Teran 29th, 14774
ESFWV Daemon Rising was a young ship. Almost a newborn, truth be told. There were too few like her; although the archon had a core of several modern enneads, most of the elements in the Host assembled to raze the Terran worlds were far older and, though well-kept and maintained as best they could be, were still not up to the level of an Ensanguined Mercy battlecruiser like Daemon Rising. Like all her brothers and sisters, Daemon was young, headstrong and eager to kill.
The command deck of a Ensanguined Mercy-class battlecruiser was larger than even a normal battlecruiser’s bridge. Ensanguined Mercies often functioned as spearhead or element sigil ships in the absence of a battleship or dreadnaught, which made the additional functionality necessary. Like the exterior of the vessel, the internal architecture was not solely given to stark functionality. It was an overriding consideration, but not the only one. Anyone could give metal life, give it form and function, but it took more than simple construction to give it a purpose. A soul.
Daemon Rising’s command deck was almost cathedral in its appearance, its arched ceiling artfully concealing storage lockers and defence turrets. The lowest deck was the crew pit, a crescent that encircled the forward half of the bridge, filled with console banks manned by junior officers and senior ratings. Drone control, Environmental, Security, Damage Control as well as secondary Gunnery and Communications stations were all represented on the lower level.
On the raised rear portion of the command deck, the master systems were arranged in another half-circle around the commander’s chair. Communications, Tactical, Sensors, Helm and Navigation. Flanking the main doors were a pair of statues wrought from carved stone, each of the Angel. One represented Her mercy and love, feathery wings wrapped chastely about Her form, Her eyes downcast in humility. The right-hand statue was the Angel’s wrath and fury, Her leathery, reptilian wings were thrown back and her fingers were curved into vicious rending talons. There was malice in Her unseeing eyes, tempered with patience and pleasure. At the base of each statue there was the same, simple inscription.
I was there the day the gods fell.
Executor Liana Chardrelii turned away from the statues, running her hands over the back of the empty command chair. Kanis was returning from Balance of Judgment after meeting with the element’s other senior officers. She cast a quick look towards the sensor repeater board. The mighty dreadnought and its sisters Day of Wrath and Fire of Heaven hung in space, smooth and hard in form, brutal and unrelenting in function. Massive, vaguely serpentine behemoths, they were nothing like the unlovely open circles of the Ovea’brei’s Onslaught Fleet. Built by Brei’orai hands and shaped by Brei’orai minds, those titans had never belonged to the Ovea’brei. ‘Servants of the People’. That was what they had been. Stolen children denied their heritage, intended to fight and die for a crumbling empire, given nothing. Only lent toys and trinkets by their dying masters,
Now, everything the Evea’shi had, they had because of the work of their hands and minds. Their blood and ideals. No masters but themselves and Onslaught Fleet embodied that. Greater than anything the Brei’orai could have conceived, nightmares that haunted the dreams of the End of Dawn.
Formations of these dark titans were clustered about Sentinel One in keystone positions, guarding against any possible vector of attack. Daemon Rising, only just freed from repairs, was on a long ellipse through the system, testing her engines. Sin Child, Daemon Rising’s sister, cruised alongside, the pair of battlecruisers enjoying this opportunity for flight. Both ships were eager to return to the fight, and it showed in their good-natured jockeying for position.
Liana could feel the shackled excitement that ran through every member of Daemon Rising’s thirty-five thousand crew, faded echoes of that emotion bristling from the nearby Sin Child. She shared her crew’s anticipation, though for more than one reason. The young woman circled the bridge, humming a dirge. As she passed crew at their stations, the song was picked up, softly filling the command chamber.
The doors to the command deck parted with silent abruptness and a ripple of shifting attention broke through the crew’s normal assiduity. “Commander, arriving,” Liana said aloud, bowing to one knee. “All stations are ready, at your will.”
“Thank you, executor,” Commander Kanis Vunii nodded for his second to stand. The gesture of submission was an older tradition and usually one only carried out on formal occasions, but Liana insisted on observing it. She was almost two hundred years old, but she looked perhaps a tenth of that age. Her right cheek was marked with the broken spiral particular to her family line, a lineage that stretched back throughout the millennia of the Evea’shi’s existence. Many Keepers had come from her line’s blood, which explained her attentiveness to the old ways. Sensing her need for attention, Kanis gestured for her to follow him as he circuited the bridge, whispering affirming words to a subordinate here and there.
Liana was blunt, as always. <What is the word from Command?>
<Probes to the system where the Mulkari were detected have reported in, confirming what Shadow Dance sighted. They are scouts, but belonging to the Vanguard.>
The executor sucked in a short breath. The Prime Enemy’s Vanguard elements were never seen with regular sleeper fleets. They were only marshaled for killfleets. “There was evidence of a battle,” Vunii continued as they entered his office. “Unseen Threat detected an intense radiation scar and detritus from several killships. Initial indications make it likely that the Second Enemy vessel that Shadow Dance and its element detected was destroyed.” He smiled. “However, some in Command have suggested that the Enemy avoided dying with their vessel.”
Liana blinked, then nodded. “The rogue killship.” It had passed through Sentinel One days before, staying only long enough to recharge and head deeper into the Conquered Lands, towards the Enemy territories. The behaviour had been puzzling; scout or not, Mulkari killships never acted alone. Even despite its size and inferior systems, it had handled clumsily. Not what the Fleet would have expected of a vessel in the Prime Enemy’s Vanguard.
“It is a possibility,” Kanis moved to the wall; there was a mural hanging there, drawn countless centuries ago on the skin of a Progenitor, a relic of forbidden history. Preserved through the millennia, it was an inheritance of Vunii’s family. His pale fingers stroked the smooth fabric, feeling the raised roughness of the paint. The scene it depicted was the Descension. It was crudely rendered, stick figure-men and women holding their hands up to the sky in fear as their lands and temples were burned. And thus were born the Ovea’brei, the commander thought bitterly. “However unlikely, it is a possibility.”
The executor nodded as Kanis turned back to face her. “Have the Mulkari detected Haven’s Spire?”
“Unlikely. One of the Scouting Fleet element managed to intercept a pair of Prime Enemy vessels; interrogation of one’s core systems revealed that the Mulkari are here for the Terran Enemy. Which puts us in an unfortunate position, caught between two fires. But it also creates oppurtunity.”
Liana nodded in understanding. “If the Prime Enemy and Enemy were to fight each other…” she trailed off, but there was no mistaking the excitement rippling from her. It would save the Evea’shi thousands of their brothers and sisters and dozens of ships while two Enemies beat each other into submission. Morally, there was but one flaw – that they were allowing the End of Dawn to exist, let alone commit genocide.
The Conquered Worlds of the Enemy were annoying, but Command had not yet decided that extermination was necessary; the Enemy upon those planets were cut off from their forces. Since after initial pacification efforts, the Evea’shi had no reason to go dirtside, there was no way for the isolated Enemy to become a threat. It was possible that the Enemy might have to be destroyed after all, but the idea left an unpleasant taste in Liana’s mouth.
Each of the handful of times the Fleet had been forced to commit genocide rather than simply neutralizing a threat, it had been seen as an ugly necessity rather something to be celebrated. Even the most ardent supporters of a more aggressive foreign policy did not wantonly advocate the destruction of entire species.
Never so callously as the Prime Enemy: obliterating civilizations and squatting amidst the bones. When the Evea’shi cleansed a race, it was because there was no other option, that the species in question was simply too dangerous to leave alive in any form. The issue of the Terran Enemies was still hotly debated. They were blood – of a sort – but they were violent. Shortsighted. Ignorant. Their history marked by constant wars amongst one another. The very idea was anathema to Liana. It was not to say that her people had had a history free of blemish, but one overriding ideal had driven their civilization: we do not make war upon each other. There had been schisms. Broken covenants, disagreements and renegade factions – but the Imperia had never fallen upon itself as the Terran Enemy did with frightening regularity.
Being pinned between the Terran Enemy and the End of Dawn was hardly the best tactical position. Between Archon Sadii’s forces here in the Conquered Lands and the reserves based at Sendara Kae, they should have enough to handily deal with either force on its own…
Kanis inclined his head, confirming Liana’s train of thought. “Of course, our position leaves us vulnerable to both. If the Mulkari come down the passage, they will arrive here.” He frowned. “Command is unsure how likely that is.” True; the Prime Enemy were direct in their goals but at times could be disappointingly indirect in how they went about them.
“The system they cleansed lies outside the passage,” Kanis continued. “They might not be aware of it, but Command isn’t willing to gamble lives on it. That’s why the Fleet withdrew from offensive operations.” The decision to pull back from their assault on the Enemy System ‘Hyperion Hive’ had been vexing, but understandable, given the radical shift in the strategic situation. Until Command could determine in what force the Prime Enemy were present in this region, it had been deemed better to withdraw then press the assault to the Terran Enemy’s orbitals and risk unacceptable losses.
Liana nodded. “Then we have a new mission?”
Kanis inclined his head at the executrix’s question. “Yes. Archon Sadii has assigned our spearhead to duty.”
Chardrelli’s eyes shone with excitement as Daemon responded to Kanis’s mental command, projecting a star map of the local territories. Conquered Lands glistened a deep blue while the Enemy’s territories were blood red. “We need to unbalance the Enemy forces to prevent them from counter-attacking while the Fleet consolidates its position,” Kanis noted. “To that end, we’re to begin launching rapid strikes on their assets, to keep them on the defensive. Ours will be but one of the spearheads.”
“And the Mulkari?”
The commander’s blue eyes glittered coldly. “Onslaught and Aggressor Fleet will remain to ensure that if they dare violate our territories, they will not enjoy the experience.” He touched the family emblem on his right cheek, a weeping eye. During the Fading Era, when the End of Dawn began to realize that their longtime nemeses were not only recovering from the near-extinction of the Breaking, but were beginning to eke ahead technologically. In an effort to slow the Evea’shi’s expansion, the Prime Enemy had scattershot thousands of sleeper fleets deep into Imperial lands to destroy all they could find. Much of the commander’s bloodline had been among the many millions of casualties.
Bleed us, and we shall heal. Cut us, and we shall learn. Liana bowed low. “I will inform the crew and the spearhead. We will be ready for deployment within the day.” She spared a moment for a brief smile and a short mental caress. Teasing emotions, images, promises.
Kanis returned the gesture. “To your duties then, executor,” he reprimanded her without chastisement.