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Topics - Marx-93

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1
Other Games / Princess Guard [VN Kickstarter campaign]
« on: December 13, 2017, 10:40:16 pm »
Anyway, I feel a little stupid making a thread for a Visual Novel Kickstarter campaign after so much time of being fairly quiet here, but this is a project I followed since 2 years ago and wanted to do as much as possible for it.


Campaign here, for if you want a first look, summary or want back without needing me to shill it.


Princess Guard started, hilariously enough, as 4chan 'quest thread'. To put it in simple term, a GM threaded a story while a bunch of anons just spammed what they wanted their man character to do. Just think of it as similar to one of our RPGs, but with the GM actually being fast, and all the players just having a single character (as you can guess, it gets dumb really fast). Despite everything being stacked against it, Princess Guard managed to be quite good. While happy about being able to end it, the GM Archelon was not completely satisfied, and promised to put all the other 'routes' in an eventual VN (that time it was the 'VN boom' time, when there were Kickstarters almost every week). Everyone kinda laughed at him, but the madman has now done it. After spending 1 year crunching, he completed a demo and brought it to KS.

So, what's good about Princess Guard? First, it's a story about the eponymous royal guard Reinhold, who having raised from a destitue orphan to one of the best swordsman of Granache has just been given the task to protect the kingdom's crown Princess, Marianne. The thing is Marianne, being a sheltered young princess, does not necessarily like the idea of having a stranger following her every move. To that, Reinhold has to add that he is at all effects completely out of his depths in the royal palace, even if it's the famously informal court of Granache's adventurer king.

While there are fights, the selling point of this VN is its characters. Arch has a penchant for writing both charming yet realistic dialogue, with little children that are both adorable yet as bratty as little children actually are, and teenage girls that even while fitting an archetype still remain multifaceted. The world-building is also utterly astounding; Granache is just a small kingdom in a vast continent full of mythical beings and magic, and has both amiable and more worrisome neighbors to worry about. That is perhaps a slight flaw; for all the wonders spoken, the scale of the plot remains a tad small. Reinhold won't end claiming a legendary sword to kill god on this one. The setting is generally light, until it decides to go dark. It reminds me a bit of Trails in the Sky in that (in fact, a lot of bits, from the small scale to its simple charm remind me of Trails in the Sky First Chapter, though without its twist).


Anyway, like the stupid mech fanatic I am I completely missed the campaign and only caught to my horror with 3 days left (shut up, I've been busy having my everything destroyed by Sen III!). There is a demo if you want to test it in the little time we have left; it's somewhat wonky given it was a rushed one man job, but it should give you an idea of the writing. If you have any doubts you can ask~ With what little time is left I'll be happy if I get people to know it at least exists~

2
Create n' Share / Living as Usual: A MaidRPG story
« on: August 07, 2017, 09:58:05 pm »
Hey, I actually posted something. First of all; this is a story motivated by Arraxis' contest. Thanks a lot Arra, for being invested enough in MRPG to organize this, which in turn motivated me to write this little piece. I'm still deeply sorry for not managing to finish it by the deadline, but I figured it was better to put at least one part by today so I didn't feel completely horrible.

EDIT: Welp, it's over. All parts and the epologue are updated. What was supposed to be a small story has become a monster of almost 60 pages.

So, yeah, on the text. First, it's obviously not canon; me being a GM doesn't change anything. Second, I've gone with a different style than my usual for this piece. I've cut down on descriptions a bit and focused on dialogue, trying to achieve a kinda rapid-fire exchanges feel to suit the comedy. My hope is that the end result is not too confusing. Personally, I'm not terribly satisfied with the end result, but at the same time I've spent an entire week writing this and at least 3 on my head, and in my experience the more time I waste writing something, the more I end up hating it. So, for this I would really thank people for any kind of feedback, even if it's non-descriptive (feel free to post "I don't like this even if I'm not sure why" and vice-versa!). Third, being late and all means I've only made a second pass; even when I proofread things extensively I end up with a million of grammatical and orthographical mistakes, so I apologize for the 10 million that will surely appear.

And finally, an enormous thanks to Wooly, who I have the honor to help with MRPG, designed this terrific setting and even helped me with some small bits of the plot.

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Living as Usual

Part 1
White. Wherever I looked, I could only see white. The ceiling itself was of a pristine yet pale colour, looking like it had been eons since anybody had touched it. The corner where the ceiling became the wall was rounded down, the people who designed it thinking it would be more pleasant to the eyes. But it just made the place even more suffocating: the ceiling to the wall, the wall to the floor. No distinction. It looked like cage, one where I drowned in a sea of white and sameness. Only some slight dirt and the odd cork board differentiated up from down, left from right. He wondered if he would even realize it if gravity decided to flip out while he was there.

Most people hated hospitals. The vision of his mother sitting besides him, sweating a lot and with a look of terrible anguish, was a good enough example. However, he thought 'hate' was a word too heavy for him. At most, dislike or annoyance would fit better. The fact that even in his situation he could focus on the damn architecture of the place was telling enough, he told himself.

"... too hot"

The voice escaped his mouth, as he tried to fan himself with his hand. He probably was not in a position to criticize his mother for sweating. The suffocating atmosphere or the high temperature; he didnít knew which was the one at fault, but he wanted both of them away as quick as possible.

He decided that he preferred dying of suffocation standing more than dying of suffocation while sitting. His father directed him a glance when he was rising, but he returned a small gesture. He didnít plan to go outside, just stretch his legs a bit and walk within the same waiting room. His father, his anxiousness visible even behind his glasses, understood his signal and returned to his reading. Or more like returned to trying to hide his nervousness with his reading. He had been in the same page for at least 20 minutes, maybe even more.

Trying to look away from his father, his sight making him uncomfortable, he couldnít help but glance at the set of doors, looking far more gigantic than what they truly were, placed just in front of the Waiting Room. Perhaps the only distinct part of this whole stupid room. Just looking at them, a confused mess of feelings rose through his throat, making it hurt like hell, but he pushed them down. He felt almost like a sort of rage against this. Why should he break down in such a pathetic way like his parents?! What had she done for him to be like this?!

Gritting his teeth to recover his bearings, he felt the almost physical lump of feelings going down again. Just as he was sighing of relief however, a word unconsciously escaped through his throat, almost as if it had waited for him to lower his guard.

"MarieÖ"

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"-uis. Louis!"

With a start, I realized my thoughts had drifted off for way too much time. The blue sky was in front of me, laying just beyond a thick bulletproof glass that served as a window. To everybody else it must have looked like I was simple observing the landscape for an oddly long time. I turned my head to see the owner of the familiar voice.

"Yo, it looked like you were lost in your thoughts. Are you alright, mr. engineer?"

Kevinís visage had not changed in the brief period of time I was trapped by my memories, as could be expected. He still wore his cocky grin, a spiked blonde hair with way too much hair gel on it, and his service dress loosely over quite the muscular build. He also was, of course, accompanied.

"Kevin, I know this might surprise you, but normal people actually think sometimes."

Fujioís melodic voice answered for him. He looked short, at least when compared with Kevin, but he was very slender and wore his uniform in a splendid way. It helped that the dark grey of the Administration combined really well with his bluish black hair and eyes. They were both standing with me besides the window in a spacious grey hall, which was almost devoid of other people.

"Oh, shut up, you know what I mean. Weíre in a goddamned Stratocarrier; Louis loves this kind of stuff, he normally would be busy checking out every nook and cranny of this ship."

"Maybe because of that? Iím sure observing the wings and aerodynamical form of the exterior is almost as fascinating as the interior."

"You said it, almost. Arenít there even miniatures for checking this kind of stuff? I just find it a bit weird Fuji."

As the two went on almost as if he wasnít there, he could see a golden flash coming towards them, one belonging to the only other figure on this hall, one that might save(?) him from his predicament.

"Sergeant Durante, Corporal Leong, can you please stop talking about Warrant officer Mayber as if you werenít in front of him?! Dou you have to be so brutish even outside of combat?!"

It seems they had made enough of a ruckus for the lieutenant to notice. Her steps were firm, and a sheathed blade by her waist increased even more the intensity of her aura. Golden hair, pulled in a long ponytail that almost reached her waist, and hazelnut eyes; her beauty made her stand out even more. A female officer dress uniform, with a knee-length skirt, thighs and boots enhanced her figure, which was already quite tall and muscular. Still, the look in her eyes was one of exasperation more than one of anger, and her motions reeked more of impatience than outright dislike. Indeed, Louis was still the 'newcomer' of the team, but he had already realized that the Lieutenant was a bit of a softie inside.

"What, we werenít doing anything wrong Alice! Tell her, Fuji."

"*Sigh*... Sorry lieutenant. Kevin just canít wrap his head around the idea of people actually thinking."

"What the hell Fuji, donít sell me out like this!"

He felt a bitter yet still sincere smile form in his face. While the lieutenant was way too soft on them, at this rate they would manage to make her angry for real. He better step in. Kevin and Fujio were funny, and more importantly, were what he would call friends.

"Donít worry lieutenant. I was just lost in my thoughts, and they were worried about me. I would even say it was good they did it. I have never stepped in a 4th Generation Stratocarrier before, so I want to enjoy every minute of it."

The lieutenantís temper had started to flare up, her fists clenched, her boots impatiently tapping the floor and her ponytail swaying with that same rhythm, but my words achieved their purpose. She relaxed her posture and directed a minuscule but still visible and somewhat bitter smile at me. She looked really young when she did that, barely reaching the 20s. Well, she was around that age after all.

"If you say so, warrant officer. If those two bother you, just call me. Still, while I donít mind if you enjoy the passage, please remember we are in the midst of a mission, and you should at least be combat ready-"

"Alice, Alice! Did you see the catering? It was, like, the best thing ever! They have all kind of sweets, pastries, teas and even milkshakes! Itís amazing!"

A high pitched voice interrupted Aliceís admonition. Coming from one of the ends of the hall was a brunette with hair just reaching her shoulders and a short yet slender figure. A familiar girl. She hurried towards them, ignoring like it was nothing the glare the lieutenant was sending towards her. She was an officer too, wearing a similar uniform to Aliceís, but nonetheless the contrast couldnít be greater. Still, seeing the nonchalant way in which Rachel just reached towards them despite interrupting Alice, it only reinforced his conclusion that the girls knew each other for some time.

"RachelÖ what did I say about interrupting me-"

Alas, Rachel familiarity with Alice was only matched by Kevinís recklessness.

"Wait, what?! Seriously?! Ughhhhh, Iím so jealous! Privileges of an officer I suppose, ugh, why did I decide to enlist directly instead of going to the Academy?"

"You say that as if you had any chance of passingÖ"

"Shut up, Fuji"

Welp. While my good friends were indeed funny, they seemed to have forgotten the figure of the Lieutenant, now trembling with rage over being utterly ignored. Part of me pitied her, seeing we were all more like a group schoolchildren going on a trip than soldiers of the Administration. The other part of me was worried about trying to survive for the following 20 minutes. I had to do something, anything.

"You allÖ.!"

"L-lieutenant Alice! T-thanks for staying with us! As a brand new 4th generation stratocarrier, this airship is full of recreational facilities for officers, yet you choose to stay here with us to guide us and so we wouldnít feel abandoned. Your dedication and loyalty to your team is worthy of all respect and I admire it immensely!"

A hint of red creeped beneath Aliceís cheeks as my words reached her. She seemed taken aback, her arms gesticulating like she didnít knew what to do with them, and was even stuttering a bit. I really hoped the small blush didnít mean I made her angrier.

"W-w-what are you s-saying, Mayber? I-I mean, itís just my duty. Y-yeah, Iím just doing what any officer worth his commision would doÖ T-though I guess I can accept your admirationÖ"

She seemed to trail on, but I couldnít catch the last part. Still, It seems her blush wasnít one of anger, thank the gods. While I couldnít unravel the reason behind her slight pinkish coloration, I was so relieved of having been able to defuse the situation that I didnít care that much. I could see Fujio winking at me, most likely as thanks, but oddly enough Rachel looked like she was about to break into a giggle fit at any moment. Didnít she value the live I had saved?!

Fujio quickly broke what could have devolved into an awkward silence. He was in fact quite the bro when he wasnít busy mocking Kevin.

"Still, a dessert catering in a stratocarrier? Even if reserved only for officers, it does seem a bit odd"

"I suppose itís the influence of the Lyceum"

"The LyceumÖ?"

Everyone seemed a bit shocked at my words. It was quite logical though.

"Yes. Remember that the 4th generation has just entered in service, weíre lucky we can travel in one of them so early. You should think of almost all of them as cheaper and mass-produced version of the Silver Wings. Even if theyíre made or owned by the Administration alone, the Lyceumís signature style is still there."

Talking about stratocarriers made me remember how much I liked them. I felt like a complete idiot for losing time looking through the window when I could have been snooping in. Was realizing the follies of youth perhaps what growing up meansÖ ? Iím still barely above 20 though.

"EhÖ I guess then this isnít that surprising. They really are the 'flowers in the garden'"

The lieutenant frowned at Kevinís air quotes. While it wasnít supposed to be demeaning, the popular Administration nickname did imply Maids were delicate treasures, kept away from most of the regular operations. It was easy to see why some saw a hidden insult there.

"... OHHHHHHHH! Oh, I forgot!! Alice, guys, I totally, like, for sure, saw 2 maids there!! They even had their shiny bracelets-"

"Engines"

Alice corrected Rachel automatically

"-whatever, and their uniforms were so white and cute, too. They were trying to stay unnoticed, but no, they couldnít slip pass this woman here."

"Geez, we get it, Rachel, youíre awesome. Happy now?"

"Kevin, you could say that a hundred times and it wouldnít make me happy in the least."

"Rude!"

While they continued their banter, I had started to filter out their entire conversation the moment they had said Ďmaidsí. Maids were here, in this same stratocarrier. This was a game changer. He knew the mission they were in was important, but not that it was also this dangerous. Maids were only deployed when risk of encountering the Remnant were high, and even then when the Remnant were considered dangerous.

His eyes found those of Alice, who seemed to be thinking something similar. Perhaps this what made her raise her voice.

"Team. In the end, this does not change our mission. Maids or not, our briefing did not mention any modifications to the plan, so we will proceed as usual. Donít worry about unnecessary things."

Ö It was a bit of a shame that only me (and maybe Fujio) realized what that pep talk was about. Kevin looked confused more than motivated, and RachelÖ well, I could never understand what was going on in Rachelís mind and today was no exception.

"??... What was that about, Alice? Ö Oh, wait, I think I get it, you do know some maids right?"

Though the tangent Kevin brought up was interesting.

"WhaÖ? What are you referring too, Sergeant Durante?!"

"Well, duh. Your name is Alice Orunitia, isnít? Anyone from that family must know a lot of maids."

Oh. That.

*paf*

The lieutenant facepalmed hard enough we could even hear the sound. She then proceeded to sigh the most exasperated sigh I had ever heard sighed in years.

"NoÖ I mean, yes, that is my name. But no, Iím not one of those Orunitias. Weíre related, but in a very distant way; my father is the second cousin once removed of the current head. Even during the First or the Second we would be considered a cadet branch at mostÖ"

"But, you even have the cool sword and all that."

Aliceís (and my own) eyes lowered towards her blade at her waist. She then removed it from its fixed position, weighing it with one hand, like she was checking its balance. It did look very impressive, or at least the sheath did. Of a brown colour, without a single decoration, the hilt nonetheless looked like it was made from the highest quality leather, the crossguard being simplistic in its design and the whole sword being all immaculate without a single stain or proof of use. The overall design seemed like that of a standard double-edged longsword, or at least that was what I could see from only the sheath, austere yet terrifying in its simplicity. It was a blade made to be used.

"... I do know a bit of the Orunitia family style, but Iím not that talented. Itís more of a good luck charm from my father. I also do not swear by the Code, if youíre asking."

She returned the sword to its original place in a movement so quick and graceful that she must had had done it at least a thousand times, her ponytail fluttering in an equally graceful way. The way that she was able to move her blade too without changing her body balance in the least made me think that, talent or not, she had spent years of practice in it.

"OkayÖ Though I do feel I forgot about somethingÖ Oh, yeah! Louis, werenít you related to a maid? I think Alice mentioned it someti- UGH!"

I felt my heart sink a bit when Kevin mentioned that. Whether it was because I couldnít hide it in my expression, or whether because Alice just felt he was being noisy, I thanked her for that timely kick in the shin anyway. Even while the blond clutched his hurt limb with his hands with a grimace on his face, standing on a single leg like a certain steadfast tin soldier, I couldnít feel any kind of pity towards him.

"*cough**cough* Anyway, out with the negativity!"

Rachel took the silence as a chance to correct the mood, waving her arms as if to fan out some kind of foul air surrounding us, which also worked to get our attention. Despite her oddities, in her way she seemed to care and look for others-

"So, letís talk about the movie weíre going to see next week Alice! The one with that actor that was so hot!"

Nope. Please remind me to never be her close friend. The grin on Rachelís face seemed like it couldnít get any bigger, while the lieutenantís face went through the entire color spectrum, passing through the white of (social) death, the blue of (friendship) indigestion, before finding its final shade of red, one of both pure embarrassment and anger.

"W-w-what?! Y-you decided that on your own! D-d-donít try to make it sound as if I wanted to g-go!!"

"Wait."

Fujio held his hand up, before continuing. Was it something serious?

"Isnít that another movie of the Varnadria campaign? Iím quite hyped for it, but I donít think I can reach ĎAt the rescue of maid apprentice Aya's' level"

Of course.

"I donít know, like, it was good, but wasnít it a bit melodramatic?"

"Wait! Wait! Didnít that one have Yuki Minase in it? Yes, I remember, she was starring as herself, and she even was in a love triangle! With a maid named Elicia and a butler named Steiger, I think."

"Kevin, the idol fan, defending Yuki Minase? How shocking. Donít make me remember the worst part of the movie. Her singing is, like, fine, but her acting wasnít up to the par"

"What are you saying!! Yuki was a novice, but even then she did her best! And it wasnít bad, if you looked at the movie, the actor that starred as the 'Golden Raptor' was way worse."

"Which is why weíre looking forward to this one so much~~. It was such a shame to see the 'Golden raptor' put to waste. Like, even if in the end it this one isnít that good, at least the actor is a hottie, and weíre big fans of him~~."

"Donít say we! You forced me Rachel, I didnít want ittttt!!!"

The expression on Aliceís face was turning desperate, her knees turning inwards with a slight tremble and her ponytail fluttering about due to her constant gesticulation, which tried in vain to deny what Rachel was saying. In comparison, the usually short Rachel appeared almost taller than Alice, looking like a predator that had managed to corner her prey.

"But you were the one who reserved the tickets~~ You even cried because you, like, didn't arrive in time to get the ones for the premiere. I think I still have photos of that-"

"~~~~ NO, anything but that please!!!"

"Wait"

 Fujio held his hand, again, before continuing. Was it something serio- oh, who Iím kidding.

"Isnít the actor of the 'Golden Raptor', the one that did the main character of the 'Dusk' series?"

Now, this did get my attention. Even I had heard about the Dusk series, and I couldnít help but let the shock show in my face. The famous (or infamous) series of books called the "Dusk" Series, involving a spineless and depressive Butler who's caught in a love triangle between a Leysa and Aevum Maid; all the characters (if they can be even called that) are one dimensional (on account of zero dimensions making no sense) portrayals of stereotypes and it's unclear whether the overarching metaphor for domestic violence and sexism is even intentional or not. Unsurprisingly, the movie adaptations were even worse and ended up giving rise to a BDSM-themed spin off book and movie as well.

"L-lieutenantÖ youíre a fan of thatÖ?"

In the midst of that chaos, my last bastion fell and I raised my voice. Alice met my eyes, for a full millesime of a second, before avoiding them at mach speed and hiding her face beneath her hands, trying to make herself even smaller, maybe hoping the floor would open up and make her disappear. Though the red colouring her cheeks shone like a lighthouse in the middle of the night and had no hope of remaining in the shadows.

"N-n-noÖ No-not you too, please anybody but you! Noooooooooooo!"

And so, we continued bullying our commanding officer while enjoying our school trip.


Part 2

The light of my room flickered, as if mirroring my annoyance. I was sitting in my usual chair, just besides my desk, which was filled to the brim with various books and a single computer. The figure standing before me was that of a girl I knew too well. Long straight black hair, height similar to mine, graceful limbs very unlike my own, sapphire eyes and an everpresent anxious and nervous look on her face. Marie, my elder sibling.

"LouisÖ sorry to bother you, but Iím having some problems with my studies, and I was wondering if you could help meÖ?"

I gritted my teeth to control the growl of anger that almost escaped my throat. The elder sibling had come to beg help of her younger brother, again. The fact that Marieís expression showed she realized how pathetic that was too only worsened my mood. I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed, making it clear just how annoyed I was.

"I'm busy right now. Are you really having such troubles with mere high-school subjects?"

Derision dripped from my voice. Deep inside me there was a voice screaming, one that asked me why I was acting like such a jerk, but I ignored it, again.

"Y-yes, I suppose you could say soÖ But I  really need the help, thereís a Maths exam tomorrow, and I must get a high mark if I want too-"

I rose up from my chair in anger, and shouted at her.

"You have an exam tomorrow and you ask for my help only NOW?! Why do you purposely set out to ignore each and every thing I say to you?! Are you really that stupid?!"

"... sorry"

Marie lowered her head, wordlessly accepting all my reproaches. That act made her appear shorter, which meant it was one of the few times I was looking at my elder sibling from above, further stimulating my inner sadism. Continuing to heap verbal abuse on her, searching and aiming for every flinch in her expression, I ended my streak of rebukes with a long sigh, before sitting on my chair again.

"SighÖ Bring your books. Now."

"Y-yes!"

When had it become like this, I wonder? Marie and I were close in age, and had been close as siblings. However, as we- no, as I grew older, things changed. It's not like we drifted apart, but rather something different. I started competing. I was tired of being told at every instant how similar I was to my elder sibling.

Marieís vision started to fill me with some strange kind of lukewarm rage. I wasnít like her at all, and felt compelled to show it at every moment, and for some weird reason I wanted it to show it the most to her. I paraded my victories over her constantly, while I swallowed the defeats she didn't even realize inflicted me. And in the midst of that confusing cycle I found myself treating her like this.

"Wait, basic derivation? I explained that to you 3 weeks ago? Did you really forgot about that?!!"

"I, uhh, no, I mean, kinda?"

"Could you please put a bit of work of your own instead of dumping all your problems on me?! Or is even the concept of that too hard to grasp!?!"

"Ugh, s-sorry!"

And as she apologized, again, I repeated that cycle, again. Too prideful to stop acting that way even now, and Marie too oblivious from where my bitterness came from.

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"Louis, seriously man, are you alright?"

Kevinís light touch on my shoulder brought me back from my trance. I was sitting in a small metallic seating, a tight harness keeping me in place. As I took in my surroundings, I remembered where I was. A closed space surrounded me, filled with people- soldiers looking by their equipment- in the dark grey Akkierenís Administration battledress uniform. It was in fact pretty cramped, and the intensity of the heat and smell made me wonder how did I managed to forget about them for even an instant. Not to mention the pressure in my stomach, which together with the bits of machinery I could see made me realize we were likely flying at a pretty high speed right now.

This wasnít a stratocarrier though; far from it in fact. If the lack of space wasnít telling, the colour, lack of windows and its crude appearance were evident enough. It looked like they were in a transport Zephyr. In fact, now that his brain had started to catch up with his surroundings, he remembered he did enter into a transport, and it wasnít one of the fancy ones with great agility and combat capabilities, but rather one of those older than his grandmother that could barely act as shuttle. Gods forbid the Administration put expensive and modern transport Zephyrs to fit the expensive and modern stratocarrier.

Another tug from Kevin reminded him that he was still awaiting his response.

"Sorry, today Iím just a bit weird. Must be the stratocarrier that put me on cloud nineÖ"

"I donít know, your face didnít look like it was that happy, but whatever you say man."

'Of course' I shut down my remark. The fact that it continued to affect me even now was more than enough proof that it couldnít be the stratocarrier. Still, what was it? I had felt weird since I entered the big airship, like some kind of entity was tugging at my mind and stirring my memories, but even after abandoning the stratocarrier with the transport it was still bothering me. Whatever it was, i could only hope it didnít interfere with my work.

*Swish*

The pressure in my stomach increased with what I recognized was the slow-down just before landing. I grabbed onto my my harness (which I had seemingly put without even realizing when I entered the Zephyr), preparing for the impact. In theory it should be 'softened' thanks to the transport, but I had already been on some of these old transports and knew that by 'softened' they meant 'wonít kill you, maybe'.

*BAM*CLANG*PUFF*

.. well, I wasnít dead. As my muscles recovered from the numbness caused by the impact, I admired how most of the soldiers seemed to recover like it was nothing and then proceeded to move out. Even Kevin looked impressive as he undid his harness and rose up with practiced movements. I took the hand he offered me, swallowing my pride as I reminded myself that I was simply a technician in the military, not a professional soldier like them.

"Well, weíve arrived. Now, to find the othersÖ Where were they?"

"Transport 061-O Kevin. The lieutenant will get angry if she finds out you forgot."

"Well, she was the one who refused to write it into my hand, so itís not my fault."

"Are you 10 years old?!"

As we excited the transport, my boots finally touched the ground. A foreign ground, one not affected by the habitability bubble. I let my vision wander across the strange wasteland. There was big structure in front of us looking like if a hill had been cut in half by some kind of enormous axe, the eastern side completely caved in while the western side remained almost untouched. The reddish soil  was mixed with white stains (maybe salt?), and the place showed no sign of any flora or fauna, though he knew there were some, just stranger than what he imagined. I felt the wind on my face. I wore the same battledress as Kevin and the other soldiers, a reinforced vest with extra armour on arms and thighs which balanced protection with mobility, but we all had our helmets open. A visor could be lowered to protect us from any noxious fume, but with no risk of them everyone preferred being able to see each others faces. Still, the smell of sulphur and ammonium that permeated the zone made me consider lowering it.

We were in fact not far from Akkierens, but the environment already looked like an entirely different place. Kevin wasnít enthralled by the sights like me, but he seemed impressed by the size of the hill(?).

"Woah! This is bigger than usual this close to the city!"

"Yeah. I heard the site had been eyed by the bigwigs for some time, but until the landslide happened it was deemed too dangerous and costly to exploit."

Remembering what we were supposed to be doing, I tugged Kevinís sleeve to direct us to the transport where the rest of our teammates would be waiting us. Or at least, where the briefing said it would be. My cold sweat was for naught though, as we found Alice, Rachel and Fujio waiting for us in the exact same place I was told, their uniforms of before now replaced by the battledressí combat armour. Alice was standing perfectly straight, while Rachel was crouching down and Fujio just leaning back on the black and cylindrical transport.

ďHi!Ē

Rachel stood up and waved at us with a big grin on her face while Fujio just raised his arm without moving at all, signaling they had seen us. I could see Alice form a smile, and almost start to wave, before the Lieutenant caught herself. Coughing to conceal her outburst (and embarrassment), she straightened her posture again, trying to maintain her professional attitude for at least some extra seconds.

"*cough*. Sergeant Durante, warrant officer Mayber, I see youíve arrived. Though given that the warrant officer is the one guiding you, I warrant you forgot about it again, sergeant?"

A pre-emptive strike to avoid Kevin laughing at her! As expected from a veteran!

"Yeah"

Was not very effectiveÖ Kevin forced the Lieutenant to use Facepalm!

"*Sigh*Ö Youíre not supposed to admit it so easily Kevin. Do you remember that a talk with my superiors is enough to cut your paycheck in half?"

"Crap. B-but you refused my proposed solution, so itís not my fault. Iíd knew that I would forget!"

"Are you incapable of remembering anything?! At least bring some kind of notebook to write down things if youíre so bad at it!"

"Alice~~~then you should have done what I said. Kevin is, like, a complete idiot, so itís not like you could do anything about that. Just go together with Louis alone and leave the other two to me~~~."

Friendly fire coming from Rachel! Well, can it be friendly fire when itís Rachel? Attacking both friend and foe is her modus operandi after all.

"NO! I m-mean, y-you know, t-thatísÖ"

Alice turned around in a hurry to face her former(?) ally. I missed the usual fluttering of her golden ponytail, now cramped inside the Lieutenantís helmet. While some locks were still visible around Aliceís face (and were almost as pretty), that long ponytail was quite majestic and it was a bit of a shame to no longer be bale to see it.

"Yeah! Why does it have to always be my fault!"

Given that I was being used as ammunition by one of the sides, I felt the need to intervene and calm things down.

"Guys, the lieutenant our teamís commanding officer, so she has to go where there are more of us. Even if Iím still fairly new, I canít get preferential treatment."

"Y-yes! Thatís exactly it, warrant officer."

While Rachel was still grinning, she seemed happy enough with the current situation so as to not pursue us. I released a breath of relief. Really, these guysÖ

".. though that makes me think-"

"Are you feeling bad Kevin?"

"-What!! of course! And even you Louis!! Well, anyway, Iím going to ignore that. Why did they have to divide us on two transports? Donít the other squads get all in a single transport?"

The mood turned more somber, and the lieutenant looked more thoughtful. I almost missed the glint of regret passing through Aliceís brown eyes.

"... you answered it yourself. Weíre not a squad; we only have 5 members, so we are classified as a fireteam."

"The highest ranking fireteam in the entire army?"

Despite the constant mockery, Kevin wasnít stupid. Everyone knew that the situation wasnít normal. Our lowest ranking member, Fujio, a corporal, would be the one usually commanding these kind of small fireteams. Further, we were almost independent, as in we didnít belong to a squad or platoon; Aliceís direct officer was the companyís captain. We were literally a group of 5 separate soldiers in a company of 200. I was always a bit of an exception, given that I was more of a technician (permanently) hired by the military than a professional soldier. But even so the current arrangements looked weird. I didn't ask. It was obvious this was a touchy subject: the lieutenantís face had a bitter countenance, and Rachelís usual grin was replaced by a worried look directed at her friend. We all had an inkling as to what, or more likely, who, was the cause of our current situation, but nobody had dared to openly question it.

Kevin however, appeared resolute. He seemed to have been mulling over it for a while, and decided to take the dive. Fujio nudged his friend with his elbow, a frown of worry making it clear he did either not approve of his actions or was concerned over his friend.

"What are you saying Kevin?! You know the reason. With her surname no matter what-"

The lieutenant however had no intention of running.

"It was my own choice Sergeant Durante. If you have any problems with it, I can find a replacement and have you transferred at a position befitting your rank right after this mission."

"Maíam, I donít mind the how or the what, but Iím tired of fucking around over this horseshit. Just give me a why."

A mix of various sentiments flashed by Aliceís eyes, including regret, doubt and hesitation, yet were replaced just as fast by resolution. I was momentarily mesmerized by it. While my words of earlier may had been to avoid her anger, it was true that I deeply admired Alice, and how well she managed to mix her strength with her kindness. One part of me wanted nothing but to help her, but the other feared my sheer presence would soil her battlefield, that this was something that belonged to her and her alone.

"You know it, my name. Even if Iím only distantly related, the common soldier venerates the Orunitia and their code. So much it blinds then."

The bitter smile had returned to her face, but she didn't let that stop her.

"Whoís to blame them? Nowadays most prominent families only seem to care about the military just to enter the Order, after which they dedicate themselves to live of Akkierenís citizens taxes while sitting in their velvety cushions. Be it as bureaucrats, staff officers who haven't seen combat in years or outright selling their familyís prestige to the highest bidder. Anything works for them, except actually toiling together with other citizens. The Orunitia however remain a family which refused entry in the Order, and whose sons and daughters fight on the front like other soldiers or keep order as policemen. Theyíre the closest the common soldier will ever see to the old legendary families. Yet, even if mercury looks like silver, it continues being poisonous."

She sighed. A brief silence ensued, where only the sound of Aliceís boots tapping the floor could be heard. While the emotion on her voice could be felt, she was trying to keep both her posture and expression as stoic as possible. After another brief moment, she continued.

"When I got my commission, fresh out of the Academy, the enlisted already looked at me like their idol. My superiors too were hesitant to send me into combat, fearing being blamed by the death of an Orunitia, or maybe thinking that I would take their place the moment I had a victory. I was just the greenest of rookies, and instead of trying to guide me, my superiors feared me and my subordinates, all more veterans than me, wanted me to lead them like the legendary hero they thought of me as. I wasn't even part of the main family, yet something stupid like my name was enough to cause such a ruckus."

Alice lowered her head, almost as if the memory was hurting her in a physical way. However, she recovered in a flash, like if the previous image had been just a mirage.

"A that rate my inexperience was going to get a lot of people killed. So yes, figuring that if my name was going to pursue me might as well use it, I did ask my only reliable superior for the creation of this team. One small enough so that people would get to know me, and maybe respect me for the person I am instead of my name. One which couldn't give me the glory some feared me getting. With this, I thought, maybe I could gain enough experience and skill to lead other soldiers like they wanted me to. So yes, Sergeant Durante, I made this team solely for my sake. I don't care about furthering my military career, so I would understand if you find that unsatisfactory and wish to be in a position of more relevance. But Iíve grown to like this team enough; I will not disband it just because of you."

By the end, every other feeling had been replaced by a sharp glint in her eyes, one that overpowered everything else. Despite that half of the speech was about her own doubts over her leadership qualities, I could only admire how her eyes still screamed her confidence for all of Antiope to hear. My heart was moved. I wonder; maybe, if I had some of this confidence years ago, I might not have done some things I regretted.

*Clap*

To the surprise of the lieutenant (though most certainly not to my own), Kevin started clapping, an excited look upon his face.

"Yes, thatís it!! Iím all pumped up!!! Yup, yup, this kind of things have to be said face to face!"

"... huh? You donít mind it, Kevi- I mean, sergeant Durante?"

"Of course not! I mean, not being able to do things like leading the reinforcements in a hard-fought battle, or shouting Ďhold the line!Ē is a bit of a bummer, but itís not like I could have been done that anyway as a regular sergeantÖ Oh! And doing odd jobs is a hundred times better than being kept on reserve like most regular squads. I just canít handle that bit of being on the ready for hours waiting for an emergency that never materializes."

Fujio also raised his hand, this time with a full smile on his lips.

"All well for me too. Honestly, as of now I donít think I could even return to a more traditional squad. It was a bit stifling. I just like comfy things."

"ThanksÖ UGH"

Aliceís smile was only broken by Rachelís sudden hug, which threatened to send them both towards the ground. While the lieutenant managed to recover her footing, Rachel seemed content just clinging to her while laughing

"And of course Iím fine with it too, silly~~ I didn't stick with you since the Academy only to give up so quickly~~."

She let out another giggle, before looking at both Fujio and Kevin

"Besides, if those two and me were in any other platoon, they would have had to, like, create a Ďprivate fourth classí rank to demote us into~~ Weíre kinda bad at this. I donít even know how Kevin managed to be a sergeant."

"I'm just that good, baby"

"I donít know whatís more pathetic, that you called me your baby or that you still use this slang after so many years~~"

"I'll have you know that-"

As they continued their banter, I could see Alice (still caught by Rachel) looking at me, her eyes asking me a silent question, looking for approval. I could have tried to answer her with something witty, or remember some kind of poetry that would suit the situation, but after the sincerity of her speech I felt like any words I could speak would just dirty it. So I just gave her my best smile and nodded with all the approval I could muster, putting all my sincerity in this silly gesture, hoping that in some way it would reach her.

Some of it must have, because I could see some pink in her cheeks, and that could only be due to how embarrassing I must have looked like. Still, with the happy mood we were in, I couldnít care less.

"so you know that!... WAIT! Look!"

Wondering what had gotten into Kevin, we all looked aroundÖ and saw nothing.

"Man, now Kevin might have been bitten by some kind of insect which provokes hallucinations. Or youíre even worse in the head than I thought, bro."

"What are you saying!?! Donít you see everyone leaving?!"

He was in fact right about this. A big portion of our comrades had started moving, and I could even see some of the earliest squad start moving towards the hill from our landing zone.

"... and?"

"Shouldnít we go with them?!!!!!"

At this point, even I couldnít contain myself.

"Kevin, do you even remember anything about the briefing? No, donít answer; I prefer to just think you had a sudden case of amnesia."

ďLike some kind of main character? That would be too cool for Kevin~~Ē

Our lieutenant facepalmed, again.

"Sergeant Durante, do you really think Iím the type that would be here just doing her little speech when we should be moving? We move with the second wave, after the exteriors have been secured. We discussed this, do you remember?"

"Nope."

"Again with these kind of answers!! Donít you have at least some bit of shame or pride as a soldier?!"

"Nah."

While the Lieutenant looked like a volcano ready to erupt, Fujio timidly raised her hand. In a rare situation, he in fact looked embarrassed by something.

"*cough* so, uhm, I admit today I was very sleepy, so I miiiight have taken a little nap during the briefing. I kinda wanted to take this time before going in to hear about the briefing."

"...Corporal Leong, you tooÖ? Rachel?"

Alice looked at her longtime friend in a panic.

"Donít worry, I was all ears~~"

ďThank allÖ Well, then Rachel would you explain the briefing to them?"

Alice let out a breath relief, before pointing towards our two stooges.

"Ehh~~? I could, but, like, you know Iím not good at those kind of things. We had to go like, before some, but after others, and take some thingies and-"

"Okay Rachel, I realize youíre no help, please stop."

"No prob~~~Why donít you explain it to them?"

Silence. Rachelís words had left Alice on the spot, and she seemed to be sweating, her face with an expression that shifted between being awkward, squirming, and trying to uphold some kind of facade that had been broken before it could even be built. Even her usual tapping on the floor, a telltale sign that she was impatient or nervous, had stopped. Our team is really good at bullying our lieutenant.

"Ehm, yeah, about that... I usually record everything with my device, but I kinda forgot todayÖ I mean, I remember! But, you know, Iím not that good at telling things from memory or -"

"Oh, itís true~~ You were, like, even worse than me when explaining things~~ I now remember-"

"No more memories from the Academy please!"

At this point I felt the need the intervene, unless I wanted our lieutenant to lose every bit of the dignity her previous speech had build up. I slowly raised my hand before speaking up

"I do have everything recorded, but even without that I remember most of it pretty well, so I can make a summary."

Alice looked at me like a puppy looks at her owner after returning home, her eyes almost shining with relief. I could almost imagine that if she wasnít wearing her helmet, her ponytail would be wagging in the air.

"Thanks! A lot of thanks! Many thanks! I knew I li- i mean, I knew we had you in the team for some reason!! Thatís true, we do have an actually smart guy on our team!"

I let an amused smile float to my lips. Alice was still overreacting, with Rachel grinning non-stop behind her, Fujio rolling his eyes at all the silliness and Kevin looking clueless about what was happening. Yes, this was a good team.


Part 3
We were in quadrant 26J of Akkieren's 'region', as little sense it would have to name anything past the habitability bubble a part of Akkierens. In this zone, not very far from the city, an adalstier deposit of unknown purity and depth had been detected quite some years ago on a hill. The size of the hill and its position pointed towards the possibility of the deposit being due to a fragment of a small ancient ship that fell there, maybe even an escort of Akkieren's mothership. There were other wilder theories, but they were impossible to prove or disprove without any further investigation. Of course, it was not like the Administration didn't want the extra adalstier. Rather, early probes showed that the deposit was fairly deep within the Ďhillí. This would require mining the precious element, a task that would take quite a long time. Further, there was a high chance the sound and tremors would attract the Remnant. Deciding that  long-term mining would be unsustainable (Akkierens had long abandoned fixed defences because of the harsh casualties they brought, after all), and that intermittent mining would be inefficient and expensive, the Administration simply catalogued the site and left it alone.

However, this changed some weeks ago. In a Remnant raid nearby, a particularly violent fight had caused an enormous landslide on one half of the 'hill'. This meant the previously deep deposits were now much closer to the surface. The Administration wasted no time sending a scouting team (us), which had to inspect the site, report its state and the position and quality of the deposit (and if there was anything else to salvage), preferably while also taking samples of anything that could be interesting/useful for a deeper investigation in Akkieren's labs. They would send 2 stratocarriers, a number which further showcased the importance the Administration gave to the mission. One of brand new 4th generation stratocarriers, smaller but more agile, would be the one to deliver the scouting team to the site and recover them if things went south, while an older 3th generation one would act as the backup and bring most of the firepower in case the Remnant appeared.

The scouting team itself would be divided in 3 'waves'. The first one would secure the exterior, and check which of the existent caves and galleries looked secure enough. If there weren't any, they may even do some digging. The second wave would directly investigate and acquire samples, going as deep into the hill as they could. The third would act as a reserve force and patrol the surroundings so the Remnant didn't catch us unaware. We were in wave 2.

óóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóó


It had been some hours since we entered the cave. After some probes indicated that this route reached quite the depth within the hill, our companyís captain decided that someone should be sent to investigate. The direction of this gallery however would lead to a place somewhat far from where the main adalstier deposits were estimated to be, so itís not like most of the men could be sent this way. Thus it was perfect for an 'odd-jobs' team like ours.

I clutched the device within my arms. At first sight it looked like a regular tablet, however a bit more of attention revealed an unusual thickness and weight. Indeed, he could swear that the device weighted even more than the standard Administration rifle they would be usually required to carry. Still, it was a familiar gadget, one that he had used countless times since he had started working with  the military. Carrying countless sensors, from Infrared to even the odd Lyman alpha sensor for if he ever wanted to point it at the sky, it also had a top-notch Adalstier resonator and even an incorporated database which listed every mineral in existence. Its proper name was "Prospection and Multi-tool Analysys Helper", but everyone called it PAMAH.

He looked up from his PAMAH to what lay ahead. The cave was dark and didnít follow any kind of pattern nor had any consistency, so he felt at any moment he could just crash into a dead-end. The lights on their helmets were on, but that amounted to little with everything else being pitch dark. He had to both look at his PAMAH to see if there was anything strange or dangerous and also lead everyone deeper into the cave. He felt the footsteps of the rest of his team behind him. He wanted nothing more than to tell one of them to take the lead and walk first so he could just follow him and focus completely on his PAMAH, but that carried the risk of him detecting the danger too late whenever they did get near anything dangerous. He couldnít put the lives of his friends on the line for something so silly, so he continued walking. His steps were hesitant, but they were steps nonetheless.

Of course, everything would be easier to weather if the ones behind were anybody else but his team.

"So, then the girl left, just like that! Geez, to think she would let this kind of muscles escapeÖ"

I didn't need to look behind  to picture Kevin directing a look of appreciation at his biceps while looking smug.

"... I honestly canít imagine how any woman could put up with you for more than 10 minutes"

" You're just jealous Rachel, that you will never get these biceps."

Rachel's snort was loud enough that I didnít have to imagine it, though.

"Sorry, I donít know who told you, but most straight women donít even like muscles that much. At least not your overgrown, stupid, brain-consuming kind."

"Yeah, yeah, say whatever you want. If Ma told me anything, is that men and women are equal! So, just like us canít avoid liking big boobs, girls must love big muscles for sure."

"...wut?"

Oh, Kevinís line of reasoning had left Rachel without words. That was rare. I could picture Kevin with his arms crossed, nodding with a smug look and his eyes closed, all while Rachel would be staring at him with a look at bewilderment, crouching a bit and placing her hands protectively in front of her chest. Not that there was anything to look at or even feel with their think battledress, but one of Kevinís qualities was precisely that he made you question common logic.

"... I donít know where to startÖ Well, for example, not all men like big chests, donít they?"

Rachel mimicked the voice of a teacher that was talking to a 10 year old, but I could imagine Kevin's look of befuddlement nonetheless.

"? I mean, some donít mind that much, but I can assure you bigger is always better! Tell her, Fuji!"

"Bro, Iím into men, I donít think I can help you"

Oh. I forgot

"Oh, I forgot."

Kevin echoes my thoughts.

"... I donít know if I should be honored or insulted. But, really?"

I felt a shiver going down my spine. Crap, I think Fujio was looking at me. Could it be he realized what I had thought?! Damn, it was enough of an eternal shame that for a second I was thinking the same as Kevin, no need for anything extra!

"Well then, man, you can help me! Tell that Rachel just how good my muscles are!"

"... Are you saying you want me to hit on youÖ?"

"If you do that, Iíll hit you. I-I mean, not like that!!!!!-"

"Sorry bro, but youíre just not my type. I only see you as a friend-"

"JUST STOP!"

After Fujio messed with Kevin for a while, the later, seemingly unable to give up, decided to just continue his (rather stupid) pursuit.

"So, Fuji is gayÖ Hum, then that means that thereís only Louis and me who like boobsÖ uhmÖ Wait, unless Alice is also-"

A set of footsteps, which had been in a perfect cadence since we entered the cave, slipped all of a sudden. Worried, I looked behind to see Alice had managed to recover her balance, but, the question had (no surprises) left her speechless. Fortunately(?), Rachel answered in her stead.

"Alice? Nope, not at all~~ Sheís straighter than a straight angle."

"!!? How do you even know that Rachel!?"

"Oh, want me to share it~~~?"

Rachel answered Aliceís desperate question by putting her hand on her hip, letting her threat linger in the air and directing a significant lookTM at her close friend. Realizing she was outnumbered, outgunned and outmaneuvered, our brave lieutenant let out a small whimper signalling her surrender. Taking that as a sign the little interlude was over, Kevin continued with his own weird reasoning.

"Oh, cool. Then Alice is out, ok. That means our team is all accounted forÖ"

"Oh? Then you have realized what Iím? Colour me surprised Kevin, I didn't think you had it in you to-"

"Oh, Rachel? Well, I donít care what you say either way, so you simply donít count."

"RUDE! Forget about 5 minutes, youíll be lucky if a woman puts up with you for more than a minute outside work-"

I shook my head and looked ahead, trying to focus on my task. If I listened to them, I would either have a heart-attack or they would distract me enough for me to make a mistake. Soon however I felt a touch on my shoulder.

I turned back to find Fujio nodding at me, with a bit of a worried look.

"Ei, Louis, you really donít look that good. Want to take a bit of a break? We have been walking for more than 2 hours, so 5 minutes canít hurt."

I suddenly became aware of all the sweat glistening in my face, due to the heat and tension of the situation. Even below my battledress, I could feel it on my legs and armpits. Still, it was no reason to worry him.

"No need to worry Fujio. I was just surprised by those 2. Still, I suppose we can stop for some minutes."

I could see he was skeptical about it, but when he saw I wasn't trying to escape he handed me a handkerchief, which I accepted. The rest of the team had stopped too, Rachel and Kevin continuing their banter and Alice, ever diligent, covering our back. As I was wiping the sweat of my face he continued speaking.

"Look, Iíve seen you, and today youíre not like other days, and in those other days Rachel and Kevin acted the same. Kevin even told me you were a bit weird during the ride from the stratocarrier. Now, at the beginning I thought Kevin was overreacting, but youíre starting to worry me."

Uncomfortable, I leaned on my left leg, like if changing my posture would magically change the situation. Whatever had been bothering me in the stratocarrier and transport was doing the same now, gods know how many meters beyond ground. It was a subtle tug, one that didn't affect me in an overt way but that was putting me on edge. Still, I believed I had managed to hide it well. He was sharper than I expected. Looking back at Fujio, I thought being at least somewhat honest couldnít hurt.

"... I just feel a bit weird. Itís not anything big, but I do admit I am not in my best form. Still, it shouldn't affect the mission in the least, so you really shouldnít worry, Fujio."

He still looked skeptical, but he still accepted the handkerchief I returned.

"... If you say so. Youíre the smart guy after all. Still, you know you can call me Fuji, do you? I mean, everyone does, even the lieutenant when she takes that stick out of her ass."

I couldnít help but let a small giggle at the picturesque image.

"Still, isnít Fuji a girlís name?"

"Oh, so you know! I mean, yeah, but after so many times, it doesnít bother me. Hell, they've called me worse things. And hey, how you call others is kinda important; it affects how you think about them."

Fujio -no, Fuji, shrugged his shoulders while letting out a piece of trivia he had surely heard in some kind of self-help book or Ďalternative therapyí. While I disliked the pseudoscience most of those kind of things advocated, in this case the logic was a sound one.

"... yeah, youíre right, Fuji."

He answered me with a thumbs up, and I resumed the march. Or, well, were about to resume our march when a certain blond muscular man decided to throw a wrench in our plans.

"Looouiiiss!!! Answer me a quick question, are you gay?!"

I just froze, my right leg half raised, my left arm in a weird position and with an overall terribly uncomfortable posture. Silence also followed the weird question- wait, no, there was a very impatient and nervous tapping on the floor, but the only one with a the habit to tap the ground was Alice, and she had no reason to be nervous. Maybe I was tapping without realizing? Maybe nobody was tapping and I was just imagining it? Was there maybe some kind of evil demon tapping the floor-

As I questioned the nature of reality in order to escape the situation I was in, Fuji came to my rescue.

"... Kevin, homosexuality isnít contagious."

"Of course I know that!!! It's just to show Rachel that Iím not a complete idiot who would miss the preferences of his two best friends! So, your answer , Louis?!"

Oh, so it was that. I could now see Rachel behind Kevinís huge frame, and she even seemed somewhat apologetic? Huh, I suppose not even she is that evil.

"Duh. I already told you, Iím straight. Well, Iím single so itís not like it matter that much right now..."

Two breaths of relief were freed after my answer. Well, while I got Kevinís, what was Alice relieved about?

"See Rachel! See!"

"Sure, sure. Iím sorry, Louis, I didnít think Kevin would just ask it out of the blue."

She apologized with a small bow and a smile. It was a bit strange to see her like this, but I guess even Rachel thought she went a bit too far. Now that I think about it, she seems to only pull all the stops with people sheís really close too, like Alice, so sheís more of a thoughtful girl with a devilís mask than a true demon. I smiled back and waved my hand to indicate it was nothing.

"No need to worry. When I went to college people were even worse about it."

"Oh, it's true, you went to college didnít you? Arenít you only 20?"

Fuji asked, looking quite curious. Well, Iím not super-comfortable when talking about me, but itís not like I wouldnít disclose anything-

"He actually finished it at 20, though the warrant officer is now 21."

Before I said anything, the lieutenant answered for me. While she was standing at the back before, she seemed to have gotten close at some point, meaning the entire team was now surrounding me. I looked at her blankly, wondering why would she remember such trivial things from my dossier. She looked back at me, a question mark almost visible above her head, before gasping and stepping back.

"Oh, Iím sorry! I said something I shouldnít, did I? Iím terribly so-"

"Wait, wait, no! You said nothing wrong! I just wondered why you remembered!"

After repeating it a few times, it seems Alice finally understood, though now her cheeks were red with embarrassment and the mood became a bit more awkward. Fuji, however, came to the rescue.

"So, what you were studying at college?"

Thanking him inside my heart, I answered him.

"Biochemistry. I also took some geology and engineering courses when I enlisted, as that is more in line with the technicians the Administration needs."

Kevin whistled

"Wow, you did hit your books. Are you one of those genius?"

"KevinÖ!"

Alice growled. Her earlier mistake had probably been quite the embarrassing one, so she seemed to be trying to compensate by being overprotective of my privacy. While I was thankful for the gesture, I didnít mind in the least, so I just gestured at Alice that it was nothing.

ďNope. Geniuses are clause 5. Iím just a 'gifted', clause 3Ē

"That sounds the same to me- UGH!"

This time it was Rachel the one who kicked him in the shin.

"Leaving the idiot aside, thatís very impressive~~ I knew you were the smart guy, but, like, a clause 3 is even better than I expected~~"

As Rachel talked, the lieutenant was besides her nodding with her arms crossed and a smug face. Youíre not my mother, you know.

"Still, I suppose I can tell you while we advance. If weíre too slow, the captain is going to get mad at us."

Looking back at my PAMAH, I again stepped towards the depths of the cave. Without a word, the rest of the team followed me. While I thanked the brief respite, I would hate for the lieutenant to get yelled at because of me.

"SoÖ if you managed to finish college, why did you enlist?"

My heart sank. I honestly didnít want to lie to them, but at the same time I didn't think I would be able to talk about it. It wasnít that big of a story, but, it wasÖ personal, that would be the best way to put it. In the end, that I had my PAMAH was a blessing in disguise. Making it seem like I was absorbed in it let me give a curt and short answer without it seeming anything else. For that I was willing to endure any further annoyance from it.

"Family."

I focused my eyes on the device, hoping they wouldnít realize I actually wasnít reading anything on-screen. It somehow worked.

"Oh, ei, I can get behind that. I enlisted at 16 to help my family too."

"Eh, you did Fuji~~ That makes sense now that I think of it. Unlike Kevin you could probably have gotten into the Academy~~"

"Well, what can I say? Not everyone has the time to do that. Still, I donít regret it. In fact I almost prefer not being an officer. I kinda like to kick back and relax, and leading everyone would be too stressful for my taste."

"I get that. Still, my family was, like, unable to accept I wanted to enlist. Their precious baby daughter? No way, she had to stay at home and be pretty forever. I only managed to convince them thanks to Alice~~ Honestly, I didnít care much about the Academy, but if that alone already took them years to accept, imagine what would have happened if I wanted to enlist as common grunt?"

"Eh, so you wanted to enlist? I had thought you only accompanied Alice on a whim."

"Well it obviously wasn't thanks to you, Kevin. What can I say? I always loved maids, but I kinda, like, prefer guns over frilly dresses if I have to be honest. Since I didnít have the gift, might as well join the regular troops."

"Hah! Well, I joined simply because I wanted to!"

"...So simple."

"Like I care! I sent a fan letter to Yuki when I was wondering whether to enlist, and she actually answered me!! She said that, 'no matter our reason, serving the city is a wonderful aim. Donít let the simplicity of your feelings bother you, because that only makes them purer. '! So nope, not going to care!"

"That was just PR!"

I relaxed a bit now that I wasnít the focus of their attention, letting my lips curl up a little. As I raised my eyes from the PAMAH to check what was ahead, however, I didnít expect what I saw.

"Okay, this is different"

I raised my arm in a Ďstopí motion. Just ahead, the cave opened in a way we hadnít seen before. Our path was sometimes more wide and sometimes very tight, but it had never gone above the width of 4 men side by side. Now however the walls were separated by dozens of meters, and the ceiling had risen up to the height of around 4 full-grown men. The path widened to form a circular chamber. More importantly, the way ahead opened up in multiple paths, some of which I could see were dead ends even from my current position. I looked at my PAMAH. Yes, it seems like something was different here. Alice looked over my shoulders, a frown settling on her face, and her usual tapping of the floor returning.

"Do you think this is dangerous?"

The question lingered for a moment, in which I furiously tapped at the screen, looking at various sensors. In fact, her getting close to me so suddenly almost made me jump of the surprise, but I managed to tone it down to just a mistype and some leg fidgeting. Still, me being silly or not, this looked like a good place

"... I donít see any overt dangers. Going ahead though would be an exercise in futility, with all these different paths. Yes, I think it would be better to take some samples, and just note it down. We can later prove deeper once we have the deposit secured."

Alice nodded, agreeing with my judgement, before turning towards the rest of our team which had, very surprisingly, remained quiet and listening.

"Okay, youíve heard him! Take some samples of the soil and rocks of the walls, I will be setting up the transmitter and communicating with the captain. Donít go too far from the chamber, warrant officer Mayber has only checked for danger nearby. Do you hear me?"

ďYeah!Ē  ď*nod*Ē ĒSure~~Ē

"... you should have answered with a 'yes, Maím!' "

Facepalming for the nteenth time, Alice just looked at me. I simply gave her a smile of sympathy, before proceeding to the center of the chamber. The transmitter was a curious tool: a small box that both let out a radio signal and used it to map the surroundings like a sonar. Itís not like we needed it to communicate with the surface (Alice had a communication device on her helmet for that), but it was standard procedure to leave one in the deepest part of any surveying. More than for them, it was for the Administration. Each transmitter acted as a check, one that signaled that Administration forces had been there and that until that point everything had been explored. More importantly however, they gave out a lot of information on the surroundings in a constant but reliable way. The Administration had to monitor thousands of miles and hundreds of sites, but it just did not have the manpower, and these little devices proved very useful in alleviating that. And cheap. The Administration always liked cheap. The main reason why they realized the landslide had affected this site in the first place had been precisely because of one transmitter set up in the hill.

Now, their usefulness didnít make them easy to carry around. They weighed around 2 to 3 kilos, depending on the model, and werenít that small. Still, the lieutenant took it out with a single hand and with tremendous ease. It usually was tucked away in the backpack of the battledress, but as the there was only one per team, it was Alice who carried it. I would have offered to help her with that, but the last (and only) time I did it ended with me being barely able to walk after two hours. I had no illusions of being half as fit as Alice, but, still, being crushed like that wasnít fun. It wasnít like she only carried that extra too. Besides the standard backpack plus transmitter, she also carried a cylindrical and very long case on her back, one with her favourite adalstier heavy rifle on it.

The rest of the team preferred to carry their standard Administration rifle on hand, and I got so used to it that it was Alice without any apparent weapons on herself the one that weirded me the most. Well, except her sword on her waist, now properly hidden within the battledress (yes, their battledress did have have a system of straps to hold and camouflage a sword with it, yes, he also found it very weird, and yes, it was also likely due to Maid influence). Rachel was sometimes a bit worried about her friend's apparent helplessness. However, the few times we talked about it, Alice argued that with the Remnant being their most usual enemy on the exterior, the fact that she didn't carry her weapon on hand wouldnít matter, because if they were taken by surprise they were dead anyway, and as a last resort weapon her blade would work just as well (meaning not much). She was right of course, but stillÖ

My inner debate didnít stop Alice from setting up the transmitter with the practiced movements of someone who has done this at least a dozen times, even while crouching. Now however I could help her with the more technical part of it, as I kneeled before the device, pressing a pair of buttons, and checking if the signal was being sent correctly through my PAMAH. Nodding to Alice, I rose again and looked around.

The team had spread out, searching for the samples. Fuji and Kevin worked together, while Rachel was on her own. While they were still inside, the size of the chamber was so big that I felt that I would have had to shout for them to hear me in any capacity. Still, after finding some bits of rocks and minerals, they would show them to me, I would check them, and then we could return. Honestly, I was a bit impatient. Today had been tiring and weird, and I wanted nothing more than calling it a day and go home to Akkierens.

"Warrant officer"

Alice rose from her crouching position. I could only wonder what she wanted

"? What is it, lieutenant?"

She looked down, her boots tapping the floor, as she did whenever she was nervous.

"Well, my apologies for Kevin and the others. I know youíre a bit uncomfortable about your familyís situation. It also all came because of my indiscretion. For that let me apologize."

She bowed at me, in a way that if she still had her hair free would have ended with her ponytail slapping me (though that prospect did look somewhat appealing). As always, she managed to look solemn and elegant even within the cumbersome battledress.

"No, no need to worry Lieutenant."

"Still, let me apologize. Perhaps you could let me do something for you? You appear somewhat tired today, and even Kevin and Fuji are worried."

Even as we met eye to eye again, she wouldnít buckle. Rather, she was as sharp as ever. Still, it was hard for me to say what was wrong when I didnít even realize it myself. She apparently misunderstood my silence however, as her expression slowly became a crestfallen one and her tapping stopped.

" ... Are you unhappy with our team? I know they appear as idiots, but I think they are in fact reliable."

Crap. I was slow to react, and now Alice was already whispering to herself without me having a chance to stop her.

 "And now that I found this team... I suppose itís no use though. Iím sorry, even if youíre a technician youíre also way above our level, and deserve to work in a better post-"

Deciding to take a drastic action, I grabbed and shook her arm, trying to get her attention. She looked at me, shocked, but now that I had her eyes on me I could finally speak.

"No! I donít wish to be separated by this team. In fact, let me apologize back at you for being so useless today. I donít know whatís gotten in me today, but I just feel a bit weird and, andÖ I donít know, weird! Itís frustrating, but I swear it doesnít have anything to with you or your team Alice, youíre both great!"

A small blush started to appear in Aliceís cheeks, as both my words and closeness started to register on her mind. Awkwardly, she looked away from me, but did little else. Crap, maybe I overdid it?

"... Thank you, warrant officer."

The words lingered, but neither me nor the Lieutenant moved (my arm still grabbing hers) or said more , and the mood became just too awkward. Deciding there wouldnít be any good moment for it, I just let go of her arm, and took two steps back. She still refused to look at my eyes, and the arm I let go was just dangling, as if she didnít even know where to put it. The pink still in her cheeks, at least her usual tapping of the floor had returned, though I feared that just showed how nervous we both were. Meanwhile, I was scratching my cheek with my legs fidgeting. Gods, it was so awkward! I had to do something, anything. Remembering a bit of our earlier conversation, I just latched into it, and spoke, with my voice sounding much higher than usual..

"Y-yeah, about what you said before? A favour?"

That seemed to put the gears of her mind running, and she answered, her voice somewhat cracking.

"Y-yes! Can I do s-something for you?"

"Uhm, can you just call me by my name instead of warrant officer all the time?"

"..."

The silence lingered. Oh gods, how I could be so stupid. That was even more awkward!

I sighed. Welp, I was already in, so might as well go all the way. Fuji was right after all, names were important. I took a  deep breath, before continuing.

"While you call the others by their name, you always call me only 'warrant officer' or 'Mayber'. I would feel a bit more comfortable if called by my name, Louis. Yeah, I know, military etiquette and all, but  when thereís no one else around, does it really matter?"

This time she meet my eyes. She seemed indecisive, a slight frown upon her face, the tapping intensifying, her lips pressed together in thought. After a while however she sighed, and looked at me with a small smile on her face.

"I would prefer to follow military etiquette while on a mission, but, youíre right, to hell with it. We are I donít know how many miles deep below the surface after all. Still, Louis, Louis...."

Crap, I wasnít used to hearing it coming from her mouth, so that was a bit embarrassing. Especially with how she was muttering the name, spending her time on each phoneme and vocalizing it with care. It felt very embarrassing, I don't know why. She seemed to think the same though, as a bit of pink returned to her cheeks.

".. further, youíve already called me Alice just now, haven't you?"

Oh, that. I felt my cheekís heat on my hand as my embarrassment became a full-fledged blush. Alice realized that, and started to giggle, all while trying to hide it with her hands. Crap, that was very, very cute. Of course, these thoughts didnít help my embarrassment in the least.

"FufufuÖ"

And so, as we acted like kids in elementary school, we continued our school trip.



Part 4
"-ouis!Louis!"

Kevin's (with Fuji behind him) words interrupted our conversation. For the whole length of half a second, I kinda hated him. Then I saw what he carried in his hands, and surprise overrode my dislike.

Kevin carried a small transparent canister on his left hand (his right on holding his rifle), a typical utility used by the Administration to carry samples. Inside there were some number of pebbles of different colours and other various grains. However, the surprising part was above the canisterís cover, where a rolling paper held some kind of metallic dust.

"Sorry, for carrying it like this,but I only had one hand, and Fuji-"

He directed a pointed look at his friend behind, which simply shrugged his shoulders

"-wasn't of any help. Anyway, here are the samples, and here is some weird stuff I found too."

He passed me the canister, which I held with all the care I could muster, hoping the powder wouldnít be blown away. Fuji approached too, but I signalled him I would take his own canister (which looked completely normal) later. On the background, I could hear Alice lecturing Kevin about bringing rolling paper to a mission, but at that moment the only thing in my mind was to bring my PAMAH to whatever that powdery stuff was.

The seconds the sensors looked at it, identifying its spectra and chemical components, were one of the longest moments on my life. Just as it proclaimed the scan was finished, I tapped the button as quick as I couldÖ and let out a breath of relief.

"Just aluminium, huh"

As the fear escaped my whole body, and I almost felt the need to lay down a bit, my eyes lingered to the canister I was holding. At some of the rocks and white grains. White grains.

I felt the jolt hit my entire body. While they looked like it, those grains were not salt. We had found them through the entire way here after all. I remembered very well what they were. With all the urgency I could muster I shouted towards Kevin.

"Kevin, where the hell have you found this dammed powder!!"

He looked at me, surprised by the intensity of my voice. Still he recovered and answered in flash. In some moments he did resemble a soldier.

"I found them everywhere. They were like dust, but very small and thin, I needed some minutes to collect enough so that it could even be seen."

Crap. This was bad, really bad. I looked towards my own uniform, and scooped all the dust and dirt I could find. Without waiting, I put the pile of everything through my PAMAHís sensors.

"Shit!"

Among the data of the various silicates and oxides, there was without doubt a mostly metallic signal, that of Aluminium.

"Damm, how could I have missed this!!! Was the powder so thin it didnít detect it, or maybe-"

Someone shook my shoulder. I turned my face, fully intending to discharge my rage and frustration upon whomever it was, to came eye-to-eye with Alice. Her hazelnut irises were deadly serious, her face appearing hardened like steel. She was beautiful, as powerful as a blade, but beautiful nonetheless.

"Louis, first of all, calm down. Then tell me what happens, and weíll do our best to work around it."

Her voice was terse and aware, but there was a warm side to it. Realizing that panicking would only make things worse, I breathed in and out. After 2 or 3 deeps breaths, I looked at Alice, whose lips had now curled up a bit.

"Better?"

"Yes, thanks. We need to call Rachel. Itís more efficient to just tell it to everyone in one go, and we should leave as promptly as possible."

Alice nodded, and immediately left towards where Rachel had gone. Kevin and Fuji both looked at me a bit surprised, but their grips on their rifles had strengthened, and the both looked ready to bolt off the moment the order was given.

"Okay, I'm here, what happened?"

Alice returned, with Rachel in tow. The later had a rare frown of worry on her face. Still, with that all of them were now looking at me.

"... First of all, don't panic like me there. It's bad, but not 'we have 30 seconds to live' bad"

ďThat still sounds bad-UGHĒ

A kick to the shin later, this time courtesy of Fuji, I continued.

"The dust contains Aluminum powder. I suspect it was present even in the parts closer to the surface, we just didnít realize. The Aluminum probably comes from the fragments of the original airship that formed this deposit. After hundreds of years and the impact, Iíd wager almost none of the original form remains and we only have this dust. Still, Aluminum powder in itself is not too dangerous even when breathed. The problem are those grains"

I pointed to the white grains present in Kevinís canister. Though I could just have pointed anywhere, or any of the other two canisters. White 'stains' were everpresent in the reddish soil, even within the cave, and they were made precisely of this white grain.

"This is Ammonium nitrate. As the aluminum dust is everywhere, this means the two are mixed"

"AndÖ?"

"We're standing on an unstable mix of Tannerite, Kevin."

This time there was no need of a kick to the shin to shut up Kevin. Even he realized what this meant.

Tannerite was, in short, an explosive. A secondary one, used commonly by the military, formed by the combination of Ammonium nitrate with Aluminium powder. Its main property was that it responded not to weight or heat, but to speed. It was thus perfect for demonstrations of high-speed adalstier rifles while not being overly dangerous with anything else. That was of course, with a perfectly measured and balanced mix and in small abundances. We were now on a natural mix, that also had tons of extra minerals and may even have some adalstier mixed in. The word Ďunstableí would be an understatement.

"...Crap."

Kevinís word was a perfect mirror of our feelings.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

We didn't wait a second before we started our march back. We communicated our discovery to the captain, and he promised us he would investigate the matter on the other caves and galleries. It seems they did manage to found the deposit, so they couldn't just call for an evacuation right away; with the prize in sight, if it ended being a false alarm it would end with half of the commanding officers being demoted.

I could hear Alice's frustration as we marched our way back. As the Tannerite explodes by velocity, we decided that returning sprinting at full speed would be too dangerous; a tiny pebble we kicked out during our sprint could have enough speed to transforms us all into cinders. We were thus marching at a steady pace, very careful of where we stepped, while I had my eyes focused on my PAMAH to look for big concentrations of Ammonium nitrate so we could avoid them.

We still had quite a while to go, but things were going surprisingly well, until a sudden tremor almost send us all to the ground.

"What the hell was that!!"

"Whatever it was, itís not near us."

I managed to answer while looking at my device. The tremor was big and strong, but the PAMAH put its focus some miles to the leftÖ near where the adalstier deposits were supposed to be.

As I shared this info, Alice immediately tried to contact her superior.

".. could it be they exploded the Tannerite while trying to mine the Adalstier?"

Kevin looked worried. We all were worried. While we weren't that close, we knew a lot of the soldiers that were there (half of them were from our own company), and while we were ready for the worst, it wasnít something pleasant to even think. Still, I shook my head.

"I donít detect the heat that such an enormous explosion would cause. For the tremors to reach us, the explosion would need to be fairly big, and itís just as likely that such an explosion would just explode all the Tannerite in its surroundings, meaning all the hill would become a volcano."

What I did not say, is that I detected a small heat source. It was not even near being big enough for it to be an explosion, but there definitely was something.

"TeamÖ"

Alice's voice, her communication with the captain finished, had a tremendous sense of finality. She had been tense, but now she looked even worse.

"The captain has told me. We have a 666. The unit at the adalstier deposit was attacked by a Remnant."

I felt my heart sink, as my worst fears became real.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

We continued marching, in complete silence. No, silence was too mild a word, emptiness would be more fitting. It was not only that we werenít speaking, but that even our breaths were barely audible, and our footsteps were languid. The only thing that interrupted the complete lack of sound were the electronic chirps of the Aliceís helmet, as she strained to hear every report about the current situation. By her face, none were good.

Still, the only thing we could do was continue marching. An evacuation order had been sent to all units, and we all had to hurry towards the landing zone, where Transports would come to pick us up. That if the Remnant didnít get us firstÖ

"... It seems for now there is only one."

Alice broke the silence. Realizing that that this eerie quiet was only making us more nervous and anxious every passing minute, she pushed herself to speak up. After all, no matter how grim the situation was, it was likely that our fears and thoughts were even worse.

"Some companies have tried to pin it down, butÖ the casualties were harsh. As all the combat has happened inside the caves, we canít bring the firepower of our Zephyrs and stratocarriers to bear. The captain has told me the maids we had attached to our regiment have been sent to intercept the Remnant; a Skadia and Vidrein. He also has told me reinforcements are in the way."

She tried to present those facts in a hopeful way, but our expressions, even her own, were still grim. Itís not like the Administration wasn't ready to fight the Remnant. In this same team, Fuji and Kevin had actually been in live combat against them at least 2 times, something they always bragged about.

But to fight the Remnant wasnít an easy thing. Normal soldiers alone can take them down, but that is always with an abundance of heavy weapons, air support and an overarching strategy. It was the most dangerous hunt in the whole Antiope, and if they got the drop on us we were dead. Thus, fights while on a scavenging mission were the worst, and the reason the Administration was so cautious with them. They were on closed spaces, where neither artillery or air power could reach, and we were on their lair, where neither terrain or strategy could help us. Even suicide bombing proved futile; an explosion on the level to obliterate the Remnant would just collapse the entire mine, killing all the men within it.

The only things able to face them in those situations were Maids. Hopefully the two girls Rachel had seen would manage. One of them was a Skadia, and Skadia maids were powerful if nothing else.

The power to control the elements, to use the energy within the quantum foam and give it form as terrible bursts of power. They could heat the air around them to become plasma, and direct it in a stream of destruction equaling the power of the Sun. They could take a more refined approach and ionize their surrounding, giving raise to thunderbolts and beams of electricity, not as powerful but just as deadly and easier to control. Or, if you managed to anger them, they could simply suck the energy out of you and the space-time you occupy, letting your entire system slowly break as every cellule of your body slows down and every fiber of your body becomes brittle. If they were merciful, they would kill you before that, but if they weren't they would let you freeze until your body was unable to sustain its own weight, collapsing and breaking into a million tiny pieces.

They were perhaps the only beings of this world outside the Gods that could deny the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Perhaps because of his background, he felt he had an unique understanding of how powerful they were. Though the price they paid was also equally steep, he knew it very well. At least it had been for MarieÖ

"UGGGHHHHHH!!!!!"

My head started aching like hell. I stopped, letting a shout of pain, and brought both of my hands to the head as if to support it. Anything to stop this damned pain. It was like if someone had opened my cranium and was pulling away at my brain, trying to take it from me. I fell. The pain made it all appear like in a haze, but I could see, and maybe even hear Alice shouting at me, Kevin and Fuji taking me by the shoulder,  and Rachel hurriedly taking out the first aid kit.

Then, darkness.

At some moment, I couldn't even guess which, it simply stopped. I didnít even realize how much it lasted, or if it had been a second or an hour.  However, as I opened my eyes, I could see Fuji and Kevin were both carrying me each on one shoulder. My whole body was sore, though I wasnít sure why. As I slowly recovered my awareness,  the team took notice of my recovery.

"Louis, are you OK?!"

"Thank all youíre fine! You had us worried out there!"

"Do you feel well? Even with the first aid kit I couldnít detect any anomaly, so I wasnít sure what to do. Tell me if anything continues hurting, I might be able to do something!"

"Louis, youíre fineÖ what a reliefÖ"

I could see them all. Kevin, being the most worried I had ever seen him. Fuji, letting out a breath of relief he had probably been holding since I was unconscious. Rachel, looking terribly frustrated at not having been able to help me. And Alice, who just smiled at me, little drops in the corners of her eyes.

I tried to tell them that I was better, but my words just became a coughing fit. As I endured it, I wondered what the hell had happened. My body was sore, and it seems like my throat was too, but at the same time I felt my mind was clearer than it had ever been, and I didnít feel tired at all despite the soreness.

On my second try, I had a bit more success.

"Hey, guys, sorry to worry you."

I motioned to both Fuji and Kevin to let me stand on my own, and while they were reluctant, in the end they both conceded. I stretched my legs, and I felt again that strange surge of energy, now accompanied with a dash of impatience. I didnít know why, but I had the feeling I had to go somewhere. My inner feelings aside, seeing me being able to move and all seemed to tranquilize the team.

"Do you feel capable of continuing, Louis?"

Alice cut to the chase. I nodded back

"I donít really know what the heck was that, but I feel in perfect condition."

"Perfect. Though if you feel any kind of pain, please tell me, we can still arrange some kind of evacuation."

"Not a problem, Iím in top-"

I stopped myself. Wait a second, 'Arrange for some kind of evacuation'? Weren't we evacuating?

My question must have been reflected on my face, because Alice brought her hand to her face, pinching the bridge of her nose and letting out a sigh that didnít foreshadow anything good.

"Oh, itís true, they told us after you were already unconsciousÖ"

I looked at the rest of the team. The mood had changed. Before we were all wallowing in fear and anxiety, but now there was some kind of fatalistic finality in the stares of everyone. What had happened? I returned my stare towards Alice, wordlessly asking her what was the meaning of all of this. She met my eyes for a long while, before opening her mouth.

"Louis, you were unconscious for around 20 minutes. During that time, in fact just after you fell, the situation changed. We have a 000, Louis. A 000."

Triple-zero. A code that signalled a new objective, with top priority over anything else they were doing, for all the available troops nearby no matter the disposition, training, or mission. The retrieval of a maid engine.

The maids had failed, and they couldnít even retreat with their engine. This could only mean death, for at least one of them.

"The Vidrein maid managed to retreat, but it seems it was only because of the Skadia maid covering her, at the cost of her life."

Even a Skadia couldnít do anything against that monsterÖ.!

"3 fourths of  the regiment were already on transports by the time a 000 was declared, so we donít have much coverage of where the engine could be and canít expect much support."

The first rule of a triple-zero was to localize the missing Adalstier engine. If any threat was around and retrieval was deemed too complex, then a simple monitoring until further reinforcements were sent could suffice. But even that monitoring required to be close enough to the engine to see it, and in practice such monitoring was always interrupted by the Remnant. Casualties would always rise catastrophically.

But such was the nature of an Adalstier engine. Refined with the most pure Adalstier found, making a single one could require years even with the cityís entire adalstier output. They were the lifeline of the Lyceum, and one of the most powerful defences of any city. While nobody dared to say it out loud, it was no secret that the higher command wouldnít hesitate in sacrificing a thousand men if it meant safeguarding a single engine. Even the Lyceum, despite their motto and Ďcareí for the lives of the city, wouldnít hesitate in pushing the Administration until the engine was recovered, no matter the cost. This was the nature of a triple-zero.

"... due to our route, we are in fact quite close to the last position we have of the Skadia maid. With you like this, we were wondering what to do. Now that you are fine though, we have to make a decisionÖ"

I could see Alice biting her lip, forcing herself to say the last words. She appeared frustrated at the situation and her own powerlessness. However, there was no decision to make. After a cursory glance to the rest of the team, I spoke what was on everyone's mind.

"It's not like we can do anything else, can weÖ? Even when I was unconscious, that wouldnít have worked as an excuse to avoid combat. Weíre in a triple-zero after all. The alternative would beÖ"

Desertion. I left it unspoken, because even the thought made me shiver. Desertion was already a pretty big  crime, and would end with you on a military tribunal. But desertion on a triple-zero? That was abandoning Akkierenís when it needed you the most, it was high treason against the state. If caught they would be put either in life imprisonment, or outright executed by firing squad, the blemish appearing on all registers of their families. 

It was not something we could just decide.

"Well, then we simply have to be the big damn heroes!"

Kevinís shout broke me from my inner spiral of negativity. However, as I looked at him in shock, the rest started speaking up too.

"Yeah. I mean, instead of looking at the negative part, look at the positive! If we manage to do it, weíll most likely get a condecoration! A pension for life is quite tempting"

"That will show my parents~~ Also, we can , like, flaunt the condecoration over all those superiors who were afraid of Alice. Even while on a small team we kicked more ass than them!"

"GuysÖ"

Alice's face was glowing with gratitude, a smile both tender yet resolute on her lips. Yes, there was only one to thing to do, so why should we do it with only dark thoughts in mind? I looked at Alice, ready to say my piece.

"We all enlisted for a reason. We are all here because we want it. So what we should do is clear."

Alice closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, before opening them again, this time ready for the action. Her expression steeled, her posture as sharp as the edge of her blade and the light of victory shining on her eyes.

"Well, then, letís march team! We have an engine to retrieve!"


Part 5

The place was just at the base of the hill. The sunk half was not uniform, but rather formed a very steep slope, like a cliff, with various caves dispersed through it that carried deeper within the hill. The fact that the landslide had such a tremendous effect was an important clue that, even before it, the inner structure of the hill was already pretty complex, and most likely those caves were not recent. The landslide just revealed them. A full hill doesnít sink after all, no matter how strong the shockwave.

This meant however that the caves we not just spread in an horizontal way, but also vertically. A series of very narrow pathways, some of them natural, some created very quickly by the first wave of the scouting team so we could investigate deeper, connected most of the caves. Thus, to say the paths were dangerous and unstable was understating the magnitude of the problem.

However, no magnitude could ever get close to what lay at the base of the Hill. There was the cave that lead towards the main adalstier deposit. A simple hole, its main feature would be that its surroundings were almost flat in comparison to the steep slopes surrounding it. It almost was like a terraced field, except instead of plantations it did have the usual reddish soil with its common companion the white stains. Yes, it appeared our friend the Ammonium nitrate was still there. Yet, everything about the place paled in comparison to the figure standing just in front the cave, like an ancient guardian statue.

It looked like a quadruped beast, but he did not dare to guess which of those appendages were limbs and which just overgrown filaments or spikes. That was because itís entire body looked like it was made of steel, yet it had an organic feel. Instead of plate, the steel appeared in filaments, looking for all purposes like muscle tissue and tendons. Its face looked more like like a snout, and it was completely smooth, unlike the rest of its body, with no sign of eyes or any kind of sensory organ. Its proportion were also weird, with 2 of the limbs (legs?) appearing twice as large as the two others, plus two miniature spikes emerging from what if it were a human person he would have called shoulders. The end to all of its appendages was the same, something that looked like the mix between a claw and a hand, with 3 "fingers". While whatever alloy it was made of looked to be the same for all the body, its color wasnít; its forward limbs had acquired a maroon shade, like oxide, while the head had a tinge of blue, and its back was the same reddish as the soil. The body looked scarred too, with gashes everywhere, and even a longsword impaled on its right hind limb.

Its size was enormous, as tall as 4 men and with a length of at least 15 meters, and that was in its current position. With its limbs extended it could easily be as large as 20 meters. It wasnít wide though, it looked somewhat like a skeleton, with only the hind limbs being somewhat thick respect the rest of the body. Still, with that size, even the spikes jutting out of the shoulders could kill any human with ease.

"... Damn, Iíve never seen one like that"

We were in one the narrow pathways, concretely one 6 to 7 meters above the Remnant. The reason we chose this one was that the outwards part flared up in this particular point, so we had a small rampart to protect us from the beastís sight. Well, it was fairly small, more like a guard rail than a wall, but as of now we would take anything we could get.

We had been lucky. When we descended after exiting our cave, we had managed to avoid the Remnantís eyes (or whatever sensor he had instead of them), and approach without being detected. Considering the size of the beats and the thickness of its hide, our rifles would just be peashooters to it, so our only chance was in Aliceís gigantic adalstier rifle. Considering she was setting it up right this moment, our stealthy march had effectively saved our lives.

"We havenít fought many, but stillÖ"

I could hear Fuji answering Kevinís previous offhand whisper. I had little experience with the Remnant, but I hoped that whatever it was it landed in the Ďless troublesomeí side of the spectrum. Of course, the blood stains all around the beast didnít inspire much confidence.

It was curious; there werenít any bodies, so in a way that should make it easier for me. Yet, the imagined horror of what could had happened to the bodies made it worse, a lot worse. Because something had definitely happened. The blood there was enough for a dozen human to die of blood loss, so I had no illusions about our comrades being just wounded.

The place didn't help. The flat surrounding meant the beast could see us coming, and its position was almost opposite to that of the landing zone, so both reinforcements and retreats were slow, very slow. It was quite obvious that whatever we had been trying until now hadnít worked.

I turned towards Alice. We were all crouching behind the natural rampart, but she was lying on her stomach, the huge case on her back now besides her and opened, showing an enormous cannon she was tinkering with. It was of a grey colour and spartan design, with the grip lacking the usual leather and the barrel being completely open, more of a flat strip of metal than a cylinder, with thin plates at its sides with a coating that revealed its magnetic nature. Technically an adalstier heavy rifle, it was at all effects a railgun with a scope to aim with. While the huge caliber and tremendous speed of its projectiles made it the only weapon we had capable to put a dent on that thing, it required a meticulous set up if we wanted it to be accurate. Considering our surroundings were full of tannerite, we had to be accurate if we wanted to live. So Alice had spent the last 5 minutes preparing her weapon. I could see the amber shine of the adalstier used to power the weapon as she checked the magazine well for the fifth time.

"AliceÖ?"

She looked back at me. While she probably had the right of being angry at my interruption, she just appeared tense, but with the resolution in her eyes still not fading. She nodded, gesturing me to continue.

"Why aren't we bombarding it from afar? It seems it isnít moving, so we could just find somewhere to hide and then have the Stratocarrier and Zephyrís guns blow him apart."

The Remnant looked resilient, and he knew the bigger types could take an enormous amount of hits. But still, it was in the open, and a constant bombardment would most likely work and be far more effective than what they were doing now.

Alice however shook her head.

"High Command has decided that any kind of bombardment has a high chance of damaging the engine. Especially after they checked following your report and discovered the hill is full of tannerite. I even had to convince them to allow me to use my railgun."

Alice pointed towards a place somewhat near where the Remnant was. There, a dark reddish glint could be seen even among the similar coloured soil. We had found the engine, but the position of the Remnant meant the only thing we could do was sit and wait for more reinforcements, and so we had been doing. Still, the position of the engine was a bit weird; it was near the end of the Ďflatlandí surrounding the beast and there wasn't any blood stain nearby. I could only guess that its owner had somehow remembered the defeat protocol, where the maid was supposed to throw the engine as far from the fight as possible if there werenít any allied forces nearby.

A shiver went down my spine as I realized the maid had somehow found the will to throw away her closest companion in her last moments as she was dying. The shiver was however replaced by a surge of impatience. I had that weird sensation since some time ago, but I felt we had to pick that engine, in any way possible. As I looked the distance between the remnant, the engine, and any possible cover that could mask our approach, a plan started to form up in my mid.

"AliceÖ?"

She directed me a questioning glance, before motioning me to continue, all while she was still working on her railgun on the side. I tried to lower my voice to barely a whisper.

"I think maybe we can get the engine and slip by."

Her question turned to shock, but she nodded. Around me I could feel the eyes of the team on me.

"The beast hasnít been moving in these last minutes. Itís obvious it wonít for now. If we wait for reinforcements we can maybe manage it, but itís very probable a lot of of our comrades, or maybe us, will die. Especially considering we donít have air support."

"Yeah, but it's not like we can do much else. If we get near, the Remnant will detect us, wonít it?"

I had expected Fuji's question.

"The Remnant didnít react when we got in this position. While we hid and tried to be as quiet as possible, that thing is obviously mechanical, and acoustic sensors should be able to catch the sound of our heartbeats from that distance, even one from before the Old War. I think that thing has senses different from the ones of a normal human. More concretely, I believe that Remnant doesn't 'hear' anything."

I could see the dawn of understanding slowly appear on their faces.

"The engine is nearby one of the pathways that bring to the cave of the deposit. If one of us crawls through it, they might be able to avoid the Remnantís detection, and take the engine. After which we can leave this place and just bomb the thing."

Kevin seemed to like the idea, while Fuji and Rachel were nodding to themselves, thinking of the risks and the benefits. Alice however put up a protest.

"Wait! While the idea is good, I canít let us do something so dangerous on such feeble evidence. Maybe the acoustic sensor is really that bad, or maybe the Remnant confused our movements with that of an animal running by."

I could sense the trepidation in her voice, even if its volume was still on the same level as a whisper.

"Then we can do a test."

"Wha-? A test?"

I picked up a small pebble. Slowly, while still crouching, I approached the flare/barricade separating us from a fall towards the terrible beast.

"Alice, do you have the Railgun set up?"

"Y-yes. Iím just fiddling with some of the adjustments, but it can fire at any moment."

I nodded at her answer, as I slowly raised my hand, the one with the pebble, towards the rampart. As she realized my intention, she in a flash aimed the railgun towards me. I could see the rest of team gaining some distance and preparing their rifles too. I was a bit impressed. I suppose we were soldiers after all, but seeing how they were able to understand my intentions and react so quickly made me a bit happy.

I, in a slow and methodical way, let my hand, still clutching the pebble, over the rampart. When my hand was above the 6 meters of air, I let the pebble go.

*Cling*

The slowest seconds of my life started. I could hear the cling of the pebble as it fell and bounced multiple times upon the soil, the momentum gained too big to dissipate in only one collision.

*cling*cling*

My friends were ready, all tensed up, waiting for our worst fears to happen. If the Remnant reacted, what it would do is jump towards me and devour me in an instant, but such a thing might give Alice an opening to fire the railgun. At point blank, she wouldnít miss, and the impact would surely leave more than a dent. Of course, itís not like I planned to die, but if I was wrong then letís at least make the most of my failure.

*cling*

The sound started dying down. Despite the fear and distress I could see on the gazes of my friends, I felt oddly calm. My mind was now focused on the engine, on a way to recover it. I suppose it was for the best. After all, If I started thinking about death then the weight of my regrets would crush me and leave me unable to act.

**

There was no more noise. The beast had not moved.

I let out a breath I didnít knew I had been withholding, and nodded towards Alice. She and all the others had similar expressions of relief and had lowered their weapons somewhat, but they still reacted and huddled towards me.

"Don't ever do something so fucking dangerous without warning, warrant officer, or Iíll kick you through your butt."

I winced at the colourful imagery. We were still talking in whispers, but nonetheless the threat felt very real.

"Then, leaving that aside, did the test convince you, maíam?"

"... It continues being risky, but itís better than just standing here hoping for the best when the beast can destroy the engine at any moment without even realizing it. Tell us the details."

I let my lips curl up in a smile. It was a bit strange, feeling happy about doing something so dangerous, but the engine was bugging me for some reason.

"Well then. I'll crawl up through one of the pathways, taking a way through which the Remnant can't see me. You will position yourself in another of these ramparts, a bit farther, and if you see the Remnant sniffing me out, you will shoot it and distract him while I take the engine. Hopefully it doesn't come to this, but if it comes, I think if you retreat through one of the caves just after hitting him, he may not pursue you. He seems oddly protective of the deposit. That-"

"Wait!. Why are you one the risking yourself?!"

Kevin cut me off, seeming both angry and worried at the same time. Through the corner of my eyes I could see Alice nodding, her stare digging into me, while Fuji and Rachel gave me questioning looks.

I gulped. Part of it was my selfish desire of taking the engine, but there was a more rational side to it.

"Because Iím dead weight. If it comes to a fight you will need every weapon and man, but Iím neither that trained and I only carry with me my side-arm."

I took out a handgun of the holster it was in, well hidden within the battledress, putting it in front of the others.

"Whoever tries to take the engine will not be able to fight. Either he will take it, or die quickly. Thus, as I have no combat ability, it makes the most sense for me to do it."

I could see from their faces they were having difficulty accepting my reasoning. Alice was biting her lips, while Kevin and Fuji had face-splitting frown and Rachel directed me a worried glance. Still, in the end they knew I was right, and accepted it.

"Though, why canít we simply cover you in this position?"

I answered Fuji's question by pointing at the white stain located barely half a meter to our right. After hours of walking through this mine-field we had even grown somewhat accustomed and lost some of our fear; whatever the tannerite mix was, it wasnít that unstable to explode at people walking. It still was something dangerous and we should fight far from it. I dropped the pebble earlier because I thought that even in the worst case the remnant jumped on us, an explosion could help more that hinder us. Any extra damage on the Remnant would be worth it. But if they were simply firing to distract him, something farther and safer would be better.

Fuji nodded, understanding what I meant, and we started readying ourselves. I could see them doing a last minute check-up on their weapons, as I clutched the handgun I had shown earlier and returned it to its holster. As we were all still crouching behind the rampart, I grabbed my legs, praying that the surge of energy I felt earlier was real, and I wouldnít just lock up at the decisive moment. Whatever it was, I hoped it could help me.

Slowly, we finished our preparations, and the time to get going came. I nodded as the team started marching through one of the pathways further up. I would wait here for 5 minutes and then start my crawl. We didn't knew if the Remnant had an electromagnetic wave sensor, so we had cut all radio communication minutes ago, the last transmission we got being precisely the High command's informing Alice of the decision to not bombard the zone. So we decided that I would wait 5 minutes before going, to give them time to get a good position.

The last one was Alice. She looked at me, furrowing her brows, biting her lips, almost as if she wanted to tell me something. Before long however, she shook her head and let out a sigh, deciding that whatever it was she wanted to tell me, it wasn't worth it. She did stare at me, her hazelnut eyes shining again with resolution, even if I could see the trepidation and anxiety behind them. She opened her mouth, staying like this for some seconds, almost as if she didn't know what to say.

"... please be safe"

In the end she did let out those words. I could only nod, looking at her eyes with a confidence I didn't have as I tried to answer her.

"I promise."

I felt bad for promising something I  wasnít sure I could achieve, but I believed  we both needed the reassurance. 

Nodding back at me, Alice marched with the rest of the team. I could see I had not fully dissipated the doubt in her eyes, but we both felt a bit calmer now. I suppose it was now time to back my words with facts.

I counted the minutes in my head.

1

2

3

4

AndÖ 5

I started crawling. The path I took wasnít a straight one towards the engine. Rather, it was a web of narrow pathways, in which I took one until a certain point then deviated through another, all while trying to avoid the Remnantís vision.

The 5 minutes of now had been fairly long, but I was almost sure my crawling towards the engine would take me twice or thrice as long.

Or that was the idea.

*CLANG*

A enormous metallic sound resounded, and I felt time slow to a crawl. I could see how the Remnant jumped, in slow motion, how it magnificently rose through the air to an altitude that I didn't think possible with a stationary jump. Its size, its ferocity, it all jumped at me at this moment, and I could only look at how the beast came closer and closerÖ

Until it went above me.

Terror dawned on my face as I realized where it was going, and I rose up.

Yet time had only been slowed in my mind. The Remnantís jump was fast, and before I had finished my motion it had already collided with a section of the ramparts. Human screams resounded, ones that i was very familiar with. Despair and hopelessness fell upon me as I realize the damn beast had just targeted my group of friends.

I could see their faces in my mind, which were immediately replaced by a furious red anger. At myself, at the world and that damned spawn of everything that was wrong with Antiope.

Yet even my fury was meaningless. The Remnant turned towards me from its position, almost as if that collision had been all that it needed to annihilate my best friends. I could barely see a pile of debris and rocks there. The beast then took one of its smaller limbs, and with that mix of a claw and hand grabbed an enormous stone from the heap. I looked at it defiantly, not caring about anything anymore. In less than 2 seconds we had lost everything. The Remmant raised the stone, its intent clear. Deeming me an inconsequential threat, it was not even worth for it to destroy me in close combat. A mere oversized pebble would suffice.

Without hope or any idea of how to survive I was ready to end it all right now, but something tugged my mind. For some reason, I don't know how, the engine surged within my thoughts, and its presence faded the despair and rage within me. My self-preservation won, and within the second I was jumping from the pathway towards the ground below.

*CRASH*

I could hear as the rock the Remnant had thrown impacted on where seconds ago I had been, the debris hitting me. Still, that didn't worry me, at least compared to the fact I was falling from 6 to 5 meters of altitude. In the second I had I tried to find a way to cushion my fall but-

*Puf*

"UGHHHHHHH!"

Pain shot through my legs. I had at least broke my ankles, if not both my entire legs. Yet the adrenaline quickly stopped the pain. I had to move, the beast would either send another projectile or come here itself, and in both cases I now had no hope of outrunning it.

A glint caught my eyes. A Dark red shine. Maybe unconsciously, I had jumped towards where the engine was. At this point I realized it. I recognized this engine. I knew it from before.

A  copper coloured band surrounded the crystal, the colour somewhat faded, perhaps to make the glint of the dark red adalstier even more stunning. It had dark patterns engraved, with a motley collection of dark and black colours which together with the copper made them look like embers. The band itself was relatively thin, yet even from here I could feel an abnormal temperature; no matter the time or place it always was lukewarm to the touch.

It was the Embers' Final Hymn. A skadia engine my eldest sibling, Marie, had used 5 years ago, one which had forced her to live the remaining of her life on a bed.

I reached for it. It was a pointless move, yet I still tried. And when I touched it, everything made sense.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dark.

The curtains were closed and the lamps off, so the only light that entered the room was through the doorís small aperture and the thick curtains. Still, there was no need for me to see the white ceiling and walls, I had been enough time in this hospital to know them as well as my home.

A bed was in the center of the room. A long nondescript hospital bed, one that would never look out of place anywhere. Yet this one had Marie on it. I gripped the bedrails.

Father and mother had just left. I suppose they wanted to leave us some time alone. However, I couldn't find it in me to thank them for it. My throat hurt a lot, almost as if everything I had wanted to say to Marie was trapped there. Yet I also found myself unable to let anything out. Almost as if my pride, love, dislike, appreciation, etc, had all become a paste stuck to my throat, its sheer thickness making it impossible to come out.

"... Iím sorry."

Marie's feeble voice struck me. I looked at her, shock and surprise in my eyes. Why was she apologizing? Why?!!!

"In the end, I wasnít able to protect you as much as I wanted."

"Wha-"

*Cough*

A cough fit from her interrupted my thoughts. Quickly I took a vase of water prepared nearby for such cases and helped her drink it, being careful to not let any slip and that she could gulp it all down. After some time, she motioned me she was all right again, and I returned to my position on the bedrail.

"... Iím a sorry excuse of an elder sister, am I? First I needed my little brotherís help since I was small, and even after I became a maid I was unable to use my powers to protect him. In the end I even made you worry."

'NO!' was what I wanted to shout. I wanted to tell her that I was the one who always treated her badly, who let my pride control myself and disrespect her constantly. But I couldnít. The knot in my throat just became bigger each passing second, hurting more, yet making me unable to say anything.

"You protected the city."

In the end, with all my strength, I managed to let out a whisper. She reacted with surprise, after which she let a bitter smile form on her mouth as she shook her head. Marie, always straightforward and innocent, made a smile this cynical. I could only wonder how much had the Lyceum and fights changed her.

"I barely protected anyone. In the end, I was so eager to fight, so eager to have a purpose in life, so eager to be an able and competent elder sister, that I overdid it. If I had the patience and maturity, I could have perhaps worked to protect the city for 5 or 10 years moreÖ I can only hope the next ones who receive Embers will be better about it. I even feel bad for the Lyceum for wasting their time with someone so useless-"

"You are not useless!!!!!!!"

The dam broke. I let out everything I had, without thinking, without stopping, all while Marie looked at me.

"You were always so kind, and I was always such a jerk! No matter the moment, you always smiled at me even when I was bothering at you, even when I did so purposely! You always took my abuse without answering back, almost as if everything was your fault! It WASN'T! I was just being a complete idiot because every time I saw you, I felt I couldnít compete! No matter what I did, you always looked so mature, so kind, so gentle! I felt I had to be better than you! That I couldnít just be a useless brother! Yet, always, I ended letting my pride get the better of meÖ! You became a maid without doubting, despite all the risk! You were bent on protecting everybody. You wanted to protect me, even me, your stupid little brother!! There's no way you would ever be useless!!!!!!!"

I let my head fall down, to the bed, the white sheets blocking my eyes. At this moment, I felt like I couldnít look at my sister. Letting it all out had been a weird feeling. Like if my body was numb, but on the inside. As if my muscles had been in constant tension for years, and had just relaxed for the first time. The only thing I did was talk, yet I felt utterly exhausted. At this point I didnít even care anymore. Marie could just laugh at me if she wanted, I deserved it anyway.

".... thanks."

I felt a drop of water hitting the back of my head. Turning my face up, I found Marie looking at me from above, having raised from laying in the bed to a sitting posture. Tears were welling in her eyes, in great numbers, without any intent to hide them. The azure of her irises worked very well with the tears, and I couldnít help but be mesmerized by the sight.

Softly, she brought a hand and rubbed my hair, like she did when we were little. She pushed my head towards her lap, still covered in sheets and the smell of analgesic, all while still rubbing my head. The touch was so nostalgicÖ It almost felt like we had returned to those times, with me being but a baby and she but a clueless child trying to imitate mother. I closed my eyes.

*Drop*

Tears started to fall from my eyes too. The pain in my throat resumed, now from the emotions overflowing from everything. I wanted to hug her, thank her, tease her, play with her, tell her she was too harsh on herselfÖ However, I just focused on her hand, enjoying this moment where everything had  returned to be as simple as it was when we were kids.

*Drop*

**

Little by little, the moment faded, and I finally opened my eyes. Marie had a dazzling smile, tears still overflowing, her eyes now red due to those small drops of water. I wanted to tell her a lot of things, but, at the same time, I felt there was no need to.

"... I really have the best little brother in the word."

I blushed at the remark like I was a 5 years old.

"... the only reason Iím alive anyway is thanks to Marie, so, if anything, itís all thanks to you."

She smiled at me. I raised my head from her lap, recovering my position at the bedrail. I looked at her, eye-to-eye, and let an awkward smile come to my face. It was perhaps the first time I had smiled at her in years. Her lips curled even more, her eyes closing and her smile almost reaching her ears. I felt very silly in how I had withhold something that made her so obviously happy just for my stupid complex.

We basked in that combination of awkwardness and cozyness for some time, before she voiced an unusual request.

"Lil bro- I mean, LouisÖ?"

"What is it, Marie?"

"EhmÖ Before, when we were little, you used to call me sis or sister. Ehm, i-it doesn't need to be always, but can you call me like that again? Even if it's only this timeÖ"

Surprise showed up in my face. The request was certainly shocking, but after all I did it was but a triviality. I opened my mouth-

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I returned to the present.

Upon touching the engine, the copper band had simply attached to my wrist, the bracelet now extended in what could only be a bronze gauntlet, The dark engravings of before had now evolved to the form of full fledged dark flames, its lukewarm touch had just become scorching hot and the dark red gem was shining like an old fire, one that had been rekindled from its embers but had lost none of its fury and power.

For some weird reason, the engine had chosen me. And while I couldn't rationally explain it, I felt I didn't need to. I could hear the whispers of the engine, like the crackling of fire. They told me of my sister. Of passion. Of burning everything until only embers remained.

*PLAF*

A shockwave assaulted me and I was thrown away like a rag doll. I had still been laying on my back, my legs unable to sustain my weight. I looked ahead to confirm what I suspected. The Remnant had jumped from its previous position, taking a 10 meter fall like it was nothing but with the impact on the grown enough to blast me away.

Looking at him, I felt my rage return, burn hotter than ever. That thing had to pay. I had to destroy it. Following the engineís indication, I brought my right hand forward, and could even feel how the power accumulated there. How all the heat in my body focused on that point, turning the already hot engine into a scorching deflagration. And I let it go.

What could only be a flare was emitted from my hand, impacting squarely into the Remnant. Its colour, between red and orange reflexcted its ferocity as it reached in the entire beastÖ and got flicked away like it was nothing by one of the beastís upper limbs.

I felt my entire body get cold like ice. It wasnít just my spirit, it was a physical sensation. I started coughing, trying to use my hand to hide it. Cold. So cold. Looking at my hand again, I realized that besides spit I had also coughed up blood. Cold.

Thankfully, whatever I did had made the Remnant stop. It was now Ďobservingí me, realizing something had changed. That I was no longer a normal human. Which gave me the time to recover a bit.

I wanted to hit myself. I was a man. No matter what strike of fortune had helped me now, it was evident I would never have the same firepower as a normal maid. Even if I had it, a trained maid of the Lyceum with those same powers had just gotten killed by this same beast! It was obvious it would be no different if I just used those powers without thinking! And I had even fallen into Ember's provocation! That thing had been what had ruined Marieís life, an engine that was just like its namesake, burning everything until only embers remained, including its user.

I pushed with my arms, trying to at least get into all fours. My knees hurt a lot, but they were a bit better than my ankle, so I could somehow manage. I looked at the Remnant. From where it had jumped from. Its current position. Its old position. Its limbs. Everything.

And it dawned on me. A small, perhaps infinitesimal, but still non-zero chance. The RemnantÖ had been avoiding the white stains. The reason why it hadnít attacked us when we arrived wasnít because it couldnít detect sound, but because it realized there was tannerite nearby. This damned little bastard had tricked us, waiting until my friends were far from any of those explosives to pounce on us. Of fucking course. Whatever it was it was used to the caves here, so of course it knew about it and a way to avoid them.

But no more. Was tannerite what it hated? Then I would explode it into its face!

Unfortunately, the Remnant chose this precise instant to start moving, deeming that even with my new abilities, my small figure was no threat. Before I could even react, the quadruped beasts was in front of me, its smooth face/snout before me. Then, the snout opened.

While closed, the face appeared smooth with no sign of a line or aperture. Yet it opened in two, like a maw wanting to devour me. What were there were no fangs or teeth though. The inside, like the outside was almost completely smooth. Almost, because in both the upper and lower parts, where the palate and the tongue would be, there appeared what looked like nozzles. With horror I realized that was no mouth, but a combustion chamber. That was the reason there were no bodies or guts thrown around, it just burned everything it killed. And that was what it was going to do to me-

*BANG*

The Remnant was sent flying over, crashing towards a wall. The shockwave of the impact assaulted me, but this time I managed to resist. What the hell had happened?! It was like something had shot the Remnant, and not a small weapon either, but a high caliber-

Like a high caliber adalstier railgun.

With a start, I looked above, towards where the shot had come. The pile of rocks and debris was still there, but in the midst I could see a metallic glint that wasnít there previously. More than one in fact. My heart sang with happiness upon realizing that some of my friends had survived, that Alice had survived.

*PAF*

But it was not over. The Remnant rose again, with a visible dent on its snout but still ready to fight. Its snout pointed first towards me and then towards where the team was. It then used its longer limb, the hind one, to crack the earth and take a fragment of it, bigger than the previous rock it had used. A fragment that it was ready to throw towards my friends.

Yet, the Remnant had made a mistake. I put my hand forward, focusing again, as the beast raised its hinder leg in a powerful display. When it had taken the fragment of earth, the Remnant had not looked belowÖ where a white stain was obvious in the now uncovered soil. I pulled my power, this time in a more moderate flame; I had to constrain myself if I didnít want to die, and besides, speed was more important than sheer power. The tannerite would do the rest. As the Remnant finished its motion, I threw the flame.

I had almost lost my friends earlier, I would not miss this chance.

*BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM*

Heat. A shockwave sent me flying as the heat almost burned my face. I couldnít hear anything, everything my ears sensed being a constant ringing. I didn't know much, but that felt as one of the bigger explosions I had ever seen; that stain might have been a fairly big vein, because that was not a mere kilogram explosion.

After everything had stopped hurting, I dared to open my eyes. What had been a relatively flat land besides the deposit cave had now become something different. The side where the Remnant had been launched into by that shot had become a smooth slope that reached until half of the former flatland, as the explosion destroyed what few stability the web of narrow pathways had and a minor landslide ensued. The other side (the one where I had been launched into by the explosion) had somehow survived.

There was no signs of the Remnant. I did it.

The euphoria giving me strength, I somehow managed to raise to my knees, looking up. The explosion had stopped the Remnant mid-throw, but I had to check on the team. There, I could see some of the team's faces. Alice, with her face full of dust and dirt, yet with a brilliant smile. Fuji, giving me a thumbs up. Rachel, waving. After the explosion they had come out of the pile of rocks and debris; they most likely had played dead within it to survive. I could sense a story there, better ask later.

As the euphoria passed, I just felt drained. Deciding that I no longer had the energy to stay on my knees, I just laid back on the soil. Somehow, we managed it. I closed my eyes for an instant. When I opened them, I could sense something had changed. Alice for example, was shouting something at me, with a frown on her face. My ears were still ringing, so I couldnít hear anything, but what could she mean-

I didnít hear anything, but I felt it. My body felt the vibrations. I rolled my body to look at it, no longer having the energy to raise even on my knees, praying to everything that it wouldnít be what I thoughtÖ

All in vain, of course. In the midst of that slope, the Remnant appeared again. His skin blackened by the explosion, the odd spark through its hide meaning this time it had suffered internal damage, but it still rose.

I couldn't do anything. I had spent everything. I could only lay on my back as the monster started to walk. From the corner of my eye I could see movement. Probably Alice trying to aim her rifle and save me. I felt thankful for her consideration, but I hoped she started running instead of doing that. Now that she knew where they were, the beast wouldnít have a problem avoiding her rifle.

The Remnant continued walking. Well, I suppose that was it. My life had been a short one, but I guess-

*CLANG*

A purple flash. What could only be described as a giant sword crashed against the Remnant, stopping it, before they pushed each other away, creating some distance between them. It was at this moment I realized that the giant sword had a human figure attached to it, one with a black uniform and a long ashen hair flowing behind her. A Maid.

Without even looking at me or the others, the figure sped towards the Remnant again, so fast I couldn't see it- no, a purple flash told me she wasnít just running. The Leysa maid wielded her enormous blade against the monster, attacking its limbs with non-stop unavoidable slashes. While the beast tried to counter with sweeping attacks, the woman dodged them with ease. Still, while adding gashes to the Remnant blackened steel, even that gigantic sword was unable to penetrate its hide or legs.

After another purple flash, the maid disappeared, this time appearing 10 meters from the Remnant. Realizing that her strategy wasn't effective, she was observing her enemy with care. The beast, mad at the non-stop appearance of new enemies, charged at her, opening its snout for its special move. The woman smiled, charging right back towards what to her appeared like an obvious weak spot.

I felt my pulse quicken. If we did nothing then that maid would burn to her death! I put all the strength that remained in me in a powerful shout.

"STOP! Itís a combustion chamber!"

In a second, as I shouted, our eyes met each other. Her amber eyes shone with ferocity, courage and even a sort of feral cunning.

The second after, the woman entered the opened snout, and the beast closed it. My heart stopped for a moment. Had I been too late?!

A purple flash later, the maid appeared outside the Remnant, just before an enormous explosion occurred within it. The snout, normally closed in such a way the division wasn't even visible, was being forcibly opened by a storm of fire within it, powerful enough to overcome its almost perfect sealing. The powerful beast trembled, before finally falling over, its snout opened to reveal a blackened interior matching and surpassing its exterior. But a second later, a set of secondary explosions ensued, ripping apart one of its limbs and opening a small hole in its hide. The Remnant was finally dead. It was over.

"More powerful than expected. I guess those new generation grenades arenít just for show. Oh, and thanks, kid. That could have been dangerous."

Seemingly realizing we existed, the woman looked at us, and even thanked me after muttering something. I wanted to ask a lot of things and say a lot of things, but I had neither the energy nor the will for either. I could only lay on my back.

"I'm Elidia, headmistress of Akkierenís Lyceum. We received notice of a triple-zero, and we moved with the Silver Wings. Seeing an explosion from the sky, I rushed here as fast as possible, even if it required an unorthodox drop. I wager I arrived in time?Ē

I could only nod at her, our eyes meeting for the second time. This time however she noticed my gauntlet, a dark gem shining brilliantly on it.

ď... I see. It seems there is a lot to explain.Ē


Epilogue

"InterestingÖ"

Steiner Laudo peered at the projection in front of his face, his emerald eyes flickering with curiosity at the data presented there.

"Did you find something?"

Mathias' voice asked him in a gentle tone. The older man behind him, sitting in a office chair, had long given up at keeping up with the information the Archivists had in its projection, the later scrolling through the pages at a surprising speed.

"Not much, at least on what we were looking for. There isnít any previous user of the 'Embers' Final Hymn' that ever had suchÖ peculiarity."

His voice was a bit gruff, almost as if he was annoyed at someone interrupting his reading, despite the fact that the only reason he was even reading that was because of the Curatorís petition.

"HmmÖ"

Mathias brought a hand towards his chin. This complicated things, but it wasnít as if they hadn't expected it.

"Overall, a fascinating case."

The gloomy Archivist looked unusually happy, some mix of excitement and glee dying his features.

"That Mayber, he was diagnosed with a mild case of malignant infantile osteopetrosis at birth. When he was a but a baby he received a bone marrow transplant, the donor being her natural elder sister, Alice Mayber, a former maid who trained a this same Lyceum, who at that time was a but 3 year old baby. It seems his recovery was complete, with no anomalies nor chronic side-effects, so we have no follow up on his state after he was 6 years old, beyond routine medical check-ups. Still, everything points towards him being the main cause instead of the engine. Maybe it is Chimerism? Or perhaps Mosaicism is the better word? Anyway, when are the further analysis coming in?"

"There will be no further analysis."

Steiner turned his head towards the Curator, his shock and anger apparent on his face.

"Why?!"

Mathias returned the glare, his usually warm blue eyes replaced by a colder and harsher equivalent, one that reminded more of the frozen Barrens than of the temperate sea.

"You know it. Exposing this case to the public would only result in more futile and horrendous human experiments, and the Headmistress won't allow that. You know how hard is to shut them down, no matter the pressure of the Lyceum, the scientific community and the public. The last time we had the support of the Captain, and even with that it was quite the struggle. The moment you give them the minimal hope of success, those bureaucrats of the Administration will try again. The prize they seek is just too irresistible for them."

Male maids. The concept was intriguing, but that was no surprise, for the entire maid physiology was intriguing. Understanding enough to create a male maid meant understanding enough to make artificial maids, which at first sight looked like a prospect much more enticing. But in the end, the engine made the maid, and the number of engines was just as scarce as the number of natural maids. The bottleneck would just change positions, synthetic maids being relegated to a curious but small footnote in the archives.

Due to this, it hadn't been that hard to stop the kind of horrible human experiments designed to make synthetic maids. Even for the richest of Akkierens, paying enough for a natural maid to be loyal to you was simply cheaper.

But male maids were interesting. Male maids after all wouldn't be able to join the Lyceum, at least as it was now. They were a loophole, a way to put a type of maids under the direct command of the Administration, bypassing the Lyceum. And the Lyceum had proven that sometimes it could be very annoying our outright oppose the Administration in certain matters. Thus, there never was a lack of funds or plans for investigation regarding male maids, despite of the shady nature of the experiments.

"... even so, that doesnít meant we shouldnít at least know something about it. If the Lyceum takes the matter on its own hands, then at least some more information would-"

The Curator cut Steinerís rebuke

"The more people involved, the higher the chances of a leak are. The decision is final. If you have any complaints, go take them to the Headmistress."

The Archivist bit his lip, frustration evident on his face, with his hands clenched into fists. But, after some seconds, he finally nodded. Mathias let out a breath of relief, happy that things had gone well this time.

"... For the same reason I would prefer for you to not say anything to Erick. I trust his character, but you also know he's thoroughly professional despite his looks."

Steiner nodded again, the gloom having returned to his face and his irritability at an all-time high. Without answering, he turned back towards his desk, intending on continuing whatever he had been working on before the Curator's arrival. Realizing he would get nothing better than that, Mathias rose from his chair, fully intending to continue his work. As he started walking away however, an offhand question of the Archivist reached his ears.

"Oh, and what do you intend to do with that bunch that was with him?"

Steiner hadn't even turned towards Mathias, and it was clear he didn't care much about the answer, focusing as he was on his work again. The Curator found it a bit odd for their taciturn Archivist to ask, but he decided to humour him, a smile gracing his features as he answered.

"That team was a peculiar one. A close-knit one. The Deputy Headmistress will check on them, but I donít think there is nothing to worry about."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


White. Wherever I looked, I could only see white. The ceiling itself was of a pristine yet pale colour, looking like it had been eons since anybody had touched it. The corner where the ceiling became the wall was rounded down, the people who designed it thinking it would be more pleasant to the eyes. But it just made the place even more boring: the ceiling to the wall, the wall to the floor. No distinction. It looked like cage, one where I drowned in a sea of tedium. Only some slight dirt and the odd cork board differentiated up from down, left from right. I wondered if I would even realize it if gravity decided to flip out while I was there.

"-then we retreated to the cave, but Fuji let out a grenade just before the collision. BAM!! The ceiling collapsed above us, forming a pile of rock and debris that would flatten us!!  But I was there! I protected everyone with my body!! Wasn't I the best?! It was thanks to me that everyone got out alive. They should be calling me a hero! Ha!"

It most certainly did a very poor job of distracting me as Kevin told me how he had saved everyone of the Remnant for the seventeenth time. He was laying on a bed, his left arm gesticulating in some weird form I could only presume was the position he took to uphold the debris that had fallen towards them. His right arm was wrapped in an orthopedic cast, the same as his left leg, which was raised in the air through a strap that connected to the ceiling. The white sheets smelled more of sweat than analgesic, but that could only be expected from Kevinís bed.

"Impressive."

I answered, my voice such a monotone I could have been confused with a machine. I had, after all, been hearing Kevin for half an hour, and that had been more of Ď hearing Kevin repeat the same tale twenty timesí than just small talk. I stretched my arms. My legs were numb too from me being in a wheelchair all day, but it's not like I could do anything about that. In the end, it seems I did broke my ankles, but the rest of my legs somehow weren't that affected. Perhaps my newest friend had something to do with it. I looked at them, a copper band around my right wrist, the dark red gem upon it glinting like always.

"Yeah, yeah! Man, we did it! Do you think maybe weíll get a condecoration? M-maybe Iíll be able to meet Yuki in some way!?"

I let my lips form devious smile. He didn't knew half of it. I could tell himÖ but where would be the fun on that?

"Maybe?"

"D-do you think so? Man, maybe that will make up for Fuji's loss. He was so youngÖ"

"... I'm still alive, you know?"

A retort came from the bed besides this one. Unlike Kevin, Fuji barely had any visible mark left by the fight, but it seems he did have some internal damage on some of his organs, so he had to stay here. His bluish black hair looked longer, and he was laying on his back, in a position that if he closed his eyes it would be mistaken for deep slumber. Still, if Kevin had been just prattling at me for half an hour, how must it have been for him being at his side for 24/7?

"... it must have been tough."

I looked at his eyes, and we had a connection, a flash where we both reached a mutual understanding, one that could only be reached by those that had been in Kevinís presence for more than an hour. He nodded to me, no vocal answer needed, no need to speak of the untold horrors. My sympathy towards him skyrocketed. That was a true soldier who had braved everything!

"... still, it wasnít that bad. There is that hottie of a nurse to comfort me, after all."

He winked at the end. I looked at him confused, Kevin perplexed too until he realized what he meant.

"UGH! You meant that gorilla?! That male nurse?!"

"How rude. Iíll have you know that every body has its beauty."

"That has its beauty?! And of course, the time that I do get put into the hospital for being a hero, the nurse caring for me must be a gorilla. Of course! Am I cursed?!"

"Well, then you should be glad that at least some of us appreciate it."

"Ugh!... wait, Fuji, before, you told me that muscles weren't your type. Were you lying, you traitor?!"

"Nope. You must understand, the body isnít everything. That guy, he just has such a boyish innocenceÖ He's just too cute-"

I let out a small giggle at seeing the two banter like that. It was nice to hear them again. Still, I didn't have that much time. Looking at my clock (on the left hand, a new one with a copper colour to match the band in my other wrist), I realized it was time to get going.

"Guys, I should probably get going. I want to visit Rachel and Alice while I still have time"

"Oh, yeah. Say hi to those two. They are in a super-fancy hospital aren't they? OfficersÖ"

"I think that has more to do with their families than them being officers KevinÖ Still, you're right, which is why I don't have much time as I wanted. Want me to say anything to them?"

"Just hi."

"For once, I agree with Kevin."

ďOkĒ

I nodded, before moving my wheelchair towards a small cabinet, where I had left my thing upon entering the room. As I took them out however, Kevin and Fuji took notice of something

"Oh, a flower bouquet, feeling bold eh, Louis!"

"If you give that to the lieutenant, I think she might let you do anything"

Fuji finished his words with a suggestive wink. What the hell were they even talking about?

"... I don't know what you're talking about. I just thought that non-synthetic flowers are quite rare in the upper zones, and Alice told me she loved camellias. Maybe it's a breach of etiquette?  Still, we're friends, so I think she would give me a pass. I suppose if Rachel told me her favourite flower I could also bring some to her."

Both Kevin and Fuji looked at me, their brows twitching, as if wondering if I was serious. Huh? Had i said something that wierd?

In the end Kevin let out a long sigh, while Fuji made a bitter smile.

"Louis, I don't know if you're a genius or a complete idiot."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fresh air. I took a breath of Akkieren's atmosphere, just outside the hospital where Kevin and Fuji were. The sun shone up high. The adalstier glittered through the sky. We had returned home, to Akkierens. I still was in my wheelchair, but I felt better than ever.

My phone rang. Wondering who it was, I took it out from my left pocket, letting a wide smile form on my face upon seeing the name of who was calling. Pushing the button, I accepted the call and put the phone on my ear.

ďYes, sister?Ē


3
Other Games / Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning
« on: December 17, 2015, 06:42:43 pm »
So, as people have been recommending VNs now for some time, let me give you one of my first heartfelt recommendations: Gahktun of the Golden Lighting (subtitled "What a radiant Brave").

So, you're Nikola Tesla. With electric superpowers. In an Steam-punk alternative History. In a reclused Academy city where superpowers exist and hides a conspiracy. And you have a giant Robot mecha that fights with electricity. Have I already mentioned the MC is Nikola Tesla and you have a Giant robot that shoots lighting and you fight Steam Walkers and things like that?

... What, you need something more? Okay, serious explanation go!

Gahktun of the Golden Lighting is actually part of the so called "steampunk" series within VNs: there's a grand total of 7 (I think), and of those another 2 have at least been completely translated (Sekien no Inganock and Shikkoku no Sharnoth) and released as fan translations (Gahktun is a commercial release, the first of the series on the West). Now, despite sharing the setting there's barely any continuity between entries, so you can start anywhere (I in fact haven't read any of those two, though Inganock has had my attention for some time). First, let me say I actually haven't played all of Gahktun; only the trial version available, the full game won't be released until the 23th. However, what I've seen I've liked it a lot, and from what people who played the Japanese version say, it's not a delusion or mirage. the game is solid.

So, first let me start on the art: I like the style a lot, which makes each character actually fairly distinctive but at the same time it's not so far from the typical anime style to clash with it. I also was pleasantly surprised by the high production values of the game: there are a high amount of sprites and CGs, and only a very few look slightly wonky. The game also likes to play with sprites, basically normally giving a more typical VN sprite of waist up but sometimes playing with a full body sprite on the background: it's hard to describe, but it's surprisingly effective in its use.

Because the execution is half of what Gahktun is about. The plot description above could have been used for FSN copy paste with no redeeming qualities besides the sheer crazy factor of it. But here is used well. The main writer of the game is Hikaru Sakurai, and besides the rest of the steampunk series she has also written some Light novels, and it shows: A lot of VNs suffer from the writing. They may end being very good and their raw content may be more than worth it, but it's no surprise they tend to suffer from very poor pacing, clunky prose and heavy reliance on graceless forms of infodump. Well, none of that here. The dialog and prose flows well and the pace is good. The fact that the translation is made by koestl, the same that worked on Grisaia and probably one of the best translators in the community undoubtedly helps. The characters are also fairly distinct and likeable. While the information on the lore is shown mostly through a in-game encyclopedia accessible from anywhere on the game, this frees it from some of the more dry and unnatural infodumps of other VNs, and helps improve the pacing even more.

Be prepared to spend almost an hour on the encyclopedia though, because the lore is very extensive. A crazy alternative story like steam-punk won't work unless some serious effort is made, and here some very serious effort has been made. A good show of that is that while the whole game happens in the Academia, the encyclopedia has details of the rest of the world, including references to previous VNs of the series and extra details juts for the kick of it.

Another notable thing is the set up of the story. While from the outside Tesla is the MC, we see most of the story from Neon, the heroine and probably true main character of the game. This actually worked very well on the trial: Neon is a young woman who knows nothing of paranormal or higher powers, but she's steadfast, diligent and kind (and adorable in a non-loli way). Tesla meanwhile know almost everything about both paranormal and higher powers (he's a bit, no very strange), so the short parts when he's the POV actually work very well to accentuate the mystery and tension. Both also have a very nice dynamic and are the real stars of the show .

A "con" of this could be that there's no "routes" or anything similar: while there are points when you make decisions (so it's not exactly a kinetic novel), is rather different from normal and the story is linear (it seems that around 20-30 hours for someone who is not a slowpoke at reading (like me)). There's some amount of NSFW material though, so no Steam release for now.

The voicework is also superb (Japanese of course), and the OST has a limited number of tracks, but some are very good.

So, overall, despite the hefty price (Warning: NSFW site), I would wholeheartedly recommend the game. At least try the trial version. Being honest, while 2015 has been one the best years for VNs I think Gahktun is still one of the best releases: I've enjoyed the trial version more than any of the other VNs released this year (except maybe Grisaia) and I think it really deserves a lot more popularity than what few it has. It has a level of detail and just smart writing that reminds me a little bit of Trails actually, even if both games are actually wildly different on everything else.

4
So, Samu-kun has released a video to show us all a lucky shot he had in liberation Day. That's dandy an all, but this video also shows the new animation for the Vanguard cannon and new units.

Now, I don't know if someone managed to fire the vanguard cannon in the previous beta (I think it could be done if you didn't use Full Forward and save-scummed a bit, but I've never tested it), but if he had, he hasn't commented it, so i didn't knew it.

So, the new animation is very good, crisp, and it seems it even solves the problem of the Vanguard cannon repeating the animation on every ship separately. It isn't voiced for now, though I suppose it will have a Japanese voice-overs before release. Most importantly, the new music is leagues ahead of the old one in my opinion, maintaining the excellent building up, but this time also being a lot better after it (which was my main problem with March of the Immortals; it was a good theme for shooting the VC, but extremely meh to override the battle theme).

On new units, Samu-kun had already revealed the design of two new enemy units (only one seen in this video though). The ones barely seen in the video above (lower right, they're covered by the stats window most of the time) seem to be PACT's equivalent to destroyers, and their low HP reinforces this.

More curios are however the new allied unit seen in the video. Their sprite is small enough, but they seem to be fighters or small ships. Given that their coloring seems to be a lot more similar to the Sunrider than other units maybe they're Ceran? of course, the Black jack also shares that coloring, so it may be something else.

Thoughts?

5
Sunrider General Discussion / Liberation's Day Japanese Dubs
« on: September 21, 2015, 05:50:20 pm »
So, it has been finally confirmed that Liberation Day will be fully voiced in Japanese and that it will also be translated and published there. I'm a little sad that the English voice-overs gotta go (some where funny and good), but, still, great news overall. Now after countless waifu wars, shall we start the also ancient English vs Japanese dubs Wars?

Also, yeah, it seems the final release date will probably be at Christmas at earlier and a lot more likely fairly later.

6
Create n' Share / Sunrider: Home
« on: July 02, 2015, 10:26:37 pm »
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 findÖ The place which forgives everythingÖ Your last refugeÖ The haven you want to defendÖ
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


Part 1
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 faÁade.

"We are now "witnessing" the "miracle of the Emperorís 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 doesnít 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, isnít 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, didnít we talk about this? My name is Gilur, not "your Highness". Call me Gil, thatís 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.

"Ö Iím s-sorry, but in front of the entire Court, I couldnít possibly commit such a rude actionÖ"

She felt herself stutter. Bad, it was bad! Her heart was pounding, she needed to calm herself, take a deep breathÖ

"Ö 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 itís 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 Iím 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; Iím good at my job. Trust me"

"You have no jobÖ"

"Hahaha, you got me, as always."

And so, when he answered with his usual catch-phrase, she had her rebuttal ready. Asha wasnít 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 didnít 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 simplerÖ"

"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, wouldnít such a thing be considered a blasphemy against the Empire? It wasnít the older emperors who forbid the research of such artifacts to avoid repeating our mistakes from the past and destroy the galaxy?"

The princeís face had been clearly frowning at the beginning (specifically when she had said "prince"), but realizing that arguing with her wouldnít 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 Iím 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 ďmiracle of the Emperorís protectionĒ 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 donít 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 wouldnít return them any kind of immediate benefit"

Gilís 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 hadnít decreased one bit. When she had entered the Royal Guard, it had been with the joy of entering the Royal Guard of the Galaxyís ruler, the pinnacle of all crowns. Even in the actual ceremony, the Emperor was chanting old verses that spoke about Ryuviaís 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.

"Thatís 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 couldnít stand it.

"If we continue doing our very best trying to remain still, so that the Galaxy doesnít 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 couldnít 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 ďNewĒ on its name?

'Well, of course Iím unable to understand. Iím a worthless woman after all'

Precisely at that moment, she saw a vision that made her heart sink in a bottomless pit.

"Ahh, Elanora!"

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.

Ashaís heart ached while she, as always, struggled to put a welcoming smile for that woman. She really couldnít blame the prince, for that lady was Elanora gi Ryuvia. Long silver hair that cascaded down her back, blue eyes clearer than Mountís 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, Elanoraís only option in her life should have been to get married to some noble as a tool to maintain that lordís 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 fiancťe. It was almost like a fairy tale.

She really never had a chance.

"Donít worry Elanora. Something delayed you?"

"My most humble apologies, my Lord. The second Prince isnít 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, ehÖ Canít say I didnít 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 arenít 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-"

"Donít worry, Elanora. My brother is a lot of things, but precisely because of his greediness he wonít 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, Iím sure brother will try something, but for this Crusade we donít need to worry"

Elanora didnít say anything, but she saw her face frown with some displeasure and worry.

Perhaps these emotions had broken the spell, because Elanoraís 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 hasnít 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 Iím only able to feel envy towards her. I really am a worthless womanÖ'

Misinterpreting her silence, Gilur quickly reacted

"Wait Asha, donít just keep quiet like that! I havenít done anything this time!"

"This time?"

Elanora looked at the Prince. While she was still smiling, her eyes clearly werenít.

"UghÖ I-it was only a j-joke Elanora, furthermore, you know Count ReypkorÖ"

Upon realizing that her tactic wasnít working, Gilur quickly whispered towards Asha

"Asha, please say something. If not, then I donít know what she will do to meÖ"

Hearing the princeís 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 Emperorís sake!

"T-the prince really didnít do anything improper, Lady Elanora. He attended with me the whole ceremony, and did not even speak out loud at any moment!"

"Ö 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"

"Ö Itís nothing. It is after all my duty to guard his Highness"

Perhaps it was Elanoraís smile, but somehow, she felt a little better. Yet-

"Of course! I personally chose Asha. Donít worry about anything Elanora, Iím good at my job!"

"Prince, you ha-"

"My Lord, donít 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 hadnít 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.

"Wouldnít a laser be cheaper and less energy-consuming?"

"Maybe for our forefathers lasers werenít that useful?"

A voice sounded behind her. Asha turned to see Elanora gi Ryuviaís 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 Emperorís protection? If so, then it should be normal to try to find another weapon aside from lasers. Furthermore, arenít 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.

"Ö Shouldnít you worry about your own Mount?"

It was one of the few moments she saw Elanora blush with embarrassment.

"Sorry about that. I didnít 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 difficultÖ?

She tried to brush her thoughts away and change the subject. It wouldnít 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 Iím 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 Emperorís 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 didnít 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 wouldnít be done by a spy or an assassin. It was an act of selfless devotion.

"Ö Itís actually pretty simple. The Dominion gave me the chance to protect what I love, and that was what I was doing."

"Only that?"

"Ö 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 Elanoraís face.

"A truly flawless and dutiful answer, as expected of the leader of my Lordís royal guard. Yet my own differs a little. Asha, can I answer you as a woman?"

"Ö What do you mean?"

"What Iím about to say may be outrageous for you and maybe youĎll 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?

'Arenít you both the ones that push me away? Arenít 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 werenít fair. She knew they were despicable feelings that were born because of her own weakness, and that, despite knowing it, she couldnít help but feel them.

"ÖAsha, 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"

Elanoraís 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 Iím 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 donít matter. Everyone who serves in the army sees my Lord only as a piece of Ryuviaís 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 doesnít 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."

"Ö 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 Iíll 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.

"Ö Isnít that love?"

"Yes. Indeed it is."

Part 2
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 Emperorís Protection and high powered lasers. It was the image of the dignity and power of the Ryuvian Empire, their fleetís 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 armís reach."

Asha couldnít help but look at the still increasing images of the enemy vessels. A mix of red and black, it was the New Empireís 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.

"Ö Prince Gilur, shouldnít 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, Iím confident that the enemy wonít 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!"

"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 didnít 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, donít shoot until our lasers start firing. We donít want them to know your true range until itís 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 couldnít pinpoint her. The reload was handled automatically by the Virtueís 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! Donít 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 princeís 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 Elanoraís 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 'Donít 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! Iím a despicable and useless woman, but if I can do something this time, then I have to do itÖ!'

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 herÖ'

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 wasnít any kind of lasting damage on the ships despite her prowess; a sword of 15 meters can hardly damage a ship of 900. There wasnít 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 didnít 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.

"Jackpot"

Just as she heard Gilurís 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 couldnít help but smirk upon hearing the princeís 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? Itís 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 wouldnít 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.

*BANG*

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 Courageousí bridge, but that would probably be more dangerous than your Mount. I have to go recover my fiancťe after all."

The smile that had started to reform in Ashaís 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."

"Perfect"

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 itís the time to make them remember who is that has always ruled this galaxy! Now itís 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.

Part 3
"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 faÁade.

Asha normally didnít 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 ďconference roomĒ.

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 havenít 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 wonít 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 arenít 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 barbarianís 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 itís 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 couldnít 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, letís move to the enemy numbers and position report."

"Yes!"

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 objectiveÖ Asha however knew that things wouldnít 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 Emperorís 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 fleetsÖ their number reaches 700 ships in totalÖ 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! Itís 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!"

"Couldnít 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 donít 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 hadnít 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 donít plan to give up Cera. The Emperor himself appointed us the mission, so itís our duty to accomplish it. Now, since you donít 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 princeís 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 weíll 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 timeÖ"

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.

"Donít worry, donít worry. Now, Iím sorry to have to ask that of you two, but can you stand up behind me? I need an escort, even if itís 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 himÖ 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 Iím already wearing the royal attire for the meeting, so I donít need to changeÖ"

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, Iím sorry to cut the formalities short, but I think that itís 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 Iíll 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 didnít even scowl as he looked at Gilur with an almost incredulous face. Then, first quietly, but getting progressively louder, he started to laugh.

"Ö.ha. Hahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA"

Gil still maintained his courtesy smile, like he wasnít affected by Gracenís laughter. Finally, the 3rd prince stopped laughing. Asha maintained her serene faÁade, 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.

"Ö 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. Itís 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 itís our will! We embrace our ambition and our power! We wonít 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 Gilurís face.

"Ö I got you. Asha, please contact Jerion and tell him to come immediately. Elanora, do the same for Admiral Ishinori. Donít 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 everyoneís 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 itís 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 itís 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 enemiesí shoes. They donít 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 wonít 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 CeraÖ"

"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 attackÖ Well, letís say Iím 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 Emperorís protection. So weíll 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 canít 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 weíll 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 itís 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 wonít be hit by surprise."

Captain Jerion seemed awe-stricken, while Admiral Ishinori had his ďas expectedĒ face. Elanora was stoic as always, while Asha herself felt nothing special. She was used to the princeís resourcefulness. However, she felt a sudden headache. She hadnít been able to sleep properly these past days, but for it to come now, what in the galaxyÖ

"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.

"Itís 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.

"Ö And so, thatís it. I may change some things on the fly, since we donít 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 couldnít 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 couldnít 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 isnít 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 itís a mission of do or dieÖ However, couldnít 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 isnít the New Empireís 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 donít want to focus their forces against us."

"Against us? Could it meanÖ!"

"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 donít 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 donít 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 wonít stop until New Eden. Seriously, what did Gracen said, ďYour rotten country died because they focused only on themselvesĒ? I mean, itís not the same for yours? Want it or not thatís the reason all empires fallÖ"

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.

Last Part

"UuughhÖ"

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.

"....uf"

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 princeís quarters, already dressed for battle, to have a last briefing before the fight begun.

She knew that as the other pilot directly under Gilurís 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.

'Itís strange, but if itís 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 fiancťe. 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 wasnít 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-"

"Donít worry your Highness. Today I have not slept very well, but Iím 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 couldnít fail the prince now.

"Itís 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, weíll 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 Elanoraís 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 donít want to be a pessimist, but the possibility of dying is still there. I wonít say anything irresponsible like ďPlease donít dieĒ, but let me tell you, Asha, Elanora, that even if I searched through the whole galaxy I wouldnít find any subordinate more loyal, worthy or able than both of you. So please, think of me, and donít do anything rash."

Her hand intertwined with Gilís. For once, the fact that Elanoraís was there didnít bother her. She didnít 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 Iíll try my best to stay alive. I'll never betray you."

Asha knew that she had to speak. But she couldnít. 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 Elanoraís would get married. It was true that after this battle they wouldnít 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?

"IÖ I-"

*BEEP*

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 wasnít by the openly mocking smile on it.

"Brother"

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 donít call my dear brother to wish him good luck?". I mean, hasnít been 3 months since we last saw each other."

"3 months and 10 days, your Highness."

Elanora quickly approached the holograph, positioning itself at Gilís 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. Canít I miss my dear brother after 100 days of separation?"

"Ö Donít hold these words against Elanora little brother. Itís almost the time of battle, so she is a little tense. How is Father?"

"Ohh, fatherÖ Well he is fine, or at least as fine as an old man not even capable of pissing by himself can beÖ. To be honest, brother, I have already tired of this stupid chatter, so let me finish it. Gaírk! M256LOH97YR412."

*BANG*

*BANG*

"Wha-"

The prince quickly turned, hearing shots from behind

*BANG*

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. Elanoraís 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 couldnít 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?   
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? 
       
"OhÖ 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. Donít worry about it though~, Iíll 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 itÖ I would have accepted anything against meÖ BUT AGAINST ELANORA!! AGAINST ASHA!! WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO?!!!"

"Oh, why donít 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 couldnít 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.

"Ö.A-ahÖ."

Her mouth barely reacted. All her body was numb, and yet, she felt she could barely whisper something.

"ÖAshaÖ"

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.

"Ö I-IÖ I-IímÖ i-impureÖ"

A tiny voice, barely a whisper, managed to escape her mouth.

"HaHa. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA"

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, Iím 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 couldnít even protect either Elanora or you. Iím sorry."

"ÖA-ahÖ"

No. It hadnít 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 couldnít 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.

"ÖIím sorry, Gil. Iím sorry, Iím sorry, Iím sorry, Iím sorry, Iím 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.

"Iím sorry, Iím sorry, Iím sorry, Iím sorry, Iím sorry, Iím sor-"

A warm, gloveless hand stopped her voice. It caressed her cheek, softly, carefully.

"As I said Asha, it wasnít your fault. Donít worry, please."

Gilís 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. Itís the place where, donít matter your mistakes or flaws, youíll 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 Gilís hand. Below them a small puddle of blood was forming. She found what she was searching.

*BANG*

"Ooh, so she totally brokeÖ 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 Empireís 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.

7
Sunrider General Discussion / Sunrider Academy release
« on: April 05, 2015, 05:57:58 pm »
So, I know it's already been a while, but since Samu-kun hasn't said anything in the forums, and seems content to leave us at our own, I shall do his work and tell everyone that Sunrider Acaddemy finally has a release date (15th of April) and the Opening has finally been revealed! (and it's very naughty).

Everything else was already known, but well, we finally have a date! I mean, we kinda already had most of the content with the preorder beta, but a release date is kinda important, so I felt i should post it...

So, impressions on the OP? Thoughts?

8
Other Games / PS4
« on: December 25, 2014, 09:22:18 am »
Soooo, I've just received a PS4 as a Christmas present (shared with my brother). Normally this would make any young man absolutely happy.
However, as you may have realized knowing what types of games I like and support, I personally loathe it (from what it represents, to what is it to the fact that tons of of people has simply bought it without thinking, of which now I'm indirectly part now). Of course, I tried to mask my feeling so she didn't realize what I think, but I failed miserably.

So, anyone has some advice of what to do with it? It'll be useful in maybe a year or more, if the new wave of RPG finally arrives (playing Persona 5 on PS4 may be cool) but right now to me it's like a tissue paper, and while bad it shouldn't be that bad.

For once I'm slightly troubled.

9
Other Games / Valkyria Chronicles
« on: December 05, 2014, 09:55:08 pm »
So, we had a nice discussion on the VN's recommendation thread about Valkyria Chronicles, but we kinda noticed that the thread that was supposed to be about Visual Novels had half of it's space occupied by rantings or praises towards this series. So, as a fan and lover of orderly forums, I start this thread so everyone can freely rant or praise whatever they want.

First, a little summary:

Valkyria Chronicles is pseudo real time yet also turn based strategy RPG that was released on Japan, America and Europe (and Australia) on year 2008. Its most revolutionary feature was it's BLiTZ battle system, in which you have and overhead map to choose which unit to move (in a standard SRPG way), but when you choose that unit you're put in control of them in a 3D battle with a 3rd person view. When you control the unit in that way, the enemy however doesn't wait for you to make your move, but shoots interception fire towards you (as long as you are in their range or field of vision). Not only that, the movement is not decided by a grid of any kind (you instead have a number of action points that depletes as you move) and the presence of obstacles, height and even mines plays a part. All of this creates an effect of seemingly playing on real time.

The first game has an standard story, clearly inspired by the European front of WWII. In it, the players take control of squad 7, a militia squad of the Principality of Gallia hastily recruited to try to defeat the invasion launched by the Empire, a mission which seems almost impossible, due to clear difference of size, technology and even leadership between the defence forces and the Imperial forces.

The sequel,  Valkyria Chronicles 2 , is effectively the black sheep of the family. Situated on Gallia 2 years after the first game. The game was released on PSP, which meant that the praised cell-shading look of VC1 (itself released on PS3) was impossible to reproduce. There were also numerous changes on the battle system, some of them good, but also some definitely bad. With a story also slightly worse than that in VC1, the game itself is also partially hated due to the fact that it's (very) poor sales on both USA and Europe meant that that Valkyria Chronicles 3 never saw a western release.

Valkyria Chronicles 3 is the last game of the franchise (well, it seems that there are some mobile games and other small things). Generally praised, it suffers from the fact that is has never seen the light outside of Japan, and thus is notably difficult for a lot of fans to acquire it legally. Thus I cannot accept or refute anything on whether it stands in the "bad-good" scale (general comments are that it's a lot better than VC2). While a fan translation seems to have been finished, it wasn't until the end of last year.

And, last month the original game was released on STEAM with an excellent port and it seems excellent sales too.

So, feel free to say whatever you think, or want.

10
Game Play Balance / CPs at the end of MoA
« on: October 18, 2014, 09:56:23 pm »
So, after the quick increase on money given in the new MoA release, some of us were debating about the possibility that the amount of CP gained on the game was too high. However, that was a discussion between people that have played this game a lot, and we were kinda experts at it. Not wanting to have biased thoughts about balance, I make this thread to ask any player what were his CPs at the end of the content of MoA, and the difficulty he played. No need to be an exact number, just an approximation (i.e. around 30.000 CPs), nor also to post screenshots or anything special. If you started playing the game in a difficulty and switched at some moment, please say so and at which moment you switched.

I thank everyone that participates, and hope that we gain enough data to give the developers a good idea of CP balance.

11
Bug Reports [DO NOT POST HERE] / [7.1a] Little problems
« on: October 09, 2014, 03:40:10 am »
So, I noticed some things.

The first one is that you have the capability to endlessly renovate a fairly strong debuff once you cast a lesser one of the same type on the enemy (the next turn for example). This right now only happens with SHD JM, because it's the only like that. What I mean is that I can cast Disable, for example, and then, using only a SHD JM before it expires, it maintains the very powerful debuff for all the time that SHD JM has (so, the enemy shield is gone for 2 turns instead of 1). While I haven't checked, you can't probably do the same with SHD JM again and again, using on the same target while accumulating % and never letting it expire.

example
Here I used SHD JM on the same turn than disable, and the enemy didn't recover 100% of his shield by the next turn, as you can see (notice that on the upper end you can barely see the Liberty with all her EN).
You can also notice a little graphical glitch where the shield it receives from his ally (which had SHD JM applied 2 times) doesn't shine in green.


I also noticed that sometimes there is some kind of graphical glitch that basically fixes the enemy stats on the status window (so no armor degradation, etc). Furthermore, it also doesn't count the extra shield of the ships nearby (so a Battleship covered by a Cruiser will have 40 SD, intead of 65). It's only a graphical glitch though, when you do any attack it instantly recovers (it's quite similar to the Vanguard Cannon thing I said a month ago).


And the final one is the defending mission. While you have to resist 6 turns, once the 6th enemy turn ends then you start your turn, but can only either end turn or click on orders, both of which will bring the victory screen (it also oddly tells you "Full Vanguard has expired" if you used it on turn 2). While I suppose that this works as intended, it's kinda jarring, and also makes you finish in 7 turns instead of 6, which is a little unfair, specially since you the still alive enemies don't surrender.

So, that's what I found for now. Going to report more if I found something on the 2 missions still left.

12
Sunrider General Discussion / Inconsistency in the flashbakcs
« on: October 09, 2014, 03:06:03 am »
So, I noticed that when the flashbakcs start after Ongess, we see "11 years earlier". However when it jumps forward after the scene-we-need-the-descensored-patch-for to Kayto's departure, it says "12 years after". So, a simple typo, Samu-kun turning mad from having to manage all the characters ages, or a hint of a stable time continium repeating itself through the usage of alternate worlds in order to entertain a giant space whale who made the world to see our suffering?

I would offer images, but it's simple to check it, and it's a little of a pain to backtrack the two of them (if you doubt me I'll do it though).

13
Game Play Balance / CP on Captain
« on: October 04, 2014, 12:13:29 pm »
So, I thought that since Captain difficulty was equal to the former Normal in the closed betas the CP given would be the same, but after the first results page I was surprised. I found that the formula used is (Net Money x 10)/(number of turns + 2). Like in the previous Hard. Is this a rebalance or more like a bug? If it's a rebalance then Hard Mode has the (number of turns + 3) or something else?

BTW, since I'm on the game balance section, it's even possible to accomplish the mission the orthodox way (moving the freighter to the end)? I mean, the battleship and Assault Carrier squad appear right in front of you, and if you try to move upwards the next wave of reinforcements appears. And with the new A.I. I'm not confident on simply sending the escort away without protection.

14
Bug Reports [DO NOT POST HERE] / [7.0] Fighting Bug
« on: October 04, 2014, 07:18:56 am »
Sol, I thought this was the Support "not being able to move bug", but after clicking Ignore the exception also doesn't go. Here's the traceback

Spoiler
I'm sorry, but an uncaught exception occurred.

While running game code:
  File "game/script.rpy", line 19066, in script
    $BM.battle()  #continue the battle
  File "game/script.rpy", line 19066, in <module>
    $BM.battle()  #continue the battle
  File "game/classes.rpy", line 941, in battle
    self.result = ui.interact()
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 98, in execute
    screen battle_screen:
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 130, in execute
    viewport id "grid":
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 709, in execute
    if BM.moving:
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 710, in execute
    $xposition = dispx(BM.selected.current_location[0],BM.selected.current_location[1],zoomlevel,0.50 * ADJX) + int(zoomlevel * MOVX)
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 710, in <module>
    $xposition = dispx(BM.selected.current_location[0],BM.selected.current_location[1],zoomlevel,0.50 * ADJX) + int(zoomlevel * MOVX)
AttributeError: 'PactMook' object has no attribute 'current_location'

-- Full Traceback ------------------------------------------------------------

Full traceback:
  File "game/script.rpy", line 19066, in script
    $BM.battle()  #continue the battle
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\ast.py", line 778, in execute
    renpy.python.py_exec_bytecode(self.code.bytecode, self.hide, store=self.store)
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\python.py", line 1382, in py_exec_bytecode
    exec bytecode in globals, locals
  File "game/script.rpy", line 19066, in <module>
    $BM.battle()  #continue the battle
  File "game/classes.rpy", line 941, in battle
    self.result = ui.interact()
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\ui.py", line 247, in interact
    rv = renpy.game.interface.interact(roll_forward=roll_forward, **kwargs)
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\display\core.py", line 2145, in interact
    repeat, rv = self.interact_core(preloads=preloads, **kwargs)
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\display\core.py", line 2393, in interact_core
    root_widget.visit_all(lambda i : i.per_interact())
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\display\core.py", line 335, in visit_all
    d.visit_all(callback)
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\display\core.py", line 335, in visit_all
    d.visit_all(callback)
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\display\core.py", line 335, in visit_all
    d.visit_all(callback)
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\display\screen.py", line 382, in visit_all
    callback(self)
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\display\core.py", line 2393, in <lambda>
    root_widget.visit_all(lambda i : i.per_interact())
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\display\screen.py", line 394, in per_interact
    self.update()
  File "C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common\Sunrider\renpy\display\screen.py", line 553, in update
    self.screen.function(**self.scope)
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 98, in execute
    screen battle_screen:
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 130, in execute
    viewport id "grid":
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 709, in execute
    if BM.moving:
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 710, in execute
    $xposition = dispx(BM.selected.current_location[0],BM.selected.current_location[1],zoomlevel,0.50 * ADJX) + int(zoomlevel * MOVX)
  File "game/screens custom.rpy", line 710, in <module>
    $xposition = dispx(BM.selected.current_location[0],BM.selected.current_location[1],zoomlevel,0.50 * ADJX) + int(zoomlevel * MOVX)
AttributeError: 'PactMook' object has no attribute 'current_location'

Windows-7-6.1.7601-SP1
Ren'Py 6.18.1.670
Sunrider Mask of Arcadius  Beta 7.0


I don't think I can reproduce it, since I was actually reloading continuously (due to the Support moving bug, trying to find a way that it doesn't freeze the game). It's in the new side mission, and if it helps something I was skipping the animations.

15
Sunrider General Discussion / [6.0 Beta Spoilers] Battle of Ongess
« on: September 24, 2014, 12:03:18 pm »
So, after rereading the whole battle sequence, I can finally pin down what always struck me wrong of this scene. I think that there's something I'm not getting, because as I see it there are a pair of things which don't seem to fit.

Let's see the situation:

Fontana has successfully lured away the active part of the combined fleet, and with the reveal of the Assault Carriers has made a losing battle become a stalemate, though the Sunrider is inflicting very heavy casualties. The point is that this was all a bait, and that Cosette and her bombers will strike the cruisers refuelling, and the exploding ongessite will take care of them. Until now, everything perfect. A little obvious, but clever, and the Assault carriers are certainly an ace in his sleeve.

Now however comes the weird part. After attacking, both Fontana and Cosette treat it as if they have already won and will exterminate all the Alliance troops in a minute. However, what Cosette has struck are the refuelling dock, not the fighting fleet. While it is certainly a heavy blow to the Alliance, even if the whole refuelling fleet is exterminated, there is still a fleet that it's fighting PACT, and winning. While at the beginning I thought of it as Cosette's planning to attack the rearguard after she has finished exploding all the ongessite, her forces are only Ryders (you can't hide capital ships in the orbital habitats...) and they have spent most of their missiles and rockets attacking the Docks. Not only that, Cosette talks of seconds, and the battle seems at least a little far away from the docks. The biggest problem however is Fontana's arrogance. While his plan has been successful, the truth is that his position is extremely vulnerable. The Sunrider alone has basically wiped out all the ships in her zone, what it's stopping her to simply attack Fontana's flagship? While the Assault Carriers are frightening, I don't think that PACT can deploy more than 30 of them (and 30 it's already a very big number that would need some justification), and the Sunrider has destroyed 5 in her zone. That's more than 15% of them. If Fontana wanted to be safe, that would mean redeploy 5 more at least (in reality it should be more like 10, but let's say he wants to risk it). That means that the Alliance would only be fighting 20 of them, and as hax as they are I don't think the Alliance cannot defeat them. So why is he so confident he has won?

Yeah it's true, even if the Alliance killed him the damage would be done, and the loss 400 battlecruiser would be crushing, but he seems to think that he has won almost by default when even after this the tactical situation continues to be very unfavourable for him. Specially him talking about "seizing" the Sunrider. I mean, isn't that the only ship that has just shrugged off your new weapon and went on to destroy 5 of them (every one of them  being probably twice as expensive as the Sunrider)? Couldn't the captain if he wanted simply say "Screw it" and ran from the battle?? I mean, he kinda did escape from 400 ships, and that was when he was the only objective and big raging battle with a 1000 ships wasn't raging around him with big explosions of ongessite on the background.

Winning a battle is a matter more of endurance than wits. It seems that after pulling his big ace he thinks that he has won, when in fact the only thing he has done tilt a little the odds. But with the battle still in course, things are still in the air, and he doesn't seem to have any kind of follow-up. That or I'm missing something. If that's the case, Samu-kun, could you tell me please?

PS: BTW, I noticed the Alliance Assault Carriers on your twitter. Well, that or just a carrier. It doesn't seem to be helping them much though...

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