Chapter 18: The Crisis of Crow Fortress (2)

“How unfortunate that things didn’t work out all the way through.”

Hearing Frederic’s words, Marez queried anxiously at his side.

“What shall we do? At this rate, aren’t things going to deviate from our original plan?”

Having been semi-forced into this affair, his restlessness was exacerbated now that a spanner had been thrown into the works.

“No need to fret. We predicted something like this would happen from the beginning.”

“Do you have an alternative strategy in mind?”

“Strategy? Why would we need one?”

Frederic formed a smile brimming with confidence and spoke.

“If we were to count every last man remaining in the fort right at this moment, it would amount to around 300. They can barely function as a defense with a force that small – that’s just how the rules of the game go. We have enough to seize this fort.”

“But Crow Fortress is a fort that is blessed with natural defenses. If Commander Nelson were to call on other forts for reinforcements on top of that, then…”

This prompted Frederic to look at Marez, pitiful of his ignorance, as he answered.

“Such a thing won’t happen. Mobilizing troops in the winter of the Grey Mountains is no easy task. The follow-up forces trailing behind us would rather be joining us first. And besides…”

Glancing at Louis, Frederic laughed as he continued.

“That fort should already be in a state of complete isolation. Is that not so?”

Marez could not quite understand this insider talk between Frederic and Louis.

“With all due respect, did the two of you do something?”

“You do not need to worry about a single lot of reinforcements as that fort has been perfectly isolated,” Frederic assured with an expression overflowing with confidence.

“Damn it, the pigeons have been…" Nelson bit his lower lip.

After closing the gates, deploying the defenders, and entrusting their command to Kerber, Nelson had sprinted to his office at once. This was so he could send messenger pigeons to other fortresses to request for reinforcements.

Moving troops in the midst of the winter in the Grey Mountains was a daunting task, but now was not the time to be concerned over such things. If just one of the ten fortresses were to fall to the enemy, the power equilibrium that had been maintained until now could very well collapse.

The system of the Grey Mountain fortresses was organically constructed so that if one of them were to be attacked, the surrounding two or three fortresses would send reinforcements to support them. However, if a single one was to collapse, it would form a hole that the enemy could pressure. The commanders of the other fortresses were also well aware of these circumstances, so it was expected that they would dispatch reinforcements without a question.

But what was awaiting Nelson when he returned to his office was the sight of all the messenger pigeons, dead.

“Louis… looks like that bastard poisoned the pigeons’ feed and water before he left.”

Nelson despaired at the loss. In this situation, even if he were to send a rider, there was almost no chance that the messenger would be able to fool the eyes of the enemy and make it all the way to another fortress.

In other words, Crow Fortress had been flawlessly isolated by the enemy at the present moment.

“Damn it…" Nelson felt a rising urge to retch, but there was next to nothing he could do right now.

“Attack! That fortress might as well be empty! Don’t cower and attack!”

As Frederic’s order was given, a force of approximately 700 troops rushed in to assault Crow Fortress. Of those, around 300 men were originally soldiers of the Strabus Kingdom. These men hesitated at the task of attacking a fort that they were sided with as recently as yesterday. But…

“Attack! Those who disobey my orders will be cut down immediately!”

Louis Walker threatened and spurred them forth from behind. The troops could not do anything but follow orders after the few that had actually disobeyed had been summarily executed as promised. And so the battle commenced.

“Stop them! Don’t let them get close to the fort!”

Nelson shouted orders left and right as he commanded the defending troops in person from the ramparts. They tried to prevent the enemy from drawing near by firing volleys of arrows at them. But the enemy raised their shields above their heads and stoutly pushed forwards.

“Do not fear. There is nothing the enemy can do except fire arrows.”

“Shit…”

It was exactly as the enemy commander said. If this had been anything like normal, the fort’s defensive strategy would have consisted of firing arrows as cover, while troops would position themselves right at the fort’s front yard and fight.

The fort’s walls were barriers made of thick wood. Although the high humidity of the Grey Mountains meant that they did not need to worry about fire attacks, the strength and height of the walls were nevertheless inferior to a cobblestone wall. That was why they had adopted this tactic of dispatching forces to the front to prevent the enemy from approaching the walls, while others provided cover fire from the watchtowers.

However, that was currently not an option.

Counting every last man within Crow Fortress right now, they were a force shy of barely 300 men. Deploying them by splitting this already meager force into even smaller detachments was the surest way to shoot themselves in the foot. The best they could do at this very moment was to trust in the walls and standoff against the enemy from atop them through whatever means possible.

“Bring the axes. Hack down any bastard that tries to hook themselves up!”

Enemy troops had eventually started drawing closer and closer to the lookout towers, even as Nelson tried his utmost to commandeer in the midst of this.

Yet he, too, knew all too well. There was a limit to how long they could last like this.

“The fort’s walls are made of wood – press the attack. It is destined to fall!”

Unlike castle walls made from stone, there were bound to be more and more durability problems with the fort’s wooden ramparts if the enemy continued to approach and batter them.

Crack! Bang! Bang!

The sound of enemies attacking the wooden walls of the fort could be heard from every direction. From Nelson’s perspective, the din resembled the sound of termites chewing up a house.

“Shit, attack them! Stop the enemy from attacking the fortress!”

Nelson’s subordinates frantically moved into action as he barked his orders. They too were well aware. With such a small headcount of allies present, they were finished if they were to lose what little positional advantage the fort provided them.

“Buzz off, you Republican mongrels!”

“Know your place!”

Being fully aware of the critical nature of their situation, the soldiers desperately fought back. Nelson also personally picked up his weapon and joined the midst of them, all the while shouting his commands.

“Don’t give up! Let’s show the Republican bastards what we’re made of!”

“Uoooooooooh!”

“The Count fights with us!”

“Let’s send these Republican dogs straight to hell!”

The morale of the Crow Fortress troops suddenly surged. Milton would have been awestruck if he was here. Nelson’s special traits of Unity and Fortify were on display at the same time.

Unity LV.7: Command subordinates properly even during a dangerous situation. Able to cope well against situations like ambushes and night attacks.

Fortify LV.8: When defending a fort, increase the morale of ally troops and increase your ability to command.

Not only were these two traits applicable to the present situation, but their levels were as high as 7 and 8. The soldiers fought inebriated with a new fervor that they themselves did not know the source of. Due to this, the enemies’ relentless attacks on the fort began to waver a little.

“How commendable. To not surrender in a rut like this – might I say I expected no less from the White Crow?”

Frederic was admittedly impressed with how well Crow Fortress was holding up. The White Crow was a nickname that stuck to Nelson. After having served at the Western Front for so long, Nelson was a more well-known figure to enemies than among allies.

‘That makes this fort all the more valuable. The Command Center cannot possibly ignore me bringing the head of the White Crow.’

Being stuck in a looming internal political crisis of being sacrificed as a scapegoat, Frederic was eager for a battlefield merit. And so he absolutely could not let Nelson Cardinal get away as he knocked down Crow Fortress.

“Divide the troops into three groups and start attacking in rotations.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“There’s no need to press them fiercely. Just ensure that the enemy cannot rest.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Coming to the conclusion that the fortress would not fall any time soon, Frederic prudently chose a tactic that would guarantee their victory. Presently, his enemy was merely in a state of struggling beyond their means. No matter how much their morale had increased, all humans had a limit to their stamina. Utilizing their advantage of superior numbers, Frederic intended to attack the enemy in waves so they could not rest.

“Let’s see how long you can last, White Crow.”

As the enemy troops divided into groups and started attacking in waves, Nelson also promptly split his forces. Out of the 300 troops, 50 at a time were to withdraw and take a compulsory four-hour break.

“Rest! Resting is also part of warfare. Any man who doesn’t rest and recover their energy during this time will be summarily punished!”

Nelson issued this mandatory decree to his subordinates. Asking them to sleep when the din of war reached their ears was no simple request, but things would not last if they did not at rest like this at least. This was because the troops needed to fight incessantly for 20 hours once their allocated resting time ended.

‘How long can we hold out like this?’

Nelson was well aware that he had applied all the best countermeasures he could in his shoes. More precisely, he knew well that the ally troops’ endurance could not hold up the longer the battle went on. Although they may have survived the first day some way or another, the allied troops looked considerably more haggard.

On the second day, some soldiers began reaching their physical limits. But every time a critical moment appeared, Nelson’s leadership as a commander shone through. Nelson personally running back and forth along the ramparts facing off against the enemy - with Kerber also fighting to his utmost alongside him - was enough to boost the defenders’ morale.

“Do not give up! We will not hand our fort over to the Republican dogs!”

“Uooooooh!”

“Follow the Count’s lead!”

“Slaughter all these Republican mongrels!”

At this point, the troops were fighting with pure grit and spirit rather than stamina. In actuality, Nelson only felt like a cruel truth was creeping closer and closer as he watched his forces overexert themselves.

‘We can’t win. We can’t win at this rate.’

There was no way they could sustain this battle while squeezing out every last drop in them to the absolute limits. Nelson was all too aware.

And then on the third day… The thing they feared most happened at last.

Crack… crrrrrack!

One part of the fort’s wall began collapsing. The wall had finally reached the end of its durability after two days of endless battering all over the place.

“It’s collapsing!”

“Keep ramming at it!”

“OOOOOOOOH!”

Ka-thump!

A spot in the ramparts eventually broke. And through that spot, the soldiers of the Republic rushed in like a broken dam. The first person the Republican troops faced as they rushed in was…

“How dare you step foot in here!”

With a thunderous roar, Nelson met them wielding a humongous chainsword, with Kerber alongside him.

“Kuhk!”

The frontmost man to enter the fort lost his life to Nelson’s blade.

Nelson had served up his whole life in the Western Front. Although he had become distanced from a successful career path, his one pride was that he had steadfastly protected this frontier all this time. And that pride was in danger of being stepped on. At this moment, embers in Nelson’s heart that he thought long turned to ashes and blown away were relit.

“Only over my dead body will a single one of you be allowed inside!”

And at that second…

Whoosh!

A flickering aura began blooming from Nelson’s blade.

“C-Count!”

Kerber, having followed Nelson to protect his back, was in for a shock.

Having stayed at the highest level of an ordinary User until now, Nelson reached the Expert level in this moment of extreme danger. This was outside expectations for Nelson himself.

Well over 20 years had already passed since his swordsmanship plateaued. He had long given up, believing that he was just not cut out to be an Expert. As such, he had no idea that he would overcome this wall after all this time. It was as if the gods had gifted him this blessing, since today could very well become his last.

“Ha… hahahaha… very good. Let’s go out with a show!” With a boisterous laugh, Nelson began fighting valiantly. His form was not that of an old and seasoned commander, but a vigorous knight thirty years younger.

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