Titan Beneath the Heavens
Chapter 127: Fourteenth Episode: Chapter 9
Chapter 127: Fourteenth Episode: Chapter 9
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
In the not so vast territory of the Deiss Kingdom, the Alborto district merely occupied an area of 18 kilometers square. This pocket-sized basin filled the only level gap in the Southern hills of Deiss. The history of Alborto Fortress dates way back and can be traced all the way back to the first three centuries on Church's calendar. At that time, the Yarans were still in a tribe alliance. Needless to say, the Fortress of that time merely consisted of a few stone rooms.
The magnificent Alborto Fortress has undergone four large-scale expansions. After 700 years on the Church's Calendar, the model and scale of today were finally determined. It boasted a 40 meters wide moat and surrounding stonewalls close to 20 over meters in height and a width of 2 kilometers on all four sides. Gates were found on three sides of the Fortress walls and on them loomed fortified watchtowers. If only the above descriptions were used in depicting the exterior of Alborto Fortress, it would definitely not suffice. This was because the Fortress held a position of utmost importance in the history of Westland's military construction.
To sum it up, Westland's military constructions were often separate from the cities, standing in a defense for cities and their peripheral areas just by its geographical location. In other words, cities were a place where one bred and lived while castles and forts were created entirely for military defense.
However, the Alborto Fortress that stood remotely at the edge of the basin was not like this. It was one of the few military constructions in Westland that imitated the Eastern city layout, or one could say it was a massive city that was surrounded by looming walls and the army. Another model for this layout was Narcissus County's Andrew Haila. This proved that the Easterner's city defense concepts were exceedingly practical. However, when the architects of Westland were met with the issue of the rapidly increasing city population, they had no choice but to give up the style of the Easterners. This was because the surrounding walls greatly limited the expansion of the city's scope and its development. The fretting over Andrew Haila City's cramped construction highlighted this fact explicitly.
The over hundred years of peace has painted a glorious brilliance onto the walls of Alborto Fortress. That was the sparkle emitted by stones that have weathered the wind and storm. Constant renovations on the Fortress' outer wall cause it to no longer bear the worn out scars of before.
Church's year 797, the 20th day of the 11th month, is also the fourth day that an enormous army group of Titan's Imperial guards appeared at an area not far off from Alborto Fortress. The Fortress' defense and military strength allocation have already gone back on track after a month of hasty preparations. The general headquarters of Deiss' Southern warzone was set up in Maphory Cathedral within the Fortress. Before the statue of the God of Light, every Commissioned officer keen of participating in the attack and defense war made a blood oath to repel the invaders and fight until the last man standing.
To be more exact, now was early in the morning of the 20th day of the 11th month. The skies were still engulfed in darkness and the feeble rays of starlight. Probably a majority of areas in the Deiss Kingdom, particularly the North, have embraced the first snowfall of this winter. However, Alborto, deep in the low-lying basin of inland, still has sparse greenery still visible on the surface of its earth.
The shouts of the knights traveled through the silent plains until it reached the inner Fortress. The guards of the city walls have long since noticed the smoke that rolled up in the twilight. The copper bell on the city wall facing the rank of knights rang and numerous Deiss warriors spilled out from the army's hiding hole. They aligned themselves into a tight formation before the crenels of the city walls. Although the soldiers looking down from the city walls saw that there were not more than ten men in the rank of knights, their forces were strained.
"It's a small team of Teutonic Knights!" One of the lookouts finally made out the symbol on the military armor as the opponent drew closer to the moat.
The duty personnel in charge of the Fortress' garrison unit already rushed over to the Southern city gates. He was astonished, just what was enough to cause the Teutonic Knights to violate the ban on passing through at night?
"Urgent report! Urgent report!" The leader of the knights, wandering along the moat shouted towards the brightly lit watchtower. As per the order of emergency matters, the leader of the knights flashed a valid identification proof and orders of his direct commanding officer. The leader of the cavalry only had to insert the military insignia that had his surname and military unit's number onto the arrowhead and shoot it into the watchtower. When a plank to cross the moat was lowered from the Fortress, the early winter sky was vaguely lit.
The leader of the knights sped across it while cursing. The message from the battlefield must not be delayed even for a moment. He could make head or tails as to why General Rondraisse, a Commander, set up such tedious rules for entering the Fortress.
The Deiss Kingdom's Commander of the battlefield, General Rondraisse sneezed violently. He took out his handkerchief, wiped his slightly sore nose, and proceeded to wipe his eyes without caring about appearances. The old General's eyes were bloodshot. Since he joined the main Southern Army Group, he never had a good night's sleep.
"Someone is criticizing me!" The General of the Kingdom grumbled. He was not complaining, but merely trying to alleviate the tension in the war room.
The sun has risen and the gentle morning light shone through the multicolored glass windows of the cathedral, reflecting a myriad of distorted colors. The main hall of the cathedral was the war room. The military men moved away from the benches, replacing them with more than ten long tables. The towering candle stands were heaped up with candle oil accumulated over the days. The statue of the God of Light was bathed in candlelight and the gleam from the medals all around it.
The huge doors that suddenly banged open and sent cool morning breeze into the main hall. General Rondraisse, who was attentively contemplating the battlefield layout, was not distracted. He only used his hand to shield the candle set aside on the map from the icy wind.
"Sir! Some from the Ninth SS Independent Cavalry Brigade are here!"
Shooting a bewildered look at the operations staff officer who reported to him, the General supported his back and raised a hand, "The Ninth SS Independent Cavalry Brigade? Aren't they on the right flank, monitoring the Titan guard's Army Group on the left flank?"
"Sir! Commander of the Second Division under the Kingdom's Ninth SS Independent Cavalry Brigade reporting!"
Rondraisse did a one over of the plucky military man and was even more astonished. The Division Commander's armor was covered with bloodstains and his forehead had a bandage soaked in blood around it.
"What is the situation?" The General questioned directly, knowing that now was not the time to put on an air.
"My division conducted a tactical harassment yesterday evening at Cangaree City, but... But we were ambushed by the Titans!"
"No! No!" The Division Commander shook his head vehemently, "Cangaree City appears like an unguarded, empty city and so I charged into it boldly. Although we encountered an ambush, I still managed to take control of the city."
"Your Cavalry Division has recaptured Cangaree?" Rondraisse's eyes widened. He wasn't excited; instead, he was deeply terrified.
"Yes, sir! I vow with faith that my Cavalry Division has recaptured Cangaree! However, the Titans who ambushed us were only a small group, they maintained their offensive for half an hour and under my counterattack..."
"That's enough!" The General broke him off, "I don't want to know how you recaptured Cangaree, I only wish to know where the Titan Army Group on the left flank originally defending there are!"
"They... They appeared to have broken away from the Western battlefront!" The Commander spluttered.
"Appeared... You still have the nerve to use this term?" Rondraisse gritted his teeth in rage and fixed his gaze upon his disfigured subordinate.
The General finally couldn't suppress his anger and snatched up the map under the light viciously. The various ranks of Generals in the war room abruptly froze in their respective tasks. The enemy's formidable force suddenly vanished a night before the huge battle erupted. Even fools could tell what this implied.
"The second and Ninth Corps under Titan guard's Northern Army Group... Not taking into account the members they lost in the previous battle... They still have a military strength of four to five divisions." Rondraisse mumbled to himself while using a metal ruler to sketch on the map. "Cangaree... Alborto... Vanished last night!"
The General again whirled to face the Division Commander, "Can you verify the when the opponent gave up on Cangaree?"
The Commander of the Second Division stood to attention, "The residents in the city said that they withdrew one after another on the night of the 19th."
"You didn't realize?"
"I realized, but they put up a good pretense. My brigade commander believed that was a normal mobilization."
"Which direction were they headed?" Rondraisse looked closely at the map, pondering over the possible locations where the Army Group of the enemy's left flank would appear.
"The Battlefield!" The Division Commander exclaimed while indicating on the ground.
The General heaved a sigh. The distance from Cangaree City to the Alborto area's predetermined battlefield was only a straight distance of over fifty kilometers. Meaning to say that, tomorrow or the day after, Titan's central Army Group before him would receive reinforcements of at least four divisions. By convention, no one would leave both the left and right flanks unguarded on the eve of a decisive battle breaking out. The reason being that it would result in a situation where the enemy could circle back and outflank them, but the Silver Fox so happened to have done just that! He must have seen that the left flank's defensive strength was inadequate and brazenly ordered the Second and Ninth Corps to shift their divisions to the central battlefield.
"Convey my orders! Re-adjust the combat deployments as follows!" General Rondraisse finally stood upright. He admitted that he was wavering, but he could not allow Alan to continue expanding his advantages on the battlefield.
"First, once the Titans line up their battle array on the predetermined battlefield, the attacking positions of the Teutonic Knights remain unchanged and will subdue the opponent's Wolfriders. Second, the cavalry force defending against the enemy troops' left-wing will immediately set out and draw closer to my central Army Group, joining the battle sequence and merging into the overall reserve. Thirdly, in countering the enemies head-on, re-adjust the Triton Array into the Scorpion Ant Array. Fourthly, if the outcome of the decisive battle is favorable to me, there isn't a need to go after the enemies, just increase the pressure from harassment. Fifth, if the outcome of the battle is unfavorable to me, the plan of retreating to the Fortress remains standing and we shall battle to the end at Alborto!"
The General's voice reverberated throughout the cathedral's vast main hall. The military officers who filled the room sat bolt upright. They gazed at their commander with fervent and perplexed eyes. In their minds, they were outlining the scene at the battlefield, envisioning the desperate killing and a scene soaked in red blood.
"Most loyal soldiers of the Kingdom!" Rondraisse tossed the metal ruler onto the table, "What must be said, have been said! As a veteran, I prioritize actions over words! Prove your courage by your fearless struggles, prove your resolution in subduing the invaders with your most tenacious fighting spirit."
"Long live Deiss!" The officers lifted their hands heavenwards and used deafening cries to respond to the veteran who campaigned decades for the kingdom.
Both of Rondraisse's hands were folded on the table, appearing quite optimistic. The old General pursed his lips and a smile slipped out at the corner of his mouth. He wanted to see how Alan would handle the Scorpion Ant array.
"That is it for the Scorpion Ant Array!" Marshal Alan indicated the sketch he just made on the drawing board. He scanned the rank of officers whose spirits were ablaze. "I apologize for having everyone wake up so early, but the Deiss should have already adjusted their battlefield deployment and we can't sit around doing nothing."
The various ranks of officers of the Northern Army Group's five great armies and Wolfriders couldn't help but exchange dismayed glances upon hearing the Marshal's speculation. At this hour? The eve right before they launched the decisive battle? The Deiss suddenly readjusted their battlefield deployment? Has their commander gone mad or was he foolish?
The cool morning breeze blew through the army camp and the flag of the guards billowed. The soldiers used a blood red curtain to partition off an empty space at the heart of the army camp. The Marshal made a final shifting of all the officers above the rank of Colonel for the battle.
"Don't look at me that way!" Alan waved his hands at the seated officers, "The Deiss thinks that the military force we deploy on the battlefield is greater than theirs. Thus, they assumed a battle array that can take on larger numbers with meager numbers. But in reality, it isn't like that!"
Alan swept his gaze over the seated officers, "Soldiers of the Empire, the hour for the decisive battle is almost upon us! That's today!"
"Today?" As soon as the Marshal said that, a commotion broke out among the officers. Some of them were shouting that their troops were not mentally prepared, some made a racket of the weapons and supplementary soldiers having not arrived yet, and some even questioned the Marshal's leadership.
"Shut up everyone! Don't forget your status!" Alan snapped impatiently in a low voice. Having reached this stage of their offensive, the many flaws of the Northern Army Group were all exposed such as the disorganized ranks, their sluggish actions and the lack of elites. The company and platoon commanders of par excellence generally lived up to their name while as we climb higher up the rung, the commanders were all the more terrible! The old Marshal was fully aware that within the Army Group, certain officers were working together in the looting and smuggling business.
"Obeying commands is a soldier's duty! Just by looking at your faces and I can already start sending off those with objections to the court marshal!" Alan's eyes bulged. He didn't raise his voice, but overwhelming silence fell over the void outdoors and one could even hear a pin falling to the ground.
"Reporting, sir! Permission to speak!" An officer suddenly raised his hand.
"Marshal, we fear that... The Second and Ninth Corps are unable to make it to the battlefield by today. We are suddenly launching a full-blown attack and despite it being able to mess up the enemy's deployment, what if they don't use the Scorpion Ant Array? Or perhaps... They change their battle array last minute on the battlefield? I think... wouldn't it be more advantageous to wait for the left-wing unit to merge with the Army Group before launching the attack?"
Alan suddenly turned around and "bit" Colonel Payne Lubelly on the ear. With his voice so quiet that only his secretary could distinguish it, he gave his instructions.
"Bear in mind the name of this man, at long last, I have found a fellow who actually uses his brain. In a moment, transfer him and his unit out from the battle sequence."
Payne gave a slight nod, apparently becoming aware of the true intent of Marshal Alan consistently covering up.
"Regarding the Colonel's question, I will still like to go back to the Scorpion Ant formation." Alan stood up and rested his hand upon the sketch of the military array resembling a poisonous scorpion.
It is not known just how many have witnessed a war between ants and scorpions. People often say that ants have strength in numbers, but scorpions can secure their meal even under a battlefield surrounded by enemies. The tactics of the scorpion in dealing with the ants are simple, that is, continuously displaying their featured attacks and defensive advantages. The external carapace of the scorpion could effectively hinder the bites of the army of ants. Its huge pincers only need to swipe left and right to clear out a path for its advance. The pointed teeth at its head could swallow these juicy ants into its belly. As for the scorpion's most prized weapon, as we all know, is the tail that could pierce into its enemy's abdomen and spurt out the poisonous juice. When confronting the ant army, it only needs to sweep its tail across the battlefield to fling the crowd of enemies aside, then inject its poison into the strongest of its foe to eliminate the main threat scrupulously.
"And so! When the Deiss realized that my left wing has moved to the central battlefield, the first response was to change the battle array of the decisive battle. Although the left wing only has two incomplete corps, that also makes up four Infantry Divisions! And thus, the Deiss army naturally assumed that our military strength received further reinforcement. As a result, there is at least an 80 to 90 percent probability of them using the Scorpion Ant Array! And so, the probability of them using the Triton Array, or the Salvator and Triangular Array is not up to twenty percent!" Alan elaborated while pointing at the map.
"The sentry post of the Front Line has already issued a notification of verification. At 4.55am at dawn, which is also an hour ago, the three walls of Alborto Fortress was opened simultaneously and a stream of communications officials poured out, heading straight for each army's assembly point! So I have reason to believe that the Deiss Supreme High Command has formulated a corresponding countermeasure for our arrangement. Aside from changing their battle array, I can't guess what other alternatives General Rondraisse has."
Alan sat down once again. The frigid early winter of Deiss made his back feel sore first thing the morning.
"Fellow companions, the Combat Department have devised four plans for this decisive battle. I believe that everyone is aware that only plan A's arrangement is to counter the Scorpion Ant Array. Therefore, I ask that today at 10 in the morning, all battle units evacuate the camp on schedule and enter the predetermined battlefield! So... Are there any more questions?"
The Silver Fox was indeed worthy of his name! The officers only discussed in hushed tones, denying that there was any problem (Even if there were questions, no one dared bring it up). The Combat Department already considered numerous possibilities for the march, but the very first the Marshal worked out was countermeasures against the Scorpion Ant Array. In other words, the old Silver Fox already has an explicit understanding of the probable direction the Deiss was heading for.
"Reporting, sir!" The one who spoke was the young military officer just now, "I request that you once again infer plan A!"
Alan inclined his head, gazing at the other with intense interest.
The Marshal's Confidential Secretary, Payne Lubelly unfolded the register of the battle sequence and pointed out a listed name to the Commander.
"Commander of the Fourth Corps' Third Division... Leigh McCaren!" The silvered haired old fox squinted his eyes as he stared at this name. The owner of this name would undoubtedly become an outstanding Commander in future, but at least for now, he was in an extremely precarious situation.
"Tell me, Colonel Leigh, is there a problem with plan A?"
"Sir, I do not have such meaning. Or... May I infer based on the deployment of plan A?"
"Please!" Alan gestured towards the tactical map. The young Colonel stood up straight and saluted, thanking the Marshal for his grace.
It was evident that Colonel Leigh inherited the ancient military lineage of the McCaren Family. He had a broad chest, an aquiline nose, a head of curly light brown hair, and mysterious, violent eyes. His military boots were shining and like all noble officers, his breastplate and gardebras were branded with a totem outlined in gold. Don't be deceived by his appearance of a rich hedonistic child, but the heavy battle-ax he carried accentuated the courage of this warrior.
In order to show his respect towards the high-ranking officers seated there, Leigh McCaren removed his helmet and nestled it at the crook of his arm and then again gave a military salute to the Marshal and his companions.
"You may begin!"
"Yes, Marshal!" Colonel Leigh turned his body slightly sideways and the officers at the scene were able to see the tactical map with countless red arrows drawn on it. "May everyone please look. If the Deiss used the Scorpion Ant Array, then they will probably use the Infantry Corps as the lead, two SS rank Independent Cavalry Brigade as both pincers, another two Infantry Corps as its waist and the most aggressive Teutonic Knights as its tail. Thus, no matter how sharp our assault is, and regardless of whether our military strength has any advantage, the unit that first comes into contact with the enemy will sustain disastrous losses."
Alan nodded and then shook his head.
"Colonel Leigh, this is a great decisive battle. Do you believe I can enter Alborto Fortress without harming a single soldier?"
"Marshal, that isn't what I mean. I mean to say that this is a great decisive battle, which is hurried and without a definite attack goal."
"Enough... Colonel." Alan rapped on the table before him with his finger. "You must remember! We aren't ants but the wolf pack! The huge grizzly! The avengers! The Scorpion Ant Array is a typical battle array to subdue many with few. The Deiss have to rely on formation, coordination, and flexibility to maintain this battle array. This way, they have inadvertently disregarded the combat advantage of the individual soldiers! Have no doubt!" Having said that, the Marshal pointed to a General whose mustache was standing up.
"As far as I know, in the struggles against the Diess, the Northern army group has never been let off easily by them. This means that we still have a gap in terms of the level of our fighting force and the enemy's. Our winter offensive could receive such tremendous success is because of the battlefield's reasonable layout and the superiority of our strategy and tactics. And without doubt, each of our comrades from the guards and Northern warriors' fearless struggles was the fundamental reason for the string of victories. However, if everyone looks around carefully, you will realize that the once familiar faces are no longer with us. When you return to your camp, you will discover that many brave soldiers have sacrificed themselves! Therefore, I do not wish to see arrogant restraint and more so do not wish to see cowardice and fear for the enemies!"
The officers calmed down, their eyes wandered around the scene. There was no mistake; many familiar faces were no longer with them! The Northern Army Group sacrificed a Commander of a Corps, four Division Commanders, eleven Group Commanders and another eighty officers of a Company or above that level when they intercepted the enemy at the front lines. All the Northern Generals on the scene recalled that the Deiss Kingdom army was the formidable armed group that suppressed Titan's Northern military force for more than a century.
"Lastly, there are still four hours left before the scheduled offensive. Everyone return and prepare!"
Since the Marshal already issued his notice to leave, the officers of Titan's Northern Army Group left the site dejectedly. It should be said that this was definitely not the atmosphere in handling a main force decisive battle.
"Marshal!" Only Alan and the Confidential Secretary were left on the scene and Colonel Payne Lubelly couldn't stand it anymore!
"What Colonel Leigh said is absolutely right and I think that some in the ranks have seen through it as well! This is a sudden decisive battle. At least... You should have informed them before that we only have four hours for preparations."
"Hehe, the Deiss don't even have the privilege of an hour. They can only follow my wish and meet us head-on." Alan grinned; unsure what Payne was worried about.
"Besides, is there anything we need to prepare for? I trust that the soldiers and officers all know what they are doing and what they should do!"
"Marshal, this isn't the problem. I'm saying that... If you wanted to reorganize the Northern Army Group, there is no need to use such cruel methods! Moreover... Isn't your intent too obvious?
Alan was suddenly rendered speechless. A brief period elapsed before he sneered. "The Commander of the Second Corps was still completely unaware after an entire five-thousand Cavalry Brigade came up from the rear. Why did he have to get rid of the Ninth Corps? It is simply to get more credit. This kind of men, we can do without! However, a majority of Northern Army group consists of men such as this. When they command an army, they are confined to their narrow minds. Those appointed are all hypocrites."
Payne let out a sigh; it seemed that no one could change the fate of the Northern Army Group.
"Marshal, I must remind you, Her Imperial Majesty Empress didn't just invest a day or two for the North. Let us not go into how Her Majesty will regard this matter, let's just say after the decisive battle, I believe that those joining the North as supplementary officers will be those handpicked by Empress Rolyn Kate."
The Silver Fox gave a cold laugh. "Do not forget! We still have the spring, summer and fall offensive. Just let them come! The day will come when all these blockheads have been exhausted and Rolyn Kate will no longer be able to find men who dare work for a living in the Northern Army Group! When that moment comes... Those gathered at the Northern Front against the Deiss will be excellent soldiers who are fearless and have a strategy."
"But... The soldiers are innocent. If this takes place, then their injuries and deaths..."
"Enough!" Alan turned his head away, reluctant to offer further explanations regarding the matter. The Silver Fox didn't care about sacrifice, so much so that he never paid attention to the casualty report. He was only interested in results and whether this outcome was the one he was gunning for.
"So in other words... I have guessed wrong!" Payne Lubelly locked eyes with his commander stubbornly. "You exhausted lots of energy in constructing a strategic situation where the Deiss is surrounded from three sides. You used an elite Mountain Corps to clean up the inner battlefield. Each and every one of these is merely to put up a façade of a long-term war of resistance. Your target isn't Deiss, but internal! Using the Deiss to toughen the Northern army, using the lives of soldiers and officers to mold the Empire's Northern defensive lines! Let me guess, why didn't you mobilize the troops of the Big Three1 in this immense offensive; why didn't you launch the attack from the two provinces originally belonging to Deiss? Apparently... Your next move will be to bring your ax down on the Big Three! I know you have always taken to heart Her Majesty Empress' interference with the Northern military matters and you have at long last found this opportunity..."
"Shut up! Shut up!" Silver Fox Alan finally leaped up from his seat. He caught hold of Colonel Payne Lubelly's collar violently.
"Payne! Since you have seen through it so clearly, you shouldn't proclaim it to the heavens. Don't you hate Major General Silvio Barrick the most? Report to him for duty! From now onwards, you are his army orderly!" Alan seemed to have really lost his temper. He said those while tearing off the army badge on the Major General's shoulder and flinging it onto the ground.
Payne eyed the army badge on the ground then focused his gaze onto the Commander he has followed for many years and couldn't forbear a self-deprecatory laugh, "Marshal, you are more eligible for the address of butcher than Major General Silvio Barrick! At least General Silvio regarded each and every one of his soldiers as lives! I am deeply honored to accept your new appointment! Before I report myself to the Second Corps of the Eighth Region, allow me to fulfill the last of my duty to you!"
Looking blankly inscrutable, Colonel Payne spread out a file, "The encrypted war report just sent back by the Second Corps of the Eighth Region. They have successfully rescued His Highness Prince O'Neil Andrew Morisette in ambush battle yesterday. Our hero has finally returned!"
Having said that, the "former Confidential Secretary" strode out of the compound without a backward glance, leaving Marshal Alan alone in the deserted site! The morning rays filtered through the blood-red curtain, cloaking the Silver Fox in a blinding scarlet. Alan laughed bitterly. This lonely scene was extremely suited for the veteran's frame of mind. Alan was convinced that there was no one in the Empire who understood his choice.
"This... Isn't the outcome that I was hoping for." Dortmund dusted off the document with his hand.
"Marshal, as what you saw, both the manhunts of my organization are in place, but again the targets have escaped!" Colonel Peter tried to encourage the slightly discouraged Commander-in-chief in exasperation. "There is nothing that can be done about this! This is Dulin, a place where Chief Berkley has operated in for half a century. Wanting to apprehend him in this metropolis of close to ten thousand, isn't easy. Moreover, the Military Investigation Bureau has halted their work. Those secret agents are all under investigation, so..."
"I know!" Duke Andrew cut off his secretary grumpily. However, he still nodded, "Honestly speaking... Berkely's fate is already sealed. I am only worried because from the looks of things, it indicates that... Our operations in Dulin are still being controlled by him!"
A knight suddenly sauntered into the living room close to the patio, "Reporting! My lord, the Empire's Cabinet Chancellor, Duke Kachev Drakas Ferdinand has paid a visit."
"What great timing!" Dortmund exclaimed while striding towards the patio. Colonel Peter followed behind the Commander-in-chief muttering quietly that he has always suspected that the family's traitor was hiding in the Cabinet Chancellor's manor. Dortmund gave a slight nod, but he wouldn't look to verify that matter.
The top-ranking officers of Titan Empire finally came face to face. Frankly, they have only heard about each other before. Before they met, both Duke Andrew and Duke Kachev only sized up the other roughly. Both probably knew the position they occupied in the other's heart.
After an exchange of meaningless greetings, Dortmund led the old chancellor into the dining hall. It was right about the hour for lunch and the family head of Andrew used fine refreshments to receive the old man who was brimming with evil tricks.
"Having been unable to attend your birthday wine reception, I offer my deepest apologies!" Dortmund adopted a look of utter remorse.
"You're too polite, I know that you were needed His Majesty Emperor and Her Majesty Empress. Being unable to leave is only natural. You need not blame yourself."
"Oh, hold on!" Dortmund suddenly stopped an attendant serving them tea. He uncovered the teapot and peered into it, "What is this? Replace it with another pot. The water should be seventy percent hot and the tea served should be Engel's Black Tea. Boil it twice separately! Don't add any sugar, just ground cinnamon will do."
Old Kachev's smile became stiff, but soon returned to normal, "You truly know my habits inside out."
Dortmund rose slightly from his seat, "Likewise!"
The Old Fox cleared his nose, appearing to have some symptoms of a cold. However, what worried him most was the hidden threat beneath Dortmund's words.
"I heard that... You have the Ministry of Justice and the Secret Service form an alliance for a manhunt."
"Indeed!" Duke Andrew nodded, "To be more exact the investigators of the Military Intelligence Bureau are also searching. To be even more precise... It is a member of Andrew, but a traitor to the family. I trust that you have long since heard about the method in which my family deals with traitors?"
"Yes! Very terrifying; I wouldn't want to experience that!" Old Kachev took the teacup handed over by the attendant and flashed a furtive glance at Duke Andrew. Dortmund laughed lightly and took a sip of his tea. The Old Chancellor averted his head resentfully. "Is there anything that requires my assistance?"
"Assistance?" Dortmund snorted coldly in his heart. "Thank you for your good intentions, but it's best for you to just take care of yourself! I understand that you have far more significant matters in your hands than I."
Old Kachev was troubled. He has always been passive. Perhaps it was because no one has treated him this rudely before, rendering him momentarily at a loss to react.
"Dortmund, Oh my apologies! May I address you like this?"
"Of course, you are older."
"Very well then Dortmund. I understand that we may have some misunderstandings. Just like those external rumors, my grandson and your daughter..."
"No!" Duke Andrew suddenly broke Old Kachev off, "That is a matter of the youngsters. This is Dulin, there is frequent interaction between the young people. This is normal and isn't sufficient enough to affect the relationship between the Andrews and Ferdinand Family. I believe that we are both not the kind who make an issue out of insignificant news."
Old Kachev nodded. Aware that this was a great step, he only had to continue on.
"Okay Dortmund, since this is a misunderstanding, then I believe that we can view the matter from another standpoint. For example... This!" Old Kachev extended his hand across the dining table and when he had pulled back his hand, a note appeared on the table.
"Indeed deserving of being called the Ancient Monster who has walked through all walks of life for half a century!" Dortmund groaned loudly in his heart. On the note was an address and he already knew what was there without having to guess! In dealing with a man who flipped sides quicker than flipping through a book, if Berkley Andrew Nedgabel still had a chance, he should properly teach his associate a lesson.
"You know my uncle Berkley? Oh! Saying it this way isn't appropriate anymore. Berkley's family name has been removed. I should say, you know the traitor of the Andrew Family?"
"How do I put this? We are old acquaintances and even classmates!" Kachev broke into a faint smile, apparently not taking to heart Duke Andrew's taunting. "Just when your united Secret Service issued the order for the manhunt, I was thinking how my old classmate could have fallen into such a plight today! Really! No family is capable of putting up with a traitor who sells out the family's interest. It seems that he has wronged and no one can save him!"
"This shameless chap is really unparalleled!" Dortmund had a burning urge to give that hideous face a beating, but as the family head of Andrew, he must restrain himself.
"Let us not talk about this, despite me not thanking you yet!" Duke Andrew waved the note in his hand and handed it over to his Confidential Secretary by his side. With only a glimpse, Colonel Peter turned around and left the room, having to go make arrangements.
"So... My lord, it seems that you have already found out about that classified report sent back to the Imperial Secretariat?"
"Indeed!" Old Kachev nodded, "Although His Majesty Emperor injuncted the court and Secretariat to temporarily keep it confidential, I still must congratulate you. Your little son, our young hero, has returned home safely!"
"Heh heh heh! Thank you!" Dortmund finally burst into hearty laughter. He has a good son! This young lad was the worthiest successor he has his sights on. To stand up and fight his way out from the surround of Deiss' ten thousand men army was easier said than done. However, outsiders couldn't possibly imagine the difficulties and obstacles it involved! He trusted this experience has helped his young son completely mature! The Duke was fervently looking forward to the moment his trusted aides reunited.
However... His top priority now was to make all these loiterers who have gathered in Dulin to leave, for instance, the Cabinet Chancellor before him. Why did he have to pay him a humble visit? Why did he have to sell out Berkley Andrew Nedgabel without any sense of shame? It was because this old rascal's wishful schemes have all been completely foiled! It was because Oscar has evaded danger and had an elite Mountain Corps protecting him.
In fact, regardless of how the battle in Dulin turned out, as long as Oscar returned safely, then all the problems can be smoothed out! To the Andrews, the bond with the Imperial Household has not faded away but instead strengthened all the more. For Kachev Drakas Ferdinand, all his beautiful aspirations have turned into a mirage-like illusion. He was about to suffer from Andrew's hostility and retaliation from O'Neil Andrew Morisette. Needless to say, Dortmund never imagined being able to topple the Cabinet Chancellor in Dulin. In facing annihilation, Old Kachev's resoluteness indicated that he was different from the usual conspirators. He knew when it was time to advance and when it was to retreat! Knowing these were the trick to surviving and also the fundamental factor that Dulin still existed.
"Oh, that's right!" Old Kachev slapped his forehead, apparently suddenly recalling something. "How do you plan to deal with your eldest son? I heard that he was injured during the resistance! Oscar is a kindhearted young lad. If he knew that his father gained a son but lost another, he would be very much heart-broken!"
Dortmund's face turned a sickly white. He suspected that the Old geezer's purpose of bringing up this matter was to pick a fight with him. However, Duke Andrew still kept himself in check, his knuckles were already faintly red due to his strenuous grip.
"This... Is a matter of the Andrew Family. Your concern is a little excessive."
"Ohh... That's good! That's good! It seems that I was really worried about nothing!" Kachev blurted out while standing up. Seeing the look on Duke Andrew's face, the old man knew that he has successfully gained an upper hand. Dortmund thought that it was over? Hehe, things have only progressed hallway. The Head of House Andrew's nightmare was about to begin!
"I should take my leave!"
"Yes indeed! Get lost from my sight!" Dortmund thought in his heart, but a smile was plastered his face, "Really, the state of your health isn't too great and I still have to burden you to visit personally!"
Kachev waved his hand dismissively, "This old bone doesn't break easy!"
"Really?" Duke Andrew extended his hands to embrace the Empire's Cabinet Chancellor who was about to leave, "I must remind you to take care!"
"Hehe!" Kachev gave a strange laugh. "Dortmund, you also must take care! This is Dulin; you will sometimes also feel unacclimated."
Duke Andrew seemed to have been pierced by the old man's gaze. He felt a spell of panic. When Kachev's silhouette had vanished on the patio, Dortmund finally let out a long sigh. Perhaps... He underestimated the people of Dulin and also the Ferdinand Family.
Dense clouds formed from condensed ice crystals hung over the skies of Dulin. It was about to snow! Hawk-eagles were circling high in the sky of this metropolis. The robust male eagles soared away from the towering Imperial Palace and away from the murky, narrow clock tower of the church. Now it perched restlessly on enormous eaves, vigilantly scrutinizing the patrols and warriors who have the Narcissus totem sewn on their uniforms, scattered throughout the street.
Deiss' winter arrived far earlier than that of Titan! Only during noon could one feel the warmth of the sun rays, but the Sun has been a gloomy ash grey since half a month ago. An enormous condor took off from its home at the summit. It foraged alone on the remote plains. An army camp emerged before it and the crowd was convening and moving about! The condor landed on a tall flagpole. Titan Empire's Golden Lion Flag billowed under the bird of prey as the Northeastern wind whistled past.
It was as if... This whole scene was foretelling the coming of a decisive battle.
1. Big Three: Includes the Karl Arnold, Sukhoi & Jebron House