"I know, I know... We just have to keep it a secret, right?" the mayor of the town of Westwood, Zeke, said as he shuffled towards the town hall with both his hands in his pockets in a horrible posture.
The rainy season had just ended and the ground was still a little smooth. If possible, he wouldn't want to leave home either, just like how he didn't really want to be the mayor.
However, he had no choice. The duke sent someone to meet him, and only him. After treating the pompous ambassadors to a good meal and explaining the movements of the odd light-cavalry troops, he showed them the resupply receipts, which could help the town lower its taxes.
The ambassadors believed it a light-cavalry unit on a covert operation, so the troops circled around Efenasburg hoping to leave the duke undisturbed. The duke himself, however, wasn't very happy. Despite being a member of the Union of Eastern Freia, he wasn't even informed about such troop movements. They didn't even visit his castle as they were passing by, which the duke saw as a huge sign of disrespect. They didn't take him seriously at all.
However, the ambassadors did get some good news from Zeke. The cavalrymen that came two days ago said they were merely vanguards, with more troops to come from behind. The ambassadors believed the follow-up troops would pay the duke a visit and make his day. Perhaps the officers would then tell what their objective was and what their designation was. The only reason they didn't reveal it to Zeke was probably because of his low status.
The ambassadors enjoyed their feast and left Westwood with a couple ducks. Sidins was in such a poor state Zeke's 'feast' could barely sustain the ambassadors. Had it not been for Zeke's farmstead, which allowed him to sell some goods in Efenasburg to afford the taxes levied by the duke, he wouldn't be able to survive and hold his position as mayor.
Every time the duke's ambassadors came, they would sweep the town. Zeke had a feeling that the townsfolk whose ducks and chickens were taken would be at the town hall waiting for him to demand reparations. The darned ambassadors of the duke didn't understand that the birds they took laid the eggs that were the lifeblood of the townsfolk. They used that income to purchase salt and other crucial necessities, yet all the ambassadors thought they were taking were cheap birds belonging to normal commoners.
Fortunately, Zeke had warned the townsfolk to not act out and observe calmly, promising to pay them back for what they lost. If the townsfolk had attempted to fight for their livestock, all that would await them was doom and ruin. Zeke had gone to Efenasburg often and saw the duke's close aides march unabated on the streets. Those that failed to make way were either rammed directly or caned heavily. The ambassadors that just came were close confidants of the duke, and offending them could bring serious consequences.
He thought back at the ambassadors' instructions to him to keep quiet and not tell anyone of those troop movements. It felt really laughable. He wasn't a child and didn't need to be warned to keep a top-secret operation to himself. He wasn't the slightest bit interested in where the troops were going either. While the soldiers did seem to act a little odd, the ambassadors didn't say anything about them either.
Sometimes, Zeke imagined that the days would be better if Sidins had not returned. Back when the five-year war ended and the duchy fell following the duke's escape, all the duchies' subjects became Aueran peasants. Zeke didn't really have much of an opinion about the shift in power, since the town would still have to pay taxes anyway.
In fact, he turned out to be right. Negotiators sent by some nobles did come to Westwood about levying taxes. The amount demanded, 30 percent, wasn't that high either. Zeke had managed to save up quite a bit in those good days. A year later, a few thousand labourers even came to his town to restore the highway that connected to Efenasburg. However, the labourers seemed to be living rather harsh lives.
Then, all of a sudden, war started again for who knows why. Soldiers came to the town once more and shot an official dead outside of the town hall and took all the wealth within. After they left, Westwood was neglected, so Zeke was chosen to be the temporary chief. Three years passed just like that and eventually, Duke Sidins came back, reestablishing the duchy. That caused the town's taxes to immediately double to 60 percent, on top of labour quotas the town had to fulfil.
Since two years back, Duke Sidins had clamoured about wanting revenge and started collecting war taxes once more. During the first half of the year, many youths were conscripted into the force. The same happened again during the latter half of the year, when most of the men from 16 to 40 were forcefully drafted. Now, all that could be seen in Westwood were the elderly, women and children. Sometimes, Zeke wondered how good it would be if Duke Sidins didn't return. Their taxes would be far lower and they wouldn't be made to fight wars either.
Yet, life still had to continue. Two days later, he got up early and got his two bulls to pull his carriage full of the cabbages his wife picked and prepared to sell at Efenasburg. When he and his helper, limp old Mark, reached Efenasburg, they noticed that the city was on lockdown by a unit of soldiers. That unit looked to be the follow-up troops they'd heard were coming a few days earlier as they wore the same khaki-grey uniforms.
One officer came over with two soldiers towards Zeke and Mark, though the latter weren't the slightest bit afraid. They had gotten into contact with those soldiers before. While they were mysterious, their discipline was good and they often rested within their camp outside of town, only occasionally sending a few officers to the town to source some horse feed. They even purchased some livestock and paid in cash without helping themselves to the townsfolk's property or barging into their homes.
That officer only came to check Zeke and Mark's carriage to see what was inside. Once he saw they were cabbages, he picked a leaf to munch on and praised its sweetness and quality. Zeke was quite happy to hear that and even gifted a few to the officer, who in turn refused. Though, Zeke said they didn't have to be so polite since he had dealt with their lot before.
That came as quite a bit of a surprise to the officer. Zeke explained that he met the vanguard a few days ago and had helped them resupply. When the officer heard the full account, he laughed and did him a favour to buy the goods directly off Zeke so that he wouldn't have to go through the trouble of selling it in the city.
Soon, the soldiers the officer sent returned with a rather chubby veteran, who seemed rather satisfied with the cabbages and made a good offer, trading with cash on top of that. Zeke asked if the chubby soldier still needed more cabbages since he had some six carriages' worth left at home. The soldier gladly accepted the offer, since they could easily use up a carriage's worth of cabbages in a day, so they'd buy as many as he could offer.
So, Zeke busied himself on the farm once more. With the help of many townsfolk, he managed to move all the cabbages onto the carriage and transported them to the fat officer. The bill was quickly settled. When his limp helper returned with the carriage, Zeke decided to take a stroll around town to buy some good linen cloth for his beloved daughter for her to make new clothes with. His daughter had been wearing nothing but her sister's leftover clothes from before her marriage. He decided to get her new ones since he had the money from selling cabbages.
The road along the left of Efenasburg was covered in tents coloured similarly to the uniforms of the soldiers. While there weren't any barricades or trenches around the tents, not a single soldier showed up on the roads. The occasional neigh from a war horse could only be heard from beyond the tents, the horses themselves being kept on tight leashes. However, not many people were on the road and those that came out of the city had looks of horror on their faces and seemed as if they couldn't wait to leave the place.
It was only when he reached the main gates that Zeke noticed what was going on. There were hundreds of luxuriously dressed corpses hung off the walls, many of whom seemed a little familiar. Zeke came closer to get a better look and was surprised to see someone familiar: the ambassadors that went to Westwood a few days ago. Not a single one of them managed to escape.
He looked up the walls and saw that a grey-uniformed soldier was standing guard. He approached them with a permit slip the fat officer handed him. Upon hearing that he was going inside to buy some things, the fat officer got him that slip.
The soldier let out a rare smile when he saw the slip and made way for Zeke, even calling out to the rest that he was his friend and should be allowed through. Zeke then casually asked why Duke Sidins' aides were being hung off the walls. The soldier, smiling, replied that there was no more Duke Sidins and that the Auerans had successfully reclaimed Efenasburg to be their territory.
The past three months were filled with nothing but joy for the royal court in Whitestag. First, the defence line at Ambruiz was completed and all the troops of the kingdom stationed at the second defence line managed to retreat near Whitestag, getting the much-deserved rest they hadn't had since the start of the war. Initially, some were still rather concerned. But the nonstop reports that came from Ambruiz was much relief to the many officials.
Nobody would've imagined Monolith to be such hardened fighters who could take seven times their number. Once the Union noticed the Aueran retreat at the second defence line, they immediately took it and headed for Ambruiz. When they found that only one corps defended it, they were overjoyed and immediately launched a fierce attack without waiting for reinforcements, only to find themselves ramming against an immovable mountain.
The first ones to attack were, unsurprisingly, the troops of the cannon fodder corps formed jointly by Rimodra and Sidins. In half an hour, their morale plummeted after losing more than a hundred men as they crumbled and retreated from the frontlines. The Union's high-ranking officials shook their heads in disappointment at how weak their allies were. An attack with more than 50 thousand troops had little effect, if any. They didn't even get the chance to test out the enemy's heavy artillery. The only reports they got was the firing of a flurry of gunshots before the soldiers at the front fell nonstop. Those that survived turned tail to run. It seemed that they were more suited to common labour than actual battle, after all.
The humiliated noble officers of Sidins and Rimodra that were observing the battle left crestfallenly and gathered at the stronghold of their corps to make an example of near a hundred deserters by means of cruel decapitation before launching into a morale-raising speech. Regrettably, the nobles weren't able to bring back the lost morale at all. Most of them merely stared blankly at them, completely unmoved. The nobles' desire to launch another attack completely evaporated into thin air.
What followed was a swift attack by one Nasrian corps and a Canasian light-cavalry corps. Their usual combo was for the Nasrians to launch an attack first to draw the attention of the defenders while the Canasians laid in ambush at the rear and flanked the defences at the high point of battle, thereby overwhelming them.
The Nasrians would then push harder by charging into enemy defences without regard for casualties while the enemy was occupied. It was much easier to breach the defences using that combination. Once a single part of the defence line was conquered, they only had to stop the defenders from taking it back to establish a foothold and slowly chip away at the enemy with their superior numbers and supplies. Eventually, the defenders would crumble.
During the first attack, the cannon fodder corps retreated before even reaching 150 metres of the defences. This time, the Nasrian and Canasian forces did much better, with the Nasrians making it to 100 metres from the defences before retreating from horrible casualties. The Canasians were slightly superior in that regard, managing to get within 50 metres of range before the bodies of horse and man started piling up. Only a few hundred from a line of four thousand cavalrymen managed to return.
This attack finally taught the high-ranking officers a long-due lesson about how savage the enemy's artillery was. First came the mortars fired from more than 400 metres away with what seemed to be heavy launchers. The rounds rained down on the Nasrian corps nonstop. When they were 200 metres away, the rifles started firing and fell row after row of soldiers at the front. The whole 100-metre stretch of land near the defences were littered with Nasrian corpses whose blood pooled together to form a small stream.
One of the Nasrian officers at the rear cried, "This is a massacre, not war!"
The Canasian corps, on the other hand, charged straight into a minefield a hundred metres away from the defences. It didn't help that mortar rounds were being rained down on them as well. Only the few hundred cavalrymen at the most far back managed to still their mounts to turn around and escape.
The two failed attacks caused the officers of the Union to finally take Monolith seriously. Soon, they got word that those were reinforcements from the autonomous region And so, everyone turned their heads to the Shiksan officers who had faced them in battle before and lost.
However, the Shiksans seemed just as much at a loss as the rest were. They knew the name Monolith. Just like Thundercrash, they were among the harshest foes the Shiksans had ever confronted. However, those officers hadn't taken part in the colonial wars as they spent most of their time in the labour camps of the region. So, they didn't have any inkling on Monolith's specialties, though they finally did manage to witness their strengths first hand.
As such, the third attack was left in Shiksan hands. They were going to field two corps like before with a Canasian light-cavalry folk supporting them from behind. There was also another reason the Shiksan forces were hailed as the strongest in the Union: their catapult-style mortar launchers that had an effective range of up to 600 metres, which they used to breach the first Aueran defence line.
The Nasrian corps prepared up to a hundred wooden shield carts to cover their troops. It was too bad the nonstop mortar explosions rendered them useless. It even made them easy targets to bombard, causing the soldiers hiding behind them far worse casualties.
The two Shiksan corps made a few hundred of them in the past three days, but they weren't going to use them to cover their soldiers, but rather, their catapult launchers from enemy attack. As long as they could stop the enemy artillery, they would be able to retaliate with their own artillery while the enemy was left helpless. The enemy was sure to crumble after a few days of bombardment.
It was no exaggeration to say that Shiks had invested all their collective military innovations into nothing but launchers and mortars.