Avalon:Volume 0 Chapter 14

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Chapter 14 - Final Gambit

The fifth hologram panel turned green with readiness, further illuminating the three occupants in the main hold of the Signifier command tank.

"Commandant Aeryl reports battlegroup echo assembled and ready."

"About time," Commandant Arkadi Kernow replied dryly.

He knew he wasn't really being fair. Even though she was just barely on time, Aeryl Fortel was already working wonders in redeploying two dozen armored vehicles inside enemy territory without being detected. Emily, the new tactical officer replacement, was even more blameless; her role was barely more than a messenger.

He realized something was wrong. With himself, with this facade that governed not merely his character, but also his thoughts and personality. Yet the last few days had been too hectic; no time could be spared to fix the enchantments that administered his very being.

Something cracked in this personality six nights ago when he was ordered to kill, releasing legacies of a past he sealed long ago, a constant irritation that steadily grew worse.

Something reawakened to haunt him three nights ago when he attempted to kill, softening his hands in a situation that tolerated no idealism.

How else could Kayeten have survived that night, when his destruction had been handed to Arkadi on a silver platter? Twice?

Arkadi had hesitated to murder.

He could not afford such reluctance again.

He looked towards the time panel: four minutes to midnight. The strike teams of Operation Crecy should be almost finished in preparing the stage.

Everything was already in motion. For Arkadi, there was but one remaining task to perform -- an objective unplanned until merely six nights ago, yet no less important than the rest.

Victory would guarantee his credit and pave a quick ascension to power. Defeat would spell his certain death.

There was no room for second thoughts.

"Personal Emanate, Imperious Dominate."

Focus, relief, resolve, harmony, righteousness; all of it flooded through once again, sharpening his mind, steadying his emotions.

His composure had returned. Relaxed, detached, but also imperturbable, a flawless instrument of revenge once more -- revenge not against one, not against many, but against the fundamental flaws of humanity itself.

It wasn't a prolonged solution. The spell had power, but neither coverage nor endurance. Yet for the time, it was enough.

Arkadi tapped into all the telepathic communication networks set up for this operation:

"All units, check final preparations."

"Group alpha, mechanized ready," came Commander Kaplan's steady, almost emotionless tone.

"Group bravo, with you to hell and back sir!" Lt. Commander Reverie's charming reply was zealously excited, waiting to prove herself to a beloved.

"Charlie here, mages ready to 'port," confidence rang clearly from Director Gervais.

"Assault groups delta and echo ready," Commandant Aeryl's soft but firm soprano finished.

Three-hundred-ninety men and women in nine makeshift platoons, the Black Hand's entire available combat-trained force on Broceliande, split into five groups. The defense units still outnumbered them; but the difference was minor, and his troops were better.

By and large.

"Train for a thousand days, command for a single hour..." Arkadi began with the famous Chinese proverb in its original language, channeling absolute confidence through his every word. "Tonight, is the climatic moment of all our preparations. As I speak, dozens of independent strikegroups are seizing their objectives, their hands upon our greatest hour, theirs eyes upon a new age. It is now our turn! For tonight, we shall reforge the world as our own, our dreams materialized and our actions immortalized through history for eternity!"

A tidal wave of confident enthusiasm poured back:

"For our glory as the 1st!!!"

Then, as though timed by destiny itself, multiple flashes lit up the distant horizon, erupting from the direction of Broceliande's Capital Rennes in quick, repeated bursts. The telltale signs of rising mushroom clouds followed, glowing orange with burning air, visible even in the depth of the night. Given many kilometers of distance, no one had any doubts of their destructive force -- the chain detonation of multiple strategic nuclear devices.

More divine providence came almost immediately in the form of explosive fluorescence, illuminating the night skies from lower orbit. There, two flagship fleets locked onto one another, their firepower rolling out to push against the other with tidal fury.

"Now is the hour! Engage as planned!"


----- * * * -----


Those are strategic... 'real' nukes.

Kannon could hardly believe her eyes...

She didn't even know what to feel. Her eyes could only watch in disbelief, in horror...

To view the destruction of the Rennes metropolis on the main holo-display... It was impossible to describe the feeling. There simply wasn't a word in the spoke language strong enough for it.

There must be millions, no... tens of millions, living in a city of that size and scale.

Modern bunkers could shield against unparalleled devastation. But there was no warning, no time to get to those fortified basements the Avalonina Republic installed below every major urban structure. The residents of Rennes simply died in their sleep, or worse -- in terrifying realization after being startled awake.

Just how many lay dead or dying under those clouds of doom?

"Northwest under attack! 8th, 9th, 10th, and 2nd platoons engaged. Incoming enemies from nine and eleven o'clock, designating red-one and red-two: total of twenty IFVs, two command tanks, and four recons." Kayeten's voice, still shaken but quickly shifting to a professional cool, announced over the command channel.

Kannon turned towards the main battlefield display being projected over the round briefing room table as her thoughts pushed away everything else. A cold sense of gratitude to avoid such unpleasant thinking reached her for just a second before being shoved aside as well.

The attackers hugged the ground as they flew in, with altitudes no higher than ten meters and stealth modules on full power. Their numbers indicated four platoons of infantry, and the entire assault force had avoided detection until just over a kilometer away, far within normal vehicular engagement ranges of this day and age.

But... only two vectors?

Commodore Marcus Kernow's squadron was arriving tonight, which meant that this was the last chance before Marshal Comorus Kernow's deadline. Since Captain Arkadi received most of the resources they had on planet, he should be launching an all-out assault from every side, a full investment with nothing held back. Then why was he attacking from only the northwest quadrant?

"It's a feint! Hold them back!" Kannon sent.

"Red-two broken through perimeter!"

The 2nd District infantry that held the outer defenses was clearly underperforming. That wasn't really surprising given the devastation and distracting chaos that now engulfed Broceliande, their home planet. But the formation Kannon picked shouldn't fully invest until the enemy was within it.

"...Engage from center only! Outer defense units hold your fire once they pass!" She reiterated her pre-battle orders.

Kannon glanced towards Sidika, who sat in the innermost chair of the central briefing room's round table, protected by a set of force field projectors. The Marshal's brows knit themselves in intense concentration as her delicate fingers moved gracefully across the air between the Augment-Reality (AR) windows visible only to her.

Probably in emergency mode over the insanity that's breaking loose across the planet...

Maybe they were lucky that Sidika didn't take command of this fight.

Kannon had shared her idea with Sidika during dinner yesterday. It was some ridiculous concept she cooked up based on an alternative Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy game guide she once read. To her complete surprise, Marshal Sidika actually agreed to it, and was even crazy enough to ask her to assume command...

But if she wants to give me a live-fire interview exam, I'm going to do my best to ace it!

The defense force had nearly five-hundred troops; but over four-hundred of these were infantry from the 2nd District. Sidika felt that their response at Ambassador Towers had shown them to be unmotivated and therefore unreliable, without any care of the 3rd Marshal's fate as long as it looked like they tried. This left them with only thirty-two dependables: thirteen Auxilia under Kayeten -- after 2nd District 'graciously' allowed some reinforcements; six Cross Knights including Linnaea; and twelve Ecliptic Mikos plus Shirayuki -- her full available personnel strength on the planet.

Kannon had zero experience on how to 'command', but she knew how to 'lead' and 'manage'. In the end, battles were still fought by 'people' with 'objectives' and 'constraints'. It required task-oriented planning and people-oriented coordination, which was no different from any project or business.

For this battle, their greatest lacking was the dependability of personnel -- in other words, motivation and individual initiative. Therefore, the challenge was to force them to be 'productive', to contribute to the main battle by relieving pressure from the reliable 'core staff'. Translating that into military terms meant that since she couldn't depend on them to focus on the enemy, she must provoke the enemy to concentrate on them instead.

Therefore Kannon's plan was to deploy the infantry in an ancient 'Eight Trigrams Formations'. This required a token skirmishing line -- a circular one -- at the perimeter about one kilometer out from the command bunker, and eight platoons each guarding a strongpoint near the edge. The last two platoons were deployed in the center, with Kayeten's auxilia to keep them honest. Arkadi's main attack would easily brush aside the perimeter defense and push into the base, only to be caught in a crossfire from the eight strongpoints. This will force Arkadi to divert troops to pin down the outer defenses one by one, instead of simply punching through the 2nd District infantry lines and ignoring them afterwards.

This at least forced those 'allied' troops to... contribute a little more.

"Red-one broken through... red-two deploying troops, but they're staying at ranged. We'll hold at center--"

Kayeten's voice was still calm, but hurried now that his forces were engaged.

Avalonian military doctrine for assaulting fortified positions was to charge in grenadiers and auxilia spellswords, armed with swords and swordstaves. Since the first wave was keeping their range, Kannon evaluated that they probably weren't the assault troops.

"--New contacts: three and six o'clocks, designating red-three and red-four, nineteen APCs total with two command tanks and six recon jammers screening!"

Scutarii Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) were built off the Principes IFV chassis. But instead of having two armored side hatches with platforms where marines could stand on and shoot from behind cover, APCs carried drones which they airdropped before the soldiers. The troopers would then direct these remote-controlled spider drones to spearhead an infantry attack.

...Which made these the assault troops.

"Execute Fortify. All Platoons ready Crossfire, execute on my mark. Kayeten swivel half the center against the southeast and keep them occupied."

As her orders went out, Kannon refocused on the main display: the perimeter's skirmishing screen, a roughly-circular line of small blue dots, were already pulling back to the eight outer strongpoints. Each strongpoint had five Self-Propelled Guns (SPG) dug-in and hidden under illusory spells, as well as ten heavy electrolaser repeaters deployed like machine-gun nests of old.

The Lanciarii SPG utilized the same hull chassis as the IFV and APC. By exchanging the troop compartment for a smaller, open-air rear seating, the SPG made room for a powerful heavy electromagnetic railgun turret -- the same model used by Avalonian Main Battle Tanks (MBT). Yet unlike true tanks which were massive enough to hold a miniaturized fission reactor, the SPG did not have the power output to simultaneously provide for both the engines and the main gun. This forced the SPG into a traditional line-combat role, which suited the heavy-infantry just fine.

Then, as the red symbols coming in from the south and east neared the half-kilometer distance, half of formation red-four from the south turned back, splitting towards two strongpoints...

He noticed. It's now or never.

"Fire!"


----- * * * -----


Four platoons of mixed auxilia troops made their way across the open airspace in twenty APCs. They were now within the base itself, having easily brushed aside the perimeter defenses.

Too easily...

It felt like a trap. Commandant Arkadi almost knew this was a trap, but he had to spring it anyways.

That did not mean walking blindly into it.

Several active sensor scans, focused on where the perimeter units were regrouping towards, easily revealed what the passive sensors missed: three concentrations of deployed weapons, stationed roughly every 1/8th of the circumference around the base.

One platoon from Commander Kaplan's alpha force peeled back to engage them. Additional orders went out, tasking Commandant Aeryl's delta group to detach units for sweeping the northern defense perimeter.

...Just before a web of criss-crossing fire smashed into each attack group from at least three sides.

Formations broke instantly as auto-evasion software kicked into high gear. Chaff grenades spat out in multiple directions, spreading ionized reflective fragments in the direction of incoming fire and seeking to deflect the iridescent beams of electrolasers. Laser point-defense clusters went into continuous rapid-fire, tracking incoming HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) missiles with tenacity. Meanwhile multiple layers of shields flared desperately to fight off the damage from hypersonic railgun slugs and other weapons fire. Only after every defensive system failed would it fall to the light vehicle armor to withstand what punishment it could.

Several vehicles fell, smoke trailing as their shattered hulls lost control and plunged into the ground. But most of them had not. Avalonian military technology favored the defense in ranged fire exchanges, and it took little time for airborne armor, flying at over 400kmph (250mph), to reach their target.

The first payloads were bombs; their explosions splashed off against shields and did little more than to provide covering fire and cause chaos.

Then fell the ward-breaking rods that activated their magic upon striking hard ground.

Far away from the battlefield, the squads of Group Charlie finally received their signal.

"Begin teleportation!"


----- * * * -----


Even small battles were messy, chaotic, and far too difficult for one person to grasp everything. The display was positively overloading itself as Kannon's eyes flickered between new flashes and markers and pop-ups and... everything, trying to grasp the information that poured in without stop.

...The teleportation wards protecting the command bunker glowed as they fell under attack from anti-magic sources at over a dozen points...

...Five APCs bombed two southern strongpoints before executing an 'assault drop'. Spider drones -- feared for their bladed legs and suicide charges -- followed by sword-bearing grenadiers, plowed straight into the defenders after falling from their vehicles...

...Two northwestern strongpoints were also being bombed and strafed by eight IFVs...

...Kayeten's center came under two assault drops from the south and east while hostile IFVs in the northwest continued to pin them under fire. His position was strongly held by twelve Langskip AT/AAS (Anti-Tank Anti-Air Systems) mobile missile launchers, two dozen automated electrolaser turrets, and six Signifier command tanks serving as fire-control; but it nevertheless began to buckle under the multi-front attack...

The bunker shook again, and Kannon pulled her attention back. Her recognition took in the entire battlefield display while Sidika's pre-battle advice repeated in her thoughts:

"Successful coordination lay in the chain-of-command. Focus on your tier of responsibility and trust your subordinates to handle the details."

"Incoming teleportation." Aurora's characteristically easygoing voice noted through the inner command network as she watched the red exclamation marks and the accompanying data on the main display. These originated from the Anticipate Teleportation ether-tech sensor, which held coverage over the entire bunker complex and detected incoming teleportation spells as they tried to lock on. Even against low-volume teleportation like a single person or explosive device, it offered up to twelve seconds of warning for the defenders to prepare. The current data indicated that even though the anti-teleportation wards weren't even fully offline yet, Arkadi's men were already preemptively casting.

Their coordination is as impressive as ever...

"Arm mines by room as they come," Kannon replied as anxiety built within her voice.

"Affirmed... more hostiles inbound in staggered waves."

Aurora was a 'Creationist': a master of conjuration-creation magic. The problem with magical creation was its inability to persist before dispersing back into mana; its duration dropped as the item's complexity and elemental rarity increased, down to less than a minute for most modern gadgets. However, a specialist who fortified their ether could fabricate even complicated equipment that would maintain for hours if not even longer. As Aurora's title suggested, Frost Laser's battlefield favorite were one-shot chemical laser devices, deployed en-mass like minefields to quickly overload shields with devastating bursts.

Yet because of these laser mines' reliance on numbers, as well as the nondiscriminatory devastation they unleashed, entire groups of them must be activated all at once. The staggered teleportation meant that the first wave into each room would trigger the all the devices inside. The poor souls would still be shredded, but their lives cleared the path for the follow-up units. Unfortunately, only the rare 'Wayfarer' mages had the capacity to teleport others without including themselves in the trip.

"Shirayuki, prepare to engage follow-up waves."

"Affirmed."

"We're losing hold of the center--!"

Kayeten was strained but held his composure. Sure enough, his blue dot in the collapsing central formation was engaged in melee against several red ones. His crippled command tank lay abandoned on the nearby ground, smoke billowing from its engine compartment. His forces -- two 2nd District platoons plus thirteen elite auxilia -- were forced to retreat to the northeast and southwest, squeezed out by the two fronts of hostile red that sandwiched them in and outnumbered them more than two-to-one.

"--I'm pulling out to regroup. Linnaea dear, it's up to you now!"

"Never counted on you."

At the same instant, five pairs of dots appeared on the main display in five different locations inside the base compound, then vanished within a blink as the rooms and hallways they stood in blurred with shotgun blasts of bluish-white light. Five more sections of four attackers each comprised the next wave. Their landing locations were dispersed among the second and third level corridors, below the briefing-room-turned-headquarters that Kannon stood in.

Meanwhile, one strongpoint in the south and another two in the northwest were withdrawing. Arkadi's troops were regrouping to attack another formation along the perimeter, wasting no time chasing fleeing units. The outer defenses were evidently collapsing. But the attackers had also taken losses, light in men but heavy in organization. Close combat was the most effective method of shattering morale; however, it forced its chaos on even the best trained units -- and it was the strength of organization, not manpower, which sustained offensive momentum.

Too much at once!

"...All outer units continue to hammer them from the back. Shirayuki, 2nd wave inbound. Linnaea, get ready!" Kannon sent out as she struggled to keep up with the pace of a modern battlefield. Leaving the details at the discretion of each team leader wasn't even a choice anymore... especially not if she still wanted to keep an eye on the big picture.

"Affirmed! Shieldwall Phalanx!"

The Cross Knights' Divine Bulwark made them invulnerable to frontal attacks, and five of them held the only hallway into the bunker. Their sabers extended to thrice their length, ending in golden tips leveled outwards like a row of spears. Squads of grenadiers soon entered the hallway, and their first charge shattered like water on rock as they learned the same lesson the Persians did at Thermopylae. The more knowledgeable veterans held back as they recognized the hopelessness of breaching the line of golden knights.

Arkadi's spellswords would have no choice but to rely on teleportation to assault the bunker, where Shirayuki's Ecliptic Mikos awaited them.

Within the command bunker, only the central briefing room had an extra layer of teleportation warding which still held. All the other rooms could now be invaded from the outside via magic. But in these underground hallways, the Ecliptics held a clear advantage: their unique Spiritshift magic allowed their bodies to step between physical and spiritual realms, able to spring ambushes anywhere by simply walking through solid walls of manmade construction.

"Strike by pairs!" Shirayuki directed her subordinates with deadly seriousness. "Time to fertilize the planet!"

"In the name of the moon, let's dance!"

With eight Ecliptics following her, Shirayuki and her team split into five groups -- four pairs of sorority sisters and herself -- to intercept the five inbound sections. Ample seconds of warning provided by Anticipate Teleportation was more than enough to lay appropriate ambushes. Half of the invaders found themselves spraying blood within seconds of entering the base, and the rest followed moments later as the sharpened blades of twirling maidens sliced into them.

A fresh wave of red exclamation marks flooded the display as a third wave of teleporters rode on the tailwinds of the second: five squads of eight congregated towards the third level, while a sixth squad aimed for the corridor just outside the briefing room headquarters -- a scouting group more distracting than threatening.

Why is Arkadi going lower? This base is old enough for him to know the floor schematic and realize where our HQ must be...

"Third wave, on the lowest level! Aurora, welcome those just outside," Kannon directed as she kept her confusion from her voice.

"Affirmed," Shirayuki replied as her Ecliptics shifted to meet the attackers, dropping down floors and dashing through walls as needed. Seconds later, the third wave teleported into as deadly a welcome as their predecessors', although their doubled manpower meant more survivors.

"...And I see nuclear futility," the Miko-Hime commented after tearing apart two more dots on the map.

Per Kannon's request prior to the battle, Shirayuki had cast Thermonuclear Suppression on herself. Boosted by her powers as Aura Dominion, the emanating aura magic covered the entire bunker complex, with enough strength to resist any but the most powerful Disjunction spells.

Except her opponents wouldn't even receive the time to cast such advanced spells.

Nine blue dots attacked thirty-plus reds, engulfing the bunker labyrinth in a chaotic melee. The girls of the Eclipse blinked in and out on the three-dimensional battlefield display. They tore into the invaders like guerrilla raiders, then vanished back into spirituality within seconds to avoid retaliation and reinforcements. It wasn't perfect, as Kannon watched the first of them fall from a lightning fast counterattack, followed closely by her distracted companion.

But if we have to suffer losses, then at least it's minimal and the ratios hugely in our favor...

Kannon realized that it sounded inhumane to describe lost lives in 'ratios' -- battlefield experience was making her thinking more and more unpleasant -- but it was also a fact.

Then there was Shirayuki, zigzagging through hostile markers even in the narrow hallways, tearing apart entire squads in seconds. Only once did she meet a tightly-formed squad of six, ranked swordstaves arrayed like the back of a porcupine. Shirayuki simply pretended to ignore them and moved into a nearby wall. The group didn't even have two full seconds to rest before she burst out from a wall behind them and proceeded to consecrate the hallway with their blood. The bodies of two fallen Ecliptics nearby left her without a trace of mercy.

Meanwhile, the fifth squad that teleported in outside the command room met the wrath of Aurora's mines. Their tight formation allowed two members on the inside to survive, only to be finished off by the two Ecliptics held in reserve. Yet even as they died, more were inbound...

Wait...

Kannon's browed furrowed as she watched a fourth wave began teleporting in. But time waited for no one. Several dozen blips vanished from the surface battle and reappeared inside the complex, just before Kayeten's reformed 'platoon' smashed into those remaining.

I've been tricked!

She silently berated herself for not thinking properly. Captain Arkadi might aim for a single goal, but he always tried to apply multiple approaches whenever possible, both to offer himself additional options and to confuse the enemy with distractions. It was no different this time, and the operation was a two-pronged offensive: the incoming teleportation had been moving steadily away from the command center in the central briefing room. If the inner defense force didn't follow, they would detonate a nuke on the lowest level -- a threat already countered by Shirayuki's Thermonuclear Suppression aura. But if the defense did follow, it would leave headquarters critically weakened for...

Several incursion squads landed right outside the briefing room gates. The two Eclipse Mikos did their best before being overwhelmed, cut down by sheer numbers as the girls couldn't retreat from the final defense line. The remainder found the gates locked, which delayed them for but a few seconds.

"Shirayuki HQ is--!"

Kannon didn't even finish before bundles of grenades hurled into the room from her left. A clean, circular hole replaced the blast doors where half a meter thick of diamondsteel was clearly disintegrated.

Only five defenders stood within the room: Marshal Sidika, who joked that her aim couldn't hit the broad side of a barn; Aurora, who was a slow-casting support mage and not a fighter; Midori, the green-haired lieutenant to Shirayuki who stood by quietly as Eclipse's Wayfarer (teleportation expert); Aksel, the Cross Knight reserve; and Kannon herself.

Sir Aksel's armored mass and golden Bulwark came in-between the four ladies and the attackers even as the room exploded around him. Blasts of energy and splintered furniture-wood forced Kannon's flaring shields to become an opaque cocoon of blossom-pink ether, effectively blinding her view for several seconds as superheated air trickled in and burnt its way to her lungs.

The pulsing sound of chemical lasers firing rang about the room. Aurora had deployed a full set of in a ring around the ceiling's edge as a last-ditch effort, all of which aimed to converge upon the entrance. Dying screams confirmed the death of the first three who entered the room as the laser volley overloaded their shields and turned their armor into burning beehives. Another four soon followed before Aurora ran out of mines.

By the time Kannon's Vector Negation Shield fell back to transparency, Aksel had already skewered one attacker. But he was now pinned under three other swordstaves as more circled around him. One of the enemies charged straight towards Kannon, who stood between the entrance and the force field generator protecting Marshal Sidika. His swordstaff was raised, his expression focused, and his deep-violet eyes harder than diamond.

Captain...

Kannon closed her eyes as her arms went up reflexively to protect herself while his blade slashed downwards...

One mistake and I'm already dead...

A pink bubble flared as Kannon's Vector Shield stopped Arkadi's swordstaff for an instant; but it sped up again with an explosive burst from the small thruster behind the blade guard. Searing pain erupted from her left forearm as sharpened diamondsteel cut deep to the bone and cracked through. Even more hellish agony burst from her left elbow as she could almost feel the joint snap and break. But the heavy blade cut into neither her face nor chest. It had stopped... No, it had been stopped by the starsteel chain wrapped tightly around her shattered left limb that was still propped up by her right arm.

The blade withdrew, and her legs collapsed under her; her body fell backwards...

The blade pulled back in his hands, ready to thrust, as his eyes filled with murderous intent and only a sliver of recognition...

Then, in the frame of a split second and through blurry eyes, Kannon watched Shirayuki's boot firmly implant itself into the left side of Arkadi's face. His Vector Negation Shield flared purple instead of the sapphire-blue of his Aegis Shield.

He flew back several meters as the crimson blur continued to tear through the room, twin blades flashing like a steel tempest.

Arkadi's personally-led final attack had used up the best of their assault forces' remaining manpower. With their commander down, their forces depleted, and their final wave about to be crushed under Shirayuki's swords...

We've won.

It was Kannon's surest thought in this entire battle. It was also her last, as her back and head collided hard with the ground while her vision dimmed out from the unbearable pain.


----- * * * -----


Momentum was power, and the first kick sent Arkadi flying. Several meters back, he collapsed onto the ground. Yet during that short timeframe, a bloody mist enshrouded the dusty atmosphere of the room as the crimson blur tore through half of Arkadi's remaining men within seconds.

Against Aura Dominion's power of aura magic manipulation, their vector shield emanations did not even exist. Only the Aegis Shield, magic on the level of a Grand Sorcery, could stop her assault. But Arkadi's Aegis Shield had exhausted its ether supply early during the battle, and it was not a type he could replenish.

The glimmering hope of victory turned into despair within an instant.

He couldn't withdraw. Failure was not an option. They would shoot him.

He couldn't surrender. Pride was not an issue. They would shoot him.

His life meant nothing, not by itself. But accomplishing goals required a life. Arkadi could not simply throw it away. Not when there was still a chance of success, however infinitesimal it may be.

The finishing line was already in sight. Marshal Sidika was just across the room, protected by a single force barrier generator. If he could just take out Shirayuki, nobody else would stand a chance of stopping his final assault.

He had an idea in mind. It wasn't a good one, but better plans were a luxury he did not have time for.

Arkadi pretended to lay unconscious for a second. Then, as the crimson blur sped towards him to reach his remaining troops, he finished declaring his spell -- most of it over telepathy with one last syllable verbalized to increase power. His entire body suddenly spun off the ground. His limbs jerked unnaturally, muscles tearing and bones cracking as his body underwent contortions not intended for a human being. His will ruptured two prepared pouches in his magical utility belt, hurling out glowing crystals that that trembled and detonated. Explosions engulfed the room as his hands held onto the swordstaff with an iron grip, thrusting it out even as he spun.

Telekinetic Whirlwind was meant to be an offensive spellword that either enhanced a thrown weapon or incapacitated an opponent. Arkadi used it to turn himself into a human buzz-saw instead. To provide cover, he triggered his last two defensive backups -- pockets fulls of crystal-cartridges with Contingent blast spells attached. Their undirected bursts of energy could only break through the weakest Vector Shields, but was more than capable of blinding every visual, electromagnetic, and magical sense, sowing chaos to conceal the true threat.

But desperation alone could not bridge the gap in ability, and luck was not with him this day. Shirayuki saw the human shredder for a split second before the air erupted with fire and lightning. She broke off her trajectory just before a bloody collision. Turning to his left, she cleaved through three more commandos before accelerating back towards him.

Every advantage was now in her hands. Arkadi's final defense made him a dangerous target, but it was still no match for her speed. Her blade would go in, rend flesh, and withdraw before his barely controlled swordstaff could scratch her. But...

She promised Kannon for a capture. A blunt knockout hit would be risky, harder.

...Not to mention he was the Black Prince, a man she would rather send to hell with her own hands.

Shirayuki finally realized: it was one thing to claim forgiveness towards someone not present; it was a whole different thing when the object of one's hatred was standing just ahead.

The hands that gripped her dual katana-sabers strengthened their hold. Within her mind's eye was the image of the Black Prince, gazing contemptuously as he razed the Moonlit Eclipse's Avalon outpost, his swordstaff stained red with the blood of her comrades, her sisters.

Kannon was no longer conscious. Shirayuki could claim that she had no choice...

But that was a lie.

She couldn't lie to Kannon. The fact Kannon's power was a built-in lie detector was besides the point. Shirayuki simply couldn't lie to her 'little sister' like that. Especially not when it was something Kannon clearly, truly wanted.

She felt a steel tip graze her arm, drawing blood like a searing hot dagger. But it was a light wound, and now she was inside his defense.

A simple flourish reversed the blades in her hands, and Shirayuki rammed both pommels into Arkadi with all her might. The force knocked him into the nearest wall, where he collapsed back onto the floor like a puppet without strings.



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