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The sudden sharp roar of the rifle shocked the people inside the Citadel and the doors to the Great Hall swung open as guards with blades drawn and ministers rushed in. The Emperor coughed and spat to the side as the foul smelling smoke shrouded the Great Hall and choked him.

The cloaked figure waved his hands casting a small spell that blew the foul air away while the Emperor's men looked at him with worry. "Your Majesty! Are you safe? Is there an attack?"

"Y- yes, yes!" The Emperor coughed again and took the offered wine from his eunuch to clear his throat. "Nothing to be alarmed about!"

"Leave me," He said next and waved the men away who glanced around curiously before they retreated from the Great Hall.

The Emperor gestured to his eunuch to bring the bronze jar on the far table which had toppled over when he fired the rebel's weapon. HIs eunuch carried the jar and presented to the Emperor who saw that the jar had a small hole on one side and a ragged hole on the other.

"This weapon is very fascinating," The Emperor strolled over to the table with the cloaked figure following behind. Soon he spotted what he wanted to find and he poked his finger into the still warm hole on the side of the stone pillar. "How fascinating!"

"And this weapon uses these tiny metal... bolts as its ammunition?" He held up a single rifle round to the cloaked figure who bowed.

"Yes, My Emperor..." The Spy Master replied. "These rifles rely on these metal bolts just like how a bow needs arrows."

"And the smell and smoke?" The Emperor turned around asking. "How does it work? What kind of magic does it use?"

The cloaked figure paused a while before he took out one of the shiny golden bolts and snapped the tip off. He poured the contents out on the white table cloth and pointed his finger to the pile of black sand and cast a flame spell.

The black sand caught fire and slowly burn with a sizzling fuss while giving off fumes of grey smoke that smell of rotten eggs. The Emperor stepped back from the smoke and covered his nose in disgust. "Enough!"

The cloaked figure swept his hands over the burning sand and the smoke was blown away, making the Emperor sigh in relief. "It will appear that the rebels use some kind of alchemical sulfur sand from the demons."

"As your majesty can see," The cloaked figure gestured to the burnt pile. "Lighting the black sand will cause it to burn and that is how the rebels 'shoot' out these pieces of metal at a great force!"

"And inside the rifle," The Spy Master pulled the bolt out and pointed inside. "There is a flame rune engraved on a magic stone inside. The flames created by the rune ignites the black sand when you pull the trigger."

The Spy Master held out the tip of the bolt he had broken off earlier to the Emperor who took it and examined it closely. "The flames look... weak and this looks like a tiny little dart..."

"This weak flame and this tiny little dart can kill a fully armored Knight at over two hundred paces!" The cloaked figure reminded the Emperor. "This is what is killing the soldiers..."

"Fascinating!" The Emperor rolled the dart in his hands before closing over it in a fist. "We must learn how to make such weapons at once!"

"Your wish is my command!" The cloaked figure bowed. "I shall inform the Alchemists Guilds to immediately investigate its mysteries."

"What are the numbers of the rebels?" The Emperor asked offhandedly as he picked up the rifle again.

"Their numbers ranged from one and a half legion to the most two legions," The Spy Master said. "Between fifteen hundred to twenty hundred fighting men."

"We have over forty legions..." The Emperor paused in his examination of the rifle and cast a glance at his Spy Master. "Forty legions... and we could not even win a single battle?"

The Emperor shook his head and gestured to the rifle in his hands. "This is why we need to learn the secrets of this... weapon! Imagine forty legions equipped with these! Who can stop me?"

"Even the Isles hiding across the sea will not be able to stop me!" The Emperor grinned. "Once we have the rebels destroyed... the Isles will be next! And with their shipbuilding capabilities, we will march on towards the Old World!"

"My Emperor is most wise," The Spy Master bowed. "Also there is another piece of news..."

"What news?" The Emperor's mood was greatly improved as he toyed with the rifle.

"There seemed to be some Elementalists aiding the rebels," The cloaked figure said. "The rebels managed to construct a fort within the span of a night. We suspect them to be rogue Elementalists as all our Elementalists are under our strict watch."

"Is that so?" The Emperor smiled as he pointed the rifle around like a child with a new toy. "Send our Elementalists to finish off those rogues then."

"Continue your stalking of the rebels," The Emperor put down the rifle in his hands and suddenly said in a serious tone. "I want to know everything about their power and the secrets to their weapons! Do not fail!"

The cloaked figure gave a low bow as he retreated towards the shadows. "Your wish is my command. The Stalkers live to serve you, my Emperor..."

-----

United Nations, City of Haven, Fortress Singapore, Captain's Quarters

"Come in," Captain Blake said without looking up from his work as someone knocked on his door. "What is it?"

"Sir! We got some intel that might be of value at ending the war!" The words of Intel Officer Lt Tavor immediately caught Blake's attention as he jerked his head up.

"What?" Blake placed the report on supplies of the front line on hold and gave his full attention to Tavor.

"We just have gotten some information regarding the whereabouts of the Imperial Emperor!" Lt Tavor gave a rare smile. "But the information might be outdated."

"Ok, tell me everything, from the start!" Blake said and gestured to Tavor to be seated.

"Claymore One had picked up a beast girl slave from their recce mission against the Imperial Knightly Order of Shadows," Tavor explained. "They managed to extract safely after calling a couple of artillery strikes that took out the camp and an estimated eighty percent of the Imperial Knights."

"When they came back to base, Security took the slave in and ran her through a full course of security and medical checks both physical and magical," Tavor continued. "And it turns out that the beast girl used to serve under that little assistant of your wife."

"Kaga?" Blake frowned as he recalled the little cat girl that was Sherene's assistant in City Hall. "Have you confirmed her identity?"

Tavor nodded, "When Security came to me, I told them to prioritize bringing her over here after her security results are cleared. I just came over directly after setting up a meet between Kaga and the beast girl."

Tavor took out a folder and placed it before Blake who opened the folder and saw a dossier of the beast girl they were discussing. "So what valuable information did she provide?"

"Well, plenty," Tavor smiled. "She was the personnel slave of the leader of the Order of Shadows, a Knight order that actually captured the Beast City."

"She was privy to much inside information as apparently the leader of the Order of Shadows who refers to himself as The Joker..." Tavor gave an eye roll at the name. "Thinks that she is just a piece of meat that he can kill at any time."

"So, I got the Imperial numbers, supply routes, rally points, war plans all ready to be given out from the girl," Tavor's eyes turned into slits as he smiled happily. "And best of all, we know where the Emperor is."

Tavor stood up and walked to the wall where the map was hung and he tapped on a spot on the map. "Here!"

Blake stood up and joined Tavor at the map wall, looking at where Tavor had pointed. "The City of Silverton..."

Blake turned and started pacing around his office as his mind went into overdrive at the information. "How far is it to our nearest base?"

"Roughly 500 km away from Orwell's Point," Tavor promptly replied.

"500 klicks eh?" Blake returned to the map and traced his fingers on the map. "Just within operation range of our fliers endurance..."

"Any way to tally the information of the Emperor still inside the city?" Blake asked.

"Hard," Tavor said. "The war has cut off all contact between our and their cities. Silverton is out of our influence. My boys on the ground don't have any contacts there yet..."

"Hmmm..." Blake folded his arms as he took a look at the map again. "How many UAVs still up?"

Tavor sighed and said, "Just one... the others are already being stripped down for parts... And the last UAV is fully tasked."

"I think I better call for a general staff meeting," Blake said. "We need to know what assets we can use."

-----

"Attention on Deck!" The officers both physical and virtual stood at attention until Captain Blake called for them to stand down.

"Alright, I am sure all of you am curious about this urgent meeting," Blake addressed everyone. "I let Lt Tavor brief you."

"As of yesterday 1300 hours, Intel has picked up a piece of reliable information regarding the whereabouts of the Imperial Emperor Varacen." Lt Tavor's words immediately had the attention of everyone.

"He is suspected to be here," Lt Tavor pointed to the map. "At this city called Silverton. It's 490 klicks away from Orwell's Point."

"We need to check the information before we decide what to do next," Captain Blake added in. "So we need eyes over the city, but we seemed to be currently lacking in any surveillance aircraft..."

Airforce Commander Tommy gave a frown and spoke up, "Sir, the UAVs are being taken down to be replaced with the new AWACS FB- 1 Mariners."

"Still a couple of weeks to retrofit the FB - 1 Mariners into AWACS role," Cmdr Tommy said. "We need to integrate and test the sensors and equipment of the stripped UAVs onboard the Mariners."

Blake shook his head, "Using a conventional aircraft might alert the snake."

"Do we have other means of surveillance?" Blake asked.

"Use the dragons?" Cmdr Tommy suggested. "We can send Blue Dragon and Rastraz over to take a look see and tight beam a laser comms over?"

"No, Sir," Lt Tavor replied. "No dragon will be able to make it past the number of aerial defenses of the Silverton if the Emperor is really there. Not to mention flying hundreds of kilometers over uncharted enemy territory."

"Well, Cap," Chief Engineer Matt suddenly spoke up. "I should be able to squeeze out another mission of the last UAV. Give me two days, no one day. Let me and the boys work the UAV over. It should be enough for it to fly one last mission."

Blake nodded. "Do it."

"Next, suppose if the Emperor Varacen is really there," Blake looked around the room. "What should our course of action be?"

"Military," Everyone said the same thing.

"No room for negotiations?" Blake asked again to be sure.

"No, Sir!" Everyone replied in a serious tone even Sherene who remained quiet on the side also agreed by shaking her head.

"Understood," Blake turned to Colonel Frank. "You, get your Strategic Staff and work together with Intel on a plan of attack. We shall strike directly at the Emperor and see what he has to say when we are in his face!"

The men grinned and as one they rose and saluted, "YES SIR!"

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