“Side Event: Operation to intercept the Kingdom of Merica.”
In the end, Rion’s role in the upcoming campaign against Merica was defined as something called Head of Intelligence Control. He was to advise the actual commander in charge what his troops should do based on the information flowing back from the ground zero.
That meant he did not have the official right to make decisions, but was still, in the end, being made to do the same thing. The command over troops was taken from him in favor of an incomprehensible position due to a compromise between the King and other officials, who did not want to not make his war services more pronounced.
There were no objections to using his strength as long as he would gain no more merit in the process. In the end, Rion ended up being the only one dissatisfied by the course of events.
He was currently in an unnamed village in the southern region of the kingdom. One of those that were forcibly evacuated to minimize the number of casualties from the demon attacks.
Only a handful of top officials knew that this place had been chosen for the headquarters and a focal point of the upcoming operation.
「Reporting! Merica’s troops spotted roughly five kilometers to the west! Estimated two hundred.」
The whole building tensed at the messenger’s report. Five kilometers was so close it was almost visible with the naked eye.
「Where are they headed!?」
The question was asked by a member of the Intelligence Bureau. The full cooperation of the whole bureau had been Rion’s first demand for the upcoming battle. Agreeing to that, the King seconded its head, a man named James, to Viscount Frey.
「Due north, sir!」
「Any signs of them sending out scouts?」
「Scouts spotted, sir. But they stay narrow and move only in the direction of their advance.」
「I see… Alright, good work.」
Getting confirmation that the chances of this place being discovered were low, the tension evaporated from those present. In the meantime, Rion kept looking at the map, not looking nervous even for a moment.
「As you just heard, sir, we are saved by the enemies’ negligence.」
Having finished interrogating the messenger, James addressed the completely focused Rion.
「It’s the opposite, actually.」
Rion answered, never looking away from the map. James flashed a hint of irritation both at this behavior and the denial.
「…Why opposite, sir?」
「The enemy didn’t spread their scouts wide out of the fear of being discovered by us. They’re not being negligent, but cautious. They are scouting the population centers ahead of them without sending more people than absolutely necessary.」
「How can you be sure, sir?」
「All the enemy forces we have discovered up to now are weaving between the locations of villages and towns… Incidentally, would you please mark the position of this enemy already? I’m getting quite tired of staring at the point they were located at.」
One of the subordinates moved to mark the map, per James’ instruction.
「A little bit to the left… Too far now. That’s right, there.」
Following Rion’s very detailed guidance, a certain part of the map was marked and annotated with the number of enemy troops. There were many more similar notes on the map already.
「Can I have the map of the surrounding area, please.」
There was more than one map in the headquarters, of course. There were also others, some showing the entirety of the southern region and some detailed enough to show only the circumference of the village they were in right now. All of them bore similar marks.
「Now then, the number of enemy troops that have crossed the early warning line number a hundred. Adding all the identified hostile groups, we’re looking at around a twenty-five thousand strong army.」
「…I don’t believe we have really discovered all of them, sir.」
Although they put in much effort into practicing setting up a warning line like this, it couldn’t really be called perfect. The Information Bureau might have deployed a considerable number of its men in this strategy, but the border with Merica was still too vast for them to cover fully.
「That’s true. There should be at least thirty thousand on the lower and forty on the higher end of the estimation range, I guess?」
「Forty thousand… Isn’t that a bit too low, sir?」
「Their numbers by necessity have to be limited as to not alarm the surrounding towns and villages. With this in mind, Merica had to decide on a few invasion routes and sent between two to three hundred units along them. This much should be clear, no?」
「I believe anyone would see that by looking at the map, sir.」
The lines and numbers on the overall map merged together in numerous locations. It was clear that numerous separate units were following the same invasion routes.
「Looking for similarities in the invasion routes as marked on the map suggests there are at most two main paths.」
「…That being the case they are bound to send more troops along the same route. I guess we will be staying in this place for some time, sir.」
There was a reason why Rion’s group was based in this place. It was roughly equally distant from the majority of the numerous scout units deployed on the warning line. But, as a consequence, it was right under the nose of the enemy.
「I wonder about that?」
「Forty thousand doesn’t seem to be enough to capture the capital, sir.」
「Depending on the method, the capital can be taken even with thirty thousand.」
「The problems with defending the city are not limited just to the shortage of men on the walls. Many people were evacuated inside from the outlying areas, do you really think all of them are harmless refugees?」
「…Are you suggesting enemy spies had gotten inside the walls?」
Counterintelligence and enemy agent interception was one of the bureau’s main tasks. Rion’s words implied that job was not done properly and seemed to criticize his organization.
「I’m raising possibilities. If I was to conquer the capital I would’ve attempted that myself and a success would lower the number of soldiers required to thirty thousand.」
「We have not permitted any spies to get inside.」
「Oh? Is that so? That’s a relief then.」
Rion’s words spoke of reassurance, but the way he said it dripped with sarcasm.
「…I guess we are not being trusted?」
「Oh, I do trust you. However, our agents managed to get inside the capital of the Merica Kingdom, right?」
Of course, the spies had been dispatched, but James felt professional reluctance to confirm it aloud.
「You see, I myself wouldn’t have the confidence to state with certainty I’m capable of something my enemy cannot replicate. Besides, I’m quite the worrywart, so even when others assure me everything is fine I can’t stop myself from considering potential problems.」
James had no retort. The standard assumption of bureau’s operations was that it would know that the capital was compromised.
「Well, in the end, numbers do not really matter. Even if not all of them are here yet, we have to make a move now.」
「…May I ask for the reason, sir?」
「I have a complete understanding of their movements now. They are going to secure a number of vertical invasion routes and pour troops into them aiming to gradually gather together along the way. I expect at least five thousand troops per route. With that all, trying to crush them one after another should still take a considerable time.」
「…Time during which we would be discovered by the enemy, huh?」
The main point of Rion’s strategy was to crush the dispersed invasive forces one after another. And, of course, other enemy forces had to remain unaware that it was being executed or there was a high chance of them retreating. That would make causing them a huge amount of damage, like the King wanted, impossible.
「Yes. Furthermore, it would be hard to completely exterminate groups thousands strong. We have to start attacking their small units before they gather together.」
「Exterminate completely, sir?」
「If even one of them escapes, our counterattack would be discovered. We have to kill them all. No survivors.」
「Which is why we have to attack them while they are still moving in groups couple hundred strong. And why we’ll head out now.」
「Straight into the war zone without any delay, huh…」
Gran Flamm’s counterattack would be launched pretty much from in front of the capital. But still it was quite a distance from this place in the southern region.
「Did you not understand me? The enemy is regrouping as we speak and you’re just idling here. We must attack now.」
「Right now, sir?」
「Immediately send messengers to the odd-numbered units. They are to split into platoons and head straight south along the roads connecting towns and villages. They need to reach the destination while avoiding engagement with the enemies.」
This order would effectively make the kingdom’s forces and the enemies switch places, James did not think this could possibly be done.
「It is your bureau’s job to make it a reality. Send instructions to your people – abandon all posts on the early warning line, regroup with the army, help them get south.」
「Sir! That’s a huge change from the agreed plans!」
Doing that would mean discarding the carefully prepared warning line. The number of troops on the combat line would also be reduced by half making it considerably thinner compared to the initial plans. James thought that this would destroy all the previously agreed arrangements.
「Nothing changes. This is in accordance with my original strategy. The main principle of the plan always was to attack even if attacked.」
「…But if this fails.」
「If troops moving south come into contact with the enemy, they should engage. We will be fine as long as we grasp the initiative while they are still dispersed. Assuming the redeployment to the south succeeds, we will be able to inflict huge losses by attacking from behind.
Rion casually dismissed James’ worries. It wasn’t that he ignored his concerns, he just couldn’t see what could possibly be the problem.
「…Can we really do that?」
「Nothing’s certain. But I’m not trying to achieve the impossible.」
If Sol were to be asked about this, he would likely answer that such a thing was only possible under Rion. Not that the young Frey was aware of this.
「…Alright people, you heard what sir Frey said. Abandon the warning line, each second unit is to send messengers to the front line troops, the rest will regroup with us. We are switching our stance to attack. Go!」
All the bureau members left at once as instructed by James. Only people remaining in the headquarters were the bureau head, Rion, and Sol.
「What is it now?」
Seeing a smile on Sol’s face, Rion asked with irritation.
「Oh, nothing. Everything simply went as I expected it to.」
「As you expected? Meaning?」
「In the end, you invented a strategy that nobody but you can implement.」
「That’s patently false. Aren’t they attempting the same right now?」
「The enemy. They are attempting an invasion by dispersing their forces into multiple small units. To a certain extent, their decisions to use pre-set routes is based on the fact that moving troops wouldn’t be able to deal with unexpected changes properly.」
Sol couldn’t say whether that was truth or not based on this explanation alone. In the end, Rion was the only person capable of judging whether Merica’s strategy was the same as his or not.
「Yes, I do. Which makes me wonder, just who the commander of the enemy is?」
「I believe it would be Olivia Clockford. A princess of the Kingdom of Merica, one called the War Goddess.」
Sol was only guessing here, but a commander evaluated by Rion this highly had to be her. The fame of the War Goddess reached even the Kingdom of Gran Flamm, she was one of the greatest generals in her land.
「Oh, so she’s taking part in the war even though she’s the princess. I thought she would have a crude, masculine, personality, but judging by this strategy, that can’t be the case.」
「…I heard that she was rather beautiful, actually.」
Olivia was given her moniker not only due to her commanding ability but also, or rather especially, because of her outward appearance. When this information had reached him in the past, it had made Rion think that her personality must have been crude, a conclusion that completely mystified Sol.
「So, her outward appearance is different to her personality… I see, supreme commander, a princess.」
「I believe it would be best not to underestimate her because of her gender. We do not have much information on the subject, but Merica had fought numerous war with the countries to their south. That was where she acquired her title, which makes me believe it was earned through skill.」
「Don’t worry, I will not be negligent for such a reason. But let’s leave the subject for now. We do have to relocate」
「Command post on the third warning line. I would prefer something closer to the front but that would make it hard for the messengers to move.」
In other words, attempting to set up any closer to the capital than third warning line would put them straight in the war zone. Sol gave up on asking why would that turn out to be the case.
「How can you possibly know that, sir?」
But James didn’t, and he wanted to know.
「…A hunch, I guess?」
The answer was just as Sol had expected. Once more he wondered just what could he possibly learn from Viscount Rion Frey.
Even though Merica’s army wasn’t even half-way through with their invasion plan, Rion already went on the offensive. Sol could only look at this in amazement.
He had always thought that what made Rion’s simultaneous operation strategy possible was not just his genius, but also the Bandeaux clansmen that had acted as his hands. But this time Rion was commanding the regular army of the kingdom. Sol was worried that things may not go as planned because of that.
However, Rion immediately showed that this was an easily solved problem. He aimed at the enemy’s camping locations. Having identified the ideal spots for overnight rest along the invasion routes, he sent the scouts there. First groups of enemy troops to arrive at those locations were allowed to depart unmolested while friendly squads were summoned to gather. Since the orders issued were simply to arrive at a destination, small mistakes from regular troops would not be a problem.
Once the summoned squads gathered, they were ordered to await further Merican units to arrive and ambush those. The enemy was to be allowed to set up camp uncontested and only attacked at sunrise. This was so no survivor manages to escape under the cover of darkness.
This exact tactic was being utilized at all the seven invasion routes chosen by Merica. The ambush locations, directions of attack, and a number of ambushers were coordinated by Rion in each instance. Regardless of his actual title, the burden of command still rested on his shoulders.
「Gather the prisoners in one place! Hurry!」
Once again, Gran Flamm’s soldiers had successfully carried out their surprise attack. Having many such victories under their belt already, their post-battle routine was well-practiced.
「Erase all the traces of battle! Don’t miss a single one!」
They’ve even gotten used to what to do in preparation for the next ambush. The campsite was tidied up and anything that could hint at a struggle removed. This had to be thorough, if the next enemy squad turned suspicious because of a shoddy job, their ambush might end up in failure.
But still, this couldn’t possibly be continued forever. The cover-up might be good for two to three battles, but fighting repeated battles in one place would eventually make erasing the traces no longer possible. And surely, the time had come when someone cautious could spot the strangeness of this camp site’s surroundings.
「I guess the decisive moment is at hand.」
One of the officers leading this ambush group realized this much and judged continuing further to be impossible.
「Are we done fighting?」
Hearing the commander muttering, one of the knights asked.
「No. We group with the other units and go north.」
「So this time we’re going north.」
「That’s going to be the final battle. We are to attack the enemy that moved ahead of us from the back. Once we crush them all, the victory will be ours.」
「This is called the pincer attack, right?」
「I was worried before about how this all would play out, but now that we’ve come this far, the results are clear. The commander who came up with this plan is a really fearsome man.」
「Agreed. However, the battle is not over yet. Keep your guard up until we’re done.」
Half of that was what the officer had said to himself before. He had been of similar opinion when they had been ordered to go south. However, in the end, the numbers of the enemies encountered at one time since then had been at most a fifth, a quarter with bigger groups, of his own troop strength. They suffered casualties, obviously, but there were comparatively few and it should be similar for other ambush squads. Meanwhile, the enemy numbers had been considerably depleted.
So much, in fact, that it was hard to resist the feeling that the victory was a done deal. And those careless thoughts might have been what brought a divine punishment, if one was inclined to believe in the guiding hand of heavens, of course.
Although those promised would likely disagree with that being a reason.
Those were the words that heralded doom.
「Enemy attack!? Where from!? How many!?」
「From the north, sir! Roughly… Four thousand! Wait, more are coming!」
Their own force was only a thousand strong. In complete contrast to the battles up to now, they were about to face opposition many times their number. All the dreams of victory disappeared from their minds.
「Retreat! Withdraw immediately! Hurry!」
Although the order to retreat was issued, their backs were facing the enemy land, not the kingdom. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers, the enemy was attacking from the north, they could only flee south. So the ambush unit fled in that direction, aimlessly running for their lives.
And they weren’t alone, all other ambush locations witnessed similar scenes.
The counterattack of Merican Army had begun.