"Greed is the death of good men."

"Hahahaha..." Charade laughed badly in the couch, clutching his stomach.

It was far too much of a joke and such a foolish stroke would definitely remain one of the staple moments of history.

In the entire two thousand year history of the continent after the magic civilization, even including the millennium-long dark ages, there were countless unexpected results that came about from the interaction of two factions. However, not one was as laughable as the Union's reply. Lorist had suggested a peace negotiation, yet they came back with a declaration of war.

Usually, when nobles were at each other's necks, they would respond to requests or queries politely. If one side proposed peace, even if the other didn't agree, they would still be polite in their rejection. Such was the etiquette. No noble had ever broken this basic rule. The Union was the first.

"A bunch of fools! They don't know what's good for them!" Lorist barked.

Kaet's kamikaze-like attitude made him want to vomit. Did they really think Lorist was a complete fool and would anger so easily?

"They sent him here to piss you off," said Charade.

"I know. I won't fall for it. I don't understand what the Union is trying to achieve. How do they hope to continue this war?"

"They must think they can use the city's people as a bargaining chip. They must think we can't handle them, so if they anger you, you'll vent on them. It'll incite a massive uprising and we'll lose control of the city. Either they then get the city back, or we keep pouring in people to keep control, and we keep losing men."

"Hehe, aren't they idealistic?" Lorist laughed, "We'll make them regret it. Also, how are your negotiations?"

"I came precisely to make my report. I've not come across any problems with the syndicates. They're actually happy to see the guilds gone and are willing to be the new city administrators. Even if it's temporary, they stand to benefit a lot.

"The shrine sector is also responding positively. The 27 shrines couldn't be happier about our invitation. The shrines are the ones most harmed by the rationing system. They despise the guilds for sapping their income so badly. They are all too happy to take over governing the city.

"The two remaining academies aren't as cooperative. Saint William Academy and Saint Molinka Academy survived only because the guilds kept funding them. They're the last of the 28 academies the city used to have. They had a good relationship with the guilds since their students were mostly from the guilds. They've ignored my invitations completely."

"Haha, since they don't want grace, we'll kick them out. We still need a representative for the academy sector though... Have Tarkel track down all the former administrators and teachers. We'll found another academy, several if possible. Put them under the new government. There certainly is still a market for academies, Morante has a million inhabitants and thousands of prospective students. For now we'll offer loans so they can study."

"A good idea, Your Grace," Charade said as his eyes flashed brightly.

The 28 academies used to be open and assimilated all sorts of cultures and methods, making Morante the holy land for furthering one's studies and even earning it its moniker 'academy city', unlike its current state with only two academies that only served to train new personnel for the guilds. They also accepted normal citizens, but most couldn't afford the fees anymore.

"When Morante's economy stabilizes, the people will start to think about education. When we were studying in Dawn Academy, there were 28 academies and 200 thousand students. Morante's population was only 800 thousand. The academy sector used to be the most crowded. You remember when I followed you for patrols one day a student realized there were even quite a few senior students who'd studied in the academy for more than six years and even formed their families and had children in the student dorms?"

"Yeah. Studying a specialized course used to cost six gold Fordes. It was expensive for the average person, but many still paid so their children could study. If they used up their funds, the students could work for a period before resuming their studies and there were many ways to earn money. But ever since the War of Glass and the worsening relations between the Union and its neighbors, most foreign students left. They were also the majority of the student body. It's no surprise the academies closed."

"Even if we sponsor 10 thousand students, it won't cost more than ten thousand Fordes. I can bear that. Let's consider it a memento for my decade here. Alright, it's decided.

"Now that the Union has responded, we can go ahead with our plans. Take over everything trade and administration. We can even change the governing body into a new city council and set Morante up as the capital of the plains." instructed Lorist.

"Understood. They will be really delighted to hear they will become the new city council," replied Charade.

"Oh and tell Jindoz to be more loose and let others have a chance. It'll be enough for him to have a tight grip on the two new sentry divisions. Military power is most important during war after all."

Charade nodded.

"I'm sure Jindoz will understand."

Jinolio entered after knocking on the door.

"Your Grace, Supervisor Spiel and Sir Tarkel have arrived."

"Let them in."

Spiel and Tarkel entered.

"I've called you over to get your input. Count Kaet came yesterday. The Union rejected our offer and refuse to negotiate. They've instead demanded we release their prisoners for ransom. I've agreed," briefed Lorist.

"But, Milord, the prisoner still have most of their wealth. They're still spending it at the tavern. We'll lose all of that money!" Spiel griped.

"I know, don't worry. I won't let them leave with their wealth. We're holding Kaet in the military prison outside the city so he won't notice our moves. Charade, start negotiating the ransom with the count, begin with the blademasters and move down from there. The Hidegold Bay nobles will be last on the list. Increase their debts in the taverns tenfold. We'll only agree to paying the ransom once the Union settles those bills."

"As you wish. I shall do my best," sighed Charade.

"Don't do your best. Get it done. The Union is aware of our current situation, we have to keep them talking to stop them getting suspicious. Make us sound desperate. They'll want to drag negotiations on in that case as well."

"Tarkel, tell me about the docks camp."

"There've been 17 brawls and robberies, in the last week. Mostly because captives are preying on one another. They've formed gangs and are competing for territory. We've chosen to ignore everything as long as no one dies. I've given the order that it should be encouraged as subtly as possible.

"That's also what's behind the increase in recent spending. They aren't settling for porridge because they can't afford to become weak and have everything stolen. So they're coughing up the money to buy meat. Our profits should grow to 100 thousand gold a day soon."

Lorist shook his head.

"It's too slow. One tavern isn't enough, set up more all over the camp. Open a casino if you can, or a brothel. Start a few pawn shops as well. We don't just want their gold, we want their belongings as well."

"Your Grace is a true genius!" Tarkel exclaimed, "I haven't even thought of that!"

Lorist rolled his eyes.

"Buzz off. Don't let others know I was the one who came up with it. I just want the people to have as fun a time as is possible under the circumstances. The price is only high because it's difficult to provide everything in war time.

"Also, have Pajik set up another camp for the people who're out of money. They'll get only the normal rations. Kaet can negotiate for those prisoners only. We'll move people over as they use up their money and the Union can negotiate for them then.

"No matter how we do it, we have to bleed them dry. My only condition is you must not disrupt the camps. We can move behind the scenes, but we must not make promises we can't or won't keep."

"Understood, Your Grace," Tarkel saluted, "I know what to do."