"The demons come to take our city.

They will die here with us.

House Norton?

House Norton?

They are vile beasts -- barbarians.

May the gods rip them to shreds

and bind their souls

in the underworld

for an eternity of torture!"


~ a popular Morantian lulliby.

The Union always parroted freedom and justice as a virtue, but no Morantian was born equal even before the aristocracy. The twelve inner city districts, 24 outer city districts, slums, and external shelters, for example, were always had always been arranged in a hierarchy. The twelve inner city districts were the backbone of the various merchant guilds. The lowest position they usually occupied was that of supervisor. Most of the Union's military families also lived there. It was one of the unspoken benefits afforded their soldiers. At the same time, however, it made their families easy to reach in case a soldier went AWOL or chose to defect.

The 24 outer districts varied considerably even among themselves. The academy instructors, merchants, and foreign nobility drove up the price of property in the different districts. The cheapest and most basic properties were for servants and laborers. The mid-range ones were for artisans. Merchants and other mercantilely inclined individuals lived in the inner edges of high-end districts, a few closely associated or related to guilds might even live in the outskirts of inner districts.

The big-seven took the biggest pieces of the cake when the aristocracy was founded. They turned their focus from Morante to their far-flung demesnes and took most of their people with them, leaving a massive vacuum in the inner city. Usually second-rate guilds would have jumped to fill it in, but they, too, had left for lands outside the city.

It was a law of nature, however, that empty spaces were always filled in. The vacuum left in Morante was no different. As the Union accelerated its expansion, new guilds sprung up like weeds on an untilled field. They quickly bought places in the aristocracy and moved into the inner city. The price of land within the inner walls of the city quickly skyrocketed and the big-seven and second-rate guilds capitalized on it. They auctioned off all but their most sacred and secret land at exorbitant prices.

Currently, the inner city districts were no longer the place where the most influential merchant guilds were situated. Instead, they had become the place of residence for the Union nobles as well as the center of operations for many other merchant guilds as well as a place where wealth was stored. It was also the place where the most elite Morantians resided, hence the heavy security. After it suffered an attack by Firmrock, the guards of the inner city districts regrouped and rang the alarm bell apart from taking the northern walls back.

Lorist wasn't too worried about the inner city. His biggest concern was that the outer districts might rise up. The 24 outer districts each had about 20 thousand residents. If they all rose up at once, he would suddenly be facing a force of 480 thousand. And, unlike normal militaries, he could not just march in, take out the general, and watch the army collapsed. Every single man, woman, and child involved would be their own general. Even worse, if the slums joined the uprising, the enemy would stand near a million strong.

Lorist had taken the outer city first before moving on the inner city, but he had yet to march through the slums outside the city walls. If they rose up, he'd only know once the masses started rushing the gates. Luckily he had control of the walls.

The city had three gates, north, east, and south. The west of the city ran straight into the sea through the harbor, so it had no gate. Each of the roads leaving the city through the gates headed to three of the nine other major cities in the Union, three to a wind direction.

The few armed ships in the harbor had two choices, either surrender, or try to do as much damage to the enemy before they were killed. If they chose the latter, their best choice was to ram the ships into the enemy and set them on fire. The problem was that most of the enemy ships currently occupying the harbor were captured from Invincible, besides the manpower losses their loss would incur, the enemy wouldn't have suffered any real damage. The defenders weren't willing to sacrifice themselves without getting some worthwhile results, so this idea was abandoned in favor of surrender.

Though the inner city had yet to fall, they were completely surrounded. Nobody could escape. The forces still hidden within the outer city was thus cut off from their leadership and couldn't muster a serious defense. They were quickly quashed.

Despite the ease of his victory, Lorist didn't commit too many troops to the city. If a large-scale revolt broke out, most of the men in the city would be lost, so the fewer he had in the city, the better. He thus only committed the minimum necessary to keep the enemy in the inner city at bay and man the outer walls. Such a revolt was almost guaranteed the moment the people found out they were being occupied. Morante was famous for its pride and arrogance, the people would never accept a foreign occupier.

He thus kept his men out of the back alleys and side streets of the districts. He allowed his men only to patrol the main streets and set up checkpoints in major plazas and intersections. His men melted into the cityscape's background and behave like they were friendly visitors. They even obediently paid for drinks and chatted with interested people politely. When they bought something they paid the quoted price without haggling, which made them quite popular with the hawkers and merchants.

Despite this, however, some troubles still bubbled up here and there. A few women yelled at the men here and there about being invaders, though the soldiers never retaliated. They just kept their march or stood on guard like automata, even when several fingers were being shoved in their faces.

A few fools got it into their heads that they were easy pickings and tried their luck. A few mercenaries gathered and tried to chase a patrol out of the district, only to be crushed mercilessly. The soldiers lined up several ballistae and turned their would-be attackers into porcupines. Their corpses were then hung at key intersections with signs plastered on their chests.

The people's suspicions grew with each incident. And revolts soon began to spring up intermittently all over the city. Soon thousands of corpses lines the streets. Despite this, the Morantians kept rising up. They were nothing if not stubborn. The fighting left the street and went underground. Dozens of soldiers soon started to die after drinking or eating at local establishments or consuming their produce. Anyone even just suspected of having been even just remotely involved or related to someone who was involved in those incidents were hung, drawn, and quartered and displayed in front of their former establishments. Anyone who resisted the soldiers or impeded them were killed. An old, retired blademaster even got involved once. He gathered up everyone he knew and then some and charged at one of the outposts, only to be turned into a pin cushion.

While this drove fear into the hearts of many and finally made them obedient, it cemented an eternal hatred for these foreigners in everyone's hearts. No one associated with these devils would ever again be allowed into the city alive ever again.

Els and Ovidis moved out with a division to attack the nearby cities once everything calmed down. Shuss stayed behind to watch over the city. Mass and Gypsy, the two cities in question, were close behind the front-lines, and served as the final logistics hubs for resources being sent out to the front-lines.

As Lorist had too few soldiers with him, he was spreading himself a little too thin. He had to control a city with more than a million inhabitants, so he gave up on chasing down the windstorm swordsaint. Fortunately, the plan proceeded well despite some minor hitches. He now had to deal with inner Morante. He couldn't just let them be until the Union capitulated. His plan hinged on plundering the inner city for its wealth.

The two Firmrock divisions that encircled it had 24 thousand men. Naturally, only around 22 thousand remained as a thousand plus was lost during the failed initial assault.

Lorist and the legion's catapult brigade arrived at the same time. The 500 catapults were split into four regiments, one for each wall, and lined up horizontally.

"Your Grace, there's no need to bring the catapults. We have 40 cannons!" Jim, the artillery brigade's sergeant-major complained.

Lorist laughed and patted his shoulder.

"They're too advanced for those bumpkins. I don't want to flatten the walls completely. It's enough to terrify the bastards with the catapults. Besides, once they learn we have a swordsaint, they'll surrender. The artillery brigade is our most important reserve. We shouldn't waste it on something as trivial as this."

Firmrock's wheelbarrow-ballistae were spread out all over the city to maintain order there. Only the two divisions of swordsmen and pikemen surrounded the inner walls. Jim and the artillery brigade was only present in case any of the enemy blademasters tried to escape.

If Reidy and Potterfang managed to take down the walls, Jim would install the cannons on them and point them at the city below. It was a shame the two divisions didn't take the walls. Jim had no choice but to spread his cannons along the walls.

Though the Battle of Cape Romani ended in their victory, they lost nearly half of their 200 land-use cannons and a third of their crew. For the sake of monitoring the 100 thousand new laborers back at the reef, Lorist gave Howard control of all but a 100 of his personal guards.

Though only ten cannons could fire on any single part of the inner wall, they should be enough to take out a blademaster in a single volley. Jim had hoped the enemy would try to escape so he could show off his weapons, but no one did.

Lorist didn't understand why they weren't trying to escape either. They must be unwilling to leave their families behind. Either that, or they thought they could hold out until friendly forces took back the city.

"I count on you now, Penelope. If you can get them to surrender, I promise no one will be harmed. They'll be moved to the camps until the war ends, but they'll be safe. We won't let them ransom themselves, however. They must stay in the camps until the Union surrenders.

"They may not take any more than one wheelbarrow's worth of personal belongings with them, no more. We will not take it from them and they may trade freely if they wish. This is enough to show our sincerity. If they refuse, we will flatten the inner city with our catapults. I trust you've noticed them already."

"I understand, Lord Norton. I will convince them to surrender. I just hope you'll give me enough time. Besides, didn't you promise to return the city intact once the war ends?"

"That would certainly have been the case had we taken the inner city without a problem, but if they will not let us take it, we will flatten it. The outer city is a volcano waiting to erupt. If I am doomed to lose the city, I will burn it to the ground as I sail out of the harbor."

"I will go talk to them immediately," said Penelope with a deep bow before he rushed towards the gate.

The gates opened as the sun set and the inhabitants walked out with their wheelbarrows.