Hi guys, sorry for the late release this week. As I've mentioned in the discord server, some electrical problems occurred and I was unable to charge up my laptop to work on the rest of the chapter until I visited the cafe earlier today. I'll still try to hit five chapter releases as usual, but if I'm unable to do so, I'll be sure to make up for it in the following weeks.
Two whole days passed from the start of the dueling grounds' takeover to the completion of the Snowshame's massacre. Actually, occupying the duelings grounds was a rather trying act for Lorist, Charade, Blademaster Shuss and the rest. Fortunately, in the time between the takeover and the massacre, only two messengers were sent to the grounds. The first brought news of the impending change of shift for the royal defense army. The other delivered instructions for the grounds' occupants to collect the requested supplies.
The messenger asked uncomfortable questions when they noticed a marked absence of familiar faces, and so, to keep the grounds' state a secret, they had to be silenced, even the questions were only asked in passing. Fortunately, the feast hosted by Viscount Timba had caught the attention of everyone within the capital, so no one bothered to find out where the messengers from the royal defense army and the storehouses had gone. For all they knew, the two had gone to the feast to stuff themselves.
When the sky brightened, the slave fighters retreated. All they had to do was wait for chaos to break out when the massacre was discovered and defend their station at the dueling grounds until the main Norton forces come to relieve them.
Els made use of the darkness brought on by the obscured moon to leave Hamidas. He made his way to the light cavalry scouts who were sweeping the plains around Hamidas and informed them of the goings on in the city. Their new orders were to finish off the deployed forces and move on the capital as soon as possible.
The moment the Hanayabartakingdom lost Snowshame, it's fate was sealed. There were only the royal defense army and incongruous mobs of mercenaries left to defend the capital.
Around midmorning, the next day, the two squads of royal defense army troops on their way to replace their comrades at the dueling grounds noticed the stench of blood coming from the royal defense army's camp. The squad leader felt something was amiss and quickly ordered his men to investigate the situation. Two soldiers scampered up the walls to see what was going on. They peaked over the top and found themselves back on the ground moments later. Their half soulless bodies tried to explain the glimpse of hell they had gotten, with little success.
The gates were forced open. As the sight inside was revealed bit by bit through the crack between the solid gates, those who realized what they were seeing, turned to stone. From sand to wall to rooftop, from knife to stool to stove, everything was dyed crimson. The air itself was acrid and the sweet, pungent stench of metal brought vomit to everyone's mouth.
The capital's bells were finally rung. News of the silent extermination of Snowshame spread throughout the capital. Panic reigned supreme.King Lud III pulled the terrified Viscount Timba off his carriage and asked whether that was the result of his 'reward' to the army before he beheaded him almost right away.
Investigations later revealed clues that pointed, invariably, to the dueling grounds. Two squads were sent to check. None of them returned.
The dueling grounds loomed like a giant beast over the city. Not only did it swallow slaves by the hundreds and thousands every year, now it also swallowed soldiers wholesale.
No one dared to get close to the place. The capital's force reserves were completely depleted. It only had 4000 garrisoneers, 2000 royal guards, and under 2500 men from the royal defense army responsible for protecting the warehouses. The dueling grounds were clearly occupied by someone or something hostile. And it was not something to be trifled with either -- it had already exterminated two blademasters and several gold-ranked soldiers without anyone's notice, and had thereafter exterminated 20 thousand soldiers -- in a single night. The enemy had come prepared, and struck where it would hurt the most.
Lorist recalled a saying from his past life that amounted to meaning 'one's territory should never be encroached upon by others'. That was the current situation for King Lud III. After he beheaded Viscount Timba, his anger gradually turned into terror as he stared at the 20 thousand corpses in the camp before he lost his wits altogether in a panicked fit. Given that the enemy was able to kill more than 20 thousand people in a single night, how long would they take to storm the palace and take his head?
The more the king thought of the possibility, the more fearful he became. He had everyone that could fight guarding him at all times. But the loss of the two squads that had entered the dueling grounds had been the last proverbial straw that broke camel's back. The king slowly lost his sanity, he frequently gave nonsensical orders.
First, King Lud III wanted to conscript his citizens as soldiers; he wanted every male between 16 and 50 in the armed forces. He also mobilized the regiment of troops guarding the northern sector of the city and the palace to the dueling grounds to prevent any attempt at a surprise attack.
Additionally, he ordered the slaves to clear the corpses in the campsite and demolish the camp and every building within it so that the ballistae on the walls had a clear line of fire on the dueling grounds. All the ballistae were also ordered to move to the lower section of the dueling grounds.
Third, King Lud III ordered all the nobles to gather their forces and assault the grounds. The order, however, crossed the line for many of the nobles. Furious bickering followed, which gave Lorist and his forces the time needed to rest and recover.
When the king gave his orders, Lorist, Shuss, and the three gold-ranked fighters -- Jades, Messen, Sendhank -- were seated together at the topmost audience seats of the dueling grounds, chatting listlessly as they monitored the situation outside.
"So, what are you guys going to do after the kingdom's extermination?" asked Lorist.
Shuss did not respond. He seemed rather lost. He had been sold to the slave kingdom and was a slave fighter for more than 20 years. All the slave fighters that had joined at the same time were dead; it would not be a stretch to call him the illegitimate child of the Wargod given the luck he had for surviving this long. Not only did he not die, he managed to train all the way to the blademaster rank despite being only a silver rank when he first joined. He had never bothered to think about what he would do if he were ever given his freedom. He only ever focused on his survival.
Jades was someone from the former Krissen Empire. In fact, he used to be a knight of the imperial family. However, his ill fate caused him to faint from an injury during his maiden battle and he was looted by scavengers on the battlefield. Fortunately, he was rescued by a person of good heart. Only to be captured later by slavers and sold to a mining establishment where he mined copper for four years. By the time he managed to recover from his injuries unbeknownst to his captors, he lashed out in frenzied murder to exact revenge. However, he was unfortunate enough to encounter King Lud III and a rank 3 blademaster, Locksy Kabia, who had come to check on the mines. He was defeated in moments and was sent to the dueling grounds.
Messen had been the leader of a mercenary band, but his band was destroyed because of a conflict with Duke Gouffman's slavers. He was sold to the dueling grounds and had been fighting there for the last five years. His biggest wish was to kill Duke Gouffman with his own hands. He had never thought about what he would do thereafter.
Sendhank wished to return home to exact revenge for the tragic events he had suffered. He used to be a noble of the Symleis kingdom. But, due to his fanatic passion for the martial arts and his youthful ambitions to breakthrough to the gold rank before marrying and settling down, he traveled far and wide often, at the cost of his fiancee. In the end, she had an affair with his younger brother. He was drugged with force-dispersing toxin during one of his short stays at him and, by the time he woke up, he had been sold as a slave. His younger brother took his place in the line of succession.
"Well, I'll welcome you should you at any time wish to serve House Norton or live in the dominion," offered Lorist,
This was the first time he asked them to join his side.
"I will gladly join the house, Lord Locke. I only ask that I be allowed to observe it for a year or two before I swear fealty," accepted Shuss.
"Naturally," agreed Lorist.
Jades and Messen said they would consider the offer. but wished to return to their homes first for a time. If they found family, they would bring them along.
"I'm sorry, Lord Locke, but I can't accept your offer. My home lies far south of the former empire, within the Romon Empire. I want to return home and pay back my fiancee and brother for their treachery. I also want to retake my rightful position as the head of my house..."
"I understand, Sendhank, there's no need to say anymore. I also had to offer up a life in Morante to return and take my place as the head of my house. I wish you nothing but fortune and good luck on your journey and beyond. May we meet again sometime, in situations more fortunate than these."
"May we indeed."
On the 3rd day of the 10th month, the extermination of the 20 thousand men of Snowshame had plunged the whole of the Hanayabarta kingdom into chaos. Apart from the initial two squads that were sent to inspect the grounds, no other offenses were made.
On the 4th day of the month, the kingdom finally made their move. They sent out all six of their blademasters. It was the only force left in the capital that could pose Lorist some threat. It was led by the rank 3 blademaster Locksy Kabia. Since he was both a protector of the royal family and Lud III's swordsmanship instructor, he had to do something about the situation for the sake of the kingdom. Accompanying him was the commander of the royal guards, rank 1 blademaster Viscount Sakri and four other blademasters of noble employ that had escaped from Nupite.
What Blademaster Locksy did not expect was that he would be at a disadvantage fighting Lorist the whole time. Even when Viscount Sakri joined him, they still only fought to a draw.
What surprised him most, was that the other blademasters struggled just as much as he did in their own fights. Shuss fought the only rank 2 blademaster in the group, the one that had chased Josk and Yuriy all over the hilly area. As the battle progressed, Shuss began to gradually gain an edge over his opponent.
Jades, Messen and Sendhank desperately fought against a rank 1 blademaster each. It did not take long for them to realize that the three rank 1 blademasters were mere pushovers. After an hour or so, the three blademasters were worn to the bone and barely holding on.
The three gold ranks, however, were more spirited than ever. They traded inconsequential wounds to land savage strikes on their opponents. In the end, the three blademasters crumbled. Two escaped, but the third was ended.
The rank 2 blademaster fighting against Shuss was also forced into a corner. He, too, eventually retreated. Sakri followed suit soon after.
The first assault on the dueling grounds ended in Lorist's victory. Only five of the six blademasters managed to escape alive.
On the 5th day of the 10th month, the kingdom once against launched an attack, but with more forces at their disposal than five blademasters. Accompanying the five blademasters were more than ten gold-ranked knights and swordsmen, with a few thousand more soldiers from the nobles' to the nobles' levies. This time around, they did manage to put Lorist in a precarious position. While he did manage to kill almost a hundred in the early hours of the fight, which included just over 5 gold-ranks, his power alone was not able to sway the tide. Shuss, Jades and the rest were forced to the first basement. Lorist soon followed.
During the second assault, the kingdom managed to force Lorist and the insurgent slave fighters down to the first basement. Messen and Sendhank were both heavily injured, tough Shush only suffered light injuries, luckily. Lorist was fine, apart from expending a little too much energy.
On the 6th day of the 10th month, the kingdom resumed their assault and attacked the first basement. Much to their surprise, however, Charade had filled the empty food sacks they took with mud and had stacked them up all over the first basement, turning it into a maze. No matter how many were sent in, none returned. Not only that, Lorist and Shuss were both able to move freely around the maze. Even Blademaster Locksy was forced to retreat.
The excursion ended, once again, Lorist's triumph.
On the 7th day, the kingdom's forces changed their tactics and gathered up to a thousand slave laborers instead to start digging from the top. They intended to collapse the whole first basement. But at noon, the first report of their defeat arrived. It appeared that the only cavalry unit of the kingdom had suffered a sudden ambush from an enemy cavalry unit that numbered a thousand when they were suppressing the slave revolt at one of the manors of the royal family. All but seven of the 1800 men were dead. The forces of the enemy, scouts of House Norton, had already entered the lines of sight of the soldiers defending the walls.
That afternoon the kingdom's forces assaulted the basement ferociously. With the dueling grounds being occupied, it would almost be impossible for them to fight properly against the enemies outside the city. Only by removing the tumor that was the insurgents in the dueling grounds would they be able to protect the capital.
The fighting continued well into the night. The kingdom attacked non-stop, and Lorist and his comrades resisted valiantly. Quite a number of holes in the ceiling of the first basement was visible, with droves of the kingdom's troops dropping in from them. The ground was littered with layers of corpses. By the time Lorist and the rest were finally forced into the second basement, it was already far into the next day's morning.
Both sides sustained heavy casualties, with more than 70 of Lorist's household troops dead or injured alongside 300-odd slave fighters. However, the kingdom's forces fared even worse; more than a thousand were dead and a thousand more injured. They had lost almost all their able-bodied fighters.
There was no battle on the 8th. Neither side made any offensive moves.
On the 9th, however, yet another report arrived. It stated that the royal defense army had been lured into the hilly area and surrounded. The army was completely decimated and the king's uncle was dead. The already crumbling capital fell apart completely at the news.
On the 10th, the Norton cavalry scouts encircled Hamidas. Some element of the scouts could be seen from every vantage point on the walls.
On the 11th, the rest of the Norton forces arrived along with tens of thousands of liberated slaves. They began setting up camps and defense lines all around the capital.
The 12th saw Lud III forcing the capital's people to man the walls and sending a messenger to request a cease of hostilities, which Fiercetiger Loze refused outright.
At eight that night, Lorist led the slave fighters on a surprise attack against the northern walls and managed to occupy it completely. Droves of Norton troops flooded into the capital and the royal capital fell in mere hours.
Afternoon on the 13th, following the decapitation of Rank 3 Blademaster Locksy Kabia, the despairing Lud III killed his three consorts and his nine-month-old newborn son before setting his palace on fire. The slave kingdom, Hanayabarta, founded little more than a century earlier, had truly come to an end.