With a loud boom, the explosion from the mortar blasted building and man into pieces and sent them flying through the fiery, smoke-stained sky. It was a grisly sight. Bolonik watched through his telescope unfazed, calmly giving his adjutant the order to have the band of reservists in the rear head to the frontlines as reinforcements to make up for the lost defenders.
It was the 16th day of the siege, 23 days since the fishing town had been occupied. Even with all the fortifications and preparations Bolonik had made, he didn't think he would be greeted with such a bloody urban battle. Of the 13 thousand defenders, less than six could still fight. The casualties had gone above half their total number.
The enemy had initially only used light cavalry, but Bolonik had ample ways to deal with them. Since Lanu had just been renovated, it didn't have its walls yet. However, the street network had proven unfit for the light cavalry. The proud Shiksan troops had thought Lanu would fall like a ripe fruit from a tree, only to be ambushed time and again by defenders hidden in alleys and behind street corners, suffering great losses.
The cavalry soon didn't dare to enter Lanu. They instead chose to surround three sides of the city. With Lake Lanu in the east, there was little they could do from that direction. They watched as the defenders evacuated the remaining folk and the casualties over the lake to the opposite bank, before retreating deep into the mountains.
However, from the 11th day of Lanu's encirclement, the two standing corps finally docked at the fishing town and rushed to Lanu. They rested just half a day before launching a harsh attack. In four short days, Bolonik lost nearly a thousand men. While the enemy's casualties were a few times greater, they could afford such losses. Bolonik couldn't.
"I don't know how much longer Thundercrash will be..." Bolonik muttered to himself.
All he could do was place his hopes in being reinforced. He sometimes regretted neglecting the odd points about the owner of the shipyard in the fishing town and actually believing his stories.
The coastlines across the various colonies had always been matters the theatre took seriously. Bolonik himself had gone to check on them before. He had also gone to the fishing town. It didn't have any troops, mainly because it was so close to the capital, making it easy to reinforce at short notice. Additionally, the waters near the town were riddled with reefs. Large ships aside, even small boats had to wait for high tide to sail to the shore.
The fishing town's shipyard could only produce a four-man boat that could be used in really shallow water for near-shore fishing. When Bolonik had gone there on an inspection tour, he had seen a few hundred boats connected to each other in threes or fours by large wooden boards. The weights placed in the bridge made the boats sink almost entirely beneath the water.
Bolonik had asked what it was for and the merchant had said he was testing the fishing boats' endurance and watertightness. They would be submerged for half a month while they were inspected. They were sailing close to shore, after all, so if they didn't have such tests, they couldn't tell which boats would hold up to the elements. In another ten days, the boats that passed could be sold to people in Cromwell and Balingana.
Bolonik knew the two colonies were populated mostly by soldiers' families. They could stand to gain an additional source of income with fishing boats, so he wasn't surprised at the number of orders the shipyard had received. He even gave the merchant a few words of encouragement, given how lucrative the business seemed to be.
He only realised he'd been duped when the enemy landed and took the town. The light-cavalry tent he had sent to scout the town also reported that the enemy had used the boats to sail across the reefs to the floating bridges.
If the Shiksan spy hadn't been there to receive them, there would have been no hope to make it ashore. If they tried to construct a floating bridge themselves, it would take a day, at least. Before they got ashore, they would already be surrounded by defenders. That had been why the theatre had neglected the town's defences and hadn't garrisoned it. In the end, the enemy took advantage of their oversight.
But it was too late for regrets. Bolonik only hoped Thundercrash would come before Lanu fell as well. In the last of Claude's letters, he had said clearly that he could give up on Lanu, but had to hold onto the defence line at Dorinibla. Bolonik didn't think Claude's judgement was right, since protecting Lanu and stopping the enemy should be possible with the direct-unit tribe armed with the new rifles.
He had managed to crush the light-cavalry forces using them. It had boosted his confidence greatly and had lifted his men's morale. But he only realised how powerful the enemy's artillery truly was when the two Shiksan corps attacked. Their range stretched up to 300 metres and the rounds were double the size of iron pumpkins, creating crater after crater with their devastating explosions.
Lanu's first line of defence had fallen quickly, but the enemy didn't fare well once they entered the city. The streets and walls forced them to abandon shield carts and move their catapults without their protection. His men launched a counterattack and destroyed two of them.
The enemy then changed their strategy. They kept the three remaining launchers out of the city and used the normal iron pumpkins to pave the way. That struck Bolonik low, but he ordered his men to give their foes the same treatment with their own mortars. They managed to cause them a few times more casualties than they suffered, forcing the Shiksans to send out men to clear out the path before once more moving the giant catapults to bombard the city with iron pumpkins and larger bombs.
The mines finally came to good use in the battle in Lanu. Some of the defenders were forced to give up on certain checkpoints they held. The Shiksans that swarmed in often stepped on mines and tens of them got taken out with every explosion. When they encountered a good number of them, they began to suspect everything and hesitate in every step they took. The speed of their advance was no doubt slowed, giving the defenders much more time to prepare.
Regrettably, Weyblon's factory was in the way of the Shiksans' direction of attack. The moment the light-cavalry showed up outside Lanu, the factory had been evacuated. Not many mortars, mines and ammunition produced there were left. Bolonik worried he couldn't hold Lanu for much longer.
After all, the two corps of Shiks easily had over 120 thousand men. Coupled with the light-cavalry corps that had them surrounded, there were nearly 200 thousand enemies. Bolonik only had around 13 thousand. He estimated that he would only be able to hold on against more than ten times their numbers for 23 days at most, and that was assuming they only kept a third of Lanu's area and a defence line. It would have been considered a miraculous result already.
Now, there were less than seven thousand defenders left, whereas the enemy had over 160 thousand, still a domineering number. Coupled with the shortage of mines and mortars they faced, the pressure on them mounted continuously. They began to suffer more and more casualties.
At the crossing point at Dorinibla River, Eiblont was fuming from his nose from the anger. "Get me the person in charge! What is going on here?!"
They spared so much effort to get to the floating bridges to cross the river, only to find the two banks surrounded by people. At the north bank were veterans in the garrison lines with nothing to do and at the south were refugees carrying around whatever belongings they could.
Of the two floating bridges across the river, one was for the refugees and the other for the forces. Yet, a wheel of a carriage with a large number of supplies fell into the river, causing the carriage to block up the bridge used by the troops.
It took the sweaty supervisor half an hour to get to Eiblont. Eiblont rebuked him so harshly and demanded an explanation. He almost wanted to shoot the man dead.
The terrified supervisor immediately explained that the carriage had heavy supplies of the local garrison line's linesman. The sheer weight broke the planks on the floating bridge. Additionally, the linesman demanded the supervisor to be responsible for the loss of his goods.
"Get me that linesman!" Eiblont roared at his guards. "Toss that carriage and all the goods into the river and clear out the bridge for crossing!"
It seemed that the high-ranking officer transferred to the linesman position was enjoying a rather luxurious life, for him to be able to collect up to a carriage full of mementos and local specialities during his station there.
"Where's your superior officers? Call all of them here," Eiblont ordered the veterans.
Soon, two colonels showed up before him.
"What units are you from?"
"I am Colonel Rimandok, linesman of Garrison Line 108. We were ordered to be stationed at Wickhamsburg."
"I am Colonel Frius, linesman of Garrison Line 114. Our station is in Cromwell's coastal area."
"Where are your troops?"
"Line 108 just arrived yesterday and is currently crossing the river," Rimandok replied as he pointed at his men.
"Line 114 just arrived this morning. We're resting," Frius said.
Eiblont pointed at the carriage on the bridge. "Do you two know what's going on with that?"
The colonels looked each other in the eye, before Rimandok spoke, "General, that is the logistics unit of Line 117. Their line defends Beckhillsburg. It's said that they managed to hunt lots of wild bulls for their meat and leather on the plains. They are going to transport them to Port Patres to be sold. Due to the strong winds yesterday, it would be unsafe to drive across the river, so they didn't. They only started this morning as the wind got weaker. Yet, one plank of the bridge caved from the weight and now everything's stuck."
Eiblont chuckled coldly and looked at the other bridge filled with refugees and turned to the supervisor of the bridges. "What's up with that floating bridge? Why aren't you giving priority to the troops and chasing the refugees away?"
The supervisor slumped to the ground. "General, I wanted to do that this morning as well, but some of them claimed to be a council member and pushed my men aside in an attempt to cross the river. The refugees behind swarmed in and we couldn't stop them even if we tried. They all claimed to be the relatives of some member in the corps, and those lower down in the hierarchy don't dare offend them and had to let them use one of the bridges..."
The refugees from Anfiston were mostly relatives of soldiers. The people evacuated by Bolonik from Lanu were going to Cromwell and Balingana to join their other associates. They were indeed not wrong that their family members served in Thundercrash or Monolith. The bridge's management was only staffed by a small outfit in charge of collecting toll. They couldn't afford to offend the families of the soldiers.
Eiblont's guards returned with a fat colonel. The man's face was pale and his pants seemed wet, as if he had let himself leak no long ago.
Eiblont began to chuckle at the sight. "So, it's you, Colonel Felix... I didn't think your figure would grow so rich since I met you last year... You're double the size you were back then! Life is going well for you, I suppose."
The fat colonel shivered. "General, p-please forgive me this once... on account of our old relationship... I won't ever dare do this again..."
Eiblont casually shook his head. "Colonel, I'm really disappointed. When you served under me, you were a courageous officer with a good future. When you told me you were going to be transferred to a local-defence force, I felt that it was a shame. I had a hunch that it wouldn't take you more than ten years before becoming a kingdom's general officer.
"But you refused my offer, saying that you grew to hate the battlefield and want a life of peace. I've granted that request of yours and let you become linesman of Beckhillsburg's line, which is stationed near your farmstead so you can accompany your aging parents.
"I really want to know why only half of your men have crossed, despite being stationed twice as close as the troops from Wickhamsburg, who have all arrived. Could you explain? Also, you received an urgent order to reinforce Lanu. Why are you carrying around so many goods to do business in Port Patres?"
The colonel couldn't even respond. He lowered his head and begged, "General... please forgive me... This won't happen again..."
"I really want to shoot you dead now, but it would be too light a punishment. Take him away. He must be court-martialed. We'll deal with him after the war."
The two other colonels' faces paled. They knew full well what the general's words entailed. Had Felix been shot there and then, it would have been the end of the matter. But Eiblont insisted he be court-martialed. That meant that not only Felix himself would answer for his crimes, the benefits his family enjoyed would also be reclaimed.
"Alright, Colonel Rimandok, I have a task for you. Take your troops to the other side of the river and split the refugees on the other bank. Let us cross first. As for Colonel Frius, your task is to cross the river and arrest all officers in cahoots with Colonel Felix in Line 117, understood?"
"Yes, General." They hurriedly saluted.