Chapter 908: Break Down

Sobek’s group proceeded to the halfway point between the Rakia invasion force and the Southern Gate of Orario. As was customary, Sobek held an olive branch in his hand while his four companions set up a table and two chairs, used by both parties for the issuance of demands. In most situations, Vahn would bring a notary of his own to create an accounting of the ‘negotiations’ which would be exchanged with the opposing party for later review in the event of surrender. Vahn would also be given a document from their side, listing out the terms for Orario’s surrender and the intentions of the Rakia Kingdom in occupying and controlling the City in the future.

As much as he wanted to just deal with things in a more direct manner, Vahn wasn’t going to break from convention and violate the agreed-upon regulations and traditions regarding war. It was very important rules of engagement to exist and, even though it was incredibly foolish of Ares to even try and ‘conquer’ a City with hundreds of gods, Vahn would at least give them an opportunity to negotiate terms. After all, without going through these procedures, there was nothing outlining how prisoners of war would be treated, nor how Orario would be compensated after their own victory.

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Since Haruhime would be commanding the punitive force, while Sobek would be commanding Rakia’s forces, Vahn brought her along for the negotiations, even though she was just his notary. They had descended from the sky, startling the other four envoys while Sobek remained completely stoic as he said, “You must be Vahn Mason… your reputation precedes you. And this…I believe is the Vice-Captain of the Hestia Familia, Sanjouno Haruhime…? I must admit, the rumors regarding your beauty haven’t prepared me for our meeting. Perhaps, when this matter is concluded, you would be willing to join me for a moonlit rendezvous…?”

Sobek seemed genuinely surprised by Haruhime, his eyes widening subtly as his pupils dilated marginally. Vahn could also see his aura gravitate towards Haruhime slight, even as her own flared up in agitation, contrary to her calm and elegant disposition. She returned a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes as she said, “You’ll have to forgive me, Sobek, as my heart belongs to Vahn. I’ve no desire to degrade myself by betraying the trust of the person I treasure more than life itself.” As she spoke, Haruhime wrapped one of her tails around Vahn’s arms while the latter stared directly at Sobek, adding, “You’d do well to remember that I’m rather protective when it comes to my loved ones, Sobek. Choose your words carefully, lest you invite a catastrophe upon yourself and your army…”

Seemingly unflustered, Sobek just gave a small nod before gesturing to the negotiation table and asking, “Shall we get down to business? I’d rather the first engagement take place while the morning is still cool and refreshing. As much as I am partial to the weather in the Southern Sands, I’m sure neither of us wants the first skirmish to last the day…” In general, sieges would persist for several weeks as the forces of Rakia clashed against Orario’s elites. It was very rare for large-scale battles to occur since it was ‘inconvenient’ for both sides, both in terms of resources and personnel. During the previous invasions, Rakia would typically bring along 100-150k men and, by the time they retreated, their numbers would have only fallen by around 15-20%. The reason for bringing so many people along was to serve as an occupational force, not actively engage in combat for extended periods of time.

Vahn stood behind his chair, similar to Sobek, the two staring at each other as it was ‘submissive’ to be the first to take their seat. As a ‘mortal’, it would usually fall upon Vahn to sit first but, given his position and circumstances, Sobek would eventually have to sit down unless he wanted negotiations to break down. Vahn understood this after spending several long sessions with his War Council so his expression remained stoic as he said, “If you haven’t come to negotiate, you should use this time to come up with an excuse to explain to Ares why his army was wiped out…” Right now, they were all playing by the ‘rules’ which protected both sides, at least in normal circumstances. Vahn, however, wasn’t afraid of the gods on Ares’ side using their Arcanum to gain an advantage. Even if things came to that point, he would be able to weather the storm and deal with the entire army on his own, if necessary…

Sobek squinted his eyes with a contemplative look on his face before finally taking his seat before Vahn, even though there were strange of fiery red and sickly orange spreading through his aura. It was only after the god had sat down that Vahn also took his seat, gesturing to Haruhime to prepare the necessary documents while Sobek waited for his side to prepare theirs. When both sides were ready, Sobek brought his hands together, thumbs pressed against each other, as he said, “Our terms are the same as always. So long as Orario surrenders, you will be given the opportunity to become a vassal state of the Empire and a subsidiary of the Rakia Kingdom. There will be a forty percent tax on all goods flowing out of the Dungeon while a fifteen percent tax will be placed on all produce. All merchants with a permit to do business will be taxed thirty percent while independent organizations, such as Familia, will be taxed fifty percent unless they pledge themselves to serve under the Ares Familia….”

For the better part of ten minutes, Sobek listed out all kinds of ridiculous demands that more or less guaranteed that the other party would refuse. Ares was a God of War and Conquest, not a god of peaceful negotiations, mercantilism, and trade. If his army did emerge victoriously, the demands would be even more heinous, making use of the fact that the opposing party hadn’t acceded to his more ‘reasonable’ demands from the start. This time, however, there were changes in the demands as Sobek squinted his eyes slightly and stated, “Also, this organization called the Alliance will have to be disbanded while its Commander-in-Chief, Vahn Mason, will become the property of the Rakia Kingdom. You will be required to assist in the production of one-hundred children of godly descent or your family will be held accountable for your failure…lastly, I will add that Sanjouno Haruhime will be forced to undergo Conversion, becoming a servant within the Sobek Familia…”

Out of spite for Vahn’s behavior, and his general interest in Haruhime’s beauty, Sobek decided to add an insult into the terms, completely disregarding the strange pressure accompanying Vahn’s gaze. He was entirely unaware of the fact that, from the moment he had mentioned Vahn’s family being held accountable, essentially making them hostages, the negotiations had already broken down. Presently, Vahn’s mind had become exceptionally calm as thoughts of how he would deal with Rakia’s forces were already passing through his mind. Many of the ‘soldiers’ were conscripts that were forced to fight so he didn’t want to kill everyone. Sobek and Ares, however, had immediately earned a spot at the top of his list…

When Sobek was done listing out his demands, a small smile spread across Vahn’s lips as he said, “The Alliance hereby issues no terms or demands for the leadership of Rakia Kingdom. After this battle has concluded, Rakia Kingdom will lose its right to sovereignty and its residents will be given one week’s time to evacuate the Captial City, Valua. Citizenship as a member of the Rakia Kingdom will no longer be treated as valid for the purpose of trade and migration. Henceforth, the existence of Rakia Kingdom will become nothing more than a footnote in History, an annotation depicting the inevitable outcome of errant tyrants who live by exploiting others…”

With his words, finished, Vahn manipulated Fire Elemental energy to set fire to the olive branch before rising to his feet and ascending into the sky with Haruhime. The latter gave Sobek a look that could freeze over a volcano, her beautiful pale-gold eyes filled with contempt and unabashed scorn. From the moment Sobek made her out to be a prize that he could claim for himself, lowering her to be nothing more than a ‘servant’, Haruhime’s elegant disposition had cracked slightly. Her tails flickered around behind her agitatedly and, though she hadn’t intended to go all out in the battles to come, now she fully intended to claim Sobek’s life with her own blade.

Sobek looked toward the burning olive branch before setting his gaze upon the retreating figures of Vahn and Haruhime. He was fully aware that things probably wouldn’t end well for them after the negotiations had broken down but he didn’t really mind it too much. For him, he never expected a day would come where Ares actually managed to take down Orario. Even if they managed to take the City, there were too many independent gods that would seek trouble with them. There was no real benefit of trying to conquer Orario unless they planned to try and kill every other god that resided within its walls. This was an impossible feat so Sobek didn’t really care for the negotiations from the very beginning. He was just regurgitating what Ares’ muscle-brained mind had come up with while trying to spite Vahn for offending him, wholly unaware of the wrath he had just invited upon himself…

After returning to the staging area of the punitive force, Vahn set down Haruhime who, upon landing, immediately turned to the one hundred ‘soldiers’ under her command and said, “Today, we will not be forcing the Rakia Kingdom to retreat, we will be destroying it entirely. We will push them back to their encampment before setting fire to their supplies and tents. If necessary, we will pursue their forces all the way to the borders of their now-defunct country. You have all been preparing for this day so, until our enemies have been scattered completely, we will not cease our pursuit…!” As there was a chance the scattered forces could try to attack the Plains region, Haruhime knew they would need to continue their pursuit to prevent the soldiers with more bandit-like tendencies from wreaking havoc.

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Vahn was a little surprised with how fired up Haruhime was but, remembering Sobek’s words, he understood she was well within her rights to be angry. Since this punitive force had been trained to follow her command, Vahn would allow her to have the final say. Even so, he intended to have Fafnir act as a support while Chloe’s Shadow Corps picked off any stray forces that tried to regroup. It was very common for defeated soldiers that were part of a military rout to form small groups of bandits after the fact. They would rob and harass merchant caravans while slowly building up supplies as they made their way back to their country of origin.

Once the punitive force was ready, amidst the cheers of tens of thousands of Orario’s residents, they exited the South Gate and prepared their small formation. Seeing the highly disciplined members of the HDF, each wearing matching uniforms, some people couldn’t help but admire the sense of unity present just looking at the organized group. Many people had been thinking about trying to join the HDF themselves in recent months, as there had been no major requirements other than having a clean record and pledging loyalty to the organization and its leader, Vahn. Now that they had a better look at active members of the HDF, there were a number of youths who felt inspired to follow through with their previous intentions and become part of something ‘bigger’ than themselves…

Unaware of the subtle shift in the mentality of some onlookers, Vahn hovered in the air above the punitive force as they closed the distance with Rakia’s forces. There were five divisions within the Rakia Kingdom’s forces, four of which were commanded by a General. These individuals were around the peak of Level 3 while their Captains and Lieutenants were around the Low-Mid Tier of Level 3. Every other Officer would be Level 2 while the majority of Rakia’s forces, making up nearly 65,000 members, were simply Level 1. The only ‘threat’ was the central force, which was headed by Ares while Sobek commanded from the rear. Within Ares’ army, comprising 22,000 members, the lowest Level among their ranks was Level 2. There were also several Level 3 Elites that made up a force that followed in Ioke’s wake, causing as much havoc as possible within enemy forces.

Now that the punitive force was moving forward, Rakia’s forces began moving in an inverted wedge formation, obviously intending to try and surround the measly one hundred members of the HDF. Vahn could even see the bloodlust and ridicule in some of the Level 1 soldiers’ eyes while only the veterans of past invasions showed any real wariness. Overall, they were highly disorganized, even though their equipment was standardized and appeared to match, However, with some people failing to wear the equipment properly, the entire army, sans Ares’ forces, looked extremely sloppy as they shuffled to try and surrounded Haruhime’s forces…

After moving within 1km of Rakia’s forces, Haruhime gave the order to create the normal convex formation, as the Pallum Archers and faux-Mages prepared. At this range, both armies had the capabilities of attacking each other and the only thing keeping order was the Commanders and Generals. Being far more organized that Rakia’s forces, the HDF remained calm while each member kept their bearing without wavering in the slightest. Even when thousands of archers at the front of Rakia’s army came to the front, loosing volleys of arrows towards them, they remained unflustered as the Pallum faux-Mages cast barriers that completely blocked the projectiles.

With the first attacks issued, Haruhime gave partial control to the Squad Leaders while directing them through the small crystals located near their ears. Unlike the failed volley of Rakia’s forces, the bolts fired by the Pallum Archers cut through the air, leaving scars in the void, before accurately hitting their targets. The moment these bolts made contact, the unfortunate souls the failed to defend themselves exploded into meat paste, injuring and disorienting those in the surroundings. As their crossbows were A-Rank weapons that had been purchased from the system shop, they had a mechanical component that allowed them to fire racks of six bolts in only three seconds. Changing racks was simple, requiring them to pop out the previous rack before the Pallum Archers, who now had incredibly high Dexterity, deftly reloaded with a secondary rack that had been provided by the Technicians. Each had upwards of 100 racks to make use of, allowing the unit to fire thousands of explosive bolts into the enemy lines every minute.

Ares, who had been riding a muscular white horse at the head of his army, raised his brows after seeing the damage sustained by the other four armies. Thus far, the punitive force hadn’t targeted the central army, allowing them to proceed unobstructed as their cavalry prepared to charge. Ares was intending to simply overrun the small force of one hundred people, unaware that nearly every member of the small unit was nearly, or above, Level 3. He believed they were just a throwaway force that had powerful weaponry, as they hadn’t performed any great feats thus far. Thus, feeling ‘bored’ with how things were turning out, Ares raised his large golden claymore high before pointing it forward and shouting, “Crush them…!”

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Sobek done f***** up’,’Pursue, until nothing remains…!’,’The ignorant are truly fearless’)

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