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The city of Ironwall gained its name in the days following its founding. The first lord had been a skilled earth mage, capable of shifting and compressing metals to a high degree. Having made his fortune delving and being paid handsomely for his skills in fortification, he decided the time had come to put his money to good use. Together with the extended family, he put together an expedition and found a location on the frontier to establish his own independent city.

The stone here was rich with minerals, particularly iron, and over a period of decades, the first lord excavated and compressed the outer shell of the city into an unbreakable wall. Surrounded by a sphere of almost pure, hardened metal, the city was renowned as an unbreakable fortress, a rare island of safety in the wild and undeveloped frontier. Combined with the prosperity gained from mining the rich Dungeon seams in the nearby expanse, the city grew quickly to the relative powerhouse it had now become.

At least, that's how the locals thought of it.

In Wallace's eyes, the city was a fat calf, just waiting to be slaughtered. The people had become complacent, confident that the work of the founder would keep them safe, as wealth had continued to accrue. Trade through the gate network had made the people wealthy, but the lack of threat had made them indolent. The impregnable shell, the unbreachable gates, had complete faith amongst the citizens here. They could not imagine a world in which they would fall.

Thinking that the only things that could exist in the Dungeon were those that they could imagine. That was their fatal sin.

"You want… my city?" Lord Korbell looked at him as if he were insane. "Is this some sort of joke?"

Yasmine glared at Wallace for a moment before she turned back to the lord with a more moderate tone.

"The Colony has sent us to inform you of their intentions. They conquered Rylleh some time ago, and are now in the process of increasing their territory. It is unfortunate, but that includes your city."

"Are you insulting me?" Korbell slammed a hand down on his desk. "You think you can just walk in here and tell me that some insects want to take my city from me?"

As if they were less dangerous because they're insects. Isn't the opposite true? Wallace thought to himself.

"We wouldn't dream of insulting you," Wallace drawled, "and I believe I can explain why this situation may seem so strange to you."

The young lord settled back in his chair, anger still plain on his face.

"Speak," he said curtly.

Wallace straightened himself in his chair before he went on.

"The Colony is quite young, in general terms. They've only been intelligent for around a year. Perhaps less, I don't have the exact dates on hand. The point being, they are quite new to the idea of diplomacy and aren't quite sure how to go about it."

"These creatures are intelligent?"

"Of course they are. You can't expect me to believe you haven't had any scouting reports at all."

"I lost several patrols trying to investigate what happened to Rylleh," Korbell frowned. "I stopped trying and gave you up for dead."

"I can't say they aren't competent," Wallace nodded. "Well, I can more or less see how this has come as such a shock to you. The ants are trying to understand what you and I might consider 'rules of war'. They believe it would be detrimental to their future dealings if they were to gain a reputation for unscrupulous actions. The idea of reputation is important to them. Were your city to be conquered without having offered you an opportunity to surrender, it would sully their reputation."

It was quite odd how quickly the ants had accepted the concept of reputation. Although on the one hand, they didn't really care what humans thought of them, they also refused to give others a reason to speak poorly of them. They would keep their dealings scrupulously clean as they saw it. If some misinterpreted their actions, then so be it, but they would always follow the 'rules'.

Lord Korbell's face darkened.

"Wallace," he said, "I had a great deal of respect for you. You've battled hard on behalf of your city against the Dungeon and I have a deep regard for your years of service. But now, to think you came here to mock me on the orders of the monsters you once swore to kill. You're a mockery of yourself."

"Oh, I quite agree," Wallace said, a slight smile on his face. "Some days I feel as if I left my sanity behind some time ago."

"You must have," the lord said, "to think that this city could possibly fall to monsters such as those. This is Ironwall. We will never be defeated, by those ants. No matter if they bring a hundred thousand. They'll never break through our walls and will die in droves before our gates."

Yasmine stood from her seat and tugged on Wallace's arm to pull him out of his chair. It was clear their audience was at an end.

"I'm sorry to cause you any distress," she tried to cover for her fellow emissary.

He was always going to make this difficult. Stupid old man! He just couldn't keep his mouth shut anymore. Wallace allowed himself to be pulled to standing as he reached into his left pocket and thumbed a crystal he had there.

"Well, Lord Korbell. It has been nice to see you again. I'll be sure to catch up with you tomorrow. It won't be as bad as you think at first. You'll find they're pretty easy to get along with. Though you might find a fair portion of your wealth might end up redistributed. They can't abide inefficient hoarding."

"Get out, Wallace. Neither you or any ant will set foot inside these walls ever again."

Wallace Dalton shrugged.

"Well, of course. They don't have feet."

Sounds of distant alarm were suddenly heard as crystal matrices around the office sparked to life. Garbled voices and panicked shouting began to echo throughout. Lord Korbell looked around in shock before pounding feet echoed through the door, followed by a host of finely dressed soldiers bursting into the room.

"My Lord!" one cried. "The city is under assault by monsters!"

Wallace sighed and rolled his shoulders. He flicked a glance at the others in the room, judging their mood before he decided to tactically return to his chair. His knees hurt these days.

"Is this your idea of honour?" the young lord demanded. "A surprise attack while you are still in the city to negotiate?"

Wallace raised one brow.

"What do you mean? I offered you a chance to surrender and you rejected it. Why wouldn't they attack?"

"They aren't afraid that I'll take you hostage and execute you?"

"Honestly, I told them that such things never happened and they shouldn't worry about it."

Yasmine clapped a hand to her forehead. This lunatic had no regard for his own life, but at the least he could care a little about hers.

Korbell turned back to his soldiers.

"This is Ironwall! There is no need to panic, we have driven off stronger foes than this. Contact the gates, wake the reserves, and get every man and woman ready to fight. There is no chance that they can break through as long as we commit to the defence."

"Sure about that?" Wallace pointed out the nearby window.

The soldiers and their lord looked out to see streams of ants already climbing along the walls and ceiling of the great chamber in which the city stood. The much vaunted shell that had defended them for hundreds of years had already been pierced in several places, holes the size of a small house having been punched through somehow. Hundreds of ants had already entered, a number that soon ballooned into thousands.

"The gates are under heavy assault!"

"The garrison is being attacked from underneath!"

"There are reports of tunnelling beneath the castle my lord! This area isn't secure."

Lord Korbell couldn't process the repeated shocks that came at him faster than he could comprehend. What in the world was happening?

"Rylleh lasted longer," Wallace grunted with satisfaction. "I knew that wall was overrated."



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Bio: Working older person with family who really likes webnovels and decided to write one. Here we are!

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