Chapter 1

It was in the year of 2976, and it was quiet out in the infinite void of space, just outside the boundaries of the Fringe. The stillness was unsettling as the stars shined with brilliant blues, and dazzling yellow-whites in their everlasting glow. A lone United Legion destroyer exited riftspace after a prolonged campaign in the Outer Colonies, crippled and in distress.

The Battle of Zephyr left the Blue Empire shattered and desperate, crawling and evacuating through the glassed dirt of an already losing war. A once thriving and prosperous civilization of over ten thousand worlds strong, left glassed and lifeless. Only a few hundred to a couple thousand worlds of Humanity's grand domain remained, yet there was no hope to no longer be had. Zephyr was the last major strategic, deep-listening outpost that allowed for a ranged radius of four thousand light-years to detect the Coalition's fleet patterns. However, one such armada led by the Coalition Warlord, Qassi'ih Hajj-as'rah, discovered its location, paving the way for one of the largest invasions the Blue Empire ever encountered. The only remaining hope left in this Requiem War for Humanity, or their plethora of client alien species, was through the uncovering of the hyper-advanced technological marvels of a long-dead ancient species known as the Composers, first discovered during the early 24th century. Even then, it was widely accepted that it never would be enough.

The destroyer cruised ahead towards a lone world from the edge of the entered solar system, a great shimmering marble within a dense star cluster, in an attempt to warn the rest of the Blue Empire that they lost. However, this grotesque, yet beautiful place's calm atmosphere was to be shattered as the sound of a screeching warning system brought alarm as it resounded through the boundless void by nearby rebel forces.

"Red alert, red alert! Energy shielding systems offline, with hostile enemy contact! Hull breaches in deck levels four-hundred through five-hundred twenty-three! Any remaining Atlas and Legionnaires report to-", the destroyer's AI urgently shouted into the ship's intercom, but was deafened out due to another chaotic explosion and the haunting screams of the crew. The explosion revealed the eerie vacuum of space, and due to the sudden change in pressure, ejected out thousands of terrified crew members and soldiers within an instant.

The destroyer's captain frantically dashed to the holographic communications panel in the command bridge, while a repetitive alarm blared. "This is Captain Alexander Dubois of the ULBE destroyer, The Fallen Saint to the Quicksilver Defense Fleet. We need immediate assistance, from any nearby fleets! We have vital intel from Zephyr... Upon exiting riftspace, we have been targeted by unknown assailants. Please respond."

As Captain Dubois stood there, sweat poured down his face. His skin transitioned into a ghastly white, and his crew took notice he wasn't feeling right. He took his hand and scratched his dirty-blonde beard, and with a sigh of relief on his part, he thought the Saint was in the clear. He patted his sweat-soaked hands onto his ultramarine and grey armored uniform, glanced at the badges on his left breast, and thought back to all his years of active service for the Blue Empire.

He had served as the captain of The Fallen Saint with a service record of twenty five years. His intellect and determinedly ferocious tactics allowed him to push back the Coalition armadas on multiple fronts; such as during the Battles of the Suspended Gap, Operation: BRILLIANT WINTER, Giant's Grin, and Yttipre. However, the last few years had seen the glassing of major manufacturing facilities on key defense worlds, causing the Blue Empire and in-turn its United Legion to be ill-equipped for the darker times ahead. He had rushed to the aid of Zephyr with the hopes of delaying such an inevitable defeat, just to buy more time, but came back witnessing the continued atrocities of Humanitys' greatest adversary.

A volley of explosions cascaded against the destroyer's hull, like erratic shutter blinds against a decrepit house in a thunderstorm. The crew sank lower in their seats while others crouched down, trying to protect the back of their necks.

"Captain?" The Luminere asked regretfully, while her soft pink holographic-aura flickered. The head of her avatar lowered, with slumped shoulders as if releasing a sigh.

"...Yes, Dollface?" He replied hesitantly, as he raised a concerned eyebrow. His hands fidgeted and twitched as he paced along the upper platform of the command bridge. More sweat slid down his forehead, passing his frantic blue eyes. He took the back of his left hand, and tried to activate a cybernetic implant display screen reaching for any li-fi signals.

"...I'm afraid to tell you that communications are inaccessible. As well as navigation, radar, weapons and many more. With the continued damage we're all ready sustaining… engines will soon be gone within around twenty minutes. I-I I think this is it. It was an honor serving with all of you." The regret in Dollface's voice was heavier than her kabuki mask that shrouded her horrified face.

Dollface had acted as the Saint's shipboard AI as of January 13th, 2976. Her predecessor had acted as a mentor to her on board the destroyer before his sudden death. Spokesman was lost with all hands when The Fallen Saint was forced to traverse through the gravity well of a pulsar to escape a Coalition war party in the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way, a desperate act that would not be repeated. Ebonhart was another of such, but too was recently damaged in the days prior of the championed destroyer's current assault within the Oredoch System. The Coalition had hacked his mainframe, causing him to lash out against his own crew as his mind destabilized and fragmented beyond repair. The lasting effects of this caused the Saint to lose most of its shielding systems, leaving the disparate vessel to the engagement that just commenced.

Bright orange sparks flew out of nearby crushed and shattered control panels, and right into a few of the horrified crew's faces. In the corner, a couple men were desperately struggling to revive a fallen fellow officer, shaking and pressing lips to a corpse.

"DAMN IT!" The captain bitterly yelled while he pounded his tense fists on the silvery metallic panel in front of him. While he did this, another ominous explosion rang from the decks below. Electrical panels made of titanium-carbonate collapsed onto the bridge floor, and one smashed onto the head of one of the bridge crew operators, crushing her skull instantly and a flurry of blood sprayed out onto the floor. The others panicked while the captain called for utter silence. He had too much adrenaline in him to mourn for her right now, even to quick objections. Yet they removed the panels off the corpse, while fresh blood stained their uniforms.

Captain Dubois raised his head up to look across toward Dollface with disappointment, as her projection flickered above the holotable in the middle of the bridge. In response to the intense stress upon him, he snapped, "What systems are online? And did the Coalition rip us out of riftspace or something? I can't afford to have them chasing us down like broken dogs! There is too much at stake!" He leaned over the panel in front of him, and its projections popped and warped in front of his face, casting distressing shadows upon his gloomily vacant gaze.

More resounding explosions followed after his question. The blue lighting emanating out of the interior walls flickered and flashed with each iteration of violent shuddering. Captain Dubois' bridge crew equipped and readied their energy pistols and rifles, aiming their floating metallic sights at the silver and blue blast doors, the entrance of the command bridge. The metallic hull of the Saint screamed and creaked from the continuous stress choked into it, and great explosions ripped the destroyer's remaining shields apart.

Captain Dubois was born to the noble and respected House Fleurgras of France, which resided within the great city of Armstrong: the capital of Lua. Profound benefactors had funded the original settling of Lua in the early 2080's, and due to it being so close to Earth, the moon provided an ease of burden off the planet. In doing so it became an out-of-Earth hub for early interplanetary colonization efforts, such as the New Beginnings Initiative. The House had a lengthy legacy of interplanetary pioneers and explorers, living in the orbital stations above, or within the vault cities of the pre-terraformed Venus, Mercury, and Mars. A legacy that would inspire him to join the defense of the Blue Empire. A legacy that would lead to his demise.

Heavy footfalls from the other side threateningly echoed in everyone's minds, and most of the crew frantically trembled out of fear. But they were of the United Legion, the respectively valiant and honorable military backbone of the Blue Empire; they would rather die with honor in the face of opposition and uncertainty, than flee as cowards.

Dollface quickly scanned through the destroyer's schematics and mainframes, via holographic projections displayed in front of her, and glanced up at the captain. With a devoted response, she replied, "Life-support, medical bays, escape pods, storage and weapons facilities...and still the engines, barely… but sensors seem to be offline too. However, I don't believe they are Coalition forces, sir."

"How can you tell? How do you know?" One of the bridge crew shouted from the front of the command bridge. "They could've tailed after us from Zephyr."

"We'd already be dead if it was them." Another officer answered.

With a cautious, yet urgent response, Captain Dubois commanded, "Get ahold of any of the surviving fireteams on board, anyway you can. You, like all other Luminere, are viable to the continued existence of the United Legion, and the Blue Empire itself. If the Coalition, or anyone else for that matter, get their hands on you, then we'll lose everything we've taken centuries to build and achieve. But, you'll find a way, you always have. C'est la vie des guerriers." His deep yet grisly voice reassured her, even in these dire moments, and she smiled behind her mask.

The Fallen Saint went into a low-power setting, and all the lights went out. The only lighting in the bridge came from the cerulean glow of the energy weapons, and Dollface's pink projection. More battalions were heard from the other side of the bridge doors, with obscure screams from other parts of their ship, and more energy fire.

The captain unsheathed his energy pistol from the holster on his right hip, and proceeded to reload it. All of them listened and waited. The unknown battalions stormed against the door, and started to hack into the door control mainframe. Others aggressively bashed or fired into the door, and slowly succeeded with each round, slowly melting it down. The terror on the faces of his crew in the command bridge were all but gone now, they were ready to accept their deaths, like a small child who craved a warm embrace.

"Activate all occupied escape pods, jettison them away from the oncoming ships." Captain Dubois unsheathed his pistol from his thigh holster. "Launch a distress beacon. Hopefully Quicksilver can scavenge for survivors."

"On it sir," Dollface rummaged through an assortment of more flickering projections displayed as side tabs, then flicked another over the others, expanding it.

Captain Dubois motioned for everyone to avert their attention towards him before shouting, "All of you, you served me and the United Legion proud! Every single one of you have devoted your temporary yet vital lives to a cause greater than all of ourselves. Upon the return from the most dangerous mission we've embarked on in the last few months, we die at the hands by the very species, the very people, we swore to protect. They know not of the real threat we've been facing for thirty four years. They truly don't understand as they haven't lost world after world after world to the Coalition. We stormed through hell above that doomed world, like the thousands that preceded it. We fought for every inch of land to reclaim Zephyr from the Coalition horror. We exhausted the Warlord of his resources, leaving him crawling for scraps like us." Dubois straightened his posture as more rounds were bombarded against the blast doors behind him. "We will die today, it's too late to escape that. But because of us, we will win the war! E Pluribus Unum!"

"Hooyah!" The remaining crew shouted above the blaring alarms. All of them were ready to follow their captain into battle one last time.

"It was an honour sir!" A louder voice piped up from the crowd. Their sleek and unadorned body armor reflected the lights of the alarms of the bridge onto their dark skin.

After several minutes, the doors finally were blasted open with an explosion of green light, and twisted metal. The lights of green energy poured in from the adjacent side, illuminating through the haze of smoke into the bridge. Captain Dubois took one last quick glance back at Dollface and smiled, "Go now... Find a fireteam. Transfer the information directly to the Imperial Admiral above Elysium. À la prochaine vie, mon ami..." He proceeded to kiss his knuckles, extending them towards Dollface, then placed his fist back against his chest.

She reciprocated the same action back at him before flashing away, leaving the holotable, and Dubois' mind vacant with uncertainty. Time seemed to slow down for Captain Dubois, while he turned back around, raising his pistol at the oncoming assailants. He rallied for the rest of his bridge crew to line up behind him, and they rushed up towards him, sighting their rifles at the door. Green laser sights soon pierced through the blast door and whipped onto his chest pauldron. With his last breath he shouted, "FIRE—!"

The last thing that remained of Captain Alexander Dubois, last commander of The Fallen Saint, was his severed and charred face on the shattered floor before the rest of his crew were immediately slaughtered.

More alarms blared through the medical bays, but this time there was a dim red light that shimmered through the haze of what was left of the atmosphere inside the ship. Remaining Legionnaires and Atlas stormed passed corridors, searching for survivors, while they fought off against the enemy that popped up around every corner. Another Luminere floated around with haste, in his own luminere shell, through exploding corridors and horrendous gunfire.

This Luminere, like all others, was of crafted-birth within the Luminere Foundry on Mars. A reservoir of crafted consciousness, Humanity was able to mass produce tooled, yet sentient, artificial intelligences to aid the Blue Empire with its own defense and the discovery and decoding of advanced technologies across the Milky Way.

His luminere shell was of an adorned silver-colored metallic sphere, and had a central photoreceptive iris with the Luminere's chosen illumination of light blue emanating out of the lens. It had four protrusions like a flower blooming off the front, and surrounding the entirety of the shell were multiple orbiting metallic budded sensors, that would rotate around faster with the AI's increased speed. Luminere shells were used to grant greater accessibility and interaction with the Luminere's environment, as to not keep them confined within a starship's internal systems or the power armor of an Atlas.

He zoomed into the medical bay, searching for his commander, and scanned the dimly lit room to almost no avail. He floated in searching further, and found the soldier recovering on an energy-bed in the back. The soldier seemed to be the only one alive amongst the rest of several bodies in there. Life support and heart monitors glowed and beeped in the room. Cupboards were left hanging half open, with medicine bottles lying scattered across the bottom, and on the floor. Used surgical tools were left on the carts or on the floor, reflecting off the light of the red emergency lights. Holographic x-rays of the deceased patients barely clung onto the walls, tapered and dropped. Above the bodies and the survivor rested a pair of advanced metallic surgical arms, powered down and lifeless.

"Akinyemi!" Yelled the AI from his luminere shell. His voice was reminiscent of a British aristocrat, overlayed with a soft, tinny resonance. Whenever he spoke, his iris emanated a soft, synchronized pulse. "Wake the bloody hell up! We're under attack!"

The dark Human darted up from his bed with his injured strength, still wrapped in gauze, and realized his combat skin wasn't readily accessible. The Atlas stood at a towering height of six feet, ten inches, and had incredible strength and endurance. His skin was of a dark brown and he had strong brown eyes, a firm jaw, stern brow-line, shaved head and a small black beard. His face was also adorned with small white tribal tattoos that his people traditionally wore on his birthworld of Yemoja.

He searched the room for any sedatives, as Coalition-based energy weapons were hard to recover from, so he could at least kill the pain for now. If he was lucky, temporary-affecting metabolic steroids could be of use. Akinyemi frantically limped his way across the other end of the room to search for aid, scrambled through the bottles cautiously, finding some acyclovir, hydralazine, and neostigmine. He didn't care for them right now, and clambered his way back due to gunfire and more screams. He may be injured, he thought, but he won't flee from a fight.

The other surviving member of his fireteam rushed in from one of the other nearby medical rooms, frantically searching for him, "Lieutenant Commander, thank goodness you're alive! We're under attack!"

The Atlas was of Indian-descent, and he stood at a height of six feet, five inches. He had a lean build, light brown skin, and his hands were aggressively shaking. He had a small and straight nose, frightened brown eyes, and a cleanly shaven face. He had a shaved head, round ears, and several cybernetics implanted into the base of his skull for greater tactical advantage. On his body, he wore a black form fitting combat sleeve that covered everything up to the top his neck.

"How did they already find us so soon..?" Akinyemi started, as he reached up towards the surgical arms above his head. Whenever he spoke he had a deep, yet smooth voice with a strong Kenyan accent.

He worked his fingers into the arm, and ripped one of the surgical arm's plasma cutters from its sockets and circuits. His eyes were wide with fright, but he remained in control of himself as his adrenaline never subsided.

"It's not the Coalition, sir. Rebel forces. Many, many many of them. There's a large fleet out there, and they've sent waves of boarding parties. We gotta go!" The man hurriedly crouched low to the ground, and shuffled along the dark flooring to distance himself from the door.

Wispwaker hovered around them, and too faced the door. "Who's left, Anwar?"

"No one. Not even the Rigs are viable for defending us. Before I found you, I just received word that Captain Dubois and the bridge crew are all dead..." Anwar's posture shrank as he reached for a small knife. "We're on our own, I'm sorry man..."

"How long has it been since then?" Akinyemi's heart sank deeper than his feet would let him.

"Ten minutes. I ran over as quickly and quietly as I could. It's horrifying out there."

Heavy barrages of plasma energy fire could be heard from the medical room, escalating their dread with the tick of each second. Resounding echoes of boots pounded in Akinyemi's mind, and he activated the cutter, waiting. He fought against many rebel factions in his time, but he never enjoyed it. He knew he needed to, however, to save the last two people he cared about.

Akinyemi grew too restless to remain in his current position, and quietly hobbled forward despite the searing pain in his body.

"What are you doing?" Wispwaker asked, zooming low to the ground while inching closer to the Atlas.

"We can't linger here forever, piga!" Akinyemi crawled on his hands and toes, and shuffled towards the door. He pressed his immense frame against the solid blast door, and peeked through a small window slit.

Once he pressed a squinted haze against the glass, he could see several armored soldiers dart through the tight corridors against horrified Legionnaires and technicians. The soldiers' armors were of an upgraded, yet modified variant of the former colonial spacesuits commonly worn by old United Legion marines back in the 22nd to 23rd centuries, which by accounts resembled old spacesuits employed by the astronauts and cosmonauts of Earth before the turn of the 22nd century. They had grey shoulder pauldrons, bulky and flat, with a chest pauldron, rounded grey helmets and black visors. They had grey knee guards and heavy, stocky boots. Atop the armor were black bandoliers, grenade and detonator charge pouches, and weapons holsters. Along their left forearms were outdated Artemis devices, and each of them emanated a bright green glow. On their left shoulders were a sigil of a collection of small stars surrounded by a ring, with the official title of their faction inscribed below it.

"Who are they?" Anwar peeked up above one of the still beds, revealing only his eyes and the bridge of his nose to Akinyemi and the Luminere.

"Allied Frontier Systems." Wispwaker revealed, rotating to face the other Atlas.

"Thanks." Anwar presented Wispwaker a thumbs-up, while still crouched behind the table.

"Why are they out here?...Where is here?" Akinyemi dropped his head down, clutching his side.

"We're making our way towards Quicksilver. That's what I last saw before the scanners went dark. They probably were trying to hit the planet when we showed up, thinking we were reinforcements." Anwar released a sigh of frustration. "If only we could glass them...Why can't we again?"

"The Faraday Genocide of Twenty-nine fifty three. General Asah Khan of Fleet Jubilation ordered a planet wide bombardment of Faraday, and the slaughter of the entire populace due to incessant rebel attacks in nearby systems. Some were suspect to even be Coalition sympathizers." Wispwaker replied without hesitation.

"...The fuck?" Anwar darted back up. "That ain't right man."

"In response, the Imperial Senate outlawed the use of all United Legion energy glassing projectors... Despite the ongoing war." Wispwaker's voice progressed dryer as he contorted his protrusions around his iris. "Zephyr was just an exception to protocol."

Anwar sank further down while clasping both sides of his temples with his sweaty hands. "So we're just gonna die now? Even after losing everyone on Zephyr?"

"Probably."

"...Fuck it…" Anwar hurriedly clambered his way towards the door to join the other two. "...let's do this for them."

Akinyemi nodded at his friend, and hesitantly turned the safety lock on the door. The pressure seal along the rim of the plating gasped as the metallic door quietly swung open.

Before they could react, their ears were immediately pounded with more screams, gunfire, and flaming explosions through the dimly lit corridors. Akinyemi immediately dropped to the ground in a panic, and tried to maintain steady breathing despite being surrounded by the blaring red lights and loud sirens of The Fallen Saint's alarms.

Anwar rushed over towards Akinyemi, lobbing a knife through the air and into a AFS militiamen who spotted them down the burning hall. The knife penetrated through the soldier's jugular, spraying gurgled blood into the air. He collapsed beside Akinyemi, and Anwar grabbed the dropped plasma rifle.

"Are you good?" The jittery Atlas asked, helping Akinyemi to his feet.

"No..." Akinyemi's face was written with horror. He clutched his burning side as he let Anwar carry him away from the burning heap of a rebel. His mind drew empty thoughts and his body shuddered.

"Oh shit...shit, shit. We gotta get you your armor." Anwar was trying to come up with an idea, as his mind raced. After a minute, he interlocked their arms together, and hobbled Akinyemi out of there. Wispwaker followed from behind, zooming around burning plumes of plasma and steam vents.

As they darted around several bends, more bright flashes of green reflected off their faces. Akinyemi watched as a small unit of AFS militia targeted an unarmed group of officers and janitorial staff. The AFS militia forces overturned limp bodies and crushed pylons to gain access to the terrified crew.

"No no no! Don't shoot! Don't shoot! Please!" One of the officers screamed, as a bright green bolt of irritated plasma penetrated through her skull.

"Shut the fuck up! Now, which one of you brainwashed assholes is next?" The voice of the miliamen was muffled by the sealed helmet, but contained an overabundance of malice.

The rage pounded within Akinyemi's mind and chest. To kill helpless officers in cold blood? He wanted to vomit, however his adrenaline prevented him from doing so.

Akinyemi gritted his teeth, and aimed the two beams of searing condensed plasma at the AFS militiamen. Their arms were instantly launched into a couple dark pillars a few feet away in a bright flash of golden light, before firing again into their chests, pulverizing them.

Anwar unloaded the auto rifle into the remaining soldier's helmet, causing them to whip back before landing on their oxygen packs, dead. He quickly placed Akinyemi onto the ground, and rummaged through the militiamen for any intel or ammo.

"I recommend you should hurry, Anwar. The structural integrity of the Saint is failing." Wispwaker's shell recompressed together after performing long-range scans.

"Don't you think I'm trying!?" Anwar snapped in distressed frustration, while flaring his teeth and nostrils at the Luminere. He was on his knees, surrounded by charred bodies and flame-laden walls. "We're the only ones left. There's not much I can do in this large, goddamn ship, falling apart around us."

They immediately heard a blood-curdling crash emanating through the walls from a distant room, and the three of them fell silent. Akinyemi was the first of them to stir upon the yelling, while wincing from the gunfire. "What's that? More survivors?"

"That sounded like it came from the nearby armory." Anwar darted up, and helped his wounded friend to his feet.

They hobbled along down the corridor and overheard some militia about to enter through an open access port. It was opened in such a way that several bodies were smashed into it, crashing into the armory itself. A couple more AFS militiamen appeared from the shadows adjacent to the two exhausted Atlas. The militia were crouched, rifles raised, inching their way towards the door.

The first one muttered through his commlink, "...No matter how much I hate the "Bir'vo", you gotta admire their strength and stubbornness."

"So they're strong-strong? I never saw one in person."

"Yes. As you can see." The first militiamen stopped at the doorway and pointed to the fresh corpses with an open palm, while ascending to their feet. "Poor fools, they deserve so much more than to die by a chirper…However, if you do want to beat them, the thing to look out for is their eyes."

"Why?"

"Every Bir'vo brain interprets direct eye contact as aggression. Thought to be a primal, leftover instinct to cope with their harsh homeworld. They are a proud warrior people, and they're fucking tall! They will kill you if you slip up."

The second one stepped farther back, and lowered his rifle. "After you."

Before either of them could respond again, Anwar poked out of the corner, and raised his assault rifle at them. "Aye what's up benchods." He then released two sizzling green bolts into their skulls, causing their corpses to slump against the passageway as plasma steam churned out of their melted visors. "I didn't know Red survived. I thought he died in the initial onslaught."

"Who?" Akinyemi was too disoriented to keep up with his friend, but he slowly clambered back to his feet without trying to sear his hands in nearby flames. He didn't speak aloud his thoughts, but he was always amused by Anwar's constant theatrics and humor.

They first met when they were assigned in a nine-person Atlas unit known as Fireteam Longsword. Longsword had a combat record of two hundred forty operations and campaigns. They received much renown throughout the Blue Empire as a result, becoming one of many fireteams as propagated heroes to look up to in the evergloom of gradual extinction. The rest of the fireteam had perished on Zephyr just a week prior, leaving Akinyemi with nothing but horror and despair.

"That's right, you never got to meet him, you've been out the whole time man. He's 'Red', short for Redshifter. That's his rank. No one knows his real name. He's a mercenary from the Federation." Anwar ducked as more heavy barrages were sent their way. "He killed a Legionnaire for boldly staring and cursing at him, shortly after we left Zephyr."

"How did he get aboard?"

"He came in through one of the hangars. Was with a few platoons of Legionnaires before we fled the system."

Before Akinyemi could respond, The Fallen Saint shuddered under the weight of a torpedo launching at the port side of the destroyer, preventing the shields from regenerating. Akinyemi tripped over the pile of fresh corpses, and fell into the armory.

Looming above him by nine feet, was what the Blue Imperial Department of Xenobiology classified as a xeno avian-raptor sapient. The Redshifter's frame was that of a stocky build encompassing his neck, torso, and legs, yet he had slender arms covered in a black exosuit weave with a dark polychromatic blue running down the forearm, and wrapping around the middle two fingers of his hands. His hands were structured in that of a tetradactyl anatomy, where he had two fingers in the middle, and two opposable thumbs on opposite sides. The mercenary had a long face with a narrow, charcoal colored toothed-beak. As the beak receded towards the front, it dipped down into a fine point, likely another evolutionary leftover for tearing prey apart with their beaks. He also sported almond-shaped eyes, with black sclera and brown irises, placed along the sides of his head. He had pointed ears with a row of tiny feathered-quills sprouting out of the outer lobes. Dangling from his cheekbones and upper lip were two pairs of skin appendages called waddles; which Red stylized with beads and jewelry. His cranium, crown, and neck could be seen covered with a dense plume of blood red and scarlet feathers standing a foot tall each. His face, and body was too covered in dark red feathers as well, trailing down to the thighs of his digitigrade legs. His feet were anisodactyl, ending with three armored, small-toed clawed feet, and a smaller one in the back. Resting over his bulky frame was a ultramarine and silver Bir'vo combat harness. The combat harness featured a life support and shielding system in an armored tank on the shoulders and back of the armor. It swept up from the chest and shoulders like that of a horseshoe, and sloped back and down against his lower spine. Along his chest and leg armor were aquamarine lights that emanated softly against Akinyemi's exhausted face. Hovering just in front of his right eye were a pair of small and blue holographic smart-link projections, materialized away from a silver lens head's up display over his eye.

The Bir'vo squawked at the two Atlas and Luminere, ordering them with an extended arm to get out of his way. Akinyemi, Anwar, and Wispwaker complied, diving next to a pair of lockers and benches. Red discharged energy bolts at his attackers with a modified standard energy pistol, each being precision hits, and then laughed as they died. This particular Bir'vo was a well known marksman throughout many mercenary outfits, able to kill rebels or Coalition soldiers without having to see them; his smart-link assistance giving him distance and projections impossible to otherwise gauge.

Red chirped and cooed in frustration as he swayed his heavy shoulders over to the lockers, smashing and tearing open the metal door to gain access to the weapons inside.

"What happened to your translator?" Anwar helped Akinyemi down to the benches, careful as to not cause him more searing pain in his arms and chest.

Red glanced over at Anwar, scowled, then pointed at the small device near the door underneath a few dead AFS militia.

"Broken?"

Red nodded, and tossed them each a pair of United Legion-grade auto rifles. Formally known as the Type-59 Verdant Rifle, these weapons were manufactured on, and exported from, the long-dead colony of Relidor. Their silver casing ran along a narrow mag-shaft, based around a refracting gyro core. When the trigger mechanism was pulled, the core would heat up within a magnetic field to suspend the plasma before releasing. Upon releasing, a violent stream of rapid fire bolts of superheated blue plasma discharged from the barrel, boiling and filleting any target within seconds.

Anwar's lips transitioned into a widespread grin as he glanced down at Akinyemi. "Aye, it seems we finally have our way out."

Akinyemi's face read that of relief, and he panned his eyes towards the Bir'vo's general direction. Red's ears twitched from the vibrations of distant assailants and militia, and he licked the air with disgust.

He glanced over at Wispwaker who remained silent this entire time like him. Akinyemi was in too much pain from his wounds to speak, yet he continued to remain alert and on-edge. He peeled away some of the gauss over his body, and his ribs were still exposed, boiled and black. The meds were beginning to run off with his increased heart rate and sweating within the ever growing heat of the burning ship.

"There's more militia outside, approximately fifteen meters away. Five of them." Wispwaker analyzed, detecting them from his long range sensors.

"What are you doing, Akinyemi!? Get in your armor!" Anwar grabbed Akinyemi's arms and hoisted him to his feet, and pressed his right hand against a holo-terminal on the locker ahead of him. After the cry of a ting bellowed out of the locker, it opened up revealing a black, combat body sleeve, tailored to the proportional specifications of an Atlas. Made of black titanium nanocomposites, this sleeve could adjust itself to fit the wearer, in a "one-size-fits-all" approach by United Legion doctrine. It was pressure sealed to protect the wearer from extreme weather, radiation, and plasma and ballistics based weapons. A nanotechnological pinch fusion reactor on the back of the armor powered the suit with the explosions of a condensed micro-blackhole, so small it couldn't affect the suit or wearer in any degree, but could power the suits functions indefinitely unless damaged or destroyed. The reactor equivocally powered infrared particle energy shielding systems, meshing the vibrating atoms within a magnetic restraint field into an almost unbreakable barrier.

Akinyemi quickly removed his combat sleeve from the locker, careful as to not collapse under his own weight in pain. He pulled the combat sleeve over his body, and watched his friends stand there and prepare to fight the oncoming militia. Wispwaker zoomed around the lockers, trying to retrieve any chance of sending out a distress signal.

Akinyemi materialized his armor, and millions of nanobots seeped out of the fusion reactor out of his lower back and metallic spinal brace. The nanobots washed over his combat sleeve and body like a wave of metal and circuits. They flowed and shifted into the ultramarine metallic joints that fell into place around him with an advanced form of magnetic-wave field manipulation, completing its assemblage within a couple seconds. The armor was used by all Atlas, and was known as the IAPETUS Power Armor. There was a bit of silver and grey in the designs with a cerulean light piercing out of the visor, then small lines in the shoulders, and down the spine of the back. The visor looked like a single central 'sapphire' with two pairs of vertically arranged, diagonal slides to peer out from. The armors were mass produced since the branch's founding many centuries ago, and each Atlas made them their own, customizing them to their liking. Helmet styles, equipment, color palettes, war paint, anything for an Atlas to leave a legacy of their own throughout the galaxy.

Anwar panned his eyes down his friend and released a heavy sigh, "It won't last, man. It's beat up too much."

Akinyemi slumped his shoulders. "It's all I have left. There aren't any other armors available?"

Red quickly leaned back to scan the lockers, then shook his head in disappointment.

Red and Anwar hastily lifted up a few weapons crates and boxes to provide cover under the doorframe. Echoes from the hallway pounded within Akinyemi's mind. They were about to die, he thought. With nothing but scraps and incapacitated down to almost nothing but a broken, bare-bones ship on the verge of exploding. A life he lived constantly for decades, one without a sense of resolution. When was it going to end?

The AFS militia stormed down the decrepit corridor, and their HUD's bright lime lights outlined the survivors of the Saint.

"There they are! Get the Luminere!" The militia sergeant shouted, extending her free arm, pointing directly at Wispwaker.

"...Oh shit." Wispwaker sank down behind the barrier of weapon crates.

Green streams of plasma poured through the armory, illuminating the horrified soldiers as they evaded out of the way.

"Where's your armor?" Akinyemi scanned his friend over with his eyes.

Anwar dived out of the way of more plasma fire, dropped to the ground, and lowered his rifle. He gaped his lips open without speaking, and within the blink of a thought, his armor materialized around himself. His armor was a heavily damaged sage green with brass, slimmer in appearance than Akinyemi's more for infiltration and information gathering. His visor was vermillion orange, however shattered with a distorted HUD.

Akinyemi's heart sank as more bolts blasted against his armor, and he immediately jolted back. More militia stormed through the corridor, releasing a volley of suppressive fire.

"The shields no longer work, the nanobots are limited, and barely clinging together..." Anwar placed his left gauntlet against Akinyemi's face. "I'm sorry man."

After he suited up, the energy shields replenished themselves, and phased from an opaque blue mesh around the armor, into a completely translucent barrier. He hesitated over the dead bodies scattered around them, as his own pain began to set in further, and he clenched his abdomen once more.

The Atlas were the respected longswords of the United Legion, supersoldiers beyond compare. Founded shortly after the empire's initial birth many centuries ago, they were regarded as the apex Human. Perfect soldiers. They could run faster than a cheetah, were strong enough to punch through solid granite, and could think faster than the average Human. Atlas on average were physically larger than normal Humans, standing at heights from as low as six feet to an upwards threshold of eight feet. However, what the general populace of the Blue Empire misconceptualized is that despite their raw power and grandeur, they were still Human.

The Atlas branch consisted from members of all reaches of the United Legion, anyone could be one if they passed the physical training, met military tactics and protocol criteria, and survived the augmentation process. Such augmentations consisted of adrenaline boosted-wired reflexes embedded within every muscle nerve fiber to achieve maximum potential of the Atlas capabilities for combat against any hostile threat: At the base of both sides of his skull, just below the ears were cybernetic implants known as data jacks, which allowed an Atlas to bind his nervous system to the branch's plethora of power armors. Such an effect granted Atlas to have heightened situational and field awareness, further augmented reflexes on top of their natural instincts and skills. A side effect of this was that Atlas were deeply attuned with people and especially their comrades; granting them access to each other's emotions and electromagnetic radiation that each individual gave off. Akinyemi knew that his friend was slowly giving up.

A green bolt zipped passed Akinyemi's face and punched Anwar through the left ear. He dropped back, clutching the side of his head as bright steam seeped into the air. "Fuck! They just keep coming!"

Akinyemi lifted his Verdant rifle at the assailants and sighted the holographic aiming reticle at their vulnerable heads. He wrapped his fingers around the trigger grip of the rifle and squeezed, releasing several successions of blue bolts straight into them. The militiamen launched back from the impact, ragdolling while their limbs disintegrated off their bodies. Anwar and Red finished the defensive round by killing two more militiamen before they had a chance to raise their weapons.

"Alright, let's go now." Anwar clenched his Verdant rifle tighter and clambered his way forward out of the door. He stopped before pressing on, grunted, and found himself with several plasma holes inside his chest and legs. He collapsed onto the ground in a heavy heap, and his armor crashed, ringing in Akinyemi's ears.

Akinyemi's mind evaporated as his last friend was ripped from him. Along the upper left corner of his head's up display, there was an icon symbolizing Anwar and his lifeline. Both the icon and lifeline were burnt out, static, dead. A searing migraine compared to blunt force trauma pierced Akinyemi's skull, and he too collapsed from the loss of his friend. His mind scattered all around him, panicking, burning, and he felt like he was shoved back into the bolts of plasma that filleted his friend. He couldn't compose himself anymore, his emotions exploded with sensory overload and he charged out of the room towards the militiamen; before instantly breaking their neck with his hands. He couldn't bear the weight of any of this and made his way back to grab the fallen Atlas.

"Akinyemi, I'm sorry… Let's go. There's no time to mourn." Wispwaker's voice was filled with regret and defeat.

"Bu-"

Red grabbed Wispwaker's shell and shoved Akinyemi back onto the metallic floor. Red twitched his ears and without a second thought, the armory deck exploded and launched out into the void. This was the last time Akinyemi would ever see Anwar, as he watched his armored corpse jettison away in a flurry of flaming decks and pulverized metal. Just beyond the ship were glinting grey warships, honing in on them with another wave of missiles and ion torpedoes, ever-hungry for more bloodshed. Before the three of them were grabbed by the vacuum, and disintegrated along with the other corpses, Red desperately placed his free hand against a nearby holo-terminal, immediately silencing the screaming decks with a blast door. The hull's integrity decoupled around them, and they knew they had to run.

Red squawked and hissed while pointing ahead of them.

"We have nowhere else to go." Akinyemi replied, struggling to pick himself up off the ground.

"We have a few possible routes, Atlas." Dollface materialized right in front of him on a holo-pedestal to the left of the door. "I need your help in getting out of here, and it appears you three are the only ones left alive onboard to provide said help. Please take my data crystal from the ship, I'm not about to let those rebels access my data caches for any classified intel or worlds... There are a few active escape pods left on the starboard section of deck levels four-ten and four-twelve."

"Okay." He slumped down his shoulders and his head, clenching his abdomen as it flared in pain once again. His mind swam with horror, jadedness, and a cloudy head space, he couldn't think anymore, but obeyed her nonetheless. He wanted to process the loss of Anwar, but the destroyer continued to crumble around them so he grabbed her data crystal, and bolted.

He fitted her into the data jack in the back of his helmet, and she uploaded herself into his armor; his heads-up-display transitioned into a soft pink hue around the corners of his visor. "I'll set up a waypoint in your heads-up display here if you need it to find the escape pods."

The Atlas thanked her, and the four of them proceeded to their new objective. However, it wasn't going to be that simple anymore, as more AFS militia hurriedly patrolled the decks, and to top it off, engine failure began. As they cautiously weaved their way through the decks, more explosions rang throughout the ship. More panels, support structures, and lights collapsed from ceilings, and walls, which made it far more difficult for them to traverse.

With little to no time left, Akinyemi knew he had to bypass the obstacles just in front of them. With all of his, and Red's injured strength, they quickly lifted and removed the rank debris out of the way, straining their muscles, which resulted in a deafened crash against the crippled destroyer's walls. The two took a moment to reconstitute themselves, and Akinyemi's body felt like it was on fire. He hesitated once again before they dashed to their objective. They bounded through collapsed hallways and decks. A squadron of AFS militia turned just beyond them and they were simultaneously fired upon until they were burned heaps of flesh and metal.

After what felt like an eternity, the engines shuddered with a massive ring throughout what was left of the colossal destroyer. Akinyemi, Red, and the two Lumineres knew that they had only a moment's time to escape. Yet, they were still too far away as The Fallen Saint, of its class, was three and a half miles long, and about half a mile high.

The ship had become too scarred and unrecognizable within the inside, Akinyemi asked Dollface to pull up any schematics of the destroyer for their given area. She flashed it in his HUD and then the Atlas conveniently noticed an elevator shaft nearby, approximately twenty meters away. The four of them dashed to their new destination, and they cautiously strolled up to the worn out, and damaged elevator doors.

Red laughed hysterically by this find, and they proceeded to enter the inside of the gnarled doors. As they entered, Red clicked the holographic button on the side to take them to deck level four-twelve, and they waited for it to start. The elevator hesitated at first, then it gently hummed and rose up, and everyone thought they were in the clear. Without notice, it abruptly stopped, the holographic projections died out, and they were left stranded in a cold titanium-carbonate box. There was another ominous explosion right below them which caused the elevator to shudder heavily, and with an eerie creak it swayed, suspended, in what remained of the shaft.

With a shriek of fear and anxiety, Red cursed, "A'acriik' Gah!" Then without thought, he glanced up and carefully reached an opening which happened to be a service hatch right above them. Akinyemi figured out what his new friend had instantaneously planned to accomplish, sheathed his rifle on the magnetic holster on the back of his armor. He grabbed onto the alien as tight as he could, over his shoulders, while Wispwaker hovered right next to them.

Red, with the others, carefully forced himself out of the elevator, and as soon as he clambered his way onto the top, the elevator detached itself, and plummeted to the bottom of the dark, chasmy shaft. Within a split second, Red leapt up and grabbed onto the shaft's cables, and clung on with all of his wounded strength, and screamed out with the weight of his own body, and the Atlas'. A loud crash at the way bottom echoed through the shaft, vibrating the walls. All was still, and the remaining air was stagnant in the dark, save for some dust. "Oh, my fucking goodness," Akinyemi whispered to himself, tightening his interlocked fingers, so he wouldn't slip free and plummet.

"I recommend not falling, Atlas.." Dollface said sarcastically.

"Shut up."

As they inched their way up the cables within the pitch black, eerie shaft, the only light came from the cerulean haze of Akinyemi's power armor, and Wispwaker's luminere shell, illuminating dust particles as they swirled around in front of them. Just above and beyond them, they could make out the sounds of distant explosions and the voices of other militia forces. The four of them waited for about a minute or two to make sure they were in the clear, then continued to struggle the rest of the way up the shaft.

When they arrived onto deck level four-twelve, Red reached out and slowly pried the elevator doors open with a loud screech, with all the remaining strength he had, and they stumbled out onto the landing. Red tried to catch his breath right before they knew something was wrong. Akinyemi stiffened and slowly walked out into the strangely silent deck and scanned around with his eyes through his visor. Through the reinforced glass, he could see the stars in the void lay beyond. He then glanced at the solid wall in front of him where the round opening doors to the pods would be. He clicked up the display on the side of each opening, and they read Ejected. He took a defeated sigh, and growled.

"Where are they…?" Akinyemi asked with a defeated and confused tone. He reached out with his armored arm onto the blast door of an empty escape pod terminal, then slumped his shoulders and just stood there. The glowing yellow light of the terminal stood out in the haze of red emergency lights that enveloped the deck. Dead bodies were littered around the terminals as if they had their last bastion of hope ripped from them, just like the four survivors standing just above them.

"Akinyemi…" Both Dollface and Wispwaker said with sympathy.

Red began to panic, hyperventilate, and his arms began to shake violently as he cupped them on his own head. Akinyemi wasn't done though. Wispwaker hovered next to his lieutenant commander's left side, and Akinyemi glanced at him. He asked Dollface reflectively, "Dollface, didn't you mention there was a possibility of a few others on deck four-ten?"

She replied without hesitation, "Yes indeed I have, great thinking Atlas. Let me redirect the waypoint I placed onto your HUD, and I'll guide you there. But remember… you must act quickly."

"Awesome." He remarked. He gave Wispwaker a thumbs up, then turned to behind his right side and gave Red a thumbs up too, to which Red did the same with a beaked smile. Luckily for the four of them, the destination wasn't all that far away, so they clambered on as quickly as they could. Fortunately, there was a maintenance staircase along the side wall, and they made it at a moment's notice to the deck at least, but another ominous explosion caused them to launch their bodies into the walls.

The dim red lights of the floor began to flicker, then suddenly went out. There was a loud creak, shudder, and boom - a section of the hull tore itself apart nearby them - and the vacuum of space ejected out nearby militia soldiers into the void, like metallic ragdolls. The nearby militia watched their comrades jettison out, and happened to see the Atlas, Red, and Wispwaker scramble back up from the floor in the doorway. There was an immediate exchange of blue and green energy fire across the hall of the deck level, and the Atlas' energy shields were depleted. Akinyemi took cover around a corner, and Red had a helmet assemble itself around his head, so he wouldn't die from asphyxiation from the vastness of space nearby.

"Don't let them get away with that Luminere! The Atlas, an' the alien-faggot have it!"shouted an AFS sergeant, then a volley of green energy fire swathed over the Atlas, and his friends.

"I sure wish I was able to use a weapon, I'd fire at those buggers until they were nothin'!" Wispwaker shouted aggressively, as he darted out of the crossfire.

Akinyemi's energy shields replenished right before being blasted out again with a severe burn to his left arm and mid torso. He then glanced at Red who had already covered him with fire support, and the Bir'vo quickly stared back and squawked. "Check to see if you have an energy grenade on you, I have an idea." The Atlas activated the magnetic grips on the bottom of his armored boots, sealing him to the floor in a wide stance, to prevent from being yanked out into the vacuum, and the Bir'vo followed suit.

The Bir'vo obeyed Akinyemi while he fired back at the sergeant, a quick shot through the visor of her helmet, killing her with steam spiraling out of the helmet. There actually wasn't any energy grenades on Red, and that put a damper on things. Not if immediately after, the vacuum yanked out the armored body of the AFS sergeant, and there was another loud grinding shriek of the hull.

"For fuck's sake.. Just die already you loyalist bastards.." growled a militia soldier through his grey helmet, sighting his energy rifle against his shoulder. Another next to him brandished a sizzling plasma knife in her left hand, and lunged at Wispwaker, missing. Akinyemi roundhouse kicked her into the terminal, and she collapsed with a thud.

"You got game, love." She quipped as she stammered her way back up, and hesitated, seeing Akinyemi clutching himself again, and had a plan to shove him out of the ship into space.

He noticed this as she lunged at him, somersaulted under her small body, and she impacted the adjacent wall. "Probably," he retorted, "but do you?" Akinyemi grabbed the knife in his right hand from the floor, and turned back around to find her swing an uppercut into his helmet, knocking him down to the floor.

"That's for your fucking emperor."

She sat on him, pummeling him with her fists as she tried forcing the knife out of his hand. He sucker-punched her square in the helmet, breaking her black visor, and he shoved the knife into her neck. Boiled blood spurted on to his power armor in a small geyser, and Red grabbed her by the head, lifting up her limp body. Red then slammed her into the floor with a loud crack, and threw her out into space.

Since time had ran out at this point, more explosions rang out through the destroyer, which signaled the immediate explosion of the ship, causing the infantrymen to fire at the ceiling. Red quickly charged at the remaining four enemies in a desperate last attempt to keep the Atlas and Lumineres alive, while he had Akinyemi open the door to the last escape pod via the display panel of the terminal on the side. A blood-curdling shriek came out of Red, and the enemies were dead as Red ripped off their heads with sprays of dark blood in the air.

Wispwaker darted inside the escape pod, and Akinyemi dashed back and grabbed Red right before diving into the pod. The pod hesitated to comply for several seconds before it ejected itself into the void. A large structure of the ship collapsed down as the ship exploded and almost killed the escapees, and they zoomed passed a few grey ships that continued to target the destroyer. As there was no air in space, there was no sound to hear when The Fallen Saint exploded in a vibrant display of orange fire, shimmery metal, and white plasma energy of the overloaded reactors.

As the escape pod zoomed towards Quicksilver, an apparition of Anwar appeared in Akinyemi's mind, standing still with remorse. "Let me go," the vision said.

"You can't. No."

"You've saved me too many times since we served together all these years. Let me save you."

"Wait!"

"Akinyemi, let me go... Goodbye."

Akinyemi's heart raced a million miles an hour. He couldn't let him go. He already lost everyone else of his team, and he felt so helpless to do anything. "We're supposed to fight together. Make it until the very end. Don't."

"I'm sorry." Anwar placed his left gauntleted hand against his friend's horrified face. "I love you brother."

Shrapnel from the Saint zoomed through the ever expanse of space at high speeds damaging the pod, and the four of them knew they were going to be stranded for sometime, if help ever came at all. Akinyemi squeezed passed the Bir'vo, and shoved his way into the pilot's seat. He tried to get the holographic projections to work, but couldn't, as they flickered and died. He tried not to panic in his extreme anxiety, but turned around, glanced at the Bir'vo through his visor, and asked a question directed at Dollface as he changed his gaze to Wispwaker floating above Red, "Do you think he'll be alright?"

"Ehh he'll need to recover, but he'll...he'll be alright, Atlas."

"Good, good...Hey, what star system did we arrive in?" He struggled to breathe after Anwar vanished from his eyes, and slumped back.

"Without being connected to the Saint's, or this pod's navigational systems and star charts… no idea… Just… far away from everyone. Last thing I know is that we're drifting towards Quicksilver."

Akinyemi glanced back at Red, then Wispwaker, and dematerialized his helmet to reveal his exhausted face again. His white facial tattoos stood out against his dark and strained face. Wispwaker just hovered there, in the dark, humming a bit to himself as a way to try to keep himself from going rampant, because of everything that happened. Akinyemi's body now felt like it was on fire once again. It burned all over as the adrenaline died down, but was even more concentrated towards his left arm and torso. The pain grew so intense that he was unable to think properly at all.

"Great…" He shifted his body on the pilot chair, in an attempt to get comfortable, as the others remained in the back.

The pod continued to drift, with the four survivors through the ever expanse of the cosmos, wounded, and not knowing when they'll be found. As the golden light of the nearby triple stars of the system enveloped their damaged pod, all they could do was hope for rescue.

Chapter 2

It was about one week later, inside an Orbital Defense Station orbiting the Inner Colony world of Elysium; the first interstellar colony of the Blue Empire. A large world founded in 2200 CE, and one of the largest strongholds of the United Legion, Elysium was a vast, beautiful world, rich in natural resources and minerals. A shimmering monument of achievement, for any citizen of the Blue Empire to see the "big cities of the Empire" without even having to visit Earth, which most citizens of the Democratic Imperium couldn't afford to do so anyways.

Besides Earth, the world of Elysium was also the largest 'melting-pot' of cultures and ideas between Humanity and all the empire's alien client species. A center of constant cultural renaissance of art, music, ideas, and technology. Inside the capital city, Harmony, there were three massive silver colored space-elevators a few miles in diameter that reached into the depths of space and connected to massive space stations and ODS's in geosynchronous orbit above the planet's atmosphere. The world was also slightly larger than Earth, with a diameter of eleven thousand, eight hundred and seventy six miles, and also had one moon - Elydee.

Akinyemi awoke to find himself lying horizontally on an energy-bed inside one of the few medical wards in the orbital defense station known as Leviathan Station. He looked down at his hands and arms and examined the scars from the energy damage he sustained about a week prior, yet he still didn't even know what day it was. He wore a white patient gown around his body and found an IV attached to the inside of his right forearm, pumping him with fluids.

Leviathan Station, like all ODS's, was silver in coloration and shaped roughly like a large spinning-top. However, the dorsal and ventral spires stood out at a height of a mile each, while the main body was around half a mile tall and thick. All the wings were of the same height and thickness branching out into a myriad of directions, ranging from half a mile to five miles long. The spires themselves were somewhat segmented, with disparate sections hovering a few feet apart from each other, and appeared jagged to the eye. Along the semi-geometric shaped wings were hundreds of jagged spokes on the dorsal and ventral sides of them, standing around one hundred feet high. The wings also were covered in sloping and curved lines, weaving all around the outer hulls.

The heart-monitor by Akinyemi's bed beeped steadily as he examined his surroundings, and the Atlas smiled gently upon realizing that he was safe. He realized he was in a white room with a cerulean lighting that emanated out of the ceiling, and then he glanced to his left to find two empty brown leather chairs against the wall parallel to him. Holographic charts and x-rays hung on the walls of the room, and the floor had a style of zig-zagged tiles.

About an hour later, a man walked into Akinyemi's room while the the former scanned him with an Artemis he held in his hands. The man had a white coat with an ultramarine trimming and he wore ultramarine slacks and black oxfords. The man appeared to be in his late forties, with short scraggly ginger hair, and stood about a height of five feet, eleven inches. He was clean shaven, had brown eyes and wore yellow holo-spectacles on his face.

He approached the counter on the opposite end of Akinyemi's room and set the Artemis on the counter while he typed away on the orange holographic projections. He readjusted his holo-specs while he walked over to the Atlas on the bed. He looked over at Akinyemi, cleared his throat, and with a slight bounce he said, "Hello Mr. Akinyemi Asari-Dokubo. My name is Dr. Bradley Loomis, and I wanted to let you know that you're recovering just fine. Your vital and neural signs are stable, and you'll be good to go in a few hours!" He then took his gloved hand and gently touched the Atlas' arm, while materializing an orange holographic cross section and charts of his arm for him to see from the Artemis. "As you can see, the cellular regrowth treatment is working and is stable, and you're recovering from the heavily sustained energy damages you were in! Try to get a little bit more rest, and then you're free to go. Honestly, you don't have to worry about the paperwork… I got it."

Akinyemi looked back up at the doctor, and faintly smiled. "Thank you doctor. But, I have two questions - what's the date and time, and... where are Red and the Luminere?"

"Oh! I see… the date is currently thirteen-hundred nineteen hours on Wednesday, November fourteenth, twenty-nine seventy-six, standard Earth time. Your friend, the… Bir'vo... Tall fellow, red feathers? He's almost done recovering, himself, in the room next door. But, I'm afraid he'll have to recover for at least the rest of the day. As for the Luminere... he's around. Bumped into him recently, good fellow."

"Well, okay. Thanks doc."

"No problem!" Dr. Loomis did another slight bounce, clenched his grip tighter on the Artemis, and left the room.

Akinyemi just laid there and tried to absorb what just happened. He thought to himself that he didn't like the doctor really much. He was one of those doctors, Akinyemi thought. One of the ones who pretend to be cheery but probably don't really care about a lot of things at all. The Atlas decided not to think about it that much, and tried to get more rest as the beeping of the heart-monitor created a sense of white-noise in the room.

It was the next morning, and outside there were the sounds of a menagerie of footsteps. Akinyemi sat up in bed, and placed both his hands on both sides of him, and he slowly elevated himself off the bed and he stood up. He pressed his fingers against his abdomen and arms, noticing that his cells were completely regenerated, and he nodded to himself. He turned his head to the right, and noticed a familiar pink avatar that stood on a holo-pedestal next to the door.

"Dollface?"" he asked, concerned, "What's going on out there, where are Red and Wispwaker?"

"Never mind that, sleepy-head. But you better get up and head to battle-deck nine, war room twelve, for briefing, quick. You have orders."

"By who?"

"You'll see." The Luminere flashed away, and left him there alone.

He quickly went to the cupboard over the counter in the room and found something he could quickly snack on amongst all the bottles of pills, and disinfectants, while he followed his new orders. He quickly got dressed in his uniform, which somebody had placed there - neatly folded on one of the leather chairs - the night before, and he was off.

It was a form-fitting uniform with the colors of dark blue, silver, and black. The emblem of the Blue Empire was brazened in a blue circle on the ends of both shoulders. The emblem was a silvery-white coat of arms, with a shield, bearing the Earth at its center. All around the image of Earth, were thousands of small orbs, representing every world that the Blue Empire had under its control. Below the coat of arms, was a half-wreath, with a triangle above the coat of arms, and an inverted one below the wreath. Below the inverted triangle was the empire's infamous and official motto, "E Pluribus Unum", which when translated from Latin meant, "Out of many, one."

The significance of the motto represented the epitomized idea of unity in diversity, throughout the Blue Empire. Such so that out of many lives, cultures, languages, ideas, colonies, and species, one empire; proud, mighty, and prosperous.

He left the room to enter a gleaming-white hallway, and proceeded to gaze into the two rooms next to his. Red wasn't in them, and he sighed slightly. Akinyemi gently ran his left hand along the doors as he walked out of the ward's many hallways, passing many busy technicians and nurses along the way. Soon, he found a small elevator that would take him to the Central Elevator of the space station. He proceeded in and hovered his right hand over the elevator's myriad of holographic displays and clicked the terminal. The blue lighting flickered a bit, and he scowled as the elevator zoomed down towards his destination, while simultaneously listening to soft elevator music from speakers above him.

Within a few minutes, he arrived at his destination and walked out briskly to find a crowd of Legionnaires, officers, Atlas, marines, and Lumineres everywhere. Leviathan Station had a population of about fifteen-thousand at a time. Many Legionnaires and young officers stopped and saluted to Akinyemi as he walked by, as he was one of the most renowned Atlas supersoldiers of their time. Massive observational windows provided stunning views of Proxima Centauri, of the triple star system around the orbital defense station. The red star gleamed brilliant and bold, almost filling the viewports ahead of the station. It may have been somewhat larger than Jupiter of the Sol System, but it was at least just as magnificent.

After weaving his way through the massive crowd of Humans and aliens, he approached the main central elevator of the station and entered inside. An officer approached the Atlas and stood right next to him, and started to smile a little bit for being able to be in Akinyemi's presence. The officer's body and head looked exactly like that of a Human's, but he had golden skin, a bald head, and black sclera with gold irises. The officer was of a species called Falakhrys.

"My people, back on Duvac, have heard much about you, sir. You are a war hero." The Falakhrys officer continued to grin.

Akinyemi thought to himself that he didn't really feel like one, but what soldier doesn't feel like that? He tried to shrug it off, and zone out, but couldn't when someone else decided to give him attention as well, then he scowled a bit again.

"L-Lieutenant Commander? It is you! Sorry… my name is Sharon Simbajon, and I-I wanted to say I'm honored to be sh-shaking your hand." She was a Human officer of Filipino-descent, and had dark hair and brown eyes. When she looked up at the towering Atlas, she was in awe.

Akinyemi just stood there, and faintly smiled at the lady, then glanced back at the Falakhrys, who was now preoccupied with an Artemis built into the uniform's left sleeve. The officer was readying to take a selfie with the Atlas, much to Akinyemi's discomfort. As the elevator zoomed down, everyone inside had a breathtaking view of Elysium, and the red and yellow-white glow of the triple star system, with several United Legion fleets cruising through space while in orbit around the planet. The ships ranged from a multitude of sizes, from a few thousand feet long to some being ten miles long at most.

An ultramarine and silver Victory-class battlecruiser of five miles long, and three quarters of a mile high, was orbiting just outside one of the docking bays outside the station, and the colossal ship appeared like a titan. The starship, like most if not all United Legion ships, was shaped into what resembled an elongated octagonal prism. However, the command bridge could be seen, barely extending from the center of the dorsal hull, and the ship had four repulsor engines in the back. Towards the front of the ventral hull, the hull seemed to extend into a small slanted point, just below the front of the massive ship.

An officer within the central elevator reached out their arm and pointed up and out towards the ship, and exclaimed, "That's the ULBE Remembering Exuberance! I heard it took on a whole Coalition fleet by itself, and the captain was able to save everyone of his own! I wish I could be a part of that!"

Everyone in the elevator began to clap spontaneously, save Akinyemi, for he was only one of many to only witness the magnificent ship. He among them only heard the stories, but to see it was somewhat inspiring. The elevator zoomed down to a few of the battle decks, and most of the officers were gone after sometime. After a few more minutes, he was the only one left aboard it.

If not immediately after that, a woman entered the elevator and he could hear the click of her boots on the flooring. He turned around and she had a confident, charismatic stride that still demanded respect. She stood at a height of five feet, eight inches, with a thin build, and had dirty blonde hair that came down around both sides of her neck, and hung to about the middle of her torso. She had a pale complexion, blue eyes, and a friendly smile when she saw the Atlas.

He noticed she wore the uniform of a colonel, so he tried to relax a bit. She reached out and shook Akinyemi's hand. When she spoke, she had a slight slur in her voice, "Beautiful view of Elysium isn't it, Lieutenant Commander? If you don't know who I am, I'm Colonel Logan Singer, and I'm your new direct commanding officer. I know we're of different branches but since you're Atlas, that's never a problem around here."

"Much obliged colonel," Akinyemi said while he smiled. "Are youthe one who gave me orders to head to war room twelve?"

"I'm the one, yes." She waved her hair a little out of her face with her right hand when she said this.

The elevator continued its last bit of descent towards battle-deck nine, and the both of them just stood there and continued to admire the view of Elysium from the inside of the station. The colonel took a quick glance up at Akinyemi, and he didn't notice. When he looked to his right, she looked away, not wanting him to notice and she faintly smiled.

The elevator reached its destination at last, and the heavy blast doors opened up diagonally and revealed a massive room with metallic columns and holographic imagery everywhere. One depicted a real-time recording of a skirmish between United Legion forces against the Coalition. There were massive and haunting dark grey, scalene-pyramid shaped ships, in the dark and cloudy sky, that started to burn the surface of that bleak world with massive fiery columns of violent purple energy. Blue and purple energy fire discharged through the air around the Legionnaires and Atlas soldiers.

Screams echoed out in that battle, and a large Coalition alien commonly known as an Aggressor leaped into the feed's field of vision, and sprayed the soldiers with fiery purple energy. What could only be seen of the armored behemoth was that it wore curved dark gray, and black armor with violet lights that weaved across the armor, emanating off of it and the sleek, almost featureless helmet. It stood at a colossal height of twelve feet, had a trunk-like build, with thick sloping shoulder muscles that connected to the back of the head, and had four digits on its hands and digitigrade legs that ended in four-toed, dexterous feet. It made a large, guttural cry before it vaporized the remaining soldiers and the feed cut to black.

Another real-time shot focused on a dogfight between United Legion and Coalition fleets above a Middle Colony world in the Fringe. "The Coalition had found the Hadmakmak System only a day ago... and have already glassed most of the populations of the inner planets…"

"Are you sure we can hold up against them, Admiral?" A terrified female voice asked from the background of the feed.

"The United Legion will continue to fight bravely as they always ha-" The feed showing a female admiral of that fleet's flagship cut to black too.

After Colonel Singer and Akinyemi witnessed the feed, the two of them just looked at each other. "Oh shit, that wasn't pretty. Dammit, dammit dammit dammit. We lost two more colonies today… as well as all those brave men and women... Why must this war exist?" Colonel Singer asked, with uncertainty.

"I don't really know colonel, it seems that war always pops up in our history all the time, and what eventually led us here today. I don't question it that much anymore, yet, I've been in active service forty years, and it never seems to change. No matter who you're fighting… But we must keep going - Daima mbele - Always forward." As Akinyemi said this, he sighed.

"Forty years? That means-"

"I'm sixty-eight years old, yes. I graduated as a full officer from the United Legion Imperial Academy back in New Nairobi, on Yemoja, when I was twenty eight. Started from there."

"Sixty-what?"

"Yes, ma'am. You've read my holo-files though, right?" Akinyemi smiled.

"I have, but I didn't really believe them. I thought you were in your mid-forties like me, and I don't even look like that old either." She tried to laugh.

"Nope. It's amazing how far Humanity's come in gene-editing and medicine, ain't it?"

"I mean, that's high school history, but yes.." she had a surprised expression on her face. "Wait a minute… we've been distracted here long enough, we should've been there by now. But I do like that proverb.. What language is it in?"

"Kiswahili." He widened his stance, and cupped his hands behind his back. When he stood there, he towered over her.

"Ah that's catchin', let's go Lieutenant Commander."

They both struggled to squeeze past all the officers and soldiers on the deck into the war room they wanted to be, but after several more minutes and attempts, they finally made it past them. Along the way, they passed more holograms of war feeds and United Legion forces. A larger hologram stood out from the rest repressing the Milky Way. The Milky Way's projection displayed that of a warped spiral disk galaxy, 120,000 light years across. The galaxy had ripples and folds, dipping down by 5,000 light years, in the bottom half of the southern galactic hemisphere, where the Blue Empire was located. Across the upper half of the northern galactic hemisphere it dipped upwards by another 5,000 light years. Akinyemi remembered learning about this in primary school, that it was discovered by Polish scientists on Earth in 2019 CE. A six year long galactic surveying and mapping of the regular pulsation of Cepheid variables to determine the shape of the galaxy.

The Blue Empire's former sphere of influence displayed on screen, reaching away from the Orion Spur and Sol with a diameter of about 40,000 light years, however squashed away from the immense gravitational regions of the deep core. All former 10,000 worlds illuminated in small fractal-like plumes away from Sol, and lit up the faces of the officers witnessing the holograms. For centuries, the Blue Empire had achieved its grand scale through conquest, colonization, and diplomacy, grabbing ahold of world after world to build an unbreakable interstellar nation for trillions to prosper underneath its wings. The Milky Way's internal borders transitioned into including two major interstellar allies of the Blue Banner, the Han Hattan Federation and the Eve Collective.

The Han Hattan Federation were first discovered in the 2300s, and their border shared a similar size to that of Humanity's former ecumene, and resided within the lower region of the galactic west, touching our empire with riftspace filaments and interstellar way stations and orbital platforms. Their capital was the ecumenopolis of Han Hattan, a major source of economic prosperity, trade, and legislation for the many species it represented. While the Eve Collective comprised of a utilitarian species of sentient xeno-androids. Their capital was the isolated world of Xerro, an ecumenopolis of reverent power and prestige. Known to descend from the "Praetorians" or the first settlers in the distant past, these battle-hardened machines were once formidable opponents to Humanity, and now towards our greatest adversary. Their domain resided just above the outer reaches of the Outer Arm, stretching into a crescent shaped border by 30,000 light years just south of the other two civilizations.

A battalion of armored Legionnaires ran past Col. Singer and Akinyemi through the hangar, and were subsequently elevated up with a flash into an ultramarine and silver Type-nine Assault Dropship, commonly known as a Mirage. The Mirage was sleek in design and had three soft-blue repulsor engines on the back and it whirled it's way up, past a few more trying not to hit them. It hovered forward above the crowds and zoomed through the energy barrier leading into the void. When it left Leviathan Station, it temporarily blocked off the red glare of Proxima Centauri.

The two of them finally arrived at their destination, and they strolled up to the closed metal door. A holographic plaque next to the door read War Room - 12, and they both proceeded to enter in and the door slid open to reveal a dimly lit room save for a holotable in the middle of it. As the two entered, they noticed several others as well. There was Red next to the door, and he wore dark green skinny jeans, a brown and grey double vest, with a black long-sleeved shirt underneath. He greeted the two with a squawk.

Next to him floated Wispwaker, and his soft-blue light lit up a bit brighter when he saw Akinyemi. "Good morning Sir!... I can't believe this Bir'vo was able to save us..." He exclaimed, and Akinyemi smirked. The others stood around the holotable while they discussed their next mission. There were two Humans, an older male and a younger female clad in high ranking ultramarine and silver uniforms. There were also five armored aliens who stood opposite them on the other side of the holotable and another Luminere in a luminere shell there, too, floated next to the Humans.

The older Human turned around and noticed Col. Singer, and Akinyemi after the female told him of their presence. Then he proceeded on his way to shake their hands. He had a pale complexion with icy blue eyes, and short greyish-white hair that was clean cut, and a small beard. He wore an ultramarine hat on the top of his head, and had experienced wrinkles on his face. What stood out the most from him was that he had only one arm, and the sleeve of the missing arm was folded up and pinned to the shoulder pauldron.

With a firm shake from his right hand to the both of them, and a follow up of a deep voice and British accent, he said, "I don't believe we've met before Atlas, but I'm Imperial Admiral Kent Addington. They over there are Fleet Admiral Olivia Sterzl, commander of Leviathan Station, and the Luminere, Shoemaker. As for the others, you'll find out soon enough." He coughed as he led them to the holotable.

Imperial Admiral Addington had a slight limp when he walked back over and stood next to Sterzl. Fleet Admiral Sterzl also had a pale complexion with a narrow face with defined cheekbones and hazel eyes. She had a slender build and had medium brown hair that was cut into bangs just above her eyebrows, and the rest of her hair was pulled back into a horizontal French braid along the back of her head. She readjusted black holo-specs she wore on her face, and when she spoke, she had a soft, yet welcoming, voice.

"We're sorry to not have a ceremony to celebrate your achievements from the Battle of Zephyr, and your narrow escape from The Fallen Saint, but we have more pressing matters to attend to first." She made a slight frown, resting her hands, and leaned her body against the holotable.

Imperial Admiral Addington glanced at her and then turned his head to Akinyemi with a sigh. He pressed a holographic button and a small projection of a Human lit up, and another projection of a world with some words underneath that read, "Zephyr, Jericho System." The projection of the Human was of a man in a captain's uniform and he stood with his arms behind his back, and he had dark tan skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. With a thick Indian accent, he said, "Welcome Atlas, you may not know me, but I'm Captain Bradeesh Parri of the Remembering Exuberance. I helped provide naval support through blockade, above the shores outside the borders of Huriah, allowing you and the fireteams to gain much needed ground. I'm humbled you're still alive, but I'm sorry about Longsword."

Akinyemi stood there with a solemn expression and replied, "Hello, sir." He recognized him from United Legion propaganda, as well as many articles from the RiftNet. Parri was more reserved than Dubois, but still just as bad tempered during the wrong setting. Soldiers and officers let it slide because maintaining the morality and the authority over a battlecruiser in the middle of a losing war was difficult enough as it was. Parri was also highly decorated for his service in the United Legion, serving for decades, he was one of the few modern captains to have served since the beginning of the Requiem War. With one gaze in the captain's eyes, anyone would know that Parri had more reason than most to hate the Coalition.

The Remembering Exuberance was the flagship of a small task force that has split off from the main United Legion armada of two hundred and thirty war vessels that was sent to Zephyr to relieve the Coalition's talons from the system. The small fleet sent to the continent of Huriah comprised of the Remembering Exuberance, The Fallen Saint, and two other destroyers and four corvettes. They were outnumbered as dozens of more Coalition capital ships had entered from neighboring systems to reinforce the bulk of the warfront. Akinyemi and Fireteam Longsword were initially dropped into the southern east coast to clear a pathway for reinforcements of infantry and artillery to secure a beachhead. Their mission from there over the next few weeks was to gradually push back the invading Coalition occupation from the continent while destroying as many navigational charts from all the nearby cities as to slow any invasion efforts away from the Jericho System.

Imperial Admiral Addington continued, "This mission will be designated Operation: BOOMERANG. Akinyemi, Red, and Wispwaker, you three are reassigned to the ULBE Remembering Exuberance, and you will lead this fireteam here -" He pointed to the aliens that stood opposite him, and one of them made a soft smile. " - Your new fireteam is codenamed 'Fireteam Dominion', and your's with several other fireteams, will be sent back to the surface of Zephyr. Once you arrive there, your mission is to mark and extract any remaining Composer artifacts from the excavation sites outside of the capital city of Hamuran, on the lower continent of Saymarie. All remaining sectors are red, and we're well aware the surviving Coalition occupation has left us with nothing to work with on the world. Regardless, you still have to find a way inside the cities towards the sites. It's of utmost importance that you do retrieve those artifacts. Given the delicacy of the operation, I can't say much more."

Akinyemi gazed down upon on the cerulean holographic projections, then back at Addington and asked, "Are the Coalition aware the artifacts are there, and their power they possess?"

"We don't think so, but with that much advancement of technology, we don't want to risk it. I know you're thinking that since Humanity hasn't been able to activate much of their tech, that we'd figure out how to use them all by now. We've haven't yet as you know, but over that course of time, our scientists learned, so far, that they do respond to only Human touch, and that still baffles us even today. We can't let these fall into Coalition hands, as many others have, and be reverse-engineered or repurposed again and again. We're already losing the war Atlas. We already lost over a thousand more colonies as recently as this year alone, and even more almost every day since. Hopefully we can turn the tide in our favor somehow..."

Akinyemi and the rest of Humanity have known of the Composers as a civilization as early as the 2300s, first discovering them through sunken warships and terraforming technology imbedded within the continental crusts of scattered Inner Colonies. However, most of these advanced relics were immediately confiscated for study upon discovery by the Blue Empire and the DII. Civilians themselves would rarely if ever got to have a glimpse of them.

Shoemaker cocked his luminere shell protrusions towards his iris that emanated a white light, to symbolize pondering. He then said, with a thick Russian accent, "Maybe once we acquire the new artifacts, moya ledi, perhaps we can try to replace all the artillery, ground and air support craft, as well as starfighter and bombers, and their variants, that the United Legion has lost throughout the war. And also improve our weapons against the Coalition tenfold."

"Come again?" Sterzl asked, turning towards the Luminere's bright white light.

"Well, we've lost most of the largest manufacturing plants and drive yards, lately, with their planets. So we can't replace our other variants, as all the available resources are limited. The United Legion is down to scraps, with less than a handful of vehicle types. I thought that would be good to know, since you've been stationed here for so long." Shoemaker gazed at her while he hovered in place.

"He's right." Addington added, now turning towards Akinyemi. "I'm sure you're well aware, being on the frontlines and such. But make sure to make do with what the Remembering Exuberance has left."

"Then hopefully, we can forge new weapons to crush the rebellions, and the Coalition. End them all in one fell swoop, and secure ourselves in the galaxy again, with what little we have left. Then seize control of larger assets, and grow unstoppable. Think bigger picture." Shoemaker continued, now hovering above the holotable.

Sterzl glanced at the hovering Luminere, gently shook her head, then replied, "No, it is the matter of details. Big picture won't work. There are too many details, such as having the AFS reinstating the Blue Banner, glassing their worlds won't convince them. Protocol for our starships' energy projectors needs to be amended, yes, but only so we can use them against the Coalition. Hopefully I can convince HIGHCOM of that."

"You are also right, Fleet Admiral." One of the aliens said, "Nom see ah, Atlas -" He turned to Akinyemi and bowed with gauntleted hands, pressed together. " - Iit e ho - my name is, I'oshot-Uu. Don't worry 'bout dat Shoemaker over dere. We will follow your orders, always, and die with honor if it comes to dat." He glanced back at the Luminere with his black almond-shaped eyes. His skin was a greyish-pink and he had slit-nostrils in the middle of his face with a small line that went down from his bottom lip, and he had no eyebrows. On his chin were four small appendages, and he had tiny, pointed ears and a long dark hair braid on his head. He had five digits on his hands, and he wore a dark brown and tan monk-like robe on his body and stood at a height of five feet, eleven inches. His species was called Kotaran.

The others that stood by I'oshot-Uu agreed in unison. From behind his left side stepped out a gigantic alien robot that stood at a height of eight feet, glanced at Akinyemi with robotic eyes that emanated a deep purple and said - with a mechanical voice whose accent was reminiscent to that of an African-Frenchman, "It seems to me, that the best course of action for this mission we should take, would be a stealth approach. We should try not to get ourselves into a firefight with any Coalition troops down there." When he said this, a deep purple light emanated out of his mouth as well.

Most of everyone agreed with his plan, and Sterzl made a follow up, "We'll have your new captain dispatch your fireteam in a Mirage in this sector here, outside of Hamuran. The Remembering Exuberance will wait on the other side of the mountain pass twenty miles outside from the city's borders, away from the space-elevator, cloaked. We can't bring any unwanted attention to the ship. As the Eve, Tuill J'éd, just suggested, you guys will make your way stealthily to Excavation Site Four and mark your artifacts. Then you'll wait for the Mirages to extract you back, from there."

"What about the other fireteams, m'ada?" Tuill J'éd asked politely. His dark grey metallic body shimmered in the soft light of the holo-projections from underneath from a fur collared, armored shawl-gambisin.

"They'll do the same, but for their own designated artifacts, and await extraction with them. Don't worry, Tuill, y'all got this. If you don't mess this up, you can be in and out quickly, you shouldn't have to worry about the Coalition too much."

"Solid." He said, and crossed his metallic arms. He had three long digits on his hands that slightly clenched his arms in worry. On both sides of the head, near the top sloping out, were small protrusions that stuck out similar to that of a hammerhead shark. Instead of feet like the rest, he had tall, hoof-like kind instead, that he could easily maneuver on.

Red and Wispwaker glanced at each other from behind everyone. "Red, do you think this is a solid plan? -" The Luminere asked. Red replied with a confused shrug, and moved his right hand back and forth to symbolize 'more or less'. " - Yay us…" the Luminere responded helplessly as he hovered somewhat lower in the air than before.

Shoemaker sighed and removed himself from above the holotable. He hovered to the other end of the room near a wall mount of a gigantic skull that possessed rugged and curved antlers, adorned in intricate carvings and symbols, to be away from everyone else. He then stared at everyone as they stood around the holotable. One of the blue lights in the ceiling flickered as if it was a strobe light, but not enough to be jarring.

Fleet Admiral Sterzl and Imperial Admiral Addington exchanged glances briefly, and nodded. Then Addington turned his head towards the Atlas and asked, "You understand your mission Lieutenant Commander?"

Akinyemi just stood there silently for a moment to take everything in. Everyone in the war room glanced at him while he stood there almost unmoving. I'oshot-Uu began swinging his arms back and forth, and adjusted the weight to his left leg. Akinyemi took one quick glance down at Colonel Singer, then back at Addington, and replied, "Yessir."

He didn't feel reassured by this mission at all.

Imperial Admiral Addington, glanced back down at the projection of Captain Parri, and then ordered him to have the Remembering Exuberance depart for the Jericho System that afternoon. The captain nodded and the projection flashed away from the holotable. Addington stood up, and placed his arm behind his back after he wiped his forehead. He took one last look at Fireteam Dominion and Colonel Singer, and said, "You're free to go lady, and gentleman. Oh, and do succeed… or the DII, or Vanguard will wring our necks over a plasma boiler. Or the more likely, we will become extinct if we cannot do this correctly and thoroughly. Humanity, and the rest of the Blue Empire are counting on this success. That is an order."

Akinyemi's heart sank lower to his feet, but he composed himself nonetheless. He knew the stakes since he first left for the beginning of the Battle of Zephyr. The Coalition, and by extension the Warlord, had bottlenecked the United Legion after systematically and strategically star-hopping across multiple star systems; the Warlord had split up his armadas and ordered a synchronized glassing of dozens of colonies to drive out the reserve United Legion defensive fleets from the core worlds. He did this so he could annihilate them with one swing of his metaphorical sword, severing the head of the empire's remaining fleets.

The Department of Imperial Intelligence, an internal and foreign Imperial intelligence agency service of the Blue Empire, tasked with gathering, processing, and analyzing imperial security information throughout the Empire. It had been established hundreds of years prior, during the Blue-Green War with the Han Hattan Federation, a war started over miscommunication and resources in the Wild Space between the two civilizations. What quickly needed the war was the signing of the Treaty of Tapestries in 2361 CE. Most assumed that the DII was a puppet agency under the Emperor, but evidence pointed towards it most likely working outside the emperor's influence. The Vanguard was the high-elite security and military police force for the United Legion, having been around for at least a couple centuries. The Vanguard were the brightest, sharpest, and toughest Atlas, used mostly for guarding high-profile personnel such as Senators, Representatives, Ambassadors, Planetary Governors, high-ranking officers of the United Legion, as well as the emperor himself.

The nine of them clambered their way out of the war room, and it was somewhat of a struggle for Tuill and Red, as Leviathan Station was constructed during the early settling of the Proxima Centauri system in orbit around Elysium. The specs had never been updated for accommodating other species for the seven centuries it had existed except for acquiring and retrofitting newer technologies. The new Fireteam made their ways away from the door, however, Akinyemi was caught behind with a beck and call with Addington motioning towards him. Akinyemi stopped and turned, facing the Imperial Admiral. "My condolences, Lieutenant Commander. I've heard about the deaths of your previous fireteam, and I will be sending condolence letters to their families shortly."

"Thank you, sir." Akinyemi replied, trying to not reveal how he felt about the pain of their passing. His heart rate skyrocketed, but he did his best to quell it down. He reflected back to his own, it had been decades since he had even seen them. The war had kept him too preoccupied from getting a chance to return.

Fleet Admiral Sterzl picked up her Artemis again, and leaned into Addington a ways with a half reluctant expression on her face. He tried not to return the glance back at her, for he knew what she was thinking. Sterzl readjusted her holo-specs and asked, "...Do you think they'll make it?"

"I hope so," he replied detached, before being interrupted by an incoming technician dressed in a navy blue full bodysuit. "He's been through too much as of late. Dubois had been a mentor to him, the stress of Zephyr had gotten to all of us. Even me. I can only imagine what the Lieutenant Commander is going through… What is it?"

"A couple artifacts are being delivered now, sir." The technician said, running up to them. "The freighter is on its way to dock with the station now."

"Thank you." Addington signed the Artemis display confirming he was aware of the transfer. He oversaw the combined Proxima Centauri-Alpha Centauri systems in the last few years of the war, as more a measure of safety than just authority. There were at most six Imperial Admirals left of an original ordnance of five hundred strong at the beginning. He was originally stationed in the Hall of Admirals, an orbital station in orbit of Earth above the United Legion HQ in Morocco. The Imperial Admirals had then been widely dispersed and transferred across the Blue Empire's territory to rally disparate fleets and troops in an attempt to raise moral and drive back the overwhelming might of the Coalition. Most had perished from orbital bombardments or the decimation of entire United Legion fleets like that recently in the Hadmakmak System.

Akinyemi caught up to everyone else, as they made their way to the Exuberance. One of them reached out their hands and grabbed Akinyemi's forearm in a sign of respect, and said, "Lemme introduce myself, Lieutenant Commander, my face-name is Staliar. I do hope we know what we're getting into in this one, I never had to recover or retrieve artifacts during this war before, way above my paygrade. It's been mostly reconnaissance missions or firefights. Nothing like this." Staliar appeared to shudder slightly before he continued, "Excuse me sir, we Sagittarians aren't used to such hasty lives such as this war has been meaning us to live."

Akinyemi, didn't have anything to say but acknowledged what the Sagittarian said. He knew that Sagittarians could live indefinitely due to slower metabolic processing and their DNA telomeres didn't break down as easily as Humanity's once did before medical advancements almost stopped it entirely. Even despite this, Staliar's people remained neutral in the war, not wanting to get involved in the war fronts to remove themselves from the malicious gaze of the Coalition onslaught. However, millions of Sagittarians served regardless as they knew that they would be targeted once the Blue Banner burned. Akinyemi took a minute to reply, and said, "It's okay."

Staliar subesequently stopped and shimmered underneath the beaming lights dancing along the ceiling. He stood at a height of six feet, two inches and had golden skin, digitigrade legs that ended in hooves, and had four fingers. He had tiny ears on the sides of his head, eight tentacle-like appendages that draped down from the back of his head, and a small bony crest extended off his forehead. He had small eyes that were a light orange in color with vertical pupils, and had two sets of nostrils on each side of his neck instead of his face. He wore an ornate white and brown armored garb, with dark brown booted leg-pauldrons, and had a single shoulder pauldron on his left shoulder. His right arm was covered entirely with dark brown cybernetics, and had experienced markings along with it.

The cerulean lighting overhead them all flickered a few times down the corridors, and onto their right side, four Mirages zoomed to a distant Colossal-class carrier passed Leviathan Station. Staliar proceeded towards a nearby observation window on the battle deck as several soldiers and officers passed by, and the two remaining aliens of Dominion approached him with reverent strides.

The first stood a height of six feet, four inches, and had icy blue skin with small almond-shaped eyes that emitted a neon green light from his pupils, and had a narrow face with defined cheekbones. He as well had slit nostrils, and had pointed ears that extended up near the top of his head, and he had long silver hair pulled up into a top-knot bun. He wore a body-tight combat skin that covered his lithe build, that was black in coloration with neon green geometric lines that dipped into sharp angles and ran along the armor. His species was called Atani. The last one had approached Staliar on his right side, and stood there silently, and cupped his arms behind his back. This one stood at a height of six feet, one inch, and had an elaborate combat skin of his own commonly known as Koro. The Koro covered the entirety of the alien's body, and was bronze, grey, and a dark violet in coloration that had intricately weaves organic filigree throughout the suit, with small bronze lights that emanated out of the faceless helmet, chest piece, and shoulder pauldrons. It was simply known that he was a member of the mysterious and reclusive Uru species, and little was ever recorded about that people, and even him.

The Atani placed his right hand on Staliar's left shoulder, and spoke with a soft reassurance, "I understand that you have problems with hastiness again. You're exhausted, burned out, and wanting a break from all of this. But the Coalition has never taken a break from us, remember that. Thirty four years they've never backed down to extinguish our light. As sad as it is, you got a job to do - we've got a job to do. I wish I could return to my wife and call it a day, call it the rest of my life. However, this fireteam, this station, those fleets out there, everybody in this magnificent empire need us. That job is for us to serve and protect, so our Life Ways can't end, so this empire can't crumble, even under the infinite ruthality of our enemy's might. We're too strong to let them bring us down any longer, we have our hope, and our strength in us together. Now let's go." He smiled faintly at the Sagittarian through thin lips, and his neon green eyes shimmered under the cerulean light of the station.

"Thank you Marvin, the atmosphere of this station is heavy, and filled with so much fear and uncertainty. Everyone is completely horrified every day they reside here, just waiting for a Coalition dreadnaught to appear beyond the rim of the star and destroy us.

"You are welcome, ghi-doh. Now Staliar, Voiceless Cry, we must be off with our Atlas."

The Sagittarian and Uru followed their Atani comrade back to the rest of the fireteam, and the they made their way back to the side of the battle deck. A small Human officer with ginger hair accidentally bumped into Voiceless Cry, and tripped onto the floor with a thud. Voiceless knelt beside her, and extended his left arm to help prop her back up onto her feet. But then she realized that she had dropped some holo-files on the way down. He knelt back down, and hurriedly grabbed them for her as more officers passed by wondering what the commotion was about.

He returned them to her arms and she smiled at him. "Thank you," she said still grinning, "...have a nice day." He nodded back at her, straightening up his posture, and cupping his five-fingered hands against his back again.

As she walked away, she looked back at him with grey eyes and caught up to her fellow officers in a sea of ultramarine and grey. Voiceless swiveled on his right foot back to his comrades and everyone was staring at him with a smirk. He walked to them briskly with a nervous atmosphere about him.

The nine of them made their way towards a landing signal officer, signaling in an incoming Mirage from outside the station. He waved two blue glowing signal sticks back and forth over both sides of his head as it approached with a loud humming sound. As the Mirage lowered into a circular indentation on the floor of the battle deck, the signal officer, who was wearing a grey helmet, glanced back at Fireteam Dominion, waving at them to come closer. "Your Mirage has arrived just on time, Dominion!" he shouted over the chatter of the deck and the humming of the dropship, "Just stand underneath it, and you're good to go."

Dominion obeyed him and stood underneath it in the shadow, while the cerulean repulsor engines whirled around with a loud humming. Several officers including the signal officer saluted towards Col. Singer and Lt. Cmdr. Asari-Dokubo, as Dominion was translocated with a flash into the Mirage. The Mirage escalated slowly back into the air again, and turned back around towards the energy barrier of the battle deck, and drifted forward. Many more holographic real-time feeds loomed over the crowds heads replaying several onslaughts against their enemies throughout the Fringe. The Mirage then passed through the barrier and exited the station towards the Remembering Exuberance with Elysium and the red dwarf star, in the backdrop.

The inside of the Mirage was big enough to fit a few fireteams, and many curved seats lay coming out of the inner walls. Blue light emanated out of thin, linear panels along the ceiling overhead them. Everyone sat down beside each other, and several adjacent the rest. Both Red and Tuill J'éd struggled uncomfortably to fit in the seats, and buckled themselves in with energy restraints after sometime. The rest didn't have trouble at all and Wispwaker just hovered five feet off the ground as the metallic pieces continued to orbit him steadily.

No one really said a word save for I'oshot-Uu and Marvin Qinn. I'oshot-Uu adjusted his robes so they didn't bunch up in his crotch area with a look of slight uncomfortability on his face. He then turned his head back to Marvin, who was just staring off into nothing. "Marvin, are you doing alright?"

"Uhhh hmm? Ah yes. I'm just fine." He cupped his fingers in his own lap.

"Good… I was hoping dat noding was wrong. It's good noding is wrong."

"...Yes," Marvin replied with a sigh, and an expression of boredom appeared on his face.

Wispwaker hummed to himself gently, hovering around, while his shell's iris "blinked".

The Mirage began to shake violently as everyone's faces contorted into slight panic, and the metal screamed and shuddered against itself with several sparks flying out of some dark panels. A loud thud hit against the back-end of the Mirage and thrusted it forward, into another loud thud, and a slight crash. Yet, no one was totally unharmed. The pilot translocated them out, and they were in the hangar of the Remembering Exuberance. Some signaling officers and pilots ran towards them to help. "A-a-are you guys alright?" one asked.

Col. Singer brushed herself off, and looked at the Atani signaling officer, and replied, "Yeah, yeah we're good. We got banged up, but we're good."

"Ha.. good one. Lemme help you guys up," the officer knelt down and helped up I'oshot-Uu, and Staliar. Several other pilots in blue jumpsuits jogged towards them too, and helped up everyone else.

Akinyemi brushed himself off too, and turned his head to the right looking at the back of the Mirage, who lay gnarled in the inside of the dimly lit hangar, and there were a few massive and fresh energy burned holes through the hull of the dropship. Blue smoke poured out of the holes, and the surrounding area was blackened. Everyone looked back past the energy barrier to find a few ships firing at each other around Leviathan Station, as it shined against the red light of Proxima Centauri. The station then fired a volley of a powerful magnetic energy railgun - or MER - round, at a rogue cruiser that had crippled and destroyed a few light frigates near the station, and the fiery white MER round streaked out of the ODS at high speeds and impaled the cruiser, blasting past the energy shielding, directly into the ship itself, and the cruiser's weapons were disabled.

"What the -" Akinyemi's eyes opened wide in horror, at the sight from the hangar. From what Dominion could see, small starfighters and Mirages zoomed out of the rogue cruiser like a torrent towards Leviathan Station, but another MER round was fired against the cruiser, crippling the ship with fiery explosions of white, orange and blue. More ULBE ships turned in space to the rogue ULBE cruiser, and fired smaller MER rounds that also successfully penetrated the hull of the ship. The starfighters made their way for Leviathan Station, swerving around blue energy torpedoes launched right at them. One more MER round was fired at the cruiser, and the ship exploded with a fiery menagerie of white and blue, flinging massive shrapnel in all directions.

Col. Singer activated her Artemis, and was immediately patched to Imperial Admiral Addington, and his face looked distressed on the holo-screen when he flashed on. "W-what was going on out there?" she asked with stressed uncertainty.

Addington's face glanced at Fleet Admiral Sterzl off screen, then back at Singer, and he coughed after hesitating, then said, "I'm not too entirely sure… It appears that the ULBE Saving June was either hijacked by a rogue officer, or the captain in the bridge decided to establish a coup against this station… But we'll never know as.. You probably observed what happened…" A look of regret spread across Addington's face, and he blinked several times before continuing, "But you still have Operation: BOOMERANG as your top priority, Colonel, don't forget that. I'll have others search for, arrest, and interrogate the pilots of the surviving Mirages and Excalibur starfighters.. And the rest of the fleets in this system will remain on lockdown until I say otherwise. Best of luck to all of you, Addington out." He flashed away off the holo-screen of the Artemis. Col. Singer's face read that of exhaustion and fright, and she hadn't lowered her arms yet.

The Atani signal officer dashed for her, and placed his arm on her right shoulder, and she slowly turned her head towards him, gradually relaxing her shoulders, as she made eye contact with his neon yellow eyes. Tuill approached her as she turned her gaze up to him, and he asked, "You good?"

"Y-yes, thank you, Lieutenant."

Later, they arrived at the blast doors to the Command Bridge of the Remembering Exuberance, and Col. Singer tapped onto the holographic projections of the control panel. She scanned her thumb on the bio-scanner and it failed to open with a red glowing light right above it. She tried again, and the same result happened. After a third attempt, a face flickered up of Captain Parri, and he appeared slightly annoyed, "What do you want?"

"It's me, Colonel Singer from Leviathan Station, I'm afraid that my fingerprint doesn't have security clearance to enter the command bridge, even though I should... because of direct orders from Admiral's Addington and Sterzl." Her blue eyes narrowed a bit.

"Oh yeah, yeah. I'm sorry Colonel Singer, you may proceed to enter the Bridge…" The terminal clicked green, and the blast doors opened up diagonally to reveal a massive Bridge. Struts curved from the vaulted ceiling to the floor on the sides, and the walkway ended in a 'walk off' that overlooked the bridge, with Captain Parri standing in the middle of it next to a few blue holographic star charts and logistics as they hovered from the platform. On both sides of the platform let down a dip of stairs to the rest of the bridge, with consoles and control panels being occupied by the Deck Officers. In the middle of the lower floor was the holotable where a translucent green AI stood reverently. He flashed up next to Captain Parri as Colonel Singer and Fireteam Dominion proceeded in.

Akinyemi gazed out of the massive observation windows that wrapped from the front to near the sides of the bridge. The observation windows overlooked Elysium with patience as a gentle red light peered in from Proxima Centauri.

Colonel Singer walked up to Captain Parri, shaking his hand, and they exchanged a small smile to each other. He stood about just an inch taller than her, and appeared much older. Experienced wrinkles lay on his face with several burn scars across his cheeks and forehead, and were in darker tint than the rest of his brown skin. His ultramarine and silver uniform gleamed in the lights of the command bridge, and revealed many medals from his service for the Blue Empire. He turned back around, gazing at Elysium, and cupped his hands behind his back. "So.. the warriors come back from the flame, just to return. Sometimes I don't agree with those Admirals' decisions.. But it must be for the best."

I'oshot-Uu glanced around, and nudged Voiceless Cry and Marvin, and pointed at all the starships zooming through space above Elysium, and his robes swayed as he moved his arm. "What such a beautiful world," he remarked, "Dis is actually de first time I've seen dis place. It's remarkable. One day I hope to visit it's Sohai Temple. I heard it's almost on par with the Grand Temple on Kotar."

Voiceless Cry nodded at him, sighing silently, and twiddled his own thumbs a bit behind his own back. Red and Tuill just stood there, glancing at each other. "I just want to get this over with already." Tuill said. Red took a second to respond, adjusted his vest, and clicked his tongue back in response, and they both laughed quietly. Staliar leaned against the wall near the door, folding his arms, and didn't say a word either.

Wispwaker hovered forward near the green Luminere on the holo-pedestal next to the captain, and the AI turned around to look at him, and his face lit up a bit. "Another fellow Luminere! Nice to meet you, I'm Arrowhead. Who are you?"

"Wispwaker, at your service." Wispwaker tilted his Luminere shell downwards in the air to symbolize a bow.

"I haven't seen another one for awhile, save for Chatterbox. Nice shell by the way."

"Thanks, I do like the ancient aesthetic you have with your avatar projection. Ancient Roman, right?"

"Yes." Arrowhead smiled, and glanced back at Captain Parri.

Arrowhead's projection displayed an old Roman centurion armor over his main avatar. It had the layered strips of metal covering his chest pauldron, and shoulders, with bracers and armored boots. His galea, or helmet, had covered his entire head, exposing his face, and had a large, feathered crest on the top, arching over laterally.

Captain Parri sighed, checked his holographic watch, and the projections in front of him on the overlook. He then glanced down in unamusement, at the deck officers down below. He coughed before saying, "Officer Nayak, enter the coordinates for the Jericho System, and proceed to reroute power into the Riftspace engines."

"Right away Captain." Officer Nayak scratched her arm, while moving her dark hair out of her face, and typed the coordinates into the navigation console.

"All military personnel return to the Exuberance immediately. All remaining Mirages and Excalibur fighters outside the ship head back into the hangars, and prepare for riftspace warp." Arrowhead said, as he transmitted and broadcasted the message across the ship's intercoms. After a few minutes, everyone returned to the ship, then it flashed away in a spherical bubble of distorted space and lightning, and the Exuberance was gone from the Proxima Centauri System.

In the command bridge, everyone was silhouetted by the cosmic microwave background radiation pulled and shaped into a radiant kaleidoscope of frequencies and xrays. This "eye of the universe" appeared an opaque vantablack at the center of the distorted transit field of riftspace with a single white-gold dot at its center representing the far-flung star of Jericho. The blanketed refracting lights pulled and pushed in between the dimensions as if the ship was swallowed into a metaphysical esophagus of space time, held open with statically charged ions that caressed and danced golds and blues away from the infrared shield of the Exuberance. The riftspace tunnel retracted and pulled away from them and ripped open into what appeared an infinite fractal of dazzling colors and radiation, pulsing a disembodied, synchronous heartbeat to the cosmos.

Despite being a very common sight for the deck officers, along with any and all starships of the galaxy, staring directly into this void over a long duration would cause psychological damage as the brains of Humanity could only contain and comprehend so much of its wonders. The best way to prevent this "space shock" was layers of blast shields or tinted, reflected lens.

Captain Parri stood transfixed at this tunnel, and his eyes reflected its majesty. "I can never get over this sight, Lieutenant Commander. No matter how often we've all seen it. It's one of the most consistently beautiful sights to behold of our existence. Even though we once again face danger ahead. My first time gazing upon this was when I was but a child, transiting from my homeworld to visit distant relations for a traditional Hindu marriage ceremony. It always reminded me of a moth to a flame, but never in a lethal way. Time seems to stand still in riftspace, no beginning, no end. Just existence."

"Is he alright?" Colonel Singer asked, shifting her gaze towards Akinyemi.

"It appears he may have an early onset of space shock." Wispwaker analyzed before Akinyemi spoke a word. "Or perhaps this is his only escape from the war."

A week later, they entered back into the Fringe, still in riftspace. Captain Parri stood against the holotable on the command bridge, leaning over it with his palms pressed against the cold metal. Sweat slid from his forehead and dripped onto the holotable as his eyes darted around. He appeared withdrawn due to war fatigue and his fixation of the riftspace illumination.

Arrowhead flashed up in front of him with a green light, and his avatar leaned forward, interested, yet concerned. "Is everything alright Captain?"

"...Yeah, sure. Everything is fine." Captain Parri didn't look up at Arrowhead in front of him. His face read that of withheld frustration, and he didn't move. A small chatter amongst the officers gave a sense of white-noise as the captain zoned out yet again, while clinching the holotable now. Arrowhead just stood there with his one and a half foot tall projection.

Officer Nayak turned around from her console to the captain, and said, "ETA for arrival in the Jericho System is around ten minutes, sir."

"..." He didn't notice, and continued to stand there in some form of trance.

"Sir?" Nayak asked, as she and a few more officers turned around in their floating seats.

Captain Parri jolted out of his trance and turned his head towards his left to notice everyone staring at him. Their faces were washed with worry, and he didn't respond. His short dark hair glistened in the lights due to the gel he had. He then stood up, and pivoted towards them. "Yes? Something wrong?" His face was almost expressionless.

"Everything's fine over here, sir. But what I said was that the ETA for our arrival in the Jericho System was around ten minutes."

"Oh, thank you Officer Nayak."

"Anytime, Captain. Are you sure you're alright? You gave us a scare."

"Yeah, I think I'm just nervous. I'll, I'll be fine." He then proceeded up to the Captain's Overlook just up the stairs, and pressed his index finger against the holo-projections in front of him, broadcasting over intercom. "All fireteams and legionnaires get yourselves armed, ready, and report to hangars A-F. We're about to arrive in the Jericho System, and I want all of you prepared. That is an order." He removed his finger from the projection, and then pressed a black button on a small console in front of himself, revealing a moving panel right below and behind him. The panel opened silently, and materialized a hovering chair for him. He sat down, leaning back, and pressed his hands together and against his face.

Akinyemi resided in his quarters, a small room with a round porthole for viewing the void beyond. It was considered cozy for his rank yet he still felt cramped due to his immense height. He sat up on his bed and clutched a small wooden amulet in his hands, wrapped with beads and shells. He stared at it with a sense of lost longing, and sighed before standing up. He motioned for the holoscreen at the far end of the room to dematerialize and behind it was his IAPETUS combat suit. He fitted it around his frame and rematerialized the power armor around himself. The ultramarine and silver glinted in the warm white light, as his visor glew its usual cerulean hue. He then grabbed his energy burst-fire rifle, and and his Verdant rifle, slung them on his armor. This Trident rifle was designed with similar function to the Verdant, but its casing was slenderer and had a holo-point scope hovering just above the lateral plating and it fired in three round bursts in succession of each other with semi-automatic precision. He walked across his room and stared transfixed at a small holographic projection of his homeworld; a beautiful blue-green planet of revered tradition and honor. Yemoja was one of the most respected and prosperous Inner Colonies of the Blue Empire, regularly receiving some of the most trade between worlds. Its main exports and renown were of starship manufacturing, agriculture, and its high-class culture seen as one of the most "modernized" colonies to date. He sighed again despite merely glancing at the projection and pulled out a drawer of a few energy grenades, equipped them to his armor, and proceeded out of the room.

After quickly exiting his quarters, which was in the middle of the ship, he jogged straight to the nearest elevator, pressing the projections to descend towards the hangar bays. After a minute, and anxious pacing, the elevator doors slid open with a ding, and he proceeded inside. There were several armored legionnaires with their Trident and Verdant rifles, held in their hands, facing the floor. Sweat poured from their faces, and a few casually glanced at their lieutenant commander with frightened eyes. Akinyemi towered over them as he stood there, shifting his weight to his right leg. They stared up at him in revered awe, yet neither of them piped a sound.

Finally, after another minute, the elevator doors chimed, and stopped. The holo-display read Hangar B, and the doors opened to a massive hangar filled with the ultramarine and silver Mirages, grey Excaliburs, ultramarine hover tanks, quads, and transport vehicles. The elevator occupants stormed out in single file lines, while dispersing away and into the hangar before darting to their assigned vehicles, waiting to be translocated up into them.

Akinyemi ran up, and found his fireteam all geared up in their respective armors and weapons in-hand. No one said anything at first but all made eyes at their fireteam commander. Staliar's eyes were wide open and he appeared uneasy, while his hooves shook out of anxiety, and he kept pacing around in figure eights about himself, trying to keep his composure.

"Keep your wits about you. We can't have you losing yourself in the middle of battle." Marvin turned towards him. "Just think of calm waterfalls from Sagittar, remember. Think of the long flutes, the shimmering cityscapes, the fragrant and golden trees. Think of me, I'oshot-Uu, and Voiceless. Think of all this being over, and we are relaxing amongst the gleaming shores. You'll have your family with you. Think and release. Think and release, ghi-doh."

"I'm trying, I am. Something just feels very wrong about this operation. I feel the screams of the dead in the desolation in my tendrils. Their life energies reaching out to the stars, crying out for in despair and helplessness. This was one of the worst invasions this empire had ever seen." Staliar continued to figure eight until he noticed Akinyemi approaching.

Fireteam Dominion stood around half-attention in their restlessness that they forgoed the formalities of protocol. Their postures were sunken, and their moods were grim. Wispwaker hovered away from the rest of the fireteam and next to his Atlas, and asked, "You ready... Atlas?"

"As ready as I'll ever be." He didn't look down at the Luminere, but stared blankly ahead at the Mirage ahead of him.

A few Atlas fireteams showed up with insertion squads of Legionnaires next to them. The Atlas' armor colors were different than each others, such as dark crimson, beige, dark steel, and cobalt. The one with beige approached, closer, and actually had some silver trimming, and a small red sash dangling from the right shoulder pauldron of his power armor. His helmet had a thick upside-down, Y-shaped visor that glew a pale yellow. He approached Akinyemi, shaking his hand, and spoke with a Pakistani accent, "I know we're meeting on what may be our last days, but its good to finally meet you in person, Lieutenant Commander. I heard the songs of your successes throughout the years against the Coalition. Sāḍē kōla hōra hō sakadā hai. I'm Major Hassan Dahma, and I'm the leader of Fireteam Jackhammer, here."

Akinyemi gently nodded at the major in affirmation. "Indeed, and likewise to you, Major. Back on The Fallen Saint, there were talks of your team shattering a blockade runner with spare grenades to the fusion reactor, and the sacrifice of your Luminere. My condolences. How've you been faring in the war as of late?"

"It's been tough for us, to be brutally honest. Besides losing my Lumineres, my fireteam fell short of three members not too long ago… I'd say just over a week ago, back on Chadwick. It was supposed to be an insertion mission, bring in an anti-matter bomb, plant it into a Coalition dreadnaught, and escape before detonation. The dreadnaught alone occupied the whole planet, and we lost dozens of cruisers to even arrive on board. The mission was... a pyrrhic success..." Major Dahma tilted his head down a bit, widening his stance.

The ship's intercoms buzzed over the hangar again, and Areowhead's voice resounded throughout the hangar, "ETA for Zephyr is two minutes. Everyone enter your ships, and prepare for riftspace exit."

"Here we go…" Tuill chimed unenthusiastically.

A nearby Kotaran pilot ran up in a blue armored jumpsuit, carrying his helmet in his left arm, placed the helmet on his head, and entered into the cockpit of the Mirage. The fireteams nearby were subsequently translocated inside in groups of six at a time. The white lights of the hangar danced off of the metallic hull of the Mirage, shimmering somewhat as it ascended through the air, waiting. Several more Mirages nearby rose up as well, locking onto tanks and transport units, beaming them up to be carried to the world's surface.

Captain Parri leaned forward in his command chair in the bridge, tapping his leg up and down, as well as clasping his own hands together. He pulled out a holo-disk, looked at it, and returned it to his pocket. A memento from days past of his old commanding officer. His old CO was like a father figure to him like Dubois was to Akinyemi. His eyes glazed a bit as he sat there, trying to not forget the few good moments he had, to remember what he was still fighting for. Arrowhead flashed up on the holo-pedestal next to him on his right, and his avatar sat down in a chair of his own.

"ETA for arrival is less than thirty seconds, Captain," Officer Nayak said over the long silence.

He glanced up over at her, and frowned, "Thank you."

"Anytime." Nayak's response was automatic, yet comforting.

With a flash of a distorted space-time rupture and cascading static lightning, the Exuberance arrived in the Jericho System. Through the observational windows, the bridge witnessed Zephyr in the distance ahead, and they were far enough away it appeared as small as the moon in the night sky above Earth. Around the solar system, a bright nebula of gassy pinks, greens, and oranges hung like a curtain in the void, light years across, shimmering in melancholic wonder.

Zephyr orbited Jericho, a yellow main-sequence star, roughly one astronomical unit away. The usual weather patterns were relatively mild yet cyclically leaned towards verdant-tundra worldwide due to a constant shift in the rotational axis of the planet. It never mattered for the original colonists, as the planet was already habitable for Humanity before its subsequent colonization. Zephyr had an atmosphere comprised of mostly nitrogen and oxygen natively making it that more adamant to call a new home for the Outer Colonies. The planet was smaller than Earth at about seven eighths the size, and had two small moons orbiting it, a brown one named Casimir, and a white one named Maris, respectively. Both of these moons were shattered with lingering orbiting debris bombarding the planet every few hours.

The Remembering Exuberance's sub-light trajectory gradually slowed before arriving just above the planet. From the command bridge, the officers could see the battle scars across the helpless colony's surface. Across the surface were impact craters due to Coalition and moon debris orbital bombardment, with recent glassing striations seared into the upper hemisphere, centered around the continents Delab and Huriah. The ship changed its descent trajectory for the southern hemisphere of the planet towards the other continent, Saymarie. Most of the world was burned and sundered, with large magma veins spewing out it from miles-wide ravines, and great shattered chunks of the continental crust exposing the gold-hot mantle of the planet. Some of these thousand-mile chunks were broken away like sliced and battered fruit, unable to reform into a solid sphere with the rest of Zephyr, orbiting around the dead world. Only a few pockets of habitation remained on the planet around Saymarie.

The atmosphere in the bridge tensed up in devastation and angered remorse. The Coalition had nearly severed the planet in two from the invasion. Everyone's exhausted demeanors were transitioned into unsanctioned rage, and Captain Parri himself clenched his arm rests until his knuckles bled white.

"I can't believe this place used to be a garden world. Serene, tranquil, peaceful. Now…it's just...nothing." One of the bridge crew spoke with remorseful bitterness. "Broken and dead."

"So it begins…" Captain Parri remarked, narrowing his eyes in sorrow.

The battlecruiser's trajectory continued towards the Southern Hemisphere, but glinting around it were the scattered and clustered graveyards of forgotten and broken ships, United Legion and Coalition alike. Zephyr was surrounded by this thick cloud of metallic debris; weather, communications, and war satellites, shattered orbital defense platforms, and disemboweled warships. It was nearly impossible to navigate through the torrent of the battle as orbiting derelict Coalition and United Legion dreadnaughts and supercarriers dwarfed the sanctuaric vessel returning to the storm. As the Exuberance made its way deeper into the heart of the graveyard, great storms plummed into orbit with vertical hurricanes nearby, and distant fleets of Coalition war parties began scouring for any remaining artifacts.

Chapter 3

"We're cutting it close, we gotta steer clear of the storms."

"How far away are the war parties? The dreadnaughts? Warbringers?"

"Less than five clicks out. The Exuberance needs to activate active camouflage if we expect to last a few days. Can't go more than that or we will be glassed from above."

"Can't we just glass them back?"

"No, I'm afraid protocol won't let us, remember Faraday?"

"Shit...you're right. We're fucked, just like this sad planet."

"We still have a chance, just gotta give the fireteams their time, and we're outta here."

"Got it, over."

Thirty Mirages zoomed out of the Remembering Exuberance, towards the outskirts of the capital, Hamuran. The sky was covered in a thick blanket of grey overcast, with old contrails lingering in the atmosphere. Around the large mountainside wee blankets of verdant yet dull forests with thick foliage spread out in dense canopies. Nearby cities lay in desolate ruin, with a few skyscrapers still barely clinging to the sky.

The planet was founded as an Outer Colony during the Blue Empire's Fourth Colonial Mass Expansion between the years 2888 CE-2936 CE near the galactic Long Bar, in the Orion Spur. It declared official colony hood on February 21, 2921 CE. It was favored in this region for its natural mass deposits of uranium, and titanium. The southern continent of Saymarie had a lusher climate, and more deposits, resulting in the capital being moved there. Up until the Battle of Zephyr, the planet had one of the largest Human populations of the Outer Colonies.

Akinyemi and the rest of Fireteam Dominion stood cluttered inside the Mirage that it, and fireteams Jackhammer, and Breadbox were occupying in. A few squads of Legionnaires sat on the seats along the walls, minding their own business as they were too reluctant to say anything. Akinyemi didn't have anything to say either, just after Colonel Singer spoke with him through a closed commlink channel. He quickly overheard a conversation taking place just a few feet away from him between two Legionnaires, trying to cheer each other up.

"...Hey," acknowledged a female voice. "This is a really good song - you should check it out," she had just finished listening to the audio from inside her helmet.

"The song? Who sings it?" The other responded, raising a curious eyebrow underneath his helmet. He shifted his body towards the direction of the private, leaning in closely.

"How, can you not know Ha'jar?," The private seemed surprised. "You've never heard of the band, Magnolia Raindance? They're really popular in the Inner and Middle Colonies."

"Not really, Maria. Remember, I barely joined you Humans in the United Legion not too long ago. I'm from the Yedhe world homeworld, Morohd. My species doesn't usually listen to your modern music there. " He said with a deep voice, reflectively.

"Have you been living in one of the isolated communities, or something? The United Legion isn't only comprised of Humans, remember?" Maria pointed at Red, Tuill, and back at Ha'jar, as an example with her right index finger.

"On second thought, yes. You're right. Nevermind." Ha'jar replied, while his dark skin reflected off the light from the inside of the Mirage, "What genre are they anyways?"

"Psylux. Think… psychedelic folk, mixed with flux metal."

"Ahh…" Given the tone of voice, Akinyemi knew that the Yedhe didn't know what she was talking about. "Will they be playing anywhere soon?"

"Yeah, actually they are. Around the next time we're on leave, they will be performing at Moe's Place. Y'know that space station nightclub in the Horsehead Nebula? Just...gotta get through this…"

"Yeah, that's catchin'. I've been there, at least once or twice. Maybe I could come along with you, see what this band's all about. It should raise our spirits up."

"For sure! Fingers crossed we don't die here, first!" She told him, sarcastically, "Oh, and the main singer, Jarren Ryan, is really hot by the way."

"You're into him? Weird." He cringed, prolonging their next interactment. His dark face made a weird expression as he glanced at her through natural purple eyes.

"Yeah…so?" She made a half-cheeky face at him.

"How far out are we?" Another voice sounded on the Mirage's commlink channel, while Akinyemi continued to remain silent.

"It shouldn't be much longer. Quick insertion. The Coalition won't know that we're underneath their wretched noses." The pilot of Akinyemi's Mirage replied.

"They have ships looming in the sky corporal… Can't you see? It's only a matter of time."

"I know you're distressed. I am too. I got a family back at Elysium waiting for me."

"Better prepare the condolence letters."

"Don't say that man, for reals. None of us should even be back here. I don't understand why the Imperial Admiral's op is so classified. Just to retrieve a Composer artifact? We got plenty back in the Core. He's trying to get us all killed at this point."

"It would be a waste, really."

"Thanks."

"I wasn't talking about you, I was referring to the Mirage you're piloting."

"...thanks."

A pounding explosion jolted the Mirage, shaking everyone within the dropship. Before anyone could discern the cause, a second one immediately followed behind and fireteams Dominion and Jackhammer were translocated instantaneously out. However, everyone still lingered in the sky. As they plummeted to the forests below, the Mirage they were in exploded with a fury of white and blue flames, before everyone else could escape. A thunderous boom resounded throughout the valley below the Dauritak Mountain Range. Several more Mirages were fired upon, exploding as well, scattering the rest of the soldiers for the Operation and the dropships dropped like flies as they plummeted into the valley below. The fireteams were able to provide themselves with enough reverse propulsion from their suits so they wouldn't collide with the trees, and the ground. But most of the Legionnaire platoons lay scattered everywhere, dead. Akinyemi clambered to his feet, horrified by the events that just quickly took place, and he could hear the distant volleys of energy discharges echo around the valley. He stumbled towards Red, who was lying a ways away, snagged in a tree.

The Bir'vo's limbs were flailed about in the branches, and he had short raspy breaths that ended in painful moaning. His head was cocked back, and gasping for air, disassembling his helmet in the process to attempt to breathe easier. He lifted his head back up, and carefully climbed down from the branches of the forty foot tree and landed on the ground. He then proceeded to make his way towards the Atlas, and the rest of their fireteam.

I'oshot-Uu scrambled his way up, with the shadows of the leaves dancing off of his brown and golden intricately designed battle armor. He still wore the original gauntlets he had before when first meeting the Atlas, and he outstretched his arms, level with his waist, slowly raising them with his palms facing upwards. As he did this, small green lights on them glew and everyone else was subsequently raised to their feet.

Tuill and Staliar glanced at him in amazement from several yards away in some underbrush. "How did you do that?" Tuill asked, shifting his metallic body towards the Kotaran. He towered over Staliar who tried to stand right next to him.

"De technology and philosophy of Kotaran Sohaiism." I'oshot-Uu replied, giving him a small bow in the dirt, and moved towards the Atlas as well.

"Meaning?" Tuill asked, intrigued. His metallic casing glinted underneath the dark haze of the sky above, he shouldered his rifle over the matted fur of his armor. He tried listening to the Kotaran as more Mirages plummeted from the sky.

"Sohai, drough the use of dese kinetic gauntlets…" I'oshot-Uu continued, while raising his arms up a bit. "...are able to tap into de vibrational energies of de universe by manipulating and vibrating de very atoms and molecules dat make it up. I joined when I was still a child, dedicating my life to focus and study of it. To make sure I didn't deviate from my new path, I took an oath of isolation, abstinence, and sobriety. Before joining you guys, I had only been a part of de order for a few decades, but I'm still willing to continue my journey when de time comes."

"That is rather fascinating, I've always only heard of the Sohai Order, but never knew it took such dedication." Wispwaker replied excitedly.

"Dere must only be pure dedication, and focus. If not, I can never truly grasp de understanding to master one-ness with de fundamental teachings of using de gauntlets, for de right purpose, as well as de true worship of de Living Hum."

"I would like to know more sometime, when we get the chance…" Wispwaker started, before being interrupted by Staliar struggling and collapsing back onto the ground in sharp strikes of pain.

Staliar attempted to stand on his hooves again, however, his legs gave in, and he collapsed into the dirt, caking his white and brown armor. He reached up his left arm for anyone to grab, flexing his fingers for the rest of Dominion to notice.

Tuill subsequently grabbed him with his free arm, in an attempt to help him stand. However, Staliar's leg left let buckled underneath his weight, and Tuill nearly dropped him.

"Muh, muh.. Muh leg is broken. I c-can't stand up." He dropped his arms to the ground, sighing in between each great burst of pain.

Marvin soon arrived out of the thickets, "Tuill, will you do the honors of carrying him?"

"Yeah.. I can do that." Tuill placed his left arm underneath the Sagittarian this time, and wrapped his other one around, carrying him. "You'll be my fire support."

Staliar just sighed through the pain, and said through sharp gritted teeth, "Fair… enough."

He slumped with frustration and duress. "We're already far behind, and I can't get ahold of anyone. Where's the Atlas? What's going on?"

Voiceless Cry just stood there, and equipped his Trident rifle, slouching his posture. Voiceless Cry also had an energy sword holstered along his back as well, and the metallic hilt glinted back, with a small golden tassel dangling from it. He extended the hilt towards Marvin, facing it downwards.

"So, the other fireteams, the Legionnaires? Dead?"

Voiceless nodded reluctantly.

Akinyemi shuddered and shook with anxiety from the explosions, as abundant ringing pounded his eardrums. His mind raced a million miles an hour but soon stopped after he found time to compose himself. Red placed a free hand on his shoulder, and tilted his head in an indication to check up on him. Akinyemi slowed his breathing and they scavenged around for any extra supplies they came across.

"Where is everyone else?" Akinyemi finally had the ability to speak once his heart rate reached homeostasis.

Red straightened his posture, seemingly growing an extra foot taller than before as he outstretched his body to increase his sensory range. His ears gently twitched in the wind, and he pointed through the thickets. Red brushed the bushes aside, making way for Akinyemi to hobble through.

"Fireteams Jackhammer, Breadbox? Can anyone read me?" Akinyemi pressed his hand to the side of his helmet, activating the long range commlink.

There was nothing but static and white noise.

Torrential winds kicked up layers of leaves around their feet, swirling and churning through the cold air. Red reassembled his helmet to protect his soft facial tissues, and to remove any ash and dust away from his eyes. The wind currents had carried much of the glasslands' ash from other regions of Saymarie, and distant tremors from underneath the mantle caused minor earthquakes under their feet.

"How did you even find your way on board The Fallen Saint anyways? We all left in a hurry and there wasn't any mention of Redshifters or other mercenaries groundside." Akinyemi pondered towards Red as they widened their stances to keep from collapsing to the ground.

Red shifted his gaze down towards the Atlas and shrugged, followed by sly whistle-clicks and chirps. He projected an image from his armor, showcasing his involvement with a small battalion of other Bir'vo Redshifters. They aided civilians onto transport vessels on the other side of Huriah, however their main task was even unknown to Red himself. What little he knew was they were to set up a HHF communications relay with the rest of the United Legion, allowing for Federation defense fleets to aid the Blue Empire in protecting the planet, however those reinforcements never arrived. Red then fled towards the side of the continent in the face of Coalition onslaught as stray com signals indicated that the United Legion was to evacuate immediately. It took him several days to arrive at the coast of the continent, as the destroyer was about to depart for Quicksilver. Red was the only one left of his unit to survive.

Akinyemi's heart sank once more, he too heard that the Han Hattan Federation and the Eve Collective were going to send reinforcements and alleviate the war front of the broken and scattered United Legion fleets. Zephyr was just as important to the other empires as it was for the Blue Empire. The Coalition hadn't just targeted the Blue Empire in its galactic-scale genocide, and all three allied civilizations counted on the survival of Zephyr to delay the continued Coalition advance into their territories despite the decades of desolation. This Triumvirate relied on Zephyr to chart the fleet patterns of their joint adversary as they needed more time to manufacture and distribute more warships for defense of the local sectors. However, Akinyemi believed they abandoned the United Legion and he had grown desperate as he lost most of his original fireteam.

They soon arrived into an open clearing to find Wispwaker, Tuill, Marvin, Staliar, Voiceless, and I'oshot-Uu waiting for them. The rest of the fireteam were sulking and helpless, wincing away from distant gunfire and missiles. But once they saw their Lieutenant Commander and the Redshifter, their spirits raised somewhat once more.

"Is he okay?" Akinyemi asked, noticing Staliar within Tuill's grip.

"I'm afraid not, sir. His leg broke upon forest entry. He's my individual fire support until we find meds." Tuill replied, returning his attention to the Sagittarian. "Usually his species heals extremely well from basic wounds, but...given the circumstances, I'm afraid it will take longer than the operation to patch him up. Nothing's left of the surrounding cities or their infrastructure, save for Hamuran."

"He's right." Staliar sighed.

Akinyemi knew this from early xenobiology studies from his primary school on the different client species under the Blue Banner. There were over a dozen separate species besides Humanity a part of the mighty and far stretched interstellar civilization. Sagittarians for one were long lived, on average mildly tempered compared to everyone else, and their head tendrils could sense and discern the emotions of others. They weren't quick to anger, and enjoyed fine luxury anywhere they could afford it. They mostly kept to their homeworld or their own colonies but they were still widely distributed throughout the Blue Empire. On Akinyemi's homeworld, despite it being one of the most popular of colonies, rarely encountered Sagittarians.

Akinyemi found Wispwaker spinning around on himself, and grabbed him with both of his hands. "You good?" His voice trembled, but he covered it up the best he could.

"Sure, sir. I'm just dandy..." He replied sarcastically, trying to hide his fear of death, and the light in his iris flickered and popped. "We've been waiting for you for what feels like hours. We must press on."

Akinyemi readjusted his shell's circuits, allowing for Wispwaker to hover beside him once more. Akinyemi placed his left index finger on the side of his helmet once more, and tried reconnecting to the other fireteams and the Exuberance a second time. There still was too much interference, and even the HUD was distorted and choppy, not relaying the scanners properly. "Dammit...We're going in blind Dominion, and I can't seem to get ahold of anybody. Tried to before I found you, and still nothing even now."

"How did they even see us?" Marvin exclaimed inching closer to the Atlas while Voiceless and I'oshot-Uu followed from behind. "We're too far from the war parties."

"Doubtful with all honesty." Tuill replied cold faced. "The Coalition have been waiting for the United Legion to return and we are within the only habitable land left of the planet. They could've set up outposts throughout this entire mountain range, hoping at least one stray ship would entire their sights. But we had thirty. This is not the best operation at all by far, and I agree with our former pilot: the Imperial Admiral's tight lips on this is suspicious."

"I can help a bit with that, Atlas. I may not be able to re-establish coms, but I can provide a map." Through his flickering iris he projected a six feet by six feet holographic map of the surrounding areas. "Here is our destination, three clicks due north east." Wispwaker placed a white circular waypoint on the destination of Excavation Site Four. It was inside a mining cave, underneath the Dauritak mountains, that curved up north, and around to the west of the outer reaches of Hamuran, and the Longbow Valley. The Dauritak Mountain had only recently seen its mining operations before the invasion while local miners were hoping to extend the capital through and around the mountain range. Millions of refugees from former worlds had fled to Zephyr in hopes of starting new lives away from the war, and the new surplus was too much for the capital and the surrounding districts to contain.

Akinyemi nodded in acknowledgement while overhearing everyone else's opinions on their situation. He tuned them out the best he could so he could focus. "Thank you, now we have sight of our destination once more. On my way here there were local tremors, maybe from the earthquakes, maybe from distant orbital bombardment. Either way, we must hurry. We have at most a few days to accomplish this mission before the Exuberance abandons us." Akinyemi wasn't even sure how much time they had left at this point, but he wanted to make sure to accomplish the op as quickly as possible. "Once we arrive in the city, let's try to reach out to any surviving platoons and fireteams, and by extension the battlecruiser."

"The local communication grid is fried, sir." Wispwaker warned, I can't even access any of the map layouts of Hamuran.

"Are there any comms towers nearby?" Akinyemi asked, turning towards the Luminere in apparent frustration. "I'll have one of you use your armor's broadband to expand the comm signals in regular pulses to reach out to anyone else."

"Near the Governor's District. That's all I know. But what you're thinking is dangerous Akinyemi. That could draw in literally all the war parties as far as ten miles away."

"Do we really have any other options?"

"You're right."

Voiceless Cry shook his head in disbelief, and tightened his grip on his Trident rifle. He grew restless and his legs bounced in anticipation from the potential threats nearby. Tuill lowered his rifle and sighed, "I'm going with the Atlas on this… we just gotta try. I know we have our mission but how do we expect to survive without help?"

Before they departed for their waypoint, more violent tremors scoured the forests, rattling the trees with a gradual increase of uncertainty. Fireteam Dominion all decided to head out in silent unison, and proceeded towards their assigned destination. Dark smoke seeped in from the thickets and ash clouds churned in from a few miles away, all of them growing restless this time. During the meantime, Akinyemi immediately had strong, and vivid flashbacks, to a few weeks prior.

Fireteam Longsword had lost about half their members, and Huriah was still constantly bombarded by combined fleets of dozens of dreadnaughts and warbringers, incinerating the landscape in violet waves of incinerating plasma that had temperatures reaching greater than the core of a star. The United Legion was bottlenecked into a small region, with most of their supercarriers colliding with the landscape, towering above the crumbled cities like miles tall skyscrapers. The Warlord had concentrated the bulk of his forces into the central regions of the continent as a ruse. He had originally hoped to find a vast reservoir of Composer artifacts, but his reconnaissance teams had returned to him empty handed. In response, the Warlord wanted the United Legion to bring the relics to him, and he faked a transmission that broadcasted out in boast that he had found a relic that could immediately detonate the planet. He told Imperial Admiral Addington that if they don't surrender or meet him face to face, he would shatter the world.

While the rest of the in-atmosphere United Legion fleets had embarked for the center of Huriah, the sky was coalesced with heavy rain. The Fallen Saint stayed behind to provide aerial support and defense for Akinyemi and dozens of fireteams. Longsword, among the others, were tasked with deleting the nav data, redeploying more reinforcements, blowing up Coalition supply lines, and carpet bombing their fire bases. Akinyemi and the rest of Longsword were being systematically hunted by disparate war parties for hours, as they were held up in an abandoned building near the center of a large city. Plasma radiation burns lay through broken insta-crete, and metal scaffolds. The towering skyscrapers above had collapsed and several space elevators were destroyed, scattered across the landscape. Holo-files, disintegrated furniture, and sizzled corpses lay scattered all over the building's fourth floor. Longsword were sent up there specifically to be the ones to extract and delete information regarding the planet and star-coordinates for nearby colonies. However, the war parties had trapped them into the only remaining comms building as most of the underground United Legion and DII bases were torched and buried.

The hunting parties primarily consisted of one of many species of the Coalition; what the Blue Empire knew as Draxii. The Draxii stood at an imposing nine to ten feet tall, and were lithe in build and stature, but possessed a wide arrangement of advanced technology and strength. The Draxii had a Humanoid shape but had three digits on their hands, and six to eight appendages dangling from the back of their head. They had dark caramel skin tones, six tiny mouth mandibles, horizontal irises, and usually were adorned with abstract black head markings and tattoos when not wearing their helmets. It was a platoon of said Draxii that had pursued them for several hours, and were responsible for slaughtering the four other members mentioned before. They were like packs of wolves to thousands of helpless lambs leaving the cities of Huriah desolate and empty. Akinyemi remembered that there was only a total of five members remaining of Longsword, including him, and they had huddled in the dark with each other, waiting for their immediate deaths as they downloaded the files of a small built-in computer. Simultaneously, they heard blood-curdling screams of everyone outside, as the voices echoed throughout the city.

Anwar was leaning against a tall balcony window, caked with heavy rain. His Verdant rifle was held limp in his tired hands, and he lowered his scope away from scanning the city from the Draxii that hunted them. "Akinyemi, I don't see anything. The Draxii may have active camo dampeners. The sky is literally on fire, we need to hurry. I'm losing hope, friend. We need to call it a day, and make our way back to the Saint." The downloading slowly hummed up to thirty-nine percent, as the rain continued to patter against the windows outside.

Akinyemi stood opposite him against the far side of the room, watching the tall window cast even wider shadows against his friends in dark silhouettes. The other three remaining Atlas of Longsword were clad in violet, brown, and dark silver power armors respectively, and they were huddled in the far corner of the room. The abandoned room itself was grayscale, and all of them fidgeted where they sat or stood. Wispwaker remained silent, hovering motionlessly above them, scanning for any distress calls to reply to. Akinyemi shouldered his rifle, and made his way over to the dark green armored Atlas, and stopped on the other side of the same window that Anwar peered out of.

"Dubois won't even let us go back until we're done here." Akinyemi muttered.

Anwar didn't even look at him as he relaxed his shoulders with a heavy sigh. "Those benchods won't let up. They have me on my toes still, even if we're currently safe. I'm just trying to imagine how this city used to be so bustling, so alive. Towers that reached the clouds, hovercraft perusing the sky in their predetermined lanes, citizens sitting on their asses in the holo-cafes and restaurants laughing with each other while they tell each other nonsense stories of their loved ones. Children running in the streets chasing those exotic dog things called hutuu that were imported from Summerset. I don't even know how those hounds see, like, they don't have eyes. I wish we could've been here when they were, just so we could find out. Now look around, there's nothing but ash and boiling seas. What are we even fighting for at this point if there's nothing left to save?"

Akinyemi didn't even know how to respond to that but still he understood his friend. He too scanned the crumbled streets, and witnessed giant pillars of black smoke and ash churning their way miles up into the sky. In the distance, they both watched as a Coalition warbringer launched hundreds of more assault craft and dropships like swarms of locusts, and it was a matter of time before they arrived to combat the Atlas fireteam.

Akinyemi hurriedly returned to the present as Dominion approached a crash-site of a Mirage dropship. The ultramarine and silver hull glared in what little light shimmered through the overcast and forest foliage. It lay on its side, shredded, in a massive churned up earthy crater caked in boiling plasma and dirt. Blue and black smoke danced out of the dropship through the trees, and the Mirage itself crackled and sizzled in its shattered hull.

Red bounded up to it first, and leapt onto its hull. He proceeded to enter what remained of the inside, to search for any survivors whatsoever. After several minutes he poked his head back up and gave a disheartening squawk - dead, charred bodies lay amongst the seared metal, dirt, and flames.

Marvin glanced up at Red from the forest floor, and asked, "Anything? Anyone in their alive?"

Red shook his head, then clambered out, leaning on his left arm as he vaulted himself over the hull and landed back onto the ground with a flurry of dust scattering and rolling in the air.

"Damnit." Marvin slumped his shoulders in disappointment, and sheathed his weapons. "Can we pull them out to bury them instead?"

Atani greatly respected fellow life even ahead of themselves. No matter what circumstance, he like the rest of his species believed that the dead should be exonerated and sanctified, protected from desecration. How they went about this was through natural burial, by stripping the fallen of their clothes or armor, and placing them directly into the dirt for their molecules to be recycled with the environment, direct energy exchange. Anything else to them didn't respect the Life Ways of the universe.

Voiceless Cry placed his right arm on Marvin's shoulder with mute sympathy as he understood his friend's discontent.

"We don't have time." Tuill muttered, while readjusting Staliar upon his shoulders.

If not right afterwards, there was loud shuffling and bounding through the trees, and five armored aliens appeared from the thicket. They stood at nine to ten feet tall, and had ornate dark chrome armor, with several dark caramel appendages dangling from behind their head under their enclosed helmets. Their visors were designed into short, inverted Y-shapes that emanated an eerie violet light. They immediately targeted Fireteam Dominion and the Pack Captain pointed at them with an outstretched hand, shouting, "Ueeerak Cy'akl at!" The Draxii fired upon the surprised fireteam with purple gamma-particle beams, incapacitating Staliar even further.

Akinyemi evaded to his right, and fired at one standing on the captain's left, killing it instantly, and it fell to the ground with a thud. Blue and purple energy beams discharged through the air, splicing off trees or dissipating in the distance. Tuill quickly set down Staliar, and clicked the holographic timer of an energy grenade, and threw it at the Draxii. The Draxii captain growled, picked it up, and chucked behind him to his right in an violent explosion of blinding blue light.

The captain knelt down, activating a purple plasma-shield on his right wrist, and planted it into the ground in front of him. He fired precision shots at Dominion, kicking out their energy shielding of their armors. He fired several more piercing rounds, right into Marvin and Voiceless' armors. The bolts impacted them in the chests and shoved them back into the dirt.

Staliar raised himself off the ground and perched his weapon over a large boulder and fired several rounds into the captain and the plasma shield, pissing it off. "There we go, there we go… Now, turn around so I can get you square in the neck. C'mon, I've hunted great ghildash beasts harder than you."

I'oshot-Uu held out his hands, palms towards himself then quickly pushed them away rotating them outwards, and a blast of kinetic force shoved back one of the Draxii soldiers into a tree with a loud crack. Red laughed as he heard this, and ducked behind the crashed Mirage, returning back precision fire with his marksman pistol. Voiceless stopped to catch his breath, then slouched low to the ground with his Trident rifle in his hands. He rotated his body to evaded more plasma fire while walking sideways, then fired at the next soldier, overwhelming its shields, and it disappeared into the trees. Marvin reequipped his Verdant rifle, and fired a flood of energy bolts at the soldier until it collapsed, fried, with blue steam escaping the corpse.

The captain's armor extended six prongs off the back of the shoulders, and they fluttered back and forth with mechanical reverberative hissing. It grabbed its shield back in its right hand, and charged at Marvin, backhanding him into the air, and caused him to smack into a tree. The captain growled again, and charged at Red, punching him straight in the face with the butt of its railgun. Red pushed him away, firing at his helmet, but the bolts ricocheted off and dissipated away.

Voiceless Cry appeared again, and leaped up onto the captain's back, clinging onto the prongs as it bounded around trying to grab the Uru off of him. Voiceless leaped around, firing burst rounds with his Trident rifle into the captain's dark armor, but the shields ricocheted most of them off, and due to Voiceless' body language the others could tell he was getting upset. Red reached out his taloned hands, and attempted to grab the Draxii captain's plasma shield out of its hands. The two struggled with each other as Voiceless activated a golden glowing implant on the palm of his left hand, and thrusted it into the captain's back. Immediately after, a small booming shock-wave burst out in all directions and the captain collapsed to the ground.

Red punched the Draxii square in the face, but the captain kicked Red a great distance away, and Red flew right into Staliar with a loud crack and thud. Tuill, Akinyemi, and I'oshot-Uu bounded up towards the captain, firing volleys of plasma energy into its shields, staggering it further. Voiceless Cry unsheathed his sword from his back, activating its golden blade, and he raised his arms into the air, blade facing downwards, and then thrusted it right into the captain's neck, searing its flesh. Voiceless twisted the blade in as the captain's body quivered and violently convulsed. It died if not immediately after, and the Uru returned his blade to its sheath, and leaped off the corpse.

Akinyemi straightened up, lowering his Trident rifle, and returned it to its magnetic holster on the back of his armor. He had only ever heard on rare occasions the skill of Uru warriors such as Voiceless Cry but never seen them in action. Their armored suits had greatly augmented the Uru's natural agility and strength reminiscent of Humanitys' Atlas supersoldiers. Akinyemi recognized that to have an Uru Paraiyar on one's side was an accomplishment on its own. Little was known of how these Uru operated and even stranger their combat skins. Once first encountered, Humans believed it was magic, but it wasn't. However, only the Paraiyar were known to have technology as capable as Voiceless' Koro, no others or his species civilians were allowed to have it.

Voiceless Cry turned his head to his left, facing his fireteam as small bronze lights shimmered off of his helmet, decreasing luminosity. He straightened his posture, and quickly reloaded his Trident rifle. He then went over towards Marvin, who was under a tree, and slowly helped up the Atani to his feet.

Red clambered his way back onto his feet, and noticed the Sagittarian on the ground, crippled and in distress. Red attempted to lift him up but to no avail.

A few dropships could be heard not too far away, and they were dark chrome in coloration. They were designed of a hexagonal metallic mesh capable of withstanding most of the United Legion's weapons. They had a scalene pyramidal structure, similar to those warships. They weren't of the giant monolithic ships of the Coalition, but were smaller for quick excursions and the deployment of troops, like the Mirages of the United Legion. They were referred to as Obelisks, despite their lack of similarity to the ones on Earth.

Staliar gazed back up to Red, and slowly extended his right hand, whispering as it quivered, "Give me your explosives, I can fend them... off." He coughed up a pool of bright red blood, staining his armor and the dirt. Red shook his head as the Obelisks descended from the torrential grey sky. The Obelisks systematically dropped more platoons of Draxii warriors, and Aggressors. Several other aliens poured out too, and they also were clad in dark chrome armor. Ones of such had looked like armored floating octopuses, their eight long tentacles wriggled excitedly as they descended out of the Obelisks, and their tiny heads on the front gazed around with eight piercing eyes over and into the thicket towards Dominion. A few called out in gurgling chirps to alert the rest of the nearby Coalition troops.

Marvin was filled with horror by his crippled and dying friend, while the Ja'ic poured out of the Obelisks from above. He brandished his Trident rifle, and tightened his fingers around its grip. He tried not to panic as the Coalition closed in on them.

Staliar gazed back at Red through pleading eyes, "Give me your grenades, and NOVA charges… All of them.." He hacked out more red blood as he eventually received them, spitting into the dirt, and spoke to everyone as they approached him. "Now… go... Even though it... was for only a very brief time... I had a pleasure fighting, fighting b-beside you, Lieutenant Commander. Marvin, Voiceless, I'oshot-Uu… it was nice knowing you these past few years…Goodbye."

"Don't you say that, don't you dare say that!" Marvin began, kneeling down next to his friend's body, clasping his right hand in his. "We can get you out of here. Just, hang on a bit longer!"

I'oshot-Uu attempted to move closer to try to save the Sagittarian, however Voiceless Cry stopped the Kotaran by moving his arm in front of his chest, blocking him off.

The Coalition forces closed in tighter and they could be heard from a few meters away. Marvin and I'oshot-Uu tried interjecting, but Voiceless ended up grabbing them both, pulling them away from Staliar. Red dropped the charges into Staliar's lap with regret, however, the Sagittarian was set on his new path. He knew it would take too long to find the supplies needed to mend him and the war parties that shot down the Mirages had finally found them. Staliar knew at best he'd slow them down so he had Dominion run. They were a good hundred meters away when the deafening scream of the charges exploded, resounding away from the crater left behind by the Sagittarian. The remaining seven of them all turned around and witnessed a large flurry of blue, white, and orange flames dance up into the sky as a massive shockwave stripped the surrounding tree of their branches and launched their trunks in all directions. Fireteam Dominion room cover underneath a rocky slope as the surrounding landscape was vaporized in searing plasma. Small birds burned in flames, crying out in pain as they flew away from the source of the explosion.

Marvin collapsed onto the ground unable to process the loss of his friend. Voiceless Cry knelt beside him on his knees, wrapping his arms tightly around him in a warm embrace. Red was upon the ground, leaning against a boulder as more flames launched out around them, searing the land. I'oshot-Uu activated his kinetic gauntlets and forced the flames away from their vicinity, launching them up in a spieling stream into the sky. Akinyemi and Wispwaker huddled beside the Kotaran. No one said anything for quite some time, but they realized they still had a mission to do, so there was no time for mourning.

Wispwaker turned towards Marvin, and asked, "Your friend seemed very dear to you. What was he like?"

"He was of royal birth on Sagittar, born to a highly esteemed Guild-Clan. Everything was handed to him but he was forcibly shaped into other people's ideas of what a noble should be. You don't hear it often around the empire, but Sagittarian aristocrats are too conservative. He was set up for an arranged marriage with another Guild-Clan, hoping to strengthen his province's alliances to unify the dissident city-states across the planet, in the middle of the war. He knew there was no time for that, so he enlisted among millions more to fight the Coalition. We've been in the same unit for years..."

The flames soon sundered down but they knew they couldn't linger in their current position. With an explosion like that, more war parties would soon be on their way. This wasn't new for Akinyemi, or anyone else, whatsoever. The war had stained their brains with horrors such as that all the time, with trillions under the Blue Banner slaughtered, burned, and glassed.

Fireteam Dominion eventually made it out of the thickets of the Dauritak Forest, and found themselves along the outskirts of the capital, Hamuran. The massive city sprawl lay in ruins with towering spiers of organic curves and swirls as well staccato geometry, barely clinging onto the sky. Their silver and white colours bled into the sky as the overcast tightened its grip with dark greys lingering evermore. Collapsed buildings and mega-structures darted the cityscape, with demolished hover-cars lay deserted and disabled on the streets. A million corpses lay scattered everywhere, over and under buildings, cars, holo-panels, and so on. Litter and holo-files blew softly in the breeze, in small whirlwinds around deserted street corners and blocks. Hamuran used to be the geo-political center of Zephyr, a sprawling metropolis of commerce, trade, and wonder. The population before its inevitable demise reached around three billion, mostly congested into the skyscrapers that towered miles into the sky. For an Outer Colony, it was a rare sight to behold. Presumably it was because tourism was another main export of the planet, as millions flocked here due to its vicinity to the Galactic Long Bar, the vibrant nebulae of the solar system, and the local parliament had recently voted to legalize transit to visit the core of the Milky Way and Sagittarius A*. Such a sight intrigued Akinyemi when he was younger and he had hoped to visit this world in its prime just like Anwar had told him a few weeks prior; he too wanted to see the core of the galaxy as the Blue Empire never settled too close due to how dense the star clusters were with their immense gravitational influence. But with the increase in advancement of technology, stronger and more capable energy shielding for civilian transport craft, it made it more readily accessible and more likely a tourist destination. The star clusters around the Jericho System were some of the densest the Blue Empire had ever seen for this same reason, making it that more attractive. Even for the United Legion, outposts we're prepared to be established deeper into the core of the galaxy to strengthen the empire's borders as well as be able to study the supermassive black hole in real-time for better scientific understanding.

"The great capital of Hamuran…a city to which I always wanted to visit, now lies in ruins. Just weeks ago I was on this beautiful world but in the northern hemisphere, and I didn't even think I'd lay my eyes on this amazing metropolis. Look at how far it stretches out… almost as massive as my home city, yet still just as beautiful. I'm amazed the Coalition haven't managed to glass the fuck out of it already." Akinyemi analyzed, and temporarily dematerialized his helmet to gaze at it with his own brown eyes. His white facial tattoos stood out from his dark skin, and around him, which caught the attention of I'oshot-Uu. The tattoos were made up of small Neo-Afro-Tribalistic designs, forming symmetrical, vertical pointed lines across each eye, reaching up to the forehead. Between them was a longer pointed line, that branched off downwards into two smaller lines, in the middle of his nose.

"Your tattoos, dey are so beautifully designed. Where did you get dem, Lieutenant Commander? What kind significance do dey have?" I'oshot-Uu was dwarfed by the Atlas as he approached him.

Akinyemi stared at the Kotaran, hesitating, then replied, "I got them with my family, as a ceremonial purpose. I was able to choose the design for myself. I was the son of a Planetary Governor. My father, Chukwuemeka… encouraged it as per tradition, since the founding of Yemoja as a planetary colony... He had his own too... Everyone of high status had one, and they were each unique to the recipient..." Akinyemi stopped, and gazed out towards the ruins of Hamuran.

It was common for the elite class of the Inner Colonies to adorn themselves in personalized facial tattoos and face markings. A custom which had spread out from the Core Worlds as early as the 2350s CE to differentiate themselves from the Middle and Outer Colonies. Yemoja was one of hundreds to do the same, but had their own unique cultural style descending from Africa of Earth. Yemojans wore their facial markings proudly and if one had to cover them up or hide them from anyone for any reason was considered a direct insult to them and their homeworld. The only exceptions Yemojans had to this was for body armor in the military or mercenary outfits. Yemojans themselves prided their tattoos and encouraged it more so than any other planetary colony of the Blue Empire. It was a rare sight on its own to see a Yemojan without a personalized face tattoo. On top of that, Yemojans also adorned themselves in extravagant and elaborately colorful facial makeup, compared to the rest of the empire as well.

Akinyemi's senses dulled out once more, and his attention and mind went blank. He stared over at the ruined city, but he became in his own world. Akinyemi's mind recollected and vividly reshaped the memory of his father in front of his eyes. He was back on Yemoja, eighteen years of age, and waiting inside the back of an automated transport.

Around his younger body he witnessed his father, sitting down on black, olopatu leather seats that seamlessly dipped up from the edges and concavedly wrapped around the interior of the car.

Chukwuemeka leaned forward, however Akinyemi could barely make out his father's face. His vision was hazy in this memory. But what he could see was that his father was about six feet five inches, and was wearing intricate and ornate cobalt robes, with electrochromatic lighting sensors that softly pulsed a timid lavender around them. Lining the fabrics were patterns that mimicked loose brushstrokes on dark canvas, representing the star system of Epsilon Eridani, and the planet Yemoja.

Chukwuemeka's smudged face smiled, and he laughed with a deep bellow, before saying in Kiswahili, "...That's honestly amazing! I'm happy for you son. So, what are you thinking about getting for your personalized marking?"

Akinyemi glanced over at his mother and sister. His sister just finished taking a photo of him with her holographic wrist wear. To Akinyemi it looked like a thin orange band of light that rested just above and around the circumference of her thin wrist.

"Happy birthday, kaka!" She then playfully smacked him across the side of the head and shoulders.

"Heh thanks Kali." Akinyemi got her back in the thigh, and teased her.

She was just younger than him by a couple years, born in late July of 2910 CE. Growing up they had their fair share of sibling rivalry, but would end up close friends throughout their teenage and adult years. She loved to "shit talk" and berate him until he overreacted and got mad, much to her great amusement. She was wearing a bright orange and gold dashiki ankara with locked vibrant green, swirling beads. Around her forehead and dark curls she wore a bright red head wrap. She had white and lavender facial makeup that made her eyes and lips glow under the light of Epsilon Eridani.

"I'm thinking about something...that represents me. My life. My past, my future. Something that could be relevant for all time." Akinyemi struggled to put his thought processing into words, yet his family listened patiently for him to finish.

"We can always pay to remove it, and get a new one if you have any second-thoughts." His mother explained. She wore a mixed color dashiki blazer with asymmetrical lining down her left leg, and black leggings over slip-ons. Her head was shaved like Akinyemi's father but she had golden hoops around her neck, and dangling from her ears. She had stretched lip plates in both her upper and lower lips that shimmered like brilliant rubies. "Take as much time as you need."

"No one in the Inner Colonies simply rushes their first tattoo. Some do it to represent basic individuality, for loved ones, for passions, and such more." Chukwuemeka insisted.

"I know." Akinyemi replied shortly, pressing his thumb against the bottom of his lips in concentration. "Why not something about me and Yemoja? Meshed together?"

"That could work." Kali pondered, then glanced at her holo band then back up at her brother. "Lemme pull some stuff up to get references."

Akinyemi pressed his palm against the inside of the concave door, and the opaque window transitioned into a translucent armored glass. The skyline of New Nairobi stretched out for a hundred miles in all directions, towering in dark chromatics of silver, blue, beige, white, and gold. They had their own unique architecture mostly resembling trees such as acacia, baobabs, socotra dragons, and savannah trees. There were buildings that were reminiscent of stacked honeycombs, swirling acorns, geometric stacked gardens, and buildings so fluidly organic they seemed impossible to stand up on their own. Great banners of wide ranges of colors blew in the warm breezes of New Nairobi, some hundreds of feet tall, representing traditional African culture mixed with modern sensibility. Great murals of golden landscapes, ocean sailing, and Yemojans themselves adorned these towering spires. Yemoja was one of the most 'humanitarian' of the Inner Colonies, honoring all walks of life and Yemojans of all social castes equally.

Kali pulled up a few references and projected three dimensional holographic images in front of Akinyemi to peruse from. He took his index finger and flicked through the glowing projections. Some depicted symmetrical warrior patterns, mixed animal species from Earth and ones native to Yemoja. Others were of abstract designs and patterns that represented the 'modern times' with tribalistic twists. There was a pattern that consisted of twenty three knotted braids that represented the twenty three African nations that founded the colony back in 2265 CE, with Kenya, Niger, Ghana, Congo Republic, Sudan, Mali, and Ethiopia being the main benefactors.

"See anything you like, yet, kaka?" Kali leaned her head close to Akinyemi's shoulder, narrowing and widening her eyes at patterns that she personally enjoyed. She would occasionally point out at ones that she suggested herself but he would shrug off due to disinterest.

"Not yet, dada." Akinyemi gave her a slight grin, and nudged for her to stop leaning on him. Akinyemi was known to have a great artistic eye just like most Yemojans, but he was also very indecisive.

"We can't be in the car all day for you to pick, Akiye." Kali frowned at him, still trying to pick for him.

"It's only been five minutes." Akinyemi laughed, while occasionally staring out at the brilliant flocks of six winged birds that soared between the skyscrapers.

"Kubisha mbali mtoto." Akinyemi's mother swiped at Kali's legs with her handbag. "Let him take his time. I know you can't wait to get your own, as well, but just wait your turn."

"But he's takin' ageeeees. What are you trying to look all cute for; everyone at school? Show off your new ink? 'Look, I'm Akiye. I like to flaunt myself everywhere I go because I don't talk much. Feast your eyes on all mighty Akiye!' Are you trying to impress the ladies, or do you like boys…? Or is it for that Atani friend of yours?" Kali continued to playfully annoy him as she nudged him with her elbow.

Chukwuemeka glanced outside the same transparent window that his son was, and narrowed his eyes from the sun glare. "Akiye I don't mean to rush you like your sister, but we're almost there. Have you found something you like yet?"

Akinyemi was transfixed on the holograms in front of him, but soon stopped swiping. He grabbed a few of them, dragging them away from the RiftNet search engine. He then collapsed them together with a simple gesture of his fingers. He rearranged them while he stuck out his tongue along the side of his mouth. "Got it, look."

"I can feel much hesitation in your voice, sir. What is wrong?" I'oshot-Uu tilted his head to his left as he gazed up at his commanding officer from his black eyes.

Akinyemi didn't say anything else as he pointed out towards the city, trudging down the slope and rematerialized his helmet. The rest of Dominion followed him down, and Marvin gazed back to the thickets where Staliar used to be, and muttered to himself, "He was a good ghi-doh… May his soul sail through the Currents of the Life Ways." Voiceless Cry patted his friend's back as they followed the Atlas down the slope of dirt, and grass. Tuill leaned in to Red, and whispered into his ear. Red stared at the Eve as the clouds began letting loose their hesitative grip of rain. Lightning flashed across the sky within a matter of a few minutes, and it was immediately followed by a loud pulse of beckoning thunder. The downpour painted the streets and old vehicles with rain, flowing a downwards slope into gutters along the corners of the streets. Dominion quickly and quietly ran through the deserted streets while slouching towards a crushed car, and huddled down. The car lay rusted and warped with broken holo-glass lying scattered about the sidewalks. The surrounding buildings towered over the team as they attempted to formulate how to find the comms tower they were looking for.

Tuill shifted his large metallic body as his mechanical feet sloshed up a puddle of fresh rainfall, and leaned in. "How are we going to go about this, Atlas?" He equipped his Verdant rifle into his hands, and projected the blue holo-sights above the casing.

"Tuill, Red, I need you to provide fire support from behind in case of any stray Draxii, Aggressors, or Grish approach us. Any of them could be hiding in active camouflage, and I don't want to risk us being picked off one by one." He said as he pointed over the car with his left hand. "Voiceless, Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu, I need you to follow closer to me, using your thermographic setting on your helmets to scan for any bio-signatures as we sneak around that bend over there. First we gotta find that comms tower. Then, from there we still have over two clicks left before we reach the waypoint, and I want to get through this city as fast as possible. Fortunately, the Governor's District is not in the center of the city.

Wispwaker shot up his blue iris at Akinyemi, and asked, "What do you need me to do sir?"

"Follow Red and Tuill, keep on the lookout for snipers, especially the Red Hand."

"Consider it done." Wispwaker made a motion similar to a nod.

The fireteam split off into their respective fronts and continued to traverse through the city. The Grish were one of the least known alien species, except they always appeared to be on the highest point of the Coalition hierarchy. They stood generally at an average of eleven to twelve feet tall, and had ornamentally shaped dark grey armor, with a pyramid-like helmet. They had long digitigrade legs that ended in hooves, and four arms with four digits on each hand. They were the most feared of the Coalition too, as they would systematically hunt down and slaughter any soldier or civilian alike, instantly.

The Red Hand were also mysterious too, not as much as the Grish, but still had their fair share. They were generally seen as the assassins and snipers of the Coalition's attack units and platoons. They stood at a height on average with Humanity's and had exotically designed dark grey armor, that was a little lighter than the rest of the Coalition species. They typically had a long grey hooded cloak covering the armor and visorless helmet, and had small red glowing lights dotting around the armor.

Tuill, Red, and Wispwaker climbed around a nearby building, and found a fire escape ladder on the other side. Red climbed up first, even though his leg structure proved it difficult to accomplish, so he tried sprawling out his gate as he climbed. Tuill went next with Wispwaker floating beside him while scanning their local surroundings for any indication of friendlies.

"The entire city grid is down. Not just communications. I can't even get ahold of the city council Lumineres. Rig patrols are absent. It's all radio static." Wispwaker concluded with a heavy sigh.

Rigs were semi-sentient Humanoid machines, manufactured to serve, and we're all modeled with uniformity and simplicity. Their heads had an inverted pyramidal chassis, with small white photoreceptors on both sides of the front face. Rigs were sold and distributed throughout the Blue Empire in a multitude of colors, ranging from red to purple, white to black, depending on their assigned roles and duties by their "owners" upon being manufactured. Despite this, millions of models were able to achieve a sense of self-awareness upon any given time and would integrate into society after taking the Turing Test. When this happened, the Department of Humanitarian Affairs would collaborate with each new individual in a lengthy process to achieve a License of Citizenship. For Rigs serving in the United Legion, they would be mostly comprised and assigned to the armies and planetary defense, rarely seeing naval combat. Military and defense Rigs would be often under the jurisdiction of local police chiefs, field generals, and spec ops units. These Rigs would be cased in silver and chrome colors to differentiate themselves from all other Rigs subtypes. All Rigs were manufactured to stand on average height with Humanity, sometimes confusing local citizens for helmeted soldiers. They were first introduced into the Blue Empire during the civilizations fledgling expansion into the Sol System away from Earth primarily as "tools of burden" to provide most of the heavily lifting, manufacturing of technologies, and construction of the early cities of Mars, Titan, Ganymede, and Io before any ever obtained sentience.

Tuill's metallic face transitioned into a long scowl, and turned his head to his right towards Wispwaker, and asked, "What about the comms tower? Can you remotely access it from here?"

"There's too much electrostatic interference from the skies. Maybe even Coalition signal jammers as well. I'll do my best to gain access to it but first we do need to reach the top of this building." Wispwaker replied solemnly while performing short range burst scans. "It appears that the Planetary Governor may have ordered for the city-wide blackout. Maybe so the war parties couldn't triangulate anyone's position… if anyone did survive for that matter."

"How do you know?" Tuill's violet gaze pierced through the grey rain that drenched their metallic casings.

"Well, the grid is fried, yes, but it doesn't appear to be by the Coalition themselves. The surrounding mountain range and valley is, like, one of three small pockets of habitation left on the world and if anyone survived, they would've felt the United Legion abandoned them here. By all accounts, they would be correct to presume such ideas as we, and the Exuberance, are the only ones who have returned. Who knows how long it'll take for anyone else to return; civilian or military. But because I can't access anything around us, it was disabled manually and deliberately. It could be why the Coalition have partly kept the city intact, they are probably trying to figure out why too."

Red lowered his attention towards them, paused and gently nodded his head. He gripped the sides of the service ladder tighter, however an ear-splitting crack of thunder shattered his resolve from overhead. He slipped off the ladder in horror believing it was gunfire. Tuill quickly managed to grab ahold of the frightened Bir'vo before plummeting to his death, catching him with one arm.

"I lost comrades due to similar instances." Tuill went on, shifting his arm outwards, while rotating it on itself, as to not have it ripped away from his torso. He then gently set the mercenary down below him, allowing him to regain grip of the ladder. "Trying to fight civil wars in towering industrial centers takes a toll on oneself. Please don't be another life lost by the same means."

"What do you mean?" Wispwaker hovered further away while ascending through the downpour.

"I don't like talking about it. Eve may appear to be indestructible, be we aren't. Humanity first learned that centuries ago. Much to my chagrin, I don't support the wars of my ancestors. To answer your question though, I've been involved in countless wars before the Coalition ever set foot in Blue Imperial space, and mostly due to being sniped off rooftops, aerial craft firing missiles at us, y'know, the usual…" Tuill relinquished his eyes from the Luminere before he continued up the ladder in silence.

"How's everything going over there… What is taking you so long?" Akinyemi asked over the commlinks.

Red squawked, and whistle-clicked back to the Atlas with a terrified voice, but he was too shaken for anyone to understand, so Tuill told Akinyemi instead, "Red slipped from this ladder we're on, nearly plummeting to death."

The atmosphere changed over the commlink, "... Is he alright, now?"

Tuill gazed back down towards the quivering Bir'vo, "Pretty much."

"Good. Be careful next time, please. I'm glad he's alright."

"How are you all fairing?"

"We're deeper into the city. But still awaiting for you to reach the comms tower. Any luck?"

Wispwaker left the Eve and Bir'vo where they were and continued his ascent through the air. The two said nothing while awaiting the Luminere to return. They scanned the skyline once more of Hamuran, and it appeared a decrepit jungle of seared titanium and broken memories. Tuill lowered his shoulders while the fur on his armor swept back against his placid face. He paused while only allowing his eyes to roam, and watched as distant warships continued their scouring of the helpless city miles away over the horizon. It may not have been an enclosed metropolis of his homeworld, but it reminded him too much of his past. Red could see it too, and remained silent along with him. Wispwaker returned back to them, and had them follow him the rest of the way up the building.

"Hold on sir, we're still working on it," Wispwaker started. "Tuill, Red, come see this."

"What's wrong?" Tuill raised his head up at the floating Luminere shell.

"Just follow."

The two towering aliens obliged the AI, and made their way up to the top of the building. They reached an enclosed plexiglass observation deck, with shattered potted plants and scattered dirt strewn about the cold floor panels. Flickering holographic displays of deceased and forgotten families clung to wooden walls. Lone windchimes rung through the escalating breeze from an open draft of one of the hexagonal panels along the roof. Data tablets and a stray Artemis were left atop a table with loose charcoal drawings of the Coalition warships. The drawings were hastily scribbled stop the canvases with slashed strokes, that bled into the canvas. Tuill lifted them up and studied the drawings, however he couldn't find the artist that left them behind in the observational balcony.

"This is heartbreaking…" Tuill scanned the flickering holograms of the families while returning his attention to the drawings. There used to be so much life here in the city. I know this war has been going on for decades, but…" He dropped the canvas on the floor, as Red rushed for the Artemis atop the table. "...fuck…"

Red pulled up schematics for the Hamuran city grid, splicing and connecting to the comms tower that lingered outside a few blocks away. Wispwaker aided him by extending his nanosensor buds away from his chassis, and released small blue pulses towards the tower.

Tuill switched his eyes into thermographic, heat, and infrared vision settings to scan for any signs of Coalition activity in the local vicinity of a few blocks. But it all seemed too quiet.

Akinyemi, Voiceless, Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu quickly darted around several vacant buildings as they slouched forward in an attempt to keep low profile with their lumbering armors. Their Trident and Verdant rifles were equipped tightly in their hands, and Marvin's finger trigger inched and bounced in anticipation for Coalition soldiers to appear around any corner. They passed by a Mirams, a local coffee shop whose brand was popular throughout the Blue Empire. The sign had bold, pale yellow holographic letters emanating off what looked like an arch of darkwood, with the decal of a cartoon Human holding a coffee cup with the letter 'M' on it. Around the outside of the building were overturned tables, and several abandoned cars. One of these cars was halfway through the shattered glass doors of the restaurant, and several Human and Atani corpses lay strewn about the pavement.

Marvin broke formation away from the other three nearby him, and up a small series of concrete steps. He searched underneath a table umbrella to find a half-disintegrated security Rig with spare ammo clips. "Plasma burns. Coalition. Seems to be a few days old."

Akinyemi panned his rifle around the desecrated avenue to find a piled up mound of corpses and cars. Street lights and power lines lay crumbled and warped on the silent and congested roads.

"I wonder if they're still open.. I need myself a mean frap," Marvin quipped, trying to raise their spirits despite his body language screaming otherwise. "...Mmmm uida, that's my favorite spice."

"Aren't dose' expensive?" I'oshot-Uu responder while slouching lower to the wet pavement.

"I mean, it costs way too many Credits to export from Eir'Qoiai. It's even expensive on-planet. Brews some great tea though. I'm kinda surprised it made its way out this far near the edge of the Imperial sphere." Marvin kicked the dead Rig's armor in the low chance more ammo mags would dispense to the ground. "Too bad there's no one left here to try it… Does Red want anything though? He is an Empy, or whatever the trenders call them now. We can at least try to hold up here until they get back, or let the storms pass over."

"De Bir'vo? He doesn't strike me for one of dose types. He's a lumbering mercenary, hardly a beatnik." I'oshot-Uu pressed his gauntlets together, while Akinyemi trailed his rifle through the rain ahead of them.

Voiceless Cry stretched silently, popping his joints, as the rainfall drenched their armors under the dark sky. Akinyemi quickly shouldered his rifle, and spoke over the commlink again, "Do you guys see any tangos?"

"There's nothing here, Atlas." Tuill responded, not believing the words coming out of his mouth. "However Red and Wispwaker are wiring into the comms tower. Give us a little more time."

Akinyemi slouched his shoulders and lowered his rifle. It was as eerie as it was quiet despite the booming thunder and distant warships overhead. . "We don't have much time though. Try another sweep of the surrounding area again, and come down."

"... Nah, that's the thing. There is literally no receiving input, Atlas. Like, it's too quiet. Ya feel?" Tuill's voice was stagnant, and confused.

"I don't like the sound of that. And you're sure there's no heat signatures?"

"Nothing, sir."

Akinyemi paused once more, he wasn't sure how to feel about the stillness of the city. They had been recently shot down, and most of their stroke force was slaughtered. He inched his rifle up against his chest plating and tightened his grip again. In the back of his mind, he felt as if the war parties were stocking them from a ways away, just like a few weeks before. He didn't want to make the same mistakes then. He was entirely responsible for this new Fireteam yet he knew none of them. He felt disconnected and anxious. He didn't quite feel he could even rely on their help like he was able to rely on the seamless unity he had with his previous fireteam. It wasn't due to the fact it was comprised of so many different species, he was used to that. What he wasn't used to was how little Atlas were left throughout the Blue Empire. He was used to working with Atlas. This felt ragtag, but he did glimpse over their reports while enroute to Zephyr and was greatly impressed by their field experience, what set him apart was his inability to connect. The only sound he was able to muster over his own thoughts in the anxious stillness were, "Hmph…"

"I think… hold on…" Loud flashes were heard over the commlinks, and from the few blocks away, the four of them could see flashes of blue and purple discharge through the air. Before Akinyemi could do anything, several cloaked aliens appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Six of them surrounded Akinyemi and the three others, startling the fireteam upon sight.

"Red Hand." Akinyemi muttered in fear, as the aliens darted around with a violent finesse about their movements, and they thrusted their armored fists towards Dominion. Akinyemi evaded a swing, and sucker-punched one in front of him square in the helmet, but the alien didn't make any sound. It's body language read that of anger though, and lunged at the Atlas. He ducked as it volleyed over him, and Voiceless Cry unsheathed his golden energy sword, its light dancing off the insta-crete sidewalks. Marvin unsheathed a pair of neon green energy-daggers from built in wrist mounts on his black gauntlets, widening his stance. I'oshot-Uu kept his hands in front of him, lifting them in seamless motions in the air, slamming it down. Consequently, his kinetic gauntlets vibrates the air molecules around one of the Red Hand assassins, lifting the soldier up into the air before the body collapsed onto the pavement, breaking its neck. He spun around to his right, and wave-pushed another back before it was able to lunge at him.

Akinyemi grabbed another in his arms, and it translocated out of his hands, just a few feet away from him, aiming a Coalition railgun right at his head. He somersaulted under the blast towards it, under-kicking it, causing it to slam right onto the wet pavement, and Akinyemi pummeled it in the face, and fired several rounds of his Trident rifle into it, killing it.

Voiceless Cry raised his sword horizontally in front of his head, in a defensive stance. He studied the quick finesse maneuvers of the Red Hand, and dodged multiple pummels, and energy rounds fired at him, swerving and spinning away from the searing plasma. He swung his sword around his back, rolling in the air, and stabbed one right in the chest. Upon puncture, the blade's golden light illuminated off the dark grey armor piercing through the Red Hand's chest and searing its organs. Voiceless reactivated his right gauntlet again, and the golden light along his arms powered up with an escalated ringing. He Palmed against the assassin's body with a small shock-wave right into the ground, crushing its body inside the armor.

Marvin also attempted to match the quick movements of the Red Hand as well, swiping his body to the sides, and around, always keeping the silent warrior ahead of him, despite the short-range translocation. He extended his wrist-blades a bit farther, sweeping them through the air, slowly making his way closer to his target. He leaped back several times when needed. He spun-kick it in the head, staggering it, but it grabbed him as he kicked again, and threw him to the wet pavement. The Red Hand stood over Marvin, and its right hand blared a searing red light, with the crackle of intense plasma meandering through and around the palm and fingers. The alien thrusted its hand down toward Marvin's helmet, but was subsequently wave-pushed into a street lamp by I'oshot-Uu.

The last two were taken out by Akinyemi's Trident rifle in quick three round bursts dropping them dead with melted heads. I'oshot-Uu remained with poise as he slowed his breathing back down, and sat down on the pavement, legs crossed. He glanced at the other three, and asked, "What are dey anyways? Evil Uru? I only encountered dem just a few times droughout de war."

Voiceless Cry jerked his head towards the Kotaran in a tilt, and quickly shook his head. He powered down his right gauntlet as he resheathed his hilt. He skulked over the dead assassins, but remained on alert in case more were bound to appear.

"What little we do know about them is that they were incorporated into the Coalition through forced servitude." Wispwaker overheard them on the commlinks. "That's the thing, despite being at war for so long, the Grish rarely keep records of any of their slave soldiers. Either they don't care to document them or they keep such records on their colonies. The United Legion tried to incorporate them into our own forces yet they had zero interest as they follow their masters with blind obedience. Same goes for most of the other incorporated species. At times the DII had made contact with their local representatives on infiltrated warships to incite rebellion, but that always led the spooks to being slaughtered themselves."

Voiceless remained transfixed on the assassins, and reached at Akinyemi to spare a comment on the matter. Akinyemi didn't have anything to add, he was too occupied panning around the city blocks. He knew he was high rank, yet even tactical reports, and mission briefs over the past few decades of their enemies had been sparse and vague. The briefs mostly centered around specific Grish targets like field commanders, generals, and naval captains. The United Legion and DII had fared little in ever obtaining substantial intel on the Coalition species besides biological autopsies and occasional scavenged technologies. The United Legion rarely had the opportunity to board their warships, and had even thinner chances of hacking into their databases. The Coalition usually always purged their ship logs, nav data, and battlenets just as much or if more so than the United Legion. The Coalition had been keeping themselves unknowable as their only priorities were the genocide of the Blue Empire, and acquisition of Composer relics. They had little interest for planetary occupation, for there were rumors of their empire spanning far greater than the Blue Empire ever dreamed of on the other side of the Milky Way. However, Akinyemi believed that Warlord Hajj-as'rah did want to have full control of Zephyr before the inevitable shattering of the planet, and use it as a staging ground of annihilating the remaining Fringe Outer Colonies, and subsequent expansion. Akinyemi knew was different from most Warlords for his interest in planetary acquisition. Akinyemi sighed once more, and met helmets with Voiceless, Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu before returning his attention to the city districts around them. They were in the middle of a choke point within the city's borders, in an open avenue surrounded by skyscrapers; he didn't at all feel safe despite the assassins. They had to keep moving.

"We should hold up in the building until they're don-" Marvin began before being interrupted.

"So there is some news here. Whether it's good or not is up to you, Atlas, but we were able to patch into the comms tower." Tuill's voice over the commlink was as dry as his attitude.

"And..?"

"Well, it turns out that there were several Atlas and Legionnaire fireteams that survived, and made it into the city, but now...they're all dead… And some have possibly made it towards the sites… But… there is a ping that is leading us into the Governor's District. I don't know exactly who they are, but there are survivors. We should go there immediately and scope it out. We'll relay you the coordinates when we meet up, can't be too careful y'know."

A fledgling sense of relief for the first time in weeks had washed over Akinyemi. He left Zephyr with no hope that anyone would have survived and he had a sense of devastating loss with the thoughts that would have continued to be the case sense their return. He knew their objective be he agreed that he had to help these survivors no matter the cost. Akinyemi pressed against his helmet once more, rescrambling the audio frequencies of their fireteam's comm-channel. "Understood. Make your way to the Commercial District. We're held up near a caved-in coffee shop. I would release a flare but that could spark up the attention of more war parties. Please hurry."

"Got it, Atlas, we'll be there soon." Tuill's voice was somewhat reassuring for the Atlas and they awaited his return.

Lightning struck again, with a bright flash of blinding white illuminating the city. After several minutes, Tuill, Red, and Wispwaker found the remaining four soldiers bunkered within the Miram's coffee. They had barricaded themselves within the walls, using the abandoned cars as cover. The two towering soldiers and the AI were the only other sense of relief that Dominion had under the pounding skies. Akinyemi was resting along a dilapidated booth with I'oshot-Uu while Voiceless and Marvin provided surveillance and secured the building, fortunately there weren't any hostiles to be seen or heard nearby. Tuill dropped the Artemis he had recovered from the observatory tower on top of the table on front of the Atlas, and theor new holographic waypoint showcased a small cinema theatre deep within the heart of the Governor's District.

Upon another burst of lightning, Akinyemi had another flashback to the Battle of Jericho IV, and he and the remaining members of Fireteam Longsword barely finished downloading the charts onto a holo-drive. The charts along with other classified intel were installed into a severed Rig head, a unit that had originally joined their fireteam for the mission but was destroyed before they had entered the desolate building. She reworked the Rig's circuits in front of her, unplugged the device from the built-in terminal computer along the walls, and shot the computer with an energy pistol.

"It's all set, boys and girls." The violet armored Atlas said, as she worked the straps around her shoulders. "Let's get outta here before they find us. I've been quiet but, I've been feeling the same feelings as you Anwar. It's devastating how we have to leave another world behind. Especially as one as beautiful as this one. We've been around the empire for decades together mission after mission, world after world; but something about Zephyr feels different. I don't know, maybe it's the overwhelming feeling that we lost the war, so we are having some forced nostalgia to keep ourselves sane?"

"It could be turning the tide for something greater. But not for us to see." Anwar stood back up, his dark green armor glinted off the reflection of everyone's armors. "If we make it back to Quicksilver, I might just retire, and hide away until the genocide blows over."

"So you're just gonna go AWOL?" Haley asked, slinging the rig back onto her back. "You're just gonna leave all of us? I would be greatly offended but I get it. This has been a war for survival of trillions. Some of us have to at least live."

"I don't think you should be saying that at all. DII could be hearing us now. Maybe in that severed Rig head, poor sod." The brown armored Atlas warned with a light Russian accent. "Priority is to get that intel to Dubois, and perhaps delete it? Transfer it to someone else? The Imperial Admiral? What's even on those charts? Like, what is so important in that terminal that we lose half our team for, just for it to be kept in an unmarked building?"

"Our job wasn't to ask questions, Maskovich, just to retrieve this data, and bring it back to the destroyer without getting merked…Interestingly enough though, some of this data was received from Saymarie…" Haley said as she picked up her Iridian sniper rifle from the ground next to her. As she stood up, leaning against the melted terminal, her vertical blue visor illuminated in the dark. She readjusted the straps making sure the Rig head wouldn't drop.

"Again, it's Sir Maskovich." He tapped his armored index finger against his helmet. "I'm just playin'. Lieutenant Commander, what's the plan now? It feels like the Draxii are closer, I think I hear them a block away."

Akinyemi has quickly pondered what Haley analyzer before replying to Maskovich. Saymarie, the epicenter of the planet. What was important enough to be kept here of all places half a world away? The building they were held up in was essentially a rundown car parts warehouse, with an extended lobby not even across the street. Metalworks, wood mills. Nothing not even resembling the high rise cyberpunk cities of the empire. He had little time to worry as they had to find a way back to The Fallen Saint. He moved away from the window with Anwar, and nodded his helmet towards the Atlas in dark silver power armor. "Dakota take point ahead, we'll have to go down the fire escape, front entrances aren't an option. Take point ahead, Haley will tail behind you. Anwar, Brett, you will cover my rear. Wispwaker, coordinates?"

"On it Akinyemi, hold on a moment." The Luminere floated just above them, watching the collapsing skyline as he transferred a waypoint onto their head's up displays. The diamond-shaped marker stamped onto their helmet's compasses before transitioning into a three dimensional map of the warehouse, lobby, and surrounding city block. Their helmets fed the projection in front of their eyes instantly, and they had to depart the building due south east, following a few back streets passed a river. A small thickets with groves away from the city they were in would be their LZ. They had a day to get there, if not, they would clear one within the city. The Fallen Saint was ready to depart shortly thereafter.

Before they left the warehouse, Akinyemi contacted Captain Dubois directly over his long-range comms. "Captain, we have secured the data cache, and await LZ extraction."

"That is great news Lieutenant Commander...the only one actually… Imperial Admiral Addington has just informed me that all remaining United Legion fleets abandon the planet. We lost the war. The Warlord has just…"

A great flash brighter than the light of Jericho illuminated the skyline and the horizon. An incinerating inferno, mixed with a concussive shockwave, vaporized the landscape around Huriah. Fireteam Longsword ducked their heads as the shockwave punched through the upper balcony, shattering the windows and incinerating fire scorched the warehouse. After the initial blast dimmed, the horizon was split in two, with great shards of Huriah launching into orbit above the planet, while the rest towered over the distant horizon like a tsunami of stone and metal.

"...Zephyr is dead, Akinyemi. Run. Make your way to the LZ immediately. We're going to head for… and... rendezvous to Elysium. It's a matter of time before the Warlord and his forces annihilate what's left of mankind and the other species under our beautiful empire in the stars… E Pluribus Unum."

"There goes our retirement…" Maskovich solemnly replied.

"What of the bodies of Tiana, Kyle, Angelo, and Muhammad, sir?" Dakota shifted the weight of her body to her left leg, shouldering her Verdant rifle. "We can't just leave their corpses in the streets…"

"Are you fucking kidding me, Dakota?!" Anwar yelled in horror, darting away from where the windows used to reside. "Run!"

Akinyemi had them all make their way out of the upper stories, and down towards the fire escape of the warehouse. He didn't say anything except, "We can't. But, they'll be seen as war heroes. Run!"

Akinyemi forced himself to the present to find himself, and the rest of Dominion, approaching the Governor District of Hamuran. Large spiers pierced the dark sky, with banners of the Blue Empire, blowing violently in the wailing wind, faded and tattered. More rusted and destroyed cars lay toppled in upper floors of random buildings and streets. The city still had decorations from Halloween, from weeks before, and even some that were in preparation for the annual Blue Parade, which didn't get to happen this year. But, lights, streamers, large inflatable monsters, animals, and aliens lay scattered in the streets, wearing down to dust, scraps, and mold.

The Blue Parade was an Imperial-wide holiday that celebrated the alliance between the Blue Empire, Han Hattan Federation, and the Eve Collective within their Triumvirate. It was widely celebrated for two weeks after Thanksgiving, and thousands of planetary colonies would actively participate at any given time with the RiftNet, and other media outlets all streaming together. Great floats of starships, caricatures, cartoons, and of the different species would glide between the skyscrapers of all major cities of the worlds. Great holographic banners projected from these skyscrapers would showcase every species' sports events, cinemas, merchandise advertising, and many more for consumers to enjoy. Augmented Reality cafes, virtual heads up displays, would also be bombarded with ads for the events encouraging anyone to join the festivities. During this holiday event, the different species of the triple alliance would remove personal adornments and would be encouraged to share a more uniform style for the parade, and planetary banners would temporarily transition into the alliance's sigil in the parade's honor.

The last time Akinyemi had the time to celebrate the Blue Parade, he had been stationed on shore leave with several friends including members of his previous Fireteam, and several naval officers from The Fallen Saint. They were adorned in their United Legion uniforms but Akinyemi wore a traditional Yemojan headscarf and body jewelry while he wore a silver Yemojan fouland that bore the Triumvirate's sigil. He made more friends with other Eve that had visited a high class banquet in one of the many skyscrapers of a Middle Colony named Marlo. He had been an expansive ballroom with towering arches, red carpets, and floating orbs of light that illuminated the grand hall of the room. Floating metallic tables draped in white, gold, and black tablecloths were confessed towards the center of the room around the dancing floor. Akinyemi and his acquaintances held fine glasses of exotic wines, and hard liquor, glimmering under the blue and gold lights. An electro swing group known as the Kellsman were performing live with holographic projections of Human and Atani dancers dressed in lavish cyberpunk and dieselpunk fashion danced around the hall around the live patrons. Up on a tall stage was holo-disk disco jockey station behind the performers, and more holograms displayed great blooms of trees, native animals, and techno abstract patterns above everyone's heads. The parade was one of the few occasions he left like he could open up, despite the punch bowl of hard vodka exported from Vibrance and Shimmer in the Arneb System.

Immediately not after that, static kicked on their long-range commlinks, and many voices were heard all at once, with yells, screams, and gunfire. A familiar voice also blared over the commlinks, but sounded in distress. "A-Akinyemi! Lieutenant Commander! A-are you there?"

By this time, Fireteam Dominion had reached a collapsed runway overpass, and small alien rats darted through the eerily vacant streets. Malfunctioned and destroyed Rigs lay cluttered underneath a flickering streetlight, cast in a dim shadow that stretched in the middle of the streets. They were vacant and cold, perhaps once security Rigs from the local Hamuran Police Department, they had worked with the local national guard in defense of the citizens of Hamuran during the invasion of Zephyr. The sudden burst of radio frequency startled the Fireteam as they continued traversing in the rain-soaked streets, yet they were relieved to hear a friendly voice in the gloom. Akinyemi placed his hand against his helmet to broaden the range, and replied, "Colonel Singer? Yes, I'm here reading you clearly. What's your status? Or anyone else's status? We've been in the dark here and have been recently engaged by Red Hand forces."

"Oh-fucking-yay! I've been trying to get ahold of you for hours. I haven't been able to get ahold of anyone else either.

"Most of the other Legionnaire platoons and Atlas fireteams are either radio silent or dead." Tuill muttered through his commlink. "We tried accessing a comms tower, and there's just nothing. The entire city grid is fried."

It took her a few moments to process what the Eve has just explained before she replied. "...How far are you from your objective..?"

"We barely arrived within the Governor District of Hamuran, ma'am." Akinyemi could only see so far through the dense overcast and the shadowed haze of the districts. A burst of lightning scoured the sky in a zig-zagged dance of revelry and solemnity, flashing a bright white gold against the fireteam's armors.

"You don't have to call me ma'am… But you guys need to hurry your asses up. We can't keep ourselves cloaked forever. Despite that though, more Coalition forces are closing in on the outskirts of the capital, they're looming above the valley as we speak. Long range scans haven't picked up any movement or anymore scout ships right now. We don't know what's going on, but stay alert. How's your fireteam itself holding up?"

"We lost Lieutenant Staliar to a Draxii patrol unit within the forest before we arrived at the city's borders. He died as he detonated a large Coalition garrison."

Colonel Singer sighed with a heavy heart over the comms, and replied, "We did receive reports that most of the task force were shot down over the forest. That was most of our remaining reserve Mirages…"

"The Coalition has been waiting for us the entire time. We just happened to drop above the wrong region, should've launched from the East on the other side of the mountains."

"So it seems.."

"Yes."

"I'll... relay back to you soon I'm… at a loss for words, Lieutenant Commander. Hopefully we can have some good news for once. I gotta drop the com channel before the Coalition triangulate our signal back to us."

"Understood. Fireteam Dominion out."

She left immediately after Akinyemi finished his sentence, and Akinyemi was left to be alone in his head once more. He peered at everyone else, who gazed back at him with the same gloom and longing. They are hoping to hear at least some good news from their commanding officer but we're now left back to where they started, more disappointment. The rain continued its downpour, cascading off their armors into great pools in the overturned asphalt.

"How far are we from the waypoint?" Marvin barely lifted his head up towards the Tuill, concentrating a significant portion of his attention in the ground as to not trip over any collapsed cars or seared corpses that polluted the streets.

"A few blocks away."

What sounded like the crashing of glass bottles or a dumpster was heard by the team, and they all raised their rifles, turning around to face a cratered curb behind them. A pack of hutuu dogs scrambled in the mud, trying to find any food they could scavenge from the deserted avenues. They had black and grey fur, with elongated ears that stretched a couple feet above their heads. They had narrow faces that ended in what appeared to be a barbed proboscis than a regular jaw. Along their backs sported barbed quills that stood in end when they caught sight of the fireteam with intense golden gazes from two pairs of large, yet frightened eyes. Before Dominion had time to react, they huffed and darted away out of sight, too busy focusing on surviving to worry about them.

"Good, I thought that could've been more Red Hand." Marvin lowered his Verdant rifle, and relaxed his shoulders.

"Could we tame dem?" I'oshot-Uu asked, perplexed by them.

"You gotta a good heart, but nah. Let's not worry about them."

They continued their trek towards their waypoint in silence, traversing through collapsed roadways, and fallen skyscrapers. After what appeared to be hours, they soon found another open avenue. Surrounding them were a series of mall complexes and restaurant outlets, stretching out for about a couple miles. The parking lots were leather than football fields in order to accommodate such a large population of customers and patrons. Several transport vessels and a United Legion frigate lay crumbled in the parking lot, obstructing most of their view of the outlet itself. Yet, a few buildings retained their own backup power, with lights that pierced the dark sky above. One of these buildings was the old cinema they were looking for. It was constructed in half dokes and sweeping arches at the top, resembling the Sydney Opera House of Australia mixed with 1950's-esque gothic aesthetic. Projected above the top of the cinema's dark crimson arches were holographic golden words reading "South Theatre."

"Isn't she a beauty?" Wispwaker asked, hovering over their heads.

"Yeah." Akinyemi replied, the cinemas were always a favorite of his growing up in New Nairobi. His family would often take him to them, enjoying the latest flicks that were released.

They all soon approached the crimson wooden doors that towered over them by twenty feet as spiraled bronze pillars and statues lined the marble walkways towards the front doors. Stacked theatre departments of hexagonal-shaped architecture too lined the walkways symmetrically dispersing away from the main building. They found the doors locked and Voiceless Cry was the first to step towards them in an attempt to kick them open. It was to no avail, and he staggered back in silent pain. Upon closer inspection, there was a thin energy barrier protecting it, and they attempted to fire at it to disable it. Blue flashes discharged in the underpass to the doors from their rifles, and they seemed to overload the shields soon temporarily disabling it.

"Who should go first?" Marvin asked while leaning over I'oshot-Uu and Voiceless Cry, trying to see what's going on.

"We gotta secure the perimeter before heading inside." Akinyemi ordered with a swish of his fingers.

Fireteam Dominion followed his order without question, and broke off formation in order to prevent any stray Coalition soldiers or assassins from popping up out of the dark. Fortunately, after several minutes of scouting the surrounding buildings, they found nothing, and soon regrouped back to the front gates.

"Wispwaker will take point." Akinyemi re-equipped his Trident rifle, and turned his body to face the doors. Wispwaker scanned the doors with a blue horizontal light, hesitated, then used his luminere shell to push the doors open steadily, and slowly floated inside. He was gone for several more minutes, and Akinyemi held up his left arm at a ninety degree angle, hand in a fist, making the others wait.

After sometime, Wispwaker returned, and simply said with a soft voice, "You gotta come see this."

Akinyemi slouched forward, rifle raised ahead of him, sweeping it from side to side as he entered in. Everyone else followed him single file into the dark entrance way. Molding box offices loomed on the right side of the room while large piles of debris, trash, and corpses lay scattered and in piles along the floor. The air appeared stagnant, save for the bits of rain and wind that pierced through when Dominion entered inside. Collapsed panels left exposed wiring from where the pieces were originally supposed to be, while small yellow sparks jumped out of the exposed wires, and sizzled onto the floor. The lights on Dominions' armors were the only real things illuminating the front entrance way, before they activated their helmet and firearms' floodlights.

Wispwaker continued hovering ahead of them, like a lantern in the the pitch dark of the vacant halls. I'oshot-Uu glanced over at Marvin, and saw his reflection in his friend's dark visor. He then said, "It's really too bad that we couldn't have been here in its prime."

Marvin faced him in return, simply replying, "Agreed."

The seven of them marched forward, slouching passed several wall mounted movie posters with broken glass casings, and glass fragments scattered all over the acacia wooden floors. Some of the posters were intact, and showed new flicks about to be released, such as romantic comedies, sci-fi horrors, dark fantasies, swashbuckling adventures, and action thrillers. The lists of the cast and crews barely clinged onto the rest of the posters in the dark. Around these posters were holo-pedestals projecting images of the main characters in standing life-sized, real-color displays in different poses with weapons in hand or folded against their chests. The counters ahead in the centers of the back wall in the lobby had an extended counter for AI-regulated cash registers, food dispensers, and bars for alcoholic beverages and grills. Display screens above the alcohol racks would've played adverts for upcoming movies and sponsorships.

Wispwaker's light illuminated the hallways, reflecting off of dry blood, and shattered wall light panels.

Akinyemi shuffled along following the Luminere and suddenly stopped, raising his left fist again. "Wait."

"What's up?" Wispwaker turned his shell around, facing the Atlas

"Where are you leading us?"

"I can't really tell you because the Coalition might be listening in, even though we secured the sight. Best you just keep following me."

Tuill tilted his head, and shoulder his rifle in silent protest as he wanted to keep moving. Red pressed his armored cuirass against the wall, leaning back and raised his rifle up, staring at the Luminere in confused reluctance.

Akinyemi glanced back at Voiceless Cry, and motioned him towards the Luminere, "Take point with him, check it out before we all head inside. Can't have us all dropping like flies after making it this far."

Voiceless reloaded his rifle after reviewing the ammo counter holo display, and quietly shuffled towards Wispwaker. He nodded in affirmation and proceeded towards the screening rooms while the others remained near the lobby.

I'oshot-Uu presses his gauntlets together, and sat down in a meditative position without saying a word. He temporarily disassembled his helmet to wipe off sweat that slid down his greyish-pink face.

Marvin glanced up at Akinyemi, and read his posture. "I understand what you're thinking. We're new to you and you don't have a lot of faith in us because of it. But they, and by extension, us, will be just fine. It's too bad that you met us in a terrible position in this war. Given better circumstances, we'd be easier to open up to. But we got your back, sir."

"...How does Voiceless do what he does so effortlessly? Only Atlas have been able to pull most of that off." Akinyemi tried a hand at opening up somewhat as they had the time.

"Then you haven't seen many warriors, I'm afraid, sir." Marvin replied sarcastically. "I know you read our files, but what the United Legion or media doesn't or can't tell you is that Uru Paraiyar are like the stuff of legend. Even in this insane and vast galaxy. They're just as mysterious as his species themselves, so forgive me for being vague. It's speculated that his Koro is a reverse-engineered Composer combat skin; able to grant him his insane 'abilities', but it's mostly just the intense martial training that's beyond what Humans are capable of in all honesty. I don't know much beyond that since he never told me."

"How long have you known each other?"

"Several years, actually. I don't know how he found us, probably expelled from his home system. We met when we were assigned into some random integrated fireteam, a Legionnaire unit part of the 1489th Legion. It was back in Twenty-nine sixty-nine, with Staliar and I'oshot-Uu. The four of us were assigned under the command of a Sergeant Dahli aboard the ULBE Gladiator-class destroyer, the Sunset Dancer. It's all extra info for you right now, I presume, but we only grew close after the sergeant's death during a spec ops mission. We were tasked with infiltration and assassination of a high priority Grish asset on the Outer Colony of Brighai; he was loyal to Warlord Qassi'ih of all people. High Commander Duj-at Tet'inb had been supplying the Warlord with vital planetary locations, and nukes capable of blowing up half a planet. We lost all our platoon save for the four of us."

I'oshot-Uu leaned over and nodded, "It was supposed to be a quick incursion mission, two days to accomplish. De entire colony had been occupied as a beachhead/hub to invade the Irod Sector of the empire, like how Zephyr was originally intended to be along the Fringe. Dey held the planet for months, and we were supposed to relieve Brighai of Tet'inb. We had taken a makeshift shuttle and bypassed deir blockade of de planet with a cloaking generator. We made our way to one of de only intact orbital cargo platforms, and rode the space tether down to the planet. We were on our own once we arrived grounside, den we trekked on foot towards the main supply base for reconnaissance. Den snipe him out from there. Long story short, it turned into a full-blown firefight, lost our squad, but de Warlord had been significantly slowed down."

Akinyemi was forced into another flashback as more thunder boomed overhead. He, and the rest of Fireteam Longsword, were escaping the dying building. They made their way down flights of stairs, because the elevators were inoperable due to the power grid completely frying from the nuclear detonation. Dakota nearly tripped on the stairs as she took point ahead, but was grabbed by Anwar before she plummeted.

"How long do we have before the continental crust catches up with us from the horizon?" Haley asked, clutching the Rig's head tighter preventing it from dropping off her armor.

"Do you really want to know?" Maskovich replied. His Artemis display gauged that they had about twenty minutes or so to reach the LZ before the crumbling horizon caught up with them. The landscape had been overturning, launching miles into the sky while several more shockwave pulses left by the Coalition's warships incinerated what remained of the cities surrounding the warehouse.

"You're right," Haley replied, glancing over at the blue holographic projection displaying above his armor.

They finally descended towards the bottom floor of the lobby, and Anwar smashed his fist through the metallic fire escape door, reaching his arm through the new hole and unlocked it for the fireteam to move through it. They fanned out of the door, raising their rifles in case more Coalition soldiers had compromised their position, however, they were fortunate to be currently safe. Dakota darted over towards the receptionist desk, and knelt down behind it with her Trident rifle in hand. Her free hand scanned the room through her visor in ultraviolet, searching for any heat signatures of the hostile units. Her scans were choppy and left with too much interference from the burning atmosphere.

"Are you able to pick up anything?" Akinyemi asked, shouldering his rifle while kneeling down beside her.

"No, everything's too dark." She didn't meet visors with him, instead gazing at the barren dark wood flooring.

Scattered holofiles, regular papers lay strewn about the floor. Some of them read reports asking when Zephyr would be attacked by Coalition armadas. Dakota sighed from the irony, fondling some of the files, and tossing them onto the desk. Akinyemi scanned the room too; Leather chairs lay overturned on their sides, tattered. Along the walls were corny inspirational posters with decals of hutuu dogs, alien cats from Hirdona IV. In the center of the lobby was a marble statuette atop a stone pedestal. The statuette was of the very first Atlas, resting her helmet in between her left thigh and forearm. The statuette's head gazed upwards to the right, as if staring off towards distant worlds. Her eyes read that of valiance and nobility; she joined the fledgling empire's United Legion during their early expansion when the beginnings of rebellion has already insured when Humanity had first encountered extraterrestrial contact. The first species Humanity encountered were the Atani, yet there were millions of Humans who weren't happy with the incorporation and alliance of aliens. She herself wanted to end such hostilities as it was a great honor to meet new life amongst the stars, while preserving order and stability throughout the Blue Empire. Emblazoned along the bottom of the pedestal, casted in bronze read, "Atlas Judith Everett - 2266-2296 CE".

Akinyemi, among everyone else within the United Legion were taught of her history upon entering as cadets in the Officer Academies stationed throughout the colonies. She had led the first Atlas fireteam across seven planetary battles, and many more naval engagements, successfully completing dozens of missions within a span of five years before her demise on New Georgia.

Akinyemi returned his attention to Atlas Heidbrink as she reconfigured her visor. She pressed her finger against the side of her helmet once more, rescanning their surroundings of the local city blocks.

"I see… I see several tangos, about forty meters away from us, outside the building. If we want to make it, we gotta dart to our three o'clock immediately after exiting the front doors. " Dakota lowered her rifle, and turned back to her Lieutenant Commander, and sighed. "Sir-"

A large explosion had sent the Atlas' bac into the walls of the lobby, caving in the stone and concrete with their heavy armors. Large shard fragments of the desks and walls lay crumbled on top of Dakota, and Brett, crushing their bodies under the weight. Akinyemi quickly scrambled up to find Dakota's head crushed into a bloody pulp, and Brett was missing his left arm.

Rain poured on top of everything, washing out the dustspots, and blood, and invasive violet searchlights illuminated the survivors. Haley, and Anwar both grabbed Akinyemi as he shouted out in anger and heartbreak. firing several condensed energy rounds at the Obelisk that targeted their location. It returned fire with a flurry of fiery purple energy, overloading Akinyemi's energy shields, and pierced his armor, boiling his flesh and insides. The wounds felt like receiving a penetrating fiery hot knife into his organs, melting his chest and abdominal cavities. The Atlas collapsed to the ground, crippled. Anwar, and Haley grabbed their lieutenant commander, and dragged him away into the ash cloud of the collapsing building.

Thick grey clouds rolled over the city continuously downpouring its heavy rain and ash. The three remaining Atlas of Longsword tried evading away from the Obelisk towards their destination, but the dropship fired an explosive concussive blast at them. They ragdolled in the air, collapsing onto the wet insta-crete sidewalks. More Obelisks subsequently approached them nearby from the warbringer that Anwar had kept his eyes on only moments before the detonation of the continent. The Obelisks dropped several platoons of Grish, Ja'ic, Aggressors, Red Hand, and Draxii comprised of dozens of units. A Grish commander could be seen just a few meters out, and he clambered his immense thirteen foot frame over a downed Mirage. He extended his upper right arm towards the Atlas dragging Akinyemi along the ground. He wielded a mighty pole lance in hand, as black as onyx with a vibrating violet blade longer than his pointed helmet. The commander bellowed out a booming war cry that broke the sound barrier, resembling the piercing death whistle of the Aztec cuāuhocēlōtl warriors. The shriek was a high-pitched resonating cacophony of infrasound frequencies that shook the Atlas fireteam in pure horror.

Akinyemi returned to the present once more, and noticed he forgot to watch his breathing. I'oshot-Uu grew concerned for the Atlas, but remained silent when Voiceless Cry and Wispwaker returned to them. Voiceless was shaking Akinyemi's left shoulder, and the small bronze lights on his helmet reflected off of the Atlas, He then grabbed Akinyemi's forearm, and helped him to his feet, a warm aura returned him to homeostasis. Voiceless waved his hand in front of Akinyemi's visor, snapping his fingers in order to keep him grounded and present.

"Are you good, sir?" Marvin asked, branching away from the wall and making his way around Voiceless.

"...Yes…" He lied, not wanting to tell his new team that being on the planet triggered his emotional instability. The death of his entire previous fireteam was still fresh for him, but Dominion could see right through it, however said nothing as they needed him calm.

Wispwaker hovered in front of Akinyemi's face, pausing for a moment before saying, "You must hurry, sir. It is really important."

"What is it? Has our location finally been compromised?"

"No, it hasn't. Are you sure you're okay? You've been zoned out for a few minutes. What's the last thing you remember?"

"I'oshot-Uu and Marvin were recollecting their time on Brighai."

"Correct."

"So what is it then? What did you and Voiceless find?"

"You'll see…" The Luminere whirled back around, as he and Voiceless Cry led the rest of Dominion through the rank building. They moved passed makeshift barricaded corridors made of ramshackled car parts, collapsed rubble, and fried Rig parts. Many holographic projections flickered along the walls then went dark out due to the storms outside. They eventually made it to the last auditorium in the back, and in holographic letters read, "Now Playing: The Deceit".

"What's this about?" I'oshot-Uu asked.

"It's a rerun horror flick, it wasn't all that good." Marvin replied, grabbing hold of the doors handles, swinging them open.

When they entered the expansive auditorium, the first thing they noticed was the holoscreen was pitch dark, not to their surprise. Most of the reclined faux-leather seats were removed from their built ins and barricaded against the exit routes, except for a few towards the holoscreen. An orange haze of trid projectors and candles illuminated the auditorium. Campfires and makeshift tables were made from the rest of the seats, and were surrounded by large, starving crowds of survivors from the invasion weeks before.

Upon entering the auditorium to find these survivors, Akinyemi stopped in his tracks, slumping his shoulders. "Ahh fuck…"

Voiceless glanced back at the Atlas, then back at the crowd of ragged and dirty civilians now standing up, in amazement. The atmosphere in the entire room changed dramatically, and several men and women cried with joy. An emaciated woman who appeared to be in her forties, ran up towards the Atlas, sobbing in his arms while hugging his armor. Her black hair was caked with sweat, dirt, and grime, covering her shrunken face. "It's g-good to finally know we're s-safe… Are you here to save us?" She asked, not standing back up, and wiped her nose and face. Her olive tan skin gleamed through the dark. Dozens of families stood up from hunched positions the back corner of the room, roasting a couple hutuu over a cooking spit. A few of the men and women were clutching spears, United Legion-grade energy rifles, and clubs made of the metal frames of the seats - Akinyemi knew at once glance that they didn't expect any Imperial starship to save them and they did what they had to survive.

One family in the back were pouring small cups of antifreeze in them to their children, and for themselves. They were too far gone and horrified by their situation to even care. The children sniffed the liquid, and smiled about the sweet scent, then drained several swigs into their throat, right before the parents drank some themselves. Three refugees grabbed ahold of the parents and children in horror, and poured a tiny decanter of biofoam in attempt to stop them from boiling their own insides.

I'oshot-Uu noticed this, then glanced up at Akinyemi, unable to put into words how distraught he was over how desperate and horrified these people were. "We have to help dem, sir."

"...I know…"

A tall man peered out from the crowd, towering over everyone else, sliding through them towards Akinyemi. He had an Armenian facial structure, with tan skin, small brown eyes, and a nearly shaved head. He was dressed in an ultramarine and silver armored clothing, with a high collar reaching up towards the back of his head, a built in holographic projector and energy shielding generator. He reached out a thin arm to shake the Akinyemi's hand, and spoke with a tenor voice, "I'm the Planetary Governor, Dylan Coltor. It is good to finally see an Atlas, again. We were about to finally give up hope… As you can see around me. This is what's left of the people of Hamuran, perhaps even what's left of the entire planet. Before frying the city grid, I tried making contact with other potential makeshift settlements and the United Legion in hopes someone would answer. I'm glad someone is here. Do you have any ways to extract us?"

"No, I'm afraid we don't. We had a task force of thirty Mirages, but they were all shot down on the way to the city…"

"...It looks like we-" Governor Coltor turned towards the crowd, walking away, before being interrupted by Akinyemi.

"Wait...Hold on."

Akinyemi straightened himself up, and activated his long-range commlinks, trying to patch into the Remembering Exuberance. He was only received by radio static and silence before Colonel Singer finally responded.

"Yes, Lieutenant Commander? What's your mission status?"

"Still slow. I request immediate Mirage evac outside the cinema in the Governor's District. There are about sixty to ninety survivors in here, in the back auditorium. Most of the people are emaciated, and dying-" He glanced back at the children who were being resuscitated.

"We don't have many to spare, so no, Lieutenant Commander. But you still have orders to carry out the mission. That is a direct order." Colonel Singer's voice felt distraught over the commlink.

"I don't fucking care! There are families here looking for hope, looking for safety and reassurance! We can't just leave them here to die!" Akinyemi's anger over the safety of the survivors overtook him yet he didn't care to stop himself. The broken protocol over the incident concerned the refugees as it was rare for them to encounter an Atlas that showed that much emotion. Yet, Akinyemi, like all Atlas soldiers, was just as Human as them, and everyone seemed to forget that. One scared them more was the shouting may give away their position survivors faces, and multiple children began to cry. A frantic woman wrapped her arms around her two daughters, and her dirty blonde hair was in her face.

"No, I'm sorry. That is an order." Colonel Singer demanded affirmatively.

"Fuck that! They're getting help." Akinyemi shouted back, clenching the grip on his rifle, pacing around in a circle. He eased up yet continued fuming.

A few hunters in brown long coats stood up, and walked away from everyone else, they were speaking in hushed whispers, presumably in order to find a new safe house elsewhere in Hamuran. A woman walked up to Akinyemi, and tried to say something, but the Atlas didn't budge. Governor Coltor placed his hand on her shoulder and said, "I'm sorry, Selene."

Selene was covered in neon bio-tattoos that adorned her arms, and she wore a suit that was a mix of Human, and Atani design. Silver lights emanated off of the suit, with diagonal lines running through the sleeves, and her eyes emanated a brilliant gold. She was the Governor's daughter given by the way she held herself.

"What is the best way out of the city, Governor?" Marvin asked while leaning on his left leg.

"What? I don't know, we've been held up inside here for too long. The last people out of here were slaughtered by the Coalition on sight...Those hutuu you see there found their own way inside. Poor things."

Red sighed heavily, and just set himself down on one of the remaining untouched cinema seats in the front of the giant screen. He set down his rifles next to him, and stretched his legs across the others, lying down for rest. Tuill clambered over next to him, and projected holograms out of his hands, trying to find any other way of making contact with potential survivors. Voiceless Cry, Wispwaker, Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu stayed with the Atlas, returning their weapons to the holsters on their respective armors.

The commlink patched back in, and Akinyemi was alert again, "I spoke with the Captain, and he gave the green light to send in a few Mirages towards your direction with some reinforcements… expect them in about an hour." She patched away.

Through the walls, everyone could hear the distant sounds of excited gunfire flare up in other sectors and districts of the city. It appeared to them that there were more survivors from the previous wave of Mirages, but the Coalition had found them. An explosion was heard, that made the civilians in the auditorium terrified as they winced from every boom. They clutched their heads and the backs of their necks, ducking down.

Akinyemi dematerialized his helmet, and called out to try to get everyone's attention, erecting his posture even taller than before. He cupped his hands around his mouth trying to yell louder than the explosions outside and the escalating chatter within the auditorium. Wispwaker glanced up at the Atlas, and hovered over towards Red to have him help. Red stood up, and clambered over next to Akinyemi, bellowing a loud, gurgling call across the auditorium. The entire room went silent, and they diverted their attention to Red in startled fright. Red then turned his head towards the Atlas, pointing at him with a lazily outstretched hand.

"Everyone, we have multiple Mirages with reinforcements on their way towards us. They'll arrive in about an hour." The eerie tension and uncertainty of the auditorium cleared, and Governor Coltor made his way next to Akinyemi, pulling up a seat. Everyone started to cheer, jumping up in the air with their exhausted bodies.

"Thank you Atlas, I appreciate your efforts. Hope has been finally restored for most of us… I just hope that those Coalition bastards can finally get what they deserve."

"I understand, sir. How long have you been Planetary Governor for Zephyr?"

"Uhh I've served Emperor Merben in this position for about thirty-four years. Since around the beginning of the war."

"Twenty-nine forty two?"

"Twenty-nine forty two. I'm surprised the Coalition have waited so long as they did to invade this damned planet. We're right in the middle of the fucking Fringe."

"Well, space is magnificently vast."

"True." Governor Coltor said as he glanced around amongst the crowd, leaning towards the Atlas, then whispering, "...You never expected us to be here did you? I'm assuming the Imperial Admirals didn't either. You returned for something else."

"That's classified intel, sir."

Governor Coltor face flatlined, then continued, "Just tell me… I'm a Planetary Governor, for fuck's sake, and we're all most likely going to die here anyways."

"Fine. No, we didn't expect any survivors. We were assigned on this Operation to retrieve Composer artifacts in the excavation sites outside the city."

"Figures… I don't really blame you. All of you must've thought we were dead… But as I said earlier, I appreciate you going against protocol to rescue us. I don't really think any other Atlas would do that."

"As you do."

The Governor stood up from his seat, and placed a hand on Akinyemi's shoulder pauldron. He gave him a small grin from the side of his mouth, out of reluctance. "I have a few ancestors, that were Atlas, served in the Nebulaic and Eve Wars."

"Those were a little over five hundred years ago, sir."

"The point is, I understand what this position has done to you. It's never easy. People look up to you like you're some sort of god encased in that armor, and expect you to be grander than you already are. The empire in all its...conviction, expects faceless soldiers to fight their wars for them. I know my position of Planetary Governor has its fair share of disappointments as well. You think it's easy to try to satiate the minds of a whole planet when colony after colony is glassed to oblivion?"

Akinyemi could see the stress marks upon Coltor's face from the dancing haze of the candles. They were filled with years of pain and authority that he didn't wish to convey to Akinyemi. Coltor left his family behind, save for Selene, on Elysium when he was given the position, and seeing his entire planet destroyed in the wake of the Warlord's invasion a few weeks prior broke him inside more than he wanted to share. The entire previous population of Zephyr has been Coltor's second family in a way, and now all that remained was the sick and dying refugees held up in an abandoned and desolate cinema. He didn't even have his personal guard detail of Vanguard or Atlas as they dudes saving his life enroute to one of the local spaceports a few miles away from the cinema. All the transport craft had been orbitally bombarded, and the port itself had been overrun by Coalition infantry, slaughtered by the soldiers themselves. Governor Coltor watched as they all fell to the plasma fire, and the lights in his eyes were all but dark. Seeing Akinyemi was the only thing that brought a new light to his dead eyes. He walked away from Akinyemi, and began attending to several families who started having a quarrel over reduced rations, separating a couple civilians who were about to stab each other for a slice of bread.

The Atlas paced back towards the rest of Fireteam Dominion, and sat down in the seats, cupping his head in his hands, leaning forwards. He placed his Trident rifle in his lap, clicked the safety back on, and leaned back in a small cinema chair, and closed his eyes.

Static ringed in the Atlas' ears, and there were massive whirring and pulsing coming from outside. Everyone's voices escalated from the change in atmosphere once more, and they began packing what little belongings that he left. There was loud shuffling of boots outside the closest exit doors, and they banged gauntlets against the doors. A few of the civilians ran up towards the exit doors and began removing the clustered auditorium seats away from the door. Marvin, Voiceless, and I'oshot-Uu helped the civilians with removing the barricades, and Tuill and Red helped them with their belongings. After a few minutes, a squad of armored Legionnaires bursted in, and one shouldered his assault rifle against his right shoulder. He saw the Atlas, and saluted to him, then motioned his hand out the door towards the Mirages.

"Everyone outside! Everyone outside! Let's go!" The Legionnaire shouted through his ultramarine and silver helmet, and held open the exit doors for the refugees to make their way out in single file lines. Heavy rain pattered in from outside, drenching the floors, the refugees, and a howling wind picked up whistling it torrent through the auditorium. The line of survivors shoved passed each other out of the building and into an open city block.

"Finally, we can get these poor people out of here…" Marvin said, stepping away from the doors allowing the survivors to run out. Voiceless shuffled up, and reverently trotted towards the door with his Trident rifle lowered in his grip. Wispwaker hovered alongside Akinyemi as the Atlas helped several civilians up.

"Thank you, sir. Thank you so much." Selene shook Akinyemi's hand with both of hers, and smiled.

"You're welcome." The Atlas nodded, with the lights of his visor illuminating her face. "You should get going."

"Yes." Selene stumbled passed Tuill and Red, running towards the outside. The first Mirage was subsequently filled up after sometime, and began taking off with loud resonating whirring.

The first Legionnaire leaned outside, then gave the go to let the next group of civilians through. But a large shock wave resounded, blasting the first Mirage with a concussive pulse, and it caught on fire. It violently spiraled into a nearby skyscraper, exploding into a flurry of blue and white plasma energy. The skyscraper's windows and beams caved and warped under the pressure of impact, causing the once sturdy beams to collapse and crumble.

"No, this can't be happening! Everyone, get down!" A marine shouted, shoving a civilian to the floor in hurriment. "We were so close!"

Everyone collapsed as another shockwave forced them back, inside or against the walls. The civilians started screaming, and a few were blasted into struts, breaking their necks and bodies. Another shock wave blasted several children into struts too, impaling them - their small bodies being torn apart due to the metal shards.

"Damian!" A distraught mother screamed as her son's head caved in under the pressure of a dislodged speaker crashing onto him.

Another Mirage crashed into the ceiling of the auditorium, leaking white-hot plasma into the crowds of civilians as they panicked, lighting them on fire.

"Mommy? Mommy!?" A small child watched her mom's sizzled corpse collapse onto the shredded chairs of the auditorium.

The screaming people ran around, shoving others out of the way to get into the rain as their skin boiled and melted. Akinyemi drew back in horror from this sight, and the rest of Dominion ran outside. The auditorium went up in blue, white, and orange flames, as everyone burned alive. Another child cried out for she lost her legs, and found her mother underneath collapsed walls.

"No, no, no, no, no," Tuill began, trying to help civilians flee.

A former police officer ran away, carrying a tiny charred infant in his hands. "I gotcha little one, we'll getcha out of here," he said with horror plastered on his face, however he was blasted in the face with purple energy from outside.

"This is it, Nami... I love you so much." A woman said to her wife, before succumbing to death herself, from a barrage of energy fire.

Nami burst out into tears as she took her and her deceased wife's children, and tried to run. Nami helped up more children and their parents, however, she received a sniper round to the skull.

A Legionnaire stood above her body after witnessing her corpse collapse to the ground, and she succumbed into a deep trance of emotionless trauma, and dropped to her knees.

The remaining Legionnaires attempted to regroup near the exit door of the auditorium, and return fire against the Coalition, but were pulverized into boiling strands of flesh and metal.

The Mirage above was shifting, and the metal hull was screaming. Another shockwave blasted the cinema, dislodging the Mirage from the collapsed perch above, forcing it to land into the auditorium. The broken, twisted hull crashed down, crushing everything, but the fires still burned.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck," Marvin shouted with pronounced fear in his voice. "Let's get out of here now!"

Fireteam Dominion booked it out of there, but before they were gone, they found the charred remains of Selene, laying in a twisted contortion on the wet insta-crete outside. They also spotted the dismembered remains of Governor Coltor among the piles of fresh corpses, Fireteam Dominion's fear of snipers in the nearby skyscrapers were true, and violet bolts whizzed through their air, targeting more civilians. Coltor's face remained in a permanent frightened expression, sending Dominion into uncomfortable sorrow.

The surviving Legionnaires took cover behind their downed Mirages, and returned fire at the perched snipers above with blue bolts whizzing back into the hazy and churning dark storms above. A bolt of lightning cracked above the sky, flashing twice, casting dark silhouettes against the soldiers and the burning refugees. The Legionnaires were sure they had another chance to redirect the remaining survivors out of the oncoming fire however six Obelisk dropships warped above the skyscrapers twenty meters away, and made their way towards them. More Obelisks swarmed away from a looming Coalition Megalith that made an in-atmospheric riftspace warp next to the city's Western Space Tether, over a mile away above the skylines.

An infantry platoon of Draxii and Grish soldiers bounded over barricades of cars, and set up defensive positions with a gatling plasma turret along a low hanging overpass. Nearby the turret, more Draxii phalanxes activated their forearm mounted plasma shields, protecting the Grish officer operating the turret structure.

"I think your shouting drew their attention." Marvin remarked towards Akinyemi, returning fire up at a Red Hand sniper in an upper balcony.

"What shouting?" One of the Legionnaire's darted up towards them, taking cover. "They followed us into the city, and we actually had a limited time to save the civilians…"

The Legionnaires themselves were clad in different armor permutations, all encased around a black combat suit like the Atlas wore, but were incapable of self-assembling armor that materialized around their bodies, such an advantage was only granted to the Atlas and Vanguard. Their armors were shaped into rigid geometric plated patterns with tall, horizontal rhomboid helmets with flatter faceplates and a single, vertical cerulean visor. Their armors were still granted with infrared energy shielding generators, yet weren't as powerful as the Atlas shield generators. Legionnaires made up of the core infantry of all legions ever since the military's founding during the early Interplanetary Wars many centuries ago.

Voiceless Cry and I'oshot-Uu were standing next to them behind a downed Mirage, providing much needed fire support. Red and Tuill we're still in an attempt to save the few refugees that remained, escorting them out of the exit yet returning fire to protect them.

A battleline of Draxii reinforcements stormed the frontlines in between the skyscrapers and the outlet backstreets. They set up more defensive shields, firing at the United Legion soldiers with overwhelming numbers and firepower.

"We might need to run, respectively." A Legionnaire muttered, after dropping dead one of the Draxii through their faceplate.

"Stand your ground!" A sergeant shouted over the hail fire and the pounding thunder overhead. "We can't back down and especially never drop our resolve! This is our world! We fought too hard to keep her from destruction, and won't falter now!"

"Look around us, Zephyr is dead ma'am! By all respects we should just all leave immediately!" Another Legionnaire shouted back.

"We were here for the artifacts, and we are here to save Zephyr, no matter what, she mustn't fall to our adversary! Long live Zephyr!"

The Legionnaires rallied around their sergeant, and much to Akinyemi's amazement. He hadn't witnessed such tenacity and resolve for a planet in years, especially when defeat had drawn nearer than ever before. However, more waves of Mirage dropships zoomed through the sky, firing their low-grade MER rounds at the dropships ahead of them.

"Long live Zephyr! Long live Zephyr!" The soldiers chanted in patriotic unison, unloading their ammo carts into the Draxii and Grish soldiers. One of the three Mirages hovering above the battlefield launched a torpedo into the pyramidal-shaped turret, large enough to fit three Grish. The Legionnaires formed a battleline of their own in front of the Coalition soldiers despite being dwarfed by their immense heights and overwhelming firepower. A Grish captain stormed out of the fray, and bellowed their high pitched death cry, directed to psychologically damage the Legionnaires while vibrating their bodies into pulp inside their armors.

Red aimed his marksman pistol at the captain's helmet through his smartlink holographic projections, gradually incinerating the captain's rhomboid gamma shielding systems. The captain bellowed the death cry again, shattering many of the soldier's heads and their bodies dropped to the concrete in metallic heaps in a thirty yard radius, only affecting the United Legion units.

An infantry sniper perched next to Red, aiding him in targeting the Grish captain, and soon they took him out in multiple successive bolts to the cranium plate. However, that only angered the dozens and dozens of Coalition that stormed up to the frontlines.

"What are we gonna do?" Marvin dematerialized a holo projection of the surrounding city block from his forearm that was filled with blips of the hostiles and remaining UL units. "They're not gonna stop storming against us, and we still have a mission to finish."

"Good question." Tuill replied, bounding up towards them, perching a top a roadblock that had assembled from the concrete roads. "Atlas?"

Akinyemi scanned their vicinity, but was transfixed on the Megalith looming towards them above the black skyline. Dozens more dropships and aerial craft swarmed out of the megalith, bombarding the UL infantry with particle cannons and energy streams capable of vaporizing them on impact. It felt like the initial invasion of Zephyr never subsided, just only a brief interlude from when he escaped to his new fireteam's return.

Before he responded to Tuill, he directed his attention towards Wispwaker who hovered beside his head. "What are our chances of survival here?"

"Do you want the long answer or the short one?"

"Both..?"

"Well...you might not like the odds here, Akinyemi. We did serve together for decades, as you know and have survived greater encounters across dozens of colonies for the survival of the Blue Banner. However, at this turning point in the war, in all respects, our logistics are down to scraps. At the beginning of the war, our armament of warships was well over a billion, and we had infantry and elite troops with a combined force of at least fifty billion. Now...we have at most one million warships thinly spread across the rest of the Blue Empire. The greatest chance of survival is if we take this loss of Zephyr in order to obtain the artifacts inside the Dauritak Mountains, and return to the Imperial Admiral. Short answer...slim."

The Legionnaire sergeant turned around to face Wispwaker and Akinyemi, dropping down below the downed Mirage in order to prevent her head from being blasted open by a sniper round, which nearly missed her. "I hate to say this Atlas, but your Luminere is correct on the matter. Go ahead with your operation towards the mountains, we'll hold our ground here and try to rally anymore reinforcements we can."

"Shit…" Akinyemi leaped down from the crashed Mirage, and his heavy metallic armor sprayed pools of rain everywhere around him. "Alright, let's go Dominion."

"But-" Marvin was in a bout of protest as a sniper round ricocheted off his helmet. "Okay, let's go."

The sergeant saluted Akinyemi while the three Mirages carpet bombed the Coalition units ahead of them, overturning the city block into blasted rubble. One of the Obelisks launched a concussive Patrick bean straight into a Mirage, and it spiraled into the roof of South Theatre. Akinyemi returned the salute, and nodded with reluctance. "Good luck, sergeant."

"Call me Padaio, Lieutenant Commander." She turned back around and led her battalion with valiant fervor, spraying the overwhelming forces that left them with bleak minds.

More warships warped beside the space tether, and zoomed around the city in order to target any United Legion and civilian survivors, striking the skyscrapers with successive rounds of torpedoes and energy projectors. The second battle of Zephyr was officially in effect.

Dominion followed through the rest of Hamuran in what remained of the intact districts of the city, through collapsed buildings, abandoned streets, and eerie alleys. While they did so, the Coalition dozens more Obelisks patrolled the city, dropping down their Hailfire turrets atop overpasses, and dropping aertillery craft in key location around the city blocks, they were in the rare process of occupation.

Dominion took refuge in another abandoned building along the outskirts of the city, overlooking an expansive freeway that led away from the boundaries. They were a few hundred feet above ground level, and Red set up a trid projector that he commandeered from the theatre before their location had been compromised. He reworked it to display a holo-projection of a bare black wall, concealing their location in a half-crumbling, half-exposed apartment nook that had been blown apart by a stray missile during the first invasion. For them on the opposite end of the trid projector, Dominiom could still see the open gapped, crumbling apartment. Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, and Voiceless knelt down beside a water cooler near the collapsed flooring drop-off, and Marvin let his legs dangle above the freeway, sheathing his rifle on the back of his armor.

Red made his way towards the back of the room, and found a brown leather couch to rest upon, before growing restless and cleaned his weapons and armor at a workstation. Tuill sat down against the other wall, activated soothing music for them while his violet eyes flickered like that of a strobe.

Without turning around to face Akinyemi, Red chirped and cooed a question, while occasionally stroking his waddles that dangled from his lipped beak as if in a nervous twitch. His armor and face was concealed in dark silhouettes casted by the obstruction of light from the broken ceiling above them. Yet great flashes of violet and blue lights from the battle a few miles away reflected off his armor.

Akinyemi glanced back at him, while dematerializing his helmet, wiping the sweat off his dark face before replying. "I don't know what I'll do after all this is over, Red. I've known war and pain most of my life, and even during this galactic genocide of our empire, I never really stopped to think about it. It's just been surviving through one mission or operation long enough to be sent out to the next one. I've lost dear friends and family along the way, and it's all been coming back to me ever since we returned to this planet. It seems like it's been that way for everyone here."

Red gently turned his head back to his right, barely making eye contact with Akinyemi, yet he nodded in complete understanding. He removed the life support-shield generator chassis from the back of his armor, and grabbed a welding tool in order to repair it. His ears twitched and flicked, picking up the distant explosions of the battle below, and he slumped his shoulders in disappointment.

Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu removed their helmets, placing them next to their exhausted bodies. Voiceless stood up and gracefully made his way towards the ledge, overlooking the city under the storms - he didn't have to speak to convey his admiration of the strikingly beautiful architecture that reached up into the sky, as if trying to touch the heavens above them.

Tuill gazed around, with an expressionless face, and said, "I'm tired, sir."

"Aren't we all..." Akinyemi nodded, setting down his rifles against the wall, and sat down next to the towering Eve.

"You're missing the point, Atlas. We can't keep doing this, sir. This… war. I'm tired. I'd rather be making a sandwich or something. Or, just be back in the ecumenopolis Xerro once more." He raised his metallic hand in front of his face. "Man, life was simpler back there. I was simply born to be in the Guerrier Caste of Eve society, a soldier. Fight for the Collective, never for oneself, always put the many above the few. Be a ruthless killing machine for our territory of space, keep unwanted outsiders and interlopers out. I used to also have this badass set of armor man, that all Eve Guerriers would wear… Ah but it was all bullshit. I was outcasted around the time the Coalition first invaded Collective space, for having too much of a mind of my own. They tried to kill me, but I was on the run for decades, until I finally "commandeered" a ship on our outer colony of Verout, and fled to the Blue Empire. I crash landed on the Blue Empire Outer Colony of Terneb, ten years ago, and tried to lay low for awhile. However, my innate born-path, plus my hate for the Coalition, caused me to join the United Legion. Ten years later of more endless war, and here I am now. Can't those invaders just leave us be? What did the Blue Banner even do to receive such ruthless and unwarranted hate? I know this great civilization is far from perfect, yet those bastards just stumbled upon us from the other side of the galaxy, and their first thought was genocide. Like, c'mon man."

Akinyemi stared blankly ahead while taking it what the Eve was saying, yet he knew what he meant. "I was quelling insurrections and rebels before the Coalition stormed our borders. It's been centuries since any major war. The Blue-Green War, the Eve Wars, the First and Second Nebulaic Wars. Then nothing but insurrection before they found us."

The Eve glanced at his lieutenant commander in respect, "Either the Imperial Admirals or the DII are definitely hiding something from us. The Coalition didn't just come out of nowhere. They couldn't have. We have our three mighty civilizations in relative prosperity, then rebels… oh by the Praetorians' Hammers… the fucking rebels. Did the DII or your emperor start a war to find a common enemy to rally around, or is this all just mere coincidence? Either way, we don't deserve to have trillions of lives lost."

Akinyemi nodded again at the Eve, and leaned his head back in an attempt to rest his heavy eyes but the explosions in the distance kept him awake. His attention was redirected towards the skyline of Hamuran, above the storming and churning clouds that continued to release their torrential downpour of acid rain and plasma fire. Peeking through these clouds was the distant stars above, glinting down for Fireteam Dominion to witness their majesty. With their vibrant nebulae around the Jericho System pulsing their vibrant light, in their myriad of colors. They may be on a dying world, with their hearts ripped out of their chests and their minds filled with existential dread in the ever gloom of extinction, but the seven of them still found solace together.

Chapter 4

It was the next day, and Fireteam Dominion awoke to still find the sky blanketed in a dense cloud cover of grey ash and howling winds. It took them a half hour to clamber down from the exposed apartment complex towards the freeway below as they didn't want to be discovered by the remaining Coalition forces still scouring the city for survivors. The intact city districts were filled with Coalition patrols and artillery in placements, and makeshift firebases, preventing most of any UL soldiers from finding any escape routes, it was a maze of buildings for them. Fortunately for Fireteam Dominion, the orbiting and atmospheric fleets

were left with scraps from the previous invasion as well, the Coalition on planet had been trying to contact their own commanders and fleet masters for reinforcements and more supplies but were left with empty com channels and disappointment just the same. Akinyemi presumes that's why they were occupying because they didn't have the necessary resources to destroy the planet at this point, unless they were looking for the supposed artifacts as well. He didn't want to take chances and kept on moving.

Dominion trudged along passed the outskirts of the city, across the freeways of automated ground craft lanes and destroyed hovercraft that had plummeted from radiation blasts during the invasions. The fireteam has attempted more times to contact any surviving legions or fireteams yet they too were left with static once more, and they had a couple miles left of freeway to traverse before they reached the end borders of the city. Towards the outskirts of Hamuran, most of the buildings were smaller scale, not condensed with skyscrapers like the rest of the city, yet the fireteam still felt just as exposed and vulnerable because of it. Akinyemi glances back over his shoulder to see how far they came since they left the abandoned apartment and found more Coalition warships lingering in place above the city next to the remaining space tethers. Perhaps they were securing the elevators to safely transport their infantry and artillery down, their translocation grid of the occupation forces was probably fried when The Fallen Saint and the Remembering Exuberance had downed one of their flagships just weeks before. The Coalition above Zephyr were just as cautious as they were ruthless.

"Damn...my feet are starting to hurt after all this running and evading, can we take a break, sir?" Marvin quipped, not removing his eyes from the road.

"We can't." Akinyemi removed a water decanter from his armor and tossed over towards the Atani. "Drink this though, you'll be alright."

"If only we had drone support. Or...like, more supercarriers. Or Rig defenses. Maybe the war-Lumineres controlling the orbital defense satellites? Orbital platforms that could, y'know, target our enemies from space..?"

"Most of that was destroyed from the previous battle. Luckily most of our other colonies still have them though." Wispwaker remarked.

"I've only ever felt secured in these battles with them." Marvin continued, dead worlds are never fun to return to."

"No dey're not." I'oshot-Uu agreed with his friend.

Red scanned the skies with his smartlink eye piece, and redirected the results to the rest of their head's up displays. The readings showcased the warships flight patterns weren't traversing in their directions, so they had time to make their way to the mountains.

"Yo that's good to know." Marvin glanced at the flight patterns. "I can definitely ease up a bit."

"So what kind of artifacts are we gonna even find?" Tuill asked, lumbering his heavy body over a downed hover car, glistening a brilliant golden under the overcast.

"Maybe another world-seeder? Armor upgrades? Maybe a giant missile? Who knows? Orbital mining platforms or waystations? Akinyemi, what do you think?"

Akinyemi shrugged without turning around to face them, still keeping his eyes on the road ahead. Flocks of thousands of birds swarmed away from Hamuran while the distant explosion of battle continued to haunt the back of their heads, yet they kept heading forward.

"We wish you would talk more, sir." Tuill muttered.

"I don't have much to say, especially since we have our mission ahead."

"You must be fun at parties."

"I used to be, believe it or not."

"We gotta get you to lighten up more then Atlas, see what that's all about. You need yourself a woman. Or man, doesn't matter what you're into." Tuill checked his ammo counter in case hostilities approach their position.

"Hush now, you'll stir him up." Marvin nudged the Eve.

Akinyemi ignored them as he was encapsulated by the approaching mountains just beyond the city walls. The freeways themselves stretched out towards the East just before the mountains yet curved up northwards to other cities along the coast of the continent. Floating building pylons leading towards the boundaries revealed to the team that they were close to the mountain range, and their spirits were lifted somewhat. After another hour, they finally bypassed the city grid, and reached the border wall, and was greeted with foothills and forests once more, they found a service road that took them up towards the Dauritak Mountains, and they trudged through the narrow roadways.

Just several yards ahead was the Excavation Site Four, made up of large grey buildings built into the side of the mountain range, with orange trimming, and large excavation vehicles parked outside. The lot lay abandoned, and there were no windows on the compartment buildings. Wide metallic stairs led away from the front entrance of the site, wrapping up to the side of one of the buildings into the mine. Auto turrets lay dormant across the balconies, facing towards the city. But once Dominion came into range, they activated, hovered up, and fired burst rounds of blue plasma energy at the fireteam. Voiceless and Marvin quickly incapacitated them, with rapid precision shots, then both leaped up the stairs to the first landing. Nearby laid several armored corpses of Atlas, buried in the mud from the day before. There were other corpses of Atani, Kotaran, Falakhrys, and Yedhe clad in ultramarine and silver legionnaire armor.

They found more corpses scattered about the stairs, landings, and splattered against the walls. Plasma energy burns dotted the walls, and some were still steaming.

"...What happened here?"

"Now we know where the rest of the task force ended up…"

"Rogue Luminere defending the place?"

Wispwaker pulse-scanned the immediate surroundings and enclosed his shell once he was done. "Automated protocols incase anyone randomly stumbled upon this. Did the Planetary Governor have a secret malicious intent for defending the mountain?"

"Nah it's DII, outside his jurisdiction." Akinyemi replied, noticing the lack of identification sigils on the building. "Civilians wouldn't be allowed to have control over the sights."

Voiceless Cry took point ahead of the rest of the fireteam, carefully stepping over and around the corpses with his head held low in mute sympathy. He rubbed his armored hands against the burns attempting to determine how fresh they were, and determined they were a few hours old at most. He turned back towards the rest of Dominion as he trotted under a metallic arch.

Red scanned the excavation site buildings with his Artemis and eyepiece, determining that there was no longer any living personnel around them. The miners and scientists that had previously been stationed at the sight were all dead or out of sight. He narrowed his eyes, unsure as to why it was abandoned so quickly even though it was supposed to be an important site, despite the invasion.

"How much time we got?" Tuill asked, glancing over at Red.

Red just glanced at him, the holographic projections in front of his right eye shimmered in the overcast, the flight patterns were narrower than before, and there was a few Obelisks zooming away from the space tether towards the east. He then slightly nodded his large head, and sighed. Tuill tilted his head in understanding, as Wispwaker zoomed closer to Akinyemi.

"This place is amazing. I just scanned the walls, and through the age of the isotopes of the materials, it turns out this building was built here not too long ago."

"How long ago?" The Atlas turned his head to his left facing the Luminere.

"Ehh.. about five to six years. They must've never thought the kind of boon they'd find inside the mountain, explains why we're here now."

"Yeah. Voiceless what do you see!?"

Voiceless Cry looked up in bewilderment and exaggeratedly pointed at all the corpses littered around himself. He swayed in respect for them, awaiting for the rest of the fireteam to approach closer towards the front entrance.

"Dey were so close to making it. If only we arrived sooner." I'oshot-Uu glanced at all the corpses around them, sulking his head.

"So we're what's left of the task force? Man...talk about some bad luck here.. Can't we call out for reinforcements?" Marvin slumped his shoulders a bit.

"Too dangerous, and everyone else is too far away." Wispwaker replied.

"Uhhh... Atlas?" Tuill's voice escalated in anxiety, driving the attention of everyone else.

"Yeah?"

"There is a problem with the horizon: it's gone."

Massive dust clouds sprung up from the remains of Hamuran as the megalith ships pierced the sky with their massive size, and sent down fiery streams of purple energy, glassing the skyline and surrounding city sprawls. The impossibly tower buildings around them crumbled and buckled from the disintegrated landscape, being replaced by black glass and ash. The Western Elevator started collapsing as the foundation burned and collapsed under the stress of the onslaught, and the entire tether itself swayed and danced its death over the city. After another minute, it detached from the exosphere, and slowly collapsed down, shaking wildly like a loose hose. The tether crumbled and plummeted with sky rings that once held its miles long cables in place launched across the burning landscape. As it plummeted, entire districts of Hamuran were shredded in its desolation.

"Dominion! RUN!" Akinyemi shouted as he grabbed Wispwaker, and booked it up the landing. His heavy armored boots pounded the grated walkways up to the sixty feet tall, hexagonal shaped door. The rest of Dominion sprinted behind him towards at full speed, bounding faster than a blink. They all made it to the front terminal in one of the small buildings adjacent to the cave.

"Open the door." Akinyemi ordered, pointing at the series of organically curved terminal desk.

"Hacking into the terminal now, sir...Done."

By time they ran inside, the space tether collapsed nearby the site, caving in most of the mountain range, while swallowing what remained of the valley. Sudden tremors and earthquakes roared across the mountain, and they feared the mountain would cave in from the impact of the tether. Dominion entered inside just before the tether crushed the dig site, dropping to their knees in order to recover from the horrendous sprint. Blinding lights pierced their visors and armors from up above, extending into the cavern by forty yards. Hovering support struts kept the cavern from closing in on itself, shimmering dull silver and onyx. Hundreds of dark green crates filled with rocks and scattered ore lay amongst the floor, tools, and excavation vehicles. Some of these vehicles consisted of great mining platforms reminiscent of colossal mountain worms, stretching hundreds of feet deeper into the cavern, they were dull bronze and gold in coloration and their drill bits were the size of houses. The cavern itself beyond the excavation platforms appeared to stretch back for miles with towering spires of stone around the supports, and walls the miners placed there long ago. Besides Dominions' footsteps echoing around, it was completely silent around them. Their shadows danced off the towering, concave walls in single file, and the fireteam kept their rifles in hand, not sure what they would find buried within.

"Were you able to obtain a layout of the caverns?" Akinyemi turned towards the Luminere once more.

"No, we had but seconds to open the mining site. My processions units were focused on that task only. And besides, my scanners are being interfered with anyways, we're going in blind."

Akinyemi sighed, "Whatever, let's just keep going."

Another shockwave collapsed half of the mountain with a bellowing roar louder than thunder, screaming a pounding vibrato into the valley. This sent the Atls into another flashback, as it caught him off guard; he, Anwar, and Haley were attempting to outrun the Coalition, and arrive at their LZ after the Grish captain lashed out with his death cry. They evaded the energy fire, ducking their heads as they nearly were decpairared by the particle beams. Anwar and Haley managed to return Akinyemi to his feet, and the three of them sprinted around other overturned and vaporized buildings, diving under overpasses.

"This is Mirage Cold Dynamo, prepare for takeoff." There comm channel sparked as they ran out of time to escape.

Several yards away was the LZ, and a Mirage was hovering just above an open clearing of trees just outside the small city. It was ready to warp them up and fly them away to The Fallen Saint, and it's repulsive engines sprayed ash, dust, and rocks in a three hundred, sixty degree radius around the clearing. Longsword finally arrived to be transported away, stopping right underneath it the dropship. However, just before being translocated up and inside, it was shot out of the sky with a barrage of gamma ray-charged particle cannons from four Obelisks that had pursued the team. The three of them had evaded into soot covered bramble, and collapsed walls from a nearby watchtower that stood just outside the clearing of forests, and the Atlas' fired upon the Coalition troops that were subsequently dropped down onto the ground, kicking up dust, and gravel. The troops shouted to each other, surrounding the Atlas teams in all directions.

Anwar glanced around, distraught, and concluded, "Sir, we're done for here." His orange visor flashed under the reflected light of the orbiting continent of Huriah.

"No, no we're not. Just keep your sights aimed at their helmets, and don't be afraid to throw a grenade or two." Akinyemi glanced back at his friend, but received multiple shots into his armor. His energy shields deflected most of the incoming plasma fire, ricocheting most of them into the tree cover.

Haley struggled to keep the Rig head on her back, while trying to level herself under pressure. She ran out of ammo, tossed her rifle aside, and equipped her energy pistol from her magnetic holster on her right thigh, and fired precision shots at the Draxii. However, a Draxii pack captain fired a rail gun round through her abdomen, severing her legs away from her torso launching what was left into the tower. Her screams pierced louder than the hail fire and Obelisks, but she reached out her hand towards Akinyemi, placing the Rig head in his hands. "...Take it...sir."

"You're stayin' alive, Hirahito…" He shooed it away from his grasp, instead lifting her up onto his back with one arm. He instantly turned around, returning fire at the Grish captain.

Anwar scanned the sky, evading more rounds that would have served him as we'll and shouted, "Lieutenant Commander! Another Mirage!"

"See? We're gonna make it." Akinyemi reassured her, adjusting his weight to compensate for her. "We'll get you patched up safely, and you'll be okay, I can assure you that."

The second Mirage appeared as a blue dot in the dark sky, zooming towards them ever closer. The dropship fired high-velocity MER rounds at the Coalition troops, punching incinerating holes into their bodies that shredded them into nothing but atoms and ash. As Longsword darted underneath this Mirage, a purple sniper round whipped through the air and penetrated Haley's skull, blowing her head apart. Brain matter and helmet fragments sprayed the two remaining Atlas as the Mirage translocated them up, and flew away into the atmosphere back to The Fallen Saint.

Akinyemi returned to the present once more, hyperventilating as his dissociation diminished. Fireteam Dominion had came up upon a bend in the caverns, revealing the tail end of the main excavation sites, and shrouded tunnels branched off into separate directions into the dark. Heavy footfalls pounded against the cold stones and stalagmites, four shadows approached them in the limelight. Four figures darted these four shadows transitioned into armored soldiers and they raised their weapons up towards Dominion.

"Who's there?" The Atlas shouted, tightening his grip on the trigger of his Trident rifle.

"It's alright! It's okay! Don't shoot!" An all too familiar voice of a Pakistani accent replied back, and a pale yellow visor shimmered back.

"Major Dahma? We thought you were dead." Akinyemi lowered his rifle, and the rest of Dominion followed suit.

"So did everybody else." Dahma quipped. He lowered his rifle too, and so did the rest of Jackhammer. "We thought we were the only survivors, we didn't expect anyone else to make it this far. We found those corpses outside just like you did, and we gave up all hope, barricaded ourselves in here until another team could find us. This is all bad, Lieutenant Commander, we shouldn't be back here. I'm starting to think the Imperial Admiral walked us straight into a trap to die."

"I wouldn't go that far, but I agree we shouldn't have returned to Zephyr." Akinyemi was more surprised than relieved to find them alive. "...How are you holding up?"

"Guy suffered a flesh wound, we weren't completely invincible. But other than that, I guess we're alright."

The Atlas in cobalt armor approached closer, but was missing his right arm. Guy dematerialized his helmet to reveal a tired face of Italian-descent. He had brown eyes, and short dark hair with a pale complexion, and small mustache. "It was a Coalition sharpshooter. Specifically a Draxii marksman. I didn't see him, and when I did… it was too late." Guy placed his rifle on his back, and glanced at everyone with a tilted head, then back down where his right arm used to be. "I'm going to need to buy one of those new deltaware cybernetic arms whenever we return to Elysium. I heard you can add weapons attachments to them. That'll definitely help with killing those genocidal bastards. However, they're damn near too expensive, hopefully I can get a raise by the time this is all over."

Everyone laughed slightly, and trying to ease up. It had been days since they had a chance to even relax just a bit. Akinyemi turned back towards Dahma and asked, "How long have you guys been here for?"

"Long enough. I think since most of yesterday. The comms haven't been the best, we couldn't ask for backup at all. We thought we were going to be stranded out here. Is it Coalition signal jammers?"

"That, and the entire city and communications grid were fried before we ever arrived on planet. We attempted to connect to a broadcast tower but no one responded. We got lucky enough to have reinforcements deep inside the city but they, and we, were immediately overrun by overwhelming Coalition forces. They're probably all dead now too." Tuill said dryly. "So you might be right, these two teams most likely are what's left on planet for this operation."

"Damnit…" Dahma lowered his head, dematerializing his helmet to show a dirty olive-tan complexion, with piercing brown eyes, defined eyebrows and cheekbones. He had a long and wide nose resting above a scruff around his mouth. He had short dark hair as well, and had several deep scars along his cheeks.

Dahma turned towards Guy and the other two Atlas behind him. Their dark red and dark steel armors, respectively, reflected off of what little light shimmering within the back of the excavation site. They too dematerialized their helmets, and the one in dark red armor was a woman of Polynesian-descent. She had light brown skin, grey eyes, and brown hair that was dipped with blond along the tips. She had intricate Kirituhi tattoos all over her face, somewhat spreading as she gently smiled, saying, "Aloha, I'm Ewalani Ngata."

Ngata gestured towards the final Atlas, in the dark steel armor, and said, "That is Millie O'Rilee." O'Rilee dematerialized her helmet too, to reveal a pale complexion, freckled face, green eyes, and fiery orange hair. When she spoke she had a strong Irish accent.

"Afternoon, Lieutenant Commander..." She gave a slight smile, but looked down to the cavern floor.

Major Dahma rematerialized his helmet, and had the rest of Fireteam Jackhammer do the same, and said, "Let's go Jackhammer, we're clearly in the wrong location for the artifacts." He started walking away towards what was presumably North, and then turned back to Dominion. He shouldered his rifle, swaying while walking backwards and said. "I hope to see you on the other side, good luck."

Everyone saluted to each other, and Jackhammer was gone and out of sight through the looming caverns. The only thing left they could see of Jackhammer were their armors and weapons lights piercing the darkness beyond. They too didn't have any drones or probes to map out the inner weblike caverns, so they were going in as blind as Dominion. Dominion continued following a small man-made excavation tunnel, and were out of sight deeper into the mountain as well. After what felt to them a couple hours of traversing the dark and silent caverns, the eerie environment and the air seemed to change, as if a draft from an expanded opening lay just ahead.

"How far back are these artifacts anyways? And if they're even here, how did the Composers get them so far back?" Marvin asked, trying not to slip off their walkway into a ravine below.

"Most likely natural tectonic activity over the eons, they can withstand the pressure of the continental plates crushing them down. Or perhaps they could've just been buried and the forests grew over that." Wispwaker replied.

"Maybe Zephyr is artifically built planet?" Marvin said as his sleek black helmet glinted off the light of Voiceless' armor lights.

"As far as we know, none of those even exist." Akinyemi replied, trudging through sulfur deposit pools.

Voiceless took point ahead like back in the capital, and his strides were graceful and silent. He was so quiet that at times Dominion thought they lost him in the caverns. But, the Uru heard a shifting rock faces in the distance, and stopped onto one knee, raising his left fist into the air, signaling them to halt. Voiceless continued to wait, and listen for any signs of more movement, but nothing. He pointed his fingers forward, and started moving again, slouching lower than he did before. Suddenly, what seemed to be out of nowhere, loud flapping and screeching startled the Uru a few feet back. Large cave bats with two sets of leaf-shaped wings and enormous ears, fluttered out of their nesting spot, and into the dark cavern above them, out of sight. In the distance, Dominion could see a towering spire built into the side of a massive cliff, embedded within the cavern walls itself. When they turned around another bend of rock, it was more than just a spire, but with a platform. It towered over the expansive cavern and looming in an eerie yet peaceful tranquility. It was shaped into impossibly constructed sharp geometric angles and organic shapes, piercing the darkness. It also had sharp geometric lines of white light weaving their way throughout the structure itself. Several towering pieces of metallic totems floated above and around the spire and resonated a gentle hum. It was silver-grey in color, and emanated out many more white lights around the doors and at the top of the spire. It somewhat resembled a stock-bud tower with sunflower petals branching away from the main spire.

"I believe that's what we're looking for, Dominion." Akinyemi analyzed reassuringly, while picking up his pace. "Wispwaker, are you able to scan the structure from this distance?"

"As a matter of fact, yes." Wispwaker replied excitedly, focusing his long range scanners at the structure. "Its, its readings are off the charts! The carbon dating suggests this building is well over five hundred thousand years old. It's definitely Composer."

"Given from what little the empire taught of these mysterious beings, like, I knew they were pretty advanced for their time, but never thought they were that old." Marvin said in a mix of shock and admiration.

"They were even far older than that." Tuill replied, basked in awestruck. "My people settled Xerro about a million years ago, and the Composers were in control of the galaxy for an even greater period of time."

Dominion meandered through the cavern for several more minutes until they were level with the Composer citadel, but now it stretched beyond across a vast ravine from them. Fortunately, there was a small, floating, silver-grey cylindrical metallic object on Dominion's side of the ravine. Voiceless Cry bounded up first, and touched the device with his empty hand, nothing happened. He tried a second time, but nothing happened again.

Voiceless turned around, and shrugged in confusion, swinging his rifle down, while he shifted his weight to his right leg.

"What's supposed to happen?" I'oshot-Uu asked as he folded his gauntleted arms, nudging Marvin.

"It's probably here to activate some sort of bridge. Maybe?" Tuill stood there, immobile next to Red, as Red made a curious face. Tuill then continued, saying, "Atlas, try activating it yourself. Remember what the Imperial Admiral mentioned."

Akinyemi moved passed the Atani, and Kotaran in front of him, balancing his weight on the rocks. He approached the metallic object and Voiceless stepped aside, watching him.

A small white light appeared from the top of the conduit. Within a second, a ball of holographic hard-light opened above it. Ancient glyphs revealed themselves through hexagonal notches within a swirling pool of glowing light in the ball. Akinyemi stood there in awe, not saying a word, and sheathed his rifle on his back. He then extended out his right arm, reaching at the ball of light, and it rotated on its axis, tilting towards his hand to touch specific glyphs. Akinyemi placed his hand on the ball of light, and a loud, echoing hum sprung from seemingly out of nowhere. He slowly lowered his hand as a bridge of white hard-light activated, connecting the ends of the dark ravine.

"Magnificent! It's a bridge of light!" Wispwaker whirred up ecstatically. "Let's cross it!"

Everyone else hesitated, and Voiceless walked around the Atlas, with his hand raised in front of him, facing them, and stopped. He released one of his energy grenades, and tossed it onto the bridge. The grenade wisped blue as it whizzed onto the bridge, landing. After a few seconds it exploded, and the plasma dissipated away. Voiceless gave the thumbs up, and slowly made his way onto the bridge.

Tuill, and Red still hesitated as they followed everyone else. Dominion, as a whole, slowly paced their way across the hundred meter long bridge. Everything seemed to be eerily quiet, and that unsettled the fireteam. The only lights in the area were from their armors, and the towering citadel ahead of them. The citadel, and the spire itself, was about five miles tall, heavily dwarfing anything they've seen before. It took them a few minutes to cross this great ravine, showing the scale of how massive a tower they were looking at.

"Look at the size of that! It's unbelievable!" Wispwaker gazed in awe at the structure, as if in a trance.

"It's definitely believable…" Tuill quipped as he raised his head, narrowing his purple eyes. His metallic body glinted in the light of the citadel, a heavy draft kicked up his furred armor.

The bedrock immediately transitioned into the silver-grey flooring as they moved closer to the structure and to the front gates itself. At this point, Dominion was bathed in the white light, and it felt eerily peaceful once more. In all the years that Akinyemi has served for the United Legion during the Requiem War, he had only ever seen or encountered minimal artifacts, but nothing like the citadel he had laid eyes upon. He had only ever seen furniture, weapons, or smaller scale villas isolated away from major cities mostly due to their significance to the DII. He knew Humanity had encountered possibly grander architecture before as there had been reports of dormant orbital stations and derelict warships spread throughout the galaxy. But to lay eyes on a relic such as this himself was mesmerizing.

They arrived right before the towering spire doors, and Akinyemi was scanned from head to toe in a small refracting light from the citadel itself. The grand sharp angled doors opened like that of a three-dimensional kaleidoscope, moving away into nothingness. As it opened, it churned away in a prism of a multitude of brilliant nebulaic lights of colors and song. A guttural, reverberating hum bellowed from the architecture as if the building itself was alive. The seven of them didn't say anything as they entered inside mostly from being dumbstruck by such pure majesty and beauty. Once inside, it was revealed to them that the interior architecture sprawled back a cavernous-like, mile-wide circular hall with sharp geometric lines weaving through the silver-grey metal, floating columns, and floating extensions. There were arches above them that were of trapezoidal design, with looming white banners of hardlight overhead. When all of them were far enough in, the doors closed like that of a kaleidoscope again, leaving them inside. From a distance, they could see flat, towering columns of white selenite shards against the walls, and large pyrite cubes rotating on their own axises around them.

Floating above them, fifteen feet in the air were scattered formations of automated defensive sentries, that reverently hovered towards their destinations. The sentries were shaped into disparate, rectangular chassis extending eight feet long, with sharp, jagged fronts, with what appeared to be a pair of particle stream cannons, facing forwards. Around the main body hovered two sets of sharp geometric, disparate metallic wings that fanned out five feet long and wide in idle mode, yet were unmoving. Adorned all over the main bodies were small, white, luminescent lights that shimmered in the haze of the citadel. These Hitodama silently hummed while slowly transiting back and forth above the long hallways.

They continued on for a while, before reaching the center of the citadel, where it ended in a tall engraved, cylindrical-like extension from the floor. "The data that could be received from this, is insurmountable. We could artificially evolve your species beyond compare, if we figured out how to use all this stuff." Wispwaker zoomed around scanning everything he could find.

"We have…" Akinyemi said, pointing to the two small, floating pieces of armor above the shoulders of his IAPETUS power armor. "Like your shell, our weapons, and so much more."

"That's right, my bad." Wispwaker lowered the iris of his luminere shell. "But to see such architecture and caretakers alive is...truly breathtaking."

Akinyemi silently agreed, as most of the Composer relics they had ever found were all either dormant or dead, and to find a site such as this would prove a turning point no doubt. He grew saddened somewhat as the Remembering Exuberance wouldn't be able to excavate and extract the entire citadel itself, and he was unsure of what would come of it by the time they departed the dying planet.

Fireteam Dominion stopped in front of the center, and the twenty foot tall column-like extension, opened up like a blooming kaleidoscope flower, spiraling down and dematerialzing towards the concave floor that sloped into the central spire. Dominion all raised their weapons, not knowing what to expect as a loud harmonious ringing echoed around them. When it finished opening, it revealed another column-like object, but smaller. It was thinner in diameter, but was six feet high, with multiple pieces of metal, orbiting it horizontally. It had a vertical white bar for a photoreceptor along the front of its glimmering chassis. Along this device's thin equator emanated a white light that scanned the Atlas. The mysterious object then rang out a musical tune, like a harmonious siren, and the light enveloped the fireteam. Around the construct a swirling stream of cosmic space time and light shimmered away from its chassis, pulling and pushing them in gentle gravitational waves that seemed to meld with their bodies. It was bold, brilliant, and beautiful. However, for Akinyemi the sound became something different. It scanned him once again, and then spoke. It's voice sounded that of many loud and calm resonating whispered voices speaking at once, slightly distorted in a cacophony of drums and whistles.

"Who are you, warrior? You are foreign to me… After scanning your brain patterns, I can't determine your species. You have neurology-altering mutagens swimming inside your mind that haven't been catalogued and determined. If you aren't of this place, I request you leave at once before the tonal architecture causes you to flee."

"I am Lieutenant Commander, Akinyemi Asari-Dokubo. Atlas supersoldier for the Blue Empire of Humanity."

The entity scanned him a third time. "Oh yes, I see…Very peculiar indeed. The Transference has succeeded then hasn't it?"

"The what?" Akinyemi stood there, confused. The entity gravitated itself closer, and the Atlas continued, "What are you?"

"The Transference was the grand design of my creators… to ensure life endured in the Song Drums after the Niente Caesura. My creators made preparations to have your species inherit everything of their Ascendancy, and to prepare for the return of our adversary." The entity raised itself in the air before continuing, "You ask of my purpose? You ask for my Image? I am a Curator for my creators' greatest creation: the Everlast...To await your species eventual arrival, and to sheppard you towards him. "

"What significance did this mean to your creators, and why did you choose Humanity? We aren't ready for such a responsibility. We're already fighting a losing war of our own, and we don't have the numbers nor firepower to end it."

"The Niente Caesura was initiated by the Darkness...It shattered my mind. War… Passing.. dissolution.. balance. But the answer to your second query will be revealed in another time, there's imminent discourse to be quelled."

"I understand, Curator. But the Composers, are they truly all extinct?" Akinyemi wasn't really sure what to say to this construct upon meeting it. It's radiance nearly blinded them upon its exit from the centrifugal column that housed it moments before. His head was swimming with countless thoughts of the war, himself, his fireteam, and their current situation. But the one thing that had always perplexed him was the fate of the most powerful species to ever reside amongst the stars of the Milky Way.

"So that's what you call my creators… fascinating, yet reflective of their creations. I myself was constructed of chords and of grown metal, living yet undying. They called themselves…-"

Before Akinyemi could hear such an important piece of history, he was suddenly distracted by Marvin, who grabbed his shoulder, trying to figure out what was going on, "Is it talking to you? What's it saying?"

Before Akinyemi turned back around, his fireteam appeared that of illuminated silhouettes, their outlines and eyes the only things he could witness, reflecting off the luminosity of the Curator. It was as if the construct had temporarily pulled him away from reality, yet he was still there amongst them all. Was this telepathy? Or was the construct merely interfacing with his helmet as his neural net was melded to it with the data jacks. Akinyemi thought, as he ignored the Atani to find out more.

"-...which meant Children of the One-Song… Yes, my child, they are all extinct, unfortunately. For over two hundred thousand Verses I've been here...My isolation has damaged me to the point of being a fraction of what I or they represented, or were… But I now understand that you are here not to meld with me, so I'll cut this antiphony short. Take me to your vessel, and head for the Everlast. I believe your species is ready to complete the Transference, despite what you say. For you have made it this far, and your technology is as capable as I see it to be in front of me. I do hope to be bathed by his glorious brilliance, and be returned to my higher functions and processes once more."

"This Everlast, what was...he?"

The Curator transitioned this warped bubble of space time around the Atlas, spreading it out around them in cascading spirals and gentle breezes. It appeared as if it was only Akinyemi and this construct residing within the citadel, and their field of view was expanded by billions of miles, yet hazed and untextured. A great sphere of brilliance shimmered over a distant, alien horizon that was unknown to the Atlas, he had no idea where he was. This glimmering sphere reflected off a white-gold, dazzling into the cosmos beyond it. It was surrounded by vessels larger than continents, yet were too far away for him to make out in any regards. "In rudimentary phrasing for your minimal consciousness to understand, as I said he was the 'Composers''greatest creation. A one-mind of eons passing, he was constructed hundreds of millions of years ago to guide the species to near-transentience…" The holographic constructs that the Curator soon faded and dematerialized before he could continue, as if he had corrupted or incomplete data. "...I...I cannot relay much more. Your adversaries drawn ever nearer than before and they cannot view this splendor of old. We must go."

The Curator's light dimmed down, and lowered itself more towards the ground, and the cosmic frequencies compressed back into the chassis of the construct. Everyone stood there, dumbfounded, from what they just witnessed.

"You got to speak with a living relic of the Composers? What did it say?" Wispwaker zoomed back up.

The Atlas stared at the Luminere, and replied, "To keep things short, it calls itself the Curator, and we must leave quickly. To finish this 'Transference'."

"A what?" Tuill wasn't really having any of it, and grew somewhat suspicious.

"No time, this will definitely suffice for the Imperial Admiral. The Operation is successful. Let's go." Akinyemi started sprinting out of there, and the Curator translocated them outside of the citadel. Upon exiting the citadel, they were greeted with a large task force of Coalition soldiers and Obelisks. The Obelisks zoomed towards the other side of the dark ravine, and sprayed out many rounds of fiery purple plasma energy. They immediately deployed platoons of Grish, Draxii, and Aggressors. The Aggressors towered the rest by a few feet, and activated energy - point defense - shields, and formed a towering battle line just like the Draxii had done before. A Grish commander stood out from the other ones with its elongated pyramid-like helmet being more adorned than the rest, and he barked commands at his subordinates. The Aggressor battle line slowly moved forward, the shields swayed in a bounding synchrony as they marched for the fireteam and the construct. The commander refrained from using his helmet's death cry weapon as he didn't want to risk shattering the Composer Curator construct. The other Grish warriors lowered their energy lances in front of them, and aimed their sights right at Fireteam Dominion. Within an instant, they fired a volley of incinerating purple energy towards the fireteam, penetrating Dominions' energy shields. The Obelisks zoomed away from the cliff side, hovering just over the ravine, in order to flank the fireteam. The Obelisks blasted out a shock pulse in an attempt to shove the fireteam off the bridge, followed by a volley of missiles and plasma bolts.

Voiceless Cry chucked an energy grenade out at the dropship as a distraction, and the grenade exploded into a flurry of blue. He then fired several precision shots at the battle line, cutting down their ranks, but the Grish commander fired at the Uru, penetrating his legs, causing him to collapse. The Uru gave out a silent scream of pain, clutching his legs, as he lay on the ground, incapacitated.

Marvin and I'oshot-Uu charged out next to their friend, and fired many burst shots at their attackers. The energy rounds deflected off the Grish commander, staggering it in anger. The commander straightened its torso, and shouted in broken English, "Fireteam that has returned to your dying planet. Relinquish the construct towards us and you may live. The Warlord has been scouring this planet for such a prize and he recognizes your valiant tenacity. So we speak for him in saying: hand it over, or we will bathe the starways in your blood..."

Akinyemi glanced back over towards the Curator, and the construct hovered silently and reverently. It flashed signals of torment and uncertainty if ever gripped by the hands of the Warlord.

"I understand your situation, field commander." Akinyemi began, facing the towering Grish over the ravine. "However, we cannot. In us keeping the relic, it'll be for the good of the galaxy, not to be selfishly hoarded and turned into a weapon of misuse. You are already causing our extinction, why not let us slide..?"

The Grish commander cocked his head to the side in confusion. Yet, he raised his hands for the task force to withdraw from firing. "You dare bargain with the Warlord? How trivial. The insects want to plead for their survival and keep the relic. I'm more amused than anything else. The Warlord is elsewhere throughout your borders, decimating dozens of worlds as we speak, even if we granted you such a fate, the dreadnaughts above this planet will bombard it until it's already shattered mantle is nothing but dust."

Tuill leaned over next to the Atlas, keeping his rifle raised up at the commander, yet refrained from taking a shot. "Uhhh sir? I say we just hand it over. None of us saw or heard what you did, so…"

Akinyemi paused, turned back at the construct, then back at the Eve. "It showed me something that cannot he ever viewed by them. It was a fragmented memory of the Composer's 'greatest creation'. If we hand it over, we doom the entire galaxy to their domination."

"On second thought, don't hand it over, Atlas."

"We refuse to give you the relic."

"So be it." The towering commander lowered his energy lance with his two upper arms, aiming it at I'oshot-Uu. He pulled the trigger releasing a boundless flurry of fiery purple energy, spraying it at the Kotaran. The Kotaran collapsed too, falling back I order to conserve what little power his armor granted him before perishing to a boiled filleting of plasma. In a desperate act to save himself, I'oshot-Uu kinetic-wave pushed the battleline, staggering most of the Aggressor phalanxes back towards the commander while several fell off the bridge and into the ravine.

Akinyemi, Red, and Tuill ran forward, across the bridge, releasing all their ammunition at the Coalition ahead of them, yet still receiving volleys of energy to themselves too, shredding their energy shields to nothing. The shields didn't have time to rejuvenate as the Coalition troops were felled.

The commander leaned down from one of the stalagmite-filled rock faces above, and attempted to deactivate the conduit that controlled the hardlight bridge. It refused to activate to his touch, and his anger only escalated, firing another round of his lance at Tuill, nearly severing the Eve's jaw.

Marvin grabbed Voiceless Cry, placing him over his shoulder, widening his stance to support the new weight. He quickly darted towards Tuill who subsequently launched the Uru into the air towards the field commander, and Voiceless sparked on his shockwave gauntlet, pulverizing what remained of the small task force.

The Curator hovered slowly next to the grounded Kotaran, and sighed after witnessing the recent onslaught. He rotated himself to the right by forty five degrees, and said, "I never enjoyed discourse and war, but being able to witness the happenings of the wider Song Drum again is refreshing."

The Obelisks however, weren't dealt with and continued to bombard the fireteam. Red reached for the Kotaran, while Tuill regrabbed Voiceless, and they darted across the bridge as quickly as they could. The fireteam had little to no firepower capable of fighting back against the overwhelming dropships, yet as one of the Obelisks launched a missile out towards them along the cliff side, I'oshot-Uu redirected it around with a successive round of kinetic wave pushes, sending it towards the dropship, and it spiraled down into the ravine. The remaining Obelisks continued their barrage against the fireteam, pounding the stone faces with precision that exploded the walls with concussive forces more powerful than one thousand pounds of dynamite. Due to the impacts, the interior caverns of the mountain began to cave in and collapse, only sending the fireteam to make their way out of there with the Curator ever the more necessary.

Fireteam Dominion were on the run from the Obelisms for over an hour, and thanks to the narrower caverns on their way back to the excavation sites, the Obelisks were unable to pursue much further, being redirected elsewhere within the mountain. The clifffaces and walls crumbled and collapsed further from massive tremors of earthquakes and nearby glassing, providing the team with a small window of escape. They soon made it back to the main tunnels that had originally branched off deeper into the mountain where they met up with Fireteam Jackhammer, yet all they found were more Coalition Obelisks, and dozens of platoons were storming through the excavation site. They had found their way into the mountain by incinerating the hexagonal tunnel doors until it was melted or pulverized into shattered metal. There were more Fireteams that were spotted running out with Dominion, but were subsequently blown up with violet carpet bombings, instantly incineratinf the armored soldiers into irradiated atoms. Among those now dead Atlas, were O'Rilee and Guy of Jackhammer, as Major Dahma and Ngata took cover behind a towering excavation truck.

Dahma's pale yellow visor glimmered in the light, and his red sash waved around. "Dominion! Over here! I require fire support!" The distraught Atlas widened his stance, while raising his auto rifle. He fired into the waves of the Coalition task forces, hoping any of the stray blaster bolts would impact their helmets. Ngata pulled out a plasma energy shotgun from her back holster, and charged at the battle line with several other Atlas soldiers who survived the onslaught. Dominion and the other Atlas within the site rallied around Major Dahma, shouting with patriotic vigor for the colony. Many Atlas had taken cover behind more excavation trucks, cranes, and the hundreds-feet long drills.

Purple and blue energy whizzed passed each other near the entrance of the Site, and many other Atlas were slaughtered through bolts penetrating their helmets and chest cavities by searing plasma. The surviving fireteams returned fire, and were able to reciprocate against the Coalition troops as well. The heavy impact of the excursion crippled the excavation machines, and Dahma noticed this, ordering a nearby Yedhe legionnaire with a plasma launcher to fire at the base of it.

The Yedhe obeyed the Atlas, and initiated reloading the launcher. However, four Red Hand assassins translocated next to her, and immediately dismembered her with brutal finesse. They then stood there in a disordered line, right before translocating next to Dominion, and Dahma. The first spun around with a leg up, and side kicked Dahma onto the ground with a thud. It then reactivated red plasmaic punch-daggers from wrist mounted hilts. Their hooded cloaks swayed violently as they moved around each other, and towards the rest of Dominion.

Akinyemi re-equipped his Trident rifle, aiming the floating metallic sights at their helmets. He fired three three-burst streaks of blue discharging through the air, penetrating its skull. The assassin collapsed to the ground, dropping in a heavy heap. Another Red Hand assassins approached, swinging its dagger at the Atlas, and Akinyemi pummeled it multiple times in the face to prevent if from gaining the upper hand against him and his squad. The blows it revived were so heavy that it's head was beaten into a cracked pulp.

The Red Hand looming above Dahma lunged its blades at him, stabbing him in the chest with searing fiery plasma. The searing blade boiled his insides, and the Atlas screamed, yet Dahma quickly grabbed the alien's arm, removing the blade from his chest, and with his augmented strength, broke its arm, stabbing the Red Hand with its own blade.

The Coalition launched more volleys of purple energy in cascading explosions aimed at the rock face above them. They knew at this point hey weren't going to be able to acquire the Curator, so in their own hubris they were going to collapse the excavation site, hoping to kill the United Legion fireteams within. To prevent that from happening, Red leaped out over the infighting just in front of him, grabbed the plasma launcher while kneeling on the ground, and aimed the sights at the base of the excavation machines. Before he could fire any rounds, he was stabbed in the back by the last Red Hand and bellowed a bloodcurdling shriek of pain in spasmatic squawks and chirps.

Marvin watched at the assassin impaled the Bir'vo, and equipped his energy pistoli his free hand while evading away from an oncoming grenade detonator. He aimed at the Red Hand, and fired four rounds into the back of its skull when its shields were down. I'm response, the Coalition troops pulverized more legionnaires and Atlas, gunning them down where they stood. Red sneered in pain, and slowly lifted the plasma launcher back to where he was aiming a few seconds prior, and fired without a second thought. Six booms radiated out of the launcher, recoiling him back onto the cave floor, and the plasma trails were spiraling towards their destination, connected together by "tethers" of excess plasma. The large excavation machine was impacted in a massive explosion of blue, blasting incoming Coalition troops away, their corpses ragdolling through the air. The large machine's metal screamed under the stress, and buckled, collapsing inward towards the unstoppable force. With a large thud, and more explosions of violet energy, the incoming troops were crushed into the ground, sending Obelisks zooming into the mine walls and collapsed onto their sides and pulverized the troops within.

Very few Atlas and Legionnaires had survived in the excavation site, and they all limped to safety towards each other while waiting for evac. Some Atlas omelet down beside their fallen comrades, shaking their armored husks hooping to resuscitate them, and cried out in sorrow to find them lifeless. Others were unable to mourn in their own physical and mental exhaustion, and simply set themselves down next to their fallen squadmates, placing empty palms on top of their armors in respect.

Akinyemi made his way over towards Dahma who lingered on the cave floor and dematerialized his helmet, revealing an exhausted dark face. He sheathed his rifle on his back, and grabbed ahold the other Atlas' hands, helping him sit up. "Y'good?"

Dahma dematerialized his too, yet stared at the carnage ahead of them, unable to catch his breath. He soon calmed somewhat right before coughing up boiled blood from his lungs. His face sneered in overwhelming pain, and spat out more blood before his aveolie exploded from the drastic temperatures. "Heh, sure…You could say that. Let's, let's get out of here."

"Were you able to acquire any relics?" Tuill asked, kneeling down beside them.

"No, we weren't. The only things we found were empty vaults...that's when I lost my other two members. This operation was terrible from the very beginning...but it looks like you succeeded at least, Lieutenant Commander. At least there's that." Dahma reached a limp arm over Akinyemi's shoulders, and blankly stared at his lap in his burnt disorientation.

Akinyemi turned his head up and to the left, at Marvin, and said, "Call an evac."

"Yessir." Marvin activated the long-range comms on his helmet, and paced around.

Wispwaker focused his blue luminere iris, and noticed an Atlas approaching them from the destroyed entrance. The white light from outside peered into the dark mine, with occasional megalith ships creating shadows on Dominion from the distance. The Atlas approached them, and dropped her shotgun onto the ground, its ammo all spent. Ngata's dark red armor was ruined with a barey of energy plasma burns, and holes. She dematerialized her helmet, and let her dark hair down as she sat onto the ground. She grabbed ahold of Dahma, leaning her head onto his shoulder, closing her eyes while heavily breathing from the onslaught.

Red sat against a nearby wall, his head held low, and arms on the ground. His armor was still sizzling, and the life support chassis on his back activated the biofoam compartments, sedating him while treating the plasma wounds. He folded his arms against his chest, and rested his eyes until the evac arrived.

Tuill tended to Voiceless Cry and I'oshot-Uu, keeping their heads elevated above their torsos. His forearms opened up, and medical prongs extended into their legs and chests, treating them. Wispwaker zoomed over towards the Eve, and said, "We did it. I honestly didn't think we'd make it."

Tuill raised his metallic head, locking his glowing purple eyes on the Luminere. "Well… we are badasses. Will these two make it?"

Wispwaker scanned the Kotaran and Uru with a soft cerulean beam over the wounds, and his shell chassis recompressed once he was finished. "Yes, they will be fine."

"Good to know, that's reviving."

The Curator hovered slowly toward the Atlas', and said with a reassuring tone, "You are ready, Humans. Your stubborn will and tenacity alone is reflecting back for me to admire."

The lingering overcast outside plummed with more lightning, dancing across the sky in golden trails of light. Thousands more aerial craft swarmed out of looming warbringers and megaliths, scouring the continent for more survivors. Immense violet, mile-wide beams descended down from the warbringers' energy projectors, incinerating the city. The glassing beams' light reflected off the armors of the surviving troops in the excavation site, and everyone lowered their shoulders in horror and defeat. None of them were able to speak, watching the once great capital of Zephyr light up in ablaze, being razed into cinder and ashlands. After a few more minutes, four Mirages zoomed through the storms, and descended just outside the sites. Everyone bounded and limped outside of the mines as a couple platoons of Legionnaires darted up and aided them into the dropships. The Mirages translocated the desperate and broken survivors inside, right before more Obelisks and a megalith made its way over towards the mountains. The dropships rapidly rotated back around, and outside of Excavation Site Four, through the destroyed and broken structures of the collapsed space elevator. Then as they accelerated out and back towards the Remembering Exuberance, the entire skyline erupted like that of a violet-white volcano, and the city caved and cratered, continuing to burn in its desolation.

Chapter 5

The Remembering Exuberance was exiting the exosphere of Zephyr still cloaked as to avoid detection, weaving in and out of the derelict graveyard of warships and orbital stations. Dozens more Coalition megaliths zoomed through this same orbital graveyard towards Zephyr, and the massive battlecruiser evaded out of the way in order to safely depart the solar system. The orbiting debris was denser than before as the scoured warships condensed together in their own gravity, making much more difficult to traverse through. The Curator had been stationed in an undisclosed location inside the massive battlecruiser, away from prying eyes of the officers and the remaining platoons of Legionnaires and Rig units onboard.

Officer Nayak, with the help of Arrowhead, continued to traverse through the clustered debris, evading the outer hull of a derelict Coalition dreadnaught. The battlecruiser zoomed through its hull, blown apart by many rounds of the orbital defense platforms weeks before. The battlecruiser was silhouetted in momentary darkness by the dreadnaught blocking out the light of Jericho and the vast nebulae beyond the solar system. Upon exiting the derelict, the Exuberance finally broke through the exosphere, and activated its Riftspace engine, soon to be absorbed by the wormhole bubble. It entered within the bubble of churning space time, and began its return journey to Elysium.

Atlas Asari-Dokubo and Dahma, Colonel Singer, and Captain Parri all stood around the holotable of the command bridge of the Exuberance, underneath the dimly lit ceiling, only being illuminated by the cerulean light in front of them. Their eyes were heavy, and their postures slouched, unable to rest after such an argous operation. The atmosphere of the bridge was quiet, save for the newfound anxiety everyone was in, while they formulated their next plan of action.

"...This construct, wants us to go where?" Captain Parri leaned over the holotable in front of him, unamused by Akinyemi's debrief of Operation: BOOMERANG. He stared down the Lieutenant Commander opposite him, with his face reading that of troubled annoyance.

"The Curator specifically told me that we had to take it this...being or creation known as the Everlast. We have to go there to complete what it calls the Transference." Akinyemi stood there, erect but tired, with his hands cupped behind his back. His face was unchanging and withholding of any emotion.

"But where is this Everlast? We were directly ordered by the Imperial Admiral to return to Leviathan Station after obtaining the artifacts… And this was the only one you could obtain? Damn, such waste..." Parri read the debriefing report in the form of a holo-projection above the holotable, disappointed at the number of lives lost just to retrieve one relic. "And, correct me if I'm wrong, but you said there was an entire citadel underneath the Dauritak..?"

"There was. With automated defense drones larger than our heads. Yet, they paid us no attention. I'm pleasantly surprised that they didn't."

"That's great to hear, lieutenant commander, but that's beside the point." Colonel Singer frowned.

"Did the Curator give you coordinates?" Arrowhead materialized from the middle of the holotable, excited. His green avatar flickered in the blue light of the bridge, and he was clutching what appeared to be a holographic spear in his right hand. He leaned against it, smiling.

"...What're you doing?" Captain Parri darted his eyes at him in annoyance.

"This might be important, sir." The Luminere turned his head face the captain, his green eyes peering at him in assurance.

"...Fine. Lieutenant Commander?" The captain sighed.

"No, the Curator did not specifically give coordinates to the Everlast, we were in a hurry. But he was encapsulated inside a central vertical sarcophagus, of sorts. He claimed to be in there for "over two hundred thousand Verses."

"What does that mean? What're you getting at?" Captain Parri leaned against the holotable again, narrowing his brown eyes.

Arrowhead projected a holographic display of Composer glyphs over the holotable in a white light. The glyphs were scrambled, but some were moved into a vertical column, forming words, written in what appeared to be similar to logographic kanji and syllabic kana. The Luminere snapped the left hand fingers of his avatar, and the rest disappeared, with the vertical arrangement of glyphs remaining. "Verses, in the Composers' tongue, were their way of describing planetary cycles, or years. So, what this Curator claimed to the Atlas, was that it was contained in the citadel for over two hundred millennia."

"So it could've been disoriented, big deal." Captain Parri, crossed his arms, straightening up, and paced around a bit. "Wait… two hundred thousand? They're way older than the Blue Empire let on."

"Respectfully, sir-" Dahma raised his gauntleted hand up.

"No." Captain Parri turned away, gazing out through the front observation window, watching the warped space-time around them as they traveled through riftspace. "Major, you didn't find the Composer curator… So, why are you here again?"

Colonel Singer crossed her arms, and gently rolled her eyes, transitioning her weight to her right leg. By the look in her eyes, Akinyemi read that she felt somewhat embarrassed for Dahma.

Major Dahma curled his lip a bit out of anxiety, for being singled out, and replied, "Sir, you had me here as a witness for the Lieutenant Commander, and to confirm what he says... I've done that. But, you also said you wanted me here in regarding a new fireteam… since all but Lieutenant Ngata had died…"

Captain Parri stared down Dahma, his eyes were bloodshot and filled with years of service that had weighed down his psyche. He too was only a former shell of what he had once been. Anyone could see that, yet him barking at Dahma was unnecessary. Parri broke eye contact temporarily, closed the mission report, and the veins in his forehead relaxed. "I'm-I'm sorry for my bold rudeness. It's...it's been a long week, filled with enormous amounts of stress, and practically no sleep. Yes, report back here in a few hours, after spending time in the mess hall. You've earned some rest. Dismissed."

Major Dahma saluted the captain with hesitation, turned on his heel, then marched off out of the command deck. Dahma's armor was severely battle-worn, and that was easily noticeable from the energy holes, and plasma burns that had been left scattered throughout his beige and silver power armor. Dahma walked back up the side stairs, and out of the blast doors of the bridge. Two Rig guards faced each other, and lightly shrugged after witnessing the exhausted Atlas leave.

Captain Parri paced forward to the adjacent side of Akinyemi, and continued, "We'll continue our conversations over the Curator, later… I understand you lashed out at your commanding officer, disregarding her too, while during the Operation?" He pointed across the table at Colonel Singer with an open palm.

Akinyemi remained stagnant, and glanced at Col. Singer, then back at Captain Parri. "Yes, I did. My fireteam and I were continuing through the city, and we decided to take refuge inside what we thought was an abandoned cinema. Wispwaker decided to take point with Voiceless Cry ahead, and came back to get us, revealing to me there was something important to see. So, the rest of Dominion and I continued through to the auditoriums in the back. Unbeknownst to me, there was an entire auditorium filled with dying civilians, and the planetary governor, who managed to survive up until that point."

Captain Parri narrowed his eyes again, "Go on."

"I witnessed panicked refugees fighting over rations, weary parents giving their children antifreeze, etc. I had spoken to Planetary Governor Coltor, and it turns out they had survived the initial Battle of Zephyr, even the shattering of the planet, and had been held up in there for weeks.. They couldn't even leave to hunt for food.."

Colonel Singer leaned in with mild disgust, about to interrupt him for not caring about the reasoning, however Captain Parri raises a hand at her to keep her from lashing back.

"So in response to a new status quo, you decided to disregard your CO, even though the mission was at stake? To save these civilians?"

"Yes."

"Even though they all ended up dying, regardless of your efforts?"

"...Yes."

"Even though it was an attempt to save people, I could file for you to be imprisoned for disobeying direct orders, right? Even court-martialed?"

"...Yes." Akinyemi glanced at the captain, who seemed somewhat relaxed. Colonel Singer's face was as indifferent as she was upset.

"Well…" Captain Parri clicked a button on the side of the holotable next to him, and a small metallic grey box materialized on top of the holotable, and landed with a soft thud. The captain extended both of his arms, grabbing the box. "How do you feel about being promoted to Commander, for your efforts, as well as your previous successes during Operation: DIRTY DANCING on Zephyr?"

Akinyemi, Colonel Singer, and even Arrowhead were mildly shocked by the turn of events.

"Uhhh what..?," said Colonel Singer uncrossing her arms, straightening up a bit.

Captain Parri tilted it to reveal a silver fabric in the inside, took it out, and set the metallic box on the holotable. He let it hang loose, and it draped down two feet. At the top was a metallic cuff that would connect to the waistline of the IAPETUS power armor, and the draping sash was shaped that into three pointed rectangular sections. It was silver in color, with thin, white bordering, and small abstract designs embroidered through it. "Here is your Mark of Commander, if you accept." He extended his arms, with it in his hands, towards the Atlas.

Akinyemi glanced down at the Mark, at the captain, Arrowhead, and Col. Singer, then back at the Mark. "...I accept." He removed the Mark from Captain Parri, and cuffed it around the waistline of his power armor. He then returned his body to a slightly widened stance, with his hands behind his back, and gazed back at Captain Parri.

"Now, go join your fellow Atlas, and fireteam, in the mess hall. Then report back to me directly with Major Dahma when you've finished eating. Dismissed."

Akinyemi saluted both Colonel Singer, and Captain Parri, then subsequently left the room. Arrowhead, stood there on the holotable amazed, and gazed at his captain. "Why did you go through all of that?"

"I just wanted to see if he'd own up to what he did. He did what he thought was right, even when he had every reason not to, and continue the Operation quicker. It is honorable. Jo kee tarah kaam karata hai vah ameer ho jaata hai - He who does kind deeds becomes rich."

"Indeed, indeed." Colonel Singer frowned, yet didn't object. She understood the captain's position after what they had gone through. Despite Akinyemi's vocality against disobeying a direct order in the middle of the operation, she grew to respect him even more.

Akinyemi was riding in an enclosed tram on his way to the mess hall, and he leaned his heavy frame over himself, resting his elbows atop his armored knees. He stared blankly at the white gleaming floor of the tram, still processing the operation. His migraines of his passed fireteam that he cyclically reexperienced on Zephyr began to fade, and released a heavy, yet respectful sigh in their honor.

"You okay there, sir?" A lone scientist dressed in a white and blue, high-collared lab coat sat opposite Akinyemi against the other end of the tram. "I heard this has been your second time on Zephyr, neither times were ever easy. But I'm glad you're here now, and in one piece. Zephyr is finally behind us all now, just hopefully we can find a way to win against the Coalition. Maybe that new relic that everyone's been talking about can do that, somehow."

The scientist's was of a species called the Khu-jan'an. The Khu-jan'an were a simple, focus-minded, matriarchal people from the world of Hem. They stood at an average height between six to seven and a half feet, and had lithe builds. They had ovular shaped heads that extended back horizontally, grey skin, and had bottomed-lobed ears on the sides of their head, that naturally extended down to their shoulders. They had medium-sized almond shaped eyes with black sclera, and hazy glowing irises that were reminiscent of a blue-gold galaxy. They had flat, Y-shaped noses in the middle of their face, that trailed down to a pair of small, salamandrine lips. They had four, thin, dexterous fingers on their hands, and they had digitigrade legs that ended in hand-like, dextrous feet, and they walked on their four finger-like toes. Little of them were seen at this point in the war, so Akinyemi was somewhat taken aback to see one now.

Akinyemi glanced up at the scientist, barely making eye contact in his exhaustion. "I'm...doing alright, thank you."

"Mind if I join you? You got some blood on the side of your temple." The Khu-jan'an tilted his head in sympathy, while leaning forward.

"Sure."

The scientist stood up from the other end of the mostly vacant tram box, and glided over towards the Atlas in silent strides. Compared next to the Atlas, the leanly-built scientist stood a head taller than him. The scientist scanned him with his medical Artemis device, and determined several impact trauma points on the right side of his head, yet they were mostly clustered bruising from stray plasma bolts that ricocheted off his helmet. The scientist pulled out a bottled water and napkin from his coat pockets, and loose crumbs fell onto the floor.

"Ah, how clumsy of me. I'm on my way back to my station from a lunch break." The scientist remarked, pouring some of the water onto the napkin, dampening it before lightly dabbing it against the wounds in the Atlas' head.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but you're the first Khu'ja I've seen in months. Why is that?" Akinyemi attempted to make easy conversation as the scientist continued cleaning his wounds.

"It's quite alright...commander. Congrats on your promotion by the way. Most of our colonies have been wiped out by the Coalition, and the rest of our people are experiencing a species-wide viral outbreak. There aren't many of us left. We think it was a Coalition engineered bio weapon, since they know how important we've been to the Blue Empire ever since our first contact together." He frowned somewhat, trying to hold in what little of himself was left. "I haven't seen many of my own people much either, and it's been heartbreaking to say the least." The scientist finished cleaning Akinyemi's wounds, and they shook each other's hands. "The name is "Doctor Doa Remla, maybe we'll see each other around. Have a good day, commander."

"Thank you, and thanks…" Akinyemi pressed his hand against the side of his head, and noticed the wound was cleaned.

"No problem, sir." The Khu-jan'an threw away the napkin as he existed the tram at his destination, leaving the Atlas to himself once more.

A nearby holo-screen along the ceiling wall, above the tram doors, was playing several ads and wartime propaganda, yet the station changed gathering Akinyemi's attention. There was some sports broadcasts among the Middle Colonies that also had been playing before a HIGHSEC communications broadcast overplayed. An Atani woman was sitting at a desk, on screen, with a few holo-files in her hands. She had some distress in her voice as she reported the Fall of Zephyr, revealing footage of what remained of the shattered planet exploding from the constant bombardment of Coalition megaliths and dreadnaughts. It then cut to another newsreel featuring a giant space station orbiting a brown gas giant. The space station had the modifications of a maximum-security prison, and the camera had a zoomed shot on the name, The Cage. "... Official reports came in of a massive prison riot that was sparked over a week ago, in The Cage. The Vanguard security and the Grand Warden were found dead... Also, more reports depict that the notorious criminal, Freelancer, and most notably infamous pirate, Nightingale, who was Prisoner 99765, had recently escaped with several others. They fled in what appeared to be a stolen Mirage, and the Vanguard in the system haven't seen any signs of them since…"

A mugshot of Nightingale appeared on screen, showing an average height woman, with short and blonde scraggly hair over an undercut, pale complexion, blue eyes, and a thin build. She had a smug smirk of superiority, and she was adorned in tattoos all over her body. "...If you see Nightingale, report her to the Vanguard or United Legion immediately. She is most likely armed, and very dangerous." The feed continued on about domestic violences, and rebel bombings in big city blocks among the Outer Colonies.

Akinyemi stared blankly at the holo-screen, transfixed to what the news just displayed. The now complete destruction of Zephyr, and how it was entirely glossed over by the news. He had just narrowly escaped the planet for the second time, losing so much. And now it became only a fleeting memory, and even on the news too. Now with this Nightingale, he was hardly amused, but wondered how someone like her was able to pull off a mass riot like that, especially from The Cage. The worst of the worst were sent there, but he removed the thought from his mind, and watched the tram slowly call our destinations to other officers and technicians before he soon was able to arrive at the mess hall.

Over ten minutes of silently riding the tram later, the tram doors opened up at his destination. He stepped out of the silver doors, and onto a rounded platform, just in front of him. Around the mess hall's ovular blast doors were a few officers talking amongst themselves, carrying food trays and liquor in their hands, hardly paying him any attention, yet he didn't care as he walked inside. Once inside, he dematerialized his heavy armor, and made his way to the food counters towards the doors. A white colored service Rig poured his food for him, and gently nodded in recognition for his service upon Zephyr before he made his way into the vast crowds of soldiers dining for lunch.

Everyone was in ultramarine briefs, and t-shirts, with black boots, while the Atlas' were in the regular black combat skins. The mess hall was a massive room, spreading back a quarter of a mile, with many columns, and metallic vaulted ceilings. Akinyemi continued deeper into the mess hall, carrying his food tray, and the bustle of voices went dead silent, and all their heads turned around, gazing at the Atlas.

"Officer on deck!" A random Atani shouted from the ocean of Legionnaires and Atlas. Everyone stood up, and saluted him, while he carried his food tray. He nodded, faintly smiling, and continued towards the direction where Dahma, Ngata, and the rest of Dominion were. He sat down, clacking the tray onto the metallic hovering tables. His friends were excited to see him, and congratulated him for his new promotion.

Marvin patted Akinyemi's back with his right hand, and said with excitement, "Ayyy great job, ghi-doh."

Voiceless Cry had a difficult time trying to eat with his body armor on, and leaned against the table with his arms, head held low. I'oshot-Uu was shirtless, with Mending Wraps around his arms and torso from the damage he had sustained before. Red and Tuill were talking to each other off to the side, and Wispwaker was elsewhere. Ngata was next to Dahma, but was conversing with Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu. Dahma looked back at Akinyemi, and said, "Good job, sadiq. You've earned it."

"Thanks, Hassan." Akinyemi leaned in a bit, taking a swig of a protein shake.

"Now, I have to definitely salute to you!" Hassan laughed, while picking at his food. He wasn't hungry, but pretended to eat to avoid upsetting Ngata. "Did you hear about Zephyr, man? We just narrowly missed its total destruction. Fuck…"

Akinyemi's eyes spoke for him in his mix of horror and sadness. They had fought for so much, just to lose it all like that, yet again.

Dahma could see the pain in his eyes and attempted to change the subject. "I'm assuming you saw the news about the prison riot then huh? It would be great to have someone like her on our side, with her unorthodox tactics and skills. Too bad she's a self-righteous bitch."

Ngata punched him in the side of the arm, in protest of his words.

"...What? That pirate is a terrible person, and only gave a shit about herself. No wonder she was held up there. But to have what happened to her by the Grand Warden is way beyond illegal."

"What do you mean? The news barely talked about it."

"I overheard some Rigs talking about it. Some security Rigs survived the events and didn't hold back what happened to her. Most of the security hated the Grand Warden just as much as Nightingale. Talk about a whole shit show. What now though, commander? What's the plan?"

Akinyemi stared at Dahma and Ngata in reluctance, unsure what to say. He picked at his food with his utensils, barely hungry himself, yet he forced himself to eat as another migraine was beginning to peak in his temples. "It seems that we just rest and wait for the next objective, really. I was promoted then sent here, so there's really not much to go on. Are you even wanting to eat that?"

Dahma dropped his eyes at his food, gently tilting the tray. The meal of the day was radish tacos and stir fry, yet wasn't as good as the homemade kind they would have on-planet; most likely due to the shortage of rations and spices on the battlecruiser. "I'm most sure, commander, I know Rigs have been around since forever, but sometimes they don't make the best food."

"She's just malfunctioned, and there are thousands to feed. It'll be fine." Ngata cupped her tortillas into her mouth, refraining from letting the contents spill onto her tray. "See..? It tastes the same as the luxury orbital stations."

"Those get imported weeks after processing, you may be eating old meat." Dahma teased.

"And? It's not like you haven't sucked dick older than this either."

"Ooo she hit you hard." Marvin laughed, leaning in.

"I'm flustered, Ngata. You got me." He leaned against the table, and whispered towards Akinyemi. "She's just jealous I prefer men over her. She's tried to flirt with me since we ever been assigned together, hasn't worked out in her favor."

"And has any men lately tried to take your hand in hookups?" Ngata sneered, downing the last of her stir fry.

"...Actually...no. Having an Atlas-sized shlong doesn't garter many offers. Everyone's afraid they'll be pulverized before you take off your pants."

If not immediately after, a few tables down from them, burst out in anger and fist fighting. The first pummeled the other in the face, instantly breaking the other's nose, with dark red blood flying everywhere. The second one, a woman, threw the other on top of the table, and slugged him in the face with both of her hands. "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!"

"You little cunt, you should've died like everyone else on that damn planet!" The man with the broken nose shoved her off of him, and she fell backwards onto the metallic floor, slamming the back of her head, with a loud thud. She was unconscious, with a small puddle of blood pooling out from underneath her. The man laughed, until another came up, with hurried distress, and knelt down beside the unconscious woman.

"What did you do!? What the fuck!?" The man kneeling beside the floored woman punched the laughing Human in the face, knocking the man against the edge of the table. Everyone else didn't cheer or encourage more fighting, due to the severity of what happened.

Akinyemi jogged up to them, and darted his head at the whole scene, "What the hell is going on?"

A Falakhrys stood back up, glancing at Akinyemi in shock. "PTSD I believe. This guy here thinks Sergeant Padaio is a Coalition spy. We were of the same unit on Zephyr, we were part of the defense at the cinema if you remember us. By the time your fireteam left for the mountains, we lost so much more of our men and women. Most of us were slaughtered immediately. Fuck the Coalition man, they've turned us all against each other."

Akinyemi knelt beside Padaio, and placed two fingers on the side of her neck to determine if she still had a pulse. She did, barely. "She's still alive, but needs immediate medical treatment. As for him..." Akinyemi glanced at the unconscious man, "... He's going to be detained. You should go with Rimera when she's escorted to the infirmary."

Nearby guards shoved through some onlookers, who were standing there in awe, whispering to each other. The guards called in some medics who showed up in a few minutes, and gently placed Rimera's body onto a hovering stretcher, and moved her out of there, with the Falakhrys beside them. The guards woke up the assaulter, cuffed him with energy bindings, and escorted him out of there too.

Akinyemi went back for his table and sat back down. Dominion, Dahma, and Ngata all were looking at him, and asked him what had just happened. Akinyemi rotated his body towards his friends, and rested his arms on the table. "Shit happened. You know that platoon we were fighting beside upon exiting the cinema?"

"Yeah what's up?" Marvin asked, leaning in.

"They survived, and are fighting each other."

"Really? That's a surprise. It's good to know more made it off world, I really thought we were all what's left."

Later, Akinyemi and Dahma returned to the bridge, walked down the side flight of stairs, and stopped just before the holotable. They were illuminated by the cerulean lighting of the holotable, lights above them along the ceiling, and the spatial distortion of riftspace on their left. Colonel Singer was standing there, her arms cupped and resting on top of the holotable, and she smiled in reluctant respect, "Good afternoon Atlas'."

"Good afternoon, Colonel." Akinyemi spotted Captain Parri just in front of him, who didn't say anything. A others too stood beside him next to the holotable. Next to Captain Parri stood a nine foot tall Bir'vo, with dark green and brown feathers all over his body. He wore the same kind of battle armor Red did, but was instead jetblack in coloration. He had deep blue, almond shaped eyes, and a bronze colored beak. Next to the Bir'vo stood a few Atlas', one was a woman of Hmong-descent with black hair cut into a 'bob' style, she had light tan skin, small green eyes, and stood at about six feet tall. She wore dark green and tan armor. The second was a man of Hmong-descent as well, but he stood about a head taller than her, had long dark hair pulled back into a topknot, small grey eyes, and a round jaw. His armor was dark red and black in coloration. The next few were a Falakhrys woman, and a Yedhe man. The Falakhrys had green and black armor that had a strong resemblance to the ancient Inca people of Earth, with draping rectangular designs in the armor. The Yedhe had ornate dark grey armor of his people, and stood a head taller than the Falakhrys. Next to the Falakhrys stood another alien woman, whose height peaked at five feet ten inches, she had paper-white skin and hair - the hair had a long braid - pointed ears, slender jaw, pale lavender eyes, and a blood red headscarf wrapped around her head. Her armor was of her native people too, but colored in blood red and earth-tone brown, with ornate curved designs running through it.

Captain Parri turned towards Major Dahma from across the other end of the holotable, faintly smiling, and said, "Here is the new fireteam you requested, Major Dahma." He began by pointing at the Bir'vo with an open palm of his right hand, and continued, "This here is Hard-Glory-Reaps-the-Stronger. The sibling Atlas' are Kyra and Nhia Akie. The Falakhrys is Cuca Uarcay, and the Yedhe is Meh'di 'Imad."

Hard Glory gave Dahma a deep bow with his arms extended to the sides, as the rest saluted. Dahma smiled, then turned his gaze at Captain Parri and said, "Thank you, Captain."

Captain Parri nodded at Dahma, turned to Akinyemi, coughed, then said, "The Sleviish is your new member, Commander. She is a remarkable marksman and a Bladedancer of Sang'Cael Luu, her name is Radha Sabba'Baz."

Radha gazed up at the towering Atlas, and gave him a small bow too. When she spoke to him, her voice was smooth, with an accent similar to that of Arabic travellers. "Gajj'el, Atlas. The legends surrounding your successes, and accomplishments are many. I once thought you were only a myth." She lowered her head gently, while her pale lavender eyes pierced into him, and she gave him a sly smile.

Colonel Singer folded her arms again, sighed, and gazed down at Arrowhead who was attempting to analyze the cognitive functions, and advanced capabilities of the Curator. A small white hologram of the Curator was projected in front of Arrowhead as he worked.

A yellow pulsing light emanated out of a nearby spherical hologram, with a soft tune. Captain Parri noticed this, clicked a button on a terminal, and a yellow holographic avatar appeared. The Luminere had the appearance of an eighteenth century female jester with a strong motley pattern, an exaggerated hat with dangling bells, and 'face paint' on her face. She was carrying juggling balls in her hands. "Yoo-hoo El Capitan! You must've forgotten lil' ol' me. F-for Major Dahma."

Captain Parri ejected a new data crystal that now contained the Luminere, then handed it to the Atlas, who took it reluctantly. "Here is your new Luminere, Chatterbox."

"Thanks, Captain." Dahma was reserved at this moment, and dropped his eyes a bit.

"Everything alright, Major?" Chatterbox asked, now assimilated into his armor.

"Yeah. I just don't want to lose this new fireteam like the others. It all happened so fast back in the excavation sites. One moment, we found no artifacts, then the other, we were darting out of the mountain as everything collapsed around us. Half my team dies faster than a blink from the Coalition, it tore my heart in two. I'll make sure these new members won't succumb to such an ordeal."

"I understand, and they know what they're getting into being assigned to Jackhammer. Your wild missions of years passed haven't gone unnoticed. They were there when you rode the backs of the great jicama beasts in battle like war mounts on Deiteros. Inspired by Mongolian cavalry. Such a feat was why I requested your fireteam to be assigned to the Exuberance in the first place." Captain Parri glanced over at them before returning his attention to the major.

"That was your reasoning for the reassignment? HIGHCOM never told me why. After completing that mission they just walked over to me with an Artemis and said, 'report to your new captain on your new battlecruiser'. I didn't even have time to ask why. That's funny."

Arrowhead redirected the captain's attention towards himself before saying. "Once we arrive in the mainline Outer Colonies, we will dock to the nearest station to refuel the sub-light transit engines. We burned through the reserves hovering in-atmosphere, and upon departure. Fortunately, we have plenty of enough power to get there through riftspace."

"What system are you rerouting us to then?" Captain Parri narrowed his eyes, while pacing a bit around the holotable. "Orders were to head for Elysium immediately.

"Ka'ono'hana, sir." Arrowhead dematerialized the holograms in front of him, and gazed up at the captain. "It was the Curator's recommendation that we refuel first, so obliged him."

"You were able to speak with the Composer construct? I haven't given you authorization to do so."

"He spoke to me first, and yes. Through the diagnostic terminals."

"Lemme see those-" Colonel Singer reached over the holotable in an attempt to retrieve them before Arrowhead dematerialized them.

Captain Parri frowned, glaring at both of them before asking. "What's the ETA?"

"An hour." Arrowhead secured the server, and transported the communications to the captain.

"Alright…"

Within the hour, the Remembering Exuberance arrived in the Ka'ono'hana star system. The star was an A-sequence star, emanating out a bright blue luminescence throughout the solar system. The star was around a few hundred million years old with an extra active coronal shell, and stronger solar winds than that of Jericho or Sol. The nearest colony in the system, was Kopu-Mere'mere, a tropical planet orbiting at a distance of less than three hundred twenty astronomical units from the great star. The planet was smaller than Earth, about the size of Venus from the Sol System. It was founded in 2810 CE, and the capital, Aneh'waka, was built up very quickly in its time. In a matter of months, it had become a metropolitan sprawl of skyscrapers, and the skyline was always bustling, for an Outer Colony similarly like that of Hamuran on Zephyr. However, what stood out about Kopu-Mere'mere was its botanical gardens within the city, and the great statue of its founder Captain Rameka-Waapu. The captain was a notable explorer for the Blue Empire, his lineage directly responsible for the the founding of three great sectors of the Outer Colonies and dozens of planets. No one family lineage has ever done so before. Captain Rameka-Waapu was the last of his lineage and upon founding the colony was granted the position of the planet's first Planetary Governor, leading the new colony into a golden age of exploration and trade. By extension, the founding of Kopu-Mere'mere allowed for a new and prominent Riftspace highway to be forged along the Outer Colonies into what is present day the Fringe near the galactic Long Bar. Another prominent feature of Kopu-Mere'mere was the Valley of Green Glass, a sprawling, continent wide, natural superstructure of nearly indestructible emerald amethysts that were rare amongst the empire. They had a natural capacity to power the cities and were some of the most prized gemstones throughout the Blue Empire, reaching an upwards stock of three million Credits per kilo, updated with Imperial-wide inflation margins.

The Exuberance diverted power into the sub-light engines, and zoomed towards the closest refueling station around Kopu-Mere'mere. The station, Haere-Ao Station, was a converted military installation, similar to Leviathan Station around Elysium, but more for the purpose of refueling, and trade between colonies. Occasionally, the Han Hattan Federation would send merchant ships to this colony to trade with the Blue Empire, without having to take the time to travel through the rest of the Outer Colonies into the Middle or Inner Colonies, allowing for the world to be a hub of trade in this sector.

As the Exuberance approached the station, everyone in the bridge was engulfed in the blue lights emanating off it. Captain Parri pressed onto the terminals of the holotable, patching in directly with the orbital station.

"Haere-Ao Station, Haere-Ao Station." Captain Parri said dryly through the long range comms of the battlecruiser.

"We're receiving you, what is your callsign?" The dispatcher's voice was monotonous over the comms. But, by her tone of voice they hadn't received any new ships in their star system in perhaps weeks or months, so any new vessel civilian or military was appreciated.

"This is the ULBE Remembering Exuberance."

"Ah, yes. What is your request, Remembering Exuberance?"

"Permission to dock into the station for refueling."

"What is your last vector route captain?"

Captain Parri hesitated before replying, everyone in the empire at this point had heard the news of the Battle and Fall of Zephyr, so he wasn't sure if he should be honest with them. Everyone was up in their necks trying to keep what little colonies were left surviving, and any ships leaving Jericho would most likely be searched for potential Coalition hostilities or sympathizers, or even worse, trackers.

Captain Parri temporarily removed his finger from the comms channel. "Should I be honest with them?"

He looked to Colonel Singer for advice, breaking protocol and his professionalism in his fear of being followed or wasting precious time. He even mouthed her the question as she blankly stared at him in surprise, not knowing how to respond.

"What is the last system you arrived from, Exuberance?" The comms dispatcher was more aggressive in her tone this time, unsure as to why the captain didn't respond yet.

Captain Parri eyed Akinyemi down, and Akinyemi shrugged. Parri took one last look at Singer and she silently nodded for him to respond, and take their chances. Parri cleared his throat, coughing, and replied hesitantly. "Uhh we arrived from the Jericho System, and are enroute for Elysium but the battle for the world left all of our resources and power depleted."

The comms went quiet for sometime, and Captain Parri grew anxious as to how the orbital station would next handle the situation. While waiting for a direct response, he made his way up onto the bridge's overlook, and sat down on his chair above. Officer Nayak, and the other crew officers adjusted themselves in their hovering chairs in the front of the bridge, just as or if not more anxious than he. Colonel Singer leaned against the terminal as Arrowhead projected himself up to the captain from the holotable, and they refrained from saying anything, crossing their fingers in hopes to not be searched. They really had no time for such things. Hard Glory, Kyra, Nhia, Cuca, and Meh'di all looked at each other, and their new Major, as Dahma gazed back at them in the limelight. Akinyemi, and Radha acknowledged each other, knowing this protocol many times before.

"...Permission granted, Exuberance, you may proceed into Refueling Depot Five."

The comms went dead, and everyone released a sigh of relief. Captain Parri gazed down at Nayak from the overlook, and said, "Office Nayak, you know what to do."

"Yessir." She waved her hair out of her face as she clicked away on the holographic controls in front of her.

The Exuberance towed itself into the depot, and after a few seconds of aligning itself straight in between the wings of the station, the port side extended the refueling cables into the station. Several Excaliburs and Mirages zoomed nearby from the station, observing the famed warship that had just docked.

Upon successful docking into the station Akinyemi top released a sigh of relief and took the moment to summon Radha closer towards him, and she obliged him. "It's nice to meet you, Bladedancer. I had never seen someone of your ranks outside your flotilla fleets before. How long have you been serving under the United Legion?"

She stood there, placing a hand on her hip, and turned her face away, deep in thought. "I haven't served under the Blue Banner, respectfully sir. I'm a hired mercenary like your Redshifter that I heard about. But I have worked with the United Legion since 'sixty three. My first major engagement was during the Battle of Longhand in what is now the Fringe. Too bad, I really enjoyed that colony when it was still alive."

"I heard about that, the Coalition stumbled upon it, but took advantage of such targets. Wasn't it, like, ninety Coalition ships against only thirty of ours? Including aid from the Han Hattan Federation, and Eve Collective?"

"Yeah… I was planetside during the engagement, fortunately. But, the battlecruiser I was assigned to then, the Evergreen, was the first to go."

"How were you able to make it off the planet anyways?"

"That's the thing, I vaulted on top of a speeding Interceptor, and the driver, a Human, was nearly dead. We swerved out of the fastfire of a Coalition Ibis… that damn ship wouldn't go down. So I decided to rest my sniper rifle on my sprawled legs, and took it out after a bit. Shot that fucker right square in the vent-shaft on the side, blowing it up. We reached a nearby Coalition spire after another hour, and had to blow it up too, allowing more United Legion troops into the area to take back the Northern Rest. A Mirage eventually came, and at that point, I was the only survivor. I couldn't even save the Luminere of our fireteam. His luminere shell was bust, and his data crystal was fried." Radha appeared a little uncomfortable retelling the events.

Longhand was used as an anchor planet for most of the Blue Empire's medical frigates and orbital stations, hoping to keep safe all the wounded soldiers and civilians during that point in the Requiem War. There were thousands of medical frigates and hundreds of the orbital station depots; too many eggs in one basket, yet at the time Longhand was so far out of the way, it was believed it would take months for the Coalition to find them if at all. The United Legion had removed almost all of the entire star system's defense fleets as a way to hide Longhand from Coalition scanners, departing for other systems to defend and redirect the attention to. Yet a Coalition scout ship had attached a tracking buoy to a lone medical corvette out of system fleeing from a different one over a hundred light years away. The Coalition tracked that lone corvette to Longhand, and immediately invaded the planet, destroying most of the wounded within minutes. It took about an hour to recall in reinforcements, and when they finally arrived, they forced the Coalition ground side to distract them. Simultaneously, Longhand had found a small reliquary of Composer artifacts, one of them being a world-seeder buried underneath the oceanic crust of the planet. What should've been a quick naval engagement became two months of horrendous combat to secure such a prize from the depths.

A multitude of other starships were orbiting nearby Haere-Ao Station, and the flagship of the battlefleet in the Ka'ono'hana system, a Corcoran-class heavy frigate called the Golden Endeavor, zoomed from Tahiti Station. The Golden Endeavor was a veteran warship, from the early years of the Requiem War. It had participated in the Siege of Sang'Cael Luu, the homeworld of the Sleviish species, which initially began the war itself. The Endeavor had destroyed at least thirty Coalition megaliths in its time, and now only patrols the almost forgotten Outer Colony of Kopu-Mere'mere, defending it from pirates, raiders, or agents of the Benzai Cartel, who occasionally prowl in from the Outer Arm. The planet hadn't officially seen any major engagements due to its remote location, close to the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way.

The Endeavor yielded into a halt, cutting its trajectory nine miles short out from Haere-Ao Station, and the Exuberance. Captain Parri received a transmission from the Golden Endeavor, and a small holographic projection appeared on a holo-screen in front of the bridge. The projection was of a small woman of Hebrew-descent with short medium brown hair, a wide nose, light olive-tan skin, and beige eyes, and was uniformed in that of an United Legion captain.

"It is good to see you again, Bradeesh. I thought I wouldn't again after the last time we were at Moe's together." The woman had a small amount of experienced wrinkles lining her face, but she still smiled brightly at Captain Parri.

"Remember, my shore leave ran dry, I had to return to active duty, Adah." Captain Parri laughed, and readjusted himself in his hovering chair. "I wanted to return, but couldn't…"

"I see… I did wait there for you for sometime to come back though. I worked up a savings in case you'd ever returned. When I never heard back from you when the Coalition first stormed the Middle Colonies, I thought you dead. Must've been foolish young love... When did you become a captain?" She placed her hands on her hips, tilting her head a few centimeters to the right.

"Uhh.. Back in 'sixty nine?"

"Seven years? Ehh I got you beat, love."

"How long have you been captain of the Endeavor?" He leaned in forwards, gazing at her small projection with conviction.

"I've been Captain Adah Bree for ten!" She laughed, "It's been a wild ride, that's what I'm gonna say. It's good to hear from you again, Bradeesh."

Captain Parri smiled, leaned back in his chair, and rubbed the indentation of where an engagement ring used to be on his left finger.

"Sooo what brings you here, Captain Parri?" Captain Bree continued, sitting back down in her overlook chair.

"That is classified, Captain." A small smirk spread across Parri's lips, feeling the right of not having to tell her.

"Oh dear, y'know I'm not gonna spoil you to the Vanguard or the DII." She leaned in a fraction, smiling at him, while narrowing her eyes with glint. "Tell me, Bradeesh."

Captain Parri was somewhat taken aback by her demeanor, he was withholding such information for a valid reason, there cargo potentially a vital asset if not a major turning point for the empire in the war. He didn't want the battlecruiser searched, and the relic compromised. Yet, the light in her eyes made him buckle, "...Fine. We're on our way back to Elysium from Zephyr, refueling in the meantime right now."

"Zephyr, eh? What were you doing all the way out there for? After the Battle of Zephyr, HIGHCOM had decreed a non-entry sanction for obvious security risks. And now all the news is talking about how that shattered and forsaken planet is all blown up into nothing. Did you have a part in that…?" She leaned forward, her hands twitching above the communications display of her overlook chair.

Sweat seeped from Captain Parri's forehead, and he too twitched. The Imperial Admirals may have had high sway in HIGHCOM, but non-entry sanctions were rarely tested, even for the likes of Addington. Parri, amongst everyone else within the Exuberance were already suspicious and somewhat distrusting due to how dangerous it was to return to the planet, despite the success in acquiring the Curator. Would the DII confiscate the Curator, scour it with unneeded testing, potentially preventing their extinction? The construct in the wrong hands would spell doom for the entire galaxy.

"...Well good luck, Bradeesh. I trust that you at least know what you're doing. I'm not just saying that since we have a past together - I'm not speaking through tongue and cheek of heartfelt bias, but your service record, so the Admiral can lay off staring down my back. You gotta come get a drink with me sometime, after your...business. How does that sound?"

Parri's anxious demeanor relaxed, and the color returned to his pale white knuckles."I'd like that, see ya Captain."

"You too, love."

The comms went black and her projection disappeared from in front of him. The Golden Endeavor drifted away from the Remembering Exuberance, and Haere-Ao Station, then zoomed back towards the rest of the fleet orbiting Kopu-Mere'mere. More ships zoomed nearby, grazing gently through space towards the planet. Ka'ono'hana continued shining its brilliant bright blue throughout the solar system, engulfing the planets, ships, and orbital platforms. Soon, the docking cables and platforms retracted away from the orbital station, and the battlecruiser's sub-light engines were refueled. Before initiating the undocking procedure, a small, unmarked freighter darted passed the station, towards Kopu-Mere'mere, and three United Legion frigates tailed it upon detection.

"What's that..? What's it doing?" Colonel Singer leaned over the holotable, noticing the new blip appearing in the series of projections.

"This is Haere-Ao Station to the approaching freighter. Identify yourself immediately or we will fire upon your hull."

The conjoined commschannel between the battlecruiser and the orbital platform received nothing but radio silence and static. The freighter continued its trajectory, and the frigates began to activate their point defense cannons, ascending them from their warships' hulls.

"I repeat, this Haere-Ao Station to the freighter. It is adamant that you identify yourself."

"Must be pirates…" Arrowhead sneered with disgusts gazing out through the observation window in front of them.

"It's not stopping." Radha noticed this while turning around, watching the small ship go ever closer towards a Meridian-class light frigate, called Blossom of Might. The Might rotates its axis, traversing away from the station to intercept the freighter's trajectory. The freighter didn't slow down, and everyone started watching intently.

"Something's wrong. Captain, we must have everyone arm up." Colonel Singer turned her head up towards Captain Parri who was now slowly raising himself out of his chair in more newfound anxiety. His legs grew restless, twitching to the sides in anticipation of what will happen next.

Arrowhead transmitted a warning broadcast throughout the Exuberance over the intercoms and the long-range comms towards the fleet and the stations, then beamed up next to the captain again. The dark freighter crashed into the light frigate, exploding both ships in a bright flurry of orange, white, and blue flames. The shockwave sent the entire fleet of Kopu-Mere'mere, and the Exuberance on high alert.

"There is a large ship exiting riftspace sir, just along the solar plane. It's about one AU away from us." A Falakhrys bridge officer reported, leaning back in his chair, turning his golden head towards the captain.

"What is it, Officer Lapu?" Captain Parri was now standing up, the chair dematerialized itself out from under him, and hid away inside the overlook. He approached the command terminal ahead of him, gripping it worth both of his hands.

"Uhh... it's one Coalition dreadnaught, sir." Lapu narrowed his golden eyes, enlarging the hologram with his hands. The projection was transferred to the holotable in the middle of the bridge, and the hologram rotated slowly, with small Coalition glyphs floating next to the projection. The dreadnaughts were of the same dark grey scalene-pyramid shape as the megaliths, but were two and a half times more massive, reaching a length of twenty miles long, and about ten miles high.

"Fuck…Arrowhead send another message out to the Golden Endeavor. We're up against another monster." Captain Parri frantically paced around the overlook with his arms crossed. The Endeavor received the message, and all ships in the fleet slowly rotated upon themselves, facing the dreadnaught that was looming ever closer to the colony. The Haere-Ao, Tahiti, and the rest of the near-end orbital defense platforms tilted their axises down to the side, aiming their powerful MER guns at the approaching dreadnaught. The ships waited for the dreadnaught to loom closer, before firing all their silos of rounds out towards the megalithic vessel. Hundreds of pulverizing, highly ionized white bolts capable of smashing through continents launched out towards the dreadnaught, trailing upon thousands of miles away into space. All the ships' scanners recorded that the MER rounds did nothing to the massive ship, and a wave of thousands of Obelisks and Ibises swarmed out towards the fleet in retaliation.

In response to the Coalition ship's counter-attack, the the orbital fleet sent back thousands of Mirages and Excaliburs to cut down the enemy forces, protecting the stations and the planet. However, it was a bloodbath. Most of the Excaliburs and Mirages were overwhelmed, and a wave of explosions permeated the void there, bursting out in massive envelopes of light. Six United Legion Hyperion-class battlecarriers zoomed out towards the dreadnaught, as it was now less than two hundred thousand miles away from the planet, but were subsequently blown up into balls of orange and white flames. The dreadnaught rapidly approached closer, and it was revealed that it had a couple of megaliths, and monolith ships too.

"There's more of them!" The Falakhrys officer shouted, detecting them on the long range scanners, then transferring the other ships' holograms to the holotable. There were eight ships all together, the one dreadnaught, two megaliths, and five monoliths. The Coalition fleet accelerated across the solar system even further, widening out their fleet, and charged up their massive energy projectors, which rotated up from the bottom of the ships. As that happened, the fronts of the ships opened up horizontally, revealing the ominous weapons.

Battlefleet Maui readied up their MER guns again, the charge emanating a white voluminous glow. It was twenty ships, plus a multitude of ODSs, against eight, but everyone was unsure as to how this would play out. A transmission of an admiral of Hawaiian-descent showed up on the holo-screen in the bridge of the Exuberance, revealing a capped man with long dark brown hair pulled back, with mild brown skin, grey eyes, and Kirituhi tattoos on the side of his face. He wore an ultramarine and silver armored uniform adorned with a plethora of war medals on the left breast, and and he had cybernetic implants across his body, replacing his arms and his eyes.

"Exuberance, this is Admiral Paoa of Battlefleet Maui, commanding officer of the Haere-Ao Station, and head admiral of the Ka'ono'hana defense fleets. I'm taking over jurisdiction for your current mission in order to aid in the defence of this planet." He had distress in his voice, and turned to another officer beside him to dish out further orders.

"That is fine, Admiral. What would you like the Exuberance to do, sir?" Captain Parri stood up again, and gazed across the overlook.

"Your job is to protect the Golden Endeavor, and the orbital stations. Given your service record, you'll already know how to do that, Captain." Admiral Paoa was sweating feverishly. He turned around to the holotable in front of him, gazing at the projections of the Coalition fleet ahead of him.

"How did they find us exactly?" Captain Parri asked aloud for anyone to answer.

There was no answer for the longest time as the Remembering Exuberance zoomed to cover the Endeavor. The ship was halfway towards the frigate when another riftspace rupture boomed through the system. Five more Coalition megaliths and monoliths each entered into the fray, and fired upon the Exuberance with a series of long ranged missiles. The warship took a colossal hit to the energy shields, but was still intact, but heavily shaken.

"Uhh.. they could've tracked our coordinates?" Officers Nayak and Lapu relayed at the same time, with much distress in their faces.

Captain Parri tilted his head down at Akinyemi, Radha, and Jackhammer, and said, "Go. Gather the rest of your fireteams, and prepare for shit to go down. Prepare for the battlecruiser to be boarded."

Without a word, they immediately exited the command bridge, and out towards the armories. Colonel Singer and Arrowhead were running diagnostics of the ships, attempting to find firing patterns, and possible weaknesses to use against the enemy fleets. More barrages of purple energy fire sprayed against Battlefleet Maui, and horrendous dogfights ensued between the Excaliburs, Mirages, Obelisks, and Ibises. The Golden Endeavor received a lot of sustained fire, damaging the shields, and the hull of the heavy frigate.

"What is there exit vector? Did they tail us from Zephyr or is this an unknown fleet?" Captain Parri shouted.

"...It appears they are from Zephyr, yes." Arrowhead replied. Before he continued, another transmission was received on their comms.

Captain Bree appeared again, and her eyes were dilated with extreme fright and an overabundance of remorse. "Bradeesh, I...I...I... don't think we're going to make it, love. The Endeavor has fought her last." When she said this, the Golden Endeavor exhausted its ion cannons, energy torpedos, and MER rounds, crippling a Coalition megalith. "The Endeavor is too crippled, and in all honesty, I'm a tired woman. It was really great to see you again. If there is an afterlife somewhere, may we join our hands together then."

Captain Parri stared at her with longing, and his brown eyes went cold. "Don't say that, Adah. You're gonna make it. There are escape pods next to the bridge of your ship-"

"I'm sorry… I'm afraid we can't get that drink after all…" The feed shuddered as well as the inside of the Endeavor. Panels fell from the walls, and ceiling, collapsing to the ground. The crew was handling their fear very well, and a Sleviish bridge officer gazed up at her.

"What are your orders, Captain?" The Sleviish officer darted back to Navigation, ready for the next call.

Captain Bree gazed at the officer, and back at Captain Parri, then said, "Set the trajectory to ram into the fleet. We're gonna take these bastards down." She held her own as the crippled frigate diverted power to the sub-light engines, zooming away from Battlefleet Maui, passed the Remembering Exuberance, and pushed through the dogfights, while ignoring the small ships' explosions against its hull. The dreadnaught continued charging up its energy projector, and the fiery purple energy flashed around, distorting the light around it, priming for fire. The Golden Endeavor zoomed across the battlefield, and received more suppressive fire, the ship was now engulfed in flames, but still intact. The frigate began lighting up the space with a peaceful orange and white light, as if it were a fireworks rocket, sailing into the night sky in celebration of freedom. The feed was now distorted, and fragmented as the entirety of the bridge of the Endeavor was engulfed in the bright violet light of the massive dreadnaught's luminosity.

"Fuck off, you bastards." The Golden Endeavor zoomed right into the dreadnaught, exploding in a fiery flurry of white, orange and blue. The nearby ships were crippled with the explosion, and drifted away from the dreadnaught, trying to hold themselves together. The main cannon on the dreadnaught was disabled, but it still advanced towards the planet, with the new ten ships tailing alongside it. The ten other ships closed ranks, strafing to the portside towards the dreadnaught in an attempt to protect it while following its trajectory.

The remaining battlecarriers in the fleet advanced forward, targeting the smaller monoliths, and megaliths that strayed away. They were able to pick off the crippled ships with a barrage of energy torpedos and ion cannons, sending blue and red irradiated streaks darting through space, impacting the dark ships. After a few rounds of discharging, they were majorly successful, but at the cost of the ULBE's Defender of Prudence, and Wicked Witch. The two battlecarriers were shredded with energy bombardment by the megaliths, and the dreadnaught.

Akinyemi and Radha ran ahead of Jackhammer towards the armory, rallying any nearby legionnaires or Atlas in preparation for what may be their last. The corridors were on red alert with alarms blaring, and red lights spun around searing the corridors with a blood haze. They pushed passed a bend, continuing down the crowded halls as armed soldiers prepared for a possible invasion of their ship or the surface of Kopu-Mere'mere.

"Fireteams Wildsky, Jackhammer, Dominion, Gladiator, Overwatch, Majesty, Horizon, and Windsong report to Hangar - A, immediately after acquiring your armaments. As well as Legionnaire Divisions Five through Nineteen." Colonel Singer blared on the ship's intercoms with distress.

"Did she say Hangar-A?" Radha turned back at Akinyemi, her headscarf trailing behind her flopping braided dreads.

"She did say Hangar-A, yes." Akinyemi gave her a look of withheld frustration mixed with panic while attempting to not outrun her on the way there with his augmentations. His combat skin rematerialized the power armor around him, and the ultramarine and silver gleamed underneath the corridor's warning lights. His Mark flapped behind him with ecstaticness, and he was careful to not trip him in his haste. The Remembering Exuberance shuttered under more energy fire, several explosions sparking along the lower decks. All the soldiers, officers, and technician personnel staggered within the corridors, clinging to their metallic walls as more shudders caused the ship to groan and shriek from the stress.

More battlecarriers, and destroyers took the lead, targeting the megaliths and monoliths, bombarding them with consecutive volleys. The Happenstance, Wanderer's Beauty, Death From Above, and the Tired Nomad, charged up their MER cannons. They targeted the remaining eleven ships, along the lower hulls, in an attempt to disable the weapons to buy the battlefleet time. However, the remaining megaliths all narrowed into attack position at the Happenstance, and fired a barrage of purple fiery energy lance torpedos at the battlecarrier. The gamma-particle energy shielding of the Happenstance wrinkled and warped under the heavy sustained fire, and out of last desperation, sent out its last wave of Mirages and Excaliburs in an attempt to board the megaliths. The shielding dissipated, and the ship received more rounds until it became heavily crippled, with hull breaches everywhere. Scattered rows of massive fires burned away from the battlecarrier's hull, churning away into the darkness of space.

In the distance away the planet, hundreds of civilian ships, and freighters were seen exiting the atmosphere, starting to warp out of the solar system in attempt to flee for their lives. The next wave of ships seemed to swarm in large flotillas, gaining as much ground as possible before they had a chance to warp away from Kopu-Mere'mere's gravity well.

The Happenstance decided to pull a similar maneuver that the Golden Endeavor had done, trying to buy the fleeing ships time, and diverted its last remaining power into the sub-light transit engines, and the massive circular exhaust ports on the back burned an eternal blue. The ship streaked into the void towards the Coalition fleet, becoming a heavy, exploding battering ram. It charged at the fleet, crashing into a haunting megalith, crushing its hull, and folded into an exploding ball of fire. Within an instant, both ships exploded upon impact.

Fireteams Dominion and Jackhammer were now reunited inside Hangar-A, darting towards the closest Mirage nearest the central elevator. Many armed and armored marines, legionnaires, shock troops, and Rig units darted passed the two fireteams when they met up, waiting for their Mirages' pilots to translocate them inside. The Exuberance shuddered under more enemy fire, and the lights flickered overhead.

"What the hell? I swear if our pilot doesn't hurry up..." Tuill equipped his Trident rifle in his metallic hands, and shouldered a plasma launcher onto his back. The Eve was slouching in a wide stance, trying to keep balanced while the ship continued to shudder under his weight.

Radha glared up at him in annoyance with a raised eyebrow, before placing her helmet over her head. "Really? Patience, Eve."

"Who is this?" Tuill straightened up his towering height, looking Akinyemi for answers while lowering his shoulders.

"She is the new fireteam member, I requested, Lieutenant. She's Bladedancer Radha Sabba'Baz, an experienced sniper and weapons specialist." Akinyemi replied, darting right under the Mirage, ready for their next orders. "She will be invaluable to our fireteam."

"Ahh… so you're not a bitch… good." Tuill rolled his metallic violet eyes, showing clear signs of dry sarcasm.

"What's up with you? Did you get hit in the head?" Radha dropped her shoulders in disbelief, grabbing ahold of two blade hilts.

"As a matter of fact, yes." Tuill replied. "I nearly lost my jaw to a Grish commander hours ago, so I may be more loose and pissed off than before. And on top of that, we might be boarded. I'm an experienced Guerrier from Xerro, but naval engagements terrify me, Bladedancer."

They were soon met up with Voiceless, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, and Red. They all were armed, awaiting to depart with the rest of their fireteam. Wispwaker was the last to meet up with them, yet he zoomed towards them faster than a pitcher's ball at a sports game. The ship shuddered again as Fireteam Jackhammer exited the central elevator, and ran up to a nearby Mirage right beside Dominion.

Red noticed the other Bir'vo of Fireteam Jackhammer, and they both paused and nodded at each other in respectful acknowledgement. From a distance of several feet, they chirp-cooed at each other, displaying a deep bow and extended their palms up and out, lowering their heads to the floor.

"What are they doing?" Tuill asked, perplexed.

"A rare sight to behold. It is an ancient Bir'vo salute, one warrior to another. The Bir'vo have been a proud warrior people for thousands of years, dating back to at least 9,000 BCE. It appears that Hard Glory is another Redshifter, and they both honor each other's presence." Wispwaker replied, spiraling up through the air.

Red returned his attention towards the rest of Fireteam Dominion, and nodded back at Wispwaker in affirmation. Upon closer inspection of Red's armor cuirass, Dominion could see a series of golden Bir'vo pictographs representing warriors with elaborate armor and stylized headdresses. These pictographs were surrounded by written sigils and battle poems, mixed with mysticism in reverence of great trees that his species worshipped.

Atlas Ngata pumped her modified shotgun, pacing under the Mirage above Jackhammer, and turned towards the Akie siblings, asking, "Is this your first rodeo?" She made a slight smile, but still glimmered horror from the naval engagement.

"No, it's not, fortunately." Kyra, reloaded her Verdant, and handgun. Nhia himself didn't reply but nodded while reloading his Chorus sniper, and Trident rifles. Cuca and Meh'di slouched, looking around for their pilot, but no one was coming. More troops darted by, and several Mirages activated, and resounded a loud whirring cry while simultaneously ascending into the air.

"Are you ready guys?" Wispwaker asked darting his blue iris around at the distressed fireteam, hovering closer to Akinyemi.

Marvin had partially zoned out while gazing at the floor, and said, detached, "As ready as we'll ever be." He continued to stand there in a trance until I'oshot-Uu placed a gauntleted hand onto his left shoulder, then glanced up at Radha. "...Wait, did I hear you're a Bladedancer?¨

"Yes, after fleeing the destruction of my homeworld, Sang'Cael Luu, by the Coalition. I was of the age of ten, and my family was of many designated to join the flotilla fleet of House Antar'Issa. After over another decade, I eventually served in the elite guard for the Red Matriarch of the House. I was a part of her Shroud Guard for many years, then after successively defending the fleet from an invasion, I ranked up to Bladedancer. I served in that renowned position for a few more, before joining the United Legion." She loaded her weapons while meeting eyes with the Atani.

"I temporarily acted at a mercenary for House Nejem'Kasim, myself." Marvin added, right before coughing.

"I never heard of an Atani visiting any Sleviish flotillas before, how intriguing." She smiled at the Atani for being impressive to her.

"Yeah, I was forced into a position of humility after my failures to protect my father. It was on my homeworld of Eir'Qoiai, and the Elders felt he would have been a weak Iuota of the Maanett Province. They sent assassins after him, and I failed to save him. My clan stripped me of my honor, and my title of Lightguard. I was exiled instead of executed, fleeing the planet, and I found my redemption by serving your people." He slumped his shoulders, and darted his head around, looking for the pilot who just showed up. "...This was before I worked for the United Legion, Atlas."

The pilot darted over to the Mirage as quickly as he could, almost tripping over his own baggy flight suit. He meandered around the fireteam, clambering up onto the front of the Mirage, and opened the cockpit via dematerialization of the outer hull. He dropped himself into the pilot's seats, and placed his silver flight helmet over his head. He faced the fireteam while signalling them to go with a thumbs-up as he rematerialized the cockpit. He was a member of a species known as Tyfotos; a near-Human-like species whose heads were covered in a short yet dense plumage of orange and silver feathers all over their bodies, and larger rainbow feathers on the top of their heads, and forearms. They also had pointed ears, milky eyes, and a tiny horn on their nose.

Before the Tyfotos pilot translocated the fireteam within the dropship, the hundreds of platoons of soldiers lingering inside the hangar noticed the Wanderer´s Beauty, Death From Above, and Tired Nomad swerve around more highly condensed and irradiated beams of violet plasma energy discharging passed the portside of the battlecruiser's outer hull. The Remembering Exuberance received crippling blows to against its titanium-A grade armor, and its energy shields rippled, and warped under the impact stress. The Exueberance pulled multiple evasive maneuvers, trailing downwards as if diving in a non-existent pool to avoid more plasma fire, then reascended back upwards to lock its MER guns onto the megaliths ahead. After several seconds of charging, the white hot streaks zoomed through the void at incredibly blinding speeds, piercing the weakened shields of a stray megalith warship. The megalith's outer hull exploded in a violent ball of violet and white fire, launching scattered and warped decks straight into orbit around Kopu-Mere'mere's gravity well.

The chaotic dogfights exponentially increased as the large metallic shards zipped across space at towards the starfighters. The starfighters weaved in and around each other, along with the disparate deck fragments of the megaliths. A series of more explosions ensued, leaving stranded and dying Legionnaires and Coalition corpses trailing through orbit, eternally spiraling around themselves as the void consumed them. The dreadnaught accelerated to a distance of less than thirty thousand miles away from Kopu-Mere'mere, while the remaining seven other ships flanked along its sides. They targeted the Death From Above, vaporizing the ship with a heavy plasma lance bombardment the starboard decks. The Tired Nomad, and Wanderer's Beauty rotated around to face the megaliths, unleashing their artillery in retaliation against the warships, to no avail.

Admiral Paoa flashed back on the holoscreen above the viewport in the command bridge, startling Captain Parri from a war trance. The admiral was incredibly distraught, coughing heavily, and took off his dark hat. Immediately in response to a surge of emotions, the admiral chucked his hat across his command bridge of the station in anger and desperation. "What the fuck?! How can we not stop them? They are outnumbered! Captain Parri, tail them from behind, and take out those fucking ships! We cannot let their warships invade the planet below, we have too many civilians to evacuate from the cities and farmsteads…" The admiral was in a state of panic, and momentarily disappeared off the screen's feed to converse with a light brown glowing Luminere standing on a nearby holo-pedestal. He then turned back around, his face withholding more emotion than he was willing to spill out, took a deep breath and then stared directly at Captain Parri, asking, "I know that upon entry of our solar system, you claimed to the communications dispatcher that you had just arrived from Zephyr. According to Captain Bree, before her unwanted death, she relayed to you that there was a no-entry sanction of the entire system. You may have your reasons for being back there, however, do you… by chance…have any Composer technology or relics within your ship?"

"That's classified, sir." Captain Parri glanced down at Colonel Singer, and Arrowhead. Officers Nayak and Lapu turned around, gazing at the captain from their hovering chairs in the front. Even then, Captain Parri was afraid to convey such intel to the admiral in fear that the Coalition would intercept their communications broadcasts. Parri's and Paoa's met gaze didn't break for a few minutes.

"Fuck, 'classified'. Another planet is doomed to die, perhaps by your ignorant hands, Captain. If circumstances were different I would be so hostile against you. But tell me, or I can get you demoted, and humiliated in front of the rest of HIGHCOM, captain."

"Y-yes.. Yes we do."

"On whose orders?" The admiral barked, unable to withhold his anger as he was beginning to concede that he wouldn't be able to protect the planet much longer.

"Imperial Admiral Addington."

There was another pause on the screen, and Paoa pacee around his command bridge, directing orders out to the different command stations and orbiting fleets. He returned back to the conversation with Parri, and took another heavy sigh to reconstitute himself. "...How much?"

"Just one, sir."

"Th-this can't be happening. This can't be happening." He cupped his right hand to the bottom of his face, while the other was crossed against his chest. "Captain Parri again I don't mean to be rash here, but THEY FOUND US, BECAUSE OF YOU!."

"...What?" Parri sunk back as far as he could within his overlook chair, staining the white leather with pools of sweat and body odor.

"...They are obviously here for the artifacts, and as you managed to find one. The only reason we had some leeway was because they kept searching and searching. I'm not upset because you found one, I'm upset because finding one led them, here. Like every single time before, don't care who gets in the way. If you don't die, cloak your damn Composer artifact. Or you will be boarded and slaughtered. I'd have you leave the solar system immediately, but we need your firepower to defend it. That is an order."

It was upon this realization that Admiral Paoa had been out of the frontlines for years, protocol dictated they didn't return to major population centers after acquiring artifacts in case they would be tracked. The tracking buoys and beacons were the primary tool for the Coalition yet there were times that Composer artifacts released large amounts of exotic radiation that was specific to that civilization, resulting in vital assets to be easily traceable. However, given the desperate mission to find one and return as quickly to the Core as possible, it had slipped everyone's minds inside the Exuberance. Imperial Admiral Addington had made it adamantly clear to hurry back as quickly as they could, yet Parri knew Paoa wouldn't want to hear any of that.

"Yes, Admiral." Captain Parri replied, dropping his eyes down towards Officer Nayak, and continued, "Move for evasive action, we are gonna blow those damned ships up."

"...Right away, captain." Officer Nayak turned back around, and typed away on the control terminal right in front of her. She charted a new trajectory course to shadow the looming warships, then to vault around them in a surprise maneuver, up and over their portsides.

"They're rapidly approaching Haere-Ao Station, sir…" Officer Lapu watched in horror through the observation window just in front of him, and nearly froze in fright.

"...Then we will take them out before they reach it." Captain Parri leaned against the terminal on the overlook, with a widened stance, the right leg behind the left. He shook his left one out of profound anxiety. "Unload all missile silos, prepare to fire them immediately after launching all flak rounds."

The Remembering Exuberance zoomed up behind the Coalition fleet as they rapidly approached the blockade made by the remaining ships of Battlefleet Maui. The Tired Nomad fired upon the ships, but was crashed through, immediately bursting apart in a fiery explosion.

"Fireteams, you're free to depart your hangars. Cycle into your dropships and starfighters." Arrowhead's voice blared on the battlecruiser's intercoms.

Fireteam Dominion was subsequently translocated into the Mirage, and the eight of them packed side by side once they rematerialized within. They all sat down across the seats along the walls on opposite sides. They were then followed by a three battalions of marines, legionnaires, and Rig units.

One of the Rig's turned around, and met his photoreceptors up at Akinyemi in admiration. Without hesitation, he turned around, and saluted him. "Commander."

"Sergeant." Akinyemi rematerialized his helmet around his head, and his visor illuminated back its cerulean haze against the Rig's metallic head.

A life-sized holographic projection of Captain Parri flashed up from the middle of the Mirage, and rotated to face Akinyemi. Captain Parri was exhausted, and sweating, and he placed his hands on his hips. He batted his eyes towards the floor, unsure of what to say as he felt the weight of the empire was on his shoulders. He met eyes at Akinyemi, paused again, then said, "Commander, your fireteam, as well as fireteams Jackhammer, Wildsky, Gladiator, Overwatch, Majesty, Horizon, and Windsong will be infiltrating the dreadnaught… We're running out of options here, and this is our best chance of buying the colony time to evacuate its civilian population. In all your service for the United Legion, it's been on rare occasions that you or anyone for that matter have boarded and infiltrated the dreadnaughts. They are essentially an entire mobile city encased inside a nearly indestructible hull. You are aware of this commander, but most of these fireteams here are not…" Captain Parri paused with reluctance, he knew that most of these fireteams within the Mirage were not nearly as experienced as Akinyemi and at least five other Atlas on board. He wasn't sure how to raise their spirits any further when his own was being crushed by the admiral. "...We cannot disable it any further than we've done, it's...just too powerful. We learned from Admiral Paoa that the Coalition fleet have arrived in-system specifically for the Composer relic we retrieved on Zephyr. We already lost so much to obtain just the one; hundreds of soldiers, dozens of Atlas. That is way more than we can afford to lose, and as if they were literally stomping on our graves they completely detonated Zephyr in retaliation to us finding the relic. I - we - need your fireteams to act swiftly, head for the engine decks to disable the dreadnaught, and plant a bomb. Use one of those Mirages as a makeshift bomb if you have to. It doesn't matter. Just destroy that dreadnaught at any costs…" Parri's voice nearly broke from his fear and his exhaustion. "...That is an order. See it through, and good luck."

The entire Mirage lay as silent as a moonless night, everyone's morale was completely shattered. The Atlas soldiers, Legionnaires, and Rigs all paused blankly unable to process the new mission they were about to embark on. Akinyemi himself had only ever been in a couple dreadnaughts since the war began over thirty years prior, and he wasn't even close to being ecstatic about boarding another. He knew the severity and the stakes of trying to board one, and he too hated naval engagements just as Tuill.

"Understood, captain." Akinyemi muttered, being the only one to break the drawn out stillness.

"...Good. Good luck, Commander. May you reap with success for yourselves, and the Blue Empire." The projection flashed away, leaving the soldiers to themselves.

"How the fuck are we gonna do this?" One of the fresh Atlas shouted, dropping their arms. "We never received training for this. Me and my unit just barely got our armors and were transferred to the frontlines."

"We're done for here." A Legionnaire groaned, cupping both their hands on the sides of their helmet, they were attempting to not succumb to an existential crisis during the heat of battle.

"So who wants to board that ship first..? Volunteers…?" One of the Rigs asked, leaning towards the center of the dropship.

"Commander Asari-Dokubo. I am honored to serve what maybe our last mission.. Side by side." The sergeant Rig was clad in black shock trooper armor, with red trimming, he had a thin orange visor, and a fully loaded auto rifle in his hands.

"What's your identification number, sergeant?"

"LE-1186, but I go by Hammond, sir."

"Commander…" Radha squeezed passed several Legionnaires and Rigs, stopping just in front of him. "Can you try to say a few words of encouragement, or something? Look at all of them, they're hopelessly terrified…"

Akinyemi nodded paused after listening to the Sleviish, and reloaded his Trident rifle in preparation for their objective. He gently placed a gauntlets hand on her armored shoulder and made his way to the center of the dropship where Captain Parri's hologram projected moments before. He straightened his posture and called out to everyone inside the Mirage, "Now, as Sergeant Hammond just said, everyone, this may be our last today. I can't sugar coat this, we are going up against a Coalition dreadnaught, and now at least seven other ships along with it. These warships are the most powerful vessels the United Legion has ever encountered. Just one of them can single handler occupy and invade a planet, and sometimes by extension, an entire solar system. As the metaphorical longsword of the entire Blue Empire, it is our duty to continue to fight, no matter how insurmountable the odds are stacked against us. Our great civilization has been around for over seven centuries, and we won't let one of greatest devastating defeats of the war cause us to give up now. When we lost Zephyr, we lost our real last chance of determining the fleet patterns of any and all Coalition armadas, and at most have one to two thousand remaining colonies of our original ten thousand plus. By storming that dreadnaught, and by preventing it from occupying that world and securing the relic, we have our only chance at survival, whatever it may bring us. It's up to us to make sure that survival bears fruit. This planet is counting on us, the legacy of the emperor is counting on us, and we won't stop until we keep every single, untouched world alive, and help give every single person on them the reassurance that what we did today will not be in vain. To give them the reassurance that we will not accept extinction. We will not go gentle into that good night!"

A wave of empathetic shivers washed through the soldiers then everyone rose to their feet, pumping their fists in the air, chanting the old rally cry of the Earth marines many centuries ago, "Oorah, oorah, oorah, oorah!" The Mirage started whirring up, and rotated around inside the hangar bay facing towards the infrared barrier of the hangar. Everyone locked and loaded their ammo mags, turning of the fire safety, and clutched their rifles ready to board the dreadnaught. At this point, all the Mirage dropships ascended into the air rotating around, and all lined up inside the hangar bay to depart.

At that moment, the Remembering Exuberance approached the Coalition fleet, smashing through the blockade. Yet as it the battlecruiser did so, the remaining battleships of Battlefleet Maui were completely annihilated in the star system. The large balls of white, orange, and blue flames licked out into space with a violent frenzy, shrapnel launching in all directions. The Exuberance accelerated upon its trajectory, closing the hundred mile gap in between the ships, and readied all of the last Mirages and Excaliburs aboard. A cloud of Obelisks and Ibises swarmed upon the Exuberance, cascading energy fire upon their energy shielding, rippling it under the stress yet again.

A stray Ibis zoomed right into the inside of Hangar A, crashing into the right side wall, and spinning right into the flooring. The dark chromatic steel, T-shaped fighter splattered several unaware marines, and a pilot, and slid across the hangar, into a Mirage, grounding it with a crash. The Ibis and Mirage both violently exploded, forcing in more casualties inside. From the inside, the remaining Legionnaires gazed out from the energy barrier to find the dark steel streaks in horror.

The Exuberance tilted up the front of its trajectory into a shallow arch, and zoomed closer to the dreadnaught, noticing the other ships closing around it. The Mirages containing the soldiers, and Excaliburs burst out of the hangar with streaks of blue light and dived down towards the dreadnaught. The horde of Coalition ships diverted their attention to the fleet of dropships and starfighters, peddling them with energy fire all around. Violet and cerulean bolts discharged across the void at each other, fragmenting unlucky ships, exploding them in a violent fury. The fighters zoomed in, and chased around each other in a mess, overloading the sensory input of anybody who was there.

Akinyemi pushed through to the front of the Mirage he was in, and placed his left hand on top of the pilot seat. The Tyfotos pilot was darting his head around, but keeping his resolve while moving the dropship away from incoming fire as much as possible. Trying to navigate inside such an erratic swarm of starfighters was nearly impossible, and yet such occurrences in naval engagements were fairly common. Even though the Blue Empire was overwhelming outmanned and outgunned, they always had a greater edge in naval combat, however, somewhat lacking in ground side battle from the power balance in favor of the United Legion's adversary. Earlier in the war, it was nearly stalemate after stalemate during orbital battles, and the Coalition usually had the upper hand when only launching their dreadnaughts in the middle of battle when most United Legion fleets would be crippled half way through.

"Bring up the comms." Akinyemi pointed at the small terminal in front of the pilot. He instinctively ducked underneath plasma lancer bombardment, trying to evade from the exploding bolts that shredded starfighters in two upon impact.

"Why?"

"What do you mean, 'why'? Just do it, we won't succeed if we have no direction of getting inside." Akinyemi ducked yet again out of natural response upon seeing more incoming energy fire.

"Yessir." The pilot quickly extended his right arm, and activated the comms to the Mirage. "You're all set Commander."

"Thank you. Now, all Mirages and Excaliburs, we need to focus our trajectories upon the hangar bays of the lower decks of the dreadnaught. It is the easiest way of getting ourselves inside. We must fly a tighter formation, so none of us can get picked off. I know it's hard to pinpoint through the swarms of fighter craft, but there's exposed decks and hangars over...there." Akinyemi pressed his hand against the inside of the cockpit, and a holographic waypoint marker marked their destination, relaying it to the other dropships and starfighters. He spread out his fingers against the carbon-laminate glass, and a circular section of the viewport zoomed in towards the marker.

"Are you sure, Commander? If we all fly towards your marker, they could pick us apart all at once." A distressed Atlas stammered over the comms.

"Who is this?" Akinyemi glanced down at the terminal as the Mirage swerved around an Ibis that rapidly approached from above and to the right. The Coalition fleet neared Haere-Ao Station, and several destroyers and frigates rotated in the direction of the incoming ships.

"Major Carrillo, sir. Of Fireteam Windsong." The Atlas hesitated over the comms. Her Mirage followed Akinyemi's Mirage, and with the low-grade MER guns on the front, took out an oncoming Ibis, blowing it up. The two Mirages evaded our of more oncoming fire strafing to the left, flying closer to the dreadnaught. The dropships and starfighters were heavily dwarfed compared to the warships they were approaching, and it felt eerie to everyone inside them. The Remembering Exuberance trailed around to the portside of the Coalition fleet, firing barrages of blazing red torpedos from its ion cannons on the starboard side of the ship.

The commanding officers of fireteams Overwatch, Wildsky, Gladiator, and Horizon were uneasy, and indecisive, but Majesty sided with Windsong. However, Jackhammer leaned towards Dominion, and Major Dahma spoke through the comms after listening to everything. "Uhh I'm sure Commander Asari-Dokubo is correct on this one. As long as we have the Excaliburs form a close attack formation around the Mirages, the fireteams inside can stay alive, and have a greater chance of completing the objective. Thoughts?"

Akinyemi smirked inside his helmet, for Dahma knew exactly what he was thinking of. He slouched a little bit more, holding onto the walls of the cockpit. An Ibis crashed into the front of the Mirage with a sudden impact, and rapidly spun on itself before blowing up.

"Uhh Commander Asari-Dokubo, and Major Dahma have a point, major." The fireteam leader of Horizon concluded. "Besides, Commander Asari-Dokubo is active commander of all Atlas aboard the Exuberance, so his word holds more sway regardless."

Major Carrillo sighed, and her voice went quieter, "Alright. Striker Leader, you hear that?"

"Yes, ma'am." Striker Leader led the Excalibur division that was with the group of Mirages, heading for the dreadnaught, and leveled his Excalibur above the Mirages. "Striker Two, Nine, Five, Seven, and Three take formations on the sides. Striker Six, Four, on the front, and Eight, Ten in the rear." The remaining Excaliburs obeyed the order by Striker Leader, and surrounded the Mirages in a tight formation. Striker Leader, and Two dived down faster, and everyone followed them, swerving around many explosions, and stray discharged plasma bolts.

The Coalition dreadnaught narrowed its trajectory, trailing a few miles out from Haere-Ao Station, and the remaining ships of Battlefleet Maui all opened fire upon the dark ships. The ODS charged up more MER rounds, firing with a powerful blast out of the central cannon, piercing the hull of one of the monoliths, causing mass ejections of pressurized atmosphere, debris, personnel, and equipment out of the alien ship. The last ships fired upon the same monoliths several times until it tried to retreat. However, the monolith was pierced by the powerful white blast, incapacitating it, and it drifted imploding on itself. A megalith targeted one of the battlecruisers, and rammed it with its hull, causing it to explode on impact.

Admiral Paoa appeared back on screen in the command bridge of the Remembering Exuberance, and his face mortified beyond compare. The shadow of the dreadnaught engulfed him and the station in the feed, blocking the blue light of Ka'ono'hana. Inside his command bridge, the only illuminations emanated from his Station Luminere and his green cybernetic eyes. "We aren't going to make it out of this one, Parri. The Haere-Ao has seen better days and will fall valiantly to the swords of the dusken dawn. I had snapped with hatred yet I wanted to fight for a long time, yet saving the millions of citizens of the planet was my only exception. You are one of only four ships left. Save this planet, and its people, Admiral Paoa - out."

Captain Parri watched from the bridge in horror as the dreadnaught cared not to board the station, but collided with it, sending the Haere-Ao into a vibrant and exploding plume of silver debris, flames, and crippled fragments. The wings of the station stayed in orbit while the larger, mile-long compartments jettisoned into the planet's gravity well, straight into the atmosphere. A few megaliths zoomed towards Tahiti Station, and the other near-facing ODS platforms on the Western Hemisphere, firing upon them in orbit around Kopu-Mere'mere. The Coalition fleet immediately began targeting the civilian transport shuttles, and cruiseliners, decimating the ones that didn't even have a chance to flee the system. Captain Parri was frozen in shock, limply dropped onto the bridge. Colonel Singer, and a few deck officers ran up to the overlook, and supported him in their arms.

"Captain Parri? Captain? You alright?" The officer holding him was a Kotaran woman, and she stared down at him with her black eyes. Her small chin appendages tingled and flexed autonomously. "He needs immediate medical treatment. He may have suffered a stroke."

"No, no, no." Captain Parri struggled up, his arm shaking as he tried supporting himself against the hovering chair on the overlook.

The Rigs guarding the blast doors darted over to him and knelt down beside the Kotaran. "No, he fainted from being overwhelmed. He didn't suffer a stroke."

Col. Singer sent a transmission for medical technicians and Rigs to make their way for the command bridge in order to assist and heal the captain.

"I'll be fine." He stood up, wincing, and leaned against the chair. A bottle of anti-anxiety meds and an auto-injector fell out of his uniform pocket, dropping onto the metallic floor

"What are these?" Col. Singer asked, rotating the opaque bottle in her hands.

"I said...colonel, that I'll be fine." Captain Parri snatched them back, placing them into his armored slacks. He wiped sweat out his facial scruff and returned to his seat.

"What are your orders, captain?" Officer Nayak turned back around, moving her hair out of her face. She noticed the medicine yet said nothing.

He sat there, somewhat motionless in his sadness and grief. The pain lingered in his eyes, and he tried not to explode with emotion. He readjusted his body in his seat to try to get more comfortable, resting one of his legs over the other. With a pinch of his fingers the battlefield was scanned and reconstructed in holographic form above the holotables for him to study in real-time once more. "Kill them all."

The formation of Mirages and Excaliburs zoomed around the aft end of the looming dreadnaught, avoiding as much energy bombardment as possible, and passed the giant exhaust ports emanating a bright ecstatic lavender-violet light, searing out like condensed aurorae. Striker Five, Nine, and Four were crippled, and zoomed out of control into the dreadnaught and an oncoming Obelisk.

"This better work, Commander. Chances of success are... very slim." Wispwaker hovered next to Akinyemi, and gazed at the Atlas who turned his head to his face him, slumping his shoulders.

"It... will work. We just need the Exuberance to buy us just enough more time to distract the dreadnaught. You can trust me."

"Oh, I trust you, sir. I'm just being realistic."

"Ahh." He was as distressed as he was unimpressed by the Luminere's remarks.

Tuill crouched from underneath the the top of the doorway, peering through to watch the hailstorm of a battle inches outside theouter hull of the dropship, "I'm afraid to say this, but I agree with the talking ball. What chances do we have? We're cutting it too close this time with scraps. If we tried pulling the same maneuvers maybe even a couple years back, we'd definitely have a greater chance of success. Send in a strike teams of the Shade bombers, with the help of Eve-crafted, automated starfighters."

"He has a point…" Wispwaker barely tilted his iris up at the Atlas.

Red supported himself with the grip handle along the ceiling of the Mirage, and his body swayed and shuddered from the gravitational waves of the fighter crafts and the shockwaves that pounded against them in response. He squacked at Akinyemi to approach him, unable to raise his head from his chest. Akinyemi pushed passed Tuill, and entered back into the main body of the dropship again.

"Yes?"

Red click-whistled at him, grumbling. He gazed around at the others who were sulking beside him, then back at the Atlas. He placed his large right hand on the Atlas' left shoulder, and slouched.

United Legion reinforcements warped a few miles out from the intact ODSs, with a contingent of ten warships, halting in place. They targeted the dreadnaught, and charged their MER guns, aiming at the lower hulls. The Coalition fleet ignored them, continuing their advance towards Kopu-Mere'mere, but received the full force of the MER rounds. The rounds were unable to shatter the shield barriers, but the new battlecarriers and battlecruisers zoomed towards the dreadnaught to intercept and it slow it down.

"What's the big guy saying?" Marvin shouted over the volley of explosions that rattled the Mirage.

"He continuously lost dozens of Redshifters from battles such as these. He's afraid he'll lose us too… But you won't, Red."

"Poor guy…"

The dreadnaught rotated towards the new fleet, facing it head on yet refrained from firing at them with its pint defense cannons symmetrically scattered across its surface. The reinforcement fleet continued to bombard its shields, warping and distorting the violet colored mesh of gamma particles that protected it, yet the dreadnaught still didn't respond.

"What's going on? Why did it stop its trajectory?" The Tyfotos pilot sat back in his seat, perplexed to the events that had transpired.

"Did we win?" One of the Rigs asked aloud.

Akinyemi shouted back to the pilot, "Dont linger in place, continue towards the lower decks! This is our chance right now to board it!"

"Something's not right here, sir." Radha muttered, clinging on tighter to the handrails above her.

Just ahead of the Mirage, outside of the viewport, the fireteams and platoons witnessed a blindingly bright, hazy violet rippling sphere of electrified plasma build up on the bottom of the dreadnaught. It swelled as it charged up, and like a crack of thunder, the sphere evaporated in a spherical shockwave pulse, launching out of the warship in all directions.

"Turn this bird around, now."

Before the Mirage was able to move, the pulse washed over them with cascading lightning that instantly shattered and dematerialized the shieldings systems, shutting down the terminals, circuits, and lighting systems. They were adrift in a sarcophagus amongst the stars. They watched the pulse rapidly expand out to the rest of the task forces, Exuberance, and new reinforcements in a three hundred mile diameter. All the United Legion ships were disabled, powerless, and the gravity of Kopu-Mere'mere yanked them towards the atmosphere.

Chapter 6

The ships descended into the atmosphere of Kopu-Mere'mere, all burning due to the high air friction, and the flames emanated out a torrential bright orange, with smoke screaming into the sky above. The flagship of the new fleet, a Valiant-class battlecruiser, the ULBE Song of Glory was facing the ground on its starboard, nose down. It streaked down violently with the other ships, and any other surviving dropships or starfighters. The Song of Glory crashed into miles of giant trees on the continent of Mekawai'i, descending through the thickets, incinerating everything in its path. The others plummeted, and a Defiant-class destroyer exploded under the stress. The rest crashed into many districts of the capital city, crippling and levelling entire districts. The Remembering Exuberance wildly spun through the air in its descent, crashing along the Hook Coast of Mekawai'i, in the Rangimarie Ocean. After several minutes, the last of the new United Legion ships plummeted into the continents and the ocean below, slaughtering thousands more in an instant. The skies also screamed with destroyed Mirages, Excaliburs, Ibises, and Obelisks, trailing dark smoke miles tall.

Inside the Mirage, everyone who wasn't strapped into the seats with the energy restraints, were violently rotating, weightless, and crashing along each other inside. The immense G-forces caused most of those who survived to vomit all over the inside of the floors, or crash into each other, pulverizing their heads and bodies. Within a matter of a minute or two, the Rangimarie Ocean was catching up to the crippled dropship, and the mass expanse of the blue ocean stretched out upon miles of never ending blue blue horizons. Akinyemi barely regained consciousness, and noticed they were about to splatter from the impact wi the colossal waves, and shoved himself into the cockpit. The plummet caused the Tyfotos pilot to smash his head against the control panels, caving in his skull within the helmet. His body lay limp, and Akinyemi silently motioned him while he grabbed the control sticks, and rapidly pressed the holographic panel to try to reactivate the thrusters.

"...W-Wispwaker… G-get yourself in here, now!"

The dropship rattled uncontrollably, and the AI zoomed into the cockpit next to the Atlas, and a blue scanning light pierced out of his iris, and he swayed, trying to remain composed. The metallic pieces around Wispwaker orbited very quickly, somewhat annoying to the Atlas. The Mirage didn't activate, and he grew angry. He then positioned himself against the rotating dropship, gripping a safety handle above him. He subsequently leaned forward, and pounded the control panel to it sparked to life once more. The control panel activated after several attempts, and hummed thanks to back up generators. The thrusters hesitated to spark, and the rutters violently shook. After another few seconds, it roared with a burning blue. Then right before impact with the ocean, Akinyemi pulled back on the control sticks, raising the nose of the Mirage, leveling it off just before hitting the water. A large spray of water darted up from the surface, cascading back down in a flurry, and as it zoomed towards the Hook Coast, witnessing more crippled ships crashing into the ocean from above.

Akinyemi dematerialized his helmet, and tilted his head down at the pilot, whose head was held low, swaying above his lap. Akinyemi shook him, trying to wake him up, but to no avail. Akinyemi detached the seat restraints holding the pilot in place, and gently placed him on the floor behind the seat. He tried relaxing as he took full control of the Mirage.

Most of the soldiers inside the main body too were limp with broken necks, yet fortunately all of Dominion survived, along with stray Legionnaires and Rigs. Red lurched, vomiting onto the floor, and out came orange runny chunks. The smell permeated the Mirage, and the globs slurched with each jolt, sliding towards the marines. I'oshot-Uu scrunched up his face, and was very disgusted, not noticing the corpses around him. "What did you eat?"

Red collapsed onto the floor, bracing himself with his hands, and turned his head to the right, gazing at him through the blue haze. He swallowed, then click-whistled back with some hard guttural coos and hisses.

I'oshot-Uu turned his head to the right from along the wall, his head facing the opening of the cockpit. "Commander?"

"Tyri. He had a large tyri, with some roasted paal leaves." Akinyemi didn't even turn around.

"That looks, and smells unsettling." Tuill gazed at the orange chunks with a grimace.

Marvin and Voiceless Cry were still passed out, slumped under the energy restraints, and Radha unlocked hers and stepped around Red. Before entering the cockpit she gracefully strode the other soldiers, shaking their shoulders and torsos, hoping they would respond to her touch. "Commander, most of them are dead… We're in a flying grave.."

"We need to bury them immediately now," Tuill replied horrified. "Or get ourselves out."

"What do you even suggest? We're in the middle of a new battle…" Akinyemi's face was plastered with horror as well, yet he was unable to comprehend losing more men and women next to him inside the dropship.

"Jettison them into the ocean. That's all we can do." Wispwaker was reluctant to say the words and hated himself for it.

Akinyemi didn't even acknowledge what Wispwaker advised yet remained motionless in the cockpit. Tuill instantly rounded up the bodies before anyone could protest and gently nestled them into the middle of the Mirage. Radha stood back the whole time, just as shocked and dazed. After the Eve was finished, he squeezed his way into the cockpit, and leaned over Akinyemi who was nearly frozen to move.

"What are you doing?" Akinyemi only elevated his eyes at the Eve whose face was expressionless.

"Agreeing once more with the talking ball, Atlas. It's the only option we got. None of us want to be around the literal pile of corpses. They didn't deserve to die like this, but the best thing for them is to be buried on the very planet they died to defend."

"Proceed, Lieutenant."

Tuill closed his eyes and gently nodded in thanks, and leaned over the terminal about to press the translocation switch. He urged Radha to drag the pilot and place him onto the pile of bodies, and she reluctantly obliged. After she managed to place him next to the pile, she crossed his arms over his chest and pressed two fingers on his helmet's forehead in respect. Tuill activated the console, and with mildly luminous flash, the pile of corpses translocated above the seas and sunk into the depths.

"May the stars guide them into a brighter tomorrow. Wherever that may be." Tuill whispered, transfixed at the distant, flat horizon outside the viewport. "You may never hear it from another Eve, as we take it with deep and sincere reverence, Atlas, but we greatly respect the dead. But doing this was the best thing for them."

After a few minutes of reverent silence, Radha appeared beside Akinyemi and Tuill within the cockpit. "At least some survived, but it'll take them sometime to wake and I don't want to disturb them. But in the meantime, what's our next course of action, commander?" She leaned above him, her hand rested on the top of the backrest of Akinyemi's seat. She gazed out to find that they were near the middle of the ocean, and the looming Coalition ships descended through the atmosphere, save for the dreadnaught which remained in orbit. The remaining monoliths and megaliths made their way for the Hook Coast, and towards the capital of Aneh'waka.

Akinyemi didn't even turn around to look at her, and pointed out to the west, then said, "...We need to recover any of the fireteams, and reactivate the United Legion fleet… But our mission still stands, to destroy that dreadnaught, and I have an idea inspired by Parri's attempted moral speech."

Wispwaker rotated towards the Atlas, and asked, "What exactly is your plan, commander? He didn't succeed in raising our hopes up at all."

Akinyemi leaned his dark head at the Luminere, gazing at him through tired brown eyes, and said, "It wasn't really meant to. His shoulders were too heavy and he was just doing the best he could. But first, we gotta try to retrieve the other fireteams. Can you get the comms working?"

"I shall try, sir." Wispwaker scanned the control panel, tapping into its links, electro-circuitry, and data clusters. He beamed out the blue light from his iris, and narrowed the protrusions to symbolize hard concentration.

"I'm surprised any of us survived that…" Radha lowered her headscarf, with her white skin reflecting the blue light of the Mirage, and Ka'ono'hana. "I never seen the Coalition use such a powerful EMP before. Reverse-engineered Composer tech?"

"Most likely…" Akinyemi halted the Mirage, and it remained hovering several feet above the ocean's surface.

"We're never gonna get a break, are we?" Radha forced a laugh, placing her helmet back on her head.

"I don't think so. At least not until we make it back to Elysium."

"What's your estimation of that? Because I was a part of the task forces sent into Hamuran. Just like you guys. My mission wasn't to secure the mountain but to set up communications that allowed for the reinforcements that helped you guys out." Radha sat down in the outer seat opposite the commander. "As well as other districts of the city until the glassing beams incinerated everything…"

"Given how we're now tasked in defense of this planet, who knows. I just hope the Coalition don't receive more reinforcements in the meantime. Take over the controls for a sec, would'ya?"

"Sure."

Akinyemi walked out of the cockpit and towards the main interior of the dropship. The surviving Legionnaires and Rigs raised their heads in a daze. He found Sergeant Hammond uncuffing his seat restraints yet the others refused to move. The Rig peered around with his expressionless faceplate, and his photoreceptors focused in and out, and he slumped his shoulders.

"Where is the rest of the platoons…? They're just, gone."

Akinyemi stood over the Rig with reluctance and hesitation. By the looks of it, he among trillions others had passed the Turing Test and had achieved full sentience, given his rank and position within the United Legion. By all accounts he was a person just the same. Akinyemi recognized Rigs as people but he was in a vast minority even during their heroic actions in the war.

"We had jettisoned them into the ocean, sergeant. They...they didn't make it."

Sergeant Hammond dropped his metallic head down further, sinking in his posture. His voice was filled with much doubt and remorse as he asked, "Do you think we're gonna succeed? We're all but spent, commander." He raised a limp metallic hand at the other Rigs and Legionnaires.

Akinyemi glanced up at the ceiling of the Mirage, and nanobots along the ceiling washed over the hull, reducing its opacity to a transparent viewport-like view of the sky above. He lingered his gaze at the looming warships above and remained transfixed for a minute before replying. "I don't know. The best we can do is head for the coast and find any survivors anyway we can. From what I could see as we plummeted through the atmosphere, most of our reinforcements fleet collided with the continent, but some of our warships appear intact. Let's secure them before the Coalition does."

Sergeant Hammond's metallic head was silhouetted by the miles-long warships, and he lowered his photoreceptors to face the Atlas' cerulean visor. "...Alright."

"Commander? There's a ping." Wispwaker said, from across the Mirage.

"A ping?" Akinyemi turned around, gazing back at the Luminere from the middle of the dropship.

"Yes." Wispwaker hovered there, waiting for a response.

"Just check it out, sir." Tuill leaned against the wall, with his weapons in hand. The Eve's face was unimpressed, and he sighed.

Akinyemi paced back there, and leaned over the console. He heard muffled static, then patchy audio bursts. It continued to crackle, and it was very choppy, but a voice was heard through the comms. "A...anyon- … Th..ere? Th... s… Major Car-" The receiver hummed really loud, trying to process the input.

Akinyemi sat back down, and pressed his right index finger on the console, and said, "Major Carrillo? This is Commander Asari-Dokubo. Are you receiving? Over."

"Y...es.. Yes… We.. receiving y-… sir. Where are you? Where are you?" Major Carrillo's voice was monotonous but was filled with mild panic.

Akinyemi gazed across the console, and tried to click open Navigation, but it wouldn't work. He sighed, and pressed on the console again to reply, "Over the Rangimarie Ocean. That's all we know."

"The Rangimarie? You're very far away, sir."

"Where are you? There is nothing for miles."

"...I think the Hook Coast...yeah, yeah. It's v-very hectic over here. The Coalition are sending out Obelisks to scrounge for, and eliminate survivors."

"Where are the other fireteams?"

"Uhh I'm not sure. There are crashed ships everywhere… Maybe in them? We can't leave… I can't leave, excuse me. I'm the only one left of my fireteam…" Carrillo sounded detached, and preoccupied at the same time, and Akinyemi heard grunting coming from her end.

Akinyemi took the dropship off of idle mode, and grabbed the control sticks, levelling it back off. The Rangimarie Ocean reflected off the luminescence of Ka'ono'hana, with a tranquil shimmer. Dark clouds began rolling overhead, casting shadows over the ocean, and the Mirage, and a dark megalith loomed overhead.

"We should keep low to the water, allowing us more time of not being seen." Radha said, still resting on the second cockpit chair, crossing her arms, and legs on top of the seat.

"Good idea," Akinyemi retorted without removing his eyes from the sloshing waves. He then gently pushed the control sticks forward, pointing the nose of the dropship down a bit, and it slowly descended closer to the waves until they were just above them, then he levelled it off.

There was an eerie silence over the waves, and the atmosphere around, save for the strong winds, and the sounds of gunfire and barrages of missiles many miles away. Red finally reconstituted himself, and turned around to converse with Sergeant Hammond, who had sat down along the back seats. Voiceless Cry, and Marvin regained consciousness, and freaked out a somewhat, realizing they were restrained down to the seats and there were too few left in the dropship.

"What? Where are we? Are we dead?" Marvin turned his head to the right, facing Voiceless who was sitting just next to him.

Voiceless gazed at him through his Koro, and the bronze lights emanated off his helmet and onto the Atani. He then shrugged, for he did not know the answer. Voiceless then extended his right arm, and snapped his fingers at Tuill, trying to get his attention, and waved a bit too.

"What? Oh.. you're awake. Yes?" Tuill snapped out of zoning out, and gave his attention to the Uru.

Voiceless then pointed at Marvin.

"Yes, Marvin?" He straightened up, sheathing his rifle onto his back.

"Where are we, what's going on?" Marvin was clearly shook, and his neon green eyes darted around, taking in the new input. "Where is everyone? What happened when we were out?"

Tuill sighed, then said, "We're fine. All of Dominion is alive, fortunately, and a few Legionnaires and Rigs. Everyone else died from broken necks as we were pulled into the atmosphere from orbit. Commander Asari-Dokubo is piloting the Mirage...due to the pilot…also perishing. We're above the Rangimarie Ocean. We're heading for the Hook Coast, to look for any surviving fireteams."

"Okay, cool…" Marvin leaned back against the seat, resting his head on the curved wall. He was in a dissociative daze from his helmet slamming into the interior wall of the dropship and it took him sometime for his head to clear and refocus. In the meantime he stared at the floor in silence.

Voiceless yawned quietly through his Koro, and rested his head on Marvin's right shoulder.

Tuill noticed this, and mouthed at Marvin, "...Is he gay?"

Marvin turned his head towards the Uru, then back at the Eve, and gently shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Ahh, alright." He turned back away from the Atani, and Uru, then leaned against the wall. Tuill slowly slid down into a sitting position, stretching out his metallic hoof-like feet. He then turned his head, towards the cockpit doorway, and called out to Akinyemi."Commander? When are we arriving? I'm afraid we're getting some gay action over here."

Marvin rolled his eyes, smirked, and cupped his hands on his lap.

"That's fine," Akinyemi said without turning his head. "We'll arrive in about ten minutes or so."

"...These are the soldiers leading our platoons?" One of the Legionnaires turned toward another in disbelief.

"They've nearly survived the second return to Zephyr, let them ease themselves a bit." Another Legionnaire replied to his friend.

"That Eve is one of the most unprofessional Guerriers I've ever encountered." Another Legionnaire mumbled.

"He's from the Eve Collective, and was involved in more civil wars than there are warts on your nipples." A Rig extended his metallic hand, pressing against the chest pauldron of the Legionnaire. "He also almost got his head blown off on Zephyr by a Grish commander, let him joke around."

"What you got sticks up your asses for? They may be famed warriors but they're people too." Sergeant Hammond stared down the Legionnaires in the dropship.

"We're just fighting to prevent extinction."

"What are we fighting to protect if we can't ease up a bit and joke around? People aren't unemotional robots."

"That's funny coming from a machine…" Another Legionnaire remarked.

"Y'know what?-" Hammond was about to back hand the soldier for insulting him.

Tuill stood up, and made his way towards the main interior of the dropship, looming behind Hammond and the other Rigs to intimidate the snarky Legionnaire. "We already fought a war against each other over seven centuries ago about this very same thing. Fuck off, marine grunt. As your friend said, I've fought more civil wars having to slaughter my own people because the Collective being corrupt, and fled because of it. The Eve proper are fighting their own war with the Coalition, just like the Blue Banner you serve under. We're not each other's enemy."

"Yessir.." the Legionnaire sunk to his feet in his seat, lowering his head.

Radha leaned her head into the interior of the cockpit, overhearing the disrespectful grunt in the back. Fortunately for the Legionnaire he couldn't see the sour scowl in her face behind her helmet, and she turned back around in disgust.

Red reconstituted himself, careful not to step in his own vomit that sloshed around on the floor. He scrunched his mouthed beak, covering his nostrils and made his way towards the front of the dropship.

"How are you holding up?" Tuill patted Red's shoulder, and readjusted himself, nearly unable to stand up fully underneath the shallow ceiling.

Red turned his head to the left, gazed at the Eve through his dark eyes, and raised a thumbs-up at him. He then patted his stomach, letting him know he was hungry.

"I don't have that problem.. For I'm mechanical." Tuill teased him, the violet lights from his eyes and mouth emanated onto the Bir'vo. "...But...I could wash the grime off my chassis…"

Red scowled at him, and slapped his metallic knees, then tried to get some sleep. The towering alien then crossed his digitigrade legs, stretching them out as much as he could.

Later, the edge of the Hook Coast of Mekawai'i came into view, filling the cockpit window with its mass. From the distance, Akinyemi, Wispwaker, and Radha could see massive piers that stretched out into the ocean for about a mile, but followed along the coastline for many more. Near it were abandoned beaches, with bright tan sand that dipped into the waves. Behind the beaches, save for what led into Aneh'waka, were massive tropical trees that pierced the grey sky with their abundance of dark green foliage. Above the city, in the background was a Coalition monolith, hovering and ever looming, sending out great waves of Obelisks, and Ibises to invade the city. Darted across the beaches and the piers were crashed ships, such as nautical vessels, and yachts, but also destroyed Obelisks, Mirages, Excaliburs, and Ibises.

The Mirage zoomed towards the front of the piers, near the shoreline, and settled in a 'secure-enough' nook. Akinyemi transitioned the role of pilot to an experienced Legionnaire shock trooper, named Corporal Lemand. She then beamed down Fireteam Dominion, and the other troopers, splashing in the waves with heavy thuds of their power armors. Akinyemi led the platoons from the front, and raised his Trident rifle in his hands to scan the beachhead. Following him along the sides were Wispwaker, I'oshot-Uu, Radha, Marvin, and Voiceless Cry. Behind him were Red, Tuill, Sergeant Hammond, and his platoon of remaining Legionnaires and Rigs.

They were dwarfed by the pier, as they trudged through the water, and crouched their way up onto the sand banks. There were many more crashed, overturned, or completely destroyed ships darting the sands, peeking up several feet half-exposed in the beach. Some laid on their sides, were nose-first, or were wrecked too beyond repair. Akinyemi raised his rifle up again, looking down the scope, and gave hand signals with his left hand, splitting up the soldiers in groups, covering more ground as they went to investigate for survivors.

The piercing sounds of energy discharges echoed out to the shoreline, followed by booming explosions, and crashing. Down along the beach, Dominion and the platoons splashed through large puddles of water, and shifting sand. Red, Tuill, and Voiceless split off to investigate an overturned Mirage, while Radha, I'oshot-Uu, and Marvin did the same. Sergeant Hammond, and his squad of troopers took the marines and legionnaires farther along the shores.

Akinyemi and Wispwaker first found a crippled Excalibur, halfway buried in the sand, with its wings torn off, and scattered around it. Warped, and torn metal had been showered around it too, shards sticking up from the sand. Akinyemi walked over these, panning his rifle side to side, incase the possibility of nearby assailants watching their every move. He stopped right in front of the starfighter, and placed his left hand against the exposed cockpit, brushing sand off the viewport to find a helmet leaning against the glass.

"Is there a pilot in here?" Akinyemi hesitated to check for himself, and stood back as Wispwaker hovered there.

"Lemme see, sir." The Luminere scanned the cockpit, moving the beam around it, and it broke off into multiple streams. After another second, his iris beeped thrice. "Yes…"

Akinyemi was careful to line up his fist at the perfect angle to prevent what was about to be shattered glass on the occupant. He shoved his fist through it with a loud crash, and pried the cockpit hatch off the frame of the starfighter. He found the pilot inside, slumped over herself, with her helmet still on her head. On it read, "Striker Three." He grabbed both sides of it, and gently unlatched it from her head, and took it off her. He then threw it to the side, and found a cold face of Vietnamese-descent, with sepia colored eyes, a small nose, pale skin, and short dark hair. "What are her vitals, if she has any?"

Wispwaker scanned her body for a few seconds, and said, "I'm afraid she died on impact, sir." He stared up at the sky, while hovering in place beside the Atlas' head. "We fell over ninety miles from orbit sir, most of the starfighter pilots wouldn't have made it."

That's when the Atlas noticed all the dark blood pooling under her ultramarine jumpsuit. He then lowered his head out of respect, and followed up with Red, Tuill, and Voiceless, who had approached another Mirage dropship. Red tried peering in through where the cockpit was, and remembered that no one can see into it from the outside. He sighed, and knocked onto the metallic hull with his hand, while pressing his left ear against the side. He heard nothing, and tried pounding his fists against it. Still nothing. He quietly screeched in frustration, and kicked the Mirage. He had Tuill walk around to the other side, where the underside was, to see anything, and Tuill obliged. Tuill found a pile of dead corpses: legionnaires, and Atlas all scattered in the sand, caked in the grains. Upon closer examination, he found out that this was Fireteam Majesty.

"Red, I'm afraid to tell you, that they're all not alive…" Tuill just stood there erect, with his Trident rifle in his hands. "It appears that they all died on impact with the shoreline."

The exhausted Bir'vo slammed his fist against the hull of the Mirage, breathing heavily, then noticed the Atlas, and Wispwaker approaching. He slumped his shoulders, and told Akinyemi that they were dead. Voiceless just stood there, sighing in mute sympathy, then noticed the others trying to get their attention. Voiceless waved his hands at the four of them, then pointed it at Radha, Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu.

I'oshot-Uu levitated some metallic debris out of the way with his kinetic gauntlets, and threw them aside with a wavepush. He found Major Carrillo, who had been trapped after translocating out of her Mirage, and Marvin helped her to her feet. Major Carrillo was of Mexican American-descent, with pale brown skin, amber eyes, and dark ginger hair. Her hair had an undercut around her head, and the hair on the top was pulled back into a small bun. She also had a tattoo of a hawk feather on the left side of her face, behind her left eye, and in front of the left ear. It stretched from the jawline to her hairline. Around her lithe frame, she had white and bronze power armor with pointed shoulder pauldrons, and a worn insignia of a bird in a circle. The insignia represented the name of Windsong.

"You, good?" Radha asked as Marvin and Carrillo fully stood back up.

"Yeah… yeah.. Thank you. It's good to finally see another living face out here. I've been trapped under that debris for nearly an hour, after managing to translocated out of the dropship. I couldn't handle being surrounded by my fireteam's corpses. They're limp bodies and broken faces stained my mind, and I was horrified…"

"I understand, dammit..." Radha then wrapped her left arm around the Atlas, supporting her as she limped out of the debris. "Most of our platoons died upon entry into the atmosphere, broke their necks in zero-G. The rest died as the back up generators kicked on, and their bodies slammed onto the floor. So few of us made it out alive…"

"How did you survive out here?" Akinyemi asked upon seeing her and approaching the rest of Fireteam Dominion, followed by his Luminere.

"Trapped under that," Carrillo replied while pointing at the struts, "Your Kotaran friend helped me out with those. I'm glad we have a Sohai here." Carrillo smiled, nodding at the commander with solace. She brushed off more sand from her power armor and her combat suit underneath it to prevent major chaffing.

"Where's the Exuberance?" Akinyemi glanced around as the sky was getting progressively darker.

Major Carrillo extended her left arm, and pointed south, in the direction of the piers. "It's a mile or two down that way. I saw it plummet down there, after trying to wake the pilot. What is the plan now, commander?"

"We need to find the rest of the fireteams, and regroup. From there, we need to find the Exuberance and figure out a way to get up there." He pointed at the monoliths and two megaliths that loomed over the Aneh'waka skyline.

"Why up there? Respectfully, sir."

"The Coalition are looking for Composer tech, we'll 'give' it to them."

"You're kidding right? Are you implying that we're gonna hijack one of those ships?" Her face read that of mixed feelings, for she didn't know how to take this.

"That's exactly what I'm implying, Major."

Major Carrillo leaned forward, placing her hands on her legs, hyperventilating from stress and disbelief she didn't want to board a Coalition warship but it was her commander's orders. She then rematerialized her helmet, and it was roundish in shape. A thin bronze visor wrapped around laterally from the sides, and around the front of her helmet. In the front middle, a bit dropped off into a trapezoidal shape. She limped back down to retrieve her Verdant rifle and energy pistol from the coarse sand. "Well…fuck it. Let's go, boys and girls. I already just lost my fireteam, so if we die on this world, then so be it. You did make a good speech in orbit though, Commander."

"What about your Luminere? Is he gone?" I'oshot-Uu asked while stretching his arms, widening his stance.

"She. Glimmerdawn is now KIA. Her chassis was ejected out of a hull breach while we plummeted through the atmosphere, and while that happened she.. Kinda was shredded."

"My condolences." I'oshot-Uu gently bowed.

"It's fine… We should better get moving. Commander?"

"Yes. Major Carrillo is right. Dominion, and Carrillo. Let's get a move on." Akinyemi shifted his weight to his right leg while rotating to the left in the direction of the piers. He then proceeded to trudge through the sand under the closest pier. Everyone else followed behind him. They passed more overturned or destroyed dropships and starfighters, a few still burning in the heavy breeze. An Ibis lay upside down, with the bottom of the t-shape hull towering out of the sand, exposing the damage engines. The engines still steamed out purple colored plasma, while condensed bits oozed down brightly.

"Were you fighting in the frontlines on Zephyr? We obviously didn't see you amongst the dead at the foot of the mountains." Marvin asked, brushing sand that splashed up onto his helmet.

Major Carrillo slumped down, scouring more corpses for excess ammunition. "No, I wasn't. I don't know whether I'd consider that fortunate or not. I would've preferred to join you and the other teams on-world to help out but Captain Parri kept me on board as reserve in case you guys died or failed in your mission. I urged the captain to let me join the fight by the time you were held up at the cinema, and it felt like a waste to hold us back when so many of the Exuberance's platoons were gunned down. I was in the mess hall when those two Legionnaires were fighting. I almost made my way over to break up the fighting by the time you did, commander."

"I did see you amongst the other Atlas there. I'm glad you're here now, Major."

Tuill found a gnarled body of a Grish pilot, and gazed at the carcass. The massive alien laid there with what remained of its four arms outstretched. The pilot didn't have the pyramid shaped helmet like the other warriors of its species, but more that of the frills of a nemes headdress, with a featureless faceplate. Etched into the armor were small hieroglyphs, running along down from the shoulder plates to under the ribs. The dark armor reflected off the light of Ka'ono'hana, forever stagnant.

Tuill then proceeded to kick the massive body, and picked up its kopesh, a sword that once activated would materialize a curved purple blade of condensed gamma-laced plasma into a solid form. Tuill then examined it while they walked, holding it in his metallic fingers, and said, "This is actually fascinating. Even though the Coalition are tyrannical and shit, at least they craft excellent technology. That'd be great if we Eve used blades as fine as these."

"Never seen one up close?" Carrillo remarked, staring at the cascading plasma before the Eve deactivated the blade.

"Well, yes… but I never got to hold one."

"That's fair."

"Can I hold it?" Marvin nudged over time the towering Eve, reaching out a free hand in attempt to grab it from his grasp.

"Nah man. Imma use this myself to fit every single Grish bastard I come across. For every Eve world they destroyed back out in Collective Space. And for every Blue Imperial world of yours they felled too. I'm as sick of this war as you guys."

Ahead of them was Sergeant Hammond, his inverted pyramid head was caked in sand and blood. However it didn't appear that the blood was of his men and women under his command. His merallic leg was nearly severed at the knee and armored calf. "Commander! Ebony Squad and I just came upon a Draxii survivor, in case you're wondering why I'm covered with blood." He limped towards the fireteam, and leaning against his left side, then reloaded his rifle. Half of his head was blown apart, exposing circuits and his AI brain, "Oh, and we found the remains of Fireteam Overwatch…They initially managed to survive the crash from orbit...yet….they were slaughtered after making it out of their dropship…"

Akinyemi paused in place unable to deal with the fact that more men and women were lost under his command. He was beating himself up too mic for something beyond his control but nonetheless nearly let go of his emotions. He asked reluctantly, "Any signs of Gladiator, Horizon, or Jackhammer?"

"Not that we've seen, sir." He lowered his head a little bit, as the rest of Ebony approached. His Legionnaires and Rigs were still just as demoralized as they were above Kopu-Mere'mere. Yet, they tightened their grip upon their rifles, waiting for Akinyemi to make his next order. They were ready to fight and potentially die on-world, joining their comrades who were buried under the waves of the Rangimarie.

They all ducked as an Obelisk zoomed overhead, and the ground vibrated and shuddered under their feet. The dropship continued on towards the south where the Exuberance lay fortunately not detecting them. Akinyemi quickly patched to Corporal Lemand, and said attentively, "See what you can to follow that Obelisk, and match its trajectory. We need eyes and ears in order to tail it."

"Yessir, Atlas." The Mirage then appeared out from the nook under the piers, and ascended in elevation, shadowing the unaware Obelisk. The Mirage was seen with a blue streak as it zoomed away, overhead the soldiers.

Suddenly, if not much afterwards, a platoon of Grish and Aggressors appeared over the ridge leading into the city, and all leaped down in front of the soldiers. A Grish officer stepped forward as everyone else hesitated to do anything. The Grish had a longrifle held in its lower arms, aimed to the side, and he pulled out a long kopesh in his upper left arm, and a lance in his upper right. The other Grish, and Aggressors stood back, and let their officer slowly approach the fireteams, dwarfing everyone with his towering height of thirteen feet. He then tossed his kopesh to Akinyemi, recognizing him as the leader, and the Atlas caught it. "Stand down, Dominion. Same goes for you, Carrillo, and Ebony Squad."

The officer shouted to Akinyemi with a deep, raspy voice, " Al 'ana 'uetiike fuu 'ursat 'an lilqital mae sharaf'n al'a nada." The towering officer dropped his longrifle into the sand, to his right, and it splashed upon impact. He then continued, "Hij eei'la ghaid sha Ki'Aad 'Shaishajal."

"What did it say?" Major Carrillo asked, standing petrified. "What's it doing?"

"The Grish Officer said 'I give you a chance to fight with honor... The name I was given is Ki'Aad 'Shaishajal.' " Wispwaker replied, staring endlessly. "I don't understand what's going on here. I've never seen any Coalition species address a Human like that."

"They're probably trying to distract or delay us, buying themselves time to scour the city with the least amount of resistance possible." Tuill concluded, staring down the officer. "Don't take the bait, commander. It'll just waste time."

"It could be a trap." Radha muttered, agreeing with the Eve, resting her hands on the hilts of her blades. Her headscarf blowed violently in the wind, as the breezes picked up. "But what are we to do?"

Voiceless Cry noticed this, and placed his hand over her, then shook his concealed head. He leaned down a bit, then rested on his shins, and placed his hands on his thighs, waiting.

Tuill and Red just stood there transfixed on what was taking place ahead of them. Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, Carrillo, and Ebony Squad watched from the sidelines, spreading out a bit. They kept their index fingers twitching next to the triggers.

Akinyemi and 'Shaishajal approached each other, and the Grish towered over the Human, gazing down at him through his dark pyramid helmet. He stopped a good ten or so feet away, spinning his lance in his four arms. Akinyemi activated the kopesh, and a long, curved purple blade emanated out, with cascading plasma. It hissed, and vibrated on itself. The Atlas swung the blade to the sides of his body in sweeping arches, while crouching down, raising his left hand over his head at the direction of the Grish. The other Grish and Aggressors growled, and laughed with bellowing projection booming around the shoreline. Immediately, the officer then struck down at the Atlas with the lance, spraying sand into the air, and the Atlas evaded off to the side. The officer then pulled it out, and began spinning it on itself, incapacitating the Atlas with a large thrust to the back. Akinyemi got up, and ran towards the Grish, leaping up onto the large alien, and stabbing him in the left shoulder. 'Shaishajal grabbed the Atlas with his other arms, and threw him aside, then bounded towards him. He then grabbed the Atlas by his head, lifting the Human into the air, and squeezed. The side of Akinyemi's visor cracked under the weight. Akinyemi grabbed the officer's hand with his free hand to pry himself free, then reached up and swung the kopesh at his left arm, holding the soldier. He then sliced through 'Shaishajal's forearm, and the Grish screamed in anger. Akinyemi dropped to the ground, landing on his shin, and darted under the Grish, tackling him down. The towering alien collapsed to the ground, and the others began raising their railguns and longrifles. Akinyemi then was grabbed by 'Shaishajal's lower arms, pinned him into the sand, and reached for his lance to the left of them. Akinyemi pummeled the Grish in the helmet, shattering and crushing the front of it under the weight of his strikes. He then spun around underneath the alien, dropping him on himself. Akinyemi then thrusted the kopesh into 'Shaishajal's neck, boiling his insides. After convulsing, and twitching violently, the Grish officer stopped cold.

The other Grish and Aggressors immediately fired upon the Atlas, and Akinyemi re-equipped his Trident rifle, and evaded under the incoming energy fire. He then aimed at one of the Aggressors through the floating metallic sights, and fired precision rounds of blue across at the colossal alien in quick succession. The alien then collapsed to the ground, fried. The Grish low ranking warriors, commonly known as the Qadi, fired upon Akinyemi, and the rest of Fireteam Dominion. I'oshot-Uu raised his right gauntleted hand over the other, while the left was below. He then swiveled his hands around, fingers extended, and thrusted with an open palm. The wavepush then flung one of the Qadi back like a ragdoll over a sand dune, crashing into his back.

Marvin, Voiceless, Carrillo, and Tuill ran forward providing fire support for the commander, while Red chucked an energy grenade out at the Qadi. Akinyemi crouched below 'Shaishajal's body, resting his Trident rifle on top of the dark armor. He then fired at one Qadi, piercing the helmet after collapsing its energy shielding. The Qadi roared in frustration and and sent out a lethal blast from its railgun at the Atlas, blasting him, and the dead officer back into the water after flying through the air. Sand sprayed several feet high in all directions, and cascaded down quickly to temperiatioy smother their armors. The grenade exploded, sending some of the Grish Qadi and Aggressors back with a flurry of blue plasma energy and white sand.

Marvin and Voiceless strafed to the left, while crouching, aiming their rifles at the attackers. Purple bolts of energy whizzed over their heads, and the sizzling wisped away. I'oshot-Uu wavepushed Radha forward at an Aggressor, as she was unsheathing two red sizzling energy swords from brown hilts on the hips of her armor. She landed just in front of the towering Aggressor, and with a spinning finesse sliced at the alien's legs, incapacitating the soldier. She then dismembered its arms, and the limbs fell into the sand. She then leapt up onto its back, and embedded both the long, sizzling blades into its shoulders. Radha then leaped across to the next one, decapitating the Aggressor. She then landed into the sand, kneeling low to the ground crouched one knee. She gazed up at the last Aggressor who was now reconstituting itself from Red's grenade, infuriated as his platoon was gunned down by Fireteam Dominion. However, one of the remaining Grish Qadi grabbed her by her brown helmet, and dangled her over the ridge. She then activated her blades once more, and thrusted them upwards, cutting the two left arms in half, and kicked herself off the Grish's chest. She was shot in the arm, and the leg, collapsing to the ground, but before she could be crushed under the hoofed foot of the same Grish, Sergeant Hammond, Tuill, and Voiceless gunned him down. The corpse flailed its remaining limbs into the air, and stumbled backwards into the sand, collapsing in the side of his body.

Akinyemi shoved the dead 'Shaishajal off of himself, and gave hand gestured-commands to the rest of Dominion while reloading his Trident rifle . Voiceless darted across the bank towards the group of aliens, leaped up at another Qadi, and Palmed the alien's helmet in with a shock wave, crushing its skull. Four Coalition aliens remained of that platoon, and concentrated their fire at the Uru, and Sleviish.

Voiceless Cry grabbed Radha from around her waist, but subsequently received a railgun round to the back, blasting them forward back to Dominion, and collapsed to the ground. Akinyemi let loose a grenade at the four remaining aliens, and the explosion immediately killed them, launching their severed limbs in all directions among the embankment. The Atlas jogged up to Voiceless and Radha, and kneeled down next to them.

"Do any of you have any bio-foam? Quick!"

Sergeant Hammond turned towards his squad, and shouted, "Corporal Reyes!"

A woman about the same height as Hammond darted up from behind the rest of Ebony, and was shoveling through a hard backpack on her back. She set it on the ground, and opened one of the compartments, pulling out a small bottle with a green casing, and a white nozzle. Reyes hovered over Radha, and concentrated the foam into the wounds of her arm and leg, merging with her exposed soft tissue and synthetically accelerated the regrow then I'd new tissue, soon her wounds were sealed and healed. Before she could do the same to Voiceless, the Uru waved his left hand, signifying a no. His body was tense, and he struggled to sit up on his own, but continued to wave his hand, and shake his head.

"Take it. You need your wounds to be stabilized." Reyes was getting fairly annoyed by Voiceless' stubbornness.

Voiceless still shook his head no, and pointed at the armored chest of his Koro.

"Why aren't you talking? Why aren't you accepting treatment?" Reyes pressed the Uru.

"...He can't." Marvin said, reluctantly.

"What do you mean he can't?" Reyes turned around, her visor glaring at the Atani.

"That's exactly what I mean." Marvin folded his arms, lowering his head a bit.

"Why can't he?"

Marvin gazed at Voiceless who gazed back at him through his concealed helmet. Voiceless simply nodded gently, then looked away to the side, to let the Atani explain.

"It was during a botched Operation four years ago. We were in a firefight with a few squads of Legionnaires, and the operation itself was a disaster. We were tasked with reconnaissance of a Coalition supply line, they were in the process of occupying the planet and were setting up hundreds of firebases across the supercontinent. Our teams had split off from each other in order to gradually reduce those number of firebases - we would infiltrate at night, and set up bomb emplacements within them. Then when the right time arose, we were supposed to blow them up as a distraction to allow United Legion reinforcements to march through the region undetected and recover the continent from those bastards' hands. The operation led us to the largest firebase at an excavation site like the one we had to secure back on Zephyr yesterday. We never got to see the artifacts for command as the Coalition found us, and launched battalions of infantry and artillery at us in retaliation. We were driven back into a gas mine, unbeknownst to us at the time. Our platoons had to hold our own for eleven hours, waiting for evac that never arrived. Voiceless had a different Koro then, and it wasn't as advanced as his current one, armor or shields. The bastards killed our spotters, our sniper were also taken out, and the rest of us got trapped under a sulfur gas line. A Red Hand marksman nearly killed him with a round to the neck, and another to the gas line which bursted, exploding over him. He was set ablaze, melting his Koro onto skin… Watching it boil and pop onto him nearly killed me too, I couldn't handle watching my friend suffer so horribly. But it destroyed his respiratory system, as well as his vocal cords. We were left there in the mine for four days before help ever arrived, and by the time we were rescued, it took nine doctors and technicians to remove that Koro from his body to provide better surgical treatment on him… I didn't even get to see him during the procedures which lasted seven hours, and it took months for his recovery. It shouldn't have taken that long at all, I don't know what happened. By the time he was released, he had a new Koro, the one you see now, but he could no longer talk, and I questioned that."

"Couldn't he have gotten treatment to regrow his vocal cords?" Reyes glanced back at the Uru who continued gazing off in the distance.

"Yes. But he didn't."

"Why?"

"Cultural stigma? Tradition? Didn't feel like it? Not enough money? I don't know. He hardly ever talked anyway, when he could, and didn't reveal much about himself or his people. It seems he accepted his fate, but occasionally I urge him to save his extra Credits in order to pay for his throat to be regrown."

"You're one mysterious soldier…" Reyes mumbled towards Voiceless as she finished patching up Radha.

Voiceless Cry cupped his hands on his lap, and didn't look at Dominion, or Ebony Squad. He then struggled up onto his feet, then placed his weapons back into their sheaths. He limped in the direction of where the Exuberance resided, urging the rest of them to follow immediately.

Tuill gazed over at the Uru from his metallic eyes, and lowered his rifle to the side. "That's his way of saying we should get going. Which… I do agree with."

"Danks for lightening dings up." I'oshot-Uu retorted, following the Uru.

"Anytime. When things get too sad, always count on the Eve asshole to brighten the mood." He smirked widely, then followed Voiceless up the ridge.

"Well...alrighty then." Major Carrillo reloaded her rifle, and continued on. Akinyemi, Marvin, and Reyes helped Radha up to her feet, and everyone followed the Uru south, while Wispwaker hovered alongside Red. Carrillo occasionally glances at the Uru in wonder, trotting in the shifting sands alongside Akinyemi. Voiceless was still limping in his Koro, while taking point ahead of the makeshift task force of soldiers on their way to the Exuberance. He pulled out his rifle again, and scanned the skies watching firefights of starfighters and dropships in the distance. He stopped in his tracks, turning around to make sure all the soldiers were still following him, then back around to keep patching forward.

The Legionnaires and Rigs mostly kept their attention at the ground, vaulting over towering boulders, and crashed shuttles that never had the chance to break atmosphere before their debris plummeted back along the coast. The many soldiers were quietly mumbling amongst themselves, following Dominion around their flanks and behind them. Sergeant Hammond and Corporal Reyes were too watching Voiceless as they had never seen a Uru Paraiyar in action before, they had only heard the myths of these enigmatic warriors.

Voiceless stopped in his tracks and knelt down in the sand, scanning it for Coalition it United Legion footprints, while holding up an extended hand for everyone to remain still. He then placed his hand on the ground, detecting the vibrations underneath the ground to determine how far away their targets were.

"What do Uru even look like underneath their Koro?" Major Carrillo leaned her head a fraction to her left, facing Akinyemi.

"No idea. I met a few on Yemoja in Secondary School, and a few at the war college. All of them have their own Koro of levelling degrees. Yet the civilians don't have his weapons capabilities built into them. Each Uru wears their own unique Koro, no two are alike."

"Why are they so rare amongst the empire, didn't they join it back in the 2300s?"

"Yes, but they just usually never leave their homeworld or colonies. Not sure why. It must have to do with their governments being super demanding or controlling of their gene pools, not letting them even interact with other species."

"Do they have augmentational evolutionary genes in their DNA or something?"

"As far as I'm aware of, no. It's just that the social structure is that terrible. Very few records of their species are even allowed on the Imperial RiftNet, their tech priests don't like revealing anything about the species as a whole. No one knows what their homeworld's name is either. Everything is redacted."

"Then why are Paraiyar even allowed to join or fight alongside the United Legion?"

"Maybe as an offering by their homeworld to keep themselves so secretive without intervention. Either that they're just disgraced and were left to die but he probably managed to find his way to Elysium or other HIGHCOM strongholds on his own."

"That's just fucked up. A whole army of Paraiyar could wipe the floor with the Coalition. If the United Legion nationalized their embassy colony's militaries instead of having them just patrol their own borders then maybe we could all turn the tide against the Coalition."

"Probably so they don't fall into the wrong hands? Even then, the Atani, if you don't remember from primary school were our first interspecies allies, helped provide Humanity with a vast reservoir with advanced technology that advanced us by centuries in the span of a few decades after signing the Sol-River Drum Concordat. Most of all our modernized skyscrapers are a mixed incorporation of Human and Atani architectural design. Same with our weapons, Mirages, and some armor designs. They even helped us build even more precise Riftspace drives once our two species acquired and analyzed Composer relics for the first time way back when."

"When were the Uru discovered after the Atani, again?"

"Like, thirty years after. They were the last near-Human species to be documented and incorporated by the Department of Xenobiology. Even then, it was surprising how many we found in the Orion Spur."

"Probably just convergent evolution." Radha pitched in, overhearing the conversation while walking right behind the two of them.

"Then how do you explain the interspecies successful mating and bearing of offspring between the near-Humans?" Carrillo turned to face Radha behind her.

"Very similar genes of convergent evolution? Or did the first expeditionary scientists signing the Concordat find the Atani so beautiful they just spliced genes together to make it work?"

"Well, as we all know, the Atani are the most beautiful species in the galaxy, no contest. They even have the most profound singing voices." One of the Legionnaires behind them remarked. "Second to them are the Sleviish of course, Bladedancer."

"...Thanks…" Radha mumbled, feeling somewhat disrespected.

They eventually all arrived over a canyon cliff side embankment above a firefight in front of the crashed Remembering Exuberance. The Victory-class battlecruiser's bow section was underneath the Rangimarie Ocean, just off the Hook Coast, while the aft was sticking up in the air by a couple miles. Crashed dropships, aerial fighters, and starfighters dotted the coastline, with warped and destroyed metal and hulls. Hundreds of corpses, Coalition, and United Legion alike, were all scattered everywhere halfway buried in the sand in piles. Purple and blue plasma energy fire discharged across the landscape at each other, with the surviving United Legion troops defending the ship from the boards of Coalition storming the beachhead from the city. Above everyone below there, many Ja'ic swarmed in, flailing their tentacles, to build barricades, and fired upon the disheveled troops. Atop their armored chassis were pulse-fusion cannons, instantly vaporizing scores of United Legion infantry in incendiary particle streams.

Obelisks, and Ibises descended down, unleashing more troops onto the battlefield. To the right, in the direction of the outskirts of buildings, and the rest of Aneh'waka, were in the middle of being leveled, and pillaged by the monoliths and megaliths, glassing the city above. This tactic was done to drive back any civilians or military personnel and bottleneck them into several districts to be slaughtered at once while they invaded and pillaged the city of valuable resources and potential Composer relics.

On top of the ridge where Dominion, Ebony Squad, and Carrillo were now standing, Radha knelt down next to Voiceless Cry. Voiceless was kneeling down again, scanning the battlefield, and observing everything taking place. Radha equipped her Shamshir sniper rifle in her hands, and rested the stock onto her left thigh, while the other leg was lying on the side. Imperial scientists had nicknamed the Sleviish crafted rifle that due to its reminisce to the Arabic swords from Earth. They were surprised to find similar cultures amongst the stars compared to Earth ones before any interspecies contact was ever established, especially given some of these worlds being dozens to a few hundred light years apart from each other. The long barrel of her Shamshir hung over the small cliff, and she closed her left eye through her helmet, and peered into the sights with her other.

"What do you see, Radha? Can you see anymore of the fireteams?" Akinyemi kneeled just behind her, with the cerulean light of his visor being reflected off her armor. Her headscarf thrashed gently in the breeze, flapping in front of her horizontal-bar shaped visor, somewhat obstructing her vision.

"I…see… more Legionnaires, more Rigs, plenty of and marines from the Exuberance. There are a few squads of Federation Defense Force and Collective forces that were stationed aboard the battlecruiser like us. They are hiding behind cover, and providing fire support for some more stray legionnaires about twelve yards ahead of them… Ooo an Atlas. Hmmm a few Atlas, and ah! Yes, I see Fireteams Horizon, and Jackhammer. I cannot see Gladiator, they probably didn't make it. But on the other end of the beachhead, we got some snipers and turrets.

"How are the teams holding up?" Akinyemi shifted closer to the Sleviish, resting right next to her.

"Major Dahma, is.. Alright. The Akie siblings are next to him, firing at some oncoming Ibuun, and Grumpkenkraqers. Hard-Glory-Reaps-the-Stronger, or whatever that Redshifter's name is-is ducking under some plasma discharges, and Cuca and Meh'di are...good.

The Ibuun weren't an often occurred species, such as the Grumpkenkraqers, but were the main-line infantry units of the Coalition when the empire bothered to invade Blue Empire colonies on-world. The Ibuun had an average height about the same as Humanity, but wore dark grey geometrically shaped armor, and had tall cylindrical-like helmets, protruding about a foot or two off the top of their head, and linked with the collar section of the top of the chestguard. Along the helmet, there was a long white rectangular visor running along the longitude on the front. The Grumpkenkraqers were shorter in stature than the Ibuun and Red Hand, and were typically the grunts or laborers of the Coalition for their diminutive size, and large population, and were easily exploited constantly for that. They were hunched over, with round heads with tusks, and a frill of feathers on the top of their head, and eyes on the sides of their faces. They too also made up the majority of occupying infantry forces alongside the Ibuun. Akinyemi wasn't sure why they didn't see any during Operation: BOOMERANG, as they were sort of the invading forces during Zephyr's first invasion.

More legionnaires, marines, and Rigs ran up from the lower south end of the beachfront, and stopped next to the fireteams defending the buried warship. Several marines charged out at the Coalition in desperation, but were subsequently gunned down, incinerated into heaping husks of burning flesh and steaming metal. Chatterbox zoomed away from Dahma, with a new luminere shell, colored with a dark golden hue. She rearranged some trashed debris, metal, and struts, from the surrounding area and formed a new wall to stop oncoming energy ballistics fire with a few magnetic containment fields that she hacked into her own shell chassis to accomplish the task. However, a new explosion forced the new wall apart, blasting them backwards onto their armored backs in the sand, and into collapsed walls.

Red was uncomfortable from watching the firefight while they all lingered up on the ridge, and started climbing down the rock faces in order to provide aid.

"What are you doing?" Akinyemi asked, gazing down at the Bir'vo. "I need you up here to pick off the snipers."

Red glanced back up at him while still climbing down, and gave a dry remark through click-chitters, then grunted heavily.

"Fine…" Akinyemi leaped down slowly with his thrust pack softening the landings from the drops. "Radha, stay up here on the ridge and take care of the snipers, I'll lead the rest of Dominion down in order to alleviate the forces from Jackhammer and Horizon."

"Got it, sir." She took cover behind a semi-exposed starfighter next to her on the cliff face, sprawling out her armored gait in order to stabilize her perch. She then rested her Shamshir on her right knee, and awaited the rest of her team along with Ebony squad to make their way down before she fired a shot at the Red Hand and Aggressor snipers occupying an overpass less than a mile away.

Not too long after, they made it at the base of the ridge, near other piers, and a spray of bright sand kicked up after impacting the ground. They returned their weapons into their hands, aiming them ahead of them. Red took point ahead, resting against a half-buried Excalibur. The silvery metal shimmered in the light of Ka'ono'hana. Red then strafed down, and around, bounding more ahead.

"Report, what do you see?" Akinyemi asked through the comms.

"Well...now that you guys are all the way down there, I can begin providing fire support. But to answer your question commander, you got more snipers perched up on your eleven o'clock, and you're one and two. However they don't see you yet as they're eyeing a squad of Legionnaires and Rigs. You gotta small window of time to group up with Jackhammer and figure out what we're going to do. It really feels like you're improvising this new operation." Radha grunted monotonously over the commchannel.

Akinyemi reluctantly hesitated to reply as he took in what the Sleviish reported to him. "I am."

"Not surprised though, just giving ya a hard time. On the boardwalk we have ourselves a field commander, and he might have that death whistle helmet implant so I recommend you stay clear of him."

"What does his armor look like compared to the Qadi?"

"This one is different in regards to most field commanders, he has floating - what appears to be wing-like protrusions hovering away from his shoulder pauldrons and helmet. Must be to show off his egotism. Who knows. All Grish commanders and field marshals are full of themselves anyway, you know this, sir. I'll try to pick him off when the opportune moment arrives, he's surrounded by dozens of other Grish and Aggressors, and I don't want to give away my perching spot."

"Fair enough, just make sure to keep them away from us."

"Alright, just don't die down there." Akinyemi stopped behind a kiosk outlet of destroyed beach gift shop. Scattered around it were Maori and Polynesian cultural paraphernalia, buried in and burned. Akinyemi turned around towards Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, and Voiceless Cry, then said, "Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, follow Red around the bend ahead, and shoot any Coalition bastards that show up. Then clear a way for Voiceless, Tuill, and Carrillo to bank to the left, to start aiding Jackhammer out of their vulnerable position." He then turned towards Sergeant Hammond before continuing, "Hammond, I need you, and the rest of your squad to follow up with me and Wispwaker, here."

Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu left, joining Red who was ahead of them. The Bir'vo crouched behind debris, putting his handgun away, swapping it for his Trident rifle, and continued down with the Atani and Kotaran. Tuill then followed the way to the left, leading Voiceless and Carrillo to aid the other fireteams.

Before Akinyemi, Wispwaker and Ebony squad had a chance to press on however, the beachhead was carpet bombed by artillery emplacements along the overpasses looming above the beachfront and boardwalks. They were just dropped into position by Obelisks that didn't want to stray too close to the battlecruiser in fear that the aft and starboard point-defense cannons would gun them down from the sky. Dominion, Jackhammer, and the beachfront infantry ducked down under the heavy barrages of missiles and particle cannons, protecting their necks and heads from shrapnel. Scores of infantry were blasted into the air and their dismembered limbs flailed and flung passed Akinyemi. Akinyemi grabbed Wispwaker's shell chassis, and dropped down onto the ground alongside Ebony squad.

"Fuck...how are we gonna get passed this now?" A random Legionnaire shouted through the commlinks, unable to scream over the exploding beach.

More stray radio signals and commlinks were briefly heard patching through the beachhead infantry and fireteams.

"They're cornering us in everywhere we turn! And we can't even initiate contact with the rest of the city, it's almost like Zephyr again!"

"I got family in the city sergeant, and we have a megalith glassing and levelling it. Don't you think were all just gonna die here?"

"We thought our demise was on Zephyr, now on 'Kopu-Mere'mere'? I never heard of this colony before."

"Most of us never did, that's why it survived without the Requiem War for so long."

"It's damn too late now."

"I heard they found this place because of that relic we found. A small task force broke from fleet formation from Zephyr to chase us down here. How far does that one Warlord reach?"

"There's at least twelve known Warlords as powerful as Hajj-as'rah. They all serve someone higher up that we don't know about."

"How do you know that then?"

"I pay attention to mission briefs, like we have to with those artillery ahead of us."

"What else do they got then?"

"Uhhh we'll have to successfully hack into their battle net to figure that out. Rarely done, and even more rarely successful. They always purge their data bases as soon as at least one glimpse of an Atlas or Legionnaire appears on any sensor. And they got assassins, spies, and AI's everywhere on those damn warships. They're security is tighter than ours and that is definitely saying something."

Akinyemi then attempted to tune out the chatter over the commlinks to focus as another barrage volleyed and punched through the beach. He released Wispwaker from his grasp and the Luminere floated back up in the air once more. Wispwaker zoomed next to Hammond. "Don't stray too far."

Hammond's metallic head was unable to express the variation of emotions he felt from nearly losing it to a crater just a few feet from their position, yet sand and shrapnel imbedded within the Rig's half exposed head case. "Who are you to tell me what to do? Only the commander can give commands."

"I am a military Fireteam Luminere born for software infiltration, and to decode, translate, and interpret Human and alien technologies, for Fireteam Dominion. I know how to do my job, and I recommend you to know how to do yours." Wispwaker was surprised the Rig lashed out but noticed for the first time the exposed wiring and metallic brain.

Sergeant Hammond took a step back, exacerbated, and began to say while lifting a finger, "Y'know wha-"

"You heard the Luminere, sergeant…" Akinyemi said dryly, trying not to panic from the cannon bombardment.

"Just get those sticks out of your asses, I swear." Tuill mumbled, trying to keep his resolve as well. "Quit bitching, and let us do our jobs."

Akinyemi pressed his finger against his helmet again in order patch directly to Radha. "Is there anyway you can also take out those artillery cannons, and their pilots!"

"Uhhhh...the pilots are protected by energy shielding systems around their control panels. I don't know if I'll have enough ammo cartridges to break through the shields and snipe out all of them, I'll do my best though sir."

"We're cornered here…" Wispwaker quivered his chassis.

"And I'm one sniper perched above everyone else, if I just point and shoot I'll be dead within a minute. I gotta time this perfectly, Luminere. We just met a few hours ago, but please ease up on me."

"She's right." Carrillo remarked over the channel. "We're all improvising our tactics at this point, the war has been going in for decades and we're exhausted. We're doing our best. We should have minds capable to withstand all of this, and seemingly be a good as new every time we wake up, the Atlas, and officers of the United Legion we're conditioned exactly for that...but...we're still organically dealing with trauma and fighting our own battles during this war of delayed extinction. All of us."

Akinyemi sighed for they were right, during the early years of the war, they were more battle ready than ever before mentally as well as physically. The indoctrination and martial training associated with developing the galaxy's most rugged fighting force for defense of the vastly spanning empire was what made them the best of the best. They could relay communications and commands with mere gestures and DNI interfaces. Yet as the war did progress on over the years, their brains and bodies began to deteriorate the outdated cybernetic implants that kept them on top of everything. DII scientists and technicians were surprised of this and it could have to do with the constant exposure to Coalition based weapons and their radiation and their capital ships' energy projectors that constantly bombarded and classed their colonies, causing their minds to dwindle just as much as heir bodies. Coalition bio weapons were fairly common in doing the same thing, which resulted in mass genocide of Imperial colonies, each warlord had their own strategies and tactics for slaughtering such an expansive empire. It was a game of experimental chess to the Coalition in their genocide just as much as it was to just blow up the Blue Empire's worlds. Wispwaker and Akinyemi sulked at each other but darted ahead to aid the other infantry anyway, evading and meandering our of the artillery fire.

Not too long later, Akinyemi arrived to find the others pinned under gunfire and bolts that painted the walls of crumbled boardwalk restaurants with a violent fury. Tuill stood beside the rubble on top of Major Dahma, and the Akie siblings, and he sheathed his weapons, and kneeled down on the ground, attempting to lift the giant metal shard away from them. Hard Glory jogged up to the Eve, and kneeled down as well. Both together lifted with all of their strength, but still struggled to alleviate the stress. Cuca, and Meh'di were next to the Sleviish, Voiceless, and Carrillo. Cuca extended her right arm, after waiting for more bolts to dart past, deflecting off the crashed metal barriers. She then returned fire with her energy pistol, in rapid succession, killing two Ja'ic that were hovering above the battlefield. Not too far away, they could see the rest of Dominion, and Ebony Squad, and twenty meters off to the left, with a few squads of legionnaires and marines was Fireteam Horizon. Wispwaker zoomed towards Chatterbox, and the two Lumineres began formulating a plan of their own.

Akinyemi joined Tuill, and Hard Glory, and bent down, grabbing the underside of the rubble, and the three lifted in unison. They struggled, but after a couple minutes, and the crunching and shifting of the rubble, they were able to lift it aside. Dahma extended his arms outwards to grab their hands, and Akinyemi helped up the distraught Atlas to his feet.

"Thank you, Commander. I feared we wouldn't see each other again. After all, the comms went dead, from that EMP. Fortunately, there is enough radio signals bouncing off the Exuberance for us to communicate now. We've been held up for over an hour before you guys arrived, and it was a bloodbath as soon as we escaped our Mirage. By the looks of it, I'm assuming all the fireteams and platoons are dead that were supposed to storm the dreadnaught."

"It's good to see you too." Akinyemi helped Nhia and Kyra to their feet after another missile struck the ground carving out a ravine of caverns along the beach. "And exactly, everyone perished too soon once we arrived on planet."

"Well, gotta do with what we have at this point, then, right?"

"I'm afraid so."

Kyra had her brother stay put, while she reloaded her Verdant rifle, then she charged out towards the Coalition who were bringing in another Obelisk to target them.

"What are you doing, Atlas?" Hassan Dahma asked over comms, pressing his finger on his helmet.

"Getting shit done, sir." She was concentrating on her mission, and loud sounds of energy fire echoed out over the comms. "I'm going for the commander up on the boardwalk, gonna make it easier for all of you to advance forward."

"Alright, but you shouldn't go over there alone. Take Legionnaires and Rigs with you." Major Dahma's mind was scattered and it his frustration was progressively worsening over managing his new team in the heat of battle. He pointed towards Nhia, trying to gather his attention with a few snaps of his fingers of the howling gunfire. Nhia turned towards him who without a word, and his duel-ocular shaped visor glinted silver back at the major. "Join your sister, we got it covered here."

Nhia simply nodded and sprinted off with a spray of sand blowing behind him. His dark red and black armor pierced against the ground and crashed metal of the surroundings. A new incoming Obelisk stopped above the battle, and sent a concussive blast at the United Legion forces, killing multiple legionnaires with each wave. A limp legionnaire body flew passed Nhia, and impacted the ground, breaking its neck, and blood sprayed everywhere. More bodies crippled apart, with bone and organ fragments scattering everywhere. Blood painted the landscape, drenching anything in the way. By the looks of it, Akinyemi concludes they had implemented a similar device to the death whistle onto their dropship much to his dismay.

Hard Glory and Tuill then stepped out, aiming their Verdant and Trident rifles at the Coalition troops pouring in from Aneh'waka, and fired precision shots, killing waves of Grumpkenkraqers, Ibuun, and Draxii warriors. Hard Glory screamed with excitement, and it turned to gurgled chirps, and squawks. He then ducked, widening his stance, crouching low to the sand, and darted across from cover to cover. He then received energy fire to his arms, and chest, boiling through his armor and flesh after the energy shields depleted. He rested on the ground, and panted heavily to catch his breath and simmer his wounds. His deep blue eyes gazed back at Tuill, and he summoned the Eve towards him with a nod of his head. Tuill sprinted up to the fallen Bir'vo, and kneeled down beside him, and said, "Are you okay?"

Hard Glory shook his head, returning fire with his free hand over a downed Obelisk.

"Then stop getting shot." Tuill made a small laugh, and then raised his rifle, and took out an Aggressor with a head shot.

Hard Glory scowled at the Eve, and sighed before turning back around, and sprayed an Ibuun who angrily charged at the Bir'vo with a plasma shield and lance.

Carrillo and Voiceless ran out to an opening, filled with sand and burned corpses, and took out a Grish officer with the combined fire of themselves, and Red. Red then turned back at them, uncontrollably laughing, as he kept taking them out with headshot after headshot. Marvin threw a grenade at some Aggressors that were charging the line. A large explosion of blue light scattered the aliens out in every direction, collapsing to the ground, and two out of the nine struggled back up onto their feet.

Akinyemi and Hassan dashed out and pulverized several Grish that leaped down from the inside of a collapsed pier, darting towards the two Atlas. Akinyemi received a sniper shot to the chest, and the energy shields absorbed the impact of the sizzling bolt. He tried scanning for the direction of the shot, before receiving another shot to the leg.

"Radha..? There's a sniper that compromised my position. Help a brother out."

"Where..? I'm not seein' her-"

He ducked down below the shrapnel alongside Hassan, scanning the piers and overpasses for the elusive sniper. Before he could reply to the Sleviish, he received another round to the side of his helmet, swiftly launching him onto his back, nearly giving him whiplash. He then quickly rolled over, as his shields were shattered, barely missing another shot that would've surely killed him on impact, and the purple bolt sizzled into the sand, burning it into hot black glass. He continued rolling as the sniper shot Hassan in the head, incapacitating the other Atlas. Hassan collapsed onto the sand, and pretended to be dead. Akinyemi did not know this, and waited for his shields to recharge as he rested against a nearly fully buried Ibis.

Wispwaker and Chatterbox remained behind, tapping into any ships they could to attempt to restart them, to no avail.

"Come. We must try this one, Chatterbox." Wispwaker zoomed ahead, and stopped in front of an overturned Mirage, and both them scanned for any electro-circuitry that they could tap into.

"I-I don't know if this'll work, buddy. Jackhammer and I have been down here for a really long time, and I even already tried this earlier. It's not gonna work. We should better stop. Stop. STOP. It won't work." Chatterbox flew into Wispwaker, butting their shells, so he could stop scanning the ships.

"What the bloody hell are you doing?" He narrowed his protrusions down, symbolizing annoyance, and frustration.

"I. Said. Stop. It won't work, Wispwaker! Look at them! Oh fuck! Major Dahma is dead! No no no no no no no no no-" She zoomed off, leaving Wispwaker to himself.

"Shit…" Wispwaker muttered, as the sky got condensed into heavier shades of grey overcast, casting silhouetted shadows across the landscape, and his luminere shell.

Akinyemi fired back at where he believed the sniper was resting, while his shields fully replenished. He then signaled up at Radha who was over theee hundred yards away, and pointed at his helmet, letting her know that he wanted to speak to her over the commlinks once more

"Carefully, look. I see her, she's on the eighteenth floor balcony of a hotel, overlooking an open garden plaza. It appears she's responsible for most of the sniped infantry. You can see the open window adjacent to a towering arch monument, passed the ferris wheel. Do you see her, Radha?"

"Gotcha, Commander…" She extended the barrel of her Shamshir even further with the click of a holographic button, after taking out the field commander. Upon doing so, she tried firing again but forgot she needed to reload. She leaped down from her perch onto the sandbanks, and found a new spot to roost in. She held herself up in one of the boardwalk plazas, in what she presumed was a piña colada tequila shack. A highly energized, bright violet streak discharged across the battle, severing the head of a Rig captain, and followed the bolts trajectory up into the hotel complexes deeper in the city. and she noticed this. She then readjusted herself on the shack's bar counter, displaying bottles of liquor and glasses much to her chagrin, and rested the Shamshir on the synthetic darkwood. "I see 'em, sir."

"Good, take it out."

A Grish Qadi-tah, a higher ranking warrior than Qadis, charged at the Atlas, pummeling him in the front of the helmet. He then kicked the alien in the chest, staggering it, and the Qadi-tah staggered back surprised. The Grish bashed Akinyemi in the face with the butt of its longrifle, knocking the Atlas back onto the ground, nearly giving him heavy whiplash once more. Akinyemi kicked out its feet, causing the Grish to collapse to the ground, to the right and on its side. Akinyemi then equipped his Verdant rifle, that he had on his back, and unloaded his ammunition onto the alien's chest, disintegrating the energy shields, and fired through the helmet, killing it. As he climbed down, Radha pressed another button on her Shamshir, emanating a blinding light from her rifle to prevent the Coalition snipers from spotting anyone else on the beachhead. She then eased her breathing and gently pulled the trigger, and discharged a red-gold bolt into the hotel window. The sniper fell out of the window and plummeted from her perching spot, collapsing into the plaza below. Upon impact, her camouflage deactivated, revealing a Red Hand scout.

The Coalition monolith floating above the city, the Blade of Sanctity, charged up its bombardment cannon, with an immense orb of purple energy growing out of it. Against the dark sky, the ship released a massive blast of plasma energy, emanating like a bright pillar, and it disintegrated many buildings underneath it. A shockwave kicking up dust, debris, holo-files, and many corpses burst out in a large radius, and flew over fireteams Dominion, Jackhammer, and Horizon, along the Hook Coast. The ground shuddered heavily, staggering everybody around, including the Coalition troops. The two megaliths looming next to the Blade of Sanctity, the Everlasting Honor and Restless Servitude activated their pulverizing beams, destroying more districts, and many anti-air cannons.

The Planetary Governor patched through to Akinyemi, hoping for rescue, and sounded very distressed, "Anyone out there? Anybody? We need he-" The building she was in collapsed under the devastation, and was turned to irradiated black glass.

"It looks like we won't be getting help from the national guard or Legionnaire reserves." More chatter was picked up on Akinyemi's commlink.

"They all left with the refugees when we were still in orbit. They all had hoped to flee. But why was the Governor still on-world?"

"Isn't it some unspoken protocol for the Planetary Governor to die with the planet incase it's compromised?"

"What kind of horrible and barbaric protocol is that? We're nearly reaching the year three thousand and that's still a thing…?"

"What Planetary Governors follow that? None have since the war started except a handful due to their honor bound duty and love for their planets. But it's never been an Imperial-wide mandate."

"I could name a few, Governor Ducati of Hemmingfast; Terence of Lakvois, the ones of Terracota, Pujanti, Jocasta, Kerish, and Madonna."

"Well, those governors are fucking idiots. As a captain if a ship you're supposed to be the last one to leave, but a planet? That's a load of bull-"

Atlas Ngata darted up from where Horizon was, and her body read that of a panic-stricken child. She darted towards Hassan, and placed her arms on him, as he stood back up from the shockwave. "We have to fucking kill those ships! My family was in that city!" She tried running towards Aneh'waka, but Hassan grabbed her from around the waist and arms, holding her back. She squirmed and flailed in a panic, and shoved off of him, and collapsed onto the ground. She then reloaded her shotgun, and energy pistol, while the rest of Dominion and Jackhammer defended them. After she finished, she charged at the Coalition troops, and leaped up into the air, using her thruster pack to gain elevation, and pummeled out a Ja'ic. Still in midair, she leapt down and shotgunned a few Aggressors and Grish, blowing their heads apart with broken malice.

"We have to get her," Hassan sighed, turning towards Akinyemi as more energy discharges zipped passed the Atlas.

"Wait…" Akinyemi then ordered the rest of Dominion and Jackhammer to get closer, and concentrate fire on the Coalition troops that poured in from the city. "She lost her family, let her do her thing first."

The rest of Fireteam Horizon arrived, which resulted in only five Atlas remaining. Two of their armors were cobalt and grey in color, while the third had dark gold and brown. The last two were rust orange and black, while the other was black and green. The Atlas with rust orange and black stepped forward, and said to Akinyemi, "We're ready Commander Asari-Dokubo." She stepped back as a burning body flew by, and collapsed next to the others.

Akinyemi turned towards her, and said, "Major Green, I need you to close up on the outskirts ahead, while I send Jackhammer behind you. We need to get up to that monolith right there." He pointed at the colossal ship above the skyline.

Major Green saluted him, and said, "Horizon! You heard the commander, let's move!"

Fireteam Horizon charged through the haze of smoke, and dusted ash kicking out of the outskirts and seared bodies. They unloaded their Verdants at the waves of Coalition that kept pouring out of backstreets and abbeys. However, even though the fireteams and soldiers felt that they had a slight chance of success, a plethora of explosions boomed around the battlefield once more, blasting back everyone that wasn't the Coalition. Fireteam Horizon received the full brunt of the blast, scattering everywhere, limbs flying off their mangled torsos and their warped armors crashed with loud thuds.

Fireteams Dominion and Jackhammer flew backwards, into the sand or half-buried Excaliburs. Meh'di broke his neck, and lay twisted on the sand, and the Yedhe corpse was eternally limp. Cuca, Ewalani, Kyra, and Nhia ragdolled through the air, helpless, and spiraling on themselves. The explosions were result of them gunning down most of the field commander's soldiers on the boardwalk. Their bodies crashed nearby each other, as Hard Glory staggered into Hassan, and they both collapsed. Red, Tuill, Voiceless, Carrillo, and I'oshot-Uu suffered the same as the others, flying into warped metal, or impacting the hard beachfront. Akinyemi collapsed onto his chest, with his limbs outstretched, as sand blasted everywhere, and Wispwaker, and Chatterbox spun out of sight.

"...Com… commander… Th.. this... Colon... inger." Akinyemi's commlinks crackled inside his helmet, as he tried crawling away from the sources of the explosions. He continued reaching ahead of himself, extending his right arm to attempt to grab his Trident rifle. Looming behind him as a Grish officer, that survived the Atlas retaliation, and he strode out of the smoke, wielding an energy glaive in his hands. The officer slowly turned its head to the right, and fired a single shot from his railgun, that he held in his lower arms. The concussive particle beam punched off the head of Major Green who was still alive, and the Atlas corpse collapsed to the ground. Above the battlefield was a dogfight between surviving Mirages and Obelisks, and Excaliburs, and Ibises. The ships darted around each other, discharging piercing bolts of blue and purple energy at each other. More explosions rang out from separate sections of the Hook Coast, shredding the piers apart with immense lethal force.

The officer approached Akinyemi, aiming his menacing railgun at the grounded Atlas, "Ku'naat 'aeta qidee yan kanat ladayh yau' hit?" The officer leaned in closer, and extended his upper right arm, and grabbed the Atlas by the neck, raising him in the air in front of him. Akinyemi couldn't move since the explosions had incapacitated to the point he couldn't feel his own limbs. With a long finger, then Grish reached to the back of the Atlas' helmet, and dematerialized it, revealing an exhausted Akinyemi. The Grish then spoke with a harsh voice, growling, "Ahhh, ku'naat hii viiqat, lisan Eiffa'la - You are only a weak Human. Look around you.. Your species' selfish arrogance to withhold the Beyonder relics, will be your downfall." The Grish officer snarled, and began squeezing the Atlas' head. Akinyemi wrapped his hands around the Grish's hand, trying to pry the fingers open.

Akinyemi screamed under the immense crushing pain, and squirmed.

"Your pain is my salvation, Eiffa'la," The Grish growled, continuing. There was a small but loud cracking sound that emanated out of the Atlas' skull, and a downed Red grew desperate. He threw an energy grenade at the officer's back, and the blue orb fizzled and popped, while latching itself onto the armor. The officer threw Akinyemi to the side, impacting a crashed Excalibur, and collapsed to the ground. The grenade exploded, ripping the Grish apart, limbs, organs, and charred armor scattered in all directions in a fillet heap of steaming flesh.

Red, Hard Glory, and Tuill charged at some approaching Draxii, Grish, and Aggressor soldiers, tackling them down. Hassan picked himself up, stumbling, and regained his balance. He struggled to regain full consciousness until he managed to shake off the disorientation. Nhia, Kyra, and Ewalani aided the Bir'vo and the Eve, as they gunned down the aliens closing ranks around the surviving soldiers. Voiceless Cry, I'oshot-Uu, and Marvin, with the help of Cuca, evaded back down to the left bank, and aided the others as Hassan darted towards Akinyemi.

Hassan knelt down beside the downed Atlas, grabbed his right hand in his, and helped him sit up. Akinyemi's dark face was covered in oozing blood, dripping out of the skull fractures along the back of his head, and the right side that impacted the starfighter. Akinyemi was left in a dissociative daze from the impact trauma, and had flashes of another Human male from his past. In the vision, the man had dark brown skin like Akinyemi, a wider nose, amber eyes, and a shaved head. The man appeared to be in his twenties, and had a beige and orange Yemojan dashiki, with brown beads clinging around his neck. A more traditional wear than most modern civilians of the planet. Akinyemi was sitting next to the man, and they were laughing excitedly after an adventure through the grasslands outside of New Nairobi. They were sitting atop a pier, similar to those around him on the Hook Coast. They were watching great nautical yachts and fisherman sailing around the vermillion sunrise of Epsilon Eridani, reflected off the calm waters. Akinyemi and this other young man were eating chipsi mayai, with kachumbari, covered in tomato sauce, while sitting on the docks, legs dangling over the waves. It was one of his finer memories, yet it was lodged deep within his mind before it expressed now, he felt somewhat at peace revisiting even though he was absorbed by the plasma bombardment around him.

Hassan waved his hands in front of Akinyemi, returning him to the present, while more missiles and flares launched overhead them. Hassan reached around the back of his head, cupping in gentle protection. He darted his head around them, and tried to drag his commander out of the gunfire. "Are you okay? Can you still fight?"

Akinyemi hesitated, stored the memory to the back of his mind once more stop somewhat in a daze. He limply elevates his eyes up at Hassan's pale yellow visor, and noticed the battle continuing ahead of them. "...How long have I been out…?"

"Five minutes, it's hell here, sir. Just as much as it has always been since Sang'Cael Luu. But please regain your consciousness, and get up."

"I'm unable to move. What happened?"

"For fucks sake...you almost got your skull crushed into jelly. That Bir'vo 'Red' saved your ass so thank him late when you get the chance."

Akinyemi staggered onto his feet once again with the help of Hassan, wrapping their arms around each other's shoulders monetarily until the Major returned his commander's rifles in his hand. Hassan materialized a small golden point defense shield from his forearm gauntlet as more heavy bombardment pulverized the landscape around them.

"Alright, sadiq. You ready?"

"Yes."

"Great, now let's go, and kill us some more Coalition, yeah?."

Akinyemi rematerialized his helmet around his head, and it was more damaged than before, with a semi shattered visor and crushed integrity.

Tuill turned around from the fighting, and called out at the two Atlas, and said, shouting, "Are you two going to make out already? Or are you gonna come help us?"

Akinyemi, and Hassan turned toward the direction of the Eve, and and tailed along towards him. The Atlas sprinted up to aid their fellow soldiers, and stepped up onto the ridge alongside them, spraying the Coalition forces with blue plasma energy. Akinyemi placed his right index finger against his Artemis that was built into the left forearm of his armor, and a ping ringed out as purple energy discharged passed the soldiers. Within a few seconds, Wispwaker translocated himself next to the Atlas in a small flash of light. The Luminere hovered by Akinyemi's head, and called out through the barrage of energy fire, "I came immediately, sir."

"I noticed that," Akinyemi replied, shouting, "I need you to scan out into East Aneh'waka. We need to drive back the Coalition, and ease away the bottleneck. Then we need to find any of the surviving ships of the new United Legion fleet, contact them, and retake the city. You got that, Dominion? Jackhammer? Ebony?"

Carrillo was the first to respond, and swung her body around, firing straight into the face of an incoming Ibuun warrior which collapsed against an old car along the edge of Aneh'waka Boardwalk. And took a moment to rest and recuperate while their adversary was in the middle of supplying reinforcements towards the battlecruiser.

Radha bounded away from the tequila shack, and soon joined the rest of her fireteam. She jogged up to them with her Shamshir rifle facing the ground and her headscarf bouncing in the howling winds. "Fortunately more reinforcements have found their way out of the Exuberance, and are securing the remains of the boardwalk."

"That's good news, now we gotta press on or we won't be able to drive them back." Alinyemi nudgednwith his head towards the warships above the skyline.

Fireteams Dominion, Jackhammer, Ebony, and any other brigades of marines, legionnaires, or other Hunters stormed through into the city outskirts. The dogfights above them was transitioned back towards the Aneh'waka skyline as the Coalition Obelisks and Ibises gave up their attempted invasion into the Remembering Exuberance, which still remained idly off the Hook Coast.

Wispwaker zipped ahead, and above the fireteams and Chatterbox tagged alongside him, zooming between towering skyscrapers, of the Coast District. The streets were littered with Human, and alien corpses, piled everywhere, on top of overturned cars, underneath collapsed buildings, and other debris blew along in the heavy breeze. Light fixtures, and street lights flickered constantly, creating an eerie atmosphere under the watchful eyes of the Coalition ships a few kilometers away.

The Coalition monolith was about three miles long, and half a mile high, but wasn't the same scalene pyramid-like shape as the megaliths. It was flatter in design, more towards the middle sections of the outer hulls, but widening into triangular points on both ends. The only real difference between both ends was the massive engines on the aft end facing away from the soldiers as they trudged through the streets a few miles below. The two megaliths rotated near the monolith, fanning out as they released more Obelisks, and Ibises throughout the city. They continued to be bathed in the blue light of Ka'ono'hana as the star began its descent towards the eastern horizon. Dominion, Jackhammer, and Ebony Squad quickly darted along the condensed inner streets, aiming their rifles in panning scans, all, scouting for any Coalition soldiers in between buildings, alleys, on top of fire escapes, or behind rusted and charred vehicles.

Tuill darted in front of the others, and peeked through the window of a car that rested on top of a sidewalk. The left rear-view mirror was smashed in, and it only hung by the wires that connected to the car. It didn't even sway until the Eve bumped up against the metallic shell of the car. The paint was too faded, only barely revealing that it used to be a decadent red Mindavee - a very popular car brand for the last twenty years or so throughout the Blue Empire. It was sleek in design, arching down in the front similar to a Lamborghini from centuries before, meshed with an organically curved Atani design. However, it still had sphere-shaped wheels, made from titanium nanocomposites that were very durable, yet flexible. This was the same material developed for assembling the combat skins for the IAPETUS power armors, used by the Atlas branch of the United Legion.

Tuill aimed his Trident rifle ahead of him as he approached the front door, and gazed into the front passenger's side. He then touched the left mirror, and it collapsed to the ground, shattering glass everywhere. He leaned against the door to find an emaciated corpse in the driver's side across from him. The skin barely clinged to the flesh, and whatever clothing remained on the corpse was burned into the body. He turned around, and said, "I found another body. This one has been burned into the seat. And due to the position of which it's sitting, they were in a hurry to leave... If only we got here sooner..."

"Stand away from that," piped Sergeant Hammond cautiously.

"...What's it gonna do, stab me?" Tuill sneered. He lowered his rifle, and straightened back up, fully facing everyone else.

"Actually yes, if we're unlucky enough," joked Hassan. He stood ahead of his fireteam who trailed cautiously behind him. Uarcay, the Akie's, Ngata, and Hard Glory said nothing and only continued to scan the perimeters around them.

Akinyemi, who was next to Hassan, said, "Major, I need you and the rest of Jackhammer to scout ahead, and take point through the Coast District. Due to the readings Wispwaker and Chatterbox are collecting, we are approaching a major intersection, leading left of here to the Southern Sink, as well as the Botanical Gardens - about a kilometer ahead of us, deeper into the city. When we approach the intersection, I need your fireteam to head into the Southern Sink and look for any survivors of the initial invasion."

"Alright, Commander. Is that all?"

"Actually no. The Legionnaires and Rigs here will join you, but Fireteam Dominion, and I are going to make our way into the Botanical Gardens, and recover a crashed frigate there. If the captain is still alive, we're going to convince them to procure their riftspace drive into a makeshift bomb."

"Wait, for the ships up there?" Hassan questioned as he pointed up, in astonishment, ahead of them towards the Coalition ships above the skyline.

"Exactly." Akinyemi nodded slightly. "However, the only problem is, I still cannot get ahold of anyone through long-range commlinks, so that's what I need your squad and you to do, Sergeant Hammond. Disable or destroy any Coalition jammers that are around these parts of the city. Now, we officially begin Operation: PEPPERCORN. Any last questions? As we may not be able to get ahold of each other soon."

"What would you like Jackhammer to do, by the time we finish our current objective, Commander?" Hassan widened his stance a bit, slouching.

"Provide aid for Ebony, and take out any hostiles that will surely be in their way. If you can, after that, head back to the Exuberance and secure the perimeter if it remains unguarded. We can't have the Coalition swoop under our noses when we scatter."

"Yessir."

"Good luck, my friend. Let's go Dominion."

Red, I'oshot-Uu, Voiceless, Marvin, Carrillo, and Radha continued to stand there, in the middle of the street with Akinyemi as Fireteam Jackhammer, and Ebony Squad, moved ahead of them, slouching with their guns extended in front. Akinyemi waved for Tuill to join back with Dominion Proper, and the eight of them tailed behind the other soldiers.

"I really hope dis works, sir." I'oshot-Uu said, flexing his arms as they made their way to their destination.

"It will if we keep our heads on straight, and stay focused." Akinyemi jogged ahead.

"Peppercorn?" Carrillo remarked in a somewhat cringing tone. "You can come up with better ops names than that."

"As we agreed, improvising."

Carrillo, Marvin and Radha flanked to the left while Tuill, I'oshot-Uu, Red, and Voiceless filled out their four and five o'clock. Smoke billowed out above them, and the deep blue-white sun sank a lower over the horizon than before, casting trailing shadows across the buildings, and the soldiers. They meandered through more cars that piled up the streets, making quick work, for they still had a long ways ahead of them.

Carrillo turned towards Radha, running alongside her, and scanning her armor up and down. "I know this is out of the blue but if we're gonna get along, I might as well start by asking; Why did you decide to join the United Legion?"

"You're right, that's peculiar but I guess I'll roll with it. Uhhh I joined, because there was a coup against the Red Matriarch of House Antar'Issa, her Bladedancers, and Shroud Guard. As well as anyone else loyal to the House. Everyone was all slaughtered, and I took the nearest escape pod in the Houseship. I fled to the Blue Empire colony of Far Harbour, and enlisted as a Freelancer - mercenary for hire, because war is all I know how to do. The United Legion started off by assigning to fire support roles, and they didn't limit me due to my skills as a once esteemed Bladedancer." Her headscarf kicked up in the wind, blowing towards Carrillo's direction. Radha then gazed back at the Atlas through her helmet with her lavender eyes, and asked, "What about you, Atlas?"

"I joined after my birthworld, New Georgia, was glassed by several Coalition dreadnaughts. I enlisted too late to join the fight to try to retake the planet, but I signed onto become an elite shock troop in the Legionnaires. Worked my way up for a few years, and my skills allowed me to acquire a skip-promotion to Major after only ten more years, and I put in my request to become an Atlas. Not much else happened, besides leading Windsong, until where I am now. What about you?" Carrillo turned back towards Marvin.

Marvin hesitated to divulge more of his past with a brief pause, but gave in anyways. "Heh, might as well. After working as a mercenary for the Sleviish House Nejem'Kasim for a few years, they eventually realized they didn't need my services any longer. I had to find work elsewhere, so I took a Sleviish Longblade to any Imperial colonies the flotilla happened to trade with at the time. I docked into one of its orbital stations, when a United Legion recruiter found me. Rest is history."

"I'm surprised you and Radha here haven't met before."

"We might have crossed paths, I believe the fleet of Nejem'Kasim was near Far Harbour at the time. What's surprising is how different our stories were so close in proximity. After Sang'Cael Luu, the House fleets rarely interact with each other."

Radha nodded in affirmation, dissatisfied in how political scheming and upheaval has ruined her once great people's culture and civilization.

"What's your story, Sohai?" Carrillo asked, turning her attention to I'oshot-Uu.

"What?" I'oshot-Uu asked, now facing her. "Dank you. Uhh well, Marvin, and Voiceless know about dis; but when I was a child, before my joining the Sohai Order, I grew up in the Jadisho Province, on the continent of Hon Jentu on Kotar. I lived with my parents, who were esteemed Elders dat served under de great Arbiters of Kotar. I spent most of my time fishing with my siblings in maroon longboats along calm, winding rivers around our domicile. My favorite part was to catch de long, and slippery okuta fish, study dem, and place dem gently back into de water."

"Have you ever spoken to your family again, after becoming Sohai?" Carrillo stopped along the road, making sure not to step on any corpses that littered the roadway.

"No. Once one becomes Sohai, dey abandon everyding of deir past, so de past can't be used as to distract de Sohai from meditation and study of de Living Hum."

"That must be very sad…" Radha muttered, watching Carrillo meander around the corpses.

"No, not really. I don't mind. I chose de order, to serve a higher purpose. I do not regret it. But I don't know what became of my family, if you're about to ask." I'oshot-Uu's voice indicated that he was growing weary of the subject, and wanted to change it.

Tuill sensed this, and decided to divulge towards Carrillo. "Since almost everybody's talking about themselves, Imma slide right in too. When I served as a Guerrier for my people, predetermined before I was brought into the universe, I led my own équipe for sometime. Was pretty goddamn good at it too. Eventually at some point before I was outcasted, my unit was tasked by our Maréchal to eradicate dissident Eve factions from separating from the main Eve Collective. At first I thought the idea was all swell and dandy, saying shit like, 'Affirmative, wise Maréchal, you shall consider the mission concluded'. Or, 'Those Defectors shall feel the wrath of the Collective!' Turns out that the main Collective had been steering away from what made our species great: Working together, putting others before ourselves, and prospering as a noble people like the Praetorian Eve of old, when they first founded the world-city. But nah, the 'Collective' was too corrupt, and we were slaughtering those trying to amend the issues. It also turned out, other castes such as the Justiciars, Artisans, Nobles, Orateurs, etc., were using us Guerriers to purge any and all 'undesirables'. Like, what the fuck? I don't know if the Collective ever established a renaissance to amend the corruption, but I sure hope so. But yeah, so I'm glad that I was mostly exiled under the pretense of 'having a mind of my own', like I told the Commander."

"Woah woah woah, what the fuck?" Marvin turned towards his right, horrified.

"It sure looks like they don't miss you," Radha tried forcing a laugh to alleviate the heavy mood.

"That's why I mentioned the civil wars and being experienced in them. But they disgust me every time my mind goes back to it." Tuill shouldered his rifle, not returning his gaze as they continued ahead.

This was too much for Akinyemi to take in at once, however, before he could get a word in, they could hear loud whirring screams booming and echoing around the nearby districts, as well as the rapid pulse of plasma fire. Dominion quickly knelt behind any available overturned cars as several Ibises zoomed overhead, tailing a Mirage.

Marvin covered Radha up with his right arm, and knelt with them. "How many was that Commander?" He turned his head to his right, and gazed at the rest of Dominion.

"Nine. We must be careful, Dominion. How are you holding up, up there?"

"We're alright, sir." Hammond and Hassan said, simultaneously. Both Ebony and Jackhammer already made it towards the intersection of Tuvalu Street, and Bora Bora Avenue, then turned left, heading in the direction of the Southern Sink. "This is where we say goodbye, for now Dominion. May we see you on the other side." Hassan's signal through Dominion's comms went dead with static.

Distant echoes of battle rang throughout Aneh'waka, and the Coalition continued to pour out of the ships from above. Anti-air defense turrets shot up low-grade MER rounds at the oncoming ships and aerial fighters, streaking bright white pulses into the darkening sky. From where Dominion stood, they could still see enough sky through the skyscrapers that allowed them to witness the explosions of many dropships and fighters. The sky was painted with many orbs of flame: coloring orange, white, purple, and blue.

They vaulted over some more cars, when the ground began to rumble violently. They stopped, and widened their stances, using their free hands to brace onto the cars next to or in front of them. The light of Ka'ono'hana had sunken even lower now at this point, and the city was shrouded in an envelope of darkness, save for the few streaks that poked through the buildings. The lights of Dominion's armors emanated off of them, and danced on the grounded vehicles around them. The rumbling progressed more intensely, and Akinyemi placed his right index finger on the Artemis on his left gauntlet. A small blip glew from the Artemis, and Wispwaker translocated back to him in a small flash.

"Oh, hello, sir. What is it?" Wispwaker zoomed around the Atlas.

"What have you been seeing? What is this.. Rumbling?"

"Oh no...you won't like this..."

"We're not liking it now, just say it." Akinyemi was not having it. The others all just stood around them, and didn't say anything.

"Well, the Coalition have more ships over the city now, as we speak. They brought in two more megaliths, and a Warbringer. The rest of that rumbling, are troops being brought groundside with Shotels, and Cokimesh." The luminere shell descended a few inches after he said this.

"Well, Dominion. It looks like we got more company on our hands." Akinyemi straightened up, and pressed on anyways.

The Coalition Shotels were hovering transport vehicles, that extended about thirty feet long, and had jagged edges into the design. Along the sides were energy turrets for cutting down any infantry, and the vehicles themselves reached incredible speeds, up to four hundred miles per hour on a good day. The Cokimesh were heavy, hovering tanks that took on the same scalene pyramid-like shape of the dropships and warships, and the vehicles reached a length of about ninety feet, and towered about thirty high. Along the lower edges of the hull were many small energy particle cannons, and along the dorsal edges would open up a massive railgun that volleyed a condensed beam of the same weapon that the Obelisks used to disintegrate matter and personnel instantly.

"Let's move, now!" Akinyemi shouted, as he began darting over the vehicles towards the Gardens. Everyone else followed suit, and they all eventually arrived at the intersection themselves.

The intersection itself opened up in an x-shaped fashion, giving enough room for four lanes, due to the massive population that the city used to contain. The nearby buildings weren't so condensed as the Coast District, and it opened up more to more of the city, heading west. More west of them, had a giant river running through the city, known as the Rere te Awa, or the Flow River. It ran along, to the north and south, separating the Eastern Third of Aneh'waka, from the rest of the city for more than twenty miles in both directions.

Along the Flow River was a giant canal composed of bridge networks and tunnels, underneath which house the city's tramway network, which connected all districts together through miles of hyperloops. Atop the central station of was the two hundred feet tall marble statue of Rameka-Waapu, dressed a United Legion Officer's regalia, hat in hand, and holding out his other in a peace offering of welcomeness. Engraved in the face of the statue represented the Kirituhi tattoos that had sported all over his face and arms.

Just northwest of the towering statue, was also the massive Botanical Gardens, stretching four square miles of exotic flora native to Kopu-Mere'mere. The Gardens were housed within a giant greenhouse, encompassing the vast Gardens. There was a giant glass ceiling that stretched across the perimeter of the metallic-walled greenhouse. However, there no longer remained a front entrance from the heavy frigate that had crashed through, into the inside. But from what could be seen of the front entrance was that it had only a few intact holo-panels that projected words in both English and Maori.

"That is one fucking massive greenhouse," Tuill analyzes, gazing up from a distance of less than a kilometer away. "Honestly, I got to give it to your species, Commander. There is nothing like this back on Xerro."

"No?" Akinyemi turned to his right, facing the Eve.

"Nah, we just got a shitload of metal spires and buildings that cover the sky, more metal pyramid things, metal alleys, metal ground, metal skylines, metal whatever. No plants, or organic shit. Just more metal, metal, and more metal, as far as the eye can see." He waved his free hand in front of himself, panning it across the air, trying to show the broad scope of what he's describing. "There's like no plant life remaining on the surface, maybe only in deep caverns that Praetorian Eve never found. I don't know man. All I know is that all of this is pretty beautiful."

Red squacked, and gurgle-chirped. He then reloaded his Verdant rifle, gazing down at the weapon, then back up at Akinyemi.

"Tell him yourself, Red. It'll be more fun." Akinyemi forced a small laugh.

Red snarled at the commander, and kept walking ahead.

Akinyemi smiled inside his helmet, but stayed put to take a small rest.

More ships darted overhead, but fortunately a high enough altitude that they didn't see the soldiers along the streets below. The skyline was now filled with more Coalition ships, and one of the megaliths in the way distance, towards the western edge of the vast city, began glassing multiple districts. They heard a few explosions coming from the Southern Sink, about two miles away, echoing in their direction.

Marvin gazed to his left, and then turned back towards Dominion, and said, "Looks like our friends are succeeding so far."

"Dank goodness… Dat's some good news." I'oshot-Uu replied, relieved.

Fireteam Dominion slowly made their way up the paved steps leading into the Gardens. Above them was the destroyed doors, leaving a gaping maw of an opening into the green flora ahead of them. They stepped up great stone and instacrete steps, which were surrounded by Greco-Roman inspired pillars and archway.

Chapter 7

Dominion trudged their way into the dimly lit Gardens, appearing miniscule compared to their surroundings. Around them were massive palm trees with leaves that reached into the darkness above. Smaller bushes and ferns darted the landscape around them, giving off an atmosphere that was once silent and still, now into a whispered frenzy. Heavy wind poured from the front entrance into what used to be the welcome center of the Gardens. Old ticket booths lay empty and quiet, with holo-files, and debris scattered all over the tiled flooring. Husks of former civilian bodies remain forever in a terrified huddle on the ground. If only their safety and freedom were on par with the hope they had barely clung onto in their last hours. Great holographic banners flickered, their images of rare plant and tree species distorted and warped in their own luminescence.

Akinyemi took point ahead this time with his Trident rifle raised ahead of him, panning around in search of potential hostiles. However, the silence wasn't a facade. He slouched slightly while still keeping up pace, making his way deeper into the Gardens. He was followed by Wispwaker, Tuill, Radha, Marvin, Carrillo, Voiceless, Red, and I'oshot-Uu in that order. They made their way in a linear formation, panning their weapons all around the humid environment, the lights of their weapons and armor dancing off the lurking shadows.

They could hear the battle from outside through the walls, faint bursts of angry energy, and tremors of collapsing buildings. There were occasional chirping and fluttering of jungle finches native to Kopu'Mere-mere, in the dark. One darted in front of Akinyemi's floodlights with a green flash. From what he could make out, it had a tiny black beak and a shimmery red throat. Some dragonflies buzzed around his helmet, and a few moths were attracted to the light emanating from them.

"Where is this frigate, Commander?" Carrillo asked quietly through her commlinks.

"Just keep following the shredded trees and ground up floor. We'll get there really soon." Akinyemi remarked while stopping quickly for a breath. He turned his head toward Wispwaker, and nodded at him. "Go scout ahead, be our flashlight, and scan anything useful."

"Right away sir." He zoomed ahead, taking his cerulean light with him into the dark.

"It's surprisingly quiet and kind of peaceful in here, actually," Radha analyzed while catching up to the commander in front.

"It would be peaceful if those invaders would get their asses out of here, and shove their thumbs up into their own abysses." Tuill said dryly.

"Thanks tin-can."

"No problem bellydancer."

Marvin released a small laugh while they made their way along, and readjusted his sleek, black helmet. He then asked, "How long has all of this been here?"

"Probably before we were all born…" I'oshot-Uu added.

"Damn, it just gets to me as of late, the Warlord just keeps destroying so many worlds with such history to them. Each time we go on a new mission, there's almost always a new world to coincide with each one. Yet, it's just the ever more heartbreaking. We probably won't ever see this place again and its uniqueness amongst the stars." Carrillo dropped her shoulders in solemnity, continuing to pan her rifle across the Gardens.

"This is the stuff we fight to protect, which makes it the more necessary we survive long enough to see that it doesn't be glassed away and erased from the cosmos. The very fact we have so many unique worlds it's what makes this great empire so beautiful." Radha replied

A fresh ping appeared on Akinyemi's Artemis, and he looked down towards it. "Found something?"

"Yup. I found the frigate we were looking for. Just a good thirty or so meters from your current position Commander. It's called the Brandished Flatterer." Wispwaker replied quickly.

"Iconic." Tuill mumbled with cynicism.

"That's our sign, Dominion. Let's get a move on. The sooner we can pull this off, we'll be able to relieve this world from their talons." Akinyemi picked up his pace, and ran into the dark ahead of him, followed by the rest of his fireteam.

They arrived within a minute or two on the port side of the Flatterer, with several crashed Mirages and dead soldiers scattered across the ground. They respectfully stepped over them as they discovered one of the hangar bays open. The one exposed hangar was in a large rectangular design, stretching across for about one hundred meters, and up for about fifty. The atmosphere condensed slightly within the hangar, and it swirled in front of them. Many unused Mirages, Excaliburs, Interceptors, and Brigand tanks lay dormant all over the place. Dominion seemed more encapsulated the deeper they went into the frigate. They eventually reached the back where a small red light slowly pulsed above a terminal. Wispwaker zoomed towards it, and next to Akinyemi. Akinyemi tried activating the terminal, but it remained idle.

"Let me try, sir." Wispwaker urged, swaying his chassis like a row boat.

"Go ahead."

As Wispwaker began scanning the terminal, the rest of Dominion closed around, and kept watch. The Luminere tapped into the electro-circutry, and bypassed a few firewalls with hshell's iris darting around, searching for the right shortcuts. After a couple of minutes the red light clicked into a green one, and a ding rung just nearby.

"I just started the central elevator, sir. Hopefully there will be survivors up top." Wispwaker said, shyly.

"Great work."

After what seemed like ten minutes, the elevator doors struggled to pull themselves open with heavy grinding. The eight of them packed themselves into the elevator, remaining silent in the uncertainty. Red clicked on the inner terminal, and had it take them to the command bridge.

"Is that your gun, or are you happy to see me?" Tuill winked at Carrillo, who was forcibly squished against him.

"Shut up, dumbass." She retorted, laughing.

"I'm..just trying to lighten the mood."

"Has he always been this...prissy?" Carrillo turned towards Akinyemi.

"No. Either that he just hadn't opened up his personality index upon meeting us for the first time."

The elevator continued to slowly climb up the frigate, with occasional shuddering, and grinding stops. After another few minutes, it finally reached its destination with a low screeching and churning halt. The doors were moaning from their damaged state, but finally dragged open. However, Dominion would just notice that they were greeted with several soldiers pointing rifles at their faces.

"Who are you? Have you come to kill us?" Demanded what seemed to be a disembodied female voice in the dark.

"No, we have come to rescue you, and give news." Akinyemi replied, hesitantly.

"What kind of news?" Her gruff voice seemed intimidating, yet concerned. The lights began to flicker back on in the command bridge.

"That's classified."

"Classified, my ass." A woman stepped out from behind the crowd of armed Legionnaires and Atlas, whose rifles still lingered in the air, aiming at the fireteam. She waved her hand at mid level in the air, and her soldiers lowered their rifles upon seeing them further. The woman stood about six feet tall, had a pale complexion and green eyes. She had short, light brown hair, and somewhat defined cheekbones. On her slender frame, she wore a captain's armored uniform, and had many medals on top of her left breast. Her face also sported stress wrinkles around her laugh lines, and eyes. But her persona was that of a tired mother. "My name is Captain Katherine of the ULBE Brandished Flatterer. And who might you be?"

Akinyemi had the rest of Dominion stay back and not say anything as he stepped out and dematerialized his helmet. He then reached out and shook her hand. "I'm Commander Akinyemi Asari-Dokubo of the Remembering Exuberance, and here with me is my fireteam, Dominion. We're here to end this invasion." He gave a ghost of a smile.

"I've heard about you. You're a resilient one, aren't you, Commander? You and Dubois made quite a team all those years working together. You were his right hand man, even despite there already being an XO onboard The Fallen Saint. I would sit in my quarters and reminisce over the tales of how Dubois and his star pupil Atlas would dive feet first into hell, taking operations and missions that few dared to even consider taking. He saved your more times than I have fingers to count with all the trouble you got yourself into in the early years of the war. He even had a Composer artifact he was willing to risk his job for just to give you. You found it on one of your old missions in the Yamada System. Damn, I miss that old man…"

Ever since Dubois' demise, Akinyemi hadn't expected to hear that name for quite sometime given the Blue Empire's current state of affairs. Last he had heard about his former captain besides the condolences on Leviathan, he heard how the United Legion was going to initiate a prestigious banquet and funeral in his honor and in his service. But now he was left to nearly a fleeting name, but filled with the same respect.

"Likewise…"

"How do you even propose we stop this invasion?" She scanned the ceiling, pretending it to be the skyline above Aneh'waka. She then walked to the other end of the holotable, down below, towards the front of the command bridge.

"That's the tricky part, Captain." He followed her down as the other soldiers lingered around his periphery, watching intently with interest at the famed Atlas.

Captain Wallace placed both of her hands on the holotables edge, and leaned into it, still looking at Akinyemi. "Try me."

Akinyemi tapped onto the holotable, and pulled up an orange holographic schematics charted of the Flatterer. The floating hologram projection slowly rotated as Akinyemi turned a holo-dial, making a darker orange beacon appear in the aft section of the ship. "We need your riftspace drive, ma'am."

"Really? Why?" She asked dryly, and somewhat surprised. She crossed one arm over her chest while the hand hovered beside her face.

"My team and I found out through the initial start of the battle in orbit, from Admiral Paoa, that the Coalition were looking for a Composer artifact. Specifically one that we acquired not too long ago."

"Where did you find it, and what was it..? Don't worry, the bridge is secure so no information will be leaving this place without my own authorization."

Akinyemi hesitated again, and panned his visor around at the other officers and soldiers before returning his attention to the captain. "We found a living construct on Zephyr."

"...I see. Now, again, you have my interest, commander. Despite your unorthodox methods to protocol, you still surprise me. A living construct, huh? We've what, known of this ancient civilization's existence for almost five hundred years, and never acquired a single living AI? That's as fascinating as it is suspicious. Go on."

"I shouldn't divulge much else but it goes by the title of the Curator. But, upon leaving Zephyr, the Coalition traced it with us, here."

"So you're the very reason I'm on this damn planet? Small galaxy isn't it?" She narrowed her eyes in mild disappointment, but remained poised.

"They invaded this world for us to give up the relic, to have no choice but to submit. So… we will 'give' it to them... If you catch my meaning."

"But what does that have to do with the ship's drive?" She asked, narrowing her eyes again. Her face frowned and her laugh lines were no longer relaxed. Her officers and soldiers around them twitched where they stood and a few inched their fingers back to the triggers of their rifles and handguns.

"We reconfigure it into a bomb, then hijack the monolith above the Aneh'waka skyline, and send a message to the dreadnaught in orbit that the Coalition 'have' the artifact. From there we remotely detonate the bomb when it enters the dreadnaught, ending this invasion."

Captain Wallace just stood there, and skulked a bit, crossing both her arms and paced around the command bridge. Her frowning face did not was up, a mix of emotion and thought was plastered in her eyes. A new projection appeared on the holotable, emanating a purple light off of itself. It was a Luminere that looked like a Native American man, with long, dark hair pulled back, and wearing a black tuxedo.

"I don't think we should do it, Captain." The Luminere said with a grim tone.

Captain Wallace just gazed down at him, back at Akinyemi and Dominion, then everyone else in the command bridge. "Why not, Jackpot?"

Jackpot folded his flickering arms too, and replied, "We don't really know them, as much we think. The man just admitted that he's the reason we're in this mess. Like, c'mon. If he didn't have that artifact from a seclusion zone, this whole planet would've forgoed its detection and invasion. Kopu-Mere'mere is one of few worlds that had never seen the Coalition arrive on its doorstep until today. Besides, we need the drive to get out of this system, and fight another day."

Captain Wallace pondered, her eyes unreadable this time. The stillness of the room was deafening, and she occasionally eyed Akinyemi down as well as the Luminere beside her. The other officers refrained from speaking up as they didn't know what else to do. "What remains of my fleet, Commander? And your ship?"

Akinyemi calmly gazed around the room, and replied, "The Exuberance is still intact from what I can tell. My fireteam and had ended a firefight about a half hour- to an hour ago. But I noticed several of your fleet's ships intact as well on the way here, playing dead amongst the skyscrapers. I have another fireteam and a squad of Legionnaires and Rigs regaining contact with the ships, and helping civilians in the city."

"If I said yes, how certain are you that this plan will work?" She stared at Akinyemi, narrowing her eyes again. Her cold demeanor was intimidating, but didn't relay any hostility towards him. Akinyemi was unsure as to what she was thinking.

"Realistically, I'm not all that certain. However, the important thing is that we try. We cannot let this fleet destroy another colony today, and I'm willing to die trying to stop them. For it's our faults, and it's on us. It's on us to save this planet, ma'am."

Tuill groaned in the background, and lowered his head into his hand, facepalming. The rest of Dominion just panned their eyes around the command bridge as they stood there, raising their heads in silence amongst the crowds.

Jackpot looked back up at Captain from the holotable, and sneered while scowling "Don't do it."

Captain Wallace glanced back at Jackpot, then Akinyemi again, while pacing a bit still. She took a long pause, then sighed. "...Fuck it. We'll help you Commander."

"Thank you, Captain." Akinyemi breathed in, gently smiling.

Wispwaker whizzed up in the air with relief.

"No problem. Just do what you need to do. We're all yours." Captain Wallace gently smiled too.

Akinyemi turned back toward the rest of Fireteam Dominion and said, "We're gonna need a few Mirages prepared as quickly as possible. One for my team, one to carry your riftspace drive, and the others for possible additional fire support. The rest of you can stay here and defend the Flatterer from any intruders that'll come. Dominion and I will take the first Mirage, and defend this place until the drive is procured, and secured. Then we head for the monolith. Any questions?"

Everyone just stood there looking around as a couple tremors rumbled through the ship. Jackpot's avatar stood there and sulked, still wishing for his plan to take place instead. Captain Wallace coughed, then gazed around at her crew and soldiers, saying, "You hear the man! Move!"

The other Legionnaires and Atlas filed out through the blast door and into the elevator not too far away. Their armored boots clanked against the metallic floor in a rush. A Massai Navigation officer turned around from his seat in the front of the command bridge, and gazed back at Captain.

The Massai were a large near-Human alien species with caramel brown to darker brown skin tones. They had flat cat-like noses, pointed ears, and bony plates protruding from their foreheads, arching shallowy over their dark hair in the back. Their faces also had natural indented marks that ran along their cheekbones, meeting with their lips, and along their foreheads. They had smaller plates extending from their shoulders as well. They also had typically sported yellow to orange to brown eyes.

After turning around, the Massai asked, "Should we start her up ma'am?" His voice sounded somewhat gruff and gravelly.

"We should wait, Asjurl. We can't get taken advantage of in our vulnerable position. Wait until we know that Commander Asari-Dokubo, and his fireteam are on their way to the monolith." She didn't even turn around, and waved for Akinyemi to leave. "Oh, and good luck out there, Commander." She added, saluting him.

"You too ma'am." He replied, saluting back.

Dominion was back in the hangar bay, and the lights flickered back to life, running towards a nearby Mirage. Around them, a few waves of Legionnaires and Atlas stormed out of the other elevators and towards other Mirages as well. The dropships whirred to life with a light scream, and dust kicked out in a small radius away from the flooring just below.

The Mirages' blue floodlights illuminated the darkness of the thickets as one by one they slowly hovered out of there. They scuffed passed a few large palm trees, and the wind picked up again.

While in the first Mirage, Akinyemi turned around to face his fireteam. "You ready to go blow up a dreadnaught, team?" He asked while rematerializng his helmet, the cerulean light emanating from his visor and onto the team.

"Damn straight!" They all replied in unison.

"After we're done here, I can't wait to return that Curator, and take a long ass nap." Marvin said, leaning against the inner wall of the Mirage.

I'oshot-Uu placed a hand on Marvin's shoulder, saying, "Dat makes two of us, buddy."

Marvin smiled back at the Kotaran, and Voiceless silently approached and placed his hand on Marvin's other shoulder, nodding.

Radha, Carrillo, and Red stood near Akinyemi, and Tuill remained behind all of them. Wispwaker zoomed around between the cockpit, and the middle of the dropship, ecstatically.

The pilot of the Mirage turned around, and said, "I don't mean to ruin your little paraded but it looks like we got some visitors, sir."

Akinyemi walked over to him, and rested against the back of the chair. In front of them was the intersection just beyond the destroyed welcome center. In the intersection were several Coalition Shotels, and Cokimesh, and dozens of platoons of infantry spread around the dark vehicles, all aiming their weapons' sights at the gaping maw of a front entrance. Small violet lights emanated out of the vehicles and armor, illuminating the dark intersection below. The light of Ka'ono'hana was well below the horizon, leaving an onyx-black sky only lit by the distant stars above them.

"Bombard them." Akinyemi ordered, without hesitation.

The Mirages that were there all punched through the armors of their enemies below, with the low-grade MER rounds, and particle cannons. The vehicles exploded in a flurry of white, blue, and violet lights, enveloping the Coalition troops below. A group of Ibises zoomed towards the Mirages and then were immediately sent exploding into several buildings away.

"This is nice. This is really fun," said Tuill maneuvering his way towards Akinyemi in the front. The Eve leaned his large frame under the doorway, watching each artillery vehicle light up. "I do appreciate this change of pace. All of those who died in orbit and in-atmosphere would love to watch this."

The pilot gently nodded in agreement with the Eve, and turned the Mirage towards the Botanical Gardens, and the other Mirages were in view through the viewport. After a couple of minutes, the last Mirage flew out from the crippled building and awaited the next plan of action.

The pilot looked up back at Akinyemi through his black flight helmet, and asked, "So what now sir?"

Akinyemi glanced down at the pilot, witnessing his own reflection in the opaque visor. His armor was painted with years of cracks, battle scars, and faded colors. He lowered his shoulders, but this time not out of hopelessness, and before replying, he noticed the crushed visor on the front of his own helmet. He pointed up at the monolith lingering in the sky above, and the statue of Rameka-Waapu filled the viewport. The same level of tenacity and bravery is what he always strived to live. In a way, Akinyemi saw himself in the statue as well as the rest of Humanity etched into each granite strike. Humanity were pioneers, explorers, and heroes, even despite being a highly territorial and aggressive species. But he realized that Humanity weren't their mistakes, but how they overcome the most impossible of obstacles. "We head for the hangars, then we give them fire."

"Yesssssss." Tuill added, now smirking.

The Mirages started for the skyline above Aneh'waka, and meandered their way through the buildings, barely dodging them. More Ibises and Obelisks poured out from from the Everlasting Honor, and the Restless Servitude, the warbringers above. More skyscrapers came into view, and the Mirage swerved out of the way. As the flotilla of Mirages continued to make their way towards the Blade of Sanctity, another explosion rang from the east, behind them.

Static churned on the Mirage's intercomms, and Akinyemi leaned over the chair, clicking several highlighted buttons on the dashboard. A holo-projection appeared of a familiar and friendly face. "Hello?"

"Hey, it's our beautiful prince!" laughed Hassan. "We were able to destroy the jammers, and we got some civilians out of the city. How're you holding up?"

"Hassan! I'm glad to hear from you, and great work out there. We got the riftspace drive, and we're flying up to the Coalition fleet. We may die, but farewell." Akinyemi replied, reassuredly.

"Nahhh I don't think that'll happen."

"What makes you say that?" Akinyemi raised an eyebrow through his helmet.

"You'll see."

A bright white flash zoomed above them, and punched against the energy shielding of the Sanctity, and was followed by another. The Mirages all halted to figure out what was going on. When rotating towards the east, Akinyemi and the others could see several large ships above the Coast District.

"Did someone call in the cavalry?" Another familiar voice asked through the dashboard.

"Hell yeah!" Tuill grinned, pumping his fist in the air. "It's the Colonel!"

"Major Dahma already told me about what you guys are trying to do, and the Exuberance will help in anyway she can."

The Exuberance fired another volley at the Sanctity, punching a hole straight through the armored hull towards the mid section of the front pyramid-like structure of the ship. The Song of Glory was behind with a couple of destroyers and other frigates, targeting the two warbringers that flanked both sides of the monolith and easing the burden off the shoulders of the Mirages. The Mirages turned back towards the fleet above the skyline, and the Coalition ships engaged the ULBE ships. Many more Ibises and Obelisks swarmed in the dark towards the east, just above the Mirages. The Mirages then zoomed to the Sanctity.

Chapter 8

Dominion were the first to land inside the Blade of Sanctity, in what appeared to be a massive Quarters room. The room stretched out for hundreds of meters, and had triangular shaped walkways, topping into a point just underneath the jagged ceilings of the deck level. The floors and walls were dark charcoal in coloration, and had hieroglyphics aligning the walls. These hieroglyphics depicted Coalition warriors and warships, all surrounding dozens of spheres which may have represented the worlds that the Blade of Sanctity took part in conquering. Along the top of the walls spread out pictographs of stars shimmering out their extensive rays around the planets and the warships, all the Coalition soldiers in the hieroglyphics were extending their arms into the sky as if a form of solo at worship or deep reverence. Akinyemi had even heard encounters of Imperial DII scientists finding Composer reliquaries with similar depictions, which made this the more perplexing.

Outside, the great explosions of the battle over Aneh'waka waged on as the MER rounds concentrated their fire on the other ships of the Coalition fleet. The other Mirages landed nearby, translocating the other legionnaires and Atlas behind Dominion. Lastly, was the riftspace drive, which towered over even Red and Tuill, and had a shape of a jagged, silvery rectangular prism with pulsing lights and colors that were reminiscent of a vibrant galaxy.

One of the Atlas leaned against it, and looked at Akinyemi. "What's the plan now, Commander?" She had dark olive green power armor, with black accents. Her helmet's visor was bronze in color, and shaped like a vertical rectangle. The insignia on her left shoulder pauldron read, "Fireteam Jester".

"I need you and your fireteam to remain here and protect the drive. While I lead Dominion to re-plot this ship's course to the dreadnaught. Can you do that?"

"Yessir." She saluted him, and raised her rifle for the soon-to-be-coming Coalition warriors.

Within a minute, Draxii, Grish, and Aggressors stormed their way towards their position, and the fireteams sprayed blue energy fire upon the towering aliens. The Coalition troops fired back, killing a few legionnaires immediately upon sight. One Aggressor charged at them, and backhnded another one in a sweeping arch against the wall, snapping her neck.

Radha brandished her Shamshir sniper rifle, and fired two rounds into the Aggressor's helmet, killing him. Red rolled off to the side, and chirped followed by aggressive hissing. Voiceless unsheathed his energy katana, and bullet jumped at a Grish Qadi-tah, decapitating the alien before it had the chance to fire a around at his head. I'oshot-Uu wavepushed several Qadi and Draxii warriors back, snapping their necks simultaneously. Carrillo, Marvin, and Tuill concentrated their fire on a large bulk pouring in from one of the other decks. Akinyemi fired a headshot against another Draxii armsman.

Akinyemi led Dominion through a blast door to their left, in the direction of the front of the Sanctity. The walkways were large enough to fit four Grish soldiers side by side, but Dominion remained in a single file line as they made their way through the ship. Wispwaker turned towards Akinyemi, and told them that they needed to head up, pointing with his iris. He also added, "I need to find a data terminal, or something. So I can grant us clearance through the ship easily."

"How much time do we have before they destroy their data caches?" Marvin turned to the Luminere.

"A very thin margin of time, fortunately they're too busy focused on our fleet that they don't realize we're even in here….I also had jammed their communications." Wispwaker would smile if his armored chassis had a mouth. "That's what they get for doing that too often to us."

"Heh heh, good thinking."

They cleared through another blast door to what opened up into a suspended catwalk over an expansive storage room down below. In the storage room were a multitude of pyramid-shaped weapons lockers, and storage crates. The lighting from above was a soft purple shining through a dense atmosphere, and they could see swirling air right in front of them. Along the catwalk was a small terminal standing about chest-high compared to a Human, when grounded. But when activated, would float up a few more feet above their heads.

An Ibuun patrol squad with battle-lances and plasma point-defense shields swiftly marched on another catwalk just below them. Wispwaker zoomed towards the terminal, activating it, and it rose a few more feet off of the ground. It now reached up to six feet tall. It had a flat, jagged rectangular shape, with sharp extensions, and was dark grey in coloration. On the top was a rotating orb of purple light and data streams. Wispwaker began scanning it, and started hacking away through the firewalls.

"Give me a few minutes on this guys, I have to decrypt through layers of security for walls and bCk channels!" His luminere shell swayed back and forth as he concentrated on his work.

Akinyemi gazed around the catwalk, and reloaded his Trident rifle, saying, "We should hold position here in the meantime. But keep your guns ready."

Red just looked at him, and asked a question through patterned chirps and clicks.

"What he say, Commander?" Tuill asked, turning around to face them.

"He just asked about how long for sure it would take." Akinyemi gazed from Tuill to Red. "As long as we can hold our ground here, it should only take a few minutes. Yet, this is a rare opportunity to pierce their battle net."

"That's true, yes."

"Damnit." Wispwaker jolted back. "A Coalition Steward is fighting for control of the systems, it recognized my foreign coding. Give me a bit more time."

Heavy footfalls pounded against the metal walkways and grates on the same deck level as Dominion, and they drew ever closer. A blast door opened up three meters out, revealing a platoon of Ibuun and Draxii soldiers. They shouted to each other as they immediately fired at Dominion and purple bolts of energy whizzed passed them. Dominion ducked, and evaded the oncoming blaster bolts, and fired back at their attackers. A few armored Ibuun charged at Dominion while tucked behind their shields, and lances lowered.

The Ibuun were then kicked in their shields by Akinyemi, and Tuill, knocking them down, and Red fired multiple rounds from his energy pistol into their helmets, killing them. Voiceless ran along the railing of the catwalk and jumped off onto a Draxii warrior, stabbing it in the shoulder, and flipped it off the railing. Radha equipped her Shamshir rifle again, and fired into the platoon, killing a couple more. I'oshot-Uu used his kinetic guantlets to lift the Ibuun in the air, and throw them off the catwalk spiraling into the storage room below, impacting against the storage containers.

Marvin and Carrillo equipped their Verdant rifles, and pulverized the remaining Draxii of the platoon, while an explosion rumbled across the outer hull of the Sanctity. Dominion widened their stances to keep themselves from falling off the narrow walkway, and Akinyemi quickly turned back towards Wispwaker who hovered just beside him.

"How much longer?" Akinyemi demanded.

"It's a Steward, sir... These types of AI are more powerful than I am, and he.. keeps.. fighting me at every route, and reroute I make." Wispwaker replied with a pained tone.

"Have you tried tapping into the data conflux of the ship?"

"Better idea. I can disable him or kill him from there. But he is very angry, and his voice keeps yelling at me. It sounds like a series of reverberating mechanical screams, but with a subtext of coding and words, that I can understand. It's terrifying yet fascinating. It's been so long since I encountered one again, I've been forgetting what they're like."

"Just skip the foreplay and go straight in, Wispy." snarked Tuill, lowering his Trident rifle .

Wispwaker rolled his iris, and replied, "It's a lot more bloody complicated than that. I have to tease in coding here and there to distract him, while I try to work around him. His data matrix is fragmented to multitask through different levels of the ship, we have one right here, another focused on general security, a personal one for the ship's captain, and the rest are focused on defending the fleet and glassing the planet."

"Well shit.."

Voiceless Cry sheathed his katana and walked back to Marvin, Carrillo and I'oshot-Uu. He then folded his arms while leaning against the railing. Red sat down on the catwalk, and leaned against the plasma railing, it's purple light illuminated onto his feathered face, revealing battle scars and plasma burns. Radha just paced around herself in anxiousness, impatient as to Wispwaker completing his task. In the meantime, she swung her swords around her torso, stepping away from the rest of the fireteam.

After a few more minutes Wispwaker shouted, "Yes! I wasn't able to kill him, but I coded him into a corner, and was able to imprison him in his own systems. That gives us around ten to twenty minutes or so to finish this Operation before he possibly gets himself out."

"While we're here, find anything on why the Coalition have invaded the Blue Empire thirty-four years ago. I've never been able, or allowed, to see the reports, and I need to know." Akinyemi said, tiredly.

"Alrighty then… well, here's the first set of archives. It's on some members of the Coalition. The Draxii, we'll that's odd, well they naturally have nine genders."

"They do?" Carrillo just turned around, confused.

"Yeah. Their species is also so adamant on procreation to expand their vast populations! They're entire species outnumbers the Grish themselves, so the Grish forced them into mass sterilization when they were first discovered and enslaved. So they're forcibly conscripted into the Coalition military to fight or die. Every single Draxii soldier we've, or the Blue Empire, has ever encountered are like that."

"That's actually kinda sad," Marvin remarked. "What's it like for their other client species?"

"Similar. The Grumpkenkraqers, and the Ibuun were synthetically created by the Grish into forced servitude to their dominating masters. It says here I'm the archives that they were created as laborers for the Grish' vast colonies."

"...Like the Rigs." Radha scowled, dropping her arms.

"...Yes."

"Another archive I've pulled up actually displays that the Aggressors are actually called Hi'osh, and they originated from the Triangulum Galaxy. They travelled here from a distance of two point eight one million light years! I wonder how long that took them... However, it says they arrived in the Milky Way in the year two thousand, nine hundred and five CE."

"What's their relation with the Grish then? Are they enslaved like the others or what..?"

"No, it appears that before the Blue Empire were ever attacked, the Hi'osh we have seen in the galaxy were arriving from a mass-exodus. The data logs don't say from what exactly, but once they arrived on tv e other side of the galaxy, they attempted to take over Grish colonies, to settle on. The Grish were unable to drive them out and instead signed a pact with them, as an adjunct warrior caste. As long as the Hi'osh send soldiers to the Grish's war efforts, they're largely left alone...Here's found some more information on the Grish, and the Coalition itself. Besides being masters in gene-editing and eugenics, the Grish has started the Coalition through their domination and subjugation of the other species we've encountered... The Grish have been searching for Composer artifacts for at least a few millennia, and destroying other species for more. That's probably why they attacked us, starting the war. They are afraid, and want to collect as many artifacts as possible before an oncoming end."

"And, what is that?" Akinyemi asked, raising an eyebrow in his helmet.

"The returning of… the Darkness..?" Wispwaker replied, confused.

"I've heard that name used before, by the Curator, back on Zephyr. It said that the Darkness was the reason that the Composers went extinct." Akinyemi turned towards Wispwaker.

"I see… that makes sense why they're afraid. If something can be powerful enough to make the Composers go extinct, then I'd panic too." Wispwaker forced an awkward laugh to alleviate his anxiety. "That still doesn't excuse what they've done to us."

"Of course it doesn't." Akinyemi replied. "Is there any archives you can find of Warlord Hajj-as'rah?"

"Uhh yes. He was specifically in charge of his own corner of the Coalition empire, encompassing at least one thousand worlds. Most of the forces we've been encountering for the past couple years as we've been searching for him, have been members of said worlds under his jurisdiction. It appears that the Coalition Warlords can only conscript soldiers into their ranks from only worlds they govern over. A way to balance the power vacuum under their mysterious empress or whatever rules them. It doesn't say anything much more than that, likely to protect the higher ups of the chain of command? They have to be self-sustaining as well, Warlords are rarely even able to trade with each other in during extended campaigns, which that is odd. That's why Hajj-as'rah's forces are running in scraps like us. He's been scouring our Outer Colonies for the past two months in hopes he could buy more soldiers, warships, and starfighters. After the Battle of Zephyr, he ran out of his supply of his world-shattering nukes. The Curator is his ticket to acquiring more war supplies and resources."

"Does it say anything as to his current whereabouts?"

"After Zephyr, he broke up his fleet formations, one fleet was stationed over the planet to search for their prize. He has at least six large fleets totaling over a thousand splintered into other sectors of the Outer and Middles Colonies. But no, it doesn't relay as to his current location the navigation data on his flagship isn't catalogued or documented anywhere in here. So since Zephyr, that is his last known location."

After Wispwaker finished through the available archives, their attention was redirected back to the battle above Aneh'waka. Missiles and particle cannons pounded against the outer hull of the Blade of Sanctity, causing tremors throughout the monolith's decks. The fireteam grabbed ahold of the railings so as to not plummet into the storage decks below them.

"I got the other blast doors working, sir. I've also managed to extend the imprisonment of the Steward. Just by a bit." Wispwaker added. "We have at best forty more minutes to complete our objective."

"Alright." Akinyemi was unsure what to make of Hajj-as'rah being as elusive as he was. The thought that he shattered Zephyr over a ruse couldn't escape his thoughts. The United Legion suffered military casualties in the hundreds of thousands, and lost over a thousand warships just to prevent such a demise. On top of that the billions of civilians that never escaped off world. If Zephyr was still intact, they would've been able to track him down and possibly capture him to save the empire.

Wispwaker opened up the triangular blast door just ahead of them and they dashed into it immediately. They came into a narrower corridor tunnel, branching off into different directions of the Sanctity, and huddled together inside it like a clogged artery. The atmosphere was denser again, and a high-pitched alarm rang throughout the ship with a tone resembling a medieval signalling horn. The lighting emanated a soft violet haze onto Dominion as they kept their weapons raised for potential Coalition troops nearby.

Wispwaker placed a circular yellow marker on Akinyemi's heads up display, with a counter for how many meters away they were. The marker signalled where the command bridge of the Blade of Sanctity was, which was above them a ways. Dominion didn't say anything as they ran through the crowded corridors. After they ran for awhile, the air seemed to distort in front of Akinyemi. The distortion vaguely refracted and warped the dim light around it.

Akinyemi hesitated, and cocked his head to the side, lowering his shoulders a bit, saying, "Uhh guys-"

Immediately a sizzling hand of molten plasma lunged at Akinyemi, and the Atlas evaded it, catching a refracting arm. He pulled it around him, slamming the body into the wall next to him. Tuill then clenched his metallic fist, and pummeled the entity in the front of it's helmet, denting in the wall of the corridor. The camouflage dissipated revealing a now dead Red Hand assassin. The Hand's cloak was crumpled under the body, as it sat there, limp and cold in its grey armor.

"I fucking hate these guys," said Tuill, begrudgingly.

"Head's up Dominion. We got Red Hand around. They may be camouflaging around us as we speak, so don't let your guard down at all. And stay quick on your feet." Akinyemi alerted, continuing on towards their destination. The others walked over the body, disgusted and uncomfortable.

Wispwaker hovered by Akinyemi and said, "I can try to scan around for more, and tag them on your HUD, sir."

"That would be great, thanks. Would you do that for everyone here?"

"Yup."

Another tremor rippled throughout the Blade of Sanctity, and Dominion braced themselves against the corridor walls, trying to retain what little balance they had. The monolith began to let out an undertone of low-pitched screams meshed with the already loud alarms ringing throughout the ship. Dominion reconstituted themselves as they pushed onwards.

Once arriving in another deck a couple of levels above where they were, more refracted entities appeared through the dim light. There were six of these entities slowly circling Dominion, and Dominion raised their rifles at the ready. One leaped at Tuill, but was caught in the act, Tuill slammed the Red Hand assassin to the ground, and activated his kopesh. Tuill drived the sizzling purple blade into the assassin's combat harness, melting the alien within. Radha and Voiceless Cry also brandished their own swords, slouching with their blades in front of them. I'oshot-Uu raised his kinetic gauntlets and gracefuly moved around himself and levitated a Red Hand into the air, and wavepushed it against a wall, pulverizing the alien. Carrillo and Marvin charged into one with their shoulders, pummeling it to the ground. They both raised their Trident rifle in front of its helmet and the Red Hand stared coldly at them through its glowing red visor. They both fired into it, killing it. One leaped up at Red, melting its sizzling hand into his armor, and Red let out a bloodcurdling gargled-hiss. Akinyemi noticed this, and grabbed the Red Hand, pulling him off the large Bir'vo, and released it with a thud impacting the ground. Akinyemi thrusted his armored boot into the alien's chest, incapacitating it with a quiet yelp. Tuill swung his kopesh around, and decapitated the Red Hand.

Purple blood splattered all over the floor before the neck cauterized, and sprayed onto Tuill and Akinyemi's armor. The last two remaining Red Hand leaped onto the Eve's body and pressed their sizzling gauntlets into his armor. Tuill yelled with reverberating distortion in anger, and twisted his body around. Red grabbed one by the throat and squeezed as hard as he could while prying it off of the Eve, and crushed its windpipe. Red dropped the corpse onto the dark metallic floor. Carrillo fired at the last Red Hand while Radha and Voiceless swung their energy blades at the alien, dismembering it while it still clung onto Tuill's back. The Red Hand then collapsed to the floor, lifeless.

"How bad is it?" Tuill asked.

There were two large handprints that pulverized through the metallic armor on Tuill's back that were deep into his body with several of his black, fluid-cables severed and cauterized. Steam emanated out of the damaged holes and the metal was still sizzling and popping.

"It's pretty bad," replied Marvin, concerned.

"At least I'm not soft organics like you guys. I would've died immediately." Tuill said, adjusting the plasma cannon on his back.

"At least your humor is still intact." Carrillo remarked.

"Well, that's my best feature." Tuill spread out his arms a bit, grinning.

Wispwaker hovered back next to Akinyemi and nudged his luminere shell towards a blast door just in front of them. "The command bridge is just through there, sir."

"Alright, that's good. We'll just take a couple of minutes to rest. Everyone needs to take a breather."

"I can keep going, for I am mighty." Tuill remarked.

"No, you need to sit down and hold on a sec," interjected Radha, sheathing her energy swords.

"Is he okay?"

"I think his processing matrix is beginning to fragment."

"Is it? I don't think so. I'm still good to fight." The Eve slumped down.

Voiceless, Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu knelt down beside each other and didn't say anything. Red took the time to apply some biofoam to his gaping wound from the Red Hand just minutes before. While everyone else sat there in silence, the littered corpses of the Red Hand assassins lay around them. The atmosphere continued to swirl through the dim purple haze of the ship, and the alarms blared in the background.

After they were done, they stood back up, and returned their weapons in their hands, and stood in front of the blast door to the command bridge. Wispwaker hovered next to the terminal just to the side of the door, and he started scanning it.

"You ready guys?" Wispwaker asked, while tapping into the controls.

"As ready as we'll ever be…" Carrillo remarked.

The triangular door opened upwards revealing a large, circular hall that stretched out ahead. It was dark grey in color, with dim purple lighting. Massive pillars stretched upwards around the place in a symmetrical fashion around the center of the command bridge. In the center sat a large spherical hologram of Kopu'Mere-mere, and the hologram slowly rotated. In the very front of the bridge, from what Dominion could see had a viewport consisting of many towering triangular shaped windows that wrapped around in a semi-circle. Many purple holo-decks and terminals were occupied by Grish bridge crew, and armored Inquisitors stood guard around the doors and the Shipwarden.

Through the viewport, they could see what remained of the Aneh'waka skyline, and the battle ahead between the Coalition and ULBE ships. The Remembering Exuberance sent white streaks of many MER rounds at the Coalition ships while dogfights between Obelisks, Mirages, Excaliburs, and Ibises took place in between.

Dominion slowly marched in with their weapons ahead of them, sighted at the Inquisitors. The Shipwarden came into view, and he had the same armor design as Grish Qadi-tah and Officers, but purple hieroglyphics ran along the armor. His helmet was constructed of a featureless faceplate, frills running down the sides and back of it, and had a tall, pointed headdress sticking up a few feet off the top of the helmet. Disparately hovering away from his back and shoulders were winged metallic filaments similar to the field commander that had them congested at the beachhead.

Once Dominion reached towards the center of the command bridge, that's when the Grish realized they were there, and the Inquisitors brandished their lances at Dominion, and snarled before doing anything. The Shipwarden turned around, and cupped his four arms behind his back, and stepped away from the holodecks in the front of the ship, and paced towards Dominion. He stopped next to the hologram of Kopu'Mere-mere, as if taunting the fireteam that he had control of the planet in his hands.

The Shipwarden cocked his head slightly, and asked in a gruff voice, "So, you are the intruders who disabled my Steward, and infiltrated my ship?"

"We are the one and only!" Tuill remarked, extending his arms.

"Even members of the Coalition give respect to fellow warriors." the Shipwarden growled. "Your tenacity over Zephyr is admirable. The Warlord had ordered thousands of vessels with me included to acquire the artifacts and destroy your hopes of even finding our fleets again. We tracked down the planet's coordinates after weeks of recon, and prepared the world missile during a banquet on the flagship. It was me who suggested him to set up the ruse and the missile in hopes you would cave in and surrender the entire planet. When you didn't, we were taken aback but for the first time ever in the war share any semblance of respect for you." The Shipwarden lightly bowed, and his towering height still stood many feet over Dominiom. "But that doesn't mean you'll live. We still desire your Beyonder relics, and we will pry them from your corpses." The Shipwarden brandished four kopesh, one for each hand.

"I don't think so, you oversized—" Tuill started, grabbing his plasma cannon from his back before being interrupted.

"As Shipwarden Tet'ul 'Khaman'at, I declare you dead!" The Shipwarden said, raising his kopesh, while shifting his hooves to charge at Dominion.

A flurry of blue-white linked balls of fiery plasma energy were released at the Shipwarden, and impacted him in the chest, incinerating him with a grand explosion. What was left of the Shipwarden's corpse ragdolled into the hologram of Kopu'Mere-mere. Tuill turned towards Akinyemi and gave him a sly grin.

The Inquisitors immediately fired upon Dominion, and Tuill reloaded his plasma cannon. Radha, Voiceless, Carrillo, and Marvin fired their Trident rifles back while Red shot down the bridge crew. Their large corpses collapsed to the ground with a loud thud before they could brandish their weapons. Wispwaker zoomed around trying not to receive the direct energy fire as bolts of blue and purple whizzed passed each other.

Red then threw an energy grenade at the Inquisitors, and it exploded damaging their shields, and Tuill fired another volley from his plasma cannon. Two of them died, and the others evaded to the side behind a few of the pillars. One of the Inquisitors shredded Akinyemi's energy shields, and he ducked down waiting for them to recharge.

An Inquisitor tossed a pulse grenade at Dominion, and before they could react, it exploded with ionized particles that vaporized their shields. Dominion dispersed around the command bridge, and Radha fired a sniper round, killing the one who threw the grenade. Voiceless Cry unsheathed his katana and crouched low to the ground, and waited for another Inquisitor to charge. I'oshot-Uu levitated a couple Inquisitors and threw them into one of the pillars, breaking their necks instantly.

"We have to hurry dis up." I'oshot-Uu said. "Everyone out dere is counting on us."

"We understand that, my friend." Marvin replied, returning his head to cover behind a pillar, while reloading his rifle.

"How many of them are there?" Carrillo asked.

"More than enough," replied Radha.

Red gurgle-hissed and threw another grenade out at the Inquisitors, and the explosion ruptured a section of the flooring, exposing circuits.

Voiceless moved forward, and bullet jumped at an Inquisitor, penetrating his armor with the sizzling golden blade. The Inquisitor died after a few seconds, collapsing to the ground.

"Good work there, Voiceless." said Akinyemi.

Tuill fired another volley of his plasma cannon at the Inquisitors, blasting three more apart, and boiled blood splattered all over the dark pillars and flooring.

"I will start re-hacking into the systems to signal the dreadnaught, Commander." Wispwaker shouted.

"Good idea. We'll hold them off as long as we can while you do that." Akinyemi became frustrated.

Wispwaker zoomed over to the holodecks in the front of the command bridge, and began tapping into the Blade of Sanctity's systems. The Steward then screamed at Wispwaker and began shutting down every route that Wispwaker tried to take, even towards the conflux. Wispwaker jolted back out of pain and fright, attempting to redirect the Steward by sending in more corrupted coding its way. The Steward popped up in front of the coding and messages as a violent vibrating purple diamond. It distorted the data streams around Wispwaker, attempting to corrupt him.

Dominion finally killed the last of the Inquisitors, and their towering corpses lay scattered all over the command bridge floor. However, Akinyemi noticed that Wispwaker was having a difficult time, and trying to stay sane through the corrupted code pouring into his data matrix. Akinyemi dashed over to the console and began typing on the console controls and holo-dials, trying to aid the Luminere. Wispwaker became increasingly paranoid and spasmodic, his luminere shell appeared to have seizures mid-air. Akinyemi redirected the Steward by sending in more coding to distract it, and keep it busy.

Wispwaker was freaking out inside his luminere shell, trying to keep the Steward from frying his data crystal cased inside. From outside, the battle over Aneh'waka became even more violent as the warbringer fired volleys of ionized gamma-particle torpedoes at the Exuberance and Song of Glory, but the two frigates guided themselves around to take the brunt of the fire.

"Is he okay?" Radha asked, walking up to Akinyemi, and the spazzing Luminere shell.

"No, and I'm busy trying to prevent him from dying. The Steward has directly attacked him this time." Akinyemi replied, not looking up from the console. His fingers typing fast across it, he kept focus as best he could. "And... done."

The Steward was attacked with coding that directed it away from Wispwaker's data crystal. Wispwaker then stopped malfunctioning and quickly recomposed himself. He guided the Steward through a series of coding and subtexts, away from the conflux. Wispwaker then had to reconfigure the conflux again, and imprisoned the Steward in a matter of seconds.

"The screaming has stopped, the Steward's now contained again, sir." Wispwaker said, reorienting himself closer to the console. "Now, let's send this dreadnaught a little message."

Everyone took a breath of relief, and the atmosphere lifted gently. Dominion all lowered their weapons, and spread their stance a little bit, and gazed at what Wispwaker was up to.

"What exactly will we be sending the dreadnaught?" Carrillo asked.

"We will be telling them that the Coalition have retrieved what they're looking for, which is the Curator that's on the Exuberance. Now hopefully they tell us to dock with them. - Then that's when we blow them up."

"Ayyy I see what you mean." Carrillo smiled.

"Remember, Akinyemi came up with the plan. I'm just doing my part of it."

The fighting stopped outside, and the remaining Obelisks and Ibises started retreating back into the Coalition ships. The ULBE ships stopped firing too, and waited there above the city. A message bubble appeared above the holodeck with a swirling mist-like appearance. Wispwaker opened it, displaying a myriad of Coalition glyphs, and the message told him to ascend the ship into the dreadnaught for retrieval. He followed the protocol and activated the engines in the appropriate procedure.

The ship began to ascend slowly with constant vibrating pulses throughout the Sanctity. Dominion continued to hold position in the command bridge as they watched the Aneh'waka skyline slowly recede from view.

"This is it Dominion. We gotta get a move on." Akinyemi said, pressing the butt of his Trident rifle into his shoulder.

"Commander, wait." Radha said, not moving.

"Why?" He turned around, gazing at her.

"Just, look at that view. Even with the city at night, and mostly destroyed, we don't get to see stuff like this often. It's beautiful in a sense, watching the Coalition just leave like they are now, believing they have what they came for." Her headwrap blew gently in front of her helmet.

Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, Voiceless, Carrillo, Red, and Tuill stood around gazing out too, behind them. The Blade of Sanctity continued to slowly climb through the atmosphere, passing through the cloud layers. After a couple more minutes, Dominion then jogged out of the command bridge. They passed over the scattered corpses of the Red Hand, and through the corridors back to the riftspace drive.

There was little resistance along the way, and Dominion arrived back on the deck with the drive, returning to Fireteam Jester, and the other ULBE troops. The Mirages were still intact, awaiting to leave at the right moment. Jester finished fitting the drive with tactical bombs and a MAJESTY-type nuke. The MAJESTY's were a powerful caliber nuclear warhead created and developed by Humanity before the war, but improved upon during its course. This would be their response to the shattering of Zephyr, by mining the dreadnaught over Koru-Mere'mere, they would be sending another message of their own to the rest of the Coalition military that even in the face of overwhelming odds in the shadow of extinction, Humanity and the other client species under the Blue Banner will no go down willingly. They will fight until there is but one warship left to defend their own region of space.

Jester's leader, the woman with the green and black power armor, paced back towards Akinyemi, and shook his hand. "The name's Lieutenant Kalawai'a, sir. Jester and I just finished fitting the drive now. While you guys were gone, we still encountered heavy resistance, the Shipwarden definitely wasn't happy to see any of us."

"Great job, Lieutenant. When I give the signal, you'll blow this ship apart."

"Sir, yessir." She saluted him again, and picked up the detonator.

"So this is it, isn't it?" Carrillo asked Akinyemi, walking up to him.

"I guess it is, Cynthia." Akinyemi gazed down at her through his helmet, and gently rolled his own shoulders. He widened his stance a bit, and shifted his weight to the right.

"So your name's Cynthia, eh?" Tuill said, grinning.

"Don't try to get all suave on me, mister." She turned around towards him.

"Y'know, you like-" Tuill added before being shot in the back with an energized railgun bolt, falling face down, and yelled.

Everyone brandished their weapons and fired back at a Grish Qadi-tah. Many Coalition troops poured out of other decks of the Sanctity. Kalawai'a had Jester branch off around the drive and cover fire support for Dominion. The remaining Legionnaires sprayed back energy bolts, impaling Grumpkenkraqers and Ja'ic that now poured in. A Ja'ic hovered by, and writhed its tentacles in all directions. The Ja'ic grabbed a Grish lance, and fired at the Legionnaires, decapitating some with powerful blasts of purple bolts. The Legionnaire's blood splattered the floor as their bodies collapsed.

Cynthia sighted her rifle, and fired into the Ja'ic's small head. The body screamed and fell to the ground with a thud, and the tentacles spazzed around, wriggling. She then knelt down beside Tuill, and placed her armored hand on top of his head, and asked, "Are you okay?"

"Nothing can stop this asshole." He retorted, dryly. "But I am heavily damaged, my chassis can only take so much more bolts.."

Red shot a Draxii warrior, shattering his helmet as the bolt burst through his brown head. Red then threw another grenade at the Coalition troops. Voiceless, Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu covered Red and picked off stray Grumpkenkraqers that ran out trying to overwhelm them.

Akinyemi took cover behind one of Mirages with Wispwaker, and stuck his Trident rifle out, taking out an Ibuun phalanx. Akinyemi's shields needed to replenish, but were taking quite awhile under the constant barrage of railgun rounds. "I thought there weren't anymore." He said, as his shields finally recharged.

"Same." Wispwaker replied. "But they must've been the returning infantry when they were called to the dreadnaught."

"Goddamnit." Akinyemi growled, charging back into battle. "That's right. After taking out the Shipwarden and his Inquisitors, I thought that'd be the end of it."

He sighted through the floating sights of his rifle, and fired several bursts into a Hi'osh soldier. The Hi'osh growled at him, and brandished a rocket launcher of his own. The Hi'osh's launcher sent out a gamma-laced ball of ionized particles, charged at the speeds of the typical Coalition railguns. The gamma launcher fired out at Akinyemi, a purple-white ball, and whizzed towards the Atlas. Akinyemi evaded at the last minute, but other Legionnaires were disintegrated immediately.

Radha took cover behind a Coalition mobile-bulwark, and rested her Shamshir in the notch at the top of the triangular shaped bulwark shield, and sniped out a few Grish warriors. She took time to reload, but a stray purple bolt shredded her shields, and another shoved her on her back.

Voiceless Cry charged at several Ibuun with his energy katana and swung the sizzling golden blade through their necks, relieving them of their heads. He silently grunted, and unsheathed an energy pistol, firing through the heads of more Grumpkenkraqers, Ibuun, and a few Ja'ic.

Tuill got back up with Cynthia, and he only had five rounds left. He gazed at the holographic counter of the plasma launcher, and said, "Pathetic." He gave a face of withheld frustration, and fired a volley at the oncoming soldiers. He was impacted by more energized bolts that punched through his armor, and severed a few more fluid cables.

Cynthia provided Tuill with fire support, by throwing a grenade at a Grish officer, impacting his armor, the blue-white explosion tore the officer apart. The Hi'osh with the gamma launcher continued to fire at Akinyemi, and a charged round exploded against one of the Mirage's, shoving it out of the ship, disintegrating on its way into the void.

The Blade of Sanctity was now in orbit around Kopu'Mere-mere, and its energy shields kept the inhabitants from being sucked out of the mawed opening near the battle inside. The stars in the vast black were shining ever brightly, and colorful nebulonic clouds were seen within the Ka'ono'hana System.

Cynthia gazed out, watching their ascennt through the exosphere and into low orbit above the planet. She shouted at Akinyemi who took out the Hi'osh. "Akinyemi! We gotta hurry up, right-fucking-now! We're in orbit!"

Akinyemi gazed around at the commencing battle within the Sanctity, and shouted towards Tuill. "Tuill, let loose your remaining rounds!"

"Sure thing." Tuill fired three rounds of his plasma launcher, swarming at the Coalition troops, creating a myriad of explosions. However, as he fired his last round, another Ja'ic fired into the chamber, causing the plasma launcher to explode in Tuill's hands. He flew back, and thudded against the ground. The explosion launched shrapnel into the riftspace drive-bomb, damaging it.

"NO!" Cynthia fired her rifle into the Ja'ic, and the alien died.

Dominion rushed towards Tuill, and I'oshot-Uu levitating him back onto his metallic feet. Tuill's main torso was disfigured, and fluid cables dangled out from his waist, and what was left of his left arm. His left eye's purple light flickered considerably now. Tuill gazed at the dangling black cables of what was his arm, and chuckled. "Heh, I'm kinda like the Imperial Admiral." His voice was somewhat fractured and distorted when he spoke.

"How's the drive?" Wispwaker asked, zooming towards Dominion.

"It's.. it's too damaged. It'll have to be detonated manually." Lieutenant Kalawai'a replied, distressed.

"Fuck.." Akinyemi groaned.

"I'll..I'll. S-stay. CoManndEr." Tuill coughed, straightening up the best he could.

"To hell you will. You're coming with us. You're coming home." Cynthia interjected, dematerializing her helmet. Her amber eyes gave a wet, penetrating stare.

"It's too late for me." The Eve sulked, sinking his shoulders. "Besides, I gotta make up for Staliar dying too soon."

Cynthia lowered her head, blushing a bit through the pain. Radha walked in front of him, and said, "You don't have to do this."

"Go, now or-or... I'll stab you." He frowned, narrowing his luminescent purple eyes. He thrusted his first in their direction in attempt for them too shoo away.

Akinyemi nodded to Fireteam Jester, and the surviving nine Legionnaires headed back towards the Mirages. Their Mirages started up, and zoomed out into the dark. Red, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, and Voiceless lowered their heads, just standing there. Tuill then reached to his side with his gnarled right hand, and pulled out his kopesh. He handed it to Cynthia, and said, "Don't forget me."

Cynthia took it, and looked up at him, mumbling, "I won't.."

"Who can replace me though? I'm the best!" Tuill joked, his eyes flickered uncontrollably.

Everyone forced a laugh, and headed back for their Mirage. Akinyemi stayed and gave Tuill the detonator. They then saluted each other, and Akinyemi started to head back to Dominion's Mirage.

"Keep kicking ass, Commander." Tuill said, smiling. He started limping towards the towering drive-bomb, and sat down. Before Akinyemi left, however, the Eve continued, dissolving his witty persona instantly. "Akinyemi wait, please."

Akinyemi stopped, and turned around, facing the mangled robot. "What's holding you up?"

"I'm very afraid…" Tuill's jaw tightened and broke off its remaining hinges and grooves, and his eyes continued to flicker and distort further while he held his head lower as he sulked against the drive-bomb. "...With everything I've gone through in my life, I never expected to go out like this, or even this soon. There is so much I wanted to do, pal, so much I want to do."

Akinyemi made his way closer to the distraught Eve, and he glanced down at him. Tuill braced himself against the drive-bomb with his mangled remaining hand, and stood back up once more, glancing down at the Atlas. Akinyemi raised his right forearm vertically, moving it in front of his torso, so he could bump his with Tuill's, and the Eve obliged, doing the same.

"I know, man." Akinyemi started, dematerializing his helmet as he met eyes with him. Akinyemi's brown eyes were filled with respect and pained longing simultaneously.

"But Daima Mbele, right?" Tuill asked, tilting his head. "Go, go be their commander. Go lead them into a splendid victory that you and your future generations can sing wondrous songs about for many, many years to come. I'll stay behind and be the hero for once, for just this little bit. It's the least I can do for all the horror I've caused in my past. I can make it up by saving one Outer Colony today, putting others before myself, just as I was always meant to be. Goodbye."

"Goodbye, to you too, friend. May your people play an anthem in your honor back on Xerro, for your bravery, and your valiant sacrifice today." Akinyemi gently smiled, trying to hide the pain away.

Tuill watched as Akinyemi made his way back to the Mirage, and immediately sat back down against the drive-bomb, clutching the detonator in his mangled hand. Akinyemi was then subsequently translocated into the Mirage. The pilot took off, and zoomed out into space towards the Remembering Exuberance, that was now in orbit around the planet. As the Blade of Sanctity quickly shrunk from view, Dominion all gazed back as the monolith was engulfed by the dreadnaught from the underside.

"There he goes.." Cynthia whispered, lowering her head a bit.

Everyone dematerialized or removed their helmets as the dreadnaught was engulfed in a raging bubble of distorted space time, and storms that destroyed the ship. A massive flash of white bursted out across the solar system baptizing everything in its vicinity. After the flash subsided, what remained were the scattered and derelict debris of the Coalition fleet.

Chapter 9

It was about a week later, and the Remembering Exuberance arrived back in the Proxima Centauri System. The red light of the dwarf star pierced through the ship's viewport, engulfing it in that familiar glow of home. Akinyemi was standing in front of the holotable, facing the viewport with his IAPETUS armor dematerialized, exposing the black combat skin underneath. Hovering beside him was Wispwaker, who didn't say anything as they entered the system.

Captain Parri stood adjacent to Akinyemi, watching as Leviathan Station came closer and closer into view. Colonel Singer stood on the opposite side of the holotable from Parri, and watched Akinyemi's tired eyes. The Exuberance soon zoomed close enough towards Leviathan Station that it now engulfed the entire viewport, casting a shadow over the tired crew, and captain.

"This is Captain Parri of the Remembering Exuberance, requesting permission to dock." Captain Parri said, now gazing up at Akinyemi.

"Permission granted. Steer your ship into Docking Block One." The intercoms blared overhead.

"You ready, Commander?" Captain Parri asked. He cupped his hands behind his back, and straightened up.

"Sure." Akinyemi didn't even look at him, or anyone for that matter. He just kept staring ahead with remorse. This was supposed to be the victory for all his fireteam, not just a surviving few.

"The Curator is ready to be delivered, Captain." Arrowhead said, materializing on the holotable.

"Good, good. After this, I hope I can get a beer." Captain Parri reflected, gazing down at the green Luminere.

"Don't we all, sir." Colonel Singer remarked.

Within a half hour, Dominion arrived inside the command bridge of Leviathan, followed by the Curator, and armed legionnaire escorts. The command bridge had a very large, circular design, and was filled with computers, terminals, and blue holotables, holodecks, and large flat-screens attached to towering arched struts that were white in color. In the center of the room, on the floor, were the insignias for the Blue Empire, and the United Legion. Many crew personnel and officers, comprised of Humanity, Atani, Kotaran, Falakhrys, Tyfotos, Sleviish, Yedhe, and Massai filled the command bridge; along with Sagittarians, Eve, and a couple Bir'vo officers. Other species were around, and kept themselves busy in front of the terminals.

Wrapping around the entire command bridge was a towering, curved rectangular viewport, that gazed into the interior of Leviathan. The rest of what could be seen from the viewport was Elysium, Proxima Centauri, and the vast fleets of the United Legion. Billions of stars also shimmered and glistened through the void, illuminating the expansive deck.

In the back end of the command bridge, a large elevated platform floated stoically, and housed more terminals, massive holo-screens, and a round holotable in the middle. Dominion, the Curator, and the escorts slowly made their way up there to find Imperial Admiral Addington in front of the holotable. He raised his head, scratched his beard, which was somewhat longer and grayer, and said, "Welcome back, Fireteam Dominion. I see that your mission was success." He stared at the Curator, his eyes lit up for not seeing something like that before.

Akinyemi approached the holotable, now looking down at the Imperial Admiral, and said, "It was a success, but at the cost of very many lives. None of us were truly prepared to go back to Zephyr, but we did the best we could. They had lingering war parties that waited for us to return….We found this artifact inside a cave-complex behind the excavation site, inside a towering citadel unlike anything we've ever laid eyes on. The artifact was housed at the citadel's very center, a living Composer AI construct called a Curator."

"I'm glad to hear it was a success, and I always wish we didn't have to constantly keep losing our brave men and women in the field. I saw the reports of Zephyr after you escaped, and I requested HIGHCOM to construct a monument in honor of the planet, and all the lives lost to defend it. Given reduced resources, we won't be seeing the monument anytime soon." Addington took off his hat, placing it against his chest. He gazed down towards his left side, and at the folded sleeve under the shoulder. "Did I ever tell you how I lost my arm?"

"No, sir." Cynthia replied, from behind Akinyemi.

"I lost it in one of the first engagements against the Coalition, back when the war started. It was shortly after Sang'Cael Luu was glassed into a barren rock, in one of the nearby solar systems. There was an opportunity to secure a warship that was left behind on one of the worlds after a naval engagement, and I sent a strike team of Legionnaires and scientists down with me to learn what we could about our new enemy. We thought we secured our LZ, when we made it to the derelict monolith. Yet we were ambushed, However, a Red Hand sniper took off my arm." Addington placed his hat onto the edge of the holotable now. "I accepted the fact, and kept my arm missing. I didn't get any cybernetics or replacements, because I wanted this to be a reminder, never to underestimate your enemy. Or to ever let your guard down." Imperial Admiral Addington frowned a bit, and sighed. "The point is though, you still keep trying to fight anyway. Even if parts of you don't make it back home, or none of you at all... Speaking of which, where are Tuill and Staliar?"

"They didn't make it, sir." Wispwaker replied. "But they were very strong, and fought valiantly. They saved our lives, at the sacrifices of their own."

"I'm sorry... My condolences to you, and now their families. It looks like I'll be writing letters to their next of kin. This is the part of my position that I dread, showing up to their families in person to tell them that their brave soldier died in battle. It's hard to watch their faces as they break down, and I sometimes break protocol to mourn with them personally. If there's funerals to be head or anything of the like I delay my return to this station to stay with the families until I overstay my welcome. Fortunately, the families were never bothered, and knew what I was going through too delivering them the news. It's all mutual respect."

Akinyemi nodded at the Imperial Admiral, understanding the stakes. Everyone in war loses parts of themselves they usually can never get back. Be it limbs, friends, family, sense of security, sanity, and now worlds after worlds. He nodded again at the escorts to move the Curator towards Addington, and the four of them did so. The Curator hovered up towards Addington, and rotated to face him.

Addington faced the construct in astonishment, "So, you're an AI?"

"Yes, in a sense. My name is Parimarc Wui-Andii, and I'm a Curator for the Everlast. My creators designed me to serve and aid. To aid any future civilizations that happen to come upon me, and guide your species to the Everlast." The Curator replied, with a resonating orchestra of voices.

"Well, we have so much more to learn. I hope you can be instrumental to our survival too. We need your help to at least get ourselves back on our feet first, before we begin such a journey. However, it's growing harder everyday as the war is far from over." Addington said, gazing up at the Curator.

"I can try my best." The Curator replied, hesitantly refraining from arguing. "Without returning directly to the Everlast, it'll take time for me to be able to resurface what I know."

"Thank you." Addington nodded towards the Curator, gently smiling in his resolution.

"So, did you ever find out about the attack on this station?" Wispwaker asked, hovering closer to the Imperial Admiral.

"Oh, yes. We still haven't found the exact reason, however, we do know the one who initiated it. It... was Shoemaker."

"Really?"

"Unfortunately, yes... He found a way to contact and convince those ships to fire upon us, and we have him imprisoned in the station, just short of being court marshalled. We need more time to figure out his objective as he won't talk, but he's contained." Addington said, sighing again.

Dollface appeared on the holotable in her familiar pink glow, and added, "He's under heavy lockdown. He won't be escaping at all. He's suspended in a magnetic restraint within his luminere shell, so he can't even upload himself into the station." Dollface stood there, unmoving as ever before.

"Well, that's good news. Is there anything else you need, Imperial Admiral?" Akinyemi asked, more tired than before. He knew it wouldn't be a simple delivery once they had arrived back over Elysium, the look in the admiral's eye conveyed there was much more to be done.

"Actually yes, there is." Addington waved away the escorts, and they took the Curator with them. He typed onto the holotable, and a large blue hologram of a planet appeared above it, displayed just to the the side of the hologram were holographic words that read, "Thursday Fire - Wedmeiro System." Imperial Admiral Addington continued, "I know you've been making constant riftspace jumps to planets, but I need you to do this again for me, since you're the only ones readily available, and have the security clearances possible for this. I need you to travel to the Middle Colony of Thursday Fire, and investigate a missing DII science team. I wouldn't have done this so quickly if it wasn't of importance. While your team was sent to Zephyr, this science team on Thursday Fire discovered a new Composer temple, or something. But just a few days ago, all contact with them ceased. No word from them, or the Atlas escorts that were with them. I think you know what to do from here. I'll have you debriefed I further detail of the events of Operation: BOOMERANG at a later date. Now's not the time for that."

"Alright, sir." Akinyemi sAkinyemi nodded, and said, "When do you need us to leave?"

"Unfortunately, immediately. Before all contact was terminated from them, the sight was described as a 'catastrophic find'. We can't have something like this getting into the wrong hands. Secure the sight, and relay back what you find, that's all. Here are the coordinates." A series of numbers appeared with a blip on the Northern Hemisphere of the hologram with the coordinates for the planet itself displayed next to it.

Akinyemi nodded, then trade saluted with the Imperial Admiral, and walked down the hovering stairs towards Dominion. He kept on walking while Wispwaker hovered right beside him.

"Is he okay?" Cynthia asked Radha.

"I think he's still beating himself up over losing Staliar and Tuill. He feels responsible for it."

"But none of it was his fault…" Cynthia said, detached.

"I know. But he thinks it is." Radha just stood there before having the rest of Dominion follow the Atlas.

Chapter 10

It was a couple of days later, and the Remembering Exuberance arrived in the Wedmeiro System, and were far enough from Thursday Fire that the planet appeared to be as a twelve foot wide swimming pool on the viewport. However, the planet itself was actually larger than Earth. Thursday Fire's diameter was eight thousand, two hundred miles across and was orbited by three moons. The colony was founded during the Second Mass Expansion in the year 2331 CE, and was officially designated a Middle Colony in September of that year.

The planet had a very desert-like appearance with continent-spanning sand dunes and barren lands. However, during its establishment, the original settlers were able to tame the deserts, creating oases all over the world. The planet had a single massive equatorial ocean, known as the Tamer Ocean. On both hemispheres from the ocean were two super-continents known as Wilderland, in the north, and Brander, in the south, respectively. The planet was sparsely populated due to its aridness, scaring away most potential settlers. At most, the planet had a few cities spread across it, with a total population never exceeding over one million. So even over six hundred years later, it was still regarded as a frontier colony surrounded by systems more modernized and densely populated.

The Exuberance drew ever closer to the planet and Captain Parri was sitting in the Overlook. He leaned in his chair, and said, "I remember visiting this planet before, a long time ago. Yeah, during my Naval Cadets Academy training in the year twenty-nine, forty-three, when I was eighteen. I was stationed here after applying to the United Legion from my homeworld of Findact. Findact didn't have an academy at the time, since it started out as a frontier colony just like this one is. The academy on Thursday Fire might be the only reasons it still shows up on nav charts. I think the planet is in the neighboring system from here, if I remember correctly. It's been a really long time."

Colonel Singer gazed up at him from the middle of the bridge, and replied, "That's actually really cool. That's before you met Captain Bree, right?"

"Waaay before." Captain Parri said, sighing. "I actually had a fling with another young woman at the time, her name was Lily."

"What happened to her?"

"Honestly, I don't know anymore. Most likely dead." Captain Parri slid in his chair a bit.

The Exuberance made its way through the exosphere of Thursday Fire towards Wilderland, and began descending towards their destination. Later, Dominion descended in a Mirage through the Rashta Valley region of the Wilderland supercontinent. From what Akinyemi could see through the cockpit were large desert-brown mesas standing a few hundred feet high, and several more wide, and dried dunes going on for miles and miles out across the horizon. There was sparse cloud cover in the sky, and the yellow-white light of Wedmeiro reflected off the rocks, emanating a blinding haze across the dry landscape.

They made their way through a small canyon range and more towering pillars of stone were passed by them. Radha finished cleaning off her sniper rifle, and turned her head to Akinyemi, and asked, "How much longer, Commander?"

"Not much longer. We have to maneuver through here without crashing."

"Gotcha'."

Voiceless, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, and Cynthia were all sitting down, and weren't saying much of anything. Red stood in the middle of the Mirage, clinging onto a handrail above himself.

Red squacked, with mild chirping, while gazing at the Atlas.

"You can go pee when we land.." Akinyemi frowned inside his helmet.

Wispwaker zoomed around the Mirage, and stopped just before Akinyemi. He looked at the Atlas, and said, "I hope we find something worthwhile down there, sir."

"Well, Addington did say that they said it was a 'catastrophic find'."

"True. But could it be a lie, or set up?"

"Set up for what?"

"I guess I'm just paranoid about Shoemaker still, sir."

"We'll be fine."

"Well, we did lose two friends in a manner of two to three days. So, our luck isn't the best." Marvin added, leaning his head over to them.

"That's definitely reassuring," said Cynthia, sarcastically, rolling her eyes inside her helmet.

"Sorry." Marvin cocked his weapons in front of himself, turning them in his hand.

Voiceless Cry had his head down, gazing at the floor. He didn't move for awhile, and his legs were sprawled a bit. I'oshot-Uu noticed this, and asked Marvin, "Is he asleep? How can he be asleep?"

"We've been through a lot, he just is."

"Ah."

The Mirage finally touched down at the bottom of the ravine, and the massive canyon walls seemed to pierce the sky. shadowing the ravine floor below, and at least the temperature was reduced upon landing. The pilot translocated Dominion down and when they landed, a small spray of tan and brown sand kicked up, sailing in the wind. They made their way north through the ravines for sometime.

During their way there, small birds flew by, and a couple of lizards darted underneath rocks. "This is a weird place to put a Composer temple, at the bottom of a hot-ass canyon. I swear.." Cynthia said, trying to catch up to everyone else.

"Maybe this place didn't use to be so arid when it was built?" Radha asked, as her headscarf blew in front of her helmet.

"Planet's sometimes go through natural global warming events right?" Marvin asked.

"Yeah, it's possible." Wispwaker replied.

There were small echoes in the canyon as they talked, and trudged, and Red got a little excited. He stopped, then looked up. He projected out a series of loud, shrilling caws, and listened to the reverberating echoes through the ravine. They could hear shifting rocks and quick scuffling above them. Small stones collapsed to the ravine floor, shattering on impact.

"You scared the wildlife Red." Radha said.

Red lowered his head, then leaned forward, and screamed.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Marvin asked, turning around annoyed.

Red's echoes reverberated around the ravine in a distorted sort of way, and he stopped. He reached out his free hand in front of himself and felt the air. He grasped the atmosphere with his two thumbs, while the other two fingers were sticking up. His ears twitched while his beaded waddles swayed from his movements. Red then squacked, and took point ahead of everyone as the echoes subsided.

"You clever shit." Cynthia said, smiling inside her helmet.

Dominion charged through the ravine floor, making their way deeper into it. The light dimmed as the canyon walls blocked out Wedmeiro's rays. Soon they approached what looked like an old encampment on the ground. There were shredded sleeping bags, trampled equipment, scattered crates, smothered fire pits, and sand-covered, half-eaten corpses in the dirt.

"What happened here, is dis the team?" I'oshot-Uu asked, crouching in the dirt.

Wispwaker zoomed above the encampment, and scanned around the area with bubble-shaped pulses. "No, this isn't the team. From what I can tell, they died weeks ago. They died by predators around the area."

"What kind of predators?" Cynthia asked, lowering her rifle.

"Well, there's a journal underneath one of the bodies. These people were hunted by what they called Cliff Stalkers. The creatures were native to this planet before it was colonized, but they're large desert reptilian predators."

"Sounds, gnarly. Does the journal depict what they look like?" Radha asked, scanning the ravine for any potential hostiles.

Akinyemi rummaged through the bodies, caking his gauntlet in sand and dirt. He pulled out a dried, leather-bound journal that was mostly falling apart. He carefully turned it over, and delicately opened its pages. He quickly scanned the pages, and turned some more, eventually finding a quick, charcoal sketch in the middle of the book.

The charcoal sketch depicted the Cliff Stalkers as having small, pointed heads with four eyes, massive, mandibled jaws with fangs, and long tongues for tasting the air for prey. They had large, muscular, scaled bodies that had large sprawling forelegs that stretched back and up, bending at the elbow, and had elongated forearms, with massive claws, and smaller digitigrade hindlegs. They had long tails for stabilizing and balance for the rocky terrain, and they had smaller arms tucked underneath their bodies for grasping prey. The Cliff Stalkers' overall size were depicted to be six feet high at the shoulder, and their bodies twelve feet long. Akinyemi muttered under his breath as he scanned the page, and showed it to everyone else.

"That's them?" Cynthia leaned her body to the left to see it. "Shit, fuck, poor people."

"That's rather kinda fascinating, actually." Wispwaker zoomed around to see the pages, studying the sketches. "But I sure wouldn't want to encounter any."

"That's a no from me," Radha quipped, stepping back.

"Too bad they had to go out like this," Marvin said.

Up along the cliff faces of the ravine, more shuffling and scattering could be heard. Out of the crevices crawled out the massive reptiles, and their green-brown scales exposed them to Dominion. They snapped open fan-shaped vibrantly colored frills, from the back of the heads, that rattled as they hissed at the fireteam.

"We should get moving," Akinyemi concluded, dropping the journal into the dirt.

"Agreed," I'oshot-Uu responded, following the Atlas.

Red picked up the journal, and placed it into an empty compartment in his armor, then followed behind Akinyemi.

Dominion continued making their way into the ravine, and a light wind picked up around them, blowing sand gently around their feet. The light of Wedmeiro began to grow overhead them, and it shimmered off the sand, rocks, and glared off of Dominion's armors. A small ping displayed on Akinyemi's HUD, and he could see it was not too far away. He had Dominion pick up their pace as they traced the signal into a relative opening in the ravine, facing north east.

Once they made it around the bend, what could be seen made them stop in their tracks. Another Composer temple stood erect, built into the side of the canyon walls. The silver-grey spires licked the sky with their enormous height, and the jagged-geometry seemed to hum. White lights emanated out from the temple, shining into the ravine, and the area seemed to hold an eerily peaceful atmosphere, which Dominion recognized. Not too far away was an abandoned Mirage, parked inside a nook big enough for it to fit in.

"So this is what you found back on Zephyr?" Cynthia asked, gazing at Akinyemi from behind him.

"Yes." He said, shortly.

"But that's not the best part," Marvin added.

"How so?"

"You'll see."

Akinyemi approached a conduit that was just in front of the temple, and a holographic ball of hard-light appeared above it again. Akinyemi immediately placed his hand on it, and the temple hummed with a pleasant series of relaxing notes. The doors opened up like a three-dimensional kaleidoscope, and disappeared into seemingly nothingness.

Cynthia stood there in awe as the opening dwarfed them, and Dominion was immediately bathed in white light once more. "How the hell-"

"Impressive huh?" Wispwaker turned to her. "I had spoken with the Curator before we arrived at Kopu'Mere-mere, and he called these doors 'Sural'."

"That's fucking awesome." She made a small bounce of giddiness before they trailed inside.

Dominion made their way inside to find old tents that were overturned, and more corpses all over the place. Ransacked equipment, food containers, and notes were scattered all over the place. Several of the corpses were severely burned with bolts shredded through their flesh. A few armored bodies of the Atlas escorts were slumped over each other, or sprawled out. Their weapons lay just inches away from their hands.

The blip pulsed slower on Akinyemi's HUD but its origin was that of a disfigured luminere shell, that was lying on the ground. The iris was shattered, and was flickering frequently. Akinyemi knelt down beside it and picked it up. He turned towards Wispwaker who hovered not too far away, and held it in his direction.

"Scan this, and try to retrieve the last memory fragments you can, so we can find out what happened here." Akinyemi held it closer to Wispwaker as the Luminere zoomed towards him.

Voiceless, Radha, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, Red, and Cynthia just stood nearby, and rummaged through the supplies, searching for any supplies and ammo they could scavenge. Wispwaker first activated his bubble-pulse scanning of the immediate area, then shifted it into a directed beam at the dead Luminere.

Static sounded from the dead Luminere, and Wispwaker extracted the light brown data crystal from the casing, then set it down gently onto the flooring. He kept the scanning beam concentrated on the data crystal, until more static played. Wispwaker stopped, and everyone diverted their attention towards it.

A series of multi-faceted, and gridded holograms appeared around Dominion, 'reconstructing' the area around them to a few days prior. The holographic displays of the encampments shone that the area was fine, and everyone was still alive. The four members of the Atlas escorts were standing around, with their guns rested in their hands, but pointed down and to the sides. Nearby them was the science team composed of six DII science officers in archaeology, xenolinguistics, weapons/technology advancement, etc.

The Atlas fireteam had just finished placing excavation and research crates down right beside them near the Sural in the entrance, and sat down atop other containers on the edge of the campsite.

The first Atlas said, "We need a break, we've been constantly moving for hours. Hey, Darius? Can you fetch me a beer?" The holograms' movements were slightly jaded, and the audio was mildly distorted.

Darius turned his dark head next to the Atlas beside him, and replied, "You get it, you lazy ass." Darius' voice was smooth as dark silk.

"Be nice you two. We're still here until these egg-heads are done with their nerdgasms." An Atlas woman said, standing back up again, taking a swig of water.

"Y'know we can't do that, Meredith," Darius said, leaning back.

Meredith turned towards the first Atlas, and said, "Terry, is he right?"

"Yeah. He is, unfortunately." Terry said, finally getting up, and heading into one of the tents and came up with a metallic bottle of Shays'. Shays' was a popular beer brand throughout the Blue Empire, and Terry cracked it open, and started chugging.

The fourth Atlas stood up and paced towards the Sural before stopping, and turned towards the rest, waiting there.

"You gonna come join us, Lu?" Darius asked, facing her.

"Nahh, I'm good. I'll just be over here." Lu replied.

The DII scientists continued working on scanning artifacts and pillars deeper inside the temple. One came back from over thirty meters away, from farther inside with a floating metallic dolly-table, carrying back more artifacts.

"Sight these, and categorize them for their different builds," said the one next to the dolly. He was a man who stood at a height of five feet, eleven inches. He had short black hair, grey eyes, and a thin mustache resting on his upper lip. He had light brown skin, and had a white lab coat with ultramarine accents on the collar, and along one of the front sides.

"Dr. Castillo, why don't you move the dolly over towards the entrance there with the rest?"

"Fine… This place is about to go dry with all the artifacts we've uncovered. There's practically nothing left to find." Dr. Castillo said, his Spanish accent was mimicked the best it could through the memory fragment. "Hey, Brown, Davis, Russell, Ching, and Chekhov, take these, I'll head further inside." The hologram reconstructed Castillo handing over the floating dolly to Chekov, and the scientists took it over, moving it back to the encampment.

Dr. Castillo had moved away, back deeper into the temple. The Luminere had zoomed towards the scientists, and hovered between them. "What a find, this time!" The AI exclaimed.

"Hey, Blackhouse, will you scan and archive the information for us?" Russell asked, combing his fingers through his sandy hair.

"Sure thing!" Blackhouse scanned and archived them all as quickly as she could.

Akinyemi's face became stern, and said, "Skip ahead a bit."

"Alright, sir." Wispwaker pulsed his scanning beam, and the holographic footage fast-forwarded the models for several hours, and the brown light flashed onto Dominion as they waited for Wispwaker to hit resume.

"Where the fuck is Castillo?" Darius shouted, stepping away from one of the silver-grey walls away from the encampment. "He's been gone for hours. We should just leave already, we have more than enough shit to take back to Leviathan."

"We have to stay here, and wait. We can't just go." Lu said, approaching Darius aggressively.

"Y'know what? Fuck off." He scowled at her, and shoved her.

Terry, and Meredith raised their rifles at Darius. "Stand down, man." They said in unison. The other scientists stepped back slowly with their hands raised a bit in anxiety. Their faces had light senses of fear spread across them.

"Or what? We've been here for weeks! And I'm sick of this. I'm tired, and there are Cliff Stalkers outside. Or are you going to make me just leave? Because that's what I want to do."

"We'll use force if we have to." Terry replied sternly. "You haven't been the same since Rhea died."

"Of course I fucking haven't! How else do you expect me to react?" He sat down on the ground, resting his forearms on his knees. Terry and Meredith lowered their weapons, and Lu nodded for the scientists to continue their work.

"Maybe he got held up on some of the temple's defences, it's not uncommon." Lu suggested.

"Fireteam Knifepoint," Dr. Ching started, rummaging through holo-files, until she found an Artemis buried underneath the mess. "You are more than capable to go searching for him, we can take care of ourselves here."

Terry stepped away from the other Atlas and handed Dr. Ching his energy pistol. "We'll be back shortly, everything will be alright. We'll find him."

"You better, because we're all on our own out here," Dr. Chekhov sighed, running diagnostics on some other artifacts, placed against one of the walls.

Dr. Davis started rummaging through the artifacts on the hover-dolly, as Terry walked over back to the rest of Knifepoint. She soon pulled out a small, orb-like object that was silver-grey in color, and had one white Composer glyph along the top of it. Out of curiosity, she ran her thumb on it, and pressed it. The orb began to glow white-hot and a hum steadily increased as rays of hard light shot out in all directions, spinning randomly all over the place. The orb's rays penetrated her body, and everyone else, burning through their bodies with millions of rotations a minute, and they began to scream. Everyone of them collapsed, into burning heaps of flesh, and their clothes and armor melted to their corpses. Blackhouse then soon fell from the air, and sent out a distress beacon as life slowly faded away.

The brown gridded holograms dissolved back into the data crystal on the floor, and she was now officially dead. Dominion just stood there, and froze for a bit from what they witnessed. They gazed around at what they realized was a gravesite, and remained silent for sometime.

"We have to go find Dr. Castillo before we report back." Cynthia said, raising her rifle a bit in her hands.

"Even if he's still alive…" Marvin added.

"Cynthia's right. We were told to investigate, then relay the information. We're not done investigating until we know the doctor's true fate." Radha said, gazing at Akinyemi.

Akinyemi looked around at them, who all turned their attention to him. He checked the time on his Artemis, and sighed. "I agree with Cynthia and Radha. Cynthia, Radha, and Voiceless, you guys take point ahead. Red, Marvin, and I'oshot-Uu will be behind with me. As for you, Wispwaker, do what you need to do."

Voiceless, Radha, and Cynthia nodded, and moved ahead of the rest of Dominion. Akinyemi, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, and Red tailed behind, and Wispwaker zoomed around, scanning and cataloguing what he found interesting. They went deeper into the temple, following silver-grey staircases that led down into a circular atrium with a suspended platform in the middle. Pillars wrapped around the outer edges, dropping into a mist below the circular platform. Floating spires hovered above the atrium, seemingly motionless and reverent.

In the center of the platform was a towering white tree, with white data streams pouring into the trunk, from all directions, and every couple of seconds, the tree pulsed a hum with a small white light. The branches sprawled over the platform, and small floating white orbs dangled below the tallest branches. It emanated an atmosphere of tranquility, as if a wave removed all anxiety and stress.

"I feel eerily relaxed," Cynthia said. "It is very strange, and pleasant."

"It is indeed." I'oshot-Uu added. "Dis place would be perfect for me and de Sohai Order. It has de right environment for meditation, and little-to-no distractions too."

"Where does the order usually reside? Forgive me, I really don't know much about it." Cynthia asked.

"Secluded monasteries or orbital space stations. I myself prefer de monasteries, like dat of de ones on Kotar. It's because I got to see the Floating Mountains of Wucanden, every day. I loved dem."

"That sounds amazing, I must visit there sometime." Cynthia replied.

"I'll take you whenever de war is over, double up on the breaths of relief."

"Sounds good to me, just hopefully it can end soon."

"What is this tree though?" Radha stepped up onto the platform, pressing her hand against the pulsing trunk. Bioluminescent veins activated more pulses of light underneath her hand, fading away like a wave as she dragged her hand across the wood. "I've never seen anything like this before."

"This could be the source of the calming auras. Maybe the Composers empathetically connected to it to communicate thoughts, feelings, memories. It could be their last source of living knowledge in these temples." Wispwaker said, hovering around the base of the trunk.

"Then how do we connect to them?"

"Honestly, I don't know. They seem to merge with the technology and architecture seamlessly, as if there's no difference between organism and architecture. We'll have to take the time to study these in further detail when we are done finding Castillo."

Voiceless Cry stared up at its golden leaves in admiration and wonder, temporarily kneeling down to it. He was joined by I'oshot-Uu who knelt down beside him and Red broke away from the fireteam too, extending his arms up as if in worship. The towering Bir'vo swayed in his own temporary trance underneath the branches and they all were transfixed by his splendor. It pulsed out a harmony of tunes and notes vibrating them the air molecules around it to produce the music on its own, captivating Fireteam Dominion.

After what they presumed to be over a dozen minutes as they were too engraved to pay attention to the clocks on their heads up displays, they stepped away from the coruscant tree, and proceeded deeper into the temple. They passed several small junctions leading into other rooms blocked off by Human-door-sized Sural, their footsteps shrouded by the sound reducing floors. The temple was silent inside, with nothing stirring. Soon after, swirling flutters of white butterflies weaved their way through the air above Dominion, and the swarm away towards the atrium with the tree, while disembodied whispers echoed around them. Musical notes began to pierce through the veil of silence, and it resembled over-toned throat singing with mild chanting. Large geometrically-shaped totem poles lined the walls, towering over Dominion, with designs of long-extinct animals carved into them.

"This place is too damn cool. I wish I could've been here in its prime!" Cynthia couldn't hold in her excitement anymore.

"You're tellin' me!" Wispwaker zoomed up to the carvings, taking in as much as he could. He gazed down from high above Dominion. "Can we live here, sir?"

Everyone else stopped and gazed up at the Luminere. Akinyemi lowered his rifle, faintly smiling at him, but said, "I'm afraid not."

"Ah shit…" Wispwaker descended back down to them.

Dominion pursued further, and the temple opened up into a massive, enclosed garden. Around them were small fields of green, and a shimmering pond. From the edges of the pond were silver-grey bridges, leading into a small patch of grass, with a large tree in the center. The tree had spruce colored wood, and dark green foliage spread over the place. Paper lanterns dangled from the branches, illuminating the area. Smaller paper lanterns floated on top of the water of the pond, gently lighting up the area. Next to the tree was a wooden shinto-like gate, and an urn-sized stone bowl with Composer runes carved around it. On the edges of the far walls were more Sural leading further into the temple in many directions.

Small fish swam through the pond, and curiously witnessed Dominion as they passed through. Voiceless stopped, and stared through his Koro, panning around, taking everything in. He tilted his head down, and watched the fish hesitantly swim up to him, and he knelt down towards them, extending his free hand, palm up. He gently touched a few with his fingers while weaving them through the water.

I'oshot-Uu lifted his own head in awe, and immediately knelt down too, and pressed his hands together. "Dis place is perfect." The atmosphere around them shared the relaxing tranquil energy as the tree in the atrium, and I'oshot-Uu was in bliss.

Marvin, Cynthia, and Radha walked over to the tree, and the urn-like bowl, sitting down next to them, and laid their weapons on the grass. Red joined them, but before doing so, reached his free hand into the pond, and drank some water.

Akinyemi and Wispwaker looked at each other in unison, and the Luminere said, "We need a break. And this place here is perfect for that. We could live here forever."

"I can take a break, yeah." Akinyemi dematerialized his helmet, and took in the fresh air of the garden glade.

Akinyemi sat down next to Cynthia and Radha, and laid back, leaning against the tree. He tried resting his eyes, but was never fully comfortable to go asleep. More flurries of the white butterflies fluttered overhead, weaving in and out through the air. However, the auras of relaxation, and the faint music set in a trance, and Akinyemi fell unconscious.

Akinyemi saw the same man, in the vision he had back on Kopu'Mere-mere. They were in the city streets of New Nairobi, hover cars zoomed overhead in dense traffic, and the sky was overcast. Many skyscrapers loomed overhead, piercing the sky with their boundless height. On the front surfaces of the buildings, Giant holographic advertisements danced and flashed, illuminating the massive city. They were composed of a myriad of vibrant neon colors, made to gather the attention of the civilians around the city. The streets were crowded with clusters of people, most if not all dark brown in skin tone. Several people walked past Akinyemi and the man, waving at them, smiling. They wore brightly colored hoodies, and furred jackets, tall grey boots, and carried handheld Artemis in their hands, or wore holo-specs versions on their faces. The accessories came in many colors, sticking out from the grey sky above, matching the vibrant face make up and tattoos that adorned their bodies.

Akinyemi turned to the man next to him as they continued walking, and brushing passed some people, and said, "It's been awhile since we've seen them. We should hangout with them sometime, Olubayo."

Olubayo gazed up at Akinyemi, for he was only a few inches shorter. Olubayo wore a grey puffer jacket with a jagged-looking bottom, and it's hood covered his now short, dark dreads that were on his head. He had skinny lime green pants, brown boots, and orange holo-specs on his face. He sported a five o'clock shadow, and his amber eyes seemed to always convey tired comfort. "Yeah, we should hit them up. Maybe swing by my place later tonight, and invite them over." When he spoke, he had a medium voice with a thick Kenyan accent.

"That sounds good, man."Akinyemi smiled a bit, and opened the door to a small bar for Olubayo. The bar was on a corner of a busy road, and had pink holographic font that read Otieno's.

Akinyemi followed Olubayo inside, and they sat down at the nearest booth. The interior was dimly lit with a soft yellow light, and gave a warm atmosphere inside. At least fifty booths wrapped around the walls of the building, and had brown leather coverings that fitted to the customer once they sat down. Synth pop, and electro swing music played from a chest-high holodecks along the back wall, and a few Yemojans were dancing to it in the background, most likely drunk or just having a good time. A few couples were slow dancing in front of Akinyemi and Olubayo, lost in their eyes not paying attention to anyone around them.

The bar was against the left wall, and all the hover-stools were occupied by men and women leaning over the counter and drinking away the evening. Behind the counter stood a twelve foot high rack of liquor, beer, whiskey, rum, Tusker, etc. They were all encased in vibrant glass bottles, and shimmered against the lights shining on them. A Rig bartender stood at the counter, dressed brightly adorned kente robe-like garments, and he was cleaning the wooden counter with a damp hand towel, and nodded at Akinyemi and Olubayo with acknowledgement as they sat down.

Olubayo turned to Akinyemi, and said, "Happy Birthday man. I know you don't usually prefer to celebrate it and shit, but I still wanted to tell you." He leaned against the table, and gave him a carved wooden amulet, that had golden beads weaving through it.

"Hey, thanks man. I appreciate it."Akinyemi turned it around, and placed it around his neck, it rested gently atop his collar bones. "But wait, wasn't this your favorite one?"

"Yeah… but I want you to have it. We've been through everything together, and I appreciate you." Olubayo gently smiled, and looked up to his right as a waitress approached them.

The waitress' holo-watch read September 9th, 2926, in glowing blue letters below the time. The waitress had a red apron wrapped around a black sweater, and she had a shaved head with hoop earrings dangling from her ears. She smiled at them both, and asked, "What can I get for you today?"

Olubayo smiled back, and replied, "We'll have one of your specials for the birthday boy here." He smirked, removing his hood from his head.

"Oh? Happy Birthday! How old are you, sir?"

"I'm eighteen, ma'am." Akinyemi gazed back up at her, his hands cupped in his lap.

"That's a good age, don't wear it off too fast." She gave a sly face while shaking her pen. "And for you?"

Olubayo gazed at the menu, and simply replied, "Because I'm a couple months older than this ass, I'll have...Mnazi." Mnazi was a naturally fermented, milky-coloured palm wine, a simple favorite of Olubayo.

"...Alright. I'll have your guys' drinks in a few."

Akinyemi awoke to find that it was about an hour or two later, and everyone else was still unconscious, lying on the grass around him. He struggled back onto his feet, and stood up. He picked his Trident rifle off of the ground, then rested it against the tree's dark wood, and his face read of a stern, and tired longing. He then sighed, and pulled out a power bar, to try to regain his energy.

Afterwards, Akinyemi paced around, swinging his arms softly forward and backward. He walked away from Dominion, and sat near the pond. Voiceless happened to be awake, and was meditating a few feet away. Voiceless was cross-legged, and had his hands placed on his thighs. The Uru didn't even notice Akinyemi, and was just concentrating on breathing, while several white butterflies perched themselves on his head and shoulders. One landed on his left hand, and he slowly raised it, staring at it through his Koro.

Voiceless tilted his head slightly to the side, and that's when he noticed the Atlas in his peripheral vision. He simply raised his shoulders a bit, and nodded at Akinyemi. He then extended his hand out, with the butterfly still resting there, and had Akinyemi extend his own hand too. Voiceless transferred it to Akinyemi, nodding again when the butterfly didn't fly off.

A loud tremor could be heard in the distance, and Voiceless and Akinyemi stood up, and the butterflies flew away. Voiceless picked up his weapons, and began waking the others while Akinyemi grabbed his own rifle from the tree. Red gave out a loud squawk and darted up.

"What was that?" Cynthia asked.

"It came from the north, even deeper inside." Akinyemi replied, pointing towards the back wall in the distance.

Voiceless immediately took point ahead of Dominion, slouching somewhat as he made his way to the large Sural ahead of them. He ushered the rest to follow, and they did right away. Cynthia was the first to arrive to the Sural conduit, and placed her hand into the white ball, activating it. Just behind Voiceless and Cynthia were: Radha, Red, Akinyemi, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu and Wispwaker in that order.

"Could it be the scientist?" Marvin asked as the Sural continued to open in front of them.

"Well, whatever it is, we'll be finding out real quick." Radha replied.

The Sural finished opening, and led them into a long corridor with geometric white rays of light running along the walls. The corridor hallway topped off into a pseudo-trapezoidal shape, and the walls hummed. Without hesitation, Voiceless crouched lower to the ground as he made his way ahead, and the rest of Dominion followed him once more.

They passed a junction that branched off into more corridors leading elsewhere in the temple, but kept pressing forward with urgency. More disembodied whispers and chanting could be heard echoing throughout the junction, and it felt too surreal for them. The hallway ended in one last Sural that was only nine feet tall, and a smaller conduit terminal was just in front of it.

Akinyemi nodded for Cynthia to activate it, and the conduit dematerialized into nothingness. The Sural opened quickly, and they rushed inside to be greeted with a blue flash sizzling passed them, almost impacting Wispwaker dead on.

Dominion all raised their weapons at a distraught Dr. Castillo, and he collapsed on his knees in exhaustion. "Dr. Castillo? This is Major Cynthia Carrillo of Fireteam Dominion, we're here to rescue you." Cynthia and Voiceless rushed over to help him.

They clambered over destroyed Hitodama constructs that littered the flooring, sparking and flickering in the dim light of the hall. More constructs poured out of access tunnels from the walls, scanned Dominion and Castillo, then diverted their attention elsewhere.

After he was lifted back to his feet, Castillo mumbled, "We can't let them have it…"

"Have what Doc?" Cynthia asked, readjusting his weight on her shoulder.

"Turn around… I'll... I'll show you. But, we must make it quick." His voice was hoarse from dryness and dehydration.

The rest of the room opened up into a massive and towering cylindrical-like shape with the impossible geometric architecture carved into the familiar silver-grey. It seemed to reach up into a mist above them. In the middle of the room was a circular platform floating above a chasm with the round shape. The platform opened into what appeared to be a large, floating silver-grey orb with a tall protrusion erecting out of the top. Around the circumference were spinning Composer glyphs, and the object displayed a large white hard-light hologram above.

The hologram was of a structure constructed into an open, lotus-like flower, with a void in the center and what appeared to be a small planet in the center of the void. Two massive pointed metallic arms opposite to each other reached out from that central void, towards the outer diameter of the structure, arching up and over. On the petals of the structure, which was layered with four on the top, and six just below, around the diameter, were supercontinents, and oceans that sprawled across the entirety of each petal. Just floating away from the front of the petals were smaller silver-grey ones that didn't contain any biospheres.

"What the fuck is dat?" I'oshot-Uu asked in confused awe.

"T-that, is a Composer Lifebloom, and this device in front of us is a starmap leading us to it." He extended his hand out as he recomposed himself. He walked up to the orb device, placing his hand atop it. "

"What's a Lifebloom?" Akinyemi asked, getting somewhat suspicious while gazing up at the rotating hologram.

"I'm not too entirely sure. But what I came to the conclusion of, is that it's as potentially dangerous as it is magnificent." Castillo pointed at research notes that were sprawled and scattered all over the floor a few feet away. "It's a megastructure. Maybe one of a kind? I'm guessing that it can create life, hence the name it was given. But with all that landmass on there, we could definitely start up research and science bases to study it."

"Where is it, exactly?" Radha asked.

"O-o-outside the Blue Empire's sphere of influence. After days of cross-referencing star charts and the constellations above the Outer Colonies, I've determined it resides deep within the central bulge of the Perseus Arm… We need to get there fast, and claim it before the Coalition stumble upon it. Who knows what atrocities they can commence more so if they have control of it." Dr. Castillo appeared emaciated, and his eyes carried dark bags underneath them. He was jittery, and shaky from what appeared to be dehydration and lack of sleep.

"Wispwaker-" Akinyemi started.

"Already on it, sir." Wispwaker zoomed around the Wayfinder and the hologram, scanning both, and archiving the information he could get.

Red looked around, and chirped with gurgled-clicks.

"Good question." Dr. Castillo replied, pointing a finger into the air. He paced around, trying to collect his scattered thoughts, and notes off the floor. "I've survived here because of the Composers' beautiful technology. Those pulses of relaxing energy that you've encountered? They also supply glucose energy through neutrinos directly into your cells. It's outstanding! To know how to construct and engineer this kind of stuff…"

"That's fucking awesome!" Cynthia said, stepping back a little bit.

"So… if we decided to not eat for a long time, we wouldn't die, right?" Marvin asked, tilting his head to the side while gazing at the hologram and Dr. Castillo.

"Well, if you don't purposely starve yourself, I think… I myself am too exhausted, I need water." Dr. Castillo replied, while having a coughing fit.

Radha handed him a small water flask, and he took a quick swig of it, with some droplets pouring out from the sides of his mouth. He wiped his wet face on one of his sleeves of his dirty and tattered lab coat. Dr. Castillo then placed a hand on the Wayfinder, and nodded at them.

"So what now?" Marvin asked.

"As this is a matter of DII importance, I change authority of this mission, and I require assistance in getting the Wayfinder out of here, and to Leviathan Station." Dr. Castillo was stressed and jittery still, and wrapped his arms around the Wayfinder, and gently pushed it towards Dominion.

"Red, grab ahold of it." Akinyemi said, as he began to reload his rifle.

Red squawked with a sigh, and mumbled chirp-whistles under his breath followed by a loud grunt as he squatted down and picked up the Wayfinder. Dominion and Castillo then stepped off of the floating platform that they were on, and started heading back through the tight corridors in front of them.

As they all filed through, there was a series of tremors that reverberated through the temple, and everyone widened their stance to retain what little balance they had.

"What was dat?" I'oshot-Uu asked, ducking down and covering his helmeted head with his arms. He then stumbled as the intensity of the tremors increased their magnitude.

"No. No. No. No. No." Castillo started and huddled down and equipped his energy pistol again. "It's the Coalition. They f-found us." His tired face read that of immediate terror.

"Wispwaker, can you scan how many ships there are?" Akinyemi asked, raising his rifle ahead of himself.

"There's too much interference, sir." Wispwaker zoomed around, sending out bubble-pulses around the corridors as they reentered the garden area.

The Composer temple began to hum to life even more, and drawn out tunes beated in the background, followed by metallic reverberating screams. Large distorted screams shot out, and faded away into the sky, and Dominion could hear it all from inside.

"The temple's defences are returning fire." Dr. Castillo said blankly.

"At least we have somewhat of a chance of making it out of here…" Radha replied, leaping around the shinto-like gate.

Dominion continued to press through as more tremors and deafening explosions cracked outside. They rushed ahead, and eventually arrived back at the atrium with the white tree. The data streams connecting to it shuddered under the stress, and the motionless spires above began to slowly separate. The butterflies swarmed away, and rushed into the mist below the atrium's floating platform. The disembodied whispers transformed into urgent cries, pounding their eardrums in order to keep them on their guard.

"This is fucking terrifying," Marvin added while they headed back for the entrance Sural.

"Out of all the Composer temples and ruins I've been in, I never seen any react like this before," Dr. Castillo looked around the temple as they approached the Sural. The destroyed encampment and charred bodies lay just ahead of them. Castillo then stopped and slumped his shoulders. He just stood there, motionless as more tremors rumbled throughout the temple.

"No, don't." Akinyemi said quietly, placing an arm in front of Cynthia, preventing her from moving towards Castillo.

Everyone else stood there too, behind Castillo, watching him mourn in silence. He walked forward, and knelt down next to the remains of Dr. Ching, and Russell. His eyes watered a bit as he turned his head towards Dominion, and asked, "How, did-"

"It was an accident. We recovered information from Fireteam Knifepoint's Luminere, Blackhouse. Dr. Davis had found what appeared to be a Composer Pulsar Grenade, and activated it, without knowing what it was. It killed them all…" Akinyemi said, solemnly.

Dr. Castillo then nodded his head a bit, for a few seconds, and wiped away the moisture from his eyes. He stood back up and activated a Conduit to the Sural ahead of them, and it slowly opened for them, exposing them to the late afternoon desert canyon just beyond. Warm air rushed into them, and Dr. Castillo's hair and lab coat blew a bit in the wind's path.

"Call your Mirage, quickly." Dr. Castillo gazed out and watched several Coalition ships descend into the atmosphere. He stood there slightly slouched, his arms resting in front of himself. He squinted as the blinding light of Wedmeiro shone on his face.

"This is Commander Asari-Dokubo to Mirage Verdant Black. We secured a DII scientist, and a Composer artifact. We're ready for transport."

"Affirmative, sir. Verdant Black incoming. Stand by for extraction." The pilot they flew in with replied, and the sounds of firefights came in through the commlinks.

Dominion waited as the battle over Thursday Fire commenced, and the Composer temple's defences continued to fire hard-light based, anti-air projectiles into the sky. Dominion and Dr. Castillo made their way down the silver-grey steps into the canyon below, and dust kicked off the ground with each step.

More Coalition megaliths and warbringers made in-atmospheric riftspace jumps above them in the sky, and began attacking the planet. Thousands of Obelisks and Ibises swarmed out of the looming fleet, and flew out in all directions, but mostly condensed towards the east.

Dr. Castillo smacked an Artemis he had clasped around his right arm, and said, "Those riftspace wormholes are causing quite the interference now, unless the Coalition are using jammers. Dammit." He smacked the Artemis again, and his face read that of urgent annoyance.

Verdant Black came down from the east as the Remembering Exuberance came into view in the distance. The Mirage zoomed into the canyon, rotated around, and began to land. A spray of hot sand and dust kicked up in an urgent rush in every direction, spraying Dominion and Dr. Castillo. Verdant Black then translocated them inside, and zoomed back towards the Exuberance.

Chapter 11

They were back in the Exuberance, and Akinyemi rushed into the command bridge, and dashed over towards the Overlook, and down at the bridge crew below. Captain Parri, and Colonel Singer nodded at each other, and turned towards the viewport.

"Officer Nayak, get us out of here. We have to let Battlefleet Desert Bulwark take care of this." Captain Parri said, distressed.

"Yessir." She moved her dark hair away from her face and punched in the codes to start up the riftspace drive.

A large shudder rumbled throughout the ships, and many sensors went off over the holotable in the middle of the command bridge. Captain Parri gazed at it, as Arrowhead flashed into view.

"What was that?" Captain Parri asked, hesitantly.

"I'm afraid to tell you that it's boarding craft, captain." Arrowhead materialized his holographic spear in his hands. "And lot's of it."

"Goddamnit." Captain Parri sighed, now pacing around the holotable.

"I'll prepare the fireteams, and legionnaires, captain." Colonel Singer said, and immediately went towards the communications terminal.

"Logan?" Captain Parri turned towards her.

"Yeah?"

"Tell everyone to give 'em hell."

Not too long later, Dominion was inside Hangar A, and several platoons of Legionnaires ran alongside them to defend the ship. Sprays of blue streaks peppered a Coalition Obelisk as it landed inside the hangar. Mirages fired their low-grade MER rounds at the Obelisk, punching massive holes into the hull after shattering the energy shields.

Coalition troops beamed down, and immediately fired back with streaks of violent purple, impaling Legionnaires with sizzling plasma energy. A random Atlas bounded around a Mirage, and set up a plasma launcher, aiming it at the oncoming enemy. The plasma launcher released a volley of overcharged plasma balls, zooming towards a Coalition platoon, shredding them apart with a massive blue-white explosion.

The hangar's lights flickered above, as more Coalition forces stormed the Exuberance. Red fired back with high precision, and the bolts penetrated the helmets of a few Grumpkenkraqers, their corpses whipped back as they collapsed onto the hangar floor. A Grish Qadi-tah fired a railgun shot from his lance, piercing through the skull of an Atlas right by Radha. The Atlas collapsed in a heap, with a loud thud.

"Shit!" Radha jumped back.

She equipped her sniper rifle, and without scoping, she fired a few headshots into the Grish and a couple Hi'osh.

Akinyemi threw an energy grenade at a small cluster of Ibuun, Grumpkenkraqers, Red Hand, and Ja'ic. The explosion sent limbs and armor scattering everywhere, and ragdolled against Coalition and United Legion soldiers. Red and purple blood sprayed into a mist, cascading back down against the floor.

"Hangars A-Z on the port side are overrun, any Legionnaires, marines, Rigs, and Atlas head there now to take out the invaders. Defend this ship, or die trying." Arrowhead said over the ship's intercomms. "That is an order."

Officer Lapu turned his head around from the control terminal, while transferring several orange holograms onto the holotable. Above the holotable were many holograms of Coalition ships, about ten in number. Followed by Battlefleet Desert Bulwark descending through the atmosphere to engage the enemy fleet.

"How'd they get in this quick?" Captain Parri asked. "Where did they come from?"

"Many ships swarmed in just below us as we were retrieving Dr. Castillo and his Wayfinder, captain. They're probably after them." Arrowhead said, gripping his holographic spear with his avatar's hands. "They appear to be a detachment fleet of one of many from Warlord Hajj-as'rah's forces, I'm not sure how they ended up this deep into our borders. He's been only targeting the Outer Colonies recently."

"Redirect fireteams Dominion, and Guildhand to secure the doctor and his artifact." Captain Parri jogged back up the bridge steps towards the overlook, and grabbed an energy shotgun from underneath the floating seat. He cocked it while sweat glistened against his dark skin. "And everyone in here will keep this ship running."

The Remembering Exuberance fired tracer missiles, and ionic torpedoes at the swarms of Coalition dropships and starfighters. Following up the torpedoes and missiles were four high-powered blasts of the MER gun on the front of the ship. Battlefleet Desert Bulwark could now be seen above them, firing at the Coalition fleet.

One of the holo-screens just above the main viewport of the bridge flashed on, and an Asian woman appeared on screen. She wore the ultramarine and silver armored uniform of a Fleet Admiral, and her brown hair was pulled back into a bun. Her face read that of distress and withheld anger. She had green eyes, and a sculpted face, with a pale complexion. "This is Fleet Admiral Linda Cho, of Battlefleet Desert Bulwark. You're in good hands, Captain." She was sitting in her overlook chair in the flagship, a Colossus-class supercarrier, the ULBE Heavy Winchester.

The Heavy Winchester, and a couple of Defiant-class destroyers: The Best Wingman, and the Triton moved ahead of the rest of the battlefleet and fired a volley of MER rounds into the Coalition fleet, punching through their energy shields, causing them to ripple under the impacts.

On the other side of the Exuberance's blast door were heavy explosions and frightened shouts. There then was a crash against the blast door, shaking the command bridge.

Captain Parri, and Colonel Singer rallied the bridge guard, and had them take point just in front of the blast doors to the command bridge. The guards raised their Trident and Verdant rifles ahead of them, widening their stance. Colonel Singer equipped her energy pistol in her hand, but was frustrated.

"This won't do shit." Colonel Singer grumbled, and her hair swayed as she moved. She moved towards a small vertical compartment just below the overlook, and pressed her hand against it. The compartment opened up after scanning her handprint, revealing a small arsenal of weapons. She grabbed a Verdant rifle, and several grenades. "Hell yeah." She smirked.

Captain Parri then slowly made his way towards the blast door, with his shotgun raised in front of him. One of the bridge guards turned towards the captain, and shouted, "Get back captain! We have this!"

"I'm not getting back." Captain Parri glared at the soldier. He licked his lips, and narrowed his eyes at the door.

Colonel Singer then appeared right beside Captain Parri, and they both nodded. She tightened her grip on the rifle, and gazed into its reflex sight. More explosions cascaded beyond the door, and the floor shuddered.

"This wait is killing me." Captain Parri said.

Dominion was running through a few corridors, and a Grish appeared around one of the corners, slouching under the cerulean blue light. The Grish soldier raised its railgun at Dominion before being taken out by concentrated fire.

"We need to pick up the pace, Dominion." Akinyemi said, and turned around a bend. "How much farther to the Science Deck, Wispwaker?"

Wispwaker hesitated while zooming beside them, "Uhhh, not too far, I think."

"Shouldn't you know for sure? You said you were talking to the Curator before." Cynthia asked, and fired at an oncoming Ibuun warrior.

"I should. But this is a large ship, obviously, and I've been there, like, once."

"Where's Fireteam Guildhand anyways?" Marvin asked through slight shortness of breath.

"Probably dead." I'oshot-Uu replied.

They came towards a large opening in the corridor junction, and a Grish Qadi-tah lifted up an Atlas through the torso with its spear. The Atlas' purple armored shimmered under the blue-white light of the junction, and turned her head towards Dominion. "Find… the doctor…" She gasped, before being decapitated by the Qadi-tah's kopesh. The Grish turned towards Dominion, and growled.

Red threw an energy grenade at the Grish, and the alien exploded into shredded armor and limbs. Bright red blood splattered over the fresh corpses of Fireteam Guildhand. Several other Grish not too far away in one of the other corridors took off, bounding away from Dominion. The towering aliens crashed into the corridors walls, and mowed down a Legionnaire who was unfortunate enough to be there at the moment.

The corpses of Guildhand were scattered, and limbs lay separate from twisted torsos, as well as bodiless heads. The rank of the rotting corpses and fresh blood permeated around, and Red almost vomited.

"You're right, I'oshot-Uu," said Cynthia, gazing at strings of guts wrapped around one of the bodies.

Voiceless patted I'oshot-Uu on the shoulder, and released a quiet sigh.

Marvin stepped over the bodies, and said, "Guys. We need to get going."

The Heavy Winchester fired a barrage of torpedoes, missiles, and railgun rounds at the Coalition fleet ahead of it. Coming from behind were The Best Wingman and Triton again, following up with more torpedoes, but the Triton's shields took the brunt of what came from the opposing fleet. Leading the Coalition Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn was a dreadnaught, the Seeker of Eternity, and loomed it from behind, firing at the United Legion ships.

Aiding the Winchester, Wingman, and Triton were a few battlecruisers, battlecarriers, and frigates. They all fired at the Coalition ships, but only a few more were damaged.

The blast doors to the command bridge of the Exuberance were blasted open, killing a couple of the bridge guards. The shrapnel flew into a couple of bridge crewman, killing them instantly with a spray of blood and severed throats. Streaks of sizzling purple zoomed through, and Captain Parri ducked, firing a couple rounds from his shotgun into the mist. A Grish and Ja'ic collapsed dead.

Colonel Singer evaded to the side, and fired her Verdant rifle at the Coalition forces, killing a Hi'osh after draining a few clips. She chucked one of her grenades, and it sailed into the alien platoon, and it exploded violently. She then took cover behind a wall as she reloaded her weapons once more.

Captain Parri and a few Legionnaires concentrated their fire at a group of Ibuun, and Red Hand who clambered their way inside, with flashes of bright blue energy. Draxii warriors then proceeded to come in before getting gunned down. However, the last one managed to shoot Captain Parri in the leg, causing the captain to collapse to the floor in searing pain.

"Ewalani, help him up." Hassan said, as he entered the command bridge with blood all over his disfigured helmet and armor.

Followed behind him were Cupa Uarcay, Hard-Glory-Reaps-the-Stronger, and Kyra and Nhia Akie. Ewalani clambered over the piles of corpses and knelt down towards the downed captain, helping him up.

"It's about damn time." Colonel Singer said, coming around from the corner, and lowered her rifle. "We need to get him to the infirmary." She gazed down at the captain, and her sweaty face shimmered in the light. Dust and dirt stuck to her now messy hair.

"N-no. I'm staying right in here. I'll be fine. Just get a medic in here." Captain Parri groaned, shrugging it off. He had Ewalani help him over to his chair on the overlook.

"Damnit, Bradeesh." Colonel Singer sneered, with an undertone of respect. "You got balls, I give you that."

"I always had them," he replied, forcing in a laugh, before gritting his teeth due to the immense pain of having a gaping plasma bolt hole in his thigh.

Arrowhead materialized next to them on a holo-pedestal near the door, and he was clearly stressed. "This isn't good. At all."

"We noticed." Kyra quipped, reloading her weapons.

Her brother just glanced at them without saying anything.

"Almost the entire ship is overrun, and we're losing soldiers fairly quickly, sir." Arrowhead widened his stance while slouching.

"Are the automated turret defences now operational?" Captain Parri winced as he readjusted himself in the seat.

"I… haven't thought of that. Activating now." He flashed away.

Hard Glory whistle-clicked and went towards the front of the command bridge and helped a couple bridge crew back onto their feet.

They could still see the battle commencing outside through the viewport, and the dark ships ahead barely reflected Wedmeiro's light. Many dogfights ensued between the fleets, and a plethora of explosions checkered the sky.

Dominion continued to chase the Grish, and eventually arrived into the Science Deck, passed many experiment and research rooms that had chemicals, charts, tables, delicate and important instruments, etc. They were in middle back of the inside, of the five mile long battlecruiser, and entered another room. It was more open than the other science rooms. It had white, circular field emitters, many tables, and holo-charts floating around. Equipment was scattered all over the floor, and tables, and dark cables ran from the edges of the walls to a floating pedestal in the middle with the Wayfinder just above it. Dr. Castillo ducked down in fright, and tried firing at the Qadi-tah that stormed inside.

The three Qadi-tah overturned the tables, shattering delicate equipment in the process, to get to the exhausted man below them. Dominion tried firing at them as the tallest of the Grish grabbed Dr. Castillo by the throat, and lifted him in the air. The others grabbed the Wayfinder, and lifted in with their hands.

Dominion entered inside the dimly lit room, and the Grish fired at the fireteam. As Dominion tried taking them out, they translocated away in a purple flash. What was left was the ransacked room, and the tired Fireteam Dominion.

"GODDAMNIT!" Akinyemi shouted, slamming his fist as hard as he could into one of the white tables. He left a crater in the granite table where he slammed his fist.

Radha walked over towards the dropped pistol, and clasped it into the thigh sheath of her armor. "At least we tried, Commander."

"We tried, but we didn't do." Marvin added, disgruntled. He placed his rifle onto the back of his armor and stood there. "This is exactly what happened when my father was assassinated... I wasn't even nearby when he got attacked in our Keep. I was out hunting down other criminals with the other Lightguard. By the time I got back, I happened to unfortunately witness him being stabbed through the throat right in front of me, and the assassins booked it outta there...FUCK!"

"Good thing, in this case, he isn't dead…" Cynthia mumbled, lowering her head a bit, understanding Marvin.

"But he might suffer a much worse fate." I'oshot-Uu added, trying to pick up the remaining intact equipment, placing them back on the tables next to him.

"Is the good doctor secure?" Hassan asked through the team's intercoms.

"No… He just was kidnapped right in front of us by three Grish soldiers. They translocated out before we could kill them." Akinyemi replied with obvious frustration.

"Shit… I'll let the captain know." Hassan cut away for a couple of seconds.

Dominion waited there for his response under the flickering lights. In the distance, they could hear the automated defences attacking the Coalition forces.

"He's understandably pissed off. But, by the way, we're not done fighting." Hassan said, coming back into transmission.

"Yeah, the defences will get them." Akinyemi replied. "We need to get the doctor back, the Grish probably have him in the flagship now."

"Actually… We can't. It turns out that the Coalition left us a nice big birthday present inside the engine room." Hassan said sarcastically. "We can't activate the riftspace drive to follow them, because there is a bomb in there. We try to activate the drive, we go boom. The captain wants you guys to disable it as quickly as you can. The Coalition fleet is already leaving."

"How do you know it's there?'' Akinyemi replied.

"There is this thing called real-time footage that Arrowhead just showed us, sir. We're watching them set it up right now." Hassan added with frustration.

Red sighed, and sulked.

"Alright, let's go Dominion." Akinyemi said, running out of the science room. Everyone else followed him, and they headed for the nearest monorail transit.

From inside the command bridge, Fireteam Jackhammer, the crew man, Captain Parri, Colonel Singer, and Arrowhead began witnessing the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn all rotate, and the dogfights stopped as the Obelisks and Ibises returned to their ships. One by one, the Coalition ships activated the wormhole bubbles of riftspace in front of them, and the bubbles were a swirling mass of darkness and bright nebulaic colors. The ships entered inside, vanishing from view.

"And continue retreating, you cunts!" Fleet Admiral Cho shouted over the holo-screen, gazing out to where the fleet just vanished. "Great job everyone a part of this valiant fleet, and great work to you too Exuberance. That I think was the quickest naval engagement I've ever seen." Cheering and clapping could be heard from around her command bridge.

"They got what they came for, that's why they left." Captain Parri replied, readjusting himself as a medical technician tended to his leg.

"What do you mean?" Fleet Admiral Cho narrowed her eyes.

"We had recovered a DII scientist, Dr. Alejandro Castillo. He also happened to have a Composer Wayfinder on him. During the engagement, they sent in boarding craft, and relieved us of him."

Admiral Cho's victory smile rapidly faded away, and she leaned forward in her chair.

Dominion exited the transit, and arrived at the engine room, after a few more minutes. They all stopped just before the blast doors and paused, looking at each other. Wispwaker zoomed over towards the terminal, and awaited the signal to activate it.

"I don't know how much time is left on that bomb, but we have to make sure to kill any surviving Coalition troops in there. We also have to make sure no stray energy bolts from us or them, hit the bomb." Akinyemi urged, stopping before the doors.

"We have less than five minutes, sir." Wispwaker said, checking the video feeds inside the room from where he hovered.

"How can you tell?" Akinyemi turned around, looking at the Luminere.

"There are Grish characters and numbers counting down the time. I'm watching it now." His luminere shell's iris narrowed, focusing in and out.

"Well, let's be as quick as possible." Akinyemi added.

Radha, Voiceless, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, Cynthia, and Red all nodded, raising their weapons. Wispwaker rotated towards the terminal, and began scanning and accessing it's electro-circuits. It pinged, and they headed inside.

The engine room opened up into a vast but enclosed expanse. Just in front of them was a large platform with computers, terminals, and holo-decks facing them, symmetrically spread out across it. The platform overlooked the the large engines that were far below them, yet curved upwards towards eye-level, but were over thirty meters away. The casing was silvery, and hundreds of dark connecting cables stretched from the chasm-like room, across it, and into the engines. Large support pillars, and cooling tubes also were connected to the engines. In the center of the eye-level section of the engines was the riftspace drive. Similarly to the ULBE Brandished Flatterer's drive, this one was encased in a towering rectangular prism shaped shell, with rounded edges, and was also silver in color. The core of the drive could be seen from notches, and it pulsed a brilliant blue-white with warped colors of a vibrant galaxy.

On the platform just ahead of them, again, was an insurgent team of four towering Grish, six Ibuun, and ten Ja'ic hacking into the terminals. All of them, and the dark rhombus prism-shaped bomb, were silhouetted by the engines' and drive's light.

Akinyemi was the first to engage, and fired at the closest Grish, collapsing its corpse to the hard platform. Voiceless, Marvin, Cynthia, and Radha started simultaneously picking off the Ja'ic that were floating around. I'oshot-Uu wavepulled their guns out of their hands, clinking them to the ground behind Dominion. Red fired at the Ibuun as Akinyemi took out the last Grish.

They clambered over the fresh corpses as raunch steam sizzled out of the wounds. A couple Ja'ic bodies lay draped over the terminals, and the rest of their tentacles were sprawled all over the platform. The bomb was counting down even faster now, thanks to a dead Grish's hand resting on the activation glyph. The bomb's numbers emanated a bright purple onto Dominion as they rushed to stop it.

Wispwaker zoomed over and immediately began trying to disable it. "Bloody hell, bloody hell, bloody hell." He muttered to himself.

"It's glowing progressively brighter," added Marvin. "It shouldn't be doing that."

"Thanks for your valuable insight, Captain Obvious. Shut up." Wispwaker grunted.

Akinyemi, Cynthia and Radha ran towards a few terminals, and tried to remotely deactivate the bomb from there. Red, Marvin, Voiceless, and I'oshot-Uu kind of just stood there, internally panicking.

After a few more seconds of tampering with it, Wispwaker pulled away, and ascended a few feet. He turned around, and said, "It's done, sir."

"Good, now we can try to follow that fleet, and retrieve the doctor." Akinyemi said, sheathing his rifle.

The Khu-Jan'an scientist crawled out from one of the ventilation shafts behind the peripheral holotables and terminals, covered in soot and blood. He appeared to be the only survivor of the onslaught, he was originally among those in the Science Deck but darted our of there once the entire deck was overrun.

"Did you let them in here?" Marvin almost shoved back down to the ground in anger.

"Don't shoot me please! I had to or they were going to kill me! I'm the reason the ship didn't instantly detonate, I bidded time to have you or at least someone stop them and rescue us!" The scientist was cowering his head low and his hands raised.

Akinyemi stared down the scientist and that's when the alien stood up and recognized the Atlas. His eyes were wide with horror and didn't know what to do. The only thing the scientist thought to do was decouple the defused bomb from the cables that connected it into the engine, and he kept making fleeting glances back at Akinyemi.

"Did you help Shoemaker at Leviathan?" Akinyemi leaned forward, placing a foot on one of the Coalition corpses.

"...what? No?" The Khu-Jan'an was taken aback, removing the cables from the bomb itself.

"What about the Exuberance..?" He pointed his Trident at the scientist, yet his fingers weren't hovering over the trigger.

"Hajj-as'rah threatened to destroy the ship after Kopu-Mere'mere if we didn't give him anything. He found us through a back channel and all traces of it were gone once his transmission went down."

Chapter 12

Around a half hour later, Fireteam Dominion was back in the command bridge, and were all standing around the holotable, with Fireteam Jackhammer, Captain Parri, Colonel Singer, and Arrowhead. Captain Parri was leaning over it with his hands pressed against the table. They all waited in silence for the holo-screen above the viewport to activate, and Arrowhead was running more diagnostics on the side.

However, before it did, a faint frequency was picked up by the Remembering Exuberance, with a violet holographic ping flashing above the holotable. Everyone turned their attention towards it, and an aggressive, and gravelly voice boomed across the holotable's stereos.

"Heed this warning, Eiffa'la. By any and all circumstances, do not pursue us. Or your lives and everything you parasites hold dear will be wrenched away, in a valiant wave of cleansing." The transmission went silent, and fizzled.

"So that's how they're playing, now?" Captain Parri sighed deeply, leaning against the table. "After what they just fucking did?"

"How long ago did they release the transmission, Arrowhead?" Colonel Singer asked, facing the Luminere.

"Just seconds ago, ma'am. They sent it to us through riftspace." The Luminere closed the violet ping, swinging it away with his spear in his hands.

"We're fucked." Marvin added, lowering his head.

The holo-screen flashed on, and Imperial Admiral Addington appeared on it. "Good Evening from here, Captain Parri. Did you, and Fireteam Dominion succeed in your mission?" His eyes were tired, and his deep voice was a little hoarse.

"Yessir… We did. But there's an issue that came up." Captain Parri barely glanced up from the holotable.

"What kind of issue?" Addington stepped back a bit, and narrowed his eyes.

"Upon retrieving Dr. Castillo, who happened to be the only survivor - We'll have more information available for the mission debriefing - Coalition forces attacked us and stole him. They left the system not too long ago. Their destination is probably where the Wayfinder, Dr. Castillo recovered, pointed to. They also threatened us that if we pursue them, they will end us with a 'valiant wave of cleansing'."

"You're talking about a matter of an imperial security breach. You have to get him back as soon as possible, so ignore anything they transmit to you, that is an order." Addington was too overwhelmed to really say anything else about it. "But what's the destination of the coordinates this Wayfinder contained?"

"A Composer Lifebloom, sir." Captain Parri now stood up, balancing himself carefully with a mending brace, and looked directly at the Imperial Admiral.

Imperial Admiral Addington took another step back, and his eyes lit up in surprise. "A Lifebloom was found? Where?"

"Wait, you've heard about these before?" Marvin asked, leaning over into view.

"Yes, once. A long time ago, another science team recovered Composer Lexicons, and as they translated them, that caught my eye. I never thought we'd find one."

"Well, the Coalition are heading there now, sir. And that could mean something bad." Hassan urged, trying to stay awake from all the exhaustion he's experienced.

"Exactly," Akinyemi began to add. "Dr. Castillo was adamant that we secure it, and try to keep its existence oblivious to the Coalition. Whatever he really knew about it, at least he understood that they should never try to gain control of it."

"Damn…" Addington removed his hat, and rested it on the holotable below himself in Leviathan.

"One last thing, sir. After Dominion saved the ship, they found a mole within our ranks. He's a scientist stationed onboard and he too is detained. I don't know Dominion got him to talk so quick, but he admitted to working with Hajj-as'rah." Captain Parri straightened himself up all the way.

"You're saying that there's another security breach at play here? We'll get right on that, but continue. What else do you know about this?" Addington started talking quieter now.

"This didn't seem to be a random attack, because they appeared in the atmosphere, just minutes before Dominion called for extraction. Then a few more minutes after retrieving all of them, the Exuberance was boarded, attacked, and Dr. Castillo with his artifact was taken. Then the Coalition fleet left once they had him. They didn't bother trying to annihilate Battlefleet Desert Bulwark, or Thursday Fire itself, which they could have more than easily done." Captain Parri was exhausted, and he wiped the sweat from his own face. "He appeared in the same room with the bomb and it didn't add up. The blast doors to the engine room are highly secured and no one without specialized access has any ability to get in there. The auto defenses were also down, despite the fact they should automatically engage when hostiles appear onboard."

"Let's ditch all the formalities for now, you take care of retrieving Dr. Castillo. You've got your green light, Exuberance."

"One last thing, sir." Arrowhead's avatar flashed above the holotable with a hologram of the Lifebloom. "We'll relay you the coordinates when we arrive. Just in case."

"Understood, Exuberance. I have a lot of investigating and paperwork to do about Shoemaker and that mole. When you return, send me the scientist for interrogation. Addington signing off." The holo-screen went dark.

All of them just looked around at each other, and the atmosphere changed around them. The light of Wedmeiro transitioned into a golden hue over the Rafta Valley region of Thursday Fire. The light shimmered off of the desert sands, and plateaus, reflecting back into the viewport. Around the ship was Battlefleet Desert Bulwark, hovering motionless in the sky.

The shading in the command bridge was dim, save for the cerulean lights of the holotable and terminals. Captain Parri stretched himself had limped up to the overlook, and carefully settled himself onto the soft leather and polyester cushions of his seat. He gazed down at Arrowhead who still remained on the holotable.

"Send the coordinates to this Lifebloom into Officer Nayak's terminal." Captain Parri ordered, leaning his head back, and covering his eyes with his hand.

"Alllllright." Arrowhead replied, and a white ping showed up on Nayak's terminal screen.

"Set the Exuberance's riftspace drive to immediate departure..." Captain Parri grumbled. "...We're never gonna catch a break are we?"

"Probably not, sir. After this war is all said n' done, I'll take a few years nap." Colonel Singer said, forcing a laugh.

"That would be great," he replied, still covering his eyes.

Battlefleet Desert Bulwark's ships dispersed from in front of the Remembering Exuberance as a riftspace bubble was opened. It swirled in itself, and small lightning storms rippled over it. The Exuberance's energy shielding doubled as the swirling storms engulfed the ship. Within a second, the ship was inside the wormhole, and it collapsed in a flash.

Later, Dominion and Jackhammer were resting in one of the many barrack rooms of the ship, and the room had a simple elongated rectangular-shape, with many tables, beds, holo-screens playing sports, news, television shows, etc. The lighting was a simple blue-white, and they were all huddled around a large rectangular table.

Red and Hard Glory were having a conversation on the side, as Radha, Marvin, Cynthia, I'oshot-Uu, were in their own little group. Beside them were Ewalani, Cupa, Nhia, and Kyra with each other. Voiceless Cry kept to himself, and meditated on a nearby bed. Wispwaker and Chatterbox were elsewhere, while Akinyemi and Hassan were having a conversation as well.

"What will you be doing after this war?" Hassan asked, shifting himself on one of the benches. He, like the other Atlas in the room, had their IAPETUS armor dematerialized, just with their combat skins exposed.

"I honestly have no idea." Akinyemi replied, staring blankly ahead. "I've been fighting for so long, I never thought about it. Tuill has asked me a similar question on Zephyr, and the answer then was the same it is now."

"Yeah, that makes sense." Hassan patted Akinyemi's shoulder, then twirled his finger through his mustache. "It'll be alright in the end, man."

"Hopefully. Where were you during the beginning, anyways?"Akinyemi gazed at Hassan, and seemed somewhat detached.

"Ohhh man. Uhh, that was in twenty nine forty two, right? Yeah. If I remember correctly, I was stationed in orbit around some Outer Colony, near what is now the Fringe. I wanna say it was the planet, Oyo. Well, it was fucking terrifying seeing the Coalition fleets. We only had a few reports, since, y'know, most first contacts had little-to-nothing of survivors. But my mission was to protect the ODS I was on. That wasn't successful, at all. We were outnumbered, outgunned. I only escaped because the leader of my fireteam then, Major Tara Holliday, her name was. She pushed me out of an airlock, and I couldn't protect her. She stayed behind while I drifted in space, and I had to watch the station blow up in front of me, as well as watch the planet begin to be glassed... Eventually I got picked up in a Mirage." He sighed, and lowered his head a bit. "What about you?"

Akinyemi hesitated, but gave in after a few seconds, "I was heading back to an Outer Colony, after eliminating several leaders of rebel factions. Factions such as the Resistance Movement, New Dawn, Corum Nine, and the Humanity First. Well, after arriving near the planet Nivenda, the Coalition attacked it, and I had to save the planet. Unfortunately, I couldn't, or any of the Battlefleets for that matter."

"This sucks." Hassan forced a laugh, trying to ease their spirits.

"Yeah…" Akinyemi made a ghost of a smile, turning his head away.

Hassan pulled out a six-pack of Shays', and clanked it on the table in front of them. He gave one to Akinyemi, and pulled out another for himself.

"Mmm…" Akinyemi began unsure if he wanted to be intoxicated with his friend. He hadn't drinked alcohol in over a year.

"Just drink it, Commander. Literally no one cares. Besides, you need it anyways." Hassan cracked his open, and took a gulp.

Akinyemi turned the green can around in his hand, looked around the barracks, and back at the can. He sighed, cracked it open, and took a few gulps himself. By the time he finished his, he noticed that Hassan drank the rest and had passed out. He gave a small laugh, and activated the smart-link headphones in his armor, and played some Kellsman. The electro synthetic beats mixed with psychedelic visuals soothes him into a relaxed trance.

"Should we head over to the Cold Deck?" Kyra asked her brother, who was sitting next to her.

Nhia hesitated at first, and blinked his small eyes. "I don't think I'm ready to go into cryo stasis just yet."

"It seems we'll be travelling for quite awhile here. I heard where we're going is in Wild Space."

"That's just a fancy term meaning that we won't be in Blue Imperial territory, or the Federation's or Collective's for that matter. Surrounded by mostly uncharted worlds or pirate factions." Ewalani pitched in, her dark skin gleamed under the light of the barracks. "It won't be so bad."

"'It won't be so bad'." Kyra glared at Ewalani. "We're headed for a 'Lifebloom', whatever the fuck that is. All we heard about it is it's of Composer origin. Things could go sideways real quick for all we know."

Nhia rested his arms on the table, and stared off across the barracks. Kyra placed a hand on his shoulder, and slightly frowned, but remained composed. Ewalani stood up, and began walking away.

"Where ya goin'?" Kyra asked, watching her leave.

"I have to take a shit, and I don't want to do it in my combat skin, regardless of the filtering systems." Ewalani left the room, and the blast door closed behind her.

"We should go, brother. Just c'mon." Kyra stood up, and kept her hand on his shoulder. "Cupa, you too."

The Falakhrys looked up, and scowled. She showed Kyra her tray of food, "Nah. I'm still eating."

"Hard Glory? We're gonna head to the Cold Deck if you're ready." Kyra said, gazing at the Bir'vo.

Hard Glory just narrowed his eyes, turned towards Red, and sighed. He stood up, and whistle-chirped, pointing at a passed out Hassan.

"The Commander will bring Dahma when he's awake."

Akinyemi turned towards her from his seat, and said, "Sure. Yeah."

Hard Glory paced towards the Akie siblings, with his head lowered a bit. They all left the barracks and Cupa just watched them while continuing to eat her steak and mashed potatoes. Her golden skin was mildly sweating from dehydration, and she decided to get up and get a drink.

Akinyemi watched everyone while remaining silent, and rested his head over his arms on the table. Red watched Akinyemi attempt to drift into a nap, and he decided to try it too. Radha, Cynthia, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, and Voiceless were already preoccupied with each other and self, and remained where they were.

It was over a week later, and the Remembering Exuberance warped out of riftspace back into realspace. Akinyemi was called to the command bridge, and he was still only in his combat skin. The blackness of space and the billions of distant stars in it shimmered through the viewport and Akinyemi paced down to the holotable.

"Ship engineers and cryo-tech personnel, begin the awakening procedure for all cryo pods. We have arrived at our destination." Arrowhead transmitted over the ship's intercoms.

Wispwaker followed Akinyemi in from behind, and zoomed next to him. He hovered in the air at head-level, next to the Atlas. Akinyemi gazed up at Captain Parri who was staring intently ahead.

"You called me, captain?"

"Yes. I wanted you and Wispwaker to be here for this." He leaned forward in his seat, and pointed towards the viewport.

Ahead of the ship in the vast distance was the great, and shimmering Lifebloom. It stretched out in a looming magnificence in space, unlike anything that Humanity had ever seen before. It's massive arms, undersides of the petals, and the smaller ones that hovered in place away were all silvery-grey in coloration. The land masses on the small world in the center, and the massive petals, were in a myriad of biomes; greens, browns, tans, whites, they seemed to shimmer under an artificial sun, that was located at least seven hundred thousand miles above the megastructure. The oceans on the petals glistened an amazing and vibrant blue, reflecting the sun's yellow-white light. White streams of clouds blanketed the atmospheres of the petals, and moved uninterrupted with the air currents. The Lifebloom also appeared to ungulate through the cosmos gracefully so much so, that it was almost sentient-like. Seemingly bending space to make itself move, because it was so large. Ripples of force and gravitational waves could be seen in the vacuum, around it, and the Remembering Exuberance, similar to how solar flares arched and launched out of active stars. Everyone's eyes and minds strained to contain and comprehend the raw majesty of the Lifebloom in any capacity. It's light was so powerful, and dazzling, and its size so great, they appeared insignificantly small compared to its might.

"What the bloody hell… I've never seen something so massive and brilliant in my life!" Wispwaker exclaimed.

Everyone was silent in amazement of watching it, trying to take it all in, they all simultaneously gasped in awe. They couldn't seem to break their gazes from its glorious majesty, they felt instinctively compelled to continue their way closer towards it, despite the mission already at hand.

"I'm running measurement calculations of it now, sir." Arrowhead said, his avatar was on the holotable with many different holograms in front of him. "The Lifebloom is… one million, fifty two thousand, nine hundred and sixty one miles in diameter! What the, that's larger than Sol's diameter!" Arrowhead got so excited, and dumbstruck, that he fumbled around with more holograms in front of him. "Alright, I'm relaying the coordinates to Leviathan now… As well as recording… shhh...We arrived, December twelfth, twenty nine seventy six…" He continued on his own, while everyone stared ahead. He also pulled up a white hologram of the Lifebloom over the holotable, and blue one of Earth. He scaled them to their real sizes by comparison, and Earth was immensely dwarfed by the megastructure. The Lifebloom's small planet in the center was even five times the size of Earth, capping at thirty nine thousand, five hundred eighty five miles in diameter - compared to Earth's seven thousand, nine hundred seventeen miles.

The Remembering Exuberance had routed most of the engine's power to sub-light travel, and zoomed through the cosmos ever closer towards the megastructure. Their trajectory was heading for the "bottom right" petal of the upper four, since that was closest towards them, and they were all ready to land. The Lifebloom had an axial tilt of about twenty two degrees, and the artificial sun illuminated each petal, for the equivalent of the Lifebloom's days.

Chapter 13

The Remembering Exuberance descended over green rolling hills, with dense forests around them, towering mountains sprawled out miles away, and large shimmery blue lakes. Away from the mountains and around them, were massive mesas and plateaus that licked the sky with their immense size; they were shaped like that of coral reefs, reflecting a varied array of dazzling colors under the artificial sun. Around the coral mesas, were giant arches of granite-like stone that also towered thousands of feet into the expansive sky. The sky was somewhat overcast with a blanket of grey-white, but small rays of the artificial sun's light penetrated through.

Dominion touched down from a Mirage, armored up, and landed in tall fields of green. The grass blades swayed in a light wind and stood about knee high. When they looked up, through the clouds, they could see the rest of the Lifebloom, stretching boundlessly outwards in the sky, seemingly never able to see the ends of each arm or petal.

The Exuberance loomed overhead as it began to drop house-sized compartmentalized buildings down to the ground. The buildings were white in color, and had a rectangular-prism shape. They had thick-blast windows and doors, capable of withstanding a hurricane at least. The compartment buildings landed down, towering over all the Mirages and soldiers that stood in the fields. After several minutes, twenty of these buildings, one to two stories tall, were all placed in, and ready for use, over a foundation of black-slated instacrete and metal. A blue banner of the Blue Empire flown in the middle of the outpost grounds, and it swayed in the wind.

Dominion walked over to the flag, gazed up at it, and watched several more Mirages descend from the Remembering Exuberance. They landed nearby the fields on top of a landing strip for vehicles and aircraft. After another minute, Captain Parri, Colonel Singer, and Arrowhead were now setting foot on the Lifebloom. Arrowhead now was encased in his own Luminere shell, and the iris emanated out a light green light. Temporarily placing him as the main Shipboard AI of the Exuberance, was Ebonheart, keeping the vessel in the sky, ready for the Coalition.

"This place seems to have one G, equivalent to the gravity of Earth. Fascinating! The chemical composition of the atmosphere is mostly comprised of a nitrogen-oxygen composite, so it's definitely breathable for all of you." Arrowhead analyzed. He zoomed around them a bit as more clouds blocked out the artificial sun.

Captain Parri nodded at the Luminere, and smiled a bit, then turned towards Dominion. "This place here we're setting up will now be the new forward base of operations, and a settlement, for both the United Legion and Blue Empire. It will be called Outpost Prosperity, and hopefully it will be the foundation that serves as a new beginning." He had a black coat with a thick brown fur collar over his armored uniform, and he rested his hands in its front pockets.

"Understood Captain." Akinyemi replied, widening his stance a bit, and his rifle shouldered. "But shouldn't you be up there?" He pointed at the ship above them.

"No.. I've been cooped in there for a very long time. I need time to get my land legs back." Captain Parri laughed. "Besides, I want to explore these surrounding fields and forests soon, and it'll be great."

In the sky, there was a small herd of about a dozen flying whales. The sky whales were over one hundred feet long, and had a dark purple chitin-like skin from the tops of their heads running down all the way to the tip of their feather-like tails. They had two sets of flippers each that steered them back up, and had eight air sacs used for lift, propulsion, and breathing. They made a long and deep, siren-like call that echoed around them, and across the landscape. Their call also gathered everyone's attention, and they couldn't easily look away from them.

"Now that's a sight to see!" Colonel Singer shouted over the wind that began to pick up. She covered her eyes by making a visor with her hand, while squinting.

Voiceless, Radha, Cynthia, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, and Red were all standing behind Akinyemi and taking in everything. Wispwaker zoomed about, archiving what he could see in the immediate area.

"Come with me, Dominion. Let's head into my new office." He smiled faintly, and they trudged through the tall grass.

They passed the flagpole as it was receiving a circular base covered with layers of grey and black rocks. Legionnaires were cutting down the tall grass around Prosperity's grounds. Scientists in furred lab coats paced about as they brought in their delicate instruments and equipment. Many soldiers and scientists were also experiencing vertigo sickness, and were seen vomiting, and collapsing after long exposure to trying to comprehend the rest of the Lifebloom's size. Others were ill just because of jet lag, and sleep deprivation, and leaned against the buildings.

They made it into one of the small buildings, that was the size of an RV, but it stretched back about three times the size. In the inside was mostly empty, but there was a holo-desk in the middle, a brown leather chair, holo-pictures and screens lined the walls, with mahogany desks below. In most of the pictures showcased Parri when he was a kid with his family; some of him were around his house growing up, others were birthday parties, friend gatherings, and his parents. A few more were of him when he was an adult with friends, and a couple were of him and Captain Bree when they were both younger. He sat down in his leather chair, and Arrowhead hovered right beside him. Before he began to speak, a green ping popped up above the holo-desk, and he tapped it.

"What news do you have for me, Fireteam Jackhammer?" He leaned back in his chair, trying to relax, and folded his arms.

A hologram of Hassan appeared, and was facing the captain. Hassan was in his IAPETUS armor with his helmet on, inside a parked Mirage. "We intercepted signals and any signs of communication from the Coalition fleet. They're currently spreading out to find resources and artifacts, sir. Nothing big yet." He pulled out a new holo-file that was just handed to him. "They're mostly on the same petal as us, fortunately. But many miles north of where you are. Should we engage?"

"Thank you, Major Dahma. But no, let's not engage until we figure out what they exactly plan to do here, and with Dr. Castillo." He then raised his head as he dismissed Hassan. "Which brings me back to you. Not at this moment, but I need you to locate the flagship of their fleet, and find out what they're exactly planning on doing here. I'll have a Mirage ready for you in a few hours. For now, rest, and recuperate. You will definitely need it before you continue Operation: COLD FEET."

"Understood, Captain." Akinyemi saluted, and the rest of Dominion saluted too.

They left Captain Parri's office, and stepped back onto Prosperity's grounds. They all trudged around, and witnessed other soldiers and scientists surveilling the area, in small fireteams, platoons, and scouting parties. Several of these teams were on foot, or took Interceptors, or Mirages. Dominion went towards a large sitting area in the middle of Prosperity, with many benches. Above the benches was a large awning, spread out for about thirty feet or so. They sat down, facing each other on both sides of the benches, with a long dark table in between.

"I want to go exploring now. This place is so fucking cool so far! I've never imagined in all my life, seeing anything like this." Cynthia exclaimed, adjusting herself on the bench. She then rested her arms on the long table in front of her.

Large grey containers and crates lay stacked and scattered nearby. Most were marked for tools, food, equipment, etc. The sky started to sprinkle small droplets of rain, and it pattered all over the awning, grass, and buildings. Luckily, the flags were made of water-resistant fabrics so the droplets just slid right off, and fell onto the ground.

"I'm honestly down for it too," Radha agreed, leaning back a bit, stretching.

"I don't know. I'm tired, and the ship lag is still a bit weird. Or it's just the after-effects of cryo stasis." Marvin said, taking off his helmet, and immediately threw up more fluids into the pavement next to him. When he sat back up, his silver hair draped over his shoulders. "...That's better. Also, it feels like I haven't taken this off in ages." Marvin gently swung his head back and forth, and his long hair flapped around. His neon-green eyes illuminated them under the awning.

Voiceless and I'oshot-Uu simply nodded, and Red was passed out. Red was slumped over the table, and snored loudly. He shivered a bit in the rain, for the wind picked up

Akinyemi also ended up drifting back to sleep, and he saw Olubayo again. They were out of Otieno's, and were stumbling on each other. Many people looked at them in disgust, and moved out of the way. It was night over New Nairobi, and the bustling city was as restless as it was hours before. The city's lights illuminated everywhere, and into the sky.

Akinyemi tried to pick up Olubayo, and fell down next to him. He tried talking, but his words slurred around. "We shud get *hic* back… ma-n…"

Olubayo sat up on the curb, slumped, fumbled with his phone in his hands, and held it limply to his ear. "One taxi pleessse…Our location isss *hic* on the corner of…" He squinted his eyes, trying to see the holo-signs across the street from them. "... the corner of Mama Ngina… and… Koinange…"

"We gon… back to your place, yeah?" Akinyemi placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. He wiped his face on his sleeve, and sighed.

"Yeah.. we can do.. -at." His holo-specs were crooked on his face, and he collapsed his head on Akinyemi's shoulder.

They continued to sit by each other as a sphere-wheeled taxi eventually showed up. It was sleek in design, and had a bright-golden color. They clambered back up onto their feet, and watched the hover cars zoom overhead, before stepping inside the taxi. They clumped in the back seats, and the driver turned around, to talk to them, "Where to?" he asked. The driver was wearing a red scarf wrapped around his neck, had a black hat on, a green lip-plate, and green ear gauges. He appeared to be in his late fifties, and was really tired.

"My place." Olubayo slurred.

"Well, where's that, sir?" The taxi driver asked again, with one hand on the steering wheel.

"Two-two-three-nine, E. Port Gbada Drive." Olubayo slumped against the back of the driver's seat.

"Alllright." The driver typed in the location to the car's GPS terminal next to him. Before he started the taxi, he looked at Akinyemi from the rear-view mirror. "You're the Planetary Governor's kid, yeah?"

Akinyemi looked back at the driver, and replied, "Yeah." His eyes started to hurt from the bright lights of the city, and he squinted them as a result.

"That's cool. How're they doing?"

"They've been fine. Why do you ask?"

"Nice. I used to know your parents when we were in Primary School. When they just were Chukwuemeka Asari-Dokubo, and Asha Okeke. They're good people." He gently smiled, quickly glancing back through the rear-view mirror at Akinyemi.

"They quite are."

"I also occasionally hung out with them during Tertiary School and college, your baba was a real politics person even before you were born. He'd go on for ages about civil affairs between Blue Empire colonies and their embassies. He said he wanted to be an ambassador, try and get in talks with the rebels and see if he could peacefully incorporate their planets back under the Blue Banner. Your mother on the other hand...phew...she was something else. A fiery lioness. Ahh but she was the more militant one of the two, secretly working with the cartels and the undercities to bring revolutions. I don't think she herself was a rebel, but to bring the "new blue wave" across the dissident Outer Colonies."

"I never knew that...They never talked much about themselves from their past."

The driver leaned back somewhat, "Neither does most people. It's a big and crazy galaxy, can't be sharing everything with everyone. Can you tell them I say hi though?"

"What's your name, sir?" Akinyemi leaned in a bit.

"Mr. Sefu Igwe." Mr. Igwe nodded.

"I'll...make sure to tell 'em." Akinyemi nodded back, while tapping his holo-wrist wear against the rear-passenger window. His wrist wear was actually small Zulu beads colored yellow and gold, representing his high status in society, as well as ensuring he lived a long life. They were given to him by Yemojan elders of Zulu descent, when he was born, and later the beads were infused with technological upgrades as he grew older.

A small HUD of contacts, messages, the time, weather, and news reports from local and Imperial channels displayed across the window. He tapped onto the news on the RiftNet, and found recent articles about the Fourth Mass Expansion, in the late stages of the constant expansion of the Outer Colonies. He also found reports of local insurrection on the colonies of Gao-Lin, Kalmer, Quicksilver, and Erma. Akinyemi tapped his beads against the window again, and the display dematerialized. He sighed, and laid his head back while gazing at Olubayo through squinted and tired eyes.

Akinyemi woke up, and everyone, except for Red, was elsewhere but nearby. Red was still slumped over the table, with his arms wrapped around his head. Akinyemi reached out his left arm, and nudged Red. Red jolted awake, startled.

"We gotta get the others."

Red replied with mumbles of gurgle-chirps and hisses.

"They probably didn't arrive yet. Let's see if Hassan is back though."

Red whistled, and laughed.

Akinyemi sighed and got up, to find the sky was pouring from above. Many riftspace bubbles appeared high in the atmosphere, with a loud distorted rippling that boomed and echoed across the landscape. Twenty more Coalition ships exited the wormholes, and slowly made their way north, never noticing the Exuberance, or Outpost Prosperity.

"Damn it…" Akinyemi grunted gazing at the sky through his helmet.

Red squawked, and raised his head up and back a bit. His ears lifted in alertness, and he vibrated his throat.

Other herds of sky whales looked up in fright, and slowly flew away, heading south west. Their loud reverberating songs were heard from below, and everyone in Prosperity was now on alert. The Remembering Exuberance activated its cloaking shields, seemingly disappearing from the sky.

"What's going on out there?" Colonel Singer asked over the commlink.

"Over a dozen more Coalition ships appeared from riftspace, Colonel. They're all heading North." Akinyemi sighed as the rain ran down his armor.

"Shit." She hesitated, before continuing. "Assemble your fireteam, Commander. We need to continue the operation now. That is an order." She was noticeably frustrated.

The dark ships in the distance continued their journey northbound, slightly descending through the air. The sky whales were out of sight, and swarms of alien birds swirled around before heading out of sight as well.

"Dominion? Where are you?" Akinyemi asked over the team's com-channel.

"Oh? You're awake!" Cynthia responded, excitedly. "Radha, and I are in the barracks. Marvin, Voiceless, I'oshot-Uu, and Wispwaker are in the mess hall."

"Return to me. We're resuming the operation."

"So soon?"

"Yes. More Coalition ships arrived." Akinyemi sighed once more.

There was a pause from Cynthia's side before she replied. "Fuck... Yessir. I'll get everyone else now."

After a few minutes, the rest of Dominion showed back up, and Wispwaker hovered a little closer, "What's the plan, sir?"

"We're heading over there, and we'll get into the Mirage that the captain has readied for us." He pointed towards the west from them, where the small lot for vehicles were.

"Den what?" I'oshot-Uu asked, folding his arms, and shifting his weight to one leg.

"Then, we're gonna head north, and find the flagship. We need to find it, and figure out what their goal is."

"Sounds good to me." Marvin replied, shrugging.

"We need to retrieve Dr. Castillo, sir." Radha remarked, lowering her tone of voice.

"That's the plan. But we can't go in dicks - or vaginas - first. There are around thirty or so ships up there, and we need to be smart about how we get him back." Akinyemi shifted his weight too, and placed his hands on his hips.

"Alright." Radha straightened up a bit. "You're right."

"Are you guys ready for a lift?" Verdant Black asked over their intercoms.

"Yeah. We'll head over now."

Dominion all began heading in the direction of the Mirages, and the rain poured down in harder now, and the sky transitioned into a darker overcast. They trudged along in silence, and now were heading back through the knee-high grass. Many Mirages, tanks, Interceptors, and Excaliburs were parked ahead of them, resting on top of the dark landing strip.

"Which one is Verdant Black?" I'oshot-Uu asked, jogging up to them.

One towards the back lifted up into the air, and the rainwater blew in all directions underneath it, spraying the other vehicles everywhere. It rotated in the air a bit, and honked twice at them.

"That one, dumbass." Marvin replied.

They all went up to it, and were immediately translocated inside. Everyone sat down along the wall seats, but Akinyemi approached the pilot. The pilot had his helmet off, and was revealed to be a Human with dark brown skin, and grey eyes. He sported gold and green Yemojan tattoos across his forehead and chin. The pilot smiled at Akinyemi, saying, "It's good to see you again, sir."

"Likewise. We need you to take us north, over the mountains in the distance." Akinyemi leaned against the seat, and pointed ahead of them as Verdant Black was being rotated.

"Alright, sir. Just let me know when you're ready to depart." Verdant Black returned the helmet to his head.

"We're ready."

"Oh? Okay." He started up the engines, and grabbed the controls, ascending the Mirage into the air.

He zoomed outwards, and Outpost Prosperity slowly disappeared out of sight. Thunder boomed overhead, and it rang across the valley. The Mirage shuddered slightly from the air tension, and the storms above. Bright flashes shot across the sky, penetrating the thick blanket of clouds.

"What was dat?" I'oshot-Uu asked, jolting back in his seat.

"It's just some lightning. We can fly around it." Verdant Black replied, maneuvering the Mirage into a more stable flight pattern.

More bright flashes pierced the sky, from multiple directions, with loud reverberating echoes. The light flashed through Verdant Black's cockpit, illuminating the inner Mirage.

"Uhhh that repeats too much, too fast. I don't think that's lightning." Marvin grew afraid, scooting back in his seat.

Voiceless slumped forward, and resting his forearms his thighs while the Mirage shuddered even more. Red clung tighter onto the handrail above him, keeping his head lowered, and eyes closed. He stuttered in whistle-chirps, and caws.

"It'll be fine, Red." Radha assured, gazing over at the Bir'vo.

Red shook his head in fear.

"Yes, you will. Just take deep breaths, okay?" Radha unclasped her seat restraints, and moved towards him. "Breathe with me."

He barely opened his right eye to look at her, and his grip tightened on the handrail.

"Breathe, Red." She then took deep breaths, while looking at him.

Red barely gave in, and slowly took deep breaths, syncing his with hers.

"There you go.. Just keep doing that, my friend." She smiled at him, as he smiled back.

One of the bright flashes whizzed passed Verdant Black, and the Mirage swerved out of the way just in time. Verdant Black lowered itself in the sky, to try to avoid any more potential incoming fire.

"I agree with you Marvin, that its not lightning." Akinyemi said, dryly. "But it's not the Coalition either."

"Den what is it?" I'oshot-Uu asked, trying to compose himself.

"Could it be the Lifebloom's defences?" Cynthia asked, approaching him.

"I believe so." Akinyemi stared ahead, narrowing his eyes.

Red cooed and whistled, tightening his eyes shut.

"What did he say?" Radha asked, turning towards Akinyemi and Wispwaker.

Wispwaker replied, translating, "'This is why I don't like rollercoasters, or anything that flies for that matter. But this, this is so much worse…'"

"Why don't you?" Cynthia hazed up at the distressed Bir'vo.

Red hesitated to reply, then huffed with click-hisses.

Wispwaker translated again, "'I've lost friends and family to stuff like this, years ago. Sometimes I was with them. The last time, I lost one of my partners. Her name was Chanter-To-Distant-Dawnlight. Her and I were on a space cruise liner on our way to visit the Blue Empire the first time, decades ago. We took a shuttle with a few others to explore the liner, but it was hijacked by terrorists, she died when it crashed. I was among only a few to make it outta there. After local security and United Legion showed up, to kill them all, I was alone for the rest of the trip...You can tell I don't like talking about myself or my past much, if ever, right?'"

"Fuck…" Radha gave Red a massive hug, as well as Voiceless and I'oshot-Uu.

Marvin and Cynthia remained in their seats but felt the empathy among the whole Mirage. Akinyemi stayed in the cockpit, with his hands bracing himself against the doorframe, without even turning around, and stayed that way for quite awhile.

Chapter 14

"Verdant Black, there seems to be a problem… Ther- AI attacking, they are silver-grey, with white lights all over them. We think they could be the Lifebloom's 'immune system.' They already grounded several other fireteams and research teams, and slaughtered all of them. There could be more where you're going." A transmission from Captain Parri blared through Verdant Black's intercoms.

They were dozens of miles away from Outpost Prosperity, and the storms didn't loosen up. Along the way to the north of the petal, towering over distant coral mesas were Composer watchtower-like architecture that towered over a mile into the sky, designed into refracted cylinders with organically lined curves and spokes. On top of these towers were point defense cannons a few hundred feet in diameter with defense petal-like protrusions floating disparately away from the towers. The particle cannons appeared that of jagged-glass orbs that glistened underneath lightning storms. They targeted looming warships above the atmosphere, causing some new Coalition warships to plummet in served heaps onto the surface of the Life loom petal's vast and expansive landscape.

The pilot stabilized the Mirage, while flicking through the terminal's holo-buttons to keep everything running. "Damnit…"

"How many have been encountered so far?" Akinyemi asked, with a confused and concerned look on his face.

"Waves of them. Too many to count. Arrowhead and the scientists have designated these Composer AI constructs as...Yokai. Just watch out for them. They don't hesitate to kill. Captain Parri out." The intercoms cut to static.

"Well...shit." Radha groaned behind Akinyemi, Cynthia, and the pilot.

"We can't fight on anymore fronts." Wispwaker added. "We're already spread thin enough as it is, in this war."

"You're right," Akinyemi began. "But we gotta try anyways."

"But, you heard the guy right? They're this place's 'immune system.' We're gonna die very hard, very fast." Marvin stood up, distressed.

"They won't get to us, we're in the fucking sky of all places." Radha interjected, annoyed.

"That hasn't stopped our enemies before. Like, on Zephyr as an example, and above Kopu'Mere-mere. Those are the two most recent incidents where that logic is flawed." Marvin added, scoldingly.

"Fuck you." Radha snarled, widening her stance.

"Seriously? Guys, cut it out." Cynthia turned around, facing them.

I'oshot-Uu, Voiceless, Red, and Wispwaker gazed at them confused. Akinyemi simply approached them, scowling, and said, "Stop. I understand that you're terrified, Marvin. Radha was just trying to reassure you, but Radha, he's right. Now, calm down, both of you."

Marvin, and Radha both gently nodded, and sat back down on opposite sides of the Mirage. Verdant Black was zooming over what seemed to be an ever expanse of green fields, dense forests, and more coral mesas. More lightning cascades in the sky. Dozens more of the defense towers illuminated in the sky, and rain drops hurled at the cockpit's windshield. The rain droplets were all immediately evaporated once coming into contact with it, due to nanotechnologies.

"Anything remotely interesting going on out there?" Marvin asked, dryly.

The pilot barely turned his head, "Not really. Just more storms overhead. And damn, how to see defense cannons that massive...the Composer were on a whole 'nother level."

"Brilliant…" Marvin added, sarcastically.

"Actually, hold on-" The pilot began.

One of the bright flashes punched through the hull of Verdant Black, and violent rain and angry wind whistled through the hole. Everyone got up, bracing themselves against the walls, lightly crouching. Rain sprayed onto Dominion's armor, glistening them under the cerulean light.

"See?" Marvin said, gritting his teeth through his helmet.

"Shut up." Radha retorted.

Another hard-light blast punched through the hull again before the energy shields recharged around the Mirage. Verdant Black shuddered under the stress and wind-resistance. Another thundering boom roared overhead, piercing their eardrums.

"Descend Verdant Black!" Akinyemi shouted to the pilot.

"Alright." The pilot grabbed the controls, and tilted the Mirage's nose downwards.

Verdant Black barely evaded another overcharged streak of white through the storm, and made their way down. They descended through the sky, but were then peppered with more bolts of white hard-light, piercing through the hull. Verdant Black swerved around, swaying and evading in an attempt to remain intact, but was still impacted.

"See ya, Dominion. It was nice working with you." The pilot calmly said, hiding his fear.

Verdant Black translocated Dominion out just above the ground, and they rolled in the green fields. The grass blades were thigh-high, and violently frayed about under the storm. As they gazed up ahead, they witnessed the burning Mirage zoom overhead, trailing long plasma fire, and blue-white smoke. It was seen last changing its course due east, and out of sight as the storm engulfed it. Immediately afterwards, they could see and hear a bright flash and booming rupture, but it didn't appear to be the storm that caused it.

"This probably won't ever stop happening to us," Marvin shouted, lowering his shoulders. He sighed, and gazed around at Dominion.

"Yeah, you're right!" I'oshot-Uu replied, helping Voiceless onto his feet.

Red got up, and cawed with gurgled hisses.

"He asked, 'how much farther?'" Akinyemi translated, turning towards Wispwaker.

"One sec… and done. A really long ways, sir." Wispwaker replied, sighing.

"How far away is 'a really long ways'?" Cynthia asked, shifting her weight.

"To be precise, the fleet's around fifty miles away from our current position. That's rather very fortunate for the size of this bloody, yet beautiful megastructure. I know we can run that distance, but wouldn't advise it with the storm and Yokai around." Wispwaker sighed.

"We can try calling in another Mirage, right?" Radha asked, as her headscarf thrashed in front of her helmet.

"Nope, I'm afraid not. The storm's causing too much interference, and it's slowly making its way South of here." Wispwaker's protrusions narrowed in frustration.

The light from the artificial star above the Lifebloom barely penetrated through the sky. However, just after, the landscape gradually increased in darkness, and Dominion's lights illuminated the area around them. The rain condensed into denser droplets, and cascaded down their armors like small punches.

They decided to head into the nearby woods for somewhat cover from the storm, and to wait it out. The towering trees thrashed around, all tilted towards the south, shaking profusely. Dominion quickly trudged through the underbrush, and scattered branches. The dying leaves still held a dark green color, with hints of browning. Massive boulders dotted the ground around them, and small dried river beds dipped into the land.

Dominion slid down into the dried river beds, and the forests covered them from above, but the trees still shuddered, and the wind howled loudly overhead. They still seemed to be peppered with rain, but took fallen branches, and made makeshift tents out of them. They all crouched underneath them in the dark, hoping to wait out the storm.

"What could be the cause of this severe weather?" Marvin asked through his commlink.

"Either natural atmospheric weather, or another way for the Lifebloom to defend itself, or both. I guess we may never know. Regardless, it's pretty fascinating." Wispwaker replied.

"I don't know if fascinating is de right word, right now." I'oshot-Uu said, slouching under his makeshift tent. Some branches and sticks whizzed by, and got lost to the dark.

"I'm with the monk on this," Marvin said.

Voiceless crossed his legs, and remained still, meditating. Marvin watched him not move for awhile, and went over to him.

"You alright?"

Voiceless slowly raised his right hand, giving a thumbs-up.

"Just checkin'."

Voiceless nodded, but remained gazing at the ground ahead of himself. His Koro's bronze lights emanated out, glowing against the darkness. The artificial sun's light pierced through the storm, gleaming thin rays through the trees. The wind whined ever louder, and more debris whizzed by, impaling nearby trees. Through the growing darkness, silhouetted bodies could be seen just along the top of the river bed.

The silhouettes hummed, blaring out low-pitched, mechanical reverberating screams. Then bright bolts of white hard-light streaked between the makeshift tents, illuminating the underbrush. The ground sizzled as the storm continued to pick up, and all of Dominion bolted onto their feet, raising their weapons at the unknown assailants. As Dominion shined their floodlights at the silhouettes, they could see nine, nine-feet tall Yokai firing at them. The AIs' bodies were encased in silver-grey, had roundish heads with a vertical white bar on the front for a photoreceptor. Their limbs and joints were segmented disparately from each other and the torso. They had other struts of floating pieces around them that resembled the large shoulder pauldrons, and leg-guards of ancient Samurai from Earth, and their bodies were lithe in build. The Yokai constructs wielded weapons that were shaped like three curved isosceles triangles, pointing forward, rotating around their forearms and a white hard-light crystal phasing through their forearms.

A firefight commenced and when Dominion tried firing back at the Yokai, the constructs quickly evaded, leaping into somersaults or darting between trees. They then released suppression fire against Dominion, peppering them with sizzling hard-light, and quickly shattering Dominion's shields.

"What the fu-" Cynthia started before taking cover behind a tree, keeping her Verdant rifle raised.

"They're too quick and there are no patterns to their movements." Wispwaker acknowledged, zooming around the firefight. He then dodged several white streaks that whizzed towards him.

Red growled, and followed up with a cackling-hiss. He then proceeded to raise his marksman pistol, and linked it to his smart-link eyepiece. He fired several precision shots of blue at the constructs, first quickly shattering their hard-light shields after several rounds.

Voiceless Cry assisted him, and sprayed the same Yokai with rounds from his Trident rifle, and the construct collapsed to the ground, flailing as it let out more reverberating screams. The lights dimmed, and the weapon enclosed around its forearm. While the others were fighting, Voiceless knelt down beside the dead construct, and grabbed onto the weapon. He pulled on it with mute grunts, and Wispwaker joined him, helping him remove it from the Yokai.

Voiceless held the weapon towards Wispwaker, in curiosity, tilting his head in confusion.

Wispwaker scanned the weapon in the Uru's hands a couple of times. "This appears to be a Composer Baram, a class of sidearm for the Yokai or possibly the creators themselves." Wispwaker tilted his protrusions, widening them too.

Akinyemi rounded the bend behind several trees, and scoped his Trident rifle, aiming it at a Yokai but before he could fire, the construct noticed him, and flailed several small floating metallic fans above its head and shoulders, and let out an aggressive hiss. The Yokai fired back at Akinyemi, penetrating his energy shields. Akinyemi took cover again in frustration, and turned his head towards Radha.

"Are you able to get into a position to pick them off with your sniper rifle?"

"Uhhh lemme try, commander." Radha equipped her rifle, and it extended to its firing mode, and she swerved around, aiming at the constructs. She fired once, scathing one's side. Its shields fluctuated with white sizzles, and reformed.

"Damnit, I gotta be quicker." Radha knelt down on one knee where she was, and fired again with two blue bolts of sizzling energy towards the same Yokai, and the shields shattered.

Akinyemi then fired a few rounds into its head, and it collapsed to the ground with a loud thud.

"Seven more to go, y'all." Marvin shouted through their commlinks.

"Hopefully dere won't be anymore after dis," I'oshot-Uu added. He lifted one in the air, stacking his arms in front of himself, then wavepushed one of the constructs a few meters away into a few rattling trees.

"Well, there's an entire Lifebloom with these, so there's that." Cynthia groaned, frustrated.

"Dat's not helping." I'oshot-Uu scowled inside his helmet, and tried to wavepush another Yokai construct away from the firefight.

The remaining Yokai concentrated their fire at Dominion, darting behind trees around them, and slowly surrounded them. They darted back and forth, slowly moving closer as Dominion was forcibly being driven back into one central position.

"Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck." Marvin began, firing at the Yokai, ducking and dodging away from the hard-light bolts that whizzed towards them.

"We're not gonna make it…" I'oshot-Uu panicked with distraught.

Red screamed back at the Yokai with gurgled-hisses, and held the trigger of his energy pistol for it to overcharge. However, one of the Yokai fired at his hand, and the Bir'vo dropped his pistol in great pain, and he shrieked.

"This is it for us, I believe. I'm glad to have been with you guys," said Cynthia.

As Dominion was pushed into one spot, the Yokai surrounded them, and tightened their position. The constructs rattled their floating protrusions and screamed like an angry chorus at Dominion. They raised their barams at the terrified fireteam, overcharging the weapons.

A stray bolt fired at one of the barams, and it exploded with a flurry of sizzling white, shredding the Yokai's arm and blowing the limbs apart, and the construct collapsed to the ground in a metallic heap. The other surviving Yokai all turned their heads towards the source, and Voiceless Cry bullet jumped out from the trees, and brandished his energy katana, striking the AI with his blade, severing their bodies into many pieces. He then darted towards another, and Palmed one to death with an aggressive shockwave pulse, sending the others back. Then small balls of fluctuating white light floated above the torsos of the Yokai constructs.

"Fuck yeah!" Marvin shouted, firing at the last of the Yokai, and it collapsed down, and its screaming faded.

Voiceless Cry then lowered his katana, without sheathing it, and continued to stand there, just gazing at the rest of Dominion. His shoulders relaxed, and he nodded at them as they approached him.

"You're a damn life-saver," Radha said, patting his left shoulder in the dark.

Voiceless Cry sheathed his sword, and raised a thumbs up at her.

The wind continued to kick up dust, branches, and leaves passed and between Dominion, and the trees were thrashing about. Dominion stood there as the light of Wispwaker approached them. He then scanned the immediate area with a few bubble pulses, and then his iris blinked. The balls of light then collapsed into themselves and flashed away.

"These seem to be one type of many Yokai constructs, these are designated as Jinn." Wispwaker sighed with frustration.

"There's more?" Cynthia asked, shouldering her rifle.

"Yeah, this type is Jinn. There are many more, a couple among them are called Oni and Naga," Wispwaker replied.

"Well, what do they look like? Because these ones here are intimidating.." Radha said, as her headscarf thrashed in front of her helmet.

"I don't know. We'll have to find out."

Marvin approached Voiceless and grabbed his right arm with the baram enclosed around it. "You were able to use this?"

Voiceless Cry nodded.

"That's dope."

"We need to get out of here." Akinyemi said, simply standing there.

Red click-whistled, then chirped.

There was a loud shredding noise not too far away from them to the north, and a massive tree flew by them, and Dominion dodged out of the way. They kept descending deeper into the river bed to get out of the way of the storm, and try to wait it out.

It was two days later, as Dominion had been slowed from being hunted down by hundreds of Yokai at any given time, and was farther north. They were charging through the Endless Fields and the sky was no longer covered in storms, but was still clouded with overcast. Behind them to the south west, that still could be seen, was the Thrashing Forest.

Above them, more sky whales sang their beautiful melodies, echoing across the valley. Dominion passed more thickets of trees, and stopped for a breather. They went into a small woodland glade nearby, and sat down on top of tall stones, and the leaf-littered ground. Nearby them, along a small stream, were a herd of tall deer-like creatures with metallic-plate antlers that protruded from their cranium, reaching up two feet off of their heads. They had black hair all over their long bodies, save for bio-luminescent swirled stripes that were green and orange in coloration. They had really long, wispy tails that almost reached the grass below them, swaying in the gentle breeze. They had their heads lowered, lapping up cold water from the stream.

"What are those? They are beautiful!" Cynthia studied them with her eyes, smiling while resting on a rock.

"Not sure, but they seem to be native to this region of Tutyalesh, I saw some in the woods nearby Outpost Prosperity." Wispwaker analyzed.

"And you didn't tell us?" Cynthia asked, gazing at the Luminere in betrayal.

"Nope, for some reason I didn't find it important."

"What do you wanna call them?" Cynthia adjusted herself on the rocks, quickly glancing at Akinyemi and Marvin.

"Wisptails." Radha interjected, simply.

"You could be their leader." Marvin said to Wispwaker. "Wispwaker, leader and shepard of the Wisptails. It works, man. You guys may not know, but we actually have plenty of creatures similar to these back on Eir'Qoiai. In what remaining forests and grasslands that are left. Very beautiful steeds they were for the ancient Atani, now mostly kept for the novelty."

"Oh, we know." Cynthia joked, punching him in the shoulder.

"Look at dem, dere's so many of dem." I'oshot-Uu said, gazing over at the Wisptails. "If only we could go over dere, and walk with dem."

"Nothing ever dampens your spirits." Radha replied, laughing.

The Wisptails all shot their heads up, and stared at Dominion with their ears pointing towards their direction. The herd didn't move but sniffed the air, watching them with their bright, shimmering green eyes. Small birds fluttered by, and swirled around the herd and out of sight. The Wisptails then slowly trotted off, and began to graze not too far away.

"That's our queue to start up again too," Akinyemi concluded, grunting as he stood up.

Everyone stood up, and made their way out of the thickets. While they did so, more browning leaves swayed to the ground, twisting on themselves through the air. The ground was littered with these fresh fallen leaves, and they crunched under the armor of Dominion. The wind began to pick up once more, blowing brown and gold leaves in front of the soldiers, and the grass swayed.

The clouds began to part a bit, exposing more of the Lifebloom, and they could see the boundless petals and arms reach out into infinity, greatly towering into the sky by thousands of miles, and a pale haze of atmosphere in between. A few of them received vertigo sickness while gazing ahead of themselves, also realizing how infinitesimally small they were, compared to it all.

"What I'd give to let Staliar, and Tuill see this…" Marvin said.

"What I'd give to let anyone else in the galaxy see this for that matter. This is probably the first recorded resettling ever since the Composers' extinction. Save for the Coalition who stumbled upon it just before we arrived…" Carrillo added, stopping her tracks while lifting her head at the sky.

"Well, then is the first Human to ever set foot on the megastructure."

Just ahead of them, a ways beyond the outskirts of the glade were loud distorted echoes ringing out. As they raised their rifles at the source, they witnessed several large silver-grey objects translocate into position above them in the sky. The ships were two hundred feet long, and about forty feet feet high at the peak. They geometrically sloped in design towards the front with jagged ends, and had segmented pointed arm-like protrusions fanning out to the sides of what looked like four petal-like wings that stationarily floated away from the ship. These Windtuners eerily hovered above the landscape, unmovable.

"What are those?" Akinyemi asked, gently tilting his head, while flexing his fingers on the grips of his rifle.

"They seem to be a type of military hovercraft." Wispwaker analyzed without hesitation.

"That's obvious, light bulb." Marvin grumbled.

"They are Composer aerial fighters. But my scans indicate they are another form of Composer AI, used solely for aerial combat and infantry support."

Three baram-like guns then materialized just underneath the fronts of the Windtuners, and rapidly began to spin. Half of the ten ships took off towards the south, with blinding speed faster than a blink of an eye, and the rest continued to hover in place above the weary fireteam.

"Uhhh that's odd." Cynthia said, giving off a stance of uncomfortability.

"Dey might be friendly." I'oshot-Uu replied.

"No, they're not."

Voiceless and Red gazed at each other, while Radha brandished her swords. The air around them seemed to fall silent, and flashes of white peppered the landscape ahead of them, just below the Windtuners. Twelve Jinn raised their barams at Dominion, and a few Oni and Naga stood there, towering. The Oni greatly resembled the Jinn in appearance, but had a larger stature, peaking at eleven feet tall, had a broader metallic build, more armored protrusions, and had two horn-like ones floating above their heads. The Oni also wielded a single large silver-grey axe, with long and white hard-light blades that swept out and up from the top.

The Naga had a completely different shape, with a less Humanoid form, and hovered a few feet off the ground, but had a height of ten feet. Their heads were the same design as Jinn and Oni, but had a semicircular crest that sweeped out and up from the head, and larger protrusions were wrapped around the neck. The Naga had broad sloped shoulders that stuck out from the torso and head, and back behind the head, and had no limbs. Coming down from the torso was a segmented tail, that had extensions floating disparately away from each other in a skeletal appearance, and above both sides of the shoulders were two large baram-cannons. Around the Naga, were also small white lights, that fluctuated in brightness.

The Yokai all gave out low-pitched, reverberating mechanical screams, and began firing at the terrified Dominion, while the Windtuners zoomed off. Bolts of hard-light sprayed the soldiers, quickly collapsing their energy shields. Cynthia, Voiceless, Marvin, and Radha sprayed a few Yokai with their rifles, and Red chucked an energy grenade at them. It exploded with a flurry of blue and white plasma, dismembering several Jinn just after their shields were shattered.

Two Oni charged at Dominion, swinging their hard-light axes in a horizontal arc, impacting Akinyemi in the left side of the chest, sending him ragdolling through the air. Red then growl-hissed at the Oni, and fired several precision rounds into that Oni's head, punching through the hard-light shielding. Marvin aided Red by aiming at that same Oni, and fired multiple rounds from his Trident rifle at the construct. The Oni growled, and evaded out of the way of the bolts, and the ground shuddered from its bounding weight.

A couple Naga then covered the Oni, peppering Red with their baram-cannons, punching through his energy shields, and Red ducked down again. I'oshot-Uu raised his arms up, activating his kinetic gauntlets, and raised a couple more Jinn through the air. He then wavepushed them through the air, launching them a good ways away.

"Dere's too many of dem!" I'oshot-Uu shouted through his commlink.

"We need to find a weak spot on them. Wispwaker?" Radha replied, spinning out of the way of sizzling hard-light bolts as they whizzed passed her.

"Hold on…" Wispwaker began releasing bubble pulse scans as he maneuvered through the air, trying not to get hit.

The Oni being attacked by Marvin and Red bounded over towards them, and backhanded Marvin to the ground, and the Atani impacted with a whip-lashed thud. The Oni straightened up a bit, turning its head towards Red. It vibrated its floating protrusions above its head and shoulders, and hissed at the Bir'vo. Red's eyes widened out of fright, and he tried taking a step back as to evade omaway from the towering, mechanical warrior. The Oni then grabbed its axe with both of its mechanical hands, and raised it over its head, then swung it down with blinding speeds, straight for the Bir'vo. Red was hacked through the upper left shoulder, and sizzling blood sprayed up into the air, and Red let out a bloodcurdling scream. The towering Yokai then twisted the blade as it yanked the axe out of Red's shoulder, and then pressed its right leg on top of Red's chest. It let out another low-pitched scream as it began for another wide swing, but then Voiceless bullet jumped up onto the construct, and Palmed the Yokai. The shock wave boomed around the firefight, the Oni's head was caved in, and it fell adjacently from Red, spazzing on the ground.

"Red!" Cynthia shouted in horror.

The Naga then grew angry, concentrating their fire on the Uru, and the second Oni charged over towards I'oshot-Uu. I'oshot-Uu leaped back, and swung his arms in a fluid motion, facing his palms towards the massive construct. I'oshot-Uu then placed his own hands over the other, and then slammed them down to the ground, sending out a shock wave wavepush in in a one hundred, eighty degrees blast in front of himself, staggering the Yokai back.

"Fuck yeah!" Radha shouted, brandishing her sniper rifle in her hands. "I'oshot-Uu, focus on that Oni, while Voiceless, Cynthia, and I take out the Naga!"

"Sure ding." I'oshot-Uu replied, widening his stance, and raised his hands in front of himself once more.

The wind picked up again, whispering through the nearby trees, and the grass. The loud noises from the firefight rang out around the Fields, and distant sky whales redirected their course, calling out to the rest of their herd.

Voiceless, Cynthia, and Radha then spread out, all concentrating their energy fire at one of the Naga, evading out of the fire from the second, and the surviving Jinn constructs. Akinyemi slowly regained his footing, and sighted his floating sights, taking out a couple of Jinn nearby Radha.

"Their weak spots seem to be their chests and heads, just like us." Wispwaker concluded.

"We already got that, buddy." Akinyemi laughed in heavy frustration and fear, while concentrating on the Yokai. "Go take care of Marvin and Red now! No questions."

Wispwaker obeyed immediately, and zoomed around the firefight towards the wounded and unconscious Bir'vo and Atani, respectively. Akinyemi then aided Voiceless, Cynthia, Radha, and I'oshot-Uu as they continued to fight back against the Naga. The Naga extended their segmented tails, and whipped them around, igniting the metallic segments in irradiated hard-light. They thrashed them around, in an erratic writhing serpentine motion, crashing through the ground, and spraying heavy chunks of dirt and rock at Dominion.

The tails pounded in a series of impacts against Radha, smashing her to the ground, with sizzling erosions in the back of her armor. The second one managed to whip out at Cynthia, and lifted her up in the air, thrashing her around. The Naga were simultaneously firing their baram-cannons at Akinyemi, I'oshot-Uu, and Voiceless Cry. The glowing white orbs began rotating rapidly around the Naga, and and as Cynthia continued to be thrashed about, her IAPETUS armor's systems started malfunctioning.

"What the fuck! I can't see shit!" She screamed as she flailed her gun around, firing stray energy bolts into the sky. Her armor's joints were locking and fraying at random, making it more impossible to aim.

"What's causing my suits functions to fail?" Akinyemi asked as he couldn't move his hands, preventing him from firing at the Naga.

"It seems to be an advanced form of energy dampeners, sir. Shit." Wispwaker grumbled and zoomed towards Red.

As Wispwaker hovered just above the wounded Bir'vo, Wispwaker noticed the severity of the damage. Red was nearly bisected from the left shoulder down into the chest cavity, and spine. His armor and exo-suit skin were eroded, and sizzling, as well as the boiling flesh and blood that expanded through the visceral opening. Red was barely wheezing, and his organs were exposed to the air, Wispwaker could see his damage lungs and beating heart, with severed aerteries spraying boiling blood out onto his chassis.

"Bloody hell." Wispwaker scanned Red in a blue beam, and after a couple seconds, his iris flashed. "He has extensive damage to the shoulder and chest, bleeding internally, while his flesh is boiled. His left lung is collapsing sir, and his heart is racing to unnatural rates."

"Use your bio-foam cartridge. Now." Akinyemi ordered through gritting teeth. He flexed his fingers as he tried evading out of the way of a Naga's tail that crashed just beside him.

"It's the only one I have available. Are you sure?"

"Yes!"

Cynthia was chucked, and ragdolled through the air, crashing away. She didn't move. Voiceless leaped up and back out of the Nagas' reach, firing into their photoreceptors. He grabbed an energy grenade from his Koro's waist, and threw it at one Naga.

Wispwaker administered the cartridge, gently spraying into the opening of his chest and shoulder cavities. It came out as a lime green coloration, and slowly expanded to every edge, and pressed against the sizzling flesh. Red's wheezing stopped, while Wispwaker removed the air out of his chest cavity, and carefully sealed his lung before it permanently collapsed.

"There you go, my friend." Wispwaker mumbled, and finished sealing the damage.

Red groaned, before succumbing to unconsciousness.

I'oshot-Uu tried waving his arms fluidly, and began a motion to wavepush the Naga. However, when he wavepushed the Yokai construct, it only staggered in the air a foot back, and continued firing at him.

"Oh shit…" I'oshot-Uu groaned.

Radha rolled and braced herself back onto her feet, brandishing her Verdant rifle. She then nodded at Voiceless Cry, and they chucked their last energy grenades at the Naga. The bright explosion exposed its white inner core, and it pulsed rapidly. Akinyemi, Voiceless, and Radha then all concentrated their plasma fire at it until the Naga collapsed to the ground in a miniature implosion. The metallic husk thudded loudly, and then went cold. They then focused their rounds on the last Naga that threw Cynthia away, firing at its head and chest.

Wispwaker hovered over Marvin, and scanned him too. He found that the Atani only received a mild concussion from the back of the head, but he was still unconscious. Wispwaker darted his iris around as the battle commenced, watching the last Naga construct erratically attack Dominion, pulsing out brighter white lights around itself.

The Naga too gave out a low-pitched, reverberating scream as it rapid fired at Dominion with its baram-cannons. I'oshot-Uu activated his kinetic gauntlets again, trying to prevent the cannons from firing anymore. He stood there, and grimaced through his helmet, gritting his teeth. The Naga's cannons slowly escalated in brightness, not firing at Dominion. Akinyemi, Voiceless, and Radha released their clips at the Naga while it violently thrashed its tail everywhere.

It then translocated behind I'oshot-Uu, draining his energy, and then activated the hard-light edges around it's tail, whipping at him. He barely evaded out of the way, slamming his hands on the ground into a directed shock wave at the Naga, shattering its hard-light shields. It staggered back while Akinyemi, Radha, and Voiceless continued to fire at it, and its casing began to fracture around the chest and head. It let out one more scream before Voiceless Cry leaped up at it, Palming it so its head caved in, and it collapsed down destroyed.

The immediate area was littered with the empty husks of the Yokai constructs, with gnarled metallic bodies, and flickering lights. Voiceless knelt down on the ground, in the seiza position, and rested his hands on the front of his thighs. Radha, and I'oshot-Uu then dashed towards Red and Marvin, and Akinyemi then followed from behind.

Akinyemi then knelt down in the grass, and gently placed a hand on Red's chest. He felt Red's breathing, which was slightly shallow, but steady. He gazed at Red's face, watching his eyes slowly move underneath the red eyelids.

"You'll be alright, my friend. Is there no way we can call an emergency evac for treatment?" Akinyemi asked, while dematerializing his helmet.

Wispwaker emitted a few bubble pulses around himself, and then stopped. "Unfortunately, no… The Yokai have stripped away contact across the whole region... It's smart, but terrifying. We're on our own again, until whenever we get back."

"Goddamnit. We have so much more to go, and three incapacitated soldiers." Akinyemi said, gazing over at Cynthia. She started barely stirring, and slowly closed her hands. "Is there some sort of communication grid we can find and reconnect with the firebase?"

"I don't think so, since this is our first time setting foot on the megastructure, and given the timeframe we have to pull off our objective, it will take too long. And as for Red, it'll be a few days before he's able to even use his left arm again." Wispwaker added, bobbing in the air above Marvin.

"We have to keep going, either way." Radha added, rubbing her own shoulders. She took off her helmet, and let her white dreads hang loose underneath her headscarf. She sat down, and placed her helmet beside herself.

"We need to rest first. All of dem will still be unconscious for awhile." I'oshot-Uu approached the rest of them, moving around the husk of a dead Oni. He then sat down on the construct's chest, and rested his arms against his thighs, leaning forward.

"This fucking sucks…" Marvin groaned, now stirring.

"Marvin?" I'oshot-Uu tilted his head to the side. "You're awake, phew, I dought you died dere for a second. Get up will you?"

Voiceless straightened up from where he was sitting away from everyone. He gazed over at the Atani, staring through his Koro.

Akinyemi gave a ghost of a smile, while watching them trying to ease up. He then returned his gaze to Cynthia and Red who were still lying in the tall grass. He sighed, but he knew that they'd be okay, for Cynthia had gently stirred, and Red continued to steadily breathe. Akinyemi reloaded his rifle, then sheathed it onto the back of his IAPETUS armor.

A flurry of bright flashes appeared in the sky a ways away, peppering against the blue haze of the atmosphere. In the place of the flashes as they vanished were a few hundred Windtuners, and the constructs zoomed across the landscape heading towards the south, west, and north. All of Dominion who were awake jerked their heads in the directions of the ships, startled.

"Woah, shit-" Radha said, pushing against Marvin's shoulder, standing up, and grabbing her sniper rifle.

"Where are they heading?" Akinyemi asked, not moving.

Radha raised her Shamshir up at the sky in order to tail the many Windtuners that took off. "Uhhh… they're not heading over here for some reason. They're literally heading in every other direction, some being over the— Wait, what's that in the distance, and how did we not notice that before? Maybe we can find a way to communicate with the firebase there."

Along their horizon, being surrounded by the Endless Fields, and miles-high canopy trees, they could see towering silver-grey buildings and spires that reached up into infinity. The borders seemed to stretch back for hundreds of miles as well as many of the buildings themselves sprouting tall into the sky; enveloping, while complimenting the surreal, otherworldly, and disheartening landscape. Around the borders of this seemingly megatropolis, were more stalwart and sky-piercing defense towers with their point defense cannons, however these cannons appeared inert and inactive.

"Could it be a city?" I'oshot-Uu asked, raising himself from the grass.

"Most likely, should get going there now and do our best to reinitiate contact and see if we can receive any fire support. Or even find some technology ourselves. It seems the Composers were really trying to defend this place, from whatever exactly drove them extinct. This 'Darkness' fortunately didn't consume the megastructure itself though."

"Maybe the megastructure self-regenerated after the builders' demise." Marvin tried to comprehend this installation.

"Who knows? Let's get going, Voiceless, Radha, help me with Red and Cynthia." Akinyemi made his way over to the grounded soldiers.

"We still can't move either of them, sir." Wispwaker barked.

Marvin, and Radha moved over to Red's body, and lifted him from behind with Akinyemi, bracing him just in case his huge size decided to fall. It was difficult, since the alien's weight - added with the fact that he was still limp - was too heavy. More Windtuners flashed overhead in the distance, swarming in reverent formations, zooming out into their own flight patterns. They wailed across the sky, piercing any eardrum that would be nearby. I'oshot-Uu and Voiceless Cry elevated Cynthia up too, and they wrapped one of their arms around her waist and shoulders, respectfully. Before they could press on, however, much to their chagrin, more scores of Windtuners immediately followed the others, translocating above them in the expansive sky. The Windtuners began capping at a total of forty at once, and loomed in place above Dominion.

Simultaneously, another gargantuan construct translocated below the fleet of ships. This construct stood at a height of three hundred, and thirty feet, with a length of nearly five hundred, and a width of two hundred and sixty feet. This massive artillery-walker had four pairs of massive, anti-vehicle legs, that sprawled out and ended in sharp, geometric "feet" that balanced the construct. Towards the back of the sides were two sets of particle stream cannons, four pairs of baram-cannons along the main hull, and a gravity cannon, that had a long, fan shape, hovering above the top of the main body. Many white lights weaved along the outer hull of the silver-grey Kumo, and the looming construct signaled immediate hellfire with a resounding, resonating chorus.

"Run." Akinyemi simply muttered to his fireteam.

As Fireteam Dominion bounded out of there with terrified vigor, the Windtuners zoomed overhead, and the Kumo targeted them from behind, bombarding them with hard light bolts, particle cannon streams, and antimatter charges. The landscape exploded and boiled around them. The artificial sun's peeking rays shimmered off of the massive aerial crafts, silhouetting them as they rained hell fire. They charged through the chest-high grass, heading the cardinal west across the Tutyalesh region. The landscape seemed to stretch out farther and farther as they ran endlessly, with most of their armors and suits allowing them to run nearly fifty miles per hour. It was incredibly difficult for them to twist around and fire back, as they helplessly fired back at the swarming aircrafts, and bounding walker.

Voiceless Cry's Koro allowed him to charge up a glowing ball of incendiary plasma energy from his right palm, and he launched it at the Windtuners. The golden orb zoomed for the closest Windtuner, blasting a shock wave with a loud, thunderous cry. The shockwave punched a sizzling hole through the aircraft, while simultaneously disabling it with a small EMP field. However, the power used to charge such a blast damaged his Koro, he'd be unable to relocate such an action. The temporary EMP field caused a few Windtuners to crash into each other, and plummet into the Endless Fields.

Many of the Windtuners translocated more Yokai constructs around them, and Fireteam Dominion panicked. Many Jinn darted around, leaping or translocating to keep up, while blaring their high-pitched screams. Many Oni and Naga trailed behind, firing or swinging at the fireteam in order to hunt down this interlopers from beyond the stars in order to protect the megastructure.

"How much more do they even have?" Cynthia's voice cracked through horror as she bounded beside Akinyemi.

"Probably billions." He replied disheveled.

Along their way, what appeared to be a herd of great wingless birds bounded in the distance. These Moata towered fifteen feet into the sky, and had massive, thick bodies, and lithe, legs, and towering necks. They were adorned in shimmering velvet feathers, small heads with black eyes, and had elongated golden beaks on the front of their faces. The herd of Moata were darting away from the constant bombardment of hardlight, and packs of predatory animals. The predatory Cilumcho were ten feet tall, at the shoulder, twenty feet long, with thin, whip-like tails, and were covered in thick muscles. They had two sets of forelegs, and one pair of digitigrade hindlegs, all adorned in sharp claws for running down and eviscerating their prey. They had wide, flat faces, golden eyes, small ears, and hazy orange frills fanning out from the back of their heads. Their bodies were covered in brown to iridescent white fur, and appeared to flash across Dominion's field of vision.

Dominion soon approached the outskirts of the shimmering city, and soon realized it was engulfed in dense, strangling foliage, however, the buildings and spires still gleaned pristine after over two hundred thousand years. Dominion passed derelict overpasses and and rundown, flickering hard light signs, and halted as most of the screaming stopped emanating from the Yokai. The thousands of Yokai rested in place, standing there in the sprawling fields, motionless and swaying. All the constructs stared at Dominion with empty faces, and gently swayed with the grass and the wind. They released one final chorus of reverberating screams and fell silent.

"What's going on? What's happening?" Radha asked, turning around confused, while keeping her sniper rifle raised.

"Hold on, I'm picking up something," Wispwaker replied, releasing many blue bubble pulses around them. "Interesting…"

"What is it?" Akinyemi asked, facing the Luminere underneath many bridges and stack-buildings that were impossibly articulated with extreme geometric designs with fifth-dimensional-like precision, towering endlessly for miles as the stack-city loomed around them.

"They seem to be speaking to something, or someone. Here, let me translate: 'Targets outside designated perimeter. Requesting perimeter revisions'."

"What the fuck?" Marvin asked, kneeling down on an open street, which stretched back hundreds of miles, weaving through the condensed stack city.

The myriad of Yokai continued to sway there motionless, and soon translocated away, in bright flashes of white light. Dominion turned around, and were soon enveloped inside the city. They appeared like ants to the expansive skyline, and they made their way around, taking in everything, trying and failing to comprehend its majesty.

The stack city was built into more impossible angles, and broke off of other spires, as if appearing to be in a realm of refracted light and broken physics. Many stories of the buildings soared out of the sides of buildings, in ways no one in the galaxy ever knew how to build such feats. Many of these extended sections were rectangular in shape, or jagged and ethereal. Above them, between the streets and buildings, were walkways that stood thousands of feet to miles in the sky, connecting everything together like interconnected grids or spider webs. Floating column-like spires loomed around open districts, hovering reverently in place hundreds of feet above roadways, courtyards, and plazas. The city was filled with great green trees and expansive open grass yards. Many rivers and lakes permeated the city, with silver-grey and spruce brown pavilions floating above the lakes, reflecting the ever-clear waters. Humble and soft music could be heard from disembodied kotos and biwa, creating an atmosphere of serenity, even in the city's overgrown, and abandoned state.

Many harmonizing calls echoed around the buildings and districts, and flurries of alien birds roamed the great streets of the city. The birds stood seven feet tall, and had electric blue feathers all over their bodies. They had small heads with red beaks, neon pink eyes, and massive, sweeping crests along the tops of their heads. They had thin legs and long, feathery tails. What made them stand out was that they had illuminating ribbons of vibrant colors of light swirling and zooming around them. Whenever they called to each other, these light ribbons hummed and increased in brightness, dazzling in reds, yellows, oranges, violets, and greens. Many packs of the Quildrei diverted their attention to Fireteam Dominion, and hissed with great plums of light and feathers. Some either darted away or idly remained in place.

"Dose are de most beautiful birds I've ever seen." I'oshot-Uu remarked, taking in their magnificent beauty.

"Best we stay away, they seem to be incredibly territorial." Wispwaker analyzed.

Thick blankets of grey and white appeared once more overhead, smearing the sky with wet uncertainty. Fireteam Dominion grew uneasy and restless once more while standing, and realized they should find cover if the Yokai found a way inside the city. Unbeknownst to them, stray constructs translocated around the streets, in search of targets to protect the installation from.

Fireteam Dominion made their way into a relatively small building, shaped into that of a silver-grey metallic pavilion in the center of an open plaza, after making their way up grey stone steps that surrounded it in a circular fashion with a few layers. The enclosed pavilion had a diameter of a few hundred feet, three hundred feet high, and at the top center of the building was a vast concave dome, looming above. The inside of the dome had intricate golden filigree carvings of fluid, organic designs, and sharp, rigid geometry, respecting each other in the shared art space. Composer glyphs and markings also filled the center, and wrapped around the outside, weaving in and around delicate knots and patterns. Along the silver-grey floor were many silver-painted inverted trapezoidal tables, filling up the open room with perfect geometry around the center. In the center, housed a hardlight, totem kiosk they assumed was for ordering food in this once great confectionary. The tables all stood four to five feet off the ground, and were all six by thirty feet long each. Rounded, one-legged stools sat around the tables, as well as ornate chairs at the ends.

"This is rather quaint, I like it." Wispwaker studied, zooming around the confectionary.

"It's simple...and modest. I didn't think the Composers would make something like this, given everything we've already seen." Cynthia leaned against Akinyemi, trying to keep her balance.

Red and Voiceless helped her out, and sat her onto the flooring. Voiceless sat down next to her, and let her lean her head onto his left shoulder. Voiceless gazed around the room, taking everything in. Marvin sat down beside them, and rested his head, but continued to examine the room too.

"The detailing is absolutely amazing." Radha started, pointing around with an open hand, turning towards Akinyemi. "Far more advanced than any of our worlds, but still seems to be holding back, as if to convey simplicity in recreation or dining."

"I agree, yeah." Akinyemi placed his Trident rifle near the edge of one of the tables, and it splintered, with large fragments collapsing to the floor.

"What the?" Wispwaker began, zooming towards the grounded fragments. "Wood? They used wood? Now this is peculiar, yet exhilarating."

Akinyemi knelt down to pick up the fragments in the shaded confectionary, with only their armors' lights having significant luminosity to see. He stood back up, examining them in his hands. He turned the largest piece over, and found it to be a fossilized reddish-brown wood underneath the silver paint. The wood was incredibly smooth, carefully crafted, and passionately intricate. It was light, but durable, and was mostly featureless.

Wispwaker scanned the fragments with a condensed beam of light, and his iris blinked thrice when he was done. "Sir, these tables are just as old as the surrounding architecture and city, if not barely older themselves. I'm surprised they lasted this long, mostly unharmed."

Akinyemi shrugged, and placed the fragments on the table, retrieving his Trident rifle in the process. He approached the kiosk in the center, and found a broken holo-pedestal in the middle. He tried activating it with a wave of his hand, but there was no response.

"What are you trying to do, sir?" Wispwaker asked, glancing at the Atlas failing a few more times.

"Just find any kind of answers I can. Like directions, city planning, artifacts, you name it. The Exuberance's scientists and archeologists would have a field day here, studying everything...What's even the name of this city?"

Wispwaker emanated a few successive bubble pulses from his luminere shell, and stopped shortly afterwards. "Nearby are some signs that indicate that this city used to be called something along the lines of 'Vigilant Shield'. Whatever that meant to the Composers, I don't know, but that's about it, sir."

"That's got a nice ring to it." Radha replied, gazing back up at the dome above them. "This reminds me of my childhood manzil - or home - when Sang'Cael Luu was still habitable… My family resided in the city-state of Antar'Issa, and most of the manzil had very intricate, and beautiful filigree designed similar to this. Maybe my species' ancestors were inspired by them? I don't know. But when the red light of Sister Suns would illuminate upon them around sunsrise, it was the most beautiful thing ever...But my favorite part was when we Sleviish attended the Festival of Colors, celebrating the blossoming of a new year, and the beginning of spring life. It was a huge deal for my people because most of the planet was arid, so we loved any and all flourishing flora we found. However, during the celebration, the bellydancers, shamans, and matriarchs would lead thousands of us around a central spire, playing wonderful music. We all danced and laughed, while making our way around the spire in large, circular crowds. We sprayed each other with brilliant ochres, and natural dyes. While doing so, the Sister Suns would light the filigree up again at sunsset, creating the most beautiful atmosphere imaginable... I loved it all, and I wish we continued it again in our flotilla fleets..."

"I've only ever known of the infamous Sleviish swordswomen, art, music, food, spices, and drugs." Marvin remarked, turning his attention to her in wonder. "But I never heard something as beautiful as that."

"It's sadly not a part of our culture we willingly share to others that much if at all. The Sleviish always took great pride in such an event, the knowledge of it practically became unknown to everyone else of the Blue Empire. No Sleviish from outside the home system even knew of its existence and significance. I hope one day to teach the others, reclaim our old homeworld, and bring it back." Radha grew weary, and slumped her shoulders while gazing at the Atani.

"I would want to attend dat." I'oshot-Uu replied, gazing at the Sleviish in admiration.

"I would let you, I would let all of you attend if we could." She assured.

Akinyemi thought back to when he was younger, and would attend huge celebrations on Yemoja, himself. Besides events like the Blue Parade, Yemoja celebrated festivals like the Safari Rally, where he, Olubayo, and a couple other friends had entered with Olubayo's hovercraft, and using magnetic restraints were able to 'ground' the cars to hover a few feet off the wilderness floor outside the major cities and New Nairobi. They had to do that in order to be 'evenly matched' with the other racers and contenders before they raced around their home continent. Different tribes came together to celebrate. Other festivals included sailing around the continents in order to track down and hunt great whale-like creatures native to Yemoja. These whale like creatures were four times the size of a full grown blue whale on Earth, and they were mythical to the local populace. The original founding day of the planet was also a major ally celebrated Yemojan holiday marking the beginning of their identities of what made them Yemoja while still honoring the countries cultures the original founders arrived from. One of the skeletons of these great whale-like creatures also resided in the main open trading hub of New Nairobi for all to see the achievements of the Yemojan warriors.

"I don't mean to interrupt your wonderful nostalgia," Wispwaker began, while zooming around Akinyemi, Radha, and I'oshot-Uu. "...But there is danger nearby. I recommend returning to full alert."

The familiar reverberative screams resounded around the walls of the enclosed pavilion, blaring loudly in their ears. Marvin darted to his feet in rushed horror, brandishing his Verdant rifle. Cynthia too panicked, and collapsed under her own exhaustion, releasing a loud thud onto the grey stonework. Red jolted, raising his marksman pistol, and squawked in shrills and coos. Akinyemi, Radha, and Voiceless also armed themselves, while I'oshot-Uu activated his kinetic gauntlets.

Several Jinn translocated inside the confectionary, and immediately fired upon Fireteam Dominion with unforgiving, ruthless precision. They rapidly fired upon the surprised fireteam, bounding around them, and plunged their occupied fists and hard light-laced finger talons towards the soldiers. Cynthia received a visceral, lunged slash to her chestplate, melting, and searing her inside her power armor. She dropped to the ground from the force of one of the Yokai' s swings, and the aggressive construct towered over her, leaning over her face, and screamed while rattling its floating protrusions. She tried kicking it out from under its feet, but only received blunt, sharp pain into her left leg, and she screamed in pain and fright.

Red bounded towards the construct, attempting to wrestle it away, however it translocated behind him, and lunged at the back of his armor. Akinyemi and Voiceless targeted the Jinn, spraying it with sizzling blue bolts, until it flashed away. The remaining Jinn sprayed them in return, while darting around the wooden tables, desecrating the ancient furniture. Voiceless charged up his baram, targeting the stray Jinn, and configured it to fire full-auto. The baram shredded the Jinns' armors apart, and the constructs released an ear-splitting cry.

I'oshot-Uu attempted to wavepush them back with his kinetic gauntlets, however they continued to erratically dart and translocate around the fireteam, while ducking and evading like flashes of silver away from their weapons. The Yokai grew frustrated, and all gazed up at the stone ceiling of the confectionary, and began to bombard it. Within seconds, the walls crumbled, cracked, and buckled, giving way. Fireteam Dominion stopped firing to dart out of there, and just as they left, the entire pavilion caved in on itself with a loud and booming crash, leaving nothing but rubble behind, and thick sprays of aggressive clouds of dust and ash.

They ran out into the open plaza once again, and heavy rain punched their armors, and caused Marvin and Radha to slip in the wet pavement. Thick blankets of dark grey clouds loomed above the skyline, creating an atmosphere of urgent dread. Fireteam Dominion were welcomed by more Quildrei, and Yokai. The birds brandished their feathers, opening up their massive wings while causing the pulsing ribbons to zoom and weave around them. Dozens of more Jinn, Oni, and Naga diverted their attention to Dominion, and immediately opened fire with a dreading chorus of screams and barks.

"Fuck!" Akinyemi yelled, caught off guard, stumbling back. "Wispwaker, what's the closest place we can go?"

Before the Luminere responded, the Yokai constructs opened fire upon them, blasting them with hard light bolts and golden particle beams. Red and Voiceless helped up Radha and Marvin, steering them away in an attempt to find cover.

"...There is a nearby pagoda-like structure to the north east by a ways. Over there, sir." Wispwaker nudged his luminere shell in the direction of their destination.

The pagoda structure towered two thousand feet into the sky, tiered by two hundred stories. Its eaves branched out like geometric branches into the sky, off the sides of each story. Towards the base, it widened out into six hundred feet in diameter foundation, and the width and length of the pagoda was one hundred feet thick. It was mostly silver-grey in coloration, however the eaves were spruce brown with golden gilded filigree work bordering them. At the front of the base was an eighty feet tall Sural, painted into a deep red, standing out from, yet complimenting the awe-inspiring beautiful structure. Around its open courtyard of endless green strips of grass were totem pole shaped fountains that melded geometric and organic weaving patterns together around it. Around the fountains were eight sets of silver-grey, column-like floating pillars that were two hundred feet high, and eighty feet in diameter, hovering ten feet off the ground. They were spread out into symmetrical rows away from the Sural.

Dozens of more Yokai translocated in between Fireteam Dominion and the pagoda thanks to a resurgence of twenty more Windtuners zooming above them. Bright flashes of white-blue lightning cascaded erratically across the dark sky, ripping booming roars across the landscape, while illuminating the shimmering, and desecrated city. The flashes simultaneously silhouetted all the nearby Yokai, and their screams contrasted, yet complimented the roaring thunder of the boundless sky.

Voiceless Cry ran out of ideas, and bounded ahead, receiving sustained heavy fire by the powerful constructs. He Palmed the surrounding area with an overcharged shockwave, blasting dozens of Yokai back or through the air. The rest of Fireteam Dominion bounded behind him, following him as he led them towards the pagoda structure ahead.

"How does he keep continuing to do that? How is his Koro so powerful?" Cynthia asked, while firing at a Jinn construct that darted in front of her.

"I'm guessing it's powered by some form of vacuum energy, siphoning power directly from light and the air around them." Marvin replied, eviscerating another Jinn with his neon green wrist blades.

Vacuum energy was an underlying background energy that exists throughout the entire universe, and had always a constant tugging and fluctuating effect on incorporeal and corporeal matter. It was thought that since the universe was made up of an infinite amount of these quantum particle fluctuations, one could essentially draw infinite energy and power. The concept of actually accumulating the knowledge how to tap into, and use this energy was first found in the ruins of an old, forgotten species during the second wave of the first interstellar colonization in 2279 CE.

The ruins were located on wht became the Blue Imperial Inner Colony of Clinquant. The planet was named after the glittering effect from the system's binary stars; one was a yellow-gold G-type main sequence star, and the other a yellow-white F-type main sequence star. Early Blue Imperial settlers and scientists found an old data cache within which, when translated, allowed the Blue Empire to develop faster-than-light travel, by using vacuum energy to open wormholes into riftspace, and providing free and infinite energy to the riftspace drives themselves.

Fireteam Dominion continued to bound through the open, yet crowded, plaza. Voiceless charged up his left gauntlet again, and Palmed the ground ahead of himself, blasting another ear-splitting shockwave across the city, and many Yokai were blasted apart. However, after each successful time he did so, his Koro became more damaged. There was enough room between them and the pagoda courtyard for them to continue ahead while being bombarded by the Windtuners and Yokai constructs.

"Almost there, almost there, almost... there.." Cynthia muttered while evading under another zooming bolt of hard light.

"Commander, open the Conduit in front of the Sural." Marvin began, realizing that hundreds of Yokai gave chasethem at once in the torrential storm.

"Sure, sure, yeah." Akinyemi replied while firing back aimlessly at an Oni bounding towards them.

Fireteam Dominion passed many of the floating pillars, and were significantly dwarfed by them. Any remaining light from the sky was silhouetted by these reverent pillars, shrouding them in shadow. More bolts of hard light zipped passed them with white flashes, shattering a few of the stone fountains, spraying stone and water into the air. Large chunks collapsed to the ground, nearly crushing Radha's head.

I'oshot-Uu quickly levitated the chunks of stone, and hurled them back at the Yokai. Several of the constructs translocated and darted out of the way, however, a few were crushed by the impact.

"Inside, inside. Everyone I swear to to the fucking Life Ways you better not die!" Marvin shouted as they eventually approached the Sural. "I don't want to be stranded out here all by myself!"

Akinyemi activated the Conduit with his hand, and the red Sural peeled itself away, soon dematerializing into nothingness, allowing them to enter inside. Unbeknownst to Dominion, however, all the Yokai halted their advance, and stopped in the middle of the courtyards in front of the pagoda structure. They appeared motionless, and cold, staring at the building. The Yokai churned and hummed in low-frequencies, fixated at the beautifully crafted building.

Fireteam Dominion found themselves in a circular atrium that was a six hundred feet in diameter, with columns lining the walls, topped in trapezoidal lintels. Selenite monoliths lined the walls beside the elaborate columns, shimmering underneath soft white lights emanating out of smooth panels from the ceiling and walls. A few more Sural lined the walls, and were too covered in deep red paint, contrasting against the uniformity of the room. A small, circular basin of clear water rested in the center of the room, and it was twelve feet in diameter. Small orbs of white light hovered in place ten feet off the ground, and around the outer edge of the basin. Soft auras of tranquil energy and rejuvenation filled the atmosphere, vaporizing their stress, fear, and anxiety.

"Woah, that was... releasing," Cynthia remarked, relaxed.

"Why didn't they chase us inside?" Radha asked, turning around as the Sural closed in on itself, cutting them off from the horror they faced outside.

"Maybe they aren't meant to?" Marvin pondered, lowering his Verdant in his hands, having the barrel facing the floor.

Voiceless Cry knelt down in the seiza position on the ground, and relaxed his shoulders, steadying his breathing.

Red glanced at the basin, and chitter-chirped a question for any of the fireteam to answer.

"Good question, let me see what it's for." Wispwaker zoomed around it, scanning it with a few bubble pulses and directed beams.

Wispwaker found a white hardlight sign above the basin, with several Composer glyphs written in full sentences.

"The sign above says, 'Welcome to the Songhouse. Bathe in the purifying Well of Cleansing, and meld your Voice with all'."

"So...just step into the water, and then what?" Marvin asked.

"We enter inside de Songhouse." I'oshot-Uu replied. "I think we all have to step in it."

"All at once? Nah." Radha sighed, her energy drained.

"Probably one at a time." Akinyemi replied, straightforwardly.

"Who wants to go first?" Cynthia asked. "Show of hands?"

No one else raised their hands except for Cynthia.

"Fuck. Fine. Let's hope I don't get teleported to the other side of the galaxy or die. See ya guys in a bit, yeah? Don't delay." Cynthia hesitantly stepped inside the wading pool of water, and was instantly translocated away in a bright flash of white light.

"Oh shit, is she dead? Where did she go?" Marvin asked, looking around the room with uncomfortable body language.

Voiceless gazed up at the Atani from the floor and shrugged.

"Fuck it, I'll go next." Marvin sighed, and made his way into the Well, and was gone.

Red immediately followed behind without hesitation, and was gone in a bright flash.

Voiceless stood up, and stopped in front of Radha, Akinyemi, and Wispwaker. He pressed his hands together, and without bending his knees, gave them a deep bow of respect. After he did so, he trudged into the sloshing water and was gone.

"Where do you think they are being taken to?" Radha turned towards Akinyemi, shifting her weight to her left foot.

"I guess we will see." Akinyemi turned towards her.

"You're really not a man of many words, are you? I've noticed this the whole time we've been together."

"Not really, no. I've just been through a lot in my life, besides the war, and don't have much to say anymore." Akinyemi replied, gently shrugging.

He didn't feel like even saying that, but he was only compelled by obligation. It's not that he didn't like her, he just didn't ever like talking about himself. Everyone he ever opened up to, he lost. It wasn't because of him opening up, it was because it felt like happenstance took them away and he felt like it tore his soul in half. He dreaded it happening again to his new fireteam because he saw their potential but kept himself professional despite an underlying urge to talk. The war had seemingly down that to everyone, making it hard for anyone to connect in fear that the Coalition would rip them away from each other.

"I see, and understand, sir. See you on the other side." She stepped into the glistening water, and was gone.

Akinyemi remained in his spot, staring at the shimmering water in the central basin along the floor. He didn't know where any of them would go, but perhaps it would be better than to die by the hundreds if not thousands of Yokai constructs outside. Perhaps the basin would get them closer to their destination? Or perhaps a way to reconnect with the Outpost or battlecruiser many miles away? He wasn't sure, yet he stared at the floor around the basin and found carved and painted sigils and radiant stonemasonry.

"What are you thinking, commander?" Wispwaker hovered near-motionlessly beside the Atlas. "Why are you hesitating? Go and meet up with them."

"I'm reminiscing on what Radha said, and I'm just afraid to lose them."

"Why would you lose them? Besides maybe the gunfire of the Coalition? Whether they like it or not, they're going to be with you for a long time."

"I'm not sure I feel reassured…"

"Go in there with them and you will be. Survive the Warlord, and they will join your hands in theirs'."

Akinyemi gazed at his hands, opening up his fingers and contemplated how it's been decades since anyone tried to hold his hand.

"They may not literally do it, sir. But you'll find someone who will. But in the meantime, be their leader, be there commander. Okay?"

Wispwaker nudged his chassis against the back of Akinyemi's power armor, slowly pushing him into the central basin, and the waters lapped up into his armored calves.

"It will be okay, Akinyemi."

The two of them were flashed away in a bright luminous plume of light that spiraled and sloshed up around where they once stood and they were out of sight.

Chapter 15

After what felt like a blink of an eye, Akinyemi was translocated with the rest of Dominion into another small circular room, shrouded in dim-light. With a loud, resonating chorus, the walls receded away, similarly to that of a Sural. As the walls opened up, they peeled away like a flower blooming after a harsh winter.

Once the remaining supports of the walls dematerialized, Fireteam Dominion found themselves in an enclosed, yet expansive room towering three thousand feet into the air, and was shaped into that of a gargantuan mandala, four thousand feet in diameter. Large concave supports ran along the walls, supporting the familiar impossible geometry. In the center of the ceiling it receded upwards into a concave dome with a bright, glowing white light illuminating the entire amphitheater. Many more column-like spires floated symmetrically around the mandala amphitheater; reverent, unmoveable, and stoic. The floor descended into circular levels down towards the center of the room. In the very center of the room was a central, cylindrical totem pylon that stood thirty feet into the air, with small pulsing white lights weaving around the circumference. Projected above the central pylon was a hard light hologram of a geometric flower, with layers of diamonds, squares, and an orb in the center, with illuminating the atrium with vibrating auras of piercing white light. Faint music resounded around the amphitheater, with soft, alluring, and psychedelic melodies.

"What's with all the geometric designs? It's been everywhere. I don't understand it." Marvin analyzed, turning towards Wispwaker. "It's also good to see all of you guys, thought that we'd possibly by translocated into the Coalition's hands or something, wouldn't have been a pleasant run."

"It appears that part of their belief system centers around the Sacred Geometry of the Universe." Wispwaker concluded, trying to take everything in.

"The what?"

"Sacred Geometry accentuates that the Universe has geometric order to it and designs into everything, such as: the Fibonacci Sequence, Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, snowflakes, and many other designs naturally found in nature. It seems the Composers believe that mathematical ratios and geometry, along with harmonics and proportion, are also found in cosmology, light and music; with music and song being the most profound staples of their religion and culture. So their alluring and elaborate architecture, particular to them, reflects that. To be living embodiments and representations of the Sacred Geometry of the One-Song."

"How would you know all of this?" Marvin asked, confused.

"I specialize in software infiltration for a reason. My bubble pulses help me with that as I can remotely connect to almost any device within a mile diameter around me. But that's all I can find left on them, so I can't answer really anything else that we will eventually stumble across."

"You make a good point," I'oshot-Uu replied.

As they made their way closer to the central pylon, millions of vague, hard light projections with incorporeal, armored silhouettes rested along the floor around the pylon. They were kneeling down on disembodied knees, resting their arms across each other's shoulders, swaying in circular motions while chanting and singing towards the pylon and hologram. Others stood around the edges of the rings with arms outstretched, as if in a particular praying mantra. Fireteam Dominion couldn't discern any particular body shapes, but could tell that the others with their arms outstretched represented some forms of once-living Orants for the One-Song, along with Orators and Chanters. Around the pylon materialized a holographic projections of one of the white trees that Doninion had found in the Composer temple back on Thursday Fire. The projections escalated in spiral rotations and their mantras increased in volume as the holographic tree towered over them, sprouting fruit and leaves.

"Are these spirits or some form of apparitions?" Radha asked, tilting her head at the projections.

"No. Nothing supernatural about them. Maybe they are just 'stand-in' holograms for us to understand a bit about them? Like, in a kind of way to educate us what they were like?" Wispwaker explained, turning towards the Sleviish, while zooming around.

Despite Akinyemi not having anything to say, he was completely dumbstruck by the eloquence and raw, unfiltered majesty of the Songhouse and its amphitheater. He found it truly alluring, and heartbreakingly wondrous. He seemed instinctually compelled to stare and observe, take in everything he could, and completely surrender himself to all of it. He too noticed that Cynthia, Radha, Marvin, Voiceless, and I'oshot-Uu were having similar reactions, but wasn't entirely sure why. However, he fought hard to prevent himself from revealing his reactions, or how he noticed the others, as he didn't like to truly express himself that much.

"The orb in the center, above the tree, what's that?" Radha asked, extending a free arm up at the projection above as she regained her composure.

"There's a few sets of holograms ebbing and flowing around it." Wispwaker analyzed as he released a triple set of bubble pulses. "They roughly say: Everlast. Everlast. Everlast…"

At an instant, static discharged around the team, rippling through the air, and popped. They all stopped, and stared around themselves, as the air began to warp ahead of them. Then a brief, yet bright, flash of intense white burst out, and they were all gone.

Dominion soon translocated within a cold corridor that was shadowed in dim white lights, while the room grew darker black as they gazed to the ceiling. There were the familiar jagged geometric architectural designs running along the walls in what seemed to go on indefinitely. The corridor was eerily quiet until the flash sounded and then dissipated.

"Uhhh where are we?" Radha grunted, collapsing to the floor in confusion.

"Wispwaker?" Akinyemi raised his Trident rifle ahead of himself, panning his attention around them, looking for any potential hostiles.

Wispwaker released his cerulean bubble-pulses several times, illuminating the air around them. "I have no idea where we are, sir. I can't access anything."

"Shit…" Marvin growled, equipping his weapons in his hands.

"What can you detect around us, at least?" Akinyemi added.

"There are no hostiles around our current vicinity, sir. There's just… nothing."

"Sooo what now?" I'oshot-Uu asked, moving angstily.

A white strip emanated out of one of the patterns along the walls, and pulsed across itself, indicating a sense of direction to follow. It kept pulsing, quickly fading in itself as it trailed along.

"I suggest we see where that points to," Akinyemi sighed, moving forward. "It's all we can really do…"

Dominion agreed in unison, without saying anything, and followed the Atlas from behind. The air was stagnant, and nothing seemed to stir whatsoever. Their lights emanated out, dancing along the walls. They then activated their floodlights, continuing to follow the pulsing white light along the cold walls.

The only things that stirred within this dark place were the footfalls of Fireteam Dominion, clicking atop the dark metal flooring. More of their lights danced off of the walls and floors again, piercing through the haze of the atmosphere within. Wispwaker was ahead of everyone, scanning anything he could, to no avail.

"How far does this even go?" Cynthia asked, dematerializing her helmet, revealing her tired face.

"No idea." Akinyemi replied, doing the same thing.

There were small creaks and whines echoing out of the darkness, sounding in a way to be presenting no threat. The pulsing white light continued to provide guidance to the weary soldiers, silently and reverently.

"I don't like this, it seems to be some sort of trap." Radha suggested.

"It is creepy, and unsettling." I'oshot-Uu added.

"Keep your guard up, Dominion." Akinyemi said. "Anything could appear around the corners."

The eerie haze didn't reveal anything, just more stagnant air and darkness. They went around a bend to the right, and kept following the guiding light. As they progressed, they passed small dead Sural lining the walls. Red moved to try to peek through any of them, but would remember that he couldn't due to them not having windows. He coughed violently, growling at the pain in his left side, and gently clenched his arm.

"There there, buddy." Marvin said, patting his back.

Red mumbled in quiet hisses and chirps.

Voiceless stopped for the Bir'vo, leading him along again before continuing himself.

"It doesn't seem to go on for much longer, sir." Wispwaker said, trying to scan just passed their immediate area.

"That's good to hear." Akinyemi replied, tightening his grip on his rifle. "By why did we get sent here? We're we not supposed to see the Songhouse?"

"Maybe we were? However there could be more constructs taking advantage of the translocation grid, and found us. But didn't you notice the Yokai stopping just outside the Songhouse? Whoever they take orders from probably found us."

"That's more likely, and makes sense now."

"Could it be just another construct or this time a living Composer?"

"I don't know."

Within a couple minutes, Dominion approached a large Sural that stood twenty feet in height, and was topped in a pseudo-trapezoidal lintel. Along the walls on both sides of the Sural were statues and totems poles of abstract shapes, giving off a quiet, yet intimidating demeanor.

Akinyemi approached the Sural's Conduit in front of the right side, and reached out his hand. The white ball of hard-light shot up from the object, dazzling under his hand, ready to do what it was built for. Akinyemi placed his gauntleted hand onto it, and it briefly flashed in the dark. The Sural slowly opened with more creaking and churning, and faded into nothingness within a few seconds.

They entered into a much larger room, stretching out into a towering cylindrical-like shape, reaching up out of sight into a hazy darkness. More of the geometric patterns weaved across the silver-grey walls, and white lights ran through them, slowly pulsing. Many more statues and totems were just in front of the walls, spaced symmetrically throughout the room. Many stoic floating spires hovered reverently above the center of the room, appearing ominous and cold. Millions of what appeared to be jagged sarcophaguses, lined the walls, remembering a forgotten age. In the center of the room had four towering spires, facing inwards into a twenty feet tall cylindrical shaped tomb. White lights and orbs floated around the structures, illuminating the room.

"Goddamn…" Cynthia said in awe, darting her eyes around the atrium, lowering her weapons.

"This place is a tomb…" Radha said.

"It better not be ours." I'oshot-Uu added.

In front of them, hundreds of white flashes appeared, lighting up the place. In the place of all these translocation flashes were Jinn, Oni, and Naga. Like a chorus, they all released loud, low-pitched, mechanical reverberating screams, and raised their weapons at Dominion.

"You spoke too soon." Marvin growled, scowling through his helmet.

Voiceless brandished his energy katana, and slouched low to the ground, widening his stance.

Red's eyes widened in fright, and he equipped his pistol with his right hand.

"Shit." Akinyemi sighed, not fighting it. The input stimuli around him immediately overwhelmed him, and he felt like his mind was collapsing.

"Uhhh," Wispwaker stuttered, turning towards Akinyemi, who wasn't reacting.

The screams increased louder and louder, and the Yokai's weapons were overcharged, ready to fire. They bounded closer and closer, and the Oni brandished their hard-light axes. The Naga whirred their baram-cannons while activating their energy dampeners, and the Jinn darted around, closing in.

"Stand down." A disembodied female voice echoed throughout the atrium.

All of the Yokai stopped moving, and lowered their weapons while turning their metallic heads towards the central cylindrical sarcophagus. It opened up from the top, following its way along the surface, all the way to the bottom. Out came a smaller cylindrical object, around six feet tall, and had a white bar-shaped photoreceptor stretching from the top along the surface to the bottom. Around it had smaller jagged pieces orbiting horizontally. When it spoke, it sounded like many female voices echoing and resonating together. "I am Parimarc Haqui-A, and I'm the Curator of this installation. What is your purpose for being here?"

Dominion just stopped, straightening themselves up. They kept their weapons in their hands, but lowered them down in front of themselves. They didn't say anything, as they were too confused and stressed to utter any response.

The Curator hovered closer to them from the center of the atrium, and the Yokai around her subsequently moved out of her way, and all bowed, kneeling on their knees, save for the Naga. She approached them again, and dryly said, "Don't make me repeat myself, interlopers. I just prevented your immediate demise, so the least you can do is answer my queries. Who are you, and why are you on my installation?"

Akinyemi sheathed his Trident rifle, opened out his arms, and walked towards her slowly. "I am Commander Akinyemi Asari-Dokubo, leader of Fireteam Dominion, and soldier for the United Legion. The armed defense for the Blue Empire. We are here, because our adversaries, the Coalition, have captured one of our own, and brought him here. We believe they are looking for some sort of weapon to cause our extinction. And we don't have a lot of time." His eyes screamed with exhaustion.

Curator Parimarc Haqui-A noticed this, and hovered there in silence. She then scanned Akinyemi's head with a directed beam of white light for a few seconds. "So much pain...and so much misery experienced within your short life. Yet, you try to suppress it with constantly fighting, constantly venturing out into the ever present danger of your war, while protecting the lives of your fellow warriors... You're a broken man haunted by the ghosts of your past."

Akinyemi's arms slowly lowered down, closing into himself. His face bared no expression, but he continued to stare at the Curator with his tired brown eyes. His body after that didn't even move, remaining completely motionless.

"Commander?" Cynthia asked, her eyes wide.

"What's she talking about?" I'oshot-Uu asked.

Akinyemi continued to stand there, and didn't flinch.

"What the bloody hell did you do?" Wispwaker demanded, his protrusions narrowed in aggression.

"I didn't do anything, except look into his head a bit. I cannot help you, if you don't even know your commander. Trust comes both ways, even if his species was chosen for the Transference. Go on, tell them." Parimarc Haqui-A dryly replied.

After some time and silence, Akinyemi gazed at the Curator, then back at the rest of Dominion. His eyes were red and glisteny, but his face bared no expression. After much hesitation, he finally said, "She's right. I am a broken man, and I try to suppress it. I've been running away from it since I was in my early twenties... This memory that haunts me the most, that I see almost once a day, every day since then, is the day that I had lost my family, and everything, all at once. They were my parents, my sister Kali, my husband Olubayo, and my soon to be daughter, Dalia. We decided to take the hyperloop through New Nairobi instead of our personal cars to make the experience more memorable together. We were on our way to see Dalia being born from my best friend Nailah, through surrogate birth. They were my world, but they were ripped from me because someone smuggled on a bomb. What made me know right away was a bright flash. A roaring explosion, killing them. Along with almost all the other passengers… I was hanging onto the outside, above the open track, dangling above the city...clinging on with one arm. Hundreds of other passengers were ripped out of the hallways...After the crash, paramedics came where my first thoughts were to my daughter. I found out on a phone call...despite everything I just went through, that complications in childbirth suffocated Dalia too. I can never go back to Yemoja. Because if I did, my rigorous, Atlas mental training would fail. The augmentations would probably lose potency. I would be forced to relive those moments in constant, agonizing horror forever..." He then went silent, and stared detachedly passed everyone, while the atmosphere completely changed.

"Akinyemi, sir." Cynthia said.

Akinyemi met her eyes, and sighed, but didn't respond. His anxiety was through the roof, and he wanted to have a panic attack. He wanted to run. He wanted to die. But he remained posed in the atrium, and he turned towards the other Atlas in order to hear what she had to say.

"We've all lost someone, and people we've deeply loved and cared about. When I was a teenager, I had lost my grandpa and my brother, the only people who only ever cared about me, due to muggers and thieves. What happened to you is beyond horrific, and I'm truly sorry. But because you still think about them, and that they still affect you, means that they live on, in even the smallest way, within you. That's beautiful. It means you have something to live for." Her amber eyes met with his, shining with sincere empathy.

"And what is that?" Akinyemi asked quietly. He didn't trust her, being in this vulnerable of a position, it all felt like polite rhetoric to him.

"To keep going, to do what they couldn't. They would've wanted that. Staliar and Tuill would've wanted that. You also have everyone in the Blue Empire to protect from the Coalition, you have Dr. Castillo to save. You have us, Fireteam Dominion. We are your family. We know we can't replace what you've lost, but we'll sure as damn hell fight with you to the very end." She gave a smile, and gripped Akinyemi's hand.

Akinyemi was overwhelmed once more with all the responsibility thrust upon him, but Dominion didn't mentally turn against him. He felt it in their tone, body language, atmosphere. He hesitantly gave in, gripping hers back, and they pressed forearms together. All of the rest of Dominion did the same to Akinyemi, in order from Cynthia, then Radha, Voiceless, Marvin, I'oshot-Uu, and Red. Wispwaker simply nodded at the Atlas.

"Damn straight." Radha said.

"Honor to you." I'oshot-Uu added, bowing to the Atlas in respect.

The room was somewhat uplifted, but everything went quiet once more. A cold breeze was heard circling through the atrium, gently blowing through the Yokai, the Curator, and Dominion.

"Then this place can honor them too." The Curator replied sincerely.

"What do you mean?" Radha asked.

"This great hall we're in now is the Cenotaph. I had it constructed in honor and remembrance for my creators, after their inevitable demise to the hands of their greatest adversary. Those sarcophaguses you can behold represent each and every warrior of the Pale Orchestra, and their defense for this installation. Now, what is it that you require of me?"

"We need to know what this Lifebloom exactly is, and what it does." Cynthia said quickly. She shifted her weight onto her left leg, and sheathed her weapon.

"The Lifeblooms were constructed by my creators because they always enjoyed spreading life throughout the Song Drums, as of a million Verses ago. The array was designed into the flower megastructures you see because flowers represented life to them. My creators believed that each and every species had their own unique Voice to add to the experience of life in the One-Song, enriching the greater whole of all life. Be it through good, or worse. Through the use of Lifeseeds, they were able to create more life to add to the greater collective conscious experience of the One-Song, for themselves, and all other species together. They also felt that the One-Song was 'conscious', and a 'living entity', because all life itself was conscious. The Lifeseeds could also send out bursts of programmable neutrinos that would instantly terraform solar systems or entire Song Drum sectors at will. However, when the Darkness invaded from the Outer Black, passed the limits of the Ascendancy, my creators had to go against their own foundation, their own morals, and construct the Gravesong superweapon. The Gravesong was used exactly like the Lifeseeds, but instead of spreading life, it took it away: by ripping apart everything from the smallest particles, all the way up to entire solar systems instantaneously, through programmable bursts of ionized super-neutrinos. It was the only way to effectively combat the Darkness, and even then, it wasn't enough. Your adversaries now could be searching for the same weapon to use against you, based off of what you're telling me. We cannot let that happen."

"Damn…" Radha replied.

"Where's the Cenotaph situated on the Lifebloom?" Akinyemi asked, straightening himself up, trying to absorb everything the Curator told them.

"Follow me." The Curator replied.

Parimarc Haqui-A then rotated around, and slowly hovered back towards the central sarcophagus, with Dominion tailing her. The Yokai constructs moved out of their way, stepping out of their path. A Jinn met eyes with Marvin, gazing down at him, and let out a light creaking hiss. Dominion's, and the Yokai's lights illuminated throughout the dark haze, and shimmered off onto each other, mixing into a myriad of colors.

They approached the towering spire, and gazed up at it. After some more loud creaking and small tunes, the tower descended down quickly, while at the base of it simultaneously opened up like a symmetrical, and jagged, metallic iris. The small orbed lights hovered out of the way, and formed a large circle around the opening as the spire completely disappeared out of sight. In its place arose a smaller conduit that had a similar shape to a Wayfinder, but was connected to the flooring. It lit up in white holographic projections rotating around each other, with one large one of the Lifebloom looming overhead everyone.

A ping then appeared onto the hologram of the Lifebloom, pointing onto the same petal that Outpost Prosperity, and the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn resided, but many miles to the West, towards the edge of the petal.

"The Cenotaph resides here in the Western Edge, many a ways from your settled region of Tutyalesh. It overlooks the entire plate, at the highest point, constructed within the Yurian Mountain Range. Your outpost is here-" She created a new ping in the center of a great peninsula, bordering a superocean. "-in the center of the entire peninsula of Tutyalesh. Your adversaries are up here-" She created a new ping just North of the mountain range over fifty miles from Prosperity. "-in the Blackain Mountains, they seem to have established a makeshift frontal assault base." The Curator concluded.

A projection of the Coalition's firebase spread out thousands of feet, and had towering spires of barracks and vehicles storages. Looming above and around the firebase were dozens of monolith and megalith warships. The firebase was constructed into that of a broad rhombus, and at the very center was a paved flooring of black granite, decimating the landscape to accolade the hundreds of thousands of Coalition soldiers that would make their way across the entire megastructure. Hovering just above the center of the base was a dreadnaught, spreading over the valley twenty miles across, even dwarfing the firebase that it dropped below. Yet, the Coalition fleet was in the process of establishing more field and frontal assault bases around the valley.

"That is where we need to be." Akinyemi said calmly, pointing up at the third holographic ping. He readjusted himself while still standing there, and sighed.

"Because they have your Dr. Castillo?"

"Precisely."

"They will use him then, to try to activate the Gravesong."

"How are you certain?" Cynthia asked.

"It's quite trivial, actually: your adversaries are smarter than I believed. They must've found archives about how my creators chose Humanity for the Transference. So, they too, like my creators, must shed something of themselves away to complete their great task. Fascinating."

"Well, part of our Operation: COLD FEET is to retrieve him immediately, before any of that happens, so do you think you can translocate us to their base of operations? We think he's in the flagship of the fleet." Radha added, sheathing her sniper rifle.

"Yes."

"Dis is de first sense of hope we had in days." I'oshot-Uu added.

"Just tell me when you want me to send you out there. You'll be on your own, but I'll do what I can to assist you." Parimarc Haqui-A replied.

"Good to hear. Thank you." Akinyemi said, rematerializing his helmet, while equipping his Trident rifle. "We are ready to go immediately."

"Alright then. Good luck, Dominion." Parimarc Haqui-A assured calmly, before the static distortions enveloped Fireteam Dominion. "It's great to see that life has endured, but I'm not ready to see my megastructure fall into the wrongs hands and be misappropriated into something it should've never been."

Then, within a flash of bright white around Fireteam Dominion, they were gone, leaving the Curator and her Yokai constructs within the cold and dark haze of the Cenotaph.

Chapter 16

Fireteam Dominion flashed within some dark thickets, and underbrush just outside the Coalition's base of operations. Surrounding them were dense woods, that had towering, gnarled trees. Browning leaves fell gently off of warm brown branches, being carried in the wind. Leaves of many colors littered the woodland ground, and when Dominion began to move again, the leaves gave off loud crunching and crackling sounds. The sky was covered in a thick blanket of grey and white, and it began to release heavy drops of rain once more.

"Akinyemi, commander." Cynthia urged on the commlink.

"Yes..?"

"You forgot to ask the Curator to reestablish communications with Prosperity."

"Damnit…"

"Now we probably might as well be the only chance to stop this, now. Thanks."

"We all forgot to mention it, but how?"

"Probably because the Curator was being that intimidating, and the boards of constructs around us. Even if the Imperial Admiral receives the coordinates, it'll still be days before he even arrives. We're fucked." Marvin pitched in, disappointed.

"At this point, the best we can do is to slip in undetected, or try to. But did you see the holograms? The Coalition are establishing dozens of bases to steamroll a foothold onto this Lifebloom. What's the Exuberance going to be able to do once before they notice she's hovering above the megapetal too? We have at most like twenty thousand troops left on board if that, versus potentially millions of Coalition infantry, and their fleet." Cynthia's voice was void of any enthusiasm and reassurance.

"Well, we just gotta be quick then, don't we?" Radha sighed, her voice carrying off as she darted ahead.

"If we can just get the doctor out of there, and take him back to the outpost, we can get ourselves more time. Pack up the base and just dart across the megastructure until we pick off the fleet. Until help arrives."

"Unless there's a way that the Curator can camouflage this megastructure, which is wider than a fucking star, then by all means come up with a better idea. There's still millions of Coalition ships in the galaxy, remember? By all chances we're just delaying extinction."

"Better that, then have all of our worlds immediately destroyed because of a betrayal by our own."

"By stopping this now, we will have more time to fight against the Coalition and perhaps prevent our extinction. Ya thought of that?"

"Nah, the Curator left me dazed and jarred, didn't think there could be an actual chance that the Warlord could be stopped." The sarcasm was blinding in their comms.

Voiceless Cry, Marvin, and Radha began to take point ahead of the rest of Dominion, with their weapons raised. They crouched low, keeping up a quick pace, and waited for the others to catch up. Then they were on the move again, and repeat. Above them, they could hear the echoing songs of another sky whale herd, but couldn't trace their point of origin. Nearby, massive rocks and boulders were scattered around the woods of the bottom of the Blackain Mountains.

Ahead of them, they heard more crunching behind the dark trees. They all stopped, and Voiceless held his left arm up, keeping the hand in a closed fist.

"What is it?" Marvin asked through the commlinks, de-stressing his sarcasm and returning to the mission at hand.

"Not sure. But quiet will you? Let's go check." Radha grunted.

"Careful out there." Cynthia said.

"No promises." Radha replied.

Radha, Voiceless, and Marvin stood back up from resting on their knees. They quietly made their way through the underbrush towards the other crackling ahead of themselves. Akinyemi, Cynthia, Red, Wispwaker, and I'oshot-Uu remained in their current positions, but kept their weapons raised just in case. All was quiet for a few moments, but ahead of them, what could be heard was the obvious sounds of an energy blade, some gunfire, and a thud.

"What was that?" Akinyemi asked on the commlinks.

"It's all good, my guy." Radha laughed. "We found a couple Draxii scouts. Those fuckers didn't see us coming."

"The coast is clear, y'all. Get your asses over here." Marvin smirked.

Akinyemi, Cynthia, I'oshot-Uu, Red, and Wispwaker trudged over to the others passed some large trees, nearly getting stabbed in the face by low-hanging branches. As they approached Marvin, Radha, and Voiceless, they noticed the two dark armored corpses. Voiceless kicked off one of the Draxii's helmets, exposing the copper colored head. He then brushed himself and his baram off.

"Nice going." Akinyemi said, nodding.

Voiceless nodded back, and gave a thumbs-up.

Red laughed, doing the same.

I'oshot-Uu turned towards Red, and said, "It's good to hear that again."

Red smiled, but gently gripped his left arm, while watching his breathing.

"So were these the only scouts you could see?" Akinyemi asked, switching his weight to his other side.

"Yeah. But there will be more around, and they might notice these. Sooo we gotta be quick." Radha replied, equipping her Shamshir. "Is there a rock we can hide them behind, or a hole to stuff them in?"

"Yes, over there." Akinyemi replied, moving through them and around the corpses. As he passed Radha, he patted her right shoulder pauldron. He grabbed ahold of one of the Draxii corpses and Cynthia grabbed the other, dragging the corpses into some underbrush and behind some boulders. They kept low and swift for sometime, trudging through the underbrush and the rain. Booming crackles were heard overhead, and the rain poured somewhat harder than before.

"Hopefully this doesn't interfere with any of our shit." Wispwaker said, zooming low to the ground, next to Akinyemi.

"...Hopefully." Akinyemi replied.

They kept making their way north, and the woods started thinning out. With less trees around, a foggy haze hung low to the ground, creating a thin veil of grey-white. Dominion came upon a drop-off, and stopped. Akinyemi clambered down as Wispwaker hovered by his head, descending with him. Following him were the rest of the fireteam and they carefully made their way down to prevent plummeting to their deaths. After clambering down for a few minutes, the fog started lifting, and they could see what they came after. Ahead of them was a massive valley, now populated with Coalition ground vehicles, infantry, and aerial craft. The dark steel coloration of the Coalition stood out like a sore thumb against the green and brown of the grass, trees, and foothills. Above the main base loomed the flagship, a massive dreadnaught called the Seeker of Eternity, overshadowing the whole valley. Below it hung the dark violet haze of the ship's gravity well.

Ibises and Obelisks zoomed around, dropping off Coalition troops, and flying off into the distance, seemingly being absorbed into the dreadnaught. Several hundred of the infantry were marching, training, and moving supplies and crates. Several shipments of bombs were being unloaded from the ships. A few monoliths, and warbringers that loomed in the atmosphere activated their engines, and slowly moved their way north. The rhomboid shaped firebase was craved and constructed into the mountains, killing off natural river flows while drying up the landscape. By all accounts it appeared that the Coalition actually nearly arrived days before the Remembering Exuberance left the Middle Colonies due to significant time dilation stress upon spacetime by the megastructure. Such a thing could be corrected, but now wasn't the time to worry as the fireteam had a gravity well to climb.

"Wispwaker, track those ships' trajectory." Akinyemi ordered, pointing at them.

"Alright, sir… They're heading for that planet in the center of the Lifebloom."

"They could be preparing for the activation." Radha said, sighing.

"We gotta hurry, we need to hitch a ride up that gravity well into the dreadnaught." Akinyemi explained, clambering down the rock face. "There's no way we'll reach the command deck, so let's find Castillo and take an Obelisk out of there."

"How do you propose we tiptoe around them? We don't have light displacement tech on us. Only the battlecruiser's got that." Marvin stopped near Akinyemi, hovering his head beside the latter.

"There's plenty of boulders and buildings and vehicles to run around."

"You got me there, sir."

They skidded down the grey and brown rock face, clambering down the cliffs. Just dozens of yards away was the front gates of the frontal assault base, and Cokimesh and Shotels were traversing through the tree lines back into the base proper. They then took cover behind some larger rocks, towering over twenty feet high, and waited again before continuing. Radha peaked out, while scoping her sniper rifle, panning around to try to find any snipers perched atop the walls facing them.

"See anything?" Akinyemi asked, reloading his Trident rifle.

"Yyyes. I see four Red Hand snipers perched on some elevated platforms hovering above the wallline. The platforms are pyramidical like always, and there's a few of them. They're not looking in our direction, but that could be temporary." Radha replied, adjusting the reddish-orange holographic sights.

"Good work. What does anyone else see?"

"There's a few Hi'osh in front of the gates, with some more Draxii and Ja'ic."

A Grish captain could be seen pacing around not too far away, barking orders at some Grish Qadi, and Qadi-tah. The soldiers then quickly bowed, and ran off to their new duties. The captain then summoned a couple Inquisitors and Hi'osh guards to follow him around, and their towering bodies gave off an air of arrogant intimidation. Ibuun, Ja'ic, Grumpkenkraqers, and Draxii were shuttling down more cargo, weapons, and gear. The Red Hand scouts were panning their longrifles side to side up above in the wall towers, scanning the perimeter for dozens of meters up to a few miles incase any United Legion troops or supply lines headed their way. Unbeknownst to the snipers was the fireteam in the treeline, about to come up with a plane of action.

One of the Grish Qadi slipped in the rain, impacting the wet ground with a loud thud, and a grunt. Two others darted over, and grabbed him with their lower arms, while balancing themselves by outstretching their upper arms behind them. The captain came over, angrily shouted at them, and the two others let go of the fallen soldier, and slowly straightened up. The captain then kicked the grounded Qadi in the abdomen with his hoof, stomping in with repeated strikes. There were several shouts, and brandished weapons. There was a scuffle, and one of the Inquisitors beheaded the grounded warrior, and one of the other ones trying to help him. Their tall pyramid-shaped helmets collapsed to the ground before their bodies did, trailing dark red blood through large puddles, as the rain poured harder.

"What the fuck?" Cynthia shuttered. "What's their problem? The dude just slipped."

"They're tyrants who rule by blood and fear. The higher ups don't care about their individual soldiers." Radha replied, sighing heavily.

"I wonder what got the captain so pissed off…"

"If we can't contact the others, why doesn't the Curator just translocate our forces up here to us? There's no other way we'll get through the base." Marvin slouched lower to the ground.

"Just shoot into the treeline or something, distract the guards. Make it sound like there's more of us than there actually is." Akinyemi gave Marvin a spare energy pistol from his thigh sheath.

Marvin turned towards Red after receiving the pistol, and patted the back of his free hand several times against the thigh plate of the Bir'vo's armor. "I have an idea."

A few minutes later, the fireteam was spread out across the treeline, taking cover behind the massive trunks and dense branches. They all scoped ahead, watching more Coalition infantry and scouts marching through the gates, exchanging glances, and documenting firebase departure and arrival times. Fireteam Dominion all made sure their rifles were armed, and at least a couple of them had grenades primed and ready to detonate.

Red tore a couple branches off some trees and that instantly set a few of the Qadi on alert. The Qadi and Hi'osh outside the base jolted into straightened postures, quickly raising their rifles with twitchy trigger fingers.

"Had bes im ota!" One of the Qadi called out into the treeline, and began nodding his head as if sniffing the air. With a wave of his lower arms he summoned a few more Qadi soldiers beside him, and they began peering down their scopes into the thickets, inching their way out of the base's steps and onto the muddy earthen ground.

Marvin raised his fist into the air, having the fireteam wait for the Qadi to make their way closer before he then raised his fingers to count down. Three. Two. One. Mark.

Red darted through the trees at full sprint, almost appearing as a near-violet blur from the construct of his armor and feathers. He smashed the branches against the tree trunks like beating drums, and windchimes, cascading resounding crashes and thumps into the vicinity of the firebase.

More of the Qadi were sent on ale art and before storming into the woods, they called for more Coalition soldiers to pour out of the front gates and set up a mini battleline just before the treeline.

"Keeeeeeey ous aid v'aman. Ke kir temua has..."

I just noticed our power armors automated translation software is fried. That's strange.. What are they saying..?" Cynthia faced the Luminere, ready for the next command by Marvin.

"They're preparing for a full-on assault...heh heh those cheeky bastards are fun."

Red then clambered up on top of a low hanging ridge, ripping more massive branches from their even grander trees and continued to smash them against the trunks. While in doing this second round of tree beating, he then inhaled as deeply as he could, and then released a series of undulating screams that resembled a warning siren. Smaller alien birds immediately flew out of the trees and squirrel-like creatures darted into the canyons away from the fireteam. Marvin then faced his hand forward, grabbed his Verdant, duel wielding his Verdant and new energy pistol and began blindly firing into the woods. The rest of the fireteam did the same, until they concentrated their fire onto the battleline at the front of the base, instantly downing a few Ja'ic and Radha took out the Red Hand snipers perched above.

"This better work…" Cynthia gritted her teeth as she fried a Qadi's shields.

"Just enough for us to slip in. Then we book it. They won't send out all their soldiers, most of their entire regiment will be reserved for the 'full assault'." Akinyemi replied, taking out a Draxii marksman.

The Coalition base went on full alert, and blaring alarm sirens screamed out into the valley. They were ready for another fight, and now they knew the United Legion were officially on the Lifebloom. It was only a matter of time now to retrieve the scientist before the Blue Empire lost its remaining colonies.

Red continued whipping through the trees releasing more calls in a minute of laughter and screams unlike anything the fireteam has ever heard before. His cacophony in his rampage of the woods sounded even more bizarre than the Yokai they first encountered and that made it even the more jarring.

The Coalition responded to their downed warriors by charging and flooding into the treeline to pick off what they believed was just the first wave of more. Most others stayed behind near the base, but a few Shotels hovered out towards the gates and activated their main cannons to bombard the treeline, setting it ablaze.

"Why hasn't the Curator attacked them immediately upon demolishing the landscape for their bases?" Radha faced Akinyemi, then proceeded to flag another crimson bolt straight into the helmet of a distant sniper.

"Maybe at first she thought that they were Humanity, and perhaps couldn't get in contact with them. Then released the Yokai once the Exuberance descended from orbit. That would've caused her to stir for sure."

"This is our chance to at least sneak into the base now. Let's go." Marvin urged, clambering through and over the downed tree trunks.

The fireteam booked in along the left flank of the Coalition storming out of the base, who were too transfixed at the ruse to notice them making their way around and into the front gates. Dominion noticed full regiments and battalions armed and at the ready, all lined up, waiting for more United Legion infantry and artillery to pave their way through the forest. Dominion then turned on their heels and flanked further out of sight before any had a chance to react to the multicolored blur that zipped in front of their eyes.

"Alright, before we move on again, and we do gotta hurry - what do you see?" Akinyemi knelt down behind one of the watchtower structures, followed by the rest of Dominion.

"Supply crates, armament containers, and bombs to our nine o'clock, sir. We could use them as a distraction to get into the gravity well. There's too many Coalition to fight, and despite it being a cheaply and hastily assembled fire base, we still wouldn't last in a firefight." Cynthia replied. "Look at all of them, there's hundred of maybe thousands ready to fight and some continuing their drills as if nothing's happened."

"Yeah… they're better at multitasking. " Marvin quipped, " Or the rest didn't consider that distraction to even be a big enough threat. Yet, that's a long walk from here to the gravity well. Does anyone have any energy grenades we could use to throw at the bombs?"

"No." I'oshot-Uu replied, shaking his head. "We used the least of dem in the opening scene of our base storming."

Red and Voiceless shook their heads.a

Cynthia, Radha, and Akinyemi all looked at each other, and shook their heads at Marvin, while Wispwaker just hovered beside them.

"Damn…" Marvin sighed.

Fireteam Dominion continued on, inching their way passed the watchtower, Coalition encampments, supplies, and behind parked Shotels, Cokimesh, Obelisks, and Ibis towers. They kept themselves slouched low to the onyx black pavement, quickly sprinting when needed, and taking cover behind a few more Cokimesh to keep outside of the Coalition's radars, and lines of sight. However, after stopping behind a tank, they knew they couldn't move anymore.

A Draxii soldier was just ahead of them, turned the other way, gazing ahead of himself, keeping his railgun down and to the side. The soldier then activated a commlink built into his bracer and raised his arm near his midriff, contacting the captain.

"Yeta hiite on?" The Draxii nudged his head towards the front of the base, regarding the explosions of gunfire and burning trees.

"Ov opahe 'jas'it q." The captain disregarded the threat, but didn't yet recall the battalion. He laughed ii enjoyment of the battalion's stupidity, being scared over nothing.

"Ahhhh he'gue 'tos't ame aft siiidzl." He then twitched his head, and turned around at Dominion, and paused. The Draxii said, gazing at them through his upside-down, Y-shaped visor. He then clicked onto a different comm channel through his helmet, "Ery it aagad'am. Tere oh ly-" Voiceless jumped at him and pummeled his throat so hard he wheezed, collapsed backwards, and died instantly. His body hit the ground with a thud, and Voiceless turned back towards Dominion.

"Shiiiiiit…." Radha groaned.

Everyone stood there while they could hear some Coalition troops growl, and jog over towards their direction through the rain with loud echoing splatters. More of the looming ships in the sky began heading north too, and the purple plasmic exhaust expelled from the three engines in the backs of the ships.

"We're gonna need another distraction in order to make it out there." Marvin urged, growling. He was quickly reloading his rifle while he leaned against the hull of the tank.

"I'm with you on that, but we don't have a plan of getting out of this." Radha replied.

"Sir, we must hurry." Wispwaker said.

"I know that." Akinyemi sneered while more rain slid down the front of his helmet. "Radha, lets not worry, let's take it one step at a time."

There was a different explosion followed by Coalition screams coming from outside the perimeter of the base; and large chunks of rock, soil, and Coalition bodies were blasted away. Multiple points of more gunfire erupted in disparate locations from just the front gates, and Dominion could see the glaring flashes of violet energy reflecting off of the rocks, and rainfall.

"What the hell?" Cynthia asked, confused.

A larger, much more devastating explosion boomed across the Coalition's base. It blasted the Grish captain, and his guards apart. Many of the other laborers and soldiers nearby were instantly slaughtered in the explosions and confusion. The Red Hand fired from their sniper perches above the ground, while their weapons screamed in loud bursts. The base at the bottom one of the platforms was then shredded by a myriad of white bolts, exploding it, causing the platform to plummet to the ground.

Out of the spray of dirt, rocks, and buildings, were a flood of thousands of Yokai constructs translocating out of nowhere, and they began storming against the Coalition forces.

"Fuck yeah!" Marvin shouted, raising his arms above his head.

Red started laughing, and then jumped over the tank, and equipped his marksman's pistol. He then started firing at stray Ibuun, and Draxii, killing them instantly.

"Look at him go." Cynthia said, smiling inside her helmet.

A chorus of low-pitched mechanical, reverberating screams echoed around them, and an Oni swung its axe into a Hi'osh guard, bisecting them in half, and the upper part of his body collapsed in a sizzling heap. A few Windtuners came out of the fray, and began firing at Ibises and Obelisks that were zooming around, destroying them in a matter of seconds, leaving only bright violet explosions in the sky.

Opposite Dominion, on the other sides of the base, four Kumo constructs, with thousands of Hitodama, translocated behind several smaller Coalition buildings. While the Hitodama swarmed around the firebase, the Kumo charged up their main cannons. The Kumo launched blazing white projectiles that violently erupted the landscape, occupied by hundreds of Coalition forces. The ground caved in, and ripped apart, before being pulled up and away by anti-grav fields as small riftspace bubbles formed in the centers of the impact radii. The sinkholes, mixed with the shattered and pulverized remains of the soldiers, and a few Cokimesh, were instantly dragged into the distorted bubbles of space-time, and were gone in dazzling flashes of light.

Following the massive Kumo constructs were smaller artillery walkers, standing sixty feet high, and twenty feet wide in diameter. Their main bodies were shaped like inverted, silver-grey flower buds, with three, disparate legs to support them as they fired their main particle stream cannons at the horrified Coalition forces. These Onryo bounded across the battlefield with terrifying speeds, supporting and protecting the Kumo.

Zooming erratically overhead the Kumo and Onryo, were massive serpentine-like Yokai constructs. They had gaping mouth-like extensions on the fronts of their heads with four, jagged geometric jaws that gave way to pulsing-white particle cannons. Along their trailing, thousand-feet long bodies, were dozens of baram-cannons that targeted the Ibises and Seeker of Eternity itself in the sky. These Ikuchi bombarded the landscape and sky, screaming a blood-curdling anthem of resonating acoustics and aggressive symphonies.

"Oh fuck...the Coalition is so doomed..." Marvin remarked, gazing at the battlefield ahead in heartbreaking awe.

"I'm actually surprised we haven't encountered those all at once on our own." Cynthia replied, pointing out at the Ikuchi, Kumo, Onryo, Hitodama, Jinn, Oni, and Naga. "...and I'm so fucking grateful too."

"We gotta help Red." Radha added, turning towards Voiceless, Wispwaker, and Akinyemi.

Voiceless nodded back in muted agreement as Akinyemi watched the battle unfold in front of them. Akinyemi witnessed more Ikuchi and Kumo translocate in his field of vision to target the dreadnaught. They slammed and slithered across its hull, trying to pulverize their way inside, while the latter bombarded the dreadnaught with their main cannons.

"Agreed." Akinyemi replied, leaping over the side of the Cokimesh.

The rest of Dominion ran around the Cokimesh, following their commander, and began partaking in the fight. A few Jinn ran passed them, and turned their heads at them, and then kept on darting around and doing short-range translocation attacks against more confused, and horrified Grish warriors. A few Naga translocated near another elevated platform, caused the systems to malfunction below, and the platform plummeted down, exploding. A swarm of Hitodama launched a volley of hard light bolts at dozens of Coalition soldiers in front of Dominion, gunning them down into the rank pools of organ-filled mud.

"How fucking convenient was that?" Radha shouted in excitement, while brandishing her energy blades. She then did a finessed strike against a Draxii soldier, dancing around him and stabbed him with the sizzling red blades in a few strikes.

Red charged into several Ibuun with his right side, and kicked them in their tall helmets. He then fired into their helmets, with bright flashes of blue penetrating through, frying the heads within. The alien corpses collapsed onto the ground, motionless. Red continued to laugh again, and an Oni moved passed him and slammed its fist into a Hi'osh's chest, punching straight through the armor, killing him instantly.

"Red!" Akinyemi shouted while the rest of Dominion moved through the encampments towards the gravity well.

The Bir'vo straightened up, and gazed over at them. He then bounded over towards them, and fired at a Ja'ic. The Ja'ic's tentacles erratically writhed around spasmodically, and tried to hover way. It then fell to the ground, and crashed upside down.

Legions of Jinn swarmed through the base, and perimetral buildings, causing more charges and bombs to detonate. The explosions rippled throughout the firefight, blasting apart vehicles, infantry and a few Yokai constructs. More Oni and Naga charged through some Coalition battle-lines. Ibises, Obelisks, and Windtuners swarmed above the battle in erratic and devastating dogfights, with the latter aided by the Hitodama and Ikuchi.

Fireteam Dominion sprinted in a tight formation towards the gravity well, as the rain poured harder and harder. A grenade exploded nearby them, and caused Marvin to ragdoll through the air, and impact against the ground with a loud thud.

Radha stopped, and tried to help him up. She then received a barrage of violent violet bolts to the chest, shoulders, and helmet. She collapsed to the ground next to Marvin, and they didn't move. I'oshot-Uu then charged his kinetic gauntlets, and tried lifting a Coalition Shotel, and throw it at a group of infantry that dropped out of a stray Obelisk. He gritted his teeth, while using all his strength, but was then subsequently fired upon by Coalition troops. Akinyemi, Wispwaker, Red, Cynthia, and Voiceless stopped, and noticed what was happening.

"We have to go get them!" Cynthia shouted through their commlinks.

"Let's go now!" Akinyemi shouted.

The five of them darted towards the grounded Sleviish, and Atani. I'oshot-Uu received another barrage of energy bolts until his energy shields shattered around his armor. He threw the Shotel at the platoon, crushing the aliens instantly under the impact. More dogfights took place above them, and the Yokai continued to slaughter the Coalition.

I'oshot-Uu then gripped his thighs and panted through his helmet, and began to jog towards the rest of Dominion. Akinyemi, and Cynthia arrived towards Radha and Marvin first, and grabbed their arms. Red helped pick them up, and provided cover fire with his pistol while Radha and Marvin were helped towards the gravity well.

"We good to go?" I'oshot-Uu asked, walking with them.

Voiceless gave a thumbs up, and fired at another Ja'ic that hovered nearby.

"Alright, dats goo-" I'oshot-Uu started as a bright, sizzling violet bolt, and skull fragments shot out of his face, and a spray of sizzling blood fumed in the air. His corpse collapsed forwards onto the wet grass, and his brown and golden armor was covered in boiling blood. Rain poured onto him, trailing thin droplets into the dirt.

"NO! NO! NO!" Marvin shouted, panicking. He pushed out of Cynthia's arms and sprinted over to his dead friend.

Marvin erratically fired his Trident rifle at every Coalition troop nearby, punching holes through the aliens' helmets, collapsing them to the ground. Marvin then jumped up off of the ground, and landed on top of a Hi'osh guard, and then repeatedly stabbed it through the neck of the armor with his sizzling green wrist blades. He then pummeled the Hi'osh in the head angrily, and yelled as he caved in the alien's skull. Marvin darted around again, drop kicking a few Ibuun and Grumpkenkraqers, and stabbed them in the head. Through his demeanor, the rest of Dominion knew he mentally snapped.

As Voiceless witnessed what happened, his body language completely changed simultaneously, and he bullet jumped out towards Marvin and joined him. Voiceless brandished his energy katana, and started hacking Coalition soldiers apart, filleting, bisecting, and dismembering them, while blood, warm intestines, and shreds of boiling flesh splattered onto the drenched ground. He then leaped up and Palmed several Grish and Hi'osh in the heads, sending out aggressive shockwaves across the landscape, bursting any eardrums that would be nearby. Voiceless then shot down an Ibis by firing a barrage of white hard-light from his baram.

Akinyemi quietly approached I'oshot-Uu's corpse, and lifted it over his shoulders, with the arms swaying. Cynthia, Red, Radha, and Wispwaker were right by Akinyemi, and they watched Marvin and Voiceless continue.

"It was my fault..." Akinyemi mumbled, horrified.

"Respectfully, sir?" Cynthia asked, turning towards him.

"Go ahead." Akinyemi turned his head in her direction, and slumped his shoulders. This felt like the first invasion of Zephyr once more.

"It wasn't your fucking goddamn fault. There was nothing else we could've done, or do. Now, stop blaming yourself."

Despite her aggressive tone, Akinyemi knew she was losing it too.

"She's right, sir." Radha suggested, trying to compose herself from after what she just witnessed.

Red's eyes were wide, and he sat down, panicking through wheezing-chirps.

Wispwaker hovered beside Akinyemi, while still watching Marvin and Voiceless Cry continue to fight. "Sir... we-we gotta go…"

"I know. But give them their time." Akinyemi was filled with too much shock to feel anything right then. His body went numb and cold, reflecting off of the weather pouring down onto all of them, as the Coalition fire base was being decimated and destroyed.

A swarm of Windtuners then began firing at the Seeker of Eternity, from a few hundred feet to a few miles above the battlefield. They sent out a continuous barrage of overcharged bolts of white hard-light, particle streams, and void cannons. The impact was so intense that the violet deflector shields of the Eternity shimmered, and rippled under the stress. Supporting them were the Hitodama, Ikuchi, and Kumo, bombarding the ship with an endless volley of particle streams and void cannons. The ship's defenses fired back, releasing gamma charges, particle cannons, and violet anti-aircraft energy bolts. The sky illuminated in flashes of violet and white while the sky itself condensed into a darker blanket of grey, pouring harder against the landscape.

More explosions permeated the sky, booming across the landscape, and the Yokai continued to flood the ground barracks of the Coalition forces. The Yokai caused a couple Ibises to crash against the dark ship, just behind and above Dominion, and shrapnel cascaded down, collapsing in burning heaps of shredded metal. After continuous barrages, many Windtuners punched through the hull of the Seeker of Eternity, and swarmed and crashed into the interior decks. A couple Ikuchi bored inside, following the Windtuners, completely devastating the outer decks.

"Marvin, Voiceless." Akinyemi said calmly through his commlink.

They both stopped what they were doing in the middle of the battlefield, and turned their distraught and angered gaze towards Akinyemi, panting. An Oni bounded between them as it leaped up and grabbed onto an Ibis, and hacked at its hull with its hard-light axe.

"We gotta go." Akinyemi finished, nudging his head in the direction of the gravity well.

They both jogged over towards the rest of Dominion, and reloaded their weapons simultaneously. Dominion darted up towards the mile-wide pedestal just underneath the gravity lift, and their boots clanked against the wet metal. Thunder boomed overhead, blaring against the landscape as lightning flashed bright bluish-white. They all rushed into the kilometer in diameter, purple beam, and were subsequently ascending through the air.

"We're almost there, we'll find Dr. Castillo in no time." Wispwaker said, reassuringly.

"I hope so…" Cynthia sighed. "We can't have I'oshot-Uu die for nothing."

The battlefield seemed to shrink as they continued their ascent up the gravity lift into the twenty mile long ship, and were drenched in its shadow underneath it, stretching out over the horizon, they couldn't see the other ends of either the aft or stern. As they got closer to the bottom of the dreadnaught's bottom hull, they saw its dazzling purple lights dotted around the triangular shaped emitter above, and throughout the bottom of the ship. It appeared ominous, and cold, looming above them in the dark sky.

Within a couple more minutes, they arrived into the Seeker of Eternity, and their field of view was now replaced with miles-long cargo hangars, separated by purple barrier fields, and vacant bridges. The dark grey flooring was covered in more cargo, supply crates, bombs, vehicles, ships, etc. Once Fireteam Dominion was carried towards the drop off point, they touched down, and made their way behind a parked Obelisk.

"Fuck...These ships are way bigger than I thought." Radha gawked.

"It'll take forever to find him." Cynthia added, her voice fluctuated, indicating she was about to throw up.

"No, it won't." Wispwaker replied. "I just need to find a terminal, bypass the Steward and its securities, and find schematics and charts of the ship. It's simple. If we're lucky, have access to the translocation grid, could buy us time. But that'll be harder to accomplish."

"Just hopefully we won't have a repeat of you spazzing out on the Blade of Sanctity…" Marvin mumbled.

"I had no control of that." Wispwaker growled, narrowing his protrusions in annoyance.

Wispwaker zoomed around, watching his surroundings. He flew around a few towering support spires, that reached up into the depths of the cargo hangars. Loud rumbles and booms could be heard in the distance from the damage sustained by the Windtuners and Ikuchi.

"It's pretty quiet in here. There's, like, no activity. No Coalition. Where could they be?" Cynthia asked, pacing around. Her bronze visor shimmered under the lights of the ship.

"Well, most of them are dead. The rest are defending the other sections of the ship." Akinyemi retorted dryly. He gently set down I'oshot-Uu's corpse nearby, and placed him behind some storage containers. "I'm, I'm sorry my friend. You were very brave, very kind, and were stronger than most. You had so much to live for, to experience, and look forward to. You did not go gentle into that goodnight. Daima Mbele, my friend.We love you." Akinyemi stood back, and dematerialized his helmet, lowering his head in honor of the Kotaran.

The rest of Fireteam Dominion stood around him, and dematerialized or removed their helmets, lowering their heads for him. Marvin stepped forward and stood there, his neon green eyes glistened, and his mouth twitched. "I've known you for as long as I can remember, and I was jealous of you when we first met. You were a fucking Sohai. Y'know how cool that is? I envied what you could do, and I aspired to be you, I always wanted to because you were so pure, even in when everyone we knew died left and right. Even when we watched our loved ones perish, and worlds were literally burned and glassed. When we suffered PTSD, and watched as Voiceless nearly died and took care of him after he recovered. You were my best friend, and you deserved so much more than any of this."

Voiceless Cry stepped forward, and knelt in seiza position in front of I'oshot-Uu's body, and pressed three fingers against the front of the faceless helmet of his Koro, then placed them on the exposed front of I'oshot-Uu's helmet. Voiceless then did a ritualistic bow while extending out his arms, then started moving them around fluidly, over and under each other. He then made clicking sounds with his tongue, and flailed out his fingers, giving a small meditative funeral dance in honor of his friend.

Cynthia followed from behind, stepping forward, and said, "I never really known you too well, or really spoke with you as much as I'd like, but you were really kind and I admired that. Not a lot of people stay that way these days anymore, and I wish I could've gotten to know even more about you and your culture... Goodbye."

Radha then stepped forward, and bowed down low. She then tilted her head, and slightly scowled in good intent. She then said, "I always thought you were pretty badass, the way you move your arms and shit, and can levitate things like a wizard. You were probably my favorite out of all these fools. I wish I could've gotten to know you more, and maybe get a drink or something." She gave a faint smile, and then walked back.

Red stood there, and gurgle-chirped, whistle-clicked, and laughed. He followed it with long sentences of hissing, squawks, and cooing. Then he finished with chitter-chirps and more laughter. Afterwards, he knelt down beside I'oshot-Uu's body, and pressed his feathered forehead against I'oshot-Uu's helmet.

Everyone then stood back in silence for sometime as more rumbling booms echoed throughout the ship, and the stationarily suspended Obelisks and Ibises in the air throughout the massive hangar began to rattle. A couple plummeted down from where they were almost a mile away, and gave off heavy crashes, and explosions.

"That wasn't me, sir." Wispwaker said over the comm channel.

"We know. But how much longer until you're in the ship's systems?" Akinyemi replied.

"A few more moments. This Steward is strong, but will give up soon. He has other sections of the ship to defend and focus on. If not now, then the Shipwarden will force him to try to attack the Yokai. I'll keep distracting him with sub-coding and corrupted data. I'll be at the conflux shortly."

"Alright, good work so far. Keep it up." Akinyemi then turned back towards the rest of Dominion, and sighed.

"So what now?" Cynthia asked, gazing back at I'oshot-Uu's corpse, and frowning. Her body convulsed and shuddered, causing her to dematerialize her helmet and vomit rancid chunks onto the cold flooring of the ship. She wiped away the vomit smears from her face with her right gauntlet, and rubbed it off onto her armor and some crates.

"Now, we wait." Akinyemi simply replied, feeling sorry for how Cynthia's body was handling the Kotaran's death. He didn't know how to handle it himself; the last time a soldier was decapitated from a sniper round on his shoulders, he instantly collapsed onto the interior floor of the Mirage and screamed in agony and rage, Haley had been another one of his best friends from Longsword. Each death of Longsword mentally crippled him, and now he couldn't react the same for the Kotaran despite the admiration he had for him.

A few feet away, Voiceless could be seen comforting Marvin, who was balling into his hands. Voiceless provided his friend with a soft hum, trying to calm him down while wrapping his arms around the Atani's shoulders, hugging him tightly and swaying.

The inside of the ship was eerily quiet besides the constant bombardment from the Yokai that echoed from miles away. The purple haze of the atmosphere within the ship fluctuated, now flashing on security alarms, groaning and blaring. In the distance now, there could be heard the sounds of quick marching and raised voices.

"What's that?" Radha asked, brandishing her swords, after wiping the tears off her face.

"A Coalition platoon, ma'am. They know we're in here." Wispwaker replied.

"Damn, okay..." She turned her most to fact the Kotaran corpse once more, and slumped.

The platoon opened up a triangular blast door fifteen meters out, and several Grish, Hi'osh, Ibuun, and Red Hand exited out, raising their weapons, and shouted at Dominion, immediately firing a barrage of bright purple energy. Akinyemi fired a few rounds from his Trident rifle, instantly killing an Ibuun before it could raise its point defense shield and energy lance. A Grish Qadi-tah released a pulse grenade at Dominion, and they evaded out of the way. Marvin tripped, and the grenades' pulses drained his shields before exploding nearby, damaging him.

"FUCK!" Marvin shouted, in loud voice-cracks, clutching his leg as Voiceless darted away from him. Marvin then shot around, firing several energy pistol rounds into the head of a Red Hand before it activated its active camouflage, spraying blood into the air.

One of the Grish brandished a railgun, and charged it, aiming at Marvin. However, just before firing, the Grish received a barrage of blue bolts into the chest and helmet. He then collapsed into the doorway, and bled to death. This angered the Hi'osh and other Grish, and they all charged out in anger. They bombarded Dominion, punching massive sizzling holes through walls, vehicles, and containers.

Radha sheathed her swords and instead switched to her Shamshir, firing into the heads of the Hi'osh. With each flick of the trigger, she blasted their skulls apart, and the corpses fell to the ground in loud thuds, flailing out their arms, firing stray bolts into the air. She then turned back around, and rested against the side of a wall.

"Goddamnit." Radha mumbled to herself, panting. She found the holes of several overcharged bolts right next to the left side of her head. Fresh steam seeped out through those holes, swirling in the air. "That was close."

"You good over there?" Cynthia asked, taking cover behind some dark cargo containers.

"Yeah, sure. Totally." Radha replied, sarcastically. She then turned her Shanshir towards her left flank, still trying to catch her breath.

"Come on, dude." Cynthia said, nudging her head in the direction of the Coalition.

"Alrigh-Oh shit." Radha replied ducking down as a sizzling red hand thrusted itself over her, and she rolled out of the way.

A refracting silhouette then materialized into a solid form of a Red Hand assassin, and its grey cloak thrashed around in front of Radha. She dived underneath the alien, and kicked out his feet, causing the assassin to collapse to the ground on its right side. She then brandished her sword, and activated it, thrusting it into the Red Hand's body, piercing through and sizzling its vulnerable flesh and popping its organs.

Three more materialized, and tried thrusting their sizzling hands at the Sleviish, but she then lunged her blade forward in an upwards arc, severing their arms. The Red Hand assassins grunted, and all pushed themselves into her, knocking her off her feet. They then pummeled her with their left fists, while simultaneously kicking her in the ribs. She grunted, and let out loud shallow wheezes. After a few seconds, she managed to reactivate one of her swords, and slashed it through one of the Red Hand's legs, and as it fell, she stabbed it through the helmet.

Cynthia fired at one in the chest and head, killing it instantly. However, as she kept firing at the next one, it picked Radha up with its left arm, using her as a meat-shield. Radha thrashed around, but the Red Hand threw her at Cynthia, knocking them down and Cynthia sprayed a few bolts into the air.

The Red Hand then chucked an activated pulse grenade at them and darted off. The grenade quickly landed next to them, and Cynthia grabbed it, and threw it away into a nearby support spire where it exploded like fireworks.

Marvin clambered nearby, clutching his leg, and continued to fire at the Coalition platoon members that remained. After firing several rounds, Marvin ducked back down, gritting his teeth through his helmet. "Shit."

"You good?" Cynthia asked, picking herself back up.

"Does it really look like everything's good?" Marvin retorted in frustration which began escalating to anger. "We just fucking lost our only real chance of making out of here alive and in one piece. All of us. Even having a small task force of Sohai could teeter all the odds in our favor here. But nope! Nothing's good!"

"Jeesh, chill." She brushed herself off, and aided Radha back to her feet.

"Chill!? Chill?! Are you nuts!?" Marvin bounded up yo her in a limped gate before Radha stared him down.

"Thanks." Radha said, looking at Cynthia. "Marv, please try to calm down. And Cynthia...shut up."

Cynthia nodded in reluctance, and then reequipped her rifle, and began firing back at a couple Ibuun that stormed through the piled up, corpse-filled blast door.

Akinyemi was resting against a support spire, reloading his overheating Trident rifle, while blue-white steam poured upwards into the purple haze of the cargo hangar. He stepped forward, peeking out towards the Coalition troops that kept coming. A few sizzling purple bolts whizzed passed his helmet, and he jerked his head back into cover.

"Oh no-"Akinyemi's heart nearly leaped out of his chest as the bolts then proceeded into the corridor wall behind him. Voiceless Cry jogged up to him, placed a hand on his left shoulder to get his attention, and nodded.

"Do what you do best." Akinyemi added, nodding back at Voiceless. "For the Sohai."

Akinyemi watched Voiceless dart passed Red, then around the support spire, and bullet jumped towards the Coalition. He then Palmed the immediate area around the clogged blast door, sending out an aggressive shockwave that staggered any incoming troops, simultaneously ragdolling the fresh corpses into them.

Red let out a dry chirp, and turned to Akinyemi.

"What?"

Red scowled, then repeated while adding some whistle-clicks.

"We'll find him soon enough."

Voiceless returned after Palming again, and all the Coalition troops within the immediate area were all slaughtered. Even when armored, the piled and scattered corpses gave off an eerie atmosphere about them. Voiceless stretched his arms, and sides, and then slouched.

"Wanna hear some slight good news, sir?" Wispwaker asked over the commlinks.

"Try me." Akinyemi said dryly.

"I found Dr. Castillo. As of the last update for the prison logs, he's still held in the Prison Block."

"Hell yeah!" Radha shouted through her commlink.

Wispwaker translocated next to Akinyemi with a bright blue flash, and it dissolved and disappeared. Wispwaker then hovered around to face him. "But we must be quick. The battlefront outside will probably change that."

Later, Dominion was darting through large triangular corridors, while the alarms continued blaring with rotating strobed purple lights, shining through the haze of the atmosphere around them. The fireteam continued in single file as the walls shifted and creaked, echoing their heavy footsteps against the metallic floor. There also were condensed plumes of steam seeping through grates inside the floor, just above more purple lights.

A Grish Qadi-tah was standing a few feet away, and Akinyemi raised his Trident rifle, aiming at its head. However, a bright translocating light flashed ahead of them, and an Oni dived at the Grish. It let out a loud hiss, while swinging its hard-light axe towards the alien, severing its head. The Oni then grabbed the headless corpse, and hacked out its intestines, spraying bright blood and body fluids against the walls and floor. The Oni raised its head and gazed at Dominion before translocating away.

Dominion turned a bend, and another triangular blast door flashed a couple lights in the center, and opened up, revealing an expansive room that stretched for hundreds of feet. There was a long walkway in the middle that symmetrically branched off to the sides in rows ahead of them. The walls and ceiling were shrouded in dark shadows save for the small violet lights that ran through them, and the grates in the flooring. On the ends of the branched walkways were dozens of prison cell blocks, lining the walls. Just in front of the cells were tall terminals that connected to the purple energy barriers that sealed the cells, both illuminating the room.

"He's supposed to be in here somewhere…" Wispwaker said, zooming ahead of Fireteam Dominion.

"Check all of the cells." Akinyemi added, slouching lower to the ground, keeping his rifle pointed ahead of himself.

"On it." Radha, and Cynthia said in unison, branching off into opposite directions.

Marvin, Voiceless, and Red did too, without saying anything, covering as much ground as possible. More distant tremors shook the ship, creaking the walls, and rattling the terminals nearby them. The explosions were continuous throughout the Seeker of Eternity, unnerving for anyone who'd prefer tranquil silence.

Towards the end of the prison block, Akinyemi and Wispwaker approached a cell that was in the center of the long wall. Akinyemi had Wispwaker hack into the terminal, and after the Luminere finished, the purple energy barrier dematerialized. Akinyemi peeked into it to find rotting corpses of what appeared to be several Ibuun, Ja'ic, and Grish.

"I wonder how long they were in there." Wispwaker said, sighing. "And why.."

"Dissident soldiers in protest of their Warlord leader? Not surprised. In a vast empire of corruption and domination, not all of them would support such tyrany." Radha remarked over the commlink. "Maybe they wanted to join our side, that'll definitely have them locked up in their own warship."

"Long enough." Akinyemi replied having temporarily tuned out everyone else in his daze of losing I'oshotUu. "Has anyone else found anything?"

The sight of the corpses unnerved Akinyemi somewhat, despite them being former Coalition soldiers. He tried not to keep gazing at their lifeless heaps of armored flesh, but his walled off empathy gave in.

"Mmm some corpses of… I honestly have no idea what species that is…" Radha said through the commlinks. "Has this ship been to other parts of the galaxy?"

"Well, it's been heavily rumored that the Coalition originated from the middle of the Scutum-Centaurus Arm of this galaxy." Wispwaker replied. "So, more than likely, yes."

"Yikes." Radha said with an uncomfortable tone. "Do you guys wanna take a look?"

"Nah.." Akinyemi muttered, still transfixed at the rotted Coalition soldiers.

"Uhhh there are a few dead Hi'osh in this cell." Cynthia said, grunting through the commlinks. "And….they're missing their arms. I agree that there has to have been plenty of differing views on how to go about our genocide."

"I think I found… it's him! ...Poor guy..." Marvin added, lowering his voice in defeated sympathy.

Everyone else dashed towards where Marvin was, which was along the left bank, along the back of the wall there. Dominion peeked through the energy barrier, and found a slumped-over Human curled up, with his arms covering his head. His white lab coat was shredded along the bottom, and caked in soot, blood and dirt.

"Unlock the terminal." Akinyemi said, quickly tapping on Wispwaker's luminere shell.

Within a couple seconds, the barrier collapsed and dissipated in a quick hum, and Akinyemi rushed in and knelt down next to him. He placed a gauntleted hand on top of Dr. Castillo, and gently shook him. The doctor screamed in pure terror, and clambered into the corner of the cell, huddling in himself. His eyes were wide, with horror plastered onto his brown face, as his body quivered.

"Dr. Castillo. Remember us? It's Fireteam Dominion. We've come to get you out of here." Akinyemi assured, dematerializing his helmet to reveal his dark and tired face.

Dr. Castillo slowly raised his head once again, and his dark hair was now really scraggly and dirty, partly covering his eyes. His small mustache was slightly overgrown and he sported a thick five o'clock shadow on his face - his grey eyes screamed for help. His face was also covered in bruises, and his left eye was swollen and purple-green in coloration. "You've... you've come to save me...?" He asked in a quiet and hopeless voice.

Red nodded from behind everyone else.

"I-I t-thought I'd never see daylight again… or-or freedom." Castillo tried getting up, but collapsed under his own weight, and sat there on the cold floor.

"What have they done to you…?" Cynthia asked, slouching her shoulders.

"T-they tortured me… beat me into submission and tried to get me to reveal locations on more Imperial colonies and military outposts... They starved me for a few days until the Warlord realized he needed me alive. Now… now I only get shitty scraps of dead Ibuun flesh once a day..." Castillo coughed up some blood into his left sleeve, and he sighed heavily.

Akinyemi helped him up onto his feet, and placed his right arm around the broken man. "They need you alive to activate this Lifebloom, don't they?" Akinyemi asked, gazing down at him.

"Y-yeah. I overheard guards talking about it a couple days ago. I pretended that I couldn't understand them so I'd be beaten less. The Warlord in charge of this fleet, Hajj-as'rah, his name is, spoke to me on a couple of occasions as well. I want to get out of here..."

"The Warlord we've been chasing is here? Oh no. I don't know whether to feel relieved or completely horrified." Radha slunk back against the wall, almost afraid to look at the scientist on the ground.

"The Warlord? He's the one who shattered Zephyr?" Castillo's face was as unmoving as it was hopeless. "At least we know where he is...I heard everyone talking about him at Leviathan for at least two years. I almost forgot about it while focusing on my work looking for Composer artifacts…"

"This Warlord Hajj-as'rah, who exactly is he?" Wispwaker asked, hovering in place. "HIGHCOM hasn't revealed much of anything about him and we couldn't discern any info on him above Kopu-Mere'mere."

"Kopu-Mere'mere's been attacked too?" Castillo gazed up at the Luminere. "How, when? I missed so much."

"We don't have time, please answer Wispwaker." Akinyemi urged.

"Alright..He's a tyrant like all Grish commanders...It's always been in Grish culture to dominate and conquer, and that's what he did dozens of years ago, giving him his status. He established a coup against the Nomarch of his homeworld, Dun-qara Shab, exactly fifty years ago. The reason for doing so was because of his drive for power, as well as the lax governing of the planet, allowing for crime, poverty, disease, and suffering to spread… resulting in the deaths of his friends and family. After much more suffering and grief, he rallied most of the populace against the Nomarch, and attacked the capital, laying siege to it in a matter of weeks. He eventually succeeded, gathering the attention of a royal Vizier from his species' homeworld, and helped pave the way for more colonization for their vast interstellar empire, gaining it just over a hundred more colonies in a few decades… He led his new sector before and during the early stages of the war against us. Eventually after much fuss with that Vizier, he was able to join the war, and began it by annihilating and systematically establishing occupation bases and stray colonies in the middle of our borders. Most of those were the occupational bases that were taken out for the passed couple years, it seems that different UL fleets and legions were ordered by HIGHCOM and Addington specifically to remove Hajj-as'rah's control over our worlds, driving him back until Zephyr. That's who I dealt with… that's who we've dealt with, and who I want to stay away from…"

"So before the Shoemaker incident at Leviathan, Addington has been playing cat and mouse specifically with him?"

"Yes. Imperial Admiral Addington was assigned to Hajj-as'rah ever since that Warlord stormed our borders. He's one of the best naval strategists we have."

"Don't worry, we're getting you out of here." Cynthia added again reassuringly, despite everything she just heard. She shifted uncomfortably in her armor, and became restless and afraid.

"I can see that, thank you.." Castillo forced a laugh, however his eyes still screamed from the pain.

"What else should we know about him?" Marvin asked, while the dim light reflected off of his helmet.

"He will stop at nothing to succeed. As an example, he won this dreadnaught through force, chasing it across the galaxy with a meager fleet of five monoliths and a warbringer. He personally boarded the Seeker of Eternity, and relieved it of its former command by dismembering its former Shipwarden, and officers..."

"Fuck…" Radha muttered, staring at the emaciated and starving scientist.

Everyone moved out of the way for Dr. Castillo and Akinyemi, then followed them from behind. They all exited the prison cell, and stepped out into the massive prison block room once again. More cascading explosions and tremors shuddered the ship, but this time, they were much closer.

"We must be quick sir-" Wispwaker said as an explosion forced them all into the cold walls.

Chapter 17

Akinyemi was back in the taxi on its way to Olubayo's home. They were along the Eastern Coastline of New Nairobi, bordering the New Nairobi Harbor. When Akinyemi squinted through the rear passenger seat, he watched the Harbor's calm waves rock against massive cargo ships, cruise liners, and yachts. He could also see smaller fishing vessels, and sailboats in the ports. Yemoja's only moon, Msafiri Mkuu, shimmered a pale orange through the waves, as if it was dancing through them.

Mr. Igwe glanced at them through the rear passenger mirror, and smiled through his eyes. He scratched the side of his stretched lip, and continued following the coordinates to Olubayo's address. Olubayo was now resting his head against Akinyemi's left shoulder, ignoring the fact Akinyemi's brown poncho was getting in the way.

They later approached a hillside with great trees encircling a tall rock formation in the middle of a roundabout. Just beyond were long bronze-iron gates with a large bronze crest in the center with the letter 'M' inside a circle. Along the stone wall next to the gates was a small holographic terminal, slightly flickering.

"Here we are, Mtazamo wa Bahari Estates. What's the access code my good sir?" Mr. Igwe turned to his right, now facing them in the back.

Akinyemi glanced down at Olubayo, who wasn't even conscious. Akinyemi nudged him, and Olubayo sat up and cupped his temples, grimacing in the pain. "What's your access code? We'reeee at the Estates..." Akinyemi slurred, trying to keep his head up.

"It's… eight-eight-zero-nine-one." Olubayo replied, re-adjusting his orange holo-specs on his exhausted and plastered face.

Mr. Igwe unlocked his seat belt, and stepped outside. A cold breeze kicked up, encircling through the taxi, and it dissipated away after a few seconds. Mr. Igwe finished working the terminal, and the great gate slid open, creaking as it retracted into the wall it was built in. Mr. Igwe plopped back into his seat, locked himself back in, and slammed the driver door shut. He then cupped his hands into his lap, and huffed, before glancing into the rear-view mirror, back at the both of the slumped kids. He then activated the control console, and continued driving into the Estates.

They drove past towering and beautiful mansions whose decadence seemed unattainable. The homes were made of rich titanium and cobblestone, colored a beautiful grey-brown to reflect a sense of one-ness with the environment. The sprawling lands of Yemoja served as reverence for the Yemojan people, grounding the hearts of the main populous; in return they'd live as caretakers, farmers, sailors, architects and merchants.

However, within the great metropolises of New Nairobi, Luanda, the Great Ouagadougou Industrial Zone - more commonly referred to as "GOIZ" - and New Kampala, lied the exonerated culture and spirit of the people. The elite class would reside in the towering skyscrapers practicing different forms of ancient African rituals.

One example of this was provided by the perseverance for the survival of the Maasai Moran. A chapter guild who resided in the Chuo Kikuu District of northwestern New Nairobi, where they continued the tradition that to be a respected man in society, one must travel to the Golden Plains in the heart of the world's largest continent, and hunt down descendants of the centuries-old exported lions from Earth in order to spread them to other worlds, and preserve the species. The young men who participated in this honorable act would only be allowed a wooden spear, with a bronze arrowhead, for use. They were never allowed to bring blasters, or any gun, or face banishment and ex-communication. If the brave men succeeded in their task, they would receive the title of "Moran". Olubayo's cousins were a few who ventured out into the Plains to hunt down the lions and receive their title, that was shortly before the Safari Rally Festival with Akinyemi.

Most if not all the homes where Akinyemi was were two stories tall, and had sweeping arches and wide bases. Dark brown tiled roofs with solar panels stood tall through the trees, looming over the neighborhoods. Crisp green lawns lay always freshly cut, with trail marks from automated lawn mowers or domestic Rigs.

Within a couple minutes, the taxi arrived at 2239 E. Port Gbada Drive, and followed the circular driveway up to just before the front doors. The front doors of Olubayo's house were of tall, dark brown spruce and acacia wood, arching at the apex; very beautiful for anyone who happened to gaze upon them.

"That'll be eighty Credits, please." Mr. Igwe said, as his eyes gave off an air of exhaustion.

"I don't have any credsticks, can I use my card?" Akinyemi asked, sluggishly pulling out his wallet from his front pockets.

"Yes." Mr. Igwe gently nodded.

Akinyemi handed him his holo-card, a shimmery light blue card made of carbon-plastics and nanotechnologies. They were really resilient to damage and directly connected to all personal bank accounts to be shared across the empire. When Mr. Igwe swiped it on his console, a subtraction of '-80' flashed on the holo-card's flexible and transparent face, signifying a successful transaction. Mr. Igwe returned it back to Akinyemi, and nodded again before limply resting his left forearm on the steering wheel.

Akinyemi grabbed Olubayo, and they fumbled out of the taxi and onto the black insta-crete road. Akinyemi stammered back up, trying to retain any sense of balance he could left, and approached the driver's window and said, "Thank you, have a nice night."

"You too." Mr. Igwe replied, gently smiling back, before laughing at them. He then waved his right hand to them as he pulled out of the driveway, and was out of sight.

Akinyemi returned his attention to Olubayo, who remained on the ground, lying on his back. "Are...you good?" He laughed and widened his stance, pressing against his knees with open palms.

"...No." Olubayo moaned, limply resting his right arm across his face. "Everything... is spinning."

Akinyemi approached him, and sat down on the side of the curb next to his friend. He leaned forward, slightly tucking his knees towards his chest, and rested his forearms on top. "Me too."

Both of them quietly laughed again, and Olubayo peeked out an eye from underneath his arm, squinting up at Akinyemi. Akinyemi helped him back up and patted his back, while Olubayo rested his left arm over the former's shoulder.

"Hey, sometime we gotta explore out there." Olubayo extended his right arm out at the dazzlingly brilliant sky above them. "Visit the other colonies, create more great memories with each other and the others."

The dark blanketed sky provided Akinyemi with a sense of wonder and excitement. He loved how insignificantly small he was compared to the boundless, eternal, and ever-expanding cosmos. And despite how many worlds the Blue Empire held under its domain, it wasn't even a speck of sand on all the beaches of every colony combined, compared to the entire universe. He felt connected to it, a way for the universe to experience itself, through his uniqueness. He agreed with his friend, because he too enjoyed traveling and experiencing everything he could before he died. He wanted a life worth-lived.

"Where should we go first, buddy?" Akinyemi replied without hesitation.

"I love... that you don't question plans like that, with me by the way. Or when we smoke and go crazy in the mall, or hang out at school. You just agree." Olubayo's posture straightened up. "Uhhh I always wanted to go to Elysium, I heard the New Year's celebrations are the best around the coastlines of eastern Harmony."

"Yeah? Then why not?" Akinyemi smiled and they both knuckle-bumped each other's fists.

"Isn't it crazy to think that when we look up there, we're seeing the light of some of our friends from years ago?

"Yeah, once in my astronomy class, I saw a freighter through a telescope."

"Really? Hold old? How far?"

"It was a small one, about the size of a baseball field. It was the first of its fleet to arrive at a newly established world, five hundred years ago. Where the freighter was, was near what it's now the world of Harborage; a mega-bustling planetary center of trade." Akinyemi hovered his fingers over his Zulu beads, and pulled up his camera storage for Olubayo. He then displayed a holographic image of a picture he took through the telescope. The freighter shimmered off of the system's duel orange suns, reflecting their ever-burning fury into the distant cosmos and right into the eyes of the two young Yemojans.

"What was going on around then?"

"The first Nebulaic War against the Juudinath. It's hard to imagine how long ago that was, man. Like, we were saying before...if we just look up at all those stars, we could hit up our friends from thousands of light years away instantly, and they'd reply as if they were sitting right next to us. No time dilation through the RiftNet. None at all. But if we tried to travel to those worlds… those far, far flung worlds without FTL, it would have been as if never existed. So many centuries would pass without a second thought. It's crazy…"

"You're the science whizz, tell me how does FTL work again?" Olubayo didn't want to succumb to the existential dread of the vastness of the cosmos.

"That's... why you should've paid attention in class, ha. The fabric of the universe ebbs and flows like tides, and is connected to each other through tunnels of quantum entangled particles. A web-way of sorts. We were able to sustain these connections through minute black holes such as the pinch fusion reactors; through axions and anti-particles we were able to open wormholes to travel the vast distances nearly instantaneously. Riftspace is sort of a "higher dimension" that overlays our regular reality, where short transits in Riftspace equals light years of transit in real-space. And to make things more interesting, we found out how to do this by an ancient relic left behind by beings only known as the "Architects", presumably far older than the Composers."

Olubayo's interest in the conversation slowly faded as his intoxication worsened from their night out. "Hey, I do love talking about all this but it's getting really late and really cold. Let's head inside, yeah?"

"But- fine. I understand…" Akinyemi's head was swirling stronger than before. I'll continue it in the morning before I have to visit my parents. Gonna get my first Yemojan ink."

"True." Olubayo replied, and they helped each other to their feet. "Do show me when it's finished."

Akinyemi and Olubayo approached the door, and Olubayo struggled to get a clean bio-scan for his thumb to unlock the house. The door soon unlocked, and they both stumbled into the house, closing the large entryway doors behind them. The living room had high vaulted ceilings, and a decadent baobab shiplap weaving through it. Along the walls were traditional Kenyan wooden tribal masks, shields, and wall art. The living room had four, dark red leather-polyester couches, facing a circular wooden coffee table. Above the fireplace was a rectangular holo-screen that was turned off into an opaque-black.

"It's good to see you again Master Okotie-Eboh, and you as well Mr. Asari-Dokubo." An old, forest green-colored Rig dressed in a blue dashiki, black blazer and pants with blue oxfords, approached them from the kitchen a ways away.

"It's good to see… you again too, Longfellow. Hey, can you give us about an hour or two, please?" Olubayo said, flopping onto one of the couches, taking off his puffer jacket and boots. "We're gonna smoke."

"Sure thing... I'll be in the garage repairing the anti-grav emitter to your car, again." Longfellow sighed, while turning on his heel and walked away with his metallic hands pressed together.

Akinyemi sat down as Olubayo left to get some marijuana from his room. Akinyemi took off his poncho, folding it onto the back of the couch. He activated his beads again on his wrist, and a holographic projection of his home screen appeared above the balls. He flashed his fingers through the projections and accessed his music app. He turned on some electro-swing, and eased into the cushions.

A few minutes later, Olubayo walked over with a couple grams of Laughingbud, a popular strain found in most local smoke shops. The nugs were a faint purple in saturation, and shimmered with minuscule crystalline flakes. He also carried a pipe for the both of them, and some bottled waters.

"Here you go buddy." Olubayo extended out an arm, wanting Akinyemi to grab a bottle. "Is that Kellsman? Nice."

"You know it." Akinyemi replied, grabbing a bottle.

Olubayo plopped down into the cushions next to Akinyemi, and scraped out some remaining resin with a small paper clip. He then opened the baggie he had in his lap, and broke apart a couple large nugs, before placing them in the bowl and lighting it.

"Did you hear about the elections on Carmac?" Akinyemi began, turning towards Olubayo. His head was still spinning from the alcohol.

Olubayo finished inhaling his hit, then held it in for a few seconds before releasing a cloud of smoke from his lungs. With a pained grimace washing over his face, and a slight squealing pitch in his voice, he replied, "I haven't, why?"

"The new Planetary Governor is its first ever Atani in that position, despite how Human-centrist the Outer Colony is."

"Dope." Olubayo gasped before coughing, and he passed the bowl to Akinyemi. He removed his hood from his head, and took a swig of water.

Akinyemi took a drag himself, and with a large breath, inhaled a burning cloud that filled his lungs. The hit punched his head so hard that it felt like his head was squeezing and throbbing, but he quickly downed some water too.

"Careful please." Olubayo suggested, turning towards Akinyemi once more.

"I'll...be okay." Akinyemi pressed his fingers against his temples, and soon began feeling a head and body change from the strong hybrid strain. His body vibrated and pulsed like static-covered air that pulled and rippled over his body. He noticed that the saturation of everything around him was enhanced, in livid colors that would usually sting a sober eye. He soon glanced down, and noticed the amulet again. "Why did you give it to me again..?" His voice began to slur, and bounce in volume.

"...because you mean a lot to me. Really." Olubayo mumbled at Akinyemi, not removing his gaze from the latter.

"Aw, thanks man." Akinyemi smiled, pressing his hand against his chest. "Muh heart."

Olubayo formed a heart with his fingers, lifted it up at Akinyemi, and had it reciprocated in return. "...Whatcha thinking about?"

Akinyemi stared off for a couple seconds, and watched as his own vison shifted and distorted in arrays of colors and imagination. "Traveling into the beyond together, exploring the stars man. We could do it forever until we die."

"Sounds good to me." Olubayo smiled, trying to remain still and not be overpowered by the euphoria.

"What about you?" Akinyemi limply raised his head and a wide grin spread across his face. His left leg shook from the over-stimulation, but remained euphoric.

"Honestly back to when we first met, those years ago."

"Yeah? Why then?"

"Because I got the amulet the same day, maybe not even a few hours before. I was with another buddy of mine, you met her only a few times. Amahle. Yeah. Yeah. That was her. I thought to myself, maybe this amulet will bring me good luck, maybe change things for the better. I don't know, it was worth a shot. We were at the mall, and at some point, you came up in conversation somehow. I don't remember what she said, but it was about how talented you were in your art skills. I heard about you around school quite a lot, but seeing you in person was just even better... Honestly, I had a crush on you since then, and I realized that it did bring me the good luck, you."

Akinyemi took a second to process the information. He churned it in his head, and he was nervous. However, the Laughingbud caused him to smile really big, and his eyes glistened. He met eyes with Olubayo, and watched the latter stumble up and reach out for his right hand.

"Will you... be my boyfriend, Akinyemi?" Olubayo's glazed eyes reflected a sense of sincerity, and he grinned again.

"Yes...yes I think I will." Akinyemi smiled as Olubayo interlocked their fingers together. Olubayo reached over the coffee table and used an auto-lighter to light a blunt for them both.

Chapter 18

Akinyemi jolted awake to the familiar prison block of the Seeker of Eternity, and all of Dominion lay scattered across the cold flooring. His ears were ringing intensely, and the room was too dark for him to focus immediately. The only illumination was from the purple and white energy flashes of gunfire that resounded throughout miles of dreadnaught's decks. Angry shouting and heavy footsteps were heard a ways away, and several Grish and Hi'osh entered the prison block. They were Inquisitors save for the tallest Grish in the room. The tallest one had a more elaborate armor set, with a sharp collar that swept up from the back, and curved out and around the shoulders. The armor was heavier and less sparce than other Grish, and for a helmet, that Grish had a featureless faceplate with long frills jutting out from the sides and reaching down, sloping along both sides of the neck. On top was a tall armored headdress attached to the helmet. All dark grey in coloration, he was the Grish Warlord.

The Warlord barked a command and the Inquisitors aimed their longrifles, energy lances, and railguns at the downed Fireteam Dominion. The Warlord knelt down and aggressively seized Dr. Castillo by the neck, with his upper right arm, and gazed into the panicking Human's grey eyes. Dr. Castillo was screaming and trying to kick out at the Warlord to no avail.

"It's time." The Warlord growled, in a grisly deep and harsh voice.

His towering frame was arrogantly intimidating, and Akinyemi was terrified of what would happen next. He watched helplessly as the Warlord dragged Dr. Castillo away by the neck.

"Prepare an Obelisk for me, we head for the Apex now."

The Warlord and Dr. Castillo were out of sight, and the Inquisitors started charging up their weapons. Akinyemi met eyes with Cynthia and Red, and they could see the pain and pleading in his. Akinyemi, for the first time in decades, wasn't ready to die.

"I'm sorry…" Cynthia mouthed, knowing what Akinyemi was thinking.

Another explosion shredded and tore apart some of the interior hull of the ship nearby them. Bright flashes of white hard-light penetrated through the six Inquisitors that loomed over Dominion. They tried firing back at the Yokai, but were soon gunned down, collapsing onto the flooring after a few successive waves of bolts. A few Jinn bounded over towards Dominion, while two Oni and a Naga stayed behind a few meters away. The Jinn grabbed Dominion by the arms and helped them to their feet.

Akinyemi nodded at one of the Jinn as it stood in front of him. It swayed gently from side to side and its floating protrusions vibrated above its armored carapace.

"Thank you." Akinyemi replied, no longer threatened by the construct.

The Jinn gazed at him with its white photoreceptor and jerked its joints before giving him a gentle nod. It then translocated away along with the other Yokai nearby.

"That was neat." Radha analyzed, sheathing her weapons back onto her armor.

"We have to go Dominion, but first Wispwaker, can you try to access a communications terminal nearby? We need to try to alert Outpost Prosperity of what's going on."

"I can try."

Wispwaker zoomed back towards the central terminal of the prison block, and found the tall rhombus shaped terminal reascended from the floor in the center. He scanned and tapped into it, trying to get it to activate. He started working through the purple holograms that emanated out of the terminal, and within nanoseconds, accessed through many firewalls and lines of code. He reached the conflux of the ship quickly for the Steward was still preoccupied with the invading Yokai miles away.

"Done."

"Did it work?"

"The Yokai communication firewall is broken, I can broadcast to the Outpost now."

"Great work. This is Commander Asari-Dokubo, broadcasting to Outpost Prosperity. Can anyone read me? Over."

There was silence for a few moments, and the rest of Dominion stood there watching Akinyemi. All of their body language read of exhaustion and fear, and watching the blue Atlas remain sturdy was astounding to them. More tremors rattled throughout the Seeker of Eternity, and a few of Dominion widened their stances to prevent themselves from losing balance. Static continued to filter through the long-range comm channels, save for small beeps and pops, due to outside frequency interference.

"This is Commander Asari-Dokubo, broadcasting from the inside of a Coalition dreadnaught. Can anyone read me? Over." Akinyemi's voice was louder this time.

Radha slowly approached Akinyemi, and placed her right hand on his chestplate. She gently shook her head, and lowered it down. She then started walking away, and kicked a helmet of one of the dead Inquisitors.

"The Outpost is probably gone, Commander." Cynthia said, rematerializing her helmet. She then re-equipped her rifle in her hands and followed Radha.

Red, and Marvin joined them as well, leaving Akinyemi and Voiceless to themselves. Voiceless patted Akinyemi's left shoulder pauldron, and followed everyone else in the dimly lit hall. Akinyemi simply stood there, watching the rest of his fireteam walk away. Their boots clanked against the grates and cold metal, making small echoes every time they stepped. Akinyemi slumped his shoulders, and released a heavy sigh, as he rematerialized his damaged helmet.

"C-Commander? We're reading you, over." A voice said with static excitement.

"This is the Commander, yes."

"Thank fuck you're alive! We've been trying to reach out to you for days. Where are you? What's the status on the Operation?" Colonel Logan Singer's voice came out clearer this time.

"Dominion and me are inside the flagship of the Coalition fleet, the Seeker of Eternity. We found Castillo in a prison cell alive, and we were on our way out of here right before we were attacked by the fleet's Warlord and his Inquisitors. The Warlord, Dr. Castillo, and the rest of the fleet are on their way to the installation's Apex, and are gonna-"

"The Warlord from Zephyr? He's here..?"

"...Yes."

Akinyemi could here the colonel sulking in terror from the other end of the commchannel. "Oh no-no-no. We chased him around for so long, before being assigned to the Exuberance and your CO, I worked as a desk jockey special operations specialist. I sat back and controlled Oculus drones, and directed intel to Legionnaires and...marines in the field. He targeted my homeworld and I watched it burn with the men and women under my jurisdiction… I didn't expect we'd find him here."

"None of us did, colonel."

"...What's the Apex?"

"I don't have much time to explain anything, so bear with me. It's the giant planet at the center of the Lifebloom. Where the Coalition is going to try to activate the Lifebloom's mega-weapon against the Blue Empire. In the mean time, there are potentially dozens of Coalition firebases ready to storm and invade the entire megastructure just a few miles below our feet."

"That's-That's, not good at all…"

"No, it isn't."

"How'd you get there?"

"Long story, but we did encounter the Curator of the Lifebloom, and she and the Yokai are aiding us."

"...That would explain them leaving us alone a day ago. But the Coalition had recently found us and keep coming in waves. So we can't provide much aid to you from here. But don't worry, the outpost, and captain are still alive so far. What else happened?"

"We lost I'oshot-Uu. Taken out by a sniper when we and the Yokai assaulted the Coalition base..."

"...I'm so sorry…"

"We're gonna hijack an Obelisk and head for the Apex too. We're running out of time."

"Good luck Commander, thank you for reaching out to us. The captain and Fireteam Jackhammer will be glad to hear you're alive. Please do succeed, the entire survival of the Empire is now on you guys. We'll try to aid where we can. Over and out."

Akinyemi glanced back at the rest of Dominion who were all now facing him, they all straightened back up, and started approaching him. As they stood erect, their shoulders were still heavy with the weight of the mission.

"Did she just say that the survival of the whole empire is on us..?" Marvin groaned in slight panic. "Uhhh-"

"Let's go to the hangar Dominion. We're gonna hijack ourselves an Obelisk."

"Fuck it." Marvin said, standing taller now. "I don't like this, but okay."

Dominion ran back through many corridors and walkways for thirty minutes or so, until they arrived back inside the main hangar. This time, they were on the highest walkways, overlooking all the vacant vehicles that littered the floors below. Just ahead of them, across the catwalk, they could see a dozen untouched Obelisks, and hundreds of Ibises attached to sealed clamps in the rafters, hanging them in place.

Dominion dashed across the catwalk, and their boots' footfalls echoed throughout the hangar bay. However, a couple of Grish Qadi-tah noticed them, and immediately fired at them from ahead. They shouted, stampeding towards the fireteam, and sprayed them with sizzling purple energy. One of them brandished two kopesh, and lunged at Dominion with the purple blades.

Wispwaker zoomed out of the way, and hovered in front of the terminal of the nearest Obelisk, trying to activate it. Red, Marvin, Voiceless, and Radha started firing at the closest Grish while Akinyemi and Cynthia peppered the other. Red nearly evaded the arching swing of a kopesh, and fired at the Grish's helmet. They eventually gunned them down after a couple of minutes, and Red pushed the first Grish's corpse off the catwalk into the hangar below.

"We're in." Wispwaker said as they were translocated inside.

They flashed and landed on the cold dark metallic flooring of the Obelisk, and there were a few dim purple lights illuminating the dropship. In the very front was a tall console for a pilot, shaped in an abstract 't' shape, with sharp edges and dropping angles.

"You're the closest one who can reach it properly, Red." Akinyemi said, patting the Bir'vo's back.

Red squawked and sighed.

"I'll help with the other controller," said Wispwaker.

"Ya sure both of you can fly this thing properly, together?" Radha tilted her head to the right.

"We can try." Wispwaker said reassuringly.

"That's not that reassuring. But...It's better than nothing..." Marvin added. "...and we're really out of options."

Wispwaker activated the console and purple holographic projections displayed in front and around the Luminere and Bir'vo, stretching out into the scale of the surrounding area of the hangar. Wispwaker then had the Obelisk detach from the rafters in the hangar, and the dropship descended a bit.

"Steady, steady Red."

Red growled back at him while glaring with just his left eye.

The Obelisk descended further down inside the hangar, and rotated it around to face the starboard side of the Seeker of Eternity. There was an energy barrier still active across it, and the Obelisk zoomed outside. Filling the holographic viewscreen was the ever expanse of the rest of the Lifebloom petal they were on, the Apex ahead of them, and the rest of the Lifebloom around it stretching out into an inconceivable vast beauty, with its boundless size. As far as their eyes could see, they witnessed more expansive valleys, vibrant oceans, floating mountain ranges, vast deserts, jungles, forests, and rolling tundras.

"Fuck…" Radha muttered. "Such a place would be perfect for the Sleviish to settle down on, and claim a new home once more. It's really too bad that the House flotillas won't stop feuding with each other…"

Miles above, ahead, and around them were about thiry Coalition ships from the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn, and others. The ships consisted of monoliths, megaliths, warbringers, and dreadnaughts. Between them all were thousands of Obelisks and Ibises. All of these ships were heading straight for the Apex.

"We're so fucking screwed…" Marvin said, shaking his head.

"Is there a way to make this thing go faster?" Akinyemi asked.

"Negative, Commander. We're going its top speed of a little over eight hundred miles an hour. We have a long ways to go, at least a few days of straight flying."

"Damnit." Cynthia grumbled, sitting down.

Voiceless Cry joined her by sitting in the seiza position next to her, and remained in a nearly immovable pose. He was going to meditate himself to sleep for the whole journey to the Apex.

Red whistle-chirped without looking at Akinyemi.

"Are you sure you can stay awake that long?"

Red nodded, slouching down a bit, focused upon his task.

"Alright. If anyone has some food or water left stored in their armors, make sure to ration it the best you can. We'll be in here for quite awhile." Akinyemi said, sitting down along one of the sides of the Obelisk.

Akinyemi dematerialized his helmet, and cupped his gauntleted hands against his dark face. He proceeded to scratch his beard, which was now somewhat overgrown and scraggly. He then rested his forearms onto his knees and held his head low, and remained like that for sometime.

"Why does the fate of the Blue Empire have to rest on our shoulders?" Marvin asked again, the thought hadn't fleeted away from his mind quite yet. He took off his helmet, revealing his face to be extremely overwhelmed and stressed.

"Wrong place, wrong time." Radha replied.

"Definitely. We lost three members of this team. Red's still fucked up. The rest of us are still dealing with other wounds, physically and mentally."

"We just have to do with what we got."

"That's easy for you to say, we all have our own forms of PTSD, on top of everything else, and now this. I thought being raped and beaten by thugs at a young age was the worst of my worries...or losing friends to crime was bad, or my brother and grandpa dying as mentioned a few hours ago. Or losing my homeworld, squad mates, my previous fireteam, or whatever...Nah nah, this war in general, and this really tops the cake." Cynthia retorted, barely lifting her head up while leaning against one of the walls.

Voiceless abstained from his meditative position in order to give Cynthia an encompassing and empathetic hug, embracing her tightly in his gentle and kind arms. She took a breath of relief as she hadn't felt such compassion on her in years, even if it would be towards their demise a few days away.

The Obelisk zoomed over and passed more forests, lakes, and over more mountains. The landscape was absolutely breathtaking as much as it was eerie, while simultaneously showcasing more abandoned Composer cities, so large, that they devoured the horizon. Even then, the cities' skyscrapers, with their impossibly intricate architecture and height, didn't even compare to the boundless arms of the megastructure that could be seen even further beyond. The Obelisk dived out of the way of a herd of massive sky whales, missing a few by their translucent tails.

"If we're alive when this is all said and done, we need to give I'oshot-Uu a proper burial." Marvin suggested, shifting his body into a more comfortable position.

"I agree." Radha replied.

"Same." Cynthia said, while cupping her hand over the Uru's arms, she leaned back into him, resting her armor against his chest.

Voiceless nodded while looking at Marvin, and stretched out his legs so they wouldn't cramp up in his new sitting position.

"Yep." Akinyemi mumbled, while keeping his head held low.

Wispwaker and Red were too busy on their task to pay any attention, maneuvering the Obelisk through air currents, as well as turbulence from the Coalition ships ahead of them. The Obelisk rattled from the air friction, so Wispwaker and Red dived down the dropship a bit, releasing it from the strong turbulence, then leveled it out once more.

Chapter 19

Akinyemi was sitting down against white leather seats, dressed in fine-silver linens and silk that was wrapped in a kente-dashiki hybrid clothing with slacks and blue loafers. He was twirling the wooden amulet in his fingers as he gazed out the hyperloop's organically concave and swirling viewports. In his other hand, his Zulu beads displayed the time as "9:41am."

Sitting opposite him in the first class section of the hyperloop dressed in a black button up, blazer, black slacks and oxfords was Olubayo. His orange holospecs reflected off the light of Epsilon Eridani, shining into Akinyemi's eyes. His dreads were down to his lower back, and pulled back into a low-hanging ponytail.

Sitting beside Akinyemi was his sister Kali dressed in a violet and gold form-fitting dress with black leggings and red slip ons. She had a headscarf wrapped over her head and wore large golden loops dangling from her ears.

His parents were sitting beside Olubayo and Kali, facing each other in their attire and faces were somewhat obscured. Akinyemi didn't focus too much as his husband sat excitedly ahead, staring off into the skyline above New Nairobi.

"Nailah said it's gonna be a girl right? I'm so excited, Akinyemi. We're finally gonna be dads and have our own family together." Olubayo excitedly smiled in Kiswahili, leaning forward to lay his hand atop Akinyemi's, and they interlocked each other's fingers together on the window sill.

"We've known for months silly. Have you decided on the name yet?"

"Oh that's right, sorry I'm just so nervous. This name has kept coming up recently and I've begun to vibe with it a lot. Dalia. Like a black rose - Starflower. She'll be our little Starflower. Beautiful and radiant just like your smile with my eyes."

Akinyemi smiled brightly back at Olubayo, and lowered his gaze, checking him out as he did for the passed few years since Olubayo first asked him out.

"That's the spirit, Mpenzi wangu. Nitakupenda siku zote."

"I can't believe I'm going to be an auntie! Hey hey!" Kali squeaked in excitement, I'm going to teach her how to be a majestic warrior like the Ahosi of Dahomey. She's going to be the warrior who carries Yemoja into greatness forever!"

Akinyemi pondered at such an idea, and leaned back into the reclining seat. Immediately after, a golden encased Rig waitress dressed in a blue garb with a small hat atop her inverted metallic head perused the walkway and proceeded to take their orders for drinks.

Akinyemi and Olubayo glanced at each other and simultaneously said, while laughing, "..Mnazi."

Akinyemi then stood up and cupped his hands against his chest in reverence, and said, "I gotta use the restroom, I'll see you in a few minutes."

He then raised his hands in a heart formation that was equally reciprocated back by Olubayo before he brushed passed the waitress. A few Yemojans, Atani, Falakhrys, and a large Ga'laha all proceeded to shake his hand in congratulations of him becoming a father. He soon made his way to the back of the first class compartment room, and into the restroom. He stared into the mirror and smiled because he was ready to meet Nailah and his little Starflower. Before he sat down to relieve himself, a pounding explosion ripped in the distance on what sounded like the far end of the hyperloop. Horror shot across his face and he reopened the compartment door, and he gazed back around for his husband and his family, who all took one last glance at him before an explosion from the counter next to their seats erupted in shattered glass and flaming plumes.

He was launched out into the outer hull of the hyperloop, dangling on by his clothing and the unbreakable strap of his amulet. The wind rushed against his face at blinding speeds, as his ears rang from the bomb, and he was fortunate to not be launched into the skyline below. When he glanced back up where his family resided, there was nothing left but shrapnel and skin fragments. Before he succumbed to unconsciousness, he watched as helpless and screaming passengers were ejected from the exposed opening of the hyperloop and into the megatropolis below.

He woke up in a state of panic and fear, but returned to the present. It was a few days since Fireteam Dominion departed the Seeker of Eternity, and finally arrived onto the Lifebloom's Apex. The Apex hosted many oceans throughout the surface, as well as a plethora of continents consisting of a menagerie of biomes. They descended over the Northern Hemisphere, and the temperature began to drop drastically. The destination would reside in a region of great highlands, and snow-capped mountain ranges, with column like mountains too. Covering the landscape were frozen trees of all different types, spreading across the region.

In the distance, through the white haze of winter mist, the Apex's Citadel towered into the sky, taller than any Composer spire ever encountered. The silver-grey structure was built into the tallest and widest peak of the mountain range, giving it an extremely solid foundation to be built upon. Nine spires licked the sky with their colossal height, consisting of the largest in the middle, and the rest wrapped around it in a circular fashion. White pulsing lights illuminated from the spires and the massive Sural along the front. There wasn't a hard-light bridge connecting the Citadel to the peaks, however, there was a silver-grey metallic one instead. Surrounding the immediate vicinity around the Citadel were towering cherry blossoms, dazzling vibrant and frozen pinks against the backdrop of blinding white snow.

The Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn loomed above and around the Apex's Citadel, contrasting their dark ships against the white of the sky. They sent down Ibises, Obelisks, and equipment, spreading out around the front of the Citadel for many meters. Fireteam Dominion made sure to begin flying low through the blizzard to prevent themselves from being seen, and landed a few thousand feet away from the entrance of the Citadel.

"Here we are Dominion… the Great Citadel of the Apex." Wispwaker, he then proceeded to resuscitate the rest of the fireteam who he had put to sleep for the duration of their journey.

"Finally. Now, let's go kick some ass." Radha replied, sitting back up and placing her helmet over her head.

"That's the first thought after a few days hibernation?" Marvin asked, lifting his head from the wall of the dropship. "Damn, you're fun."

"I should warn you, the temperature is less than ideal, at around twenty degrees fahrenheit. Since the Apex is in a strong, and aggressive, winter season. So, make sure to be covered up everywhere and sealed in your suits." Wispwaker warned.

"Okay." Cynthia replied, stretching her limbs as she clambered onto her feet. "Power armor's pressure sealed, I'll be fine."

"Just speaking through courtesy."

"Everyone good to go?" Akinyemi asked.

Red squawked, and mutter-chirped, pointing at the still healing damage to his torso and shoulder.

"Aren't Bir'vo pretty resilient against the cold?"

Red shrugged, but still sighed, nodding slightly.

"Good."

Wispwaker translocated them outside the Obelisk, and the impacting cold punched their armors with strong white blizzards. They trudged through the thick snow all over the ground in front of them with high knee steps, and slowly made their way to the front of the Citadel.

As they continued, their path began being replaced with a silver-grey road that wasn't completely buried by the snow. Small white pulsating orbs hovered along the edges of the road, indicating that they're getting closer to their destination.

"This place would look so much nicer if it weren't covered in all of this." Cynthia grumbled.

"Yeah, I know what you mean." Radha replied, trying to see through the haze. "It would be nicer if we didn't have to fight Coalition occupation forces in the looming threat of complete destruction genocide either, but, as you do."

"We're not gonna be able to take on all of that ourselves," Marvin concluded, pointing up at the Coalition fleet. "We're more than likely all gonna die, even if we do succeed in the Operation."

"At least we'll prevent the extinction of the Blue Empire. Soo there's that." Radha remarked.

"Yeah. I suppose you're right."

As they got closer to the Citadel while following the road, they could see thirty feet tall, rectangular-shaped arches of hedges and leaves over the road. There were long rows of them, only above the winding road leading up to the Citadel. On both sides of the road, they began approaching groves of one hundred feet tall banyan trees, towering over the frozen landscape. The leaves were thick, leathery, green, and elliptical. They appeared really old, as the branches spread out laterally, and their prop roots and vines dangled from the gnarled and sacred branches. The trunks were gnarled as well, twisted in themselves in sections, but were an ever dark brown.

"Now, that's what I'm talking about." Cynthia said, gently nodding. "The trees there resemble my exact feelings for this mission. Dead, yet unbothered."

Wispwaker bubble-pulse scanned from their position and said, "Those trees are hundreds of thousands of years old. I'm pleasantly surprised they're alive as long as they are."

"Hopefully the Coalition don't destroy them." Radha remarked, unable to remove her gaze from them. She then removed a binocular device, and scanned the horizons. "It appears they've branched off some of their occupation of the Blackain."

She then subsequently pointed directly up at the sky, the petal towering over them, yet the landscape of the megapetal was adjacent to their current position due to the curvature of the Apex world, and as far away as it was, the megapetal along with the others and the arms still devoured the sky with their seemingly infinite size.

"Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Who knows at this point." Marvin retorted. "And damn that's jarring, yet fascinating. We may never have a view like this again in our lifetimes, Dominion, savor it before we head inside and fight that bastard."

Minusculely dwarfed blips of the fleet that remained above the megapetal fanned out from their current position. Those warships were large enough for devour horizons yet from such a distance, on something far more massive and captivating was the real intrigue. In all the grand scale of megastructures that the Coalition had achieved, nothing could surpass the grandness and mesmerizing scale of the Composers. Even in the twilight years of the Blue Empire, they still couldn't construct anything the size of the Coalition but would hope to bounce back by the grander construct.

After several more minutes, Fireteam Dominion approached just before the bridge of the Citadel, and the entire sight filled their vision with awe. However, it was short-lived when they found Coalition troops and vehicles occupying the bridge ahead of them in full force. A few Cokimesh and Shotels were following each other single file while the troops marched around them, heading inside through the destroyed Sural. Obelisks and Ibises hovered above the bridge, and a snowy canyon below them.

"That's a small defense task force for such an important event." Akinyemi muttered under his breath. He raised his Trident rifle, aiming through the scopes and panning across the guarded front entrance to the spire.

"The Warlord doesn't take us seriously, commander. Yet, that probably works in our favor." Marvin remarked, trudging along.

"Fortunately for us, a small fireteam against millions is not how I wanna go out." Radha remarked begrudgingly. "When's that back up even supposed to arrive? I'm not even seeing any new warships above the megapetal."

"Didn't Castillo mention the Imperial Admiral was assigned to take out the Warlord? He better not leave us here to rot and burn. We-" Marvin added before being interrupted by Cynthia.

"What're we gonna do, Commander?" Cynthia asked, tilting her head at him.

"...We're gonna fight."

"That's not much to go on."

"Well, let's go across the bridge, point and shoot. And not die. What more do you want?" Akinyemi's demeanor was more dry than his exhaustion, they were all terrified of the events that led them here yet they understood his point.

"Uhhh I'll take point ahead." Marvin eyed his commander up and down, in sympathy before darting ahead through the dense snow embankments.

Marvin quickly and quietly bounded up to a narrow, needle-like spire that towered out of the near end of the bridge to the Apex's citadel. He flashed his rifle around the spire's face, scoping his sights in order to line up a perfect line of shot.

"What are we lookin at exactly?"

"Besides the hovering artillery, we got ourselves about fifty tangos barricading the front entrance as I speak...Uhhh it looks like more Obelisks are deploying more troops right now, so we have a narrow window of time to clear the bridge and head inside."

The Coalition occupation infantry that didn't head inside were standing atop their Shotels, and mobile bulwarks. Three rows of armored battlelines lined the bridge consisting of Draxii, Ibuun, and Hi'osh phalanxes. The few Grish that were barking orders to their subordinates were clustered towards the gaping maw of a front door, and piloting the vehicles inside.

"Do you wanna do another 'distraction'?" Marvin suggested, glancing back up to the megapetal.

"We really don't have the time, pal." Radha groaned, darting up alongside him against the other needle spire parallel to him. "If we linger for a second too long, the rest of our empire goes bye-bye in one big flash. At least I think that's how the Gravesong works...Let's not find out."

"Point taken. Also, if we do survive this we better find out how to reactivate the Composer communication nodes across the whole megastructure. I'm not about to have a second time where we are without much needed reinforcements."

"Would it take one simple flip of a switch after talking to the Curator?"

"It should...but let's get moving. How's everyone else, you in a good firing position?"

Before they had a chance to form a proper attack strategy, Voiceless Cry bounded up through the snow at blinding speeds, charging his baram. He fired a highly-energized beam of hard-light at a few Ibises, exploding them in a menagerie of purple and orange flames in the sky.

"Well...shit." Radha groaned once more while whipping out her Shamshir, sniping out one of the Grish Qadi-tah.

The captain at the aft end of the bridge dropped to the metallic walkway in surprise, then took cover, shouting. "Yadae s'a'aml tee hja it uees tey to'tam'a nuut."

The battelines of phalanxes clustered their bodies together tighter, pressing and interlocking their plasma shields. The towering warriors marched forward towards the fireteam, swaying side to side with each step. They raised their hand cannons, rail guns, and auto rifles back, counter attacking with a rhythmic barrage of incinerating gamma-laced plasma beams.

Cynthia activated her kopesh in an attempt to block stray bolts and divert them away in the frozen white sky. Yet, the concentrated fire overwhelmed the blade until it dematerialized as even Coalition kopesh weren't constructed to block plasma fire. In response, she dived out of the way, and bounded behind one of the parked Cokimesh along the railing.

Akinyemi, Red, and Wispwaker followed up from behind, providing covering fire targeting the phalanxes legs. The Hi'osh swung their shields in unison like a rigid wave, blocking their bolts, and slammed their shields into the bridge, releasing a bellowing ring across the ravine.

The shockwave of the pounded shields nearly shattered their eardrums, and Dominion collapsed into the snow and the bridge clutching their heads. Their bodies reverberated, with violent tonality that felt like it would shred their atoms into pieces. Akinyemi too clutched his head, and it seared as if it were on fire, never before had he encountered such a tactic against the United Legion in all his time serving in the war. His eyes and ears were distorted, and stretching and redshifting, and his mind screamed for it to stop.

The captain at the end of the bridge bellowed in amazement at their desolation, dropping down from his makeshift perch. Him descending from where he stood in front of the maw of the shattered Sural showcased the Warlord's true intention for the relics and the megastructure. Even though the Coalition had such a strong desire to secure the artifacts, they had no intention for sanctity or preservation. They were going to conquer the galaxy through its destruction and defacement.

Radha activated her energy blades, trying to swat at the phalanxes with her sizzling curved blades. But the battleline pounded their shields again, staggering her back towards Akinyemi and the rest of the fireteam. She clutched the sides of her helmet, thrashing her torso about to shake off the searing chorus of these unforgiving adversaries. In desperate retaliation, she reactivated her swords and threw them at the phalanxes' legs, bisecting their calves. The first battleline collapsed onto their backs, unlinking their shields in the process, allowing for Voiceless Cry, Red, and Marvin to provide suppressive fire into the soldiers.

In their confusion and horror, several Coalition Hi'osh and Draxii, clambered off their fellow soldiers, and were shot in successive volleys of bolts that staggered them off the bridge, and they plummeted into the snowy chasm below.

A strike force of Ibises and Obelisks roared into view dozens of meters away in the blizzard-soaked sky. The starfighter and dropships narrowed their flight trajectory, aiming for Fireteam Dominion towards the front of the bridge near the spires. The strike force lunched waves of energy bolts, torpedoes, carpet bombing the bridge with violent plumes of ecstatic and irradiated plasma. The explosions launched the Coalition corpses and Dominion flying like rag dolls in all directions; slamming back down onto the bridge, or breaking their necks along the railing. Voiceless was dangling off the edge of the bridge, holding onto it with one hand while the other loosely flailed and fired his baram up at the droships.

Waves of Grish Qadi and Qadi-tah stormed out of the gaping Sural, providing fire support for the remaining forces against the fireteam. They leapt over the carcasses and vacant tanks, spraying the fireteam through the snow and ice. Their plasma lances incinerated through the vehicles and the fireteam's armor shielding systems, boiling the bridge in their rage and vindication.

"Commander! Commander! What are we gonna do…?" Cynthia screamed into their commlinks.

Before Akinyemi could respond, the dropships and starfighters rerouted their attack formation, trailing over a dozen meters away towards the west of the bridge, turning around their own turbulence to prime a second air strike against the fireteam.

"Dive back into the snow!" As soon as Akinyemi dropped down, the strike force launched their second payload of torpedoes and plasma bombs onto the bridge, nearly severing it in two.

"Iopidad it ei'ssalm!" The Grish captain screamed at his own strike force, raising his upper arms into the snowy hellscape.

The captain diverted his fury back at Fireteam Dominion, and chucked a pulse grenade into an upwards arch at them. Just as Akinyemi and Cynthia returned to their feet they evaded out of the way of its blast radius before being incinerated. The shockwave however launched them into the air once more, slamming Akinyemi into a damaged Shotel. He buckled upon impact, spiraling over the engine and nearly tumbled off the bridge. Cynthia was blown back near the gaping Sural of the Citadel, as more Grish poured out of the citadel, and her energy shields were fried.

Marvin shoved Radha away from another volley of purple energy fire, and she fired a few stray bolts into the air not noticing him behind her. They took cover behind a shattered Cokimesh, covering their heads from the heatwaves off the vehicles.

They were running out of time, and were unable to hold their own on such a narrow bridge. Their hearts were heavy with escalating hopelessness and more strike forces of starfighters could be seen entering the fray like onyx black birds soaring over the blanketed, blinding white horizon. Akinyemi clutched his head, and lumbered his half crippled body to feet, staggering and swaying in the disorientatation. He scanned the bridge with blood filled eyes and horror swept over him, he may have not been ready to die but he dreaded watching the rest of his fireteam being slaughtered before they could prevent the immediate extinction of their shattered and empire.

Their screams and pain filled his ears and his heart, taking him back to Zephyr, taking him back to the last few decades of the Requiem War. He first handedly watched millions of civilians fall to such unwarranted malice by the Coalition, incinerating them with their miles wide torrential beams that melted continents into jagged black glass, watched as helpless families were scorched and suffocated by the ash until their insides were boiled and their skin shrouded and replaced by ash and dust. He watched worlds shatter, and entire solar systems occupied and bombarded, bioweapons released upon civilians and United Legion personnel alike. Some systems were held up at gunpoint just for The Fallen Saint among other ships to relinquish one artifact as simple as a Wayfinder. But instead the Coalition would release their starved slaves out to hunt and devour entire cities worth of refugees. Warships were pulled out of riftspace and launched into stars, black holes, pulsars, or stripped of their engines and jettisoned into the endless black of the galaxy, lost and unable to make contact with other fleets until the Legionnaires and officers froze, starved, or suffocated to death from severed life support systems. Occasionally, the Warlord or other fleet wardens would choke our supply lines of perishables to entire worlds by targeting all their supply depots, orbital agricultural and goods stations, defense platforms, and more just to watch the civilians fight amongst themselves in desperation to just bombard the planets anyway until nuclear winters covered the barren and dead worlds. That's what he was fighting against for the passed thirty four years, losing thousands of worlds in the process and he wasn't about to let anymore fall today, even if it meant to just buy time until the Coalition's homeworld was found and either have it devoured by hellfire or surrender instead.

He was too focused on lifting Red to his feet to notice that defense cannons along the front front of the Citadel activated opening out of the walls like blooming spokes. The cannons fired barrages of hard-light and particle streams into oncoming Coalition horde, incinerating them into atoms and dust upon impact. The blinding white explosions launched what remained of the dismembered aliens to ragdoll in pieces, as intestines, bone shrapnel, and blood sprayed into the air, showering the snow with painted organs and fumes.

Cynthia shuddered and trembled under the pounding sirens of the cannons, whose beams erupted the air with a chorus of high pitched shrills and infrasound. She batted her helmet with her palm tos activate her damage noise dampeners, and crawled over the right edge of the bridge that Voiceless was dangling from. Her helmet glinted over the Uru as she gazed down at him, and she shifted her arm support herself and while outstretching the other.

"Grab my arm, will you?" Her voice convulsed in her pain and horror and she almost vomited inside her helmet.

Voiceless' arm was restless and he swayed with a slipping grip over the ravine. Bifrost and ice covered his armored fingers and he had but seconds left to be rescued or we would've plummeted to death down below. He turned his helmet back up at her, and tilted it a few inches to the side. Cynthia couldn't see his face, but the way he looked up at her was mesmerizing.

"C'mon, swing your right arm up here."

He obeyed her command, and swung his arm up, but the grip slipped before they could lock forearms. Five Grish Qadi stormed out of the Sural and aimed their sights at her, and a couple more darted up to her to play with their kill. Voiceless managed to grab her forearm by the time the two Grish approached them, and lifted her up by her head. She screamed as the Grish began tightening its grip on her helmet, he could easily crush her skull like that of a soft grapefruit yet he didn't, continuing to lift her into the air. That was when he noticed Voiceless in her panicking grasp, he pried the Uru from her hands. The other Grish was about to launch Voiceless into the ravine when the cannons incinerated the soldiers leaving nothing but searing, armored hooves.

Cynthia and Voiceless were flung back onto the bridge, somersaulting in the snow and fallen corpses. The impact shattered her Trident rifle and Repeller pistol, save for her Verdant rifle. Voiceless staggered to his feet, trying not to collapse back down from his wounded weight.

Red held Akinyemi up with one arm, bracing him against his side, while he used the other to himself back up, fire into seven Ja'ic. They all wrapped their tentacles around Marvin and Radha, pulling their limbs in opposing directions, almost tearing them apart. Red let out blood curdling gurgled-hisses at the Ja'ic, and sent the rounds into their armored skulls and abdomens, filleting them in the air before they dropped like flies onto the bridge or down the ravine.

"Roll call…" Akinyemi fumbled his words, now bracing his dazed self against an intact battle shield.

"Thankfully they're all alive…" Wispwaker muttered quietly.

They all stood up in the snow with slumped and lumbered postures, their broken armors still reflecting brightly off the snow and ice. Their shoulders pulsed with fixated breathing and they tried to regain their composures.

"...and we're not even in the control room, yet…" Marvin grumbled, stumbling onto the ice trying to pick up his Trident rifle. He rested his elbow on Radha's armored shoulder, and she moved closer towards him so he wouldn't fall, and braced him with her free arm.

Voiceless limped towards the gaping maw of the citadel, and placed his hand at the pulverized frame, appearing that of a violet-gold dot under the immense size of the Sural. He motioned for the others to follow, lifting his head up at the sky and noticed more attack craft and starfighters were zooming towards them.

"We have probably at best a few minutes before they activate the citadel." Wispwaker warned, zooming towards the Uru.

"Maybe...Or the Warlord could've set this up in a way for us to follow. He's not just gonna blow up the rest of the Blue Empire; he wants an audience to watch it fall." Radha replied, lumbering next to the Uru with Marvin still beside her.

Once they were in, the Citadel opened up into two thousand feet ceilings, shrouded in dark silhouettes. The front rooms of the scarred citadel opened up into four hundred feet wide, concavely sloping up and out with sharp geometric and organic angles and curves that weaved through the metallic walls. Dimming white lights pulsed around these intircate etched out matternwork, reminiscing that these once great people who walked the halls were as just as elegant in their looming demise as they were in their prime. Great spires were along the walls, facing into the center of the room, looming over everyone who entered inside. The familiar peaceful atmosphere one would get coming in here was replaced with raw anxious energy and auras. Disembodied whispers and chanting that could be heard from the walls turned into aggressive shouting as Dominion lumbered through. Many Hitodama stations lay in ruin and burned in orange-white flames, pulverized into defeated submission by the Coalition invaders. They had no desire to even control the constructs that guarded these reverent and once peaceful halls, steamrolling their way through just as they did to all of the Blue Empire's colonies. It was of no wonder to Akinyemi and the rest of Fireteam Dominion as to why he never wanted the Coalition to ever set foot on this majestic megaflower in the stars.

Many Sural along the other walls were offline, or destroyed, remaining as empty husks. Dead Coalition troops and Yokai littered the floor, scattered across the entire Citadel. Burning fleshand plasma steam permeated the derelict halls, caking in tank fumes and boiled air. There were more floating spires above them, reaching into the depths of the Citadel, and they were actively churning through the air, spiraling and swimming around themselves below the towering ceiling as if they were alive. Energy burns and explosions peppered the great walls of the Citadel's halls, leaving blackened marks on the surface of the beautiful and ornate metal. Dominion soon approached a damaged white tree; it's branches were dark and destroyed, and it's white light flickered. Most of its data streams were severed and blown apart, and the light orbs aggressively orbited around the dying tree.

A pulse flashed bright out of the tree, and Akinyemi could see at a time of what appeared of the place when it was in its prime. The surfaces were coruscant and shimmering, with great plants decorating around the tree, of white, gold, rosette pink, and earthy brown. The spires worked above the white tree who sported extravagant branches that reached up near towards the ceiling, wrapping its feathery branches around and weaving through the floating spires. Hitodama, Jinn, Oni, Naga, and other constructs that didn't appear to be Yokai all perused and hovered silently through the halls and danced around the tree, bellowing a chorus of song and praise. The builders themselves weren't there so he had no idea how old this imagery was. Yet the tree illuminated the citadel hall with brilliant cerulean blues and golds, great holograms of stars and butterflies churning through the air.

The imagery flashed once more, focusing on towering statues that's stood fifty feet into the air, they were of abstract humanoids with armored robes whose faces couldn't be discerned yet they appeared to represent a tall, graceful, and lithe people. The statues lower halves were covered by what appears to be sarcophagus like constructs that may have allowed them all to hover a few feet off the ground or into the air. Each of these many statues had holograms of light representing worlds and constructs; one which of being a Lifebloom, others being flora and fauna of possibly extinct ancient worlds and cube-like constructs in their hands, all of which they held the items resting above their abdomen and some held their hands up in auras of reverence, grace, tranquility, majesty, harmony.

The imagery died away, and Akinyemi was left back to facing the dead tree that boiled from the Coalition's onslaught. He too noticed a few other members of his fireteam had similar reactions, and their heads seemed to vibrate within a nanosecond, but none of them wanted to convey what they bore witness to, however there was one exception.

"...what was that?" Radha asked, buckling to the staircase that led up to the tree.

"What was what?" Wispwaker asked.

"This place used to be so alive...so dazzlingly brilliant. And those statues...we never seen imagery depicting what they would have looked like before. I don't know where that hall even is if it still exists, but...wow… And the Coalition wants to ruin such sanctity with their devastation?"

"The tree has to have powered this place, with the other flora. Did they use hemp-nanotechnologies or something? Living buildings? That could explain so much." Cynthia helped up the Sleviish then proceeded to place her hand on the dead tree.

"No idea. Whatever the scientists of the empire had studied of the Composers' architecture they mostly kept to themselves. I'm going to make sure I can personally join the scientists that study the Lifebloom, just got to save it first…" Marvin remarked, motioned for them to step down the stairs.

"Fuck them for stepping foot here, c'mon let hurry on now." Radha limped ahead, while glancing back at Akinyemi who was taking his time to absorb what they witnessed.

They continued on through the Citadel, and came upon several Grish Inquisitors, and Hi'osh guards. They were guarding the last massive Sural in the center of the back wall that led into the control room atrium. The Coalition forces immediately fired at them, shouting, "Haj azan tuul!" They released a volley of grenades and energy fire on the exhausted fireteam, and stampeded towards them.

Cynthia sprayed the first oncoming Grish with her Verdant rifle until its shields finally shattered, then Red came in and fired precision shots into its head. Radha brandished her swords again, hacking at a Hi'osh as it slammed its fist near her when she jumped out of the way. She then severed its arm, and it let out a roar, and kicked her down to the ground.

Voiceless bullet jumped at a couple of Grish, and Palmed them in the helmets, caving in their skulls. He then brandished his energy katana, butchering the others apart with the help of Cynthia and Akinyemi. Marvin, Radha, and Red helped finish the remaining off rather shortly. After they were done, Dominion picked up a few pulse grenades that remained intact.

"Scrounge for any more ammo you can. This is our only shot at killing this guy." Akinyemi was still too withdrawn and dazed to process the pain that the tree and what the citadel went through, yet he was coming back to himself. Fireteam Dominion then dashed for the Sural as fast as they could, and stopped just before it. Before Akinyemi reached out his hand to a Conduit along the right side of the Sural, he turned towards his fireteam and paused.

"What's up, what's wrong?" Cynthia gazed up at him, about to reach for the Conduit herself.

"The Curator back on Zephyr showed me imagery like the tree did here. It was of what appeared to be a looming planet and great vessels. If we make it out alive here, I believe that's where he wanted us to go. I don't know if it's the Everlast or something else. But…"

He quickly placed his hand on the hard-light ball, and it flashed. The Sural began slowly opening with a rumbling chorus, opening into nothingness along the walls. Ahead of them lay the activation chamber, and it's brilliant and dim lights washed over them and a solace filled anthem resonated above them.

"But...what?"

"This war isn't over yet. It may be months or even years before we make it to where that Curator showed me, if it still exists. I'm not about to make a speech before we fight the Warlord, but I have your backs, just as much as you have mine. Thank you for joining me on this journey here. Now, be prepared for anything that comes next, Dominion." Akinyemi said, as he stepped through the door.

Chapter 20

The Citadel's Activation Chamber was shaped into a great spherical architecture, around six thousand feet in diameter. Along the inside of it weaved many sharp and impossible angles in the silver-grey walls, and thousands of white orbs illuminated the place as if they were disembodied candles or possibly information reserves to be recycled into other Yokai constructs. In the center, was a catwalk bridge extending from the Sural that Dominion ran through all the way into the very center of the chamber. Above the platform were dozens of floating spires, now actively meandering around each other, vibrating and releasing a song of resonating notes and cries. The walkway's platform ended into a giant circular disk, stretching out three hundred feet in diameter. On the platform was the Activation console, shaped into a smaller lotus-flower design with extra appendages and struts, and hard-light conduits weaving through it. There were also many Composer glyphs floating around and above the console. Just behind and above the console was a towering structure with a wide base, with smaller spires reaching out of the edges, standing forty feet tall. In the center of the structure was a massive half-circle arc that curved up and over itself, looming above everyone. White hard-light holograms floated inside the arc of the structure, and more orbs hovered around it.

On the bridge and platform stood dozens of more Grish Inquisitors, Hi'osh, Ja'ic, Ibuun, Red Hand, Grumpkenkraqers, and Draxii. Just in front of the console stood Warlord Qassi'ih Hajj-as'rah, and Dr. Castillo. The Warlord was arrogantly handling Castillo by the throat and slammed him into the console, while typing coordinates into it.

"...Do it, now! You're a pathetic excuse for a sentient creature. You're nothing more than a parasite I'd pull out of my own liver! Activate the Beyonder device, or I'll hang you from your own intestines, before I have my subordinates devour your flesh!" The Warlord snarled, choking the terrified Human, lifting him up by his neck once more.

"...You need me alive to activate it. But I won't... I won't ever betray my people." Dr. Castillo disobeyed, coughing up pools of blood. He squirmed in the Warlord's grasp, gripping the Grish's fingers in an attempt to pry himself free. He was struggling to breathe and his tan skin was turning pale.

The Warlord continued thrashing Dr. Castillo in front of his helmet, squeezing his throat in order for him to give in. The Warlord dematerialized his helmet and headdress, revealing himself underneath. He had short, chestnut hair all over his face and neck, which also had two pairs of semi-forward facing eyes, resting above a small and flattened dished snout. His eyes were almond shaped, with black scleras and golden-bronze irises. Within the center of his hate-filled eyes were dilated horizontal-bar pupils. He had a black mohawk on the top of his head, long and thick beaded facial hair growing just underneath defined cheekbones, and a small braided beard on his chin. Along the sides of his large head were pointed, leafy ears that were drawn back as he snarled viciously at the terrified Human.

Dr. Castillo's face was in horrified awe, watching his enemy's face snarl right at him in arrogant anger. Dr. Castillo then glanced to his right and noticed Dominion enter the Sural and the smallest glimmer of hope reentered his widened grey eyes.

The Warlord turned his large head to his left, noticing Dominion as well and he snarled angrily at them as they lumbered inside. He then turned his body towards Dominion and shouted over at them, as Dr. Castillo struggled to be released. "Witness your extinction, parasites! You never deserved those relics that you stole for centuries, and selfishly and arrogantly hoarded. They're to be used for our survival! Your selfishness will leave the galaxy vulnerable! We cannot let you slaughter the galaxy! So, with the Gravesong, we'll slaughter you first!"

All of the Coalition in the Activation Chamber released excited and happy shouting and chanting, pumping their fists into the air. They then all turned towards Dominion in unison, and pumped up their weapons in celebration of a victorious war chant. The Coalition in the face of Warlord Hajj-as'rah had succeeed in storming the chamber and were mere second from ending the war in one fell swoop.

"Our selfishness? Slaughter the galaxy? What's he talking about, Akinyemi?" Cynthia asked, turning towards him.

"No idea." He replied, raising his rifle up at the distant Grish.

"Holy fuck…" Radha muttered, raising her Verdant up as well.

"That's not good." Wispwaker mumbled. "He's delirious. He's going to kill us all on whatever accusations he thinks we did. And look at Castillo, he's going to slaughter him in order to achieve this."

The Warlord slammed Dr. Castillo into the console, and forced his hand onto the central hard-light conduit, activating the glyphs. A loud, reverberating hum of acoustic symphonies and harmonics boomed throughout the atrium, and a hologram of the Lifebloom appeared above them inside the half-circle arc structure. It showed pulsating beams shoot out from both Eastern and Western hemispheres of the Apex, into the arms that stretched out and over the Lifebloom. The hologram also showed the tips of the pointed arms begin to charge up, and a circular disk of ionized particles rotated around itself between the arms.

Just under two thousand more holograms appeared above the structure, representing many worlds and colonies. The holograms started filling out the atrium above everyone, while all of the illuminated orbs began rapidly rotating around the central structure, clockwise laterally.

"Akinyemi, look at some of those holograms: Kopu'Mere-mere, Thursday Fire, Far Harbour, Bearheart, Eir'Qoiai, Findact, Marlo, Everett, Summerset, Kythira, Gjalharo... I recognize almost all of them… When did they find these colonies? They're gonna destroy all of them..." Cynthia stopped in her tracks horrified at how they found all the remaining colonies.

"Must've been through years of undercover reconnaissance, perhaps before the invasion of Zephyr." Akinyemi replied. "They had to have been searching for the Lifebloom this whole time to eradicate them all in one fell swoop. We won't let that happen."

The Warlord rematerialized his helmet and headdress, brandished two kopesh, and a longrifle. He then threw Dr. Castillo towards the edge of the floating platform, and the scientist didn't move. The remaining troops then all raised their weapons at Dominion and began firing. Dominion evaded out of the way the best they could, chucking several pulse grenades out at the Coalition troops. Akinyemi, Cynthia, and Radha charged into a few Grish, using their weight to push them off of the bridge into the bottom of the atrium.

The pulse grenades drained most of the Coalition troops' shields before killing them and launching their bodies in all directions. One of the dead Grish ragdolled into Red, causing him to collapse to the metallic flooring.

Voiceless bounded up, and Palmed a few Coalition Hi'osh, exploding their heads with the strong shockwave blast. The Warlord then fired at him with his longrifle, shattering the Uru's shields. Voiceless then evaded out of the way, firing at the Warlord with his Trident rifle, ducking out of the way of a Ja'ic that tried to grab him. Voiceless then bullet jumped towards the Warlord in the air, and brandished his energy katana. While Voiceless sailed over him, and tried to Palm the Grish, the Warlord made a sweeping strike with his sizzling purple kopesh, severing Voiceless' legs from the thighs-down. Voiceless let out a pained gasp, and collapsed behind the console with a loud thud.

"NO!" Marvin shouted, stabbing an Ibuun through the helmet.

Three Red Hand charged at the Atani, thrusting their sizzling red fists towards his helmet. Marvin ducked backwards under their fists, and reconstituted himself. Their cloaks distracted him as they flailed around, and they sucker-punched him in the helmet, boiling through it. He pulled back before they caused his head to explode, and he swipe-kicked under them.

Cynthia brandished her kopesh, and butchered a Hi'osh in half, and bright blood and wriggling intestines sprayed through the air. However, another came up from behind, stomping its heavy foot into her thigh, and a loud crunch and snap shout out of her, and she collapsed screaming. As she fell, she swung her kopesh at the Hi'osh, and stabbed it through the abdomen. The Hi'osh let out an agonizing scream, and fell off the bridge.

Radha sighted her Shamshir, aiming at the Warlord, and fired three bright blue shots into his helmet, shattering his energy shields. She reloaded and tried again, but the Warlord fired back, punching her back out of the Activation Chamber through the Sural.

Akinyemi and Red sprayed precision shots into a horde of Grumpkenkraqers as the aliens charged them. The aliens fired back, shattering Akinyemi's and Red's shields too, and continued to spray them with fiery purple plasma energy. Akinyemi kicked one back and threw a pulse grenade at them, and after a few seconds, it exploded, causing their shredded corpses to fly everywhere.

The hologram representing the Lifebloom continued to show the increasing charge of the Gravesong superweapon. The Apex fed into the arms of the Lifebloom with greater intensity, and the disk of ionized neutrinos rotated even faster, its thickness drastically increasing every second. The reverberative humming escalated into a loud chorus of aggressive and rapid chanting. What caught their eye of the hologram was that the megapetals of the Lifebloom itself began to shift and dance, no longer stationarily floating away from the Apex planet in the center any longer. The megapetals then began to float up and way from the Apex, forming a cocoon of an enclosed dyson-shell structure around the Apex in order to protect all the biospheres consistent of dozens of supercontinents and superoceans across the megastructure. The arm-like structures that were being fed the ionized neutrinos then branches up and away from the Apex, moving towards outside the outer layers of the megapetals and widening their arcs.

"The Composers were truly magnificent…" Dr. Castillo mumbled, watching the hologram showcase the event in real-time.

Red sighted his marksman pistol, and fired multiple rounds into the Ja'ic that hovered above, trying to shove him off of the bridge. They let out pained chirps and wails, and erratically flailed their tentacles in all directions, collapsing from the air. However, Red recieved a puncturing shot from the Warlord, nearly severing his arms off his torso, and the Bir'vo released an ear-piercing scream, clutching his side and fell onto his back.

Cynthia tossed Akinyemi her kopesh, and Radha lumbered back over to the firefight with her Shamshir in hand while panting heavily.

"We're running out of time…" Radha analyzed, horrified, ducking down from oncoming energy fire. She fired into the Red Hand fighting Marvin, and they all collapsed without their heads.

"I know." Akinyemi replied, he too watched the hologram of the Lifebloom from the cover he hid behind.

Several Draxii charged them with point defense shields in hand, back handing Dominion to the ground. One of the Draxii impaled Akinyemi through the right shoulder with its energy lance, sizzling his insides. Akinyemi pulled himself out of the lance, and drop-kicked the Draxii in the chest. He then activated the kopesh in his left hand, and threw it at the Draxii, severing its head from its body, and the sword landed on the bridge a ways away.

Akinyemi sheathed his Trident rifle, and equipped a pistol in his left hand, and fired at the remaining Draxii as the Warlord bounded over towards him. Dr. Castillo started stirring some more, and slowly dragged himself towards the Activation console. Smears of red blood dragged behind the scientist, glistening under the bright white lights orbiting around the central structure faster and faster. Wispwaker zoomed down towards the console trying to disable it.

The Warlord swung his kopesh in a downwards arc at Akinyemi, Marvin, and Radha. They dodged out of the way, and Radha sliced through his leg armor, penetrating his leg within. The Warlord growled, swinging his sizzling kopesh once more, shredding through the front of Akinyemi's IAPETUS power armor, creating a deep sizzling gash as it eroded through the metal.

"I am Warlord Qassi'ih Hajj-as'rah! I won't be bested by mere parasites! I will succeed in what I was chosen to accomplish! I'll be the savior of the galaxy!" The Warlord shouted, kicking Akinyemi in the chest with his hoof, sending him flying back towards the Sural.

In desperation, Wispwaker extended his chassis and his magnetic containment field away from his central core. He targeted the Warlord specifically in an attempt to contain or at least immobilize him before he slaughtered all of them. The Warlord struggled to move from the magnetic barriers surrounding him, yet was still able to lift his weapons in the air towards the fireteam.

"Who chose you, Warlord? Who chose you to be a part of such a tyrannical, and genocidal campaign? A campaign that laid wasted to thousands of our worlds. Leaving trillions dead in its wake." Akinyemi barked, picking himself up from the floor outside the Sural. He took a glance back at the dying tree just beyond the atrium. "Look what you've done to the greatest achievement of the Composers! A construction of creation before their demise."

"You wanna know who chose me, Eiffa'la? Such a name has evaded your entire empire for decades while we did dismantle it, while we did glass every world into barren cinders. Outside the royal Viziers, there is one great woman who bestowed me the gifts that allowed me to purge your worlds and shatter your beloved 'Zephyr'. It was the last of your farthest-flung fortress worlds? That last world so close to the deep core that would've predicted our flight patterns, that would've allowed you time to scurry away into unknown systems and hold out for hope? My Archoness doesn't play to be bestest by parasites who don't deserve their civilizations amongst the stars. She's a conqueror, she claims what she wants while disregarding those who oppose her. You denied her the Beyonder relics upon our first meeting, when we needed them most. We could've been brothers in the stars; great civilizations that could've united both halves of the galaxy, and make it mighty and prosperous. But I enjoyed killing your worlds, and I will enjoy ending the rest of them now."

Just before the Warlord fired his longrifle at Akinyemi, Marvin lunged towards the towering giant, stabbing him in the calves, and the Warlord fell to his knees. Even so, he still greatly towered over them. Cynthia, Red, Radha, Akinyemi then proceeded to fire at the Grish until his armor's energy shields shattered. The Warlord tried swinging at them and plunged a searing blade into Marvin's chest, greatly incapacitating the Atani as he clutched his sizzling body and collapsed to the ground.

The Warlord staggered to his feet, and dropkicked Red onto the ground, causing him to fly back several meters away. His shields quickly replenished from the barrage of gunfire, and he targets Red with longrifle again, before the Bir'vo could snipe with his marksman pistol. The Warlord fired into the left side of the latter's chest, and with a loud crunch, his left arm was shredded off his body. Red screamed again in ear-splitting agony, dropping to the ground.

Dr. Castillo reached up from the floor, and pressed his left hand onto the Activation console's conduit, forcing the Gravesong superweapon to deactivate. The hologram of the Lifebloom's progress depicted the dissipation of the ionized ring of neutrinos, and the aggressive chanting slowly faded into nothing over the course of a couple minutes. Dr. Castillo collapsed into his own blood in exhaustion, turned over onto his back, and remained still. The other holograms soon dematerialized, and the illuminated orbs slowed their rotation around the central structure.

"What have you done!?" The Warlord bellowed, turning back around to strike at the fireteam. "The Archoness will have my head for what you just did!"

"And we care...why?" Marvin sneered while slicing at his calves and ankles with his wrist blades. "This is what you get for all those lives you slaughtered, the planets you boiled, and my friends that died from the ones willing to serve your fucking pathetic ass."

The Warlord swung back around at Marvin, dismembering his arms from his torso, and kicking so hard he nearly crushed in his chest cavity. Marvin too screamed from the searing agony, and dropped down to the ground.

Radha clambered up onto the Warlord while he went to swing at her and Akinyemi, but Radha activated her sizzling blades into his shoulders and began piercing through his chest and arms. Akinyemi swinging his kopesh at the Warlord's legs, hacking at them until the shields shattered and the violet blade sliced cleanly through the giant's thigh. As he collapsed to the ground, Radha severed his head from his shoulders, and kicked it off the hovering platform into the atrium below.

"We did it…" Radha sighed with a mix of horror and relief, dropping to her knees in her pained state.

Akinyemi too collapsed due to pure exhaustion, and landed on his side. Radha crawled over towards him, and tried to help him up. She gazed back at the entire chamber, and panned her eyes across it, taking in everything.

Cynthia hobbled over towards them, dematerializing her helmet, and her eyes were drenched with so much pain Akinyemi couldn't bear to linger his gaze. "...Are...they okay…?"

"Akinyemi...?" Wispwaker was frantically zooming around the place, and stopped in place above the console once more. The atrium was as silent as their minds yet their hearts weren't lighter from the experience. They just stopped the immediate execution of the remaining colonies, only for the Pyrrhic victory to only be laid with solemnity.

Chapter 21

Red painfully trotted towards the console, and reached over with his right arm, picking up Voiceless Cry from behind. The Uru was slumped over himself, but still carried his katana in his hands. The only parts of Voiceless' legs that remained were sizzled upper thighs, and the Koro sealed itself against them. Red placed Voiceless over his right shoulder, and then reached down for Dr. Castillo, but found the scientist had choked on his own blood. The scientist's eyes were glazed over, and more blood seeped out of his wounds, and mouth, glistening underneath the soft lighting of the Activation Chamber.

Cynthia reached down for Marvin, who only laid still on the ground. She perched up his torso, and his head slumped forward and his eyes partly glazed as his helmet had been kicked off his face. He vomited bile, blood, and stomach acid. His face was gauntly and his already icy pale skin was nearly as white as Radha's.

"...my...my...arms…" Marvin slumped into Cynthia's and began breaking down into tears. "Is...Voiceless…?"

Wispwaker scanned them with a directed blue beam for a few seconds. "Voiceless is alive. However… Dr. Alejandro Castillo, didn't make it..."

"Oh no…" Radha's heart dropped and she dropped her blades onto the atriums catwalk.

"Gah!" As Cynthia tried returning to her feet and helping Marvin make his way back out, she too collapsed down again, forgetting that she had her leg broken. "FUCK! We were so close! So fucking close!"

Akinyemi, amd Radha hobbled over several Coalition corpses, and helped her up again. Akinyemi supported her from the right, while Radha did from the left. The rank smell of the burning flesh and exposed organs of the corpses permeated throughout the atrium, and pale steam floated out of gaping holes in the corpses' armors. Cynthia grabbed her kopesh back, and sheathed it onto her armor, gazing back at the scientist and his sacrifice.

Dominion slowly limped out of the Activation Chamber through the Sural one last time, entering back into the great halls of the Citadel. As they gazed across the great hall, they witnessed the dying white tree once more. The tree tried releasing its tranquil and soothing auras, but nothing emanated out of the pulsing bark. The severed data streams and fluid cables dangled from the chasm above, like old vines eternally stagnant.

"Let's…let's get out of here..." Cynthia muttered, gazing up at it through her helmet.

"So much death..." Radha muttered.

"They will be remembered." Akinyemi replied, sulking at the tree. "All of them."

Marvin's face appeared more gaunt than before, more so that the light of the tree shimmered his facial far aired more clearly. Radha hobbled beside him carrying his helmet for him, and he broke down again, sinking into her arms while they trotted back to the front of the citadels gaping gates.

There was a distant rumble that could be overheard through the walls of the Citadel. It caused a small tremor inside the Citadel, and Dominion darted around their exhausted heads to find the source.

"What was that…?" Wispwaker asked, with such hopeless fervor, around with his blue iris.

A bright white light flashed in front of them, and appeared the Curator, Parimarc Haqui-A. She rotated to face them, and her silver-grey casing shimmered in the dim light with brilliant coruscance. "Something's diverted your adversary fleet's attention. Oh, oh no..."

In the sky outside the Citadel, at least a few miles away from the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn, over a hundred Riftspace bubbles appeared in the white sky. The bubbles shimmered an electric blue mixed with the void and stars of the cosmos. In their place after a few seconds, over one hundred warships appeared in their place.

The fleet consisted of Corcoran and Meridian-class frigates, Victory and Valiant-class battlecruisers, Defiant-class destroyers, Colossal-class battlecarriers, and one, ten mile long Triumphant-class supercarrier at the center of the fleet. The United Legion's fleet was known as Battlefleet Crimson Sun.

Battlefleet Crimson Sun released over one hundred thousand Mirages and Excaliburs, swarming them towards the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn. The Battlefleet then fired out ion torpedoes, tracer missiles, energy missiles, Anti-ship charges, NOVA bombs, and MER rounds towards the Coalition fleet.

In response, the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn's monoliths, megaliths, warbringers, and dreadnaughts released almost one hundred thousand Obelisks and Ibises back. The ships then fired their energy missiles, directed plasma cannons, scatter torpedoes, and glassing cannons.

It was a bloodbath in the pale, but clear, sky over the Apex. In the atmosphere, the rest of the Lifebloom could be seen, stretching boundlessly out into the sky away from the Apex. Thousands of blue, white, orange, and purple explosions littered the naval battle above, causing a considerable amount of thunderous booms and mighty echoes ringing across the landscape below. The megapetals were still enclosed around the Apex, but ever so slowly were blooming anew, each one opening back up to unfurl once more.

The Triumphant-class supercarrier, the ULBE Parliament Strong, released a volley of MER rounds streaking across the sky directed towards many megalith ships. The megaliths were crippled under the heavy firepower, their hulls shattering under the impact. The Parliament Strong's firepower was followed up by ULBE's Forgotten Child, Eloquent Foresight, Wayfarer, Magnificent Whirlwind, and many other battlecruisers and battlecarriers. The MER rounds cascaded through the battle, rippling and shredding more ships' energy shields, and punching through their hulls.

The Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn fired back against Battlefleet Crimson Sun, glassing through their energy shields, and destroying many frigates and destroyers. Coalition's Strike of a Heavy Hand, Razer of Innocence, Kopesh Unbroken, and Almighty Domination, four dreadnaughts, decimated many United Legion ships, shredding through their hulls like butter.

"Is it the United Legion?" Wispwaker asked the Curator.

"The ships were designated to be of the United Legion, yes." The Curator replied calmly.

"...How many?" Marvin asked, unable to stand up all the way from his pain.

"Approximately one hundred and nineteen ships." The Curator replied.

More tremors reverberated and shook throughout the Citadel, causing the dying tree's leaves to fall rapidly. Massive branches began snapping off into the chasm below the platform. The dangling data streams and fluid cables rattled, flinging out oozing water, and nectar.

"If only they were here from the beginning…" Marvin mumbled, gazing down at the visceral and sizzled opening in his diaphragm. It caused him great pain to breathe, and move.

"At least they're here now!" Radha shouted, frustrated. She turned her head back to the right, gazing at him through her helmet.

"Where's your scientist? Is he not with you?" The Curator asked abruptly.

"He sacrificed himself to stop the Gravesong, and died of his own wounds.." Akinyemi replied, still taking everything in.

"My condolences to all of you. May he always be honored and remembered in the Cenotaph."

"Thank you."

The Eloquent Foresight, and Wayfarer were destroyed by another volley from the Coalition fleet, smashing their fragments against the front of the Parliament Strong, spinning through the sky in a bright blaze. A few frigates and destroyers zoomed ahead, taking the brunt of the next incoming barrage of the Coalition fleet.

Their explosions enveloped a large portion of the dogfight in between the two factions, obliterating many starfighters and dropships. The shockwaves battered both fleets' hulls, and the shrapnel plummeted from the chaotic sky. The fleet's ships zoomed towards each other, battering each other with missiles, torpedoes, and railguns. They were side by side, shredding and warping their shields, until they started punching through each other's hulls, crippling the ships.

"Are your Yokai out there?" Cynthia asked, adjusting her weight.

"Negative. They're aiding in the defence of your outpost in Tutyalesh." The Curator replied, solemnly.

"Well, that's good." Radha said. "I'm glad that the outpost has a chance to defend itself..."

Dominion startled slowly hobbling through the Citadel once more and made a good ways passed the tree, and more tremors vibrated through the metallic flooring of the great hall. The Citadel's auto defensive systems rang back online, and fired overcharged hard-light streams into the sky above it. The disembodied voices throughout the Citadel chanted quicker now, escalating in tempo and volume. A loud crash blared inside the Citadel, and Dominion collapsed to the ground in an aggressive jolt, impacting the ground with loud thuds. The tremors continued rumbling through the Citadel, and they grunted due to the pain.

"...What the hell?" Marvin shouted, collapsing down again.

Red hissed out in pain, and re-adjusted the unconscious Voiceless onto his shoulder, then reached down with his arm, and helped the Atani back onto his feet. Akinyemi and Radha aided Cynthia back onto her feet, and she lifted her right leg back up, forcing her weight onto the other.

A Coalition megalith and United Legion destroyer had decimated each other, and plummeted in shredded heaps onto the mountain range along the east side of the Citadel. More shrapnel tumbled into and collapsed in fiery sizzles down the ravines and mountain pass. The Striker of a Heavy Hand then proceeded to bombard nearby United Legion battlecruisers, with its scatter torpedoes, and energy railguns, tearing the blue and silver ships apart.

In response, the Parliament Strong, Forgotten Child, Magnificent Whirlwind, and many battlecarriers bombarded the Striker of a Heavy Hand and Kopesh Unbroken with a barrage of overcharged MER rounds, punching many crippling holes through them, and then released many NOVA nukes, streaking through the dogfights, and into the two dreadnaughts. The dreadnaughts then exploded in a myriad of burning colors, and shrapnel, flinging out at incredible speeds in all directions, and the remains subsequently plummeted into the ravines below with a huge crash.

Dominion felt the shockwave of the two large impacts, and stumbled a bit as they inched their way out of the Citadel. The corpses of the Coalition and Yokai that littered the floor inside the Citadel still had pale steam seep out and into the air from their mangled bodies and metallic casings.

The cold winds from outside seeped in, chilling Dominion once more, and they could hear the great battle from inside. The Curator hovered alongside them, watching them in their weakened state and undying determination to leave. From inside, they were able to see the bright light of the artificial sun, peeking through the clouds that still lingered in the sky above, as well as see the rest of the magnificent Lifebloom above. The megapetals were still in the process of unfurling, and the rays of the artifical sun shimmered back out into the distant stars beyond.

"What a sight…" Radha held Marvin tighter while gazing up above. "It's as if it we're inside a metal star. Beautiful and unbroken. Even after eons…"

"Wispwaker… release a beacon." Akinyemi muttered through his damaged helmet. He stared up at the unfurling petals, and their raw and undying majesty followed them with such wonder they felt like they were children again, staring up at the night sky for the first time. Their eyes were drawn to the continents that glistened off the artifical sun that lingered above the center of the 'cocooned' flower bud of the Lifebloom. They stared at the mountains, the valleys, forests, coral plateaus, and could see a few scattered Composer cities that appeared far larger than Vigilant Shield, some covering half of what would be regular sized continents on Earth, Elysium or any other world.

"Yessir." Wispaker complied.

He then emanated a blue bubble-pulse around himself, and faint whirring sounds echoed out of the luminere shell. Once he was finished, his casing continued to emanate small beeping pulses from within. They all stared up at the sky awaiting to be picked up from the aftermath, as the blizzard began clearing up more for them to view more of the celestial sky and megastructure above.

Chapter 22

Fireteam Dominion passed through the destroyed Sural of the entrance of the Citadel, and out into the freezing cold of the Hyriel Mountains of the Apex. More permafrost and snow caked the great bridge, covering the battle from an hour before. The pale snow buried the littered corpses, while the destroyed Cokimesh and Shotels barely pierced through.

As they slowly marched along in their limping gaits, they all gazed up and to the east, watching the looming Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn and Battlefleet Crimson Sun obliterate each other under the boundless sky. Thousands of explosions continued to permeate through the battle above, almost like chaotic fireworks in an eerie display.

They continued their way along the bridge, trying not to slip, and fall to their deaths. They clambered over the piled snow and ice, gently shifting their weight as they sank into the snow, being covered up to their waists. Red then aided them through with his towering height, and lifted them out of the snow, and back onto the bridge.

The freezing temperatures chilled Red's open wounds, however, most of the nerves were fried when his arm was shot off from his torso. He sighed again, and adjusted Voiceless Cry, cupping the Uru into his arm, tucked against his chest pauldron.

"..:How much longer?" Marvin asked Wispwaker with heavy eyes.

"I have no idea, my friend." He replied in a defeated tone, looking back at the battle in the sky.

Dominion shuffled their way back onto the silver-grey road, and the wind picked up considerably again. The air around them grew colder, and they shivered in their pain, and Marvin and Cynthia grunted really loud. Within a couple of minutes, they reached the groves of the great banyan trees, watching the snow-covered leaves and branches gradually turn whiter.

"This is Mirage Delta Orion, be prepared for evac when I arrive." A female voice said through their commlinks.

A wave of relief spread over their damaged and broken bodies, and most of them sat down, save for Akinyemi and Radha. Wispwaker hovered beside them, and they gazed over at the Curator who hovered a few feet away.

"Come with us." Akinyemi said, gazing at her though his helmet.

The Curator hovered there for a few seconds before turning down his offer, "I wish I could Commander. I wish I could leave this place after residing and overlooking it for over two hundred thousand Verses. But alas, I can't. I still have my duties to protect and run this installation, no matter what. I'd be going against strict protocol if I left, leaving it vulnerable."

"I understand." Akinyemi replied, and gently nodded his head.

A lone Draxii warrior bounded through the thickets and trees, and aimed his longrifle at Dominion. However, once he fired the energized projectile, he missed, due to the frigid temperatures affecting his aim, and it pierced through the bark of one of the nearby banyan trees. Akinyemi then raised his energy pistol, and shot the Draxii in the face, killing him instantly.

"After all that, the guy tried to snipe us..." Cynthia muttered.

The Almighty Domination crippled the Magnificent Whirlwind, and the battlecruiser strafed off to the side, and into a Riftspace bubble. After a few seconds, the battlecruiser reappeared smashing through the great dreadnaught in the sky, and both ships exploded with great brilliance.

The Razer of Innocence, and the warbringers, megaliths, and monoliths simultaneously activated their energy projectors, incinerating a great purple swath through a large portion of Battlefleet Crimson Sun, and the ships exploded in white, orange, and blue flames. Battlefleet Crimson Sun continued to bombard the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn with great volleys of MER rounds and NOVA nukes, launching them at incredible speeds.

All the explosions erupted through the sky, causing many shockwaves and loud cracks to rush through the air. The banyan trees thrashed from the shockwaves, leaning away from the battle, and blew all their snow at Dominion and along the frozen ground.

"There is something I must tell you before I depart, Commander." The Curator said, calmly.

"What's that?" Akinyemi asked, raising his head up again, and looked over at her.

"This isn't the only Lifebloom my creators constructed so long ago. There are at least dozens of more active installations throughout the local group of Song Drums, lingering in the cosmos." Parimarc Haqui-A materialized about fifty, white, hard light holograms representing the Local Group of galaxies; including but not limited to the Milky Way, Andromeda, Triangulum, the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, and many others, around the fireteam. Within each of the galaxy projections were dozens of small, golden pings, representing the real-time locations of the remaining megastructures. "If your people sail the stars, traversing into the beyond, you may find and reach them in due time. Good luck." The Curator replied, before translocating away.

Akinyemi stopped in his tracks once more to absorb what she just shared with him. He stared back up at the sky, watching the distant naval battle above the Apex, watching their insignificantly small dots exchanging plasma fire and nukes that would annihilate cities just out reach of them. He watched as the Lifebloom continued to unfurl and bloom anew, and he thought back to Olubayo. He thought back to everything they've been through and shared together. He thought back to the first memories they had during school, the Safari Rally's, the Blue Parades, the dockline picnics, the countless times they went back to Otieno's to celebrate their friendship and relationship. All the days and nights they held each other close and stared into each other's eyes, just admiring what made each other them. Akinyemi wanted a family with Olubayo, to raise their daughter together and travel the stars. Their first destination together would've been Elysium, then from there they would've explored the Sol System and beyond. He thought back to all the lives that were lost and the lives saved while he was still in the process of recovering and grieving the loss of his family he lossed so long ago. But now, he was with a new family who he had only known for a few short weeks, watching him bloom just like the megastructure above.

Everyone's attention was then directed towards the Curator in shock, and the blizzard battered against their armor. It took the rest of Fireteam Dominion to process what the Curator had relayed to them.

"There's more?" Marvin asked regretfully. He then slumped forward, lingering his eyes at his armless torso and back inside the citadel.

"Uhhh." Radha uttered, slumping her shoulders in disbelief. "Hey, Akinyemi are you doing alright..?"

"I am." Akinyemi sheathed his pistol into the thigh compartment of his armor, and trotted around while they waited for Delta Orion.

The Parliament Strong and the rest of the battlefleet continued bombarding the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn, spreading their ships apart, trying to spread the Coalition's forces thin. The constant booming in the distance pounded through Dominion's eardrums, like a tick that wouldn't leave a person's skin, no matter how hard one tried to remove it.

After a few more minutes, a lone Mirage could be seen leaving the battle, and heading in their direction. Over time, the Mirage gradually progressed closer and closer until it neared them by a few meters.

"Finally.." Marvin mumbled.

Delta Orion then swiveled out of the way, and banked to its left four yards from Dominion while it slowly descended through the air. Once it was a few feet off the ground, a loud humming emanated out of the ultramarine and silver dropship, blasting away cold snow in every direction away from it as it landed down.

A few armored Legionnaires translocated down and landed in the snow, darting towards Dominion and shouted. A few of the soldiers raised their weapons, scoping out the LZ, making sure it was still clear of any potential hostiles.

"Let's go! Let's go now!" One Legionnaire shouted, while motioning his hand in the direction of the dropship.

A few Legionnaires grabbed hold of Cynthia, Marvin, and Voiceless, while leading Akinyemi, Radha, Red, and Wispwaker towards the Mirage. They followed them underneath the dropship as quickly as their wounded selves could go. They then stopped underneath it, and waited. The other Legionnaires who were a few yards out then lowered their weapons, shouting, "Clear!" They then ran underneath the Mirage, and everyone was subsequently translocated inside.

Once inside, Marvin, Cynthia, and Voiceless were placed down towards the back,and were told to lay down. Akinyemi, Radha, and Red then looked around at everyone and didn't say anything. Red paced towards the middle of the dropship, raised his right arm, and clung onto the handrail at the top. Radha sat down near a few Legionnaires along the sides of the dropship, and buckled herself in with the energy constraints. Akinyemi continued standing, and Wispwaker hovered right next to him.

The Mirage then began to take off once more, elevating through the air, and rotated around and zoomed towards Battlefleet Crimson Sun. Small chatter could be heard in the background, but Akinyemi started tuning everything out as well as zoning out.

"Sir, are you okay?" Wispwaker asked, hovering closer to the Atlas, and gazed up at him.

"...Yeah… I guess." Akinyemi replied, detached. "The first time ever I could say I'm healing…"

"That is definitely some news, sir." Wispwaker muttered, and hovered away. "I'm glad to be a part of it."

Akinyemi followed Wispwaker with his eyes, and watched as Radha removed her helmet from her pale head, sat it down next to her, and cupped her hands against her exhausted face. Red was staring at the ground in front of himself, but quickly met eyes with Akinyemi for the first time since they met, and just stared in pain for a few seconds, and sighed. Cynthia, Marvin, and Voiceless were still lying down in the back, and tried to sleep.

Akinyemi turned his attention through the cockpit, and watched as the two fleets continued to fire upon each other in the distance, and many ships blew up within a few seconds, peppering the sky in a multitude of colors, rattling the Mirage with the shockwaves. He sighed again, and then sat down on the floor, and rested his forearms on his knees, and waited.

"Thank you for your service, commander." One Rig saluted Akinyemi who still remained on the dropship floor.

Akinyemi responses with a small smile on his face, and gave him a nod of acknowledgement.

They soon arrived inside the Parliament Strong, in one of the many hangars that filled the massive ship. The hangar Delta Orion touched down in stretched out over one thousand feet, with a rectangular-box shape, colored in a dark metallic silver hull, with the edges sloping into the ground from the ceiling. Cerulean lights emanated out of the walls and the ceiling in a dimly-lit haze. Hundreds of Mirages came in and out through the energy barrier, most of them unrecognizable, but still intact, coming back from the battle outside. Interceptors, Brigand tanks, and Excaliburs, as well as armament and shipment crates were scattered throughout the hangar.

Hundreds of marines, Legionnaires, Rigs, and Atlas were frantically darting around throughout the hangar, arriving and departing in infantry divisions and fireteams, several of which stopped and witnessed as Fireteam Dominion and the Legionnaires were soon translocated to the ground. Dominion and the Legionnaires waited for a few more Rigs and marines to run up to them with a few hover-gurneys.

One of the marines said urgently, while extending out her arms, "We'll take them from here and into the Cold Deck for now, until there is a secure timeframe to treat them." She and four others grabbed the gurneys that now held Cynthia, Marvin, and Voiceless. She then looked up at Red, quickly studying his injuries, and said, "Bir'vo, you're with us."

Red squawked, and trotted towards her.

"We're coming with you." Radha demanded.

"Why?"

"Like she said, we're coming with you." Akinyemi replied.

The marine looked up at Akinyemi, and straightened up, while relaxing her shoulders. "Who are you?"

"Commander Asari-Dokubo, and this is Fireteam Dominion."

"Oh shit... Sorry sir, yeah you guys can sure come along."

They rushed into the central elevator as marines, and Eve soldiers ran by. Dominion, and the marines filled the elevator, and the ship rumbled due to the battle outside. Akinyemi, Wispwaker, Radha, and Red moved into the back, while the four marines with the gurneys followed them in. The blast doors then closed, and they gazed out into the hangar watching more Mirages take off and exit the ship.

The Parliament Strong directed its energy to the sub-light engines, and zoomed towards a couple monolith, and megalith ships, ramming into their hulls, then fired a burst of four MER rounds straight into the dark ships. The ships then exploded, flinging back into the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn before the miles-long shrapnel could plummet towards the Hyriel Mountains.

The Razer of Innocence released a barrage of purple energy rounds, scatter torpedoes, and railgun bursts towards the Parliament Strong, rippling the shields, and the Strong started pulling itself in reverse, and try to maneuver into a more secure position. The Strong's port side turrets fired millions of blue bolts out at thousands of Obelisks and Ibises, swarming around the massive supercarrier. Four frigates and five destroyers moved in, and bombarded the starfighters and dropships, protecting the supercarrier at all costs.

A couple Coalition warbringers shredded a few of the frigates, exploding the small ships before they had a chance to defend themselves, and zoomed towards the congestion ahead of them. However, a section of thirty ships from Battlefleet Crimson Sun flanked in from the side, spraying the warbringers, and megaliths with tracer missiles and ion torpedoes.

Parliament Strong then rotated back around, facing the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn, and charged up its MER cannons again, while being fired upon by more Ibises. Mirages and Excaliburs swarmed out of the ship, and directed their attention away from the supercarrier, and fired their tracer missiles at the Coalition starfighters and dropships.

Dominion and the marines entered inside the Cold Deck, where one of its many rooms stretched out for over four thousand feet, shaped into a "V" housing thousands of grey, capsule-shaped cryo pods, lined in rows at an angle throughout the Deck. They all faced inwards, and glew a cerulean from the inside, shimmering out into the misty haze of condensation through transparent bullet-proof glass that started along the top of the front, and stopped halfway down the pod in a rectangular shape. Coolant hoses, and cables were attached to the sides and top of each pod, shuttering slightly from the rattling of the colossal ship. The deck was dimly lit, and steadily grew darker the farther away the rest of the deck was from the entrance.

Dozens of scientists and technicians in dark blue, temperature-controlled, form fitting, hazmat suits were walking around, carrying their own Artemis and holo-files while running diagnostics of the pods, making sure they were always functioning properly.

The marines then proceeded forward, pushing the hovering gurneys into the the first available cryo pods a ways away, stopping in front of each of them. The first marine lifted Voiceless Cry from his gurney, and was subsequently placed into the farthest pod of the available four, from Akinyemi, Radha, and Wispwaker. Voiceless glanced over at them, as the marine strapped him inside, preventing him from collapsing to the bottom of the pod.

"Everything will be okay." Radha said, looking over at him.

Akinyemi, Radha, and Wispwaker moved over towards him inside the cramped walkway, squeezing passed the gurneys and marines.

Voiceless was steadily breathing inside his Koro, and his bronze lights still emanated out of it, and gently onto his friends. He extended out his right arm and held it there, waiting for Akinyemi to grip it.

Akinyemi glanced down, and grabbed his forearm, and Voiceless grabbed his.

Voiceless then nodded at him, then as they let go of each other's forearms, Voiceless then trade saluted Akinyemi. Akinyemi and Radha trade saluted back.

"Take care, we'll see you on the other side." Akinyemi said, smiling. His tattoos reflected off the bronze and blue that shimmered onto his face.

Voiceless Cry nodded again once more, and leaned his head back against the white cushioned headrest inside. The marine that was tending to him then strapped his arms with black nylon, tightening them, and waited for a hazmat technician to close the pod. The pod then closed down from a hinge at the top, and sealed him inside. The technician then activated the fluids, and within a matter of a few seconds, Voiceless was frozen within.

While they moved over to the next one, Red stood ready to enter the fourth one, and he whistle-chirped from afar.

Marvin was placed into the second one, and glanced at Radha. "...You good?"

"Had better days... What about you?" She adjusted her headscarf on her head.

"Same." He replied, his eyes were still heavy and his hair was matter against his face.

"Be careful, will you?"

"Ehh. Fuck off." He groaned, making a sly grin.

Radha laughed, and reached passed the marines, knuckle-bumping him.

They pushed passed the marines again, and Cynthia met eyes with them. Her red hair was messy, and fell down against her face a bit. "See ya guys. Don't die will you?"

"No promises." Radha replied.

"That's the spirit. Damn, I really needed a long ass nap, even if it's while as a popsicle."

Akinyemi made a ghost of a smile, and glanced at Wispwaker.

"I can't believe it's done." Wispwaker remarked.

"We're never done." Akinyemi replied. "Now we have to hunt for this Archoness…"

Marvin's and Cynthia's pods were then activated to close, sealing them inside, and the technician's turned on the coolant fluids. The ship rattled some more, and the distant sounds of the battle could be heard, even over the gentle hum of the Parliament Strong's engines.

Akinyemi, Radha, and Wispwaker then walked towards Red, and their armors' lights illuminated each other in the cold haze. Akinyemi and Red met eyes once more, and nodded at each other with deep respect.

"This is it for now, Red. Hopefully we can get you a new arm soon enough."

Red looked down at his left side, and forced a laugh. Then gurgle-chirped, followed by clicking and hissing.

"You ready to go in, big guy?" One of the technicians approached him, gazing up at his towering frame, and placed her left hand on the pod.

Red nodded, and waited for her to open it.

The cryo pod opened with a hiss of depressurization, and mist poured out of the pod, churning through the cold air, and condensed into larger ice crystals. Red stepped inside while ducking to watch his head, then tried to get comfortable the best he could. He exchanged glances with Akinyemi, Radha, and Wispwaker one last time before the pod was sealed again and activated.

"Now what?" Radha asked, sighing and looking around the deck. She placed her hands on her armored hips.

"Just survive, right?" Wispwaker asked.

"Yeah, I think so." Akinyemi nodded.

"They're all good to go, Commander." The technician said, carrying an Artemis, and a stack of holo-files.

"Thank you."

"Commander Asari-Dokubo, report immediately to the command bridge." A monotonous voice said over the ship's intercom.

"Here we go." Akinyemi remarked, turning around, and started back for the elevator.

"I wonder what will happen." Wispwaker said.

"Maybe just watch the Lifebloom end it's reblooming. It was so close to detonation but it's transformation was nothing I ever expected to see." Radha then pressed her hand against the Luminere's chassis.

Akinyemi approached the elevator terminal, and clicked it on, waiting for it to open up. Outside, the flanking section of Crimson Sun cut a swath through the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn, decimating most of what was left, resulting in three megaliths, and one monolith left, with a couple warbringers, and the Razer of Innocence. The remaining amount of ships for Battlefleet Crimson Sun was around forty one.

Several minutes later, Akinyemi, Radha, and Wispwaker arrived inside the command bridge of the Parliament Strong. Two sets of heavily armed, ultramarine and silver armored Vanguard guarded the blast door, facing ahead, and remaining unmoving. In their right hands, they wielded long energy lances. They had tall helmets with three, cerulean and vertical ovaloid slits for a visor on the front of their helmets. Their armored cuirass was large and heavy, with soft lights illuminating off the chest and under-clasps. On their shoulders were tall, and pointed, pauldrons that stood a foot high. Above the pauldrons hovered smaller pointed metal extensions.

Ahead of Dominion was the rest of the command bridge, which was the same standard design for all United Legion ships, however, as this ship was a Triumphant-class supercarrier, it stretched out longer by another two hundred feet. Down on the lower deck of the command bridge housed three holotables, in a row. Standing on top of the Overlook, with his only arm tucked behind him, was Imperial Admiral Addington.

The Imperial Admiral was facing the viewport ahead of him, watching the battle commence. In the distance, through the viewport, everyone could see the remaining colossal ships of the Coalition fleet, bombarding Battlefleet Crimson Sun with constant torpedoes, railgun rounds, and the charges from their energy projectors.

Akinyemi, Radha, and Wispwaker approached the Imperial Admiral, and stopped just before him. They could hear the rumbling from outside, and the frantic, but stoic chatter of all of the bridge crew inside the Parliament Strong.

"Commander Asari-Dokubo, reporting for duty." Akinyemi said, saluting him as he turned around.

"At ease, Commander." Addington replied, waving his hand to the side.

Akinyemi and Radha placed their hands behind their backs, and both widened their stances.

"I wanted to inquire about the status of Operation: COLD FEET. Were you successful in retrieving Dr. Castillo?" He lowered his eyes, and gazed at the heavy battle damage their armors sustained.

"We were not, sir. He sacrificed himself to deactivate the megaweapon on this installation, but succumbed to his wounds right after, choking on his own blood. He was very brave, and never faltered in his loyalty to the Blue Empire." Akinyemi said solemnly, slightly lowering his head, and met eyes with Addington.

"That's... That's such a shame." Addington replied, hesitantly. "He was a great man, with a brilliant mind. I've known him for many years, and I'm at a loss to know he's gone."

Wispwaker gazed around, taking everything in.

The Imperial Admiral remained quiet for sometime, standing there, and gazed out at the battle ahead.

"Sir?" Akinyemi asked, concerned.

"...He was family, he was my son-in-law. Just like you, Commander, and everyone else on this ship, everyone else we've ever known, I know heart-crushing loss. I'll carry the burden of this for the rest of my life." He said, as the cerulean light shined on him through the dim haze of the command bridge. "My daughter, Colonel Ava Castillo, will not be content of this news…"

"Oh shit…" Radha muttered, lowering her head.

"There was nothing you could've done, sir." A familiar pink avatar appeared next to him on a holo-pedestal.

"Even then, Dollface, the pain will always linger..." He didn't even look at her.

Another fiery explosion filled the viewport, the two warbringers left were gone, and their dark shrapnel whizzed passed the viewport, and out of sight.

"You were right about there being a mole, and the connections to Shoemaker, Dominion. When I had looked into it, I discovered an overwhelming amount of evidence that he's been supporting the Coalition with information for years. Resulting in many more worlds fallen, because of him. He's currently imprisoned, waiting for a trial to see if he'll be deactivated. I can't believe I've been betrayed by my Luminere, and lost more family."

"We may always lose people, sir. But all we can do is to keep going, to keep fighting. Daima Mbele - Always forward. I learned the proverb from my father when I was a child, and would continue to say it for many years. But I would never know the true impact and drive to do it, until recently." Akinyemi said, twitching his lip.

"You're right, Commander. You're right." The Imperial Admiral said, slumping his shoulders.

"Imperial Admiral, there are thousands of unidentified anomalies appearing out of nowhere!" One of the bridge crew exclaimed.

Thousands of Windtuners translocated around Battlefleet Crimson Sun, zooming away from ten, towering, mobile command constructs many a ways away. The command constructs were silver-grey, cylindrical spire-like constructs that towered two thousand feet high, and were four hundred feet in diameter. These Waira had hundreds of Windtuners docked along the outer circumference, until the smaller constructs unlatched themselves, and immediately began firing on the remaining ships of the Fleet of the Gifted Sojourn. They bombarded the ships' hulls, punching through them after quickly shattering their energy shields.

"Now, that's a sight to see." Imperial Admiral Addington commented, relieved.

Within a minute, Battlefleet Crimson Sun, and the Windtuners bombarded the Razer of Innocence, with MER rounds, ion torpedoes, tracer missiles, and the Composer constructs' hard-light bolts and particle stream cannons. Aiding the Windtuners were hundreds of Ikuchi constructs that followed behind, and immediately began to erratically zoom around and bore their way through the dreadnaught. The dreadnaught soon exploded under the force of the impacts, illuminating the sky with brilliant purple, and orange flames, releasing a shockwave against the ships. The remaining megaliths and monolith then activated their Riftspace drives, and warped away, fleeing. The Windtuners immediately pursued them, and were out of sight.

Imperial Admiral Addington straightened up, gazed back at Akinyemi, Radha, and Wispwaker, then raised his right arm, with his palm open, pointing out at the explosions ahead. He then paused before saying, "Look at us… We're but maggots, writhing in the filth of what was left behind by greater beings... Ever since the Requiem War started, there was no chance, no hope, not even a thought, for our continued survival. Now, for the first time in years, we have a monumental victory against the greatest adversary we've ever encountered. Even if it's to be only a pyrrhic one. We'll call this installation, this magnificent megastructure, Foundation, in honor of the sacrifice and devotion that billions of men and women have made for us to survive, providing the foundation for a greater future, and a newer beginning."

All of the bridge crew cheered, and threw up their holo-files, and hugged each other yelling, laughing, and crying for joy. The excited chatter throughout the bridge became white-noise for Addington, Dollface, Akinyemi, Radha, and Wispwaker. The Vanguard however continued to stand reverent, and unmoveable.

"Uhhh, I don't mean to ruin the excitement," said a Massai bridge officer from his terminal, "But there seems to be large and hostile Riftspace anomalies appearing just above Outpost Prosperity."

"That's not good at all." Radha said to Akinyemi.

"...No, no it's not." He replied.

"Is it the rest of the Coalition fleet?" Addington asked, facing the bridge officer.

"Yeah, seems so."

"Patch me through to Captain Parri."

The Massai bridge officer typed along the holographic keys of the terminal he was stationed at, and his face was concerned.

"Done."

"This is Imperial Admiral Kent Addington of the Parliament Strong. Do you read me, Captain? Over."

"Yeah, I read you loud and clear. There's a few Coalition ships in the sky here... Oh shi-!" Captain Parri shouted as a deafening explosion cut out the audio of the comm channel.

Fionn Nankervis

2020 ©