Claude slowly sat down as his face continued to darken like a live volcano about to blow. Eiblont looked at him unnervingly. "Are you alright?"
After sighing deeply, completely expelling the heavy air in his lungs, Claude grit his teeth and said, "I'm fine..."
How could he be fine? He felt like he was about to explode! Eiblont's two pieces of news couldn't be worse. Claude only needed five more days, nay, three was enough, to wipe out the ten thousand remaining Shiksans in the camp.
But now, he could no longer do so. He had to calm down and arrange for Thundercrash to retreat as soon as possible. Otherwise, he would be the one to be eliminated instead if he ended up being surrounded by the Shiksans from three sides.
He couldn't blame anyone on it. Nobody would've expected that the third batch of Shiksan troops would arrive at such a crucial time. One of the two corps was also a light-cavalry corps. The way from Cape Loducus to the border of the northern mountains took five days to traverse, but light cavalry only needed two, one and a half if they were fast.
General Birkin at the eastern front only brought a folk of Monolith with him, Tribe 131 from Thundercrash which Claude assigned to him, and the nikancha. It was already incredible that he managed to hold two corps of more than 100 thousand Shiksans back at the borders of the eastern mountains. Now that the Shiksans had retreated from the eastern mountains en masse and left only one corps and a half of troops behind for defence, it was already a great loss for them.
The letter sent by the informants in Cape Loducus took more than half a day to reach him, so he only had a day at most. Fortunately, they were already at the border of the northern mountains. It would only take two to three hours for them to enter the mountains to shake off their pursuers. He still had time to clean up the battlefield and leave with the corpses of fallen soldiers and the injured.
Thundercrash still had enough troops to attack the remaining Shiksans that occupied the hill, as the enemy was faring worse than Thundercrash. Claude had more than four thousand iron pumpkins from his spoils alone. With the help of some woodworkers, he was confident he could flatten the whole hill and wipe the ten thousand Shiksans out. However, he wasn't confident he could use the camp to defend against an attack from 200 thousand Shiksan reinforcements from both sides.
If Thundercrash hadn't experienced that bloody mess and had enough ammunition, Claude wouldn't mind wiping out the ten thousand at the hill while holding off the reinforcements at the same time. Perhaps he could even cause the Shiksans to bleed out even more.
It was rather simple; the light-cavalry corps would be on the way immediately after disembarking from the ships. Claude would only give up if they were above 30 percent fighting capacity, but the journey they took to come was a whole month at sea. Both the troops and the horses definitely needed time to rest up to be in prime form. Perhaps Claude would be able to take the horses the Shiksans spared so much effort to ship to Nubissia.
However, the other one and a half corps coming from the eastern mountains to reinforce their allies in the border of the northern mountains got Claude's attention. They were formed from Shiksan veterans. Despite their low morale following their many losses, they would still charge in to attack them without regard. Even if their march was long and tiring, Thundercrash would still have a hard time shaking them off. Claude had personally seen the stubborn will of the Shiksan veterans, after all.
It was all because 3rd Line ran out of rounds for the new rifles and the seven other main combat corps didn't even have enough fighting capacity of three full corps that it bode really badly for Claude to face off against the two and a half Shiksan corps coming his way. He wouldn't do something that crazy as long as his mind was sound.
When he calmed down, he gave the order, "Clean up the battlefield and pack up. Send our brave martyrs back home and take away what we can. Burn that which we can't take along."
During the evening, Claude looked back at the burning Shiksan camp on horseback. The outermost wooden wall had been sprinkled with fuel and set alight. Pillars of fumes wafted into the skies as the camp burned bright like a mountain of flames.
It was too bad that the Shiksans had set fire to the food stores and barracks themselves. Otherwise, the smoke from the burning could smoke the Shiksans that held the small hill to death. While the whole camp was burning, there was actually quite a lot of space in between. While the Shiksan troops didn't fare too well, they had a sufficient water supply and would survive.
"Let's go!" Claude said to Eiblont as he turned around and left with his guards for the northern mountains.
The fire burned for three days and nights in the valley. It still had to keep burning for a few more days to cremate all 18 thousand bodies of the Thundercrash soldiers before their ashes could be enshrined in the mausoleum at Martyr Hill.
Martyr Hill was a small hill near Lanu where the theatre entombed the soldiers of Thundercrash, Monolith and the local garrisons. It was a mausoleum reserved only for the theatre's brave warriors so future generations could pay respects.
Needless to say, it was Claude's idea. It gained unanimous approval from the others as well. What he didn't expect was Thundercrash would be sending so many people there at once. The 2nd Folk, which Eiblont was put into command for the first time, had lost six thousand during the attack on the camp. In total, they lost near 25 thousand troops.
Thundercrash had lost nearly a folk of troops, with another 20 plus thousand being injured in varying degrees. Among them were a thousand plus who would be retiring from crippling injuries. It was a blow that harmed Thundercrash to the core. For every ten thousand enemies they culled, they lost three thousand of their own. It was, however, too late for Claude to regret his actions. If he had known that the attack on the camp's second wall would result in such a messy battle, he would've spared the Shiksans instead.
Nobody could've expected the Shiksans to be so eager to give their lives for their cause and for the battlefield to not have any cover. The soldiers of both sides seemed to be fighting using traditional tactics, shooting each other out blindly from a couple metres away before charging in with bayonets.
Of the 18 thousand deaths, 16 thousand of it happened during the messy battle after the second wall's conquest. During the battles fought over the past seven days, the losses only numbered around two thousand.
The Shiksans didn't fare any better either. The dog tags collected on the battlefield alone numbered more than 44 thousand. It could be seen that after Thundercrash took the second wall, the Shiksans sent in all their remaining forces in the counterattack, only to end up failing too.
The lesson Claude learned from this battle was the necessity of securing his ammunition stash. Without ammunition, the new rifles were no better than sticks. Though, he couldn't really be blamed for his carelessness. He had forgotten that the new rifles weren't matchlock muskets at all and didn't have a good grasp on the kind of ammunition consumption he would require.
Back then, Claude joined Bluefeather and the soldiers that participated in the five-year war were only armed with matchlocks. Each soldier only needed to be given 150 rounds and gunpowder, as well as enough slow matches. In actuality, many soldiers didn't need to be resupplied, apart from their slow matches, as they wouldn't get to fire more than 20 rounds in battle anyway.
Most battles saw a soldier fire a round or two before charging in to engage in a melee. Only troops armed with the Aubass Mark 3 could use precision fire to pick off their enemies countless times.
This time around, Claude had Line 1303 armed with the new rifles. Apart from making sure each soldier carried a hundred rounds with them, the logistics department also had a stash of rounds ready to resupply each soldier three more times. Claude thought that would be enough for his battles.
Little did he know that he would suffer such heavy losses because he didn't supply enough ammunition. If he had enough rounds and didn't have to retreat, even with a short hour of preparation, he would be able to make simple fortifications and rely on the insane firepower of the new rifles to give the crazy Shiksans a lesson they would not forget.
Claude believed that if the plans could unravel as he imagined them, Thundercrash would never have to pay that heavy a price. It would have been a massacre for the Shiksans. The fiercer they charged, the more they would lose, and the faster they would be wiped out.
It was very troublesome to load muskets and the enemy could use the time to rush to you and force you into a melee and give up on shooting. However, the new rifles could fire six times in succession. Between each shot, the soldier only had to pull the bolt to load the next round. It was as quick and easy as breathing.
The time needed to load one round into a matchlock was enough for the Sonia 591s to empty their magazine and load a new one. Not to mention, if one missed, by the time one finished loading, the enemy would've gone off far away.
The new rifle, on the other hand, could immediately follow up with another shot after a miss until the target was hit. That was why the soldiers using the new rifles burned through their rounds so quickly. Nobody would let their target escape. They would continue to shoot at a moving target, wasting their rounds until they hit it.
It was too bad there was no cure for regret, both in Claude's old world and this one. All he could do was engrave the lesson deep in his mind to prevent himself from repeating such a mistake. It looked like he would need to double the amount of ammunition he had in reserve since the rounds ran out that quickly.
"General, the leaders of the nikancha tribes are here. They hope that you split some iron pumpkins and catapults to them. Only then would they be confident enough to defend the mountain area ahead," Captain Masonhughes, the newly appointed adjutant, said, interrupting Claude's thoughts.
Claude had assigned his former adjutant, Lieutenant-Colonel Anders as the acting linesman of Line 1304 to replace the dead Jadewok.
Claude's lips curved into a mocking smile. "Have them buzz off. I really don't know where they get their bravery from to dare demand me for the iron pumpkins and catapults I got. Tell them they can buy it with gold and silver or get out of my sight."
However, the new adjutant still didn't know Claude well enough. "But, General, the nikancha leaders say they wouldn't be able to weather the Shiksan attack without them. They would have no choice but to retreat to prevent unnecessary casualties and wouldn't be able to afford our corps any more protection."
"Hahahaha!" Claude was so angry that he laughed out loud. Did the nikancha leaders even have their heads in the right place? Thundercrash had entered the mountains to attack the Shiksans, not to escape them. They would never remain there if that was the case. Perhaps the Shiksans thought that Thundercrash had returned as the loser after seeing so many dead soldiers.
The nikancha also noticed the two Shiksan corps coming from outside the mountain area and complained that Claude's attack on the Shiksan camp had attracted even more enemies to them. Little did they know that Thundercrash had already wiped out nearly two corps of Shiksans, save for the final ten thousand.
When the nikancha discovered that Thundercrash actually returned with 20 thousand captives and lots of iron pumpkins and catapults, they immediately set their sights on the weapons and demanded to be given some in the name of defending the mountains against the Shiksans.
There was no point in interlocuting with the fools. Didn't it ever occur to them that Thundercrash had won after seeing the spoils and captives? Claude didn't hesitate and asked them to buzz off to the furthest corner they could find, yet he didn't think they would be so persistent to ask again after being refused thrice, this time, even threatening to not protect Thundercrash.
And yet, the naive adjutant was actually fooled by those words. It was truly lucky of him to be appointed as Anders' replacement.
Claude got to know Masonhughes after the messy battle. Back then, he was sleeping soundly on top of a few Shiksan corpses. Claude thought that he was a dead soldier, but it was weird he wasn't carted away. Once he got close, he noticed that he was actually snoring. It was the first time he had seen someone using corpses as beds. He even thought the captain was some kind of deviant.
However, a nearby soldier told Claude that it was the first time this captain from the logistics department was on the battlefield. He also had good aim and shot dead three Shiksan veterans with a matchlock before killing another with a bayonet. He also covered the other soldiers as they eliminated the final five Shiksans, managing to suffer only a small casualty count of three dead and eleven injured to defend against the final Shiksan charge.
Masonhughes was a commoner at birth. He was currently 28 and was transferred from the mainland into Ranger when it was expanded into a folk following the second colonial war. As he graduated as a logistics officer from the royal war college, he was assigned to be a logistics officer in the royal guard as a second lieutenant and was filled with great aspirations.
Being a commoner, he didn't have many chances to shine in the noble-infested royal guard. When the ministry of the army was recruiting more troops to join Ranger on Nubissia, he handed in his transfer request to Nubissia to serve the kingdom.
That was how he came to the theatre. As he was a graduate with proper training in the college, he was greatly helped by Miselk and transferred into one of the five enhanced folks. He became a logistics officer of an irregular corps later and was promoted to first lieutenant, before he became Eiblont's subordinate.
A few years then passed and he was promoted to the rank of captain and took up his new post as logistics supervisor of Thundercrash 2nd Folk Line 1307 28th Combat Tribe. During the chaotic battle, Eiblont formed the logistics officers of 1st Folk into three tribes and sent them into battle, making it Masonhughes' heroic debut on the battlefield.
Initially, he puked out a river at the sight of the sea of corpses, but he was quick to adapt and got used to the rhythm of battle soon enough. Despite being a logistics officer, his leadership abilities were strong and he easily won the trust of the troops. After the commanding officer in charge of defending the area was sent back for his injuries, the highest-ranking Masonhughes took over a clan of troops.
After leading his men and weathering the final Shiksan attack, he felt so tired and wanted to lie down, but there was nowhere to do so, with the ground covered in blood. So, he made a bed out of the enemies' corpses and fell into a deep sleep the moment he closed his eyes. The ghastly sight of the corpse pillows had already been imprinted deep in Claude's mind.
Masonhughes didn't know that he was taken note of by Claude at all. Soon, Eiblont came to him with an order to take up the post of corpsman's adjutant to Claude. He only bothered to repeat the nikancha's threats because he was new and understood neither Claude nor the nikancha.
"Have them buzz off. If they don't leave, send the guards to chase them away. Tell the fools that Thundercrash has never needed their protection. Tell them to not get over their heads." Claude had a feeling he wouldn't be able to bargain with those fools. There was a saying in his old world that one had to be a fool to talk to fools, and the fools with more experience would easily defeat this newly proclaimed fool in any conversation.
Claude didn't think the nikancha would really give up on the fringes of the mountains on the second night without so much as a notice. Infuriated, Claude ordered Masonhughes, "Have Dyavid's 3rd Line take over the strongholds. Tell them that this is theatre territory from now on."