On the 13th day of the 8th month, Lorist's daughter was born and Telesti, who had just become a mother, named her child Nico Olijess, and there was nothing Lorist could do about it. Even though Lorist had wanted to discuss with Telesti about their formalized relationship and status, Telesti rejected that suggestion and insisted that she would be living by herself.
"Locke, I understand your intentions," said Telesti gently with her daughter Olijess in her embrace. Her child was of far more importance to her than Lorist currently. "I think that this arrangement is pretty good as it is. Don't tell me that you won't acknowledge her as your daughter just because we are not married. To be honest, I'm just a scholar and am not fit to become the wife of a dominion lord, because that position comes with responsibilities like dealing with other nobles and the such. In the future, I will have to focus my attention on the formation of the academy and I'm already satisfied now that Little Oli here will be succeeding the name of the Nico Family."
Having not been able to convince Telesti who wouldn't budge even the slightest, it wasn't as if Lorist could throw a tantrum in front of the mother and daughter and could do naught but leave.
Amidst his frustration, Lorist took his sword and looked for Viscount Kristoph whom he imprisoned. Right now, only that rank 1 Blademaster could qualify as a suitable sparring partner for Lorist. After enduring around 100 strikes from Lorist, Viscount Kristoph wisely conceded his loss. After taking a towel from Howard, he asked, "What's up with you today? You seem much wilder than usual..."
"It's nothing, I'm just a little troubled by something on my mind. Also, I'm going to make a trip to Maplewoods Bastide two days later. Do you want to tag along?" Lorist asked.
Even though Viscount Kristoph currently had the status of a prisoner of war, he was still allowed to leave Firmrock Castle as he pleased. Apart from being forbidden to return home, he was allowed to act as other nobles would.
"Forget it, I think it's better if I stay here. I've been wanting to have some free time to meditate on our duels and I don't want to follow you along just to be your training dummy all day long," said Viscount Kristoph as he rejected Lorist's offer.
Since he had expressedly denied the offer, Lorist didn't force him to go along with him. After that, he went to the rear mountain of the castle where a new training facility was built and saw Reidy training in the Dan Ocean Ki-Refining Technique which Lorist had taught him within a small stone house.
What intrigued Lorist wasn't the rate at which Reidy progressed in his training of that new technique but rather how it didn't have any effect whatsoever on Reidy's Silver ranked Battle Force. Unlike Lorist, Reidy's Battle Force didn't get sucked into the meridians or his dantian. No matter how Lorist pondered about it, he could only hypothesize that it was due to the difference between the two techniques with the Dan Ocean Ki-Refining Technique being more stable and peaceful as opposed to the Aquametal Technique's overbearingness. Another possible reason was the fact that Reidy was already firm in his Silver ranked Battle Force before he began to train in the new technique whereas Lorist began training in the Aquametal Technique when he was at the Iron rank. Due to the stability of Reidy's Battle Force, it was possible that it took priority over the first stage of the Dan Ocean Ki-Refining Technique which was still unable to shake the stability of Reidy's Battle Force.
Lorist had Reidy sit cross-legged before he sat behind him and placed both his palms against Reidy's back. As Reidy activated the Dan Ocean Ki-Refining Technique, Lorist inserted some of his own internal energy into the flow to aid him. The advantage of that was that Lorist would be able to reinforce Reidy's sensation of internal energy flowing within his meridians while being able to grasp Reidy's status and progress while he trained in the technique.
After a minor cycle, Lorist retracted both his palms and confirmed that the state of Reidy's body was more or less as he had predicted. After he began training in the Dan Ocean Ki-Refining Technique, even though he still had his Silver ranked Battle Force cultivation, Reidy was no longer able to progress in Battle Force training. In other words, he would forever stay at the One Star Silver rank and wouldn't be able to break through to the next stage.
The first two stages of the Dan Ocean Ki-Refining Technique mainly concerned the familiarization of the circulation of a minor cycle within the 12 standard meridians and the expansion of thereof. The main focus lies in cultivating the ki and storing it up. The truly difficult parts of the technique only starts at the following three stages with the third stage focusing on the opening of the 8 extraordinary meridians and the connection of thereof with the 12 standard meridians so that the internal energy in one's body can flow in a major cycle. The full attainment of training at the third stage would signify that one has already reached the peak of the Bright Stage, with the fourth stage of the technique signifying one's venture into the Dark Stage, and the fifth stage of the technique being at the legendary Transformative Stage. To use a Battle Force analogy, a person at the Transformative Stage would probably be at the level of a Sword Saint.
In actuality, Lorist wasn't looking forward to his trip two days later to Maplewoods Bastide. Ever since the assassination attempt he suffered last year, he hasn't gone there to visit his treasured son yet. But he still had to since he received a report from Old Man Balk about the completion of the shipyard as well as the argument between the work smiths on what kind of ship to build first, hence necessitating Lorist's personal visit for a decision to be made.
Lorist told Reidy to stay there and continue his training as he would break through to the second stage in another three months. Since Lorist already had Howard by his side during his visit, there was no need for Reidy to serve as his attendant during that time.
The moment he arrived at Maplewoods Bastide, he was received happily by Irina. Despite that, his two-year-old rowdy son had completely forgotten about his own father. Not only did he cry when Lorist tried to hug him, he even crawled over to give Lorist a bite as he felt threatened when Irina, his mother, had her attention focused on Lorist, causing Lorist to feel incredibly mixed feelings.
Lorist felt that he hadn't treated the mother and son well enough and decided to have the two follow him back to Firmrock Castle to live there with him. At least that way, that child of his would not forget who his own father was that easily. But Irina was as stubborn as Telesti when it came to that regard and refused vehemently to leave Maplewoods Bastide, causing Lorist to have no choice but to give up on the notion.
After spending two days at Maplewoods Bastide, Lorist headed to the Bullhorn Bay. Bullhorn Bay was the name for the bay at the intersection the Bladedge Mountains and the Blackmud Marsh and it was called as such due to it being shaped like the horn of a bull. Initially, it was only a term which the prisoners who worked there referred to the bay with, but eventually it stuck and the family adopted the name formally and used it in its maps.
The Bladedge Mountains and the Blackmud Marsh had already been connected and it no longer took more than a day to travel from Maplewoods Bastide to Poplar Coast. When Lorist arrived at the passthrough at Bladedge Mountains, he saw Grandmaster Ciroba, who was currently placed in charge of the development of Blackmud Marsh, and his assistant Zanben, seemingly measuring something halfway up a hill with some other people. After seeing Lorist and the others, they hurriedly rushed over.
"What are you guys doing?" Lorist asked as he dismounted.
After the passage of a few years, Grandmaster Ciroba no longer wet himself when he saw Lorist like before. On the contrary, he was extremely grateful that Lorist had given him an opportunity to utilize his talents as a development project on the scale of the one at Blackmud Marsh was not something any other kingdom or nation could afford to undertake and fund given the chaotic conditions of a time of war. Grandmaster Ciroba was certain that once the project was completed, his name as a great architect would forever be imprinted upon the annals of history and he believed that to be his true calling.
However, as he had treated Lorist like a demon in the past and had wet himself quite a few times when he first met him, Grandmaster Ciroba still felt rather awkward when he faced Lorist. So, he instructed his assistant Zanben to do the talking.
After bowing with respect to Lorist, Zanben said, "Milord, we are seeing if we can build a citadel halfway up the hill here and are measuring the total surface area available."
"Oh?" Lorist mused as he looked at the surroundings and thought, this is indeed a rather good spot. Originally, that place used to be a high peak up a mountain but now, it seemed like it was cut in half by a very large blade with the peak having broken off into multiple rock formations that filled the bottom, becoming part of the path itself. By building a citadel there, not only could they oversee Blackmud Marsh, they could also seal off the path from Bladedge Mountains to Poplar Coast. Given the terrain, the citadel would be easy to defend but hard to conquer. As long as a division of soldiers was stationed there, the safety of the construction of the port city would be assured.
"Not bad, you have truly thoroughly considered your plan," Lorist praised.
"Milord, so far we're still in the planning stages and we're still considering whether we should also excavate half of the neighboring mountain connect it with this one. By doing that, we can increase the surface area and also have the water source at the mountain behind be used for this citadel. However, by doing so we'll be effectively doubling our workload and we're currently debating whether it's worth the effort," Zanben added.
Lorist nodded and said, "I have great faith in your abilities and trust that you will make the best choice in the interests of the Norton Family. I'll leave this decision in your hands and won't butt in."
"Milord, there is however one thing we must get your word on," Zanben said as he stepped forward. He pointed at the sea and said, "Milord, in the original plan for the construction of the port city, we were prepared to reclaim the reef area of the sea but after a year of surveying the territory under the leadership of Grandmaster Ciroba, we realized that landfilling the reef area which can be tens to hundreds of meters deep is not a worthwhile effort. Not only would the operation be on a very large scale, it would also leave the safety of the port city at risk in the future. I believe we should keep the reef area as it is and only fill out the area near the shipyard and build two jetties that stretch into the deeper parts of the ocean. That is already enough to satisfy the need for the family's fleet..."
"How about this, I will be at the shipyard during this period of time, so, summarize your thoughts and suggestions about the project tonight and send it to me in a report alongside the original blueprints and plans for the port city. I will gather the others from the other family departments for a discussion before I make a decision," Lorist said before he nodded towards Grandmaster Ciroba and headed straight for the path to the shipyard.
The shipyard was located at the deepest part of the bay and the land behind it was filled with huge, dried timber. Old Man Balk brought a few other woodworkers with him and guided Lorist into a wide hall, within which was a huge water tank in which tens of miniature model ships of different designs and sizes floated.
Old Man Balk pointed at the floating models and said, "Milord, these models here include most of the boat types In Grindia, but we were unable to decide on which we should construct first. Some think that we should begin with a warship while others think that a merchant vessel would be a good choice. That's why we have asked milord to come here to make a decision."
Lorist shook his head and said, "So far, our family still hasn't established a sea trading route yet so there's no need for a merchant vessel. However, warships take a long time to build given how complicated they are, and we don't really need it that soon. For the first ship to be built for the family's navy, it should be one that we can use to train in the sea with."
"But, milord, there isn't a ship specifically designed for training..." said the oldest work smith as he stood forward.
"If there isn't, you can always design one yourself. The requirements for a training ship is simple. It only has to be middle-sized, have a couple of ranged weapons and be easy to handle and control. There's no need for it to be too fast or tough and it only needs to be able to resist stormy weathers and travel further into the ocean. The main purpose of the training ship is to familiarize our navy marines with life out on sea as well as train them in several other seafaring skills so that they can develop basic combat ability on sea. You may discuss the specifics according to the requirements I've stated and begin designing the ship accordingly. Can you achieve at least that?" Lorist asked.
"Milord, I guess we can try," said the old worksmith as he looked at his other partners and nodded.
"Then it's decided. Go have a discussion and make a blueprint and model for me to inspect. I will be staying here for the time being until you come up with a design I'm satisfied with," Lorist said.
On the windy grasslands where cows and sheep could be spotted grazing stood a huge and majestic citadel that looked like a crouching, fierce magical tiger from afar.
That was the control center of the Eastwild Province and it was the main base of the war god of the Frontier Legion, rank 3 Blademaster Duke Fisablen. It also served as the main camp for the Frontier Legion and it was called the Crouchtiger Castle.
Currently, Duke Fisablen had a face reddened with anger with the silver cup in his hand crushed into an unrecognizable ball of metal. No matter who one was, if one received a chain of bad news throughout the whole morning, one would definitely be put in a bad mood. One of those reports even shook the war god duke to the core.
Within the hall stood tens of the duke's family knights who were all silent and unmoving. Not one of them were willing to appease their lord as there was nothing they could do about their duke's current temper but brainstorm on how to resolve the current predicament.
"Grandfather, what's going on?" asked Princess Sylvia as she walked into the hall dressed in valiant hunting garbs. Her presence brought relief to those family knights as the duke would definitely not lash out angrily in the presence of his beloved granddaughter.
"Oh, my beloved darling, why are you here? I just got a few pieces of bad news in the morning that caused my mood to sour," Duke Fisablen said as he revealed a forced smile.
"Oh, let me see what they are about," said Princess Sylvia before she took the few beastskin documents that were on the duke's table and read them through. "A report from the Wessia Merchant Guild? They said that they will be changing their mining equipment for the following two years and will be willing to reimburse our family with gold Fordes? What does that mean?"
Duke Fisablen sighed before he said, "Sylvia, your uncle, the king of the Iblia Kingdom, actually sold the two crucial iron mines of the kingdom to the Wessia Merchant Guild and allowed them to manage them for up to 30 years. Within the whole of the Iblia Kingdom, only those two mines can easily produce good quality iron ores and they are the most important source of material for military equipment within the kingdom. According to the agreement the king signed in the past, one third of the produce from those mines would be provided to our Frontier Legion.
"Now that the mines are under the management of the Wessia Merchant Guild, even though they acknowledge the agreement with the king, the agreement only stated that they will provide iron ores and not manufactured military equipment. Their claim about changing their mining equipment is merely one of their lies. Even if they reimburse our family with gold Fordes instead of iron ore, what use would we have for them? Our family needs military equipment, not gold coins. Right now, we can't even purchase military equipment even if we have enough funds..."
"Grandfather, don't be so hasty. I know a place that produces great military equipment and I can get you in contact with the people in charge," said Princess Sylvia.
"And who exactly is that?" asked the duke with surprise.
"They're the Norton Family of the Northlands. The armor worn by their family forces are among the most impressive I've seen and boast incredible defense."
"The Norton Family? No way, they are our enemy. Not only did they imprison that uncle of yours who is our king, they even captured your Uncle Kristoph and 15000 other soldiers of the Frontier Legion. I'm already incredibly troubled about what price I should offer to ransom them back," Duke Fisablen said while shaking his head.
"Grandfather, I recall that the leader of the Norton Family said something like this. 'There are no eternal enemies, only eternal profits.' I think that even though you consider him an enemy, they might not see us in the same light. Also, it was uncle's own fault for setting his sights on the Norton Family in the first place even though they did not even provoke him in the slightest. They are merely abiding by their oath to defend their dominion and the border of the empire but uncle still wanted to conquer them and even sent a Blademaster to assassinate the leader of the Norton Family after his failure. That's far too underhanded and insidious of him.
"It was already quite merciful for the Norton Family to only capture him without hanging him straight away. Also, didn't he treat auntie quite well when his family occupied the royal capital? Godmother and I have seen Count Norton in person before and he even escorted us back home after defeating uncle's army. Just let me go to the Northlands for a visit for that purpose while I try to negotiate for the release of Uncle Kristoph and the soldiers too. What do you think?" Princess Sylvia persuaded her grandfather as she held his hand tightly in a spoiled manner.
"'There are no eternal enemies, only eternal profits', huh? Hahaha, that saying is rather interesting. Alright then, Sylvia. Go to the Northlands with Xanthi and see what kind of response the Norton Family will give us," said the duke as he made his decision.