Charade, the chief knight of the house, and Jim, the house's silver-ranked knight as well as vice leader of the guards, were missing in action. Kriston, the security officer, Accountant Mike and Secretary Hector were nowhere to be found either.
Other than that, the house's retired soldiers, who were transferred to work at the seven villages on Silowas as garrison captains, had all lost contact with the house. The situation seemed incredibly grim.
Tok, one of marine assault guard's squad leaders had been confirmed captured, along with Mayor Hugo.
Confirmed dead were Victor, the captain of the Whitebird Town garrison and tax collection officer, Hart, who had been killed while defending the townsfolk during the evacuation.
Silver-ranked knight and regiment leader of the third local defense brigade, Joseph and Donowan, had both sacrificed themselves heroically during the reinforcement of Whitebird Town.
Silver-ranked knight and regiment leader of the guards, Mort, managed to break out of Farama Village's encirclement but sacrificed himself voluntarily to protect the regiment of troops on the way to Swordfish Ridge.
Silver-ranked knight and vice leader of the Oceanic Legion, Nors, had died in battle on the ocean as well.
Seventeen silver-ranked knights of the first and second fleets of the Oceanic Legion, Captain Rolin, Bose, Telok, Hwaleit, Moog, and the rest all perished in battle.
Apart from those missing or dead, about 3700 marines were taken captive and 38 ships lost. The Oceanic Legion forces stationed at Silowas, which numbered around 6000 men, had lost more than half of their forces, a staggering loss indeed.
Only 4 of the 500 Whitebird Town garrison soldiers managed to escape alive, the unit was utterly demolished as well. The third local defense brigade that numbered 3000 people only had 400 or so injured soldiers left that boasted little to no battle capability. Only the two guard regiments stationed at Seaview Manor fared slightly better -- 400 of the 1000 soldiers managed to retreat safely.
Both of Lorist's hands shuddered as he read the summarized report on the losses Supervisor Hansk handed him. The weight of the incident pressured him so much that he found it hard to breath. Charade and Jim are both missing...
Supporting himself in a forced manner, Lorist gradually took his seat and asked, "Tell me, why were our losses so heavy? Was the enemy that powerful?"
"Milord, it's all because of my ineptness," said Josk as he stepped forward.
Waving his hand, Lorist said, "No, it has nothing to do with you. There are no subordinates in this world that are better than you guys. What I want to know is the reason for the huge loss sustained by our forces during the attack. Was the enemy's strength that incredible?"
Josk shook his head and said, "Milord, the enemy is nothing but a ragtag bunch of ruffians. But... but they brought a few blademasters with them."
"Blademasters? How many were there?" asked Lorist.
"I believe there were seven. However, I've only seen four to five of them personally," recalled Josk, "After receiving Sir Freiyar's message, I stayed by Sir Charade's side. Back then, we were in Whitebird Town. Sir Charade quickly notified the Whitebird Town garrison to make preparations for battle and instructed the third local defense brigade to come over to the town quickly to reinforce us.
"The hundreds of foes who arrived on shore on the first few ships were successfully intercepted by the garrison force, but there were many more ships behind them. More and more enemy troops began to swarm us. I managed to kill two gold ranks and more than ten silver ranks, but then a blademaster appeared all of a sudden. He cut Victor down right away, lopping his head off and causing it to roll to my feet.
"By then, I knew that I was being targeted by the blademaster. I'm a marksman, there's no way I can handle close combat with a blademaster. So, I could only retreat as I continued to fire away. It didn't take long for me to lose contact with Sir Charade and the others. By the time I circled around and managed to lose the blademaster, I realized that Whitebird Town had already been occupied by the enemy. Despite my frustration, I could only retreat to Swordfish Ridge to gather up the marines and set up a defense line. After that, we received the troops of the third local defense brigade that broke out of the encirclement at Farama Village. In the end, we were picked up by Sir Senbaud's ships..."
Josk ended his testimony, allowing Supervisor Hansk to explain the rest.
"After Knight Josk drew the blademaster away, the Whitebird Town garrison crumbled from the overwhelming force of the enemy. At the critical moment, Knight Patt and his third local defense brigade troops arrived and managed to drive the enemy away. Following that, Knight Jim led his regiment of 500 guards to reinforce them, giving us the upper hand in battle.
"Sir Charade was commanding the troops during the battle and thought that the reinforcements we just received would be able to drive the enemy out. He was right, the enemy couldn't resist us for long and were quickly beaten. But just as we saw the enemy retreating from the town, more than a hundred large-class merchant vessels arrived and started unloading their forces.
"This new wave of enemy troops was far stronger than those we had just beaten. They had many silver and gold ranks, as well as two blademasters. The local defense brigade suffered heavy losses right away, up to a thousand died. The first regiment leader of the brigade, Joseph, and the fourth regiment leader Donowan, died during that time.
"Seeing that the situation was turning bad, Sir Charade ordered us to evacuate the citizens of Whitebird Town to Farama Village as soon as possible. Other than that, he gave the order to arm the laborers and send them to fight off those pirates. At that time, we thought that they were merely pirates and didn't think for a second that they were actually the slavers and traders of the Hanayabarta kingdom.
"Sir Charade brought Knight Jim and more than 20 guards to leave in a hurry. We have no clue what happened to them after that. A few soldiers brought the unconscious and injured Knight Patt back from the frontlines soon after. Fortunately, I had a few medicinal concoctions with me, one of which I gave to Patt right away. After that, I prepared a carriage for Knight Patt and us to be brought to Farama Village.
"The troops that escorted us to the village included 300 or more from the third local defense brigade and more than a hundred guards, who were all injured in some way. Coupled with the sixth logistics regiment stationed at Farama Village, we had less than a thousand men defending the place. Also, we managed to evacuate more than 1000 of the Whitebird townsfolk, all women and children. It was from them that we heard about Mayor Hugo's capture.
"The regiment leader of the guards, Knight Mort, who was stationed at Seaview Manor brought a regiment of troops to Farama Village, only for them to encounter the enemy fighters that were making their way to the village for an assault. After driving away the enemy, Knight Mort entered the village and we finally had enough people to defend ourselves.
"But the enemy fighters that came after brought a blademaster along. That blademaster attempted to barge into Farama Village alone. Fortunately, the third local defense brigade had installed more than a hundred steel ballistae on the village walls. The first volley of 40 plus bolts instantly turned the blademaster into a pincushion. The enemy were staggered by their losses and ceased their attack on us temporarily..."
"Are you certain that the one shot dead was a blademaster?" interjected Lorist with his eyes wide open.
Supervisor Hansk scratched his head in recollection before he said, "Milord, I am fairly certain that he was indeed a blademaster. Before the fight broke out, the few enemy fighters that came up to us and requested our surrender were mostly silver ranks, with another gold rank as identified by the gold blade glow on his longsword.
"At that time, the regiment leader of the sixth logistics regiment, Knight Ollison, had intended to fire the ballistae right away, only to be stopped by Knight Mort. Knight Mort said that we should use longbows to drive those fellows away to make them think that we don't have other long range weapons to defend ourselves with so that we can catch them by surprise with our ballistae when they mount a full-scale attack. Only with that can we cause them a huge loss.
"After that, the blademaster arrived on a carriage. Every one of the enemy fighters, including the gold-ranked knight, cheered. The blademaster also seemed incredibly proud and overbearing. After conversing with some of his men, he drew his longsword and dashed towards the walls without hesitating. Even the twenty arrows our longbows shot at him when he was about a hundred meters away didn't faze him.
"Seeing him approach, Knight Mort ordered his men to use the 40 plus ballistae mounted on the wall to fire in two separate volleys when the blademaster was less than 60 meters away. While the blademaster managed to deflect four bolts heading directly for him at first, the second volley pierced through his torso entirely. He was dead on the spot. Knight Mort was afraid that the bolts weren't enough, so he ordered the longbow troops to fire two more volleys at the blademaster. There was hardly anything left but the bolts and arrows when we were done.
"The blademaster's death shocked the enemy greatly. They all stood there without a word. When Knight Mort determined that the enemy fighters were less than 200 meters from the village, he ordered the ballistae to fire again. They didn't expect our balistae to have such a range, they lost around 50 of their men before running off, tails between their legs.
"I finally felt relieved when that happened. I thought we could still use the walls to hold our ground a little longer. But the moment Knight Mort and Knight Ollison heard the report of some guards and soldiers that just came over, they decided that there was no way that they could defend Farama Village. According to the men, the enemy had two more blademasters with them. While that wasn't that huge a threat during daytime, the night would impact the vision of the ballistae operators greatly. The effective range of our ballistae would be greatly reduced. The moment a single blademaster got close, it would be the end of us.
"Knight Mort believed that we should use the opportunity when the enemy fighters were retreating to make our escape. Only by reaching Swordfish Ridge would we be able to defend ourselves until reinforcements arrived from the mainland, given the advantage the elevated terrain afforded us. As long as we defended the routes up the hill with our ballistae, no number of blademasters would be able to break through our ranks.
"Knight Ollison thus ordered the sixth logistics regiment to mount all the steel ballistae onto carriages to serve as escorts on our flanks. The sky was still somewhat lit during our time of departure, but it didn't take an hour for the darkness to blanket us. When the enemy found our tracks, they followed along and called for more reinforcements. This was when Knight Ollison elected to stay back. He took just over a hundred local defense brigade soldiers and guards with him and prepared an ambush for the enemy.
"Not long after we resumed our escape, sounds of fighting broke out in the distance. However, it only lasted half an hour. By the time it quieted down, we had already arrived at the foot of Swordfish Ridge. The way up was not an easy one. Given that the enemy was going to arrive at any moment, we prioritized getting the women and children up the ridge, all the while forming a semi-circular defense line with the carroballistae to defend the route uphill.
"We held our position against the enemy for over an hour, but the ballistae became worn and ineffective from the repeated use. Knight Mort quickly ordered 20 of those ballistae to be brought uphill along with half of the bolts we had left. The rest of the bolts were used by our remaining ballistae. We would destroy the ballista when we ran out of bolts for it and retreat to the ones that still had to make sure they didn't fall into enemy hands.
"By the time I was halfway uphill, I saw Knight Mort cutting the last ballista in half, ignoring the sword swung by the enemy behind him. In the end, he was impaled through the chest by a pike."
Mort... It was as if Lorist could see two beggar-like people waiting for him, grasping on his legs and crying. They were Mort and Ruhr, messengers of the northbound convoy who had traveled far and hard. Of all the people in the group that had set off to find him, only those two had made it, the rest died along the way.
Lorist's eyes began to tear up. Ruhr had already been killed during the night attack he launched on Bread Hills by a ballista bolt. Mort on the other hand had followed him all this time, slowly training and breaking through the silver rank when he was part of Lorist's personal guard squad. Later, he was made a knight of the house and took on the position of the regiment leader of the guard brigade. Now, he was gone. He had died a heroic death and was willing to give his life to protect the secrets of the house's steel ballistae.
Supervisor Hansk continued, "All the guards and local defense brigade soldiers died after a long and gruling battle. Right at the most crucial moment, Knight Josk rushed down from the ridge and began firing, causing the enemy to flee once again. Only then did the remaining people manage to go up to Swordfish Ridge. With 20 ballistae and Sir Josk's marksmanship defending the routes uphill, we felt a lot safer.
"On the next day, the enemy didn't attack Swordfish Ridge. But flames of chaos still burned bright across the island. From the ridge, we were able to see the enemy force the various villagers to move to Whitebird Town. Cries of pain and despair filled the surroundings and from time to time, some older villagers were dragged out of the group and beheaded. Angry as we were, there was nothing we could do about it.
"When midnight came, Sir Senbaud brought his fleet and arrived at the small bay. He got up to Swordfish Ridge and met up with us. After understanding the situation, he asked us to board his ships quickly, saying that the enemy was busy with raiding and wouldn't care about Swordfish Ridge. Swordfish Ridge wasn't built to be a citadel, there was no way we could defend that place in the long run. When the enemy sent another group of fighters to attack us from the bay and the foot of the hill, we would not be able to escape.
"Thus, we began our evacuation immediately, prioritizing the women, children, and the injured soldiers. After that, Knight Josk brought some guards and the 20 ballistae aboard the ships. However, we had delayed for too long and by the time everyone got on board, the sky was already brightening. The enemy realized where we were and instantly signaled the rest with their horn. It didn't take long for the enemy to send a fleet after us.
"Luckily they weren't properly prepared. The first batch of ten or so ships didn't have enough crew members, so they were quickly exterminated. Sir Senbaud and Knight Josk even managed to nab two large-class armed vessels. But 40 more enemy ships were spotted in the distance. Sir Senbaud's fleet had also suffered some casualties from the previous battle, and two of those ships were full of people, causing their speed to be rather low.
"So, Sir Senbaud and Sir Josk decided to pick ten of the armed ships in the best condition to launch a counterattack by mobilizing all the marines, guards, and local defense brigade soldiers from the rear. They managed to wipe out five of the enemy ships closest to our tail and tangled along with the remaining ones until the evening, when the enemy finally retreated.
When Sir Senbaud and Knight Josk finally returned, they questioned one of the captive sailors and found that the ones who had attacked the island were in fact slavers and slave traders from the Hanayabarta kingdom. Those captives said that the operation involved almost all the slaver nobles and slave traders of the kingdom. Their naval force already included more than 400 ships, 30 thousand people, and seven blademasters. This was nothing short of a full-scale invasion."
Supervisor Hansk brought out a thick beastskin document stack and said, "Milord, here are the records of the captive interrogations.
Lorist flipped the records and said, "Heed my orders!"
Howard stepped inside and said, "Milord..."
"Have the guards erect crucifixes on the coastlines and nail the captives to them," said Lorist in a light voice, sealing the tragic fates of the captive sailors of the Hanayabarta kingdom.
"Ugh..." The ones present in the tent gasped with terror. Being hung was a far more pleasant way to die than being nailed to a crucifix. After all, one would only die when all the blood drained from one's body after a long time.
"Milord," mused Hansk in an attempt to advise against that.
"Stop it, my decision is final," Lorist said as he waved his hand, "They are the accomplices of the slavers and slave traders. They are far worse than the likes of pirates! They treat people as commodities and don't value human life at all. My only regret is that there isn't a crueler method I can use to put them to death! Howard, what are you doing still standing there?!"
"Yes, Milord, I will pass the order on now!" said Howard before he hurriedly left.
Standing up once again, Lorist stepped forward to Senbaud and said, "You did well, incredibly well... Far beyond my expectations. Senbaud, let me ask you... Are you willing to become one of the House of the Raging Bear?"
Stunned, Senbaud quickly snapped out of it and kneeled down on one knee, saying, "Milord, it is my pleasure."
"Senbaud, are you willing to heed the tune of the Raging Bear's horne and fight to your death for it?"
"I am willing!"
"Senbaud, are you willing to begin your conquest under the banner of the Raging Bear, never to stop, never to falter, until either you are successful, or all life is drained from your body?"
"I am willing!"
"Senbaud, are you willing to stand proud bearing the crest of the Raging Bear to the end of your life, even in death?"
"I am willing!" shouted Senbaud loudly.
Lorist drew his longsword and patted on both of Senbaud's shoulders.
"Stand tall, my knight. You have won the trust of House Norton with your courage, bravery, and loyalty. I welcome you, my brother."
After Lorist gave Senbaud a tight hug, the other knights in the tent came forward to do the same. The last one to do so was Potterfang.
"I welcome you, my brother," said Potterfang as he pinned the golden badge of the Raging Bear to Senbaud's chest.
"Senbaud, how many ships are left in your fleet?" asked Lorist, having taken his seat after the knighting ceremony.
"Milord, we have eleven ships that are still in good condition. Thirteen others require some repairs. Eight of them are only slightly damaged, but the other five will need more time."
Senbaud's second fleet had 29 ships originally. During the rescue operation, he lost seven ships but managed to take two of the enemy's, making the current count 24.
"Fix them up as soon as possible. In three day, Potterfang will bring his troops to Silowas. We will need some transport ships for them. Also, have your marines rest as soon as possible. The uninjured will have to man the ships when we depart," said Lorist, furrowing his brow.
The Oceanic Legion had suffered heavy losses, more than half of their forces. Currently, the numbers of the marines were incredibly low. He had no choice but to redeploy them in another three days even though they had just survived a grueling battle.
"Milord, I will gladly march into battle!" exclaimed Senbaud as he stood up.
"We will march into battle too, Milord!" cried out the other knights within the tent as they stood in solidarity.