On the sentry tower in Fort Kesta...
"Glug... glug... Ahh! This tastes wonderful!"
"Hey, gimme a mouthful too!" a soldier said to his comrade.
Autumn was dawning on them and it felt a little cold inside the fort. The two soldiers wanted to drink some wine to warm themselves up.
"Only one mouthful, alright? This wine is part of the treasured collection of the tavern's boss. I spent quite a bit to get a small bottle!" Even though he wasn't willing, he handed the bottle over.
"Got it. I won't forget you if I get good stuff next time."
He nodded before he drank from the bottle fervently.
"Hey! I said only a mouthful!" The soldier took it back.
"Burp! It tastes good indeed. I still want two more mouthfuls."
"What would you do if you get drunk on the job? I heard that the patrol soldiers sent out the valley noticed something odd. I think something's about to go down soon."
"You have a point. I heard General Tamro also feels something is off. He's requested reinforcements from the rear, but I'm not sure if they'll make it in time."
"Huh? Look! What's that?"
The soldier pointed his finger into the distance.
A kilometer away from the viewing platform was a floating, orange-red spot. They initially thought it was a bonfire seen from the distance and didn't really mind it, but now, the spot seemed to be approaching them closer and closer. It was moving!
The soldier narrowed his eyes.
The light got ever so closer and as it did, its speed increased. By the time they could identify what it was, the two soldiers broke out in a cold sweat.
"It's... it's a person!" cried a guard.
The man was floating some ten meters away from them in mid air, radiating an orange light all around him and waving his hands for some reason.
"Alert..." the other soldier muttered, breaking into a cry, "Quick! Alert!"
"An alert of what level?"
The other still didn't know what the person was there to do.
"Alert level 1! There's an attack! It is... It's the crimsonflame fiend! Saron! Quick! Sound the alert!" the guard screamed, terrified.
He felt his heart skip a beat from hearing that name. He hurriedly ran and tried to sound the alert bell.
But the bell only sounded for three short seconds before it stopped and gave way to an explosion.
"I didn't plan on sneaking around in the first place, so don't bother wasting your efforts." Saron shook the remaining embers off his fingertips. He had blasted the viewing platform with a single fireball.
"Now..." Saron flew even higher and watched the people in the fort like a god. Then, he took out two fist-sized gems engraved with magical formations from his dimensional pocket. Those were the bombs the informant stole from Annelotte's alchemy lab back then.
"The banquet of flames has begun." Saron infused a trace of mana into the two bombs to activate the formation before casually tossing them into the fort.
The two bombs were quite powerful. Even Saron thought that his fireballs might not be that much more powerful than they were. He listened to the explosions and couldn't help be even more impressed by his teacher.
That was something his teacher managed to research a month ago. It was a kind of magic weapon. Basically, it was a crystal which stored fire essence that was engraved with a magic formation. Once mana was injected into it, the formation would activate and released the stored fire essence in an instant to achieve the explosion.
While the mechanism seemed rather simple, he could tell complicated and intricate it was.. Merely releasing mana from crystals was something any mid-order magus with some understanding of formations could do. But the slow release of energy wasn't that destructive. Only an instantaneous discharge could be damaging, and that was the hardest part, and also the key, to those formations on the crystals.
Though, the bombs weren't without their weaknesses. They cost a lot to make. While fire crystals were not as precious as gemstones like Ocean's Heart, not even normal water essence crystals, they were still tools for magic storage. Each bomb cost more than 300 gold coins to make. The formation engraved on it brought the cost up to more than 500 coins.
Other than that, there weren't many applications for the bombs. The formation had to be triggered with mana, and only a magus could perform such an operation. That was why they couldn't be given to normal soldiers for use on the battlefield, only to magi for strategic attacks.
Saron was deployed for that expressed purpose. He tossed two of the bombs to test out their might before flying towards the direction of the military base.
While it might be more effective to mount a direct sneak attack on the camp, it was beneath Saron to do so! That was something only weaklings like Leguna did! Saron much preferred a frontal attack. He was confident he could defeat any enemy that tried to stop him!
Explosions continued to ring out incessantly.
"It's the money of that old fogey, anyway. I can't be bothered to save them!" Saron took one bomb after another from his dimensional pocket and threw them out like they didn't cost money to make at all. The two empires had been at war for so long. While Hocke's vault was drying up, Stok didn't seem to fare that well either. Seeing how their forces were being beaten back time and again, Jilroan began to feel threatened.
In time, the Stokian emperor's hate for the arms merchants in the millennium capital grew as their pockets were gradually filled. Jilroan made his move on the smaller arms dealers and stripped them of their wealth entirely and used them to refill the empire's treasury.
That was indeed not a small amount of money. The arms dealers each netted the empire tens of thousands of god coins, so in a way, Saron was flagrantly spending the money of those poor arms dealers.
Having obtained quite a bit of wealth, Jilroan couldn't help but be impressed with the wisdom he showed in solving the financial crisis. He began considering who to dissect for even more money.
But when Larwin found out about the matter, he snickered coldly. He didn't think that Jilroan, someone who was nearly a hundred years old, would do something so foolish. While it was all too easy for the nation to raise hands against the merchants, it was a huge taboo for a reason.
While it might not appear that significant initially, if Jilroan did try the same thing a few more times, the merchants and business would no doubt react. There was no way there would ever do business with Stok again and would flee with their wealth! By then, nobody would be willing to trade with Stok.
That old fool had actually done something so destabilizing to the empire's economy because of his short-sighted desire for wealth! That was why Larwin didn't even think of imitating Jilroan, choosing instead to use this opportunity to extend an invitation to the merchants to come to Melindor. Andro, the finance minister, had expressed Larwin's open disagreement with Jilroan's practices and also leaked intel that the empire would pay their debts back the soonest possible. The finance minister licked his lips before he made another request to borrow money from the merchants.
While there was quite a divide between the financial strength of both empires, Larwin believed it was only a temporary one. If Jilroan continued to sabotage himself, Stok wouldn't last long.
However, being financially superior did come with an obvious edge. For instance, Saron's carefree use of bombs costing five hundred gold coins apiece to cause chaos was one of them. Yet, the soldiers of Hocke down on the ground were hesitating over whether they should shoot their five-silver-apiece crossbow bolts up in the air. It would be a waste if they missed! The empire only had limited bolts!
One fireball flew towards Saron, causing him to snicker and take the blow that would kill a mid-order warrior easily without hesitation.
The fireball exploded and Saron swallowed all of the flames.
"It's a little lukewarm, mind you, but it's energizing enough!" he said to the old sage not far away after feigning a mouth wipe.
"Might you be Stok's crimsonflame demon, Saron?" The old man was the high-order magus always by General Tamro's side. He was put in charge of guarding Fort Kesta and came out to meet its attacker.
"That's right, it's yours truly."
The sage gave Saron a magus's salute and prepared to introduce himself.
"No need to waste your words. I'm not interested in the name of a dead man." Saron tossed another bomb away.
The magus was enraged at his arrogance. "Are you so confident you can defeat me?"
"Your stratum isn't as high as mine, and I'm a gifted. How could you possibly compete?"
"Hmph! There was Kurdak's little party, and now there's you! You arrogant youngsters are so full of yourselves! Whatever, it's no use trying to talk! Let me show you what true might its!" The magus got into a battle stance with his staff.
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