In the 10th month of Year 589, the field marshal of the Aueran Nubissian theatre, Major-General and Honorary Baron Claude Han Ferd, led Thundercrash alongside Major-General Eiblont's 3rd Monolith against the Shiksan colony of Vebator. They overran its defences, set up by Tofeid, easily.
They first took advantage of Thundercrash's mobility to take a crucial stronghold. It opened a path to the other strongholds in the rear. They then devastated the three Tofeid lines.
Claude then took the three supply centres as well as the main command centre, cutting off the front's supply lines and forcing the 20 remaining tribes to surrender. The enemy had 60 thousand men, but he defeated them with just 20 thousand, suffering only 3000 casualties. 50 thousand enemies were taken captive by the end. The incredible victory sent Claude's already substantial reputation soaring.
Zokya, the other corps defending Port Vebator, had wanted to send a folk to reinforce the front, but recalled it once it heard of the front's loss. Thundercrash's troops circled the city, hoping to taunt the enemy into sallying forth.
On the 20th of the 11th month, two light-cavalry lines marched on Port Vebator.
"Too bad we don't have many mortars left. We could've tried taking the city otherwise," Eiblont said regrettably as he put away his precious gold-patterned telescope.
The enemies flocked on the walls looked like they were preparing for the arrival of a great enemy.
Claude shook his head. "Mortars can't do everything. Even if we have a thousand of them, we won't be able to conquer Port Vebator. Don't forget the Shiksans have a Seaking flotilla in port. They can shoot at anything in half the city. And we didn't bring any heavy cannons, so we can't shoot back. We can't take the city wholly until we can force them out of the harbour."
"I know I'm probably overthinking this, but it's infuriating to be unable to finish the dead even though we've marched up to the city walls. If we could only take the city, the war would end. Perhaps we can return to the mainland with magnificent honours and enjoy the peace that is to come instead of participating in this drawn-out war..."
"This war isn't something we can end even after conquering the city. It depends on the people in power in Shiks and whether they're confident they can keep this war going. The way I see it, it's even better if we can't take the city. We exterminated three corps so far, so Shiks will definitely have to send even more here. Once they're here, we can go in for another round of harvest. Should that happen, not only would we have merit, we'd also gain even more captives. It's like slaughtering pigs; we do it once they're fattened up."
"Hahahaha..." The officers all joined in the laughter. The lot of them were no more than a kilometre away from the city walls, radiating sheer arrogance. However, the soldiers on the walls of Port Vebator pretended to not see them. Not a single warrior angrily left the city walls to fight, letting Claude and the rest observe the fortifications on the walls without interfering.
"Alright, let's go back. Looks like the enemy is dead set on staying inside. We can't bring them out. We've come too late. They finished the second potato harvest so they have more than enough food to last a long time. At the very least, however, we managed to stop a third harvest. We can still starve them out," Claude said at the sight of the endless stretches of farmland.
"If you do that, the troops from Shiks will only stay in the city. If they don't come out, how can we slaughter the pig?" asked a lieutenant-colonel from 3rd Monolith.
"Hahaha, if they send a few more corps, even if they choose to stay in the city, it'll still be really taxing on their supply route. Without the farmland to sustain them, feeding the troops will fall to Seaking and the Alliance's navy. I believe they'll crumble in a few years at that rate.
"That's why the Shiksans won't let their troops sit in the city and drain their food stores without doing anything. They'd definitely force them to deploy. The moment they leave Port Vebator, they'll be completely blind to their situation. Our light cavalry can easily limit what they perceive on the battlefield and they'll be free for us to slaughter. We can cut off any portion as we please."
That night, Claude was busy reviewing official documents. He was just about to wash up and head to sleep. They would be moving camp tomorrow morning. While Thundercrash suffered relatively heavy casualties, they were able to wipe out three enemy corps in one go. It was a rather noteworthy achievement. After they returned to Anfiston, they would have to replenish their numbers, reorganise and train as well as start talks on converting Eiblont's 3rd Monolith into 2nd Thundercrash before submitting a request to the ministry of the army to approve the change. There was a bunch of troublesome tasks awaiting them.
Anders came in to make a report. He said that some of the rescued nikancha elders and leaders wanted to meet with him.
He really didn't understand what went through their minds. They still weren't escaping and instead gathered at a spot not far away from where they were forced to farm. Perhaps they had been slaves for so long that they didn't know what to do with their newfound freedom. It was no wonder they were walked over by the Shiksans like that.
During the attack on Vebator, Claude first went for the border defence line and defeated Tofeid. After that, he came all the way to Port Vebator and terrified the troops of Zokya into hiding. As a result, Thundercrash was free to roam the rest of Vebator and destroy one farm after another as well as some militarised farms, liberating some 100 thousand oppressed nikancha people.
Claude didn't do it purely because he wanted to rescue them, of course. It was merely something he did in passing. The officers who took the militarised farms packed up the valuables and ammunition and left the food to the nikancha, warning them to escape so that they wouldn't be captured by the Shiksans and enslaved once more.
To Claude's officers, that was an act of benevolence on their part. While they looked down on the nikancha somewhat, they weren't that prejudiced towards them to the point they saw them as slaves. The most they would do was not associate with them. The soldiers of Thundercrash didn't really care about the nikancha gathering in the farmstead nearby either.
Claude was a little troubled over the reason the nikancha elders could've come to seek him out so late in the night. He had wanted to ignore them, but he thought better of it. He could hear them out, but their survival didn't really matter to him anyway.
As the bandsman of Claude's own personal guard band, Gum and two other guards escorted the four nikancha inside. They first searched the guests before going to stand behind Claude. Anders and two other guards were awaiting further instructions outside the tent.
There were three old and one young nikancha. One of the three old folks had a full head and beard of white, seeming to be in his sixties. The second one was slightly younger in his fifties and had a small moustache. He seemed rather stocky and powerful, which was rare among the nikancha, so he probably was quite high up in the hierarchy and could get enough food. The last one was really lanky, but he wore a calm expression. Claude was reminded of the senior priests of the shrines he had visited.
Behind the three elder nikancha was a masked figure clad in black linen robes. The person looked female based on her build. It was no wonder she growled angrily when Gum searched her.
The four of them bowed to him. Claude waved for them to take a seat and had Anders serve them some wine as was customary for a host. The nikancha preferred wine over tea, but surprisingly, the priestly old nikancha and the robed woman both requested tea.
"What business do you have with me for visiting me so late in the night?" He went straight to the point.
"Sir, we are here to ask whether you're leaving tomorrow," the white-bearded old man respectfully inquired.
Claude nodded. It wasn't something worth hiding in the first place. The troops were packing up today and it wasn't hard for the nikancha to come to that conclusion on their own.
"That's right. We're leaving camp tomorrow. What's your name?" Claude asked.
"Sir, I'm called Mari. I used to be the elder of the settlement of Makuku. However, that place is no more. The dastardly Shiksans have ruined our home."
"Alright, Elder Mari, I am sympathetic to your loss. But is there a reason you came here to ask whether we're leaving tomorrow?"
"Sir, we, the poor nikancha who have lost their homes, have a humble request for you. Can you please take us to the colony of your kingdom and let us rebuild our homes? We are willing to offer our labour in return," the old man said as he knelt to Claude.
Claude almost broke out laughing. It was simply not possible. There were too many nikancha in the Aueran colonies. Introducing even more of them into the colonies could possibly destabilise them. Almost all the viceroys or mayors in the colonies couldn't wait to chase the trouble-causing niknacha to other places and only keep the obedient and hard-working ones who were willing to serve.
Before he left on this excursion, he had heard Sir Bernard say that two colonial members of the House of Dignitarians have teamed up for a bill that would drive all nikancha households except for those formally employed out of the colonies. They believed that removing them would decrease the nikancha crime rate and bring more peaceful lives to the towns and cities.
He would truly be creating problems for himself if he decided to take 100 thousand of them back to the colonies. While he was sympathetic of their plight, it had nothing to do with him. It wasn't like he was obligated to care for them after rescuing them from their Shiksan oppressors.
"This simply isn't possible," he refused, "Thundercrash saved you and liberated you from slaves to free people. That doesn't mean we'll be responsible for you from here on out. I've been quite curious why after we released you, you didn't run to some other place and gathered near our camp. Is that what you were planning this whole time?
"There's no way we can take you back into the colonies. In fact, I hope that you'd pack up and flee to the northern highlands to hide immediately. I can almost be sure that the cowardly Shiksans will send their troops out to recapture you the moment we leave. If you're willing to become slaves once more, you're free to stay here."
The younger one stood and said, "We won't be slaves. In fact, I don't agree to Elder Mari's notion that we should follow you. I'm only here to request whether you can spare us some muskets and ammunition. We will pick up arms ourselves to fight the Shiksans who try to capture us."
Claude looked at him with interest. "You, what's your name?"
He bowed and said, "Sir, I am Kuga, the leader of the strongest nikancha settlement on the western coast, the Kumanri. We've killed more than a hundred Shiksans who infringed upon our lands. However, they sent a few thousand more..."
"Do you know how to use muskets?"
"Of course. Our tribesmen purchased more than two hundred of them from travellers and adventurers passing through our settlement. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to kill so many Shiksans," Kuga confidently replied.
"It wouldn't be an issue for us to give you some, but those are our spoils. What price are you willing to pay for them?" Claude asked with a smile.
"Apologies, Sir. Our wealth's been stolen by the Shiksan bastards. However, I'm willing to trade my beloved treasure for your arms." The robed woman stood up and began to strip.
"This is my daughter, Aimo. She's a saintess of our religion. I am willing to offer her up to you and have her serve you from now on. I only request that you treat her well..."
She was a nikancha woman of around 18 years of age. She seemed to be quite the beauty and sported a sexy figure. However, Claude merely gave her a few looks before shaking his head. "I don't need your daughter to tag along with me, nor do I need you to trade her for arms. I have a proposal which you can consider, however... This might be the ideal solution for you, in fact."