Chapter 122: Fourteenth Episode: Chapter 4
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation

Even during ancient times, Borensberg was only appealing to a meager handful of people. This city was dotted with quaint, decades-old models of houses all around. Birds soared up from under the shadows of the looming church roof towards the glorious sky. The dairy cows in the courtyard were munching on grape leaves, carefree and contented. Needless to say, all these were not unique to Borensberg. As the capital of Deiss Kingdom, Borensberg housed a world-class concert hall and the largest, most opulent dome theater in the world!

And thus we say that Borensberg could only appeal to a minority of the population. Such as... artists, musicians, philosophers, poets, cleaners, and of course, nobles as well!

The Deiss would only leave their homeland under two conditions, one was war and the second was an epidemic. To most of the Deiss nobles, their greatest delight would be relaxing in their courtyards, watching wheat and various crops thrive. They could cater to their own needs for music if required, refusing to scurry over to the capital to endure the prattles of the archbishop and feudal lord, the city, and its despairing clamor. When there was no music, the Deiss relished in the silence.

As for those tenants, oh gosh! What business of it was theirs? It didn't matter whether they were mentioned! Aside from war, they sometimes couldn't leave their fields even in an epidemic! But... Apparently, the concept was wrong! In Deiss, apart from the Royal Household and nobles, no one else possessed lands of their own. Even those gallant knights eked out a living on the further divided and conferred lands of the feudal lords. So... What use was it mentioning these? If a tenant were to claim that he had been to the great capital of the Kingdom, Borensberg, then in the next moment, military police would arrest him. These ruthless officials would naturally want to check whether these pitiful creatures had stolen anything from Borensberg.

Where were we? Oh right! The things unique only to Borensberg! Excluding the world-class concert hall and the largest, most opulent dome theater in the world, this long-established Kingdom capital that had been baptized by the flames of war countless times had no difference in essence from the capitals of other countries in Westland.

The main palace building was at the city's heart, surrounded on all sides by all sorts of nobles' official residences and fortress-like buildings. The various state bureaus that managed the Kingdom's affairs were dispersed among them. After those were the sculptures, Public Square, fountains, boulevards, the wagon roads that were sprinkled with water, the priest, dressed in holy robes, preaching outside.

If the following mentioned were not eyesores, then, to be honest, the most famous places in Borensberg were not any of those we've seen, but the Supreme High Command, tightly guarded by an entire division of the military police!

Deiss Kingdom's Supreme High Command of the military, as the name implied, was the Kingdom's armed forces' highest authoritative structure. However, do not be mistaken, for the Supreme High Command was not a department that directly led the military. At best, it was merely a large Staff Department or a secretary that acted as the King's proxy for the military and war affairs. In Deiss, if His Majesty King did not wish to wage war, then the Generals in High Command could take an extended vacation. If one day His Majesty King wanted to operate the war machines out of the blue, then the Supreme High Command only have to flick a switch and the Kingdom's military would be mobilized.

In the early sixth century period of the Church's calendar, following the ceaseless expansion of territories and the scale of wars, the Royal Household of Deiss established the Supreme High Command at Lubeaulos Castle with the intent of refining military performance for more effective control. Lubeaulos Castle occupied the entire street in the Northern part of the Kingdom's capital. It was a monumental building that integrated Roman and Gothic styles. It had a moat, watchtowers, siege towers, iron fence gates and also a looming wall covered in vines and naturally, it also boasted the world famous Lubeaulos Dome Hall!

Occupying an area of close to six hundred square feet, Lubeaulos Dome Hall wasn't considered a grand architectural wonder. Its most notable characteristic was mainly the vast marble ground. In the middle of the sixth century, the Royal Household of Deiss gathered the world's most outstanding landscapers and various professionals to conduct the first geographical survey work of the largest scale and widest scope, with the most precise measurements in the history of the Land. This undertaking lasted half a century and once the fundamental work was settled, a complete geographical map of Westland was engraved upon the great marble ground of Lubeaulos Dome Hall.

This great map, painted with unique paint, pioneered the science of surveying and mapping. In order for the Deiss soldiers to distinguish the various districts and nations, each country was depicted a different color. On the multicolored ground, we could identify Titan, taking up a vast area, and also the Northern Sea Principality that was the size of a "square table".

After a practical survey, the manpower, resources, and funding invested by Deiss' Royal household into this stupendous map were indeed worth it. Through this map, the Supreme High Command could even delineate the position of the army in one of the tiny villages, something that was beyond the imagination of other Sovereign States for quite some time. Thus because of that, each Sovereign State raised the bar for surveying and mapping standards in their countries' territories. No one hoped for the Deiss Imperial Army, being alarmingly superb in long-range raids, to appear in their courtyards.

***************

Church's year 797, 2nd day of the 11th month. Despite His Majesty King not directly expressing his intent to use force, the Generals of Supreme High Command understood his message loud and clear. That was simply because His Majesty was too tormented by his ailment to utter a word! So this morning, the Generals convened a military meeting as usual. On the multicolored floor of Lubeaulos Dome Hall, more than ten "Tin Cans", with enough gold medals on their chests to forge armor, appeared.

"Okay, everyone has seen it!" General Steinbein finally placed the last red knight figure, representing the enemy, onto a particular location that represented the Southern territory of the Kingdom, "The Titan's attack was phenomenally malicious, and certainly not the style of the guard's Northern Army Group Commander. I believe that it definitely stemmed from one of those Dulin men!"

Standing on a part of the map in the Dome Hall, Einsenstein sized up Steinbein, who was slightly thrilled. Hehe! This gold-bearded old man finally endured through! Marshal Schneiven had been assassinated! And the Commander of the Teutonic Knights had been beheaded by that young prince! The current Supreme High Command only had General Steinbein who could take charge of the situation.

Einsenstein kept a certain distance from the Kingdom's higher order officials. He had served many years in the Imperial Court and knew what was taboo to his Monarch. As the Palace Chief and Chief Government Spokesperson, despite him being in charge of communication between the Royal Household and Supreme High Command, as a politician through and through, Einsenstein harbored a deep, dark principle; to stay away from the military. This was the most basic rule of the game. Thus, he'd adopted the attitude of an observer in military meetings all this time.

"It's Silver Fox Alan! It must be him!" a General cried while gnashing his teeth.

"That's right! I also think it's Alan!" another General chimed in.

General Steinbein nodded. He was fond of the current atmosphere in High Command. Once upon a time, when his colleagues spoke, they had to tread carefully. However… there was an exception to everything!

General Rondraisse frowned and snorted impatiently. As the second candidate with the opportunity of being promoted to Marshal, he did not mind making things tough for his old rival.

"Generals!" Rondraisse took a step forward and so happened to be standing on the pre-determined Front Lines of the Kingdom's military, "We have now ascertained the enemy's position and attached armed forces, and also know that our opponent's Commander is Titan Empire's fearless Old Fox. However, we seem to have forgotten one point, which is, why did Titans do that? I do not wish to regard the Titan's military offensive as simply retaliation. Since they have armed forces of fifty-six divisions lined up on all three sides of the Defensive line, I think they definitely have a larger goal of their strategy!"

"Such as?" General Steinbein threw the question back at his old partner, smirking.

Rondraisse shook his head, "I don't know, the Titans should not be so adamant in launching a full-blown war on our country! Everyone look!"

The General pointed towards the map at his feet, "The military offensive Marshal Alan launched only formed prominent units on three sides of the border! He chose the most solid Southern Defensive area. I can only perceive it as their having intentions to wage an extended war! But I can't foresee what benefit it will bring to the Old Fox's country by setting up this battlefield."

Steinbein heaved a gentle sigh. The attack that Alan launched had already emerged victorious during the stages of planning! This was a reality that couldn't be denied. Titan's previous attack on the Riel Kingdom had achieved success in stages. Thus, the Imperial Guards were stationed at the Western border between Riel and this Kingdom. The Narcissus Knights had successfully suppressed a majority of the military strength at the Kingdom's Eastern Defensive region into the sturdy fortress, while Alan had launched an assault midway at the Kingdom's Southern Defensive line. There was no flaw in the overall strategy of the Old Fox. He forced the Royal Army to be mindful of the Eastern Line and to strengthen the Western Line. Lastly, they still had to engage in a main decisive battle with the Imperial Guards that had a ferocious momentum!

That's right! Steinbein once again swept his gaze over the map! Alan just needed an opportunity to take out the main force at the Kingdom's Southern line. And just like that, negotiations to impel the Titans' retreat would be underway immediately. However, it would be impossible for the Kingdom to recover their armed forces at the Southern Lines and their advantaged Defensive position anytime soon. At the bottom line, everything was the result of His Majesty Emperor taking the risk to advance back then. When the military report of the crushing defeat at Saijo Mountain reached Supreme High Command, Steinbein knew that he would eventually come across a situation such as this.

"So... If the Southern Line pulled back their defenses, shift more of the Northwestern military force to..."

"Don't even think about it!" Steinbein interjected before the General who voiced out could finish, "Marshal Kaydron is defending against the Olliers at the Kingdom's Northwest. No one is to even consider transferring a single soldier. In any case, I will not bring up this matter of shifting reinforcements to the Marshal."

"But... if we don't reinforce, the twenty-nine remaining divisions at the Southern Line and the ten massive Fortresses can't necessarily hinder the Titans' attack." another General voiced.

"Huuuu..." Steinbein expelled a heavy breath, "It seems that as of now, they must stop them!"

"Actually... Regardless of how we look at it, in the end, we must hear what His Majesty has to say," General Rondraisse said while shooting a glance at Einsenstein who had his head hung down, not uttering a word.

Einsenstein shook his head, "Everyone should not hope for any opinions from His Royal Majesty. The state of his health is already..."

"Arrival of Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Opareal!" a sudden announcement broke off the Palace Chief's words. The Generals in the Great Hall gaped at the doors.

Opareal handed over her short overcoat to the paladin standing respectfully by the door. She stepped into the great hall in high spirits, the heels of her moccasins producing a crisp click-clacking sound on the great marble floor.

"What happened? Everyone's faces seem very odd!" the Princess offered a cordial greeting to the Highest Generals who were standing on the Southern Border of the country's map, "It's my first time being here, don't I just look like a naïve country girl?"

Having forgotten even the etiquette in greeting Her Royal Highness Crown Princess, the generals exchanged glances.

Einsenstein grabbed at Opareal who was about to join the group of Generals and whispered in alarm to his wife.

"Oh goodness, gracious! Have you gone mad? You can only appear here the day you ascend the throne! The men in Supreme High Command are the most traditional soldiers and they will view your current attitude as..."

"Don't worry over small matters!" Opareal rolled her eyes at her husband. She did not have time to explain to Einsenstein. The Princess brushed off her husband's arm and stood tall before the perplexed officers.

"The Kingdom's most loyal Generals!" the Princess gestured with her hand and the attendant behind her placed a document coated in gold into the Crown Princess' hands, "Since the Kingdom's Royal Majesty Nine can no longer serve as usual... Actually, just a moment ago, the members of the Royal household signed a joint decision for me to enter the national palace with the status of regent."

Steinbein took the document, bewildered. He had long since mentally prepared in welcoming a new King, but when this woman materialized before him, he came to realize that he wasn't all that prepared after all.

"Will the Supreme High Command accept a female leader?" the officers exchanged looks in addressing this implausible news.

"But... What other choice is there? Especially at this hour! This has been destined, if not today, then tomorrow!" Steinbein rolled his eyes and accepted reality.

Evidently, General Rondraisse was one step ahead of his old rival this time. When Steinbein was still blinking, Rondraisse had already knelt on one knee humbly, kissing the back of the Princess' hand sincerely.

"It is an honor for me to be the first to call you Her Highness Regent!"

Opareal watched with delight as the very best Generals of Supreme High Command kissed her hand. Honestly, she also felt immensely honored.

"Her Highness Regent!"

"Her Highness Regent!"

...

Since someone took the lead, the following things fell into place. The whole house of "Tin Cans" knelt on one knee for the birth of the Kingdom's true ruler.

"That's enough! You're all making me feel embarrassed!" Opareal exclaimed while moving forward. Helping her husband who was similarly kneeling, up.

"In this case... Who can reveal to me the true situation of the war?" the Deiss Regent, Her Royal Highness Princess Opareal Roulexberg sized up the map beneath her feet, brimming with anticipation.

***************

"Up until 11 am today, my army has basically completed the strategic goal of the winter offensive's first phase and has penetrated 1600km into enemy territory! The specifics are as displayed on the map!" Titan's guard, Colonel Payne Lubelly used his baton to rap on a few positions on the map.

"The Fourth Army Group has taken over Nisos Fortress, the Seventh Corps is still besieging Laneum, the Second and Ninth Corps have encountered strong defense from the Tenth, Nineteenth, and Seventh SS Independent Infantry Brigade from the start! Although the Second Corps suffered heavy losses, after reorganizing this morning, their military offensive finally forced the enemies to withdraw from Cangaree City! At the same time, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth Corps are going along Quermore, the Front Lines of Dunbly to push on towards the North. It is estimated that they will only come across the main military force that the Deiss deployed at the Southern defense region, consisting of Deiss Kingdom's Seventh, Sixth and Fourteenth Infantry Corps, Third Cavalry Corps, Fifth and Ninth SS Independent Cavalry Brigade in two week's time!"

As soon as Colonel Payne finished, the whole room of Generals broke out into a heated debate. Marshal Alan was seated at the head of the long table. He assessed the Generals discussing the war situation with satisfaction until he noticed a sulking blonde.

"Major General Krasius, Commander of the Northern Army Group's Ninth Corps!" Alan called out the blonde lad's name. He watched contentedly as Krasius bolted upright in his seat, his body arcing like a tightened bow about to be released.

"Distinguished Major General, as of now, only your Ninth and Second Corps have engaged in battle with the Deiss SS ranked Independent armed forces. Could you share your knowledge about this completely new battle team?"

Shooting a quick glance at the smiling Alan, Krasius' mood did not take a turn for the better.

"Reporting, Marshal. Firstly, I would like to clarify a point. I only took over the authority to command after the Second Corp's Commander sacrificed himself. Moreover... I feel an unavoidable sense of responsibility for the death of the Second Corps' Commander!"

Alan waved his hand at the young Major General. Everyone could tell that the commander was fond of this doll-like, blond-haired lad.

"General Krasius, the discussion about responsibility will be after the war matters. We've just launched our attack and from how I see it now, your fellow colleagues and I urgently need to know the specific military capability of the Deiss SS ranked Independent Armed Force."

"Yes, Marshal!" Krasius saluted Alan, maintaining the most standard military form all the while, "From my observation, the SS ranked Independent Armed Force is merely a special asset that the Deiss Supreme High Command utilized in strengthening deployment of the feudal lord's military power in the region. We all know that Deiss Kingdom's manufacturing of iron products have an agreed standard like our country, but the quality of the weapons made of iron varies! I think that the so-called SS rank probably refers to the military power belonging to the region's feudal lord who has sophisticated weapons. They regard families as a unit and defended against our attacks in each other's territories, or the huge combined territories. Thus, the tenacious nature of the SS ranked military force was fully displayed and moreover, they were immensely familiar with the terrain. These are my preliminary conclusions drawn based on the battle and everything remains to be further verified by respective officers."

All the seated Generals nodded. This fair-haired young lad indeed knew his stuff. With just a few words, he not only hit home but was also rigorous. It was no surprise that he could take charge as Commander of a Corps at such a tender age.

Alan's smile seemed to have reached even his eyes! He indeed adored this young officer with a resilient mind. Although he had a humble position in terms of military rank and nobility title, his capability of marching into war should not be underestimated.

"Only sophisticated weapons, is it?" Alan was a little dubious about that. Despite the Military Intelligence Bureau having analyzed the Deiss SS ranked Independent Armed Force before, it was merely subjective data, and only a true battle could test the battle strength of an army.

"I believe it to be so!" Krasius seemed to have thrown caution to the wind, possibly offering an answer without thinking it thoroughly, "Your distinguished Marshal, despite the opponent appearing orderly on the battlefield, the inner essence of the soldiers is definitely a hidden threat. Those feudal lords have probably already mobilized all the youngsters within the territory. When I launched the general offensive this morning, I noticed that there were many carcasses of children left on the battlefield."

"Ohh... So it's like this!" Silver Fox Alan nodded in understanding.

"Reporting, Marshal!"

"Speak!" Alan indicated towards Krasius, who had requested to continue speaking.

"I think... the most difficult to handle would be the SS ranked Independent Cavalry Brigade. According to the Supreme High Command's degree of priority towards their cavalry, those who make up this Brigade level, superbly equipped Independent team must have abundant battle experience. Moreover... They are after all fighting on their own territory! Just like yesterday, until now I am still baffled as to where the Independent Brigade that appeared behind the Second Corps materialized from!"

"Indeed!" Alan heaved a sigh, "We are waging war in Deiss' national land!"

"Oh, that's right!" something seemed to have suddenly struck Silver Fox, "How is Major General Silvio Barrick's Eighth District's Second Corps doing?"

Colonel Payne Lubelly flipped through his files promptly, "Uhhh... Uhhh... The large towns close to Deiss' border, with a population of basically more than two thousand people, no longer exist."

Alan wrinkled his forehead, "Be a little more specific."

"Yes, sir!" Colonel Payne pursed his lips, clearly not too willing to bring up the matter, "According to the battle report sent by Major General Silvio's Eighth District's Second Corps, uh... They have completely destroyed two large towns and two medium-sized towns, annihilating... about six thousand... enemies."

"Hehehehe!" A General suddenly laughed coldly, "Annihilating six thousand enemies? That's two Corps! A little more than that of Horfansted!"

"Yes, that's right!" Another General muttered coldly, "The butchers were against farmers wielding hoes and shovels in their hands, otherwise it'd be women and children..."

"That's enough!" Alan interrupted the two Generals who were against everything in an even colder voice.

The Generals ducked their heads down. They all knew the purpose of the Marshal utilizing the Scorched Earth Policy. Even if they were deeply perturbed by it, it was not worthwhile contradicting Alan on the spot.

"Instruct Major General Silvio, pull back when it's about done."

"Yes, sir!" Colonel Payne nodded, "Marshal, it seems... Major General Silvio has already commenced the rectifying order. This morning he has further dispersed military strength and started to herd the refugees towards Deiss' Northern inland..."

"I know! That is it for today!" Alan no longer wished to discuss matters regarding Silvio the butcher in the presence of the crowd.

Watching the Generals filing out of the temporary combat room one after another, Alan's face suddenly became grave.

"In that case... The resistance from the country's inland should have arrived?" the Marshal thought out loud. When everything was going smoothly, he finally started to worry. A successful Commander would usually be stabbed from behind with a knife and Alan knew this only too well! But fearing for the country's internal matters at this juncture was unnecessary. The bargaining chips had all been spread out onto the table and it depends on whether the Deiss would show their hand towards the end of the game!

"Reporting!" a travel-worn communications official suddenly popped up at the doorway, causing Alan to reflexively knit his eyebrows!

"From the Military Intelligence Bureau's subdivision stationed in Deiss..."

Without waiting for the Communications Official to complete his sentence, the Old Marshal snatched the file that was embroidered with the words "Top Secret".

"The rescue plan failed? How can it fail... How can it?" Alan crumpled the letter and slumped into the seat. He seemed completely drained all of a sudden! But almost immediately, the Old Marshal grabbed Colonel Payne Lubelly by the collar firmly and abruptly.

Having the Marshal spewing frosty air right in his face, Payne shivered uncontrollably.

Alan looked grim, his hands having already balled the letter into trash, "Issue a search warrant to General Headquarters of the Military Intelligence Bureau in the capital for the man named Wystan, whose nickname is Left Hand! I want to know how he scurried over to the capital from the South, who referred him to the young lady of House Andrew and whom he was in contact with during the days he stayed in the capital. Also! What he eats daily, steals, plays, the kind of women he's fond of, find out each and every detail! Do not miss a single thing!"

***************

"Are you missing something?" Alfa III suddenly called out to his Cabinet Chancellor just when the ministers were about to leave the packed house.

Duke Kachev Drakas Ferdinand turned around with a smile, "Your Imperial Majesty, I thought the council meeting had ended!"

"Yes, that's right!" His Majesty III nodded. He slouched in his throne, studded with gold and precious stones, pulling a long, frail face etched with the lines of age. "Thank you, my Cabinet Chancellor. If it weren't for your stalwart management these recent years, I believe that I will not come to see the prosperous Empire of today."

"Your Majesty! I am not worthy of such praise!" Old Kachev gave a half-sincere bow, "You know, Your Majesty, speaking of it makes me feel downright ashamed. The prosperity of the Empire is merely an outward appearance, the tragedy concealed behind is most real!"

"Tragedy?" Alfa III glanced at the Old Duke quizzically.

"Yes Your majesty!" Old Kachev nodded, "This year's agriculture taxation has risen once again. Although the fall tax levy period has ended, the budget from each government sector has hit an all-time high in history! This calls for us to introduce a more favorable taxation policy in next year's spring! But... I fear that the Ministry of Senior Nobility will not conform to it as the current tax rates are already causing nobles everywhere to whine ceaselessly. Even the respective Imperial Family members are grumbling about the dwindling annuity. If the tax rates are adjusted and further increased, I'm afraid that unnecessary unrest would brew. This is because the nobles can transfer part of the tax rates to the leaders of the people. To begin with, those leaders were destitute, and if that's the case..."

"If that's the case, a rebellion similar to the Great Southern Uprising in year 791 will ensue!" Alfa III waved his hand impatiently. Was the country's prosperity really just an outside appearance?

The Emperor sucked in a deep breath, "My tolerance and patience are also limited! Those nobles with merits of honor and military merits, and also those Southern people's so-called new nobles..."

"Sire, the so-called new nobles are also legitimate nobles who were conferred nobility titles by the former Emperor." Old Kachev reminded the downcast Alfa III liberally.

"Yes, yes, you are right!" the Emperor gave a series of nods, but his expression was utterly terrifying, "It is precisely these nobles who relied on the fortune of their ancestors. They have forgotten who was the one that gave them honor and privilege. Now the country needs them, but they actually went so far as to denounce me to save their own skins..."

"Your Majesty!" Old Kachev felt that the Emperor had vented enough, "You need not worry now! A few Cabinet Ministers and I have already discussed a countermeasure."

Alfa III swiftly hurled out a file and it landed by the Titan Cabinet Chancellor's feet. The Old Duke only frowned, not even sparing it a glance. Even though Kachev admitted that this humiliation was one that ingrained deepest within him in all his life, he would absolutely not bicker over it. He was Kachev Drakas Ferdinand! He would not waste energy on meaningless things.

"Do you still remember when I asked you whether you are missing something? It's this!" Alfa III indicated the file that he had flung over to him. He was delighted over Kachev's grimacing face. "What is cutting down the budget of the Ministry of Governance? Was your exposition regarding prosperity and tragedy a while ago prepared for this file?"

Kachev shook his head, "Your Majesty, you surely know the figures of Titan's yearly expenses in maintaining the Imperial guards! I have a lot more time in my current position and each year I pour in millions of gold for the national treasury. However, our country's Ministry of Governance is just too enormous and it's barely enough to maintain it during normal times! But this year, the Military Affairs Chancellor, Marshal Alan has already taken away half of the country's revenue collection when launching the attack on the Rielese! The reparations from the Rielese can cover it, but later in the winter offensive, Marshal Alan again took out all the Fall taxation this year..."

"Enough!" the Emperor bellowed. He was allured by lavish spending but outright scorned having just enough to get by. "What do you want? Marshal Alan's winter offensive is underway like wildfire and the day the Deiss are crushed beneath my feet is almost upon us! Don't tell me you expect them to retreat and later tell the Empire's gallant soldiers, 'We do not have enough funding to support you any longer! Hurry home and work the land instead!' Do you expect me to say these to the Marshal and the soldiers?"

"Sire, you have misunderstood!" Kachev was exasperated. It seemed that Alfa III was really captivated by Alan's war results; otherwise, he would accept the highly disputable judgment on the guard's Chief of Staff. Even now, being harrowed by an empty national treasury, Alfa III still backed Alan! Kachev confessed he had once again underestimated just how much the Silver Fox weighed in the Emperor's heart.

"I misunderstood?" Alfa III pointed towards the file on the ground, "Don't use those high-sounding terms and an infinite set of numbers to try and fool me. I understand my Empire and my subjects; the soldiers struggle on the battlefield for the sake of them living in peace. There must be a way to balance the various budgets and national treasury's revenue collection! However..."

Alfa III suddenly descended the throne, picked up the file and shoved it into the Cabinet Chancellor's arms. "Kachev, my teacher! I recall that you were once a warrior of the Empire. You've seized a vast expanse of Deiss' territory for the Empire, but now I realize that you have apparently started to harbor hatred for the Empire's soldiers! You should learn from my finance minister! Within the purview of his position, he has aggressively raised funds. I believe that Marshal Alan's military offensive can last for three months!"

"Almodovar Godzilla?" Kachev Drakas Ferdinand's eyes bulged abruptly. How could it be the Sea Creature?

"Oh, I forgot to tell you!" Alfa III assumed his seat on the throne but his face had taken on a hostile expression.

"It so happened that Marquis Almodovar Godzilla was the one who helped me analyze your strategy from the documents one by one. A budget cut from the Ministry of Governance, reduction in the gold trading threshold, relaxing restrictions of the Southern business... Uhhh...The rest slipped my mind! In other words, these are things, which are incapable of being achieved overnight! My Chancellor, I only hope that Marshal Alan's offensive can persist for three months, or even longer! So don't get any more ideas for cutting the military's budget! This has made me doubt your motives! Understand?"

Kachev gave a feeble nod! He was baffled and in fact astounded beyond comprehension! The sea creature? Almodovar Godzilla? Why did this lump of minced meat slink out from the Ministry of Finance's building? Could it be he did not know that standing out now would only draw trouble?

"Your Majesty, Duke Andrew is getting tetchy waiting outside the palace doors!" the Confidential Secretary, Marquis Philip Goolean timely reminded the Emperor after the Cabinet Chancellor withdrew from the room.

"I knew it..." Alfa III smacked his forehead, "My old friend is sure quick in catching wind of news!"

"Contrary to you, my Majesty!" Dortmund had barged in unexpectedly and the paladins guarding the palace doors stood behind Duke Andrew awkwardly, staring at the Marshal medal on the Duke's uniform with faraway looks.

"You should not have hidden the Military Intelligence Bureau's..."

"Hold on, my old friend! Please wait a minute!" Alfa III rose from his seat and approached his younger sister's husband.

Marquis Philip Goolean knowingly led the two paladins into the discussion hall, closing the palace doors for them.

"Okay old friend, now tell me! What were you complaining about?" Alfa III steered Dortmund to a sofa to a corner of the palace.

"Sire, I am not complaining, I just cannot comprehend it! Why did you hide the matter about the failed rescue? I am Oscar's father, I need to..."

"I understand your feelings!" Alfa III was in a bind. He was actually clueless about how he was going to explain the matter. He only knew that there were still many within the country that wanted the young prince dead.

Dortmund calmed himself down, realizing that he was being impertinent. "Your Imperial Majesty, you know... I am not against you, Marshal Alan or the Military Intelligence Bureau. I originally did not hold out much hope for the rescue plan."

"Oh?" Alfa III gazed at Duke Andrew pensively.

"Why? Did I say something wrong?" Dortmund looked at His Majesty uncertainly.

"No! Continue please."

Duke Andrew nodded, "Actually, I am still more inclined towards using military force as a threat. You know, the Deiss had always bullied the weak and feared the strong. Marshal Alan's winter offensive has progressed at a miraculous speed and this is the best proof! We could've relied on the superiority of our military force to put pressure on the Deiss into signing a treaty, but now the Military Intelligence Bureau has messed everything up! Oh goodness, gracious! I don't even know whether my Oscar is still alive. He may possibly already be..."

"No Dortmund, no!" Alfa III suddenly shook his head, "You should believe just how much I value young Oscar. I confess that I was indeed a little reckless in handling little Oscar's issue, but I have always been striving for the best outcome! But having things turn out like this... I do not mind divulging this to you. The true reason behind the failed rescue lies within the country. The Secret Service Department believes that someone had sold out the plans of the Military Intelligence Bureau!"

"Sire, one moment it's the Military Intelligence Bureau and the next, it's the Secret Service Department! I am already confused!" Dortmund shook his head, "You know that I have always been uninterested in the work of the secret agents. I'd rather lead my Narcissus Knights and crush..."

"Enough, Your Distinguished Duke Andrew!" Alfa III suddenly lost his patience. What did Dortmund think he was saying? Was his military force threatening Deiss or the Empire?

"Dortmund, I understand your situation as a father, but may you and your Narcissus Knights never do such a dangerous thing ever again."

Duke Andrew stood up cautiously. He had never seen the Emperor being so blunt.

"Your Majesty, can you tell me... What are you suspicious about? Because... I can't find a reason for you to prevent me from sending out troops!"

Alfa III gave a cold laugh. He also felt that now was already not the time to beat around the bush!

"Dortmund, do you know why I value this child, Oscar so much? I know that you all have always thought that I regard this child as a link between the Imperial Household and Andrews. However, a greater part of the reason that I value him and love him is that you and your family have let him and also his mother down, who is also my younger sister! It was like this in the past, and still like this now!"

Duke Andrew was thrown off. He gazed at the Emperor with near disbelief. This was way earlier than the anticipated hour of laying down his cards.

"My old friend, do you know why I said it that way? If I do not provide you a rational explanation, you will definitely let slip and deny that your family harbors any disgust or even hostility towards little Oscar!" the Emperor had adopted a terrifying look while speaking, "The investigations of the Secret Service Department and Military Intelligence Bureau have already proven that the Oscar's few followers have always been using the intelligence network of your Military Investigation Bureau to communicate behind the scenes. Their plans have been exposed. It could be said that they have dived headlong into the traps planted by the Deiss! What does this imply? What does this make me think of? I can only assume that it is either you or your family who have betrayed little Oscar! You wish to sever the Royal Household's..."

"Just a minute, Sire! Hold on..." Dortmund broke the Emperor off, his eyes were widened. The person in charge of the Military Investigation Bureau of Dulin region had gone missing! He had no idea that these rescuers were using the Andrews' own intelligence network to communicate. But... It was impossible for him not to know, right? Could it be that the Military Investigation Bureau was keeping things from their Commander-in-chief? No! That was absolutely impossible!

"What do you wish to say?" The Emperor inquired while shifting his body. He was over the moon, having released the long accumulated feelings in his chest. The feeling was really as if a weight had been lifted away! Look! Just look! Dortmund's expression appeared as if he had swallowed a fly. Had he given himself away? The Red Tiger Cavalry Corps were deployed to the Northern Front Lines whilst Dortmund had become a General without an army in the capital. Let's see how he was going to explain this!

"Your Imperial Majesty, I must take my leave!" Duke Andrew stood up abruptly, "But I wish to tell you that what you just said is merely your own assumptions or imagination! I will use practical actions to prove Andrew's loyalty to the Imperial Household!"

Watching the Duke's silhouette from behind, Alfa III again laughed coldly. He had laid his cards down to the Andrews, did he not? He'd waited for this opportunity for a long time! If Oscar really encountered misfortune, the Emperor could only believe it to be bad luck! If Oscar could successfully flee... Then... He should seize the moment to usher him onto the Andrews' throne! The Andrews had revealed their awareness of the situation. This massive crocodile living in seclusion at the Eastern borders was getting more difficult to contain!

***************

The carriage raced forward. The shadows of people and houses were streaking past the window. The remnants of late autumn left the streets filled with withering fallen leaves. The wheels of the carriage swept past and the yellow leaves swirled up like flying cotton, twirling rapidly in the air and floating back down silently once the wind had died.

The sky was murky as if a downpour was coming! The frosty air from the North was about to descend upon Dulin. The Empire's capital had already appeared bleak at four in the afternoon. There was not a single pedestrian on the streets, and the shops' signboards let out a monotonous rattling. The palace and towering buildings stood majestically beneath the gathering clouds. They looked down upon all the ordinary living things, flaunting their grace and verve.

The carriage emerged from the shadows cast down by the buildings. The Commander-in-Chief of the Narcissus Knights shifted his gaze which had been trained outside the window.

"Currently, who is in charge of the special operations in Dulin region?" Duke Andrew suddenly threw the question at his aide-de-camp.

"It's Zoera!"

"Zoera?"

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