"No, Your Grace! This won't do! How can we give these equipment and weapons to that guy?! Wouldn't that be increasing his strength? I'm definitely against it!"

Cobleit was talking about a large chest in which a set of fine, black metal armor could be seen. There was also a rectangular shield, a refined longsword, a sharp dagger and a foot-long spear head that glinted coldly. The chest was filled with a complete set of weapons and armor.

The moment Krilos took a good look at the chest's contents, he objected immediately. He knew what Cobleit was suggesting: providing those equipment to Auguslo to offset his debt of 1.5 million gold Fordes. That would also help him gain more trust and support, which were integral in his desire for revenge.

"No, listen to me first," Cobleit said with a wave of his hands, "This is the reason I've come to discuss the matter directly with you instead of sending someone 

He took out the black metal armor and gave the breastplate a gentle caress. "Actually, these are the Trade Union's latest models. We just forged them not long ago, thanks to the tungsten and other metal ores you provided us with. If our forces can switch to these equipment, our fighting power might triple. Normal crossbows and longbows won't be able to deal troops wearing these armor any harm when fired from a hundred meters away.

"As you said, it's true that if these are provided to the emperor, his military might will rise. You mentioned that he was thinking about rebuilding Fiercegale back then in your letter to make them at least the Nortons' equal instead of being at a disadvantage by the four main Norton legions, right?

"Sometimes, I find myself wondering what the heck goes through this emperor's mind. It's the most peaceful time for his empire, yet he doesn't focus on raising standards of living to recover the empire's vitality, and instead pays attention to useless military reorganization, like reforming the three imperial legions. Since that's the case, the Trade Union doesn't mind giving him a little push from the back. We'll make him waste even more resources and funds on military equipment.

"The reason I brought the equipment here is for you to present it to the emperor so that he will protect and support the trade route between your guild and our Union. We will obtain even more resources from the empire and this will also help wipe away the debt the emperor placed on you. You can tell him that if he can provide the resources, the Union will be able to fashion 50 thousand such sets of equipment on a yearly basis."

"What? 50 thousand sets? Your Grace isn't joking, right? How could the number be so high?" said Krilos with shock. As the one in charge of logistics of the Twinhead Merchant Guild forces, he understood how much manpower it took for one set of equipment to be produced. It was no easy affair.

"If we have enough materials, making 100 thousand a year is incredibly easy," Cobleit said, "We now finally understand how the high quality equipment of the Nortons were made. Back then when our blademasters discovered the designs of the water-powered machines in The Northlands, we started researching and further developing them. Now, we have lots of such machines which can be used to replace humans in the forging process.

"Come to think of it, the forging process is basically a set of repetitive, simpler steps. An experienced forger or smith can only fashion two or three spearheads a day, or small parts required for two sets of armor. But with water-powered machines, we can produce hundreds to thousands of spearheads and around two hundred sets of armor in a day.

"I want you to present this set of equipment to the emperor and negotiate with him on how we can get more mineral resources from them. For instance, if you're able to gain permission to build a refinery, you can decrease the cost of transporting metals. At the same time, you can provide us with even more material to work with, since transporting ingots is much more worth it than unprocessed ores.

"If our plan works out, we can even ask for double the amount of resources we actually require. You might not know this, but, if we can get the metals for free, it would cost us only around eight gold Fordes for the production of a single set of equipment, mostly to pay for the assembly and the transportation. Each set can then be sold for around 50 gold Fordes on the market."

"But Your Grace, the Krissen Empire is our Union's archrival. Would the strengthening of their military affect our revival in the future? If we go to war with them in a few years' time, then the equipment we provided them will prove harmful to us!" said Krilos.

Cobleit took a long sigh. "Krilos, you're mistaken. Currently, war no longer depends on blades and spears. If we fight a war with the Nortons, even if our troops' courage and skill aren't inferior to theirs, they won't give us a chance to fight up close. Instead, they'll use all sorts of ranged weaponry to defeat us from afar.

"We failed at the Battle of Bluwek and lost Morante and Falik Plains for good. I've dreamed about that battle countless number of times. That wasn't a war, but a nightmarish massacre! Even though we took all sorts of preventive measures and prepared ourselves against the Nortons' catapults and carroballistae and finally approached the lines of our enemy and were just about to pay a steep price to take out their troops, they brought out their bronze cannons and flattened our ranks completely. Corpses piled like mountains, blood flowed in rivers. Our soldiers were defenselessly slaughtered.

"The troops rushing at the forefront back then wore this exact same black metal armor fashioned by Wessia. The one here in my hand. But these things didn't do much to protect them either. The troops were still completely obliterated from the cannonfire. So, tell me. Do you think this set of armor will be the key to the revival of our Union?"

Krilos was struck with sudden realization. Both in the Battle of Bluwek and the following Norton attacks on the Union, the bronze cannons played a pivotal part in their victory. Even though the Union used sandbags to temporarily stop the cannon attacks, that didn't change that they were still taking blows on the defensive. They weren't able to launch a counterattack at all.

"Currently, we are also researching ranged weaponry, such as the Norton carroballistae and catapults. We are also prepared to obtain the secret of gunpowder from the dwarven kingdom in Tedanini Mountains to make our own cannons. But that will require lots of time and resources. That is why the trade route is integral for us.

"Krilos, I know why you've gone to the imperial capital, but I must beg you to suppress your desire for revenge. Please temporarily get along with your nemesis for the sake of our grand ambition. Use the trust you've gained to help us on the path of victory. As long as this trade route can continue to supply us with resources, the day of our comeback will arrive soon."

Cobleit bowed deeply to Krilos, as if he was expressing his sincerest apologies for having to request something like this of him. Krilos hurriedly helped the man up and held him by the shoulders.

"Your Grace doesn't need to do this. I know what I have to do. Actually, even though I can meet that person now, I have no way of exacting revenge. Not only is he a blademaster, he's also the emperor. I have no way of doing anything to him. As for the trade route, I will do anything that will benefit our Union even if Your Grace doesn't tell me to.

"What I'm worried about now is House Norton. In their attempt to crush Andalou, they've doubled the purchasing price for raw materials and we have no way of dealing with it. It harms both sides, but they can afford to keep it this way. My guild on the other hand has been completely disrupted as a result. The more we purchase, the bigger our losses. Otherwise, the 1.5 million gold Fordes that person wants from me won't be a concern in the first place," said Krilos hatefully.

"No worries," Cobleit consoled, "Since House Norton wants a trade war, we'll fight them to the end. While we're not a match to them on the battlefield, can we really defeat merchants like us when it comes to trade? We can use the armor here to deal with your debt first and extract even more benefits from the emperor.

"Each set of armor like that won't cost more than 20 gold Fordes including materials and manpower to produce, but we'll be able to sell them to the emperor for 40 or 30 gold Fordes. We can even request him to provide us with the materials for free. We'll definitely earn quite a bit on that front. What you have to do for now is to refine the goods first. That way, you can transport more in bulk and save on transportation costs.

"Additionally, the reason the Nortons formed the market at Jillin Harbor is to buy raw materials as well as sell the goods they produce. Since they've engaged you in a trade war, why don't you start operating the trading point at Flowater Creek as a 

"Even though our Union isn't what it used to be, we still have some vigor remaining. Now that we have the resources we need, the technicians and artisans of our guilds can finally put their talents to practice. Perhaps we aren't able to make products good enough to compete with the Nortons in the markets they occupy. However, when it comes to gold and silverware, wine, stone sculptures and art pieces, we are superior. If we can find a market for those in the empire, it would be a good income stream for us."

As expected of the president of Twinhead Dragon, Cobleit was able to give a few good business proposals to Krilos in the blink of an eye. Krilos looked more excited the more he heard. "That's right, I've only been focusing on how I can provide you with resources, but I forgot that I could buy products from you to sell too. Setting up a luxury goods market at Flowater Creek is a good idea. I'm sure the imperial nobles would love to buy expensive luxury items there to inflate their social status and cultured sense..."

The two of them laughed heartily. The war was over and peace had come. The imperial nobles no longer strove for courage and started to pay attention to arts and culture. That was the case with the nobles across the midsouthern nations as well. All of a sudden, the trend of odd-looking sculptures and colorful paintings which nobody could really make sense of saw a growing trend among the nobles and were at the height of their popularity. The two men believed that if the artisans of the Union could make some to cater to the imperial nobles, those products would be warmly received as well.

"Alright, Your Grace. I'll do what you say and present this set of exquisite armor to that fellow and try to get some benefits for our Union," Krilos said after a long sigh, "But I still feel unwilling to hand such good quality equipment to our enemy."

Cobleit chuckled. "Krilos, did you know that in the forests of our province of Leolika, there's a kind of bird called the Bolga. These birds don't hatch their own eggs. Instead, they'll steal eggs of other birds from their nests and place their own within so others can do the laying for it.

"What we are trying to do is not so different from the strategy of the Bolgas. If we use these equipment for ourselves, we'll once more catch the attention of the other midsouthern nations and get sanctioned by them. That wouldn't only cause the hard-achieved peace to crumble, we would also suffer the pushback from those nations in their markets.

"Let the warmonger emperor get his hands on these equipment. That way, he'd definitely form a new legion. The more we provide, the more he will form. Perhaps only through that can he feel safe and secure against the swordsaint Duke of The Northlands.

"What this emperor doesn't understand is that his military expansion during a time of peace that follows right after a war will only cause the other nations to worry. The empire will become a target to be observed and alert against. That will make it easier for our Union to move in the shadows. We might even be able to reform the century-long alliance that held against the empire back then too.

"And you, Krilos, only have to try to gain this emperor's trust. Work hard to try to make his frivolous illegitimate son the heir to the throne. If he can get the commanding rights to a legion, that'd be even better. I will be sending you lots of helpers, which you can place into that legion to control it. That way, we can cause another period of chaos within the empire with a power struggle just like our fathers did back then."

Krilos nodded emotionally. "I understand, Your Grace. I shall do as you say."