Expectancy especially is delightful. However… that was before that morning, the morning when place had overcome destination and absence ebbed from the tides of collapses. The hounds of fate had already been unleashed into J151909. Had our gambit prevailed?
Guarding the vaporous windows to the Pulsar C5 Exiled nest were unweary capsuleers from the Pole constellation, constantly foiling our invasion with the apparently safe and methodical innocence unawareness provides. Each time our covert ops pilots nested their swift probes on the promised entrance, the wormhole would be blacked out soon afterwards. Were they aware of our schemes or was it mere coincidence? At this point, they had become the stalkers.
The last few weeks had been busy, cold with anticipation, warm with exaltation. Her fingers tapped away at the hangar’s digital lock. Today, Attila VI was unfurling its sharp slick on J151909. The airlock opened up onto the capsuleers’ sinister shroud in a muffled hiss. Kirsa stepped in. As always, the station‘s docking bays were thriving on tumult, bedazzled by myriad flashes of light against gigantic shadows. Ships and crews, worn out by the ruthlessness of space, endlessly patching up to taste once more the bittersweet call of nihility. Her eyes fondled the quiescent carcass gently gliding in levitation, away from her touch, away from intent.
Adaptation was essential, therefore we reorganised ourselves. Soon, watchtowers were anchored beneath the realms of our target venue in a deserted C5 with a C5 static, in the hope chain collapsing would end up directly linking our ad hoc stage to the Exiled wormhole. With restless probes we started excavating dormant holes, patiently delving into chance so that our dedicated stealth ships would burrow their blabbering hulls under J151909’s red nebulae.
Meanwhile, floating unconscious astream the pulse of those nebulae, four Moros and two Chimeras were struck with torpor. The lullaby of looming war would soon be shaking our capitals into a buoyant trance after a few weeks’ sleep, but now was not the time for awakening. Not yet. Their dream lingered for a little longer while our probers still sustained their silent skirmish in J151909 in order to settle a bridgehead into the Exiled wormhole. Against all odds, an opportunity arose the very morning after our major endeavour to penetrate the hostile skies, aborted by the usual Exiled collapse. A fore-fleet of three Vindicators, two Sleipnirs and two Astartes forced their way through as an enemy small collapse team had set about nullifying our invasion again. This time though, they were too late: hostile Dominix and Orca fell on our decisive advance. Times for stealth and secrecy were over. They knew little, but they knew we were there; Rooks had appeared on their chessboard, the battle for Kings was about to begin.
She was humming an improvised litany to the tune of a cheerful nursery rhyme, her head gently swaying, oblivious of human time and place as she reached communion with the ship.
embrace my will, ignite your bloodlust,
transmogrify their Autumns into dry Summers,
reify me into our cognizant alchemy… “
The flesh of her ship rustled against her metallic corpse; they shivered. The Bhaalgorn entity had awoken.
The day after, we set for the door of no return_ an entrance to J151909 had rent the skies of Reblier. The fleet gathered at the wormhole: at last, it had come, or rather, we had come to it. The jump command was given, and eternities of quantum foam spewed out their stray eclipse. Time dilated, space died for the ravaged aberration to swallow our fleet and J151909 appeared. Here would be Rooks & Kings’ Guillotine’s hearth, and the insanity our directional scanners and weeks of silent observation cried out would not break our resolve. We were Home and now the Exiled Ones would abide by their name. That was what we wanted to believe.
She sank into the feel of space, slipping away from the starlit cage. Behind, streaming veins of copper light seemed to stretch and meet the abandoned stars, and yet, the vault of heavens precipitated darkness as swiftly as the self-consuming trails expanded. An everlasting war for space and significance.
The Devourer howled as warp rushed its tunnels alongside.
She reached out for a pill of Mindflood, a smile cracking her lips.
“…transmogrify their Autumns…”
No one came to greet us.
He switched on to the command ships’ sub-comms and jested “Good day my sacrificial lambs, it’s Trooper H! I’ve come to put my Tower in where your Tower was.” His mates’ laughter rang in his ears. The usual Troop’ for you.
The whimsical Gods of wormholes had subverted us into the displaced ones. With no additional resources or ships on our side, the enemy strategic staging points were to be crippled and desecrated for us to stand a chance: invasions are ultimately defined by actions, but these actions feed a crucial psychological warfare. One by one, POS were blasted into structural paralysis. Yet, the bruised sanctuaries were left unattended, as much as our eagerness to have to struggle for the right to scar and offend. The day passed.
The support ships plunged towards the few anchored modules of the last POS left to afflict on the next day, carving through a too ripe flesh that no skin had bothered to cover. Expectation was eddying, but doubt was hovering on our fleet about our targets’ intentions.
Troop’ poked at his directional. What the hell are these dudes doing? We’re here ripping them off everything and they’re just watching? He twitched nervously when he heard his comms crackle. One of their scouts was reporting; it would be for the best, or for the worst, depending on the viewpoint, “Exiled fleet gathering at the sun! I repeat, their fleet is gathering at the sun! They’re heading our way.”
Embarrassing. An embarrassing silence swept over comms as yearning reached the ambiguous point of fulfillment, and unexpectedness rubbed the salt of wavering in. Readiness is all, and soon, the fleet converged on the command hive mind. On the far side of the POS, a cortege of antagonistic capital ships and its trail of sub-exponents came ashore the force field. Odds had been pushed to an iffy degree, the Exiled fleet comfortably exceeding ours in numbers, capacity and resources. We were ready.
He raised an eyebrow as a bunch of enemy battleships and battlecruisers burnt through the POS shields towards them, leaving most of their fleet standing there. So they were going for close range? It seems they were.
Immediately, the blue shuffle of webs and the crimson rattle of energy neutralizers streaked the skies, bedecking the electro-magnetic ocean beyond with ribbons of fire. He sent the Astarte slicing through woeful space and summoned destruction.
Sheltering liminality was crossed and death was met, brisk and cold, for all of trespassers.
When suddenly a friendly Sleipnir went down; our first loss. The enemy dreadnought-class ships were attacking, joined in by downpours of missiles. Our fleet was not designed for range; the situation clearly weakened the synergy between ships that tied our fleet together by disabling our subcapitals. We had to get closer to wage our war and free our command ships from deadly attention. We had no room for losses.
Unfortunately, we had little experience in POS warfare strategy, so a warp-in on their core fleet had to be improvised in a rush while our four dreadnoughts and one of the Chimeras retreated to the nearby planet. In order to lure their diligence, our Chimera came back alone amid the hostile nest. Torrents of rage immediately cascaded on our triaged carrier. Now the dreadnoughts could invade the field.
“To all supports! Follow me, we’re joining up with the dreads now!”
The Astarte frayed the firmament as it fired up towards the capital islet that stood erect alone in the grip of the Exiled storm. Basically, Troop’s job was to make way for the dreads; they were the support that brought corrosive hell to their hostile counterpart. His pan-mind cast a glance at the gigantic frame of an adverse Naglfar detonating into red glowing shafts of mourning. The vision trembled, and hung motionless. The first dreadnought was down.
Yet we got in trouble. In deep trouble. Our second Chimera had fallen into the clutches of a stray Sabre while ending its triage cycle, back at the initial staging point, and the first one was suffering brutal damage from virtually the whole Exiled fleet. Triage carriers were the substratum that nurtured and treasured; losing one was grievous, losing both was excruciating and a definite sentence of death. Just as the Chimera breathed out its last ray of salvation onto our ships, hostile Moros and Phoenix inflamed the skies, but that would not atone for our critical loss. With our vital principle consumed, the Exiled Ones had harmed our fleet badly. There would be sacrifices_ the bastilled Chimera had to be saved, no matter what. Once more, supports burnt back to defy the one that had reversed the situation dramatically.
And so, they fell. The one after the other. Flailed and turning into dust.
Our three Bhaalgorns instantly disintegrated under the blasters and missiles of the outrageous Deus Exiled Machina. The price was high and painful, but over there the Chimera had been freed and was flying back to our POS with all the support, leaving dreadnoughts on their own again. It was a mess.
The fickle Gods of wormholes must have been longing for us… haven’t they?
It was a mess, but a controlled mess.
The comms voiced the therapy of determination and composure.
“We’re going back; align.”
Eelm cast a glance at the other three dreadnoughts’ statuses. Those damned Rokhs were draining them dry. Alenca would not come to see the battle’s finale. He winced and focused harder on his damage output, enduring fragmentation and absence with unrestful patience. The Exiled Ones were fighting with spirit, drawing on endless arrays and resources; our own orphan pilots knitting fog out of a few stealth bombers, our only spare ships. The battle was definitely a challenging confrontation as it turned out.
Exiled capitals were falling like leaves of gravity, mending the fragile bones of structure into shallow wrecks. However… we were spatially dispersed, four against fifty, extending margins to the breaking point, where even the sturdiest hull could not soothe the wailing plight of shields under the defenders’ severe onslaught: one of the dreadnoughts was steadily going down.
At last, our Sleipnirs, Astartes and Vindicators popped up on grid next to our juggernauts back from the POS. Once our ships would be regrouped, we would be able to resume the fight as a fleet.
And yet, the unpredictable lines of battle twisted our schemes again: the Chimera bounced against the force field upon leaving fleet warp, landing on the exact same spot where it had been trapped for the whole battle… It was as if a surge of vital force had been liberated by the hostile POS in order to protect the ones who had attended to her for so long, a tribute to friends and foes in the loneliness of wormholes. The Chimera managed to warp out to the nearby opposite planet before the Exiled Ones reacted, leaving the dreadnoughts bleeding behind. Back to our POS for the second time flew the rosary of support, leaving the dreadnoughts raging behind.
Grains of space filling the interval, ticking away Alenca’s Moros. It was just three of us now and Sarrii was falling.
Eelm felt relieved when their Chimera finally obfuscated the left side of his ship. The triage would not save Sarrii in time due to the warp-in latency, but the last two dreadnoughts had a chance to survive. He saw the Sleipnirs cast an ECCM barrier on the Vindicators; he saw the Vindicators mesmerise languidness on the dreadnoughts’ targets and he saw the massive carcasses strewn around the dreadnoughts. Meanwhile, riding the flux of wrath, he heard the hive dart their lethal hostility at subcapital targets. Turnarounds definitely were best when you didn’t know when to expect them. His eyes embraced the fleet with the amusement only hindsight could provide. What a battle it had been…
After almost an hour’s fight, no one was left alive, not even the Tower: the force field vanished and the azure electro-magnetic radiance shun no longer in J151909. It was all wrecks … and us.