On the 3rd of the 9th month, the Shiksans finally made their move. They sent a corps against the eastern mountain range and used their new weapon -- a gigantic catapult that looked like the giant catapults of olden times. It could fire a projectile twice as large as an iron pumpkin up to 350 metres.
Whilst the first wave of defenders who encountered the enemy immediately used their light-infantry cannons against the catapults and destroyed one, the Shiksans reacted quickly and moved 30 wooden shield carts in front of the four remaining catapults. The light-infantry cannons couldn't do much after that. They had to fire basically blindly over the carts and hope to score a direct hit. They had little chance of that, however; they couldn't tell how close their shots were, so they couldn't adjust their fire. Their only hope was to spray the general area and hope to score a lucky hit.
The catapults' only weakness was their immobility. To call them cumbersome would be a masterwork in understatement. It took dozens of men minutes of backbreaking groans to make even the slightest adjustments, and hours to move them any distance at all. It took over a day to move them into place once the army was in place.
The veteran tribe holding the fort looked at the gigantic craters the explosions left -- faces pale. They all knew once the catapults had been moved into their final positions, all adjustments made, their impressive fortifications would crumble like sandstone in a man's hand. And all they could do was sit by and watch. They were no match for the enemy on the open field of battle.
They attempted a night attack, but the enemy was ready for them and easily pushed them back into the fort. The defenders limped back into their barracks, half their men short.
The following afternoon, when the first bomb fell against the walls, the order was given to abandon the fort and withdraw. Claude rushed to the frontlines in person immediately to observe this new threat.
Claude, Birkin, and Eiblont were relieved when they heard of the attack. They finally knew why the enemy's offensive had been so long delayed.
Claude nearly cursed aloud when he heard about the retreat from the fort due to the catapults that could fire iron pumpkins double the normal size over 300 metres. The enemy had been researching other kinds of artillery. They'd bet everything on the catapults.
Claude was quite frustrated. He had only finished the mortar's research, but it could only fling the lightest ammunition up to about 300 metres. It was no match for the enemy's catapult. The enemy only had to switch to normal munitions and they would outrange Claude's best weaponry twice over.
His only solace was the all but immobility of the weapons. Even after three days of travelling to the frontlines, the catapults had yet to be put in place at the next fort to come under attack. The first one wouldn't be ready for at least another day, and that was being optimistic.
For one, the roads had to be repaired and specially modified to take the catapults' incredible weight. If not they'd sink right through the road. Without momentum, almost nothing was enough to defeat a competent opponent, and Claude had competence in spades.
Claude really wanted to laugh. It looked as if they were helping the theatre smooth the way to Cape Loducus. Based on their construction rate, it would take three months for them to reach the third line. After that, the road they repaired could be used to transport people and goods.
Perhaps the theatre could use the time to repair some roads all the way from Vebator to connect them with the ones the enemy had built, Claude reasoned.
He pulled a second-lieutenant near him and asked, "Are the Shiksans building the roads properly before bringing their catapults forward little by little without attacking us in the slightest?"
"No, General. Apart from moving the gigantic catapults and repairing the roads, they only have a tight security perimeter around their road workers. We've launched a few night attacks, but we weren't able to get within 300 metres. The moment we're exposed, they would use their new catapults to attack where we're from. A good number of our casualties were incurred this way."
Claude looked at the road-building soldiers with his telescope and found that their security perimeter was indeed rather complete. There were three rows of shield carts at the front and back of the builders and catapults, neatly surrounding them. On Claude's side were two light-infantry cannons that continued to fire at the catapults, but the round shot only flew past the catapults, being fired from over 600 metres away.
"Is there a point in that?" Claude asked, pointing at the cannons.
The second lieutenant shook his head. "No. It only causes the enemy slight trouble. They don't really suffer many casualties from this. The mortars we fling at them during night attacks do much better. Destroying those shield carts is pointless too. We wrecked ten of them last night, but they came back with 30 the next day.
"We are unable to approach those catapults at all. The enemy uses the shield carts as cover from our night attack squads. We're unable to breach their perimeter and when the battle gets heated, their artillery causes our attackers huge losses."
"Have you tried other methods?"
The soldier nodded. "We used mines and caused them losses the last two times, around ten plus of them. We also destroyed two shield carts. But they soon came up with a countermeasure. Look, General. That's a minesweeper they made."
Claude looked curiously in that direction and saw it. It was essentially a shield cart with three-metre-long wooden arms with a log underneath it. When the Shiksans push it, the log will roll forwards and trigger a mine explosion. The shrapnel from the explosion would be stopped by the shield cart.
It could probably be considered the ancestors of modern minesweepers. Its design was primitive, but sufficient to deal with the war theatre's first-generation mines. While they could only be used once, being destroyed after every mine discovered exploded, the Shiksans weren't in any rush. The contraption suited their needs just fine. Claude really admired their adaptability, for them to be able to figure out a countermeasure to the mines so quickly.
Even though the Shiksans were there to repair the roads, Claude wasn't going to let them have their way so easily. He gave the order for the various forts in the mountains to continue their normal attacks and only retreat after the catapults become a threat to them. He didn't want his men to be blasted away for no good reason, but he wouldn't be allowing the Shiksans to proceed unobstructed to the central defence line either.
While the forts ahead weren't able to stop the enemy attack, they could at least delay the enemy. The Shiksans would only be able to force them to retreat once the catapults were in position. That would take even more time and manpower, especially considering the ongoing road repairs.
In the meantime, Claude would have to find a way to neutralise the gigantic catapult launchers. The Shiksans were aware the key to their victory lay with the catapults. So, they paid lots of attention towards the mountains ahead. For every fort they emptied out, they sent their own men to take it over and defend it, armed with the standard catapults and iron pumpkins as well as four light-infantry cannons.
But as Claude was searching for an appropriate way to take out the catapult launchers, some doubts welled in his mind. Wasn't it said that the new Shiksan commander, Kralio, was famed for his offensive skills? Was this really the method he chose?
If they placed their hopes in the gigantic catapult launchers and slowly made their advance, stocking up enough supplies in the base near the mountains would make sense. However, a time-wasting and resource-heavy plan like that smelled strongly of textbook warfare the old generation would use. It seemed to be in contrast to the style of the new, young general of Shiks.
"I think I can do it," Eiblont said, pointing at the terrain around him, "There's a path through the valley surrounded by these hills. The three hills are also about the same height. We can set up a ring-like defence. We can also dig trenches at the foot of the hills. I doubt their new catapults can launch their bombs all the way up the defences of the hills. Our mortars, on the other hand, can cover the entire path thanks to the height difference. Unless the Shiksans mount an all-out attack to conquer all three hills, they wouldn't be able to pass through the defence line there."
The terrain was rather hard to attack. As it was too close to the central defence line, it wasn't given much attention. But now that the Shiksans had come up with their nigh-unbeatable catapult launchers, the hills would be the best place to put up a strong defence.
Claude nodded. "Alright. Then set up a defence line here to fight it out with the Shiksans for good. However, we don't know whether the Shiksans will continue building roads for three more months before fighting us here for half a year. We don't know whether the supplies will be able to last them right now."
As long as he didn't incur too many casualties, Claude didn't really mind the supply drain. He even wanted the fight with the Shiksans to drag on for two to three years, as the war was being fought on nikancha territory, meaning it wouldn't affect the stability and economic development of the eight colonies at all. In fact, the increased demand during war would even stimulate their economy.
In stark contrast, the Shiksans had three times the troops of the war theatre. They already paid a high price to lease Cape Loducus, and the rest of their spending went into food and all sorts of other equipment and supplies, all of which they had to pay a large cost to procure. Shiks had already spent an astronomical amount on this war to the point they could no longer just back down. They had to hold on until they collapsed completely.
If the seven standing corps of Shiks continued to fight the war theatre for three more years, there was no doubt Majid III's officers on the frontlines would be completely stumped. The sheer cost of feeding 400 thousand troops for three years across another continent would easily empty Shiks' coffers.
As such, Claude felt there was something really wrong about their chosen method of attack. Who knew how long it'd take them to fight their way to Vebator while building roads for their slow catapults? Even so, he wasn't able to find out what's wrong. The Shiksans weren't swarming them, but rather, slowly advancing and taking one fort after another at a snail's pace.
Birkin came over with a letter from headquarters that Seaking and the Alliance's navy didn't return to the mainland. Rather, they sailed to the near waters of the colonies and launched harassment attacks on Port Vebator, though they didn't do too much damage. After the port's defences counterattacked, the warships left.
The linesman of the Monolith line stationed there said that the enemy fleets were mostly comprised of warships without long-distance transport ships. Their aim was probably to distract the colonies while the rest sailed south, perhaps to head to Robisto's Port Patres. The defending troops there were alerted to watch out against the sneak attack by the two enemy fleets.
Since Shiks' two fleets had only warships and no transport ships, they were obviously going for harassment attacks. Claude, Birkin and Eiblont didn't really mind it. The war theatre's three deep-water ports, Port Vebator, Port Patres and Tyrrsim's Port Cobius were each defended by a line of garrison troops. The sentry cannons on the walls could easily ward off the enemy fleets.
Apart from those ports, the other coasts of the war theatre were surrounded by reefs, making it impossible for warships to approach. The only way was to send smaller vessels to the shore, but the war theatre had security outposts along their coasts. The moment the enemy chose to go ashore, the nearby garrison would be alerted to wipe them out.
That was why the eagle message stated that the generals didn't need to panic over that, as they were already prepared against enemy harassment measures. The enemy warships wouldn't be allowed to cause the war theatre any harm.
On the 21st of the 9th month, Claude received word from the informants again. Royal Cavalry, which was supposed to be stationed at the eastern border, suddenly returned to the main supply base at the rear for reorganisation. It was said to be normal training drills which would conclude in two days.
Three days later, the informants reported again that Royal Cavalry disappeared all of a sudden. The informants guessed that they returned to the eastern border immediately, but they weren't able to find out as Cape Loducus City forbade its inhabitants from leaving.
<i>Are they kidding?</i> Claude wondered, though he did make sure to highlight Royal Cavalry in his notebook. It was no easy feat to cause a whole corps to vanish over the night with nobody noticing.
Two days later on the 27th, Claude received an urgent reinforcement request from headquarters. The Shiksans had come ashore at a small fishing town in Anfiston and occupied it.