Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 513

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"We won't be able to get any support from the defensive formations here," Drivick told his adjutant, Wedrak, "Even though our troops' weapons and capabilities are far superior to the enemies', we won't be able to use terrain to our advantage here in Durmel. The disparity between our numbers is far too large. Have 28th Tribe retreat and have 7th Reserve Clan cover their retreat."

Thundercrash 2nd Folk 7th Line was surrounded by a Nasrian corps since the morning of the 17th of the 10th month. Had the enemy only been one folk, they would've been able to repel them even on flat land. However, a whole corps was sent to their front and both flanks. They closed in like a swarm and applied huge pressure to 7th Line's defences.

The so-called defences were nothing more than a few trenches dug into the ground along a half-metre deep stream. It didn't help increase 7th Line's defences much. While there were still spots the enemy's artillery couldn't reach, a growing amount of casualties had resulted from direct clashes with enemy soldiers.

As much as they didn't like to admit it, Prince Vedario was not only a brave commander, but also a capable one. The attacks he launched using the Nasrian corps didn't use traditional line-and-march tactics, but rather, he scattered the soldiers into row after row of attackers to charge towards the defences and get into prone when they were 200 metres away from them. They crawled until they were only 80 metres away before they started firing at the defending Thundercrash soldiers.

At the same time, the Nasrian corps gave up on their wooden shield carts, using them to protect their mortar launchers and light-barrel cannons from behind the infantry. They slowly pushed the launchers and cannons into their attack range before firing. Artillery accounted for most of the casualties suffered.

Even fools would wisen up in war. Having suffered so much from Monolith's attack, the tactics the Union used improved considerably. While Thundercrash's new rifles and cannons were indeed impressive, 7th Line was losing ground against the Nasrian corps' attacks.

Scattering the troops decreased the effectiveness of each cannon shot, with each only being able to harm a handful of men. Given the enemy's numbers, they could afford to take such losses. Going prone and crawling into range some 200 metres away also made it really hard for the soldiers in the trenches to aim. Some Nasrians even used the corpses of their comrades as shields and cover. Firing from a range of 80 metres, on the other hand, allowed even the primitive muskets to pose quite a threat to Thundercrash's men.

The light cannons and mortar launchers were also rather dispersed, making it hard for the region's cannons to cause great destruction. It took a few shots before they could take out one of those launchers. At the same time, they would have to prepare themselves against the round shot and the mortars the enemy fired. Even though the Nasrian corps suffered many more casualties in proportion to 7th Line, it was negligible for an army of that size.

Drivick could only opt for a fighting retreat to slowly sap the enemy's momentum. Claude didn't order him to defend the place no matter what, but rather, lure them to Polyvisia instead.

After fighting from morning to evening, 7th Line finally shook off contact with the enemy. The enemy suffered an estimated two lines of casualties whereas 7th Line suffered a tribe's, only a quarter of the enemy's. Drivick was quite troubled about the prospect of 7th Line's survival after five days of the same per Claude's orders.

Thundercrash 2nd Folk's mission was to intercept the enemy by expanding the defence line, just like 7th Line, whose mission was to face off against a corps at the left flank of the defence line alone. They were under more pressure than 5th Line and 6th Line, who were defending from straight on. However, Drivick managed to complete his task and maintained an orderly fighting retreat with the rest of the defence line.

It was Berklin and 1st Folk's turn to attack at night. They would cause the enemy, who occupied the defence line, some trouble. At the very least, they wouldn't be allowed to rest well. As Claude often said, they had to offer their concern for their enemies' health as well by firing a few cannons at night to remind them to get up and take a piss.

The next morning while 2nd Folk was busy intercepting the enemy, 1st Folk continued to dig trenches at the rear where 2nd Folk would fight the next day. They also had to field a line of cavalrymen to observe enemy movements, lest they got attacked from the rear by the three Canasian cavalry lines.

Claude gave Drivick high praise during the meeting in folk command that night as 7th Line suffered the least casualties among the rest. The other three lines also had to face a corps of their own. Their warriors charged in with bloodlust and fervour and even mounted a few counterattacks. While they managed to deal great damage, their casualties were comparatively more. 6th Line lost around two thousand, being practically half crippled.

As expected, Claude was quite mad about that. "We are in Nasrian territory. The enemy can always get reinforcements no matter their losses, but each of our losses is permanent! We must cherish the life of every soldier! Don't forget what I told you when we deployed from the region. I would rather bring them back alive than their cold corpses."

After he vented, Claude began his discussion with 2nd Folk's officers about their experiences and lessons to be learned during the interception that day.

"We lack weapons that allow us to deal with the dispersed enemies effectively," Drivick shared immediately. "The new cannons are good, but they can't fire scattershot, so we have no way to deal with troops within 100 metres of us. While the steel helmets helped decrease our casualty rate, it isn't perfect. The enemies also learned to use their comrades' bodies as cover, often stacking them on top of each other. We'll have no choice but to use mortars to get to them, but the trenches are too small and not suited for that."

That was one of the things Thundercrash did a little carelessly. Nobody would expect the enemy to use a method like that. They thought that they could easily pick off the enemies from their trenches without letting them approach within a hundred metres. Little did they know that the enemy would learn from past battles and use their superior numbers to get Thundercrash to use up their ammunition and battle potential while also decreasing their own casualties.

"We should field the old muzzle-loading cannons once more to deal with the scattered enemies. We also need to set up light mortar launchers in the trenches to bombard the advancing enemies with. The new cannons shall mainly be used to deal with enemy artillery," said another linesman. Many others agreed with his assessment.

Claude nodded. "We've improved somewhat on that front. So far, the 30 thousand captives of our corps will be working to change the layout of our defences. I believe the enemy will regret it if they use the same tactic again tomorrow. All I want is for you to watch your own casualties as you lay ruin to your enemy tomorrow.

"At three tomorrow, you may retreat. We'll set up another stronghold some 15 kilometres away. Fight as you retreat and set Polyvisia as your final battlefield. The real enemies we have to deal with are the five Shiksan corps at the rear, not the Nasrian cannon fodder."

Had it not been for the surprise first-night attack that got Thundercrash their 30 thousand captives, Claude himself might've ordered them to look for chances to deal the enemy damage while they were on the run. With the captives, however, their labour could be exploited in the fight against the Union's huge army.

They used their new weapons to thin down enemy numbers and to test the resolve of the Union. As expected, Shiks had the five Nasrian corps positioned at the very front to use as cannon fodder. The winner of the conflict between the two princes, Vedario, proved himself rather capable in occupying the hurriedly built defences of Thundercrash in a day.

While Claude wasn't too satisfied with the casualties of the first day, with them having lost nearly five thousand men about the size of a line, only 2nd Folk's capabilities were affected. The five Nasrian corps lost about a fifth of their men, nearly 70 thousand in total, so their performance next day was sure to be lacklustre.

The thunderous blasts of the cannons from the distance and the sight of a few hundred rockets soaring through the skies was a sign of 1st Folk's surprise attack on the conquered defence line. What Claude didn't expect was how the cannons and rockets soon stopped firing. Replacing it was a heated firefight with rifles and muskets.

Not long after, Masonhughes barged into his tent to report that the three Canasian light-cavalry lines launched a sudden attack on 1st Folk.

Even worse was how the enemy was prepared beforehand. Using the night as cover, they had the cavalrymen hidden near the flank. Berklin split his men into tribes when he attacked, so they weren't able to regroup in time during the attack and suffered heavy losses.

Claude punched himself on the head for his carelessness. His frequent night attacks were sure to be something the enemy could get used to and prepare for. He had been too careless, and Thundercrash's soldiers thought that the enemy would only remain in their camps and take the beatings. The trap they laid in advance really cost Thundercrash lots.

By the time 2nd Folk urgently deployed, 1st Folk had lost up to 12 thousand men. Most of the lines suffered losses and even Berklin suffered a cut on his left arm, being bloodied all over.

Fortunately, his life wasn't in danger. Perunt rushed there and said he was lucky that the blade had not cut lower and deeper, otherwise Berklin would lose an arm. Fortunately, the guards around him rescued him by quickly cutting the Canasian horseman off his mount in time.

After the treatment, Perunt said Berklin would have to rest for half a year if he was to keep his limb. He couldn't apply any force at all if his arm was to recover. In other words, he would be sent to the rear and couldn't remain on the frontlines. Claude was quite troubled over the severe consequences their complacency had begotten.

The only good news was 2nd Folk managed to fight back fiercely and slaughter large swathes of Canasian cavalrymen. They had easily lost over a folk. However, two tribes of 1st Folk were also abruptly eliminated during the attack and many new rifles and cannons were unaccounted for.

Claude could do naught but shrug. It was impossible to not lose a single of those weapons on the battlefield, but the number they lost this time was unprecedented. Even so, those weapons couldn't be easily forged by the enemies, mainly because of the ignition powder Maria had invented. There wasn't any formal study of chemistry in this world. Instead, rune magi mostly experimented on materials using alchemical arrays. It was extremely hard to recreate a substance without knowing its exact ingredients.

It was a result of the odd, Faslan selfish quirk. On old Earth, scientists couldn't wait to boast about their research. In time, the periodic table of elements was developed and all sorts of chemical research were published. Only then could future generations of chemists build upon old research to further progress in the field.

In Faslan, however, magi kept their research secret and made no notes, preferring to store all of them in their minds. Their craft was seldom, if ever, passed on to others. Add to the monopoly of information the upper classes maintained, generalised physics and chemistry weren't taught to the masses. While Aueras boasted about its general education system that gave peasants a chance to study, it was in truth a systemised method to keep the population dumb, or at least dumb enough for control to not slip from the rulers' hands. It was no wonder the various nations still used muskets six centuries after their invention.

Claude snapped out of it and began asking about 1st Folk's experiences. The truth was simple -- Berklin gave the same old order for his four lines to split into four directions and bombard the enemy camps in tribes to harass them. They didn't expect the Canasians to be laying in ambush long before. The enemies charged 1st Folk from their left flank without warning.

The night was enough to obscure the incoming enemies. By the time they were detected, it was already far too late. The individual tribes weren't able to weather the attacks at all. Once the troops emptied their loaded clip, they didn't even have time to reload and got straight into a melee with the bladed horsemen.

That was how Berklin got wrapped up in actual battle. He didn't even have time to signal the two lines at the right flank to regroup. The Canasian cavalrymen, being blended with the other soldiers in the night, were no longer concerned about being shot down. They launched into a fervorous frenzy, dealing 1st Folk a heavy blow. It took until 2nd Folk came with their rifles for the enemy to retreat.

Perhaps due to the morale boost or extensive rewards offered by the Union's brass, the Nasrian infantry launched an even more daring attack the next night. However, 2nd Folk had long been prepared and intentionally lured them in. Every time the enemy was about to retreat from the pressure, 2nd Folk took a step back to give them the impression they were gaining ground, causing them to neglect their mounting casualties.

By the time Thundercrash finally gave up on the defence line for a full retreat, the Nasrian officers noticed they lost more than half of their four corps and were no longer able to resume the fight. More than 200 thousand troops were sent into the chaos, and only around 100 thousand remained. Corpses and the injured littered the battlefield, whereas the Auerans managed to leave with their own injured and dead.

After that battle, Nasri was completely spent. The troops they still had amounted to less than two full corps. It was now Shiks' turn to deploy their five corps. However, they were surprised to find that Thundercrash no longer pushed back against their advance and instead rapidly retreated to Polyvisia, giving up on the 30 thousand captives in the process. However, their legs were given a cut like before. They weren't able to serve in the force and were instead burdens to the Union.

The Shiksan officers and other high-ranking officers of the Union held the unanimous view that Thundercrash retreated because they used too much of their ammunition and suffered too many casualties. It was a golden opportunity for the Union and they had to press on immediately so that Thundercrash wouldn't be able to pack up their wealth and leave Polyvisia in time.

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