Characters: Seth, Eirika, various.
Summary: Long enough was Renais ruled by madness. A reign shall end, a traitor shall fall, a capital shall be liberated. Set in the sci-fi!Magvel continuity.
Disclaimer: Fire Emblem is not mine.
A/N: For Kitten Kisses. Happy birthday! This is a little late, but better late than never, they say. Well. I am clearly compensating for being early the previous birthday fic. Over-compensating, in fact.
If you had notice that the ranks of several characters had gone up since Into the Night and Out of the Dark, I assure you that it is not a typo. One can assume throughout the many battles since then, some of them would be promoted.
For plot purposes, Syrene's recruitment chapter had already taken place in this continuity. It may be further expanded upon in the future in another oneshot. More A/N at the end of the fic.
"We are all here?"
Prince Ephraim, Colonel of the Royal Marines, looked around the spacious meeting room. His twin sister – Princess Eirika, Commodore (senior grade) of the Royal Renais Navy – was seated to his right. At her insistence as his rightful civilian superior, Vice Admiral Seth sat to her right. The conference table, centered in the room, was made from the polished grains of Renais Oak. The chairs surrounding the massive table, on the other hand, bore the distinctive make of Mulan craftsmanship. Seth was not used to such luxuries in his previous commands, and moments such as these reminded him of how massive the Excalibur was.
In the three weeks since the Battle of Jehanna, the fleet kept orbit around the desert planet. Techs and crew members worked around the clock as they repaired battle-damage, performed compatibility upgrades, and integrated connection protocols. The Royal Renais Navy and Royal Frelian Navy ships have had much time to ensure their battle-net and lines of communication were fully integrated, but the Rausten Space Navy was a relative newcomer, and there was not enough time between Hamill Corridor and Jehanna in their haste.
The presence of Admiral Selena's and General Duessel's forces was greeted with slight trepidation after the battle was won, but the Grado remnants soon won the others over with their integrity. The most surprising event in the aftermath, for himself and many others, was the discovery of the Excalibur and the Audhulma, so named for the legendary twin relics of Jehanna's history. Situated on the far side of the furthest planet in the system was a secret shipyard, located away from the warp points. Having gone dark the moment Imperial ships entered the star system, the facility had managed to remain undetected.
Project Fire Emblem - a multi-national effort by all the Sacred Stone nations to build two advanced warships - was based in Jehanna, on the agreement that neither of the warships would be acquired by the mercenary units she was famous for. The project was both an endeavor to improve relations and a precaution against any external threats to the Magvel Sector. What it had not counted on was for Grado to start a war, albeit under external influence. According to reports, the research and construction team had initially disagreed on continuing the project, as there were vested interests involved. The project team, after all, had drawn upon specialists from all member nations. After a while though, when it seemed that Grado was clearly the aggressor, the Grado contingent backed down from stopping the construction. They did not actively participate further in the building, but neither did they impede it.
Both ships, their construction hastened in necessity, were almost completed before the facility stopped work to conceal itself. During the three weeks, they were towed by tugboats into Jehanna's orbit to be worked on by repair ships, mobile shipyards and hard yards that survived Grado's brief occupation. Now, as the workers applied the finishing touches to the ships, the conference was called at Excalibur's main meeting room. With most of its core systems already online and its massive size – almost twice the size of a Dragon Lord-class battleship – the dreadnought was the perfect location. Audhulma, a stealth battleship, was not as large, though no less advanced.
The marine and army component of the allied fleet took the three weeks to run multiple drills and exercises. Indeed, they had taken damage during the battle, but the damage was light enough that most units were operational within a week, and those that had suffered too much casualties were merged into other more intact groups. General Duessel and General Gillian did not quite run the marine and army into the ground, but it was a close call. Seth wished he had the time to do that, but it was impossible with all the damages. One had to do with what one had, after all.
He studied the profile of the Grado general to his right, before turning his attention to the rest at the conference table. Gillian was exchanging words quietly with Duessel, his green dress uniform a stark contrast to the black. Prince Innes sat to the other side of Ephraim with Princess Tana flanking him. The crown prince of Frelia, as usual, was scowling at Ephraim, while his sister appeared to be admonishing him about something. Admiral Syrene of the Royal Frelian Navy sat next to Her Royal Highness, conversing softly with her sister and subordinate – Commodore Vanessa. The recently promoted Rear Admiral Kyle sat next to her. Princess L'arachel of Rausten was with Dozla, her bodyguard. Of sorts. Seth still could not grasp the exact nature of their relationship. He knew Dozla was her vassal, but it appeared that he was no longer a member of the Raustenite military. The burly man acted more like a guardian than a vassal at times, and his enthusiasm often made Seth smile in spite of himself. Prince Joshua, a solemn figure since the battle, was actually smiling at something Sister Natasha said. Rounding out those seated at the table were the commanders of the mercenary group "ITHILDIN" – Colonel Gerik, commanding officer; Captain Tethys of the stealth cruiser Aes Dana, flagship of Ithildin's limited naval presence; Captain Marisa of their special operations division, widely known as the Crimson Flash in professional circles. Ithildin always had a good reputation, despite being a mercenary group – which explained their acquisition of Aes Dana from the Jehanna Naval Yards a few years back.
Seth finally had time a few days ago to check the technical data of the stealth cruiser, and he was surprised by how advanced it was. Not as advanced as Excalibur or Audhulma, or his own Silver Knight, but by far more advanced than any other mercenaries he was aware of. Limited endurance heat sinks enabled the cruiser to sneak through thermal scans while active; adaptive camouflage, when activated, will take the light from one side of its hull, and give it off on the other side – in effect deceiving the eye into thinking that it was looking through the cruiser onto the other side, making it invisible to visual inspection. Aes Dana also bolstered heavy duty emission suppressors and the latest generation electronic warfare and counter/counter-counter measure suites, designed to burn through enemy sensors when required, or to remain undetected in the electronic spectrum. Audhulma was even more impressive, of course, being a multi-national effort and that they had to make a stealth battleship, but Seth was not going to take anything away from the designers of Aes Dana.
And from the way the scarred-face colonel had continued to stick with Prince Innes despite it looking… unprofitable at that time, he suspected their reputation had also helped in securing a discount when obtaining the prized vessel.
On the other hand, Seth still felt some misgivings about a state military shipyard selling military-grade vessels to private mercenaries. However, it was how Jehanna's government worked, and as long as only groups like Ithildin obtained such high-performance warships, he would keep said misgivings private.
There were more present in the room, though not at the table itself. Besides himself, Eirika looked around once more before nodding to her brother. Seth knew he was reluctant when he first got pressured into reactivating her naval commission after the flight from Renais. Still was, if he was honest with himself. But… Oh, how she had grown! From a competent, if sometimes nervous, Commander to an extremely competent, confident and decisive Commodore who wore her navy blue uniform with pride… He was proud of her, and honored to watch her grow into her role as an officer in the RRN.
Ephraim took a deep breath, before addressing the room, "First, I would like to thank you all for coming. I am aware there are certain… rumors flying about with regards to our next operation, and we," he gestured to the various representatives of state at the table, forming what counted as a Joint-Chiefs," are taking this opportunity to confirm it – Yes, Renais is our next target."
There was a sudden swell of murmurs, especially from those not seated at the conference table. Seth was not surprised, as it had seemed like the logical course of action – With Grado pacified and Jehanna secured, it would only make sense to retake Renais, thus securing their rear before taking the fight to Formotiis. Furthermore, Eirika had approached him a few days back to think of op plans, hypothetically of course, to take Renais back. He had accepted it logically, but to hear those words were another thing altogether. There was always a small corner in his mind filled with guilt after escaping from Renais – the Navy had an unspoken tradition of not abandoning its civilians. He acknowledged that there was no choice as King Fado had ordered it, and at that point in time Eirika might had been the only surviving heir. That did not prevent him from feeling a sense of shame and failure, having to leave Home Fleet to its fate and to abandon the capital of the Kingdom he had sworn to protect. All that was before he even considered his feeling towards her. Even if it was not an order, Seth could no longer say with certainty that he would not whisk her away all the same, to bring her to safety with his own battlecruiser if need be.
Now, however, the long and winded circle was coming to an end.
Ephraim raised his palm up to quiet the room as he continued, "We would like a status report from the fleet commanders. Dame Syrene, if you would get the ball rolling?" Like himself, Syrene was knighted for valor in action. Seth had studied the after action reports, and thought her to be a more deserving recipient than him. The Frelian admiral gave a nod, and tapped on several buttons on her keypad as the main holoscreen situated in the middle of the conference table lit up with the order of battle and schematics.
"Repairs are completed on the Pegasus-class cruisers. The Falcon battlecruisers are almost all ready, but we're having some issues with Farina's Luck. The repair crew missed a damaged side-bus in their primary pass, and she has issues synching her targeting data with the rest of the fleet. Her chief engineer assured me that it would be worked out within the day. That is all."
Syrene settled back against her chair as she inclined her head politely. L'arachel was evidently next, as she entered commands to refresh the holoscreen with new data. On first glance, it was easy to be distracted by her atypical uniform. No navy or army that Seth knew of allowed bared shoulders in their uniforms. That, unsurprisingly, did not stop L'arachel from wearing one that revealed a fair bit of her shoulders – clearly tailored to her specifications. It would be easy, and a mistake, to dismiss her then, for she was anything but incompetent. Enthusiastic, optimistic, occasionally out of touch with the universe around her… But never incompetent (The sole exception was likely in astrogation; he remembered her ship going in the opposite direction of her intended destination once).
"It was indeed most fortuitous that Prince Ephraim arrived with reinforcement when he did, lest we allowed the unrepentant louts of Grado to prevail – no offense to you, my good Duessel. Our ships suffered grievous damage, but by divine grace and holy splendor we have repaired them all! Wings of Justice's thrusters are operational once more, Providence's bridge is restored, and Mark of Elysian has received a glorious reload of her weapon systems. The Rausten Navy stands ready to purge Renais of evil-doers!"
The silence that followed was both amused and polite, and L'arachel flashed a satisfied smile.
Seth cleared his throat, as he brought his own data up to the display.
"Silver Knight has completed her repairs," he started. Despite Eirika's best effort to hide a smile, Seth was close enough to see it. Shaking his head inwardly, he continued, "Due to capacitor feedback, Ravenhound's mass drivers are only at half-strength. Thanks to Jehanna's hard yards though, we anticipate a replacement capacitor in the next two days." He offered a nod of thanks at Joshua, which was returned.
"Emerald Lance had her armor re-grown and Commodore Rake is running final integrity checks. Scarlet Shield is undergoing reactor pre-start, Commodore Thurman estimates thirty hours before reaching full military power," he continued with several more ships before concluding his report. "First Fleet should be able to set sail within the next two days."
Ephraim nodded, "Good. I appreciate the prompt repairs, everyone. Before we move further on, however, there are some organization issues to resolve. Now that we have a stable core of units - we would like to integrate our forces into a single coherent fleet and army for future operations. On the planetary side, the Joint Chiefs of States have elected General Gilliam to lead the Allied Fifth Army; General Duessel will be leading the newly reorganized Allied Marine Command. Captain Marisa will retain her current position as the CO of our Special Operation Command."
The Grado general known as Obsidian protested immediately, "Prince Ephraim, elements of my star nation are still at war with you! Surely there are better candidates…"
The teal-haired man shook his head, "We did not make this decision lightly, General. Everyone in this room knows your personal integrity, and we trust you implicitly. I, for one, am acutely aware of your brilliance as well. However, in order for the rank and files to trust you, we need to show them that the command staff trusts you too. If you can think of a better way, we're open to suggestions." Ephraim sat back with a faint upturn of his lips.
Duessel remained silent for a while, before chuckling softly. "I… can't, Prince Ephraim. Very well, I accept the command."
The smile on the prince's face was not quite smug, but it was close. "Next, we will be combining our naval assets into a single Allied First Fleet. The current Royal Renais Navy's First Fleet will no longer exist as you know it. We were aware that unlike the planetary components, you did not have time to drill your crew yet. As such, we do not have a firm order of battle for you. That would be up to the new First Fleet CO to determine. Speaking of the new First Fleet CO…"
Seth had a sinking feeling when Ephraim turned towards him, addressing with a formal tone," That would be you, Admiral Sir Seth." Almost as an afterthought, the prince added, "Oh, by the way, congratulations on your promotion to a full Admiral."
Before he could even protest, Ephraim held up a placating hand. "Hear us out, Seth." Eirika spoke up next, "We all saw how good you are. We only held long enough for my brother to reinforce us three weeks ago because of your ability to put together a workable plan with little warning. Before that, you recommendations helped to defeat the ambush in Hamill Corridor."
There were more than a few nods around the meeting room, and Seth could feel his cheeks heat up from the compliment. She did not stop though, "We have approached the senior ship captains and squadron commanders for their opinions. And yes, we did it behind your back because we know precisely how well you'll take it – that is, not well at all."
They were not giving him any room to interject; he had to give them that.
"None of them expressed any objections to you being the CO for First Fleet, Seth. Not even Prince Innes." Her expression remained unchanged, but her eyes were twinkling with barely-contained mirth at him even as the Frelian prince retorted.
"Your insinuation is nonsensical. I don't have any reason to oppose this appointment logically. I am superior to your brother in naval tactics…" That statement earned a snort from said brother. "…But I am also aware there are better naval commanders than me in this room, Dame Syrene included. And she assured me that Sir Seth is the only logical candidate for the position."
Seth spared a glance at the knighted lady, who offered a polite smile in response.
"Finally," Eirika said with a pleased expression. "It is also the recommendation of the captains that command of the Excalibur be given to you. She is the HMS Excalibur now."
He finally remembered to breath, and bowed his head.
"I… thank you for this great honor, and I swear by the Everlasting that I shall not fail your expectations."
Ephraim cleared his throat.
"Seth will be responsible for assigning an appropriate captain to Audhulma. We trust that you'll find a suitable role for the battleship. Now that the fleet matters are done, we return to the main topic at hand – Renais. Innes' intelligence network has provided us with some preliminary data, and Commander Lute will provide us with a cursory analysis. We expect more data as we approach Renais. But for now, Commander Lute…"
"Sir, we've entered the Artemis system. Plotting estimates thirty hours and sixteen minutes before we hit the Renais warp point."
"Thank you, Reya. Keep me updated," Seth turned away from his communication console. Despite moving his staff to a new ship, they seemed to be taking it extremely well. He looked back at the guests in his personal meeting room on Excalibur. One of the perks of being a fleet commander and captain of the largest warship in the fleet was that he had ample living space, even amongst flag officers.
In the one week that had since leaving Jehanna, First Fleet ran through fleet exercises and combat simulations constantly. Meetings were common as progress reports were exchanged and suggestions made to improve fleet coherence. The speed at which the allied First Fleet gelded together was the fastest Seth had ever seen – A combination of hard work and actual combat experience most of them had together. Bonding under fire, so to speak.
Commander Lute, captain of the specialized electronic warfare destroyer Oka Nieba and chief intelligence analyst of First Fleet, stood up to break the silence, "The newest data made available confirmed my initial estimate." The words 'not that it needed confirmation in the first place' went unspoken, but Seth suspected that was what her tone implied. "…Approximately ten squadrons of battleships, covered by twice the amount of battlecruisers and a screening contingent of perhaps two hundred destroyers and cruisers."
She looked around the room, and seeing no queries, continued, "They might call themselves the Liberated Renais Navy…"
There were several contemptuous snorts around the room.
"…But we know better. The remnants of the Imperial Navy not loyal to Dame Selena or the current interim authority in Grado are there, so I'll expect a significant number of Dragon Lords and Dragon Lord Mk IIs. I must admit, even with my intellect, I'm unable to give you a solid estimate on their battlecruiser-classes. Numbers from Grado are vague, and Admiral Seth had indicated most Paladins, Star Knights and Flameberges are accounted for. However, I suspect many of them to be mercenary in origin, so expect Hoplites and Cataphracts in non-negligible numbers."
The purple-haired officer sat back down. The amount of warships available to their enemy was staggering, but explained why Grado was so lightly defended. Even taking into account the number of ships Valter and Caellach had brought to bear in Jehanna, Seth thought there were still a portion of the Imperial Navy missing. It was good to know where they were, lest they be out wrecking havoc in other systems, but he had hoped they were not all concentrated in Renais.
It was a good hope, anyway.
He let out a breath and nodded. "Once again, thank you for the accurate analysis." He did not miss the flash of pride on Lute's face. "I do not think this changes our strategic considerations, but I welcome any suggestions to our tactical plans." Seth had one in mind, but he wanted to see his people offer their own opinions and ideas as well.
The royal princess said with no trace of her past shyness in front of the other officers, "I agree with the Admiral that this doesn't change our disposition strategically, though I feel their screening units are worth taking a look at again. If they have obtained some of Jehanna's Manticore Bs and Cs, they'll be able to match our tactical speed for the most part."
Manticore-class destroyers were Jehanna-built as a premium export warship. Boosting high acceleration and speed, the B and C blocks were upgraded with even better acceleration, almost able to match Frelia's Pegasus-class. More importantly, however, he was pleased to see Princess Eirika- no, Commodore Eirika, in this situation – taking the initiative to start the ball rolling.
Kyle said as he took a sip of water from the refreshment glass. "This is my major concern with their screen as well. They might be tasked to intercept our planetary assault elements once they detect the launch, and the escorts we assigned in OpPlan One and Two may not be strong enough to stop a determined interception. OpPlan Three lightens our own screen too much for me to be comfortable with. I have argued against Four and Five from the start, and my objections remain."
There were some nods and frowns, but it was Admiral Syrene who joined in the discussion next, "But Kyle, surely you must admit that we cannot be overly concerned with their screening units. Our Falcons and Pegasus's are fast for this very reason. I know you do not like OpPlan Five because it exposes my ships to more incoming fire, but-…"
Seth hid a smile and leaned back, enjoying how his commanders ran their ideas through the gauntlet, figuratively.
The meeting ended an hour later, and the occupants filed out of the room. Eirika and Seth were the last to depart.
"Seth, do you have a moment?"
As the admiral turned back to her, Eirika could not help but think of how well his uniform fitted him. Fighting down a blush, partly from her thoughts, and partly from speaking to him as a princess rather than a naval officer, she continued, "Could you spar with me a bit right now? I know we're a day away from Renais, but I want to let off some of this nervous energy. You know, before the battle."
Truly, what elegant words you have, Eirika. Too late to bit back the words, she waited. The red-haired man seemed to think on it, before replying carefully, "…Princess Eirika. Before I do, there is something I must say to you."
"Yes, what is it?" Damn herself for sounding so eager!
"Please forgive my rudeness… Princess, I am merely your subject. Recently, you have been too close to me. It is not becoming of a royalty to fraternize in this way with her subjects."
His expression was unreadable, but her face faulted at the words, "Oh… But I… It's just that your wound has not yet…. I was merely…"
This conversation was not going the way she had envisioned. She wanted to spar with Seth, as it was possibly the only excuse left she had of spending time alone with him. Eirika was interested in swordsmanship, but having him as her partner made it that much sweeter. She had thought the man purposely distancing himself from her in the last few practices, but she did not expect this.
"It's true. The wound I received the day our capital fell has not yet healed," he admitted, glancing down at his right shoulder even as her heart clenched at the memory. A large piece of shrapnel had stabbed deep in during that desperate flight, when something on Silver Knight's bridge exploded, and she feared the worse when they carried him on a stretcher over to the Renais One for operation. "Perhaps it will afflict me to the end of my life. But it would be a mistake to assume you owe me a debt for this wound. This thought should not rest beneath the crown you soon must wear."
Her mouth was dry as she managed, "But still, you suffered for me…"
He was truly the Silver Knight then, his expression still unreadable, his tone all but emotionless, as if he wore an armor of silver, guarding not just his body, but his heart and soul too, "Lady Eirika. You are a royal princess of Renais. The royalty should not favor one subject over another. How can they maintain their loyalty if you treat one so differently?"
She could not respond – it seemed that her throat had constricted upon itself. And still he plowed on.
"You may have to forego such attachments just to defend your country. There will be times when victory in battle demands a sacrifice. If you cannot send your men to die, then you are not fit to rule."
And there it was. A flash of pain… regret? At that moment, he was not just speaking to her, but to himself as well. She could replace the word 'rule' with 'command', and it would suit him perfectly. How many men and women under his command had died during this war? How many did because of the orders he had given, and would continue to give? She swallowed hard, ignoring the urge to hug him, and finally found words to reply.
"I understand, Seth… You are correct. I had forgotten my place, and I had forgotten my duty. Please forgive me."
He did not speak as her vision blurred. She continued quickly, lest she broke down in front of him.
"That night…We fled from the capital… You held me tight, then kept me safe from the enemy's ships… Perhaps… I did feel something more for you then." And so that was finally out in the open. But she felt no joy in the admittance, no relief, just despair as she took a deep breath. "But… it was improper for a queen of Renais. And with my father dead, I suppose that is my station. I am a queen, and you are an officer in my service. If I do not keep this in mind, then I will never be able to rebuild our kingdom."
Seth nodded, "I thank you for my understanding, my lady. Now, if you will excuse me…"
He turned to leave. She was about to wipe at her eyes when he suddenly pivoted back.
"Princess Eirika. If you would allow me to say one more thing…"
"That night… I felt what you felt. When I held you in my arms as we ran to the shuttles… It was the first time since I was sworn in that I forgot my duty. I thought of you not as my queen, but rather as someone I wanted to protect from all harm." Eirika blinked in astonishment, and another bout of tears threatened to swell up as he spoke, his tone a little hoarse now. "I wanted to leave everything behind… To take you far away to someplace where we could be together… Those were my thoughts."
There was a tender expression on his face then, so rarely seen, yet so… apt. And then the Silver Knight composed himself, speaking in a firm tone once more.
"Please forgive me. I swear to you that I will never again forget my duty in that way. Now, please excuse me. When I see you next, it will be as an officer of the Royal Navy… And I will lay down my life to protect my queen."
Then he turned and strode away without a backward glance. She reached her hand out towards his reclining silhouette, her heart aching, yet with a glimmer of hope. He had, at least, felt the same. It was not usual for a royal member to marry outside of the nobility, but it was not expressively forbidden as well. Seth could be stubborn in his adherence to duty… But she could be stubborn as well. She closed her fist, a quiet determination growing as she whispered his name once more.
There was little time to dwell on her love life, or lack thereof. The fleet did some final exercises; she ran her own squadron through another set of drills; and she managed four hours of dreamless sleep in the captain's cabin.
And now Eirika sat on the command chair in Silver Knight's bridge once more,
alternating her attention between the tactical plot and the main plot. Her right hand idly rubbed the side of the shock-frame, wondering if he felt as nervous as she did this moment. When Seth moved his crew to Excalibur, he had, to her surprise, named her as the next CO for Silver Knight. He cited her promotion and that it was about time for her to receive a new command as factors in selecting her. She could not argue, for just as the Joint Chiefs of State, as the supreme authority of the allied military, had the authority to promote him to a full admiral; so could he, as a full admiral in the Royal Renais Navy, promoted her to a commodore. Reaching that rank as a ship captain meant that she was likely flagged for a flag rank (no pun intended). She also knew that a commodore would either be given a heavier warship to command, like a battlecruiser, or a squadron of lighter ships, like cruisers.
Eirika had not expected to obtain command of Silver Knight, arguably THE battlecruiser in First Fleet, let alone Silver Knight AND Battlecruiser Squadron One-One-Two. Well, he did get a dreadnought and the entire First Fleet, she laughed mentally. The last commodore to receive such a heavy responsibility was…She reached back mentally, and blinked. Seth himself. He was surely aware of that tidbit, and for him to place such high expectations on her…
She was not going to cry on the bridge, so she settled for blinking rapidly. Luckily for her composure, Commander Hanna reported just then, "Ma'am, Admiral Seth requests all squadrons to check in."
Nodding, she replied, "Send the ready signal then, Hanna."
"Aye aye, ma'am. Sending ready signal."
The fleet battle-net lighted up on the tactical plot. Icons representing individual squadrons lighted up with a green glow, and the individual ship names were added to a scrolling list to the side. Finally, the fleet status was only filled with emerald icons. A countdown timer then blinked on, both on the battle-net and the main plot.
She was a little awed by First Fleet. It had one hundred and twenty-eight destroyers and cruisers, one hundred and seventy-three battlecruisers, thirty-nine battleships, and of course, a single dreadnought. Following behind closely were the transports of the Fifth Army, carrying the necessary infantry and armor to retake Renais' surface. More than awe was the apprehension, the anticipation as she looked at the icon representing the Renais warp point.
Two squadrons of battlecruisers detached themselves from the main fleet as the timer ran down, moving towards the warp point.
"Message from the Flag," Hanna said. "'We're going home.'"
Attacking warp points was an art in itself. Ships entering a warp point materialized on the other end instantly, losing all momentum, so ships that entered warp without waiting for the ships on the other side to move away first would exit warp in the space that other ships were already occupying.
Two ships could not exist in the exact same space. Not even portions of themselves. That was a physical contradiction. The Universe dealt with physical contradictions in Very Bad Ways. The phenomenon known as superimposition was not well documented for good reasons. Ships avoided doing so at all cost, and should it occur, physicists agreed that the energy from the resultant… reaction was not dissimilar to an anti-matter warhead.
A warp point did have a defined radius – Attempting to warp outside that radius would not have any effects. This limitation in volume meant that commanders had to balance between the size and number of ships to send. A smaller warp point might only accommodate three battlecruisers, but could fit in nine cruisers at one go. The next wave would then wait for some sort of signal before warping. The Renais warp point in Artemis was not that small, however, and one Admiral Seth had decided to send in two squadrons of Renais battlecruisers, sixteen ships in all, at once.
The Renais system, for the first time in months, saw RRN ships once more as they burst out from warp into real space. The occupation forces had prepared for this ever since they received news from the defeat at Jehanna, and the volume of space around the warp point had been seeded with mines and stationary weapon platforms. Nuclear mines with short propulsion systems flung themselves at the battlecruisers, expending their fury against shields and armor. Multi-shot mass driver platforms spat relativistic shells, missiles launched from pods, and ships tasked to patrol the warp point went to battle stations after alerting the main fleet of the attack.
One too many mines exploded against Duncan, and its broken hull fell out of formation, atmosphere streaming as power went out all over the ship. Suited survivors struggled through the corridors and walkways of the wrecked ship, searching for fellow shipmates that might be trapped among the twisted hull. Adelaide fell out of formation next; a hit to the reactor had knocked its power out. It was only thanks to the quick reaction of the Engineering section that the reactor was ejected before it blew. Atmosphere remained intact, though for all intent and purposes the battlecruiser was mission-killed.
Seventh Sunrise exploded with a brilliance that would make her namesake proud, Imperious broke apart along its superstructure, but they were not the only ones doing the dying. Seth had chosen them because they were Star Knights, light in missiles, but heavy in mass drivers and lasers. The lasers took a heavy toll on the weapon platforms, the heavy mass drivers chewed into the closing patrol ships. As they began to fight their way out of the minefield - short-ranged lasers destroying mines to create clear lanes for future waves - the battered battlecruisers sent warp-capable drones back through the warp point.
Eirika watched the tactical plot refreshed as new data were downloaded off the drones to the fleet battle-net. Four battlecruisers were mission-killed in the opening five minutes, though Duncan and Adelaide looked to be salvageable. Sensor data from the remaining ships indicated that the main enemy fleet was currently moving towards the warp point, leaving a picket around Renais' orbit.
"Update from Admiral Seth," Hanna said, though her eyes were drawn to the main plot. Ship icons were moving. "OpPlan Five is still in effect, and he is moving Excalibur and her escorts up to the top of the queue, the rest of the queue is to remain unchanged."
The knot in her heart tightened slightly with fear even as the icon representing the RRN dreadnought and her squadron edged closer to the warp point. OpPlan Five had called for Excalibur to be included in the fifth wave of ships to attack the warp point. Seth, however, had just moved his ships up to the second wave. Eirika the lady did not like him putting himself in the line of fire; Eirika the commodore understood the logic behind his actions.
Enemy resistance at the warp point was heavier than anticipated, and the initial wave was taking a heavy beating. They took fewer casualties than the OpPlan had allowed for, but she knew Seth. Admiral Seth. Losses were unavoidable, deaths were inevitable, but they never become just numbers for him, never just a statistic on a report. He was not squeamish, by any means – he would send men and women into danger to accomplish an objective. But their lives were never spent callously, never used as means to justify the end.
And that was why he was moving his flagship up. Instead of sending in battlecruisers of the second wave against heavy firepower, he was sending a dreadnought and its squadron of six battleships. Heavily armored, well shielded, packing more defensive fire compared to battlecruisers as well. Furthermore, a dreadnought would undoubtedly draw more fire from the enemy, lessening the danger to other ships in First Fleet. She had caught him more than once at one of the few observation viewports on Silver Knight when she happened to be onboard for various reasons. Gazing into the endless void, his face haunted. Always after a battle. Always after the casualties report. And so she knew. Seth cared.
Most of First Fleet knew too. The Silver Knight, they said, never asked his men and women to undertake anything he would not do himself. And so it was reciprocated – they would willingly run risks for him that they would not for anyone else. All the ships in the initial attack waves were volunteers, more than a few waves after that were composed entirely of volunteers too. Her own Battlecruiser Squadron One-One-Two was in the sixth wave.
The battleships RNS Wings of Justice, RNS Fires of Liberation, RNS Glorious Anthem, INS Fluorspar, INS Lenneth and INS Endless Winter – together with HMS Excalibur – reached the warp point, and they disappeared from the universe in a flash of purple.
Eirika prayed to the Gods and the Everlasting.
May they keep him safe.
Seven capital ships materialized in the contested Renais warp point. Shields went up and targeting computers recalibrated from the destabilizing effects of warp travel as Admiral Seth surveyed the plot.
A clear volume of space had been cleared of mines, though Galahad and Night's Hammer were both missing. He berated himself mentally for being too slow – Perhaps he should have assigned Excalibur's squadron in the second wave from the start! Seth sighed softly so no one else could hear it, then said, "Helm, move us away from the warp point."
He could feel the tremors of the massive rear thrusters on the deck, and turned to the plot, tapping commands in. Highlighting the central elements of the main enemy fleet, he designated it as Echo One. The screen was designated as Echo Two, while the ships on the two flanks were designated as Echo Three and Echo Four; ships that orbited Renais were grouped into Echo Five. Seth had just enough time to update the fleet battle-net and fire out drones back to the warp point before the battle was upon him.
Following the OpPlan, Flag Squadron did not expend its missiles yet. Instead, it closed to mass driver range before opening fire. The reason Seth had assigned the three Rauten and three Grado battleships into Flag Squadron was not that he wanted to make it a multi-national squadron, but due to their armaments. Like Excalibur, both Divine Retribution-class and Valkyrie-class battleships had Extended-Ranged Heavy mass drivers – ensuring that they shared similar engagement range.
The surviving patrolling ships withered under the immense volley – a cruiser snapped into two as the explosion from an ERH shell tore the internal spinal structure apart; another just... splintered, its hull integrity failing completely. Within a minute, there were no more enemy warships in effective weapon range. The main enemy fleet was still some distance away, so he had the rest of First Fleet slowed while more allied ships warped in.
"Sir, CIC has tentative classification on Echo Five - Twenty-four destroyers, ten cruisers, four battlecruisers and a single battleship," Reya reported. "They are confident it's a block one Dragon Lord, and judging by their fire control emissions…at least two of the battlecruisers are Arbalests."
"Thank you. Append the data to the next drone flight," Seth replied. "And request Admiral Syrene to prioritize portions of our screen. I do not want any surprises."
He paused. Shaking his head with a wry smile, the admiral added, "At least, not any unpleasant ones."
Soft chuckles rippled across the bridge as he defused some of the tension. Tension created not just from the battle, but from the fact that Renais was so close now. Remaining alert was one thing, but to hold attention so tightly that tunnel vision occurred was another thing altogether. His request was more than just a lead-in for humor though – now that they have obtained a foothold in Renais, he did not want any ships to sneak up on them. Placing cruisers and destroyers around the core ships would ensure better sensor depth and coverage. He trusted the Frelian admiral to adjust the queue accordingly, as she was on the other side and thus in a better position to judge what ships to send through. She also came across as an excellent commander, and he had no doubts she would make the correct decisions.
His own responsibility, he reminded himself, was to command First Fleet, or what portion of First Fleet was here. So he turned back to the main display. Block one was the technical tag for the first batch of Dragon Lord-class battleships, they had a hardware fault that caused their fire control systems to give out active emissions of a unique signature. Arbalests were missile-heavy Frelian designs, undoubtedly seized over the course of the war. Those would be bad news for the planetary assault team, as the battlecruisers could start firing on the transports without having to close to mass driver range.
Seth mused on the issue for precisely four seconds before making a decision.
The commander of the self-styled 'Liberated Renais Navy' paced on the bridge. He expected that the ships assigned to patrolling the warp point would not last long, but he did not factor in the presence of a dreadnought vessel in the enemy fleet!
That represented a gross intelligence failure, but it was not like he could complain to his Grado paymasters… If they were even alive. He taken the contract eagerly, hoping to reap the rewards of 'liberating' Renais – far better pay than a typical mercenary guild contract. Unfortunately, regent Orson did not seem to care about paying him or his men. In fact, Orson did not appear to care about anything at all. Rumors had it that he kept to himself in Castle Renais these days, not even leaving his quarters to issue orders on how to run the star nation. No orders were given when the warp point was assaulted as well.
Now his fleet was steadily approaching the warp point, seeking a decisive engagement with the opposition. The dreadnought will hurt, but he held a numerical advantage in everything else at the moment. He doubted that a single dreadnought could make up for the odds, even if it was the famous Admiral Seth commanding her.
"Entering missile range in six minutes," his aide came up to his side. He stopped his pacing and nodded.
There was no room for finesse in this battle, he thought. His opponents wanted to take back Renais, and they were entering via the warp point. His fleet was directly in their path, and he had separated his ships into center, left, right and screening elements. The left and right groups were to his own flanks, discouraging his foe from flanking, or to prevent ships from being sent to circumvent them and attack the planet directly. He left a holding force large enough that anyone that tried to attack it would need to send a sufficiently powerful force themselves that it would be unable to hide from sensors.
Regretfully, it seemed that the time needed to close the distance had allowed the rest of the enemy to warp in and move towards him slowly; perhaps he should have deployed his fleet closer to the warp point in the first place. Nevertheless, according from sensor records, he still held the advantage even after the loss of the patrol unit. Both sides had similar amount of battlecruisers, and he did not have any dreadnoughts. However, they only had a hundred and twenty-four screening units compared to his hundred and eighty-two; thirty-seven battleships compared to his sixty. By and large he had the numbers and the tonnage to win this battle, though it would not be easy.
"To all ships: maintain current heading," he said. "Prioritize the enemy dreadnought-class vessel once we hit missile range."
He knew not all of his ships would be able to range on it properly, that was why the order was to prioritize the dreadnought as a target rather than definitely having to fire upon it. What he expected was his destroyers and cruisers – carrying smaller missiles – to engage the enemy's screen, and the two flanking groups to attack their respective sides. His main, center component, however, would focus most of its fire upon the dreadnought. Destroying it would be a huge morale blow, not to mention taking out the most powerful ship in either fleet.
He smiled. An action like that would surely elevate his name into the history books, not to mention-
"Missile launch! Multiple incoming, bearing… straight ahead! Time to intercept – twenty-six seconds!"
"What? Pont defense, now!" Surely they were not in missile range yet! The commander's eyes widened in horror as almost four thousand missiles flared to life between both fleets, from an area where no ships were detected. His first thought was stealthed ships, but quickly quashed it. One would need a lot of them to launch a salvo of that size, and he did not think there were that many stealth-capable warships in the entire Magvel Sector put together.
Then he realized his mistake.
Energy weapons had a maximum range in space, due to either beam dispersion or energy diffusion as the distance increased. Missiles and mass drivers, on the other hand, technically did not have a maximum range, as there was no friction in space. Even after a missile had used up its energy accelerating, it could float along ballistically. When naval officers colloquially used the term 'maximum range', they actually meant the maximum effective range – missiles still having power to maneuver to hit their targets; mass driver slugs not having to fly so far that any slight course-change by their targets would ensure a miss.
He had assumed that the enemy would only fire from their maximum effective range, without considering that there was no maximum physical range. A missile that missed a target and ran out of engine power could float on for ten billion light years before hitting some unlucky bloke on the other side of the universe. Missiles did have self-destruct fail-safes that would activate once they ran out of engine power, but…
Admiral Seth must have done the opposite. Using the innate velocity of his ships and additional velocity imparted when the missile launchers' magnetic rail flung the missiles into space, he did not activate the missiles' active systems; instead, the admiral let them glide silently towards his unsuspecting ships – there were no active transmissions, no heat signature to give their positions away. Such a plan would not work usually, because both sides would be maneuvering constantly. But he got predictable, and by moving straight at the allied fleet, he allowed the plan to work. Seth knew he was coming straight at them, and so he waited until the missiles were almost too close – when even the lack of active transmissions would not prevent them from being detected by sensors – before activating them.
The missiles roared down at his fleet, point defense only just starting to track the incoming fire. If this was a normal engagement, four thousand missiles were not so dangerous – He had too many ships for them to be fatal. But this was not a normal engagement. The missiles were detected too late and he had three main clusters of ships rather than a single unified fleet to provide interlocking defense coverage. Worst of all, all four thousand missiles were headed for his center element, where his flagship was.
"Tighten us up, tighten all the groups up!" The order came from his lips a moment later. The flanking groups slowly converged, but he knew it was too late. Missiles were shot down by the scores and dozens, and that still left three thousand and six hundred which entered terminal attack range. Last minute jamming, decoys and autocannons should still be able to stop a few hundred more. There was a moment of cautious optimisim – Yes, the missiles would savage his center fleet; enough battleships, the true battle line of his fleet, should survive to turn the tide.
His heart nearly stopped when all the missiles suddenly ignored the effects of the jamming and decoys, as if they did not exist in the first place. How could anyone burn through our jamming so quickly? He thought in despair.
Then, the missiles' flight paths adjusted to target the twenty battleships in his center group.
In their terminal run, the missiles onboard computers were able to identify battleship-sized targets with the sudden lifting of the electronic haze blocking their sensors. Checking through the pre-launch parameters, the AI determined battleships to be their primary targets.
Orders were sent out to the thrusters, and the missiles adopted slight changes in their attack vectors.
No other ships besides Seth's dreadnought could soak up damage as well as battleships. They were heavily armored and well protected, and the Renais admiral wanted to ensure mission kills on all of them. That was the reason he had allocated two hundred missiles for each battleship right from the start.
Countering the jamming was not the end, however. Events deteriorated for the crew on those battleships as their tactical display were flooded with thousands of fake missiles, overtaxing the already strained point defense. The crew manning the PD stations fought valiantly, switching over to manual to fire at actual targets rather than the fake ones the computers saw.
It was not enough.
The first missiles slashed through the screening destroyers and cruisers, detonating against their targets. Shields strained, and then failed under the nuclear fury of the missiles' warheads. The vessels that had generator redundancy snapped up their emergency shields, for them to fail shortly as well. All too many alarms and klaxons were cut off in mid-tone as circuits that powered them ceased to be. Battleship armor was tough, but even they could not stand up to this kind of bombardment.
Despite initial allocation, some missiles inevitably branched off to attack other targets - almost three hundred missiles went after the LRN flagship. When the explosions cleared, all traces of the LRS Lanesi were gone; almost like it had never existed.
The time between the detonations of the first missiles to the last was just ten seconds. But in those ten furious seconds, fourteen battleships were destroyed outright, and the other six were battered into impotence.
They did not die alone either. Some missiles had, despite all odds, lost track of the battleships. They went after their closest targets – battlecruisers, cruisers and even destroyers. Destroyers were not meant for any sustained engagement against heavier weight classes, and those that were targeted by five or more missiles vanished in fireballs of their own. Another cruiser and three destroyers were sunk.
The rest of the LRN fleet scrambled to find out how their electronic warfare suites had failed them so completely in the last few seconds of that missile ambush.
Commander Lute looked up from her ECM/ECCM console and turned to Commander Artur, Oka Nieba's liaison officer to First Fleet, with an expression of contrived innocence.
"Oops," she said.
"They have entered our outer missile envelope, ma'am" Commander Hanna reported.
"Targeting solutions?" Eirika had been watching the battle-net for updates.
"Sketchy at best. Looks like they stepped up their ECM after that little double surprise of ours," the commander said. Then, grimacing, "I don't blame them though. Admiral Seth's idea alone was bad enough; coupled with Commander Lute's electronic wizardry…I've never seen such a one-sided exchange, even in combat simulators."
She shook her head and continued, "I'm just glad Admiral Seth survived and is on our side, ma'am."
"As do I, Hanna. As do I," Eirika murmured, for an entirely different reason.
The distance continued to run down, and she could feel the tension on the bridge. They were certainly within their enemy's missile range as well by now. As if on cue, a sea of red appeared on the tactical screen.
"Missile launch. Twenty-five hundred. Negative. Thirty-two hundred incoming. Time to intercept – forty-two seconds."
She always wondered how Hanna could sound so calm. Her tone when talking about the weather and reporting incoming missiles were exactly the same. Battlecruiser Squadron One-One-Two was nested quite deeply in First Fleet's current formation, behind the screening cruisers and some of the other battlecruiser squadrons. Seth had taken the destroyers out of the screen and assigned them to scout First Fleet's flanks and rear. "They're too fragile to be at the front in a slugging matching during fleet engagements," he had said. She agreed.
The tactical screen and the battle-net overlay provided a lot of information about the launch and the incoming missile, and just as the first of them began to hit the outer defensive fire perimeter, she noticed a pattern. "Hanna, I think I know-"
She stopped as she saw an OpPlan update from the flagship displayed itself on the screen. Names began to attach themselves to the red icons. Hanna said from her tactical console, "Ma'am. It worked. We've successfully IDed their Hoplites and Cataphracts. Commander Lute's numbers are close."
Eirika nodded and spoke to her communications officer, "Send a note of thanks to Oka Nieba. We owe her a drink when we take Renais back."
"Aye aye, ma'am."
Turning back to the tactical screen, she watched the wave of missile icons lessened as it passed through the screen, continuing towards the main battle-line. There was no need to give any orders as her battlecruiser squadron poured their counter-missiles and PD lasers into the fray. They were all veterans of past battles, and well-drilled beyond belief. She could see the distant fireballs on the main display as scores of them died within visual range. By the time they reached the inner squadrons, it was clear they were all targeted upon a single ship – the HMS Excalibur. She tensed slightly, even though her mind told her there was nothing to worry about, the number of attacking missiles was dwindling rapidly, and the dreadnought was extremely well-built.
Of the three thousand two hundred and sixty-four missiles fired, a hundred and eight reached terminal attack range despite the decoys, Lute's ECM and the well-coordinated and massive amount of defensive fire. Almost half of the remainders were intercepted by point defense or suckered off by ECM as their thrusters burnt themselves out accelerating towards First Fleet's flagship. Sixty-one capital missiles slammed themselves into Excalibur's shield.
The dreadnought shrugged off the attack, her shields still intact, and continued her inexorable advance.
Eirika sighed, relieved despite logic having told her of this outcome.
"Orders from the Flag, ma'am – Missile Plan Charlie in thirty seconds," her communication officer reported. The battle-net refreshed as icons were designated, and firing solutions were downloaded to the fleet.
She digested the additional information. As she had expected, Seth called for Missile Plan Charlie. It placed the enemy warships that had armament biased in favor of mass drivers to be targeted first, in preparation for the next stage of OpPlan Five. Eirika spoke to her bridge, "Paint Hoplite Four and Hoplite Sixteen as our primary targets. I want full salvoes on those two. Switch over to Cataphract Nine if they're saturated."
"Aye aye, ma'am."
Both Hoplite-class and Cataphract-class battlecruisers were Jehanna design. Cataphracts had light missile batteries for a battlecruiser, while Hoplites had no missiles at all. They are popular with mercenaries, as capital missiles tended to be more expensive to fire – each had sophisticated targeting and sensor suites; an engine and thruster of its own; a military-grade nuclear fusion warhead. Mass driver slugs, on the other hand, were essentially well-made super-dense bullets. Huge bullets, but not that different in design from the mass cannons on tanks. Some were built with warheads inside, but that was still far cheaper than a missile.
Eirika felt the deck trembled as massive launchers sent missiles the size of a residential building out into space. Icons of First Fleet's missiles spawned on the screen, accelerating toward their targets in the cold void. Soon, Silver Knight's missile magazines were emptied as eighty missiles were on their way.
They were joined by another thirty-eight hundred missiles, speeding forth in a massive tidal wave of destruction. She could see four battlecruiser squadrons pulling back from the main formation. They were Frelian Arbalest and Marksman battlecruisers – containing almost exclusively missile armament. That was why First Fleet could throw out so many missiles, and not all ships had expended their magazines yet.
"Flag Squadron's just went to maximum acceleration," Hanna reported from her console. Eirika was watching the tactical plot, so the update was unnecessary. Nevertheless, it was the tactical officer's duty to report such incidents. She checked the harness of her command chair, and locked it down. Taking one look at the sphere representing Renais, she opened the squadron channel.
"This is Commodore Eirika; the Squadron shall now proceed to match the Flag's acceleration."
First Fleet surged forward, to the surprise of the LRN personnel. Surprise turned to horror for the quicker-minded, as they noticed that the missiles fired upon them were targeted on ships heavy with mass drivers. The admiral known to both friends and foes as the Silver Knight was going to force a short-ranged engagement, and his missiles were going to gut their capabilities just before entering range.
Mass driver exchanges were not encouraged, due to the simple fact that more often than not, both fleets would be in range at the same time. This caused casualties to soar, unless one side greatly outnumbered the other. The allied fleet and LRN fleet were still quite evenly matched, despite the earlier losses.
That was about to change, however.
Again, almost four thousand missiles went after the LRN ships. This time, they went not for massive battleships, but for the frailer battlecruisers. Defensive fire and jamming went out again, but once more, both were impeded by the some sort of EW interference. Officers manning tactical stations on board the LRN ships could only curse as they watch their ineffectual defensive fire swat away dozens of missiles at most.
A little over three thousand missiles reached terminal attack range.
Admiral Syrene expression remained unchanged as five squadrons worth of enemy battlecruisers simply… vanished from the tactical plot. Three more squadrons were battered so badly that they could pick out lifepods jettisoning from their damaged hulls, beacons pulsing brightly even against passive sensors.
She marveled at the Renais admiral's audacity.
Allowing the enemy to fire first despite having better range, Admiral Seth had used the sensory target to pick out which enemy ships were missile-intensive, and which were not. He had then further closed the range, refining firing solutions and ECCM before opening fire. It had severely reduced the enemy battlecruiser strength.
She was right to have recommended him to be First Fleet's CO, she decided. Syrene was promoted after the Battle of Jehanna to a full admiral too, but she knew Admiral Seth was much more experience, as he had been involved almost since the opening shots of the war. Too self-honest to think otherwise, some would say of her. She called it being realistic. What use of personal ambition in something as important as this?
"Time to target?" Syrene requested.
"One-four-three seconds, ma'am."
"Thank you. Inform the Task Group that we will be going to our maximum acceleration in two hundred seconds."
She could feel the tension rising as the distance between the two fleets steadily decreased. The Pegasus-class and Falcon-class were not typical warship designs. They boosted less armor that the average ship of their respective tonnage, but had much more powerful compensators and thrusters together with more advanced ECM suite. They excelled in hunting down specialist ships like Commander Lute's Oka Nieba, raiding and counter-raiding. Slugging it out in a battle line was not their forte. For that, the Royal Frelia Navy had General-class battleships. None were with First Fleet, however, as all of them were assigned to units defending Frelia.
The tactical plot blinked red. Missile icons blossomed on the screen.
Close to three thousand missiles were fired from the LRN ships just before they reached mass driver range. She frowned as she noted that this time they had not bothered to target Excalibur, but the leading battlecruiser squadrons. Syrene did some mental calculation, and realized that this must be close to all the remaining missiles the enemy fleet had.
The forward battlecruisers began evasive maneuvers as the rest of First Fleet tried to cover them with defensive fire. Unlike Excalibur, they were at the front, and thus had less depth. Battlecruisers did not have the armor and shielding a dreadnought could carry, and it showed. Even as over two thousand missiles were intercepted, the rest began their final run, having been launched from such short distances.
RFV Mother Isadora faltered and limped out of formation even as the cruisers HMS Harken and INS Black Hurricane closed up on her, linking their targeting controls to provide covering fire. The two forward squadrons weathered the missile storm bravely, but ultimately only two ships came out well enough to continue the battle.
And then they were in mass driver range.
"Fire as you bear!" Syrene called out as her command console indicated that her ship had locked on to an oncoming LRN battlecruiser. Actuators moved electro-magnetic coils to the proper alignments, capacitors let loose their pent up energy, and RFV Skies of Liberty fired her entire forward batteries.
It was madness, ships of the two fleets passing each other in mid-flight; relativistic slugs thundering across the emptiness of space at each other from knife-fight range. Syrene's eyes were locked on the tactical plot, her face an expression of graceful calm despite the raging infernal around her ships. Several mass driver slugs pounded into her ship's shields, the feedback from the shield generator causing tremors on the deck. Her starboard mass drivers reacted to the incoming fire, sending volleys back at the Dragon Lord battleship that had targeted her. The bridge shook as shields failed, leaving armor to absorb the impacts of incoming rounds.
"Reroute power from back-up systems to our shields," she ordered tautly, her eyes still on the tactical plot. Syrene's lips curled up in a grim smile as HMS Excalibur drew alongside the Dragon Lord, the tactical plot showing that she had the LRN painted. HMS Silver Knight, the rest of Battlecruiser Squadron One-One-Two close by, had it targeted as well.
"Helm, hard roll to port!" The universe turned around her ship as she presented undamaged armor to the battleship. Even as a volley of fire cratered portions of her armor, Excalibur and Silver Knight fired their port batteries. The oversized ERH mass drivers of the dreadnought sent slugs travelling at sixty-thousand kilometers per second into the LRN battleship. The battlecruiser's mass drivers sent slugs at about half the speed, but at this range, flight time was instantaneous for both.
Syrene was uncertain when the enemy ship's shields failed, but the end result was the same. Sensors could see the other side of the massive battleship exploding outwards, the lights flickered off as it lost power. By the time First Fleet's flagship had flew past it, the battleship was just another wreck in the engagement zone.
"Shield One estimates sixty seconds before we get sufficient power, ma'am."
"It'll have to do. Time to acceleration?"
"Twenty seconds, ma'am."
She toggled on the comm channel and waited. The constant back and forth chatter of the rest of the bridge crew melded into the back of her consciousness as she focused on the tactical plot. HMS Sentinel's Vigilance vanished from the plot, her position close enough such that her funeral pyre lighted up the view port despite the automatic filters. Skies of Liberty dived down and ducked below a frantically turning LRN cruiser, her speed causing it to go by in a flash. Some of the LRN ships appeared to have caught on, and were stopping and pivoting while the rest of First Fleet continued to fly past. The volume of space in front of her task force was suddenly free of ships as they broke through the melee, and she keyed her mic.
Eight Frelian battlecruisers and twenty cruisers suddenly went to full acceleration, even as the rest of First Fleet made rapid deceleration and turned to present their broadsides against the turning LRN ships. Task Force One-Eight-Oh pulled away from the main fleet battle, speeding towards Renais itself, the beautiful blue planet taking up more and more space on the view port.
LRN Manticore destroyers tried to break through First Fleet's interposing action and gave chase. They tried and they died. Already the frailest weight class, they ran straight into First Fleet's broadside. Syrene watched the plot with bleak eyes as a single volley from First Fleet's mass drivers turned all thirty-one of them into distant fireballs. Against the overwhelming firepower, there could not have been many survivors.
No matter, we have our duty as well.
She could trust Admiral Seth to hold the main enemy fleet at bay. That still left the small problem of the LRN ships orbiting Renais. She glanced at the mission clock and shook her head. They could not afford to delay any longer.
Syrene opened the comm channel, "This Task Force shall engage the orbiting enemy. Skies of Liberty, Cloudstrider and Mordred's Redoubt will target the battleship. White Sand and Moonlight Veil will target Arjuna One. Invincible and Starcaller will target Arjuna Two. The rest will engage targets of opportunity. I remind you that our primary objective remains to protect our payload – destruction of the enemy ships is secondary. Syrene out."
Arjuna One and Two were the codenames assigned to the Arbalest-class battlecruisers present. They were priority targets because of their massive missile magazines. She did not have enough ships to ensure hundred percent defense coverage for the transports against those two warships.
"Ma'am, a we've received a private transmission from Colonel Gerik."
"Patch it to my personal comm."
The light on her console blinked on, and she keyed it in. The mercenary commander said in a gruff voice, "I heard we'll not be waiting for the signal?"
"That is correct. We are past the allocated time, and further delays may decrease our ability to secure a LZ on Renais."
"Can't say I like it, but orders are orders. Those two women wouldn't let us down though."
"I'm sure they wouldn't. Our actions may actually make their job easier, in fact."
There was a pause over the commlink, then a short laugh.
"You Frelians aren't the bad sort, you know."
"Well then, good hunting. Gerik out." Syrene cut off the link, and leaned back. They had closed the distance with the enemy ships, and five of the 'cruisers' in her task force began to separate, deviating slightly as they went straight for the planet, while the rest of the ships cruised at the enemy. They were in actual fact assault transports, carrying forward elements of the Fifth Army and Ithildin assault troops. This was the gist of OpPlan Five. – landing shock troops to disable a part of Renais orbital defenses to allow both orbital supremacy and clear a landing zone for the main army.
"The enemy is shifting to intercept the transports, ma'am."
"I see it," she checked the range. They were close enough for a good firing solution. Vice-Admiral Kyle was right; this would expose her to heavier return fire. Syrene suspected there was some other reason Kyle disliked this OpPlan, but he finally backed down when she put in her own reasoning why it was the best one they had during the meeting. All water under the bridge now.
Her voice was not loud, yet it was clear enough for everyone on the bridge to hear it.
"All launchers, open fire."
The hum of the shuttle's thrusters was soothing in a unique way, Marisa realized. She tied her long hair back into a pony-tail as the rest of her men performed last-minute gear checks.
Having led Ithildin's SOTs, or Special Operations Teams, for the past few years, this was the largest deployment she had ever seen. There were three other stealth shuttles, each of them carrying an SOT to their target destination. As the captain, she was leading SOT-1 to the site with the highest threat assessment.
So far, the stealth system seemed to be holding up. The main fleet battle in orbit must have helped as well, since most of the sensors were probably tuned towards low orbit to detect incoming shuttles. The Aes Dana had crept to the far side of Renais, taking a long but ultimately undetected detour. That allowed the cruiser to insert the Ithildin-designed stealth shuttles, and they flew in under cloak.
"Captain, coming up on Site Alpha. It's lighting up like an Evergrace Tree even on our passive sensors," the pilot reported over the ship communication channel. "Doesn't seem like they've picked us up, but their ground security must be at full alert."
Marisa frowned. She was the only one in SOT-1 wearing a light tactical suit; the rest of her team was equipped with medium tactical suits for infiltration and light assault. If ground security was already at full alert, infiltration would not work, and assaulting them without power armor was suicide. There was only one solution.
"Change of plan," she said in her typical under-stating manner. "I'll go in alone. Signal when ready."
Most of the team had served with her for a few months as least, so they were used to it. And thus they were well aware of her abilities. The designated sniper, who was attached from the main Renais army, spoke up.
"Wait. I know you've… ah, a mountain to climb, but isn't this a little much?"
"Only way, Colm."
"Now who's the one not speaking English?"
"Too dangerous for you."
The young man gave her a defeated sigh.
"…Okaaaay. If you say so."
She stood, picked up her customized Shimizu & Hitomi SH-312 pulse rifle, and walked over to the drop tubes. Marisa entered one of them, closed the tube hatch, and keyed her headset communication unit.
"Isaz One, comm check."
"Isaz One, this is Titania, we hear you loud and clear," an older female voice answered. Tethys.
"Proceeding with Case White Stork," Marisa said as she activated her suit's electronic cloaking system. She brought up her armored left hand and watched it disappeared.
"Understood." Followed by a pause. "Come back alive. Remember? We still should have that talk."
Her cheeks warmed up as she stammered, "I-I don't know what you're talking about. I-I've got to go!"
She hit the 'eject' button, and her stomach lurched as the metal plate underneath gave way to open air.
Captain Tethys smiled onboard Aes Dana, her communication link with 'Isaz One' temporarily severed.
"Another interesting reaction. Truly, youth is so cute."
Marisa pushed her multi-purpose goggles down, ignoring the rushing wind as gravity pulled at her. Night-vision was the spectrum she settled upon, the landscape covered by shades of green as she located her landing point.
She spread her limbs to slow her descend, shifted her arms to point her directly at the landing point, then tucked her arms to her side and straightened her legs. SOT-1's captain picked up speed again, and was at terminal velocity soon.
The HUD on her goggles began to flash red as it warned her of her impending date with the ground. Marisa watched the altitude indicator calmly, keeping a hand close to her waist. Using something as primitive as a parachute was out of the question. The rate of descend was too slow, and the cross-sectional area of the parachute too big. Thrusters emitted too much heat to be blocked off by her ECS. That left the prohibitively expensive anti-gravity decelerator.
Typically not available to mercenaries, and even standing militaries, Marisa had obtained quite a few for her personal use. She was paid well for her abilities, and did not have many things to spend on except gear and weapons – weapons like the customized pulse rifle.
She pressed a button along her belt and activated the decelerator. Her velocity immediately began to bleed off, though the ground was still approaching fast. Counting to ten, she then pushed it to full power. Tucking her legs in, she curled up and hit the ground rolling.
There were a few bumps along the way, but she made it to a stop in one piece. Brushing herself off, she got up and eyed her vicinity with satisfaction. She had landed just inside the perimeter of Renais' Aerospace Command. The schematics provided by Admiral Seth were displayed on the HUD, and she referenced her position to the western edge, close to the entrance of the main structure.
Good. Saves me time.
The outer perimeter was covered by a series of anti-air mass drivers that would massacre any conventional aerospace attackers, while the inner perimeter had a series of bunkers with interlocking fields of fire. Marisa could see soldiers in combat suits and power armor moving about – the majority of them manning the mass driver positions.
A quick diagnostics showed her ECS working perfectly, and she was on the move. With the pulse rifle magnetically secured to her back, she ran across the bunkers' killzone without being detected. Upon closer look at the enemy soldiers, she was dismayed to see the Imperial Army's emblem. Worse, some were wearing Wallace Mk IIs. Her pulse rifle would have issues penetrating the defenses of the super heavy power armor, and her only effective weapon was extremely short-ranged. Fighting them in the open would only end one way, and fighting them in confined spaces would be…exhilarating due to the flamethrowers built into the armor.
With a neat side step, she moved past two Grado soldiers as they walked out of the massive blast doors, and into the main structure itself. Aerospace Command was second only to Orbital Command in terms of planetary coverage, and the latter would ultimately be the final objective. But in order to land close enough to Castle Renais to take out Orbital Command, they had to do something about the multi-tiered defenses; unlike when Grado first invaded the planet, this time the allied army had to contend with an active and substantial enemy fleet. Disabling Aerospace Command would allow enough breathing room to do just that.
Utilizing skills she had picked up, and the advanced technology built into her suit, she was able to reach the command room with little issues. Most of the defenders' attention was drawn outside, not to someone who had already infiltrated the building. The problem was in the command room itself. Two Wallace Mk IIs were inside with a single imperial fire team. There were only two exits. One was the main access hallway she came from, and the other led to the emergency landing bay, presumably used to shuttle command crew in and out on short notice. That was well and good, but that also meant she had only one point of entry – the main door.
She leaned against the wall, and took a peek through the open door. No signs of any command crew still. Using the console would undoubtedly trigger their attention, ECS or not. Attacking them with ECS up meant giving up the energy required to boost the tactical suit, resulting in no strength enhancement and no ballistic protection. The four infantry might not spot her immediately, but the two power armor would definitely last long enough to burn through her ECS at such close range.
Marisa withdrew from the door, and disengaged her ECS. Power was rerouted to the combat function of the suit. It did not boost her physical strength as much as the average power armor, but sufficient enough for her. Her father, if nothing else, had trained her well. Hefting the pulse rifle in her arms, she took a deep breath. And another. And then she sprinted through the door.
The pulse rifle was a cross between an assault rifle and a light mass driver. It accelerates bullets to supersonic speed with electromagnetic pulses, able to do vastly more damage than an assault rifle; but it was ineffectual against most heavy armor, unlike the light mass driver.
The fire team leader, she presumed, was about to shout out a warning when she placed his head in her rifle sight and fired. One moment he had a head, the next there was an expanding cloud of blood and gore.
The ballistic crack of the bullet was unnaturally loud in the room, but she ignored it as she depressed the trigger calmly three more times, taking down the entire fire team before they could lift their weapons. Still on the move, she ducked and rolled along the consoles to avoid return fire from the power armors. Bullet cratered the wall where she had been standing, and she fired back with a quick burst over the console. That did nothing except to scratch their paint.
Instead of the sounds of alarms she had expected, she heard the heavy 'thud' of their footsteps as they drew closer to the console she was taking cover at. Perhaps they were going to take her out before reporting in?
She leapt from cover, straight up the console. They must had expected her to try and make a run for another console. Instead, they stared at her for a split-second – long enough for her to propel off the top of the console towards the armored soldiers.
This was why they called her the Crimson Flash.
With her black suit, all they saw was her flowing red hair as she barely avoided a stream of fire from the flamethrowers. Marisa gripped the side of an armored arm and pivoted off, slapping a breaching charge against the faceplate. Before she landed, she planted a second charge on the faceplate of the other soldier at a speed possible only due to the strength enhancement of her suit. Keeping the momentum, she slid on the floor till her foot touched a wall, and she rolled on the ground till she was behind the console just as the breaching charges detonated.
The faceplates were the only marginally weaker part of typical power armor. But breaching charges were designed to take out blast doors, and she coughed slightly at the smoke from the explosion. Standing up, she took a look at the remains and quickly averted her gaze – it was rather messy, even for one with her experience. She walked over to the main console, intact thanks to the directional blast zones of the breaching charges, and sealed the main door of the command room. The code given by Seth for the override still worked, and she wondered how careless Orson was not to change it.
A series of commands later, she had locked down override authority to those within the command room, namely herself. With the room secured for now, she began a series of data-uplink to the defense centers around Renais under Aerospace Command jurisdiction. Programs designed by Commander Lute wrecked havoc with their communication network, altered the calibration setting of the weapons, and deleted fire-control software. Though she was not a programmer, Marisa could admire the work as a fellow master in her chosen craft. The communication console lighted up as multiple users attempted to connect with the command room. She ignored their hails and methodically used Lute's program to dismantle Aerospace Command's battle-net. Communication units not linked to the battle-net could still work though, and soon she was able to hear shouting from the other side of the sealed door.
Locking down the console, she collected her pulse rifle and moved towards the landing bay, keying her comm unit.
"Isaz One here. Package has been delivered, time to-"
The muted sound of an explosion stopped her mid-sentence as she turned quickly to the sealed door. There was a noticeable dent in the middle. Breaching charges. The imperial army reacted faster than she had expected. If they were already trying to bring the doors down, that meant…
A burst from the pulse rifle destroyed the electronic panel by the door. Forcing the door open with bypass would be even harder now; though using more firepower to break through the door remained an option. Tremors shook the room as another dent appeared. Marisa ran to the landing bay and checked the labels on the few supply crates lying about. None were weapons, unfortunately; at least none were flammable or explosive either.
Pulling and shifting the crates with her enhanced strength, she managed to form a crude waist-level wall right before the landing pad itself. Her HUD went crazy with alarms as more and more enemy were detected by the suit sensors. Taking a look to ensure the door was not breached yet, she backpedaled to the edge of the landing pad to scan the ground floor of the Aerospace Command compound.
The fortified mass drivers were still offline, their turrets lowered in inactivity. However, the imperial army had brought out hover tanks and mobile artilleries. She could also see a dozen or so soldiers in Wallace Mk IIs headed for the entrance of the main structure. It would not be long before they reached the command room.
Marisa moved back to the make-shift wall, kneeling behind it and rested her pulse rifle on top, aiming at the door. She keyed the comm unit, no longer bothering with call-signs, "This is Marisa. I have neutralized the battle-net, but there is a wave of imperial soldiers advancing on this position. I need immediate evac."
Whatever reply that came was lost in the sound of the door exploding inwards. Several Grado soldiers in combat suits rushed in before the smoke and dust had cleared. Their screams of pain and surprised were short-lived as she cut them down with precise bursts from her pulse rifle. Combat suits provided limited protection against assault rifles, but the energy imparted by her weapon was too great. Another rush concluded in the same way, with the entrance now awash in blood and tatters of flesh and the smell of passing thunder.
The explosion from behind caught her by surprise as she was knocked into the crates. Pieces of ceramic and concrete bounced off her suit as she turned. The landing pad was not quite gone, but there was a huge hole that she could see through to the ground level. It appeared they had called in fire support on her position. There were no more places for any shuttles to land, and the only way out of the landing bay and command room was through the door full of hostile power armors. She spoke into her comm unit again.
"Belay that order. Covering fire is too heavy down here."
A burst of static.
"W-what? We're not just gonna leave you!" The jamming was heavy, but that sounded like Colm.
"It's done," she said with finality and turned her attention back to the door, sending a stream of rounds into the faceplate of a standard imperial power armor. The first few hits cracked the glass alloy, and the unerring accuracy of the following rounds smashed through. There was a sickening crunch and a splash of blood from the ruined faceplate, then the user-less armor ran into the wall on pure momentum.
The night seemed to darken as she continued her one-woman holding action. Blind fire peppered her position. She ducked, then rose and triggered a few rounds back. Screams of pain answered back. Reload. Careful bursts as another squad went down to her accurate shooting. Marisa always had her father as her ultimate goal, though it appeared she would not be reaching it after all. Another reload. Wallace Mk IIs entered the room. A sustained burst knocked out one feet actuator as the soldier struggled to move his suit. Empty clicks as her ammunition ran out.
It was odd how dark everything was. Perhaps her night-vision was damaged? She pressed herself against a crate as the one stacked at the side was blown off by light mass drivers. The end would not be long in coming now-
"All Grado soldiers, this is Captain Tana of the Allied First Fleet."
She blinked in surprise. The sound came from her comm unit, on the open channel! That meant everyone within broadcast range should be able to hear it. She looked up at the sky, and there was the most magnificent sight she had ever seen - the battlecruiser Achaeus hung over the compound like a giant Sword of Damocles, the kilometer-long hull casting a looming shadow over the base. How did it arrive so quickly? The air flickered, and the Aes Dana materialized besides the battlecruiser, its cloaking systems deactivated.
"Power down your weapons and surrender, or we'll commence kinetic bombardment in thirty seconds."
Marisa looked back at those storming into the room, and was relieved to find most of them beginning to drop their weapons. Her eyes turned back to the Frelian warship up in the skies.
Uncertain, and a little shy, she waved.
Life was full of ironies, Seth decided.
The planet's surface loomed larger as the converted assault shuttle began its descending maneuvers. Many months ago, imperial assault shuttles like his had made planet-fall. Now it was his turn to be in one. The memories of distant flares of light and sensor read-outs returned again, reminding him of the time lost, of personal failure, and strangely, of the rustling of silk and body warmth.
After Captain Marisa had single-handedly taken out Aerospace Command's battle-net, resistance planet-wide fell apart quickly. With the enemy fleet smashed, Fifth Army landed with little incident, and the planetary defense stations that were supposed to be manned by Orbital Command were silent. That was peculiar because Castle Renais was not targeted at all, and they should still have an operational battle-net and command structure. He did not like the implications.
The shuttle passed through the lower cloud layer, and he could feel Eirika stiffen beside him. It was night time in Renais City, but almost three-quarter of the city was unlit. Even from this height, he could see clear signs of battle damages. Collapsed buildings were not cleared, the wreckage of a crashed warship still sitting in the middle of Park Royale. It had been months since they occupied Renais, what in the Everlasting's name had they been doing?
The scars of the city tore at his heart, and he knew Eirika (he chided himself for thinking of her name instead of 'princess') must felt worse. They were her people, and she had fled. Logic mattered little in this case. Seth placed a hand over her wrist and squeeze gently. She stiffened further, before relaxing. He thought he heard a 'thank you', but it was too soft to be certain.
Eirika walked down the ramp of the shuttle to be greeted by her brother, who was still in full power armor with the faceplate shifted up.
"We've done a sweep. No one is here, except for..." he grimaced, trailing off. Seth, who was following her, ventured, "Orson, sire?"
That explained the lack of response from Orbital Command. No one was manning it.
"Indeed. We found him alone in the throne room, though I have ordered our men not to storm it yet. I think we'll all want some answers."
Eirika nodded. She was not close to Commodore Orson, but Ephraim's marine unit had been attached to his squadron for almost a year; he also served as an assistant instructor in the Naval War College when Seth was in his second year. She knew that though the younger man had eventually risen higher up in ranks, he always respected Orson as a person, even if not considering him a friend.
Ephraim kept in step with her despite of the enhanced strength, Seth was behind her, and they were surrounded by a group of power armored marines. An Imperial marine at the front of the group wearing blue marking – to differentiate him from the Grado 'remnants' – whispered to a Frelian marine taking point.
"Shit, that's Admiral 'Silver Knight' back there?"
"Yes. And you really should refer to him as Admiral Seth."
"C'mon. He's not my commander. Ya know. I heard his flagship was the one that destroyed Moonstone?"
"That is correct."
"Cool. That shithead deserves to be whacked."
"…You do not like General Valter?"
"Don't like him? Shit. Most of us Duessel's man hate them vacuum suckers. Well. Admiral Selena's 'right with me."
"Silver Knight's okay too. Saw the reports – he whacked them pirates real good a few years ago. Scumbags, all of them."
"Admiral Syrene's cool too. She sure has a fine rear, if ya know what I mean."
"You are an inconsolable letch, Exter!"
Walking through the desolate corridors, Eirika knew she should not laugh. She barely suppressed a giggle as the above mentioned admiral cleared his throat and the two marines quickly shut up. Their whispers were not very subtle. She was glad though – the conversation showed a certain level of bond between the soldiers, and they needed the strengths of those bonds in the battles to come.
As they neared the throne room, it was clear that most of the tapestry and valuables appeared to have been looted, probably shipped off-planet long ago. Anger flooded her as she realized how negligent Orson had been in his rule. Traitor or not, he should not have treated his new position so. Not just to the castle, but to the people of Renais as well.
When they reached the doors to the throne room, she took a breath to calm herself.
"Status report," Ephraim said to the marines he had left by the door.
"No change, sir. He's still sitting on the throne alone talking to himself."
He gestured for them to open the door, and swept into the room. Eirika took a good look at the man who was named Steward of Renais by the occupation forces, and found a madman. Orson was paler than she remembered, and the blood-shot eyes most certainly did not mesh well with the wild smile. Her memories spoke of a quietly handsome man who always lit up with a smile when talking about his beloved wife – this was an abomination of those memories.
Her voice was accusing as she spoke, "Orson… Why would you betray us?"
He stood up from the throne, his eyes almost…pleading as he said, "…Princess Eirika. If anyone could understand my feelings, it might be you." The man paused. She could not be sure, but she thought that he had glanced at Seth before he continued," For the one I love… I betrayed everything. My country, my lord and master… Everything…"
Eirika was stunned. His wife was dead! But... Perhaps they had offered him what they did to Emperor Vigarde? That thought sent chills down her spine as Orson descended into unintelligible ramblings. Even though he was a traitor, she could not help but feel sympathy for him, watching him as he was now.
And then he looked up again, a trace of sanity once more in his eyes as he stared past her. Seth. She turned slightly to look at the red-haired man.
"Seth… So you've come, have you?"
"Orson." His voice was neutral, but she could see the tension from his shoulders.
"You're an impressive officer, Seth. You would sacrifice your life for king and country. Not even a moment's pause." He spat. "It's a pitiful, unrewarding life, through and through."
The malice behind the words was shocking, yet at the same time Eirika could sense some… jealousy? Jealous of Seth's career? That he did not experience the pain of losing a loved one? She did not know. What Orson said must had stung, for she noticed Seth taking a breath to compose himself.
And then he looked at her meaningfully before answering.
"It is my charge. It is my hope." Her heart jumped even as his eyes turned to the traitor. "Orson… Prepare yourself."
She held a hand up to her chest, trying to calm herself as Ephraim gestured for two marines to apprehend Orson. But the latter shouted, "No! I won't let you come between us!"
He drew a concealed pistol… And flew backwards as Ephraim's assault rifle cut him down. The prince said nothing as he stepped past the blood seeping onto the marble floor, and headed to the bed chambers connected next to the throne room. Eirika quickly followed him, with Seth right behind her.
She paused, and had to fight down a wave of nausea before entering the room.
She was right. They had turned Monica into the same thing they turned Emperor Vigarde into.
"This…is horrible," her brother said for all three of them. Eirika shook her head, speechless.
"This same technique was used to control Emperor Vigarde. She's already dead, and her corpse was used to…" He shook his head as well, "You needn't look any longer, Eirika. Let's go outside."
The thing was still murmuring 'darling' as Seth drew his side-arm, his tone grim. "…You can't say this thing is truly alive anymore. I'll-"
"No," Ephraim interrupted. She knew he felt a personal responsibility for Orson, as a former superior, as a former friend. His tone was bittersweet as he said, "I'll do it. The two of them spent every day in here, did they? Orson was mad. But I think… He was happy."
A single gunshot ended it.
Despite the muted sound from the celebration in the streets as words spread, the mood was somber in the throne room. Eirika was alone with her brother, as Seth had requested for a short leave of a few hours to attend to personal matters. The others were staying in other parts of the castle, catching up with each other or taking the chance for a rest.
"We've finally made it back. Yet…"
She agreed. "We can repair the castle. What was stolen, we can do without. But the wounds and suffering inflicted upon the people of Renais…"
"It's too late to undo their pain. Once I become king, I must set our country right. I will not let their hopes and dreams be shattered again. Like my father before me, I will dedicate myself to their happiness," he said firmly as he looked out of the window.
She managed a smile. He had truly matured. "And I will do all I can to help, Ephraim."
And then he turned back to her with a wry smile, "You know, after I become King and have taken a Queen, our people will expect you to take a Prince-Consort. I happen to know a certain admiral..."
She elbowed him as she flushed bright red.
Or maybe not.
Seth closed the door behind him carefully as he stepped into the room. It was dark except for the light coming from the kitchen. His steps were measured as he walked towards the smell of food. It was childish, but… He was half afraid this was a dream.
He paused, looking at the woman who had just emerged from the kitchen with her red hair tied up in a bun. Her apron was well worn and well kept. Her face was beautiful despite her age, and now that he was here, he did not know of what to say.
Her expression went from shock to disbelieving to tenderness and she smiled, "When I told you to find yourself a young lady, I didn't expect you to whisk a princess away with you."
"I-I…" His attempts at finding words continued to be in vain. That ceased to be important as she rushed forward to embrace him in a hug.
"Welcome back, Seth. And you have made me a very proud woman over the last few months."
"M-mother…" He managed with a voice thick with emotions. She was alright, she was well.
The circle was closed.
He was home.
A/N: That was a long journey. Yes. Selena is still alive in sci-fi!Magvel. And yes, Syrene is recruited already. Main reason is that I envisioned her as the most senior Frelian naval officer, as befitting her original status as the only pre-promoted unit among the three pegasus knights.
Hopefully you enjoyed the fic, and have fun finding the references and shout-outs.
Updated: Thanks to Gunlord's reminder, moved it here.
Homecoming's Extended Author's Notes
Grand list of reference/shout-outs for Homecoming, and random author's notes.
Just so I can keep track of it myself, and for anyone interested to see where and how I got names. I will be going down the names in the order they appear in the fic for the most part.
First, the three letter designation in front of a ship's name is modeled after real world naming convention (USS Seawolf, HMS Trafalgar etc).
INS - Imperial Navy's Ship - Grado
HMS - His/Her Majesty's Ship - Renais
RFV - Royal Frelian Vessel - Frelia
RNS - Rausten Navy's Ship - Rausten
Excalibur - Sacred twin weapon. I used it for the dreadnought mainly because I wanted to place Seth in it, and the name fits his knight motiff better. By the time 'Homecoming' occur, there are enough battleships in First Fleet such that there should be no reason for an admiral to fly his flag from a battlecruiser, even if a top-tiered one. A dreadnought named Excalibur seems like the perfect new ship for him to transfer over from.
Audhulma - As above. Though stats-wise it appears to be the better weapon for Seth in game, the name itself did not seem as appropriate for his flagship. Again, to make Project Fire Emblem be an actual impressive project, they actually made a stealth battleship.
Ithildin - Alloy of Mithril made by the elves in Lord of the Rings. I actually connected Gerik's bunch with Full Metal Panic's MITHRIL ever since I played FE8, what with Gerik deciding to stay with Innes despite the danger. Homecoming gave me the perfect opportunity to toss that in.
Aes Dana - Another name for Tuatha de Danann Just as the 'flagship' of FMP was the advanced submarine Tuatha de Danann, Aes Dana is the flagship of Ithildin. I made her a cruiser as realistically within the universe, stealth cruisers are about as advanced a ship as mercenaries could obtain. Even those with outstanding reputation. As Audhulma above showed, stealth battleship was more or less considered a impossibility.
Tethys and Marisa - Tethys as a captain, as I do not think I can fit a dancer in properly. Also, it contrasts well with Gerik's ground role in the group. Marisa being special ops was a no-brainer when I first started thinking about sci-fi!Magvel.
Farina's Luck - A obvious shout-out to FE7. Pegasus-class cruiser and Falcon-class battlecruiser are so named as Frelia seems to have a monopoly on them in FE8, and those are how I imagined them to be like in the sci-fi setting.
RNS Wings of Justice - A righteous enough name for the RSN, and more importantly, a shout out to justifiedwings . Not quite the same, but Just Wings or Justified Wings seems a little strange for Rausten, so I went with Wings of Justice instead.
RNS Mark of Elysian - Asphodel Meadows and Elysian Fields are both part of Tartarus - a section in the greek mythological underworld. So, a shout out to mark_of asphodel .
HMS Ravenhound - Hound is a dog, essentially. Just like a wolf is. So, raven wolf. Or wolf raven. Ho ho. Yes. Subtlety is my middle name.
HMS Emerald Lance and her captain - Emerald Lance aka Green Lance aka Sain's epilogue nickname. Her captain is named after planetes , of course.
HMS Scarlet Shield and her captain - Scarlet Shield aka Crimson Shield aka Kent's epilogue nickname. Her captain is named after the birthday girl herself.
Hamill Corridor - Reference to Chapter 12 of Eirika's route, to the battle of Hamill Valley. There are no 'valleys' in space, so Hamill Corridor, as I envisioned it, is a 'Corridor'. A term used in sci-fi!Magvel to refer to a piece of space with two warp points, and nothing of interest. Essentially a corridor in space. Most warp points exist in star systems, so a Corridor is special in that it is just the void of space and nothing else.
Artemis System - Well, I know of at least one Artemis Fowl fan on my flist...
Oka Nieba - 'Sky Eye'. The name was taken from Ace Combat 5, the call sign of an AWACS aircraft, so I thought it suitable for an electronic warfare destroyer.
Flameberge-class battlecruisers - Thematic naming convention for the Royal Renais Navy.
Hoplite-class and Cataphract-class battlecruisers - The spearmen and heavily armored cavalry of our past. Mmm. Also, as per history, Cataphracts do carry bows into battle, so the ships have light missile armaments.
Manticore-class destroyers - Named it that as I felt it fit the desert theme of Jehanna for some reason.
HMS Duncan - Recall Alistair from 'Into the Night'. They are two Grey Wardens from the game Dragon Age: Origins. Excellent game, that.
HMS Adelaide - Name of the PoV character from wolfraven80 's 'Distance'. Again, a fitting name for one of RRN's battlecruisers.
HMS Seventh Sunrise - Seth experience seven sunrises in wolfraven80 's 'Sunrise'. At least, narrated ones. I do have a ship named Fifth Dawn in my sf setting, so it was apt either way.
Divine Retribution-class battleships - Well. Original name. I chose the name because... this IS Rausten, after all.
RNS Fires of Liberation - The title of Ace Combat 6.
RNS Glorious Anthem - Another original name.
Valkyrie-class battleships - Selena is a mage knight in FE8, and the other 'promoted' class of the same tier is Valkyrie. Which sounds better than Mage Knight-class, in my opinion.
INS Fluorspar - The Imperial Navy named her after Selena.
INS Lenneth - A valkyrie from the the series 'Valkyrie Profile'.
INS Endless Winter - To continue with the Valkyrie theme... Ragnarok from Norse mythology is the final battle, the final winter etc etc.
HMS Galahad - Galahad is a knight of the Round Table.
HMS Night's Hammer - From Star Wars.
Arbalest-class battlecruisers - References FMP, and the fact that it is a missile ship.
RFV Mother Isadora, HMS Harken, INS Black Hurricane - Isadora from FE7, her A-support with Renault ends with her in the clergy. Harken and Legault (the Black Hurricane) are both possible romances for her.
RFV Skies of Liberty - Syrene is a Falcon Knight. Soaring in the skies and all.
RFV Cloudstrider - Original name.
RFV Mordred's Redoubt - Named after King Mordred of Etruria in FE6.
White Sand and Moonlight Veil - See that name? shimizu_hitomi 's 'Sand and Moonlight', a Percival x Cecilia fic.
RFV Starcaller - Starcaller is a title obtainable from World of Warcraft after defeating Algalon the Observer in Ulduar.
Syrene designating the enemy ships as 'Arjuna' - Arjuna or Arjun is one of the Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahābhārata. Also used in the game Freespace 2 to designate Shivan fighters.
Evergrace Tree - My lame attempt at 'Christmas Tree' in Magvel.
Marisa's conversation with Colm - references and implies their A-support has been done, in which Marisa talks about having her father as her target.
Shimizu & Hitomi SH-312 pulse rifle - First part is completely self explanatory. 312 refers to FE3 and its remake FE12. Also a reference of sort to the real world fire arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch.
Marisa's conversation with Tethys - references and implies their A-support has been done. Though in this case I choose to make it vague if they were talking about Gerik, or just Tethys teasing Marisa about someone she likes.
Isaz One - In FMP, Mithril's soldiers uses callsigns like Uruz, proto-germanic names of norse runes. Uruz is the rune of strength, while in this case, Isaz is the ice rune.
Marisa calling off evac - is a subversion of the Starcraft 2 trailer 'Ghosts of the Past'. She gets rescued here, unlike Kerrigan.
RFV Achaeus - Achaeus is the name of Tana's pegasus in FE8.
Exter, the imperial marine - Name taken from a character in wolfraven80 's 'Distance'.
Confrontation with Orson - References both the battle encounter with Orson if you use Eirika or Seth to fight him.
Well, I think that is all.