Duke Urubaha had it coming. Never before had a rank 3 blademaster died as unsightly a death as the duke. He had only his greed to blame, well, that and his lack of self-awareness, which had made it so that the president of the Twinhead Dragon Merchant Guild couldn't stand him. The president had disregarded their family ties and fed the duke a force-dispersing toxin. In the end, the duke was beheaded by an attendant, cleft from shoulder to shoulder from the rear, he died just like any normal old man. It was an inglorious and unceremonious death. One to be remembered throughout the ages for all the wrong reasons.
In the middle of the 7th month of The year 1773 at the capital of the Teribo kingdom, the army of the eleven allied nations, which numbered around 140 thousand men, and the Union's army, which numbered around 180 thousand, had been in a stalemate for more than two months. Neither side attacked nor defended; not even knight duels were carried out. The main reason for that was that the knights of the allied nations' army did not think that the Union had knights among them. Most of the gold-ranked fighters were mercenaries and the allied nations' knights felt it beneath them and their honor to challenge such lordless, masterless vagrants.
Even though the two armies didn't clash, messengers were sent to and fro between the sides. It was becoming apparent that the report on the Morante Daily was true: the War of Glass wouldn't end until the treasury of the Teribo kingdom was squeezed dry.
It was a good thing for the allies, given how foolish Teribo VII was being with his money. The allies' 140 thousand soldiers would most certainly not take the initiative to launch an attack. They only had to stay on guard within their camps month after month, feeding off the provisions from the Teribo royal family. Not only were they well-fed, they were also paid well and on a monthly basis. Oftentimes, some noble ladies would even come to the camps to make merry. The soldiers of the allied army enjoyed their days greatly and wished that they could last a couple more years.
The Union, however, found it hard to distance themselves from the conflict. From the moment they retaliated and conquered half of the territory of the kingdom the war had only escalated and there was no end in sight. While the allies' army was funded by the Teribo Kingdom, and the nations thus bore no burden or expense in fielding their forces, the Union's 180 soldiers placed a great burden on their finances.
Despite that, the Union had no choice but to persevere. The war had already had a far-reaching effect, having been dragged on for so long. For instance, the eleven nations had joined up at the Teribo kingdom's request to stand off against the army of the Union for money. But should the Union show any sign of weakness or inability to hold their ground, the allied army would hold nothing back and bite on the Union for some additional benefits.
It was the main reason the forces of the Union didn't mount an assault. While they were confident in their ability to maintain their position, taking the initiative to attack might come with an incredibly heavy price. The 180 thousand soldiers already on the field were all the Union could afford to muster. No one could predict how much morale would drop from the failure of such an attack.
Despite being the instigator of the whole conflict, Teribo VII was only now becoming aware of the predicament he was in. He sent another demand for peace to the Union, phrased in a far humbler manner than the first. He was willing to accept the initial conditions put forward by the Union, namely, the secession of half of the kingdom's territory as reimbursement for their losses.
Teribo VII had forgotten, however, that he no longer had the greatest say on the issue, that honor belonged to the allied nations. The generals of the army had realized how fat of a cow Teribo VII was and intended to milk him for all he was worth. There was no way they would allow such a juicy cash cow to call off the conflict when they were at the height of their profits. Thus, they confidently assured Teribo VII that they would be able to drive the Union's forces out of the territory. At the same time, they cut off the royal family's access to the outside world. All Teribo VII had to do and could do, was to continue paying for their 'military expenditure'.
By the time Teribo VII realized the gravity of the situation, the Teribo kingdom had already been ruined. So, he decided that he might as well cause as much grief as he could for his sworn enemies. He doubled the bounty for the Union's high-tier fighters. With that, the gold-ranked knights of the allied army were moved, further escalating the assassinations and counter-assassinations. Among the many conflicts, there were, the most eye-catching one was the death of the Urubaha duchy's blademaster duke.
As the highest authority of the duchy, as well as a rank 3 blademaster, Duke Urubaha could be considered one of the people with the highest status in the allied army. However, he had one fatal flaw: his endless greed for money. Even though the Urubaha duchy was a poor nation, the duke still profited much from renting his armies out to other nations. He easily earned more than a million gold Fordes annually from these transactions. The duke pocketed all the money, however without investing anything to improve the living standards of his subjects.
Anyone who visited the duchy knew that everything, whether it be the capital or the palace the duke resided in, was in rather bad shape. The fountain at the plaza located opposite the duke's palace was the only public facility in the whole duchy that was built in the days of the current duke's grandfather. It was only good for providing clean water to passers-by to relieve their thirst. However, the current duke had even thought of profiting off the fountain by charging a fee for every drink. However, the duke gave up on the idea when he found that the pay for the guards would be higher than the profit it would generate.
The Urubaha duchy's subjects all thought of their current duke as a hateful dragon that only knew how to hoard all the riches. The duke's palace was even colloquially known as the dragon's lair. The most popular rumors were about how much the duke loved to sleep in a bed of gold coins. It was pretty apparent how bad an impression the subjects of the duchy had on their duke.
They even complained of the duke's stinginess when it came to the profits his two armies earned him. For instance, each army rented for 100 thousand gold Fordes monthly, but 60 thousand of those entered the personal wallet of the duke with the rest being the pay for the soldiers, the food they consumed, and equipment maintenance.
An army numbering 24 thousand men couldn't do much with 40 thousand gold Fordes a month apart from paying off the salary of the soldiers. With so little left behind for them, the soldiers were fed the worst kind of food, and just barely enough to keep them going. Even their equipment was among the lowest in quality available. In fact, the soldiers were usually glad to be rented out as it meant they would be better fed since the renter was responsible for their sustenance.
The rent of the Urubaha duchy's armies to the Teribo kingdom, however, was thrice the normal price; each army of his would be paid 300 thousand gold Fordes. That was the reason the duke was willing to rent out both his armies at once. He figured that since his own duchy was not particularly developed or prosperous, nobody would bother to conquer it.
When Teribo VII raised the bounty for high tiers another time, Duke Urubaha figured that he could earn himself a couple million gold Fordes given his prowess as a rank 3 blademaster. Thus, he often found himself participating in the chaotic assassinations.
However, the Union had long had their preventive measures in place and managed to successfully counter-kill those who came bounty hunting. Some traps they set to bait in the high-tier fighters even cost the allied army a good number of blademasters. As such Duke Urubaha couldn't find many opportunities to strike. In desperation, he changed his tactics.
He was the relative of President Cobleit, so he had gone to Morante a number of times. His beloved grandson was studying at an academy in Morante. Being the grandson of an influential duke and a relative of the president of one of the big seven guilds of the Union, that youth spent his days in the city in absolute bliss. He lorded over his peers day in and day out. The Twinhead Dragon Merchant Guild frequently had to clean up after him.
During his visits to Morante, Duke Urubaha would also often visit the Twinhead Dragon Merchant Guild, so it was natural for him to be acquainted with quite a few of the guild's blademasters. From time to time, he would even spar with them to temper his swordsmanship. So, the duke turned his sights on the guild's blademasters.
First, he sent letters to inform the blademasters of the Union of the location of the allied army's high-tier fighters with the intent to ambush them when they came after the blademasters. After some investigation the blademasters concluded that his warnings were true, so they let their guard down. They thought that he was trying to keep them safe on account of the relationship they had with him, despite now standing against them in the war.
In those moments of lapsed guard, the Duke Urubaha struck. He intentionally made a false report that there would only be one blademaster waiting in ambush instead of three, causing the Union to send out only three blademasters to deal with the threat. It ended up with a three-on-three battle where both sides were evenly matched. In the end, they settled on considering the matter a draw and left it at that. The duke rushed over at that moment and claimed that there was an unexpected incident in which the other two blademasters insisted on following the lone blademaster at the very last minute, causing him to have to rush over to prevent any unfortunate accidents.
The three blademasters of the Union didn't suspect the duke in the slightest and even treated him as one of them, thanking him gratefully for all he had done for them so far. The duke struck them down as they thanked him.
The result of a rank 3 blademaster taking on one unprepared rank 2 blademaster and two other rank 1 blademasters was obvious. The three blademasters were slain by the duke in quick succession. Their heads were brought back to Teribo VII and exchanged for the reward.
Unfortunately for the duke, a scout had witnessed the whole affair and quickly went back to inform the Union's main force. A huge commotion broke out in the camp, with many angry folks marching right up to President Cobleit's tent to complain about the matter. It was no small issue, given that the deceased rank 2 blademaster was provided by the Peterson Merchant Guild, and the two rank 1 blademasters belonged to the Mayflower and Chikdor merchant guilds respectively.
All three guild presidents were fuming and were just short on enough rage to scream directly at President Cobleit. The matter dragged on for almost the whole night. When it concluded, President Cobleit laid back tiredly on his chair, loathing his relative to the bone. The duke had used the contacts the president had given him to carry out such a despicable plot for money, without regard for any previous relations.
He realized, then, that the first young master of the Chikdor Merchant Guild was still in the tent.
"I have an idea to deal with this issue..." he told the president.
The duke's fate was sealed in stone that very night. President Cobleit agreed to cooperate with Serihanem. It was even said that the president expressed with a sigh that even his many grandchildren were not nearly as capable as the first young master of the Chikdor Merchant Guild, who was a true merchant through and through.
The president brought the duke's grandson to the frontlines forcefully and wrote the duke a letter. He said that his grandson wished to meet him. They erected a small camp not far away from the main one where they would meet.
While the duke was quite money-minded, he was far from naive, to say the least. While he did not believe that President Cobleit would dare to act against him directly, given how he had just killed three of the Union's blademasters for the sake of the bounty, he was quite wary of the invitation being a potential trap. However, he still had to meet his grandson. He was one of his heirs, after all.
So, the duke responded that he would agree to a meeting with the condition that he got to decide the venue, which President Cobleit agreed to.
Thus, Duke Urubaha ordered his Crimson Legion to move their camp closer to the left side of the area where the two armies faced each other and had President Cobleit bring his grandson there. The duke was not worried in the slightest about being attacked by a few blademasters at once. He could easily escape unscathed with his abilities. As for the Crimson Legion, he didn't mind if they got wiped out. After all, if the duchy was rich in only one thing, then it was people. And they were more than willing to serve in the military to earn their keep.
President Cobleit headed to the camp of the Crimson Legion with a whole troupe that transported mainly some supplies to host a banquet. Since the president was the one to invite the duke to a banquet, he had to pay for all the costs involved. Additionally, the duke was someone that wouldn't treat anybody to a meal even if his life depended on it. Even if he had no choice but to show an important guest his hospitality, he would serve nothing but the cheapest and most basic dishes.
Naturally, the duke didn't fail to check the kitchen staff and the ingredients they brought for the banquet. After verifying that nothing was amiss, he proceeded to ponder the true aim President Cobleit decided to host a banquet for him at a time like this.
President Cobleit came over without even a single gold-ranked knight. His entourage only included ten-odd silver-ranked attendants and the duke's precious grandson. The duke finally relaxed his guard when the banquet began.
President Cobleit said, "The reason I called you out here to meet is to advise you stop involving your army in this conflict. The war between the Union and the Teribo kingdom has already lasted far longer than it needs to."
In other words, he was acknowledging the fact that the Union's forces were suffering as a result of the duke.
"As for the death of the three blademasters, let's just say that my luck was bad. I earnestly implore you, please don't cause any more trouble on account of our familial relations."
The duke refused President Cobleit's advice outright.
"Cobleit, if I were the kind of person that didn't care about family, you wouldn't leave alive after this blanket. As the commander of the 180 thousand soldiers of the Union, your bounty is a staggering three million gold Fordes! The fact that I'm willing to let you come at the cost of three million gold Fordes not entering my pocket. In fact, I might have to ask you to reimburse me somehow in that regard..."
Never had the president dared to imagine that this relative of his would even consider killing him for the bounty. This realization finally resolved the residual hesitation he had.
The duke snickered and said, "Well, I won't really ask you to give me three million gold Fordes. As long as you're able to trick the presidents of the other merchant guilds into coming here with a joint bounty of three million gold Fordes, I am very much willing to let you go."
It was after the duke's statement that the atmosphere of the whole banquet turned stale and awkward. The few gold-ranked knights of the Crimson Legion were incredibly embarrassed at the behavior of their lord. It was at that moment when the duke's grandson came over and said, "Grandpa! Have a taste of this bottle of fine wine which I bought at the city! It's been some time since we met, and this time I finally found a way I can repay the kindness you've shown me!"
While Duke Urubaha was suspicious of everyone else, he loved his grandson from the depths of his heart. His grandson's gesture brought him great joy, so he opened the bottle of wine and poured himself and President Cobleit a cup.
President Cobleit didn't mind drinking it since he was far too stressed to bother with anything else. After taking a gulp, he found that the taste of the wine was rather pleasant and even asked for a refill.
The duke was relieved that the president had drunk the wine and even asked for another cup. He had held back to verify if the wine was poisoned in some way, but seeing the president's eagerness for one more serving, he felt no need to doubt his grandson's sincerity and gulped down the cup of wine without hesitation.
The moment the wine slid down his throat, however, the duke heard the sound of swords being drawn behind him. He turned around. The silver ranked attendants the president had brought along was walking towards him slowly, sword in hand. He had the gaze of a butcher preparing to slaughter a sheep.
"What are you doing?!" cried the duke.
He activated the battleforce in his body and prepared to leap into the air. Only to find that he had no battleforce to activate. He was so weak that he wasn't able to even muster the energy to stand up.
Finally, he realized: he had been played. He turned to the gold-ranked knights that were responsible for guarding him.
"Quick, come save me!" yelled he.
The guards, however, only stared at him with scorn. They remained standing as statues. Nothing untoward was happening as far as they were concerned. Their duke was simply having a feast with family.
A blade flashed, and the duke's head tumbled from his shoulders. Duke Urubaha, a rank 3 blademaster, was killed by a mere silver-ranked attendant.
The duke's grandson stared with a stupefied look as his beloved grandfather was beheaded right before his eyes.
The tent's flaps were pushed open as Serihanem walked inside with a smile on his face. Before the head of the duke, he had the grandson sign an agreement to lease the Urubaha duchy to the Chikdor Merchant Guild for a million gold Fordes and an annual fee of 100 thousand gold Fordes. From that moment on, the grandson of the duke would spend the rest of his life at Morante as a political hostage.
When the agreement was properly signed, the Crimson Legion soldiers cheered. They joined the side of the Union along with the duke's other army, the Tricolor Sword Legion. With the aid of the Crimson Legion, the Peterson Merchant Guild managed to swallow the Teria duchy whole without any trouble. It was a given since the two blademasters of the Teria duchy had already fallen in the bounty hunt, and eighty percent of their military force had been sent to join the allied army.
The Crimson Legion was able to take over the Teria duchy's capital with a surprise attack that couldn't even be called a full-scale battle. Duke Teria's whole family was ordered hanged by President Peterson for resisting the Union and the Union annexed the territory. At the same time, the Chikdor Merchant Guild announced that they would make the Urubaha duchy part of their dominion, effectively putting it under the control of the Union as well.
With that, the smaller merchant guilds saw the same opportunity and turned their sights on the nations that had sent their armies out to reinforce the Teribo kingdom and had lost their blademasters...