The boundless ocean under the deep dark sky was as frightening as always.
Henry closed his eyes and held onto the ice-cold walls. However, he would feel uncomfortable dizziness when he opened his eyes and looked down.
"Hey, get back here now, you rookie!" A rough voice scared the young soldier and he backed off from the wall hurriedly. He wiped the sweat off his forehead and turned around towards the man striding towards him. The man was a burly, seasoned soldier with a face full of beard. "Damn it, rookie. You'd better not tremble in fear like a little rascal. I don't want to report to the superiors tomorrow that there was an idiot who fell off the wall and broke his neck! You've been here for three months; haven't you gotten used to it already?"
"Y-Yes... Sorry, Sir, I..."
"Louder! Didn't you eat your dinner, you bastard?"
"Sorry!! Sir!" The young soldier shut his eyes in fear and yelled out with all his strength. The seasoned soldier nodded in satisfaction before patting on his shoulder and shield. "That's the way, kid. Remember, don't ever think that you're here for fun and games. This job isn't easy. Relax and that's right... Stand up straight! I asked you to relax, but I didn't tell you to soften into a puddle of mud! Stay vigilant for your night duty especially since it hasn't been too peaceful recently. Who knows what will happen..."
"Yes, Sir! But..."
"But?" The seasoned soldier glared back and the young rookie clammed his mouth. This was the military. Even though he had sufficient reasons, he wasn't allowed to refute his superior. After all, obeying orders was the duty of all soldiers and raising questions weren't for rookie soldiers. "Alright, it's not like I have no idea what you worthless bunch are thinking about."
Perhaps because the rookie didn't refute, the seasoned soldier's expression turned a little kinder. He retrieved a liquor flask from his pocket and downed a mouthful of liquor before turning towards the deep, dark ocean that Henry was fearful about.
"We are far from the country border and apart from some small-scale criminals at large and those bandits, there's nothing else for us to worry about in this isolated place. Heh, I know what you guys are thinking. No threats, no war, and it's as peaceful as a pile of dog sh*t. But even though it's such a place here, you guys have to leave your warm nest back home and stand guard against the ocean where there is literally nothing. Haha, I was the same when I first arrived here. In fact, I also felt that this Fortress was meaningless. It's small, filthy, and far from any threats. Damn it... It's really fortunate and unfortunate to be standing guard here. Look on the bright side, kid. Don't be envious of your idiot companions who raise their flags on their horses as they head into the border. Don't think that you're bored to death here because when you're back in your comfortable hometown at the end of the year and hear your neighbor wailing for their dead son, you will know how fortunate you are right now."
"Heh, judging on your looks, I know that you didn't listen to everything that I said. Well, whatever. You wouldn't understand since you haven't experienced it yet. Alright, continue standing guard. I've heard that the opposite side is really chaotic nowadays. Although I don't think that anything serious will happen, I still hope that you will treat this seriously... Eh? What's that sound?"
"-!" A sharp whizz sounded out of nowhere. The young soldier witnessed a glaring flash before him and shortly after, the smoke of an explosion engulfed him entirely.
"Ahhh -! Ahhh!" Henry struggled to lift his head and he realized that the solid, flat wall had collapsed completely. The officer that stood before him had gone missing and hot, blazing flames took his place.
"W-What's going on?" The young soldier crawled his way up frantically while he heard screams and massive explosions. He gaped at the ocean and at this moment, he saw a succession of flares exploding from the dark ocean. Soon, explosions sounded from the Fortress and the flat ground beneath his feet started to collapse. Even though he unsheathed his sword, he realized that he had no idea what he should do next.
But no matter what, there was only one strangely clear word that came into his chaotic mind.
"Sir, all our attacks hit and the enemies have no chance of defending. We've also gotten rid of all their cannons and we can get ready to battle on land."
"Hmph." The man in the captain hat bit his smoking pipe as he gazed at the Fortress burning in flames and engulfed in billows of smoke. "Bastards who are blinded by peace actually react so slowly. I thought the Brenhill Fortress responsible for the North-South Main Road would be troublesome to deal with... Pass down my order-get ready to go ashore and battle! From today onwards, Brenhill Fortress will no longer belong to the Munn Kingdom! It shall be the land of our Southern Federation!"
The bugle-horns sounded.
A dozen battleships emerged from the darkness as though they were the main cast of the show. The battleships sailed forward slowly while smaller boats were lowered and accelerated towards the shore. At the same time, another round of flares exploded from the enormous battleships.
"Brenhill Fortress is under attack?!" Barak jumped to his feet and the demeanor of the Southern Legion's Chief Commander was nowhere in sight. He widened his eyes at the pale, frantic soldier while clenching his fists tightly. He was aware of the recent motions of the Southern Port, but he didn't expect that they dared to actually make their move. Oh my goodness! Where did they get all these battleships and soldiers?
"Immediately declare a state of emergency! Damn it, search for all the patrolling soldiers and get the commanders around the perimeter to report to me instantly! The Southern Legion has entered a state of alert!"
"Yes, Sir!!" The soldier saluted and as he opened the door and prepared to leave, his footsteps stopped abruptly.
An ice-cold, sharp blade punctured his chest and he widened his eyes in disbelief. He gaped, but the attacker had no intentions of hearing his last words. The attack pushed his head and the pitiful soldier collapsed to the ground.
"... Fernando, what is the meaning of this." Barak grabbed his sword swiftly and gazed sternly at his adjutant and his dozen fully armored soldiers by the door. They were his personal guards, but now, they pointed their swords at the man that they were supposed to protect.
"No hard feelings, Chief Commander Barak." Fernando bowed in a refined manner and as he lifted his head, his fair and clear face was filled with gentleness and a wide smile. "We don't have any intentions of harming you, Sir. In fact, my brothers and I are here to stop you from doing something silly."
"Silly?" Barak let out a snort before glaring furiously at the adjutant that had betrayed him. "I do want to hear what is the so-called silly thing... Fernando, put down your sword. I have to lead my soldiers to assess this rebel! Surely you wouldn't think that you can stop me from leaving with just that many people of yours."
"Of course not, Sir Barak. But..." Fernando beckoned and the soldiers behind him dragged two shuddering figures forward. Barak's eyes were red through and through. "Fernando... You're threatening me?"
"I know that we're not your match. But even if you leave this place, you can't maneuver your troops now... Besides, my apologies to correct your mistake, but this isn't a rebel. This is the demand of the people and freedom. They have decided to no longer be pushed around by that damn dictator and they are ready to overthrow this evil ruler. Our fate shouldn't be within the hands of an Angel. Human fates should be in the hands of humans!" Fernando clenched his right fist tightly. "We shall be victorious and reclaim the freedom and authority that once belonged to us! Golden City isn't going to be our nightmare anymore. This is the demand of the people, freedom, and justice!"
Fernando revealed a smile and gestured. "I guess you must've heard the noises outside, Sir Barak. You've been surrounded by us entirely and it wasn't only us who surrounded you. The civilians have also joined in. Even though they don't have any great weapons or equipment, they have the heart and will for justice and freedom which is the most important... Sir Barak, could it be that you wish to order your men to lay hands on unarmed civilians?"
"..." Barak clasped his sword and gritted his teeth. After a few moments, he laid down his weapon and returned to his seat. "Fernando, do you really think that this pathetic little trick of yours will bring you victory? I don't know who exactly the person behind all this is, but please pass this message to him-I will get him back for this, one day."
"I will pass this message to him, Sir. But I think that you should see the current situation for yourself clearly that the South no longer accepts the jurisdiction of Golden City. From now onwards, we shall form an independent country and we will fight for the hopes of the civilians. Our next generations will no longer be manipulated by aristocrats and this is our only hope for the future."
"You can cut this sweet-talking crap now," Barak shut his eyes and lifted his head. "We know what you bastards have been plotting. But we didn't expect that the usually intelligent you would commit such a mistake. Fernando, the punishment for betraying the Royal Highness Lydia and the Munn Kingdom is severely grave. I hope you can understand this. This is my final warning to you as your ex-commander. You'd better custom-make your coffin as soon as possible."
"Thanks for your warning. I will remember it by heart, Sir," Fernando smiled in response before bowing respectfully again and left the room. The fully armored soldiers entered the room swiftly and dismantled Barak's weapon at the fastest speed. Barak didn't resist because he knew that this was inevitable.
The slow, long night had ended. The first rays of dawn emerged from the horizon and spilled through the glass windows, illuminating the snowy letter silently.
"... We have made an extremely difficult, yet necessary decision. We used to surrender under rule and were forced to accept the atrocities imposed on us. We had no intentions of overthrowing our ruler. But, all her doings have exceeded the limits of any human beings who yearns for freedom and equality. When she used her authority to extort, slaughter, and persecute, we could only watch quietly and hopelessly. We have sincerely and humbly prayed that the ruler of Golden City could see the people that she ruled and understand the pain that they've encountered. But everything is meaningless because a ruler who is indulged in enjoyment doesn't bother to listen to our prayers and humility.
"She refused to approve a proposal that would benefit the people, simply because it harmed her interests, and thus, thousands of people fell into unparalleled disasters and sufferings.
"She prohibited free merchants from engaging in legitimate trades in order to strengthen their authority and engaged in the persecution and slaughtering of those free merchants.
"She had even ignored the will of the people and opposed their reasonable demands again and again.
"She manipulated the laws, toyed with judgment and justice, and recklessly created accusations to imprison and kill those who pursued freedom and competed for the people.
"In these brutal persecutions, we have requested in the most humble way. But we only faced repeated rejections and when such a tyrant stood before us, we were left with no choice.
"Now, we are not willing to remain silent. We will eventually stand up against this cruel ruler. We will no longer be loyal to the King's Party that maimed its own people. We are here to announce that we shall have independent authority! We will stand up and build a new, beautiful home with our own will and hands!
"Therefore, we, the representatives of the Southern Federation Parliament, solemnly declare that in the name of those who pursue goodness, freedom, and equality, from this day on, we will be separated from the jurisdiction of the Munn Kingdom and become an independent and free country. We will sever all political relations with the Munn Kingdom, and as an independent country, we will be entitled to the authority and power that any independent country deserves. For this sacred oath, we hereby bear witness to our lives, our honors, and the future of the next generations. All members of the Southern Federation Parliament."
Lydia placed the letter down and revealed a mocking smile. "Mice will always be mice. Even if they act in a play, are they not willing to expose their true identity to the world? What do you think about this, Baron Rhode?"
"Just as you've said, Your Highness Lydia," Rhode stood behind Lydia quietly and answered with a smile. "These Southerners have always been giving partial accounts and they are also this ambiguous with their important declaration. It seems that they are still unaware of how to take responsibility. But please pardon my rudeness, I always thought that merchants wouldn't understand how to take responsibility."
"That's right..." Lydia nodded as she slid her fingers across the letter. "Since they declared, we have to give them a response... Baron Rhode, you're one of the Barons of the Munn Kingdom now. I'm sure you know what are your duties and obligations, right?"
"Yes, Your Highness."
"So then... I, in the name of the Munn Kingdom Ruler, command that you, Baron Rhode Alander and your subordinates, to join in the pacification of this Southern Rebellion and also protect the teams on the defense lines of Paphield. Are there any objections, Baron Rhode?"
"No..." The corners of Rhode's lip twitched and an ice-cold glint emerged in his eyes. "Everything will be as you wish, Your Highness."