Ship sails fluttered noisily, filled by the strong ocean winds. A circle of 137 ships of all shapes and sizes slipped over the water.
Whale Island VIII was one of these ships. It had originally been a whaling ship, but the whales had long been eradicated. It underwent extensive modification and was now a large-class fishing ship. She was part of a fleet of eight, all of whom were former whaling ships, that fished for the house.
Whale Island VIII's cabin was tightly packed. More than ten household knights were seated shoulder-to-shoulder. They were listening to Potterfang's brief on their strategy for the upcoming attack on the Hanayabarta kingdom.
A hand-drawn map of the Hanayabarta archipelago hung on the cabin wall. The room was illuminated by slightly over ten thick cow-fat candles.
Potterfang held a thin wooden stick in his hand as he continued the brief.
"Apart from the main island of the archipelago, there are another 27 islands of different sizes. The ones we have to watch out for are the eight right next to Nupite, called the Seaweed Islands.
"According to some slaves, the Seaweed Island Major is the dominion of Baron Sinyada. There is a plantation there were more than 400 slaves toil away with a security squad of roughly 30 people. As for the smaller ones, they're too small to be enfeoffed as a proper dominion, but sometimes, the slaver nobles will travel there for a vacation. As long as we pay attention to the shorelines of those islands for the presence of ships, we'll be able to determine whether there is anyone there easily. Regiment leader Polant, you are assigned to take those islands and leave a regiment of troops on the large one to settle the slaves down. Tell them that we, House Norton, have come to liberate them. As for the guards, if they're not helpful or cooperative, hang them."
"Roger that, sir," said a big-bodied silver-ranked knight as he stood up.
Potterfang continued to wave his wooden pointer stick the map as he said, "After the Seaweed Islands come the Twin Pomfret Islands. They are roughly of the same size, about the size of a viscounty each. Like the largest island, these also have slaver noble manors with roughly 800 slaves on each island and another security team of approximately a hundred people. Leddings, take the western Pomfret Island and Grey will take the eastern one."
"Understood, sir," said two silver-ranked knights in unison.
"Following that we have the Twinhead Tortoise Island and the Fallen Feather Island. The twinhead tortoise island has two dominions on it; one belongs to a viscount and the other to a baron. In both dominions are slave-run manors. The fallen feather island, on the other hand, has a county on it that even has a castle. Rumor has it that the slaver count would occasionally travel to the island to stay a few days at his castle. Morse, the Twinhead Tortoise Island will be yours to take care of.
"Zigda, I'll leave the Fallen Feather Island to you. I will also send out a regiment of wheelbarrow-ballista troops to assist you. According to the slaves, that count is also guarded by a blademaster. If you do see the slaver count on the island, don't be rash lest you suffer huge casualties. Just send someone to report to us and we'll take care of the blademaster, understood?"
"Yes, sir," replied the silver-ranked knight Zigda.
"Lastly, we have Goldshark Island and Duck Island. These two islands are angled together like a V-shape funnel, and at the innermost point between the two islands lies Nupite. Goldshark Island belongs to a duke. Fiercetiger Loze, sweep Goldshark Island clean with one division of heavy-armored troops and another regiment of wheelbarrow-ballista troops."
"Alright," responded Loze with a smile.
"Reporting for duty, sir!" exclaimed Ovidis as he stood up suddenly.
"Your Thunderbolt Brigade shall fight to occupy that corner of the island after Loze's attack. Over there is an ocean channel roughly 160 meters in width which you must seal up so that the ships docked at Nupite won't have the chance to escape. I will assign a brigade of heavy-armored troops and another brigade of wheelbarrow-ballista troops to aid you in your endeavor so that the enemy won't get the chance to get off their ships and attack you on land."
"Sure thing. Not one of the enemy ships will be able to leave the port," promised Ovidis.
"Malek, Duck Island is a little larger than Goldshark Island, and there are two counties and one viscounty there. You will be responsible for occupying the slave-run manors there."
"Roger," replied Malek.
Potterfang began waving his stick again as he continued, "Between Duck Island and the main island is a reefy area, so we won't have to worry about the enemy escaping from there. From the map, you can see that the bay at Nupite resembles a huge wine barrel. All we have to do is seal the main and sub routes, the ships in the port will definitely be unable to escape.
"I'm leaving that task to the Oceanic Legion. Senbaud, Milord said that you only need to sink around ten incoming ships to clog up the routes. Remember, it is crucial that you do not let the enemy ships get close, understood?"
Senbaud nodded in agreement.
"Apart from the units who will conquer the eight islands, the remaining ships should all circle around the reef area opposite of Duck Island and get onto the shores of the main island. Milord will personally lead that unit. As there is roughly a kilometer between Nupite and the coast we will be docking at, all troops are to get into defensive formations promptly once they're on the shore. When all the troops are properly deployed, we will commence our attack.
"Yuriy, your light cavalry scout brigade won't be participating in the attack on Nupite. Since your troops are cavalry units, take a detour and make your way to the rear of the city immediately and occupy the hilly area there. That is the crucial route from the port to the Hamidas, the royal capital. Occupying the route will allow us to stop our enemies from getting any news of what's happening at Nupite and also seal off the land-based escape route for the slavers. Josk, Milord ordered you to follow Yuriy and the rest to back them up."
"Roger that," said Yuriy and Josk in unison.
"Milord, do you have any more instructions?" asked Potterfang as he turned to Lorist, who sat in the corner.
Lorist got off his chair and said, "Potterfang, you've been incredibly thorough with your attack plan, so I won't need to comment much. I will, however, remind you all of two things. First, we're here to save our people and avenge the deaths of those who were killed, but we're not here on a suicide mission. Even though the forces of the house are incredibly strong, it won't do for us to be careless.
"The slavers of the kingdom are incredibly rich, so they've no doubt hired quite a number of blademasters. According to the captives, Nupite alone has close to 20 blademasters. That's why all of us have to exercise extreme caution. Make sure to stay in formation to avoid any unnecessary casualties. Let the wheelbarrow-ballista units, Blademaster Engelich, and I deal with the enemy blademasters.
"Second, the Hanayabarta kingdom has more than 400 thousand slaves. Those slaves will be our main source of aid. Make sure to tell them that we're here to liberate them and that they will regain their freedom as long as the slavers are defeated. We have to treat them well. They will be our guides.
"Alright, if there are no other questions, go back and make your preparations. The fleet will set sail shortly. Remember the main reason for our attack on the kingdom: those who slight the Nortons shall be put down!"
All of the knights stood and saluted as one, thumping their right fist on their left chest as they chanted, "Those who slight the Nortons shall be put down!"
The blow of a horn could be heard across the wide and expansive sea as one ship after another raised their sails and headed to the southwest.
A horn blared not far from Nupite. It warned of an attack. Panicking droves of enemies could be seen in the distance through the telescope. They didn't know how to respond and had no choice but to pace around in terror. There had never been an invasion in the decades the Hanayabarta kingdom existed. The local guards to no longer knew how to react properly. They were so used to dealing with nothing but weak, helpless slaves that they couldn't deal with an organized force anymore.
The Windstorm had already turned to the side, aligning the cannons on her left to the mast-filled shores of the port before firing. Any ship that raised their sails would be torn apart without question nor mercy.
Led by a middle-class ship at the front, up to a hundred household armed ships of various sizes took a turn around the Windstorm, avoiding the reef area and heading straight for the shore up front.
The city's bells rang with ever-increasing urgency and the city, so famed for its ability to deal with slaves, erupted in a frenzy of panic and terror. Cries and curses streamed incessantly into Lorist's ear.
The Windstorm's cannons let out yet another round of thunderous booms. Lorist could hear that the twelve cannons on one side of the Windstorm did not fire all at once; instead, they were divided into three firing groups that alternated. Each volley was shot by four cannons. It ensured that there were cannonballs flying towards the city at all times.
The ship shuddered momentarily - it had beached. Lorist leaped from the ship and, despite still being quite a distance from dry land, found that the water only came to his chest. He could hear countless splashes behind him as he started wading to shore.
Standing on the shore, Lorist turned back and saw the water-splashed soldiers of the house. He could see heavy-armored troops jumping off another ship that had just reached the shore, but the wheelbarrow-carroballista troops were troubled about what to do with their weapons. While they could jump straight into the sea like the others, they couldn't actually toss their wheelbarrow-ballistae off the ship.
Lorist stopped a guard beside him.
"Go tell them to have four ballista troops to get off the ship first before lowering the wheelbarrow-ballistae down and carrying them to the shore," he said as he pointed to the ship.
"Understood, Milord," said the guard before he dashed away.
Another sounding of the horn could be heard as thousands of people rushed out of the port in the distance. They began charging to the troops forming up on the beach.
"Get into formation!" (Editor's Note: Get to the shingle at the top of the beach!)
Every single disembarked troop hurriedly assembled into a square formation, each contained about 100 people. The formations lined up side by side, forming a long rectangular defensive line. The soldiers still jumping off the ships scrambled to get into formation as well. They didn't even bother to shake off the water or twist it out of their clothing. In the blink of an eye, more than ten square formations stood in front of Lorist.
The people rushing out of the port were less than 200 meters away. They didn't expect that Lorist's troops would be able to assemble so quickly. They thought they would be able to catch them off guard and push them back into the sea. However, by the time they arrived in front of the enemy, the ones rushing at the front had begun to hesitate. Even though they were still approaching, they did so warily, with careful steps.
It seemed that those who had arrived were a group of hurriedly-assembled slavers. Their armor and weapons were hastily put together. As Lorist swept his gaze past the enemy fighters, his view suddenly stilled.
Among the ranks of the enemy stood about a hundred men wearing the armor of the Norton troops. It was obvious that they were the ones who had been part of the attack on Silowas and had taken the armor off the dead of the third local defense brigade.
"My soldiers, do you see them over there? Those fellows are wearing the armor of our comrades! What do you think we should do?" Lorist called out in a clear voice for his men to hear.
A commotion broke out among the troops before a thousand voices began to chant the same thing: "Kill! Kill them all!".
Lorist drew his longsword and pointed it at the enemy.
"Then, kill them as you please! Avenge our fallen comrades!"
Leaping to the very front, Lorist rushed towards the enemy ranks. The distance of roughly 200 meters was closed almost instantly. With a great howl, Lorist thrust himself into the forest of spears. He swung his longsword and lopping enemy heads off with abandon. Blood splattered all over as man and horse crashed to the ground and the enemy formation fell into disarray.
Countless corpses lay unmoving on the ground as cries of pain resounded nonstop. Lorist moved wherever he pleased amidst the enemy -- none of whom were able to match his sword as it cut them down. He left a river of blood in his wake. The moment Lorist spotted an enemy wearing the armor of the Norton soldiers, he would give pursuit relentlessly until the enemy was felled by his sword.
A sword strike like flowing water flashed in the corner of his eye and appeared in front of him a moment later.
"Oh, a blademaster?" he said excitedly as he parried the strike.
The longsword in his hand blurred out of existence as he launched into a storm of attacks, pressing on against the old blademaster with a goatee. The Hanayabarta kingdom was not short on blademasters who craved the high pay offered by the slavers. Lorist resolved himself to kill as many as he could to minimize the casualties of his troops.
Clang-clang-clang-clang! Sounds of clashing swords echoed across the beach and out over the ocean.
"Ugh," grunted the old man.
He rolled his eyes the moment his throat was slit. Blood poured nonstop from the gaping hole.
"Sol, can you even call yourself a rank 1 blademaster with those skills?" commented Lorist in an aloof tone.
The goateed blademaster must have been one of the weakest of his rank, for he had only been able to take twelve of Lorist's strikes before being felled.
Two roars rang out beside Lorist with no warning. Turning around to look, he could see a dark-skinned burly man and another old gloomy-looking guy rushing towards him with their swords.
"Ah, two more blademasters have come. Hehe, just in time!"
Lorist as he rushed to cross swords with them.
The pudgy dark-skinned man's strikes carried with them lots of weight. Given the obvious and glaring horizontal and vertical strikes, the man had to be one that walked the path of brute force. The gloomy old man, on the other hand, excelled in sneak attacks. He launched careful strikes behind the huge dark-skinned man. The two were a rather good team.
However, it didn't take long for Lorist to get a good grasp of their attack pattern. The two blademasters struggled more and more under Lorist's flurry of strikes as time passed. It wasn't long before the huge blademaster sustained two injuries and was slowed down substantially.
"Arrgghh!" cried the huge blademaster the moment he suffered yet another cut.
This one chipped off a good chunk of flesh and revealed the bone beneath.
Seeing the unfavorable situation, the gloomy blademaster ducked behind his huge partner and shoved him straight at Lorist before turning tail in an attempt to escape. Lorist sidestepped the huge man and pushed his sword through the back of the gloomy-looking blademaster.
The dark-skinned man chuckled as he said, "Haha, that old dog actually tried to abandon me and run... I bet he didn't think that he would be the first to die instead... Hahaha, come, just end it for me already..."
Lorist furrowed his brow and asked, "Aren't you all rank 1 blademasters? Why are you so weak?"
The dark-skinned man smiled in a weird manner before he said, "We were satisfied when we reached the rank of blademaster and began to enjoy life as we pleased. Over here, I fooled around with more than ten women every single day! How would I have the time to train with my sword?
"That old dog over there likes young girls, what a messed up fellow. As for that one," he paused as he pointed at the first blademaster to die by Lorist's sword, "That fellow loves food and men the most."
Lorist came to understand that the blademasters that accepted the Hanayabarta kingdom's offer were all those who no longer intended to continue their training. They weren't the least bit as strong as Lorist had imagined them to be and were a far cry from the rank 1 blademaster of the Dawn Academy, Instructor Claude, or Viscount Kristoph of House Fisablen. The main difference between the blademasters of the kingdom and those other two was that the former wanted to enjoy their lives rather than continue to toil hard until they broke through to the next stage.
"How many of you are there?" asked Lorist.
"Four," said the dark-skinned man without needing further elaboration on Lorist's part.
"Remember to not walk the wrong path in your next life," said Lorist before he strode past the man, lopping his head off.
Lorist looked around trying to spot the last blademaster but only saw emptiness all around him. Nobody dared to get close to the body of the blademasters around him.
Even though the battle on the shore was still being fought, the Norton forces were obviously holding an advantage. Even though there were quite a number of gold-ranked swordsmen among the enemy, the discipline of the Norton troops allowed them to hold their formation. All of the corpses littering the shore were those of the slavers.
Ah, there he is, thought Lorist the moment he saw a distinct sword flash in the distance.
Engelich was caught up in battle with another old fellow dressed in black scale armor. From the looks of it, Engelich seemed to be on the losing end.
Lorist rushed there promptly, but still managed to cut off the heads of two gold ranks along the way.
"Engelich, you're far too lousy. I've already killed three blademasters myself, yet you were unable to take care of even one. It seems that I will have to school you hard in the future, lest you embarrass the Norton name."
Engelich said as he breathed raggedly, "Milord, did you not see that the guy over there is a rank 2 blademaster?"
"Oh, no wonder you weren't able to take him on. Step back and let me at him," said Lorist before he jumped forward with his sword.
The old blademaster wearing the black scale armor was terrified the moment he heard that Lorist had slain three blademasters. He tried to escape immediately. Just as Lorist was about to give chase, he heard a loud cry.
Several loud twangs rang out. A moment later the retreating blademaster let out a cry of pain. He looked just like a wild hare that had been nailed to the ground with an arrow. There were two iron bolts piercing through his back and more than a dozen on the ground around his body.
The wheelbarrow-ballista division's troops had finally managed to get into formation on the shore. Their first target was the old blademaster that had been battling Engelich. They had been unable to fire any earlier because Engelich was engaged in close-combat with the blademaster. They released their bolts without hesitation the moment the two parted, however.
With the four blademaster completely wiped out, the remaining slavers cast their weapons aside and ran back towards the city. They weren't fast enough to evade the ballistae's fire, however, and were nailed to the ground one after another.
"Blow the horn to get into proper formation! We'll launch our attack on the port right away!" instructed Lorist.