They were certain that their stay in Aouine would be bland and uneventful, dull even, for this was not the empire. There were not many opportunities available, and individual achievements were not incentivized, there were no adversaries like the Haizaiers, Wind Elves, Farnezain Knights, or even the Brutes.
They were beginning to perceive their temporary residence within Valhalla as solely for their loyalty towards the crown and country. As members of the military, obeying direct orders was a sacred ground rule. Nevertheless, they were also young, hot-blooded cavalries. They joined the army to fight, to conquer, and to bring glory to themselves and the empire!
Now that opportunity was presented to them, despite being in a foreign nation, a friendly nation to the empire, a nation led by the Aouine Nobles well-respected across the continent.
If the crown prince were to allow it, they would in essence be fighting for the future crown of the Kirrlutzian empire.
It did not take much to gather their enthusiasm.
Little Pero, with further convincing from Brunhilde and the other War Goddesses went ahead to inquire the much sought after details from Veronica and the Crown Prince, and the reply they offered was that:
Crown Prince Lenarette, as the most influential guest living in secrecy within Aouine territories, relied on the success and uphold of Count Trentheim and his country. With that said, the war that Trentheim had involuntarily been dragged into was also a war for the crown prince.
And if Count Trentheim permits, the Folded Sword Squad during their residence in Aouine would take direct orders from him, as long as it does not interfere with their top priority, which undoubtedly would be the protection of the crown prince.
The reply was all the information they had intended to confirm and more, but Little Pero was in no mood to dissect the schemes and multi-faceted reasoning, he had received the greenlight he sought. For the people where fighting was their purpose, who wouldn’t want to head out into the battlefield again to show what they’re worth?
Besides a war against their own motherland, they were more than willing to stand and fight against anyone else. War was their honor, scars were their accolades, and their names, collectively there was only one, the Knights of the Empire.
Three days ago, Brendel in the name of an observation envoy once again ordered the entire Folded Sword Squad in his attendance, now even including Crown Prince Lenarette himself. Little Pero knew that their chance had arrived, and as days eyed closer towards departure for war, he could no longer wait any longer for the revelation.
Brendel peeked over at him and found it funny. The young one must have been restless. Back when he accepted Veronica’s request to retain the Folded Sword Squad within Aouine’s boundaries, they agreed that their allegiance to the crown prince would be an allegiance to him.
But he was witty enough to play around with the agreement and held Veronica back from informing her hot-blooded squad of war-hardened militants. The reason was simple, he knew if he were to provide these youngsters with insights, they would be relentless.
A good third of the Empire’s future were gathered under his command, knowing that the thirst for war and battle flows in the blood of these young Kirrlutzians, Brendel understood they could not bear the boredom of peace.
These young warriors bore the most strenuous of training, experienced the most uncompromising of cavalry examinations, tested in real battle scenarios, they would never suffice with a mellow retreat through Aouine.
They would accept their assignment of sitting put to ensure the safety of the future crown, sure, at the slight mention of a battle that they might participate in however, they would not hesitate to pursue the opportunity to once again draw their weapons.
Little Pero, knowing he was now in the presence of the Count of Trentheim himself, there was no reason for Pero or the rest of the Folded Sword Squad to continue awaiting orders.
Now that they took to engaging him, Brendel too was eager to witness their capabilities in battle.
Despite all that had gone through his mind, he solemnly replied with “What is it?”
The Slofavien territory’s mountainous terrain extended across the edges of Cielmann region’s pine mountains, before they meet by the easternmost corners of the Mountains of Chablis at an intersection, effectively carving out the most unnavigable & hostile terrain of Grinoires passageway’s northern stretches.
This was also the Easternmost fringes of the Tusarkand forests. In the historical lore of this world, Eikkel and his fiancee Youla would lead Lantonilan and Viero’s Allied armies in this exact location, ambushing and launching a glorious surprise attack on Bloodstaff’s legion. On this day, history seemed to play out in real-time as endless lines of the Madaran Army marched into the region.
The overcast sky loomed over the mountains as a bone-chilling breeze swept across the region. It, however, meant nothing towards the Undead, be it freezing cold or sweltering heat as they marched forward in complete unison.
Bone cackled monotonously as the ground shook. From atop, the green of the terrain was seemingly replaced by the unsettling grey of the mindless bone structures, along with a pinch of Skeleton Knights by the far ends. Unlike humans, they rarely accustomed themselves to symbols or flags, for their obsidian maces were already their best representation.
The unfolding war gradually became inconceivable.
Notably for Bloodstaff, ever since the annihilation of the White Winged Cavalries at the Cielmann riverbed, the opposing Aouine forces went into retreat, Vanmier legion went into large scale fortification, resulting in a fatigue-ridden, dispirited, and disorganized army.
The effects were most evident in the battles spanning the last few days, the Undead legion nearly decimated each and every one of their enemies in defense, the Vanmier Legion was visibly crumbling, significantly worse than it did in the First War of the Black Roses.
All of a sudden, Bloodstaff found himself in the absence of any notable opposition in his conquest across Aouine. The closest one his adversaries had were still in faraway Lantonilan, even a momentary dispatch could only arrive in a week.
By then, Kirkuk would have been a barren wasteland.
As for Kirkuk and Viero armies, they were nowhere to be seen. Once the occupation of Kirkuk was completed, he was to merge with the human armies of Radner, by then Lantonilan’s army would be a mere afterthought.
This was something even their Supreme Leader could not achieve, and here he was cruising through.
He was bound for triumph and glory.
To him, Grinoires’ Aouine army was no longer worth a mention. Cruising through Karsuk, his true opponents were in the form of the Highland Knights, which from his knowledge puts the dimwitted, pathetic Grinoires army to shame, especially given how they scurried and whimpered with their tails tucked when his legion decimated them.
It seemed to him now that the One-Eyed Dragon, Tagus, was just big talk. He was once warned that a division in Bucce would pose an inconvenience from the Madaran Supreme Leader herself, who had the Mercury Staff in her possession when she slithered her way to the throne under the brace of the Vampires.
Turns out she’s not as great as her title boasts to be.
To Bloodstaff, his reverence to the Supreme Leader gradually diminished as he covered more of Aouine’s land.
His eyes burning with the pale flames of phosphorus as he glanced across the mountainous terrain, and over on his flanks were his rapidly growing Legion of the Undead. Just a little more, a little greater, and upon my return to Madara she will have to think twice before she dare mess with me again!
Nevertheless, one thing was still irking him, and that was the dark mercenaries hired from the Seas of the Dying Moon.
Their greed superseded all expectations he had before, their initial plans of a magic-abundant land were, upon witnessing the frailty of the mortals, superseded by a hunger of building on these lands cities of their own.
He would never agree to such terms, for that would require countless skeletons and souls.
What Bloodstaff could not fathom when evaluating the costs, however, was that the Dark mercenaries, even after spending almost their entire lives at war, a practice nearly synonymous to food and rest would only now notice the lurking ominosity of their surroundings.
Usually, when the exterior of the main army was restricted, an inexperienced legion commander would take some time before realizing their forces had been inexplicably confined.
But for a hardened war veteran, just a band of scouts going missing would set off the red alert within oneself, their hunch would make them question their surroundings and fuel their paranoia.
But it took the dark mercenaries hired from the Seas of the Dying Moon only now to feel exactly that, after they lost five bands of scouts in an hour.
The frontmost end of the legion at this moment seemed to be shrouded in a cloud of mist. The Dark Lords finally realized something was evidently wrong and instantly raised the message to Bloodstaff, requesting for a dispatch of more Skeleton Knights in that direction.
Bloodstaff was a formidable adversary well-versed in Aouine affairs, and had come to a simple yet clear-cut conclusion: The Aouine people were eyeing to go all-in on his legion, and to launch a thorough and complete retaliation here with their best and exceptional in a final hurrah to halt them at their steps. If this final blockade collapses, Kirkuk would be defenseless.
It was a conclusion that was unilaterally accepted by the Dark Leaders.
Unlike Bloodstaff, these Dark lords from the Seas of the Dying Moon had no knowledge of Aouine, besides the Vanmier Legion, the only insight they had was the White Lion Brigade in far-away Ampere Seale.
All information they had on the Southern Aouine forces derived from Bloodstaff, and if Bloodstaff were to tell them that no mortal army remains within the Grinoires region they will perceive it as true without a second thought.
Ultimately, Bloodstaff’s deduction was not completely wrong. From Madaran intel, it was a fact that the Southern border regions of Aouine were in jeopardy.
The princess might have united the forces of Ampere Seale, Arreck all the way to Trentheim, but Lantonilan, Viero, Grinoires, and Karsuk, despite pledging allegiance to her on paper, were still embroiled in territorial rivalries between leaders.
In the face of a genuine and ever-present threat, the chances of them uniting into one was mild to modest at best. What Bloodstaff would not have imagined even in his wildest dreams was that they possessed a wildcard in the name of Eikkel, the cavalry fanatic, a caricature of himself that did what he had done best, butting into the business of others.
In the historical lore, this Necromancer commander once again clumsily faltered into his own demise, and right then, it appeared to be history in the making.
Furthermore, along with the man thousands of miles away in Trentheim accurately predicting his sinister ploys, there was cavalry fanatic Eikkel right there this time to give him a lesson he would never forget.
Eikkel’s forehead curled as he fixated his gaze upon the map laid bare before him. Right now, he was both the representative of Lantonilan and the Noble commander of Duke Carnon.
As usual, he had few ideas for the strategies they were about to attempt, and the actual masterminds of the retaliation plan fell into the hands of Buga, Makarov, Odin, Youla, and Duke Viero’s cavalry through intense discussion, revision, and strategizing.
Amongst them naturally were the leaders of the Highland Knights, sending in a special division of Silver level cavalries numbering at about four hundred men.
They might not be many, but each with an average power level of Upper Silver, they more than sufficed in capturing the gazes of the masses. Not to mention the deployment package came with one-third the number of mages with similar power levels.
This extravagant formation left everyone else awestruck, accepting the Highland Knights’ undeniable position as the premier division within the nation, owing to their superior capabilities ahead even of the Aouine nation as a whole.
After receiving the news from the princess herself, Brendel found the situation to be rather amusing. After all, there weren’t many brigades within the Highland Knights division to begin with, only three to be exact, and the one dispatched this time around must be the Holy Rock Knight Squad.
Their actions however appeared rather out of the blue. Given that it was common knowledge that the Highland Knights’ position within the courts of Aouine did not happen out of the blue, their reactions seemed overtly passionate.
Ever since the Battle of Ampere Seale, the knights had been acting strange from Brendel’s perspective. They need not participate in the mess back then as it was not the least beneficial to them, but they did. If they decided to join for the sake of his grandfather, it would make less sense for him to wrap his mind around.
He just could not comprehend what the Highland Knights were attempting to gain, but no further detail of this kind was mentioned in the letter.
Now his concern was with something else, the entire war strategy. It was unsurprisingly Brendel all along that was the true author being the plan of action, and it took quite an effort via the princess to convince the others to see Bloodstaff as their primary target.
It was reasonable to perceive the Aouine people of this era with a certain embedded discrimination towards Madara, certain that the Dark nation was only capable of petty border skirmishes even after the First War of the Roses.
It was a perception that likely stemmed from the fact that a year ago, during the war, the undead did not make it far into Aouine territory, even the worst battlefields loitered around the border regions.
The only armies that were involved were the Vanmier Legion, the Southern army, and a handful of Highland Knights. Hence in the eyes of the public and even amongst some of whom fought against them, their reputation was only of equal footing with middling bandits and thieves.
Be it the royal sect or Duke Viero, their focus seemed to be allocated solely on Radner, for to them, if Count Radner’s army were to be crushed, Bloodstaff will realize he had lost his internal accomplice and would naturally retreat back to Madaran borders.
Even the Highland Knights had the same thought, considering they had the most encounters with the Madarans and their insights were most significant.
Bloodstaff might have been known to once ravaged across Karsuk, but that was an exaggerated belief, for he could not even make it halfway through Cardiligial before being stopped in his tracks by the Highland Knights west of Silverhorse city. He was eventually touted to retreat through a U-turn south of Gold city, and back to Madara.
What the Madaran legion of undead was capable of, they would know better.
On the flip side, there was Count Radner, the bane of the nation. As long as they see to the defeat of this traitorous menace, the southern Aouine regions would then be half-recovered. Notably to Duke Viero, watching the demise of Count Radner was part of a personal agenda.
Solely on Brendel’s corner thus far was Eikkel, but not for noble reasons, the cavalry fanatic just did not want to fight in an internal conflict when a foreign army was plaguing their nation.
Brendel ultimately resorted to the possibility for Count Radner, upon his defeat, to escape into Madara as an explanation to convince everyone.
Even though the outcome of Count Radner’s eventual escape mattered little to Aouine, it was this reasoning however that managed to convince Duke Viero, and the Duke sure would be least keen to letting Count Radner escape beyond his grasp. House Viero and House Radner had seen their rivalry and conflict persisted for several generations, it was also an unchanged fact at that point.
Now that Duke Viero had sided with Brendel’s plan, along with Lantonilan’s representative Eikkel, the Highland Knights no longer saw any reason to oppose the strategy. Brendel’s plan concluded with overwhelming support.
They were to ambush and strike Bloodstaff first.
This strategy was in its essence a carbon copy of Eikkel and Youla’s previous ambush and assault strategy that led to the defeat of Bloodstaff, at the same spot as they were today. The Slofavien terrain, a clearly advantageous location.
But this time, they had an upper hand over the written historical lore, for in history Eikkel would lose his way while searching the Cielmann region, ultimately entering from the Northern side of the Tusarkand forest, squandering huge amounts of time in the process.
In this reality, Brendel managed to convince Cole and his band to open their gates, the entire Cielmann valley was now fully under their control. They could command a full legion under the noses of Bloodstaff and the Undead without them knowing until it was too late.
However, exactly then Eikkel seemed to have been in trouble.
According to the original plan, Viero and Lantonilan’s Allied armies would alert the Trentheim legion to arrive before they would launch an attack on Bloodstaff, but now with hours left until D-day, Duke Viero’s cavalries began to feel restless.
Eikkel was still trying to grasp the situation he was in, but Makarov and the squad noticed the intrinsic problem, Duke Viero’s subordinates were convinced that Bloodstaff and his legion were like mice in the trap. They were certain that Count Trentheim’s plan was to share the achievement that was solely theirs.
It was easy to see why. Lantonilan’s army along with Duke Viero’s were nearly twice the size of Bloodstaff’s, and it was known to all that in actual one-on-one combat, the Undead were actually inferior to that of the humans.
With a military size double that of their opponents, be it necessary or otherwise, there was no possible outcome that they would see themselves losing, so it hardly mattered then if they would wait for the Trentheim legion to arrive.
Watching as Bloodstaff’s legion came marching into their sights, the regional Nobles could feel their patience wearing thin and their thirst for war rise.
As the news arrived from Makarov and company to the ears of Eikkel, the cavalry fanatic was nonplussed. He would never in his wildest dreams have expected this to happen. The same would apply to even Brendel.
Brendel recalled the ambush happening at this point in the history of this world, but critically forgotten that the Aouine Nobles in this era were not the ones created by the Princess and Freya to consolidate the nation a decade later.
Crucially, however, in history, the Lantonilan Allied forces were indeed led by Eikkel. Now with the influence of Princess Gryphine and himself, Duke Viero sent out an army far larger than that in history, so whether Eikkel’s orders would matter on the battlefield was truly a guess for all.
This was no ordinary army, it was a Noble Allied legion, commonly dispatched during a battle between Counts, oftentimes in secret by the lower-ranked officials within the House. Now as an allied force led by two counts, when the news arrived at Eikkel’s, Duke Viero’s cavalries had already left base.