Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Phase 50 - Find the Way

April 6th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance flagship Chrysalis, Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia

This was not the first time Grand Admiral MacIntyre had watched a Destroy unit on the warpath. On a purely professional level, there was something awe-inspiring to see one of those monstrous gods of war at work. They tore through enemy formations like tissue paper and their shimmering positron reflectors made counterattack impossible for all but the most skilled and well-equipped foes. And that was only one. Rampaging through Carpentaria's shattered lines of defense were no less than three.

And yet it was clear, every time one of those massive weapons went out, why the Earth Alliance was still wrapped up in war three years after it had declared victory over ZAFT. How could people fail to hate these monstrosities, and their own powerlessness to stop them? How could people fail to love the Minerva, the only force in the Resistance, it seemed, that could stop them?

But that was about to change. The Charlemagne was grinding forward into the fight, and Ivan Danilov and his titanic black warship were the only things the Minerva hadn't stopped. And nobody could have stopped the Requiem. That had gone perfectly. It had sawed open the Resistance's first two lines right down the middle—and the third line was already getting pushed back into the base itself. MacIntyre glanced towards the sky, and the faint but familiar red streaks of drop pods in atmospheric reentry. The orbital drop was right on schedule too, and Carpentaria's defenders appeared none the wiser. Soon there would be a good two battalions of mobile suits to the south of Carpentaria, causing havoc behind the lines. Perhaps the war could, as Lord Djibril had gambled, be won here today.

Which was good, he mused, because there was another war on its way.

"Those things again."

In the Chaos's cockpit, Sting was not sure which made him shudder more: the towering Destroy Gundam looming over the waves, or how Stella seemed not afraid, not impressed, not dismayed, but downright offended to see it. In battle, he knew, she was even less normal than she usually was—because most people, when faced with a Destroy Gundam, did not sneer and decide to kill it.

Then again, as he turned back towards the Destroy, so did he.

"Well," he grunted, "I guess we shouldn't be surprised that they're showing up." He glanced over at the Gaia and Abyss, standing ready on the beach as the waves crashed in. They had returned to the beach to help the shattered Resistance forces in the wake of the Requiem attack, but that had not gone well, and it was a moot point either way now. "Shall we proceed to kick its ass?"

Auel grinned back. "Kick its ass hard."

Stella merely nodded, and Sting broke out into a smirk. Up ahead, the Destroy tilted its massive cannons down towards the beach.

"Well then," he said, "break!"

The three Gundams rocketed apart, just as the Destroy opened fire. Sting concentrated for a moment, lifting off the Chaos's gunbarrels, and lunged to the right as the Destroy let loose a punishing barrage from its circumference cannons. The Abyss deflected a volley with its shoulder shells and returned the fire with a full burst of its own, pounding against the positron reflector—distracting it just long enough to let the Gaia dart in close with its beam saber drawn.

Instead, the Destroy angled one of its cannons to cut the Gaia off with a well-placed shot, and the guns roared back to life, forcing all three smaller mobile suits on the defensive.

"I forgot, they've improved these things," Sting grunted. "Stella, we'll distract it again! Go!"

Shinn Asuka snarled a curse as the Strike Noir came within inches of taking off the Destiny Gundam's head. This entire battle was falling apart at the seams. First the fleet, then the Requiem blast, now the Destroys—what was next?

A knot of pressure rose up behind him, descending from the sky, and Shinn realized with a sinking heart that that—an orbital drop—was what was next.

"Should've known this would be a goddamned failure!" he snapped, and jammed his sword into the Noir's path to deflect its sword strokes. "When is it not?"

The Noir took another swing at him, and Shinn seized his chance. He threw the Destiny beneath the Noir's feet and then rocketed up behind it. The Blu Duel charged forward, beam saber ablaze—Shinn lunged skyward again, letting the Blu Duel slice through nothing but an afterimage. The Verde Buster brought its rifles together to fire a pulsing red blast towards the Destiny, and Shinn felt the Blu Duel lining up its guns at his Gundam's back.

I was wondering when you'd fall for this...!

Shinn threw the Destiny back towards the earth just before the Verde Buster's beam struck. The Blu Duel followed his descent and fired just as Shinn slammed on the brakes—and just before he lunged to the side. The Blu Duel's two blasts instead passed through the afterimages and slammed directly through the Verde Buster's shoulders, striking the missile magazines, blowing both its arms apart, and sending the mobile suit's ruined hulk dropping towards the sea.

Inside the Blu Duel, Mudie's blood froze in her veins. She stared for a moment after the smoking Verde Buster, and the horrible wave of fear rushed up her throat.


Her world flashed red and she whipped around towards the Destiny, already occupied by the Noir in another swordfight. She hadn't meant to—she had been aiming at that thing—what if he—

"You bastard," she snarled, "I'm going to gut you!"

Rau Le Creuset grinned like a beast as he brought his javelin down onto the Slaughter Windam's beam saber. Crayt Markav could put up a decent fight in that Euclid of hers, and even in a mere Windam, but she still could not hope to defeat him—not like this, not here, and not yet.

The Windam lunged forward, trying in vain to push the Legend back. Crayt bit back a scowl in the cockpit, with the gray Gundam looming above her. "Why you continue to fight like this is a mystery to me," she snarled. "You saw what we can do. Ask your comrades who died in the Requiem's blast!"

"Oh, yes, a master stroke, that was! My compliments!" cackled Rau. "I'm very impressed. But you didn't kill us all, and that's a mistake that will cost you!" The Legend hurled the Windam back with a saber swing and charged forward. The Windam darted aside, only for the Legend to whip around, line up its beam cannons, and open fire. Crayt hissed in frustration and flung her Windam down towards the earth—and the Legend swept down upon her with a saber hack that the Windam's blade barely blocked.

"The Requiem may not have killed you, but don't think I'll let you leave here alive!" Crayt snapped. "After all..."

Rau spared a glance over his shoulder at a tremendous crashing noise, and found the hulking mass of a Destroy Gundam grinding towards him from behind.

" still have to deal with that!"

Crayt felt her heart sink as Rau merely flashed a vicious grin. "I've always wanted to kill one of those things for myself," he chuckled. "First I see a truly amazing example of your ridiculous, destructive hypocrisy, then I get this! This day just gets better and better!" He glanced over his shoulder again. "Well, I'll enjoy that, but first, a loose end—!"

With a start, Crayt threw the Windam back to avoid the Legend's furious saber swipe—but too late. Rau laughed triumphantly, the Legend's beam cannons opened fire, and Crayt watched in disbelief as Rau blasted her Windam out of the sky.

Inside the Legend, Rau frowned for a moment. She wasn't dead—and she was going to land in the ocean. Well, he thought as he turned towards the Destroy, no matter; he had far more fun ahead of him than that.

"Well, I mean, come on," Viveka said with a chuckle as the Savior and Infinite Justice rocketed back towards the beach. "It's only three times as big as us."

Athrun took a breath that wavered more than he would have liked. "I'm not joking, Viveka," he replied. "I've lost a lot of friends to these things. Don't go tempting fate."

Viveka opened her mouth to shoot back a witty retort, but the look of painful memory in his eyes stopped her short. "Alright," she murmured, "just don't think I'm going to be useless."

"Never." Athrun narrowed his eyes. "It's starting up—move!"

The Savior and Justice lunged apart, just as the Destroy let loose a blazing beam cannon salvo. Athrun sent the Justice skyward, stashed his beam rifle in favor of his well-worn double-bladed saber, and plunged back towards the smooth, rounded armor. Viveka lined up behind him, pouring plasma fire after him and into the Destroy's positron reflector.

Instead of shifting back, the Destroy plowed ahead with a wave of missiles and beam fire. Athrun hissed a curse and darted back towards the sky with Viveka, lining up to cut down the missiles with a burst of CIWS fire.

"So they improved," Athrun snarled. "Well, so have we!"

The Destroy angled up its Aufprall Dreizhen cannons and opened fire, forcing the two Gundams apart again, and Athrun charged back down with a scream.

Tension rippling up her veins, Emily waited anxiously for the Morrigan Gundam to attack again. The Twilight jammed its beam saber up to deflect the Morrigan's blow, and lunged aside as the white Gundam deployed its railguns for a point-blank shot.

"What a pleasant surprise!" Monique cackled. "You've gotten better!"

Emily glared back. "You have no idea."

The Morrigan brought its saber down again and roared after the Twilight, blades clashing and sparks flying. "Oh, but I do!" Monique laughed. "I've been looking forward to this fight for quite a while, little girl!"

With a flourish, the Morrigan charged again and swept with its saber at the Twilight's waist. Emily caught the blade with her own, knocked it back, and whipped around for a swing of her own, missing the Morrigan's head by inches. She closed in as her foe recovered, bringing her own blade down onto the Morrigan's beam shield—and with a scream, she drove the Twilight's knee up into the Morrigan's torso, throwing the entire mobile suit back.

"Don't think this'll go like last time!" Emily snapped. "You have no idea what I can do!"

"Don't I," chuckled Monique. "I saw what you did to those ZAFT troops the other day, sweetie. Are you gonna crush me to death too?"

Emily scowled down at the white mobile suit. "You'll be lucky if it's that quick."

The Morrigan charged again, saber flying. "Then let's make it count, girlie!"

The Twilight reared back, pounding its saber against the Morrigan's blade, and rammed it in the chest with its shoulder. As Monique struggled to regain control, the Twilight reared up before her, and it was all she could do to jam her saber into the Twilight's path and stop its blade. The black Gundam flung its enemy forward, but Monique stopped a second downward hack with her own blade and stared in surprise into the Twilight's burning blue eyes. She wasn't kidding—she had improved.

"Your father would be proud—" she started with a grin.

She felt herself thrown back into the cockpit seat as the Twilight surged forward. "Don't talk to me about my father!" Emily screamed.

Monique shot back with a wicked smile. "Touched a nerve, did I?" The Twilight answered with another powerful saber blow. "Well, let's go, little angel! Let's get you mad!"

Battleship Minerva

"Heat signatures rising!" Burt cried from the sensor console. "Charlemagne is preparing to fire!"

Meyrin eyed the massive black warship warily for a moment. It had firepower far beyond the Minerva, but her ship had speed and maneuverability—and the Charlemagne, she knew, was not invincible. If she could somehow turn its own firepower against it...

"Malik, I'll leave the evasive action to you," she said. "Chen, keep the Parsifals loaded and get the Tannhäuser charged up. Keep the heat level just below the maximum operating threshold."

"The radiation is going to fry everyone here," Abbey warned, "including the troops on our side."

"Not the way I'm going to use it."

The Minerva swung around and below the Charlemagne's pulsing column of beam fire. Meyrin eyed the wave for a moment—

"Chen, fire!"

With a rumble, the Minerva's Isolde and Tristan guns opened fire. The shells hissed by the Charlemagne's bridge tower, but the Tristans made contact—against laminated armor, the green blasts splashing off harmlessly.

"Charlemagne preparing to fire again!" Burt exclaimed. "The heat signature is front-loaded—they must be charging up those bow cannons!"

Meyrin bit back a curse—the Minerva was not yet in position. "Malik, evade!"

As the Minerva struggled to starboard and barely escaped a shining inferno of positrons, Meyrin glanced back at the huge jet-black hull. It was gigantic, it was protected by laminated armor, and it had enough firepower to destroy a city—but it also had a whole lot of mass, and Meyrin was going to make that count.

The Legend Gundam danced with expert precision through the Destroy Gundam's vicious beam storm. The red eyes flashed and the Destroy moved forward, positron reflector flickering. Rau glanced down towards the Destroy's feet, where he could see some Resistance mobile suits trying to bring the colossus down. A moment later they were blown apart by the Destroy's circumference beam cannons, and Rau shrugged his shoulders indifferently. With tactics like that they practically deserved to die.

The Destroy let loose another blast from its overhanging cannons, forcing the Legend back on the defensive. Rau scanned his foe for an opening—he would have to get close and use the javelin to do any damage, thanks to that reflector. He lined up for a beam cannon barrage of his own to pound the reflector with a hurricane of beams and charging in close as the Destroy angled its own cannons for a counterattack. The blasts seared by the Legend, scorching its armor, but Rau flashed a grin as he brought down his javelin—tearing a gash between the eyes on its huge backpack.

At that, belching smoke and fire from the wound, the Destroy shuddered and began to straighten up. Rau merely grinned, as the Destroy ponderously transformed into its hulking mobile suit form.

"Now that's more like it," he chuckled, even as the Destroy opened fire again.

"One of you is down," Shinn grunted, as the Strike Noir rained sword strikes down onto his Arondight blade. "Now for the other—!"

Inside the Noir, Sven snapped his glance over his shoulder. "Mudie, now!"

The Blu Duel dropped in behind the Destiny, beam guns deployed, and opened fire—Shinn saw it coming and threw the Destiny to the side, forcing the Noir to dodge Mudie's killing shots.

"Ah, not falling for that again, are you?" Shinn cried. "Too bad!"

The Destiny rocketed up with a roar of engines that shook the sky, and Mudie screamed in shock was the unstoppable Gundam slammed its left hand clear through her machine's left shoulder, detonating the supply of Stiletto penetrators. The Blu Duel shuddered as its entire left arm went sailing towards the ocean, and Mudie whirled around in fury with her remaining arm—

Instead, the Blu Duel reeled back as if in agony, as the Destiny slashed off the machine's entire right arm and sent it spiraling towards the sea with a stunning kick to the chest.

Inside the Noir, Sven ground his teeth in frustration. Of course those two would get themselves shot down, leaving him to fight the Destiny alone. The Gundam with the wings of light whipped around, pointing its sword combatively at the Noir.

"You and me now, buddy," Shinn said, grinning triumphantly.

Sven charged at the Destiny with a scream, swords raised. As the Destiny pulled back for a counterstrike, the Noir somersaulted over the Destiny and whirled around, swinging for its waist; Shinn jammed his sword into the path and knocked the Noir's blades aside. He surged forward and threw the Noir back; Sven shot his machine's right foot upward, catching the Destiny by the side of the head and throwing the Destiny backward. He followed up with a furious sword stab, only for the Destiny to twist around, bring down its own sword onto the Noir's blades, and leave the two mobile suits locked together, glowering into each other's eyes.

"Whether or not you survive, the Resistance has been destroyed as a fighting force," Sven growled, taking some solace in the knowledge that his words would reach the enemy pilot through the vibrating contact between the two machines. "You are defeated no matter what!"

Shinn merely chuckled. "I've heard that before, Devil's Saber."

Sven scowled and pushed forward to knock the Destiny back, and charged to resume the fight as the seed fell before his eyes.

Athrun Zala bit back a curse as the Destroy unit before him poured firepower into his beam shield. Viveka's Savior Gundam lunged up behind him, letting loose a plasma cannon volley that pounded uselessly against the positron reflector—just long enough for Athrun to charge, saber held back.

Instead of making contact, he threw the Justice aside and let the Destroy fire off another wave of beams. He ground his teeth in frustration and leapt backward—and the Destroy, rattling the earth, began to transform.

"Y'know, this thing wasn't such a pain to kill when it was all eight of us," Viveka sighed, the Savior crashing down next to him.

"Its defensive power is lower in this form," Athrun answered, cut off when the world shook and the Destroy's transformation locked itself into place.

He snapped a glance over his shoulder, at the sight of a squadron of Resistance mobile suits rising up behind him. Jet Dagger Ls, DINNs, BABIs—none of them with a chance. A grizzled face appeared on Athrun's auxiliary monitor.

"Commander Zala, we'll cover you!" he cried. "Get in close!"

Athrun watched in disbelief as the mobile suits spread out, letting loose their full firepower, even as it impacted harmlessly against the reflector. He charged forward, hoping to use the distraction—but instead, the Destroy ignited a massive beam saber on its right wrist and swept the blade through its foes horizontally. Athrun somersaulted over the blade, but the others were not so lucky, and disappeared in a massive burst of flame.

"Dammit," he grunted, "how can it move that big an arm so quickly—?"

The Savior darted up above the Justice with another plasma volley, only to see it land against the reflector. Viveka let out a harsh laugh and darted forward, ducking beneath the Destroy's second saber swipe, and triumphantly plunged a saber of her own down towards the Destroy's head—

Athrun's eyes went wide. "Get out of there!"

Viveka blinked in surprise—just in time to see the Destroy tilt its head up and reveal a cannon there. She hurled the Savior aside an instant before it fired, letting it singe her Gundam's crimson armor, and backed away as it poured firepower after her.

"Goddammit!" she exclaimed. "Where—how the hell—that's not fair!"

The Justice threw itself between the Savior and the Destroy. "I'll handle things that close," Athrun said. "You keep it distracted."

"Why do you get to have all the fun?" she muttered.

"Oh, trust me," Athrun answered, his face grim, "you'll have all the fun you can handle."

The two Gundams roared apart as the Destroy opened fire again.

"Man," sighed Auel, watching grimly as the Destroy completed its transformation and ignited the beam sabers on its wrists, "I hate it when it does that."

Sting cracked his knuckles and spared a glance towards the Gaia. "You ready, Stella?"

Instead of answering, the Gaia pounced forward, beam saber flashing to life. It vaulted off one foot into the air, somersaulting over the Destroy's furious saber swipe, and came down with a scream to slash a diagonal scar over the Destroy's face. Stella pushed off from the Destroy's chest with the Gaia's feet, backflipped over another saber swipe, and then threw herself back towards the beach as the beam cannons opened fire again.

Sting and Auel watched in surprise as the black Gundam landed and pointed its saber combatively at the towering Destroy.

"Um, okay," said Auel, "point made. Sting, let's go!"

The three Gundams jumped back into the sky and darted apart, letting the Destroy's fire slice between them. Auel lined up for a return barrage of his own, pummeling the Destroy's positron reflector; Sting hurled the Chaos in close, igniting the beam claws on its feet and kicking upwards. The blades tore a pair of smoking gashes into the Destroy's left arm, and Sting rocketed skyward to dodge the resulting saber swipe.

With the Destroy's arms out, Stella seized her chance, rushing in close with beam saber held high.

"You're just a target!" Stella screamed, and somersaulted over the Destroy's chest cannon blasts. The Destroy brought its right arm around, saber blazing—but Stella jammed her shield into its path, stopping the entire blade. "I'm going to crush you!" Sparks flew and the shriek of tearing metal filled the air as Stella brought her saber down, severing the Destroy's right arm at the elbow.

The Destroy fired its chest cannons again, but Stella hurled her Gundam towards the sky, scowling down at the wounded Destroy.

"Jesus, Stella, take it easy," Sting began. "Auel, focus on the left arm! I've got it damaged!"

Emily squinted through the sparks as the Twilight and Morrigan clashed, beam sabers blazing against each other. The Morrigan brought up its knee, ramming the Twilight back; Emily seized her chance as the Morrigan closed in and planted a solid left hook against the Morrigan's face. Monique snarled in anger and stabbed forward with her saber, deflecting the Twilight's killing blow.

"So how do you like it?" she chuckled, grinning at Emily's glowering face. "All that power that your father gave you. It's invigorating, isn't it?" The Morrigan rushed forward, engines roaring, and pounded the Twilight's saber again. "Can you feel it creeping back up to the surface? Can you hear his voice? Do you understand now that you can never escape?"

Emily scowled back and kicked the Morrigan in the stomach. Monique leveled off her submachinegun in her left hand—only for the Twilight to rip it clear from her hands and throw it towards the ground. Monique looked on in surprise as the Twilight charged again for another swordfight.

"This power is mine," she snarled, "and I'll thank you to remember it!"

The Twilight slammed its saber down against the Morrigan's blade, and both Gundams were showed with sparks.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

With his ship rumbling from near-misses and return fire, Ivan Danilov kept his eyes fixed on the Minerva, twisting around to his ship's port side. The Minerva had scored a few hits, but nothing that the Charlemagne's laminated armor could not shrug off. But the Charlemagne, for all its firepower, had yet to land a hit—and Danilov was not about to let it stay that way.

"Minerva's heat signature is staying steady, sir," the sensor officer reported. "It's still focused on the prow. The positron cannon's heat signature and energy readings remain the same."

"They must be waiting to set that thing loose," Vera muttered. "But if they fire it, the radiation will kill their own troops as well."

"Not necessarily," Danilov warned. "Ronald, put the weapons on a free firing pattern. Don't give them an opening!"

The Charlemagne's guns boomed again, filling the sky with pulsing beam blasts, and Danilov eyed his winged foe warily as it swerved away from his vessel's irresistible firepower.

I must not be getting in your head this time, he thought ruefully. But I don't have to this time.

Viveka laughed victoriously as her saber came down with a shriek of metal and she severed the Destroy Gundam's left arm at the upper arm, lopping the whole thing off and darting aside as its circumference cannons opened fire again. "Ha! Take that, you fucking brick!"

Inside the Justice, Athrun slalomed through the web of firepower and hurled his Gundam towards the ground, beneath a pulsing wave of beam fire. He snapped up the Grapple Stinger anchor and fired it, clamping it down into the Destroy's right arm. The Destroy turned its head towards him, its Zorn cannon already glowing with energy, but too late—Athrun used the Grapple Stinger to drag himself past the Destroy's fire and slice off its right arm at the elbow.

The two Gundams came back together before the wounded Destroy, beam sabers shining in the sun. "One more attack should do it," Athrun said, "unless things go wrong, of course."

With a shudder, the Destroy opened fire again and the two Gundams darted apart. "But first, if you'll indulge me for a second...!" Viveka snapped, and fired back with a plasma cannon blast against the Destroy's reflector. The Destroy fired back with its mouth and chest cannons, forcing the Savior back on the defensive. Athrun hurled himself into the fray and fired with his own beam cannons to catch the Destroy's attention—and an instant later, the Savior somersaulted down in front of the Destroy and lopped off its head with a single saber stroke.

Athrun looked on in surprise as the Destroy's severed head slammed into the sand and Viveka took off amidst the Destroy's furious return fire.

"Goddammit have I always wanted to do that!" she laughed. "Okay, hero-boy, put him to sleep!"

Athrun shook his head with a sigh, and the two Gundams rocketed down towards the mauled Destroy. It let loose a vicious beam cannon barrage, but the two Gundams danced through the beams and darted apart. Viveka plunged down towards its legs, severed the left one at the knee, and sent the Destroy pitching forward.

With a scream, Athrun charged in close and drove his beam saber into the Destroy's cockpit. An ear-piercing shriek of torn metal filled the air as Athrun whipped his saber up and widened the wound, then darted aside—and the Savior poured firepower into the opening.

Athrun backed away and landed with a satisfying crash as the Destroy collapsed forward and finally died in a thundering explosion. The Savior came down next to him.

"See?" Viveka said with a smirk. "I can do heroic crazy shit and not die too."

Athrun, however, was silent as he surveyed his machine's instruments. The entire third line had retreated back into the base complex, and the Alliance forces were now fighting building-by-building. And no one had been able to contact Wellington for over an hour. He reached out with his senses, searching for the commandant among all the flickering and vanishing lives—but there was nothing. Was he dead, or was Athrun simply not sensitive enough?

"This isn't going well," Athrun grunted. "Come on, let's move back with the line."

The two Gundams turned south and took off.

"Close, but not close enough!" cackled Rau Le Creuset as the Legend Gundam effortlessly danced through the Destroy's furious beam fire. "Now then, let's just get you to leave me an opening and...!"

The Destroy swiped at the Legend wildly with one of its huge wrist-mounted beam sabers. Rau flashed a vicious grin as he twisted the Legend up over the blade, while dipping down his own javelin and slicing off the Destroy's left arm. It swung up towards the Legend with its right arm; Rau punched the blade back with his beam shield, cackled with glee, and seized his opportunity to storm forward and stab the Destroy through the middle of its chest cannon array.

The wounded giant staggered back under the blow and pummeled the Legend's beam shields with blasts. Rau scanned the Destroy's mutilated body—the smoke pouring from its chest and the smoldering, molten stump of its left arm—and planned his next move. The Destroy stormed forward with its remaining saber, bringing it down vertically; the Legend jetted to the right and stabbed to the side with its saber, cleanly cutting off the saber emitter. The Destroy swiped with its arm towards the Legend; Rau somersaulted over the arm and lunged down to stab the Destroy through the face, blowing apart its head.

"I appreciate your being stupid!" Rau laughed. "Now, to finish you off!"

The Destroy poured firepower into the Legend's beam shield, driving it back. Rau hurled his Gundam towards the ground, and the Destroy desperately followed him with a wall of fire—

Too late to see, the Legend lunged up towards the Destroy's chest, ripped open its cockpit with an upward saber strike, and pounded a full volley of beam cannon shots into the wound.

Rau backed away with a grin as the dying Destroy staggered back, flames and smoke ripping out of its armor, and watched it die in a massive explosion.

The gunbarrels swarmed around the Destroy, pounding its armor ruthlessly. The hulking mobile suit staggered back under the blows and raised its remaining arm to strike back. Instead, Auel came down in the Abyss with a scream, sweeping his lance through the arm at the elbow and slicing it off. The Abyss rocketed to the side, whirled around, and fired back with a punishing barrage of beams.

"Alright, one more time!" Sting cried; the Chaos darted in close and ripped the Destroy's head off with one of its foot-mounted claws. "Stella!"

Screaming all the way, Stella threw the Gaia through the Destroy's desperate net of beams and tore her way up to the Destroy's chest. The towering mobile suit took a tentative step back—Stella's eyes flashed in determination, and she drove her saber into the cockpit.

Dying and spewing fire, the Destroy collapsed backward and came down with a great reverberating slam—and Stella watched with satisfaction as the hulking thing finally went up in flames and smoke.

"God damn," Auel laughed, "we still got it!"

Stella glanced up at the Abyss and Chaos, watching them land as she stowed away her saber and drew her rifle.

"Things are going to shit back there," Sting said with a sigh. "The enemy has broken through everywhere. A bunch of our troops are just running away." He nodded towards the base, where columns of smoke were already rising up. "What do you think? Is this still worth it?"

The Gaia stepped forward, rifle held high. "There's still fighting to do," Stella said, "and bad guys to get rid of."

With that, the Gaia took off towards the base. Sting and Auel glanced at each other, shrugged, and followed.

Rattling under the Destiny's heavy sword blows, the Strike Noir crossed its blades and caught the Arondight between them. Shinn cursed as the Noir hurled his blade high and charged in close for a killing blow—instead, Shinn jammed the Destiny's right foot forward, slamming clear into the Noir's chest and throwing it back.

Sven shook his head furiously and hurled the Noir down beneath the Destiny's horizontal sword swipe. Shinn followed with a scream, bringing his sword down onto the Noir's blades and throwing it back further.

"Well aren't you difficult!" Shinn snapped, brought his sword down hard against the Noir's blades, and threw the dark mobile suit back. He charged forward, sword held back for a killing blow—

Instead, the Noir jammed one of its swords into the Arondight's path, deflecting its blow. Sven swung his left-hand sword towards the Destiny's waist, forcing it to jet backward and let the blade sweep by inches from the Destiny's armor. The Noir charged and started another ruthless chain of sword swings.

Shinn bit back a curse and waited as the Noir brought up one of its swords for another blow—and, with a scream, he lunged forward and pounded the Noir with his shoulder, throwing it back. He brought his sword around towards its waist, and cursed when the Noir thrust its left-hand sword into the path, deflecting Shinn's finishing stroke. Sven brought down his right-hand sword, forcing Shinn to rocket away backward, and he pointed his sword combatively at the Noir.

"Carpentaria has fallen," Sven said quietly, eyes fixed on the Destiny. "Your allies are fleeing. Continuing this battle is pointless."

"Maybe to you," Shinn snarled back, "but I'd never expect you to understand."

Shinn pursed his lips as the seed fell and the two Gundams hefted their blades and charged at each other again.

The Twilight Gundam somersaulted over a horizontal saber sweep from the Morrigan, and inside Emily glowered down at the white mobile suit. It came charging again and suddenly let loose a blast from its twin rail gun, pounding the Twilight head-on. Emily hurled her machine towards the ground, dodging the Morrigan's killing saber stab, and whirled around to face her foe again.

"Now this is a fight!" Monique laughed. "You're finally fighting at the top of your game!"

Emily scowled back. "You haven't seen anything yet."

"Oh?" The Morrigan charged again, saber in hand, pilot cackling triumphantly. "You wound me! So what will it take to draw out your real power, huh!" The Morrigan pounded the Twilight back with a downward saber hack. "How many of your demons do I need to dredge up?" With a crash, the Twilight kicked the Morrigan in the side of the head and spiraled back out of the white mobile suit's range. Monique cackled in delight. "Should I point out the great failure of your family life? Should we talk about your mother? Should I—"

"Shut up!" Emily screamed, and with a crash she brought her saber down onto the Morrigan's blade, throwing the white machine back even further. "I am sick to death of your pathetic attempts to get under my skin!" The Morrigan shuddered under her blows. "You want to see my power? Fine! It'll be the last mistake you ever make!"

Monique merely laughed. "What, all you've got are threats, Angel of Death?"

Emily clenched her fists around the Twilight's controls and fixed the Morrigan with a furious glare. "Just remember," she snarled, "you brought this on yourself."

The Twilight's wings flashed to life and the Gundam took off with a blur of afterimages.

Battleship Minerva

Meyrin eyed the hulking Charlemagne as the Minerva came twisting around towards its prow, dangerously close to the line of fire of its massive prow cannons. But they were nearing position, and the enemy's guns were charged up—and running hot—

She felt fire race through her veins. It was a risk, but if it worked, victory would be hers. "Chen, fire the Parsifal missiles, free target acquisition mode, set to infrared!"

"Infrared?" Chen echoed. "Captain, the heat buildup in the Tannhäuser—"

"Our missiles are going to target us!" Abbey finished. "What are you—"

"Just do it," Meyrin said through clenched teeth. "Abbey, divert all energy except for the engines to the forward heat management systems in the armor. Malik, accelerate us at flank speed towards the Charlemagne."

"What—are we going to ram them?" Roxy started. Meyrin shot her a look, and snapped her eyes back towards the Charlemagne. The Minerva edged into position, and Meyrin blocked everything out as she fixed her eyes on the closing gap between the two ships—

"Parsifal, fire! Malik, flank speed!"

The Minerva shook as its missile tubes roared to life and its engines hurled it forward. The Charlemagne's ventral guns swiveled to meet the challenge and opened fire, but the shots pounded against the Minerva's prow uselessly—and a moment later the ship came streaking in.

Meyrin narrowed her eyes. "Malik, pull up, sixty degrees!"

The Minerva's prow obligingly swung up, and the ship arced up above the Charlemagne's hull. Meyrin glanced over her shoulder, blood and adrenaline pumping.

"Tannhäuser, fire!"

With a scream of straining metal, the Minerva's Tannhäuser let loose a devastating stream of positrons, launching them into the sky over the Charlemagne's hull. The heat level dropped, and Meyrin fought back the urge to smile as her own missiles locked on to the next highest heat source—

The sweet feeling of victory coursed through her veins as she watched her missile barrage slam into the Charlemagne's white-hot prow, blowing apart the cannon inside and knocking the entire vessel back as though it had been kicked.

"Our Parsifals..." Chen started. "They've all impacted on the Charlemagne!"

"The next highest heat source was their prow," Abbey said with a smirk of approval. "I see."

Meyrin allowed herself a satisfied grin. "Chen, Tristans are to target the Charlemagne. Tear her up!"

Pulsing columns of beam energy lanced out from the Minerva's Tristans and pounded their way through the Charlemagne's smoldering prow, blowing off several of its ventral gun turrets and knocking the ship to the side. Smoke and fire pouring from its many wounds, the Charlemagne staggered out of the sky and towards the beach.

At that, with a heavy sigh, Meyrin sat back and caught her breath.

"No matter what you do, I've won this fight!" Sven cried, swords clashing with the Destiny Gundam's massive blade. "This is all useless!"

Shinn ground his teeth, focusing instead on deflecting the blows from the Strike Noir and seeking his opening. The Noir came down with a brutal series of sword strokes, driving back the Destiny. Shinn pulled back and then lunged forward suddenly, pounding the Noir's twin blades with the Arondight.

"You have a lot of nerve to tell me what's useless," Shinn snarled.

The Noir charged, blades raised for another attack. "You have clawed around on the margins of the world for too long!"

Shinn stormed forward with a scream and swung his sword forward, catching the Noir's blades. He continued forward anyway, ramming the Noir bodily with the Destiny's right shoulder—and with a crash, he brought his sword sweeping up to slice off its right arm, its right wing, and its head in one blow. The Noir tumbled towards the sea, its swords sailing to the side—but not before drawing its left-hand beam gun in its remaining hand and leveling it off for a final shot.

"Not today!" Shinn roared; with a crash, he brought the Destiny's left-hand palm cannon down onto the Noir's arm and blew it apart.

Inside the Noir, Sven watched with fury and disbelief as the Noir's lights darkened and the defeated mobile suit plummeted back towards the earth.

"Revel in your victory over me while you can, Wings of Light," he growled. "You've still lost this war."

The Chaos Gundam staggered out from behind an exploding building, with flaming wreckage raining down around it. Sting whipped his rifle up and opened fire, catching an Alliance Windam by surprise and blowing it apart—but two more rounded a corner and returned his fire, forcing him back behind his shield and the flimsy protection of another empty hangar.

"Man, we turn our backs for a little while to kill some giant bad guys and they go and fuck everything up," he grunted. "Auel! Stella! You hear me?"

A burst of static sounded for a moment before Auel's irritated face appeared on the auxiliary screen. "Sting! This is endless!" He paused and his image flickered as something blew up on his end. "They're fucking running away at this point. Is it really worth staying?"

The ground shook, and Sting glanced to the side with a small sense of relief as he saw the Infinite Justice and Savior come down next to him, and the Legend not far away. Another explosion flared up behind the Chaos, and Sting glanced back at the Gaia and Abyss as they flung themselves from the smoke.

"You guys have good news, right?" Sting asked.

Athrun snorted in disgust. "This whole thing is a mess. I'm going to try and get in contact with the Minerva and see if we can get out of here while there's still time." He glanced towards the north—where the Alliance's fleet was eagerly landing more reinforcements, among the smoking ruins of the Resistance's fleet. "They stashed a space booster south of here, in Woomera, for the ship."

Sting heaved a sigh and glanced at Auel and Stella. "What a way for our grand plan to end the war to go, eh?" he asked, and rolled his eyes. "What about Shinn and Emily?"

"They are making their own fun," Rau put in with a smirk. "Athrun, I think the time has come to cut our losses."

Athrun cast a glare at Rau for a moment and turned away. "Let's find the Minerva."

As the Gundams lifted off, Sting glanced around the wreckage of Carpentaria—and the hopes and dreams of the Resistance, smoldering and dying among it.

"Well," he muttered to himself, "it was all kind of a crock of shit anyway, wasn't it...?"

"Don't think you're superior to me!" Monique snapped, eyes racing to keep up with the Twilight as it darted and flashed across the sky. "You still don't remember everything!"

Emily scowled at the panicking pilot on her auxiliary screen through dull, lightless eyes. "You just don't understand..." The Twilight closed in with a ruthless chain of saber strikes, driving the Morrigan back. "Not that I expect you would..."

The Morrigan whipped around, saber held high, only to catch an afterimage with its furious downward hack. Monique snapped her attention over her shoulder and swung around again, barely deflecting a saber swing from the Twilight aimed at her machine's back.

"I'll make you understand!" Emily cried, and charged forward with an army of afterimages around her—

Monique screamed in disbelief as the Twilight ripped off her Gundam's right arm with a palm cannon strike.

"That Gundam and that life are not mine!" Emily screamed.

Monique drew back, deploying the Morrigan's railguns—only for the Twilight to sweep its saber through their barrels and cut them both off.

"My body and my power and my life are not yours!"

The mutilated Morrigan staggered backward, throwing sparks—and an instant later, the Twilight lopped off its head with a clean horizontal blow.

"That's why...I'll take my power, as the Angel of Death, and make it my own! And I'll..."

Monique stared in horror and desperately drew a beam saber in the Morrigan's remaining hand, even as her mutilated machine threw sparks and smoke. "You little bitch—!"

Emily's eyes flashed in fury. "I'll kill you!"

The air filled with the sound of snapping metal as Emily stormed forward and drove her Gundam's saber clear through the Morrigan's cockpit. She hardly winced as she felt the pilot's life disappear—or as the Morrigan finally died and exploded before her.

Instead, parting the smoke with a burst of exhaust from the Twilight's wings, Emily merely watched as the debris drifted back towards the earth.

She will be our angel of death.

She shook her head and glowered back down towards the Morrigan's smoldering wreckage.

"I'll be my own angel of death, father," she said, fists clenching and trembling around the Twilight's controls. "Just watch."

Battleship Minerva

Meyrin bowed her head in defeat as the words filtered through the Minerva's bridge. It was no real surprise, but that made it no less demoralizing.

Chiao Xu sat in silence on the auxiliary screen, on what appeared to be the bridge of a land battleship. Joseph Copland stood by his side, speaking.

"Captain Hawke, you have to get to Woomera and get that space booster," he said, his face brooking no disagreement. "It is imperative. Get your crew, gather up what you can, and get the hell out of here."

Meyrin eyed the two leaders—one broken, the other still defiant—with concern. "What are we supposed to do when we get to space?"

"Anything. It doesn't matter right now." Copland glanced surreptitiously at Chiao Xu—but not surreptitiously enough, for Meyrin still caught the gesture. "You'll receive new orders as soon as we can get them to you. But right now we have to focus on saving what we can from this," he waved a contemptuous hand, "mess."

"I understand," Meyrin said. "What about you?"

"We have our own escape arrangements," Copland said, with another glance towards Chiao Xu. "We'll get in touch with you once we get to space, but that's all I can say." He offered a tired salute. "Good luck, Captain Hawke."

The screen went dark, and Meyrin resisted the urge to massage her throbbing temples. Not yet; the job wasn't done yet.

"Roxy," she said, "send the recall message out to our mobile suits. Malik, get us moving at flank speed to the south. Set course for Woomera." She paused, sparing one last glance at the carnage across the battlefield at Carpentaria. "Abbey, begin the pressure checks. We're going to space."

Heaven's Base, Iceland

Standing before it all in the Heaven's Base control room, Lord Djibril laughed with manic delight at the images before his eyes. Resistance fighters fleeing in terror, only to be cut down by Alliance infantry and armor and mobile suits; the antiquated fleet of the Resistance getting blown away, that huge ancient battleship of theirs snapping in two under a Gottfried cannon barrage; the Destroy Gundams plowing through the enemy lines and tearing them open, never to be resealed, before they had themselves been taken out. Grand Admiral MacIntyre already suspected that at least half of the Resistance's forces were dead or wounded, and the overwhelming majority of the survivors were in craven, desperate flight. It was complete. It was unquestionable. It was victory.

And, as the screens suddenly went dark and Lord Djibril's laughter went silent, he knew deep in his heart that it was now meaningless.

An emblem appeared on the screens, and every person in the room gasped in disbelief. Djibril felt fire rise up his spine. He knew that logo, the hourglass shape and the stylized, swooping lines—

Someone stood up in shock.

"That's...that's ZAFT!"

A brown-haired woman in a resplendent black and red ZAFT uniform appeared in an ostentatious control room, and Djibril knew in the marrow of his bones that the real war had finally begun.

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, Lagrange Point 5

Fear. It was fear. It was enveloping the Earth Sphere like a dark cloud, icy tendrils reaching out to grip everything, every heart, every mind, every soul. The Earth Sphere was in fear.

And that, mused Valentine Sunogachi as she grinned for the cameras, made her return that much sweeter.

"Greetings, people of the Earth Sphere," she said with a smile. "I am Valentine Sunogachi, Marshal of ZAFT."

She paused and glanced almost imperceptibly at a man across the room—but he caught it, and Kira Yamato offered her the barest of smiles.

"Three years ago, you thought we had been destroyed, and our survivors had been exiled to Mars," Valentine went on. "But we have returned, and we are here now to declare war upon you of the Earth Sphere; you Naturals and traitors who destroyed our people. We have been exiled—but we have returned, and we have not forgotten. You, however, might not remember. Very well. We will remind you that we, the Coordinators of ZAFT, still live; our hearts still beat; and we are here to take what is ours." She stretched out her hand dramatically. "Mark my words well, people of the Earth Sphere. You do not know what agony we endured in our exile—but you will. When our war is done, you will know it as well as we do."

Valentine's grin flashed wicked, and she clenched her fist. All as she had foreseen.

"We are ZAFT...and we have returned."