"How did they get ashore?!" Eiblont shouted, absolutely fuming.
Claude's expression paled.
"We've fallen for their trick. They attacked the eastern border to draw us away from the coast..."
He finally understood from where his sense of dread had come. The enemy's odd behaviour had stumped him completely. He'd tried to find any straw's shadow at which the enemy could have been grasping to try and break through their defences in the east, but he couldn't find anything. Their defences were solid, no push could have gotten through and it should have been blindingly obvious to the enemy as well.
Clearly, they had known that as well, but they'd not been planning to fight in the east at all. They'd made themselves as threatening a sight as possible to draw as much of Claude's side's forces to them as possible before striking along the weakened coast. They were now marching on Anfiston, to cut the head off the snake. Anfiston was the capital of the theatre in all but name. Taking it would be just as devastating to the colony as taking the royal capital would be to the kingdom back on Freia.
Birkin was not done yet, however.
"Where did they get the troops? Aren't all seven corps in Cape Loducus? Port Vebator only reported warships, no transports."
"You're forgetting their marines."
Shiksan navies all had marines, about a line per flotilla on average, though the number could vary greatly depending on the nature of the deployment. They rarely did anything so they were easily forgotten.
The days-old letter in question had said Shiks' Seaking and the Alliance's navy had sailed directly into their waters and fired a cannonade at the city. Everyone assumed this was yet another skirmish, so they'd reported it as such and forgotten about it.
Birkin sighed and consoled Eiblont.
"Don't panic. They have just two lines of marines. It's no big deal even if they take the town. Lanu has a line's men from Monolith. The veteran garrisoneers are still there as well. They won't get much from this even if it all goes their way."
"I'm afraid you're wrong, Eiblont," Claude said as he searched for one of the reports, "Look at the reports on the missing Royal Cavalry."
"You suspect the corps' gone south?" Birkin asked.
He immediately understood the implication.
"But where did they get the ships?"
Claude pointed at another letter that stated the transport ships stopped by the cape to transport food and other supplies. Many captains complained about their slow work. Every package had to be triple checked. If they didn't have to do that, they could easily sail directly to the western coast after paying the taxes.
"They intentionally delayed the ships and picked out suitable vessels. When Royal Cavalry arrived that night, they boarded without us noticing.
"Since Seaking and the Alliance's navy didn't bring any transport ships, they didn't draw our attention. That's why they could suddenly get ashore and take the town. They just need to hold on for about ten days for the corps to arrive. We aren't facing two lines, but a whole corps, more if other reinforcements are on their way."
The two's faces had gone pale as weak wax. Eiblont slammed the table with his fist.
"The waters near the town are shallow! No large transport ship can get close to shore. How did they do it?"
"I'm not too sure, but I think they probably did something similar to what Prince Hansbach did with Bluefeather in Ibnist. They probably had agents or turncoats in the town that assembled a makeshift pier."
Claude's guess wasn't without basis. While the waters near the fishing town were riddled with reefs, they didn't go out that far, a couple hundred metres at the most severe. Most importantly, there was a sheer drop right after the last reef. The ships could sail right up to the edge of the reef without any problems. The rest of the coastline was well guarded, but they'd left that stretch of water vacant because they'd thought the reefs to be ample protection. It had now proven a dangerous mistake.
"Report! Headquarters sent an urgent message," the first-lieutenant staff officer from communications shouted as he dashed into the room.
He held out another dispatch. It had been sent out on the same day as the request for reinforcements.
Skri had sent it and it detailed, in as much as a dispatch by eagle could, the town's occupation. A merchant owner of a shipyard in the town had been identified as a spy. He'd assembled a fleet of coastal boats under the guise of a new business venture, and built a sturdier version of the river pontoon bridge. On the night of the enemy's arrival, he'd assembled the pontoon pier and sent the boats out to ferry the enemy to shore. The marines had quietly taken out the local forces and government. The town's inhabitants woke up to Shiksan occupation the following morning.
The people had risen up against them once they realised what had happened, but the uprising was put down most violently. The town had been put on lockdown, but a couple managed to slip out and headed for Lanu to report what had happened. Those that made it had reported they'd seen the Shiksans forcing the townsfolk to build fortifications around the town.
It took a day to get to Lanu from the town, but luckily a couple of the escapees ran into a small merchant caravan which rushed them to the city when it heard what had happened.
Bolonik had been shocked nearly out of his mind and had sent out several light-cavalry tents to verify the reports immediately. He had confirmation the following day. The letter said that, at the time of writing, they were making preparations to take back the town.
They were mobilising the town's two-line garrison as well as Port Patres and Dorinibla River's forces. In all, it'd give them a folk and they believed it would be enough.
"No! Don't do that!" Birkin yelled despite the futility of the gesture at a piece of paper, his face pale.
Bolonik was clearly unaware that by the time they moved on the town it would have a corps of occupiers rather than just two lines. They'd be throwing their folk to the wolves if they got there after the reinforcements had landed.
Even worse than the numbers was the terrain surrounding the town. The open, flat plains around the little fishing town were perfect for light cavalry. On top of that, those four lines were the main defensive force for the entire colony. If they were lost, nothing could stop the invaders from taking the two colonies and perhaps a lot more by the time the main force could be moved back from the east.
"Send an eagle message to headquarters immediately. Notify them of the light-cavalry corps and tell the general to hold his position. Under no circumstances is he to march on the town. Thundercrash will set out for Lanu immediately. We expect to be there within the fortnight. He is to keep to the city's fortifications. The only other place I want him fighting the enemy for is the bridge across Dorinibla River," Claude decided immediately.
Thundercrash needed time, but Royal Cavalry had begun south three days earlier. It would take 15 days to get to the town from Cape Loducus. In other words, the corps would land in ten to twelve more days.
Thundercrash was in the mountains. It would take at least ten days to get back Moknad. The sea route was sealed off however, so they'd have to march. It would take at least 16 days to reach Anfiston, and that was at a forced march. Claude wasn't too hopeful of the city still being in friendly hands when they arrived.
He made a couple nervous calculations.
"Requisition the six garrison lines from Vebator's Moknad, Cromwell, Balingana, Anfiston, Mormaly and Aduras. The theatre should still have twelve garrison lines. Apart from our two corps, they're the only reliable forces we have.
"The garrison lines in Port Vebator and Port Patres can't be moved. Cromwell, Balingana, Anfiston, Mormaly, and Aduras each have a line. Dorinibla River's defences also have a line. The remaining three lines are on the coasts, but since the enemy is ashore already, holding the coasts is pointless. Move them back to Tyrrsim. At the very least, we need to keep Port Cobius.
"The theatre's reserves are all centred around Vebator, Cromwell, and Balingana. The coasts have two lines and Wickhamsburg has a folk of reserves. While they are the remainders of the reorganisation, they still have a certain degree of fighting capability. They have, after all, been trained for more than half a year.
"Our situation makes deployment a huge problem. There's still Dorinibla River. If the Shiksans take Anfiston and Robisto and stop us at the river, it'd be over. All our wealth and supplies are focused in the five colonies beyond the southern bank.
"If they get in our way, there'll be not even a sliver of hope to reclaim the colonies. Other things aside, Shiks has two fleets. All they need is a light-class ship flotilla and the colonies might as well be back on Freia.
"We have to hold the river. We can give up Lanu and move the supplies into the mountains, in fact. I recall we have some fortifications between Anfiston and Robisto named after me.
"Major Masonhughes, record what I said and send it to headquarters. Advise them to reinforce Dorinibla River, give up on Lanu, and retreat to the defence lines in the mountains. Tell General Bolonik I suspect there will be two more standing corps sailing down south apart from Royal Cavalry. Ask him to be careful and hold on until our reinforcements."
"Understood, General." Masonhughes saluted before dashing out with his notebook.
"Why don't we send the reserve troops in Wickhamsburg to reinforce them first? Having a folk there can buy us a few more days," Birkin suggested.
Claude shook his head. "I had the two garrison lines defending the coastal area go south because they're veterans that have strong fighting capability. Cromwell and Balingana's lines were also sent south. I'll need the reserve folk to take over the defences those four lines left empty.
"The reserve troops are a folk of infantry. It will take even more time for them to reach Dorinibla River than our light-cavalry troops. Not to mention, we have to prevent letting the two colonies be taken by the Shiksans after they're emptied out. With the reserve folk there, I believe they can stop smaller Shiksan surprise-attack parties.
"Eilon, set out immediately. Our Thundercrash 2nd Folk is still stationed at Port Vebator. I'll need you to immediately take them back to headquarters. If Lanu has fallen, at least keep the defence line at Dorinibla River and wait for my reinforcements. I will send 1st Folk over once I gather them."
"Understood." Eiblont saluted before leaving.
Claude turned to Birkin. "I'll need to take one of your lines here too to defend Blackstone Arms Factory. If my worries that they'll take the five colonies become real, the factory will be our only source of fresh supplies."
Birkin nodded. "It's fine. I'll still have five garrison lines after you leave, one folk from Monolith and a line of direct units. It's not wrong to call it the strongest force in the corps. We can definitely stop their attacks here. Go ambush the Shiksans that attacked us without warning. I'll await your triumphant return."
Two days later, Claude gathered the Thundercrash units stationed at the borders of the mountain areas and was about to march them back to headquarters. What relieved Claude tremendously was how Bolonik decided against attacking the fishing town after receiving the letter. As they evacuated the citizens and supplies in Lanu, he decided to lead two lines of troops to stop the Shiksans at Lake Lanu to prevent a cruel ending for the city.
Bolonik justified by saying that if they gave up on Lanu, the Shiksans could easily march to Dorinibla River unopposed. The defence line there also targeted the river, not what lay beyond, so Bolonik needed more time to refit the fortifications.
But when Claude departed, he received another report from the informants. The Shiksans didn't bother to hide this time around and retreated the two standing corps from the frontlines rather brazenly. They didn't even bother to reorganise properly in camp and reached the cape in broad daylight to board the transport ships waiting near the docks and sailed south.