Claude returned to headquarters in Lanu in stellar mood. However, he felt that things just didn't seem to be going well for him. He didn't think he'd miss such an elementary thing when it came to designing the grenade. Even though it was solved in the end, the time constraints made it so that the cost of production rose. Claude felt an impending sense of danger.
The latest Shiksan update he got from the ministry of the army was Shiks just ferried their two fresh standing corps to Port Vebator. It was said that three more standing corps were being trained in the Shiksan mainland. Currently, there were four corps in their Nubissian colonies. Apart from the two new corps, there was also the corps formed from retired Nasrian soldiers and a light-cavalry corps of retired Canasian soldiers.
What unnerved Claude was how he suddenly lost contact with his informant in Port Vebator. He just went silent like that. Intelligence told him that the informant was either captured or suffered some kind of accident in such cases. They've sent a few more informants there but didn't hear anything back from them either.
It was worth noting that the informants they used in Port Vebator were nikancha, as they usually travelled all over the place and wouldn't stand out. Not to mention, they could communicate with the nikancha labourers at Port Vebator and gain lots of information from them.
While the nikancha were usually discriminated against for their shortcomings, they did have certain qualities that were hard to deny. They were united, for one, and felt really responsible for their families. The families of the nikancha sent to be informants lived in Aueran colonies and were given a fixed monthly stipend and also enjoyed many other benefits. There was no chance for the nikancha to switch sides in that case. They also hated Shiks with a passion.
After shooting down intelligence's request to send even more nikancha informants there, Claude decided to look through reports on Shiks over the past half a year in detail again. The reports had a delay of 20 days before they reached Claude. There was little they could do about it, given the distance.
The reports state that the Shiksan corps arrived in Port Vebator two months prior. Adding the delay it took for the report to be received, the Shiksan forces had arrived since three months ago. Claude wasn't too worried about the two additional corps the enemy got. What he was worried about was he couldn't grasp what the enemy was going with this.
It was only until he read the latest report that his eyes lit up. It stated that the Alliance's navy, now controlled by Shiks, had hurriedly set off for Nubissia during the past two months and were delivering large amounts of food. It caused the price of food in Shiks to rise by ten percent on average.
When he recalled the smuggler that came from Port Vebator to buy food only to be doomed by General Fansnik, Claude breathed a sigh of relief. He suspected that the food shortage in the Shiksan colonies still hadn't been solved. The arrival of the two standing corps only exacerbated the problem. Otherwise, there would be no need to use the navy to deliver the food. Usually, there would be a month's break for every voyage. They wouldn't start loading up immediately and setting sail right after completing one voyage.
Claude summoned Major Anders and asked about Thundercrash's status. The major reported that Thundercrash should return in two days according to the eagle message they sent.
During this excursion, Moriad, Berklin and the others didn't just storm the border between Cromwell and Port Vebator. They even exterminated the Canasian light-cavalry tents sent to scout Balingana, killing around thirty of them and capturing more than twenty captives. Thundercrash only suffered three heavy injuries and some ten light injuries. Not a single soldier died.
It was a great result. This could possibly be the best news Claude had heard in a while. While he had some time before their return, he decided to figure out how he could solve the problem of power.
Claude had thought about the necessity of modifying the iron canisters. He could just modify the moulds used to cast the canisters for the grenades instead of having to use so many machines to engrave the lines on the canisters. However, Weyblon said that he didn't have men skilled enough to make moulds that detailed. While making smooth moulds for the canisters was easy, making one with a lined outer shell wasn't something their mould makers could do at the moment.
Furthermore, even if said lined moulds were created, the machines had to be calibrated to ensure that the canisters produced would be standardised and uniform. Not to mention, screw threads had to be made for the production of the mortar rounds for the fuse mechanism on the bottom, which necessitated more machining.
Claude's only outlet for his frustrations was drawing a few more designs. He didn't draw up a steam-powered engine, as he hadn't personally seen one in action Instead, he drew a hot-air engine. He recalled that the other villagers in the countryside where he grew up calling them fire-head machines. That was the only engine he could recall from the top of his head.
Since it wasn't powered with steam, there wasn't a need for a boiler. Instead, it relied on the expansion of hot air to move the pistons and power something. He recalled some documentaries he had watched stating that the earliest car engines were powered by hot air. Those cars crawled on the roads as slowly as turtles. It was said that China had just opened itself up back then and couldn't purchase gas or petrol, so the cars they used were fitted to use hot-air engines that were complemented by the burning of coal, which took up half those cars' loads.
He knew hot-air engines so well because he had had one in his old home. His grandfather had treated it like his treasure. He once told Claude that back then when the village still didn't have electricity, he would always bring that machine to the spot where the rice harvest was dried and connect it to the threshing machine to remove the seeds from the stalks of the paddy instead of having to bring it to the ones in the city. That saved him quite a bit of trouble.
He had even played around with it a couple times with his grandfather. The hot-air engine was rather simple in construction and didn't fail easily. His grandfather said that it was made during the early years of the opening of the country. It was still in pristine condition after some three to four decades of use. However, Claude later on found that the hot-air engine had many quirks that made it rather troublesome to use. It was also quite inefficient and wasted quite a lot of fuel, not to mention the noise and pollution produced, which resulted in it being eventually phased out.
When his grandfather passed away, Claude's uncle sold the engine for the high price of five yuan to a scrap collector. Claude had never seen it since during his visits to his hometown.
He rubbed the tears on the corner of his eye and began sketching out the diagram of the machine he remembered so well. He started with the combustion chamber, the gas pipes and then moved on to the pistons and other contraptions.
The combustion chamber was where the fire burned and heated up the air which would propel the piston. As the air expands, it would create a pressure high enough to push through a valve and move the piston before the valve closed up again for pressure to build up once more. The movement of the piston would push open another valve to let the air escape so that it could fall back down. That was the standard cycle of a hot-air engine.
The design he drew up wasn't that much different from the engine he remembered. Claude wondered if that meant he had skipped over steam-power technology entirely, not that it mattered to him. All he needed was for it to work. As long as he could solve the problem of powering machines and create his mortars, he would have a trump card in hand and wouldn't have to fear the enemy no matter their numbers.
War is the main driving force behind human innovation. Had it not been for the impending war, Claude would never been able to remember the machinery he had seen so long ago during childhood in his previous life. He wouldn't even think about introducing it to this world.
With his designs in hand, he left headquarters and got on a carriage. He told the coachman, "I want to go to my sister's."
Two days later, Thundercrash returned to Lanu. Berklin, Moriad, Dyavid and the other high-ranking officers came to report themselves to Claude. They informed him about what happened during their survey as well as their attacks on the enemy scouting tents.
Claude wondered why the enemy would send scouting tents into Balingana. Logically speaking, they should be monitoring Cromwell instead since that colony was connected to Shiks'. Why would those Canasian scouts bother going to Balingana?
Moriad reported that the scouts weren't there to scout out their troops, but rather, to seek out a place to hunt wild bulls.
Claude put the puzzle pieces together immediately. Soon, the 7th month would be upon them. The summer wild-bull migration across Albator Plains was about to start. Near a million wild bulls would travel from the northern highlands to the southern plains. They would only return to the highlands during the 11th month. One trip of theirs took up to half a year.
Some researchers said that when the bull herds got too big, they would have to cull the weak and old for the sake of sustainability. During the migration, near ten thousand old and weak wild bulls would be hunted by the predators of the areas they travel through. With the people from the colonies joining the fray, the yearly death toll of bulls number up to 60 thousand.
The towns in Balingana mainly relied on the bull-hunting industry before the war started. Leather, bull-horn ornaments and even bull meat were the specialities of those towns. They were also incredibly popular among merchants from the kingdom.
After the war began, apart from a few brave hunters, no large-scale bull hunting could be organised, especially when most of the youth had been drafted into the colonial corps. Miselk's scorched-earth strategy had also put a halt to the hunting for years.
Everyone was too busy during last year as Ranger had to be reorganised before being sent back to the kingdom alongside the formation of the five enhanced folks. After the unfit recruits were thinned out from the colonial corps, some people tried to organise the bull hunts once more, only to be attacked by the Canasian light cavalrymen. Many of them were hurt or injured as they escaped in a panic.
Moriad reported that they discovered that the Canasian voluntary cavalry corps sent a folk of troops to Albator Plains for bull hunting last year according to a captive testimony. They managed to kill around 30 thousand bulls and earned a profit of around 80 thousand crowns. As such, they wanted to do the same this year too and sent scouts into Balingana to find a good spot to wait for the passing bulls.
"General, I think we can wipe them out directly," Berklin suggested, "Ever since they came to Vebator, they've been hiding behind their defence lines. Yet, they're willing to come out of their shell to hunt the bulls. We can't let this chance up."
Claude laughed. "Thundercrash has only just been formed. Training only began half a year ago. Are you confident you'll be able to swallow the Canasian light-cavalry corps whole?"
All the officers stood up in unison. "General, we are certain we can do it!"
Claude nodded. "Alright, I got it. Go back and wait for further instruction. Since you've just returned from this excursion, take a few days' rest. Let the soldiers recover their energy."
"Yes, Sir!" They saluted before they prepared to leave.
"Moriad, you stay back," Claude said.
"What's up, Chief?" Moriad defaulted to his usual form of address with the others gone.
Claude stroke his chin and asked, "My old classmate... The one you helped with the weight loss, how's he doing now?"
"Well..." Moriad hesitated for a moment. "Sorry, Chief. I didn't follow your instructions properly. He hasn't even lost a hundred catties..."
"Huh?" Half a year had passed, yet Borkal hadn't even lost a hundred catties of fat yet? How could it be? Claude knew well how the unit's training routine was. "What's going on?"
"Well, Chief, he's only lost 80 catties so far. It isn't that we aren't trying to get him to slim down. The problem is he's too big of an eater. While we can force a normal soldier to eat less, he's actually a major and enjoys the benefits of being one. We aren't able to make him stop. He can eat enough for three to four people alone! Sometimes, we force him to go through high-intensity training, but he would eat enough to cover up for the sweat he lost during the night."
Moriad seemed rather troubled. "Initially, I actually managed to make him lose 90 catties. I thought I would be able to complete your order to make him lose a hundred soon, yet he got acclimated with the corps far too soon and realised he has major privileges and began binging again. During our recent excursion, we thought the long marches would make him lose a bit more, yet he didn't slim down the slightest bit. Instead, the two war horses he rode on lost some 50 catties..."
Claude didn't know what to make of that. Borkal's transfer to Thundercrash seemed to have been quite pointless. He waved his hand helplessly and said, "Well, since he can't slim down any further, forget it. Send him over. I have something important I want him to do."
Moriad breathed a sigh of relief at no longer having to get the fatty to slim down, only to turn tense once more when he heard there was an important task for him. "Chief, that fatty only knows about eating. Can he really handle something that important? You better let me do it."
Claude shook his head. "You won't do. Instead, it'd be life threatening for you. Only someone with his bulk and appetite can possibly complete the task."