to take care of the situation.

The two commanders were injured in the ensuing fight, though Reidy killed two blademasters, and they were chased out. Firmrock suffered a thousand casualties during their route. The enemy suffered three-fold losses, however; three thousand guards and two blademasters were dead. They shut the gates and holed up inside.

This was not unexpected, however. Lorist's men were much stronger and outnumbered them many times over, but he couldn't match their elites. He just had too few. He only had three blademasters, Reidy included. Engelich was a coward, though, and could only be trusted with guarding the Northlands, so in effect Lorist only had two.

Shuss was a former slave and became a blademaster through constant fighting on the brink of death. Though he was a rank 2 blademaster, he wasn't strong enough to match a rank 3 blademaster. Reidy was another story. He had trained to the late part of the Dan Ocean Ki-refining Technique's fourth stage. While he couldn't match a blademaster, a rank 3 blademaster wasn't a problem.

No matter how strong, however, two people were just two people. They couldn't fight the enemy's numbers. Every big-six guild had at least three blademasters, some even had four. Some second-rate guilds also had a blademaster, and a couple third rate guilds might have one as well. Reidy had been forced out of the inner city by a rank 3 blademaster and two rank 2 blademasters and had a serious wound on his back.

Morante's inner city was the main merchant guilds' main base. Every guild that had a blademaster kept them there. It was the most-defended place on the continent. Besides the blademasters, hundreds of gold ranks and thousands of silver ranks lined the walls and streets. It would be a near impossible task to take it quickly. Especially with the Union now keenly aware of what was happening.

Lorist took ten guards to Brinn Hill amidst the chaos now quickly spreading across the entire city. It was one of the most beautiful and expensive areas in the city. Only the rich and elite could afford a house there. He had dreamt of owning a house there himself and living out his days there with his then-girlfriend. He wasn't going there now to fulfill his old dream though. He headed there now to take care of the Union's sole swordsaint.

He'd been all but incapacitated in their last duel, but his opponent hadn't come off any lighter. It took him two years to recover, but his opponent was still licking his wounds. It was now the perfect time to plug this weed out by the root. Lorist wasn't foolish enough to wait until the man recovered before challenging him to another duel. Only unreasonably talented geniuses with plot-armor would do such a thing. While he enjoyed good fights, he would not suffer a truly threatening enemy to live, and, without the swordsaint, the Union would have no laurels on which to be stubborn.

The mansion was completely empty, however. The swordsaint was nowhere to be found. Lorist couldn't even find any traces of him. He learned from one of the servants that the man had been out on a stroll when he suddenly told his servant he had to leave and vanished, accompanied by his disciples.

Lorist ran to where the servant had last sen the swordsaint. It faced the bay and could clearly see everything. The old man's eyes were very sharp. He must hae noticed what was going on and made to get away. No wonder he had felt like he was being watched when he disembarked.

"Should we give chase, Your Grace?" asked a guard.

Lorist shook his head. More than 40 minutes had passed. It would be impossible to find the man in the current chaos.

"He is blessed," Lorist said through grit teeth, "Let's finish things here first."