Even though Eiblont's 2nd Folk suffered heavy losses from attacking the camp defended by the three Shiksan folks, it was nevertheless a good opportunity in Claude's eyes. The reason was simple: 2nd Folk lost more than ten thousand men. Same goes for the nikancha. So, how many did the Shiksans lose?
Why would the Shiksans fight without regard for their casualties to drive Eiblont out of the part of the camp they conquered upon hearing of 1st Folk's approach? Claude believed that the Shiskans were low on troops and couldn't afford to take an attack from both fronts. So, their only option was to severely wound 2nd Folk, reclaim their camp, and turn back around to deal with 1st Folk.
According to Eiblont's estimations, Claude believed that the Shiskans lost around a folk in the fight at the camp. The proof for that was the eight thousand plus dog tags of the Shiksan veterans 2nd Folk had collected, and those were the ones taken from corpses only. According to a rate of two injured for one dead, the Shiksans should've suffered a folk's worth of casualties.
If there were two other corps, that is, four folks of Shiksan corps in the camp, Claude would've had to reconsider attacking with 1st Folk. However, now that it seemed the number of Shiksans was more likely to be only a corps, there wasn't much to worry about. He decided to go with their original plan to eliminate the Shiksan veterans here.
Just like Eiblont said, the defence line at the first wall easily fell into 1st Folk's control, followed by the first and second trenches as well. They only met strong resistance in the third trench. The Shiksan veterans had silently hidden themselves within the trenches and only charged out all of a sudden for a melee once Thundercrash's troops arrived.
Apart from that, they also had more than ten light-infantry cannons positioned above the third trench, all disguised. The difference in elevation of the ground allowed those from the third trench to get a clear line of sight to the second trench from a distance of 50 metres away. Eiblont had said that the Shiksans had used the difference in height to pose a great threat to 2nd Folk. Thundercrash was only able to get over that obstacle after filling up the trenches.
Claude had been long prepared for it this time. He had the attackers bring wooden boards and the like to the fight. Little did he expect that the Shiksans wouldn't retaliate by having a shootout with them, which caused the soldiers in the trenches to suddenly forget about the danger they were in. When the troops gathered in the second trench readied themselves for an attack on the third, the light-infantry cannons the Shiksans had hidden in the third trench began firing scattershot at the gathered troops. Berklin's line immediately lost two hundred men, about a clan's worth.
Claude could only sigh after receiving the disheartening report. The enemy was improving their inadequate fortifications as well. Claude immediately ordered the men to stop attacking the third trench and secure their defensive position on the second one. Since the enemy seemed intent on fighting the main battle in the trench area, he had to make preparations. There was no need for 1st Folk to waste its numbers by conquering the third trench.
Claude had Berklin's 1st Line attack the left side while Moriad attacked the right with 2nd Line. They took over the first wall and first two trenches first and secured themselves from the risk of the enemy attacking their flanks all of a sudden. While Eiblont only had two lines remaining in 2nd Folk that could still fight, the addition of ten thousand men was still a great help to Claude's own 1st Folk.
Additionally, he wanted to check how many troops the Shiksans still had. The defensive camp was large. Even with Claude having conquered the first two trenches and the wall, his men were spread out and there could still be openings for the enemy to take advantage of.
However, that was exactly what he was going for. In changing his offensive stance to a defensive one and giving up on wasting his troops against the well-prepared Shiksans at the third trench, he would sit and wait for the Shiksans to come to him in the first two trenches instead. Even though the men were spread out, with many parts of the second trench being defended only by a single tent, it was a wide net which the Shiksans couldn't possibly hope to escape after being entangled within.
The Shiksans were utterly confused by Claude's move. They didn't understand why he would spread his men thin on the battlefield. Was he trying to keep the Shiksans in? As a result, they launched a few probing attacks. Surprisingly, however, the troops of the second trench didn't resist stubbornly as they initially assumed. Instead, they retreated resolutely and let the trench fall back into Shiksan hands.
So, they continued launching attacks on the first trench, only to notice the same situation. They continued on to attack the defence line at the first wall and easily conquered it as well. By now, the enemy still hadn't noticed that they could no longer turn back. The troops occupying the second trench were attacked from both flanks by Thundercrash and it was soon taken back. Now, the Shiksans in the first trench and at the first wall were isolated from the rest of their own. They fought valiantly before ultimately being sacrificed.
Initially, the Shiksans thought they sent too few men to join the battle and Thundercrash counterattacked too quickly. So, they committed even more forces into the attack. However, the Shiksans couldn't resist the attackers that surrounded their flanks and the area they had conquered soon fell back into the theatre's hands.
It was only until a tribe of Shiksan veterans surrounded between the first trench and wall were exterminated that the Shiksans came to understand that it was a ploy Thundercrash had set. They were no longer able to take the initiative to attack. The lesson had cost them near a line's worth of men.
"The Shiksans really don't have enough troops to spare. Otherwise, they wouldn't only send a tribe in their final attack. If they sent a line of veterans instead, they could at least save half their men," Claude said.
Eiblont nodded and agreed to the inference. Had the Shiksans really had enough men, they wouldn't have to tread that carefully at all.
When they were flanked on both sides, they could've sent a larger force to help the troops that took over the first trench and wall to retreat, or they could fight back and not be surrounded so quickly. If they could get some soldiers to escape, the Shiksan commanders would figure out Thundercrash's trap.
Every Thundercrash soldier that participated in the flanking manoeuvre were armed with new rifles. They were the 3rd Line of Dyavid that was split into four tribes, which each took one crucial point. If any spot between the four points came under enemy attack, reinforcements could easily be sent from the two adjacent points to surround the enemy between them.
The new rifles that could fire six times consecutively were far superior to the single-shot muskets the Shiksans used. The four tribes of 3rd Line suffered fewer than four hundred casualties to take out near five thousand Shiksans. The Shiksan veterans who had prepared themselves for a melee after firing their shot were mowed down by the consecutive shots the new rifles provided.
Since the Shiksans no longer mounted any attacks on the occupied area, Claude changed back to an offensive stance. He instructed Dyavid's 3rd Line to mount a sniping attack from 200 metres away, picking out any Shiksans lookouts that dared to poke their heads out. The ten sniper rifles created before the war were the main force in that battle. They were able to shoot the Shiksan lookouts from up to 400 metres away.
With the new rifles constantly shooting at the Shiksan lookouts and essentially rendering them blind, Claude had Thundercrash 4th Line escort large numbers of captives into the battlefield to expand the first and second trenches. The unearthed mud was piled up to make half-body-height walls which obscured the enemy's line of sight. They were no longer able to look into the trenches.
The Shiksan defenders were only further angered by the fact that the captive labourers were their own. They weren't able to fire at them to stop the work. All they could do was beckon for them to run and yell curses at the Auerans. They had even mounted two attacks to try to rescue some Shiksan captives, only for them to end in failure. Even those that managed to escape were immediately shot dead. Since then, the captives obediently worked away without any thoughts of escaping.
Claude used the captives to expand the first two trenches to install the Shiksan catapults he managed to procure. He was going to use their own iron pumpkins to bombard the trenches they held. As he managed to obtain five thousand iron pumpkins from the supply base, he was going to use them all on this attack. He'd like to see whether their shell would remain intact after all that.
As the sniper rifles and new rifles, as well as the mud walls, stopped the Shiksans from getting a sight on the Auerans, which was certainly helped by the expanded and deepened trenches, the Shiksans weren't aware that more than a hundred catapults had been installed in the first two trenches.
When near a hundred iron pumpkins were flung through the air into the third trench, the veterans defending it were completely eliminated. Claude ordered for the key points linking the third and fourth trenches to be heavily bombarded to render the cover walls completely useless. The Shiksans in the third trench either had to brave the falling iron pumpkins as they retreated from the trenches or climb out and make their escape.
No matter which choice they made, they would become the targets of the sharpshooters and snipers. The Shiksans that actually managed to retreat to the fourth trench were fewer than one in a hundred. The two trenches were separated by around 110 metres. The whole stretch was within range of the iron pumpkins. However, the catapults were quite inaccurate and couldn't just fire anywhere they wanted.
Claude ordered around eight volleys of a total of near 700 iron pumpkins to be flung to the third trench, but only a third of them really ended up inside. Even so, it was enough to wipe out most of the Shiksans within. When the 20 plus catapults installed in the second trench started attacking the fourth trench, the soldiers of Thundercrash advanced towards the third and easily conquered it, before sending more Shiksan captives there to expand the third trench.
They moved over five thousand corpses out of the third trench. Coupled with the ones shot dead outside the trenches, they were able to tell that the Shiksans lost another line of forces. Claude was quite impressed by the firm fighting spirit of the Shiksan veterans, but that only reinforced his belief that such a tough enemy better be completely annihilated.
As many Aueran soldiers were harmed by injured or temporarily unconscious Shiksans as they took over the third trench, Moriad had no choice but to order his men to give all Shiksan bodies a shot or stab first, lest they suddenly got up and took one Aueran with them.
Though the Shiksans suffered huge losses in the third trench, they didn't give up. Claude sent a captive to the Shiksan commander with a demand for their surrender, only for it to be refused. The captive was beaten up badly before being released. He was cursed and rebuked by the veterans who saw him as a traitor for working for the enemy. Had their commander not ordered him to send a reply, he wouldn't have been able to leave alive.
Claude knew well that the Shiksans thought that they could count on the second wall to hold their position. There were also catapults and iron pumpkins beyond that wall that hadn't been used yet. They were only waiting for Thundercrash to take the fourth trench before they would be able to use them to vent their hatred and avenge their comrades in the third trench.
From a higher firing position, the Shiksans could send the iron pumpkins 150 metres away. In other words, the area ten metres ahead the third trench was within the Shiksans' firing range. However, Claude wasn't stupid enough to let his men attack and conquer the fourth trench. He was counting on the fact that they had forgotten that the theatre had its own mortars, and were the pioneers of its use too.
The Shiksans knew that the iron pumpkins had the widest range, so they didn't react to the construction work in the third trench carried out by the captives. So what if Thundercrash put the catapults inside it? They would only be able to throw the iron pumpkins to the fifth trench at the furthest. They wouldn't be able to injure any of the troops operating the catapults and light-infantry cannons beyond the second wall.
However, Claude wasn't planning to use the catapults to fire iron pumpkins at all. Instead, he was going to use the theatre's own mortar rounds. While they were not as explosive, they were lighter and easier to hide, unlike the iron pumpkins that had to have its rope fuse lit first before firing. That way, they wouldn't expose their firing positions as easily. The theatre's mortar rounds only had to have their internal fuse increased by a centimetre for the explosion to trigger once they shot past the 200-metre mark.
Back when they were at the second defence line of the eastern mountains, Birkin tried using the catapults he obtained and managed to launch the mortar rounds past 200 metres and managed to suppress the iron pumpkins just like that. The frequency of iron pumpkin bombardments on the defence line lowered dramatically. It was likely the Shiksans here at the northern mountain borders didn't know that and let the Auerans install those catapults in the third trench as they pleased.
While the Shiksans did launch a few night attacks in the past three days, they were repelled by Thundercrash, who were ready for them. The Shiksans really did seem to be short on manpower, as could be seen from their far smaller numbers they sent to attack the Auerans. The attacks were also not nearly as intense. They retreated after leaving behind a mere hundred plus corpses, allowing Claude to install the catapults in the third trench without trouble.
While the Shiksans didn't have any lookouts out in the open, they did have quite a number of them observing from cover. Even with the mud walls obscuring their view, they could still tell that Thundercrash was gearing up for an attack, so they made their own preparations as well.
1st Folk had near 1200 mortar rounds in their stores, whereas 2nd Folk had around 300 remaining. Claude was going to use all 1500 of them on the second wall and break through from there. Thundercrash was indeed going to launch an attack, but they weren't going to clash with the Shiksans in the fourth and fifth trenches and were going straight for the second wall.
When the order was given, more than a hundred rounds were launched into the skies. The Shiksans behind the wall wondered why they would bother wasting the iron pumpkins, since nobody was defending the fifth trench. Bombarding it was only a waste of ammunition. It was not until the rounds fell near the second wall that they snapped out of it. They no longer cared about how Thundercrash were able to launch the mortars so far away. Instead, they were all too occupied trying to keep themselves alive.
Cheers from the troops in the third trench rang out nonstop. Nothing was more moralising than seeing the enemy blasted to smithereens. Countless flashes and wafts of black smoke rose above the second wall along with some body parts sent flying from the blasts.
"Blast them all up!" Eiblont excitedly ordered, "Fling all the mortar rounds there and launch our final attack after the last two volleys! Crush their defences and eliminate all Shiksans!"