There was a hole in Moriad's left hand. He was still conscious though. When he saw Claude, he struggled a smile.
"Am I going to die, Chief?"
"You won't. You weren't shot where it matters," Claude said, breathing a sigh of relief.
He took out a bottle of potion from his sack. It was one of the four perfect-quality potions he had synthesised back in Whitestag. He poured a couple drops on the wound and had Moriad consume the rest.
"Don't move. We'll come fetch you later."
Moriad was lucky. His hand was in bad shape but that was about it. Even his fall from the horse hadn't done much to him. The two soldiers who'd followed him were dead. One had been killed by the shot, which had bored a hole into his chest and turned his heart and one lung into paste, while the other had been trampled by his horse.
At least another tent had just popped over the hill. They wore white and moved independently. They spent most of their time crouched or kneeling to fire, then moved as soon as their musket popped.
Claude stayed stomach down and aimed with another musket.
His musket popped. When the smoke cleared, his target was lying flat on the ground. The puff his musket inevitably revealed his position, and several rounds threw up dirt around him.
"How many are still alive? Why aren't you firing back? Have you forgotten everything I've taught you?!" Claude roared, rolling into the nearest trench.
Twelve white uniforms were still ghosting about on the hill. Claude couldn't believe how accurate they were. They were at least as good as his men. If he'd not been laying down, he would probably have been struck down already.
He stood up as high as he could without exposing his head and reloaded. About fifteen seconds later he popped above the trench and levelled his musket at another white uniform. His musket popped and the figure was down when the smoke cleared. His shot was followed by three more popped a couple seconds later, and he watched as three more white uniforms dropped.
Claude allowed a ghost of a smile to creep onto his face when he noticed a hint of panic appear in the white uniforms' movements. They'd evidently not expected the enemy to match their accuracy. They had to have finished reloading by now, but Claude didn't see any new puffs of smoke. They must not be able to see him or his men that easily. They wore bright red uniforms, but they had covered them in dirt thanks to the fight they just had, and most were hiding in the trenches.
Claude's musket popped again and another white uniform dropped.
Myjack's musket popped a moment later and another uniform fell, this one evidently hadn't been killed, however, as several moments later, his cries echoed down the hill to their position.
The white uniforms stopped their advance. One darted to the yelling man while the others started making their way back up the hill. It looked like two of the uniforms had a short argument, then one grabbed the reins of the dead officer's horse. The rest had by now made their way to the downed uniform and were helping it up and preparing to pull back.
Claude finished reloaded again. He levelled his musket on the blob of uniforms carrying the injured up the hill. When they reached the top, Claude's musket popped and one dropped and started rolling down the hill.
Four more muskets popped a moment later and two more uniforms dropped. The horse neighed and collapsed as well. The last three uniforms stood stunned for a moment, then yelped and darted away.
Myjack's musket popped, but the uniforms continued over the top of the hill and vanished.
Claude finished reloading a moment later, but wasn't in time to get a shot off.
"Berk, clean this place up. Myjack, Gum, reload your muskets and follow me!"
Claude got out of the trench, his head still low, and made for the hill, Myjack and Gum in tow. The three uniforms that had made it over the hill were just white dots in the distance now, well out of range. Where had those whities come from? Claude had never seen them before, and they definitely weren't from Canas.
Claude checked their muskets, and his face darkened. The design was practically identical to the Mark 3, though just different enough to tell him that they weren't actual Mark 3s. The design difference clearly didn't impact its performance, however. Knock-off or not, it could match the Mark 3 all the way.
So the tent had done much the same as his unit had. They'd set up their position at the base of the hill, opposite him, and waited for an enemy unit to set up on top of it. When they heard the shots peppering the hilltop, however, they realised what was happening and moved out to take out the enemy ambush force. The enemy was catching up to the rangers' doctrine more and more, faster and faster every day, but Claude's superiors were too stubborn, too vindictive against him to take his advice and adapt themselves.
If this kept up, their side would be wiped out. They were still able to keep up a decent fight against the Canasian scouts because of their superior weapons, even if their doctrine was very quickly becoming outmatched, but now that the enemy had equivalent weaponry, if they didn't adapt immediately, and do so earnestly, they would be wiped out.
"They're Rimodran units, Sergeant-Major," Myjack said as he removed a small metal tag from one of the corpses.
"Why would they be here?" Myjack asked as he passed the tag to Claude.
"Look at their guns," Claude sighed, "they're here to do to us what we've been doing to the Canasians. They've at least not learnt to dive to the ground and fight from there yet, or we wouldn't have made it out of this alive. I can't criticise their accuracy, however.
"Gum, take care of the corpses. Myjack, the dead Canasian over there should be an officer. I noticed he had a monocle. Take it and check the area from here. I don't want any more surprises."
'Taking care' of the corpses just meant robbing their dog tags and other valuables. Enemy dead weren't respected on Freia so Claude wouldn't bother with a burial.
Dog tags could be traded for off days after a mission, which sounded like a great idea to reward people who got results, and to incentivise the others to do better, but barely anyone came back with dog tags. Those that were in a position to collect, usually died in the fights as well.
The men had even started avoiding fights altogether now that the enemy had started adapting.
Looting was a popular activity for soldiers. Loot was the property of the looter, so men often spent several dozen minutes carefully combing the bodies after a fight, which also left them vulnerable to secondary attacks or ambushes, much like what had happened to Claude's group.
Unlike others, Claude always headed out with a tent of men and split the spoils evenly. That was why the men in the camp trusted him and were willing to join him on his excursions. They didn't have to worry about getting into fights.
Gum collected the dog tags and belongings while Myjack kept watch. Claude loaded the enemy's musket to test out its accuracy.
He stopped after ten shots. No wonder the enemy's rounds only hit the ground around him. The bullets wandered after 70 metres.
The barrel was hot after the tenth shot. The musket may be a close match for the Mark 3 in terms of performance, but it didn't have the durability.
Regardless, war was the best teacher. Claude was quite worried about this fight becoming commonplace. If the whole war became like this, the enemy would have a massive advantage.
Gum approached and handed a bunch of tags to Claude. He had another small sack in hand filled with coins and some other valuables as well.
"Have Berk bring a few horses over. Load the scimitars and musket on them. As for the valuables, hand them to Berk. We'll split them after making an inventory," Claude ordered.
Berklin soon came over with five horses.
"Chief, we're done cleaning up down there. We lost three men: Alije, Lik, and Kruna. Mod's pretty badly hurt, but he'll make it. Bodia's thigh's been cut but he'll be fine as well."
Claude set up an ambush with ten men and managed to eliminate a 12-man tent and the nine Rimodran infantrymen, making their kill count 21. His unit suffered only five casualties in return. A huge success by the rangers' standards.
Claude sighed exasperatedly.
"Alright, back to camp."