The Siege of Amone, September 12th - Taking position
There was a devastating rumble of voices coming around the camp. Those who'd orchestrated the firing of the canisters seemingly laughed to themselves and clinked their crystal clear pints with the success of the city's evaporation of life. As long as the soldiers within were smart enough to put on the masks issued, there would be little to no problems at all, and thus the rest of the operation should be as swift as it was easy. Alexander was not one of those optimists unfortunately and knew very well that the war was a breeding ground for anomalies. Things never went the way one would plan. As a Captain, Alexander knew this exceptionally well. Plans were always in need of slight alteration, no matter how successful they were going, and were an art of dance more than a painted picture, ready and awaiting judgement on its complete sketch. It was always more of a skill to dance around the conjuring issues of a strategy than a sense of natural luck. A good plan could be made by anyone, seemingly by chance, but only the consistent strategist could keep up the changes in accordance to the assault. Alexander was a strategist, there was no doubt about it. In comparison to the tactics used in 1910EC, his had evolved into something unnaturally modern, the future of combat and the progression of stalemate breakthroughs. No longer were they on the defence once he'd employed all of his doctrines into the higher commanders of the Federation Army, and now the reclamation of long-lost land could be taken back, mile by bloody mile. Soon, after the City of Amone was taken, he would be able to return to the homeland he was born upon, one that was his soul purpose for joining the army initially before his obsessive nature over Lucia took control. Assen was going to be his resting place if it was the last thing he'd do. Once his homeland was free of Imperial occupation, he'd likely retire and never fight again unless they brought it to his doorstep.
Yet despite this previous lust of wanting to get his homeland back, something was far too disturbing about the means. Sure, in the past, Alexander had saluted his fellow soldiers and proudly announced that he would do whatever it took to protect his soldiers, his people and his country, but today was different. War had changed him violently yet he was still able to identify what was wrong. The gas, all in their yellow clouds and plumes rapidly spreading over the city, made for a chaotic and apocalyptic atmosphere. Where had the good days gone? No one knew. Part of him knew that this was indeed the most desperate attempts to ridicule the battlefield in their favour. Project Land-Creeper was supposed to be the upcoming tool to win the war for them, one that at least abode by conventional war-mongering methods of combat, but the use of this gas was far too...disturbing. The Imperials would likely replicate it. Anything one side tried, the other tried to improve and master themselves. Armoured Cars were already being deployed on the northern frontline, trying to break through and support Gallia in their own struggle to fend off the Imperial menace, and the simple factor of shocktroopers were an originating Imperial design. Gas being used against the Imperials may have inspired them to try more radical methods of wiping out life as they knew it.
Dwelling upon the matter didn't exactly help stop it, to his misfortune. Alexander was surprised that despite how well he knew his mental decline had been, there was still this empathy trying to poke its way out of his monstrous clad. All around him were the preparations to move in and secure as much of the city as possible. Trucks filled to the brim with supplies were closely followed by soldiers preparing to make the march up to Amone's walls. Sappers were plentiful and their job mainly consisted of building defences on whatever established the frontline inside the city. Layers of barricades and fortified street junctions would mimic the trench-based warfare found anywhere else on Europa's frontier, but without the deadly disease and conditions plaguing its depths. Wire layers had coils of barbed strips all prepared and tightly contained for supporting the flanks and cutting off certain bottlenecks in the city. Whilst their main goal was to aggressively prepare for the liberation of Amone, the righteous passage back into Assen as the Federation knew it, pioneers of strategy, such as Alexander himself, had made sure that preparations for defence were also accounted for and listed in their stockpiles. One could never be too cautious, so they said, and caution was what was beginning to win them the war. Previous attempts to throw thousands of able men into the fray had proven futile and pointless. Now was the age of war's transition into the mobile conflict, where soldiers no longer stood in rows of orderly fashion and politely exchanged gunfire one after the other. War wasn't a sport nor an adventure anymore. Some still refused to accept that in the high command, though.
As Alexander placed his helmet back onto his head, fixing his uniform and webbing accordingly, the familiar sounds of lightly trodden boots began to rear up against him, stopping just beneath a metre from his body. With a quick salute, a small smile came to Alexander's face as he recognised the true beacon of a good soldier, Staff Sergeant Baker.
"Thought I'd stop by to pass on some information before we head in there." Alexander nodded in appreciation for his relay, and allowed for him to continue with an avid smile of acceptance. The Staff Sergeant really had been a shining beacon of hope to the other soldiers; the bridge between the officers and regular soldiers was built upon his back and honour. What a man, some would say...what a man indeed. "Major Willis' detachment reported news of important Imperial documents being received roughly two days ago. Took them a while to radio it in, but a marksman shot the Major himself, cutting them off from communications."
Alexander nodded politely, sighing as the news of yet another promising officer fell onto the deaf ears of many. The Major was a higher rank than himself, but was most likely the same age as Alexander himself. Particularly youthful for his seniority, he held a lot of experience from the frontline and had delivered some amazing operations in his day. Documentation stealing was amongst those of his prioritised strategies, through countless raiding parties and even once sneaking into the Imperial trenches himself at the dead of twilight. His mission was clear, apparently, and that was to study Amone's progress with his boys and to detail a strong write-up of all Imperial war materials located within. After that, he was entrusted with the almost impossible task of finding hidden materials. For months he studied the movement of many Imperial weapons and trucks coming in and out of Amone, bringing strange mechanical pieces like they were preparing for a jigsaw puzzle's construction. They were definitely staging something within Amone, hoping it would make an effective difference. What that was became a mystery until those documents were taken, lately transferred over through unfathomable isolation within Amone's walls. The soldiers who'd been working with him also reported his death too, pointing their suspicions towards the one true sniper of the Imperial wasteland. Even if they were just rumours, it would've made sense, considering only the officer was targeted. Luckily for the, the information was safe and secure, and all of the worthwhile sacrifices were becoming clearer and clearer by the day.
Whilst waiting for the news to come, Alexander had been cleaning his rifle endlessly, trying to take his mind off of the fact that they were going to enter the City of Amone soon, following the devastating results and aftermath of their bombardment. Baker began to continue with a quiet mumble going about his voice, making sure not to spill too much confidential detail so openly to the nearly prepped soldiers surrounding their every angle.
"Speaks of an artillery gun like no other, one that can roam. Sounds awfully like the plans for Project Land-Creeper, but they speak more of trajectory based warfare. Could be devastating if they let that one go off."
"Then we should be on time with our strike. You know that once we're in Amone, things aren't going to be easy as much as pushing upwards. These foolish new generals have it too up-themselves to accept that they can't wipe out Imperials so easily. You can hate them as much as you like, but a real soldier must appreciate and respect their mettle. They are tough men and women, unending in their struggles. We will face resistance." Both Alexander and Baker both sighed in synchronisation with one another, letting their stress unleash as they began to walk away from the tents, equipment tightly wrapped around their bodies like pack mules. Even as officers, they had a lot to do on their own behalf. Several bearded elders with many shiny medals across their uniform called for the order to depart, soldiers beginning to take their ranks and march onwards towards Amone's very walls. They didn't have much time, and so both the Captain and the Staff Sergeant grabbed their rucksacks and started moving themselves as a pair, not bothering to join the orderly fashioned advancement. "Come, we should really get moving."
The march was tiresome, sluggish and effectively depressing for the duo. As they walked alongside the new reinforcements to secure Amone, hoping to clear up the entire city before the Vinlander Expeditionary forces arrived in masses to claim the glory, Alexander could see the remnants of age-old battles. Stemming back to the very first day in which artillery fell around Amone, Alexander was punished with a million images he wished to never witness again. Craters that had filled in with water or the old layouts of filled in dugouts were still present. Scattered sheets of corrugated metal were visible, poking out of the ragged mud as the rain continued to shower over the land. Most of the bodies from both the cavalry charge and the previous charges had been cleared and buried. The horses from before were either used for fuel or decontaminated for food for those suffering with low rations. Trips into the city to send the meat in were mostly futile, so most of it was stockpiled and chilled for when they managed to relieve them of their stress and isolation. Baker started to hum to himself as they walked together, minding their own thoughts to themselves. That was until Alexander broke the silence once more. It was a strange question to ask, but the thoughts of his own needed to be shooed off by distractions.
"Staff Sergeant?" It felt awkward to request such menial and minor things from those beneath his rank, but for once he was dependent on the safe atmosphere of Baker's personality. The uncle of the group, as many referred to him by. Lord, the world would end if he were to be amongst this conflict's casualty list. "What was the regiment like...back before I arrived?"
"Sorry, Sir...What do you mean by that?" With peculiar intrigue, the older Staff Sergeant placed two finger tips onto his chin and waggled it slightly, imitating a sort of humorous confusion to his rather strange question. There was never really any talk of the olden times with the Captain. The past was what had caused all of his imperfections, and those imperfections did not breed good determination like most would expect. All the death and destruction, losing all of his closest friends and allies to the fields only ten or so miles away, it had its ways with changing a man, even the strongest. Talks of the past being initiated by Alexander, towards someone else in particular, was a much welcomed change of personality. Though in reality, this was likely a last burst of his pureness for a while. Alexander had made strange conversations to himself about finding Lucia, and perhaps enforcing his authority upon the squadmates that had apparently tampered with his own daughter-figure.
"Well...how was it? Tell me some stories about the past in the regiments, something uplifting perhaps?" A quaint smirk plastered itself upon Baker's face as he nodded, thinking for a moment before finally granting the memory he wished. It wasn't a long one, but he found it rather joyous.
"Well, Captain, I remember about eight months before you arrived, we were trudging through a forest near the south coast. Had no trenches, the lot of them. I'm telling you, Sir, they were much more terrifying at first. No trench walls or sandbags to cover your head, just had to keep walking and fighting whenever you came across another Imperial bunch. There was this one time, though, that we were doing a patrol, fourteen of us lads and lasses. We had this Private, Jimmie I think his name was, who'd been picking on a girl named Pauline. Little Pauline was, as we rumoured, to be his dream sweetheart, but obviously knowing the lad he thought being mean and teasing her was the key to her heart, or at least a way to get close to her. Ridiculous, I know...But during one patrol he was halfway through making fun of her, calling her out on some past mistakes she made in her rifle maintenance when suddenly he slipped...Fell straight into a rabbit hole." Baker started to chuckle to himself, trying to contain the small nostalgic laughter he had building up inside. Even Alexander began to look at him with a curious grin, folding his arms and intently waiting for what was to come next. Already so, it seemed rather comedic. And so Baker continued, this time with a snicker coming through his lips as every word came out. "Now, Sir, I ain't gonna say he was large...but he was a large chap, proper ration hogger and all. When he fell in the rabbit hole, he got his waist stuck around its rim and only his top half was poking out. Little Pauline burst into laughter and made fun of him as he struggled and became even more stuck. We spent around an hour tryin' to dig the poor lad out with our bayonets because our entrenching tools were two miles behind us after a supply disruption. The lad was teething and squealing for us not to accidentally prod him whilst we were digging, and we were busy laughing our arses off. Best part is, an Imperial deserter found us as he was running away from his own boys, and then he saw us digging this large lad out of a hole, looked at us and then called out in native Imperial: "Oh nein, der zustand dieses loses ist lächerlich!" The poor bugger saw us and thought we were hopeless, and ran back to his own forces thinking they weren't so bad anymore."
The two suddenly burst into a roar of laughter, so much so that the men and women marching beside them even looked over in curiosity. Well, technically only Baker roared with laughter, but a significant chuckle did escape Alexander's lips, which was rather uncharacteristic to anyone other than Baker himself. As they continued, for just a moment that was, both of them began to feel like things were alright for the first time in years, that a war was not around and that things were simply as they were: peaceful.
Alexander looked at him with some strange interest, before poking another question towards him. Even though he knew quite a lot about Baker, there was still apparently much more to learn about from what the surface dictated. And in itself, Alexander coloured himself rather intrigued.
"You know Native Imperial? How'd you come about that, around 90% of the Fritz themselves don't even speak a word of it, let alone know basic phrases. Most of them speak common Europa, right?"
"Quite so, Sir, but I picked it up in 1911 when Colonel Aaron Hill placed me as his personal guardsmen for an Imperial officer he thought was Captain Harkvald, or Green Fox. Turned out to be a load of bollocks and not be the chap, but after months with him I basically learnt a lot of things from the officer. Luka, I believe his name was. After he was eventually given an option to help the Federation as a spy, which he surprisingly took the offer on after our friendship, I pursued to learn more of the language out of curiosity. Nothing else, Sir. Always had a favourite phrase too: Sehr gut, Herr. Ich muss sagen, dass mein Heimatland heutzutage sehr stark ist."
"Baker...you never fail to surprise me. Even if I have no fucking clue what you're saying..." Once again, the two forgot there was a war, and laughed it up together, passing a field that was once filled with corpses and never once dwelling upon the possibility that they were next.