So, a lot time ago I made a small piece. And presented it to this forum Sunrider's fanfiction contest, and somehow won despite the fact that it's grammar was kinda terrible and that it dripped the fact that I'm not a native English speaker everywhere.
But well, I was kinda happy with how it ended. The problem was that the fic was supposed to be a dual-piece and that I only finished the first part. Well, the 2 pieces weren't connected by anything, they only shared a theme and that one was more light-hearted and happy and the other more tragic and sad, so I felt they fit together in a strange but cool way. However, the first piece became a monster of 10k+ words and I didn't have time to finish the second by the time the contest ended. Well then, I thought I would finish it someday after... and here I am 9 months later. I really wanted to post it today, as it actually was about the battle of far port and I kinda liked the idea of posting it the same day as the novelization. 2 different looks on it, you know? But, as the first piece it has too grown into a monster (seriously 26k+ words for 2 short pieces...) and so today I still haven't finished. What I'm going to do then? Repost the first piece (the tragic one) as shameless self-advertisement and preparing the ground for the second piece, which should be finished in 2 days counting editing.
Unfortunately, the first piece is exactly the same as nine-months ago and I kinda want to edit it to polish it more, but as you'll probably have already supposed I still haven't had time to do it! So just look as this post as a repost of my old story for now!
I only made it because I forced myself to do it by this day even if I had nothing new to give, sorry
Also: " " indicates dialogue, while ' ' it's thoughts Home
"The place when you return where there is nowhere to go, yet the place you also want to find… The place which forgives everything… Your last refuge… The haven you want to defend…
The ideas of Home are varied, yet the universal truth is that every human yearns for one."
Piece 1:The shine of the moon is but a reflection, but its light is real
The Gilurian Crusade was the last known act of aggression of the Holy Ryuvian Empire. Undertaken the year 67, it was the brainchild of the crown prince of the Empire, Gilur di Ryuvia. After managing to stabilize the country, the prince launched an incursion against the rapidly expanding New Empire, trying to regain Ryuvia its former place as the number one power in the galaxy. Gilur was an incredibly skilled tactician and statesman, and was loved by the people, which was the reason he managed to convince King Jaylor VIII of declaring a holy crusade despite the country having only just recovered from great political instability. Committing 3 fleets with a grand total of 500 ships, the objective was Cera, a blue planet with great potential that had fallen against the Empire recently. With the Prince there were the Sharr Elanora gi Ryuvia, and the leader of his Royal Guard, Asha Gihelks.
The bells resounded in the Star Palace. On the gate of the magnificent building, and old man whose attire and crown designed him as the Emperor of the Holy Ryuvian Empire, was chanting some old verses while moving his hands in wide arcs. While the movements and chants clearly pretended to give powerful and sacred impressions, the figure of the old man weighted by his own robes gave it an almost comical feeling.
In front of him a number of spaceships were anchored, some small, others big, but all of them with the rust and physical decay that marked them as ships built before the Disaster.
Asha was looking at the ceremony from her post, besides the crown prince. The gardens of the Palace were filled with people, all of them wearing the rich garments that only nobles could afford.
Maybe because of the presence of such a crowd, the floor and walls of the Palace were sparkling clean. She could see her short brown wavy hair, tiny nose and amber irises on the reflection of the floor, and her not so tall figure wearing the Royal Guard Dress Uniform, in all of its white and blue glory.
"What a farce"
She turned her head upon hearing the baritone voice of the Prince coming from her side. Lord of Far Port, marquis of Versta and crown prince of the Holy Ryuvian Empire. Those where the titles of the youth with golden hair and emerald green eyes dressed in an almost simplistic military uniform, at least compared to the crowd of peacocks disguised as humans around them. As always happened when she saw him, her heart started pounding and she felt a little giddy.
"What do you mean, your Highness?"
She managed to mutter an answer, while maintaining her calm façade.
"We are now "witnessing" the "miracle of the Emperor’s protection", a mysterious force that surrounds the ships chosen by Him and weakens the power of any laser that is aimed at them. Yet the Emperor doesn’t feel the need to bestow such protection to every ship in the fleet. No, He only grants it to the vessels which were built before the Disaster, our oldest yet mightiest ships. A truly mysterious coincidence, isn’t it?"
The prince answered without missing a beat and with his typical mocking half smile on his face. However, his face suddenly changed to a more serious one.
"However, Asha, didn’t we talk about this? My name is Gilur, not "your Highness". Call me Gil, that’s an order."
He finished his words with his same half-smile, yet this time it was the one that was kind and full of warmness. The smile that always left her in a daze and with her heart wanting to jump from her chest.
"… I’m s-sorry, but in front of the entire Court, I couldn’t possibly commit such a rude action…"
She felt herself stutter. Bad, it was bad! Her heart was pounding, she needed to calm herself, take a deep breath…
"… The court is a meaningless one. See that man, the one in that ridiculously decorated dress? His family once ruled the entire Western quadrant of the galaxy. Yet today he has no lands remaining, and the only thing he is it’s another mouth that the Empire has to feed. In comparison, you are the one who has most right in this entire room to call me what you please."
"B-but I’m a simple commoner, my parents were simple farmers and my only skill is-"
She had started her typical tirade, and, as every time, the prince quickly interrupted her.
"Yet, here you are, commanding the Royal Guard and chosen because of your skills by the same Crown Prince. Have a little confidence Asha; I’m good at my job. Trust me"
"You have no job…"
"Hahaha, you got me, as always."
And so, when he answered with his usual catch-phrase, she had her rebuttal ready. Asha wasn’t able to remember the number of times this same conversation had happened.
Yet, no matter how many times Gil repeated his words, the feelings inside her didn’t change. She was dirty and unworthy, a simple woman with only one redeeming skill.
The prince was flash of light. Singlehandedly returning the stability to the Empire for the first time since the Disaster. Leading countless incursions against pirates until the Ryuvian Space was as safe as during the times of the Third Dynasty. And yet still having time to waste with plebeians like her.
"Still, if the Emperor allowed us to simply research the technology contained in those ships instead of acting this farce every time, things would be so much simpler…"
"But your High-"
Gilur glared at her, slightly frowning. She quickly corrected herself while trying to hide how flustered she was.
"I mean, prince Gilur, wouldn’t such a thing be considered a blasphemy against the Empire? It wasn’t the older emperors who forbid the research of such artifacts to avoid repeating our mistakes from the past and destroy the galaxy?"
The prince’s face had been clearly frowning at the beginning (specifically when she had said "prince"), but realizing that arguing with her wouldn’t change anything, he let out a sigh and started his explanation.
"What we want to research is purely a defensive force field, and from our old regular ships, not from the Ancient Weapons that were a mystery even before the Disaster. And I’m pretty sure that Father and the Royal Family would be a lot keener on permitting that research if Duke Porter, for example, had such ships. Right now all the ships with “miracle of the Emperor’s protection” pertain to the Royal Household. Just like the only Mounts with capacities that barely resemble the ones from before the Disaster form part of the Royal Guard. Father and my family are too scared of what would happen if they don’t have at least one ace in their sleeve that nobody can match, and the Royal Court is to busy licking their boots to do something which wouldn’t return them any kind of immediate benefit"
Gil’s mouth had descended into a bitter half-smile by the time he had ended his explanation. Asha sometimes had difficulty understanding that seeming dissatisfaction the Prince had respect the Empire.
All of her life she had been told that while its territory had diminished, the dignity of the Empire hadn’t decreased one bit. When she had entered the Royal Guard, it had been with the joy of entering the Royal Guard of the Galaxy’s ruler, the pinnacle of all crowns. Even in the actual ceremony, the Emperor was chanting old verses that spoke about Ryuvia’s glory and its fate as the Ruler of the Universe. For her, Ryuvia had always been the absolute center of the Galaxy.
Yet the Prince was never looking at the room. His green eyes were always looking at far away, at the immensities of the space outside the Palace.
"That’s why we need this Crusade, right now. If we delay it more, we will lose our place as a central piece of the Galaxy. While we are here, watching this play, the New Empire is conquering planets, one after the other. I have news that they have recently reached Tydaria."
Gilur turned his face away from the ceremony in front of him, almost like he couldn’t stand it.
"If we continue doing our very best trying to remain still, so that the Galaxy doesn’t realize how low we have fallen, then the same Galaxy will leave us behind without a thought."
The face of the prince had a visible frown by the end of his words. Sincerely, Asha couldn’t understand. How could the mighty Holy Ryuvian Empire, with all of its history, all of its culture, all of its dignity, fall behind a newcomer nation that even had “New” on its name?
'Well, of course I’m unable to understand. I’m a worthless woman after all'
Precisely at that moment, she saw a vision that made her heart sink in a bottomless pit.
The prince beamed at the newcomer, which had finally arrived in front of them after passing (discreetly) through the crowd. A full smile, not a half one, whose brightness was only comparable to the shine that had appeared in his eyes. Such an expression was reserved only for the woman before them.
Asha’s heart ached while she, as always, struggled to put a welcoming smile for that woman. She really couldn’t blame the prince, for that lady was Elanora gi Ryuvia. Long silver hair that cascaded down her back, blue eyes clearer than Mount’s Destiny water, an almost stainless skin and thin rose-colored lips. Her military uniform was similar to hers, but yet it somehow managed to accentuate her figure, that of a fully developed woman. It was white, but mixed with black instead of blue: the mark of the Sharr, the number one pilot in the Empire.
Elanora had a serene smile on her face, not even an ounce of sweat or anxiety betraying her sudden arrival.
"Good morrow, my Lord. I suppose that nothing of importance has occurred?"
Her voice was clear yet melodious. After she finished her salutation, she made a small bow toward the prince. Perfect manners and grace that betrayed her royal heritage.
Born from a secondary branch of the royal family, Elanora’s only option in her life should have been to get married to some noble as a tool to maintain that lord’s loyalty to the crown. She only shared a grand-grandmother with Gilur. Yet, she took military training, and her skills piloting Mounts impressed and enraptured the whole Empire. Recovering her destiny with her own hand, she took the position of Sharr, and as the brightest star in all of Ryuvia naturally charmed the Crown Prince and became his fiancée. It was almost like a fairy tale.
She really never had a chance.
"Don’t worry Elanora. Something delayed you?"
"My most humble apologies, my Lord. The second Prince isn’t able to attend this holy ceremony, so she asked me to give my Lord his most dearest regards, and to wish us the best luck in our voyage."
The Sharr reported with a stoic face, which almost immediately softened upon finishing. Always ready to act as soldier, yet also always knowing the moment to let her emotions flow.
The Prince was looking only at her eyes, and she corresponded. Asha felt like an intruder.
"So my little brother stayed at his quarters, eh… Can’t say I didn’t expect it."
Gilur answered after some time, almost like he had been speaking until that moment with her through their gazes. His mouth had receded to his typical half smile.
The face of the soon-to-be princess became laced with worry upon hearing him speaking about this matter in such an un-concerned way.
"Please forgive my rudeness, but aren’t you being too careless with Prince Layren, my Lord? While you dearly love and trust him, his greed and ruthlessness may lead him to try something while you are gone. Maybe-"
"Don’t worry, Elanora. My brother is a lot of things, but precisely because of his greediness he won’t do anything stupid. He will help father against any scheme of the nobility, because he knows that all his power comes from his royalty, so the moment the royal power is reduced, his own will too be diminished. And the Holy Crusader Fleet numbers almost two thirds of the totality of our ships. Most of our old warships and of our few still working Mounts are there too. Even if my brother did something, I clearly have more guns than him. And losing them without at least dealing a potent blow to the New Empire would be foolish. After Father dies, I’m sure brother will try something, but for this Crusade we don’t need to worry"
Elanora didn’t say anything, but she saw her face frown with some displeasure and worry.
Perhaps these emotions had broken the spell, because Elanora’s eyes soon focused into her, almost like remembering she had been there since the beginning. Asha jolted awake from her gloomy feelings upon realizing she was again part of the conversation.
"Asha, how has it been? I hope my Lord hasn’t done anything improper or caused you any problems."
She gave her a sweet smile. Asha had known Elanora for some time, and the Sharr had always been supportive and friendly. Such attitude always made her too aware of her own despicable feeling. While she somehow managed to maintain her smile, she was unable to answer as she felt her own heart sinking in a dark mud of guilt.
'She is smiling at me, and yet I’m only able to feel envy towards her. I really am a worthless woman…'
Misinterpreting her silence, Gilur quickly reacted
"Wait Asha, don’t just keep quiet like that! I haven’t done anything this time!"
Elanora looked at the Prince. While she was still smiling, her eyes clearly weren’t.
"Ugh… I-it was only a j-joke Elanora, furthermore, you know Count Reypkor…"
Upon realizing that her tactic wasn’t working, Gilur quickly whispered towards Asha
"Asha, please say something. If not, then I don’t know what she will do to me…"
Hearing the prince’s voice so near quickly rebooted her brain and heart. Bad! What was she doing wallowing in self pity? She was a Royal Guard for the Emperor’s sake!
"T-the prince really didn’t do anything improper, Lady Elanora. He attended with me the whole ceremony, and did not even speak out loud at any moment!"
"… You are really too soft with him Asha. Despite it, I really am unable to think of anyone better suited to guard my Lord when I have other duties"
"… It’s nothing. It is after all my duty to guard his Highness"
Perhaps it was Elanora’s smile, but somehow, she felt a little better. Yet-
"Of course! I personally chose Asha. Don’t worry about anything Elanora, I’m good at my job!"
"Prince, you ha-"
"My Lord, don’t be silly, you have no job"
Yet as always, in the end no feeling could improve the bare truth. The Prince had not even realized she had referred to him as "his Highness", and likewise she hadn’t even realized that she wanted to speak. No matter the kindness and warmness of both of them, she was but a simple surplus. There was no place for her there.
Footsteps resounded in the wide hangar, belaying the presence of a young girl in a blue and white combat suit, with short stature and brown hair that barely reached her shoulders. The extensive hangar was situated at the bottom of the Courageous, the flagship of the Prince and the holy Crusade. It was big, but still far from the legendary ones in ancient ships with capacity of over 1000 Mounts. Asha Gihelks stopped before a gigantic figure.
An impressive frame of metal stood in front of her. Its height reached 18 meters, with a clear humanoid form that carried what could only be said as an oversized sniper rifle. Its head was sleek, with a red visor that worked as optic sensors, and a head antenna to improve its targeting capacities. A bulky reactor was at its back, while the limbs were incredibly slender for the cannon it carried. It had been repainted in the blue and white colors of the Royal Guard, but it still retained some black marks produced by millennia of service.
It was the Virtue, the pride of the Royal Guard, a Mount from before the Disaster. Found in one of the warehouses of the Star Palace, it had been restored as much as the current technology permitted. Despite its age it still was one of the best Mounts in the whole Ryuvian armed forces.
Asha frowned at the cannon however. The Virtue was powerful enough to tear destroyers apart, and had better agility and armour that the best fighter, yet she always wondered why the sniper rifle used kinetic rounds.
"Wouldn’t a laser be cheaper and less energy-consuming?"
"Maybe for our forefathers lasers weren’t that useful?"
A voice sounded behind her. Asha turned to see Elanora gi Ryuvia’s serene and beautiful face. She had probably come here to inspect her own Mount.
"Maybe all of our old ships had the miracle of the Emperor’s protection? If so, then it should be normal to try to find another weapon aside from lasers. Furthermore, aren’t the bullets it shoots faster than light? Then your shots should be even more accurate than simple lasers. Also, there should be no weight of the munitions, because the reactor generates all the imaginary mass by itself from the energy it produces-"
As expected of the Sharr. Asha knew that she was sharp and had a royal education incomparable to the one she had as a plebeian, but it was still a painful stab to her heart to realize how far apart they really were.
"… Shouldn’t you worry about your own Mount?"
It was one of the few moments she saw Elanora blush with embarrassment.
"Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to patronize or offend you in any way."
She even pulled off an awkward smile. Asha was almost angry at herself for that. Elanora was being nothing but friendly and yet she had to snap like that because she was unable to accept her own inferiority. Why was everything so difficult…?
She tried to brush her thoughts away and change the subject. It wouldn’t do to let her guilt and selfishness interfere too much, especially just before a battle.
"It was nothing. Sorry for acting like that. Your Dominion is magnificent though."
She and Elanora looked towards the black and white machine. Slightly taller than her own, with stronger limbs and a less bulkier core, it was equipped with a red single-edged blade of approximately 15 meters long, almost as large as the Mount was tall. It had some missiles modules, and a pulse weapon. It seemed that originally it had been equipped with a powerful laser cannon, but what remained had been too degraded to be of use. The pulse weapons also had needed extensive reparations, and even then it seemed like only half of its power had been recovered (the missiles had to be entirely replaced with the current standard ones).
The Prince had told her that originally the firepower contained in that Mount probably surpassed that of an entire Battleship squadron together. It really was the most powerful machine in all of Ryuvia.
"It truly is a magnificent Mount. I will never be able to thank my Lord enough for his present. It is thanks to it that I’m able to protect what I cherish, after all."
However, Asha knew that this Mount had had something even better. And she had given it away.
"Lady Elanora, why?"
"? What are you referring to?"
"Why did you stripped away the Emperor’s Protection from your Mount, and gave it to the Courageous?"
She sometimes had suspected of Elanora. What were the chances of a perfect woman like her appearing and falling for the same prince she was protecting? What if she was a spy? She had always felt that this distrust was a result of her jealousy towards Elanora, but sometimes she had seriously contemplated the idea.
Yet what she had done had baffled her. Stripping the protection from lasers of her own Mount to give it to the most well protected ship in the fleet?
Or more like, she didn’t want to understand the reason, because it could only be one, and that one meant the destruction of her already hopeless pipe dream. Because it was an action that wouldn’t be done by a spy or an assassin. It was an act of selfless devotion.
"… It’s actually pretty simple. The Dominion gave me the chance to protect what I love, and that was what I was doing."
"… Asha, please tell me. What does my Lord, the crown prince Gilur di Ryuvia mean to you?"
Asha felt shivers down her spine, as all her body stiffened. Should she tell the truth? Should she tell what she really hoped, no, desired from the Prince?
And yet, while her mind was in turmoil, a lone thought rose from the depths of her mind
'What are you thinking?! What are you but a useless woman? Do you really believe the Sharr or the Prince will kindly accept your dirty feelings? You should only do your duty! You have been accepted as a Royal Guard, and they want nothing more of you than that!'
Her thoughts were crushed by this black form, and despite all of its unbearable implications, she could do nothing but regard it as an absolute truth. Asha swallowed a lump in her throat while trying to maintain her already breaking poker-face. She had to answer as the leader of the Royal Guard she was.
"He is the crown Prince of the glorious Holy Ryuvian Empire, and as such, the heir of all the titles and honors that befit the One and Righteous Emperor. While he shows prospects for a benevolent and prosperous rule, judging such things is neither the job of a Guard nor of any of the subjects of the Empire."
When she somehow managed to deliver that tirade without her voice breaking or anything betraying her state of mind, she was rewarded with an understanding smile on Elanora’s face.
"A truly flawless and dutiful answer, as expected of the leader of my Lord’s royal guard. Yet my own differs a little. Asha, can I answer you as a woman?"
"… What do you mean?"
"What I’m about to say may be outrageous for you and maybe you‘ll come to hate me for it. But despite it, I want to answer you with honesty. As comrades in war, now that our hardest battle approaches, I want to be able to trust you. So can I answer you not as the Sharr of the Empire, Elanora gi Ryuvia, but as the woman called Elanora?"
What was she saying?
'Aren’t you both the ones that push me away? Aren’t you the one that stole my only hope of a place I can call my own? What are you saying about trust?'
Nonetheless, despite harboring these feeling, Asha managed to nod without breaking apart. For in the end, she knew that her thoughts weren’t fair. She knew they were despicable feelings that were born because of her own weakness, and that, despite knowing it, she couldn’t help but feel them.
"…Asha, is there something wrong?"
Crap. She must have let something show in her face.
"N-nothing, my lady. I was just shocked that you trust me to such a degree"
Elanora’s face quickly softened, and took on her usual serene smile. It was strange, she thought, how she should theoretically hate that smile, yet it always succeeded in calming her.
"It is okay Asha. My Lord fully trusts you, so I can only do the same."
'The prince trusts me, but only as a bodyguard. For everything else I’m nothing for him.'
Without changing the smile on her face, Elanora started talking
"To me, my Lord is not the heir apparent of the Holy Ryuvian Empire, nor the 1st prince and Lord of Far Port. To me, my Lord is Gil. His standing and position don’t matter. Everyone who serves in the army sees my Lord only as a piece of Ryuvia’s government. They think he is replaceable, in fact they believe everyone in the royal line is replaceable, and such proves the stability and eternal presence of Ryuvia. They think that the fact that after the Disaster we still remain proves it. Yet their own faith doesn’t let them see the frailty of our standing. My Lord sees it, and he sees much more. He sees the weakness of our nobility, and even our royalty. He sees the war that is starting to brew through the galaxy."
Elanora stopped for some short seconds, and the seriousness of her words was conveyed through her sapphire irises.
"Ryuvia has become an Empire lead by blind and deaf, people unfeeling to the suffering and disturbance present both inside and outside their holdings. For everyone, my Lord is but one of the princes of the Ancient Holy Ryuvian Empire, but for me he is irreplaceable. An heir of a dying nation, and the only one which realizes of its sickness. Yet, even if he decided to abandon such nation, I would follow him anywhere."
"… You would leave Ryuvia?"
"If my Lord wished so I would. It may be difficult to understand, but I simply believe his skills and kindness are too valuable to be misused. The world in which we grew is far too unkind, far too harsh. My Lord sees it, and he wants to change it. Of a hundred emperors, generals and nobles he is the only one to see it. And he, unlike my useless self, can do it. For everyone he must be but a piece in some game, but for me he is the hope of this nation, no, this galaxy. For that I swore to serve him eternally. If something I can do could improve his safety, even if it results in my death, then I’ll do it."
Upon her last words, her eyes were shining and her mouth curled in a smile. It was not a serene one, but a truly joyful one. Asha felt almost awe-stricken. The words she said were the ones she had wanted to say earlier, the ones that she always wanted to say. Yet as she worded them, they were incredibly more pure and beautiful than anyway she could have expressed it.
"… Isn’t that love?"
"Yes. Indeed it is."
The targeting computers showed images of the rapidly increasing enemy ships. Asha looked trough them trying to identify what the Prince had asked.
The Virtue was near the front line, standing upon an asteroid to improve firing stability. The Courageous was nearby, visible even through the numerous asteroids the ships were using as cover. Contrarily to the others more orthodox design, the flagship had a more rounded shape, and despite the high number of battles it had participated, it still was of a pristine white color. It acted as anchor of the crusader fleet, with its high defenses, the Emperor’s Protection and high powered lasers. It was the image of the dignity and power of the Ryuvian Empire, their fleet’s finest dreadnought that despite its designation could still carry Mounts.
Asha opened a communications line with that same ship.
"Courageous, Angel 1 talking, I have identified 3 vessels with the characteristics you defined to me, your Highness."
A familiar voice sounded through the intercom, letting out a sigh before it started talking.
"Asha, as leader of the Royal Guard you have a direct line to me. There is no need to maintain such formalities. Even so, thank you for your work; we have victory at arm’s reach."
Asha couldn’t help but look at the still increasing images of the enemy vessels. A mix of red and black, it was the New Empire’s color. While some of their ships were no more than crude masses of metals, their biggest ones seemed extremely dangerous. She knew that none of them were a match for any of their ancient ships, but Asha also knew too well that at most they had around 20 of the relics, and that most of the crusader fleet was only slightly better than what she called masses of metal.
It was hard to share the Prince's confidence.
"… Prince Gilur, shouldn’t you at least retreat to the rear guard? If we lose you, then our whole fleet will fall into chaos"
"Asha, we have gone through this a lot of times. Our fleet needs the protection and confidence of the Courageous. We have already won two times against them, and this will be the third."
The leader of the royal Guard nodded, though doubt was still clear in her face. She was distracted however once she noticed that enemy ships had finally stopped appearing. The prince probably noticed the same, as a line of communication to all the vessels in the fleet was opened from the flagship.
"To all ships, remember the plan and directives of the battle. As expected, the enemy has not nuked this asteroid belt. They want to recapture the fortress built at N-78. In 10 minutes, our Automated Flak Units will be active and negate any possibility of a massed rocket and missile attack. If you see them start launching them before they activate, follow directive R-12 and retreat. However, let me tell you, I’m confident that the enemy won’t do that. They will, as always, charge, led by their greediness. And as always, we will meet them and defeat them in battle. Men, I ask of you to only repeat what you have done twice before! For Ryuvia!"
The shout resounded through all the ships and Mounts, to the point that Asha almost felt like the sound was propagating through space, even if it was impossible.
The enemy finally started to move, but as the captain said, they didn’t launch any kind of attack. They probably were too scared of damaging the fortress or the important ore mines that were in the bigger asteroids. The com beeped again, connecting her with the Prince.
"Asha, as I said before, don’t shoot until our lasers start firing. We don’t want them to know your true range until it’s too late, OK?"
"Of Course, my Prince"
A pair of very tense minutes passed, as the neo-Imperial fleet advanced. Even when the lasers from her side started firing, the silence never broke. Being already used to battle, Asha started firing without a thought, her targets being almost impossible to miss at that distance.
It was almost magical: the numerous lights and explosions brightened the battlefield, yet there was not even a shred of sound aside from the one her machine did when firing. She knew the prince would probably be swamped in reports and shouts for every lost ship, but the only thing she could do right now was fight.
It was almost a mockery of the fairy tales of her childhood. In them, a fight between mounts was an intense one versus one battle with honor, glory and life at stake. Here perhaps the stakes were even bigger, but the only thing she was doing was shooting.
Aim at a ship (not even needed now that they were at laser range) and shoot. Then aim at another and shoot again. Sometimes she changed of asteroid, so that the enemy couldn’t pinpoint her. The reload was handled automatically by the Virtue’s systems. Even the aiming was mostly automated thanks to the incredibly potent targeting computer. She was slaughtering hundreds of people, yet she could only feel boredom. How much of a monster was she, that her only skill was that?
'Bad, bad! Don’t let your thoughts control you, focus on the battle, on the battle!'
The enemy, realizing that the large, white ship at the center of the line was the Ryuvian flagship, was concentrating all of their firepower at the Courageous. While this worried Asha, she knew it was the prince’s plan. She could almost see how the lasers aimed at the dreadnought visibly weakened before hitting. Not only that, the ships around it also shared that same protection. With most of the neo-Imperial fire centered upon that core, the crusader fleet was holding the line without much effort.
Their lasers (and her own shots) were however mainly centered upon the left flank of the enemy fleet (due to the formation the Ryuvian Fleet had taken on the Asteroid belt, the battle was developing almost like one in a 2-dimensional space), so the enemy center was still firing without care, not feeling the counterattack.
That was until she saw a white spark launch itself towards the neo-Imperial fleet. A Mount faster and mightier than any other, effortlessly dodging most of the Lasers, quickly crossed the space between the two fleets. The Dominion, despite having no weapons capable of damaging warship bigger than frigates, launched itself towards the enemy.
As expected of the Sharr Elanora gi Ryuvia, beautiful, yet deadly. Asha was awe-stricken by the vision of her mount gracefully dodging the attacks, flying with elegance almost like that of a Ryuvian shallow.
However, from the ruins of a battlecruiser in front of neo-Imperial fleet the surged a small frigate. It appeared just from Elanora's blindside. She realized it was too close. At that distance its lasers would surely hit. Not even Elanora’s could have reflexes faster than light.
She suddenly realized that the only one that could shoot faster than light was her. No other ship had equipped a weapon like her, they only had lasers. She could save her. Could.
Almost as suddenly as that frigate, dark thoughts assaulted her brain 'Don’t worry, it was never your responsibility to ensure her safety', 'You were doing your job taking care of the enemy left flank, if she got herself killed it was her fault'. She could have the prince, she could even be the Sharr!
'No! Elanora is my friend, she trusts me! I’m a despicable and useless woman, but if I can do something this time, then I have to do it…!'
Asha tried to move her hands towards the controls, but she felt herself slow, almost like the mud of the darkness inside her heart was affecting her own body. At this rate-
"Asha, shoot the frigate that appeared at point B-15 of the frontline, quickly!"
That shout brought her to action. Without thinking, she simply aimed and shot.
The frigate burst in a soundless explosion. Without that laser, the Dominion effortlessly dodged all the other attacks and quickly entered the enemy line. Asha let out a sigh of relief, but even so a gloomy mood soon descended upon her.
'As expected, Gil realized she was in danger. He truly is only looking at her…'
She shook her head, trying to drive away that thought. Now she was fighting a battle, she should focus only in that.
Another look at the battlefield told her that, maybe, the prince had been right. Their line was still holding, and despite some burns on the white hull of the Courageous, the flagship was still standing strong.
In contrast, the enemy left flank was starting to disintegrate from the concentration of laser fire (to which they had no protection). While the right flank of the neo-Imperial was almost untouched, their center was in disarray.
The reason for that was a white flash. Sparks appeared every time she cut anything, be it an obsolete fighter or some flak turret. An explosion surged when she managed to damage one of the kinetic cannons of a battlecruiser. Every time her sword flashed, it cut something.
There really wasn’t any kind of lasting damage on the ships despite her prowess; a sword of 15 meters can hardly damage a ship of 900. There wasn’t any need to. The ships flayed around, trying to aim their flak cannons and lasers towards the white and black fly that attacked them. Taken by the panic, for they had never seen a Mount, especially of such power, they didn’t realize how little dangerous it was and focused all their attention upon it.
A ship veered to aim its flak at her, forcing the cruisers behind it to stop firing to avoid friendly fire. A Battleship tried to launch a barrage of lasers only to end hitting one of its escorts. Frigates tried to go near her to attack only to end in the path of fire of cruisers, shielding their own enemy. The enemy was panicking at the sight of a vehicle that shredded without problem any obsolete fighters they launched, yet was small enough to easily avoid their fire. The thought of that white and black devil being unable to damage them never entered their minds.
The enemy center was disorganizing, trying to adapt to a new kind of enemy they had never seen nor fought. Perhaps seeing this, she noticed some movement in the enemy lines.
Frigates and ships smaller than cruisers were starting to deploy above and below the enemy front. While they had been in the rearguard, the enemy commander had probably decided he needed them and had spread them like that. It offered an open line of fire without being too far away, yet it also avoided the enemy fire, which was concentrated on their front line. Sola focused her sensors upon them and realized they were all specialized in missiles and rockets. The so called "missile trucks", and even then only the lighter ships. The far bigger Artillery Battleships were still at the frontline, probably deemed to slow for that attack.
Launch an attack from a new spot, relying on swiftness and overwhelming firepower to devastate them before they can shift their line of fire. It was not a bad tactic. Furthermore, while the asteroids they were on worked perfectly as cover, they would explode on thousand of deadly pieces when impacted by a nuclear warhead. Their cover would become a hellfire. While they would lost all the mines and bases they had hoped to recapture, it seemed like the enemy had finally tired of playing around.
It was a shame (for them) that all of that was going according to the Prince's plan.
Just as she heard Gilur’s voice, she saw the frigates launch their payload. Numerous missiles and rockets, with power enough to obliterate the asteroid belt of this System. Yet, only half of them reached until there was 1000 km to the belt. 0 reached the 100 km. Even the reinforced rockets launched by the Artillery battleships from the frontline, trying to help its far lighter brethren, were all taken out.
Automated Flak Units. Taken from the remains of the ancient automated machines, they worked extremely well at keeping every enemy missile away. Reinforced with a direct line to her targeting computer for even more accurate fire, whenever they stood the enemy would need a thousand of projectiles so that even one could pass through. The Ryuvian Space Force had in total 36, and this fleet used 19. Together with the flak of escorts and the Mounts, not even a rocket passed through. An enormous fireworks spectacle ensued.
"All units launch missiles towards the new enemy units!"
Asha couldn’t help but smirk upon hearing the prince’s voice. The problem of simply separating from the fleet to launch an attack was that it let the ships without any kind of protection. They were all frigates or destroyers, light enough to quickly move in position to launch a salvo, but in exchange without any kind of protection. Now, without any kind of flak, they were an easy prey for their own missiles. She saw the enemy light cruisers, desperately moving towards them, trying to save them yet at the same time weakening even more their own formation. Even the gigantic Artillery Battleships and the slightly smaller Heavy Cruisers were somehow trying to move.
It was all in vain. While the New Empire focused more on rockets, Ryuvia had always preferred the simplicity of missiles. Right now, every cruiser and most of the Mounts had plenty of these projectiles ready to be launched. Asha also launched her own salvo, and saw how the enemy frigates exploded in bright colors, the fireworks rivalling the ones before.
She could almost see the shock through the enemy units upon realizing that, suddenly, all of their support fire units were simply gone. In barely more than 5 minutes, thousands of their comrades had died, not even their corpses or blood surviving the big ball of fire that their ships had become into. Right now, the fleet realized nothing was left of their comrades, friends and family that were inside those vessels.
Their formations had broken apart, with the left flank barely maintaining itself, the center in absolute turmoil, and even their right flank paralyzed in terror.
The com beeped again
"Asha, can you destroy the dreadnought on sector F-18? It’s one of the ships that you marked me at the beginning. It should still be in your range."
Without doubting, Asha searched for that dreadnought. He found it surrounded by 3 Heavy Cruisers and even a Battleship, and retiring from battle to the rearguard. It was not strange however, because the ship was in its last leg. Even a cruiser laser could finish it now. That was probably the reason that the Heavy Cruisers were so close to it, almost acting like ship-walls. They were cautious, even outside of laser-range.
When looking at the ship more closely, she realized why the Prince had specially asked her to destroy it. The emblem of a noble house of the empire was painted on the hull of the ship, and even the improved communication antenna was visible. Asha had mixed feelings upon seeing that obvious flagship. On one hand, she felt respect towards the nobles that fought proudly and honorably at the frontlines, like the prince. On the other hand, unlike the prince, those nobles were stupid.
And she was going to show them just how stupid they were. Quickly targeting the dreadnought, her targeting systems perfectly traced the geodesic the projectile would follow, and she stopped her breathing.
In a machine as perfect as the Virtue, the true value of sniping was not in accuracy, but in the timing. Normally she wouldn’t even need to focus, but this was a tricky shot, with both the dreadnought and its escorts moving. Any mistake would mean hitting the escorts. To avoid it she had to shot at the exact moment the cruisers slightly moved away, due to their superior speed and lower inertia.
There were legends of a Sharr that could hit a Ryuvian swallow from one of the Ryuvian moons. While she was not a Sharr, she still was pretty sure something like sniping an enemy dreadnought was nothing in comparison.
The dreadnought exploded in a fiery mess. The heavy cruisers that were too near were fully hit by that, and even one of them also exploded, resulting in a smaller chain of explosions that lighted the enemy rear lines.
"Perfect Asha, as expected of the leader of my Royal Guard! While it was only the ship in command of the left flank and not the entire battle, this is already checkmate. If you want to rest and see the fireworks from afar you can retreat to the rear. I would offer you a place at my side in the Courageous’ bridge, but that would probably be more dangerous than your Mount. I have to go recover my fiancée after all."
The smile that had started to reform in Asha’s face quickly disappeared, while she tried to answer without betraying that.
"While the Prince is still in combat, it would be shameful for a member of the Royal Guard to rest. Let me at least provide cover."
A new line opened, connecting the Courageous with all the other vessels. While they were less than at the beginning, the number was still a lot higher than any could have predicted when seeing their enemy the moment the battle started.
"Soldiers of the Holy Ryuvian Empire! As I said, the enemy came. As I said, you defeated it! Now they are scattered, fearful! We have deprived them of their support fire. We have deprived them of one of their leaders. The Sharr herself is depriving them of their sanity and will to fight. Now it’s the time to make them remember who is that has always ruled this galaxy! Now it’s the time to make them remember the might of Ryuvia! All ships, assault! Full Forward!"
As the Ryuvian Armada left the cover of the asteroid belt and launched a full assault at the enemy, the battle changed from a fight to slaughter. The neo-Imperial left flank, leaderless and extremely punished, retreated immediately, leaving the rest of their fleet totally exposed. The center registered what was coming and tried to reform itself, but it was far too late. After the Ryuvina right successfully flanked them, their resistance crumbled. Their right flank, doubting whether to retreat or to intercept, ended doing nothing. After realizing far too late that they were going to end alone versus the crusaders in the field, they started their retreat.
Asha simply fired, thinking the same that in the 2 battles before: that any enemy that retreats will be an enemy to fight again.
And so, like that ended the Battle of the N658 System Asteroid Belt, the 3rd major engagement in the Gilurian Crusade, and the 3rd consecutive victory of the crusaders against the New Empire.
"Then, shall I report our current situation?"
They were in rectangular table inside the Courageous. A special room only present in flagships, it had a holographical map of the galaxy just like the bridge, but this time it was in the middle of a pristine white table with the Holy Ryuvian Empire shield of arms emblazoned in one of the heads. Just there seated Gilur di Ryuvia, with Lady Elanora gi Ryuvia at his right. At his left was seated Asha, whose expression seemed calm. It was but a façade.
Asha normally didn’t pay too much attention to the Strategical meetings. It was when matters such as logistics, possible routes and estimation of enemy forces and movements were discussed. Her duty was to protect the Prince at the battlefield. While she understood the importance of knowledge of the enemy composition, their movements and numbers, such were never fully mapped out nor known in those meetings. The best and most reliable information was always given just before the battle in the tactical meetings, and even then most of the time that information was the same that the Virtue gave to her when she used it. The meetings usually were 10 minutes of intelligence reporting, 3 minutes of the Prince deciding what to do, and 2 hours and a half arguing about supplies.
This time it was different however. They were at the doors of Cera, and as such, a special meeting was required. The Prince wanted to call it an "Operational Meeting", but his 2n in command of the Courageous, Captain Jerion Kray, argued that calling it an Strategical meeting would ensure the presence of every captain. He was right, as the table was filled with the captain of every battleship and battlecruiser, while the captains of smaller vessels like Cruisers and even frigates were awaiting the decision in another room, the so called “conference room”.
After the prince nodded, the tall and lanky man that had risen up from his chair started talking.
"Our forces right now reach the 400 ships. While we managed to capture some vessels in the battle just before, and have accepted some desertions, we still haven’t managed to restore our full force. Talking with the chiefs engineer of the few ships still awaiting repair, they have confirmed to me that the ships are absolutely destroyed, and as such we won’t be able to increase our number until at least one month has passed."
One of the captains present stood up from his seat with a clear frown on his face
"What do you mean until at least one month?! After Tydaria we were at full force again after only 3 days! Furthermore, this time the number of ships that need reparations is even lower, how could they need more than a fortnight! Are you incompetent, admiral-"
The prince raised his hand and the entire table, which had started to heat up, sat quiet and still immediately. Without not even rising himself, the prince started talking
"Captains, I note your dissatisfaction towards this matter. However, regrettably, we aren’t able to do anything about it. At Tydaria we managed to recover all our losses and even gain strength thanks to its importance as mining center and the fact that the barbarian’s occupation was very recent. Mercenaries changed sides, soldiers recruited against their will deserted, almost the entire Pirate resistance against them joined our cause. A lot of ships were captured on dry dock, and we could reuse them and even recruit an experienced crew without difficulties. Now it’s different. We do not have the mineral supplies of Tydaria next to us either."
After seeing every captain more or less grudgingly accepting his words, Gilur continued
"Furthermore, I have to admit that this confusion pertaining to the reparations is also partly my fault. At Tydaria and after our ambush, the ships too damaged to continue were abandoned, as I feared they would slow us down. This time however, I personally ordered to try to repair them, sine I knew that we couldn’t rely on reinforcements. I know and feel your unrest about this matter, but this time we will have to make do with our current numbers. Now, let’s move to the enemy numbers and position report."
The same tall and lanky man from before, Admiral Ishinori, chief of Staff for this crusade, took some other papers from the table and started talking.
"At the Battle of Tydaria we successfully mauled at least 4 fleets, and damaged another 2. Later, we intercepted an Expansion Combined Fleet of the barbarians that tried to reinforce their defenses and annihilated it in an ambush. At System N658 we destroyed both the personal forces of the ruler of this Sector, which they call Neutral Rim, and a coalition of defense forces of all the systems it contains. After so may battles, our intelligence reports that the barbarians barely have 200 ships for the defense of the sector, focused on the nearest planet to our fleet, Barona, which if conquered will give us full access to Cera. The reports also mention that this fleet is formed by the survivors of their successive defeat, so we estimate their morale as fairly low."
Some smirks started to appear on the captains faces. After their entire voyage they were finally so close to their objective… Asha however knew that things wouldn’t be so easy. They never were.
"Intelligence also mentions the possibility of imminent reinforcements for the barbarians. However, it admits to be unable to predict either the number or ETA"
"4 fleets led by the 3rd Prince of these barbarians, they have already arrived at Cera and will reach Barona in an hour."
After finishing his words, the prince made a nod towards her, signaling that it was time for her report. Asha rose from the table and started reading from a paper while trying to mask the nervousness she felt.
"Today at the 0600 hours my Mount, the Virtue, detected a huge amount of warp signatures around Cera. After some time, at the 0730 hours, a reduced number of them also appeared. While some were directed towards Minerva, the majority were towards Barona. The total number of them when they first appeared was that of approximately 500 ships. They also emitted, and probably are still emitting, this transmission on all the frequencies of a FTL transponder."
She pressed one of the buttons present on the head of the table (since she was sited at its side she could do it easily). Immediately, a voice sounded through the room
"This is the 3rd Prince of the righteous and glorious New Empire, coming to punish the treachery of those who refuse the rule of the One and Only Emperor in the galaxy. I have come ready with four royal fleets to smash any resistance. If you surrender yourselves to this fleet and beg for forgiveness you may receive the Emperor’s mercy in his infinite kindness. Any other ship will be considered an enemy to the New Empire, and I will act as its sword to purge them!"
As the captains started to understand the message and what it meant, their faces started to change color. Some turned red, full of anger, while others paled.
"How in the Universe these barbarians dare to talk about a "one and only" emperor, when in the galaxy there is already one and its throne is on Ryuvia Prime?!"
"4 royal fleets… their number reaches 700 ships in total… Can we even win?"
"How dare you doubt Prince Gilur? Look, even within their putrid and worthless royal line they sent only the 3rd Prince! It’s obvious even they know that this fleet is going to end defeated, like all the others!"
"This time we are attacking, not defending! In Tydaria and the ambush we had the element of surprise, but right now we are fighting an enemy that doubles us in number and we have no defensive advantage!"
"Couldn’t we sign an armistice? We destroyed or captured more than 1000 ships of them with only 500 of ours, any nation would be scared and willing to pact after that!"
"Fool, they are not a nation; they are barbarians who dared to take the name of Empire! The only option is show them the power of a true Empire!"
"I don’t think they would agree to a peace treaty. The have been forced to sent a Prince with reinforcements of their core worlds, a peace now would be a huge sign of weakness. Even beasts would understand it."
"Then are you suggesting to simply charge and get slaughtered!"
"What have I said to make you believe that?! The-"
"EVERYONE SHUT UP!"
Asha started trembling upon hearing that roaring voice. It was difficult to anger the prince, but when somehow, someone managed to do it, the results never were pretty. The Prince hadn’t even rose from his chair, but the powerful glare of his green eyes and the strength of his voice were enough to silence everyone in the room.
"I thought of making this reunion to hear your thoughts on this matter, but if you are unable to even talk without shouting like civilized men then I was definitely wrong!"
After seeing every man and woman quiet and perfectly still, the prince let out a sigh and continued.
"I already have a strategy prepared to fight these reinforcements. Still, I also plan to communicate with the enemy prince before tomorrow to offer him the option of surrender or even an armistice. Barbarian or not, he is still a member of a royal line and so its worth at least at much. Never be it said that the Ryuvian line lacks honor or respect for its enemies. Even so, I don’t plan to give up Cera. The Emperor himself appointed us the mission, so it’s our duty to accomplish it. Now, since you don’t seem to have any alternative idea, then simply go to the conference room and argue about supplies with the other captains. Dismissed!"
Upon hearing the prince’s word, the captains started begrudgingly rising from their seats and slowly left the room. Before everyone left, Gilur signaled with his head towards Admiral Ishinori.
"Sorry, but I leave the logistics to you. If all goes well, tomorrow we’ll be in Cera. If it goes bad then I think that supplies will be the last of our problems."
"Supplies are always the most important of problems. Even so, I understand that today his Highness needs to worry about other more immediate problems. Please leave it to me, your Highness."
With a bow, the admiral was the last to left the room. Now only Asha, the Prince and Lady Elanora, which had been quiet during the whole meeting, were left.
"What a waste of time…"
Gil sighed and rubbed his face with his left hand while using the right to refuse the handkerchief that Elanora, as attentive as always, was offering him.
"Don’t worry, don’t worry. Now, I’m sorry to have to ask that of you two, but can you stand up behind me? I need an escort, even if it’s only in a transmission."
Realizing what the prince meant, Asha and Elanora rose from their seats, and positioned themselves behind the Prince, just like the loyal attendants they were supposed to be.
Gilur then pressed another button at the head of the table, and the FTL transponder activated, showing itself as a holographic screen.
"Huu, an incoming signal? It seems our prince here has saved us the bother of contacting him… Asha, contact Jerion, tell him to record this transmission extensively and pinpoint where it comes from. Also, tell every ship to ready ECCM, we may be hit with a virus or some kind of electronic attack. Luckily I’m already wearing the royal attire for the meeting, so I don’t need to change…"
After sending the message, Asha quickly straightened her own uniform upon seeing the prince doing the same, and then stood at attention, with her body straight and still. A look towards Lady Elanora confirmed that she was ready before any of them, with her uniform impeccable and an inflexible posture, like the perfect attendant.
Then the transponder beeped, and an image appeared. A man in his twenties materialized, with a lavishly decorated and gaudy attire. His hair was jet black, and even his eyes gave the impression of an obsidian. Behind him there were a woman and a man, but neither of them made any sign of moving nor talking. The probably were the same that her and Elanora, attendants to their lord.
That boy probably was the 3rd Prince of the New Empire.
"We salute you, crown Prince of the former nation of Ryuvia. As not even a servant of us, we cannot let you know any of our 3 names that signal our pertinence towards the most glorious and mighty dynasty. However, you may refer to us as Gracen."
"I salute you, 3rd Prince of the New Empire, Gracen. My own name is Gilur. You may refer to me as that. Now, I’m sorry to cut the formalities short, but I think that it’s the best in both of our interests to solve this matter quickly."
"Indeed it is. Then, we shall not mince our words Gilur. If you surrender within the next 24 hours we will forgive the lives of all of your soldiers which have not deserted our glorious cause before. As a sign of respect towards an enemy with the honor to fight us head on and the intelligence to recognize our superiority we shall reward you with nobility and a chance to rule the lands under your rotten dynasty in our name."
"Then I have a counter offer. If you retreat all your forces from Barona, Minerva, Rynar and Cera within the next 24 hours I’ll let you and your army survive. Furthermore, the New Empire will recognize all the systems from the ones I said to Ryuvia Prime as sectors under Holy Ryuvian Empire influence, and swear to not send any kind of armed fleet within a parsec of any of them. These are our conditions, Gracen."
The black haired prince didn’t even scowl as he looked at Gilur with an almost incredulous face. Then, first quietly, but getting progressively louder, he started to laugh.
"….ha. Hahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA"
Gil still maintained his courtesy smile, like he wasn’t affected by Gracen’s laughter. Finally, the 3rd prince stopped laughing. Asha maintained her serene façade, but somehow that laugh disgusted her. It was like it gouged deep into her heart, trying to scope out something which she preferred to not remember.
"… We knew that the entitlement of your dying dynasty knew no limits, but even so you managed to surprise us. Tell me, how can you fight our fleet? We could recognize the ship you command as Kether, but aside from that have you any Tiferet? Not even a Chokma, and only a Chesed or two. Even your Gevurah, famed through the galaxy, are but pieces of scrap joined together, and we outnumber them 3 to 1. The rest of your fleet? Barely some ships worthy of being called Hod, and most of them rubble that can barely be Yesod. It’s not our superiority as clear as water?"
"That is for me to show you on the battlefield"
"Very well. Just remember, we shall not let you have even one planet! Your rotten country died because they focused only on themselves, they did not see beyond, they limited themselves! They even feared their own power! We, the New Empire, shall rule the galaxy, because it’s our will! We embrace our ambition and our power! We won’t stop until the last person in this galaxy recognizes our superiority, our power, our perfection! We will stomp on the rests of your nation to remind the galaxy that a new Era has started!"
The transmission ended. As Asha tried to recover from the shock of the stupid and blasphemous things that the neo-Imperial boy had said, she saw a smirk form on Gilur’s face.
"… I got you. Asha, please contact Jerion and tell him to come immediately. Elanora, do the same for Admiral Ishinori. Don’t call the rest of the captains though. If they had anything intelligent to say they already had their chance."
Same room, same table. Now there were only 5 people in there. After looking at everyone’s face, Gilur nodded and activated the holographic projector:
"So, this is our position, and here, at Barona, there is the main concentration of enemy troops, around 600 ships. Like the 3rd prince said, the rest of their ships are guarding Minerva, Rynar and, of course, Cera. However, their greed will be their downfall. See here?"
The holograph zoomed at Barona and Minerva (if you squinted you could see Cera).
"Due to the lack of a satellite at Barona, their gravity well is slightly smaller that other systems. Gracen has positioned his fleet to intercept us if we try to warp directly at Cera. However, this has left a slight aperture towards Minerva. Furthermore, the interceptor group closer to it it’s formed exclusively by survivors of our previous battle. Their morale is an all-time low and they fear us. Despite numbering around 50 ships, a squadron of 30 will be enough to pine them down. Meanwhile, squad Seath will take this opportunity and warp at Minerva, surprising its defenders."
Captain Jerion Kray raised his hand, and after the captain nodded towards him, he started talking.
"Your Highness, squad Seath could with the element of surprise and luck overcome the defenders, but even then they would take heavy casualties. Also, while it’s true that we could pine down the interceptor group, that would be only for a while, and soon more reinforcements would appear."
"I have said nothing of attacking Minerva, Jerion."
"Now, put yourselves in our enemies’ shoes. They don’t have the long range scanners of the Virtue, and we know that theirs is not very reliable, as we managed to ambush them previously. While these 2 squads perform their actions, our fleet won’t move. What will the enemy think, once they suddenly see a squad warp at Minerva?"
"That we probably intent to attack there, and then use it as a foothold towards Cera…"
"Exactly, so our prince will then move himself and his main fleets towards Minerva. Then we will strike. Half of the fleet, fleet A, will launch an attack towards what is left of them at Barona, pinning them down and capturing the planet, while I and the best ships in the fleet will directly bypass them an attack Cera. Meanwhile, both our squads at Minerva will retreat, trying to lure them even further away. When they realize what has happened, both Cera and Barona will be ours. Once we reach Cera, we reach their main supply depot, and we can simply turtle at our planets until they either retreat or lack of supplies makes them easy prey. And if they decide to attack… Well, let’s say I’m confident in a defensive battle, and our position at both Barona and Cera would force them to divide their forces or risk a pincer attack."
"What if the prince decides to move back to Cera directly instead of going to Minerva?"
"We will do the same, except this time me and my fleet will intercept the prince before he reaches Cera. Our ancient ships have warp drives hundreds of times more efficient than theirs, and also have the Emperor’s protection. So we’ll separate from my personal fleet and hit them with full force, to the rear and by surprise. Despite the few numbers, the firepower of our best ships is not small, so the enemy can’t ignore us. By the time they have recovered, the rest of my fleet will have arrived and they will have no chance. Even in the worst case that this is not enough, the battle would give us a chance of destroy the flagship of that neo-Imperial brat. Meanwhile, Fleet A will take Barona and squad Seath Minerva. By the way, if he finally does nothing, then our fleet will simply move towards Minerva, overwhelm their interceptor group and take it without barely any casualties."
"If he attacks?"
"Then we’ll fight them on open space. However, then he will need to leave garrisons for the planets, as they are not precisely glad to be occupied, and as I said, Cera it’s where they have their main supply depot. That means that he will have at most 600 ships, and without any defenses. Only 3:2 odds, I beat worst than that. Furthermore, the long range scanners of the Virtue and all our old ships will detect them whenever they try something, so we won’t be hit by surprise."
Captain Jerion seemed awe-stricken, while Admiral Ishinori had his “as expected” face. Elanora was stoic as always, while Asha herself felt nothing special. She was used to the prince’s resourcefulness. However, she felt a sudden headache. She hadn’t been able to sleep properly these past days, but for it to come now, what in the galaxy…
"Asha, are you okay?"
The prince had probably realized it, as he had stopped his explanation to ask that to her. Asha tried to nod while maintaining her poker face, and somehow succeeded.
"It’s nothing, your Highness."
The Prince frowned at her when she said "your Highness", but after looking a little bit at her he simply continued talking. While she should feel bad of having worried the Prince, she felt a little bit better after knowing that Gil cared for her.
"… And so, that’s it. I may change some things on the fly, since we don’t know for sure what actions the enemy will take. Any more questions?"
Despite having remained quiet during all the meeting, Admiral Ishinori suddenly started talking
"All your plans are excellent as always, your Highness, but I couldn’t help but notice that all of them hinge on the enemy not receiving even more reinforcements or supplies. Barbarians or not, our enemy is a country that has power over at least a hundred systems, and even a planet that makes our Ryuvia Prime pale. What it is that makes his Highness have so much confidence that the enemy will not receive any more help?"
Upon hearing the old admiral, Gilur couldn’t help but smile. It was his usual half smile, mocking, bitter, yet confident.
"The enemy has sent to fight their 3rd prince, commanding 4 Royal Fleets, with the mission given personally by their Emperor being to crush us. They are the fist of their Empire, the symbol of the power of the royal line. Now, what would happen if that fist had to ask for reinforcements? What happens when the royal line is forced to implore help?"
The Admiral had a look of shock upon hearing it, almost like he had realized something
"He simply isn’t allowed to. Not an ounce of help will arrive. One thing is dying on the battlefield, and another is retreating and asking for reinforcements. One is intelligent and the other is stupid, one is humiliating and the other glorious. The Emperor prefers him dead than the humiliation that would represent having to thank a noble for saving his son."
"So it’s a mission of do or die… However, couldn’t help be sent from the same royal household?"
"If the royal household could send more ships, they would have done so already. Since the beginning, only 4 fleets isn’t the New Empire’s style. They would overwhelm the enemy with even more numbers. It has been 3 months since Tydaria, they had more than enough time to concentrate their forces. That means that they don’t want to focus their forces against us."
"Against us? Could it mean…!"
"Yes. Probably our attacks have altered the balance of power in the New Empire. Maybe the governor of this sector was an important loyalist to the neo-Imperial family. Maybe it was another thing. What matters is that the false Emperor believes he has an enemy even more dangerous than us. Without being able to gather all of their forces, they have pulled what they could spare and sent the 3rd Prince in a show of force. If he smashes us, the royal line shows its power as a warning towards their inner rivals. If he fails then probably a civil war will start within the New Empire, especially if we don’t move beyond Cera."
The holographic projector then returned to the image of the galaxy. In it now there were two clear circles drawn. A green one went from Cera to Versta and the other occupied a radius around New Eden. The last one however was shifting its color constantly between red and black.
"If we don’t interfere anymore, then the New Empire will probably ignore us after we take Cera. For them we have barely taken more than some borderline systems after all. Then, while the civil war, either hot or cold, rages on, we will simply stabilize our systems, repair our ships and maybe take a planet or two. And then, in the next Crusade we won’t stop until New Eden. Seriously, what did Gracen said, “Your rotten country died because they focused only on themselves”? I mean, it’s not the same for yours? Want it or not that’s the reason all empires fall…"
While he said his first words loudly, at the end the Prince was almost whispering, so only Asha and Elanora could heard his last words.
Asha touched her head, trying to alleviate her headache. Since the beginning of the crusade she had been having these at almost regular intervals. At first she thought of the cause being her nervousness, but after three months she figured she at least had gained some minor confidence.
Still, these last days it had been even more intense than usual. Her insomnia had worsened, and sometimes she awakened without knowing what she had been doing for the last hour.
Her head had finally stopped hurting. Luckily it was never long, but if it happened during a battle, she was afraid of what could come to pass.
It was the day after the meeting, just after the siren which marked the beginning of the "day" sounded. She was right now going to the prince’s quarters, already dressed for battle, to have a last briefing before the fight begun.
She knew that as the other pilot directly under Gilur’s control, Elanora would be there. In fact, this briefing was more of an informal meeting where the Prince wished them luck and made them promise him to return alive. While he twisted every event to do what he wanted, Asha had always liked that of the prince. It was difficult to get angry at him when it was one of the few times since the beginning of the crusade that she could talk to him almost alone.
She reached the door, and entered without even knocking.
'It’s strange, but if it’s open, then it means that Elanora is probably there-'
She was. It was dark, and it was only during a very brief moment, but she still had the image burned on her retinas. Gil and Elanora, embracing each other. In a flash Gilur separated 2 meters and smiled towards her, not even a hint of anger at her for interrupting his moment with his fiancée. Elanora also smiled serenely at her.
However, she still could see it clearly. The always perfect hair of the Sharr was slightly out of form, with a lock falling forward from her shoulder towards her chest, in contrast towards the usual perfectly straight cascade behind her back. The collar of her uniform was even unbuttoned, a thing which she had never seen until now.
She saw Elanora and Gilur smiling at her, probably even genuinely, but she could only think of how much she simply wasn’t needed in that place. Had she even reached the point were she served only as third wheel?
"Asha, good morning. Have you slept well? You told me about your insomnia, but today we fight an important battle. If you need more rest then I can give you s-"
"Don’t worry your Highness. Today I have not slept very well, but I’m not tired."
Even with her feelings as dark as they were, she could at least try to work as the Royal Guard she was. Yes, even if her heart was full of darkness, she still could somehow hover over it, right? She couldn’t fail the prince now.
"It’s a relief to know. Then, I have nothing to say. The plan has already been made, and I suppose both of you already know it perfectly. I hope that when this day finishes, we’ll be at Cera celebrating the success of this Crusade."
The prince looked now at both of them with gentle eyes, his ever-present half-smile in his lips. He took Elanora’s hand with his right, and her own with his left. Her heart fluttered upon feeling the warmth of his hand, devoid of any gloves, directly.
"Now, I don’t want to be a pessimist, but the possibility of dying is still there. I won’t say anything irresponsible like “Please don’t die”, but let me tell you, Asha, Elanora, that even if I searched through the whole galaxy I wouldn’t find any subordinate more loyal, worthy or able than both of you. So please, think of me, and don’t do anything rash."
Her hand intertwined with Gil’s. For once, the fact that Elanora’s was there didn’t bother her. She didn’t want to speak, for she felt that spell would be broken whenever the words escaped her mouth.
"My Lord, I'll always be by your side. While dying in battle is not an impossible outcome, such would limit the time I spend with you. So let me assure you, that until the end I’ll try my best to stay alive. I'll never betray you."
Asha knew that she had to speak. But she couldn’t. Her throat was incredibly dry, and she felt tears starting to appear at her eyes. Why? It was true that when the Crusade ended, Gil and Elanora’s would get married. It was true that after this battle they wouldn’t need her anymore. Still, why was her heart so selfish? Why was she unable to even answer that to the prince? Why did she felt her own eyes tear up? Why she was unable to tell Gil that everything would be fine?
Suddenly the transponder in the quarters beeped. The prince immediately separated of both of them, and quickly pressed a button. An image appeared.
Red hair like blood, green eyes like Gilur's, but infinitely more dark. A face that could be handsome if it wasn’t by the openly mocking smile on it.
Yes, Layren di Ryuvia, 2nd Prince of the Holy Ryuvian Empire. When she saw him, Asha felt all her body paralyzed in terror, with his mocking smile gouging deep inside her.
"Good morning, my dear brother. I heard that today you would be fighting the most important battle in your crusade, so I thought "Ei, why I don’t call my dear brother to wish him good luck?". I mean, hasn’t been 3 months since we last saw each other."
"3 months and 10 days, your Highness."
Elanora quickly approached the holograph, positioning itself at Gil’s side, with a face that clearly showed her dislike for the man on it.
"If you forgive my rudeness, 6 of these 100 days have been due to your refusal to go to the ceremony of the Declaration of the Holy Crusade. May I ask the reason of your sudden change of attitude?"
"Ohh, I feel hurt, my dear soon-to-be sister. Can’t I miss my dear brother after 100 days of separation?"
"… Don’t hold these words against Elanora little brother. It’s almost the time of battle, so she is a little tense. How is Father?"
"Ohh, father… Well he is fine, or at least as fine as an old man not even capable of pissing by himself can be…. To be honest, brother, I have already tired of this stupid chatter, so let me finish it. Ga’rk! M256LOH97YR412."
The prince quickly turned, hearing shots from behind
The third shot resounded through the quarters. It impacted on Gilur's shoulder. After his back hit the wall he fell on the floor, somehow maintaining a sitting posture. Elanora’s corpse, with two bullets on her nape fell towards the sitting prince.
Their blood soon started to stain the carpet on the floor. The prince, still clinging on his conscience, somehow managed to touch something inside his uniform, and a shield of light soon appeared around him.
Asha couldn’t feel anything. Her eyes were full of tears, and she could only ask "Why?"
Why had they been shot?
Why at this moment?
Why did she have a gun on her hand?
Why that gun was hot, like it had just fired?
Why it was short three bullets?
Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why? Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?WhyWhy?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why? Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why? Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?
"Oh… So she first shot the Sharr? Well, brother I suppose that you are still alive?"
"LAYREN!!! WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE!!!"
"Don't worry about it, dear Brother, soon you'll be dead. Even with that personal shield, you have at most 3 minutes with that wound. I know, I personally checked the poison on the bullets. Don’t worry about it though~, I’ll send Father to join you! And probably a cousin or two. Still, you have your love dead at your arms; shouldn't you be pretty happy to go?"
"BASTARD!!! Towards me I would have expected it… I would have accepted anything against me… BUT AGAINST ELANORA!! AGAINST ASHA!! WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO?!!!"
"Oh, why don’t you ask her? She is still alive and here. Tell him, what did I do?"
Asha felt her whole body froze in terror. All the strength left her body, she felt her limbs go limp, and her legs collapsed. The gun dangled useless of her arm. Every pain, every suffering, she suddenly remembered. And she couldn’t do anything but remember. Her whole body was paralyzed in the most absolute of despairs, and her mind only could drown itself in the pit of darkness that was her memories.
Her mouth barely reacted. All her body was numb, and yet, she felt she could barely whisper something.
A gentle voice sounded. A voice, that despite her having betrayed everything it had stood for, every dream and happiness it had, before its owner eyes, it was still gentle. Like the first day they had meet. Like before this entire nightmare.
She felt her tears fall on her hand. She felt them going down her cheeks, without stopping, without end.
"… I-I… I-I’m… i-impure…"
A tiny voice, barely a whisper, managed to escape her mouth.
A cruel laughter reverberated through the room, while Gilur's eyes narrowed.
"HAHAHAHA. Hahahahaha. I mean, seriously? Haha. Of all the things I did to you, you had to just say that! Well, you did scream like a bitch. I was in fact almost kinda disappointed. Of all the things I had prepared, I only needed to use a little more than half of them."
That laughter, that voice, only worsened her pain. It was like a spear gouging deep into her hear, ripping it out while it was still beating. All around her was darkness. Until-
"Asha, I’m sorry."
Until a ray of light entered into her pit. A smile. A sad, yet warm smile.
"It was my fault. I was really pathetic. I never realized your pain, your suffering. Despite having you so close, I was too blind, too selfish. In the end, I couldn’t even protect either Elanora or you. I’m sorry."
No. It hadn’t been like that. She had been a useless woman, so easy to break. She had been a useless woman, so quick to betray. She had always been a useless woman.
Some force entered in her body. Without thinking, Asha started to crawl towards Gil.
"Yes, you are pathetic Brother."
The cruel voice resounded again
"Everyone always believed in your ability. Father and Mother always praised you. Even that dammed court only had good words for you! You know, there was time when I thought of maybe letting you rule. Of maybe even helping you and share the power! Yet you decided to squander everything in your little adventure! Despite having the greatest seat in the Galaxy, the greatest honor, the greatest glory, you decided to go do some funny little crusade against barbarians! You were so stupid that you couldn’t even see what was in front of you!"
Asha continued crawling as, little by little, his limbs started recovering some force. Her mind also started to clear, maybe because the light emitted by that smile, unwavering despite the abuse the cruel voice was heaping towards it.
She finally reached it.
She had to do one thing. She could only do that thing.
"…I’m sorry, Gil. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry"
She could only say that. Again and again, for even if she repeated it for the rest of her life, it would still not be enough.
"I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sor-"
A warm, gloveless hand stopped her voice. It caressed her cheek, softly, carefully.
"As I said Asha, it wasn’t your fault. Don’t worry, please."
Gil’s right hand firmly gripped the lifeless body of Elanora. It was stained in blood, but her usual serene expression was still present, even in death.
Asha felt her hands cling to his left arm, even now caressing her cheek like it was the most precious thing in the world.
"Still, even if it was a selfish desire, that I could die with you two at my side it makes me very happy. Thank you Asha, for everything you have done. For your friendship and devotion. Thank you."
And so Gil gave her his last smile. A full one, shining as bright as all the stars in the universe. One as warm as the Sun, as gentle as the caress of a mother.
Finally, he closed his eyes, and drew his last breath.
As Asha held his still warm hand, she could only think of one thing, of one memory.
Long ago, when she was still a child, her mother had told her: "Home is the place which forgives everything. It’s the place where, don’t matter your mistakes or flaws, you’ll be accepted."
She had always thought that there was no place for her there. Only now she realized how wrong she had been.
She let one of her hands fall down, her other still holding to Gil’s hand. Below them a small puddle of blood was forming. She found what she was searching.
"Ooh, so she totally broke… Well, I suppose it was time to get another toy anyway."
A final beep signaled the end of the transmission.
It was strange. She felt a cold sensation spread inside her, but her hand was warm. Not only that, her tears were also very warm, flowing endlessly down her body. And she was happy.
She had always felt without a home, without a place. Even if it had been only during her last moments, the realization that she had a home, a place where she belonged, made her very happy.
She could only smile, remembering the warmness on her hand.
The Battle of Barona was an absolute disaster for the Holy Ryuvian Empire. Losing their heir and commander, the fleet was decimated and destroyed as a fighting force. At the same time, Layren III succeeded the throne after the sudden death of Jaylor VIII, barely hours after his son passed away. The succession however caused a bloody civil War between him and his cousin Jaylor IX, which had more support from the nobility. As a result of that, every bit of stability gained during the years before was lost. Finally, the year 69 Versta declared its independence, after neither Layren III nor Jaylor IX attended to its help requests against the growing pirate threat. The Gilurian Crusade, while it slowed the New Empire’s expansion on what is now called the Neutral Rim, ended being the last nail in the coffin of the Holy Ryuvian Empire.
And so, first I'll post the second piece on Saturday, and later I'll edit this one, maybe next week? In all cases, feedback of any kind (even if to accuse me of being a lazy bum) is encouraged, thought I'll ask you to take into account that I finished this 9 months ago.