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The snowstorm continued to rage till the next morning. When the dark clouds cleared, sunlight shone down from the clear blue skies brightening the city covered in a thick layer of snow.

The inhabitants exited their dwellings and cleared the snow away while chatting with their neighbors. Most of the topic involved the sirens that went off in the Iron Castle.

The hoomans living in the Iron Castle were very strange in their ways, yet wise despite their youthful looks. But to them, as long as they have a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, they will follow the hoomans in their strange ways.

-----

Main Conference Room, UNS Singapore

The whole high command was gathered in the room, except for the elves. Everyone faces were dark and grim and the air in the room was heavy.

Captain Blake sat in his usual place at the head of the door with Commander Ford at his side.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the past few days we had an incident that has affected us badly in both material resources and morale." Blake started the meeting with that statement.

Mutters of agreement came from everyone as they looked gloomily at Blake.

"I am not here to assign any blame for what happened," Blake continued. "This is something none of us predicted nor expected. But we shall learn from our mistakes."

"Captain," Chief Engineer Matt spoke up, "Do we have any idea where or why they deserted?"

"For now, we suspect the reason is either greed or the threat of the Empire," Commander Ford spoke. "But we are leaning more towards the Empire's threat. As for where they went, there are only two directions they could have gone, either North or East."

Head of Security, 2nd Lieutenant Mike gave his report, "Forensics ran through all eight of the deserters' daily activities and data logs, while most of them were wiped out from the server, we managed to reconstruct some of the files." He passed a stack of dossiers and transcripts around the table. "It appears that Sergeant Raman is the brains behind everything, from the viruses to the planning of desertion. Some of the armory inventory had been modified as early as two weeks after we crashed, the summary is all listed in the files."

Lieutenant Mike gave a whole rundown of what had been stolen, from advanced weaponry, ammunition, food, manuals, gold and silver from the vaults, the Class 5 Fabricator and an automated Marine surplus reloading kit to the W, T, S generator and the two half-tracks with spare batteries. "In total, a third of our remaining stocks of advanced weapons and ammunition were looted and almost all our weapons database and research were wiped from the servers." He ended with that point.

"As to why we couldn't discover them so far, we suspect that they are using Marine smart camo covers that can reduce their heat and electronic signatures, and with the snowstorm covering their tracks," Ford continued after Mike ended his brief. "Once they hit the cover of the forest, we can't track them in the air at all."

"So what now?" Chief Matt asked. "They stole one of the W, T, S, generators and with the storm, seven out of the eleven windmills are down for repairs, our power needs are barely met. Not to mention the IT boys have to check all the codes for viruses, all our armament are down!"

"We replace what we lost and focus on defense first," Blake spoke. "Continue training troops and bluff up defenses at the Pass, while the IT guys focus on checking no backdoors are installed and we restart our weapons research again."

"So we are gonna let the bastards off? Pardon the language, Doc." Deck Chief Gale apologized to Dr. Sharon who waved him off. "We gonna let those murderers walk?"

"For now, yes," Blake sighed. He turned and activated the display behind him, showing a UAV feed. "This was taken this morning at 0944 hours, 237 kilometers Northeast from the Pass when the storm was over."

The video was split into two images, the right image showed the normal view of the terrain, while the left image displayed infra imaging of the same terrain.

A field of white could be seen covering the thick everblue forest canopy, while the infra imaging show spots of red appearing among the breaks in the forest canopy.

The spots of red appeared in several areas where the canopy of the trees was not clustered together, stretching for kilometers over the distance.

"The Empire has made their move," Blake gave his report to the surprised crowd in the meeting room. "With the current terrain and weather conditions, it is estimated that they will arrive within striking range of the Pass within one week to 10 days."

"Goddamn," Someone cursed. "They just don't give up do they?"

"The thing here is, it will be that they either hired mercenaries or they press-ganged some other races to wage war," Blake switched the UAV feed to another image, displaying a frozen zoomed in the image which caught a perfect shot of several creatures through the break in the trees.

"That appears to be a creature we classed as a troll," Major Frank took over the briefing. "And here is another shot of another new creature." He displayed another image of several large bare-chested muscular humanoid creature taken at an angle, their skin a mix of dull grey and green tones, wearing skull caps, with animal skins for shorts and wielding wicked looking axes and huge sabers.

"That looks like an Orc!" Dr. Sharon exclaimed excitedly, her eyes shining as she smacked the table top with her palms. "Whoops, sorry." She noticed everyone staring at her with weird looks, her face turning slightly red.

"Ahem," Frank cleared his throat before continuing, "Yes, thanks to Dr. Sharon's reference materials, we are classing this new creature as an Orc."

"According to the elves, the Empire uses irregular troops constantly, the Orcs to them are like a larger cousin to the goblins but tougher and stronger, they call them as 'Oerkin' which translates to Larger Greenskins" Frank gave a basic description of the Orc. "First-hand information from Goldrose soldiers who had fought against them is that they are very hard to kill."

"Standing over two meters tall, with muscles that any body builder will kill for. They appeared to have a mix of both goblin and troll traits. The cunninginess of the goblins and similar regeneration powers of the trolls and skin tough enough to stop swords and spears." Frank than quoted the elves, "to kill an Oerkin, one must chop off its head. There have been many records of supposedly dead Oerkin with wounds that would have taken lives, waking up after a battle has ended."

"Oooh, could your Marines capture one alive?" Dr. Sharon eyes continued to gleam excitedly. "I wanna study them!"

"Doc, please calm down," Blake interjected. "Now, we estimated at least four to five thousand Orcs in the force as Lord Joesph told us about them. They are mostly mercenaries, operating in clans which only have so many males available for hire."

"Intelligence estimates a force of roughly 10,000 heading our way, mixed with Orcs, trolls and regular elven infantry, siege weaponry and that is not counting their baggage and supply train, and what other auxiliary and irregular troops that they scoured up along the way." Ford listed out the enemy force disposition. "Our nemesis is known as Lord Strum Cyrras, Baron of Fallowfall. Apparently, he is the head honcho of this region, also the one governing the conquered territories of Goldrose."

"Intel from our prisoner is that this guy is ruthless, ambitious and a somewhat decent general and spellcaster. He is also part of the Knights of Twelve, which seems to be some kind of secretive knightly order, which Intel is still trying to dig more information out from the prisoner." Ford stated.

"The Marine orders are to dig in for the fight, Engineering to repair all the windmills and restore power, the project to dam up the waterfall will proceed once the snow melts," Blake stated issuing orders to everyone. "Dr. Sharon, please continue your research on strategic magical usage with Magister Thorn."

"Deck Chief Gale, please work with Flight Operations to try to repair the downed UAV, and also the plans for modifying the two Spacebuses." Blake listed out his priorities one by one. "Security and IT support to continue to ensure no backdoors and viruses are in the system and get my guns working ASAP!"

"Everyone clear on their roles?" Everyone nodded, "As for the traitors, leave them be, for now, they can't survive out there for long without a proper support base. Alright dismissed."

The commanders and heads of departments saluted Blake and exited the room one by one, "Matt, stay for a minute." Blake called out.

After the room was cleared, only Blake and Matt remained. "Could the damaged laser turrets be dug out and salvaged?"

"Yes, it's doable, but there are other more pressing projects to work on now," Matt considered the question before answering. 'Why?"

"Well, I was thinking of converting them into giant electromagnetic slingshots."

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