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585 Countdown to Destruction

 The elderly man sat quietly around the round table, holding his breath. The atmosphere in the brightly lit conference hall was extremely depressing. A well-dressed man standing beside the elderly man read every word on the piece of paper in his hand with an unusually agonized voice. "Currently, our nation is suffering from a serious case of famine and the price of foodstuffs has skyrocketed. The other regions, apart from the Port region, have also broken out into riots and are experiencing famine. Not only that, but the civilians who support us in the battle have fallen to less than two-thirds. We also can't find sufficient helpers to eradicate the thugs because most of our soldiers have been sent to the frontlines. Furthermore, the barbarians have invaded the borders..."

"Alright, alright." The elderly man waved his hand weakly.

He shifted his lower body stiffly like an ill, handicapped person and struggled to shift his head. The dazzling sunlight spilled through the windows into the spacious conference hall, but the place once bustling with activities was nowhere to be seen. About a dozen representatives from different organizations and forces sat around the round table before him. The dense mass of crowd which should've been behind them was only a dozen. The elderly man gasped for air. He knew that the situation was terrible, but he had overestimated the unity of the nobles and merchants. He was once optimistic that it was the combined responsibility of the nobles and merchants to establish the Southern Parliament. They would share the benefits no matter what happened; they would defend their interests and overcome the predicament together. But now...

The elderly man looked at the people with his turbid eyes. He knew that these people would immediately withdraw and leave this place as soon as the situation got worse. However, they couldn't leave because there would be hope as long as they stayed. They had put in so much hard work for this day and they would see the glimmer of hope as long as they hung on!

The elderly sat up straight slowly and gazed at his surrounding. "I think... Everyone must have heard and seen... everything that's happening right now. I admit that our nation isn't doing too well and due to this reason, some have chosen to escape and avoid reality. I will not blame them because that is their choice. But you should also know that such situations are inevitable when we have chosen to start this journey. Every step is arduous, but this is always the case on the road for freedom. Just think about the Country of Light's Parliament. They snatched the authority that belonged to humans from the hands of the Light Dragon, but were they very successful? Are we going to just give up after facing such a small obstacle?"

"This isn't our responsibility, Chairman!" One of the men rebutted. "If the despicable King's Party didn't destroy our foodstuff reserve, would we even fall into this predicament?"

"Is there any purpose to point fingers now?" A glint flashed in the elderly man's eyes and the man shut his mouth abruptly. "They're our enemies now, so how can you expect them to show us mercy! Besides, we don't have any evidence to prove this point and it is meaningless to be in a tangle with this problem. We have to think of a solution to resolve the difficult situation right before our very eyes."

The elderly man paused and panted for air. Then, he turned to face a man who appeared to be a merchant. "Saville, have you handled the matter I asked you to?"

"... Chairman, I have followed your instructions to contact the trade associations in the Country of Light for foodstuff assistance. But... their prices are too high! Almost triple to quintuple more than usual! This will be a huge burden for us!"

"... Agree to their demands!" The elderly man gritted his teeth.

When the Southern Parliament sought reinforcements from the Light Parliament, they had also requested for foodstuff to replenish their supplies. However, the Light Parliament had been delaying their response and eventually didn't promise their request. Without any choice, the Southern Parliament could only seek assistance from the trade associations in the Country of Light and their merchants asked for unreasonable prices. The Southern Parliament had decided to negotiate for lower prices, but now, the circumstances had forced them without a way out.

"But, Chairman! We can't satisfy everyone even if we managed to transport the foodstuff from the Country of Light. Moreover, the lack of food for the 70,000 soldiers on the frontlines hasn't been resolved yet. We..."

"We don't have any other choices for the lack of foodstuff. But everyone, don't forget our strength."

"Strength?"

Many of them lifted their heads and fixated their eyes on the elderly man. The Chairman nodded in satisfaction and the atmosphere in the conference hall freshened up entirely. Although the Chairman had some doubts about this plan, he was left with no choice if he wished to maintain this bleak little hope.

"That's right. Everyone, you are aware that various regions in our nation have different degrees of disaster due to the food shortage. However, only the Port region is able to keep their peace. Do you know the reason why?" The Chairman paused. "The Port region's main source of food comes from the sea, which is why they weren't affected too badly. It is currently fishing season and we can order the fishermen in the name of the Parliament to work continuously and deliver processed seafood to the famined regions as quickly as possible! This way, we can temporarily alleviate the crisis and get ready for our next operation!"

"But Chairman." One of the men had a different opinion. "How should we go about transporting the seafood to every region? This will require a large sum of money. Also, the Port region's operations are always limited. What will happen to the coming years if we capture more fish unrestrictedly? Moreover, this 'seafood solution' wouldn't be for the long term. The Country of Light's Parliament's emissaries have arrived at the Golden City, but the woman has been giving excuses to delay their meeting. How long can we hold on if she continues to drag it out?"

"There will be no future if we can't even hang on now." The Chairman sucked in a deep breath of air. He stared at everyone and uttered each word forcefully. "We have to hang on no matter what! That woman can't avoid us forever! As long as we hang on for three months, the dawn of a new era will shine on us!"

"Three months?"

"That's right. The Dragon Soul Ceremony will commence in three months and that woman will definitely represent the Munn Kingdom to meet the Light Dragon Soul in the Country of Light. By then, she will not be able to avoid the interrogations of the Country of Light's Parliament! And we will be victorious!" The Chairman punched his fist into the air with all his might.

The sulking parliament members came to a realization and summoned up their courage and faith immediately. Just as the Chairman had said, obstacles were unavoidable on this path they had chosen and it would be meaningless no matter how they hung on if there was no future for them. It would be the beginning of the real nightmare if the days with the lack of foodstuff and internal chaos hadn't come to an end. But now, every problem would be resolved if they hung on for three months.

The conference hall with the depressing atmosphere livened up. Parliament members stood up one by one and brandished their fist determinedly.

"That's right, we shouldn't give up yet. Everyone, don't forget our initial ideal and expectations!"

"You said that right! Those cowards who escaped will regret it one day!"

"Good!" A glint of pleasure revealed in the Chairman's eyes. He let out two deep coughs and raised his hand to get everyone's attention. Then, he continued. "That settles it since there are no objections. Now, please inform this matter to the civilians and maintain the social order in the streets. The ongoing struggles are due to the civilians feeling worried about their future and a lot of these problems will resolve themselves as long as we guarantee their life stability. Also, I request that the Southern Fleet heads into the Strait of Light to defend the commercial channel from the King's Party army. From now onward, the Port region must operate at its peak in order to guarantee the flow of food to other regions. Inform and assure the fishermen that we will purchase their harvests with double the price."

The Chairman stood to his feet gradually. "Everyone! We must fight alongside the frontlines and cannot fall. Only the victors will stand until the end and we will be the victors!"

The bustling noises faded.

The parliament members left one by one and the spacious conference hall fell into silence. The Chairman stood before his seat and gazed at the empty place. This was the first time that he revealed a pleased smile. Then...

Cough cough... Cough cough! The Chairman bent his trembling, frail body over and his ear-piercing coughs resounded in the conference hall. After a few moments, the Chairman caught his breath and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief, only to find a ghastly trail of fresh blood smeared on it.

"I can't fall... It hasn't ended yet... We can still emerge victorious..." the Chairman muttered under his breath. He straightened his body and turned toward the exit.

***

The chilly breeze blew along an aromatic white smoke.

"Indeed. Fresh fish are always the most delicious." Lydia hugged her knees on the lakeside and admired the vast, royal blue lake presented before her with a witty smile. From the distance, the azure sky and lake reflected off each other perfectly as though they were a single, gorgeous portrait. "Spring leaves and autumn arrives. The changes in their colors are the most beautiful in this world. Ice melts into water while water freezes into ice. This is the most magnificent scenery in this world. Always ever-changing, and none identical. Even one will have a different realization, viewing the same leaf from different angles. The leaves will still dance in the wind and shudder in violent storms. This is the best proof of survival and the world."

The Archangel turned around and faced the elderly man sitting near her. "You don't agree, Minister Amund?"

"Your Highness, I do hope that you can be a little quieter. The fishes that are about to take the bait have been startled by you," Amund sighed.

"There's no such thing, Minister Amund. Clever fish will not be enticed while enticed fish will not be startled that easily. Once the fish have such thoughts, they will pounce up regardless of perils even when there is no bait on the hook. Although this may sound silly, it is due to this silliness that they can satisfy the hunger of others, which is a happy ending for all. Silly fish will not regret their decisions and the fishers can satisfy themselves. Everyone is happy this way, right?"

"Haa..." Amund let out a long sigh. "You've left the Golden City for some time, Your Highness. But, it seems that the emissaries of the Country of Light's Parliament have no intentions of leaving."

"Let them be. I guess they must be so mesmerized by the beauty of Golden City that they can't bear to leave. Well, isn't that great too? I want to see more of the scenery. Come to think of it, the autumn leaves in the Northern mountain range should be changing their colors soon. Doesn't it feel good to savor on tasty chestnuts while strolling in the red, autumn forest, Teacher Amund? You wouldn't mind taking a walk in the autumn forest with me, right?"

"Haa... Your Highness. Now isn't the time for that."

"Ah, you're right, the fish is about to be cooked," Lydia displayed a cheeky smile and picked up a grilled fish beside the bonfire. She savored with tiny bites. "Mm... The timing is perfect. Grilling fish requires knowledge and skills too. Leaving it too long in the flames will burn it badly, but it will have a fishy smell if it isn't left long enough. If one can't grasp the heat control and timing accurately, one will not be able to relish its flavor. No matter if the fishy or burnt smell is too heavy, no one will think that the fish is tasty."

"... Your Highness, do you think it is about time?"

Lydia's movements came to a gentle stop. "This fish smells great, Teacher Amund... This fish is mine. This lake is also mine, and the fish in the lake naturally belonged to me. I won't allow the greedy people to snatch my possessions. They may have forgotten that the delicacies belong to the Munn Kingdom and are my assets. The delicacies shouldn't be given and wasted on rapacious mice." The corner of Lydia's mouth perked up into a pretty curve. "Inform the 3rd Royal Fleet that it's time for their appearance."

"3rd Royal Fleet?" Amund looked curiously. "Your Highness, is it necessary?"

"It's the season of the wind now, Minister Amund." Lydia let out a chuckle. She stretched out her fingers and felt the gentle breeze blowing between them with her eyes closed. "Sometimes, the cat doesn't reveal its claws just to capture its prey. Instead, it serves as a warning: to threaten the mice harboring evil thoughts. I haven't fallen to such a weak position yet."

"... Understood, Your Highness," Amund said and vanished along with the gentle breeze, leaving Lydia sitting on the boulder by the lakeside.

She displayed a playful smile and gazed at the long line connecting the azure lake and the sky. Suddenly, the fishing rod shook violently which attracted Lydia's attention. She turned around curiously and lifted the fishing rod to pull a big, fat fish out of the lake. Lydia cupped her hand over her mouth cheekily and narrowed her eyes.

"The fish has taken the bait... And now, it's time to cook it."