[1 BBT] Tunnel of Contest: The Tide of Dawn

OOC Note:
Reposting of the original thread from the past forums.
Characters of the Venterran Federation have respectively been RP’ed by @Frost

This thread at times will brutal and graphic because it is about a very very bloody war. Although not all posts contain graphic description, some of them do. You have been warned.

Cornucopia System,
Klendin A,
The Hoffman

 Klendin was an ice giant of the Cornucopia system. Far away from the metropolitan Stoinian world booming with trade and commerce. However during a recent probe survey to locate new resources on Klendin’s first moon, strange subspace readings were recorded in orbit of the moon. These readings weren’t discovered during the early charting of the Cornucopia system and appeared to come from nowhere. The scientists couldn’t make heads or tails from probe’s readings. It was like nothing they had seen before. The corporate higher ups wanted answers and so invested in a scientific mission to answer their uncertainties. They hired top scientists from Cornucopian Planetary University and set them on a mission to reveal the mystery of the probe’s data. The Hoffman was a small scientific vessel, an AriesCorp Corporate-class cruiser, equipped with sensors for their mission.

The Hoffman.

 The Captain of the ship was Cosmin Leonard, a veteran freighter captain for Smith Mining Corporation. This mission was nothing like his normal job, but the pay was good and that was good enough for him. He sat in his captain’s chair and smoked a cigar to counter his impatience with these higher folk who called themselves professors.
 - “Professor Middleton, do your fancy instruments pick up anything yet?”
 Professor Lynn Middleton was amongst the most praised astrophysicists of Cornucopia. She had jumped on the chance to get some more fieldwork and leave the halls of her university for once.
 - “Perhaps if you studied them more you’d know it yourself.”
 - “Lady, we both know that’s above my paygrade.”
 - “A pity. Science really is a fascinating subject.”
 Cosmin rolled his eyes. He was set out to make a simple living for himself not some sort of grand understanding of the universe. He wanted to make it clear to the professor, but he knew it wouldn’t matter much and so continued to puff from his cigar.
 - “Hold on… Preliminary data is coming in… These are strange readings indeed. It seems that the initial space-time distortion has increased. But how?”
 Cosmin continued to puff from his cigar. The professor and her team were working on the data and disturbing them wouldn’t result in a productive working environment. As far as he was concerned, this was a easy job. Collect and come back, nothing more, nothing less. However after half an hour of scientific debate, the professor’s team had come to a consensus. They would need to arrange the deflector to emit a large magneton pulse towards the distortion.
 - “Captain, I believe we may have stumbled unto a wormhole. We’d need to rearrange the deflector to emit a large magneton pulse to open the wormhole. When can we expect it to be ready?”
 Cosmin blew out the last of his smoke towards the professor. She didn’t like the gesture, but was in no position to comment on it.
 - “I’m sure the crew can handle it in an hour. Hell, I’ll even let you join in on the fun as well. Coordinate with Chief Ugarte.”
 - “Thank you Captain.”
 With that the scientist worked together with the ship’s engineers and modified the deflector to emit a magneton pulse. When it was ready, the science team fired the magneton pulse. It was in that moment that something magnificent opened up the wormhole. It was magnificent to look at, as if it were a reverse black hole. The science team reviewed their data and they couldn’t believe it. The wormhole was stable and there were no severe subspace fluctuations. The science team cheered and laughed as they realized the scope of their findings. This was unprecedented, a gateway to another part of the galaxy with near instantaneous travel! Surely they would eventually find a way to artificially create it and make Warp Field Drive obsolete.

[Image: Untitled.png]
The wormhole opening after the magneton pulse.

 - “Professor, did we just find the gates towards heaven or what?”
 Cosmin was dumbstruck about what just happened and hypnotized by the beauty of the wormhole. If he knew about this, he would have dropped the pay for this job, for the beauty was deserving enough.
 - “No Captain, it appears to be the first stable wormhole. This is completely unprecedented, we have to prepare to go inside of it.”
 The professor was ecstatic, but the Captain didn’t share her enthusiasm.
 - “That’s out of the question! We don’t know what lies beyond there. Perhaps it was closed for a reason.”
 “Captain, you don’t understand the scientific importance of this discovery. It shows that many of our theories were in fact ri…”
 The Captain interrupted her.
 - “Mrs Middleton! For all we know on the other side await dozens of Velutarians. We won’t proceed until we have support from the military. We can’t risk another first contact war.”
 The Captain had made his point. Perhaps she was blinded by the scientific miracle that had just happened and the Captain saw things more realistically. Regardless of what she thought, the Captain was right. They alerted military authorities and within three hours a squadron was there to escort them. They then proceeded to go through the wormhole. They were taken away by beauty of the inside. It was indeed otherworldly and no Stoinians could have imagined it before. A weird congregation of blueish clouds formed the subspace tunnel. After three hours of travel in the wormhole they had exited the other end of the wormhole. This was uncharted space. The professor was already dreaming of missions of exploration and scientific experiments on the wormhole. Her plans were cut short as the military squadron forced them to return.
 A ban on solitary travel was also enforced, military escorts were required for any travel through the wormhole and exploratory mission were put on a halt for now. The scientific community was outraged, but the military wanted to ensure their safety for a first contact situation wasn’t ruled out. High Command decided that the exploration of the other end of the wormhole would fall to Grand Admiral Corvousier and initiate first contact with whomever was on the other end. The Joint Stoino-Treecuu Exploratory Fleet had embarked to uncharted space. For now the task would be up to the Old Dreadnought.

One week later,
Cornucopia System,
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

Grand Admiral Corvousier, the ‘Old Dreadnought’.

 Grand Admiral Corvousier had finally arrived from Saint Alexis. It had taken him a while to prepare this operation and took the whole 65th Fleet with him. As five hundred ships made their final calibrations for a smooth ride through the wormhole, the Grand Admiral was visited by professor Middleton. He sat on his chair in his ready room as the door chimed.
 - “Enter.”
 The eager and young professor entered the room. Corvousier wasn’t too impressed by her and continued to smoke from his pipe.
 - “Please have a seat.”
 - “Thank you, Mr Corvousier.”
 - “Pleasure is mine, Mrs Middleton. Now tell me, you wanted to install some new sensors to the Pillar of Perseverance?”
 - “Yes, these instruments will help us identify the properties of the wormhole. That way we can triangulate where the wormhole leads exactly. From the star density we gathered when we first entered it, it should be around the same distance from the galactic core as we are. As of yet that is our only clue. Our mapping systems are affected by the wormhole in some manner and we hope to eliminate the interference to finally gather the exact location of the wormhole entry points.”
 - “I see, how long will these sensors take to install?”
 - “Oh about an hour, we took the liberty of calibrating it beforehand.”
 The Grand Admiral looked sternly at her, she began to stress as her face became redder. He wanted to test her for a bit, though he figured he had made her uncomfortable enough. However he smiled as he had good news for her.
 - “Very well Mrs Middleton. You may proceed. It will be a while before the fleet will be ready and I’m sure we can work in the interest of science in the meantime.”
 The professor was overjoyed and gasped a breath of happiness.
 - “Thank you Mr Corvousier. This means so much to us. I can’t tha…”
 - “On one condition.”
 The professor was surprised. Had she spoken too soon?
 - “You and your crew will leave the ship before we leave for the wormhole. We’re going into potential hostile territory and I don’t want to unnecessary civilian casualties. Our ships operate with skeleton crews as is. Am I clear?”
 - “Yes, Grand Admiral. As you wish.”
 - “Good, hopefully we will get the results you’re looking for.”
 - “We all do Sir.”
 The following three hours might have been the longest of Corvousier’s life. He felt a certain uneasiness about this mission and by now he had learned to trust his instinct. It was because of them that he was able to survive the Velutarian War for so long. Awaiting the final moments of the preparations he made a promise to himself. Whatever we find on the other side. I won’t allow another war. With those words he entered the wormhole with his fleet. The Cornucopian Defence Fleet was also alerted of the situation and forces were ready for anything. The instruments of professor Middleton proved to work as intended and the mapping systems of the Pillar of Perseverance weren’t affected by wormhole radiations. Finally after the long ride they had arrived in uncharted territory and he set out an audio-visual message on an open subspace channel for all to hear.
 - “This is Grand Admiral Corvousier of the Stoinian Star Kingdom. We have travelled here through a wormhole and we come in peace. We wish you no harm and come here to open diplomatic relations. We will remain here in this position for the coming week, that should be long enough time for anyone to respond to our calls. If we don’t receive any messages by then we will start to explore this uncharted space. I repeat we come in peace. Corvousier out.”
 The Stoinian fleet then took a dispersed defensive formation surrounding the Grand Admiral’s superdreadnought. Whatever would happen next, they would be ready for it. Unbeknownst to them, they had just entered Venterran space and their actions would influence to course of history.

Azmersk’s Grave, Wako System

 Azmersk’s Grave (formerly known as Azmersk IX) was a dead world, a reminder of the Venterran Federation’s greatest failure in the last millennia and a warning to the Terrans within “Venterran space”. The debris field of the dead world orbited a dormant Quantum rift that had formed as a result of the Anti-Piracy mission that later became known as the Wako Incident. The System was abandoned after the Venterran navy left hidden surveillance probes to monitor the dormant rift. The Venterran High command believed that the rift would never be opened and that outside of a handful of ships all hands were lost in the incident. However, to the surprise of the High Command the probes began to relay strange readings…

Wako Monitoring Station, Avdullah System

 The Crew of the Wako Monitoring Station (WMS) were in shock. They had just watched one of their probes witness the Rift stabilize into a wormhole as a squadron of unknown vessels entered the system briefly before returning to the void. The station was abuzz with rumors as the crew wondered aloud if these unknown ships were crewed by the pirates’ descendants or a new unknown threat. The commander of the Station, Azma Kahn, replayed the footage of the unknown vessels in his office and shook his head.
 - “SAI Hjelm,” He said calling out to the station’s AI, “Dispatch an encrypted message to both the Ceres Council and Venterran High Command, and request for further instructions.” The AI’s voice could be heard briefly responding, “understood sir, dispatching now…”

Venterran Report

From: Wako Monitoring Station (WMS)
To: Federation High Command (VFHC) & Ceres Council (CC)
WMS probes detected activity from the dormant Quantum rift in Azmersk’s Grave.
WMS probes conclude that the Rift has stabilized into a Wormhole
WMS probes have observed unknown vessels leave and enter the Wormhole.
Preliminary analysis by Crew and Station AI, Hjelm, are inconclusive but believe that the unknown vessels will return.
WMS formally requests VFHC and CC for instructions regarding the situation.

 The commander then turned on the PA system and spoke, “Attention all hands of the WMS. I understand that there are many of you who are worried, but today we witness history. A birth of a new wormhole and a possible first contact with a new civilization. However, despite these joyous news, the system they originate from is concerning. Wako! The greatest thorn in our side. Home to a Terran colony that was glassed 11,000 years ago. Home of the old pirates that harassed our fleets, and the site of our greatest failure in recent history. We have done our duty to observe the system so that it may not threaten us. Now it is time for the Federation Fleet to do its job and deal with this unknown. Together we will continue to our duty and record the events that will unfold before us.” The commander then signed off as the crew’s morale slowly rose with a flurry of activity to ensure that the Federation wouldn’t be caught unaware again.

One Week Later, Fleet of Merciful Restraint, (82nd Venterran Strike Fleet)

 The news of a potential resurgent threat from the Wako spooked the Ceres Council and the Venterran Federation after 400 years of relative peace. Though the Federation didn’t believe in borders the possible threat to their member planets was enough for the council to place their authority with the VFHC and Federation Navy whose ruthless military doctrine ensured that none within their corner of the galaxy would threaten their hegemony. The VFHC, bolstered by the continued intelligence from the WMS dispatched the Fleet of Merciful Restraint, led by Fleet Admiral Ix Mayfeld to the WMS, where it would jump directly to the Wako system as soon as the probes would detect activity from the new Wormhole. They didn’t wait long as WMS detected 500 ships leave the Wormhole. Mayfeld grinned as the order came down to intercept the unknown fleet.
 - “It’s about time.” He said before activating the comms to speak to the fleet, “Comrades, We are go for interception. Vanguard Vessels prepare to jump on my mark, on 3…2…1… Go!Go!Go!”
 - The Fleet of Merciful Restraint’s vanguard of “500” Dreadnaughts lurched forward into slip space as the main Fleet remained behind as a reserve force.

1 hour later

 The space 100 kilometers away from the Stoinian crackled to life. The distortion was barely noticeable in the inky black void as it continued to crackle and shift matter forming a small sphere the size of a baseball. The small sphere then seemingly collapsed in on itself before it released a violent shockwave expanding at an incredible rate before stabilizing as a large sphere. This phenomenon repeated itself several hundred times simultaneously as Massive warships slowly materialized into real space.
 Fleet Admiral Mayfeld listened to the Stoinian message as his Flagship, the Hand of Mercy, took its position in the center of the dreadnaught formation. As the message finished Mayfeld could feel his hearts beat faster as he recognized the language spoken by the Stoinians, one taught by the Venterran Military as a dead language of an enemy, the Terrans.
 - “Stoinians? They look rather familiar… Are they another humanoid species like the True Venterrans, Adopted Venterrans, or were they Terran Mimics? Ai, open Audio Channels only. I don’t know how these Stoinians will react to the presence of Venterrans*.”
 - “Understood Admiral, opening audio channels.” replied Ai.
 The Admiral sighed as he brushed up on his knowledge of the language and spoke.
 - “Attention. Grand Admiral Corvousier and Stoinian Kingdom Vessels. This is the Venterran Federation Fleet of Merciful Restraint. You are trespassing In Venterran space. Return back into the void and we shall not harm you. This is your only warning.”

Wako System,
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

 The waiting lasted mere hours before a response arrived. Tensions quickly rose as the slipspace ruptures revealed themselves. Panic raged across the many bridges of the Stoinian ships as they recognized the readings. They were nearly identical to Velutarian FTL and the most experienced crews knew those readings all too well. Corvousier was taken by surprise as even the Pillar of Perseverance was taken into red alert as. His display showed the enemy fleet as well and he recognized those readings. From his command room he opened a channel to the bridge and the whole fleet.
 - “Captain Carneiro and the entire fleet, stand down. We haven’t yet identified if they are indeed Velutarian. Their ships have different configurations and we can’t presume they are Velutarian.”
 - “Sir, audio-visual message coming through.”
 The fleet stood down, though the energy surge of charging their weapons would certainly be detected by the enemy forces. Due to Corvousier’s quick reactions the surge only lasted until the message came through. Corvousier couldn’t believe his eyes. There were other Terrans out here? Why would they be so militant towards us?
 - “Com, open a channel.”
 - “Open, Sir.”
 - “This is Grand Admiral Corvousier to Venterran Fleet. We have no intention to trespass your territory, but we would like to open diplomatic relations. Given the nature that we now are neighbours to the wormhole, the Stoinian government would like to initiate first contact protocols with your government. It’s also good to see fellow Terrans out here. Corvousier out.”
 The Stoinian fleet maintained its vigilant formation and their close proximity to the wormhole meant they had an easy escape route if things went sour. Corvousier hoped for the best, but the Stoinian crew remained ready for battle at yellow alert. All ranks were now sweating for what was to happen next. Would there be war or not…

Wako System, Fleet of Merciful Restraint Vanguard

 Fleet Admiral Ix Mayfeld sighed as he replayed the message from the Stoinian fleet.
 - “Terrans… So… They’ve finally returned from the grave…” muttered the Admiral.
 The bridge crew looked up at their Admiral with concern as his face darkened. Mayfeld looked at his AI assistant, Jun, and spoke firmly.
 - “Launch all Fighters and inform the fleet that they are free to engage the Terran threat.” Jun responded, “Understood sir, the Fleet has been authorized to engage the Terrans.”
 The Fleet of Merciful Restraint’s Vanguard fighters left their hangars screaming into the void towards the Stoinian Warships. The Fleet’s capital ships opened fire with their railguns and plasma cannons towards the ships closest to Wormhole as the fleet of Merciful Restraint moved to engage the Stoinians.
 As the First volley was fired, Admiral Mayfeld calmly ordered the fleet to, “Cut off their escape routes and do not allow them to call for reinforcements. We will secure this Wormhole for the protection of the Federation.”

Wako System,
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

God damn it! What in God’s name are these Venterrans doing?
 The Stoinian vessels returned fire as well. Though confusingly enough they used the same weaponry they did. It became clear that the large railguns targeted the smaller Stoinian destroyers as they were in a dispersed formation. Corvousier was quick to react to and commanded the fleet.
 - “All ships withhold fighters. Regroup we’re going back into the wormhole. Pillar of Perseverance maintain position and provide cover. Launch corvettes as well. Fleet Sections Alpha and Gamma provide anti-fighter support for the retreating vessel.”
 With those orders, the Stoinian formation began to tighten and vessels started the head towards the wormhole. The retreating ships from the centre had reached the wormhole and began their evacuation. Destroyers from the outer formations were cut to pieces and even cruisers were starting to take a beating. As the Venterran fighters arrived the Fleet Sections designated to fight them held the line. But as the Venterran fleet now fired their railguns on the protective Fleet Sections it became clear they couldn’t stand for much longer. The Pillar of Perseverance had launched its complement of corvettes which helped with the protection against the Venterran fighters and progressed to the wormhole as well. The 5 km long superdreadnought was now taking the brunt of the Venterran fire as it covered the retreating vessels. Its shields went down, but the hard materials and sturdy Stoinian engineering allowed it to leave the wormhole as the last Stoinian ship. Now the Stoinian had time to catch their breath. Grand Admiral Corvousier opened his channel toward the War Council.
 - “Hostile nation known as the Venterran Federation has engaged us. Inhabitants seemed Terran in origin and are highly territorial. Pending their next move to see if they follow us through the wormhole.”

Wako System, Fleet of Merciful Restraint Vanguard

 Mayfeld grimaced as he watched the Stoinian fleet retreat back into Wormhole. The bridge crew paying no mind to their Admirals foul mood cheering the triumphantly returning fighters.
 - “Jun, deploy the long range probes into the wormhole. I want to know what these Terrans are capable of.”
 - “Yes sir” she replied as an audible ‘thwunk’ could be heard as several probes were launched into the wormhole.
 - “Bridge crew deploy corvettes to scan for life signs and boarding parties to the disabled vessels. They are to capture the survivors if possible, but they are free to kill some of the Terrans when they resist. We have time before the rest of the fleet arrives and we move on to secure the other side…”
 As the Merciful Restraint’s Vanguard awaited its reinforcements. The sounds of a struggle could be heard from the console as the Venterran Boarding parties entered the enemy vessels trapped on this side of the Wormhole displaying their actions for the Admiral to see.
 Soon they will understand the enemy. Soon they will breach the void and send the terrans back to the grave.


Cornucopia System,
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

 After three hours of travel through the wormhole they arrived back to the Cornucopia system. The Pillar of Perseverance had taken quite a beating. Her shields had taken the brunt of it and some railgun rounds had penetrated its armour. The damage control teams were already starting to work on her and were making good progress. Corvousier dreaded what just had happened, but lived with the decision he had to make and was relieved he didn’t have to leave any fighters behind. Though the fears of survivors aboard those vessels lost. It was starting to look like the Velutarian War all over again and Corvousier didn’t like it at all. As he regrouped with the Cornucopian Defence Fleet he called for all nearby ships to join and defend Cornucopia. He alerted Cornucopia’s government and evacuation efforts had begun as well as fortifications. It was unsure what would come through that wormhole and how many of it or when. Though Corvousier suspected it will take the Venterrans at least a few days to group a large enough fleet to overrun their position. Corvousier called the Royal War Council on the new holographic technology the Treecuu had given them for the Joint Fleet.
 The King spoke up with his baritone voice as he appeared.
 - “Grand Admiral Corvousier, report.”
 - “Sir, the Venterrans are still a mystery. They appear to have no interest in diplomatic talks and seem to be fiercely territorial. I suspect they will come through that wormhole eventually. I should also mentioned that they appeared to be Terran.”
 - “What about their technology? How many ships did we lose?” Grand Admiral Harrington asked.
 - “We’ve lost 65, mostly destroyers. Their technology seem to be on the same level as us. They even use weaponry similar to our MAC cannons and plasma based weaponry. Perhaps if we pushed it, it could have been pyrrhic victory, but in uncharted territory it would be a foolish mistake.”
 - “I grant you that, but their lack for diplomacy, especially for a same species, is concerning. Would you say we have any chance?” The King added.
 - “None, Sir. I deeply regret to inform you, unless we reach out to other star nations. Though I fear we might not have the luxury of time.” Grand Admiral Corvousier voiced his concerns.
 - “What about a defence of Cornucopia? How many ships have you been able to assemble?” Grand Admiral Keyes asked to get an assessment
 - “We should have 4.000 vessels in two days, with double in five. However we maintain a battle ready status and have already coordinated with planetary defence platforms.” Stated Grand Admiral Corvousier.
 - “I see you’re well armed, but what if you fail? Who will defend Cornucopia then? We can’t expect them to hold out forever, we must send ground troops as well.” Gram Marshal Zhukov added.
 - “What about Spartans? Shouldn’t we deploy them preemptively?” Grand Marshal Raeth offered the solution of the dormant Stoinian supersoldiers from the Velutarian War.
 - “No, if this is to become a war of attrition we need an ace up our sleeves. However, we can’t expect the ground troops to arrive there in time. I think we should start conscription on Cornucopia.” The King quickly shot down Grand Marshal Raeth’s plans.
 - “Sir, but that is unprecedented. Congress will be in uproar about it!” Grand Marshal Ganowicz noted.
 - “And let Congress bicker around what to do while our people have already paid the price?! I will not allow another O’Connell government to diminish our war effort.” The King recalled the political instability from the start of the Velutarian War.
 The King made it clear that this was no time for pleasantries. The military was reforged for these circumstances and the civilian government would be too inefficient to oversee it. This was a matter best done by experts. Some members weren’t too keen with the King’s dismissal of Congress, but they knew he was right.
 - “Gentlemen, this is a time for which MacArthur reforged the nation. We are the shield of the Stoinian Star Kingdom. It is up to us to show these Venterran scum what we’re made of. Terran or not, they are the aggressor and we will defend our realm whatever the cost. I know it has become quite clear, but formalities state that I should ask you this question. The King votes in favour for a declaration for war against the Venterran Federation. What does the Royal War Council vote?”
 The Royal War Council voted unanimously in favour. Congress’ vote would now be a formality since this was a defensive war and would serve as a reflection for the Stoinian people’s willingness to fight. Corvousier further prepared the defensive perimeter around Cornucopia and just under 4.000 ships were ready to protect the planet at all cost. Meanwhile Governor Munteanu declared a state of emergency and enacted conscription laws. Most planetary government officials left the planet as well as most children and their mothers. The civilians vessels were over-cramped and continuously left the planet to flee the system. Cornucopia was arming itself for what was to come, whatever it may be.

4 Hours after First contact between Venterran and Stoinian Forces, Wako System The Fleet of Merciful Restraint

 The Fleet of Merciful Restraint was brought back to her full strength as the main fleet entered the system. Her Vanguard having finished “cleaning up” the remnants of the Stoinian fleet trapped in Venterran Space. The Terrans unsurprisingly attempted to fight to the last sailor, but some wisely surrendered to the Venterran boarding parties being transferred onto auxiliary ships where they would be shipped off to Federation prisons to be interrogated by the True Venterrans. The boarding parties generally noted that the Terrans put up a pitiful resistance against them, but their resolve to survive and fight to the last terran was commendable. However, one report from General Hos Mykraft caught his eye.

Summary of Mykraft report

 Fleet Admiral, I am certain that the general consensus from the Boarding parties is that these Terrans are weak and should immediately be subjected to the Great Purge. However, I strongly believe that this is not the case Sir. All boarding actions that led to this swift victory in capturing their ships can be attributed three things: their fear, confusion, and isolation. All boarding parties noted that the enemy vessels were isolated from one another alongside the fact that their communications were disabled. This prevented the defending Terran crews from coordinating a stronger defense against our parties. Furthermore, the damaged compartments made travel within their vessels far more hazardous to the Terrans than our troops, limiting visibility while simultaneously preventing the Terrans from using their knowledge of their ships against us. Furthermore, the Terrans appeared divided with some wisely surrendering to our forces while others recklessly attempted a desperate last stand with whatever objects they could use as weapons. This division in the Terran ranks coupled with their pitiful defense appears to have implanted a false sense of security, a dangerous mistake our Predecessors made when dealing with these Terrans a long long time ago in another galaxy. I sincerely hope that you would not make the same mistake as our predecessors sir, and use their weakness against them.

 Admiral Mayfeld sighed softly as he ended the report.
 - “Don’t underestimate the Terrans… sound advice from the General… Jun Contact Fleet Command, I will personally report our victory and request permission to pursue them.”
 - “Understood sir.” replied the AI before it blinked twice. “Sir, before I do, I’d like to inform you that I’ve just re-established connection with the probes and that it likely takes three hours to travel through this wormhole. Though our fleet of 5,000 warships can pursue, Perhaps it would be prudent to request and await reinforcements?”
 Mayfeld shook his head.
 - “Perhaps that is the prudent option but , if what you’re saying is true, we’ll lose the momentum and allow them to fortify the gate. We must not allow them to rest for too long. Prepare the fleet to jump the wormhole, we will give our report to the High Command and then pursue the enemy once we receive the green light.”
 - “Understood Admiral,” Replied Jun as she contacted the Venterran High Command.
 The High Admiral (HA) of the Venterran Federation, Thel Firenze, and 2 other Grand Admirals (GA) appeared on the monitor Right after the fleet entered the wormhole.
 - “Fleet Admiral Mayfeld…” High Admiral Firenze greeted him.
 - “Sir, I wish to report on the defense of the Wako system from an enemy we believed to be extinct. The Terrans have returned.”
 - “Terrans?! In Venterran Space?! Ridiculous! They should’ve all been wiped out from this sector when we arrived here during the Great Journey.” Grand Admiral Thorne interjected.
 - “And yet, Mayfeld reports that they have returned… Tell me Mayfeld, what is their tech level.” Grand Admiral Yamana redirected the conversation.
 - "Grand Admiral their tech level is… rather limited at the moment. Their weapons are similar to ours though they lack plasma weaponry and have inferior shields in comparison to our vessels. Much like pirates their true threat lies in their numbers and perhaps their wit as we won’t know their true capabilities unless we commit additional interactions. Fleet Admiral Mayfeld reported.
 - “Explain…” High Admiral Firenze ordered.
 - “Sir, the enemy commander wisely withdrew from the Waco system instead of engage our forces in a pitched battle after we fired upon them as soon as we discovered they belonged to an enemy species. Thus the enemy commander managed to avoid having his fleet encircled and destroyed by the main body of the Fleet of Merciful restraint which remained in reserve at the WMS located an hours jump away. Furthermore, the Enemy sacrificed dozens of screens to protect their capital ships like a Sporgle cutting off unnecessary limbs to survive.”
 - “I see… in that case Admiral, why didn’t you entertain these terrans and quietly cut off their escape?” High Admiral Firenze asked for an elaboration.
 - “Sir, our doctrine is to shoot any threat of the Venterran Federation first then interrogate survivors to ascertain the threat level. We have secured some prisoners, after they put up a desperate, but pathetic defense of their stranded warships. but the Fleet is moving to pursue the enemy. The Wormhole leads to an enemy world, and appears to take 3 hours to travel through.” Fleet Admiral Mayfeld explained.
 - “I see, then in that case, We should move to enact the Great purge against these Terrans. Deploy the entire navy to crush them!” Grand Admiral Thorne retorted.
 - “That sounds rather reckless, I doubt the Ceres Council would even authorize a Great Purge.” Grand Admiral Yamana reasoned.
 - “They have given me full power to authorize a Great Purge, Yamana.” High Admiral Firenze revealed.
 - “I see…” Grand Admiral accepted.
 - “HA Firenze: However, I agree, it is far too reckless to engage the Terrans without ascertaining their true strength. If the old lessons are true then these Terrans are hiding their true capabilities, and we must drag their secrets to the light. Thus, I order you, Fleet Admiral Mayfeld to Judge the Terrans. To see if they have the strength to survive and impress us or are they condemned to the Great Purge. You will be granted command of an additional 20,000 ships to raid, steal and purge as you see fit.”
 -“Thy will be done… Glory to the Federation!” Fleet Admiral Mayfeld ended the meeting.
 - “Glory to the Venterran Federation!” Replied Venterran Fleet High Command in unison.

Cornucopia System,
4 days later

 The Stoinian defence systems were coming in nicely. Roughly 6.800 ships were put to defend the Cornucopia system. Even Support Dreadnoughts and Troop Carriers had deployed their assets in an effort to fortify Cornucopia if the fleet were to fail. The evacuation was well on schedule and just over 5 billion civilians, mostly women and children, had transported them towards safety at a military planet in the Core Sector. Lucky for them, some infrastructure was built to welcome them, but many were still on the planet. Grand Admiral Corvousier dreaded the waiting, for he knew that if the Venterrans would come in force, they would have to retreat and protect the escaping civilians. Conscription on Cornucopia was going well and by now nearly every person between 18 to 35 T-years and without a family of their own was armed. Volunteers were also accepted and many women and older persons joined as well. This was to be a war for survival and they wouldn’t stand idly by. The Stoinians didn’t need much training as their military training program in school had trained them to defend their own land. More experienced imported troops were given field promotions to guide the conscripts for the worst. Without a doubt, all members of society were feeling the tension. This would also be a test for the Spire cities, which were most common on Cornucopia. Their defences were vast, but would they serve the Stoinians well in a ground invasion? Not even the Velutarians had achieved to launch their ground troops on Cornucopia, but many feared that the Venterrans would.

Spire Cities reaching will into space, serving as space elevators for the evacuating populace.

 Field Marshal Valto “Wall” Häkkinen was the appointed commanding officer of the Cornucopian ground forces. A respected veteran from the Velutarian War and second to Grand Marshal Grant during the Mardakii Campaign, Valto has gained the nickname “the Wall” for his actions and defensive tactics. In the Velutarian War he held the planet of Martinique in the Tozorian Sector for the Stoinians and protected the planet and its civilians like a wall. He also defended his position during the First Mardakii Crusade when the enemy had launched a massive counterattack to Stoinian firebases on Oporon. He was a renowned defensive military strategist and it’s because of that reason that the Stoinian High Command had assigned him to defend Cornucopia. Luckily his home of Ignis was close by and it had only taken him a day to arrive. All ground operations were his responsibility and coordinated with the fleet to fortify the planet, but it became clear that if the fleet was to retreat, it was up to the Wall to defend Cornucopia. To inspire his freshly conscripted recruits he held a televised conference where he held a speech.
 The rather old man, somewhere in his early 60’s, appeared in his Field Marshal uniform as sternly and proudly as any officer of that rank. Though he didn’t wear his medals, which peeked the interest of many. There was a good reason for it however…

Field Marshal Valto “Wall” Häkkinen on a terrace while giving his speech.

 - “My fellow Stoinians. I stand here proudly before you as your new Commander. We all know that the circumstances for this occasion aren’t fortunate. However, I am proud to see that the Stoinian Spirit still lives on and that so many of you have answered the Lion’s call. We may not know what drives these Venterrans to kill one of their own. It is here that we, Stoinians, will be forced to face the possibility which is deemed unthinkable. To fight and kill other Terrans. Their zealous and ferocious acts have revealed however that perhaps there is such a thing as a barbarian Terran. It pains me to say this, but we must assume this possibility. But we are Stoinians! We don’t falter against xenos and we have conquered the stars in search of a New Stoinian Order! We have conquered the stars to bring the Light of Terra to the stars in a sea of darkness filled by barbarian races! We have done so time and time again and if other Terrans wish to face our wrath, then so be it. We are forged in fire and will do everything to keep the flames burning. At nothing will we stop, at nothing will we rest for we face the threat of extinction again. The Stoinian Lion has only one answer to that call: Roar once more! Ever prouder and ever stoic, let them come… But we will hold the line! For we don’t do this for our glory, that’s why I stand here before you without my decorations. They mean nothing compared to our will to survive and we will face it together. Commanders and Privates, we all stand together like a wall and none will break it! Whatever comes through that wormhole, we will face it and repel it from our lands!”
 The speech had uplifted many worried spirits, they now believed in their Commander. The following days the Cornucopian Defence Command (CorDefCOM) gave out defensive instructions for all citizens and giving munitions to fight. For every Stoinian knew how to fire them, thanks to their military school programs. The population was ready, whatever may come through that wormhole. The planetary shield generator was at an all time ready, for when the enemy would pass through the wormhole it would activate itself and cut off any transportation to and from the planet. It was on the fourth day that Häkkinen got a message from Grand Admiral Corvousier.
 - “Field Marshal, the Venterrans have arrived. We’ll protect the civilians as much as possible, but if worse comes to worse… God’s strength, Field Marshal.”
 - “And Godspeed to you, Grand Admiral. Open a planetary wide channel. All hands, this is Field Marshal Häkkinen, the Venterrans have just arrived through the wormhole. The last civilian transports will be launched, but after those the planetary shield will be activated. We must prepare ourselves to hold the line.”
 Neither fear or panic was to be seen in the streets of Cornucopia. They all knew they could have paid this price long ago during the Velutarian War. What could one do when facing death, except to smile back? That was a firm Stoinian believe instilled by the Philosopher-King of old. The military programs which replaced physical education at schools had prepared them for this moment. All their live choices would eventually bring them to face the gates of hell, but how many would return from it?
 As the Venterrans arrived 10 AU’s away, the Stoinian Defence Fleet put itself between the escaping civilian ships. Ready to engage their long range weapons at the first sight the Venterrans would enter their range. This time they were determined to make a stand. The many defence platforms too were filled with large MAC-cannons designed to blast cruisers to pieces. The planetary shield ready to be activated at a moments notice and seal the fate of Cornucopia. All Stoinians had but three words in their minds…
 So it begins…

Combined Fleet of Relentless Appraisal, Fleet of Merciful Restraint, Wako System 3 hours before detection

 Fleet Admiral Mayfeld sighed softly to himself as the first wave of the invasion fleet led by Commander Pryde entered the wormhole 4 days after his initial attempt to pursue the retreating Stoinians was put on hold to reorganize the 82nd, 83rd, 99th, 201st, and 501st strike fleets into the Combined Fleet of Relentless Appraisal. The 5 Strike fleets totaling 25,000 warships were his to command temporarily.
  Mayfeld made sure that the 4 Fleet Commanders understood their roles, but only two Fleet Commanders, Rath al Pryde and Sagan Reklez, expressed their eagerness to follow the will of the Venterran High Command and request to be part of the Vanguard. The other 2 Admirals, Akira Kensei and Seras Yamrahai, expressed concern with the decision and were somewhat reluctant to be following the High Command’s directive. Mayfeld speculated that their reluctance was due to their “troubled” relationship with the High Command resulting from the 2 Admirals participation in the disastrous Wako Incident. Despite this troubled relationship with the High Command, Mayfeld still trusted the Veteran Admirals to get their tasks done and follow his orders.
  Mayfeld made sure to extensively monitor the Stoinian defensive preparations with the long range probes he dispatched frequently alongside debris from the destroyed Stoinian vessels to conceal their presence in order to increase the overall success of the invasion. The overall operation was rather simple, to send in waves of 3,000 warships every hour to put pressure on the Stoinians and gauge their response to each wave. Now all that was left was for Mayfeld was to wait patiently as the clock for the battle of Cornucopia ticked forward…

Battle of Cornucopia Vanguard, Fleet of Divine Wrath, VNS Tip of the Spear

 Commander Pryde smiled, his fleet was positioned 10 AU away from what he perceived were a fleet of Stoinian Warships and “supply ships” retreating from the system. He was outnumbered 2 to 1, but the Ship’s AI, Io, surmised that the Stoinians would not willingly leave the defensive cover of their orbital platforms to engage the Divine Wrath or leave the “supply ships” undefended.
 - “They seem a bit too cautious for my tastes…” muttered the Commander as he opened a fleet wide channel.
 - “Men,” his voice boomed across the intercoms across the fleet. “Today is a day of Glory for the Federation! We, the Fleet of Divine Wrath, have been granted the honor of the Vanguard! To be the First to engage these ‘Terrans’ in Glorious Combat and the first to display the power of the Federation! I trust all of you to do your duty and brave whatever tricks they throw upon us… but if you happen to find yourself in the halls of Ceres or in the ethereal skies of Terramin when you should be in the midst of combat, do not fret for you are already dead and have fulfilled your roles spectacularly. Long Live the Federation and Good luck and may Victory bless you all!” Pryde then grinned as he ordered, “Fleet, in-system jump on my mark. 3…2…1… Mark!”
 The space around the fleet of Divine Wrath crackled mightily as they disappeared into the inky void of the slipspace portal.

The disappearance of the Fleet of Divine wrath only lasted for a few seconds as the space around the Stoinian vessels and orbital defense platforms crackled to life. The distortion was again barely noticeable in the inky black void as it continued to crackle and shift matter forming a small sphere, which collapsed in on itself before it released a violent shockwave around the Stoinian vessels and platforms, damaging some, disabling or destroying others with some vessels even swallowed by the massive spheres created by the exiting Venterran warships who opened fire upon the Stoinian vessels as soon as they exited the Slipspaced portal. Venterran Fighters screaming into the void as the launched immediately after their motherships exited slipspace, targeting enemy fighters and stoinian gun and plasma batteries that roared to life firing a counter volley against the Venterran warships. The dropships hurtling towards the enemy vessels and platforms to deposit their complement of shock troops no matter the cost.
 The chaotic battle for Cornucopia has begun…

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Battle of Cornucopia,
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

 Hell had broken loose, but the Stoinians were prepared for it. Corvousier suspected that the first wave was but a testing fleet. Its size was indeed unsettling, but they had the numerical advantage and support of the defensive platforms. The Stoinian fighters were deployed as soon as the Venterran fleet had left the wormhole, however, they hadn’t anticipated in an in-system jump. Even the Velutarians didn’t use such tactics with their slipspace engines. The MAC canons from the larger ships were loading, but the sudden disappearance of the Venterrans had helped them in a way. Now up close, the MAC rounds fired up close and shattering smaller Venterran destroyers. If this was to become an up close fight. Then so be it!
 - “Fleet Section One and Two, continue defending the remaining fleeing civilian ships. Defensive grids, focus MAC rounds on Venterran battleships. Batter them with all that you’ve got. All fighter wings, intercept boarding actions to our defensive platforms. Rest of the fleet initiate attack manoeuvre Bravo-November-Sierra!”
 With those orders the Stoinian starships formed three dimensional arrows. A large ship in the middle escorted by multiple screen ships. This attack manoeuvre was often called the Batter 'n Slash. It involved these attacking arrows to first batter a target with the MAC rounds from all involved ships into weak spots of the enemy ship. Then, while the screens evaded, the large ships would engage full thrusters and ram the enemy ships in hopes to shatter it and render it useless. Then the aft MAC canons finished the scattered ships with another volley. This tactic had its flaws and depended on the ship’s structural strength and shielding, but when targeting smaller ships, it proved effective. Thus the Stoinian ships started forming “hunting packs” actively destroying Venterran ships who came close to their defensive lines. The defensive platforms focused on battering the larger Venterran dreadnoughts while the packs sought their targets. The Pillar of Perseverance, using its large size, went after Venterran dreadnoughts to ram them. If the Venterrans wanted to skip the early battle where the Stoinians hammered their ships first with long distance volleys, the Stoinians would bring it up close to them.

Battle of Cornucopia

 HQ was littered with alarms and shouting. Field Marshal Häkkinen kept his cool and prepared his defences around the spaceports. The fate of Cornucopia would rest now on what happened above them. Would they have to seal themselves or would Corvousier be able to repel them? Häkkinen decided to take pre-emptive measures.
 - “Raise planetary shields after the last transport are within safety ranges. We’re going into full lockdown, alert the planet. Mobilize the Air Force, if any Venterran dropships make it past, shoot them down!”
 Thus Cornucopia shielded itself. No bullet, energy bolt or ship could enter the planet now. All its remaining 710 billion inhabitants could do was watch the sky lit up with explosions as the battle waged above them.

Battle of Cornucopia,
Cornucopia Southern Spaceport

 Since the planetary shield had been activated, the Venterrans had two choices. To actively bombard until the planetary shield failed or use the space elevators as a means to bypass the shield. However, if they believed it would be easy, they would be wrong. Cornucopia had three such elevators, the Northern, Equatorial and Southern one. The northern one was intended as bait. It had been rigged with high yield explosives, but the Stoinian ships formed around it to give it a false sense of importance. It’s goal was to lure as many Venterran ships and boarding parties around it to take it down with them. It’s controls were diverted planetside, but Marine forces were tasked to hold the boarding parties at bay until they had committed enough forces. The Equatorial and Southern Spaceports too had their failsafes. Stoinian Artillery had locked unto them and awaited the orders if the spaceport was deemed lost.
Aboard the Southern Spaceport, Major Paul Harrison was in command of Alpha Company of the 763rd EVA Battalion. A unit designated to zero gravity combat, they would be the surprise for the Venterrans. Compared to Northern Spaceport, the Stoinians intended to make the Venterrans bleed for every corner of the Southern and Equatorial Spaceports.
 - “All right men. Do not fear our enemy. They are no Terrans, they have given up their mankind when they attacked. As far as I’m concerned, they are a bunch of fucking bastards who need some good spanking. And that’s what we’ll give them. From all angles possible!”
 Alpha Company laughed at their commander. The humour had eased their tensions.
 - “Now boys, let’s show them what it means to be Stoinian! For God and King!”
 - “Ura! Ura! Ura!”

Cornucopia Southern Spaceport, one of the three spaceport and space elevators of Cornucopia.

30 minutes into the Battle of Cornucopia, VNS Tip of the Spear

 Commander Pryde observed the tide of battle closely analyzing the 3 dimensional arrow head formation of the enemy and grinned.
 - “The Terrans are smart enough to use their numbers to overwhelm the shields of our Frigates and Cruiser, although their decision to ram our vessels is questionable… Comms! Status Report on our boarding parties!”
 - “Sir, General Mykraft reports that boarding parties have successfully taken five of their orbital defense platforms and reports heavy fighting on 10 others. The General expects his divisions to take them by the time the Second Wave arrive. However, advance boarding parties may be able to land on the Southern Elevator if we fire them directly at the elevator.”
 - “I see… have the VNS Regal Knight deploy her complement of Hell-” said the Commander before he was interrupted by one of the Bridge crew, “Commander, the VNS Regal Knight’s been rammed by a Stoinian Dreadnaught, The Regal Knight’s shields and hull have held, but they’ve suffered extensive internal damage, her captain reports that they can only withstand 2 more hits before the shields fail.”
 - “What’s the nearest vessel?” mildly annoyed that he interrupted by his crew.
 - “Ours sir, the others are too busy engaging the Stoinian screens who are whittling the shields for their cruisers and dreadnaughts to ram our own vessels.”
 Commander Pryde grimaced as he roared,
 - “Damn the Rail Guns. Helmsman Full speed ahead! We’re relieving the Regal Knight and disabling that dreadnaught.
 Inform the King’s Hand to fire the Hell Divers at the nearest space elevator and and the fleet initiate the Void protocols! If they think they can ram through our ships with impunity we’ll give 'em a nasty surprise!”
 The crew fell silent for a moment as they understood that initiating void protocols would mean that if the VNS Tip of the Spear suffered catastrophic damage by an enemy ram attack then they would be engulfed by the quantum rift alongside their foe in a localized slipspace explosion destroying both vessels and those unlucky enough to be caught in the blast range.
 The Commander understood their hesitation and spoke calmly.
 - “I know many of you don’t want to be lost to the void, but we must take down the enemy. It can’t be our comrades who avenge us! The deed must be done by us, if any of our ships are damaged beyond repair by an enemy ramming attack then they drag the enemy down kicking and screaming into the void. We are the Vanguard and we can not disgrace this honor! Now show these Apes the power of the Federation!”
 The crew nodded and relayed the Commander’s orders, war is hell, but it is the vanguards role to drag the enemy further into the void…

Battle Cornucopia, King’s Hand

 The Venterran Hell Divers were the Federation’s premier EVA shocktroopers. Programmed and trained to be loyal they, embodied the Federation’s ruthlessness by taking no quarter and moving forward no matter the cost. Captain Hasega was given the honors of leading the King’s Hand’s detachment of Hell Divers and he did so with pride. When the order came for them to breach the Southern Elevator, he relished the opportunity to lead his men once more unto the breach. To experience the joy that came from the adrenaline of fight or flight. He was mad with blood lust, but so were they all. He looked at his men, all xenos of varying races, he smiled,
 - “Alright maggots, its time to go into your pods, We’ve been given the honor of taking the first stab at an enemy elevator. We don’t know what we’ll face, but I can assure you that it’ll be a fight to remember! Let us hope these so called, ‘Stoinians’ can put up a fight that we can enjoy because tonight we seize our glory!”
 The men roared with enthusiasm jumping into their pods and were fired straight towards the enemy elevator…

Battle of Cornucopia
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

 Although the battle was going well for the Stoinians, Corvousier saw the bigger picture. Five platforms had fallen into enemy hands, he couldn’t allow any more of them to fall into the enemy hands. If the Stoinians were to recapture Cornucopia, the defensive platforms would help the Venterrans have a range advantage. Something the Stoinians would make extensive use of if they were to return. NO! They mustn’t fall. It was time to finally use the traps they had if they wished to succeed against this wave of Venterrans. Corvousier suspected more would come and the current wave had to be eliminated. They still had the numerical advantage. He opened the comms to the fleet from his Admirality Command Center.
 - “Attention Stoinian Fleets, the enemy has managed to capture defensive installations. I therefore order their immediate retreat. Authentication Code: Charlie-Zero-Zero-Six-Niner-Four. All platforms abandon ship, nearby vessels pick them up before the Venterran fighters pick them off. Rest of the fleet, we’re going for phase 2. Form defensive perimeters around the space elevators. Group Delta, prepare for Alexander’s Manoeuvre. Godspeed to all of you.”
 Corvousier looked at the large hologram displaying his forces. The Stoinian ships no longer began to flicker around, but slowly moved to form a defensive perimeter around the space elevators. Even those had begun to be boarded and the Stoinians were forced to rearrange their formation. The Stoinians Fleets were assigned to a group that formed the perimeter of each space elevator. Group Delta was assigned to the Northern Spaceport, when Corvousier would give his signal, they’d jump out of the system. Then re-enter realspace just outside the system, presuming that Venterran tech wouldn’t detect them that far out, and re-emerge the battle from behind and pierce the Venterrans from behind. However, the time spent just outside the system would be so small that any meaningful detection could be discarded.
 The defensive platforms too switched strategies. They were to be abandoned while their self destruction systems began the countdown. The Stoinians wouldn’t leave anything to help the Venterrans if they had any say in it. Venterran fighters adapted and started to target the escape pods, but most would be saved. When all pods had launched from the platforms, either in mere seconds or minutes, they exploded. Taking the Venterrans with them, the Stoinians made it clear that the Venterrans would have to bleed much if they wish to exterminate the Stoinians.
 Corvousier continued and saw that what he had suspected to be a Venterran flagship to gain speed. Had they begun to use the same tactics? As a veteran of the Velutarian War, he knew that slipspace ruptures could be harming the Stoinian ships. Was the madman doing such a things? Corvousier’s assistant then showed a datapad. No word or anything was spoken, but Corvousier read the datapad and understood why.
Mon Dieu… Aide-moi de ce cauchemar.

Battle of Cornucopia
Cornucopia Southern Spaceport

 Major Harrison and Alpha Company were tasked to protect the spaceport from boarding parties. The Venterrans had come sooner than expected. Their pods had large spikes which were able to cut through the multiple layers of Stoinian armour. The Venterran Hell Divers had free reign the first few minutes, but then the 763rd EVA Battalion finally caught up with them. Alpha Company was sent at the brunt alongside Stoinian Marines. Through the corners the Stoinians began to pin down the Venterrans, but they had not expected the sight they first saw when they turned the corner facing the Venterrans. Multiple xenos fought alongside the Terrans. The Ryccians had showed the Stoinians it was possible, but they hadn’t expected them to fight alongside their age old enemy. From the depths of hell their mortal enemy had returned again. The Mardakii were here! Fighting alongside Terrans!
 Although trained to remain focused, some Stoinians were shocked but were easily shot down by the Venterrans. Rage and fear overtook the Stoinians’ minds. How could this have happened? What sort of devilry were the Venterrans up to? Major Harrison understood the turmoil, but he decided there was no time for it. His troops formed behind bulkheads at the cross-section.
 - “Boys, looks like it’s our turn for the Great Hunt! Our ancestors are looking upon us now. Do not fear them, if they defeated them so shall we! We all saw the vids, up close, climb and knife them in their necks. Bayonet charge after grenades. Give them hell.”
 The Stoinians fixed their bayonets and kept their knives at the ready. Like their ancestors before them, they would face the Mardakii with the same courage as in Sayed’s Charge. They had superior armour now and the experience. Harrison wanted to scatter the Venterrans if possible, just so to stall them. That was his ultimate goal.
 - “Launch grenades!”
 The Stoinians threw their grenades towards the Venterrans to blind and to soften them up. A few smoke grenades were launched as well to give them a bit of cover. Then the order came and with it the Stoinians screamed with complete bloodlust. Shoulder to shoulder the ran towards the Venterrans, firing rounds as they approached them. They wanted to exert their revenge on the Mardakii as well, who would become the major targets of the Stoinians. Perhaps the Venterrans would be shocked to see how proficiently the Stoinians would kill their tallest species. Or the bloodlust of the Stoinians once they decapitated a few of the Mardakii and throw the heads back at the Venterrans. Stoinians aimed to be a stoic people overall, but when it came to the Mardakii, no mercy was to be given.
 - “CHAAAAAAAAAAARGE! Shed their blood for our ancestors!”

Paragon Sector,
Stoinian Foreign Legion Headquarters

 Lieutenant General Keenan Koeremoer was enjoying his break behind his desk. After about a month, the Legionnaires were now well entuned with basic training. Although a few incident forced the Stoinians to make an example of Ryccian supremacists. 200 of them had been put before a firing squad of xenos. Speciesism and racism had no place in the Legion and the new Legionnaires understood that message loud and clear that day. The Foreign Legion was a diverse bunch. Not only because of its many species, but by motivations as well. Some wanted to escape from past crimes or they were too heavily indebted in their nation of origin while others saw this as an opportunity to gain honour. Nonetheless, here they were and it was Koeremoer’s job now to forge these lads into a new fighting force. Like his forefather, the legendary Col. Koeremoer, the founder of the Stoinian Army, he was now in charge of making an army. He wanted the Legion to become as fierce if not even fiercer than the Marine Force. The Mandalorians had proven themselves thus far and would form a pillar for the Legion. Just about now the Legion’s command to begin dividing the Regiments and Battalions. He had some ideas, but he would receive the needs of the Star Kingdom sooner than expected.
 The viewscreen on his desk chirped.
 - “Incoming message from Grand Marshal Tharal Grant. Priority Code: Zero.”
 Koeremoer didn’t know what to think. That kind of code was only used for the most dire of situations. He hadn’t heard it since the Velutarian War, something wasn’t right. Especially since it was the Old Bulldog, Grand Marshal Grant himself. He clicked on a button and the Grand Marshal appeared on his screen.
 - “Sir, what can I do for you?”
 - “Lieutenant General Koeremoer, I have some news you might be surprised to hear.”
 - “Ah, how could that be?”
 - “You know we are at war with the Venterrans now. They have entered the Cornucopia system and Grand Admiral Corvousier is fighting them there as we speak. The Royal War Council is making strategies for possible outcomes. We intend to make them pay for every inch of space. However, we’re also planning on ways to liberate Cornucopia. Though recent reports have indicated some worries.”
 - “I’m all ears, Sir.”
 - “Reports indicate that the Venterrans are in fact aligned with the Mardakii.”
 A brief pause overtook the room. Koeremoer didn’t believe it. His own kind fighting side by side with the Stoinians’ sworn enemy? What had the Stoinians done wrong to bring this cursed situation upon themselves?
 - “Are you certain, Sir?”
 - “Quite so, Lieutenant General. I know that you’re eager to manifest the Foreign Legion’s reputation. It seems that fortune is smiling upon you, I was thinking of recommending the Foreign Legion to help eventually retake Cornucopia as it appears they will be on their own for a while before we can liberate them.”
 - “How much time do you expect before we can retake Cornucopia?”
 - “The shield could hold for months with the current number of Venterran ships, but I fear that they are still holding back their forces and their initial wave is just to test our tactics and strength. The Old Dreadnought is giving them hell, but I fear he’ll be forced to retreat. If the Venterrans decide to push further into our territory, I don’t think we can hold them off as our fleets aren’t yet in range. At the soonest, I expect we can liberate Cornucopia in six months.”
 Six months, plenty of time to train the Legionnaires. Yes, he would do it. He would grant the Legion this honour.
 - “In that case, Sir. I’d like for the Stoinian Foreign Legion to volunteer in the liberation of Cornucopia when the time comes, Sir. They’ll be in shape by then.”
 - “Duly noted, Lieutenant General. I expect updates every two weeks from you. I’m sure if anyone can make an army out of that rabble, it must be a Koeremoer. Good luck, Lieutenant General.”
 - “Yes, Sir!”
 Just like that the Old Bulldog disappeared. The stakes had risen now, but the Legion needed a goal to function and that is what Koeremoer would give them now. Morale was still low because of the Ryccian supremacists incident, but this might just help them get back on track. Without a doubt, he gave the order to assemble the Legion. He left his desk and in about ten minutes the Stoinian Sergeant Majors had drilled the Legionnaires up in formation. The whole Legion stood below Koeremoer as he looked over them from the balcony. 42.000 individuals stood in front of him. It still amazed him how much that actually meant. As time progressed the numbers of men to able to hold a planet had grown exponentially, let alone an entire Star Kingdom. The true scope of the Army at large was nearly unthinkable, but Koeremoer hadn’t yet grown accustomed to having so many under his direct command. The Legion was silent, awaiting for the reason why they had been assembled. It had only happened once during this time of day so the Legionnaires were perplexed.
 - “Legionnaires!”
 - “Sir! Yes, Sir!”
 - “A great terror has befallen the Stoinian Star Kingdom. You may not know, but a recent discovery of a wormhole in the Cornucopia system, and subsequent contact with a hostile star nation, known as the Venterran Federation, has lead to our Kingdom to declare war. Gentlebeings, we are at war!”
The Legion murmured, but the Sergeant Majors were swift to keep the silence.
 - “I’m told that the Venterrans are Terrans just as I and many of you. Not only that, but they have aligned themselves with the sworn enemy of all Stoinians: the cursed Mardakii. Those names may not say much to you, but in time they will. We Stoinians never fathomed the idea that we’d have to fight our fellow Terran brethren. But many of you aren’t limited by such fears. No, my dear Legionnaires. You fear nothing, not even death itself. For you are already dead! This is the opportunity that will define each and every one of you. This war with the Venterrans will forge you into the most ruthless Legion this Star Kingdom has ever known. Just recently I volunteered this very Legion to be amongst the first units to help liberate the planet of Cornucopia from these intruders! The honour will be ours!”
 Some of the Legionnaires began to shout Kote, the Mandalorian word for glory. Their enthusiasm for war was unlike anyone else’s. Koeremoer smiled upon his men.
 - “Indeed, glory awaits us all. But before we claim that glory, we still have much to do. My superiors have told me that they expect us to fight in six months, but I want you ready in five! The past month of training was just the beginning. A mere introduction of what is yet to come. For if you truly want to claim eternal glory, you must use every ounce of strength in you to overcome your training and that of the battlefield. The following month you’ll be tested thoroughly and designated to a Battalion with its own specialization. So rise up and claim your new identity and home in the Legion. For the Legion! Victory is life!”
 In unison, the Legionnaires repeated their Commander. “For the Legion! Victory is life!” Then the Mandalorians again stole the show, they started to sing a traditional war song from their cultures. Vode An it was called and their fellow Legionnaires began to sing it with them or at least tried. The gesture moved Koeremoer. It had worked, the troops were motivated again. They would claim their glory.

Battle of Cornucopia, Cornucopia Southern Spaceport

 Captain Hasega and the King’s Hand Hell Divers uttered a guttural roar in response to Stoinian’s
 - “CHAAAAAAAAAAARGE! Shed their blood for our ancestors!”
Their bloodlust on full display as the Hell Divers charged forward undaunted by the enemy grenades and fire. The hallway soon became the site of a bloody clash of will, plasteel/steel, plasma and lead, with neither side willing to give up an inch of the facility. The Hell Divers were equipped with personal defense shields in addition to their power armor to deal with enemy fire and explosives, but it didn’t matter in the course of the brawl as the shields could be overwhelmed at any unexpected moment in the heat of battle. Stoinian, Venterran and True Venterran blood was spilled on that hallway as the Hell Divers forged a bloody path forward slowly pushing the Stoinians back.
 Captain Hasega was personally impressed by the Stoinians who managed to decapitate a few of his troopers once their shields were overwhelmed and use their heads as makeshift projectiles to throw back at the Venterrans. However, he too repaid the favor by tearing the spine from a wounded Terran soldier and throwing it back at them in defiance while laughing maniacally. His troopers followed suit despining some of their fallen enemies and using their bones as a makeshift throwing club. The Helldivers made a concerted effort in conserving their grenades until they were heavily injured, opting to use them as a suicidal option to take down as many Stoinians with them as possible. Captain Hasega paused briefly, as his men pushed on, to salute the corpse of a Hell Diver whose heart was bayoneted by a deceased Stoinian soldier who in turn had his torso pierced by the Dead trooper’s arm.

Cornucopia Orbital Defense Platform Redesignated “Delta”, Battle of Cornucopia

 General Mykraft reviewed his datapad’s combat information as his combat engineers feverishly analyzed their prize, the 20th Stoinian Orbital Platform whose self destruct sequence was terminated in the nick of time. His Ground Corps had successfully taken 20 Stoinian orbitals, but as he feared the Stoinians had some tricks of their own. “Damn… we’ve lost 3 landing waves” He muttered as the pad reported the loss of 36 boarding parties as a result of the self destruction of the remaining 12 Stoinians Orbital platforms. His peers would have thought that he crazy to care about the landing waves, but he was thinking of the overall battle. The more troops and frontline officers survived and gained experience, the more likely they were to adapt to the Terran tactics and this war was likely to drag on for sometime and the Federation would need ‘Terran specialists’ to bolster their ranks.
 Mykraft looked down at his gauntlet and sighed as he inputted the commands to contact the Tip of the Spear,
 - “Tip of Spear, this is Delta, come in Tip of Spear.”
 - “This is the Tip of the Spear General, we hear you loud and clear, sir.” responded a comms officer.
 - “Good. Tell Commander Pryde that the lads and I have seized control of the 20th orbital platform and we’ll use it against Stoinians. In the meantime, I would advise against sending the men of the Divine Wrath into the enemy Space Elevators until we get a full scale scan of the enemy structures.”
 - “Why?” a second voice could be heard in response to the question.
 - “Commander Pryde, a pleasure to finally hear your voice sir, this is General Mykraft of the Fleet of Merciful Restraint.”
 - “The Pleasure is mine General, tell me, why do recommend against deploying troops into their elevators?”
 - “Commander, the Enemy is willing to destroy their own defense platforms than fight to the last man-”
 - “A cowardly decision” interrupted the Admiral.
 - “Well, that so called cowardly decision destroyed 3 landing waves across 12 platforms sir. Their decision to rig these platforms with failsafes shows that these Terrans aren’t to be underestimated. If we are to take the space elevators it must be done after a reconnaissance mission.” Responded the General.
 - “You’re right, but I’ve already deployed the Hell Divers from the King’s Hand who are conducting aggressive reconnaissance on the Southern Elevator, they’ll be reinforced by the Hell Divers in the Regal Knight once I’ve peeled the enemy Dreadnaught away from her… However, I’ll defer to you and avoid sending troops to the other 2 elevators for now. The Second wave should arrive within the next 10 minutes and we’ll seize the this system from them.”
 - “Understood sir, Mykraft out.”
 Mykraft then sighed again as he looked over at the engineers.
 - “Status report?”
 One of the engineers responded.
 - “Platform defenses are fully operational and in our hands sir, whenever you’re ready we can coordinate with the other platforms to fire volleys at the Stoinians reorganizing themselves.”
 - “Do it…”

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Battle of Cornucopia
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

 - “Dammit, they aren’t they the bait. Then we shall make them! Group Delta, initiate Alexander’s Manoeuvre on my mark. Scatter in all direction, appear to be fleeing! 13th Flotilla follow suit and scatter before re-entering the battle, give them your best deception.”
 He looked again at the holomap. No, the Venterrans had taken too many defence platforms. He had to do something about it.
 - “All dreadnoughts, fire on the remaining and enemy defence platforms with our MAC rounds. We’re not going to leave any of them to the Venterrans.”
 After a quick readjustment, the dreadnoughts began to pierce their own defence platforms. Even the ones where the losing fight was still fighting on. Most of these platforms had sustained heavy fire and their shields were no longer able to absorb the MAC rounds. A handful of them were destroyed or rendered useless. That’s when Corvousier gave the order to initiate Alexander’s Manoeuvre. Group Delta and the 13th Flotilla in Group Beta then jumped to FTL from the battle, scattering in all directions. They would return when Corvousier gave them the signal, but for now most Venterrans might think they were beginning to retreat. The shields of the northern space elevator were still up inhibiting any meaningful scanning. It was a perfect lure now for young Venterrans seeking glory to come after it and claim it for the Federation. However, when just enough ships would be near it, planetside controls would detonate it and taking all ships within 70 km with it.

Battle of Cornucopia,
Cornucopia Southern Spaceport

 Captain Williams of the Marines fought alongside Major Harrison. He had joined him in the charge, but even they didn’t expect for the Venterrans to use Stoinian spines against them. This war would be on a whole new level. That much was clear now. A Terran against Terran in the most brutalist forms of combat. Seeing the horrors and the tactical disadvantage Harrison argue with Williams. The halls were filled with the stains and stench of blood. Terran, Venterran, Mardakii and other xeno’s blood mixed together forming pools on the Stoinian metal.
 - “Captain, we can’t this position for long. We need to put some distance between us and the enemy.”
 - “Sir, nearly the entire station is filled with these corridors. We need them to bleed for every inch.”
 - “If I were a Marine I’d agree. But I’m from the 763rd EVA, once we have enough room to manoeuvre, we’ll hit them hard. I suggest we fall back to cargo room a few corners back. There we can show them our speciality. Have your men stay near the eastern entrance. I have a plan in mind.”
 - “Aye, Sir. On it!”
 Both the Stoinian Marine and Army forces started to slowly retreat towards the cargo room, continuing to spray rounds after rounds. As they ordered their men to fall back, Harrison clicked on his comm to Station Command.
 - “Station Command, this is Springbok. Do you copy”
 - “Affirm Springbok. What’s your status?”
 - “We’re retreating towards cargo room B-234. The Venterrans are proving fiercer than thought. We’ll make our stand in the cargo room, but I have an idea.”
 - “Shoot it, Springbok.”
 - “My Company is equipped to fight in zero g environments. Can you divert the controls of cargo room B-234’s grav plating to me?”
 - “B-234, confirm.”
 - “Affirm, B-234. Is it possible?”
 There wasn’t a direct response and Harrison fired a few more rounds whilst retreating.
 - “Engineers are looking into it. I’ll put you through to them.”
 - “Affirm. While you’re at it, monitor our location and close the blastdoors to give us some time to prepare.”
 - “Affirm. We’ll be looking at the cameras.”
 - “Don’t be afraid to cut a few of these blasted Mardakii with those doors. Springbok, out!”
 Harrison then turned to his men who still were holding their ground.
 - “Fall back you sons of bitches! Fall back if you still wanna fly!”

Battle of Cornucopia, VNS Tip of the Spear

 The Tip of the Spear shuddered from a barrage of an enemy dreadnaught. Her Batteries returning fire in a torrent of plasma and kinetic fire. Commander Pryde grimaced as he watched an enemy arrowhead formation of the enemy reinforce the enemy Dreadnaught they were engaging.
 - “What is the status on the Regal Knight?”
 - “Sir She’s successfully broken away from the enemy and her captain thanks us for the assistance.” responded a Comms officer.
 - “Good… Maintain Fire on the enemy formation and prepare boarding parties against the enemy formation. If the Enemy wishes to ram us, Then we’ll hit them head on and make them regret taking on the Tip of the Spear!”

Battle Cornucopia, King’s Hand Hell Divers

 The Hell Divers tore through the enemy with renewed vigor as they heard the Terran orders to fall back. The Hell Divers roared at the Terrans hoping that they would stand and fight and not end the “good times”. The Enemy rearguard fought desperately and courageously, but in the end they were cut down by the relentless blood lust of the Hell Divers. Nonetheless, their actions allowed the Terrans to retreat into what appeared to be a cargo room and seal it off before the Hell Divers could continue their bloody charge in.
 Taking this brief pause in the fighting to rest, Captain Hasega looked at his men and grinned.
 - “Today is a good day to die, isn’t it!?”
 His men responded with a hearty “Aye Sir!” as they looked at the blast doors that stood between them and their prey.
 - “Well, then we should meet it with a grin, Trooper, set charges to the blast door, we’re breaching in ten minutes, in the meantime, we will resupply our munitions from our fallen comrades and charge in soon after.”
 The Hell Divers salute and move to accomplish their tasks…

10 Minutes Later Cornucopia Southern Spaceport

 - “Breaching in 3… 2… 1… Go! Go! Go!” shouted a Hell Diver as the blast doors of Cargo Room B-234 were destroyed.
 The Blast of the charges sent shrapnel and debris into the room with the Hell Divers charging in almost simultaneously opening fire on the enemy taking cover near the entrance of the cargo room. The Hell Divers charged into the fray with renewed vigor and determination, but the enemy held firm against their onslaught. The enemy terrans continued to repel their assaults, but the Hell Divers were gaining slowly gaining ground. inch by inch the Hell divers moved closer to overwhelming their foes, but the Stoinians refused to break into a panic, their resistance growing more fiercer for every inch the Hell divers took.
 However, as the battle went on Hasega barely noticed several Terrans exiting the room. Hasega thought, ‘Another rearguard action? A-’ before he could finish his thought he felt his body lurch upwards, as though he was about to lifted off the ground. ‘No… those cheeky Terrans’ thought Captain Hasega as he understood what was about to happen. Hasega engaged his own mag boots before he shouted through the comms.
 - “Hell Divers! Engage Mag Boots NOW!”
 The Hell Divers complied activating their boots to reorient themselves as the gravity of the room shifted unpredictably. Unfortunately two Hell Divers were unable to activate their boots due to the damage sustained from the fight and were lifted up. The Men flailed helplessly above in a vain attempt reorient themselves after their jump jets sputtered from the damage incurred from the previous fire fight. They attempted to fire on the enemy but were unfortunately cut down as the personal shields soon became overwhelmed from sustained enemy fire from multiple directions.
 The Captain grimaced, as he observed the deaths of his men and howled, “CHARGE!” his rage fueled howl was echoed by his men who soon engaged their own jump jets to meet the enemy who zipped above them…

Battle of Cornucopia,
Cornucopia Southern Spaceport

 The Venterrans had breached the cargo room and solidified their position. When this became apparent to Major Harrison, he ordered Captain Williams’ retreat out of the cargo room. Captain Williams would be essential in holding the Venterrans off if they continued to attack. His first hand experience during the bayonet charge had revealed something important too. There was still hope that this war wasn’t a brotherly war at all. If that were the case, it should be reported ASAP. As of now however, it was based on barely any evidence. Harrison and his men would try to grant him as much time as they could give. When all of Williams’ men were out of the cargo room, Harrison deactivated the artificial gravity in the cargo room. Suddenly the Venterrans were slowly raising up, but were saved by their commander’s quick thinking. The difference between the Marines and the EVA troops was barely noticeable, but became quite clear when the backpacks revealed thrusters. The Stoinians used the element of surprise in their favour and even pushed around large crates towards the Venterrans or used it as cover while they flew around and above the Venterrans, picking them off from all angles. The result was utter chaos. The Venterrans quickly returned the favour and threw the crates which had squashed some of their troops back to the Stoinians accompanied by their own charge. As the bayonets now clashed again, shaking from the explosion of grenades, blood from all species spatting in all directions, the Venterrans eventually won the upper hand. That much had become apparent, but Harrison had given them a good run for their money and bought time for Williams.
No, not like this! Goddamn bastards come here! I’ll kill you myself, even if I’m the last man standing! Rage took over Harrison and as he dodged bayonet strikes after strike, he was not going into the night without the fight. It may have been the end, but he was determined to make it his finest hour. When his bayonet was thrown to spin around in the zero-g environment, he turned to his combat knife. Grabbing the bayonet of a Mardakii that was charging at him full speed, he slingshot himself on its back. Getting a hold around him with hit legs and left arm hooked, he kept stabbing with his knife until the Mardakii’s shield had failed. Then with one swift strike, he sliced the knife horizontally in the beast’s neck. Cut off from air and stabbed in the major artery, the Mardakii gasped for air only for its lungs to be filled with its dark red blood. The wound had painted Harrison too and nearly his entire visor was red now. After wiping his visor he turned to the Venterrans and noticed he was the last man standing. It was then when his rage took over as he called the Venterrans out. He didn’t care if they understood, but he would seize this moment. Perhaps a rare moment where the Venterran troops mysteriously showed respect to their adversary. Considering the previous fighting where heads and spines were thrown, it seemed like magic.
 - “What now eh?! Lost your will and guts?! I’ll be sure to make a coat from your friend! You hear me?! My ancestors are smiling upon me Venterran! Can you say the same?! For the King!”
 Harrison leaped forward and was prepared for a final bayonet charge, but surprisingly, the Venterran in front of him dodged him. Kicked his knee in Harrison’s stomach and battered his head with the butt of his rifle. The fighting of the cargo room was now over, but the battle for the space port had just begun.

Battle of Cornucopia,
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

 The Venterrans were cautious. Corvousier took note of their tactics and concluded more subtle traps needed to be used. The Stoinians had plenty of such manoeuvres by now, 16 T-years of war against a technologically superior enemy tends to bring the best out of one’s military. However, they’d need to rotate their tactics so the Venterran commanders wouldn’t get used to them and effectively counteract them. Corvousier looked again at the numbers of the Venterran ships and his own. The battle was indeed turning in their favour. 4.600 of his own were actively orbiting Cornucopia while Group Delta was still feigning their retreat all the while the Venterrans had 1.500 ships left. Half of them were destroyed, this did bring a smile on the Old Dreadnought’s face. However, a young Ensign, one of his Admiralty staff, spoke up amidst the fireworks of blue and red dots moving and disappearing on the holoprojector.
 - “Admiral, incoming message from Captain Williams of the 317th Marine Battalion on board CSS is requesting a direct link with us. He’s using code Alpha-Zero-Zero-Zero, Sir.”
 Normally a mere Captain couldn’t speak to the highest echelons of the military, but sometime times were more drastic or the chain of command was shattered. To circle around this problem, code Alpha-Zero-Zero-Zero was inaugurated to signify great importance which otherwise would take too long to process through the chain of command. This code was never used lightly and Williams hoped that he wouldn’t face a reprimand for the situation. Corvousier nodded and looked sternly at the Captain as his projection appeared.
 - “Captain.”
 - “Grand Admiral. I’m sorry to interrupt, but I suspect something about the Venterrans that I thought you should hear. Aside from the fact that they fight alongside the Mardakii.”
 - “Go ahead Captain, we have a battle to win.”
 - “Aye, Sir! Sir, I think the Venterrans might not be what they seem. Hear me out. When we charged at them with our bayonets, their bodies seemed to hold them off.”
 Corvousier raised an eyebrow and looked concerned at the Captain. Was this all?
 - “Please elaborate. You do understand that mere speculation isn’t worth of coda Alpha-Zero-Zero-Zero, Captain.”
 - “With all due respect Sir, when you’re facing the Mardakii again you don’t care much about a potential reprimand.” There the Captain had a point, something that Corvousier had forgotten sitting safely aboard his ship while it cut through Venterran cruisers. “It was an odd sensation Sir. We’re trained at stabbing Terran-mimicking dolls which simulate our anatomy, but the Venterrans felt different. It was as if their bones were pushing our bayonets back again, reflecting as if they were shields. I also saw Venterrans die from being stabbed in seemingly weird angles which wouldn’t kill a normal Terran Sir.”
 - “So what are you suggesting, Captain?”
 - “I don’t know, Sir. I’m no biologist, but maybe there’s a chance they aren’t Terran. If so, even if there’s the slightest chance, we should fi-”
 - “Captain!”
 - “Sir, they’ve breached the door. We’ll try them off here. Williams out!”
 The coms cut off and Williams disappeared facing the Venterran Hell Divers again as the new first line of defence for the Cornucopia Southern Spaceport. Corvousier muttered to himself. God’s speed Williams! Then another alarm flared turning the holoprojector all red. When Corvousier looked at the holoprojectors again. It had become clear. A new wave of another 3.000 Venterran ships had arrived. The Venterrans had lost nearly all of their defence platforms and their ships were beginning to crack from all the ramming. Corvousier contemplated his options and decided the fate of the battle. He’d bring the knowledge he had gathered here to the War Council and counter the Venterrans properly. That would bring the quickest victory for his people. Besides, he was the nearest highest military commander and the importance of the Chain of Command had been marked from the Velutarian War. He opened the fleet coms to Group Delta again.
 - “Delta, this Pillar of Perseverance, turn around and abort Alexander’s Manoeuvre. We’ll need you to pierce openings for us to escape in.”

Wave 2

 Fleet Commander Yamraiha grimaced as her SAI, Al, listed the casualties of the first wave.
 - “Of the Initial 3000 warships deployed by the fleet of Divine Wrath, 500 Corvettes, 250 Frigates, 250 Destroyers, 100 Cruisers, 200 troop transports, 100 Support Carriers and 50 Dreadnaughts and 50 Carriers have been lost. Meanwhile the enemy have lost an estimated 2,200 Warships of varying classes. ranging from Corvettes to Dreadnaught class warships. The enemy also appears to have lost countless supply ships, whose cargo may be the fleeing non-combatants.”
 - “I see…” Yamraiha muttered, “1500 losses to their 2200 isn’t too bad, but it could be better. Have the Fleet establish a perimeter around the Stoinians, I would have hoped that the Pryde would’ve been more conservative with his losses and allowed our wave’s long range fighters to complement his more close quarters combat style. Nonetheless, we will follow our orders and continue the attack on the defending Terran Fleet as well as cut off their escape.”
 - “Aye ma’am, relaying orders now.” Responded Al. The Fleet Commander nodded as she watched the fleet take their positions and deployed their fighters and bombers.
 - “Ma’am incoming transmission from Commander Pryde of the first wave.” said a comms officer.
 - “Patch it through” she replied tersely.
 - “Commander Yamraiha,” said Commander Pryde, “I’d like to report that the First Wave has initiated Void Protocols and are pushing the Stoinians back. We have deployed troops onto their Southern Elevator and fully seized their orbital defenses and plan to launch additional invasions into their equatorial and northern elevators once we’ve scanned their defenses. We would also request that you also deploy landing parties to these elevators in addition to your duties to contain the Terran Fleet…”
 - “I’m sorry Pryde, but no. You’ve done well in eliminating the orbital defenses, but if these Terrans are still using space elevators, then your duty is to destroy them and trap them on the planet. Their planetary shields will crack in a week once waves 4 and 5 rendezvous with the Invasion force, and we will use that week to demoralize the terrans stuck on planet. However, since you’ve deployed troops to the Southern Elevator, I will send reinforcements to collect the wounded and dead of both sides. Our eggheads are keen on understanding the anatomy of these terrans to see if they have undergone genetic augmentation like our forebears or remain exactly as our records described from over a millenia or if these terrans are a different kind of Terran, one that evolved independent from those who forced our people into exile. Let’s hope that there are some who are alive and able to discuss their history to see if their is some correlation between the Terrans the Venterra of old despise and the Terrans before us…”
 -“Understood, I will continue the assault on the enemy fleet then. I will also dispatch a Cruiser Squadron to destroy the equatorial elevator first and then the Northern elevator. I’ll see you on the other side Commander Yamraiha.”
 - “Yes… Although before you go, I will initiate contact with the Terrans in accordance with the Aggressive Appraisal Doctrine of Venterra-”
 - “But, Yamraiha, Commander Mayfeld ordered us not to contact the Terrans for any reasons.” responded Pryde. His surprise at the Commander’s suggestion poorly hidden in his response.
 - “Mayfeld may have reasons not to contact the Terrans, but it is in our interests to stall these Terrans until the Third wave arrives with Kensei’s Interdictors preventing them from leaving the system. Thus allowing us to overwhelm with numbers and superior firepower. However, Pryde I will not interfere if you continue to press the assault as I initiate contact.” said Yamraiha calmly
 Pryde growled, before he responded.
 - “Very Well, I will accept this compromise and continue the assault. Let us hope your gambit works. Pryde out.”
 Yamraiha sighed as Pryde disappeared from the view screen, ‘stubborn fool… blindly following orders isn’t the only way of getting results…’ she thought as she looked over to the bridge crew.
 - “Open hailing frequencies, and transmit the following message, 'Terrans, this is Fleet Commander Yamraiha of the Venterran Federation Fleet Pragmatic Union. Surrender Now and I may allow One of your vessels to leave the system unharmed. The rest of you will be judged for the sins your forebears committed against Venterra.”

Cruiser Squadron Gamma

 Squadron Gamma had finished destroying an enemy arrow alongside the dreadnaught, Wraith, when a transmission from Fleet Commander Pryde came in.
 - “Gentlemen, I have new orders for you. Take your squad and destroy the Equatorial and Northern Space elevators to prevent the enemy from deploying smaller space vessels capable of escaping the system. Your torpedo and bomber complements should be more than enough to deal with them. However, according to General Mykraft these terrans are rather wily and may have rigged their elevators to self destruct. So I will leave it you to engage the enemy towers at an appropriate range. Pryde out.”
 The Captains of Squadron tersely acknowledged their orders and detached from the Wraith’s fleet screen as the Wraith and her Battlecruisers moved to engage the fleet defending the equatorial tower. Meanwhile the Squadron noted that the Defenders of the Northern Tower had disappeared, but were unaware that the defenders only disappeared to initiate Alexander’s maneuver. Once Gamma Squadron slipped passed the enemy defenses they unleashed a volley of torpedoes and kinetic and plasma fire at the equatorial tower from a range of 80km.

Battle of Cornucopia Southern Tower

 Lieutenant Mavis Halsey stepped forward when the Terran uttered a desperate cry. He avoided the Terran’s charge, sidestepping and kneeing him a fluid motion before bashing the Terrans face with his rifle. Captain Hasega looked at the Lieutenant as the Terran fell and said.
 - “You should’ve stabbed him Lieutenant.” The Lieutenant smiled from his visor, “Other Terrans have been killed when I bashed their face in. Perhaps he has luck on his side if he survives.” Halsey then gestured to the door the other Terrans retreated through, “Shall we Captain?”
 The Captain grinned and said, “Indeed, let us continue the assault.”
 Hasega then turned to a Venterran Marine reinforcement,
 - “You. Take this body, if it has a pulse, restrain it and bring it back to forward operating hangar, its dead take it to the other bodies in the forward operating hangar for the eggheads to dissect.”
 The marine silently saluted, and proceeded to carry the terran after restraining and checking its pulse.

Some Time later

 Once more the Venterran Helldivers and their Marine Reinforcements tore themselves into the Stoinian lines, they’re conviction unwavering, their morale sky high as their comrades fell to enemy fire. They adapted to the enemy tactics using the enclosed spaces to their advantage, downloading a map of the facilities to flank their enemies from another corridor. With time, and reinforcements, the station would soon be theirs and although narrow, an alternative invasion route could be secured…

Battle of Cornucopia,
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

 The second fleet was moving in now, Corvousier’s window was growing slimmer by the minute. His options were closing and he had to make a final decision. He could either stand and fight until the last breath or live to fight another day. He took a look at the holoprojector again. There were still some civilians left. The Venterrans had proven ruthless in their combat and had targeted civilian vessels. What a dishonourable bunch of Terrans these are… Corvousier also looked at the incoming message he didn’t know what to make of it. His honour was at stake and surrendering to these barbarians was no option at all. The HMS Pillar of Perseverance was built with the Stoinian spirit to survive and he wouldn’t break that spirit. He then remembered a lesson taught to all Stoinians, the stoic lessons from the Philosopher-King. Death smiles at us all and all we can do is smile back. Death was smiling on him and he sure as hell wasn’t going with him. Despite his old age, the Old Dreadnought was still cheeky from time to time. Now was a good a moment as any.
 - “Ensign! Open an open channel to the incoming message.”
 - “Right away Sir! Channel open.”
 - “To the Venterran sous-merde that insulted our honour: Va te faire foutre!”
 The gesture brought a smile on the many officers throughout the fleet. The Old Dreadnought was their leader not only through rank, but through spirit as well. He decided on his course of action as the second wave now would be more than happy to join the fight. Though as soon as they arrived within range it would become a complete bloodbath. There was one option to his satisfactory. He took one last puff from his pipe before relaying his orders.
 - “Group Alpha, time to pierce through our bubble. All Bravo-November-Sierra formations focus to pierce a hole at bearing 054-mark-014. We’re going to pierce these bastards and escape through our hole. The Pillar of Perseverance will provide cover for the civilians. Once you have a chance to escape, got for it. This battle’s over.”
 As the fleet acknowledged, he turned to the other groups.
 - “Group Beta, same game. Bravo-November-Sierra formations pierce a hole bearing 032-mark-023. Escape while you still can. Group Delta, cover Group Beta in their escape. Try to cover them from the second wave. If you can, you have 5 minutes tops! God’s speed!”
 The Venterrans, Corvousier reasoned, wouldn’t engage in another in-system jump. It would do more harm than good for their fleet engaged with the Stoinians. So his quickest and safest way to escape was the application of heavily concentrated firepower, piercing a hole from where they could escape. The Stoinian MAC Cannons had proven themselves and would get the job done. Swiftness and precision would be needed for this to be successful, the ships under his command knew this too an would make the last remaining minutes the best from the battle. When the manoeuvre was starting to go well, the Ensign called out.
 - “Sir, the Venterrans are attacking CNS!”
 - “Their distance towards the station?”
 - “80 kilometres.”
 80 km was not quite what Corvousier wanted, but well within the explosion’s radius. Since this was vacuum, the explosives would reach 200 km in their explosion. Enough to make the Venterrans bleed for their mistake. Corvousier looked at the holo again and realized it would make a good distraction. No, I won’t get a better opportunity. It’s time. Without a flinch, Corvousier tapped on his console and without hesitation detonated the explosives on the northern spaceport taking out the nearby Venterran ships.
 - “Sir, CSS has fallen. Last reports are about the Venterrans taking over the bridge and their ships are already trying to dock with it.”
 - “Were they able to send their final message?”
 - “I don’t know Sir. Coms are sealed with CorDefCOM.”
 - “Merde. We can’t spare the resources, they’ll tear Group Beta to pie-”
 It was then in the middle of his sentence that it actually started to happen. CSS was shaking and it could mean only one thing. The bridge crew had successfully alerted the planetary forces to shoot down the elevator. The ground artillery forces had fired upon the elevator just under the planetary shield and cut off the orbital section. Now it would fall towards the planet and be crushed by the planetary shields. Killing any Venterrans who didn’t make it out on time and denying their forces to use their spaceport against the fleeing Group Beta. The supporting ships of Group Delta had begun to reappear as well surrounding the space nearby Group Beta’s hole and assisting them.

Battle of Cornucopia

 With the Entry of the Second Wave the chaotic battle over Cornucopia raged with renewed ferocity on both sides. The Venterran First Wave now secure in their flanks chooe their targets firing volleys into the center of the arrow head formation while rushing forward at ramming speed. Corvettes and Destroyers zipped around the battle firing their torpedoes against their respective targets weakening the shields. Meanwhile Fighters on both sides engaged in a deadly dance of plasma and kinetic fire with bombers on both sides making their runs against the slower capital ships of their respective enemies. The ships of the First Wave and the retreating Stoinians engaged in a dangerous game of chicken firing their volleys into each other while rushing headlong at ramming speed hoping that the structural integrity of one or the other might fail in the ensuing ram. The Second wave meanwhile maintained its position filling in the holes of the first wave while fending off the Stoinian reinforcements hoping to relieve their comrades and push open a hole.

Wave 2 Battle of Cornucopia

 Commander Yamraiha chuckled as she listened to the translation of Courvousier’s message. Looking over to her AI partner, Al, she said.
 - “Well, he’s quite the colorful Terran for one who claims to have honor… A shame he was born a terran and condemned to the sins of his forebears.”
 - “Well Commander, we have no way of knowing if these Terrans are the descendants of the Terrrans that inspired great hatred from Venterra.” replied Al “Perhaps an in-”
 - “No,” The Commander replied, “We swore an oath to the Federation and the Way of Venterra. It wouldn’t matter if these terrans were directly descended from our enemies or evolved differently. What matters is that their blood be spilled to satisfy Venterra. That these Terrans fight back and earn their right to exist alongside Venterra or submit themselves to the judgement of the Venterran Federation. And our duty in this Appraisal war is to determine if these Terrans are meant to be relegated as a footnote in Venterran history or something more.”
 - “I understand Commander,” said the AI “Shall we also engage the enemy alongside-”
 A flash of light interrupted the AI as the northern elevator was destroyed in a blinding light taking destroying Gamma Squad.
 - “Ma’am the First Wave Reports the loss of Gamma Squadron, and Commander Pryde has moved to relieve the dreadnaught Wraith and her complement of Battlecruisers from what we suspect is the enemy flagship. Shall we move in to engage as well?” asked Al
 - “No, let Pryde have his moment of glory, we will maintain the perimeter, plugging in any holes caused by the shifts in the First Wave’s tactics. In the meantime… have comms respond to the Terrans with the following message.”
 - ‘Good, struggle and die well Terran. For your defiance has been noted and we will grant you and your people an honorable death. May your blood absolve your ancestors sins.’

King’s Hand Auxilary Dropship

 Captain Hasega was smiling ear to ear as the transport picked up the last of his Hell Divers who jumped into the void confident in their exosuits. The Hell Divers and Marines had suffered some casualties during the station’s destruction as falling debris pinned and separated some of the stragglers, but their purpose was fulfilled for now. The Hell Divers achieved glory in battle. The Marines recovered countless bodies and prisoners to be studied and interrogated to corroborate the word of the survivors of the initial skirmish. Now it was a waiting game for Hasega and his troops. Will he be sent back in a boarding action or will he jump down from orbit once the enemy shields go down. Only time would tell, but for now the Captain simply rested on laurels waiting with bated breath for the next chance at combat.

Battle of Cornucopia
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

 Fortune was smiling on the Stoinian forces. In the last few minutes they had started to pierce the Venterran lines and while the second wave filled in the gaps, some of the Stoinian ships had escaped. Now that Group Delta had begun to re-join the fight, two of the spaceports destroyed, there was ample opportunity for ships to escape. The Venterrans weren’t letting it go so easily and 200 more Stoinian ships were destroyed, though they had taken Venterran ships with them. As ships rammed blockading Venterran ships the remaining civilian ships, stuck in-between the fighting, escaped thanks to the sacrifices of the military ships. The holoprojector showed the Group Delta was seriously helping Group Beta to escape. Just a few more minutes of the legendary Stoinian hull’s performance and he would have secured the lives of his escaping ships.
 - “Sir, incoming dreadnought bearing 145-mark-314. They’re chasing us, Sir.”
 Corvousier looked again at the holoprojector. The Pillar of Perseverance was protecting the last civilian ships of its group and was right between them and the incoming dreadnought. There was no real choice, not against these barbarians who killed civilians without remorse.
 - “Tell the Captain to maintain formation, but alter our alignment so that our MAC cannons can fire on the dreadnought.”
 - “Yes, Sir!”
 There was a catch to this tactic however. The Pillar of Perseverance was more than able to sustain prolonged fire, but Corvousier’s heavy usage of the Pillar of Persevereance as a ramming and shielding vessel was starting to take its toll. The shields were starting to fade and if the Venterrans focused their fire on it, the ships would eventually be destroyed. Sure the ship had 18 meters of Titanium-A3 armour plating, but it had already taken its tall from the excessive ramming. The ship had sustained major structural stress. That was the bottom line and Corvousier couldn’t change that. But in the face of saving the last civilians from his group, he would gladly put his faith in the hands of the Stoinian engineers that helped built this monster under his own supervision. Suddenly he felt it, it was as if the whole ship had shaken. Swinging his entire body and throwing his pipe out of his hand. It could only mean one thing, the ship’s structure was beginning to vibrate with the firing of the MAC cannons. Corvousier retook his fallen pipe. Rather than light it up again, he decided to put it away. It’s truvacco had been spilled during the fall so there was no point to it.
 - “Sir, Captain Carneiro is asking if we should continue with firing MAC rounds. Engineering is up until his ears about it.”
 - “Continue firing and tell engineering if they can’t handle it they should turn to praying if they won’t stop complaining!”
 With Captain Carneiro, the Pillar of Perseverance’s Captain, and engineering following the Grand Admiral’s orders only fate would decide if the Pillar of Perseverance would survive.

Battle of Cornucopia,
VNS Tip of the Spear

 Commander Pryde grinned, the batteries of the Tip of the Spear returning fire, “All hands focus fire on that dreadnaught. Its survived our forces assault, but now I want the Spear to take a crack at this ship.” A deck officer responded as the bridge shook from the impact of the Stoinian railguns,.
 - “Sir, Engineering reports that despite the continued enemy rail gun fire, the firing capabilities of the enemy dreadnaught appears to be less than what the Wraith and other surviving warships have described. Perhaps its suffered far too much damage to be a worthy challenge to Spear?”
 Pryde looked unfazed as another volley was let loose on the Stoinian Warship.
 - “Nonsense, look at her,” He said gesturing to the Stoinian flagship, “she’s not focused on us at all… Instead she’s focused on those ‘supply ships’… There is no challenge or glory in destroying a wounded Warvine if it will not turn and face us. Get me Fleet Commander Yamraiha, I swore to the Commander Mayfeld that I wouldn’t contact these terrans, but Yamraiha is bound by no promises.”
 - “Understood sir.”

Fleet of Pragmatic Union

 Fleet Commander Yamraiha was busy filling in the gaps created by the battle. Her flagship super carrier, resupplied countless fighters and bombers that screamed into Group Delta. Their torpedoes slamming into the hull of the enemy vessels as the enemy responded with anti-starfighter fire. The Commander grimaced as she noted the game of ‘whack a mole’ they were engaged in since as soon as one hole was plugged another breakthrough would be made forcing her to divert ships to plug those holes. However, unlike Pryde, she noticed something was odd about the enemy retreat. Instead of prioritizing themselves, those vessels identified as military warships were sacrificing themselves for the smaller ‘supply ships’.
 - “Odd” she murmured as a deck officer spoke up.
 - “Ma’am! Priority hails from the Tip of the Spear. Your orders?”
 - “On screen” she said as she looked up at the monitor as Pryde appeared on view. “Commander Pryde, to what do I owe this transmission?”
 - “A simple request Commander Yamraiha, I’d like your help in turning the enemy dreadnaught to face me.” said Pryde
 Yamraiha smirked.
 - “Ho… Well, you could simply open comms with the enemy and ask they turn and fight instead of ask my help. I’m sure that the Terran would be more than happy to oblige?” Pryde scowled, “You know full well that I won’t break my oath to Commander Mayfeld and contact those terrans.”
 - “So? I’m busy plugging in the holes your wave has made. I’m under no obligation to help you with your blood sport Pryde. Perhaps it’d be best for you to break your word and contact the Terran?” replied Yamraiha. Pryde looked as if he was about to explode with anger, but instead he took a deep breath.  - “Commander Yamraiha, I have always been a man of my word, and I can’t break it now. Please ma’am, I…” Pryde bowed his head “Need you to help me. Please?”
 This surprised Commander Yamraiha as Officers more devoted to the Way of Venterra tended to be more Prideful and borderline arrogant when interacting with other officers. She smiled.
 - “Very Well, I’ll see what I can do. Out.” The View screen disconnected before Pryde could offer his thanks to the Commander.
 Yamraiha looked at the holoprojector to locate the Enemy Dreadnaught, Pryde’s personal squadron was engaging and smiled. Once again in the center of the enemy formation, the Commander noticed that there were smaller supply ships being protected by the enemy warships. She then looked over to the Comms officer and said.
 - “Comms, open hailing frequencies.”
 - “Aye ma’am! hailing frequencies engaged,” he responded.
 - “Stoinian Commander, this is Fleet Commander Yamraiha of the Venterran Federation Fleet Pragmatic Union. Another Fleet Commander, has issued a challenge to your Flagship. Should You accept his challenge I will allow you to evacuate the Supply ships that your Flagship is protecting. This I swear on the honor of the Federation.”

Battle of Cornucopia
HMS Pillar of Perseverance

 Corvousier couldn’t believe it. A duel of honour in the middle of battle? That was quite unheard of in the history of Stoinian naval warfare. The promise made by Commander Yamraiha didn’t carry any weight either. The Venterrans continued to fire on Stoinian civilian ships. They had proven their dishonour and he wouldn’t put the fate of the ships he swore to protect into the hands of these barbarians. He would press on, the battle was at an end. In five minutes, most of the remaining Stoinian ships would have made it. Corvousier concluded this must be some sort of stalling tactic, but it had in fact revealed a boon to the Venterran mindset. One Corvousier intended to exploit. He looked at the holomap and scanned for nearby ships.
 - “Ensign, what’s the status on the Tangaroa?”
 - “Sir, it’s bad. Shields are down and so are most of the weapons systems. It’s also flooded with boarding parties, but Captain Drache still has the helm.”
 - “Get me a line to her!”
 Corvousier had no intention of responding just yet to the Commander’s challenge. He speculated this challenger’s ship was the dreadnought chasing them. No other large ships was close in enough to make such a claim, but Corvousier wouldn’t give the Commander his satisfaction just yet. He intended to irritate the Commander not just for this battle, but the remainder of this war. He knew just the right words for it, but he’d have to stall him.
 - “Sir, commlink’s open.”
 A sketchy hologram appeared of Captain Lore Drache, a towering Nemtian woman and strong stature. Now however she was drenched in blood among flames on board her ship. The Tangaroa would no doubt last maybe just enough until the Stoinian ships would escape. Her Captain had no time for pleasantries and Corvousier prepared himself for what he was about to ask of her.
 - “Grand Admiral, your timing could use some work.”
 - “Sadly this isn’t a social call, Captain.”
 - “Well you better make it quick. The Tangaroa is barely holding up as it is.”
 - “That’s why I called.”
 Captain Drache visibly became paler as she knew what was going to be asked. She collected her emotions and repressed them just as Corvousier did.
 - “I need one last favour from you and your crew, Captain.”
 - “Anything, Grand Admiral.”
 - “When I give the signal, I want you to ram the ship chasing us.”
 A silence of a few heartbeats took over the room. The air grew cold and everyone got goosebumps from the tense situation.
 - “Yes, Sir. One last blaze of glory.”
 - “Godspeed, Tangaroa. Give them hell.”
-  “Sit nomine digna!”
 The communications then cut off. Corvousier, despite his many experiences with ordering his subordinates to die, never grew used to asking it of them. The more he had to do so, the heavier his chest became. How many more young men and women would he have to send to die? To make the Tangaroa’s sacrifice more meaningful, he had to do one last thing. He recorded a short message. Despite his emotions calling out for him to explain that these “supply” ships were in fact civilians, it wouldn’t alter the bloodlust of the Venterrans. When the battle was over, they would discover it through the remaining wreckages. He kept his temper, but wanted to plant a seed that hopefully would grow on the Venterran Fleet Commander throughout the war.

Battle of Cornucopia
HMS Tangaroa

 As the Tangaroa took another volley, the Bellator-class battleship knew it was going down. But Corvousier had asked a favour from them and they would do anything to uphold that promise. As the bridge crew extinguished the fires on the enclosed bridge, the Captain looked one last time before their final stand. This crew was the best she could have asked for and now through thick and thin, they were at the end of the road. Nowhere else to turn to but death itself. But as any Stoinian, they would do so smiling back at it.
 - “Helm, have you plotted in the ramming course?!”
 - “Aye Captain!” Ready when you are!"
 Captain Drache turned to her tactical officer.
 - “What’s the status on our weapons?”
 - “Just the MAC cannon Ma’am!”
 - “What about the boarding parties?”
 - “Ma’am… Just two corridors behind us.”
Yes… This is it. The shields were gone and if it wasn’t for the Stoinian engineering, they’d be already dead. While the hull was crippling and falling apart, it still packed enough to do one last ramming run.
 - “Divert all power to the engines.”
 - “Ma’am?”
 - “You heard me Lieutenant!”
 Another small explosion on the bridge erupted as they finally received the signal from Corvousier. So this is it.
 - “Helm, ramming speed! Open blast doors!”
 In an abrupt launch, everyone on the ship felt the kickback. What seemingly was a dying ship, suddenly became a giant rocket. Now in just 20 seconds, they would ram the Venterran dreadnought and the ship wouldn’t have enough time evade them. The blast doors which protected the bridge’s window now also opened. During battle they were always covered to protect the bridge, but Drache wanted to look death right back in the eye.
 - “Ma’am, boarding parties have reached the door.”
 - “Open them!”
 In a swift motion she then stood up and grabbed her Magnum pistol she carried from her thigh. Now facing the opening bridge door she was ready for her last stand. As she fired the rounds from her Magnum, the Venterrans coming through would be met by her bullets and the sight of the ship they boarded on its way to ram one of theirs. This was indeed a death worthy of her crew.
 The Tangaroa then rammed the Tip of the Spear, forcing it to end its chase of the Pillar of Perseverance. Just like the ancient legend she was named after, she had changed the tide. With the following chaos, the last Stoinian ships pierced through and escaped. While the reinforcing Venterran fleet still picked off some of their ships, the fact was that those still standing could take the last rounds before they jumped to warp. Out of the remaining 4.200 Stoinian ships that were present when the second wave arrived, roughly 2.800 made it out alive. More would have succumbed if Corvousier’s quick reaction had failed that day. In mere tens of minutes after the second wave arrived, the Stoinian fleet had in fact disappeared from the battle.
 However, that was not all that happened. When the Tangaroa changed its course for the Tip of the Spear, Corvousier sent an open message so that both Fleet Commanders could see his response to the challenge. Corvousier had no time now, but he made the challenger a solemn promise as the battle drew to a close:
 - “At the dusk of war.”

Tip of the spear, Cornucopia

 Fleet commander Pryde winced as he slumped back into the captain’s chair after being thrown off by the impact of the Tangaroa’s ramming attack. The ship sustained moderate damage from the ramming attack with the shields absorbing much of the impact. Pryde looked over at the bridge crew who were also returning to their posts and asked.
 - “Status of the shields?”
 - “They’re holding steady at 20% sir and cycling back to full power in 1 minute.” Responded one of the officers.
 - “I see… it seems that we dodged quite the bullet.” Muttered Pryde as he looked toward the view screen and observed the burning wreckage of the Tangaroa with a grin.
 He was impressed with the sacrifice of the enemy vessel, but mixed in with the admiration was a sense of bitterness. He was aware that some commanders will sacrifice their subordinates to save their own skins in battle. This was true for the federation as Reklez had a penchant for sending his subordinates to their deaths to cover for his hyper aggressive assaults, but it was also true of the Terrans as the crew of the enemy ship died for their flagship.
 This fact greatly vexed Pryde as he never thought that the enemy would choose to sacrifice their subordinates but would instead face him and the crew of the Tip of the Spear. The fact that the enemy commander chose to save themselves over their subordinates was something he was unwilling to forgive. Turning back to the wreckage of the Tangaroa, Pryde whispered.
 - “Your sacrifice saved your Fleet commander, but you’ve only delayed the inevitable. This ship will be repaired in a week and I will hunt down your fleet commander to the ends of this sector. This I swear on Venterra.”
 He then looked down at the crew who awaited his orders and spoke.
 - “Deploy shuttles to the wreckage and recover the survivors, I want to know who the enemy fleet commander is as well as pick up any information left over. Afterwards we will return to Federation space to repair and refuel the Tip of the Spear. You’ll have a week of r&r before we hunt down the enemy fleet commander.”
 The crew silently saluted Pryde to acknowledge his orders and began to relay the necessary orders to boarding shuttles.

Fleet of Pragmatic Union

 Commander Yamraiha sighed softly to herself as the second wave began the orbital bombardment of the planetary shields in addition to cementing their grasp on the system. The fleet did its job plugging in the holes that the first wave created, but the enemy managed to withdraw 2800 warships of various classes leaving behind a substantial debris field of Stoinian ships. Looking over at the debris field Yamraiha spoke to her ai companion, Al,
 - “It’s hard to believe that there isn’t a single Venterran wreckage from the battle.”
 - “Madam, Commander Pryde initiated void protocols preventing the enemy from being able to analyze our ships when they are effectively “destroyed” and unable to withdraw back to friendly lines.” Responded Al.
 - “I know… it’s just ironic that we leave no trace of our existence when we lose the battle when we are engaging in a war that determines whether these Terrans can continue to exist or if they are meant to be erased from the galaxy.” Replied Yamraiha dryly.
 - “Technically the enemy could still analyze our deceased soldiers from boarding parties that were lost or repelled.” said Al.
 - “That would only give them a rudimentary understanding of our technology, but they could devise weapons that could pierce our unshielded troops. And our personal shields have safeguards that prevent the enemy from analyzing its properties, by self destructing discreetly and leaving only the armor.”
 Al asked, “And our jet packs?”
 - “Now you’re just pulling equipment that the enemy already has.” Said Yamraiha.
 - “Yes, but this does prove that we Venterrans don’t truly disappear without a trace as we leave some materials behind.” Said Al.
 Yamraiha just shook her head and sighed.
 - “Perhaps you’re right, but for now, let’s start cleaning this debris field in preparation for Kensei’s invasion force.”
 - “Understood madam, issuing orders now for available ships to start clearing the debris field in addition to patrolling the system.”
 With that the invasion would soon commence…

Cornucopia System,
King’s Hand,
A few days later

 Colonel Wulf Ular yawned softly as he tapped the hardlight file of the unnamed prisoner aboard the King’s Hand. He was asked to interrogate numerous Terran prisoners from the start of the conflict and he did so as any good loyal Venterran and he fulfilled his task with remarkable zeal. He initially tested the terran interaction with the various Venterran subspecies to determine who would be the best to interrogate these Terrans, and he was not disappointed noting that the Venterran B species “Mardakii” were met with extreme hostility when they interact with a prisoner while True Venterrans and Venterran A subspecies were treated as though they were fellow Terrans. He and several colleagues also put together a class system for the terran prisoners with Class 1’s being the most collaborative and class 4 being the most unresponsive from the prisoners recovered from first contact. Now he was asked to interrogate a potential class 4 to determine not just the classified military secrets, but also any other information that can be used to verify previous interrogations. The Colonel tapped the hardlight file again and spoke into the comms.
 - “Interrogator to King’s Hand, please bring in the prisoner for questioning.”
 Major Paul Harrison was dragged in by two Venterran guards and thrown on the ground. He had fought against the different species of the Federation alongside his own men of the 763rd EVA Battalion. His resolve is what had kept him alive and he refused to say a word except his service number which he kept saying over and over again like a mantra. Now he was to face a new interrogator and he wasn’t so eager to change his stance. Not after what these bastards had done to his people. He coughed out some blood as he began to recite his service number. SRA-F05623-J48721-A8721-M/EVA/763-PH.
 The Colonel looked at the Terran and listened to the Major as he realized that the Prisoner was reciting his service number. Reciting his service number without being prompted? How interesting, Thought the Colonel as he looked towards the Terran through his helmet. "SRA F058623 J48721 A8721 M/EVA/763 PH… That Service number is rather long, What is your rank and do you have a name to go by? If you don’t want to disclose your name and rank, would you mind being referred to as your prisoner designation, Prisoner 6273?
 - “SRA-F05623-J48721-A8721-M/EVA/763-PH, Major Paul Harrison, 763rd EVA Battalion. SRA-F05623-J48721-A8721-M/EVA/763-PH, Major Paul Harrison, …”
 - “I see, Major Harrison then… please take a seat” The colonel said politely as he gestured to a comfortable chair, “If you are unable to… (he gestures to Captain Hasega and Lt. Halsey who stood behind the Major) the guards can assist you.”
 As he waits for the Major to take his seat, The colonel spoke.
 - “Major Harrison, our reports indicate that you are the last survivor of an EVA unit in the battle for the Southern Tower and that you were observed to personally take down 2 Hell Divers in hand to hand combat. An Impressive feat worthy of songs, but the same can’t be said about your comrades who’ve left you to die.”
 Harrison stood behind the chair, refusing to sit down. Despite the injuries, he still was able to stand at attention. For all he knew, he should have been dead together with his men and not enjoy any comfort offered by these Terran barbarian.
 - “SRA-F05623-J48721-A8721-M/EVA/763-PH, Major Paul Harrison, 763rd EVA Battalion. SRA-F05623-J48721-A8721-M/EVA/763-PH, Major Paul Harrison, …”
 The Colonel looked over at the two guards who shook their heads.
 - “Very well, you can at least stand at ease to reduce the discomfort of your injury, if you insist on standing. Now Major, I will take your non answer to mean that you and your unit were in fact abandoned by your comrades in a bid for them to save themselves and prolonging the inevitable. Although there is honor in death, it is… disappointing to find out that the circumstances of your units final stand was not out of Venterran Grit but of Terran Cowardice, offering up a sacrifice to save themselves. If you wish to correct the record and prove that your fellow comrades are not cowards who left your unit to die, now is your only chance”
 - “Cowardice?! If anyone befits that description it should be you, who shoots down innocent civilians. You’re not worthy to be Terran!” Harrison gave his interrogator a wild glare and actually spat towards his direction.
 The colonel chuckled.
 - “Civilians? Oh you must mean the ‘noncombatants’ we’ve recovered from the ‘supply ships’. I see… Did you have family aboard one of them? Collateral damage is expected in battle though there is no honor nor dishonor in killing a future combatant. Perhaps your navy should have done more to expedite evacuations or mustered a much larger fleet to repel the Appraisal fleet… Of course that’s neither here nor there. After all it is apparent that the Federation has been underestimated by your Kingdom, and that you and those so called civilians bore the price of that arrogance.”
 - “Insult us all you want, we have faced far worse odds. First the Mardakii then the Qoxex, Marcavani and the damned Velutarians. If you want a Crusade, we’ll make sure to bombard your homeworld barren and stripped of an atmosphere. We did that to the Velutarians and we’ll do so again if we must. Don’t tempt the Stoinian Lion for it has survived far greater threats than the cowards federation that your nation is.”
 - “Is that so, I doubt you Terrans have braved the horrors of deep space and the void between galaxies, but that’s a tale for another time. And these Mardakii…”
 The Colonel waved his hand and the door behind them hissed open revealing a Mardakii Venterran enter the room with a tray holding a pitcher of water and two clear cups.
 - “If you please,” He said to the unnamed Mardakii, who wordlessly placed the cups and poured the water into both cups and setting them onto both ends of the table.
 - “He’d make a finer carpet than a servant. Its claws fine knives too… Come to think of it, I demand the body of the Mardakii I slew. It’s my right.”
 Harrison wanted to make one thing clear to these Venterrans. To them the Mardakii may be friends, but to him, they were nothing short but prey that should be hunted down.
 The Colonel was rather intrigued as he replied
 - “A rather utilitarian but also tribal approach to the dead. Tell me do you also reuse the bones and organs of your dead or just non-Terrans like the Mardakii?”
 - “Oh just the Mardakii. But I prefer to watch them go feral first in Atonement Valley where they are hunted for sports. I hear Mardakii steak is quite good.”
 - “I see,” the colonel looked over at the Mardakii who stood at the side with the tray and pitcher and back at the Major, “It’s funny really. you would fit right in with the hell divers Major. They too seek trophies and hunt worthy opponents for sport. Some have even tried the flesh of more exotic species not just the Mardakii and yes, Mardakii steak is a delicacy for some Venterran subspecies and with the war dead, there is some renewed demand. After all once their funeral rites are done they are nothing more than lumps of flesh and carpet and members of the Federatiom must contribute to Venterra in life and in death.”
 - “Is that what you did with my men. Ate them? Because by God if you didn’t allow them a proper funeral I’ll skin you alive!” Harrison had fire in his eyes and even took a step forward closer to the interrogator, though positioned to climb the Mardakii at any moment.
 The colonel smile remained unchanged.
 - “Your men’s remains are fine for now. None of the Venterran helldivers have asked the ships cooks to prepare Terran flesh, and as far as I can tell no one from the ship’s crew has also done so as well. In fact, they remain iced away in cargo room 3 with the other dead Terrans scheduled to be dissected and cremated through the fires of Cornucopia’s Star. Of course I can change that to match Stoinian customs if you tell me the names of the Fleet Commander who was in charge of the initial defense and the one in charge of planetary defense. As well as information regarding Stoinian funeral rites.”
 To a Stoinian, tradition was everything. The many religions and ethnicities each had their own customs, but Harrison couldn’t possibly know them all by heart. Nonetheless, the alternative was much darker and dishonourable. All the Venterran wanted were the names of the Commanders in charge in exchange for proper funeral rites. But what proof did Harrison have that the Venterrans would honour their word?
 - “I can’t possibly know all the funeral rites of the Hasidians, Sikhians and the many other ethnicities. You’re far better just keeping them in cold storage. I doubt High Command would expect you to honour our rites, your words don’t exactly carry any trustworthy weight to them.”
 - “Your high command is correct in that regard as the Venterran high command merely considers you all sinners who bear the name of Terra and unworthy of respect, but as you can tell the Venterran High command isn’t here to dictate or pull information from you. It is just me, Colonel Wulf Ular and the two hell divers you’ve encountered in battle and the Mardakii ensign. And fortunately for you I’ve had the pleasure of exchanging information with other prisoners some of whom share these ‘ethnic’ traits. Perhaps a secondary interview with them will yield the proper funeral rites for your dead soldiers at a later date.”
 There really was no choice here. He had to guarantee his men got the proper funeral. In exchange for just the names of his commanders. He was in a unique bargaining position for the dead and he would take it as honour demanded it. But if by God the Venterran wouldn’t honour their request…
 - “All right, it’s the least I can do for my men. But if by God you won’t uphold your terms I’ll personally arrange your death making sure it would be a very slow and painful death.” Harrison took a deep breath before answering the Venterran. “The naval Commander is Grand Admiral Corvousier and the planetary Commander is Marshal Häkkinen.”
 - “Thank you, for the information,”
 The Colonel then pulls out a small device and sets it on the table. The Device hums to life and pulls up a a hardlight tablet with a series of service numbers pulled from the bodies recovered from the 763 and a line translated to have the listed troops be buried in accordance with indigenous customs by order of Colonel Wulf Ular. With the failure to comply with the terms resulting in undisclosed penalties such as suicidal runs to be determined by 501st Strike Fleet Commander Akira Kensei.
 - “If you could just confirm that these men are yours or even if they aren’t you’ve done them a service.”
 - “Very well. I’ll get started then, but don’t think I’ll collaborate any further than this with you.” Harrison then began to select his men according to their service number.
 - “You’ve done more than enough Major, after all I’m not here for your military secrets, Federation intelligence has a way of taking that through other means. I wish to understand your people more, and interviews like these help us properly appraise your people. I unfortunately will be taking my leave now, but if you’d like once you are done, I can have the ship’s cook whip up a Mardakii steak as a gesture of good faith and continued cooperation to understand your people.”
 - “It wouldn’t be exactly proper since it wasn’t the Mardakii I personally slew. You have your rituals, but even we have our own rituals when preparing our prey and I’m no Mardakii hunter. For now I’ll pass though.” In truth there was some discomfort in simply offering the dead as a dish. And there was still no guarantee they’d honour their part of the bargain.
 - “Very well,” said the colonel as he rose from his seat and saluted the major and the two Hell divers guarding him.
 The colonel then left the room with the Mardakii in tow, compiling his report corroborating the information of the Stoinians being a martial and proud race as well as additional new information such as the revelation of dividing up their species under ‘ethnic’ groups with their own unique customs and traditions, further inquiry would be necessary but that would be from the other prisoners. He had also written that funeral rites needed to be done in accordance to the bargain so that the federation can continue to cooperate with the prisoner.

Ascension Spire,
CorDefCom HQ,
2/08/1620 PD

 It had been a week and a half or so since Grand Admiral Corvousier and the Cornucopia Defence Fleet were forced to retreat by the Venterran invasion forces. The planetary shield was raised as soon as the Venterran forces had arrived, effectively cutting the planet off. This was all part of the plan, though Stoinian command hadn’t expected for all three space elevators to be destroyed. Cornucopia’s shield were holding, but this was a game of waiting now. Would the shields hold for a week or a month or perhaps a year? These planetary shields were installed during Regent MacArthur’s reign, but they had become slightly outdated and even the most sophisticated shields couldn’t prevent a giant fleet from breaking it. Now the Venterrans were bombarding them with everything they had. Ever since they cleared out the space debris, Cornucopia and its citizens have plagued by an ever glittering sky as the Venterran weapons flared up the shields. Everyone was growing restless. When would the shield fall? And how long will it take the Venterrans? These thoughts passed through the mind of one person in particular: Marshal Valto Häkkinen.
 The old Marshal woke up again after hearing his alarm. He was again greeted by the now familiar sound of the bombardment. His gut was telling him everyday the shields would fall anytime, but his engineers had reassured they would hold for at least a few more weeks. The Marshal underwent his morning routine and then headed to his command centre. There a giant hologram of the planet and the Venterran Fleet reiterated the predicament Häkkinen found himself in. The man had earned the nickname the “Wall” for his defence of Ignis, his own homeworld, during the Velutarian War. This time he couldn’t figure out if the odds were with him or against him. Sure the Venterrans had a large fleet, but Cornucopia was the closest thing the Star Kingdom had to a true ecumenopolis like the Ryccian capital, Daonlathas. Spire cities cut through the skies and billions upon billions of people lived on this planet. Häkkinen knew that once the shields fell, the Venterrans would massacre billions from orbit. From what he had seen so far, the Venterrans wouldn’t make any distinction between civilian and military personnel. Once again facing extinction, Häkkinen too was prepared as the civilians were relocated in shelter bunkers and the lower levels of the spires. The military however bunkered down every corner they could as the hundreds of firebases from the Support Dreadnoughts were now operating at full capacity. The Stoinians were going to make the Venterrans bleed for every single inch of the planet. That much was certain for it was their duty as Stoinians.
 A wailing alarm echoed through the command centre as red lights flickered through the room. Something had gone wrong, but what?
 - “Engineering, report!”
 - “Sir… A shield reactor has gone in overload.”
 - “What? How?!”
 - “Running diagnostics now.”
 - “Get me an answer now. Coms, planetwide alert. Mobilize all forces!”
 Within a minute, Cornucopia had switched from its waiting stance to utter focus. The shields were slowly to lose their strengths, though the Stoinians still had about half an hour or so before the shields would fail due to the Venterran constant bombardment. Sirens echoed through the corridors of the spires as the grunt soldiers move to secure positions and the anti-aircraft guns tilted towards the sky. Readying themselves for the inevitable.
 Häkkinen looked sternly around the Command Centre. Just what in God’s name had gone wrong?! He paced around looking for an answer until the Chief Engineer came towards him.
 - “Sergeant Major, just what happened to the reactors?”
 - “Sir, the continued strain has eroded a pipe towards one of the geothermal reactors. Without that reactor, we won’t be able to hold them much longer. An hour at best.”
 So the hours are numbered then. Häkkinen thought to himself. May God protect us all. Without a second thought he spoke the next words precise and clear.
 - “Battle stations! Prepare for battle!”

Cornucan Bay

 Ilie Morganu was a Stoinian Royal Air Force pilot. Still a little green behind the ears despite his new promotion to 1st Pilot. His skills however, would be recognized by his superiors and he gained a position in the prestigious Alekto Squadron. Alekto Squadron was one of the more elite and prestigious units within the vast Stoinian Air Force. An entire Squadron of Chimera-class interceptor aircraft specialized in dogfighting enemy fighters. The Squadron had earned its awards during the Velutarian War, but the pilots that wore the insignia of Alekto Squadron then were long retired and the legacy now fell upon the shoulders of new pilots such as Ilie Morganu. Though Cornucopia had a vast Planetary Air Force, Alekto Squadron was one of the many units detached during the days in preparation for the Venterran invasion. At its head was Squadron Leader Androu ‘PAPA’ Papadoulos a hardened pilot who flew during the First Mardakii Crusade and wore a sizeable moustache just like his distant relative, Gavras Papadoulos, the Governor of Hyperion. His baritone voice chattered over the private channel of Alekto Squadron.
 - “All right lads, climbing to Angels 27. Let’s greet the bandits.”
 - “Copy that, PAPA.”
 Alekto Squadron raised to about 27.000 feet just under Cornucopia’s ozone layer. There the nimble interceptors would be the first to meet the incoming Venterran dropships. Stoinian military doctrine was to use specialized vehicles in most circumstances and while the Skyfury was a good all-rounder, the Chimera was a far better dogfighter, especially at the heights they were climbing right now.
 - “Alekto-lead, sensors show incoming bandits 10 clicks above us.”
 - “Alekto, veer up. All bandits are hostiles. Repeat, all bandits are hostiles. Good hunting.”

[Image: Alekto-Squadron-1.jpg]
A Skyfury of Aleko Squadron.

 Fleet Commander Akira Kensei was enjoying green tea in his cabin when news of Cornucopia’s shield falling reached him. The Commander sighed softly disappointed with how quickly the shields fell as he accepted the role of invader reluctantly and looked down at the table.
 - “Himiko…” he said summoning a hologram of the Ship’s SAI and asked, “What was the previous assessment of their planetary shields?”
 - “Two weeks Commander.” Himiko Replied, “But I suspect that several capital ships have slowly diverted power from a nonessential source like the shields or engines to increase power to their weapons and gradually whittle down the enemy shields faster.”
 Commander Kensei sighed, he understood why some of his captains would gradually ramp up their firepower at the expense of the shield. They weren’t zealots like Recklez, but they were still eager for challenge. To those officers, Cornucopia offered a challenge, one that was never offered by the pirates of A1-0. He then said.
 - “I see, and how long would it take them to cycle power back to the shield or engines to deal with the Stoinians when they inevitably try to meet us with whatever was left behind?”
 - “An hour at most sir.” replied the AI without a skipping a beat.
 The Commander’s lips barely concealed a grin as he responded.
 - “It seems luck is on their side. They’ve been given an extra hour by Venterra to flee inside the planet or prepare themselves for the inevitable. However, even though we won’t fire at the planet until the fleet finishes cycling power back into balance. Deploy bombers, drones, sentinels and fighter to screen the enemy response.”
 - “Understood sir, relaying orders to the rest of the fleet.” Himiko said as the Commander finished his tea.
 - “Oh and Himiko,” the commander said, causing the SAI to look up at him. “Record the Following message and relay it to the Terrans below.”
 “Greetings to all the poor souls trapped on Cornucopia. I am Fleet Commander Akira Kensei 501st Strike Fleet and unlike your Marshal Häkkinen, who may defend you to his last breath, I’ve been tasked with invading and securing the planet for future invasions into Terran territory. Now you may be wondering if I’m going to demand that you all surrender now that your shields are down, your fleets routed and that you are all one step away from being orbitally glassed to Venterra… However, I will not insult your honor by asking for your surrender, but by the Blood of the Tangaloa, you have one hour to make peace with your makers and accept your inevitable demise at my soldiers hands. And to Marshal Häkkinen if you are like the other prisoners of war who threw a fit over collateral damage, you have one hour to evacuate all non-essential personnel deeper into the planet. One Hour, Marshal.”
 As the Commander finished his message, Himiko looked concerned and said.
 - “Was it necessary to imply that the enemy commander is a prisoner of war?” The commander shook his head and sighed.
 - “Yes… he may not be in a cell in a Venterran prison but his prison is much worse. Unlike ourselves the Marshal can’t simply retreat off world. He is trapped, forced to endure the horrors of war and try to stave off the full might of our strike fleet. If a man is unable to realize his true situation then they have already lost. By knowing his situation he can keep us occupied long enough for his people to mount a rescue.”
 - “And you’re certain they’ll come for him?”
 - “No, but we will inevitably reach a point where our fleets are stretched to the brink and the question is can he survive until we hit that nexus or if he’ll die before and leave the defenders leaderless…”
 He then silently refilled his tea listening to hum of the cabin as the silent scream of the fighters echoed across the halls as they flew down to engage the Stoinians rising to meet them in combat.
 Häkkinen was surprised by the offer though these preparations were already put in place. It proved a monumental task during the two weeks they lived under the planetary shield. If they believed the Stoinians were just now beginning to trench themselves in, they were dead wrong. Ever since the shield had been activated, they had made every effort to fortify their positions. Cornucopia, once a city of glitter, now had become the Star Kingdom’s most resolute fortress. If the Titanium-A3 walls wouldn’t hold, they would turn to their guns and if even those were to fail, they would still have their iron will. Every Stoinian on the planet knew that and what the Venterran Commander might have hoped to strike fear into their hearts, they would stare back and smile. Such was the Stoinian spirit ever since the reforms of the Philosopher-King.
 Häkkinen listened to the message as the Venterran message repeated itself. He had to give this Commander credit for knowing the Stoinians that much by now, but that thought quickly lead to grief. Were the prisoners of war alive or dead? How many of them had survived? These questions flashed through his mind. These were questions for later. When he had time to spare when he’d actually retire. The universe had made a fool of him. His wife, Kirsi, had given him a rant about old men in uniform, but Häkkinen proved as unmoveable as a wall when it came to retirement. In his eyes he still had much to give to the Star Kingdom and he now wanted to show his still ferocious vigour to the Venterrans. He opened an encrypted channel into orbit and sent out a message in his native Karelian tongue with a strong Ignisan accent.
 - “Mikä laulaen tulee, se viheltäen menee.”
 It would give the Venterran scientist, if they were aboard, something to do during the battle. Perhaps they would decipher it, but Häkkinen loved to do such stunts. It was a most befitting proverb that the Venterrans should turn to in their arrogance. What comes singing, leaves whistling.

Cornucan Bay

 While the Venterran fighters may have been fitted to fly in space as well as air, Stoinian doctrine was much more specialized. Perhaps once they had considered such a doctrine, but the Velutarian War firmly changed that believe. As with their spaceships, the Stoinians had overengineered all their military grade-equipment. The Chimera’s were no different. Designed specifically for dogfighting, they would be the first to greet the Venterrans. With their tips piercing though the sky, Alekto Squadron along with hundreds of squadrons flew forth to give the Venterrans a Cornucopian welcome.
 BUSTER, Ilie’s co-pilot, checked his scanner as the dots of the incoming Venterrans came closer and closer. It wouldn’t be long now, before the clash would take place. BUSTER, a Corillian by the name of Seth Madden, was even more inexperienced than Ilie and the tone in his voice revealed it.
 - “Well, Ilie. Guess this is it then. Heading straight into the dragon’s mouth.”
 - “Just make sure to make every one of our missiles count, Seth.”
 - “This is PAPA, weapons free. I repeat, weapons free. Give them hell lads.” Interjected Alekto-lead over the coms.
 The Venterran fighters blackened the sky as they approached rapidly towards the Stoinian aircraft. Alekto Squadron immediately broke off to scatter from its formation to throw off the Venterran pilots. Ilie veered off as well and chose out a target. Mere seconds later he was the first to fire his Gatling gun, eager to prove himself. Soon after the air battle for Cornucopia began and the coms spat out as the Stoinian pilots communicated with one another. Firing on the Venterran fighters with no mercy or second thoughts.

“I have no fear, for fear is the mind-killer that kills me over and over. Without fear, I die but once and live without agony nor regret.”
— Codex Stoinius, Philosopher-King Andrei I

 Those were the words of the Codex Stoinius. A collection of stoic meditations made by the Philosopher-King to heal the wounds from the War at Home. Not by answering the questions of life, but to teach how to get through it. All Ilie could think were those words drilled into him from an early age as all Stoinians had to. The words had guided the Stoinians throughout their history and Ilie now knew why. The mantra brought him a sense of calmness as the sensors began to flair up as if the fighter was about to explode. Whereas the situation might have brought down Ryccian men in such a situation facing near imminent death, his hands, however, were steadier than ever. The enemy was in front of him and he was his people’s first line of defence now.
 - “SNAPPLE buddy, here we go. Arm thermal missiles.” BUSTER called over the fighter’s internal comm.
 - “Make them hot, but don’t get a lock yet. They probably have shields as well.”
 - “Copy SNAPPLE. Arming, no locking.”
 The plasma bullets then reigned from above them as the seared through the sky. Like cavalry of old, the point where they met was utterly chaotic. The fighters were also closer than what Stoinian pilots were used to, but they still had the advantage here. Though the manoeuvres were now increasingly more dangerous given how they might just crash into another craft. Making a barrel roll to the right, Ilie evaded an incoming Venterran fighter, his Chimera still was far more manoeuvrable as a dedicated air fighter. After firing his MAG63C cannons, making a buzzing sound, the Venterran shields began to light up as the bullets made contact. The light blue haze indicated when the shields were still active. Good… Now we just need to shoot until we don’t see the blue any more.
 - “SNAPPLE, on your six.”
 Ilie heard it over the radio, coming from CHIP. BUSTER Looked to the back and saw a chasing fighter.
 - “On it CHIP. Chase the bastard.”
 - “Got your ass SNAPPLE.”
 He then heard a weird energy noise and instinctively looked on his sensors. A sort of plasma missile was shot from the fighter behind him. Luckily it stopped following him once he twirled away. And actually hit a feast moving Venterran fighter disabling hits shields. It must have been some missile designed to bomb capital ships. As CHIP sprayed his rounds on the chasing fighter it popped, making a short, but loud burst noise. Then he heard the familiar noise of the M10 missile. Shortly after an explosion could be heard and sure enough it was the chasing Venterran fighter. Ilie saw it’s explosion in the reflection of his cockpit.
 - “Thanks, CHIP. We owe you.”
 - “No probs, SNAPPLE.”
Ilie then took out a target. Thrusted the fighter’s turbojet-ion engines to give chase. Spraying rounds of bullets at the enemy fighter. It broke off in an attempt to escape, but Ilie quickly turned around and caught it three ways through its manoeuvre. Spraying another round while talking to his co-pilot.
 - “Fox 2, prep.”
 - “Prepping fox 2.” BUSTER locked on to the fighter and sure enough, without its shields, its fate had been sealed “Fox 2 hot!”
 - “Fox 2, Fox 2!”
 Shouting as he pressed the button, Ilie sent off the M10 heat seeking missile. The enemy tried to evade, but alas one of its wing was damaged from the bullets and the M10 vaporized the enemy fighter. One down, twenty-three more to go. Ilie thought as he counted the remaining missiles. The battle dragged on for a few more minutes, but that was when new orders came in.
 - “Alekto this is PAPA, new orders from brass. Immediate interception at Bullseye 464 at 24 clicks. Intercept escort bandits headed to Cornucopia.”
 - “Roger, PAPA.”
 Alekto then changed course with ease. The Stoinian aircraft were fully entuned with the atmosphere. Much more so than the Venterran spacecraft. Thus Alekto broke off and headed to their new targets. Again Alekto shot down the enemy troop transports wit relative ease, denying them the chance to land down troops. However, the Venterrans were now unto them and when he got the chance, he splashed down the fighter on CHIP’s tale.
 - “Now we’re even, CHIP.”
 - “No we aren’t.”
 Chip then performed a 180 degree manoeuvre and sprayed bullets just right below SNAPPLE, shooting down an incoming fighter.
 - “Always watch your back, SNAPPLE.”
 - “Wilco, CHIP.” He then turned to BUSTER. “BUSTER, what’s wrong.”
 - “Sensor malfunction, SNAPPLE.” his co-pilot replied.
 - “What?”
 - “I think they’re figuring out how to scramble out sensors. Damn, we better fly blind then.”
 - “Dammit.”
 Ilie once again chased the tails of his squadron and they protected his tail. But he knew the game would change once the fighter’s shields would go down. Sure they would regenerate, but it would give the Venterrans the right amount of time for them to finish the job.
 - “SLAPSHOT, pop.”
 Pop meant that a pilot’s shields had gone for the moment and were vulnerable. SLAPSHOT had two fighters on his tail and giving them a good run for their money. Twirling as they couldn’t within the atmosphere, but with two the odds still were unfavourable. SNAPPLE headed towards them to help him out. Disabling the shields of the chasing fighter, but then the last one fired his plasma missile.
 - “SLAPSHOT, hard right.” Ilie spoke over the comms under a second from when the missile was fired.
 Sure enough SLAPSHOT, evaded to the hard right and escaped imminent doom.
 - “SLAPSHOT, shell. Thanks SNAPLE.”
 Now SLAPSHOT’s shield were back on. Safety had been achieved again and all seemed well. Alekto would continue to fly from one escort group to another, but there were so many of them. Some of them made it through, but that was inevitable in the entirety of chaos in the skies. Alekto had performed well, but even they couldn’t stop the Venterran dropships which burned through the sky landing within city streets and spire balconies. Tens of thousands of dropship flared up the sky as the air compressed to plasma just underneath their pod. The Venterrans weren’t stupid and landed these drop pods in the areas of the city that didn’t have their own shield from nearby bases. While Alekto had perhaps softened the blow, the first Venterran landing wave engulfed parts of the city. The ground battle began and wouldn’t end for quite a while…

Somewhere in Stoinian space, the Fleet of Relentless Appraisal

 Fleet Commander Mayfeld grimaced as he listened to his fellow Fleet Commanders (FC) argue on the best course of action for the Appraisal Fleets. FC Yamraiha insisted that the Appraisal Fleets should selectively raid Terran worlds for to resupply their resources while FC Recklez demanded the Fleets invade and hold every world for the glory of Venterra. FC Kensei and FC Pryde both declined to attend the conference and sent in their reports as well as an explanation for their absences. FC Pryde had taken his fleet across Stoinian space hunting down a particular officer who snubbed his right to duel. Meanwhile FC Kensei stated that he would need to be more hands on with the invasion of Cornucopia returning General Mykraft back to the Fleet of Merciful Restraint so that he may offer his expertise to the other officers.
 - “We have already secured a firm foothold in this sector, We must seize control of resource rich worlds and glass others-” Said Fleet Commander Recklez
 - “And waste troops and ships policing the occupied planets? We’d stretch our supplies and create an opportunity for these terrans to retake their worlds.” snapped Yamraiha
 - “Nonsense, we will exterminate the Terrans if they try to do so.” boasted Recklez as Yamraiha shook her head and visibly face palmed, “And it will be your hubris that brings us down, We are a fleet of 25,000 warships, not a fleet of a million strong warships. Our orders were to raid and learn, not seize and hold territory. (Yamraiha looks over to Mayfeld) Commander Mayfeld surely you must agree that holding all of these planets will cause logistical issues sooner than later.”
 - “I… am aware,” replied Mayfeld, “But, Recklez has a point as well”
 - “What?” Yamraiha said dumbfounded, “Surely you must see the logic in directly seizing their resource rich worlds for the Federation. We could lower the burden on our supply lines and press the fight on, instead of siphoning off only what we need to maintain the Armed Appraisal from the enemy.”
 could only shake her head in disbelief as Mayfeld continued.
 - “You may not agree with my methods, but I will allow you to use your fleet as you see fit as I’ve done so for both Kensei and Pryde. I and Recklez will continue to secure worlds for the Federation while you can raid the enemy for supplies and knowledge.”
 Yamraiha sighed as she replied.
 - “As you wish… But I’m borrowing General Mykraft, his knowledge of the terrans will allow us to make forays deep into enemy territory.”
 Mayfeld nodded signing off on Yamraiha’s request.
 - “Now if there is nothing else you are all dismissed to your tasks, while I report to the High Command on our progress.”
Yamraiha and Recklez rise and salute Mayfeld before staring daggers into each other. The two quietly thinking death to the other as they professionaly saluted and turned to exit the room from the different sides back to their respective flagships

19:46, 2/08/1620 PD
Cornulan District,

 While the Cornucopia Air Force had done an excellent job at holding off the invading forces, slowly over time they began to rang BINGO. Meaning they had to reload and refuel from the intense fighting. Even so, the Venterran landing ships and drop pods had made it through the aerial defence. Now the task fell to the ground forces. While most of the suburban areas had been evacuated to either underground bunkers or off-world, they were an easy target for the Venterrans to land and establish a foothold on the planet. Attacking the Spires right away would be a death sentence as they still were impregnable fortresses. The Venterrans would have to bring heavy ground support to make any offensive attempt feasible. That is if they cared for their troops lives. However, Field Marshal Häkkinen had other plans and he would let the Venterrans bleed for every corner, every street, every house for as long as possible. That was the Stoinian defensive spirit and today it would be up to the ground forces to keep that flame alive.
 Sergeant Major Nimrata Jastar Kaur, a female Sikhian, a hardened veteran from the Mardakii Crusade. She looked through the binoculars from the top of a building. More and more Venterran dropships were unloading their troops and hardware. The 226th Battalion was sent out to eradicate them in the designated area about 40 klicks north of Ascension Spire, the HQ of Cornucopian Defence Command. She packed her binoculars and turned to her CO, 2nd Lieutenant Zheng Guanting. A rather large man for the Qingese stereotype, but such was the Terran diversification over the centuries in the Star Kingdom.
 - “Well, Sir. We better get moving. Any word on support from Major Van Houte?”
 - “Aye. As soon as the 364th Armoured Battalion arrives at our position, we’ll hit them hard. Get your squad ready as you’ll be up front.”
 - “Yes, Sir!”
 Nimrata then headed down to mobilize her squad. The 19 other soldiers were already prepping themselves up with the mobile armouries as the battle hardened veterans they were. Despite their older age status, their experience was of great value to the younger Lieutenant. That’s why they would be send as the vanguard. Her troops chatted with her as she came down the stairs.
 - “Ah Chief, we finally gonna move our asses?” asked Gunnery Sergeant Iulian Collinescu, a broad Reachian hailing from Bostoreș. Back from the days when the Rhodesian Sector was the Reachian Sector. His family were originally farmers of both Neerian and Sinaian descent, but the Velutarian War had changed their careers indefinitely. Now he was Nimrata’s right hand and he wouldn’t disappoint her.
 - “Yes, Ol’ Rock. Let’s get the ol’ sacks moving. We’re going to escort the 364th Armoured and hit the Mardakii lovers before they can secure a foothold.” she replied with a stern voice.
 - “Good. So get their rockets from them, stick it up their ass and then light them back into orbit? I like it.” Iulian was was no man for sugar-coating things. His Sinaian bluntness and creativity combined with Neerian vulgarity always brightened up the mood of the squad.
 The squad laughed as the squad made their final preparations. Viggo Sundin was a Private 1st Class of Skandian origin. Despite his tall height, he sometimes seemed like fresh Marine if it wasn’t for his blonde beard. Curious as ever he asked a question to Nimrata.
 - “Well Sarge, what I just don’t quite understand is why tops brass didn’t declare for a Crusade yet?”
 - “Does it really matter? As long as these bastards are invading our home, that’s reason enough for me to shoot their asses.” Collinescu replied.
 Nimrata wished she could give a clear answer to the younger member of her squad. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any of it.
 - “Well… Guess maybe they don’t want to declare a Crusade against fellow Terrans. Regardless though, we’ve a job to do that doesn’t involve astropolitics. Now let’s move it.” she replied while handing over a M41 SPNKR rocket launcher to Viggo.
 Her squad moved out and were greeted by the column of Grizzlies they were to escort. It seemed their mission was quite an important one as the Grizzlies weren’t toys to be used lightly. After jumping on top of them, the combined forces rolled out. Even the Air Force wasn’t done and continued to hold bombing runs on the area they would attack. After driving through the wide suburban streets for about two kilometres, they were to approach the enemy. Or at least a first batch of them.
 - “All right squad, keep an eye out on the ridges. They might try to ambush us.”
 Then a Venterran gunship appeared as the blue hue of plasma made it distinct noise. The Marines instinctively jumped off the Grizzlies and began to scatter. The Grizzlies dual cannons aimed for the gunship while unloading its anti-air missiles. However, those missiles were absorbed by the gunship’s shields. The first three Grizzlies of the column then unloaded their dual M310 120mm Smooth-Bore cannons in a volley. They made quick work of the gunship as it was sent to spiral, barely having any time to react to the column. After the short interjection by the gunship, it became quite apparent the enemy was close by.
 - “Ol’ Rock! Take your section to the left flank and watch the ridge above us. We’ll cover you.”
 - “Affirm, Sarge. Come on boys, let’s keep the convoy rolling!”
 Their joyride on top of the Grizzlies was now over. Nimrata headed the right section and quickly checked any street corners for any dangers. Luckily, for now there weren’t any and could see how in the other streets similar combined convoys were moving towards the same target. Without the convoy stopping, it seemed like this was going to be quick small scale operation. This brought up a smile on her face.
 - “What’s so fun, Sarge?” asked Lance Corporal Goran Kadić. The Sorbian who followed her footsteps.
 - “Just a happy thought that this might be a quick operation.” she stopped to check the corners. Just the other Marines from the other columns. She continued to march forward to the end of the junction and then continued to talk with Kadić. “If we don’t get any wounded, I’ll give you boys a round when this is over.”
 - “Ha, Sarge. Just like after Bogo Rai then? Sure would be appreciated. Tell you what you do that and I’ll handle the grill.”
 - “Just make sure to bring your pastrami again.”
 - “No worries, I’ll make sure it’s mutton so you can eat as well. Here Sarge, let me take over from you.” he said while tapping on her shoulder two times. A sign to stop which Nimrata did instinctively.
 - “All right, Corporal. Just don’t slow us down now. We’ve got a pretty good momentum going on.”
 - “No worries, Sarge.” he replied with a wide grin on his face.
 Goran headed slightly with his head to his right at the next street junction. He scouted the area quickly and decided to march forward. It was then when he could see red light shine in his directions, quickly followed by an energetic sound. The next few milliseconds he saw a plasma bullet come his way, but it went right through his skull before he had even time to process what the light actually meant.
 For a second, Nimrata froze as her good friend was taken down by a Venterran sniper. Quickly processing what just happened, she immediately turned to the convoy.
 With that the Marines began to group up forming a line at each street corner, guarding the are from the other section’s side to which they were exposed. It was unclear whether this sniper was alone, but there was only one guarantee to assure the convoy could keep going forward towards the objective. As soon as her section’s last man was in formation, he tapped three times to the one in front of him, who then passed it forward, she looked at the other section. It was Ol’ Rock who then nodded at her. She nodded back and marched forward looking into the direction from where the bullet might have come from. Quickly altering her pace to throw the sniper off guard and then the rest of her section followed her to cover her in case the sniper took his shot. However it was seemingly quiet and all was well. Was this a lone sniper perhaps? Unlikely since the objective was roughly 400 m ahead. Though she couldn’t rule out a scouting party. And just as she turned to watch her section pass through the junction, the sniper eliminated the last man in her line. The penultimate member of her line jumped forward to safety and began to scream when he landed.
 - “Tenth building on the right, second floor!” shouted Private 1st Class Matthys Wessel.
 - “You sure?” Nimrata asked for a confirmation.
 - “Positive.”
 Nimrata then turned towards the Grizzlies and tapped on the comms button of her helmet, opening a line to the Troop Sergeant of the eight Grizzlies strong convoy.
 - “Troop Sergeant Foss, I need a round on the second floor of tenth building on the right. That’s the sniper’s location.”
 - “Copy that, we’ll blow the bastard to pieces.”

 Troop Sergeant Fabio Foss then ordered the lead tank to eliminate the sniper. The tank drove forward while rotating its cannons. Five seconds later, the high velocity cannons made short work of the second floor’s balcony. The convoy then proceeded to drive forward, but that was when new opposition appeared.
 - “Contact up front!” said Collinescu over the comms.
There a group of purple floating speeders headed towards the convoy’s direction. The lead tank was quick to fire another round and eliminated one of the five speeders.
 - “Shoot the damn rockets.” Nimrata shouted.
 Her men who carried the rocket launchers then kneeled into position. The speeders however began to shoot volleys of plasma at them. Throwing them off guard and taking a few of her men down. The lead tank drove slightly to the right and made way for the second tank to shoot as well. The speeders were eliminated a short while later after a few rocket launchers were fired.
 - “Sergeant Major, is everything under control?” Lieutenant Guanting asked over the comms.
 - “We’re five down, Sir. But good to go forward now.”
 - “Copy. I’ll come strengthen you up front as well.”
 The convoy then move forward again. Now just 200 m away from where they were supposed to launch their attack. Before Nimrata could check the street corner, she could hear the sound that was similar to the gunship they met earlier. She figured it must be some sort of enemy vehicle and raised her left fist in the air. Signifying the convoy to halt. She leaned forward and was greeted by another sniper bullet. She did get a small glimpse however of the small roundabout on her right and described it over the comms.
 - “Enemy sniper instalment with multiple heavy armour 50 m away. Lieutenant, plan of attack?”
 - “Form up with the tank and head towards the target. Clear the zone out.”
 - “Affirmative.”
 Her section tapped again to signify they were ready and the tank moved forward a bit. Its canon was already rotated toward the direction of the enemy to maximize their element of surprise.
 - “Mark.” Lieutenant Guanting ordered.
 Nimrata and her section then moved towards the Venterran encampment firing volleys of bullets from their M65 assault rifles. Giving the Venterran forces of all sizes a blue hue. The Venterran tank was quickly eliminated by the Grizzly’s rounds and it seemed Nimrata and her Marines would have a clear win. It was then when she heard another cannon round from a Grizzly, but didn’t saw where it landed. She turned around and saw three Venterran tanks heading their direction, firing large plasma bullets nearly half the size of the Grizzly tanks.
 - “Take cover!”
 Nimrata and her squad scattered around as one plasma round landed behind them and one hit both of the lead Grizzlies. Throwing them up in the air in a blazingly bright blast that blinded the Marines for a good amount of seconds. Nimrata and her squad were now being pinned down. The encampment had been cleared due to the enemy plasma round taking out the rest of the encampment. The threat on the right of the convoy was no gone, but the newly Venterran armour on the left was proving more than a challenge. On top of that, in the front of the convoy a wide array of Venterran ground forces headed towards from the buildings. It seemed this was an ambush and they fell right into it. But these Venterrans perhaps forgot they were fighting against Stoinians.
 In a wild and unorthodox decision, the two remaining front tanks revved their engines and launched themselves forward. Their aim was to run over the enemy infantry and the next tanks in line would take care of the wraiths as the tanks unloaded a volley while heading towards the infantry. Nimrata ordered her men to help out the tanks and cover them from any Venterran clever enough to throw grenades or even board the tanks.
 The firefight lasted no longer than another minute and the friendly tank convoys from the next streets had helped clear out the Venterran forces. The convoy’s forces were now at half the strength they rolled out with. The situation which once was a hopeful guaranteed success, was now drenched in blood.
 - “Sergeant Major, the enemy’s more entrenched than we initially thought. Command has ordered us to press forward to eliminate them while we still can.”
 - “Lieutenant…”
 - "I know, Sergeant Major. But we have our orders. I’ll coordinate with the other convoys to strengthen our convoy.
 - “Yes, Sir.” she replied after letting out a small sigh.
 She knew the Lieutenant was well aware of their situation and that this was likely the best course of action in the grand scheme of things. She couldn’t help but feel her stomach nagging about the situation. Nonetheless they continued to press on as the large enemy encampment was within striking range now.
 Nimrata and the rest of her squad ran forward across the buildings as the convoy drove forward like maniacs. Surprise was no longer a factor. Only eliminating them as quickly as possible was an option. Thus the Grizzlies fired volley after volley. Sending dozens of Venterran troops flying into the skies.
 - “Well, guess that’s one way of sending them into orbit.” Collinescu chattered over the comms to lighten up the mood. This was after all the sort of humour that kept Stoinians sane in the heat of the most severe combat circumstances.
 Without a second thought, Nimrata jumped from one of the Venterran barricade ramps and threw a grenade out into the general direction of a large conglomeration of small alien forces. After giving the smaller aliens a taste of metal, Nimrata rolled over as soon as she landed on the ground, using her motion to position herself in a knelt position. From that position she fired volley after volley and the all too familiar sound of the M65 assault rifle was like music to her ears as the Venterran aliens scattered in disarray.
 Her squad followed her example and started to clear out the Venterrans without taking too much damage themselves. Soon the Lieutenant’s squad arrived too, as well as the other Marine forces from the other convoys that now attacked the large encampment from multiple angles. Grenades exploded over the sounds of plasma and the high velocity cannons hitting their targets. It was then when Nimrata saw the leader of the encampment. A towering Mardakii.
 She headed towards him after shooting down three more of those jawless xenos. When the Mardakii stood just ten meters in front of her, she tossed her assault rifle on the ground and unsheathed her combat knife. The Mardakii reciprocated her actions, accepting her challenge and deactivating his shields. As the brute ran towards her in a frenzy, Nimrata unexpectedly jumped forward. Rotating mid air so she could land with her back on the ground as she flew between the legs of the Mardakii. The brute was too sloppy to catch her as she flew between his legs. There, she had the perfect opportunity and put her knife into what she suspected was a weak spot between the joints. When the knife sliced effortlessly into the Mardakii’s groin, she knew she had struck gold.
 After standing up she looked over the paralyzed Mardakii as the rest of the fight began to tone down. She gripped her knife again and thrusted it further into the Mardakii and twisting the knife. The Mardakii screamed out in pain and fear, spreading terror to the remaining Venterran forces as they were cut down by the other Stoinians. No mercy was shown and Nimrata finally put her knife just under above where the Mardakii’s Adams apple would be. Letting him drown in his own blood. The zone was now cleared out and Gunnery Sergeant Collinescu came to see Nimrata’s achievement.
 - “Well… That one is going to make a fine rug, Chief.” he complemented on the Mardakii’s fur as he grazed through it with his hand.
 - “Might make a coat of him though.” she replied jokingly.
 - “Ah… Guess there’s enough hide and fur for both.”
 A Grizzly then drove forward and stopped in front of Nimrata. The hatch opened up and Troop Sergeant Fabio Foss appeared.
 - “Well Sergeant Major. My compliments to you prowess. I always pitied the Mardakii, but you just gave a whole new level to it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone twirl so elegantly while cutting down a Mardakii.”
 - “The pleasure’s all mine, Troop Sergeant. I’ll try to sing next time as well.” she replied laughing off while she cleaned her knife with her armguards.
 Lieutenant Guanting then approached Nimrata as well.
 - “A job well done, Sergeant Major. In my book you’ve already earned more than ten lifetimes worth of a General’s pension. Now let’s hea-” he stopped mid-sentence as he listened to an incoming message.
 Nimrata heard something too, but it was something different. It was something reminiscing plasma weaponry and it quickly became louder and louder. She looked up and saw a plasma bomb dropping straight on a Grizzly tank. A green blast of plasma flared up the roundabout and plasma rained from down the skies. She wanted to look up, but her instinct got the better of her and lead her to cover. She then looked around and saw all Ol’ Rock, Sundin and Lieutenant Guanting dead half-burnt on the ground. This couldn’t have been an ambush, so it meant the Venterran reinforcements had arrived late.
She checked her ammunitions and noticed she had only her knife and grenade at her disposal. She took a deep breath as she heard energetic sounds and Venterran xeno chatter. She looked around, but no one was seemingly left to coordinate with. Where could she turn to? The chatter grew closer and closer. No, this was it. This was her stand.
 After saying a short Sikhian prayer to welcome her death, she armed her grenade. Screaming as she tossed the grenade and herself over the barricade she used as cover, she lashed out into a final blaze of fury. Heading straight towards to a jawless xeno. Though there was something odd about these Venterran soldiers. They wore different armour compared to the rest, but Nimrata didn’t have any time to think as she was shot in her left shoulder by a plasma carbine.
 Thudding against the ground, she put her hand on the place where she was shot only to quickly take her hand off as the heat was immeasurable. She looked at her wound and she’d been shot right in between the armour plates that were supposed to disperse the plasma. Her flesh was both seared and burnt. The stench grew beyond her tolerance and she couldn’t help but be bugged by it. She crawled back to her barricade while her wound spat both blood and scabs. Slowly she began to calm herself and held her knife even tighter.
 The jawless xeno that had shot her than jumped right next to her, sending shivers down her spine. As her body slowly began to fall into shock and she struggled to maintain consciousness, the xeno knelt before her. Its long neck bringing his face closer to hers. It said something in his native language, but Nimrata couldn’t help understand it as her ears were easily overloaded by the slightest sounds now. She decided to make one last stand, tightening her grip on the knife and then slashing it towards the face of the xeno.
 She had actually missed, but was able to slice off some of the xeno’s left mandibles. The xeno remained unphased and reached for his energy sword. Activating it and thrusting it into Nimrata’s abdomen. As her eyes began to close and the pain overtook her thoughts, Nimrata could only do one last. Smile as she met her death at the hands of a Venterran Hell Diver.

Somewhere above Cornucopia

  Colonel Devran Recklez looked out the portside view of his dropship as Venterran fighters screamed in the upper atmosphere of Cornucopia escorting the dropships to their predetermined landing zones. Col. Recklez clutched his hard light pad tightly as the dropship shuddered from the turbulence and growled. ‘Why? Why in the seven rings couldn’t he have been dropped after the fighting had stabilized’ He wondered as the dropship shuddered again. The Colonel was a humble quartermaster in charge of supplying Venterran forces but his elder brother was a commanding Fleet Commander charged with bringing righteous fury down upon the Terran menace. Colonel Recklez hoped to make his brother proud, but he still valued his own life taking the comforts of the logistical officer’s route. He looked out the view port again as the Dropship made its final descent to drop off the officer and his security detail and he looked unimpressed. Stoinian architecture was rather narrow, but well structured for Terrans as the cityscape organized itself along a series of blocks.
  The Dropship deposited the Colonel and his detail atop the roof of a three story apartment previously taken by an earlier landing force and was converted into a forward operating base for Venterran forces in the area. The Colonel looked at his welcome committee and spoke after entering the building,
 - “So… what’s the situation?”
 A Mardakii captain smiled, baring its fangs.
 - “Welcome Colonel to point Obsidian, we are far from the enemy spire and don’t anticipate fierce resistance. However, as you may be well aware, we are responsible for ensuring that our landing forces are adequately supplied to take several of their airfields for our own in atmosphere fighters and bombers.”
 The Colonel nods as he follows the Mardakii to a map in a hollowed out apartment serving as a base.
 - “Indeed, but afterwards (Recklez points to a contested point on the map) We will be launching a full scale assault on the enemy from this staging ground.”
 The officer looked concerned.
 - “But sir… Stoinian troops appear to be assaulting that position as we speak, we may not be able to hold the position without significant reinforcements.”
 The Colonel smiled.
 - “Nonsense, request the assistance of the Hell Divers, they will be more than enough to clear any and all Terran resistance and we can move in conventional troops to hold the positions once they retake it.”
 The Mardakii bowed.
 - “As Venterra wills.”

Aboard the King’s Hand in orbit over Cornucopia

  Captain Hasega grinned as his troopers stood ready.
 - “Hell Divers! When we joined the Hell Diver Corp we took an oath.” started the Captain.
 - “According to our station, All without exception.” repeated the Hell Divers.
 Hasega continued.
 - “On the blood of ancestors, on the blood of our children! We swore to uphold the Federation!”
 - “Even to our dying breath” responded the Helldivers.
  “Our enemies are weak, worthy of neither pity, nor mercy! Even now they cower behind their heroes to spread terran lies across the sector.”
 - “We shall grind them into dust”
 - “And continue our march into glorious combat!!” he roared, as an empty drop pod bay door opened revealing the chaotic space and air battle between orbital and in atmosphere fighters.
 Gesturing to the space below, Hasega roared.
 - “Glory Awaits!”
 The Men roared back and jumped down into the void below. They were hell divers, and unlike the other orbital drop shock troopers who require drop pods, a Hell diver jumped without a pod. Relying only on their shielding and armor to cushion the fall. They fell unnoticed by the enemy, mistaken as either a piece of debris or a corpse that couldn’t be recovered in time. Faster and faster they fell until they reached terminal velocity, their armor flared up in flames as the atmosphere sought to burn them in a vain bid to stop the Hell Divers from making their mark on Cornucopia’s surface.
  The Hell Divers fell like hail on the surface of Cornucopia, crashing through the roofs of several buildings and causing mayhem and chaos across enemy lines. Hasega was the first to recover from his fall, unslinging his carbine and pushing out of the abandoned apartment. Several others soon followed his lead exiting from other apartment rooms and regrouping with their Captain. Those fortunate enough to fall directly on top of their foes relished the challenge as they cleaved a bloody path with their energy swords.
  The Captain and his men moved to the roof of their respective buildings using their jump jets to traverse the hole in the ceiling made by their falls. Hasega took in a deep breath through his helmet as his men jumped from their buildings onto the roof he stood on, Venterran fighter/bombers screaming overhead as they dropped their payload on the unseen enemy further down the block. The Captain’s comms crackled to life as he watched the remainder of his men fall in.
 - “Hell divers, this is Obsidian actual. Come in Hell divers.”
 The Captain responded.
 - “King’s Hand one to Obsidian Actual go ahead.”
 -“Terran forces have converged on point Delta, and we need your assistance. We have dispatched reinforcements, but you are the closest force to Point Delta.”
 - “Enemy strength?” the captain asked gruffly,
 - “Unknown, but troops reported the enemy used armor.”
 The Captain grinned.
 - “Very well, be prepared to divert air support when we ask. Kings Hand one out!”
 The captain then looked at his troops.
 - “C’mon you apes! We’re on the bounce!” and engaged his jump jets to hop from roof to roof.
 The Hell divers followed along, firing short precise bursts of plasma fire on the unsuspecting enemy below as they cut a path forward until the Captain abruptly stopped and dropped behind cover. The Hell Divers followed the captain’s lead ducking behind the wall and peered over looking at enemy armor situated between them and point Delta.
  “King’s Hand one to King’s Hand actual. Request air support on our positions danger close” the captain whispered,.
 “This is King’s Hand actual understood, Spear ten is on the way, danger close in 5 seconds.”
 - “Roger, Kings hand one out!” replied the Captain.
 He then looked at his men silently and signaled that they would attack as soon as Spear 10 dropped its payload. The comms on the Captain counted down, “5…4…3…2…1…dropping now!”
 A fighter/bomber dropped a plasma bomb over target screaming past the helldivers. As the fighter/bomber screamed past, the Hell Divers jumped firing on the Terrans below striking several. As they landed on the wreckage of Point Delta, the Hell Divers grinned, cutting down the terrans in plasma fire until one remained. One Terran attempted to toss a grenade or perhaps it sought to embrace a Hell Diver in a suicidal embrace, the captain couldn’t tell, but one of his men blasted the terran with their carbine and claimed his right to kill. The captain simply shrugged and gestured in the direction of the terran as he barked new orders to secure a landing zone for conventional reinforcements.
 The Hell Diver grinned from behind the helmet and jumped next to the Terran and kneeled.
 - “Die with honor, Terran” the trooper said as he reached for his energy sword.
 The terran attempted to fight back making one last slash towards the trooper, but the Trooper remained unphased continuing to reach for his energy sword. The Trooper then activated his sword and thrust it deep into the Terran’s abdomen, smiling back at the now smiling corpse. The Hell Diver deactivated his sword and returned, grinning from his kill, and the Captain noticed the injury to his mandible saying,
 - “Trooper you should get that looked at.”
 The trooper saluted and replied.
 - “No sir, this will heal without any problems. I wish to remain a part of the hunt.”
 The Captain sighed and nodded,
 - “Very well, we move out when the Drop ship drops off the first of the conventional reinforcements."
 And with that the men departed to pursue the Terrans right after the first dropships returned to point delta with fresh reinforcements.

21:16, 17/08/1620 PD
CorDefCom, Ascension Spire,

 It had been two weeks since the Venterrans had landed groundside on Cornucopia. Even though the Stoinians had put a formidable fight, the Venterran numbers were too strong. Luckily the fleet had dispersed and now likely was divided into multiple attack groups. Häkkinen hoped that the colonists could have escaped before the Venterrans arrived, but these Terrans used slipspace drives which were noted to be faster than the Stoinians’ warp field drives. Häkkinen had no time to ponder on hypotheticals. He was sent here for one specific reason and he would fulfil it. He would defend this planet and its civilians for as long as he could. Dying if need be.
 - “Sir, the Venterrans are amassing another coordinated attack to push towards Ascension Spire. Scouts report a large wave of armour towards our north-western defensive lines.” one of the assistant called.
 - “What?! How did they get past our sensors?”
 - “Unknown, Sir. Will get the Officers on it, but since they destroyed our satellite network, they could have interfered with our surface sensors and communications.”
 - “Get to it then.”
 Häkkinen looked over the holomap as the attacked frontline was projected. The enemies were dotted red and Häkkinen saw a lot of red headed towards a thin stripe of green. The Venterrans had created a weak spot the previous two weeks and they were now trying to collect their reward.
 - “Contact Shadow Base and get me an ETA. Tell them to scramble squadrons of bombers and escorts to wipe those bastards of the ground.” he ordered to his other assistants before looking back at the map.
 The nearest forces weren’t in place to bolster the weak spot in time. They’d need at least half an hour and the enemy was just about five minutes away. The situation was dire and it looked like the defensive line around the Ascension Spire would crumble tonight. This was everything Häkkinen feared for in the initial fighting. He’d centred most of his troops within the Spire. An error given how the Venterrans kept creating weak spots in their lines.
 - “ETA of aerial support twenty five minutes, Sir!”
 - “Confirm, attack. Tell them to make haste!”
 Colonel Jenkins of the 73rd Cornucopian Regiment was in charge of the weak spot. His troops had suffered major losses and were to be relieved by fresh soldiers. However, the Venterrans had learned the Stoinian timing and had calculated perfectly for this precise moment. For the reinforcements wouldn’t come for another twenty minutes or so. They had found the perfect opportunity to strike and dissect the Stoinian defensive line with one surgical attack.
 - “Get me Colonel Jenkins.”
 Colonel Jenkins appeared within ten seconds next to the holomap and greeted the Field Marshal accordingly.
 - “Sir, to what do I owe you the pleasure?”
 - “Colonel, the Venterrans slipped past our sensors and will hit you in full force in five minutes. Get your men into position and hold them off fo-”
 - “Sir, you know damn well that we won’t be able to hold them off!” Jenkins interrupted the Field Marshal. “My men are on the brink of breaking. Is there no help coming our way?”
 - “Aye, there is. But they won’t get in time before the Venterrans reach you.”
 - “So this is it then?”
 - “Not if you hold the line, Colonel.”
 Colonel Jenkins’ was quite visible despite the holograms interference. They both knew what was being asked.
 - “We’ll do our best, Sir. 73rd Regiment, out.”
 Häkkinen hated the situation as much as Jenkins. The situation however didn’t allow for much talk between them. The man had to put his men into position to make the final sacrifice if they were to have any chance of survival.
 - “Sir… They won’t be able to hold them off. They’re not properly armed to repel them.” one of the assistant mumbled in the command room.
 - “No…”
 - “Sir?”
 - “They are armed with the weapon every Stoinian has.”
 - “I don’t understand.”
 - “Are the district’s loudspeakers still intact?” Häkkinen asked to the logistical officers.
 He got a solid affirm from them. Sighing before straightening his uniform, Häkkinen set out to arm the soldiers of the 73rd.
 - “Open a channel using the loudspeakers, Lieutenant.”
 - “Channel open, Sir.”
 - “Soldiers of the 73rd… It’s with a heavy heart I speak to you now, but the Venterrans are minutes away from attacking your position. Help is on their way, but won’t get there in time to prevent an enemy attack. I won’t lie to you… The enemy is coming with heavy armour to make a dent in the line there. The odds are drastically against you. That’s not why I’m talking to you now though… We all know what’s a stake here and failure isn’t an option. Remember that your ancestors fought against similar odds. At Thermopylae, the shores of Normandy or at Geelvink Hill. Your ancestors held the line regardless of the odds and never looked back. Our children will speak of your great deeds of tonight as you will hold the line. You shall once again show these Venterrans what we Stoinian are made of. You’ve shown them that we fight like Lions and that is more than I could have hoped for. But… The current reality is that the Battle of Cornucopia hangs on a thin thread and you’re the only knot now that brings any strength to that thread. I’m not going to ask you to fight like Lions… I’m going to ask you to fight like demons. For when this war will be a long distant memory, both Stoinians and Venterrans will remember your actions and say: ‘The 73rd was there! They did not fail! They did not falter! They did not surrender! And above all, they held the line!’ Show these Venterrans what true rage is. For hell hath no fury like a Stoinian shackled. Hold the line men… Hold the line.”
 The speech had played over as the Venterrans had begun their attack. Häkkinen voice however cut through the sounds of plasma and bullets. The speech filled the soldiers of the 73rd with enough adrenaline that they fought like never before. They were like a lion backed against a wall. The fighting had stopped ten minutes after the bombers had unleashed havoc on the Venterran forces. For the 73rd held the line that day…

10:23 shiptime, 24/09/1620 PD
Bridge, HMS Mai Bhago,
Akali Squadron

 Commodore Ruadhán O’Hea wasn’t considered to be a remarkable naval officer in the larger Stoinian Royal Navy. The middle-aged Eirean had actually struggled a bit with his career and his often clashed with his superiors. That’s why his command of a Squadron came relatively later than expected. He had served faithfully under Blood 'n Guts for many years in the 3rd Star Corps. Be it at Byzantium during the Velutarian War or at Oporon in the First Mardakii Crusade, O’Hea more than compensated his lack of tactical imagination at times. That’s why he’d learned to listen to his crew and formulate a strategy together with them. What he didn’t know however, is that he had picked up a thing or two from them.
 For three months now the Venterran fleet had pushed the Stoinians back. Nearly three months of continuous scatter and retreat. Even now as the Venterrans pushed further into the Core and Elysium Sectors, Stoinian ships were outnumbered in battles. Much of the Navy was actually being used to evacuate civilians rather than to fight the Venterrans. Top brass had learned their lesson from the Velutarian War, in spite of planetary shields failing in need for an update. They wished to minimize the civilian casualties.
 O’Hea now was to retreat to the 1st Armada under Grand Admiral Harrington and form up with the 474th Fleet in the Macedonia System, after a recent skirmish with the Venterrans at Dolina. Akali Squadron was a combination of a battleship and a few cruisers and destroyers. All named after aspects of Raselian culture. The HMS Mai Bhago, O’Hea’s command ship was a Bellator-class command battleship. One of the more sturdier designs from recent shiplines. It was accompanied by two Corillia-class heavy cruisers, the Karpa Barsha of Kerala and the Kirpan of Telangana; one Nithea-class support cruiser, the Succour; two Falcon-class heavy destroyers, the Gharial and the Bharal; and lastly the Crested Porcupine, a Vulture-class missile destroyer. These all formed Akali Squadron, meaning Eternal One in Sanskirt. The Squadron upheld its legacy despite the fact that its officers and crew may not have all been part of Sikhian ethnicity. Nonetheless, they hoped their martial ferocity was at least half as much as those ancient warriors on Mother Terra.
O’Hea sat in his command chair pondering as usual about the war. He too, like many others in the Armed Forces, wondered why it wasn’t called a Crusade by now. The foundation was there, but top brass was clearly up to something. An offensive might be actually a change of scenery for once. Continuous running away won’t win a war. O’Hea was about to get the chance to do so.
 - “Skipper, I’m getting something faint on the frequencies.” Lieutenant Calum MacCathain called his CO to come over to the communications station.
 - “What is it Lieutenant?” O’Hea asked while marching towards MacCathain.
 - “I’m not sure. I detected a spike in subspace. Like some sort of shadow from a large mass.” MacCathain tried to run his diagnostics again, but to no avail “Huh, it disappeared now. Guess it was probably a malfunction I guess.”
 - “Have it run by engineering, we can’t be too sure in times of war.” he then turned towards his helmsman, Sub-Lieutenant Andreas Winters. “Helm, what’s the nearest inhabited system?”
 - “The Cappadocia System, Skipper. About 32 hours away from our current position.”
 - “What are it’s defence systems? Any nearby forces.”
 - “Planetary shields Mark-I and just a few MAC platforms, Skipper. Nearest ships are two days away.”
 O’Hea’s gut was telling him something. The Venterrans had been remarkably quiet in the area despite Cornucopia’s relative proximity. It was believed this was due to the Venterrans splitting off into multiple fleets rather than making a real unified front, O’Hea felt this situation had more to it than it showed at first glance. Surely engineering would confirm what he’d suspect. A Venterran fleet lurking for potential targets. The Venterrans had no sense of honour regarding killing innocent civilians. Even mocking the Stoinians at the battle of Cornucopia. God, these are some savages.
 - “Plot a course, but don’t hit it yet. I want confirmation from engineering first.”
 - “Aye, Skipper.”
 Commander Deth’imuola’nuruodo, or Thimuolan in short, was the ship’s Executive Officer. The emotionless Cheunh looked frowningly at his superior. Giving him the sign that he was curious about what he was planning without openly questioning his Commander. He soon returned to his duties and realized that if need be, the situation will be revealed in time.

 Half an hour later, O’Hea got his confirmation. The subspace spike was in fact a shadow of a large unknown mass. Given the current circumstances, this was all the confirmation O’Hea needed. He ordered his Command Staff to the Briefing Room. After all he wanted all their input for this situation. Despite the fact that most of their six hour-shifts had ended. For Stoinian vessels maintained an 18 hours cycle where the crew is constantly rotated. During peace time crews may diverge, but not so during war times. Especially a defensive one.
 - “Well gentlemen… I fear we’ve detected an incoming Venterran fleet. I suspect it’s heading for the Cappadocia system and we’re the nearest help they have.”
 - “Skipper, aren’t such presumptions too inaccurate to take with the information we have disposal?” Commander Thimuolan replied. “From what I understand, the scans we have could still be a malfunction.”
 - “Perhaps… But these are uncertain times.”
 - “What about the size of the shadow? Can we figure out how large this fleet is?” asked Lieutenant Commander Illés Szilárd, the tactical officer.
 - “A sizeable Dreadnought would be a good assumption. With a margin of error for supporting ships.” replied Commander Edward Dixon, the Chief Engineer.
 - “I doubt that even with our combined firepower we can take down such a Dreadnought. We’re better of mobilizing the fleet and rendezvous with them on the get go.” replied Lt. Cmdr. Szillárd.
 - “I agree with the Lieutenant Commander, Skipper. Even with our best odds, we’re outgunned.” added Commander Thimuolan.
 - 'Problem is that it would take the fleet 56 hours to get there. Given how the Venterrans use Slipspace like the Velutarians, we’re also outpaced." interjected Sub-Lieutenant Winters. “If we’re going to assume the Skipper’s correct, than we’re going to need to intervene as soon as possible.”
 - “True. Cappadocia’s planetary shields are among the first generation from the Velutarian War. If Cornucopia’s shields fell that quickly, just imagine how fast Cappadocia would fall as it only covers one continent.” Chief Dixon agreed.
 - “We still have to clear that up with Command. We can’t break protocol.” Thimuolan reminded them of the procedures.
 - “Hell, not if people’s lives are at stake!” Sub-Lieutenant Winters shouted.
 The situation was about to escalate and O’Hea felt it. He had to put an end to before complete anger overrun the conversation.
 - “We’re going to Cappadocia.”
 - “Sir? We ca-” Lt. Cmdr. Szillárd tried to interject.
 - “Lieutenant Commander Szillárd, the Commodore has been quite clear on the matter. We should prepare for the coming combat. I’m sure the Commodore will have enough to explain as it is.” Commander Thimuolan commented. He may disagree with O’Hea here, but he understood that once orders were given, they are to be followed. For if O’Hea was wrong, he would answer for his mistake.
 The meeting ended as it began, webbed in doubt and uncertainties. Group Captain Leonid Dmitreyevich Terekhov hailed the Mai Bhago and was transferred to the meeting room where O’Hea was stilling simmering down on the recent meeting with his staff. Terekhov’s appearance was that of a Ruskovite brute. A stark contrast to the now famous High Admiral Chekov. What Chekov had in his fiery heart and vicious personality, Terekhov lacked and was a reserved man like O’Hea. Though, he was more vocal than O’Hea when he didn’t like the odds against him. The low voice of Terekhov spoke over the comms. Had he not become a career military officer, he might have easily become a bass singer in one of the famous Ruskovite oktavist choirs.
 - “Commodore… I heard we’re changing course?” Terekhov’s tone was friendly, but with a hint of contempt.
 - “That’s correct. We have reason to believe we’ll be the only force able to reach Cappadocia in time and help evacuate the planet.”
 - “Hm, when did you receive this information?”
 - “Little over two hours ago. I’ve discussed it with my staff and confirmed the validity of our scans. It doesn’t look good. A Venterran Dreadnought with a full escort. A I’ll brief you in shortly. Was just about to call all senior officer of the squadron as a matter of fact.”
 - “I called you to voice some concerns. My guts told my something was wrong and I didn’t want to raise too many questions openly.” Terekhov sighed heavily as he was about to give a rant to his superior. He didn’t enjoy it, but his honour compelled him to do so. “We’re going in blind and the Venterrans have us on the run. Have you seen the recent battle reports? It looks like we’re flying straight to hell. How large do we speculate this Venterran fleet to be?”
 - “A Dreadnought, five or so Cruisers and tens of Destroyers from what we caught with our scanners.”
 - “By God… How are we going to stop them?”
 - “I’m not sure yet. But we’re going to make it work. We have to make a stand for once. How can we say we defend our people if we just keep running away? No, we’re going to make a stand at Cappadocia. Top brass may have my head afterwards. I’ll brief you in half an hour.”
 - “All right O’Hea. I see you’ve made up your mind and there’s no point in trying to change it. I just hope we’re going to survive all this. We’ve already taken a pretty good beating as it is.” Terekhov was a kind man and had known O’Hea for quite some time. He knew better than to further throw in doubt in the O’Hea’s void.
 - “We’ll give them hell. Just like in the Velutarian War”
 - “Into the jaws of Death, into the mouth of Hell… Flew our small squadron. God’s speed, Commodore.”
 - “God’s speed, Captain.”
 O’Hea turned off the comms hoping to find some rest and closure for a moment. Fate had other plans for him and his search for a small measure of peace The shipwide comm chirped in the Briefing Room.
 - “Skipper, incoming message from Cappadocia.”
 - “Put it through, bridge.”
 What followed was nothing but a fearful confirmation of O’Hea’s suspicions. Cappadocia was now under attack by a Dreadnought and tens of accompanying cruisers and corvettes. O’Hea then dismissed his Staff and sent out a message to his superior for an emergency meeting after rerouting the Squadron towards Cappadocia.

 Another hour later, O’Hea finally got his meeting with Rear Admiral Arashiro Masaru of the 3rd Fleet Section of the 16th Fleet. The holo of a rather small yet broad Shikokan officer with a traditional moustache growing from the upper corners of his lips. He asked inquisitively with a raised frown.
 - “Commodore O’Hea, I understand you’re already headed to Cappadocia?”
 - “Affirmative Admiral. We’re the best hope they got at the moment.”
 - “That’s where we disagree, Commodore. A larger combined fleet would have higher assurances.”
 - “With all due respect, Admiral. Cappadocia’s shields won’t hold them until the fleet’s arrival at Cappadocia.”
 - “My engineers tell me otherwise, Commodore. I’m ordering you to alter your course back to our rendezvous.”
 This was a pivotal moment in his career. Would he follow suit or keep clashing with his superiors, which had slowed down his career? Or would this war actually need more affirmative individual actions? O’Hea made his choice right then and there to commit to his plans.
 - “Rear Admiral, I’m afraid I can’t comply with that order. My conscience requires me to bring the offensive to the Venterrans. We can’t win this war by just running away.”
 - “So by becoming cannon fodder you’d win the war?! This isn’t the Velutarian War, Commodore. We have enough martyrs as it is in our history.”
 - “Not necessarily, Admiral.”
 - “What?”
 - “I may have an idea to defeat the enemy.”
 - “Care to explain, Commodore?”
 - “All I can say over the comms is that I’m going to give the Venterrans a taste of their own mettle. I can’t risk them intercepting it.”
 - “You understand I can’t sanction this?”
 - “I do, Sir. But I’d be more than happy to stand a court martial if I survive the battle.”
 - “Dammit, I can’t hold you back from doing it lightyears away. I just hope you know what you’re doing, Commodore.”
 - “We’ll do our best. Admiral.”
  “Godspeed, Commodore.”

19:42 shiptime,26/09/1620 PD
Bridge, HMS Mai Bhago, Cappadocia
Akali Squadron

 Akali Squadron had just arrived in distant orbit around Cappadocia. The planet was subject to Venterran bombardment as the fleet had already destroyed all orbital defence systems. Even the communications satellites had been destroyed. The planetary shields were also at the brink of giving up and it was unsure what would follow once they dropped. Would the Venterrans invade the planet? Or destroy the colony from orbit? These were the questions that dreaded the Nova Romans on Cappadocia. The Venterran advance had caught up with them and they weren’t able to flee. Despite the colony’s planetary shields, they were overloading faster than expected and despair flooded the colony.
 The squadron had been briefed of the plans and each ship’s role in the past 10 hours. O’Hea had actually thought a strategy out to retake the planet. It was a daring plan, but only fate would reveal whether or not it would succeed. For conventional naval tactics like the ones used at Cornucopia had failed the Stoinians up until now. They had to switch to their wits to stand a chance. Especially when they were outnumbered 3 to 1 and severally outgunned. O’Hea stood up from his chair and wanted to waste no time.
 - “Helmsman, how many ships?” O’Hea asked without any emotion.
 - “28, Skipper. One Dreadnought and Six Cruisers. Rest are all Destroyers.” Sub-Lieutenant Winters replied with a hearable tone of despair.
 - “Coms, open a channel to the Squadron.”
 - “Channel open!”
 - “All right, Akali Squadron this is it. We all know the drill. Stick to the plan and we’ll make these bastards wish they never went through that wormhole. God’s speed. Engage.”

 The short speech had eased off the tension on the crews. The Engineers had worked their asses off the past day and a half to actually make the ships battle-ready from their previous encounter at Dolina. Luckily, Stoinian ships were overengineered and among the sturdiest in the entire Sector. Functionality above all, was the principle that drove Stoinian military shipbuilding. While other civilizations expressed different ideas through ship design, be they fear-inducing daggers from a distant Ryccian Empire or a spiked elegant ships from the Drakari Celestial Imperium, Stoinians only did so for civilian ships. Military ships were built around the MAC cannons ever since their invention in the Velutarian War and O’Hea was going to utilize the ranged advantage they gave the Stoinians. Betting that the Venterrans in their arrogance wouldn’t make micro-jumps and instead focus on the planet. The saying from Mother Terra stuck and O’Hea saw that he’d struck gold.

 O’Hea looked at the holomap and saw that only a small portion of the Venterran Fleet was sent out to engage them. Another three ships headed out to protect the Venterran flank should the Stoinians press an offensive. As far as the Venterran Fleet Commander was concerned, the Stoinians were but a minor nuisance and Cappadocia was still the real prize. Their hubris will bring their own downfall. He thought.
 - “Akali Squadron, maintain formation. All MAC cannons, fire at will!” He gave the order over the comms and the first volley of MAC rounds were fired as soon as the Venterrans changed their vectors towards the Stoinians.
 The Mai Bhago, Bharal and Gharial diverged to port while the Crested Porcupine pressed starboard with the Karpa Barsha of Kerala & Kirpan of Telangana Cruisers protecting its port flank. The missile destroyer would play a major role and while it could unload its missiles by now, its arsenal would have to be spared for when the need truly came. All Stoinian starfighters were launched and sent to escort the Missile Destroyer Crested Porcupine and serve as an extra layer of point defence. The Cruisers and the port group unleashed volleys of their MAC rounds eliminating several smaller Venterran Destroyers. The Stoinians used their cannons longer range to picket off the Venterran ships when their weapons weren’t yet in range. Unleashing large projectiles magnetically accelerated to a significant portion of the speed of light was one of the surest way the Stoinians dealt damage.
 The battle was going well in the first minutes. Once the Venterrans arrived in their weapons’ range however, O’Hea did something unexpected. The Mai Bhago changed its vector to the opposite orbit of the one the bombarding fleet was on. What seemed like a cowering move at first, would be revealed as a long term investment. While it drifted away from the battle, the Mai Bhago continued to fire volley after volley at the Venterran Cruiser which was heading towards Bharal and the Gharial.
 Two Venterran Destroyers were flanking them and unloaded their missile volleys. The Venterrans were utterly convinced they’d eliminate the Stoinina Destroyers right then and there. Just as the missiles were to reach the kinetic shields, the two Destroyers opened their engines at full capacity and thrusted forwards with the ship’s maximum acceleration of 644 G’s. They flew between the Venterran Destroyers and headed towards the facing Cruiser coming their way while throwing the Venterran Destroyers into disarray. The missiles, of course, continued to follow their trail. Going towards the Cruiser they too unloaded their arsenal. The Support Cruiser Succour followed the Mai Bhago’s orbit and one of the Venterran Destroyers was pursuing it. Meanwhile the two Cruisers escorted the Missile Destroyer further to starboard.

 - “Mai Bhago, we need you to fire MAC rounds at our pursuing vessel.” Commander Ye Zhen over the comms calmly, though with a hint of discomfort.
 The young Qingese Officer now served as Acting Captain after Captain Jerah Jerayesh was killed in a rare bridge explosion. Support Cruisers weren’t really meant to engage in direct combat. Despite the Succour’s best efforts, the versatile Venterran Destroyers were now in range to fire upon them. O’Hea replied immediately.
 - “Sucoour, we read you. We’ll blow them to pieces no worries.” O’Hea replied before turning to Lieutenant Commander Szilárd. “You heard her. Target those Destroyers and give them a proper salute from Mr. Faraday.”
 - “You got it, Skipper!” The Lieutenant Commander replied with a cheerful tone. It seems the favour of battle had changed the Officer’s mood. O’Hea couldn’t help but smile at the sight of it.
 The Mai Bhago then used its thrusters to adjust for its orbit. When the ship was aligned, drifting off to its new orbit, and the battery crew was ready, a new volley of rounds were fired. Propelled by the magnetic laws of physics described by Faraday, the Venterran Destroyers took another volley of Meganewtons. After several rounds, their shields failed and the last volley pierced their hull. Letting it drift helplessly.
 Just in time, the shields of the Venterran Cruiser had failed and the Gharial and the Bharal flew right next to the hull of the Cruiser. Tens of seconds later, the Venterrans’ own missiles and torpedoes blasted through Cruiser’s hull and brought their allied ship down. The Stoinian crews cheered on as the battle moved into their favour. Ship by ship. The Mai Bhago fired its last MAC shots before Cappadocia would stand in the way. With the Cruiser eliminated by the port Destroyers, the Stoinians chipped off the remaining Venterran Destroyers in coordinated MAC strikes. While the Venterrans sent out more Destroyers to help the Cruiser, they didn’t arrive in time and were promptly sniped from thousands of kilometres. The starboard group continued to diverge even further, but the pursuing Cruiser had reached the two escorting Cruisers, the Karpa Barsha of Kerala and the Kirpan of Telangana, and set out to broadside both of them.
 Meanwhile the Venterrans set a group of Destroyers to intercept the Mai Bhago. The Dreadnought also changed vectors towards the Stoinian Cruisers, finally giving them the worthy attention.

 - “Bhago, this it the Bhalar. The Dreadnought is taking the bait. Looking mean and ugly with its two Cruisers and Three Destroyers accompanying her.” Group Captain Terekhov commented on the situation.
 - “Copy that Bhalar. Just stick to the plan and pick its escort off one by one. We’ll finish them off once we go around Cappadocia.” O’Hea reaffirmed his plan.
 - “Will do. Bhalar, out.”
 - “Helm, hit the engines again. I want to speed our round trip.” O’Hea ordered at his helmsman.
 - “Aye, Skipper. Hope our thruster will hold.” Sub-Lieutenant Winters answered.
 - “They’ll hold, Helmsman. They’ll hold.”
 The Stoinians regrouped into a Main Battle Group under Group Captain Terekhov as the Dreadnought reversed orbit and set out to intercept them. Megatons of mass was to suddenly change course and it took time to do so. The Mai Bhago even fired up its engines to hasten its orbit. Meanwhile the Succour would use its advanced comm systems to keep the separated ships in contact with each other as Cappadocia’s satellite network had been destroyed. The battle had lasted for 3 hours so far and it seemed fortune had indeed favoured the bold as about half of the Venterran Fleet was turned into orbital debris. The Mai Bhago however had no clue of the incoming Venterran Destroyers as the planet had blocked their sensors. They were flying blind and were in for a surprise.

 - “Skipper, five Venterran Destroyers on intercept vectors!” Lieutenant Natalia Cornea, the Sensors Officer, alerted her CO as her screen flashed with five hostiles.
 - “Just five?” O’Hea asked astonished.
 - “Affirmative. Just five, Skipper.” The Lieutenant reaffirmed her findings.
 O’Hea pondered for a moment. Why wasn’t the entire orbiting Venterran Fleet formed together? What could make them split o- Ah! The Venterran Destroyers must have been sent out earlier when the Mai Bhago diverted. The Venterran Fleet Commander must have ordered the Destroyers to eliminate his ship. At the time, the Commander must have been in his or her hubris as shown with the small portion of its fleet send out to engage the Stoinians. Meanwhile, the distance between the Destroyer group and the rest of the orbiting fleet must have expanded in such a way that the Destroyers were now all alone. Even if the orbiting remnant would alter course, it would take them just short of an hour to arrive at them. That was time enough.
 - “All right, Lieutenant Commander. Prepare for another of Faraday’s greetings.” He said to Lt. Cmdr. Szilárd, the tactical officer.
 - “Aye, Sir. Also arming missiles pods.” Szilárd replied.
 - “No! Keep them for when we meet the remnant group. Helm, keep the engines hot, we’re going to do the same the Gharial and Bharal.” He exchanged the orders to his Bridge Officers. They nodded and enjoyed the new cohesion their O’Hea seemingly showed for the first time. The crew was ready to face the Venterran Destroyers. Never surer of their actions in their joint career on the Mai Bhago.
 Once the Venterran Destroyers appeared on the Mai Bhago’s sensors, it set out to do the same trick the Gharial and the Bharal had done. Eliminate the Destroyers with its MAC cannon, capture the Venterran missiles and torpedoes in its tail and deliver them to the remnant Venterran group.
 The Main Battle Group had once again fired their MAC cannons to chip off the screens escorting the Dreadnought. Though once the Dreadnought’s weapons were in range, it started to put a lot of pressure on the shields of the Stoinian vessels. On top of that, one of the Venterran Cruisers altered course to claim the kill on the Succour which had positioned itself away from the fight. The Stoinians were perplexed by this sudden change, but took the Venterran mistake as a boon to eliminate the other Cruisers escorting the Dreadnought.

 Now that the Mai Bhago was fired upon by the Venterran Destroyers that survived its MAC volleys, it did the same trick as the Destroyers, firing up its engines and tailing the missiles and torpedoes. While spearheading to the next group of Venterrans that had circled around the planet, the Mai Bhago fired both forward and aft MAC cannons, chipping off the Destroyers both in front and at the rear of the ship. Giving the Venterrans volleys of Faraday salutes.
 The Main Battle Group however, was now facing the Dreadnought. Their shields started to fail and the crew started to pray that the overengineering of their ships would now pay off. Meters upon meters of Titanium-A3 layering started to chip off as the Venterrans enveloped the Stoinian ships in rounds of plasma. The Crested Porcupine now also unleashed its arsenal of M58 missiles towards both the intercepting Cruiser and the Dreadnought.

 The Venterran Cruiser that was pursuing the Succour was now completely out of the fighting. Out of range of both the Succour and the Main Battle Group. The Main Battle Group was now fighting against three larger Venterran ships and their ships took heavy hits. Meters of Titanium were chipped off from their hulls. Eventually, the Gharial was the first Stoinian ship to suffer hull breaches. The battle at Dolina had eroded the true potential of their hull. Luckily, the ship continued to fight on as the crew was still safe due to the ships structure. The honeycomb internal skeleton of the ship would also prevent from the enemy eliminating their ship easily.
 The Venterran Cruiser and starfighter escorts had succeeded in eliminating the Crested Porcupine before it could have unloaded all of its missiles. It was a blow in O’Hea’s plan, but the situation could still be saved.

 Meanwhile the Mai Bhago succeeded in eliminating the remaining Venterran ships that had circled around. Her shields however had taken a hard hit and would surely fail once they would face the Dreadnought. Luckily, hundreds of missiles and torpedoes still were on its tail. It could neither accelerate nor decelerate too much now or the missiles would catch up on them.
 - “Skipper, last Destroyer is making a run for it. Though it seems heavily damaged.” Lieutenant Cornea notified O’Hea.
 - “Tactical, are they still in range?” O’Hea asked Szilárd.
 - “Only aft MAC canons, Skipper.” Szilárd said as he smiled. O’Hea shared a short glance and merely nodded at him. “Proceeding with Faraday greeting protocols, Skipper.”
 Before the fleeing Destroyer could clear out from the debris, it was shattered to pieces by the Bhago’s aft MAC cannons. Another encouraging action for her crew.

 As ship systems all across the Main Battle Group failed, the missiles of the Crested Porcupine had dealt the killing blow to the two Venterran Cruisers. The Dreadnought’s shields were still active, but had also taken a blow. In effort to save the larger group, the Gharial set in on a ramming course of the Dreadnought’s engines.
 - “Gharial, what are you doing? Mekan, answer me!” O’Hea shouted over the comms as the Bhago was now back in communications range. He was already horrified by the Porcupine’s loss.
 - “I’m sorry, Commodore. Tens of decks are breached and we’ve lost the majority of our offensive systems have been disabled. I’m going to order an evacuation, Sir.” Commander Vimal Mekan Singh replied as apparently the bridge suffered from fire outbreaks. The man coughed as the smoke began to fill the room due to the ventilation system failing.
 - “Get to the escape pods, Mekan. Now!” O’Hea replied.
 - “Just one more thing.” Mekan tapped on the helms console. “All crew, this is the Commander speaking. The Gharial is set on an intercept course to the Dreadnought. All hands abandon ship. I repeat all hand abandon ship.” He then turned back at O’Hea on the viewscreen. “Just make sure my Newtonian gift makes your plan count, Sir.”
 - “Dammit, you son-of-a-bitch. Abandon ship now!” O’Hea couldn’t help but feel distress as he feared he’d lose another colleague again.
 The comms broke off and the Gharial set of with ramming speed three minutes later. O’Hea unknowing if Mekan had left the ship or joined in its fate.
Sacrificing itself, the Gharial brought down the Dreadnought’s shields and propulsion systems. The rest of the Main Battle Groupe diverted power to engines and made sure they were out of range from the Dreadnought and the incoming missiles the Mai Bhago carried behind her.
 With the Dreadnought now drifting in space, the Mai Bhago once again fired rounds of MAC cannons chipping away its hull. The Venterran Cruiser that had pursued the Succour now took the chance to flee as it was out of range of the Stoinian vessels. Its quest for blood had turned into the fleet’s only surviving ship. They had to report what had happened here.

 When the Mai Bhago was in range, her shields collapsed and grazed meters from the Dreadnought’s hull. Unleashing the last killing blow by the weapons of its allies. The space debris now settled around Cappadocia and the Stoinians won their first victory in the war. The Stoinian crews cheered as they established contact with Cappadocia.
 - “Skipper, dozens of escape pods are veering towards the planet after the Dreadnought’s explosion.” Lieutenant Cornea alerted her CO through the cheers of Bhago’s crew.
 - “Helm, get us in range to pick them up. Comms, contact them and see who made it.” O’Hea quickly acted to not waste any more Stoinian lives than need be.
 - “Setting course, Skipper.” Sub-Lieutenant Winters replied.
 - “Skipper, comms coming in from the escape pods… Commander Mekan, made it.” Lieutenant MacCathain notified his CO.
 O’Hea sat down while letting a heavy sigh. Even tilting his command chair backwards a little bit. He’d earned that little of relaxation now. His crew had performed excellently during the battle and they had found a new working cohesion. The battle had flared up a side within O’Hea he didn’t know he had. He decided right there, within a single heartbeat, that this would be the new Commodore O’Hea from now. The crew had brought the best out of him.
 - "Thank God… Notify Admiral Masaru and the 16th Fleet.

 While the Gharial and the Porcupine were lost, a large portion of their crews had actually survived the battle. The crew stood in disbelief over the last six hours and the battle that had taken place. They had actually won. Not through overwhelming force, but through the correct application of each ship’s specialization. All thanks to O’Hea’s sudden imaginative stratagem and the overengineering of Stoinian shipbuilding had made this victory possible.
 The Battle of Cappadocia became a rallying cry for the Stoinian Fleets which now were in position and encircled the Venterran Incursion. Like in the Velutarian War, superior tactics won the day. Though, naval commanders were surprised that such tactics had come from an unimaginative Officer as O’Hea. The Eirean had learned a trick or two from his crew and Akali Squadron had honoured the memory of its namesake. The tide of the war was about to change now, just like O’Hea’s career as an Officer.

17:34 planetary capital time, 17/09/1620 PD,
CorDefCom HQ, Ascension Spire, Cornucopia

 Häkkinen was in the Command Room again looking over the Venterran lines which had now circled around Ascension Spire. The spire’s artillery cannons were wrecking havoc on the encroaching Venterran forces, but the Venterran aircraft had started to find gabs in their defences and they were slowly eliminating the spire’s outer defences. Most of the civilian population was moved in the spire’s underground bunkers just under the factories which had been installed by the Firebases of the Support Dreadnoughts. The other spires of Cornucopia faced the same problems, two of them had already been breached by Venterran forces and the fighting had intensified. As Häkkinen stared again over the holomap showing him that Venterrans had breached the defensive lines, it became clear that Ascension Spire would soon face the same fate as the other spires. This war was a dreadful one, but news would soon spread to Häkkinen that would likely shatter him.
 - “Sir, incoming transmission from the Venterrans.” Shouted Colonel Qiu Ruogang, the Officer in charge of communications.
 Häkkinen strolled towards the Colonel’s console with a face that said it all. Leave me alone, I’ve got a goddamn war to win.
 - “Well, what is it?”
 - “Sir… It’s…”
 - “Whatever it is, you better tell me. The Venterrans are going to push against our last defensive lines before they are able to breach the Ascension Spire.”
 - “I’m sorry, Sir. The Venterrans have glassed Ignis.”
 - “What?!”
 Häkkinen felt as if a stake had gone through his heart. The pain nearly paralyzed him. He needed to see confirmation. He pushed the Colonel away and saw the transmission sent out by the Venterrans. It showed Recklez on his bridge as he looked over a planet. Shockingly it was indeed Ignis and Häkkinen felt the stake twisting in his heart. As the Venterran plasma beams fried Ignis’ crust, a tear came from  Häkkinen’s right eye. He knew the spot which was first targeted. It was the capital city Lahti where three of his children lived alongside his elderly parents. All wiped out in a single blight. The message then zoomed out, showing dozens of plasma beams fire on even the natural wonders of Ignis. His world was now on fire.
 - “Sir, the Venterrans are launching their attack.” Shouted one of the Officers, unknowing of the Field Marshal’s current state of torment.
 Häkkinen turned around. His eyes were visibly red from the pain and the Command Room fell silent. He sniffed one more time before stepping towards the holomap.
 - “Then we’ll keep fighting. We must hold the Ascension Spire’s walls.”
 Häkkinen then held off the Venterran attack for one more week. What seemed like a sure victory at the time with what the Venterrans hoped to be a compromised Commanding Officer, turned into one of the fighting’s most brutal carnages.

Sometime Before the Glassing of Ignis

 Colonel Devran Recklez sighed as he looked at the map of the Spires from his position on Point Obsidian. Venterran forces did well on the ground, but Stoinian aircraft were rather nimble avoiding the incoming orbital shells from the supporting warships above. The colonel knew that they only needed one more push to breach the enemy spires but things were complex on the ground with constant fighting making it difficult to create additional staging zones for incoming Venterran troops. However, despite this additional difficulty what truly gave the colonel a headache was the inability for his logistics corps to find suitable sites for additional staging areas due to the constant destruction and shift in terrain. Recklez looked carefully looking for an ideal zone when he saw exactly what he was looking for, a large space presumably used as a market center.
 - “If our troops could seize that position within the Spire City then our forces could establish a foothold and supply the Venterran push further into the spires.” he muttered softly to himself.
 He then looked up to a Communications officer and spoke.
 - “Get the Himiko’s revenge and inform Fleet Commander Kensei I might have found a staging ground to push further into their spire cities.”
 The officer offered a terse salute to acknowledge his orders and began to contact the Venterran flagship when an explosion rocked the building suddenly crushing the comms officer and disabling the long range comms.
 - “Status report!” roared the Colonel as his surviving officers slowly rose from the rubble.
 - “Sir, outside troops reported that a stoinian bomber got lucky and dropped their payload nearby”
 - “I see… can we restore long range communications and request air support?”
 - “No sir. We may be able to replace them but we will need to travel to the nearest forward operating base to request replacements. In the meantime sir, I think we had best evacuate all non-essential personnel including officers from point obsidian until we can resecure our positions.”
 The Colonel sighed but nodded in agreement.
 - “Very well, we will evacuate Point obsidian until further notice.”
 He then grabbed one of the wounded officers lying on the ground growling.
 - “You’re coming with me.” and marched towards the exit.
 As he carried the injured officer to the exit, he used his personal comms to order outside troops to dispatch a ground troop transport carrier to evacuate the wounded and nonessential personnel. He then heard the familiar growl of a T-55, a venterran troop transport vehicle, and exited the door handing off the injured officer to the crew and gestured for the rest of the wounded and staff to follow them into the transport.
 As Recklez helped the injured into the T-55 he suddenly felt a pang of sharp pain and grabbed his chest and felt something warm and wet. The Colonel looked down to see his hand coated in blood and fell backwards towards the ground in shock.
 - “Sniper!” A venterran trooper shouted as the garrison opened fired wildly hoping to suppress their unseen assailant and allow the rest of the injured onto the T-55s.
 The Colonel tried to say “Get the wounded on the T-55s” but all he could do in reality was cough up blood and struggle to remain conscious as he bled out. The Combat medics tried to reach the Colonel, but they too were suppressed by their unseen assailants. Until finally the Venterrans saw the glint of a stoinian scope and a Venterran Mardakii growled,.
 - “There they are! Open fire!”
 Point Obsidians troops continued to suppress the Stoinians as several other troops moved to cut the Stoinians off. By the time the Point Obsidians forces had neutralized the enemy Stoinians it was too late for the colonel as the combat medics couldn’t reach him before he bled out on the ground.

The Righteous Fury 48 hours before the glassing of Ignis

 Fleet Commander Sagan Reklez was furious. One of his lesser fleets, the Fleet of Merciful intent, was lost in the battle over Cappadocia. Venterran engineering and their previous engagements had proven that Venterran ship building was far superior with Pryde’s reckless maneuvers during the battle of Cornucopia proving the Stoinians needed at least five times as many ships to make it a fair fight in conventional combat. The Fleet Commander roared.
 - “HOW?! HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?!” repeatedly as his bridge crew slowly leaned into their seats to avoid drawing unwanted attention to themselves. The ship’s SAI, Raf, looked on neutrally and waited for his captain to stop his tantrum before replying,
 - “The Terrans were ingenius with their tactics utilizing an unforeseen flaw in our electronic countermeasure systems to create friendly fire incidents. Furthermore reports indicate that the fleet of merciful intent underestimated the Terrans before its destruction, sending their forces piecemeal instead of jumping straight into the fray with an in system jump. By the time the fleet had realized its mistake the situation was too late to remedy.”
 Recklez frowned but listened intently to the SAI’s explanation and asked.
 - “So if they were unable to exploit this flaw in the ECM then the Fleet of Merciful Intent would have been on top?”
 - “I believe so, Captain.” the SAI responded, causing the Fleet Commander to grin.
 - “I see, so then if the enemy were unable to use our own weapons against us then we are superior! But the fleet of merciful intent must be avenged. Plot a course for Cappodacia! We will glass their settlements and take their resources for the Federati-”
 - “Um… Sir Recklez,” A bridge comms officer spoke up, “there’s an incoming transmission from Fleet Commander Kensei. Should I patch it through?”
 - “Kensei? What the hell does he want?” growled Recklez confused by the sudden transmission
 - “I’m not sure sir, but it sounded urgent.” replied the comms officer.
 - “Very well patch it through.”
 The Fleet commander said dismissively, as a prerecorded message by Fleet Commander Akira Kensei was displayed.
 - “Recklez, since you’re the next of kin, I regret to inform you that your brother Colonel Devran Recklez was shot and killed by Stoinians during the battle of Cornucopia. Our troops were able to recover the body and in accordance with the traditions of the Venterran federation will return him to his next of kin for burial rites. However, because you are in the midst of combat, I have elected to send the Colonel back to the Recklez estate where your family can conduct the proper rites. I am sending this prerecorded transmission to both you and Commander Mayfeld so that you two can discuss your departure back to Venterran space to attend your brother’s funeral.”
 The transmission ends as Recklez’s heart sinks and his eyes water with rage.
 - “Sir?” the comms officer called out sympathetically, but Recklez doesn’t pay attention.
 - “My brother dead?! No… No… NOO!!!” Recklez cried out as his anger and grief consumed him, his men, initially concerned for their commanding officer soon began to fear for their lives as they remembered the last time Fleet Commander Recklez lost his temper murdering several bridge crew and abusing his authority to label the murders as summary executions for a list of imaginary crimes.
  "Captain! Commander Recklez, I understand that the loss of your relative is a devastating blow but we are in a combat zone sir. If you are unable to command please retire to your quarters and grieve while we chart a course back to Cornucopia."The SAI spoke up
 - “NO! I’ll not take orders from a Computer! Helmsman chart a course to the nearest Terran world! I will glass the surface of their planets into charred glass! And Let the Terran Filth watch in despair as their precious worlds become uninhabitable one by one!”
 - “My apologize Commander, but I have a suggestion for a target.” said Raf.
 - “Speak Computer.” growled the angry Fleet Commander
 - “The enemy commander on Cornucopia was one Field Marshal Valto Häkkinen, a native of the planet Ignis” responded Raf coldly.
 - “So Häkkinen is the one responsible for murdering my Kin!”
 - “No sir, that would be the-”
 - “Silence Computer! Helmsman chart a course to Ignis and have the fleet follow. We will glass this terran’s home and give him a fraction of the taste of what he has done to my clan and I!”
 The helmsman could only respond with a nervous “Aye Sir,” as furiously charted the fastest course to Ignis as he feared that charting a slower course would cost him his life. As soon as he finished charting the course the Fleet Commander ordered the fleet to jump into Slip Space.

Orbit above Ignis

 The Fleet of Righteous Fury swept away the Terran resistance quickly and ruthlessly. Unlike the Fleet of Merciful intent that had made the mistake of underestimating the Stoinians, the Fleet of Righteous Fury hammered any Terran warships that had remained to fight and dispatched boarding parties to exterminate the crews of surviving stoinian ship. Fleet Commander Recklez issued the order that no quarter was to be given to the enemy in direct violation of Fleet Commander Mayfeld’s own orders to take prisoners for study. However, the Fleet of Righteous Fury was loyal to Recklez and their crews sought to please their Commander with the blood of the Terrans. Once the fleet secured the space above Ignis, Recklez ordered his fleet to bombard the planet until their shields broke.
 - “Their final sight will be the wrath of Venterra” grumbled the Fleet Commander as he made preparations to glass the homeworld of the Terran Field Marshal.
 - “Computer you will record this transmission and spread the sight of the destruction of this dirt ball so that Häkkinen will taste a fraction of the grief I feel for his murder of my brother.”
 The SAI attempted to speak.
 - “Sir he-”
 - “HE IS RESPONSIBLE AND YOU WILL OBEY!!! OR I REPLACE YOU WITH A MORE COMPLACENT COMPUTER” Roared Recklez his anger mounting beyond the boiling point.
The SAI appeared to sigh in resignation and replied robotically.
 - “Your wish is my command. You may speak when ready sir.”
 The Fleet Commander grunted and spoke.
 -“In accordance with the way of Venterra I, Sagan Recklez, bestow upon this Terran filth, a thousand suns to avenge my kin. My kin of Venterran heart and my own blood. Field Marshal Häkkinen, you’ve killed my brother on your prison-world of Cornucopia and for that you’ll face my vengeance. Watch your homeworld as I shall make you suffer the same pain as I, laying waste to Ignis and your family. Their tears shall forever be crystallized in the glass of this world. A fate I will bring to all you Terran scum.”
 Recklez then signals for the Fleet to begin glassing the planet targetting their planetary capital and soon engulfing the entire planet in a blaze of radioactive plasma.

Somewhere in Stoinian Space, Fleet of Divine Wrath

 Fleet Commander Rath al Pryde grimaced as he paused his own campaign to hunt for Courvousier after receiving the transmission from Recklez depicting the full glassing of the Terran World of Ignis. He had pushed into what their enemies had called the Rhodesian sector and had finally received a challenge, when one of his lesser fleets was rebuffed by a Stoinian armada, but things had changed with the destruction of Ignis. Now Pryde and the rest of his fleet needed clarification on their operating parameters. Partial glassing, or the destruction of population centers from orbit was the norm for the Appraisal fleets operations to land troops to occupy a planet, but glassing entire worlds was different. That was the standard of the great purge. ‘Has the Appraisal Fleets moved from Appraisal to purging without informing me’ he thought concerned.
 - “Io, were you given new directives on our conduct with the Terrans?”
 - “No captain, our orders remain the same. Eliminate Terran resistance, keep prisoners of war alive for study and to collect intelligence on the ‘Stoinian Star kingdom’.” replied Io.
 - “I see, then…” Pryde muttered, his words trailing off as he became lost in thought.
 - “Captain if I may,” Io asked bringing the Fleet Commander back into reality.
 - “Go ahead” he replied tersely.
 - “Thank you sir, it is my belief that Commander Recklez acted recklessly ignoring his directives and glassing the entire planet was caused by the death of Colonel now Major General Devran Recklez on the Planet Cornucopia.”
 - “Right, I’m guessing the Venterran navy has already processed the late Col- I mean Major General’s death since they gave him the customary posthumous promotion.” replied Pryde.
 - “Indeed sir, Fleet Commander Kensei has informed the next of kin and has sent a transport ship for the Recklez estate to pick up the Majory General for funeral rites.” said the SAI.
 Pryde then sighed as he started to regret to what he was about to say.
 - “I know we’ve finally gotten a challenge with one of our lesser fleets being bested by a Stoinian Armada, but we must return to Cornucopia and convene a full meeting with the other fleet commanders. It’s clear that our operating parameter’s have changed with Recklez’s decision to glass a Terran world entirely and so we’ll need to summon the other fleet commanders to be on the same page. I know you all want to test our mettle against that Stoinian Armada (the bridge crew chuckle in response with some shouting ‘indeed’) in addition to supporting my hunt for the Terran Admiral Courvousier, but that must be placed on hold. The last thing the fleet of Divine wrath needs is to be kept out of the loop and risk events that untenable for the fleet. So I hope you’ll forgive the brief delay in continuing to test our mettle against a proper foe.”
 The bridge crew salute their ship’s captain and set about their tasks recharting a course back to Cornucopia as Pryde dispatched the following message.
 - “Fleet Commanders I wish to reconvene to strategize our next moves and conduct for the duration of the Appraisal war.”
 Pryde then sent the following message to Mayfeld.
 - “Fleet Commander Mayfeld, I understand that Fleet Commander Recklez was under significant mental stress resulting from the loss of his loved one, but that does not excuse his actions over Ignis. There is No Honor in what Fleet Commander Recklez has done. Major General Recklez was a casualty of war and one whose death would have been avenged on the battlefield. I understand we have discretion over how much of a planet we can glass, but I and from I can tell Fleet Commander Yamraiha have declined to glass entire worlds. Instead we have largely limited ourselvest to glassing population centers to support ground operations in smash and grab operations throughout Terran space. Commander, I hope you share my sentiments in hearing what that Reckless fool has to explain why Glassing the Terran World of Ignis was beneficial to the overall Appraisal of these Terrans. This is Fleet Commander Pryde over and out.” he then sent the transmission to Mayfeld unaware that the contents of the message remained unencrypted.

09:18 shiptime, 7/11/1620 PD
Admiral’s Command Room, HMS Manticore,
Tenerife, Core Sector

 King Andrei entered the Admiral’s Command Room of his personal flagship, the HMS Manticore. A dreadnought that had served directly under him from the Butchering of Velutaria through the First Mardakii Crusade. She was a majestic ship Andrei had grown fond of. She might not be the biggest and toughest ship in the Stoinian Navy, but she executed the needs of her King flawlessly. The newly retrofitted Admiral’s Command Room had been a new sight he still had to adjust to as he sipped from his morning tea. As he tasted the fine Earl Grey, he activated the holomap. The Joint Fleet with the Treecuu had given the Stoinians holographic technology and proved to be a much intuitive tool to project space combat once you understood the basics. He looked over the projection of the current lines of the Venterran Incursion, which by now had been declared the Second Mardakii Crusade.
 By now the Venterran Incursion had been stabilized and the defensive lines were formed. The Venterrans were able to make significant gains due to their larger attack fleets compared to the smaller Stoinian fleets that scattered after Corvousier was overwhelmed by the Venterran Fleets. Though the fleets long range tactics had given the Stoinians some advantages, but wasn’t enough to compensate for their outgunned situation. The Stoinians had amassed a large fleet to fend off the Venterrans instead of mobilizing to more strategic defensive positions. In hindsight however, that wouldn’t have mattered really. The nearby ships weren’t with enough numbers to hold off the Venterran fleets even if more reinforcements had arrived in time. The Cornucopian Defence Fleet had been 6.800 strong and the Venterran Fleets amassed a number of roughly 25.000 in total according to intelligence estimations. That was a number even tactics used in instances at Cappadocia could have won and the first battle was a blow to the Stoinian Navy with a loss of 4.000 ships. One thing was certain however. When the war was over, the Navy’s positioning would have to change to prevent any sort of Incursions to happen again.
 King Andrei tapped on his console to activate the intercom while viewing the Venterran Incursion on the holomap.
 - “Captain Ivanova, prepare the ship to leave within two hours. My gut tells me I’ll get top brass all in line today.”
 Andrei smiled as he realized he had referred to himself as top brass. Normally the term would be used by lower ranking grunts and officers. He was sure it would cheer up his Captain in the morning routine. Captain Susan Stepanovna Ivanova was a fierce lady that ran the King’s own ship tightly. She had the same flare as a Marine Drill Sergeant would have. She once berated to some technicians: “'Ivanova is always right. I will listen to Ivanova. I will not ignore Ivanova’s recommendations. Ivanova is God. And if this ever happens again, Ivanova will personally rip your lungs out.” It had become the unofficial mantra of the Manticore and Andrei could appreciate such martial fire in his crew.
 - “Aye, Captain. We’ll be ready once you give the call.” Ivanova replied sternly as ever.
 Andrei then saw his communications console bleep. The Grand Admiralty was checking in for their strategic meeting. Andrei hoped their final plans for Operation Centropia would come to fruition now.
 - “Greetings, ladies and gentlemen.” Andrei replied with his baritone voice.
 The 13 Grand Admirals replied to their liege as their rank would require it. Andrei wished to not spend unnecessary time on small pleasantries and directed the meeting straight into the stratagem required to win this war.

 - “Grand Admiral Vir, I must compliment you on your recent offensive. I’m sure the colonies of Vesta and Caelestis appreciate you intervened before the planetary shields fell. Though me must discuss the final details of our attack. We can’t let the Venterran Fleets beyond our lines and must press the offensive.”
 - “I agree with the sentiment, Sir. But wouldn’t that invite an attack from the back. It poses a clear opportunity for the Venterrans.” Grand Admiral Rhayna Arnolds replied. She may not have been involved in the Operation and stationed in the Qingese Sector now, but she still was a valuable member of the meeting.
 - “Not if we circle our fleets while advancing. We have to numbers to do so. Careful and strategic manoeuvring on the colonies will draw them away. Once I make my position known, Pryde and his fleet will come looking for me. That much is given.” Grand Admiral Corvousier replied. He had made that Fleet Commander a promise and he would give the bastard what he wanted.
 - “Grand Admirals. We have roughly 70.000 ships dedicated to our offensive. We’ve waited long enough. We have the numbers and guns to push the Venterrans back straight to Cornucopia. If we circle our fleets around as Corvousier suggested numerous times, our victory is guaranteed.” Strategos Hague called out against the stalling of the other Grand Admirals. This was a war within core Stoinian territory and they’d need to act accordingly.
 Andrei nodded at Strategos Hague. They were on the same page and formed a driving duo between the Grand Admirals.
 - “Agreed. We’ve been over this and initial analysts agree with us. The time to start with Operation Centropia is now. Once Grand Admiral Corvousier launches an attack through Miracle, Gnarvis and Perth, the Venterrans will drawn out towards him. Then Grand Admiral Harrington and Vir push forward again to Corvousier’s offensive scrambling the ships between fleets to keep Corvousier hidden.  Meanwhile I and Winton launch raids from the Elysium and Core Sector targeting bombarding Venterran fleets. When we eliminate those fleets we turn back to our side of the border. They’re already disorganized as it it.” King Andrei elaborated on the strategy.
 - “We kick them in the butt and you give them migraine. A sound plan, Sir. The Venterran Fleets do seem disorganized and have different objectives. We attack now and they’ll likely further diverge instead of forming a combined front.” Grand Admiral Vir affirmed the King’s plans.
 - “Or finally gives them a motive to unite.” Grand Admiral Boxleitner sneered.
 - “Unlikely. Intelligence reports confirm that the scattered fleets have different tactics to achieve their goals. Hell, not all Commanders order a glassing on a harmless planet.” Strategos Hague replied with a begrudging tone.
 - “Indeed, the fleets have different goals. Pryde and Yamraiha seem to be on a hunt and scout mission. Kensei hasn’t left the Cornucopia system while Recklez and Mayfeld occupy the incursion zone. While I understand the reservations that the raiding fleet may come for our butts, incoming fleets should be able to prevent them from doing any harm. The plan is sound and it’ll succeed.” Grand Admiral Harrington replied as the menacing lady she’s always been when it came to fighting the enemies of the Kingdom. Her Death Squadron in the Velutarian War proved to show that Harrington wasn’t someone that fooled around.
 - “I do still worry about our tactics to engage the Venterrans. At short range their weapons are deadlier than what we’ve faced in the Velutarian War.” Corvousier replied.
 - “Split your forces,” King Andrei replied “Use half of your larger ships to snipe them from a distance while the bulk jumps closer to the Venterran fleet. Immediately opening fire on them and entice them. That way they’ll be drawn into battle while we still maintain our long range advantage.”
 - “I agree, but Mayfeld has proven to be an adaptable fellow. He won’t fall for such contraptions.” Grand Admiral Pyke voiced his concerns. The man had created a formation that was named after him and was seen by many as an expert tactician.
 - “Mayfeld does indeed raise concerns, but alterations in tactics may prove useful. I suggest we give tactical liberties to our Captains. Especially the Cheunh officers as their way of thinking is more calculated. It will throw off even the most experienced Venterran Commanders.” Strategos Hague affirmed his stance.
 - “Indeed, perhaps we should advise with the Kontauri as well? They could have a fresh look on space combat unlike us.” King Andrei suggested and was met with different glares. Ranging from supportive, to outright disappointment.
 - “By God, Sir. The primitives barely have any experience with space travel and now you want them to dictate our strategy?” Grand Admiral Clarke replied. The man came straight from the Tozorian Corridor and firmly denied any positive aspects of primitive species.
 - “Not our strategy, just the tactics. Don’t judge so hastily, they might surprise you, Clarke.” Hague answered Clarke’s question.
 - “Or we give them enough intel to finally form a rebellion. The only people we can truly trust is us Terrans. Stoinian history has proven it.” Grand Admiral Ironheart sided with Clarke.
 - “In case you have forgotten, the Venterrans ARE Terrans.” King Andrei replied “We’re in a premiere of our history. We have to adapt to our enemy or we will fail.”
 - “Studies have shown that there are significant alterations, Sir.” Corvousier interjected. “Ever since Cornucopia, I’ve monitored our scientists analyses on Venterran bodies. However, it is beside the point.”
 - “I assure you we’ll figure their origins out once we settle at a table with them for peace. Now back to the offensives…” King Andrei dragged the conversation back to the point.
 For two more hours the Grand Admirals, Strategos and King debated on all types of strategies. From attacking tactics to fallback positions and readjustments in weaponry to prevent the Venterran mistakes at Cappadocia to happen to their own ships. All in all Operation Centropia was finalized and the order was given. Stoinian fleet set out to recapture systems or raid the fleets supporting their war efforts.  However, it would all happen in a disorderly pattern that would take the Venterran Fleet Commanders a headache while they adapted to the moving frontlines and new tactics. It was time the Stoinians brought their ancestral start back under their banner and as their anthem would say: “Our Proud Lion roars once more!”

Cornucopia System, Kensei’s Flagship Himiko’s Revenge

 Fleet Commander Kensei remained silent as the other Fleet Commanders awaited Pryde’s arrival from the Rhodesian sector. The air between the 4 Fleet Commanders was tense as Yamraiha and Recklez stared daggers at each other. Meanwhile Kensei watched as Fleet Commander Mayfeld reading the most recent intelligence report quietly instead of address the tensions when he heard the hiss of the conference door open. Kensei watched as Pryde enter the conference room of his flagship the Himiko’s revenge and listened as Pryde spoke
 - “Thank you fleet commanders for hearing my request to convene an FC meeting to discuss our next moves for the duration of the war.”
 - “Indeed, we must plan our next moves in light of recent events.” replied Mayfeld.
 - “Before we can plan our next move we do need to resolve the strain on our supply lines. I’ve noticed recently that supplies meant to resupply our forces in the Rhodesian sector were diverted to the Occupation force under Recklez’s command. This is unacceptable, and part of the reason why one of my lesser fleets was repulsed by the Terrans.” said Pryde.
 - “I agree with Pryde, it’s bad enough that the planetary invasions are eating up our supplies but they’re also dragging our troops into a bloody quagmire. Recent intelligence reports also report that the Terrans have been galvanized by Recklez’s decision to glass the Terran world.” Said Yamraiha coldly.
 - “The glassing of Ignis was necessary to break the spirits of the Terran filth and remind them of the fate that awaits them.” Replied Recklez unrepentant of his actions. - “And in doing so you’ve only served to unite the terrans against us. Your ploy failed, Recklez, and with that failure you’ve jeopardized the appraisal fleet.” Yamraiha snapped back.
 Pryde nodded in agreement as the blood within Recklez began to to boil.
 - “I’ll have you know” Recklez started to say.
 - “Your brother was killed in combat, an honorable fate for a Venterran officer. His death was already avenged when his troops killed his assassins.” Interrupted Pryde.
 - “No, they did not Kill Häkkinen. It is Häkkinen’s fault my brother died for it was he who sent those assassins.” grumbled Recklez.
 It was at this moment that Kensei finally spoke.
 - “Do not speak such baseless lies Recklez. Häkkinen has been engaging my forces with little rest and no reprieve for the last few months to plan such an assassination. Furthermore, he would not have been able to identify your brother since my forces have all but destroyed their intelligence capabilities on the ground. Outside of frontline scouts they lack any sensors or means to hack our communications to determine Major General Recklez’s position. I’m sorry Recklez but the Terrans simply got lucky when they launched a suicidal raid on Point Obsidian”
 - “I refuse to believe that!” roared Recklez “IT HAS TO BE A TERRAN PLOT!”
 Mayfeld sighed as he tapped the table and spoke,
 - “Recklez, shut up.” He then continued, “This conversation is going nowhere. I know you want Recklez to explain his actions, Pryde, but we have more pressing matters to attend like resolving our logistical issues. What’s done is done. Grilling Recklez now will not restore Ignis nor will it demoralize the Terrans. Recklez had the right of vengeance and acted upon it, but I can agree that the way he went about it was reckless to say the least. I am aware that Recklez’s actions have not only failed to demoralize the terrans but have also galvanized the enemy. However, it was only a matter of time before the enemy would rally their forces to launch a counter attack, and so Recklez merely accelerated that fact.”
 Before Pryde could reply in shock Yamraiha cried out.
 - “Merely accelerated?! By the seven rings do you hear what you’re saying Mayfeld?!”
 - “I am fully aware that you think I’m condoning Recklez’s actions, but his actions are insignificant in the long term. Yamraiha you must understand that we would have glassed their worlds if we were ordered to commence the Great Purge, all Recklez has done is show a preview of their fate should we judge them to extinction. If these Terrans are as smart as our appraisal forces have indicated then they will perform as we expect or die.” said Mayfeld as a matter of fact, Recklez grunted in approval.
 - “Now with these Terrans attempting to counter us we must seize additional worlds and take their supplies for own. I know you and Pryde want us to withdraw from some of the occupied worlds but we will not. We will continue the occupation and strip their worlds for resources.”
 - “But Sir, Mayfeld, the occupation forces are cutting into the Appraisal fleets’ supplies instead of supplying us they are the ones guzzling supplies. I don’t believe doubling down on this strategy is a good idea.” said Pryde.
 - “I agree with Pryde’s assessment, we should relieve our supply lines by withdrawing from some of the costlier worlds.” Added Yamraiha,
 - “We will do no such thing.” responded Mayfeld calmly.
 Mayfeld then continued.
 -“Yamraiha, I’d like you to assist Recklez’s forces and push back into the Elysium sector and launch diversionary raids so that Recklez could invade Agnoux, Stigny and Omey systems. Pryde you will assist me in a push into the Rhodesian sector. Intelligence believes that Courvousier was sighted in that sector, and so you will have your chance to duel the Terran. Although I do not know why you seek to challenge the Terran when they aren’t worthy to be granted the right of duels.”
 - “You were not there Mayfeld, but that Terran performed admirably covering for the non-combatants when we were unaware that they were still in the midst of clearing them from the combat zone. He fought well enough to warrant the honor of a duel, but he chose to flee with the non-combatants as another vessel the, Tangaloa, was ordered sacrificed herself to save them all. That… was unacceptable, and so I swore to hunt him down to avenge the dishonor he wrought by acting in such a cowardly manner after displaying such ferocity in battle.” replied Pryde
 Yamraiha meanwhile thought about putting aside her opinions, but she couldn’t support the reckless strategy put forth by Mayfeld. Furthermore she couldn’t stomach working with Recklez who would undoubtedly try to claim that he was the superior officer despite being equal in rank and so she put her foot down saying,
 - “With all due respect Mayfeld I refuse to support this farce any longer. I have enough data on the Terrans to back up my assertions and I refuse to support Recklez’s personal vendetta against the Terrans. I will withdraw my fleet here from their current positions in the Elysium sector and Support Kensei’s operations here to defend the Cornucopia system. And before you protest Mayfeld, my withdrawal will alleviate the supply chain issues so you can divert my share to yours and Recklez’s pet projects in the occupied zone.”
 She then looked over at Kensei who remained quiet for much of the meeting.
 - “I hope you don’t mind sharing your supplies Kensei.”
 Kensei looked over at Mayfeld who quietly considered his options then to Recklez who looked as if he was about to explode with rage, and then to Pryde who briefly flashed a grin in support of Yamraiha. Kensei sighed and replied.
 - “If Mayfeld accepts your proposition to give up your share of the supplies sent in from the wormhole, then I will share my supplies with you.” Yamraiha was about to thank Kensei when he stopped her.
 - “You have to understand, that accepting my share of supplies will mean that you will be attached to my command. I will give you the tactical freedom to operate within the Cornucopia system and deal with the enemy you see fit, but the final say in regards to the defense of Cornucopia system is mine. I will take your advice as my second in command, but I will choose what our best course is.”
 Yamraiha thought about what Kensei said as Pryde spoke up.
 - “Sir, Mayfeld perhaps you can accept Yamraiha’s offer to give up her supplies in penance for her decision not to support Recklez’s offensive operations. The lack of support will serve as the proper penance for Recklez as well. He will reap what he sows.”
 Mayfeld sighed.
 - “Very well, Recklez will continue his push alone, and so he will have 60% of Yamraiha’s former share, and Pryde you will have your full share and we will use Yamraiha’s remaining share to supply our forces into the Rhodesian sector. Will that be satisfactory,”
 Yamraiha nodded.
 - “It is, and Kensei, You saved my life during the Wako incident, I wouldn’t mind being your subordinate temporarily.” Recklez simply grunted as he muttered curses towards Pryde and Yamraiha knowing full well that another explosive tantrum would only hurt his operations in the occupation zone. Pryde grinned as he replied.
 - “Perfectly so, Sir.”
 While Kensei simply sighed and replied with a terse “Aye”. Once their logistical situation was handled the 5 commanders carried on discussing and debating other matters until they departed to their respective fleets to engage the Terrans.

08:32 shiptime, 14/11/1620 PD
Captain’s Ready Room, HMS Azhdaya, 3rd Star Corps
Chimay, Elysium Sector, Stoinian Star Kingdom

 High Admiral Chekov had been requested to join Grand Admiral Winton’s ranks in the offensive against the Venterran Incursion. When the call came, Pavel Andreyevich Chekov answered within five minutes. He was perhaps the fiercest Admiral the Stoinian Navy had and when it became apparent the Venterran, Terran Brethren, had allied with the Mardakii against Stoinia, Chekov scrambled his best Fleet Division. Fleet Division Delta of the 66th Fleet of Chekov’s 3rd Star Corps was filled with Officers who served with him in the Velutarian War and the First Mardakii Crusade. Most recently, first contact with the Ryccian Empire and Drakari Celestial Imperium. Like Chekov they had spared their fury for the battle field. Reports of Cornucopia’s initial defence where the Venterrans targeted civilians and the Venterrans glassing of cities and Ignis had boiled Chekov’s anger to a point which he had hope he wouldn’t have to face again. Yet his nation called to him again. He didn’t fail her then, he won’t fail her now. Ol’ Blood ‘n Guts would indeed roar once more.
 Chekov sipped the last bit of his coffee while enjoying the view from the Captain’s Ready Room. As a High Admiral he had different luxuries, but he sure did miss the good ol’ days when he had such a room for himself. Captain Edina Budai had loaned her ship’s command for this occasion. She knew Chekov would want a hands on approach. The scars Chekov wore weren’t a merely an accident. They were perforated into his face by a Mardakii he personally slew in the last Crusade. Chekov, like many Hyperions who’d stalk Khisons for hours, was on the hunt again.
 He let his coffee pot on the table and stood up. Straightening his uniform as he left the room. He strolled right out of it and turned directly to Captain Budai who’d taken over as Chekov’s XO when it came to the Azhdaya’s operations.
 - “Captain, how’s the planetary bombardment going of the Venterran forces?” he asked with a sharp tone.
 Captain Budai turned around and towered over the fairly small High Admiral as she came from a high gravity world.
 - “On schedule, Sir. Their infrastructure has been completely destroyed.”
 - “Excellent, we’ll start preparing for a ground invasion.”
 The Tactical Officer of the Azhdaya was actually a brand new officer transferred from East Point. Despite Chekov’s choice for veterans, he did wish to pass on their mettle to the newer generations. The only true way to do so, is through direct action.
 - “Lieutenant Commander. I saw you raise a brow, why?” Chekov spoke with the same sharp tone.  He wanted to teach the young officer, but he couldn’t help but enjoy scaring them from time to time.
 - “Nothing, Sir.”
 - “Spit it out, son. Before the Venterrans might do that for you.”
 - “It’s just… Shouldn’t we just bombard them from orbit, Sir?”
 Ah, the age old question, Chekov thought. The young man clearly still had some green behind his ears. Chekov maintained his menacing stare while pointing to his scars.
 - “You see this?”
 The officer merely nodded, not wishing to say something that would make the High Admiral angrier.
 - “I fought Velutarians before you were even conceived. I damn well earned these scars while you were still suckling on your mother’s breast.” he circled around, looking at all the new officers of the Azhdaya’s crew “Aye, we might just bombard them from orbit. In our comfortable leather chairs, but would that make us better than them? They glassed an entire planet for sports! They have drawn blood first and I don’t know about you, but my blood has been boiling for our entire three weeks trip. The same blood that run through our ancestors who fought at Geelvink Hill in Sayed’s Charge, Alexandru’s duel against Warlord Quclex, Traian’s Clipping of the Marcavani and at the Butchering of Velutaria where I stood alongside your fathers. That blood doesn’t clot when your nation’s being agonized by barbarians. It boils and it unleashes a wrath from within that can only be silenced once all enemies are annihilated. It’s what has kept the Star Kingdom alive and will keep it so! And I for one, REFUSE to lower myself to the same tactics as the vile fornicated Mardakii-loving faeces named Sagan Recklez. We stepped towards the stars to prove Terran strength. We cannot do that from orbit. We only achieve that by getting our own humble boots on the ground. That is the true Stoinian way and I shall lead it personally.”
 Chekov turned to the Communications Officer.
 -“Lieutenant, tell our troop carriers that we launch in two hours. I’ll personally lead the attack. While you’re at it, get line with Colonel Koeremoer to the Ready Room.”
 The deck then filled with crew saluting Chekov and shouting “Hear the Stoinian Lion roar!”

Two hours later,
Echo-826, Condor-class heavy attack gunship

 Colonel Koeremoer had convinced Chekov that his men of the Stoinian Foreign Legion were ready for the task to serve as the first wave against the Venterran ground forces. He would see today if the Colonel’s project had yielded a good result. He had changed into Marine Battle Armour and only equipped his sword and a M28 Magnum pistol. The same equipment he used on the First Mardakii Crusade. A few faces of his Marine detachment had actually joined him in that Crusade and he couldn’t help but feel a warm feeling as he smiled at his compatriots. It was indeed just like old times. Chekov’s Marine detachment would meet up with the Stoinian Foreign Legion’s 2nd Mandalore Infantry Regiment and the 5th Cadia Infantry Regiment. The first one was composed of Ryccian Mandalorians who sought out a challenge into the martial Star Kingdom as they felt the Ryccian Empire wouldn’t give them anymore challenges. How wrong they were with the recent political development in Ryccia, but now they were stuck to the Legion. The other Regiment was named after a Drakari planet and it had all numbers of the Imperium’s species in it.
 Chekov grinned at the memory when he compared the Drakari Admiral’s claws to that of the Mardakii. Fate had indeed an ironic sense of humour.
 - “High Admiral, ETA to Place de la Chimay is two minutes.”
 The countdown had begun. There was no significant AA fire as the Stoinian aircraft had diverted the Venterran atmosphere planets away from the city. Chekov pressed the safety harness upwards and grabbed a barrel to stand upright despite the gunship’s manoeuvres.
 - “Now, boys. We’re going to reclaim this planet for our proud nation. Once this door opens…” Chekov clattered his sword against Condor’s backdoor “I want you all to follow my lead. Get to cover quickly and all that. You know the drill, for you are amongst Stoinia’s finest Marines. Make your fathers proud today and Chimay will never forget you for it. Today we rip out the hope from these xeno-lovers straight from their spines so that they may never forget our Proud Lion’s roar!”
 The Marines shouted their famous ura as it echoed in the Condor’s hull. They were ready for it, the Lion had cried to their hearts.
 - “High Admiral, Colonel Koeremoer is requesting a comm line with you now.”
 - “Now, out of all the times to choose… Patch him through.”
 Chekov was then shocked to hear a song being sung by all kind of different voices. He wasn’t sure what to make of it, but it sounded like they were brothers to each other. Brothers in arms and Chekov couldn’t help but feel its unison in his heart. When the song ended Koeremoer chatted over the comms.
 - “Vode an, High Admiral. A Mandalorian chant that’s become an anthem of the Legion. I hope it helped your blood boil for the battle.” Koeremoer said jokingly over the comms.
 - “Let’s hope your xenos fight better than they sing, Colonel.” Chekov sneered back at him.
 - “Oh that they’ll do, Sir.”
 The doors of the Condor then hissed open as the light turned green. Chekov’s Marines pushed the safety harnesses up and grabbed their guns. Ready for the assault.
 - “All right you sons-of-bitches! Let’s carve out these xenolovers! Let them hear our roar!” Chekov shouted as he raised his sword and pistol in this other hand.
 Chekov and his Marines then charged out of the Pelican towards cover. The Venterrans were now trying to flank them from the street corners, but Chekov rallied his Marines towards them. Swinging his sword to prepare to slice open the Mardakii, he looked back to watch his Marines. What he saw surprised him. Yapatha, Drakari, Limavu, Teetac and fellow Terran brethren from the Imperium and the Ryccian Empire. The Mandalorians even flew with their jetpacks. Species all over the Sector were fighting alongside him. For his nation against an enemy that allied itself to Stoinia’s sworn enemy. Chekov didn’t know what to think of it. But as the Venterran plasma bullets started to head their way, he smiled as found new brothers in arms. He aimed his pistol straight to head of a Mardakii and pulled the trigger. The first Stoinian shot had made a killing blow and Chekov’s hunt had begun. He rallied all of his new brothers and sisters in arms once more.
 - “For Mankind! For the Star Kingdom! For the King! Hear us roar you dunce wormhole ogres!”

Cornucopia system, Kensei’s Flagship Himiko’s Revenge

 Fleet Commander Kensei remained silent as Yamraiha reported the events occuring outside the Cornucopia system via the comms. As expected Recklez’s assault spread his forces too thin and they were thoroughly routed by a numerically superior armada. Recklez’s forces were outnumbered 10 to 1 and had no choice but to retreat back to Chimay where they scattered.
 - “One Everant is an insignificant bug, a hundred, a nuisance, but a horde of them… A horde can fell a titan if it isn’t careful. Mayfeld’s a competent commander on the battlefield, but his compromises to appease House Recklez may have cost us the war. You and I can agree that Mayfeld was in no position to withdraw when the occupied planets finally started to churn out some supplies for the Appraisal fleet, but his decision not to consolidate our forces and follow Recklez’s idea to expand and invade other worlds was risky. You smartly refused, but in doing so Yamraiha, the northern sectors are now in jeopardy. I will not ask you to cover for that fool’s mistakes, but we must prepare now for the inevitable despite the success of the southern thrust into Rhodesia. Mayfeld and Pryde have managed to repel the enemy at Miracle and Muneron pushing once more towards Rhodesia, but with Recklez’s forces collapsing to the north they have no choice but to abandon the spoils of their victory.” said Kensei.
 - “So we’re entering the end game then?” asked Yamraiha.
 - “Indeed, as I expected the High Command never intended for the 5 of us to destroy this Stoinian Star Kingdom. It should have been obvious by the state of the supplies after the battle lines had stabilized that we would have issues moving beyond our current positions without stretching them. And that we were only meant to make planetary raids taking what’s necessary and then leaving before the Terrans could amass a large enough fleet to repel us” said Kensei. He then continued, “I don’t intend for my ground forces to fight the incoming Stoinians exhausted when they inevitably arrive to relieve the Terran defenders. Despite allowing Recklez to show Hakkinen and his resistance fighters the footage of the glassing of Ignis, they have yet to break fighting valiantly even when our forces breached the spire.”
 - “He’s earned your respect hasn’t he?” asked Yamraiha.
 - “He’s certainly worthy of the title the Terrans have bestowed on him… ‘wall’.” Replied Kensei chuckling as he looked over to a holomap of Cornucopia and then back to Yamraiha.
 - “Don’t tell Mayfeld or Recklez, but I intend to allow the man two days to grieve in peace, and allow both of our forces much needed rest before resuming the fight.” said Kensei.
 - “Is that wise?” asked Yamraiha,
 - “I do not know, but what I do know is our men need some rest. If the enemy benefits as well then so be it, that’s a bridge I will have to live with.”
 - “I understand, Kensei, and I will continue to prepare our defenses for the inevitable battle. Yamraiha, out.” she replied as Kensei looked back at the map.
 - “Himiko order our ground forces to stop their current assaults on the terran world and regroup for some much needed R&R. Tell them to stay vigilant for a Terran counterstrike but to focus on recuperating their stamina since we expect Terran reinforcements in the coming months.”
 - “Understood sir. anything else?” replied the SAI.
 - “Yes as a matter of fact, launch a private message down to the planet. I’m sure their surviving comms officers will likely intercept it, but tell the Terrans we will grant them two days to rest, to grieve, and to bury their dead, we will not assault their positions for those two days.”
 Himiko frowned as she spoek.
 - “I know you convinced Yamraiha that the 2 days of R&R was necessary for our troops but we could just as easily rotate frontline troops with reserves and continue the assault on their spires. Are you going soft Kensei?”
 - “Perhaps, I wouldn’t bat an eye if millions of non-combatants died simply because they are collateral, It is our job to kill the enemy and if non-combatants become mixed in then that is the failure of the enemy… However, what Recklez did… If I had to put it into words was unacceptable nay dishonorable. He claimed the right of vengeance… And rather than take his vengeance upon his self proclaimed target, Hakkinen, Recklez chose to massacre an entire world to satiate his bloodlust and wrath. He murdered those unrelated to the right of Vengeance and disobeyed our directives to take prisoners, showing no mercy…”
 - “Fair enough, but why only two days, you know the Terrans would need more to bury their dead or even grieve?” asked Himiko.
 - “If I unilaterally stopped fighting for longer than two days, Mayfeld and Pryde would be suspicious. After all there are still Terrans on Cornucopia and while I’ve successfully occupied most of the planet it still has pockets of fierce resistance from the remaining defenders. So Two days is the most I can give our troops and the Terrans.” responded Kensei.
 Himiko was about to say something but shook her head as she responded.
 - “Very well, dispatching message to the Terrans now.”
 - “Häkkinen, by now my voice must be familiar after listening to our towers over the last few months to warrant an introduction. You may choose to continue fighting with your troops, but for the next two days my forces will suspend their current offensives to rest and recover our war dead. My men will not fire the first shot if we encounter your forces while recovering the dead. This I swear as the Fleet Commander in charge of this invading force. And so Häkkinen, I offer you these 48 hours to grieve, to bury your dead or throw your lives away. Kensei Out.”

06:45, 16/11/1620 PD
CorDefCom, Ascension Spire, Cornucopia

 Häkkinen played the Commander Kensei’s message over and over. Looking at hints that might suggest the Commander was lying. He didn’t quite believe the sincerity of the message.
 - “Dammit, why they giving us two days? What the hell could stop them from continuing to push forward? It’s not like them to suddenly stop their advance.” Häkkinen spoke in disbelief in the Command Room.
 - “Sir, perhaps we’ve won their respect?” asked Colonel Qiu Ruogang.
 - “Mind you that they ripped out the spines of Marines in boarding actions… Or have we forgotten that?”
 The room fell silent as no one knew what to make from the Venterran message.
 - “We could use the ceasefire however…” Häkkinen muttered, unsure of the course of action he should take.
 - “Sir… We should take this opportunity. We’ve suffered massive casualties as it is.” Colonel Ruogang replied.
 - “Very well… Send this message to to the Venterrans over the speakers: Agreed.”
 - “On it, Sir. Right away.”
-  “All right, let’s get everyone on the move to gather our dead. I want squads escorting our burial teams, but if they fire first, I’ll personally throw them to the Venterrans.”

22:31, 22/11/1620 PD
Faris Base, Cascanna, Casaria

 John awoke from his cryo sleep, smashing his arms against the pod’s window. He’d grown quite used to to the process by now, but the shock always had a strange effect on his body. Taking a few grasps of fresh air to pump up his body with fresh oxygen, he slowly began to see beyond the window. The red alarm sirens flared up the room as John began to hear the noise again. Just what was it this time? The Velutarian War was long gone and that was the last thing he remembered, all but joining a victory parade in Sinaia by the end of it. He’d agreed like all Spartans to remain in cryo for when the Star Kingdom would need their service again. He shook his head to try and straighten the images he saw. He saw a tall man in Army uniform. It must have been some high ranking officer as he was escorted by two or so guards. The door eventually opened upwards and a strong baritone voice could be heard.
 - “Chief Sherman, are you all right?” asked the Officer.
 - “Sir.” John replied coldly while stepping forward and saluting the Officer.
 - “Glad to hear it. I’m Lieutenant General Radu Muntoiu, Commander of Faris Base. I hope you’re still at 100% capacity?”
 John was filled dozens of questions. Where was the previous Commander of the base? How much time had passed? What year is it? But those questions could wait. John’s military instincts kicked in, courtesy to his disciplined mind. He was awoken for a reason. He stood silently, waiting for the Officer to continue his briefing.
 - “Chief, I know you have a million questions razing through your head right now, but we’ve awoken you for a reason. Walk with me.” Muntoiu said as he turned around.
 The tall Officer then strolled out of the room with some of the guards largening their steps to keep up. For John it was just a slightly fast paced walk as he towered well over the tall Officer.
 - “The Star Kingdom has discovered a wormhole leading to another Terran nation that collaborates with the Mardakii. The ancient race that attacked our ancestor when Casaria was still Virtue. It’s roughly 20 T-years after the the Velutarian War now. We’ve had a Crusade against the Mardakii four years ago. Since then xenos have joined our star nation and we’ve discovered peaceful star nations that for once don’t want to kill us. Well… Except for these damned Mardakii-loving Venterrans. You still following?” Muntoiu muttered rapidly as they marched through the base’s halls.
 No windows as Faris Base was a top secret military facility not far from Atonement Valley, the reserve where the Stoinians kept the feral ancestors of the Mardakii that hunted them in the War at Home. The situation was tense, John could feel it in the Officer’s tone and the way the guards looked around. Even though Muntoiu had rambled the situation, John still could follow it with ease. The neurological augmentations were applied to fasten processing power, but also had the effect that Spartans could absorb information much faster than normal Terrans.
 - “Affirmative.”
 - “Good. Now the situation has escalated quickly. A small strike fleet has entered Casaria’s orbit and engaged the Home Fleet. They’re getting pounded as we speak, but a small drop force has slipped through our defences to Atonement Valley. Before you ask, we did allow them to pass for we’ve got a surprise for them. It involves you.” Muntoiu glanced over his shoulder to see if he’d get any reaction, but Chief Sherman stared coldly back. “Command wants us to give these bastards a new experience. Terror. We want you to go into Atonement Valley and wipe off that company of Hell Divers. All while you’re broadcasting it through your armour’s bodycam. They’ve poked the wrong planet and for it, they will face the wrath of Mankind. I assume you’re up for it?”
 - “I’ll need a weapon.” John replied plainly given how he didn’t really have a choice.
 - “That’s been taken care of. You’ll get a variety of weapons. Granted they’re a newer generation of what you’re used to, but they’re still as intuitive as the previous generation. I’m confident you’ll get the hang of it quite easily, just like the new armour you’re wearing right now.”
 John was indeed one of the few to have been granted the new Mjolnir-II armour. Or rather he’d been awoken specifically to update his armour shortly after the Mardakii Crusade, though the process was so short he’d actually nearly forgotten it. It was barely a walk out of his cryo pod that the memory was barely there. Regardless, the armour fitted with ease on John’s body and had been integrated with the sparse cybernetics. The group walked on for a few more seconds before John finally opened with his big question that pondered his mind.
 - “Sir… Where’s Aura?”
 - “The AI you’ve been paired up with?”
 - “Affirmative.”
 - “Deleted.” There was a certain sharpness in Muntoiu’s tone on the matter. “The Velutarian War made us proceed with desperate measures. Six years after the end of the war, the AI’s started to go rampant. They thought themselves to death is what I’ve heard. Once the first AI showed signs of rampancy, all of them were recalled for deletion. Command didn’t hesitate as the war left us all scarred with anything synthetic.”
 It was a weird feeling John felt. As if his heart suddenly become lighter yet hollow. He didn’t know what to make of it. He’d lost comrades in the war, despite what Stoinian propaganda said, but this feeling was different. Aura had been paired with him to maximize efficiency and John could feel as if a part of him had vanished. Before he’d let thoughts of sorrow pass through his mind, he answered Muntoiu with a clear and precise answer. He still was a Spartan and Spartans continued with their mission, no matter the circumstances.
 - “Understood, Sir.”
 - “There, the hangar’s just up ahead.”
 Lieutenant General Muntoiu escorted John to the Pelican that would drop him into Atonement Valley and let the towering shoulder embark on it. As a last gesture of good faith, he handed out his hand to shake it with the Stoinian legend. John granted the Officer’s wish and gently shook his hand as to not  actually break it.
 - “Good hunting, Chief. Make their bones tremble.”
 - “I will, Sir.”

22:58, 22/11/1620 PD
Faris Base, Cascanna, Casaria

 - “ETA three minutes to drop zone, Chief.” the pilot said over the Pelican’s intercom.
 - “Affirmative. Prepped and loaded.” Sherman replied dryly.
 He locked the M28 Magnum Pistol to his right thigh first, just close to his 5 grenades he had attached to his lower back. The main pistol of the Stoinian Armed Forces which packed perhaps too much power for the gun’s size. Nonetheless, it was the perfect fit for Spartans. He then picked up a X-55 Battle Rifle and holstered it to his backplate through magnetic locks. Last and not least he attached a brand-new combat knife to his left calf before finally equipping his standard M65 Assault Rifle. He had enough ammunition to last a few days with him. Enough to finish off the Battalion’s worth Venterran Drop Shocktroops. 500 enemy soldiers he had to eliminate. He’d even received the green light to shoot any feral Mardakii from the reservation if they were to interfere.
 - “Chief, do you copy?” Lieutenant General Muntoiu called over the coms.
 - “Roger.”
 - “We’re linking our interface with your helmet’s visors. We’re going to broadcast your vision live over all battlenets for the Venterrans to intercept it. They’ll learn to fear us.”
 - “Sir, what about our internal communication?” Chief asked worryingly.
 - “Will be dealt with by our engineers. Don’t worry, any conversations between us won’t be broadcasted.”
 - “Copy that.”
 - “ETA 30 seconds!” the pilot said again over the coms.
 - “Good hunting, Chief.”
 - “Will do. Sir.”
 Chief Sherman then stepped forward as the Pelican’s backdoor opened up and the sounds of blazing winds filled the holding room. The Pelican was flying at 80 meters above the stream’s shore at 350 m/s, just above the speed of sound to mask their approach. Sherman was going in hard and catch the scattered troops by surprise. Bringing fire from above and then engage in close quarters combat.
 - “Mark.” the pilot finally said.
 Chief then sprinted forwards, jumping out of the Pelican and letting himself fall down. He immediately caught a grenade in each hand and calculated the trajectories to eliminate two large squads with the help from his visor. He threw the grenades onto their trajectory of certain doom and began to fire his X-55. Aiming for the scattered few Venterrans with precision shots. 20 meters above ground, he holstered his gun and prepared for the shock, locking his armour into position.
 He landed hard, creating a small crater in the dirt and a dust cloud. Landing with his right knee and right fist on the ground he looked up. His visor flared up with red silhouettes. As he stood up, he grabbed the M65 and aimed it towards the enemy. Firing rounds as he now ran towards them before they could react, turning their disorientation to an advantage. However, as the Venterrans shot to him from all direction, Sherman kept running forward as his shield took plasma round after plasma round. Some of the Venterrans stopped firing as they sought a new way to adapt to Sherman’s shields. Sherman shot those individuals first. Within the first minute, Sherman counted roughly 36 tangos down. A great start to his mission. The whole Venterran Battalion hadn’t linked up yet, so he’d have to eliminate them group by group.
 The stream started to fill with blood of all colours as the Venterran corpses fell into it. Sherman picked one such Elite corpse from the river and used it as a shield. Not because his shields had failed, but merely to install fear into the invaders. Sherman kept advancing to another group of Venterrans that was trying to flank him. He sprinted towards the flanking elements. Firing his M65 towards the larger group while he held the corpse up with his other arm. By the time he reach his targets, the corps had been charred by all the plasma rounds it had taken. No doubt the smell would be terrible. Sherman then threw the corpse towards the flanking soldiers and jumped two meters high while shooting three more enemies down. Kicking another Elite’s jawless face with the brunt of his left foot and putting his right foot on the chest of a Venterran so as to land straight on it. Sherman’s weight ultimately squashed the Venterran’s chest open and lungs spilled through its ribs.
 Sherman’s motion sensor then picked up a fast approaching enemy coming his way. He ducked down and twisted around nearly doing a pirouette. When he turned sufficiently around he saw his first Mardakii for the night. Cladded in armour, the brute tossed its hammer where Chief’s chest had stood only a mere seconds ago. A huge miscalculation as Sherman unsheathed his combat knife and stabbed the brute right under his jaw. Lacerating his enemy’s throat wide open, he shot a few more rounds, eliminating two more tangos.
 He felt a moment of silence and looked around for a moment. It had seemed the first group had been eliminated. The scattered bodies formed a grotesque sight as blood and guts were spilled all over the river. The brief moment of silence was then disrupted by plasma that fired up. Sherman looked immediately towards the source of the sound and saw only a blue visor and double edged plasma sword. A ravenous scream could then be heard coming from its direction, but it was all a distraction. He heard incoming plasma launchers coming his way and instinctively jumped into the air. As he fell back down the cloaked Elite jumped towards him. Not wishing to grant the Elite’s wish, he pointed his M65 straight at him. The Elite tried to sweep his plasma sword towards Sherman, but he kicked it away with his left foot at its handle, breaking the cloak for just enough moments for Sherman to make a clear shot in-between the two lowest jaws. Killing the Elite as he grounded himself before taking a tumble forwards.

 He took another look around him and located the source of the plasma launchers. Making his way towards it, more and more plasma swords appeared out of thin air. Sherman, though, dodged, blocked and even captured such a plasma sword from the enemy combatants. Slicing them off one by one at the mere ignition of their plasma sword. The night had merely begun.

06:14, 23/11/1620 PD
Faris Base, Cascanna, Casaria

 The night had been long and tiring. Sherman had returned back into the valley where he landed the night before. The corpses were all there still, though no more blood filled the stream. The bodies had dried out. Over the entire Valley, Sherman had completed his mission in eliminating all Venterran Drop Shocktroops. Through trees and caves he had hunted the last Venterran on Casaria. He could finally receive a pick-up now and hopefully get the answers to his questions. Though not before he heard a sizzle from a far off bush.

 Looking straight at it, he saw a large male feral Mardakii. It was screaming at him. Bearing its fangs and jaws at Sherman in an effort to intimidate him off its territory. Sherman remained unphased though. Turning his body into the Mardakii’s direction and challenging him to confront him. He threw his M65 on the ground, using his now free fingers to sign the Mardakii to charge him. The feral Mardakii understood this sign and ran towards Sherman on all fours. Again Sherman just stood, waiting for the Mardakii came closer and closer. Finally the Mardakii leaped towards him. He grabbed his M28 Magnum from his hip and shot the Mardakii straight through its heart as he twisted around to evade it. The beast landed on the ground. It remained there motionless and without any twitches. Sherman then decided it was his time to give his liege a gift. Taking his combat knife again, he started to skin the downed Mardakii. He had been denied his chance when he slept through the Mardakii Crusade and fate had given him this chance. He wouldn’t squander it for he had enough experience from the Velutarian War.
The Battle of Casaria, was a decisive Stoinian victory. Both militarily and mentally, the Stoinians were turning the tide of the war and wouldn’t show the Venterrans any remorse from now on. This was a matter of survival now. A matter too important for the Stoinians to leave undetermined.

Graveron system

 Fleet Commander Recklez was beyond furious by the recent string of losses his fleet had suffered. However it was the defeat of the Fleet of Righteous Fury over the Chimay system that had pushed him over the boiling point. He had used the system as a staging area for their assault on the Stigny and Agnoux systems and his fleet was in the midst of conducting repairs and resupplying their weapons when the Terrans entered the system. Recklez was already angered at being repulsed and ordered all ships to engage the Terrans, but was soon forced to order a rearguard action that was hastily organized by Raf and transmitted to the lead ship of the lesser fleet of Roaring Fury due to unforeseen circumstances involving their resupply ships.
 The supply ships full of unexploded ordinance became an unintentional threat to the Venterran ships as the Stoinians shifted their fire upon them taking down Venterran and Terran warships in the blast radius of the unexploded ordnance. The lesser fleet of Roaring Fury continued to engage the Terrans despite the added challenges posed by their munitions ships and bought time for the supply ships to jump away and allow the Fleet of Righteous fury to reorganize for a counter attack. However, the counter attack failed, ultimately forcing the fleet of Righteous Fury to scatter like the wind.
 Recklez looked down at his bridge crew and hurled a thousand curses their way as the Dreadnaught exited slipspace in the Graveron system. No one aboard the bridge was spared from his terrible fury as he was humiliated by the Terrans and knew that he would receive no sympathy from the other Fleet Commanders. As the bridge crew nursed their injuries from Recklez tantrum, Raf could only shake its head virtually.
 Raf was designed like most SAI to assist the Venterran Military and provide tactical advice, but almost every advice he had given to Recklez throughout the Terran Appraisal War was either ignored or warped to suit Recklez distorted world view. When Raf recommended the Ignis system for invasion in response to the death of Major general Recklez, he was cut off and forced to record the glassing the planet. Raf was ignored again when it suggested to form a rear guard to allow an orderly withdrawal from Chimay in response to the Terran counteroffensive to the more defendable Graveron system and avoid the threat posed by their own supply ships. Instead his advice was changed to have the nearest lesser fleet engage the terrans to buy time for the Fleet to organize a counter attack. Raf knew that the counterattack would ultimately fail but did his best to reduce their losses.
 However, there was only so much a fleet of half and quarter armed warships could do against a numerically superior and fully armed foe and so they were forced to retreat losing hundreds of battlecruisers in the process. As Raf watched the bridge from within his console, He could only think of how envious he was about the other SAI who had a far better relationship with their Venterran partners.