The only surviving silver-plate photograph of the ruins of the Great Library and the surrounding campus.
"We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it." - Tennessee Williams
Afraid of dishonor? Yes. Afraid of death? Moreso. But afraid of namelessness, the most. Generals build reputations--they live forever. But soldiers--only the living remember soldiers, and only if unscathed. An injured man forgets, because pain is white-hot; it burns memories like a mass grave and makes meaningless ashes.
If I die, make my friends comfortable--and remember me fondly.
The Long War - Part II - The Scholar's Story
I can't camp near the other men. Not anymore, not after the Great Library burned. Footsteps sound like assassins, and there are too many people in Wedeleev's Yard--enough that a stranger passes every minute of the night. If I stayed with them, I'd go mad without sleep. I've had to beg the Colonel to let me use the cot in his tent, because it's safe there. He's a good man, a smart man. I trust him.
I only leave his tent twice a day now--once for lunch and once for supper. I wish that I didn't have to leave at all, but the Colonel insists that I eat with the other men. He says that hiding too much makes me conspicuous. It's a paradox, but it's true. Someone is hunting me, but they don't know who I am. I must behave normally, even though I'm terrified.
I'm especially afraid of poison. The Colonel tastes my food for me. He's wary, but he's never afraid. I'm glad. If I'm going to die, he'll warn me first--my canary in the mine. I think I'd be insane without the Colonel.
I sleep in the morning and continue my research at night. I'm decrypting the Historian's journals. The Colonel says that our enemies burned the Library to destroy these books, but they failed because I had already taken two copies--two halves of two different books--and they didn't know that I had. I think I wouldn't be alive if they'd known. But they know by now. They know everything.
But I'll beat them. I'll publish the Historian's name, prove he was real. The Colonel thinks he was someone important, someone connected in all the right ways. Someone from within the government--or beyond it. I don't know yet, but I'll find out.
I didn't always know that I was researching the Historian's name, but I was. Lieutenant-General Au-Yong died in battle, leaving no heir, and the Great Library received his books, including some that we weren't supposed to receive. They were encrypted journals, and I'd assigned two of my scribes to identify their author. Of course, they never discovered anything. I never discovered anything. It was the Colonel who drew the connection between the books and the Historian.
It was all history, you see. Two decades after Traitor Nilus died, a monk found a note inserted into the scabbard of Nilus's dagger. In it, Nilus implored the men of the future to seek the name of the Historian--"the true enemy of the Russian Empire and an architect of foreign wars." The only clues Nilus had were the letters DIA. They'd been painted onto the binding of the Historian's notebooks. Au-Yong's encrypted journals were also labeled DIA. Coincidence?
I would've thought so, but for the fire.
Traitor Nilus was supposed to be insane; there wasn't supposed to be a conspiracy! For most of my life, the world was nothing more than itself and only puzzles had a hidden layer. But now, I see evidence everywhere, all around me, tightening like a noose. I have to solve this riddle before it strangles me.
Who controls Russia?
The First Battle of Khoisan
"Au-Yong in Battle," a 1923 woodcut reproduction of the 1697 charcoal on canvas.
The Shadows of Khoisan were an armed force of 5000 Cossacks. Their leader, Lieutenant-General Au-Yong, was an unremarkable officer looking to make his reputation as a field commander. In 1701, one of his Shadows discovered an undefended mill road north-east of Khoisan--the port of call for Egyptian traders in the South Sea. In 1702, Au-Yong moved his forces onto the road and made an attempt to sack part of the city.
The road was abutted by freezing hills, and it needled through miles of uninhabited hinterlands. Since the early Industrial Era, large trading ships had obviated the need for local milling, and the granaries of Khoisan--never important--had already been abandoned. The mills had been disassembled, and the mill road was decaying. The entire region was isolated, dead-ending into windswept rocks, and the Khoisan militias considered the road almost inaccessible. No permanent guard was assigned to it, and no patrols walked it.
Au-Yong felt it was the perfect avenue for a surprise attack.
Starting in late August, the Shadows approached the road from the north and blasted a thin trail around the crown of a high hill, creating a broad pass between the high plains and the road's northernmost loop. They then marched southwards for two days, setting camp on the 2nd of Feul in a deep valley five miles north-east of Khoisan. Although they were hidden behind a large hill, Au-Yong commanded that no fires would be set. This would've been a smart strategy, if not for the weather.
By all accounts, fatigue was high from days of marching in the wilderness, and the tundra was yielding little sustenance for the horses. Inauspiciously, an Antarctic cold front blew through shortly after midnight, and many of the soldiers and horses fell ill. Au-Yong's subordinates suggested that they postpone the attack for an entire day, and after assessing the situation in the morning, the Lieutenant-General reluctantly agreed. But just before noon, the situation changed for the worse. A storm front appeared on the horizon in the east-south-east, and Au-Yong was suddenly pressed for time.
He had to make a decision. If he called off the attack, he could weather the storm for a few days before returning to the wilderness. Or, if he pressed forward, he could use the advantage of surprise to "occupy" the northern districts of Khoisan before the storm settled in and forced a ceasefire. The first choice was logistically safer, but it would delay an assault on Khoisan until the spring thaw, and the soldiers would be forced to pass back through the hills. The second choice was riskier, but it would damage Khoisan's infrastructure, and it would allow the Cossacks to punch through the city's defenses and escape on the old trade route to Port Kavkaz.
Given these two options of equal merit, the eager Au-Yong was naturally attracted by the risk. He was also unwilling to come so close to Khoisan without firing a shot, for he feared that his immediate superiors disapproved of him and would strip him of his rank unless he proved himself in battle. Faced with this anxiety, his ego ultimately forced his hand. He ordered the sick to weather the storm and return north to the supply lines, while the rest of the cavalry broke camp at one in the afternoon and prepared for the assault.
The Shadows approached the outskirts of Khoisan around three-thirty. The storm was approaching faster than expected on their left flank, and its freezing downdrafts portended a snow flurry or blizzard. In an unexpected blunder, the sick soldiers lit fires in preparation for the weather, and the Khoisan defenders spotted their smoke columns against the clear north-eastern sky. Khoisan scouts were deployed, and around four in the afternoon, they located the Shadows a hundred meters behind a ridge overlooking the city. Au-Yong, who'd almost finished organizing for the assault, sighted the Egyptian scout and immediately ordered the charge.
The Shadows passed over the ridge as the first flakes of snow drove into their ranks. Egyptian resistance was thin, consisting of a few bowmen in watchtowers, and at about four-fifteen in the afternoon, the cavalry entered the northern district of the city and captured a market, three stone warehouses, and several residential blocks. Khoisan militiamen harassed the Russian attackers in the market, but their immediate numbers were too few to drive off a dedicated cavalry assault, and most of them fled the district, mixing with the civilians that were being pushed out of their homes.
Au-Yong intended to minimize non-combatant casualties, but he issued standing orders to execute anyone who resisted the occupation. Many of the soldiers liberally interpreted this order, and they shot dozens of families that were "too slow" or "too unruly." In a few rumored cases, soldiers slew the adults and male children, sparing the young women for rape. In all cases, the Egyptian homes were emptied, discharging hundreds of Egyptians into the rising storm. As the flurries descended, victory seemed secure for the Shadows.
Au-Yong's expectations were simple but realistic. He presumed that the Egyptians would hold their counter-attack until the storm had passed, after which they would march on the Russians to drive them out of Khoisan. He planned to counter-charge their counter-attack, pushing through the market to the old trade lanes. From there, he would retreat from the city onto the coastal plains, where their horses would have the speed to escape to Port Kavkaz.
What occurred violated Au-Yong's expectations. As the storm deepened, Khoisan was blinded in late-afternoon snow. Most of the Russian Cossacks were trained for open combat on the field, and as the weather came, their first instinct was to crowd into the Egyptian homes and start fires. They abandoned their new guard posts and sheltered their horses, believing that the Egyptians would not counter-attack in the blizzard. Unfortunately, they did.
Khoisan militiamen approached under the storm's cover and ignited several buildings with jars full of burning tar, blocking doorways and stoops with fire and acrid smoke. The flames quickly grew hot enough to sustain themselves, and many of the Russian soldiers panicked. Under normal circumstances, the Russians would've cleared the area, put out the fires, and evacuated their men to safer positions. But the storm was opaque, and inter-unit communication was impossible. The Shadows were divided across every room in every captured home, and they were mostly leaderless. Several hundred simply evacuated without waiting for help or assessing the danger, and they fell prey to militiamen waiting in the streets. Sporadic gunshots alerted the rest of the Russians to arms, but not before the damage was done. Over five hundred Russians died in the first half-hour, and their firearms were seized by the Egyptians. After that, the battle was fought through attrition. The militiamen stormed each building, cleared out the isolated Shadows, and confiscated their firearms and cartridges for the next assault.
By the time Au-Yong grasped the entire situation, the battle was half-lost. Three thousand Cossacks were dead, and the remaining two thousand were in disarray. He ordered his Shadows to retreat to the stone warehouses in the center of the occupied district, but almost a third of his men ignored the order and attempted to retreat along the old mill road. These unlucky souls ran into the Egyptian "firewall"--a perimeter of bonfires placed at the corners of the surrounding blocks. Each bonfire was guarded by Egyptian longbowmen, and with ten thousand men at their disposal, they left very few gaps in their lines. The escaping Russians were driven back twice before a mob of several thousand Egyptian pikemen flanked and overwhelmed them at the north end of the district. The battle ended quickly, and the deserters were annihilated to the man.
Around sunset, Au-Yong managed to rally his surviving forces in the central warehouse, where he established a defensive firing line. Because it was too dark and too stormy to continue the assault, the Egyptians wisely retreated to their perimeter to wait until morning. Victory was almost at hand for Khoisan, though it had cost them. Despite the snow, their homes smoldered and burned far into the night.
Around two-thirty in the morning, the storm abated and the moon came out, and Au-Yong decided to escape before the Egyptians could resume their attack. He saddled up with the rest of his men and rode west, making for the market and the trade routes. This was a smart plan--the markets were difficult to defend, and its "firewall" bonfires had burned out--but the numbers were stacked against Au-Yong, and he had no illusions. He told the Shadows that the Egyptians would spot them, and that most of them would die in the next hour. But it was better if they tried while most of the Egyptians were sleeping or hiding from the cold. If they waited, they wouldn't survive past sunrise.
Au-Yong reached the market at the front of his men. Without hesitation, he ordered a charge down the main avenue. Several Khoisan watchmen sighted his forces and sounded the alarm, firing Russian muskets and blaring trumpets. Then they turned their weapons on the Russian soldiers, and the Cossacks began to die. At the far end of the market, Khoisan regulars deployed pikes to block the roads, but Au-Yong did not signal a stop or engage in a lengthened battle. He fired his last shot into their massed ranks, and then his horse smashed into their weapons, impaled. He was stabbed in the chest three times, thrown from his horse, and lost beneath the feet and hooves of the fighters. His corpse was never recovered.
In the last count, approximately two hundred Shadows broke through to the trade lanes. These men returned to Port Kavkaz two weeks later, reduced by bad weather and starvation to a mere fifty-three survivors. They were debriefed on their failure, and all but seven were honorably retired.
The remaining seven were especially tough men, and they were returned to duty. One of them was Scout Quan Wei, aged nineteen, and he was assigned to Kharkav's Rock under old Scout Kharkav. From there, he ran several commands up the Moskva River, gaining the field experience and rank that he would need to become General Quan Wei, the Defender of Barcelona. But according to Quan Wei, it was Au-Yong's loss that taught him the most about fighting a war.
"Au-Yong made fundamental mistakes," he wrote, "and he became a lifelong lesson to myself. We all owe him a debt for dying."
The Yard Pursues
I lost my Cossack at Khoisan to a very, very unlikely Pikeman victory. It was such an unlikely loss that I had to write a long entry for it. Yay.
To avenge this loss, I plan on razing Khoisan and salting the earth. :|
The Knight at the Crossroads, oil on canvas. This was the masterwork of Ilya Mikhailovich Muromets, a veteran of the Pi Ramses campaign. He claimed that the painting was inspired by the difficult decisions of his commander, General Jiminez, and the legendary image of his namesake, Ilya Muromets.
We've been moving the Yard more often this summer, and my work on the journals is delayed with every unnecessary trip. I think our enemies know that I've joined the army, that I'm in the Yard. I think that's why they're moving us so often. I'm losing precious research time with the books. Important memories are fading; flashes of inspiration are lost on the road. I would take notes, but the Colonel insists that I do nothing to identify myself as a scholar or a man of words.
It's aggravating. I normally admire the Colonel's paranoia, but he's being hypocritical. If he thinks that we're safe, shouldn't he let me work?
He tells me that the Yard is moving to winter in a timber-heavy rainforest, and that our enemies are not deliberately disrupting my research. I daresay that anyone with the power to freely burn the Great Library could manipulate the Yard's movement, but the Colonel disagrees. He believes that we're authentically chasing an Egyptian force coming out of Pi Ramses, but I think it's all excuses.
According to the Nostikoff Plan, we should be advancing towards Pi Ramses, yet we're moving south-east at double-speed to eliminate an insignificant Egyptian army. Why? Barcelona or Crimea can field sufficient defenders on their own. They don't need our assistance. Therefore, our commanders must have other reasons, and one reason must be to flush me into the open. Lately, I've inspected the rank-and-file for assassins, and I'm keeping a loaded pistol on me at all times.
The orange line on the map shows the Yard's movement. The yellow line on the map depicts the Egyptians' movement, and the dotted line speculates on their future moves.
We're leaving the Egyptian roads today. My feet will miss them. While spending my time in this country, I've come to appreciate their meticulous craftsmanship. Every cobble is fitted perfectly; every mile is drained with stone ditches and concrete culverts. Even the richest provinces of the Russian Empire cannot afford highways half this good.
It's slavery, you see. The Egyptians weave it into everything they do. There isn't a brick laid or a crop grown that isn't touched by slave hands. Even the poorest man has someone to serve him. That's no lie.
Sometimes, the Colonel tells me dirty "jokes." His favorite one is about the Egyptian king that won't copulate without a slave to do the hard work. I laugh because it's funny, but I don't think it's a joke. The Egyptians are a nasty people, and lazy for all their grandeur. They march on their own provinces, and they harvest the Agyptis--those beautiful Terreplat half-breeds--and they enslave them.
It's the noble Agyptis that deserve this country. They work until they die, and all they receive for their talent and expertise is the lash and the rape of their daughters. It's an abominable thing.
I know I joined this army because I was desperate. But even so, I support the Russian cause. The soldiers say that we're here to free the Agyptis slaves. I say, "Scatter the Egyptians and give the Agyptis their homes!"
Russian Deployments between 1705 and 1709
The Egyptians brought a mid-sized force with one grenadier, one musket, two catapults, and a couple of knights. It's a dangerous bunch, but not enough to take Barcelona or Crimea. Nevertheless, I moved my stack into the jungle for two reasons.
1. I hoped that the Egyptians would attack my stack while they were defending in the jungle.
2. I could chase the Egyptians if they brought more forces towards Barcelona on the next turn.
In the first decade of the Long War, Egypt and Russia rarely clashed arms, and they spent most of their time and manpower outmaneuvering one another. The Russians pushed the Yard towards Pi Ramses, while Egyptian pillagers rushed over the border in order to eliminate critical resources outside Crimea, Barcelona, and Port Kavkaz. This aggressive tactic couldn't cripple Russia's deeply redundant industrial base, but it did aggravate and terrorize Russian citizens and laborers in the border cities. Discontent would be fomented until the Russian military pushed the Egyptians back and reestablished the damaged infrastructure.
The Yard was in an especially interesting position. In 1708, they wintered in Gabon Rainforest, one of the few surviving timber sources east of the Red Sea. Gabon was equidistant from the slave manors of Pi Ramses and the Egyptian camp of General Nicanor. The Yard's commanders were divided on which target deserved their attention most. The slave manors were filled with disenfranchised Agyptis, and if the Russians emancipated the slaves, they could recruit thousands of soldiers and spies with cultural experience and a command of the Egyptian language. But General Nicanor was a famous prince and warlord with raid experience in the Agyptis provinces, and his forces were a credible threat to the safety of Barcelona. If they followed him back to Russia, they could capture him and protect the former Spanish cities.
As history stands, it's hard to tell if the Russians made the right decision. But it might be best said that the decision was made for them anyways, in which case it hardly matters what might have been. The Yard was tasked with the conquest of Pi Ramses, and the Russian Empire was quite capable of mobilizing fresh armies for the defense of the homeland.
For example, after the death of Au-Yong, the 1st Kavkaz Guard was withdrawn from the Usmanov Iron Mines to the defense of their city, and the 3rd Moskva Guard was mobilized and sent to reinforce them.
Similarly, the 2nd Crimean Cossacks were moved out of Crimea and sent to Barcelona for two reasons: first, to mollify a terrified population with extra defenders; and second, to prepare a counter-campaign for driving Egypt's armies back to Thebes and Memphis.
The First Battle of Gabon Rainforest
As you can see, the Egyptians are attacking, and I'm moving out freshly minted units to defend and then counter-attack. The force moving towards Barcelona is especially worrisome, but two Cossacks and a City Defense Grenadier should be more than enough to stop them. Plus, I've queued some more Cossacks, which should give me the power I need to overrun these fools.
One of the only roads passing through the Gabon Rainforest Ecological Preservation Zone. It is the same road that Wedeleev's Yard hacked through the rainforest so many centuries ago.
This winter has been productive. I haven't broken the books' cipher yet, but I've made significant progress. To wit, I've discovered a flaw in their obfuscation scheme. Each page is filled with characters in a grid twenty characters wide and forty characters tall. A naive cryptologist would assume that each character is significant, but I've proven that they aren't--for most individual characters, the characters bordering them on the grid approach a random distribution in frequency. So for any given character, the probability that the characters beside them are significant is very low. In a general sense, this means that most of the data on each page is junk, and that only a few characters carry any information.
That was the enemy's first mistake. If they'd written large plaintext documents and encrypted them with the same algorithm and a different key, they could've embedded the important information in a sea of equally significant characters, and it would've been more difficult to distinguish the message from the junk. Instead, they've generated data with a different pattern, making it possible to distinguish the information-rich encrypted data from the obfuscating data. It'll take a lot of time to crunch the numbers, but I expect that I'll eventually be able to calculate the probability that a group of characters is an encrypted text instead of nonsense. After that, I can begin to break the actual cipher.
The Colonel is becoming fairly impatient. He's a smart man, but he doesn't understand the difficulty of my task. He recently asked me why I'm confident that I can break the books' encryption, if I haven't broken it after so many years. I told him that the answer is simplicity itself. They wouldn't have burned the Great Library if they didn't believe that the cipher was breakable. Therefore, it must be nothing more than a matter of time. Of course, the task is made more difficult by the appalling conditions of the Yard and the scarcity of the ciphered text, but that simply delays the inevitable. I will discover what was hidden in these books.
Don't let me mischaracterize the Colonel. He has been reasonable. He has been fearless. He has tolerated my worst days. He even forgave me after I pulled my pistol on him when he entered his own tent. He's been a stable rock in this chaos.
I think I'm insane. I don't feel normal unless I'm working at the books. I often feel giddy, like I'm filled with lightning and ready to burst. Or I feel rotten. Sick. I can't eat properly unless I'm at my desk, but the Colonel still insists that I go to lunch and supper with him. The mess tents smell terrible to me, like shit. And everyone is there, packed so close together with their knives and forks stabbing and stabbing into potatoes and vegetables and salty meat. I pack my food into a napkin for later and press the side of my pistol against my ribs. That quells the nausea.
I've felt the worst in the last month, after the Egyptians attacked out of Pi Ramses. They're calling this the Battle of Gabon Rainforest, but we're not even fighting back. It's really a slow drizzle of boulders. Every night, the Egyptians cut trees and blast stumps, and every morning their siege engines are pushed a little closer to the camp. Then they launch stones at us. I know it's hard to believe, but they have real torsion catapults--technology from of the Middle Ages. Most of the soldiers think it's funny, but just two weeks ago, a two hundred pound stone struck the Colonel's tent and smashed his favorite table to splinters. After that, I couldn't work for an entire day. I just curled up on the Colonel's cot and waited to be squished. Eventually, the Colonel wanted to sleep, so he upturned the cot, dumped me on the floor, and set my notebooks on my back. In less than an hour, I was working again, sane again, happy again.
I hate what I've become.
The First Battle of Gabon Rainforest consisted of an attack out of Pi Ramses.
The Second Battle of Gabon Rainforest
Oho! This makes it interesting. The damage is minor, but the target is tempting. I can destroy the withdrawing catapults and nab a scrap of experience for my Cossacks, or I can continue chasing the force going to Barcelona! If I take out the catapult, I'll probably move the entire army onto that tile. As you can see from the image, that would be just outside of Pi Ramses.
What do to, what to do...
The commanders of Wedeleev's Yard were presented with a dilemma. In the spring of 1709, General Nicanor crossed the Upper Moskva and set camp to the east of Barcelona, capturing and holding several small villages outside the urban center. They could either pursue him, or they could eliminate the catapults at Gabon Rainforest and capture the slave manors of Pi Ramses in preparation for the city's capture.
Their deliberation continued until a series of catapult stones struck the officers' tents, after which most of the soldiers began to favor the conquest of Pi Ramses. This culminated in an officially unapproved but ultimately unpunished action on the part of the 3rd Kavkaz Cossacks. They mobilized two thousand soldiers without express permission, and they burned the catapults along with several kilometers of rainforest. The Egyptian engineers wisely retreated from the battlefield, and provided almost no resistance. After learning about the 3rd's easy victory, the Yard's commanders sided with popular opinion and officially designated the attack as "The Second Battle of Gabon Rainforest." And when it came time to break camp in the summer, they marched on the slave manors of Pi Ramses.
Liberation and Sex
Well, it seems that I went ahead and attacked Pi Ramses. I figure that I can take out the force near Barcelona without any trouble. :] TO WAR!
The Yard has freed the Agyptis of Pi Ramses. The soldiers have rounded up the slavers that haven't fled, and we've handed them over to the slaves for justice. In return, the slaves have welcomed us in every way they could. They've thrown parties. They've cleaned our tents and our beds and treated our horses. They've offered the comfort of their daughters.
The Colonel brought me a slender girl; left me alone with her. She was beautiful. Serene. Her German eyes were gray like the clouds.
After release, after the nervousness drained from me like sap, I lay beside her and held her. She was a stranger, but I loved her desperately. I can think of no other way to put it. It was madness, to think this meant anything. I was nothing to her. But that was a comfort as well.
It's strange--feeling good when I'm ignored. Feeling anonymous. I couldn't remember a time when I hadn't felt invisible eyes. But I felt alone with her.
The soldiers want to be remembered, but I want to be forgotten. Yet I can't vanish into obscurity, not yet. The Great Library was the most important building in the world, and I'm its only avenger.
If anything, I must live to spite my enemies.
Only once I'm done and the truth is passed onto other men--then I can die. Or maybe if I find I'm sane again, maybe I'll come back to Pi Ramses and find this girl again. Or maybe another girl. Someone, I hope.
Without the Shadows patrolling the deserts south of the Gold Spike, the Egyptians openly marched an army of knights and grenadiers towards the Usmanov Iron Mines. This was an army out of Alexandria, a military city in the tundra from which the Egyptians launched their campaigns on the Agyptis. In a stroke of luck, Quan Wei--at the time a Lieutenant-General--spotted these forces while patrolling the arid highlands south-east of the Gold Spike. He reported their presence to Port Kavkaz and Kharkav's Rock, and then he moved his Cossacks into a slow pursuit while awaiting orders to attack or retreat.
Eventually, when the orders came, Quan Wei was surprised to find that he was being redeployed far to the north. In Moscow, Au-Yong's defeat had tempered the aggression of the military leadership, and the generals were unwilling to send their Scouts into any unnecessary battles.
The new plan for Port Kavkaz was simple and long-reaching. The Egyptians would be allowed to spend themselves on a campaign on the Russian side of the border. Then, once those forces had spread themselves thin with pointless pillaging, the Russian Empire would counter-attack according to the guidelines of the Nostikoff Plan. Towards this end, thousands more soldiers were being trained and mobilized with every passing year.
Moreover, Moscow was worried first and foremost about the defense of Barcelona. For this reason, men with real battle experience like Quan Wei were being promoted to field commander positions in the north. Quan Wei was made the division commander of the 2nd Crimean Cossacks and assigned "special disaster authority," because he'd seen firsthand the Egyptian's battlefield use of fire.
Having heard the story of Au-Yong's defeat, many of the other commanders at Barcelona feared that General Nicanor would simply burn the city instead of trying to capture it. Quan Wei assured them that the Egyptian fighting-style was not completely destructive, but that property damage would result from any fighting within the city. Shortly after taking his new command, he made a simple suggestion to the other commanders in Barcelona. Instead of waiting for Nicanor to assault, why not use Cossacks as General Nostikoff originally intended? Their high mobility gave them the advantage in a battle outside of the city, and waiting inside the city only squandered that strength. "Let's attack," he suggested, "and scatter the flames before they burn us."
In late Chal of that year, they followed his advice. A third of the Egyptian forces were occupying the village of La Verneda two miles outside of Barcelona. As a show of force, ten thousand Russian cavalry--the 1st and 2nd Crimean Cossacks--stormed La Verneda. The Egyptians organized an impromptu defense, but they were simply overwhelmed by the scale, ferocity, and suddenness of the Russian assault. Every Egyptian that didn't flee was shot, and La Verneda was emptied in less than two hours. General Nicanor attempted to respond with the bulk of his army, but before he could bring the rest of his forces to bear, the Russians had retreated back to Barcelona.
In the final tally, only one thousand five hundred Russians had died in the "skirmish," while over four thousand Egyptians were killed and a couple thousand more were seriously wounded. Shortly afterwards, General Nicanor moved his entire occupation force into La Verneda, in order to reduce the effectiveness of future Russian raids.
The Defense of Barcelona had begun!
The Siege of Pi Ramses
Two more victories for me! I took out the grenadiers and muskets in the Egyptian force. Now they've only got some knights, some elephants, and a catapult.
Cannons over the Red Sea. This historical monument to the Battle of Pi Ramses overlooks the western edge of modern civilization.
I'm a soldier. Sometimes, I'm required to work on the Yard. I've been shoveling mud. My heart is humming, and I'm leaning against this handle like a cane. I'm orbiting the earth from vertigo. But then someone snaps an order at me, and I dig in a little deeper. I tip forward into the hole, press into the mud, and lean back. The Earth peels away beneath me, and a piece of it sticks on my shovel. I'll repeat this a thousand times more, and then I'll eat lunch. It will be a Christian hell.
The Colonel cannot relieve me of this duty. Everyone is working, even the Agyptis. They're setting bricks at the bottom of the trenches and installing the pipes that drain into the sea. I don't mind them--I feel safe around them. But I can feel the shadows of my officers, and I'm always turning to look at them. I look paranoid, I know this, and I need to relax. But I can't. I'm compelled. I want to see the dagger in my assassin's hand. I want to know his face before I die.
After the Great Library was burned, the campus and everyone invested in it was worthless. My bank defaulted. Anyone without diverse holdings held a wealth of ashes. Scholars such as myself were homeless and desperate. Many of us joined the army to put a roof over our heads. It was this or suicide.
I was lucky that the Colonel found me. He'd been suspicious for a while. He was looking for a conspiracy, and I was his clue. He'd lost a lot in the Great Library, and I was the reason why.
A good portion of his wealth had been invested in the library campus. After it'd burned, the West China Trading Company had swept in to purchase the ruined assets and collect the Library's remaining debt. Looking to recoup his losses, the Colonel had sued the WCTC for the value of his investment, but when the court date was set, he'd discovered that the case would appear before a judge in Beijing, and his motions to have the case relocated were denied. Suspiciously, the West China Trading Company had already offered him a low-ball settlement, and with travel costs figured in, it was cheaper to accept the settlement than it was to pursue the case. He smelled a rat, but he couldn't afford to track it down.
Ultimately, he knew that the corporation had to have an ulterior motive. Buying the ruins of the Great Library was not a sound investment. The property wouldn't regain its value for years, not until the workers had cleared away the rubble.
When questioned, the WCTC only told him that they were planning "very-long term investments" with "short term philanthropic effects" on Moscow's economy. In other words, they claimed that they were buying the land to create new jobs. But that was nonsense--who would they employ day laborers at a loss when the state disaster fund would've picked up the tab?
The West China Trading Company was obviously buying something else with their tea money. Eventually, he decided that they were buying secrecy. After meeting me, he'd begun to research my background. He'd discovered that the fire had begun in my department. He'd figured out the importance of my work, and he'd convinced me that I was merely lucky to be alive. Then he'd swore to hide me, and to keep me safe until I could uncover the truth.
Who controls Russia? We often ask that question. It isn't the WCTC. They're just puppets of the real enemy. They don't have the power to manipulate courts or burn national treasures for a little secrecy. It must be the "DIA," or something related to it. An octopus organization with hands everywhere.
I'll discover the answer sooner or later. I need to finish this first though. They'll be setting a cannon here. It'll shatter the walls of Pi Ramses, and we'll scoop the Egyptians out of the city and give it to the Agyptis slaves.
It's a worthy cause. I only wish this digging didn't threaten my life.
The Siege of Barcelona - The First Wave
This little bit was written because I blasted the entire cultural defense of Pi Ramses to 0% in just one turn.
For game purposes, please note that the bombardment of Pi Ramses occurred just AFTER the next section in this update. What follows happened on the AI turn; hence, I only had one chance to record events, and my screenshots aren't too good.
General Laomedon Mytilene Nicanor, oil on canvas, painted 1702 by a court artist.
After the skirmish at La Verneda, General Nicanor was mostly unwilling move out of the village lest the Cossacks attack his men in the open field. The Russians had achieved parity of arms, and the Siege of Barcelona was proving completely ineffective. Though the Upper Moskva and the local farms were under Nicanor's control, food and supplies continued to reach the city by land from Madrid and by sea from Cordoba.
He sent for reinforcements from Memphis and Thebes, and while he waited, he spent the years converting Doñana Rustbelt into a farming settlement and Egyptian war center. He was, in his own way, borrowing the strategy of Wedeleev's Yard. Rather than attempting to starve the city, he would grow against it until his forces had the strength to overcome its defenders.
However, he did not abandon his position at La Verneda. It's presumed that he feared the Crimean industrial base and expected Russian reinforcements from the east. Rather than let them reinforce the city, he maintained his position and waited with guns and blades turned towards both fronts. It was a solid strategy, but it was ironically the cause of his narrow defeat almost a decade later.
In Glace 1715 AD, the first Egyptian reinforcements landed their barges along the Upper Moskva and disembarked into Nicanor's southern encampment. General Quan Wei was surprised by their arrival. His scouts counted 30,000 Egyptians from Memphis, including grenadiers, muskets, war elephants, knights, catapults, and a traditional unit of horse archers and slavers. This meant that the reinforcements alone outnumbered the defenders of Barcelona 2:1, and General Nicanor was still camped in La Verneda with 15,000 more.
Quan Wei dispatched emergency messages to Madrid, Cordoba, and Wedeleev's Yard. He asked for immediate reinforcements from Crimea, Grozny, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Madrid. He also suggested the collection of siege equipment, for "the city may have fallen before you receive this message, and we would ask you to take revenge on our behalf."
He was in a dire position. Reinforcements were months away at best--years away at worst--and an overwhelming attack would begin within the week. He planned for a worst case scenario--a Vasnetsovian assault of 40,000 to 45,000 Egyptian soldiers from two directions on the compass rose. Earthworks had already been established along the southern and eastern borders of the city, and these were reinforced twice over with redundant trenches to which the defenders could retreat and resupply. Furthermore, mobile cavalry "bridges" were constructed out of steel and wood, so that the Cossacks and guardsmen could cross the earthworks during the defense without leaving permanent paths for the enemy. Of course, Quan Wei understood that these would be a double-edged sword if captured, so each one was guarded by veterans with dynamite packs and high quality firearms.
General Nicanor spied the new defenses, and after consulting with his engineers, he postponed the attack until the weather changed. Unusually, he was not waiting for storms to clear; instead, he was waiting for the storms to come. Finally, after two weeks, the first tethyscycle of the year swept over the coast and drenched Barcelona. The redundant trenches filled with water, and many hundreds of thousands of the paper cartridges kept in them were ruined.
The morning after the storm cleared, Nicanor ordered the assault. He set siege gonnes firing on the southern trenches and placed a division of knights out of firing range along the eastern trenches. Quan Wei immediately understood the game. Without the redundant trenches, he had only one line of defense on each front, and each line was vulnerable to a dedicated assault. They both needed more defenders. But if he moved too many soldiers from the eastern trench to the southern, Nicanor would personally attack from La Verdena. However, if he didn't move more soldiers to the southern trenches, the siege gonnes would stand almost totally unopposed, and they would provide cover for Nicanor's troops while they crossed no-man's land more or less unhindered.
Given this impossible dilemma, a lesser general would've made the mistake of attempting to win both fronts of the war. Quan Wei's genius was his willingness to sacrifice the eastern trench in order to reinforce the southern one.
Consider the possibilities: if Quan Wei had maintained the defenses on each front, he would've inevitably lost the southern trench and a large number of his soldiers. With that flank secured, Nicanor himself would have then taken the eastern trench, and the remaining defenders would've been forced into a city fight against the pyrophilic Egyptian military. In that case, to prevent wanton destruction, the only choice would've been to surrender to Nicanor.
But if Quan Wei sacrificed the eastern trench and reinforced the city's southern border, Nicanor would only be able to flank with the smaller of his two forces. Furthermore, Quan Wei would have the troops necessary to repel the Egyptians along the southern trench, and if he won the battle fast enough, he could then turn back to Barcelona and repel Nicanor's flankers.
The opening defense of the southern trench was a sight to behold. Twelve-thousand Crimean and Barcelonan soldiers peeked through sandbags and earthen mounds. Their woodstock muskets bristled out of the trench like the teeth of a wooden comb; or as one soldier later described it, "our weapons waved like grass in a thunderstorm; their tips spreading bullets like raindrops in the wind."
Both sides exchanged fire for almost two hours. The battlefield rapidly filled with smoke, and everyone shot blind, striking targets only through sheer luck or brute force. It was hard to say who had the advantage. The Egyptians were better prepared and more numerous, and their indirect fire managed to injure or kill thousands of Russian soldiers. But the Russians had the defensive position and better weapons, and Quan Wei had unexpectedly reinforced the southern lines. Eventually, the contest was decided by other factors. The Egyptians had the option to retreat, while the Russians had to defend or die. Given the option, the Egyptians did what any sane army would, and they recalled their survivors from no-man's land.
Expecting a victory on the southern front, General Nicanor had meanwhile attacked from the east. He'd captured the trenches, and using his own makeshift bridges, he'd begun to cross them. Three thousand men from the 1st Barcelona Guard were harassing him, but they were too few to put up more than a nominal resistance, and by the time the Egyptian grenadiers were retreating in the south, more than 6000 of Nicanor's knights and elephants had crossed into the Barcelona hinterlands. If something wasn't done quickly to repel them, the southern lines would be flanked, and the remaining Memphisian forces could launch a successful second wave.
The first two grenadier units got whupped by my defenders. But damn, Egypt has a lot of units left, and I only have one undamaged unit.
For the narrative's sake, I'm going to twist what happens next a bit. Suffice to say, in the real game, the Egyptians attacked me from the south and used up three more units before quitting. But as you can see, I like the way it sounds if...
Quan Wei had to shift his defenders to the eastern front while simultaneously dissuading the Egyptians from resuming their assault on the southern trench. Once again, he proved his strategic genius by utilizing non-traditional tactics at an opportune time. In order to defend from the trenches, his Cossacks had dismounted. Non-combatants were waiting with their horses several hundred meters behind the southern lines. He ordered the non-combatants to mount up, ride the horses down to the Cossacks in the trenches, and then set up the cavalry bridges. In turn, the Cossacks mounted up and rode out onto no-man's land as if charging the retreating Egyptian forces. The southern commanders fell for Quan Wei's feint, and fearing that they were going to be driven back to the Upper Moskva, they fled for the safety of their encampment and set up a defensive line of their own.
Then, in the follow-up blow, the 1st and 2nd Crimean Cossacks rode north-east around the outside of the Russian defensive line. General Nicanor had pushed about half of his men into the interior of Barcelona, and he had simply not prepared for a massive assault on the left flank. Approximately 8000 Cossacks collided with a more primitive, divided force of 15000. It was the first great mounted battle of human history, and Russia was on the winning side.
Nicanor could barely grasp the magnitude of this disaster. He knew the Russian forces intimately. These particular Cossacks should've been tied up in a meatgrinder with the southern army, yet they had come from without as if they were reinforcements. Doing what little he could, he immediately attempted an organized withdrawal to La Verdena, but the Cossacks cut him off and trapped him between the scraps of the 1st Barcelona, the water-filled trenches, and the barrels of Russian muskets. Nicanor himself broke through with several thousand of his men, but he left most of his forces behind, and the Cossacks ruthlessly executed them. The knights and elephants trapped between the trenches were stranded, unable to run or hide. Many of them tried to leap the trenches and died. The rest were systematically fired upon for a grisly hour. Twice the trapped Egyptians tried to surrender, but the Cossacks simply dismounted and fired upon them. No quarter was given. When the casualties were tallied, approximately 600 Russians had died compared to an almost unbelievable 11,000 Egyptians. On average, three Egyptians had died every second during this second stage of the battle.
Quan Wei had retained most of his defenders, while Nicanor was again forced into parity with him. It was a startling victory for Russia and an appalling defeat for Egypt. But there were still more Egyptian soldiers than Russian soldiers, and more reinforcements were coming to aid both sides. The Siege of Barcelona had not been lifted yet!
(continued in the next post)
What the hey? I gave her 500 gold to make this fight interesting, and she brings horse archers to a cavalry fight? Great job Hatshepsut! At least the fight is getting good.