Fansnik was thrown in the detention room of Thundercrash. His cries were unheard and pleads were ignored. In the five-odd days before Miselk returned, he wouldn't be getting out. No matter how harshly he cursed in his detention cell and accused Claude of defying his superior and plotting a mutiny and insulting a kingdom's general, nobody gave him any heed. Claude merely gave a single order. Since Fansnik was so filled with energy, he was to be starved for a day and a night, nor was he to be given a single drop of water.
Saljorak came to the theatre headquarters and Claude didn't waste any words with him. He handed the merchant and the ones that accompanied him to the colonel and told him that he needed testimony from the merchant, admitting that he was an informant for Shiks. Only then could Claude avoid being charged with imprisoning a kingdom's general. While Claude believed Miselk would own up to the order Claude made up, it wouldn't hurt to have a stronger case for himself.
Saljorak, someone who managed to catch Miselk's attention, didn't say a word and merely heard Claude brief him on what happened and nodded. He took the merchant and his men away. Claude breathed a sigh of relief and wrote a carrier eagle to Ranger headquarters to have Skri released by his authority as field marshal. Otherwise, the officers would be charged for neglecting orders.
In Aueras, soldiers in the army and navy alike could have any kind of disciplinary infraction without it affecting their career prospects. However, neglecting orders was a whole different story. Being marked for such an infraction meant that one's future career was completely over. As expected, a little more than an hour since he sent the letter, he got Skri's letter by carrier eagle. He had been released and got back to conducting the logistics operations.
Claude then wrote a notice and ordered communications to send it to 1st Monolith's Colonel Bolonik in Brikaman for him to relay the things that happened to the Lord Militant. He included his arrest of General Fansnik. While Claude felt that he went about it really brashly, they were short on time and nobody could afford to be hampered by this matter. He believed Miselk would understand why he had to do it this way, especially since he made sure to clean up everything pristinely.
The next day, the first batch of settlers came to Lanu. There were around 10.7 thousand households in this batch and the total number of people was above 80 thousand. Accompanying the settlers were more than four thousand local keepers.
Claude spent the good part of the day in camp to receive the immigrants. All of them had been registered and shown to their respective tents. What came next was assigning them a livelihood. Those wanting to farm can receive up to 1.6 acres of land which they had to cultivate themselves. Naturally, if they were willing to move to the mining settlements to find a job there, the association would provide them with accommodation and a month's salary in advance.
By the time Claude returned to headquarters, it was already evening. Major Anders, an aide serving in theatre headquarters, reported that the new chief machinist, who happened to be a count, and her daughter, a baroness, as well as a young child, were here to see the field marshal. But since Claude wasn't present, they bid farewell and headed for Grinosburg.
Claude nodded and acknowledged it. He didn't mind not being able to meet the new chief machinist, since Skri would be the one dealing with him. Their meeting didn't really matter anyway and the count was probably paying him a visit out of courtesy.
"Sir, the four keeper tribes' tribesmen have been waiting the whole afternoon. Are you going to see them?" Anders asked.
That meeting he couldn't miss. The four tribes had been moved there to be disbanded and absorbed into the five folks. The tribesmen were here to talk about their future posts.
"Alright, have them come to my office one by one."
"Sir, the Jeroman City Keeper Tribe from Ambruiz is reporting in. I am the tribesman, Major Alika Rosder," said the tribesman in his thirties with a salute.
Claude stood up and returned the salute before getting the tribesman to sit back down. Ambruiz was right next to the three southwestern prefectures. While Claude knew that Jeroman wasn't the prefectural capital, he felt relieved to hear that it was close to Black Forest, which was near Whitestag.
They took only ten or so minutes. Claude wanted to know the kinds of battles and suppression of local revolts Alika had experienced. He also explained the five enhanced folks' makeup to the man and assured him that as long as he was capable, he would have many chances to put his abilities on display.
So, the three keepers were sent off cursorily just like that. When the fourth one came in, Claude was wondering how he could cut the process short to save some more time so he could go back to rest.
But the moment he saw that person, he jumped with shock. "How... How could it be you?"
He had never dreamed he'd be able to see his good friend during his teenage years, Borkal. The years had rounded Borkal's figure. The keeper uniform seemed like it was straddling his body, rather than covering it. Perhaps he was aware that he didn't look the part of a soldier at all and intentionally chose to be the last one to enter.
Borkal himself also seemed utterly shocked as he pointed at Claude without being able to say a word. Claude laughed out loud and went forward to hug his friend who had grown big and round.
What he didn't think would happen was Borkal grabbing his throat and cursing, "It's you... you screwed with me! Why, of all nine keeper tribes in the three southwestern prefectures, was mine picked and sent to this hellhole to join an irregular corps?!"
Claude easily pulled the hands away and pushed Borkal to the couch. "Fatty, what are you talking about? Who screwed you? I didn't even know you were going to show up. Tell me what this is about."
Looking at his own body, he was well aware he wasn't Claude's match. He could only give him a suspicious look. "So it really wasn't your fault? You didn't transfer us away from Banjilia to this war theatre, right?"
Claude noted that something was off. "Wait, what's going on? It should be a good thing that your tribe was transferred here. Being transferred from a local defence force to an irregular force is akin to a rank promotion. Otherwise, a major like you would be equal to our captain and you'd have to salute them first. Furthermore, I don't have the clout to get you transferred over here. The ministry of the army simply said they were going to send over 20 tribes with combat experience to bolster our might. We don't even know where they're going to be sourced from..."
Borkal grimaced. "Whatever. It's not your fault. They're coming back to get me and intentionally transferring me here so they can have an easier time going about things..."
Claude nudged him and asked, "Fatty, what are you talking about? Why don't I understand a single word of it? Did you piss someone off to the point they want to get you? Don't worry, this is my turf. Nobody will be able to do anything against you."
Borkal didn't seem the slightest bit happier. "F*ck... f*ck... I said it has nothing to do with you. You wouldn't know anyway. Being transferred here means my family business will crash once again..."
Some people didn't even bother to give any face, and Borkal was one such person. He had completely forgotten his station. Claude was now his superior and no longer his carefree playmate.
Claude smiled and went back to his desk. Pointing at the desk's surface, he said, "Colonel Borkal, stand straight and answer my question."
Borkal waved his hand nonchalantly. "Don't mess around, Claude. I'm busy thinking..."
Claude then pulled the bell-rope behind him. The office door was opened and First Lieutenant Gum came in with a fierce look with two other guards.
He pointed at Borkal sitting on the sofa and said, "Have you seen such a fat soldier? He's an embarrassment to our army! Go and weigh him and tell me how heavy he is before tossing him in Thundercrash's new recruit department. Tell Lieutenant-Colonel Moriad to make him lose 100 catties before bringing him back to see me."
"Yes, Sir." Gum motioned his head and the two guards came for Borkal domineeringly.
It was only now that he truly understood the predicament he was in. Surprisingly, he managed to agilely jump from the couch towards Claude. Claude had wanted to kick him away, but he didn't think Borkal would hug his leg tight.
"No, Chief... Spare me! It's my fault... I shouldn't have ignored you... I'll tell you anything you want, promise..." His embarrassing cries reverberated throughout the office.
Claude struggled and couldn't draw his leg back. Borkal was simply hugging it too tightly. He waved for Gum to stand outside with the other guards.
"Now tell me what's going on. Who did you anger? Why did you think you were intentionally sent here?" Claude reached out and tried to get him to stand up.
But Borkal kept his arms tight around Claude's lower leg as he continued to melt into a sobbing mess. Claude didn't even know whether he should feel angry for the poor sod. "Get up, do you hear me? How can someone like you be a tribesman and make it to major?
"Let's see... A few years back when I went home for a family visit, your father told me about your promotion to first lieutenant proudly. I thought you would soon be discharged to take over the family business. I didn't think you'd still be in the keeper tribe and even became tribesman. Your promotion was rather fast."
Borkal finally let go of his leg and climbed upright. "I knew I shouldn't have gotten those merits... I didn't think the achievement I got so far back would actually get me sent here to this war theatre. As for my promotion, it's quite simple in the local forces. When your superior is about to retire from old age, just make sure money goes to the right person and the position will be yours."
So it seemed Borkal had bought his position with money. The same probably applied to his rank as major too. But now, Claude's curiosity was piqued. "Boa, what made you decide to stay in the keepers? Shouldn't you be home running the family business already?"
Borkal rolled his eyes. "My father's still strong and healthy. There's no business for me to take over just yet. And ever since I've taken control over the Banjilia keeper tribe, our family's gained a monopoly over the prefecture of Simlock. Even Whitestag's Fenix company won't be able to build a market there and would often be troubled by my tribe. I only let them start up a business in the prefectural capital after they returned the 30 percent share they forcefully bought from us..."
It was now clear who the one behind Borkal's transfer was. It was too bad Borkal wasn't aware that Fenix was a company formed by the new nobility. He was but a worm trying to crush a dragon, only to end up exiled to another continent altogether.
It looked like Borkal hadn't changed at all. He was smart and had good business acumen, but failed to grasp the bigger picture. Perhaps he didn't know about how amazing Fenix was and that they weren't to be trifled with lightly. Claude did, however, hear that Borkal's family held quite some sway in Banjilia and wield lots of authority. Otherwise, Borkal wouldn't be promoted to major that quickly.
He only began his vendetta against Fenix in the first place because they coerced his family to sell thirty percent of their shares away. But since he was operating in home turf, Borkal had the advantage. Eventually, Fenix gave up and returned the shares. Just as it was looking like Borkal won, his whole tribe was uprooted and sent to Nubissia's new war theatre and tossed into the colonial war with Shiks.
Borkal most probably didn't even know what caused his loss. However, he wouldn't be getting back anytime soon. Fortunately, he ran into Claude, his old friend, so at least he won't have it bad there. But Claude really couldn't get used to Borkal looking that chubby and recommended that he lose weight.
"Claude, you promised! Let me go, please? On account of my father?" Borkal's cries echoed as he was dragged out by the guards.
"Tell Moriad to train him harshly and beat him if he refuses to comply until he does. But don't cripple or kill him, got it?" Claude asked.
"Yes, Sir. I will relay that to Lieutenant-Colonel Moriad," Gum said.