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 "The Venidse Mech Legions try their best to pull their enemies into a contest of attrition. They're good at slowing or hindering their opposition so that they won't be able to get away in time. Once they've trapped the enemy mechs, they'll deploy their killer strike."

"Ah, the old classic hammer and anvil tactic." Ves nodded in recognition. "The anvil pins the enemy forces in place while the hammer slams them from the rear."

"I wouldn't it a hammer, sir. It's more of a poisonous dagger. Venidse is very good at forming stealth squads that act like commandos. These stealth mechs are piloted by exquisitely-trained elites who make it their life's work to sabotage critical enemy infrastructure. They have a habit of assassinating enemy leaders if they can get away with it. Their stealth technology is so good that they've become something of a terror."

"I have to admit, that sounds very dreadful." Still, Ves recognized a couple of shortcomings. "Venidse must have poured a lot of resources and training into establishing these stealth squads. They should be their most prized elite. If it isn't necessary, they would not deploy these precious mechs."

Stealth mechs gained the ability to avoid detection by sacrificing their armor. Instead of utilizing conventional armor plating, they replaced them with active stealth plating. This turned them into fragile machines that absorbed less damage than a light mech.

A surprise attack involving an entire squad of stealth mechs needed to be planned and carried out to perfection, because it wasn't cheap to build them up. Any failure reflected badly on the commanding officer.

The question was whether Venidse found it worthwhile to commit their most valuable stealth units to stop the Vandals in their tracks.

"We've got to hope for the best but plan for the worst." Ves summed up. "While there's no guarantee that Venidse will go as far as to employ their stealth mechs against us, we should bolster our stealth countermeasures regardless."

Even so, countermeasures only worked up to a point. Since Venidse committed to this strategy, they would have gained a lot of proficiency in developing countermeasures against the countermeasures.

"Ugh, that's another headache." Ves rubbed his head. "Is there anything else about Venidse that I should take into account?"

"Not really, boss."

"Okay, so after passing through Imodris and Venidse, what's the next territory in our way?"

"That should probably be the Klein Duchy, sir. Different from the other two duchies, the Klein Duchy is a peripheral territory. It falls outside the core regions of the Kingdom and isn't as prosperous or as developed. It occupies a lot of space, though. We'll have to spend some time traversing their domain."

Ves read up on the Klein Duchy on his terminal. It was larger but sparser, sort of like a backwater region to the Vesian core region. It didn't offer any noteworthy resources or industries.

"The Klein Duchy isn't an economic powerhouse, so they can't be as wasteful as Venidse which happily engages in costly battles of attrition. They've poured their limited resources into their long-ranged firepower doctrine. Their main mechs are lightly armored but have extreme reach reach. They favor keeping their enemies in sight and at long range. The moment any mechs come closer, they collectively pull back in order to maintain their range advantage."

Ves laughed at that. "What a conservative strategy! Sure enough, the Klein forces will be able to maintain their strength this way, but will lead to a lot of lost ground as well. They can't keep backing off in a defensive situation. They have to stand their ground in some cases."

"Oh, they do maintain some decent defensive units, but they're fairly bog standard so you don't need to employ a specific strategy against them. Klein focuses most of their development in strengthening their long-ranged units, and to be fair they've become quite good at that. They mainly rely on lasers because their beams travel at light speed, but they also throw in plenty of kinetic and explosive firepower into the mix. Their heavy artillery mechs form the crown jewels to every mech legion."

Their long-ranged prowess sounded very worrisome. They couldn't let the Klein mechs pull the Flagrant Vandals into their game. Ves started flitting through ideas. "Light mechs will do the job. They're fast and their high evasion will allow them to close the distance."

"Oh, don't rely on light mechs only, boss. Plenty of enemies have tried to do so, but the House of Klein still manages to hang on to their duchy. I suggest you read up on their past battles to find out how they dealt with light mechs."

Iris reminded Ves that he shouldn't take these generalizations as truth. The territories adopted these mech doctrines as a high-level development strategy. The actual mech forces at their disposal doubtlessly exhibited a greater variety of mech types. In addition, private sector outfits pursued their own strategies that might run counter to that of the military.

It would be a mistake to paint every duchy in a broad stroke.

"Even though the Klein Duchy sounds fairly tricky, they're not as strong as Imodris and Venidse, right?"

"That's correct, sir. The Klein Duchy needs to defend a lot more territory but has fewer mech legions at their disposal. The only downside is that they haven't sent as much mechs to the frontlines as the core regions, so there is probably a high chance we will bump into one of their patrols."

Ves took note of that and more. Plans continued to whirl inside his mind, and the more he learned, the more he fleshed out his own strategies.

"Then if that's all there is to Klein, what's the next territory in the way?"

"The Hafner Duchy borders the Klein Duchy on one end and the Reinald Republic on the other end. It's a border territory, and is as sparse as the Klein Duchy. The only problem is that because it borders the Reinald Republic, the Kingdom subsidizes its mech forces in order to strengthen their border defenses. Hafner is therefore stronger than Klein, though their military can't match up against Imodris or Venidse."

"So what are they good at?" He asked. There was no way their final stop would be so simple.

"Hafner's mech legions are geared towards deterrence and anti-piracy efforts. They follow a two-pronged mech doctrine. First, they employ a lot of light mechs. Skirmishers, saboteurs, light riflemen, you name it, Hafner has it. Their light mechs never gather together in the scale of regiments or legions, but rather operate in smaller batches in order to patrol the border systems and chase after individual pirate ships."

"I see. Since these light mechs are aimed towards pirates, they don't fare well against a frontline mech regiment."

"True, but don't forget the Flagrant Vandals isn't a normal mech regiment either." Iris warned. "Our mech composition is ideal for raiding, which just happens to match the modus operandi of pirates. In Hafner's eyes, the Flagrant Vandals are no different than pirates. We're just better organized, that's all."

Just like how the Vesian mech forces became good at some aspects and bad in other aspects, the Vandals exhibited their own dimensionality. As a raiding regiment, they exhibited a lot of speed, but wouldn't last in a battle against tough opposition.

The Hafner mech legions pursued a familiar mech doctrine to the Vandals.

"Hafner has an enormous hatred against pirates because they suffer a lot from their raids near the border. You can imagine that their light mechs are all fast. Yet anti-piracy is only one of their missions. They need to show off their strength against the foreign states at the border as well, so they've poured in some of their resources in hard-hitting cavalry."

In mech terminology, cavalry meant mechs that hit hard and fast.

"Ah, so they're focused on shock attacks, is that right?"

"Guessed it right, boss." Iris nodded with a smile. "As you can imagine, the Hafner shock troops are predominantly medium mechs that excel in charges. They take some time to build up their momentum, but once they get going, they're almost impossible to stop without suffering more damage in the process. Still, Hafner hasn't managed to circumvent the shortcomings around this strategy."

Medium mechs that specialized in shock attacks didn't necessarily have to be light, but they couldn't carry too much armor either. Most of the time, their frontal armor was very decent, but their flank and rear armor was as thin as light mech armor.

Furthermore, while these mechs exhibited a high level of peak performance, they quickly ran out of steam. They never lasted very long in battles of attrition.

Despite these obvious weaknesses, Ves kept frowning as he mulled over Hafner's mech doctrine. "They don't sound very defensive."

"That's because they believe a good defense is a good offense. Hafner is very aggressive. They attack in order to defend."

Out of all the mech doctrines that Iris listed out, Ves worried about the one developed by the Hafner Duchy the most. The Flagrant Vandals could easily manage to work around the other doctrines, but the strategies employed by Hafner formed a direct counter.

"The final step will be the hardest. Out of all the different territories in our projected route, the Hafner Duchy poses the highest threat to us."

As mech designers, both of them understood what a bad matchup it was. If Hafner brought enough mechs to bear on the Vandals, the task force's very existence was at stake.

More than that, Hafner's extensive focus on chasing pirates turned them into excellent trackers as well. Ves imagined that the Vandals wouldn't be able to hide from Hafner's scrutiny as they tried to cross their territory. Several pitched battles might very well erupt between them before the Vandals finally reached the Reinald Republic.

Ves scratched his chin. His plan needed to be changed now that he became aware of Hafner's strengths. "Every territory is challenging, but it's important to maintain our strength up to the end. We need all of the mechs we can get to get through Hafner's blockade."

He dove into his studies and investigated the territories further. Now that Iris provided an introduction on each of them, Ves had no trouble interpreting the data. He drew on the central database of the Mech Corps to obtain estimates on the mech disposition of each duchy.

"Damn!" Ves exclaimed. "The Hafner Duchy hasn't shifted any of their mech legions to the front! They're essentially at full strength!"

Iris was already aware about this fact. "It wouldn't make sense for the Hafner mech legions to cross the entire Kingdom to reinforce the front. They have their own responsibilities. The Duke of Hafner won't be able to reassign too many mechs from the border. Otherwise, the Reinald Republic and its neighbors might take advantage somehow."

Perhaps that might be a silver lining to the Flagrant Vandals. Iris was right in that most mechs that belonged to Hafner needed to defend the border. They wouldn't easily be pulled from their posts to pursue the the elusive Vandals.

"Okay, so we still have a chance."

As long as they had an opening, Ves would do his best to squeeze the Vandals through the gap. He refined his understanding of the opposition and dove into the disposition of the Vandals. By comparing them with each other, he drew up a variety of ideas.

Not all of them would be workable. The most ideal solutions also happened to be the most expensive ones. Ves was forced to discard most of his fantasies because the Vandals faced a lot of limitations.

"This is harder than I thought."

Ves hadn't even factored in the expert pilots yet. Every expert pilot was unique, and most of the times their mechs didn't conform to conventional strategies. Ves had never seen Venerable O'Callahan in action. The one time when the Vandals wanted him to deploy, he outright refused to exit the ship.

"I'm going to have to talk to his design team." He grumbled.

He wanted to know why they guzzled up so many resources.