22nd of Late Winter, Year 3 of Shen Zheng Reign
09:00 Starlight Ylure - In the Imperial 14 system
When the Starlight Ylure came into view, Xinyi paused to take in its beauty. The 10th Mothership of the Shadow Guard had a sleek line, and its pitch black hull was harder to discern amidst the vast expanse of space.
Standing between Xinyi and the Starlight Ylure was its fleet, the 10th Shadow Guard, arrayed in its full resplendence. Two cruiser-class ships, fully manned, a thousand fighter-class vessels with elite dragon and elf troops, and more threatening than any of those ... four armageddon-class ships. As expected of the Emperor's private army, nothing but the best models of each, and manned by elite soldiers who put all others to shame.
Those four ships were the same as Xinyi’s Ragnarok. The armor was reinforced, the shield was stronger, and the mobility was six to ten times that of a fighter's, making it impossible to pilot without using the AI or resorting to dive-drive.
As she observed theships’ movement, Xinyi could tell they were driven by AI. Some skeptical humans once claimed no AI could pilot like an organic, but that turned out to just be hubris. As a citizen of the empire, which used AI-driven ships, Xinyi knew that a ship piloted by AI rarely made a mistake and never the same one twice.
It also meant that the owner of those ships specialized in something else. And as long as enemies didn’t know what the crew was up to, they wouldn't know what death awaited them once they were in sight.
Today, though, nobody would die. Xinyi wouldn't use the Deep Dive Drive either. The fleet was simply engaged in deployment exercises, or so the Starlight Ylure comms officer told her right before commanding her to come aboard.
"Ragnarok to Starlight Ylure, you are in my visual. I am approaching at coordinate T10-M8-S34," Xinyi said on the communication channel they specified to her.
"Understood, Ragnarok, please stop your advance. The Angelic Devil and Evil Angel are coming to your position to escort you to our dock."
Xinyi pictured the Ragnarok standing still, and the ship obeyed the mental image. Two of the most heavily armed armageddon-class ships advanced just enough to put themselves within shooting range.
'Escorting, huh?' Xinyi thought. That was more like keeping an eye on her. Still they hadn’t activated their weaponry, and they hadn’t locked on her, so she wasn't overly worried. Yet.
She was given the docking procedure, and two arms came out of a door on the ship's hull. Xinyi didn't like arm docking, but this was a military vessel, so it was to be expected. It wouldn’t befit the strongest army in the universe to have have people entering and exiting the ship at will.
The Shadow Guard, meanwhile, had earned its fierce reputation. When they showed up to a battlefield, it was to put an end to the battle, and in short order.
"What the hell do they want from me?" Xinyi wondered aloud as she moved through the airlock and onto the new vessel. "I might lose the trace of the Blood Army if they keep me here for long."
"This system is about to turn into a battlefield," said a voice behind her. "You are in the arrival zone of the enemy, and we determined that you wouldn't have been able to evacuate the system in time."
"Your determination was wrong. I can use long-range teleport. I am here to find a child who's been abducted. I could trace the Blood Mercenaries all the way to here. A war is no reason to let her die."
The dragon, decorated with a Guardsman insignia, studied her for a moment, and Xinyi said that unless they intended to arrest her, she would be off and back on the trail of that child. The dragon made her wait as he contacted someone and reported her intentions. Xinyi crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently.
"Commander Wu says that you might give away our position," the dragon answered.
"Just so you know, that's the last of my worries. If half of what's said of the Shadow Guard is true, you all can't be shaken up by such a detail, so let me go already," Xinyi answered. The dragon nodded, never breaking eye contact with Xinyi, as he reported her words verbatim to the man on the other end of the line.
"Follow me please," he answered, after a long pause. "You will board the Angelic Devil and be allowed to scout the vicinity for the child for twenty minutes."
Xinyi wanted to tell him something very rude, but decided not to stretch her luck, and she followed the soldier in silence instead. The soldier didn’t break the silence, either, and he fidgeted as he directed her toward the Angelic Devil, the second ship that had docked with her. Another dragon appeared in the air lock.
"So she's the lass who told Yahzu she didn’t give one whit for his orders?" he asked with a smirk. The soldier accompanying her nodded quickly and said he had to return to his shift. He was nervous to around her from the start, and he barely even sustained her gaze.
"What the heck?" Xinyi wondered aloud.
"Seems like you're scaring our recruits," laughed the chromatic dragon who welcomed her onto his ship. The dragon, Shen Di, placed his hands on his hips as he sized up his new passenger. He did not bother introducing himself, and neither did Xinyi ask. Once on the bridge, Xinyi went straight for the piloting station. "Hey..." Shen said, caught off-guard.
"Unless your ship can do long-range teleports, and has a magitek core, I'm the only chance this girl has of being found in the next twenty minutes. I’ve transmitted my intended jump coordinates. You can check check them if you want," she told him, "but don't even think of telling me no."
"First sign of you doing something weird, I kill you and jettison your corpse out the trash chute," he answered, smiling. His smile was cold and his voice indicated he would have no qualms with doing it. But Xinyi didn't care. The girl would die soon if she did nothing but listen to their orders.
As soon as Xinyi was in deep dive, she teleported the Angelic Devil to where her ship had been when they interrupted her, and she used an echo spell to locate the ship she was following.
That ship was at the far range of the radar now, but fortunately, it wasn’t moving. Its crew must have been oblivious to the presence of the armageddon-class cruiser. Xinyi teleported to an asteroid near her target’s location, and they got a visual on what she was looking for: a cruiser, known to be their main base.
"Perfect," Xinyi said. "In the end you guys slowed me down, but I still found it. We’ve still got fifteen minutes to get in, clean the base, and retrieve the child. This ship's anti-detection system is incredible, by the way! This close and they're not even aware we're here..."
"If the girl is inside, there's no way we're going to find her in the allocated time," Shen said, his face much less affable than before.
"No, that shouldn't be a problem," Xinyi said with confidence as she observed the cruiser. "The fleet is still deployed?"
"Yes, of course. We're on high alert."
"Perfect. You should, by all means, tell them to aim the mothership's cannon at the location I’ve just transmitted." Not waiting for his answer, Xinyi began to chant the teleport spell. At present, those coordinates were empty space back within firing range of the now-distant Starlight Ylure.
The chromatic dragon double-checked the coordinates and then immediately called and ordered all hands to prepare for battle, as well as alerted other people to prepare for an imminent teleportation of the enemy cruiser and the Angelic Devil back to the Starlight Ylure, to be immediately followed by a search and rescue mission.
He prayed that his crew wouldn't take the message about teleporting a whole cruiser and their own ship as a joke, though. As he listened to Xinyi’s chant, even he wasn’t sure this nut would be able to pull it off, but seconds later, the cruiser disappeared, and their own ship followed suit the next moment.
They were now behind the 10th fleet's line, and the cruiser was right in front of them. Xinyi pushed the ship and arrived before the cruiser. She launched a spell that completely disabled all of the ship’s electronics.
"The kid won’t survive if I hit the survival batteries, so I didn't penetrate deep enough to destroy them," she said. "I'm too tired. Teleporting that thing was the best I could do for the kid in that situation."
"Then go dock us back," the dragon answered. "That unit you see is Xun Yiang's. He'll bring back that girl or her body if they killed her. Though if they did that, I can't answer for what he'll do to them."
"If it's you guys, I guess I can leave that to you," she said returning to the dock. As an exceptional measure, she was invited in the tactical room, to follow the operation, and to indicate to them if they had the right target.
From the moment the ship was teleported to the second the 10th division assault troops stormed it, barely a dozen minutes had passed. "Who the hell are those guys?" asked someone on the desk. "They are completely disorganized..."
"We caught them off-guard," said Xinyi. "I teleported to them before they could notice us and be on alert, and I shut down all of their ship's electronics with the Sanctuary spell that I cast on their ship."
"I saw that... Perhaps it was overkill?"
"They have no AI, no working communications, and most of their guns should be out of order too. Their defenses are heavily based on androids and robots who are either down or barely working," said Xinyi. "That they managed to regroup and be this organized is already proof enough that they're not as incompetent as you think. It also means that it might be harder for the assault force to penetrate the inner doors, too," she said, a worry line creasing her brow.
"I must admit that they have quite a solid organization," admitted Commander Wu. "But my men won't let this bother them. Quite like you, they won't abandon a mission they have taken on."
Xinyi nodded. She knew the reputation of the Shadow Guard and had no doubts. When they arrived in the room where the girl should have been, they discovered several children instead. The enemy's leader issued an order to kill the kids, but Xinyi used the communication channel between the bridge and leader's camera to direct her magic and create a wall that shielded the children.
She stayed conscious just long enough to hear the words "Zone secured." The men did not waste the precious few seconds the wall afforded and killed all of the enemies before they could fire another round.