"Never trust the history books. They are written by the victor, and no man will make himself the devil and his enemy an angel in a story he gets to tell."

On the 10th of the 10th, Year 1780, the new swordsaint and Duke of The Northlands, Norton Lorist, headed for Lone Peak to face Windstorm Swordsaint Magrut in single combat. There were no spectators, but the clefts in the rock and the rubble left behind bared witness to their engagement.

The duke’s forces drove the Trade Union off the field during the fight as well. The duke didn’t even take a look at the battlefield after the fight. He just headed to Bluwek to rest. Magrut, while having not lost badly, was very exhausted and chose to remain on the peak for some time. He later revealed to his disciples that he’d gained a great insight during their battle and had wanted to meditate on it in the midst of their arena. The fight won him back the face he had lost during their last confrontation, and he praised the duke’s swordsmanship for years thereafter.

--extract from the Chronicles of Grindia

The battle was a complete route. House Norton was the undisputed victor. It was a historic battle for more than one reason. Not only was it the final nail in the Forde Trade Union’s coffin, but it was also the first land battle where firearms played a decisive role. The Union outnumbered House Norton just under 2 to 1, but they were complete routed once their enemy opened fire with their cannons.

It was not that their tactics were completely incorrect, at least not based on what they knew about the enemy. They were quite effective against House Norton’s conventional troops. They had never thought of the enemy suddenly using cannons, however.

Many of the battle’s survivors described the moment like suddenly finding oneself in the middle of a thunder storm, like waking up in the midst of a cyclone, like coming across the end of times. The more religiously inclined said they were weapons that unleashed the devil himself, a blasphemy, a heresy against the gods. You would notice a slight smudge in the sky tearing towards you, then suddenly be blinded by a bright sun flaring into existence right in front of you. If it was far enough away, which was far indeed, you’d survive past the flash to hear a thunderous roar like a dragon complaining about being rudely awoken. Once your vision returned -- your hearing would often be gone for several minutes after the explosion, some never got their hearing back for the whole battle, a new explosion taking it away before it’s even come back from the last one -- you’d be confronted by a blurry world spattered with little black or dark gray dots and your nose would be assaulted by an other-worldly stench.

Actually, it was not just one stench. One part of it was completely unrecognizable. One man who lived near a volcano described it as similar to what the world would smell like after it erupted. The other part was a sickly sweet stench of burning human flesh. Many of the survivors looked like corpses themselves, collapsed into catatonia at the hell around them.

The explosive shells eradicated the long-armed trebuchets and shield carts all the same. To the thousand-man formations, it was as if they had lost the safe space in which they could hide. If they remained, only being blasted away awaited them. The men, most of whom had sworn never to back down quickly, fell apart.

It was a humongous failure. This was the Union’s greatest loss to date. Most of their casualties were amongst their elite units at the front of their formation. They lost 70 thousand to death, and 200 thousand to the enemy.

The most bleeding loss, however, was the 14 blademasters and just over a 100 gold-rankers that fell with the cannons’ first volley. They had bet everything on this engagement, if they won, they would have won everything, but in defeat, they had now lost everything.

Their other losses could be recouped in a couple of years, two if they tried really hard, but blademasters took decades to make, and the success rate was very low. The loss was even worse because in Morante they’d lost the infrastructure, the academies, necessary to train them.

Howard scattered the cannon fire. He had a quarter of the cannons fire at a time, this way he could shorten the time between volleys by three quarters, and the cannons could more effectively use their shots by adjusting to his areas unaffected by the last volley. The first round of volley thus disintegrated several tens of thousands of enemies. They could not make an accurate estimate of the kills because there were no corpses left, just a field of small chips of flesh and bone.

The battle’s name quickly became known as the ‘Cry of the Cannons’. It marked the beginning of three hundred years of espionage. Every nation, every king, every noble, every merchant tried to steal the designs from House Norton, especially his gunpowder recipe. The funny thing is, they succeeded in less than two decades, but dismissed the recipe because they thought it was too simple and it got lost again amidst all the other fake ones.

In his twilight years, Duke Cobleit acceded to his granddaughter’s pleas and wrote his memoirs of the campaign and its aftermath. In it he made clear that this particular battle was the death knell for the Union. It still had a chance to recover until the first cannons fired, from that moment on, its fate was sealed.

The commanders were so shocked by their loss that they became dumb. They believed their tactics were sound and blamed everything on Duke Cobleit’s impatience and anxiety on the morning of the battle. The target of their ire, however, argued that they had little choice. They had little hope of their swordsaint winning the fight against the enemy duke, and once the fight there was over, the duke would rush to the battlefield and their chance at victory would be lost. They had to win the battle before the fight ended.

He believed the route of their loss lay in his and his fellow commanders’ acceptance of the duke’s suggestion that they fight on the same day as the duel. It meant that they had to stay on the field for a month longer than they had planned, which brought down their troops’ morale and gave the enemy the time they needed to prepare their cannons. If they’d attacked as planned, the enemy would have been ill-prepared and they would have lost.

He did, however, admit his fault in not thinking about the enemy’s cannons. They knew they possessed land-based cannons from the time they infiltrated the Norton homeland and stole their weaponry designs. They had become complacent because they had never featured in the battles since, other than at sea, and had completed forgotten about them by the time of the big final battle.

Since the land-based cannons never featured again, and since the defeat on sea was such a massive blow to the men’s confidence, he believed they had exaggerated the power of the cannons to soothe their egos. And had this discounted them as a possible factor in the battle.

Such recitations were matters of the future, however. In the present, Lorist had just returned to Brinn Hills. He had left dealing with the aftermath of the battle to his subordinates.

Loze was chasing down the enemy and plundering the Trade Union’s remaining territories. Carade and Dulles were working with the Free Union to deal with their captives, some 200 thousand. Their ally’s forces were eager to guard the captives. They were moved to the middle of nowhere on the plains where they were made to build large concentration camps where they would stay for the winter. Els was sorting out the loot he’d taken from the enemy camps and cleaning up the battlefield.

Howard was leading one of his brigades to Mauvlin to help out Jaeger and Whitelion while they cleaned the place out. Whitelion specifically was determined to bring back good loot to give to their king as a gift during his crowning ceremony.

The forces faced little resistance, partially because most of the men were either dead on the battlefield or in the concentration camps, and because what few were still at home, were either too few to fight back, or were scared shitless by what they’d heard from the escaped survivors. The legions returned with bounty a plenty, leaving empty wasteland in their wake, devoid of even people. They were all either killed or dragged back as prisoners.

House Norton returned much later than originally planned. They marched into Morante a few days after 1781’s rainy season began. Lorist had no need for more subjects, and certainly no desire for any of his subjects to be old Unionites, so he dumped all but the mist high-ranking captive on the Free Union.

He had Ragebear bring them to his manor. Duke Peterson, the unfortunate old clout, was an old acquaintance of Lorist’s. An explosive shell had detonated almost right next to him. Luckily the shot had gone of behind a nearby mounted soldier. The mount and man absorbed most of the shrapnel so the duke had escaped mostly unharmed. The blast had burst his eardrums, however, so he could currently not hear very well and walked around with a constant headache, and had knocked him from his horse, the fall knocking him out. His attendants rushed to his side, but by the time they had prepared a stretcher, they, their duke included, were captured.

The old man accepted a cup of milk-leaf macks Jinolio offered. The young man had come up with the drink himself. The leaves of a bush native to the plains was dried, then soaked in milk before being added to a cup of macks. It had a rich aroma and a creamy taste the duke had never come across before. Jinolio had proudly presented it to Reidy, who quickly spread it to the other servants. It would just a few years before the drink became popular all over the continent and the leaves from which it was made a staple of Free Union exports.

The duke only played with the odd-looking liquid absentmindedly, however. His gaze was fixed to his captor-host, Lorist. If only he had not broken ties with the man. He had first heard of him when he was still just a no-name instructor at Dawn Academy. Now, however, he stood on three of several mountain peaks on the continent. First, he was a noble as close to the top as a vassal could get, second, he was one of the most powerful fighters in the world, and third, he stood at the head of one of the most powerful families and militaries and economies on the continent.

Lorist briefly talked about the good old days when the two had been friendly acquaintances and business partners before moving on to business. He told the duke that the Trade Union had best surrender. There was no winning this war anymore, no drawing either. They had only two options, either continue on stubbornly and watch as their castles and cities were burnt one by one before they and their families were hanged, or surrender now and preserve what little dignity they had left, perhaps even keep their independence. The bastard dared to say that he wanted to bring peace to the countries as fast as possible. As if his men were not raping and plundering their way through the lands as he ran his disgusting mouth!