"Boss, I got some news about that Fitney fellow," Berklin said as he approached Claude with an air of mystery.
Claude was currently playing a game of war chess with Aboyev, Dyavid and Moriad. It was a game similar to the Chinese game of Luzhanqi, but it was played two on two. The goal was to eradicate all enemy pieces and it was the preferred way for many soldiers to spend their free time.
"Oh? Let's hear it. What kind of guy is he?" Claude moved his war wolf piece and claimed Moriad's centaur scout piece. But Aboyev quickly made a good move and encircled Claude's war wolf unit. Claude's partner, Dyavid, had his griffon entangled with Moriad's pegasus, so Claude wasn't able to get any reinforcements for his surrounded unit. It seemed that the war wolf piece would soon be sacrificed.
War chess was said to have been passed down since the age of magic. Players could choose different races to play the game with. The choices were humans, elves, beasts and demons. Each race had twelve types of units and the most popular choices were humans and elves.
However, there was only a set of human pieces that came with the game they had and Dyavid had chosen it first. Aboyev and Moriad both chose elves, so Claude could only go with beasts. As he wasn't familiar with the attack ranges and power of the beast units, he was being cornered again and again. It seemed that he would be losing that match soon.
"Boss, the beasts' behemoth moves the slowest. Choosing the beast race is just feeding the elves free meals. Their phoenix alone can burn your behemoth with its breath given that the attack range is twice that of behemoth's sharp claws. Bov and Mod both chose the elf race and there are two phoenixes. By the time your behemoth gets close enough to attack, it would've been burned to crisp already."
Berklin wasn't in a rush to report what he had found out and instead bothered himself with criticizing Claude's choice of race. According to him, the different races worked against each other. Humans were effective against elves, elves against beasts, beasts against demons and demons against humans. As a war chess enthusiast, he had been playing the game since he was twelve and no strategy in the game could be used to overwhelm him.
"Fine, I concede." Claude put the pieces back into the box. He was just starting to learn the game and was far from an expert. He even had to flip the rule book in the middle of the game and that was quite troublesome.
During the age of magic, magi would channel their mana into their pieces and they would automatically move and attack according to their respective ranges. But nowadays, players would have to flip through the thick rulebook to find that they're attacked by an enemy piece.
Behemoth for example was a unit with the most life and attack power among all bosses in the game. It had 40 thousand hit points and 30 thousand attack points. The drawback was its movement speed and short attack range. It could only advance one square at a time and attack one square ahead.
The phoenix of the elves on the other hand had the lowest hit points at ten thousand, but its fire breath could attack two squares away. The damage, on the other hand, was only ten thousand. Should a behemoth approach a phoenix, it would be able to kill it in one move. But before arriving, it would first have to suffer two breath attacks and lose half its life. It would lose all its life to take down two phoenixes. Berklin was right. According to the rulebook, by the time the behemoth reaches the phoenixes, it would've been burned to crisp already.
The surrender of Claude was soon followed by Dyavid's. Even if his human pieces were more effective against elves, he was up against two players and had to be even more careful. It didn't take long before he caved from the pressure.
With the game over, Berklin finally remembered what he wanted to tell them. "Oh, boss, Staff Sergeant Fitney is actually quite the impressive character."
"How so?" Claude asked.
"He's a master pugilist. When he was young, he had quite the reputation in his hometown of Krindos, a city in the prefecture of Chanyalar. He was forcefully conscripted at the age of 21 and fought all the tough guys in the whole camp when he was just a new recruit. He has a laid back personality and was admired by all the new recruits of the time. The fellows you sent to the infirmary joined the force at the same time he did and appears to be his tentmates back then. Their relationship goes way back.
"Staff Sergeant Fitney was really short-tempered when he first joined. It was as if he had a lit fuse all the time. That was the reason he often got into brawls and was confined and caned as a result. He's one of the people the upper brass finds most troublesome. Only after three years of service did he get promoted as a corporal. But during the revolt in Gourneygada two years back, he beat down six of the revolters with his bare hands and saved Captain Kandya, who was in the city to resupply, earning him the promotion to sergeant.
"After his promotion, Fitney gradually stabilized and bettered his temperament under the care of Captain Kandya. He no longer deals with matters personally and has his brothers, Jem and the lot, deal with them while he operates from the shadows. The officers in the camp were all shocked at the change and thought that he had changed for the better, so they promoted him one more time last year to staff sergeant in time for the officer training course. When the course ends, he'll become a sergeant major."
After his report, he paused for a moment before continuing. "Boss, according to the senior soldiers who told me all that, Fitney definitely hasn't turned over a new leaf. Instead, he grew more sinister and secretive. Most of the hazing of new recruits and the threats were masterminded by Fitney from behind the scenes.
"Now that Jem and the rest were sent to the infirmary, Fitney lost a good deal of face. Many in the camp are secretly mocking him for not being able to protect his minions. That's why Fitney boasted about teaching you a lesson. There were many witnesses who heard him say that, so you better watch out. Don't let him ambush you."
Claude nodded with a smile to show that he would be careful. Given that Fitney was still part of the training program, the course while Claude was being trained as a new recruit, they wouldn't meet often as long as they didn't see each other at public places like the bath hall and mess hall. Not to mention, Fitney definitely wouldn't cause him any trouble before the end of his course unless he no longer wished to become sergeant major.
"Boss, should we take the first strike? We can track his movements and find a chance to ambush him. We can use lime powder to blind him, put a linen sack on his head and then rough him up with sticks together. We'll snap both his legs and let him be discharged as a cripple. We won't have to worry about payback ever again," Aboyev suggested.
Claude smiled and shook his head.
Berklin shot down Aboyev's plan immediately. "Don't be foolish. Do you think we're ruffians from the alleys of the royal capital? Where'd we get lime powder and linen sacks anyway? We're in a military base. Where would we find a place to ambush him? And Fitney's a aster pugilist, not the thugs we fought before. Ambushing it is just asking for trouble. We'll get beaten up and punished for it!"
"That's enough. All we need to do is to keep these in mind. Both of our sides are currently in training and there won't be any opportunities for him to come provoke us. We just have to be careful," Claude concluded.
The new recruit training progressed as usual. They got drilled in the basics in the first month, which mainly consisted of marching. Claude did wonder why there wasn't any military band to accompany the marching. They only marched according to the pace set by the instructor's brass whistle.
Claude recalled watching a movie about a war between the British and the French on the American continent during the imperialist era. They mainly relied on muskets too, but the soldiers in the movie used flintlocks instead of matchlocks. The British red coat troops marched line by line forwards with a military band playing upbeat music beside them. The song seemed to be a rather famous one as well.
He asked Second Lieutenant Most about it once about the absence of a military band, which would be arguably easier to listen to than the ear-piercing whistle. At least, it wouldn't tense up soldiers as badly.
That question came out of the blue for Most and he merely laughed and said that while there used to be military bands in the infancy of warfare, they were phased out due to their impracticality.
Claude didn't really understand what that meant.
So Most broke into a long lecture. First, training a military band was no small feet. Reading music sheets and playing musical instruments were rare and valuable talents in this world and sending them to the battlefield would be a waste.
Additionally, while band members were soldiers too, they didn't play a huge combat role on the field and weren't much of a threat to the enemies. How many bands would be required on a battlefield with tens of thousands of soldiers? Those numbers could be instead used to supply a whole clan of troops, which was often the difference between a battle won and lost. Military band members on the other hand didn't offer that tactical advantage in battle at all.
Given how loud guns fired on modern battlefields, it would be hard to hear the band music anyway. It would be better to use a sharp whistle that could be heard through all the chaos and also keep soldiers alert. That was why military bands were soon phased out completely.
Most importantly, in the war around a century ago, a winning nation managed to capture an enemy's military band. During the signing of the ceasefire treaty, the winning side had the very same band play to celebrate the occasion as a mocking slight to the losers. As a result, the losers returned and disbanded all their bands immediately.
Nobody would tolerate their own bands to cheer for the victory of the enemy after all. Not only was its cost high, it didn't afford any combat advantage and also made one vulnerable to enemy humiliation. So there was no reason for them to exist anymore. At least, that was the answer Most provided to Claude.
During the second month, the new recruits began to familiarize themselves with firearms. As a main standing army, Bluefeather's standard issue musket was the Aubass Mark 2 he was so familiar with.
"It's a shame that these are no longer the newest designs out there," Most said, "A friend of mine from the royal capital wrote that the Aubass Mark 3 is out. The national firearms institute's new gun shoots almost as far as the Aubass Mark 2, but the accuracy and aiming are greatly improved. It's said to be far easier to aim with and the achievement is nothing short of a breakthrough."
Most told that to Claude when he stood beside him. Claude just got number one out of all four hundred or so new recruits in both shooting accuracy, speed, and reloading speed. According to the other instructors, Claude's results could compare to even the best veterans'.
When the last month of new recruit training started, Claude found that the past two months were far too easy going compared to the third. That month, they mainly trained in marching, but the difference was that they had to carry their guns alongside and listen for the whistle order to load their guns on the spot and perform volley fire according to their orders to deal the widest range of damage.
Only one week into the training, there were two incidents of firearm malfunction and three misfiring incidents. Most was so mad that he got all the new recruits to stand out in the field under the son and chide them for a whole half hour. Fortunately, nobody died during those incidents. Only four new recruits got injured and had to be sent to the infirmary. Perunt diagnosed them and found that their condition was stable and would be able to recover in around three months' time.