Indeed, in a battle against more than 100,000 people, the ability of a high-rank Knecht would only amount to self-defence. Locke continued talking about the time he and the other men fought against the Shalorians in Gordon Heights's left wing under Yoshk's lead. The beautiful plains of pale gold were eventually transformed into a sea of crimson gore and interlacing corpses, but the war had yet to end.
His squad lost two men on the first day and several more on the third... Yoshk's squad was reduced to four a week later. All the Knechts were dead, one of the third-rates was incapacitated, while another had succumbed to his wounds. The maimed soldier had been stuck on the battlefield; it had been too dangerous to move him while the squad was in the midst of combat. Yoshk had personally put him out of his misery at his request, the men on both sides of the fight knew neither side was giving quarter... If there was no hope of their recovery, no chance of avoiding falling into enemy hands, then a quick, immediate death spared them only further suffering.
Although Yoshk's squad had been reduced to himself, a second-rate, and three third-rates be the second half of the battle, they had still constituted a significant force. Their teamwork had also improved as their numbers had shrunk. And fewer men made fewer bodies to protect. Thanks thereto, they had not lost anyone else.
War is war, ever so jam-packed with uncertainties. A month of endless fighting had passed and the corps were on the brink of collapse. Most had been bled white; they had lost so many men they were barely still combat-effective, several weren't even that. Ten thousand corpses covered the plains. Their camp was raided while Locke was out patrolling the night shift and, he had been unable to meet up with his jarl again.
Much of the fighting had happened at night, with one side launching ambush in retaliation for another's. Locke's night eyes had grown in along the way. Some nights he thanked his fortunes for those eyes, and other nights, like that one, when he cursed them. Danger had been everywhere. The enemy just kept coming. He couldn't see the end of the flood even with his night eyes. He couldn't stand and fight. He had to strike and run off, then strike again and make a run again. If he stayed in one place too long, gave the enemy time to pinpoint him and focus their forces, he would be done for. The back and forth had shifted him out of position and he had lost track of where he was. He'd eventually given up on finding his way back and just joined the first friendly group he could find.
The fight had lasted the whole night, and most of the next day. The enemy finally withdrew with the sunlight. Locke had sat on the floor with the men alongside whom he'd fought. He learnt from them that he had stumbled into the Tiger's area. They had been wiped out however. The only unit that still had enough men to be considered extant was 2nd Division. 3rd Division only had a few survivors, and the logistics division had died almost to the man. As yet there had been no word from 1st Division.
A couple straggles and wanderers from Falcon and Wolf had also joined their motley crew. The two hundred of them still standing started work on clearing out the dead. Once they'd cleared out enough of a space that they didn't hear the flies buzzing all the time, they sat, more like collapsed, onto the ground in the middle of their little clearing. Locke could barely keep his eyes open. He'd been up for over 24 hours, most of which had been spent fighting, and he was asleep almost before he'd gulped down the two mouthfuls of 'soup' he'd gotten for his meal.
One advantage of not having a direct superior was the exemption from night duties since jarls preferred to pick men with whom they were familiar, whom they knew they could trust. Fighting flared up frequently over the several following days. The men were more passive than their commanders would have liked, but Locke knew they were afraid of losing their men and bearing again. The band of some 200-odd men had congealed around Foss, a Tiger company-jarl. Though their carrier pigeon was long dead, they managed to get an order from command to march to battle. Jarl Foss took them straight to the heart of Gordon Heights.
Lion was the cream of the Faustian crop. The battle would be where it was, it had little choice but to be. The last-minute reinforcements naturally pitched up. After so many warring years, they didn't know how to do anything else but fight. The previous battles had purged their ranks of cowards and other quakers. Not to mention, if they remained unaccounted for for more than 20 days, they would be declared missing.
Going missing was no better than being declared a deserter; a deserter's family was sold into slavery. If the deserter was caught, he was beheaded just outside the camp's entrance and his corpse put on display. On the other hand, the families of those missing would be compensated with a minimal amount of pension, mainly because the nobles wanted to minimise their costs, but also because there was no way for command to confirm if the person in question had fled, had been captured, or had died.
Either way, most of the soldiers were not permitted to leave the troops for extended periods, especially those from civilian backgrounds. Locke had been enlisted for two years at that point, so he knew well enough the regulations on his freedom of movement. In fact, that had not been the first time he had thought it was no big deal to fight to his death. After all, the compensation for a sacrificed soldier could sustain his family of three for the next five years at least.
It was late autumn of Year 1345 on the Aomar calendar. In the western province of Shalor, a Faustian unit of some 3000 men and a Shalorian equivalent of approximately 2000 were engaged in fierce combat in some corner of central Gordon Heights. The iconic Faustian war banner depicted a ferocious, roaring lion on a black background, signifying their elite status as belonging to Lion. The other army flew a red banner of a howling lone wolf that stood for the elite Shalorian Wolf corps.
The battle had already commenced for some time, and the five thousand men contributed to this bloody onslaught. One side surrounded the other with their superior numbers, while the other was holding on with sheer bloody-minded determination and tenacity. They were quickly reduced to just over 3000 from the initial 5000 in short order and any semblance of battle lines had vanished. Blood had so soaked the men's clothes that their insignia and colours couldn't be seen anyway, so everyone just slashed at everything he didn't immediately recognise as someone he knew.
Locke and his compatriots had walked in on that slaughter. Foss had instantly kindled his impetus and spurred his warhorses on.
The charge drew both of the engaged commanders' attention. The Shalorians had been struggling to carry themselves, and when they noticed the enemy reinforcements, their minds shot down as desperation and bloodrage took them.
Tiger's Third Division jarl, a high-rank Knecht pushed his men onward. The division had been in enemy territory and His 3rd Division had been clashing back and forth against the Shalorian troops at Gordon Heights for half a month and he could see that this was the perfect opportunity to wipe them out. He was a company-jarl, and so he understood that they would control more than half of the country if they took any more land than they already had. Not to mention, the two-year-long drought that had descended on the country and had civilians suffering famine and seeking feed from the army. They had not struggled to sign on new recruits, and the bigwigs were planning another massive offensive.
His losses might be disastrous, but if Foss could throw the enemy back, he wound receive a commendation.
A typical veteran in a muddled fight like this would try to sneak around as much as possible, but things were different once both sides took notice. Thinking that enemy reinforcements had come, the Shalorians decided to give escape one giant go. The Faustian commander was secretly pleased about the chance to reduce his own troops' losses as he drove the enemies towards Locke's unit. Foss, who led Locke and the others, was no doubt a blockhead or some delusional noble -- he was utterly heedless about the cruelty of war and simply rushed in without a second thought, leaving Locke and the others with no choice but to follow suit.
As expected, the moment both troops collided, the situation morphed into a one-sided battle. On one side were the strong, experienced elites from Shalor, while the other party was merely a spontaneously recruited unit of hodgepodge members. They had barely known each other for a week and none of them dared trust each other to guard their backs, so they fought not as a unit but as individuals, easily becoming sitting ducks for the Shalorians. Their jarl, Foss, was the first person to come into contact with the Shalorian troops. His impetus had given him a blast of power, but meanwhile, it also granted him more momentum. The head that soared through the air five metres above ground was really likely to be his.
Following the commander's annihilation, the 200-man unit was being mowed down one row after another, as effortlessly as harvesting wheat. Locke was right in the centre of the unit, which gave him a clear view of the company jarl's head soaring through the air as his comrades were felled in succession. It was his third year in the military by then and he had experienced his fair share of bloodshed -- he had most likely killed enough to make up a ten-man squad. It was almost karma -- he had previously been doing the killing, but now it was his turn. Although he had long since disregarded the concept of life and death, he was still unable to keep his cool when he could feel death breathing down his neck.
The elite troops were indeed deserving of their designation. Though the battle had already persisted for half a month, the combat powers of Wolf was still not to be underestimated. With one glance, the jarl of Lion's 3rd Division felt that it was about time, so he waved and led his division charging into the chaotic frenzy.
Locke's situation was not at all optimistic. His little force had been reduced by more than half. Wolf's corpse-jarl, another high-rank Knecht, had charged with less than three hundred men to disperse Locke. He had taken Foss's head not long before.
However, at that very moment, 3rd Division had finally moved to encircle the enemy. They had seen Locke's attack as the bait it had been, and started to move.
Locke had fought with all his might, and more. The bodies around him piled up quickly as he struck out with frantic blows. He had initially had a pike, which would have come in quite handy just about now, but he had discarded it once the formation had broken up and the enemy had gotten under his spear and closed out of its range. They had been surrounded. If Locke was to survive, he had to keep moving. He pulled back step by step, killing several men for every step he surrendered. He had given up on making it out alive, and had instead focused on just staying alive long enough to kill a couple more enemies.
Despite being surrounded with no way out, this temporary unit managed to shine with potential -- the 100 men formed a circle to resist the desperate attacks from the Shalorians. Meanwhile, Locke was closer to the main battle of Wolf and Lion near the outermost area of the battlefield.
Locke's ability could only be considered average amongst the temporary unit. Though, he compensated for his mediocre strength with his wits. He knew that it would be pointless to lurk all the way in the back and that it would do nothing but merely delay his death. Their eyes red with fury, the group of Shalorians could not care less about their injuries as they advanced. This was not something such a temporary unit like his could endure, so, in order to survive, he knew he had to flee towards an area with a sizable number of allies.
Needless to say, that meant running away from Shalorian encirclement. In other words, only by running to the battlefield fringes could he have any hope of survival.