Chapter 01 - Fallen Star
A bright, blue sky hung over the cylindrical world beyond mother Earth. A woman stood at the peak of a tower looking up at the two other valleys, both faintly visible passed the atmosphere. While lost in her distant gaze she thought not only of these three valleys, but the second colony connected to Patria, their neighbour, and the other unrelated homelands far away in the depths of space. Her mind conjured up a horrific fate for these worlds. A fate that may be unavoidable in the coming conflict.
A man approached from behind wearing a white, helmetless space suit with a rifle slung around his shoulder. The woman turned around, revealing the stream of tears that had stained her youthful face. The man was reluctant to speak, but did so anyway.
'You should put on a suit, Tilly. Anything could happen once- if the fighting begins.'
She quickly wiped away the tears and straightened her posture.
'Are my students safe, Mr. Muller?' she asked strictly. The man, surprised by her dedication, smiled.
'Of course, ma'am. They've been evacuated to the blast shelters with their parents, as ordered. I recommend we do the same if you don't mind.'
'Oh, right. Sorry, I just wanted to get one last look at our home.' The man turned his back and began walking towards the exit, a funnel elevator located at the tower's core. He continued to speak to Tilly as he looked around.
'Yeah, I understand. I took a walk around our neighbourhood this morning before we set out.' he said. 'My parents refused to go. To the blast shelters, I mean. Pop said "If this colony's going down I'm going with it". Can't really blame him though. He's lived here his entire life.'
Before following, Tilly ran to the other side of the tower and looked out at the valley's second half. She hoped that the view of the luscious green valleys would stay permanently in her memories. As he saw her looking out at these vast fields, he smiled.
'Don't worry, it's still as green as ever.' he said. Looking at it now, it still resembled that place she played at when she was young. Her home was not far off either, located beyond a leisure lake some walk before the park gates. And just to the left of this nostalgic sight were the mirrors that reflected sunlight inside the colony.
Because the mirrors were artificially controlled, the sun was always at optimal brightness. It was never too hot or cold, and the view was consistently beautiful, especially during the summer time. However, something stood out that was not in line with her memories. Something moved passed the mirrors and was heading for the windows that connected the two valleys and protected the colony from the vacuum of space. It was a green streak, almost like a shooting star.
'Did they launch an attack?' said the man, alarmed. Tilly's eyes followed the object, transfixed by its glowing green aura. It reached the colony's windows and crashed through one of the panes.
'Let's go!' shouted the man. Tilly ran for the exit but kept her eyes on the green object descending closer to the ground. Before the doors closed, she saw it land at the valley's end, somewhere in the park distinct a few miles away. In the elevator a space suit was thrust to her chest by the man.
'The attack ship gave us ten hours to stand down. The only reason they would open fire before then is if our colony attacked first. We're officially at war. I think my legs are shaking!' he said. Tilly calmly leaned against the wall and held the thin, portable space suit.
'Calm yourself, Erik. That wasn't a weapon. ' said Tilly. 'It was extremely bright in my vision, meaning it was entirely mana.'
'I know your perception of this stuff is better than mine but you're forgetting that green mana doesn't exist.'
'True, but it is often associated with a certain legend.' Erik at first thought she was joking but the sincere enthusiasm in her voice suggested otherwise.
'You're not thinking-?' he asked. She nodded her head. Once the elevator doors opened Tilly ran for the transport vehicle across the two-lane road. There were no other cars in sight because of the evacuation, giving the surroundings a ghost town vibe that unsettled Tilly. She briskly jumped into the passenger seat and impatiently waited for Erik.
'Take us to the crash site. Hurry!' she shouted out the window. Erik made his way across the roads at a much slower speed due to his heavier build. That, and he was not nearly as agile as Tilly, who skimmed across the distance with very little effort. He rested with his arm slumped onto the roof of the car.
'What about that smashed window pane?' he asked.
'It'll take a long time before a hole that size makes any difference. C'mon, if there's a chance it's a person we can't just leave them there!' Erik rolled his eyes before ducking into the driver's seat and taking off in the direction of the smoke. He grabbed a Kendo stick in the backseat and placed it in Tilly's hands. She looked at him confused.
'Just in case.' he muttered.
A rising steam of green energy rose from the crater in the park distinct. Inside was the body of a man lay face first on the ground with his arms and legs in limp positions. Smoke rose from the intense heat emanating from his entire body. Despite this damage his flesh was completely unscathed. His body moved slightly.
'That hurt.' he groaned from the back of his throat. The man rubbed his head and tried to balance himself on his unstable legs. It did not work. He plummeted back to the ground and let out another loud groan. His arms trembled as he struggled to keep himself off the floor. They were about ready to buckle when the man's back was touched by cold hands. He looked over and saw the blurry face of a woman with long, black hair. He shot her a pained smile.
'Hello.' Her delicate voice whispered as she returned the smile. Tilly looked to the puncture in the colony and back to the man with questioning eyes.
'Sorry about that.' he said before stumbling to his feet. Tilly held onto his shoulders and made sure he didn't fall again.
'Are you Zenith, the shooting star?' she asked.
'But you have green energy, just like the legend. And you can fly.'
'Well, in this particular case I fell. But, yeah, I can do that.'
'You changed your mind pretty quickly.' said Erik with his arms crossed.
'Your colony should be safe for now.' he responded. 'I disabled the Goliath's main weapons.'
'The Goliath? That's the Unison ship, isn't it?' said Erik
'Are you telling us you crippled their battleship?' asked Tilly.
'They didn't throw me outta it for nothing, that's for sure.' The man named Zenith grinned. As Tilly let go of his shoulders he felt his balance regain and his blurry eyesight slowly become clearer. He turned around and looked at the two people he was addressing.
The man behind Tilly looked at him with suspicious eyes. Tilly herself seemed to be far more concerned for his welfare and kept a constant, sincere smile on her face. Zenith found himself captivated by her bright features and continued to stare for a little while longer. He was slightly curious of her eyes though , and why they had yet to look at him. He kept expecting her to open them at any second but she never did. A moment later he looked away, slightly embarrassed. He tried to act unfazed but it was too late. His sudden start had already been noticed by Erik.
'What's the matter?' he asked. He nervously scratched the back of his head and tried to push out the words.
'Are you... blind?'
'Oh,' Tilly looked mildly shocked before her face returned to a smile again. 'That's right. I suppose we should introduce ourselves. My name is Tilly. I am a swordmaster at the local high school and this is my assistant and friend, Erik. I know, I know. A blind swordswoman is quite strange.'
'That's... pretty cool.' responded Zenith. Behind Tilly and Erik, just over the hills of the park, were incoming black masses of armour driving in their direction. They came to a stop some distance away and opened the hatches on their rear. People in black, armoured space suits jumped forth from the transport vehicles and surrounded the area with swift mobilization. Each of them was equipped with a sheaved katana blade around their waist. Tilly seemed to be aware of their movements, to Zenith's surprise.
'Who are those people, Erik? I'm sensing they're all around level three or four in mana pressure.'
'The Colonial Guard by the looks of it.'
'You can sense how powerful someone is with that much precision?' asked Zenith.
'How powerful am I right now?'
'Right now? Less than level one.'
'Is that bad? I've never heard of your levelling system before.'
'It's pretty bad. Most of my fifteen year olds are stronger than that.'
'Hey, give me a break. I was just thrown through a space colony. I'm lucky to be alive.'
'Someone's coming!' said Erik. The helmet wearing soldiers stood to two parallel sides as a tall man with a slightly bulkier suit approached them. He headed straight for Zenith, completely ignoring the other two, and looked down on him with severe, cold eyes. His hair was grey and his face was harshly textured. The various scares on his face hinted at a long career on the battlefield.
'You must be the one they call "shooting star"?' spoke the man in a hoarse voice.
'Yep, that's me.' Zenith tightly clasped the weapon behind his left shoulder and arched his back forward. Both Tilly and the man recognized this as a fighting stance. He did nothing to prepare himself, however. His hand didn't even draw close to his sword.
'My name is Commander Rosland of the Colonial Guard here at Construct-D, also known as Patria. You've made quite a name for yourself lately around the colonies. It's hard to separate the facts from the legends and rumours. At any rate, I'm going to have to take you in for the damage you've inflicted on this colony.'
'Wait!' shouted Tilly, jumping in-between Zenith and the commander. 'He didn't intentionally crash through the colony.'
'Stop it, Tilly.' said Erik. 'All we know is what he's told us. He could be working with Chronicle's fleet for all we know.'
'He's right, school teach.' said Zenith with his eyes firmly locked with the commander's. 'You're not involved with any of this so leave it to me.'
'Do you not intend to be taken peacefully, shooting star?'
'Not if I can help it.' Zenith pulled the weapon from his back and pointed it at commander Rosland. The surrounding troops also drew their weapons until the commander raised his hand. What he held was not a blade as expected, but a two-handed staff. It had a simple pole design and a dark bluish, almost wooden texture.
'Odd choice of weapon, boy.' said the commander, gripping the sword around his waist. He leaned inward and prepared his first blow carefully. It would be a diagonal slash across his torso starting with the left thigh and ending with the right shoulder. On a man untrained in both mana and sword skills, it would be a one hit battle, ending with the defender in two separate, very messy pieces. This was not the case. A person with a sufficient amount of mana, such as Zenith, would be able to block it with an invisible force.
Everyone has their limits, however, and after a few of these bone-slicing attacks the opponent's mana should be depleted, leaving them defenceless and offenseless. Commander Rosland eased his stance and observed Zenith with a fascinated glare.
'You don't remember me, do you?' Zenith raised his eyebrows.
'Should I?' A glimpse of anger entered the commander's bitter eyes and vanished just as soon as it appeared. Zenith didn't know what to make of it, but it definitely wasn't neutral.
'No. It doesn't matter. May I ask you a question, shooting star?'
'Go ahead. Ask away.'
'Whose side are you on?'
'Would the right answer let me walk away?'
'Not a chance. I'm just curious, that's all.'
'Well,' Zenith looked up in thought. 'I'll tell you after our battle, okay?' He sniggered with a crooked smile. The sides of the commander's mouth perked upwards and formed a less sincere smile.
'Very well.' he responded. Zenith's right leg was placed far out in front while his left foot was heeled upwards behind. He pointed the tip of his staff forward. Tilly watched with concern as the two continued to stare into each other's eyes, daring the other to make the first move.
The stalemate was ended when Commander Rosland drew his sword and slashed at Zenith's midsection, as originally planned. The blade's speed broke the sound barrier as it blasted out the sheath and crashed in the middle of Zenith's staff. It landed between his hands with an explosion of sparks. Rosland pulled back and prepared a different plan of attack. Zenith simply strafed to his left and awaited the second blow.
'That was a good block.' said Tilly with her hand hovering in front of her mouth. 'Go Zenith! Land a counter attack!' she cheered. Erik turned to her with disapproving eyes. Rosland jumped a few feet off the ground and slashed downwards. Again, it landed in the dead center of his staff. This time the force brought Zenith to his knees and cracked the ground below. Rosland continued to push down on his enemy with increasing force. Without the strength to push back, Zenith decided to use Rosland's forward momentum to his favour. He fell onto his back and placed his foot on Rosland's chest before flipping him forward. The commander flew passed Zenith and landed on his back.
The two recovered from their falls and repeated their previous stances. Zenith began to spin his staff around in a circle above his head with gaining speed. He then shifted its position to another part of his body, making it difficult for the commander's eyes to follow. The spinning staff acted as unpredictable defence that could also turn into a strike within the blink of an eye. Rosland took the chance anyway and charged his sword horizontally at Zenith's waist. As he saw it coming from the right, he leapt into the air and landed on the edge of the commander's blade. Zenith pushed himself forward and dropped right behind Rosland, back to back.
The commander was, understandably, taken aback by the manoeuvre. He looked in one direction, and Zenith looked in another.
'You're too slow, Commander. In this situation, where speed is everything, I have the advantage.'
The two immediately turned themselves around. Rosland was met with a hard object to the side of his face. The force of the blow knocked him off his feet, to the ground. He was not fast enough, as predicted.
'You're relying way too much on your raw power.' said Zenith, standing above the commander. 'A real swordsmen relies on his technique first, and his power second. Just so you know, I'm not trying to sound like some arrogant sword fighter by telling you this. I'm telling you so you can become better and protect this colony when the time comes. So, no hard feelings?'
Commander Rosland wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his fist.
'Also, you put so much mana behind your sword that you left your body undefended. It's a mistake that can get you killed. Now, I have a job to finish.' Zenith turned away from the commander and headed in the other direction while giving him a lazy hand wave goodbye.
'Hold it!' he shouted. Rosland raised his hand and signalled to his men. Within a couple seconds Zenith was surrounded by the armed soldiers that, until now, simply observed.
'Oh, I forgot about these guys.' Zenith returned the staff behind his back and put up his hands. Rosland staggered over to him, clearly weak from their skirmish.
'So you surrender peacefully now?' he asked with a sly look.
'I'm a little tired, so find me a comfortable cell.'
'Sorry. That's not going to happen.' Before Zenith could process the meaning of his words he felt a painful sensation shoot through his entire body, starting at his gut. He looked down to see the commander's blade shoved deeply into his torso. Rosland grabbed his chin and forced his weak stare to look deep into the intensity of his own.
'Where's your confidence now?' He threw his body to the grass and stood above him with a smiling grimace. The sword had impaled Zenith absolutely with the latter end of the blade blood red and protruding from his back. He lay on his side and did nothing as his blood began soaking the ground around him.
He looked to Tilly, who was horrified by the sight and had collapsed onto her knees. This was not where he needed to look. He forced his head to turn in spite of the pain and looked into the eyes of the joyous commander.
'Why?' he murmured. Commander Rosland stopped his celebration and kneeled down to his foe.
'You ask me "why"? That's a good question, but I'm not going to answer it. I'd find it more satisfying if you spent your last moments wondering 'what did I do to wrong this man?'.' Zenith watched him in silence. Rosland got back to his feet and walked away. He skimmed his eyes across his men, some of whom looked at him disturbed and confused.
'He tried to resist and I was forced to kill him.' The men nodded. Tilly ran over to the badly wounded Zenith and tried to pick him up. The life in his eyes had started to dim. Rosland turned to her and furrowed his brow.
'Also, these two civilians were an accessory to his escape and resisted when asked to peacefully surrender their weapons.'
Zenith's eyes opened.
'No!' he cried as he forced himself back onto his feet.
'Please, stop moving!' said Tilly, holding him by the chest.
'Rosland!' Droplets of blood spewed from the back of Zenith's mouth as he spoke. With Tilly's support he was able to use what little strength he had left to stand and face Rosland.
'You asked me whose side I'm on?' The question perked Rosland's interest.
'Well,' he smiled. 'Not yours.' His consciousness faded. Zenith's eyes shut and he fell down into the pool of blood. Erik dropped to his knees with his jaw hanging. His arms and legs began to shiver as he tried to speak.
'What? You- you, can't do that!' Tilly grabbed onto Zenith's arm and threw it around her shoulder.
'Get up, Erik!' she shouted.
'Are you crazy, Tilly? We can't resist arrest!' The troops unsheathed their swords and encircled the two.
'They're not going to arrest us, idiot!' Tilly picked up her kendo stick from the ground and pointed it at anyone who stepped forward.
'Kill the armed one first!' shouted the commander, noticing the rifle slung around Erik's shoulder. Erik pressed his hands against the ground and stared hopelessly at the grass. As he saw a glistening sword at the edge of his peripheral vision, he tightly closed his eyes and held his head.
'Get up, coward.' he thought to himself. Unfortunately, it was a quiet and uncertain voice that did not hold much weight. Erik instead waited for the inevitable to happen. Strangely, it never came, so he opened one eye. Tilly's kendo stick had blocked the strike inches away from his face. The area had also been covered in a thick, blue mist that made everything over a foot away appear opaque.
She pushed the solider back and hit him in the face with the blunt point of the kendo stick. The point glowed with a surface of blue energy that knocked the solider off his feet. Tilly dropped the stick and grabbed onto Erik's hand.
'Follow my lead.' With an unconscious Zenith around her shoulder and a tight grip on Erik, Tilly navigated through the blinding blue cloud, weaving in-between the soldiers as she did.
'I can't see a damn thing!'
'Where'd they go!?'
When they reached outside the cloud the three escaped into the village at the end of the park.
'Find them and kill them.' ordered Rosland.