"If everything is going your way, something horrible is about to happen."



"An urgent report, Your Grace. General Els has successfully occupied Gypsy. According to the captives' testimony, the next citadel, Robertway, is also defended by just a thousand men. The place is the Union's main medical facility in the theater. General Els has requested permission to continue his assault and take Robertway. He's confident he can take it before the Union can react."

Jinolio appeared troubled as he read the message with a yawn. Lorist hadn't slept for three days, not since Morante fell. Jinolio didn't do much better; just four hours of sleep. It wasn't that Lorist neglected his disciple; no one could afford to sleep. They had thousands of things to do.

"Have Els return. Taking Gypsy is enough. We don't need Robertway. Ovidis has secured 30 thousand laborers from the shelters outside the city so we don't need more. Els should focus on moving our supplies to Mass. We only have two days. Any supplies he can't take, he must burn. We cannot allow the Union to get anything back. Leave them only a ruin."

Both Lorist's eyes were bloodshot. A swordsaint had far more stamina than any ordinary mortal, but they were not exempt from the needs of man. He could only go so long without sleep.

"When the Union learns of Morante, Mass, and Gypsy's fall, they will respond. If we do not have our supply lines in place by that time, we will lose the city in no time. If, however, the Union is the one without their lines, they will fall in less than a month. We must hold on until then."

"Understood, Your Grace. I will write the general immediately," responded Jinolio, slapping himself lightly before leaving in a hurry.

"Lord Tarkel requests an audience," reported a guard.

"Let him in."

Tarkel appeared before Lorist, no less tired than him.

"Everything in order?"

"Yes, Your Grace. The high officials' and 17 blademasters' families have boarded the ships with the 92 Union nobles and gold-ranked swordsmen and their families. A total of 1784 people, sans the 648 servants going along. Jim has installed five bronze cannons on each of the eight Daws and the linked deck ensures the guests have nowhere to go," reported Tarkel.

"Phew... Now everyone can finally get some sleep. You should rest too. It has been a busy three days for us 

The inner city's surrender didn't mean all was well. Instead, Lorist and his subordinates raised their guard, mainly because the 17 blademasters and 40 plus gold-ranked swordsmen were still present. It was a high-tier force Lorist could not ignore, even though they'd surrendered.

With Lorist there, all would be well, but should he ever be absent... A sudden uprising by the blademasters and gold ranks would be devastating. The issue was that Lorist couldn't be in charge of looking after all the prisoners, so Tarkel came up with a solution to it.

He suggested the captives be held on the ships. The bay was safe so the prisoners could be kept on ships in the middle of it.

Lorist loved the idea. He immediately had two captured Sabnims and several dozen Daws prepared. None had masts, so there was no threat of the captors using them to sail away. They were all fastened together, hull to hull and moved to the middle of the bay.

The bay was sheltered from the normal turbulence of the sea and now was not storm season. The ships were in no threat of coming loose and drifting. It did present a slight challenge, however. Most of the captives were nobles of one sort or another, and they had to have certain, luxuries. The ships had to be stocked beforehand. Some were even allowed a servant or two as company.

Naturally, Lorist was extra cautious. He moved several ships from the line defending the bay to keep watch on the floating prison.
"The nobles have been settled, Your Grace. But the rest of the prisoners from the inner city have complaints," Tarkel continued.

"Complaints? What complaints? We've done everything we promised!" Lorist exclaimed.

"They complain the food is too plain and too little."

"Hahaha! If they don't think it's enough, they can always buy more! It's not like I confiscated their wealth. They brought their wealth with them when they left. Remind them that they're captives. They should be happy to get any food at all!"

Lorist had indeed kept all his promises. He provided food and water and had not touched their wealth. Goods were very expensive at the moment though. He'd even gone as far as to set up a tavern in their camp. They could have good meals as long as they paid.

Lorist had a monopoly on anything going into the camp, so he set the prices as high as he could. He would bleed the people dry before he left the city.

"Alright. Pajik will take a sentry division to the camp and keep them all in their place.

"When Senbaud finishes escorting the captives to Silowas and hands us the name list, we can split the family members into two categories. Those sailors still alive may take their families to Silowas. Dead sailors' families will be sent to the camp in the city. I trust a 12-thousand-strong division is enough to keep them under control."

The 100 thousand captives from the inner city were Union loyalists and Lorist wasn't interested trying to get them to defect. They were nothing more than sacks of gold. He had agreed to great conditions to entice them to surrender, such as not taking their personal wealth and property, but he had his ways. He would leave with every penny this city had or his name wasn't Norton Lorist. Besides, everything belonged to him by right, anyway.

He would've had to be more careful were this the outer city -- it was just too large -- but the inner city was no trouble. He actually hoped they'd revolt. It would give him the perfect excuse to just take everything.

"Come to think of it, have the fourth flotilla's families boarded the ships?"

"They have, Your Grace. They will depart at three this afternoon," replied Tarkel.

Though Morante's port was for public use, the fleet area was reserved as the accommodation for the members of Invincible. Lorist set his sights on the surrendered sailors, all rich with seafaring experience. He planned to form a larger transport fleet in the future, so he turned to them sailors to solve his lack of manpower.

He didn't transport the families to Silowas to reunite with the sailors out of the goodness of his heart. He wanted to use them to make sure the sailors behaved, lived obediently, and served him. Their families were hostages. As long as they had lingering ties, they would serve him the best they could.

"Colonel Belnick took one division to occupy the warehouses outside the east gate. Colonel Jades took three brigades to the commercial area and Reidy is somewhere in the outer city. Potterfang occupies the inner city with a brigade. The whole of Morante is ours," concluded Tarkel.

"Sigh!"

I never have enough men when I need them.

The two legions had eight divisions, 96 thousand men in total, but it was spread very thin across the city. Men were needed everywhere. The city was a mass of holes in its defenses. Lorist had yet to get to plundering because he couldn't spare the men.

Of the sentry legion's four divisions, Els and Ovidis took one to Mass and Gypsy, Shuss put one on the walls, the third was guarding the port, and Pajik was on the prison ships with the last.

Of the four Firmrock divisions, Reidy was using two to watch other the outer city, one holding down the fort by the warehouses, and the final one had been split in two. Three of its brigades were with Jades, holding down the commercial area, and the last stood guard over the inner city with Potterfang. The treasuries, armories, and shrines were still unguarded, and Lorist's men had yet to set foot in the academy area and on Brinn Hill. Lorist couldn't watch over them all with just his 100 personal guards.

"Things should go better once Else returns," Lorist consoled himself, "Tarkel, any response from the dominion yet?"

"Not yet, Your Grace. It should be another day or two."

"Alright. That will do for now. With the blademasters gone, we can finally breathe, though just a little. I mean, come on... The Union actually has so many blademasters! Just the assholes left here to guard the city is more than the entire kingdom has. I never knew they were this common..."

"Do you want to try to recruit a few?"

"No. I cannot ensure their loyalty. Having a loose cannon that strong is a greater liability than it's worth. I would rather cultivate my own. Don't worry we'll have a few more soon enough. Loze and Potterfang might be our first ones next year."

Lorist yawned.

"Well, that's all. I'm going to take a nap. I haven't shut my eyes in three days. You get some rest too, Tarkel. Make sure you look after your health."

"Understood, Your Grace. Rest well. I take my leave now."

Lorist said he was just taking a nap, but only woke up seventeen hours later. He was greeted with Jinolio, red-eyed.

"What's wrong? Did something happen?"

"Bad news, Your Grace. Sir Belnick finished inventorying the warehouses. We don't have enough food to feed the city. We can last at best half a month!"