(continued from the last post)
The Conquest of Pi Ramses
I barely escaped this battle.
My unit is the 9th Grozny Siege. Yesterday, I was rounded up with the others and debriefed on the second day of the battle. The 3rd Kavkaz Cossacks had been repelled by a force of 20,000 longbowmen, and the Yard had selected the 9th Grozny Siege to crawl up a slope of rubble like a bunch of bombardier beetles and scatter the bowmen so that the 10th Novgorod could safely reach the streets and eliminate several regiments of militiamen.
Nobody doubted that our attack would succeed, but similarly, nobody doubted that the first men on the walls would suffer heavy casualties--something like 80% or more. To determine our positions in the formation, they made us draw colored beans. Anyone with a red bean would have to fight in the first twenty files. Anyone with a gray bean would be randomly assigned a position in the remaining files on the morning of the third day. When it was my turn, I couldn't draw a bean. I'd seen the gray beans drawn by other soldiers, but at that moment, I knew at an instinctual level that I would draw a red bean.
"Take a bean," a sergeant said. He flipped through a few sheets of paper looking for my pseudonym.
"I can't," I said.
He flashed a brief glare at me. "Take a bean, please."
I shook my head.
"Get a move on," the soldier behind me said. I glanced back at him to apologize, but I caught the eyes of someone else before I could speak. And then the eyes of another. And another. Suddenly, I could see everyone's eyes. They were studying me--looking.
I could feel the heat of their gazes. Terror burned on my skin.
I had to draw a bean to hide myself, but I couldn't. Reaching into the jar was like stabbing an arrow into my heart. I didn't have the guts--not when I knew beyond all reason that I would draw a red bean.
The sergeant cleared his throat to get my attention. I turned back to face him, and he unceremoniously reached into the jar and pulled out a bean. He held it out for everyone to see.
Someone suppressed a morbid snicker.
"Bad luck," the soldier behind me said.
The sergeant dropped the bean on the floor and put a check by my alias. "You're dismissed until six hundred," he said, looking up at my face. "Just try to enjoy yourself until then." He gave me a flicker of a smile. Was he sorry? No. It was the smile of a job well done. He had succeeded in killing me. Witting or unwitting, he was my enemy. My assassin.
I thought to myself, I can kill too. Casually, I reached down and pulled the pistol from my belt. The sergeant watched me draw my weapon. I aimed. He stared down the barrel with innocent confusion, as if it didn't make sense that I'd shoot him for killing me.
The Colonel roared, "STOP!"
I winced and nearly dropped the pistol. The Colonel had entered the tent and was pushing through the crowd to meet me.
"What's this?" the sergeant asked--to me or the Colonel, I can't be certain.
"He's my personal assistant," the Colonel said, "and I've been looking for almost an hour--" He stopped and pointed at the pistol in my hand. "What are you doing?"
"Well," I said slowly.
The Colonel grabbed the weapon in my hand and yanked it free, violently. "If you're going to hand in your pistol to an officer, I'm the one to give it to!" He glanced at the sergeant and tucked my pistol into his belt. "You can't send this man into battle. He's my clerk."
"He aimed a pistol at me," the sergeant said dumbly.
"He's a terrible soldier," agreed the Colonel, "but he can take shorthand in Russangxi and Egyptian, and I need him. Now."
"I ought to press charges on him. Endangering the life of an officer."
The Colonel struck the table with the flat of his palm. The sergeant started back in his seat. "Damnit, press charges later! I'm taking him--now! Are we clear?"
The sergeant tightened his shoulders and clenched his jaw.
"Are we clear?" The Colonel eyed the sergeant's papers suggestively.
After a moment, the sergeant deflated. "We're clear," he muttered. He flipped through his papers and crossed out my name.
"He can go," the sergeant said.
"Move it," the Colonel ordered me. We walked towards the tent's exit.
"Ass," the sergeant said to our backs.
As soon as we stepped into the yard, I started shaking with relief. "Thank you," I said. Tears collected in the corners of my eyes.
The Colonel glanced to both sides. Then he grabbed me by the shoulder, pulled me into the shadow of the tent, and punched me in the stomach. I folded over his forearm and gasped like a fish out of water. He pushed me up onto my feet and punched me again. I fell back onto the ground and starting coughing violently.
"That's the only time you'll ever be this lucky," the Colonel said. His face was folded up with rage. His lips were turned outwards. His teeth were bared. He pointed at me, stabbing the air with his finger. "Next time, nobody will come. You'll just die. Do you get it? You'll just die! You've used it. You've used up providence--salvation. Whatever it is, it's gone!"
I rolled over to my knees and coughed again.
"What were the chances? One in a thousand? One in a million? No. Once in a lifetime. That only happens once." The Colonel reached down to grab my arm. "Get up," he ordered.
I started pushing myself onto my knees. He yanked me the rest of the way. "Get up!" he yelled. Then quieter, "Get back to the tent."
"Yes sir," I whispered. My chest was crawling with worms of pain.
"I'll be there in an hour," the Colonel said stiffly. "We'll see if I should let you keep this pistol."
That's how I narrowly avoided fighting at Pi Ramses. The next day, I learned that the attack had gone better than expected. The 9th Grozny and the 6th Petersburg had cleared the walls, and the 10th Novgorod Cossacks had captured and killed the Egyptian governor. After that, the 1st Madrid and the 1st and 2nd Crimean Siege were tasked with pillaging the city and redistributing the homes and valuables to the Agyptis freedmen.
We'd won the first great battle for Russia, and I'd won a reprieve from death.
The 3rd Kavkaz Cossacks have the Blitz promotion, which allows them to attack twice in one turn. Bad luck nearly killed the unit on the second assault, but good luck preserved it when it rolled a success on a 2% withdrawal chance. Woo-hoo!
The Siege of Barcelona - The Second Wave
As you can see, the narrative is slightly different from the actual battle. I figure this is A-OK as long as you see the real results. :]
Pi Ramses was a piece of cake to conquer. I did it in one turn. I will also capture Memphis and Thebes. Then I will raze the rest of the Egyptian cities.
The Egyptians used and trusted torsion catapults from their invention circa 1000 BC to their very last battle in the Antarctic peninsula. The Second Wave was dedicated to their use.
It was with frustration that Quan Wei learned of the Conquest of Pi Ramses. Two years had passed since the First Wave had broken over Barcelona, and only Madrid had responded to his request for reinforcements. The rest of the Empire--however intensely aware of the danger--could not produce guns or ammunition any faster, and they wouldn't have reinforcements ready for at least another eighteen months. In the meantime, only the Yard's soldiers were available, yet they were being wasted on foreign soil. Didn't the Yard's commanders understand? Unless they sent help, Quan Wei was going to lose Barcelona.
Quan Wei constantly trained militiamen to ride horses and throw grenades, but in the time allotted to him, he could only train enough men to replace his casualties. General Nicanor, on the other hand, could sail entire armies up the Moskva.
This is the status of Barcelona at the end of 1715. I have some heavily damage units and one half-damaged unit with the medic promotion. Egypt has surrounded me with 3 knights, 2 catapults, and 1 elephant unit.
The Second Wave was the extended siege battle that occurred between General Nicanor's growing forces and Quan Wei's sparse but entrenched defenders. The Egyptians had built a vast battery of catapults with barged timber, and they were launching stones at Barcelona's trenches, guard towers, and earthworks.
In several key places, they'd crafted sling catapults with removable slings. From these weapons, they lobbed burning bales of oil-soaked cotton at the city. The fires they started were a constant plague and a drain on manpower and morale.
The Egyptian army was almost entirely unopposed in the field. Near Crimea, for example, a division of muskets collapsed the tunnels outside the Crimean Iron Mines. Similarly, outside Port Kavkaz, a force of grenadiers and knights collapsed the Usmanov Mines and blasted the roads.
This is the status of Barcelona at the start of 1720. That's a grand total of 6 knights, 2 muskets (including the one on the iron), 3 catapults, and one elephant unit. I have two Cossacks and one City Defense grenadier. Ouch.
To many of the Russian citizens, it seemed as if the news were nothing but bad. Even the Conquest of Pi Ramses was ill-received. Nobody wanted to end the war, exactly, but the citizens wanted the military to eject to the foreign invaders first and conquer Egypt second.
The Reinforcement of Barcelona
The Yard has been disbanded. The orders came straight from Moscow. The 3rd Kavkaz Cossacks and the siege units will be stationed in Pi Ramses for the indefinite future, while the cannons and the 10th Novgorod will be sent to Barcelona to relieve the forces of General Quan Wei.
In the meantime, I've nearly finished my work. I've devoted years towards these books, and I'm close to breaking their encryption. You see, their obfuscation is weaker than I originally expected. I discovered--mostly by accident--that the grid coordinates for authentic data were the same on every page. Effectively, I don't even have to check for authenticity anymore. I know what parts of the ciphertext are real, and I've already analyzed them.
They aren't encrypted with a simple cipher, that's certain, but what's there isn't much harder to break. It appears to be the output an obsolete algorithm from the fifteenth century, and if I'm right, then there are only 2^8 possible keys for the cipher--a set that I can break with brute force in one to two years. Given enough time, it's inevitable that I'll read these books.
But I'm under the clock now, and the Colonel thinks our enemy has found us. We were transferred this morning for no apparent reason. Although we don't know how to ride horses, we've been moved to the 10th Novgorod Cossacks. The Colonel has become very cautious. For the first time, I think he's afraid. He returned my pistol to me.
Surprisingly, I'm not as afraid as I thought I'd be. This may be our last hour, but I think we can win. I'm going to ask the Colonel to let me work on the books while we travel. Hiding won't do me anymore good. If they know where we are, we'll die once we reach Barcelona anyways. So it's now or never. I'll read these books and I'll find the Historian's name, or nobody will ever know.
The Siege of Barcelona - The Final Wave
As you can see, the 1st Madrid Guard and the Cannons have met outside Barcelona, but they've run out of move. The 10th Novgorod Cossacks, on the other hand, made the entire journey, as shown in the second screen.
Against A Sea of Soldiers, a mural in the courthouse of Barcelona, painted 1727.
In the month of Grane 1724, General Quan Wei offered the unconditional surrender of Barcelona. He was attempting to save the lives of his men. To his despair, General Nicanor declined his offer and killed the messenger. For Nicanor, the battle wasn't about territory or politics or even revenge. No terms of surrender would satisfy him. This was about pride.
Never before in the history of the Russian Empire had the Russians lost a city to a foreign invader. Nicanor saw his opportunity to be the first to break that invincible reputation. In late Feul, the last of his reinforcements arrived from Thebes, and he began planning for the final assault.
About a week later in early Ara, the 10th Novgorod Cossacks arrived from the west. From their officers, Quan Wei learned that the 1st Madrid Guard and five full runs of cannons were making their way towards Barcelona. Unfortunately, it was expected that they would have to winter in the wilderness and wouldn't arrive until next spring. Quan Wei's objective became clear. He had to hold back the Egyptians until the first thaw. After that, the cannons would come to save the cavalry.
But more than Barcelona was at stake. If General Nicanor took the city, he would shatter Russian morale and gain control over the upper Moskva. Madrid would be isolated, and the soldiers at Pi Ramses would lose their supply lines with the Empire. However, if Quan Wei threw him back, the Egyptian army would be vulnerable to a counter-assault from Russia's reinforcements. Nicanor needed Barcelona for his own defense.
This time, there would be no tricks. General Nicanor would not risk the uncertainty of dividing his forces, and Quan Wei's defenses were prepared and thoroughly maintained. It would be a straight battle in the months of Glace or Plew, when the winter storms abated and the daytime temperatures rose to a few degrees below freezing. The winner would be determined by the strength of their training and their morale.
Twenty thousand Russians versus seventy thousand Egyptians. They arranged their forces and waited. Finally, on 17 Glace, a dry wind blew in from the south and the sky cleared completely. The battlefield was ice and stone and dazzling light. The sun shone twice--once in the sky and once on the ground. To avoid snow blindness, soldiers wrapped their eyes in heavy cloth and squinted through dim slits. Beyond the battlefield, the tattered outskirts of Barcelona smoldered. That was the only darkness in the actinic day. The soldiers often rested their eyes on it.
Around eleven in the morning, Nicanor made the first move. Two thousand catapults were dragged forward by oxen and Agyptis slaves. Quan Wei responded with a slow stream of musket fire--mostly directed at the oxen and not at the slaves. He was conserving ammunition for the knights and elephants that were clustered below Barcelona in the river basin.
About half of the catapults made it into range. They lobbed burning cotton deep into the city, farther than they'd reached before. Nicanor expected that Quan Wei would dispatch a few soldiers to fight the fires before they spread. Grimly, Quan Wei ordered his men to remain in position, for nobody could be spared from the defense. After firing only one volley, the oxen were dead, the slaves were retreating, and the catapults were more or less stranded in no-man's land. Nicanor had sacrificed these weapons to distract his opponent, but Quan Wei hadn't wavered.
Nicanor commenced with the second and final stage of his plan. He ordered his army forward in one great wave, the Final Wave. His strategy was to attack with an overwhelming force of cavalry, to lock his enemies into a melee, and to grind them to the ice.
First came the knights of Egypt. Thirty thousand horses, thirty thousand war cries, and a suicidal charge with nothing spared or held back. Most of them knew they were going to die, for they had only one purpose--to fight the Russians in hand to hand so that they couldn't reload their guns.
Against this, Quan Wei asked that his men fire at will. Yet, there was no undisciplined chaos. Russian officers maintained order with clipped commands, their litany of war. "Ready? Aim! Fire! Switch! Reload! Ready? Aim! Fire! Switch! Reload!" Every fifteen seconds, one fourth of the Russian army shot another volley--20,000 bullets per minute, more than 300 bullets per second.
In thirty seconds, the Egyptians lost five thousand knights. By the time the knights reached the first trench, they'd lost five thousand more. As they scaled the earthworks, the Russians cleared away another thousand. And then sabers were drawn, pikes were hefted, and the Final Wave poured into the first trench.
In the ensuing melee, Russian training proved extremely effective. Quan Wei signaled the first retreat, and 3/4ths of the Russian soldiers scaled out the back wall of the trench and pulled their ladders. The rest remained behind with blades, hand grenades, and dynamite. They had their final commands: resist the Egyptians as long as possible; destroy any ladders that were not pulled; and detonate any ammunition, powder, or unused weapons.
In the confines of the trench, Russian grenadiers proved especially deadly. Furthermore, the Egyptian knights had to dismount to enter the trench, and their horses were running wild and obstructing their own army's approach. These two issues brought Nicanor's charge to an unexpected halt. The knights could not take the trench as quickly as they ought, and Nicanor's elephants were antsy around the panicked horses.
Nevertheless, Nicanor pressed forward. When the elephants reached the trench, he used them as raised gun platforms to fire down at the defending grenadiers. The remaining Russians took this as a sign to signal the final retreat from the first trench, and they detonated their ammunition dumps--either as suicides or shortly after escaping up their ladders. The explosions made many of the elephants panic uncontrollably, and to avoid a dangerous charge back into their own lines, it proved necessary for most of the elephant riders to shoot their mounts.
Egyptian casualties were rapidly rising. However, they'd taken the first trench, which was the only one with raised earthworks. The second and third trenches were shallow and had few improvements besides reinforced walls, raised and covered ammunition dumps, and proper draining. The Russian defenders resumed their firing lines while Nicanor's forces bridged the first trench and retrieved their surviving knights.
At this point, neither general could predict the outcome of the battle, but both felt that they were beyond the point of no return. If Nicanor retreated or faltered, he was beaten. If Quan Wei broke or made a single mistake, Barcelona was lost.
The battle continued. Nicanor's attack was slowed as it crossed the first trench, but it was not stopped. As their horses were shot out from under them, the knights crawled with their chests to the ice. Many died under the hooves of their friends. Yet on and on, the Egyptians came. As midday passed, the dead littered the ground thickly, but they assault did not stop. Corpses became cover for the living.
The loss of the second trench wasn't as dramatic as the first. Slowly at first and faster with time, Egyptians reached the Russians and disrupted their firing lines. With each disruption, the Russians lost precious seconds, and the approaching Egyptians took fewer casualties. More reached the trench. And more after that. Over the course of half an hour, the Russian firing line faltered and then stopped. The battle continued with sabers and pikes.
Quan Wei ordered the retreat to the last trench. As the Russians clambered out, there was less order and control. They were fatigued from hours of fighting, and many of the others were locked in combat and unable to escape.
The superior numbers of the Egyptians were beginning to show. The Russians were killing more than their number, but they were still fighting two to one odds. When the second trench fell, Russian casualties passed seven thousand.
The third trench marked the start of the meatgrinder. The Egyptians did not bother to bridge the second trench. They collapsed its sides with black powder and made thin ramps for their soldiers to cross on foot. They picked up the weapons and bandoliers of the fallen Russians and began exchanging fire.
The third trench provided little else than a fresh supply of ammunition. The Egyptian and Russian armies thinned further and further. The remaining Egyptians organized charges in order to break the Russian firing pattern. They would group up in the second trench, wait for a signal, and rush the third trench all at once.
Three times, the Russians repelled them. On the fourth charge, the Russian lines seemed overwhelmed. Quan Wei ordered one last retreat, back to the streets of Barcelona...
The End of the Scholar's Story
There's no time left. No time! Our soldiers--they're fleeing the battlefield. Every able-bodied man--I can hear the trumpets. We're being called to arms. It's the final stand.
We're going to die here.
I understand the enemy's plan now. From the beginning, they've never hunted me. They've only watched me. Through who? It doesn't matter. Anyone could've been an agent. They'd never have known that they were traitors. They'd have called themselves patriots.
With what I've learned, I can't trust anyone.
I've broken the books, and they're not the Historian's. The conspiracy is broader than that--more insidious and terrible. The books are lists of names. Officers, judges, politicians, policemen, traders, sailors--men of every class and race. I'm not certain, but I think one book was for blackmail and the other was for bribery. These men are vulnerable. They can be corrupted and used, like tools.
Au-Yong was one of my enemies; I can be certain of that. These were his books. But he's dead, and these books incriminate nobody else. The initials on the binding aren't even initials. They're part of a slogan. Denaturum in aeternum. It's signed onto the bottom of every page.
And that explains everything. The Yard was meant to be my prison and my death sentence. That's why I was sent to Barcelona. They don't even have to touch me. The Egyptians will do the dirty work. They'll never reveal themselves because someone else will always do the dirty work. Their weapon is history itself. They put a bribe here, suggest a change of opinion there, and the world comes crashing down on this poor fool or that--just as it always has--which is why I'm giving up. I've hidden the books here in this room, along with instructions on how to decode them. Now I'm going outside to run away.
The street I'm on is empty. There is a pall of smoke over everything. The militiamen have been fighting fires all morning, but on a clear windy day like this, there isn't much they can do. I run down to the corner and look towards the battlefield. Even from this distance, I can see the dead. They're scattered to the horizon, and the snow has melted around them. The ground no longer shines.
The Colonel was called to the battlefield this morning. I was working on the books when he left. He swore that he'd come back before noon, and I swore that I'd crack the cipher before he returned. I've fulfilled my end of the bargain, but he hasn't fulfilled his. I wonder if he died down there. If he hasn't, then I hope he finds me after the city is taken. It won't matter if I'm dead or alive. I've put what I know in a note in my pocket. He'll understand what it means.
I head southeast. There is a highway between Barcelona and Crimea. If I can find it, I can walk to safety. Or more likely, I can die fighting an Egyptian regular. I just know that I have to try to leave the city, or I'll have no chance at all. I think General Nicanor is going to burn this place to the clay. Why wouldn't he? The Barcelonans will fight him until they're dead.
I hear a trumpet. I run north until I meet a wagon at a corner. A tall man is handing out old sabers. He hails me in Russangxi. I hail him back, and he tosses me a weapon. I draw the blade. It's pitted and covered in oil, but not rusted. It has the stamp of its maker in Spanish characters. It must've been forged before the Three-Years-War.
The tall man tells me that they're going to try and hold the Egyptians four blocks down the street near a brick smithy. The Egyptians will have a hard time burning that, he says. I glance where he's pointing. I can't see anything because the street is curved. He assures me that the fight is there. I thank him and start jogging south. Two blocks down, I hear the first echoes of people yelling and screaming. There is the twang and screech of metal. It's all being funneled up from the war in front of me. I refuse to go south any further.
I turn into an alley on the left, heading east. It's dark here and it smells like piss. I can see a crust of urine on the walls, directly across from two second-story windows. I can imagine housewives gossiping here while dumping their bedpans into the street.
Suddenly, I hear a deep Egyptian voice. In his tongue, he's telling others to move forwards. I glance up and down the alley. There are a couple of planks of wood leaning against a wall at the far end, but otherwise the alley is completely clear. There's nowhere to hide.
I throw myself to the cobbles and lay as flat as I can. I look out at the east end of the alley. I can see Egyptian soldiers marching past in formation. They're moving north. Several of them are carrying their signature buckets of tar. I constantly fear that they're going to see me. A couple even glance in my direction. But nobody notices me. The formation passes by.
I stand up very slowly, but I don't leave immediately. I'm waiting until I can't hear the Egyptian soldiers. After about two minutes, I finally hear nothing at all. Cautiously, I draw the saber and start walking forwards. I'm trying to be quiet, but my footsteps sound far too loud in my ears. I'm glad I waited for the Egyptians to leave.
At the end of the alley, I look up and down the street. It's empty. I step forwards.
Hands grab me by the jaw and arm. My heart nearly fails me, and I drop my sword. I see two Egyptian men in the corner of my eyes. A third must be holding me. The man closest to me carries a knife. I feel a sinking regret and vertigo, like I've jumped off a cliff and wished I hadn't. I see the trap now. Those glancing soldiers saw me. They'd waited in ambush.
For a moment, my mind goes wild for hope. I hear someone speaking in Russian. Then I realize it's myself. It's involuntary--I'm begging them for my life, and they don't understand me.
The Egyptian soldier reaches up and cuts my throat.
From the pain, I know he's a novice. I toss my head back and he botches two more slices. Then his accomplices push me against the wall, and the blade digs in. Strangely, it doesn't hurt. But I feel like I'm choking.
With a satisfied word, the Egyptians drop me against the wall. They step back and inspect me. They've killed me, but it'll be a slow death. My jugular is uncut.
It's over. This has been my fate since the Great Library burned. I feel... relief. I only have one thing left to do.
I stare at the man who killed me, my assassin. His expression is impassive, but he's crying very slowly. Has he lost his innocence? Am I the first man he ever killed?
It doesn't matter. I reach down with a shaking hand and grab the pistol at my belt.
The assassin yells something in Egyptian. His accomplices are talking together. They turn and see my weapon.
I take aim. The assassin swivels to run, and I pull the trigger. The pistol barks. My assassin stops, tenderly touches a new hole in his kidney. He looks up to the sky and drops to his knees.
The assassin holds himself. He sobs, and blood gushes through his fingers. I gurgle and wheeze. It's a happy noise. I'm laughing with a slit throat.
One of his accomplices has a Russian musket. He aims at me.
The Journal of Colonel Frederico Jiminez - Second entry for 12 Seel, 1724
After so many months, I've finally found his corpse. As promised, he broke the books for me. There was a note in his pocket wrapped in leather, listing their location. He'd also written down a name. Not a man's name, nor a woman's name, but still a name. It isn't what I expected. I'm not sure it helps.
Denaturalism? That's a philosophy, not a conspiracy.
O' scholar, if this is true, what am I supposed to do? What could anyone do? I'm a smart man, but I wouldn't know where to begin.
I'm burying you tomorrow. Then I'll think of something. I don't know how, but I won't let you die in vain.
That was a helluva long update. Next one? Either some more war, or maybe some politics and technology.