Avalon:Volume 0 Chapter 14 Old
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 Vehicle.
"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 were 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-eighty 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... true nukes.)
I could hardly believe my eyes...
I didn't even know what to feel...
My 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 wasn't a word in the spoke language strong for it.
(There must be millions, no... tens of millions, living in a metropolis 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 2nd District 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-two IFVs and four recons." Kayeten's voice, still shaken but quickly shifting to a professional cool, noted over the command channel.
I turned towards my own displays as my thoughts pushed away everything else. A cold sense of gratitude to avoid such unpleasant thinking reached me for just a second before being shoved aside as well.
They hugged the ground as they flew in, with altitudes no higher than ten meters and stealth modules on full power. The entire attack force had avoided detection until just over a kilometer away, far within normal vehicular engagement ranges of this day and age.
It was likely that at least two of those Principes Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) were actually Signifier Command Vehicles in disguise; they shared the same chassis and Avalonian units always blended mobile command posts in to protect them. Yet even then, this was still at least four platoons of infantry.
(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 was given most of the resources they had on planet, he should be launching an all-out assault from every side. Then why was he attacking from the northwest quadrant?
"It's a feint! Hold them back!" I sent.
"Red-two broken through perimeter!"
The 2nd District infantry that held the outer defense was clearly underperforming, not surprising given the devastation and distracting chaos that now engulfed Broceliande.
"Engage from center only! Outer defense units hold your fire once they pass!"
I glanced towards Marshal Sidika, who sat in the innermost chair of the central briefing room's round table, behind a set of force field projectors. Her brows knit themselves in intense concentration as her delicate fingers moved gracefully across the air between the Augment-Reality (AR) projection panels visible only to her.
(Probably in emergency mode over the insanity that's breaking loose across the planet...)
Maybe it was lucky that she didn't take command of this fight.
Shirayuki had encouraged me into sharing my idea with Sidika during dinner yesterday. It was some crazy concept I cooked up based on an alternative Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy game guide I once read. To my complete surprise, Marshal Sidika actually agreed to it, and was even crazy enough to ask me 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 of 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 us with only thirty dependables: thirteen Auxilia under Kayeten (after 2nd District 'graciously' allowed some reinforcements), six Knights under Linnaea, and eleven Mikos under Shirayuki.
I had no experience on how to 'command', but I knew how to 'manage'. In the end, battles were still fought by 'people' with 'objectives' and 'constraints'. It was no different from any project or business.
Therefore my plan was to deploy the infantry in an ancient Eight Trigrams Formations, with a token skirmishing line at the perimeter over a 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 push into the base, only to be caught in a crossfire from the eight strongpoints. Arkadi would then be forced to divert troops to pin down the outer defenses one by one, instead of simply punching through the 2nd's 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 he was personally 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, they probably weren't assault troops.
"--New contacts: three and six o'clocks, designating red-three and red-four, twenty-one APCs total with recon jammers screening!"
Scutarii Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) were built off the Principes IFV chassis. But instead of having two armored hatches with platforms where marines can shoot from, APCs carried drones that are dropped before the soldiers. These remote-controlled drones are then directed by the soldiers 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."
As my orders went out, I refocused on the large sensors plot being projected over the round briefing room table: 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 Lanciarii mobile guns dug-in and hidden under illusory spells, as well as ten heavy electrolaser repeaters deployed like machine-gun nests of old. The mobile gun used the same chassis as the IFV and APC, but traded speed for firepower as their power output weren't sufficient to provide for both the engines and the heavy railgun at the same time; yet this suited the defense and line-combat oriented heavy-infantry just fine.
Then, as the red symbols coming in from the 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.)
----- * * * -----
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.
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 to, 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, while Commandant Aeryl's delta group was tasked to sweep the northwestern 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 kicked into high gear. Chaff grenades spat out in multiple directions, seeking to redirect 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 both shield types flared desperately to fight off the damage from hypersonic railgun slugs and other hits.
A few 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, 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.
----- * * * -----
Even small battles were messy, chaotic, and far too difficult for one person to grasp everything. The display was positively overloading itself as my 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 places...
...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, charged straight into the defenders as they fell from their vehicles...
...Two northwestern strongpoints were also being bombed and strafed by eight IFVs...
...Kayeten's center, held by twelve Langskip ADATS (Air-Defense Anti-Tank Systems), two dozen automated turrets, and six Signifier Command Vehicles serving as fire-control, came under two assault drops from the south and east while hostile IFVs in the northwest continued to pin them under fire...
The bunker shook again, and I pulled my focus back. My recognition took in the entire battlefield display while Sidika's pre-battle advice repeated in my mind:
"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 noted nonchalantly through the inner command network as she watched the red exclamation marks and their accompanying data, fed into the main display from the Anticipate Teleportation ether-tech sensor.
The teleportation wards weren't even fully down yet and Arkadi's men were already preemptively casting. Their coordination was as impressive as ever.
"Arm mines as they come," I replied, still trying to keep out my hesitation.
"Affirmed... hostiles inbound in staggered waves."
Aurora was a 'Creationist': a master of conjuration-creation magic. Magical creation may not persist indefinitely, but a specialist could quickly fabricate even complex items from ether that would maintain for hours. As her title suggested, Frost Laser's battlefield favorite were one-shot chemical laser devices, deployed en-mass to quickly overload shields with devastating bursts.
The staggered teleportation will lighten their casualties, but the first wave into each room would still be shredded by her laser mines. As for the others...
"Shirayuki, prepare to engage follow-up waves."
"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 vehicle was crippled and his command exposed as remnants of two 2nd District platoons that held the center retreated to the northeast and southwest, squeezed out by the two fronts of hostile red that sandwiched them in.
"Kayeten, pull out and regroup...!"
Two strongpoints in the south and another two in the northwest were withdrawing. Arkadi's troops were regrouping to attack another concentration, wasting no time chasing fleeing units.
The outer defenses were collapsing... but the attackers had also taken losses, moderate in men but heavy in organization.
"...All outer units continue to hammer them from the back. Linnaea, get ready!" I sent.
"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, 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 coordinate teleportation into the bunker, where Shirayuki's Mikos awaited them.
Within the command bunker, only the central briefing room where we resided 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 Mikos of the Eclipse 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 and packed earth.
"Second wave inbound...!"
Five sections of four, coming in from the second and third level corridors below us.
"...Shirayuki, corridor 2-A with your squad!" I ordered them towards the nearest point.
The initial wave of scout pairs had materialized for no more than a second before they died under Aurora's laser mines. Now, the second wave were also being Anticipated before they teleported in, as their spells' targeting magic were detected by the ether-tech sensors. A dozen seconds of preemptive warning for a personnel teleportation spell was enough to lay an ambush, and half of them found themselves spraying blood seconds after they entered the base.
A fresh wave of red exclamation marks flooded the display as a third wave of teleporters rode on the tailwinds of the second: four squads of eight seeking to hook up with those already in the third level, while a fifth squad aimed for the corridor just outside this room -- a scouting group more distracting than threatening.
"Third wave, on the lowest level! Aurora, welcome those just outside."
"Affirmed," Shirayuki replied as she and six other Mikos dropped straight through their floor and onto the level below. "...And I see nuclear futility~"
Per my 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.
Not that the opponent had time.
Seven blue dots attacked over four dozen reds, engulfing the bunker labyrinth in a chaotic melee. The girls of the Eclipse blinked in and out on the three-dimensional battlefield display as they tore into the invaders like guerrilla raiders, before vanishing back into spirituality within seconds to avoid retaliation and reinforcements. It wasn't perfect, as I watched the first of them fall from a lightning fast counterattack. But if we had to suffer losses, then at least it was minimal and the ratios hugely in our favor.
Then there was Shirayuki, zigzagging through hostile markers even in the narrow hallways, tearing apart entire squads in seconds. Here and there she met a tightly-formed squad, ranked swordstaves arrayed like the back of a porcupine. Shirayuki simply ignored them and moved through a nearby wall to her next victim.
Meanwhile, the fifth squad that teleported in outside this room was shredded by Aurora's mines and finished off by the two Mikos held in reserve. Yet more were inbound...
A fourth wave then began teleporting in. Several dozen dots vanished from the surface battle and reappeared within the complex, just before Kayeten's reformed 'platoon' smashed into those remaining.
(I've been tricked!)
It was a two-pronged offensive: the incoming teleports have been moving steadily away from our command center in the central briefing room. If our defense didn't follow them, they would detonate a nuke on the lowest level -- a threat already countered. But if we did follow, it would leave defense at command critically weakened for...
Three incursion squads landed right outside the briefing room gates, and the two Eclipse Mikos did their best before being overwhelmed. The remainder found the gates locked, which delayed them for but a few seconds.
"Shirayuki HQ is--!"
I didn't even finish before bundles of grenades hurled into the room from behind me; a clean, circular hole was in the blast door where half a meter thick of diamondsteel was clearly disintegrated.
Only five of us stood within the room: Marshal Sidika, who joked that her aim couldn't hit the broad side of a barn; Aurora, who was a support caster 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 me.
Aksel's armored mass and golden Bulwark came in-between us and the attackers even as the room exploded around us. Blasts of energy and splintered furniture-wood forced my flaring shields to become an opaque cocoon of blossom-pink ether, effectively blinding my view for several seconds as superheated air trickled in and burnt its way to my lungs.
The pulsing sound of chemical lasers firing rang about the room. Aurora had deployed a full set in a ring around the ceiling's edge as the final line of defense. My sight was still blocked, but dying screams affirmed the death of enemies who first entered the room.
As my 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 attackers came straight at me, who stood between the entrance and the force field generator protecting Sidika. His swordstaff was raised, his expression focused, and his deep-violet eyes harder than diamond.
My eyes closed as my arms went up reflexively to protect myself as the blade came down...
(One mistake and I'm already dead...)
Searing pain erupted from my left forearm as sharpened diamondsteel cut deep to the bone and cracked through. Even more hellish agony burst from my left elbow as I could almost feel the joint snap and break. But the heavy blade cut neither into my face nor chest. It had stopped... No, it had been stopped -- barely seen by my reopened eyes through tears of pain -- by the starsteel chain tightly wrapped around my shattered left limb that was still propped up by my right arm.
The blade withdrew, and my legs collapsed under me; my 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, I thought I saw Shirayuki's boot firmly implant itself into the left side of his face; his Vector Negation Shield flared purple instead of the sapphire-blue of his Aegis Shield.
He flew back several meters as the red blur continued to tear through the room, twin blades flashing like a steel tempest.
Arkadi's personally-led final attack had used up the bulk 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...
It was my surest thought yet this battle. It was also my last, as my back and head collided hard with the ground while my 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.
But Arkadi simply could not accept death; not when there was still a chance of success, however infinitesimal it may be.
(If I could just take out Shirayuki...)
There was no time to think of better ideas. This would be his final gambit.
(Personal, Telekinetic Whirlwind)
Arkadi pretended to lay unconscious for a second. Then, as the crimson blur sped towards him to reach his remaining troops, he finished his spell. 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. But his hands held onto the swordstaff with an iron grip, thrusting it out even as his body 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.
But desperation alone could not bridge the gap in skill, and luck was not with him this day.
Shirayuki broke off her trajectory before she could collide with him. 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 grip. 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.
Kannon was no longer conscious. Shirayuki could claim that she had no choice...
But it 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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