A solitary figure walked down off the edge of the helipad amidst the strong downwash of the retreating helicopter's rotors. Captain Blake walked up to the row of senior officers waiting for his arrival and returned their salutes.

"Is everything settled?" Blake asked as he took in the sights of the smoking city against the background of floating airships over the ocean.

"Sir, the city and outlying areas have been secured by the Army," General Joseph of the Army stepped forward and gave a brief report. "The death toll on the other side is... staggering huge..."

"Not one of the Protectorate had surrendered even when we offered them," Joseph said. "Thankfully, the majority of the original inhabitants of the city had surrendered, except for a few too brainwashed by their doctrines."

"We also were unable to recover any intact Warjacks or any of their more advanced equipment, except for a couple of boilers that gotten buried under the artillery barrage," Joseph added. "As for the casualties on our side, the 1st Regiment suffered over a hundred casualties with thirty deaths caused by the sudden appearance of the giant war machine."

Blake gave a curt nod, before asking, "And those airships?"

"One suspected battleship class and one suspected destroyers class and two cargo airships were taken," Commander Ford said. "We lost one of the destroyers by internal sabotage by the Protectorate's crew before the Marines could subdue them, luckily the Marines managed to evacuate before it went down into the water."

"The battleship serving as the flagship of the Protectorate's fleet is mostly intact, despite the fierce fighting onboard," Ford read his report out. "We lost two 101st ATI operatives and almost an entire platoon of Marines, most of which came from the crash of one of the Griffin transport helicopter after it got shot down."

"Marines are still doing a comb of all the parts of the airships, in case there are more Protectorates hiding somewhere on board," Ford said. "Our engineers and techs are still figuring out how to run the airships, and we might scuttle the destroyer we taken since its practically a wreck from the amount of damage we gave it."

"For now, we are still coming out with a method to tow the airships since we don't know how they work and most of their engines were disabled by gunfire." Finished Ford while gesturing to the skies. "Until then, hopefully, they will still be floating there."

"But we do have some good news," Ford's serious face broke into a small smile. "We did manage to grab the head honcho who was identified by the locals as the one the Protectorate called Lord Inquisitor General..."

"Good," Blake suddenly cut short Ford's report. "I want to see him."

"Erm... It might take a while before we can interview him..." Ford replied sheepishly.

"Why?" Blake frowned as he stared at Ford.

"He's too banged up for the moment," Ford replied. "Multiple fractures in his arms, legs, and ribs... Two gunshot wounds, one in the chest the other in the right shoulder. Serious mana burn and depletion... He would need a least a week before he regains clarity from all the drugs the docs are pumping into him now..."

"Don't worry, Cap..." Ford added before Blake could say anything. "Lieutenant Tavor had already dispatched a team down to take custody of the prisoner."

Blake did not look happy but nevertheless, he could only give a grudging nod in the end.

"The other piece of good news is we gain quite a bit of magical artefacts the Protectorate ground forces uses to create a personnel shield," Ford said. "If Magister Thorn and his team could reverse engineer the magical artefacts, it would increase the survivability of our forces on the battlefield."

"Yes... this would be very useful for our troops..." Blake nodded in agreement. "This magical ability is something we are sorely lacking in. Expedite this matter."

"Understood, Sir!" Commander Ford replied.

Joseph cleared his throat and reported, "Sir... now that our campaign has been successful and we have more or less cleared the eastern lands of the NKM of the Protectorate... What should we do with Mecca?

"We now have at least three of the Meccan cities and dozens of villages and towns under our control or influence now," Joseph pointed out. "The Meccan King and any known successor is dead and I recommend we shoul-"

"No!" Ford growled as he cut in. "This would be an act of a tyrant!"

Joseph shook his head as he explained himself. "Not really the case..."

"The Meccans are now leaderless and our forces are poised and in the best position to take over the running of this kingdom!" Joseph said. "We can do much good here!"

"Already Imperial and Floral troops have gathered at the borders of the NKM..." Joseph continued. "If we pull back all our forces, those rend beasts will move in and take over this land and more blood will be spilled!"

"Even so! This goes against our ideals and honour!" Ford argued. "How can we exploit the people here?"

"If we declare the NKM as a vassal under the UN, we can prevent more bloodshed and at the same time, take over control of the entire NKM!" Joseph insisted. "In the end, we would be saving more people!"

"Enough," Blake raised a hand to stop both commanders from continuing their argument. "Joseph has a good point and is also in line with what I am thinking."

"But Captain!" Ford immediately protested. "This will be an act of tyranny!"

Blake gave a deep sigh and shook his head, "Enough!"

"General Joseph!" Blake barked as he turned to the Army General. "You will start moving your forces to the western borders and take control of the western cities along the way."

"Prevent the Imperials from crossing into the NKM," Blake said before he turned to Frank. "General Frank, start moving whatever available Marines you have to take over the southern and eastern regions of the NKM. Go block off the Kingdom of Foral troops at the southern border."

General Frank gave a quick worried glance to Commander Ford as he acknowledged the order.

"Commander Ford..." Blake turned his attention to his unhappy Chief of Naval Operations. "Dispatch what ships you can to support the Marines at the south."

Commander Ford took a deep breath and said, "Sir, can I have a private moment of your time?"

Blake raised an eyebrow to the rest of the officers who tactfully stepped away to give them both some privacy. "What is it?"

"Richard!" Ford hissed. "How far do you want to bring this whole... vendetta to?"

"I do not understand what you are implying... Commander..." Blake glared angrily at Ford.

"This isn't you at all!" Ford ignored Blake's tone. "Have you lost all your principles? Where is the man who led his crew and a ragtag band of rebels to victory? Where is the man with his pride and honour?"

"He... is no more..." Blake whispered as he looked away. "Times have... changed... The old Blake is too soft for this harsh world..."

"That is not the man I know!" Ford snapped. "Come on! We all suffered a tragedy in our lives one way or another... You are stronger than this!"

"Stronger than this?" Blake growled. "What do you know? What do you think I have suffered?"

"How many people had died under my command and hands..." Blake's voice grew louder. "How many more times I have to grief for deaths of people I know and care?"

"But this does not excuse you for making bad command decisions!" Commander Ford protested. "You can't just keep making these excuses!"

"Getting married to Sherene was the best thing that ever happened to me in this godforsaken world!" Blake hissed while he jabbed his finger against Ford. "And this fuck up world has taken her from me! Don't tell me I am making excuses nor bad decisions! And I do not have to explain my decisions to you either!"

"Commander Ford! You will carry out your orders!" Blake snapped as he stepped back and composed himself. "If you are unable to carry out your orders, I can relief you from command!"

"And do not think of throwing the UNM naval regulations at me..." Blake said as he turned away. "This is not Earth or any of its colonies! This isn't the United Nations of Mankind!"


The New Kingdom of Mecca, City of Hensink

Sergeant Cork took a swill of cheap wine that one of his men had scourage out from somewhere in the ruins of the city. He let out a sigh as he watched the sun setting over the harbour of the city. "What are you thinking about?"

Cork silently held out the wineskin to the female knight who sat down beside him and joined him watching the sunset. "Taking a break while we can..."

Jeanne took a sip of the wine and she wrenched from the taste, "Yucks... How can you drink from this? Now that we chased the Protectorate out, you should come to my estate! I shall treat you to a really good fine wine, a hundred times better than this!"

Cork gave a shrug as he took another pull of the wineskin. Jeanne shook her head at Cork and asked, "So what now?"

"We will be heading towards the west once things settled down here..." Cork replied. "Seemed like we will be here to stay..."

"What do you mean?" Jeanne frowned as she asked. "Isn't the Protectorate defeated?"

"High Command just past the word down... that we will be taking control of Mecca..." Cork said without any intention of hiding anything from her since she will found out sooner or later. "And the Protectorate would be back..."

"What did you say?" Jeanne shot up to her feet in shock. "You... the UN want to rule Mecca?"

"Are you all taking advantage of Mecca now that its lands are in disarray and there is no more a King at its throne?" Jeanne's face turned red as she was worked up by the words. "I thought we were allies! Now you are backstabbing us?"

"Calm down..." Cork sighed as he saw how worked up Jeanne was. He did not have the heart to tell her that she had been fooled since the first time they met. "You do know that something like this is inevitable..."

"Your armies are in disarray... You have enemies at your borders...." Cork started listing out the important points. "Your granaries barely even filled and not only is your King and any noble of standing is dead or missing... There is not even a functioning government!"

"Even if we the UN pulls out from Mecca..." Cork reasoned. "How long do you think your neighbours will start to eye your lands? It would be just another war... and by then... Mecca and its people would be no more..."

"Imp- impossible!" Jeanne stammered uncertainly. "W- We Meccans has always withstood all our enemies! We will rebuild without a doubt!"

"As a former gene- I mean," Cork coughed to cover his mistake. "Having the UN take control of Mecca would be the best option for Mecca and its people!"

"The UN has no slavery... has tek no lo gee that can solve the food crisis of Mecca," Cork said and he gestured around. "And not to mention... These... Beetle Heads... Protectorate would definitely come again when this fleet of theirs did not return..."

"Do you think any kingdom other then the UN can stop them?" Cork asked a subdued Jeanne. "What would happen here if we the UN isn't here?"

"This city that you once had fond memories of..." Cork gestured around again. "The Protectorate will destroy it all again..."

"Having the UN take the reins of your nation isn't necessarily a bad thing..." Cork tried to assure Jeanne. "In fact, it could probably be the best thing ever for the people of Mecca!"

A note from neo Koh

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