Boom! Yet another mortar round exploded, sending flashes of light and wafts of acrid smoke into the air as it scattered embers across the landscape.
"Colonel! We should withdraw some. It's too dangerous here," Colonel Drivick's adjutant, First Lieutenant Wedrak shouted over the thunderclaps.
Drivick didn't budge. He just stared at the small hill where the enemy's mortars sat and rained death down on his men through his telescope.
"Have the new cannons arrived?"
"We've put in the request. They should arrive within the hour," Wedrak said.
"Have 11th Clan keep up the pressure. But don't reveal yourselves. Mortars are bad enough coming down on fortified positions, but if they catch the men out in the open it'll be a bloodbath. We'll make our move once the cannons have arrived. We'll drive those bastards off that gods-damned hill by sunset!"
Three new infantry cannons lumbered into view, drawn by six horses, a couple minutes later. They reported to Drivick, then started unlimbering. In another couple minutes, the first roar of cannon fire broke through the thunderclaps of enemy mortar fire.
The enemy crumbled with remarkable enthusiasm after the third volley. They ran like broken dogs, leaving their mortars right where they'd entrenched them, the few yet to be silenced by cannon. 11th Clan rushed to take their positions, nearly running into their own cannon fire. By corpse and body count, the enemy's were just eight hundred.
"We found this, Colonel..." 11th Clan's clansman, Captain Wesley, announced as he held out a black leather briefcase.
It was probably something the Nasrian tribesman had left behind. He probably couldn't care to take it along with him when he was busy running for his life. Inside the briefcase were some daily logs and documents, but Drivick had his attention focused on a particular one.
"First Lieutenant Wedrak, go ask the injured captives whether this is true," Drivick ordered.
Soon, the report and the captives' testimonies were sent to Claude.
"Prince Vedario is gathering his men in Traveli. Does he intend to attack Polyvisia and save his father and family?--" Claude scratched his head. "--Who is this prince? And what's with the 18th Standing Corps mentioned in that letter?"
Masonhughes was ready with an answer. He picked up a folder and soon found the document with the information Claude wanted.
"Prince Vedario is the seventh son of Nasri VII. He's 23 years old and his mother, Polmanna is a royal concubine. Nasri VII has two concubines apart from his wife, and Polmanna is his favourite. So, his son, Prince Vedario, is also one of his favourites as well.
"The prince is often described as being incredibly smart. It's a shame he was born too late. Otherwise, he would've been named the heir of the king. Currently, he's given command of the 18th Standing Corps that took part in invading our kingdom, so he evaded General Berklin's capture. As for the 18th, they're a new corps formed by Nasri and are equivalent to our irregular corps."
The 18th was one of the reinforcement corps sent to the Aueran front. With Polyvisia being conquered by Thundercrash all of a sudden, Prince Vedario immediately stopped his march to the Aueran royal capital to head back and retake Polyvisia. The local garrison tribe he made a call to arms to just happened to run into Drivicik's 7th Line.
"Traveli..." Claude looked for the city on the Nasrian map.
The capital of the prefecture of Turkrasim was Traveli. It was one of the three closest prefectures from the royal capital of Polyvisia, being located on the plains one prefecture away from Claude's present location.
"Have General Dyavid take 5th Line and 6th Line to Turkrasim and order 7th Line and 8th Line to come to me. Have the enhanced tribe guard our flanks. We will take out the 18th first." Claude decided to change his plans to meet up with Berklin and 1st Folk in Polyvisia.
They were currently within enemy territory, so he couldn't afford to allow the enemy to gather and send reinforcements. Even a disorganised crowd could cause enough damage if it tried. It would be better to attack the enemy as they were rallying and settle the matter before it became a real problem, lest they actually swarmed Polyvisia and got in Claude's way.
Though, all the planning in the world would never be enough to adequately prepare one for unexpected outcomes in reality. Claude had wanted to encounter the 18th in battle in Turkrasim. Just as he was about to besiege Traveli, he saw the thunderbolt flag of his corps being flown within. Dyavid rode out with a few others to welcome him.
"They couldn't even take a hit. We only fired two bombardments and charged with our cavalry before they crumbled and ran, exposing their backs to us," Dyavid complained.
Even he didn't expect an enemy standing corps and local garrison forces of a total of 100 thousand men wouldn't be able to hold up against two lines of 10 thousand plus troops. Dyavid had only wanted to launch a probing strike to see what sort of tricks the enemy had, but they immediately retreated two bombardments and a charge later. The probe attack helped them take over the city.
"We slew around ten thousand and capture 50 thousand plus. The 18th is gone for good. It's a shame, however, that the dog shit of a prince was the first to escape. We didn't manage to get him," Dyavid cheerfully said, "The problem now is how we deal with the captives. We can't really kill them all, but keeping them here won't do it either. As long as they have weapons, they'll be potential enemies that can be recruited to fight us."
"I need some silence." Claude really needed some time for self-reflection. It was as if his guts were getting smaller the more battles he fought. He couldn't even compare to the hothead Dyavid, who had charged at an enemy numbering 100 thousand with a mere ten thousand. He came all the way here, thinking that there would be a grand battle, only to see Dyavid's two lines chase 100 thousand enemies away without breaking a sweat.
He felt that he overestimated the enemy too often and underestimated the might of his own forces. Come to think of it, it was no surprise, given how much more advanced his new rifles and cannons were compared to the enemies'.
Two lines only had around 200 new cannons. Two bombardments were equivalent to around 4800 shells landing in the enemy defences. On top of that, the charge of 10 thousand cavalrymen drove the nail into the coffin. The local garrison forces and irregular corps had only three months of training. What could they do but escape? The first ones to run caused the others to follow and they soon broke rank to flee.
"Is the city cleanup completed?" Claude asked.
"Not yet. We only just took the gates and are busy taking captives," Dyavid said.
Claude nodded. "Same old rules. Exterminate the noble families and those who resist. As for the captives, pick out the officers and put them into labour camps. Once we hand them to the care of folk logistics, they'll be helping us transport our food. We'll punish them collectively. If one escapes, have the whole group shot.
"As for the remaining soldiers, give their left thighs a cut and treat the cuts before letting them go with some food. Tell them that if we capture them again and find that scar on their thighs, we'll be cutting off their right thumbs next, unless they haven't shot at us and become our enemies."
"Chief, I don't get why you have to make this so complicated. I get that cutting them will prevent them from becoming our enemies again, but why treat them? If it were me, I'd just cut off their thumbs right away. That way, they won't be able to wield firearms again."
Claude gave the back of Dyavid's head a light whack. "Just do what I say, you fool. Don't you know how much resentment we'll gain by essentially crippling them? Only by offering treatment will they be willing to take that cut to the thigh. That way, we don't have to forcefully subdue them to do it. We can let the captives do the treatment instead of doing it ourselves.
"They'll be allowed to rest for three months without having to be worried about being drafted again. They'll come to thank us for it too. Telling them that we'll cut off their thumbs unless they don't shoot at us will make them consider deserting the next time we meet. Think about what will happen if the enemy troops break rank in the midst of battle. We'll have a much easier time dealing with these soldiers than fresh ones..."
The cut to their legs would prevent them from serving as soldiers for three months, which would be enough time for more ammunition to be delivered to Thundercrash. By then, the number of enemies would no longer matter. Though, that was only one contingency. The other was keeping the officers and letting the normal soldiers go. Without officers, there would be nobody stopping the normal soldiers from escaping. Any new corps formed with those men would almost certainly be nothing more than a disorganised mob.
"Go get it done. We can only stay here for two days. We'll be splitting up next. Split 2nd Folk into two lines to sweep through the 14 prefectures from here to the royal capital. Exterminate all resistance and do the same thing I told you to the captives, understood?"
"Hehe, got it, Chief. I'll get to it now."
It just occurred to Claude that Nasri already suffered a horrible loss. All the way back from the war of debt, they had been clashing with Aueran forces. They sent four corps into the kingdom only to be beaten hard by Reddragon and the royal guard. Only a corps and a half managed to escape after they lost up to 160 thousand. The royal guard even managed to push all the way back to their borders, which gave the Union an excuse to invade the kingdom.
During the war at the borders, Nasri suffered another heavy loss of some 100 thousand troops. Later, in the battles on Ibnist Plains for the first defence line, they lost another 100 thousand. Then, during the Triumph of Ambruiz, their troops discarded their weapons and armour, with less than a corps and a half making it back. They had lost up to 400 thousand men in total.
During the five-year war back then, Aueras suffered horribly after losing near a million troops. Nasri's population only numbered some 16 million, yet they lost up to 400 thousand before two years even passed during the new war. That accounted for up to seven corps. Much of it was due to the extensive use of mortars on the battlefield, especially during stronghold clashes which caused great damage to both sides.
If not for their drive to see Aueras completely eliminated, Nasri wouldn't have continued on despite being forced to draft men, even those with poor physical conditions. Dyavid's two combat lines only just crushed the 18th Standing Corps, so all that remained in the Nasrian borders were two new, mid-tier Shiksan corps.
In total, Nasri lost nine corps in Aueras, including the 18th and the Nasrian royal guard Berklin exterminated in Polyvisia. All they had left were three standing corps in Aueras that wouldn't be able to make it back within two weeks. Whether they could even come back at all was unknown.
As for the two newly formed corps, they wouldn't pose much of a threat to Thundercrash as long as Shiksan reinforcements haven't arrived. Claude could easily wipe out the local garrison forces to crush Nasri's might completely from the inside without having to carefully advance to Polyvisia with his troops huddled together.
While Nasri had always been the nemesis of Aueras, they would no longer be a threat if Claude could defang it completely.
Two days later, 2nd Folk's four main light-cavalry lines spread out and swept the Nasrian prefectures. Like Claude expected, not a single local garrison force could hold up to the sudden attacks. All towns and cities subsequently fell, but 2nd Folk didn't occupy any of them. Per Claude's orders, they captured the officers, made a cut on the normal troops' left thighs and released them, exterminated the nobles and confiscated their wealth before heading off to the next location.
However, the folk only continued to swell in size. As more and more captives and goods joined his cohort, he began to draw quite a bit of attention from unwelcome folks.
A few gunshots could be heard from a distance, followed by the rapid-fire barrage by the new rifles. Not long after, an orderman came to report.
"The scout tent ran into an enemy ambush. We have one dead and three injured. The enemy left behind some 20 corpses before the rest escaped. They seem to be a local resistance militia. There were around a hundred in that ambush."
It wasn't the first time such an occurrence happened. The extermination of nobles and officials and confiscation of their property caused many such militias to form. It was as if the people themselves were resisting them. They didn't dare to actually take on the four light-cavalry lines of 2nd Folk and chose to target Claude's logistics unit instead, which was not as strong and more profitable to attack.
It was too bad they didn't understand any ranger tactics. Claude sighed and decided to bring out the trump card. The militias were a little too annoying like flies circling him nonstop just for that little bite to draw blood. He decided he would flatten them all for good.
"Masonhughes, tell Bloweyk Wolfang clan can move out now. I don't want to hear any more about militias attacking us. Let him do what he pleases as long as he doesn't spare any resistance militias he encounters."
The following journey was one that the captives in the unit would never forget. There were rows and rows of corpses hanging off the trees beside the roads, all of them with 'those who resist shall die' written on them in blood. That was obviously Wolfang's work. Eventually, Claude stopped hearing anything else about local resistance movements.
Sending Wolfang to take on civilian militias seemed a little like overkill, but at least it earned them some peace. The only thing Claude was still worried about was Bloweyk, whose bloodlust only grew since Adele's death. He no longer cared so much about his own safety. Perhaps it would be time for him to go back to the region after this war ends so he could calm down somewhat at Anna Farmstead with his twins.
Berklin welcomed 2nd Folk's arrival at Polyvisia. He even got a tribe from 1st Folk to hold a small parade. It was a blatant act of humiliation for Nasri. Though, to be fair, the Union themselves held a parade in the Aueran royal capital, so they might as well return the favour.
On the 6th of the 5th month of Year 600, Claude led 2nd Folk and swept across Nasri's 16 prefectures before finally regrouping with 1st Folk at Polyvisia.