When Whitestag turned rebel, Storm joined Prince Hansbach. The remaining naval troops who weren't willing to change sides escaped to the colonies with some ten ships. Claude had wanted to use those to form the theatre's own patrol fleet as the main line of defence against harassment from pirates and the Shiksan navy, only to be refused by the marines.
They proudly proclaimed that as proud members of the kingdom's navy, they were under the jurisdiction of the ministry of the navy and took orders only from the kingdom. The theatre was only in charge of defence, so they had no right to order them around. They accused the theatre of trying to take advantage of them while they were down by absorbing them into the local patrol fleet, which they saw as an act of insubordination. They wouldn't agree no matter what.
But in fact, they were just hesitant because the theatre didn't have any money. If they were relinquished to a mere patrol fleet, their salary and bonuses would be far lower than they were when they were in Storm, especially with how the kingdom had cut off trade. The patrol ships wouldn't be able to make any profit at all.
Since the theatre's good intentions were refused, they could only let them remain in Port Cobius and provide them with the most basic of food and other amenities. Even though the naval officers demanded the theatre to pay them salaries, Skri refused all of them for the same reason: they were under the jurisdiction of the ministry of the navy, so it wouldn't be appropriate for the theatre to be involved.
While the marines' needs were met, they didn't have any spending money. After the theatre refused to pay them salaries, they were forced to find other ways themselves, such as fishing in the colonies, transport cargo, starting their own near-waters shipping company, or serve as defensive escorts for some merchants. Sometimes, they were also given jobs by the theatre to patrol the coasts. They were being used as mercenaries.
When the theatre launched the overseas bank and started printing paper money, the financial situation there was somewhat resolved. The remaining sailors of Storm actually wrote a request to the theatre for a grant to rebuild a flotilla of Storm, which was immediately shot down by Skri, with the same reason they gave once more. And so both sides were at each other's throats again.
Skri couldn't be happier when Claude said he would have the sailors return to the mainland. He had been waiting long enough to send those ingrates away. The theatre was already really generous in providing them with rations, yet the marines demanded them for wine and fresh meat. That was something the fleets had to purchase for themselves in the first place and the theatre wasn't obligated to foot the bill at all.
He had never abided by their demands and refused what he should. He was only willing to do the bare minimum for a unit that didn't report to the theatre in the first place, so he couldn't care less about them. As a result, the conflicts between both sides festered to the point that a few marines at Port Cobius got into brawls with the troops of Monolith.
Since Claude already made the suggestion, Bolonik considered it for a moment before agreeing to it. However, he wasn't able to decide on a candidate to send to the royal capital as ambassador. That was when Borkal volunteered himself for the role. With Claude's support, the matter was decided then and there.
Claude was well aware that Borkal did so because he couldn't wait to meet his family. Unlike the other soldiers who moved their families to the theatre, Borkal hadn't. His family was still living in Whitestag. His father was a rather well-known local merchant and ran a company that even had a branch in the royal capital.
That was why they weren't willing to move to the colonies. Now that the battles had quelled, Borkal wanted to go back immediately to seek them out, if they were still alive. The newspapers at the western coast said the first and second princes had fought for a long year at Whitestag. The city was said to have been reduced to ruins.
As Eiblont had said, whether Hansbach survived wasn't the theatre's business. He was merely someone with whom they had a passing familiarity. Strictly speaking, Hansbach was their enemy. The matter that really caught the attention of the ten-odd high-ranking officers there was why the kingdom on the mainland didn't reach out to them, despite the civil war having ceased for five whole months. It unnerved them considerably.
But right after they settled on the matter of sending Borkal to the kingdom to test the royal capital's reaction, Bolonik's interest returned to the first prince's alleged assassination. He instructed Skri to send someone to Port Cobius to reach out to the marines there about how they could now return to the kingdom. He gave Borkal seven days to prepare for his departure before adjourning the meeting.
Claude took Borkal to his new manor and let him stay there for the rest of the week instead of within camp. While Borkal was a colonel, he was in the intelligence department and didn't command any troops. So, he only had a small residence with guards assigned to him. Since he usually wasn't there anyway, he used it as a mere storehouse.
Claude decided to write Maria a letter to be delivered by Borkal to find out about the attitude of the royal capital towards the theatre and the colonies. Even though he hadn't contacted her for years, he believed he could reestablish their relationship now that he was a lieutenant-general. So, he wrote quite a lot about his family and his sister's situation and got Kefnie to pick out a few exquisite gifts for her.
Half a month later, Borkal left for the mainland with a band of soldiers as his escorts, mainly because he brought too many things along with him. Apart from some gifts the theatre prepared for Wedrick, now known as Stellin XI, the five generals also sent gifts to their connections in the royal capital so as to smooth the way for their plans.
There was also the fact that Skri hadn't established a good rapport with the marines that left Storm. When they heard that Whitestag had been reclaimed by Reddragon, they weren't in a hurry to pull their anchors on board. Instead, they blamed the theatre for their inability to sail due to their three years of relative inactivity and demanded to be given a vast amount of funds and supplies.
Skri refused them without hesitation and warned them that they wouldn't be receiving subsidies following the next month, so if they wanted to stay, they'd better be ready to have their warships claimed by the theatre as they were no longer fit to be in the kingdom's navy. The theatre would also stop recognising them as such and deal with them as they would deserters.
In the end, Bolonik came out to mediate between them. He had the finance department give them a sum, food, fresh water, and other supplies they needed for a long voyage. The marines used the funds to buy some local products in the theatre before beginning their voyage to the mainland.
Claude returned to Port Vebator's army camp to train the troops. He didn't think that he would receive another urgent correspondence from headquarters half a month later demanding his presence. But this time around, it wasn't because of news updates, but rather, a band of nikancha ambassadors. They had a suggestion for the theatres: they would hand over the northern and eastern mountain areas to the theatre in exchange for three thousand new rifles.
As it was a military matter, Bolonik and Skri weren't able to make up their mind, so they sent a letter to get Claude to return to Lanu to discuss it.
"Darn it, the nikancha are starting to have funny thoughts again..." Eiblont cursed them all the way on the trip without stopping. He felt absolutely livid after reading the letter and was sternly against giving the nikancha any new rifles, especially when their own troops hadn't completely switched out to them yet.
When they finally arrived, Claude noticed that Bolonik really seemed to want to agree. Birkin didn't comment on it, while Skri's position was ambiguous. Bolonik believed that giving the nikancha the new rifles in exchange for new territory was a worthwhile deal.
Not to mention, Claude mentioned before that the new rifles weren't important. Rather, the rounds were. Even if they gave a hundred rounds for each rifle, the nikancha would still have to purchase more from the theatre. That way, they could exert influence on them by limiting the supply of their rounds and reap great profit at the same time.
Perhaps Bolonik tried to use that line of reasoning to sway Skri to his side, but Skri didn't express any opinion about it. Not to mention, this deal represented a chance to gain more territory for the kingdom to Bolonik, which would earn him better treatment from the kingdom due to his contribution. No ruler would mistreat a general that helped the kingdom expand its borders, or they would be labelled failures in the history books.
However, Bolonik picked the wrong method. Claude coldly said, "I object! Have the nikancha ambassadors f*ck back off to whence they came!"
"You..." Bolonik was infuriated, but he held himself back. After sighing, he furrowed his brow and asked, "Claude, may I hear the reason?"
Claude marched to the map of the nikancha kingdom hanging from the wall and gave it a pat. "Do you know the reason the nikancha want to give those territories to us?"
Birkin laughed. "Well, their ambassadors complained to us that we didn't see their troops as our own forces thanks to how we lost 60 thousand of the 100 thousand youths they sent us. The number of casualties completely terrified them. Yet, we were only able to wipe out three of the Shiksan corps. There are still seven more, around 400 thousand troops, on the way.
"This time around, the nikancha ambassadors want us to be held accountable for the deaths of the 60 thousand youths. They believe that fighting the Shiksans would lead to their demise. According to the current ratio of casualties, they would have to lose at least 200 thousand more men before the following seven corps can be eliminated. It's not a loss they can take.
"That's why they want to give us the territory to let us take the brunt of the next attack. And while our troops are bleeding themselves out on the frontlines, they get to sit back and relax in peace. They're just unwilling to hand the territory over for free, so they want to try to use it to get the rifles from us."
Eiblont snorted. "They can dream on. They want us to defend them from the Shiksans and pay them for the privilege with our rifles? Do we need to apologise to them and pay the pensions for the 60 thousand casualties as well? Don't they have the slightest bit of self-awareness?! They disobeyed orders and acted on their own! Who knows how much trouble they've caused?!"
"Not only that, they even wanted us to pay them back for killing the two thousand plus deserters. They're demanding to punish the officers of the defence line," Birkin said in an odd tone, seemingly rather dissatisfied himself.
Bolonik grimaced and said, "Bick, I've refused those demands from the ambassadors already and explained to them that the punishment was necessary. Otherwise, there's no way we'd be able to hold the second defence line."
"Explain? Why bother?" Claude yelled in annoyance, "What's there to explain?! How dare they demand an explanation from us?! We're not obligated to answer them! Eilon, tell the nikancha we don't want their territory. No negotiation.
"Also tell them the Shiksans' last batch of corps will reach Cape Loducus in a month or so and attack around the 5th or 6th. Make sure they party to their heart's content because these are the last three months they have to.
"Due to the amount of trouble they've caused us with their unreliable troops, we've decided to terminate our cooperation, lest they threaten the security of the theatre. We will only defend the northern mountainous coasts. No one soldier is to stand on the eastern mountains."
Claude was not going to accept the offer. The moment the Shiksans notice the absence, they'd charge right in. The nikancha in the inland colonies were in for a grand show.
"Alright, I'll tell them to buzz off as soon as possible," Eiblont said, smiling as he prepared to leave.
However, Bolonik stopped him.
"Claude, don't cause trouble. You must understand the nikancha are going to hand those territories to us. We're not fighting them for it. Together they're a colony in their own right. All they want is three thousand new rifles. I think it's a great deal."
Claude shook his head.
"I won't give them a single rifle. Also, they're only giving us the northern mountainous coasts and the eastern mountains. It's not a sincere offer. Look at the map. These two areas are only connected by these two corners and all the area combined only has one small gold mine and another small silver mine. We can do without them. They're not worth our men's precious lives.
"If you want to forge new territory for the kingdom, we can wait for the Shiksans to attack before launching our own. We're already at war with them, so land is fair game. As for the nikancha, we're no longer allies. Do you think they stand a chance to take the territory back?"