The war raged on. The fighting at the frontlines showed signs of subsiding. As predicted by the Republic, the Vesian aggressors began to run out of steam. Pushing into the Republic's territory expended most of their supplies. Casualties began to pile up, and the burden of maintaining a presence on the captured border systems slowly added up.
Further incursions happened now and then, but the Mech Corps constantly mobilized more divisions to the front. The Bright Republic may have started the war on the back foot, but hey quickly showed their mettle once their mech divisions accumulated in sufficient numbers to match their Vesian counterparts.
The events surrounding the Flagrant Vandals impacted the see-saw battles in a profound way. Not only did the Vesians started to lose heart a little faster than projected, they also seemed to show signs of sending some of their forces back in order to join the manhunt for the two Vandal fleets.
In the end, they stayed put. They couldn't afford to waste away the opening invasion. The Vesian strategists knew that they needed to secure as much star systems as possible. The more star systems they conquered, the more they benefited from the added depth.
While the adventures of the Flagrant Vandals excited the Republic, the public eventually dismissed them as a sideshow. The real war was fought along the border of these two irreconcilable states. In that, the major trend hadn't diverged too much from everyone's expectations.
Melkor Larkinson read through the headlines published by all of the usual mouthpieces of the Republic and smiled sardonically. "Heh, if I really believe this crap, I'd be a fool."
According to the articles put out by the state, the Mech Corps inflicted heavy losses to the Mech Legion. For every mech the Republic lost, the Kingdom lost at least two mechs.
This was pure fantasy. While Melkor never fought in the war before, just like Ves he learned much from his uncles and aunts. One of their most important lessons was to disregard everyone's claims about how good or bad the Vesians fought. In all the ways that mattered, the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion pretty much matched each other in military prowess.
The Mech Legion boasted higher numbers as the Vesia Kingdom was blessed with a bit more space and population than their rival state. That said, their unity and coordination suffered enormously because every individual mech legion was controlled by the duchy that raised them from their own efforts.
No single war leader possessed the authority to direct the entire Mech Legion. That required the mutual respect and trust from every duchy in their notoriously fractured state.
For example, if a war leader sought to ingratiate themselves with Imodris, Venidse would immediately halt any cooperation. To Venidse, empowering Imodris was worse than letting the Bright Republic off the hook. If necessary, Venidse would pull back all of their mech legions from the front in order to exert pressure on Imodris.
The periodic wars against the Bright Republic was pretty much a game to the nobles. In addition, centuries of deepening enmity between the states had driven the Vesian populace in a rabid frenzy against the Republic.
While the nobles played their games against each other, the commoners largely remained ignorant to their power struggles. In fact, the nobles didn't like it when the commoners became inured in their dirty laundry. They would rather direct their sheep to pay attention elsewhere.
The war against the Bright Republic formed a convenient way for the nobles to direct the energy of their commoners at. Many people in the Republic believed that the only reason the nobles tentatively fought alongside each other at the frontlines and committed so much military might was because they couldn't afford an extended period of peace.
The prevalence of rebel groups in their interior already spoke of the massive amount of discontent that was building up among their lower classes. While it seemed paradoxical for the Vesians to channel their best fighting forces towards fighting a foreign enemy rather than first cleaning house, the latter had proven to be supremely ineffective.
Rebels popped out all the time. With the way the nobles generally ran things, they would never be able to eradicate the scourge of insurrections. Like rats, each time the nobles painstakingly put down a single cell, two more cells would spring up elsewhere.
Only through waging a massive war against their bogeymen would the nobles be able to stir up everyone's patriotism and be able to deflect their attention from their own suffering.
Though it sounded like a precarious balance to maintain, the Vesians pretty much mastered the art of turning the Bright Republic into their bogeyman.
"Do the Vesians even want to win this war?"
Plenty of conspiracy theories circulated among both sides of the border. The wars between the two states had been so static that people couldn't help but think that both states played their own game with each other.
Still, no matter the truth, war was not a game, and plenty of people died during each and every outburst of violence.
Perhaps the only way the Vesia Kingdom might actually be able to win the war was if the royal family gained enough power to command the loyalty of the entire Mech Legion. In practice, this had never happened in their entire history except during the founding of both states.
By now, the royal family pretty much turned into figureheads for the Kingdom. Though they grasped as much power as any duchy if not more, they suffered from the combined suppression of every duchy under their rule.
In other words, they had become hostages to their own vassals!
This was a profoundly ironic circumstance in the history of the Kingdom considering the original intentions of its founder. The original founder of the Kingdom wanted to wield absolute power and rule over his state as their sole tyrant. This was why he adopted the feudal system in the first place.
It was a pity that his trusted subordinates who had been assigned as his dukes didn't necessarily agree. Though relations between the founding generation had been clear, once the subsequent generations grew into power, they began to chafe at their restrictions.
Eventually, the power wielded by the royals eroded to such an extent that they long since lost the influence to change the course of their entire state.
As the bogeymen of the Vesians, the Bright Republic wasn't as demonic as the commoners of the Kingdom thought. They styled themselves as a bastion of reason and rationality. Though they suffered from their own power struggles, it hadn't reached the self-cannibalizing state of their mortal enemies.
The Mech Corps was a consummate professional organization that largely steered away from the tribalism of the Mech Legion. While the commanders of the mech divisions still regarded themselves as rulers of their individual forces, they were very much aware that they didn't own the mech forces they commanded.
The Mech Corps funded almost every mech division from a centralized source. Frequent exchanges and transfers of funding, technology and personnel kept the mech divisions from becoming too isolated.
This allowed the Mech Corps to exert more effective military strength despite constantly being outnumbered by their Vesian counterparts. High command was not an illusion, and their individual forces actually followed their strategic planning.
Their coordination grew more potent with the addition of competent intelligence. The Bright Republic ran some of the more effective military intelligence operations. They easily exploited the divided nature of the Vesians and excelled in gathering critical intelligence. Sometimes, they even stole exclusive technology specifications before the Vesians had even begun to implement them in their own troops.
Nonetheless, the Bright Republic constantly teetered at the edge of defeat during each war. It was their conflict to lose. While the Vesians consistently hammered their defenses in the same one-dimensional offensives as before, the Mech Corps constantly needed to exert their full efforts just to place themselves on par with the Mech Legion.
It wasn't fair. The Vesians weren't actually putting their full effort in the war, yet they could easily push the frontlines if they exerted a little more effort on occasion.
Sadly, war was never fair. All it cared for was who had the biggest fist.
One of the main reasons the invasion stalled wasn't because the Vesians exhausted their men or ran out of supplies. It was actually because the nobles that held sway in the frontlines lost the heart to push through the turtle-like Republic.
"It's getting harder and harder to achieve a breakthrough. The hateful Republic is only focused on defending!"
"It's such a pain to sacrifice so many mechs to gain control over another dinky star system. The annual tax revenue of this star system isn't enough to fill the gap between my teeth!"
"I'm tired. Let's stop for a few months and go at it again when we are better prepared."
Of course, the desires of the nobles clashed against the professional soldiers who fought the actual battles. They deeply wanted to push through and defeat their rivals once and for all.
The differences in opinion changed nothing. In the Vesia Kingdom, the nobles held all the sway. If they all agreed to stop the offensive, then the push into Republic space would certainly stall.
Meanwhile, the Verle Task Force met with their latest crisis. The sudden sneak attack stank of a Venidse ambush. Every Vandal grew serious once the implications settled in their minds.
Surprisingly, rather than initiating combat with the Vandals with a large number of mechs, Venidse instead opted to begin their attack with an attack from stealth!
The Flagrant Vandals constantly maintained their vigilance each time they emerged out of FTL. This time was no different as up to a hundred spaceborn mechs deployed from the ships at any any time except when it was time to go.
The entire attack interval only lasted a couple of seconds. The stealth mechs that perpetrated the attacks obviously didn't wish to stick around long enough for the Vandals grasp their locations.
Major Verle only arrived at the command center half a minute later than Ves and Iris. Despite his relative tardiness, he quickly grasped their actual situation and issued the right commands.
"Deploy the dust! As much as you can!"
"Order our mech patrols to comb through their quadrant of space! Any suspicious signs and signals should be reported immediately!"
Every Vandal ship immediately threw out vast clouds of dust. Like the particle grenades that the rebels once deployed in Neron City, the dust clouds acted as a proven low-tech solution to skulking stealth mechs.
The only problem was that the expanding dust cloud showed nothing suspicious. Not a single area in the expandings clouds deformed!
"H-How is this possible?!" Major Verle gritted his teeth. He instantly turned to Ves. "Explain!"
Ves felt the intensity of the major's gaze. "Modern stealth technology has derived countless ways to circumvent such a crude detection method. Venidse excels in developing stealth mechs. They would have certainly tried to plug this obvious hole to their ability to remain hidden!"
"Fine then! If the dust cloud doesn't work, then let us pump out more ordnance into our perimeter!"
Akkara mechs started firing lasers into empty space. Missiles launched from their few missile-bearing mechs and exploded at predetermined coordinates. Nothing worked. Within a range of fifty kilometers, there didn't appear to be any enemies!
Everyone's faces grew ugly. Even Ves began to sour as his own search attempts accomplished nothing. He had to hand it to Venidse, they really mastered the use of stealth technology.
All of this left the task force frustrated, rattled and crippled. At the very least, this star system didn't appear to host any follow-up forces.
Their main concerns turned from stopping any further attacks from stealth to repairing their extensive battle damage.
Seven ships lost their sublight propulsion. This was not as big of a problem as it sounded. The real concern was that their vitally important logistics ships lost their FTL drives. Without this vitally important component, they couldn't run away!
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