Disclaimer, I own nothing, don't sue me.
Chapter 12: Burning Air
Saito and Louise skirted the edge of the forest as they made their way towards the burning village. Ducking behind a tree as a pair of dragon riders flew past and scorched the earth with their dragons' fiery breath.
"This is bad, there already here in force." Saito grimly commented as the dragon knights flew off, neglecting to circle back to finish the job.
"So what do we do?"
Saito scanned the area and spotted movement near the cave where the dragon's raiment was stashed. "Over there, I see movement. I think the villages might be taking refuge in the caves. We'll join them for now. No explosions, we don't want to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves"
Dashing from cover to cover when the coast was clear, they managed to make it to the cave without much trouble. A single dragon rider had arrived to impede them but a miss with a thrown dagger managed to distract him long enough for Saito and Louise to slip by.
Right before entering the cave, Saito detected motion and drew Derflinger immediately. Swinging the sword in a wide arc, he cut down two arrows before they could perforate him.
Moments later, the archers leapt out to face him in combat since their ambush had lost the element of surprise. familiar bronze golems rushed him and Saito's eye began to twitch as he batted their weapons away.
"Damnit Guiche! Call your golems off, it's us!"
"Yeah? How do I know you're not a spy posing as my friends? Tell me the secret password." Guiche's disbelieving voice came from the back of the cave as more golems appeared.
"What password!? If you don't call them off right now you better believe you'll be doing 500 laps of the school grounds once this is over!"
A moment of silence passed before the reply came. "Eh. Good enough for me."
As the golems backed off and returned to their hiding spots, Saito and Louise entered the cave. There they found almost the entirety of the village huddled in fear. Guiche was resting with his back against the rig, a tired smile on his face.
Siesta and the village elders were doing their best to reassure the young ones that everything was going to be fine, they weren't completely successful as morale was rock bottom. The presence of wounded soldiers from the local garrison did nothing to inspire hope.
"What are you doing here? I thought the both of you had to attend to an urgent royal summon? And what the heck happened to you? You look like a walking corpse." Guiche asked once they had found seats of their own.
"It's complicated. Suffice to say we were investigating Albion when we heard about the invasion. On the return trip, our landing left a lot to be desired." Saito gave the cliff notes version of events and gave the makeshift refugee camp a once over.
"Your turn, what happened here?"
Guiche shook his head with an expression of distaste before replying. "We got lucky… well as lucky as anyone can get in an invasion. Some of the children were playing out in the woods when they spotted the invasion fleet. Managed to get out a warning to us and Siesta and I started the evacuation. Was a close thing too, many didn't believe them, but with my nobility we managed to get them to evacuate to this place."
Guiche nodded in the direction of the wounded soldiers nursing their injuries. "They used to be under the command of the local lord. Helped out with the evacuation efforts until a few dragon riders found us, they stayed behind to stall them while the stragglers reached safety. Some of them didn't make it."
"The lord… haaa… attempted to greet the invaders under a white flag to negotiate a peaceful surrender. Albion's answer was a full broadside from the Royal Sovereign. He didn't make it either." Guiche cursed at such a blatant breach of the rules of engagement and the waste of life.
"That's the royal navy's flagship out there, what the hell happened, why are we at war with Albion?"
"We're not. That's Reconquista out there. Although the old Albion government is practically gone now." Saito shook his head and replied.
"What!? No way, how could the rebels have captured the entire Albion fleet and what do you mean gone!?"
"How couldn't they? I was at Newcastle, the royalist faction was down to just barely three hundred men while Reconquista numbers in the tens of thousands. Then there is the part where Reconquista is using mind control." Saito finished the last part in a whisper to not cause any more undue panic, and Guiche's face paled considerably.
"Oh… that is dark stuff." Guiche pulled his knees in close and began nervously playing with the petals on his wand.
"No kidding. What else have we missed?"
"Not much. The fleet is still holding position beyond the village. Their ground forces are being marshalled at the edges, once they have enough they'll probably move to take Tarbes itself. Other than that, it's just the dragon knights flying about. That's all we can see from here." Guiche gave a report to Saito's rapidly darkening look.
"Not good. We can't let them gain a foothold in Tristain, if they take Tarbes we won't be able to uproot them without flattening the whole village." Saito stood and gestured for Louise to stay put and rest.
"I'll see if I can contact the royal palace, if the army can get here soon we'll have a fighting chance."
"Do we? Those guns on the Royal Sovereign, they're on a completely different level. The army won't stand a chance against that kind of firepower. Albion's air superiority is unmatched with that monster of a ship and the dragon knights." Guiche stated in a depressed tone.
Saito frowned and tilted his head to regard the fighter behind the blond noble. "Leave the dreadnought to me. I'll think of something."
Patting Guiche on the shoulder and heading into the battlebase deployed nearby, Saito did a quick inventory of all available assets as he activated the radio.
Some wounded soldiers, Guiche, a possibly shell-shocked Louise, a fighter with unknown status and the battle base with anti-armour and anti-air defences. Not a whole lot to be honest but he'd have to make do with it.
"Familiar! What's going on, we're getting reports of an invasion from Albion." Agnes voice finally came through the coms after several minutes of tense waiting.
"The siege at Newcastle was a feint, they're here in force. Urgent reinforcements needed at Tarbes, they're trying to establish a staging ground."
"Damn! Can you link up with the local garrison? The princess is busy with alliance talks with the Germanian envoy, the royal army won't be able to march in time."
"The garrison is gone aside from a few wounded soldiers. Reconquista wiped them out."
"Blast it! Alright, the musketeers will deploy first, we should make it there soon with the new armour. Do what you can to stall them."
"Understood." Saito sighed once the communique cut off. Things would be a whole lot harder without the aid of the royal army. Removing the headset and setting it down gently, he stared at his reflection in the blank screen.
His jacket was torn to shreds and soaked in blood, his skin was covered in dried blood, wood chips and mud. A walking corpse was a pretty apt description after all.
Sighing at the sorry sight, he shed his destroyed clothes and rinsed of the blood and grime before switching to a set he'd stashed in the rig ages ago and forgot about. Retrieving a small stack of papers, he double checked to make sure they were in order and hid them in his vest.
Stepping out of the battlebase, he found Louise asleep on the ground with a blanket laid over her courtesy of Guiche. Taking care not to wake her, he addressed the earth mage is a low voice. "Bad news, the army won't make it here in time to make a difference. An advance party is on the way but we'll have to stall Reconquista long enough for them to get here."
"Easier said than done. What do you need me to do?" Guiche replied with determination in his voice.
"I'm going to scout out Reconquista's forces, if you're up to it, have a few of your golems hide in Tarbes and fire at any hostile that tries to enter. We want them to think Tarbes is still being defended by a sizeable force."
"The dragon knights are too fast for my arrows, but I'll do what I can."
"You won't be using arrows. The battlebase has a small armoury inside, load up with the rifles they'll even the odds."
"Are you sure? Guns aren't the most effective or accurate things to use against mages."
"Trust me, these rifles are beyond anything you've ever heard off. Besides, inaccurate or not, most people will think twice about charging recklessly when being shot at by unseen enemies. As long as your Valkyries aren't caught and destroyed, they'll be all the support you need." Saito reassured the doubtful mage.
"Yes sir. As a member of the proud Gramont family I won't let you down." Guiche saluted and began ordering his golems to return for their new equipment. As he did so, Saito approached Siesta.
"Would you mind looking after the little miss? She's been through quite a bit and I'm needed out there."
"O-oh of course I'll look after her. Just… be careful."
Nodding, Saito placed a cap over his head and began his journey towards the Reconquista lines.
"Sir, you have a visitor."
The admiral raised his head from the Map of the surrounding countryside he was studying to regard the newcomer. "And just who are you supposed to be and why are you wasting my time?"
"I am Gaius Bartholomew III, I'm here on behalf of Reconquista's Tristain branch."
"Oh? So you're one of Richemont's, a little far from home aren't you?"
"Hmmph! Not by choice, Reconquista's operations in the capital are on hold for now, I don't know how the royal army found out about us but they did. We've gone to ground until the heat dies down, I was redeployed to this backwater village instead of being sent back to Albion. Then you lot showed up without warning."
The admiral flipped through the stack of papers his guard handed to him and nodded when they corroborated the story. "Yeah the invasion plan was pretty hush hush to keep spies from finding out, not that it would have mattered either way. Things seem to be in order, leave us, we have matters to discuss in private."
The guard saluted and left the command tent, leaving only the admiral and his guest.
"Well, I don't suppose I could offer you a drink?" The admiral's tone was slightly friendlier now that he was dealing with a fellow compatriot from Albion.
"No thank you, I need to report in after this and I like my head attached to the rest of my body."
"Heh, so the good minister is still the same old hypocrite, loves the drink but won't allow any of his underlings to partake."
"I wouldn't know, I've never met him in person. What I do know is that my bosses have a very low tolerance for failure and unbecoming conduct."
"Fair enough. So what brings you here? You clearly aren't here to help if your own operations are in a mess." The admiral leant backed in the chair and folded his arms, a smug smile on his face.
"I'm here to check on the status of the invasion. Most of the Tristain members weren't even aware of it taking place today and we aren't ready to take the cities yet. We need to know a rough timeline of when you're going to march on the capital so we know what assistance we can provide."
"Assistance? Don't make me laugh Gaius. What you see today is just a fraction of Reconquista's true might. Just the Lexington alone will be enough to crush the capital."
"…I find that quite hard to believe. The Lexington used to be the Royal Sovereign yes? It is a powerful battleship but to say that it can take the capital by itself…"
The admiral chuckled at the disbelieving tone. "That was the old Lexington, I'll let you in on a secret since we both hail from Albion. Reconquista's flagship is no longer a battleship."
"Mmhmm, it's the first of its kind, our soon to be emperor Cromwell has decided to call it a carrier. A rather unimaginative name if an apt one. The Lexington can carry enough man and materiel to fight a small war on its own. It has enough room to carry up to two hundred dragon knights or almost a thousand infantrymen and still boasts the most powerful guns in Halkeginia. Sure, the cannon at Midgand might have superior range but nothing can beat the Lexington's raw firepower. The capability to field an army and still sink any ship in a single shot, Reconquista is invincible!"
"That's… very heartening to hear."
"Well to answer your main question, we're just waiting on the ships to finish off loading the soldiers before advancing. Once the Lexington is done switching over to a full dragon knight complement we will advance. The infantrymen will take the village and it will be our staging ground for reinforcements while the rest of the fleet pushes on the capital." The admiral paused to pour himself a glass of brandy and shrugged when his guest once more refused the proffered drink.
"We've done the simulations, the capital will fall easily and the dragon knights will suppress any insurrection. The infantry will then take the rest of the country and crush any noble that dares to resist. We won't need your assistance for the push on the capital so have your comrades pull out, no sense dying to friendly fire. You'll be needed to weed out the nobles of questionable loyalty later."
"Understood, I'll be sure to convey your words to my superiors. Long live the queen."
"Queen? What are yo-" The admiral's words were abruptly cut off as Saito stabbed Derflinger through his throat and nailed him to the backrest, severing his spine and killing him instantly.
Once the spasming stopped, Saito wrenched the blade free and lowered to body, allowing it to rest on the table and making no sound as he did so.
Wiping his sword clean on the dead man's robes, Saito sheathed the blade and grabbed as many important looking documents as he could, stuffing them into his robes.
Withdrawing a few grenades, he stuffed them under the corpse and primed them to go off once the body was disturbed. Satisfied with his work, Saito calmly exited the tent and addressed the guard "The admiral is enjoying a bottle of brandy right now, he doesn't wish to be disturbed."
"Yes sir." The guard saluted and returned to his post, blissfully unaware of what had transpired.
'Now to poison everything I can.'
Having sown as much chaos as he could without breaking his cover, Saito quietly slipped away from the Reconquista camp, leaving shouts of panic and desperation behind him as several fires raged out of control among the highly flammable tents.
His stores of poison were completely empty now after he dumped hallucinogens into the water supply and laced the cooking pots with cyanide. He was also completely out of grenades after scattering them around the place as booby traps and diversions.
Fate dealt him a mixed hand, on the one hand most of the mages and notable officers were still onboard the ships or on dragonback and thus out of reach. But that also meant that there were a lack of mages around to stop the inferno once his diversionary fires spread out of control.
Additionally, panicked reports from Tarbes indicating an unknown force equipped with guns was picking off any scout that tried to enter the village. Claims ranged anywhere from a single sniper to an entire army unit and the Reconquista advanced stalled.
Casting a dark look at the enemy flagship as he stood beneath the Lexington's shadow, Saito frowned before continuing on his way. Whatever blows they managed to deal wouldn't mean a thing if the Lexington remained afloat.
The carrier needed to sink one way or another or the army would be annihilated once they arrived. The dragon's raiment was the last card he had to play, he needed the jet's mobility and prayed that its guns still had ammo.
The rig was too immobile, the tanks would never make it in time and he didn't have enough Firehawks to sink the fleet with their limited loadout. Not for the first time, Saito cursed the engineers who decided that GDI's air force needed more sensors in place of anti-air machineguns, even vertigos had them for crying out loud.
Shaking his head to ward off the what ifs, he made several detours to ensure no one was following him before returning to the cave. Stepping through, he found Louise awake and a tired looking Guiche next to her.
"You're awake, that's good. Guiche, enough. Get some rest, the fleet is about to move soon and your golems won't be able to do much against cannon fire."
Guiche nodded gratefully and began pulling his troops back to the cave while allowing several to crumble to reduce the drain on his willpower.
"Are you going to fight?" Louise asked as she stood up.
"What kind of question is that? Of course I'm going to fight partner, if Reconquista isn't stopped here they'll overrun the countryside."
"And your condition?"
Louise sighed in exasperation before nodding to herself. "You're a crazy fool of a familiar you know that? I'm coming with you."
"…Excuse me?" Saito blinked as he thought he misheard her.
"I'm coming with you. You're not leaving me behind this time. Somebody has to keep you from getting yourself killed."
"You just survived a crash landing, on top of everything that went down in Albion. You are in no condition to go into battle." Saito stated firmly and folded his arms, drawing a small huff from Louise.
"Do you really have the right to tell me that?"
"I know my… you're not going to change your mind on this are you." Saito sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose when Louise smiled and said nothing.
"Alright, fine, ah heaven help me I can't believe I'm agreeing to something this irresponsible." Saito buried his face in his palm as he climbed into the fighter.
'Let's see what we've got.' Wrapping his hands around the grips, runes began to glow and the screens flickered to life. The jet rumbled briefly as the engines kicked in and information about it poured into Saito's head.
'No way. This… this is insane.' Bands of light formed around him and coalesced into a pilot suit as the nanomachines did their work. There was a small tingle as his senses were connected to the jet and he could see through the jets sensors, it was a bond superior to even that of the Firehawk neural link. The closest thing he could compare it to was the virtual sensory pod serving as an avatars cockpit.
Holographic bands extended from the hand grips and surrounded his hands, forming the rest of the controls signalling that the dragon's raiment was ready to soar once more.
'Kinetic burst auto-cannons… i-infinite ammo. Hydrogen fuel cells at 54%, estimated operational time left… 3 weeks. VX transformation systems all green.' Saito swallowed hard as he ran through the systems, he wasn't so sure this was from his world after all, it was just too advanced for its time.
"This… this came from Japan? No, never mind, with this I can beat Reconquista." Pushing aside his questions, he rose and helped the waiting Louise into the co-pilot seat
"Wha-what are you doing to the dragon's raiment!?" One of the villages questioned as Saito instructed Guiche to raise stone walls around the jet, blocking everyone else from it.
"I'm allowing it to spread its wings once more. Guiche, keep them safe, the musketeers should be arriving soon. You know what to do."
"Already on it. Verdandi will be done soon." Saito nodded and returned to his seat sealing the cockpit. Guiche had things in hand and he'd leave the civilians to him.
Once the jet finished its shakedown and all systems read green, he turned to address Louise. "This is your last chance to get off. Once we get out there, there's no guarantee that we won't be shot down again. This time we might not make it."
"Hmmph! Not a chance partner. I am a Valliere and I will uphold the rule of steel. I won't have my familiar rushing off into danger while I hide away. I'm not a useless zero anymore." Louise stated firmly.
"…Figured you'd say that. As expected of my partner." Saito suppressed a chuckle and slowly eased the jet forward into take-off position. Engaging the underside boosters, the VTOL rose a few feet into the air drawing startled gasps from the bystanders.
"Very well then. Brigadier general Hiraga Saito, Count Louise de la Valliere, Jet Tengu, ikuzo!" Gunning the thrusters, the fighter shot out of the cave in a blast of wind and sound and returned to the skies it forsook so long ago.
The silver jet bypassed the first line of dragon knights as they just stared blindly at the blur that passed them, unable to comprehend what they were seeing. When one of them remained in his way, Saito treated the dragon knight to a healthy dose of tiny metal particles accelerated to relativistic speeds.
The mage and his mount vanished in a red mist as the fighter homed in on the next target, a frigate standing between it and the Lexington.
Lining up his shot, Saito depressed the trigger and raked the frigates sailed with a line of blue bolts, shredding them and sending men ducking for cover.
"Ah, damn I don't have a shot at the bridge."
"Allow me." Louise pointed her wand at the crippled frigate and released an explosion spell, engulfing the entire upper deck in a massive blast that knocked the ship out of the sky.
"Nice shot." The familiar complimented as he watched the ship's wreckage begin its final voyage to a fiery end.
"We're kicking these invaders out of our home!" Louise clutched her wand tight as a fire burned in her eyes. Reconquista had spat in the face of everything she held dear and now they had dared to set foot on sacred ground. They'd burn. They'd all burn. For such heresy, no punishment was too great.
Circling around for another pass, the fighter ripped through the dragon knight screen protecting the rest of the fleet before homing in on the Lexington's destroyer escorts. Targeting the rearmost ship, the autocannons shredded the sails and slowed it to a crawl, leaving Louise free to blast it out of the sky.
"Dragon knights incoming… Saito?"
"Time for a dog fight, they have nothing on us!" Banking hard to face the incoming hostiles, Saito waded into the fray autocannons firing nonstop.
With the super senses granted to him by the jet, Saito could 'see' the panic on the dragon knights faces and he relished in it. Their spells fell short when the Jet Tengu evaded with superior speed and mobility or simply ploughed straight through without flinching.
One by one their mangled remains fell out of the sky as the autocannons continued sending a never-ending stream of superheated slugs their way.
After sinking a further two destroyers, the Reconquista fleet gave up trying to track the jet and elected to simply fill the sky with as much ordinance as possible. Hundreds of guns boomed simultaneously, sending thousands of exploding cannonballs in his general direction, uncaring of the dragon knights that went down in a hail of friendly fire.
"So they're finally fighting back… well they won't catch us." Saito grinned as he pushed the fighter into a mad dance amidst the storm of firepower, tracking each individual cannon with the aid of the sensors and his gandalfr upgrade.
Deliberately flying circles around the dragon knights, he shot down any that came into his sights but was content to allow Reconquista to thin their ranks for him.
The enemy was panicking, that was good. Panicked enemies were just blow dead and stupid ones in his book and just barely better than the lazy. Panic meant poor judgement, and poor judgement could be capitalised on.
Granting the harassed knights a reprieve, he flew right between two battleships and just as he hoped, their gunners continued firing at him without regard for where they're shells were going.
After eating a full broadside from each other, the battleships transitioned into blazing hulks as the explosives blasted holes wherever they landed and ignited the ships' powder stores.
"Too easy- whoa!" Pulling up at the last second, Saito narrowly avoided ramming into a ship that just materialised out of thin air. As the stealth destroyer directed its guns toward Saito and a barrage of spells came from the mages stationed aboard, Saito pushed the jet to climb ever higher into the sky, leaving the offensive to peter out harmlessly.
"Stealth tech, of course they have stealth tech. Why does everybody have stealth tech except us?"
"Uh, an invisibility spell can be casted by any triangle class wind mage. Being able to hide a whole ship is new though." Louise spoke up when Saito started complaining.
"Oh now you tell me. Well it changes nothing, now that I know what to look out for they won't fool me again." Halting his ascension, the Jet Tengu dived back towards the fleet with the sun at its back.
Firing into a crowd of dragon riders and reducing them to a red mist, Louise contributed to the carnage as well by sinking two more battleships with explosions.
"Good work, how many explosions do you have left in you?"
"Don't push it too far, we still need to sink that Lexington." Saito stated as he engaged the VX systems moments before the fighter would have crashed. Wings folded in as arms and legs deployed, transitioning the jet to walker mode.
Skating across the ground, the Mecha Tengu weaved in and out of the buildings and tore whatever enemy infantry had dared to wander into the abandoned village.
"Saito, what… what is this?" Louise asked once the g forces returned to normal and she could breathe again.
"This is Reconquista's nightmare made flesh." Saito grinned as he punched outwards and the mech followed suit, crushing a foolhardy dragon knight with its fists of steel. As the broken bodies tumbled to the ground, the Mecha Tengu aimed its nose upwards.
The autocannons fired a sustained burst into empty air and a smoking destroyer materialised after the burst penetrated the engine room and shattered the wind stone within, robbing its systems of power and sinking the ship.
Saito winced when a volley from the Lexington landed and devasted a good portion of the village and the shockwave could be felt even inside the hovering mech. Pushing the Mecha Tengu into full reverse while firing at the carrier, Saito made a break for the infantry camp.
He cursed when a shimmering barrier around the Lexington ate his bullets and left the ship unscratched. "That's gonna be a problem."
Evading enemy cannon fire, Saito grinned once the guns stopped booming for fear of wiping out the entirety of their ground forces. The camp was in complete disarray from his earlier visit and order had collapsed completely.
Albion troops clashed among themselves amidst the raging flames as his sabotage ran its course. Soldiers and officers alike ran about in panic shouting incomprehensible orders and stabbing at everything that moved.
The fires were still raging as hallucinating soldiers hampered efforts to put them down. Officers continued shouting a multitude of incomprehensible orders as the chain of command had been severed and more than a few ranking commanders were among the afflicted.
Even the unafflicted were dragged into the madness as everyone had become convinced they had been infiltrated by traitors and paranoia sealed their fate.
Saito took the bonus in stride and fired wildly into the mass of bodies, dealing death all around and worsening the situation for Reconquista.
"Saito… what have you done." Louise whispered in a horrified tone as the chaos reigned supreme.
"I did what needed to be done. Took out their commanders, poisoned their food and drink and planted explosives to sabotage the war effort. Have to say, was not expecting such results, but fortune favours the prepared." Saito shrugged and replied nonchalantly before returning fire on a line of riflemen still in possession of enough sanity to shoot straight.
Several pings resounded as the Mecha Tengu's armour deflected incoming small arms fire and the mech rolled over tents and anyone unfortunate enough to get in its way. "They made their choice, now they can die for their glorious revolution."
"This… this cannot be happening. This is impossible!" The supreme commander of the invasion force muttered over and over as his pale skin lost what little colour it had. Their supposed cakewalk had turned into a complete and utter disaster. Half the dragon knights gone, the fleet decimated and all contact with the army lost.
To one unit.
"This is all YOUR FAULT! Your incompetence caused this mess!" Taking out his frustration on the captain of the Lexington, the commander started screaming as he lost his composure.
"Commander! Compose yourself. The soldiers will lose their morale if they see the commander in chief acting like this." Bowood managed to get out through gritted teeth as his opinion of the man dropped even lower.
"You dare command me!? How dare you!? I will report this to his excellency! I-I will…" Bowood's remaining patience ran dry and the captain jabbed a wand into his superior's stomach, dropping the man instantly as his sleeping spell took hold.
"I should have done that earlier. The enemy is just one dragoon. I don't care how strong he is, there are some things even a 'hero' like him can't change… and this ship is one of them." Bowood muttered as he motioned for several guards to remove the comatose commander from his presence.
"How long till the damned dragon knights can launch?"
"They need at least another hour captain. The launch port is jammed, and engineers can't identify the problem. They're trying to shift out through the main deck but the cramped space is making the dragons jumpy" A bridge officer replied.
"Damn it to hell. I told them the Lexington's modifications weren't combat ready yet." Bowood slammed his fists against the desk at the bad news.
"Forget the problem, have the knights just blow the damn thing open."
"We can fix the damage later, we need those knights in the air if we want to take the enemy down. Haaa… load starboard guns 12 through 38 with explosive rounds and target the cave that dragoon came from, there should be civilians in there. With any luck that metal dragoon will stop once they are in danger."
Transitioning from fighter to mech on top of a battleship, Saito unleashed an unending torrent of gunfire into the wooden hull, tearing large holes in the armour and reducing the insides to ruin. Finishing of by blasting the bridge to hell, the mech left the sinking ship and returned to fighter mode.
"Their destroyer screen is almost gone. Soon we'll be able to hit the Lexington."
"Why can't we hit them now? I think I'm going to be sick soon." Louise muttered as her face took on a decidedly greenish hue from all the transforming.
"Because mobility is the only advantage we have on them. Armour isn't this fighter's strong suit. Reconquista grapeshot will still down us make no mistake about that. Then there's that shield, I don't know what will happen if we hit it, and I'm not inclined to find out."
Any reply from Louise was drowned out by a magically amplified voice booming from the carrier. "Attention Tristainian dragoon."
"Is he talking to us?" Saito shrugged and continued his rampage through the skies.
"You have been a thorn in our side for long enough. Surrender now or we will fire on the villagers hiding in that cave. Resist and they die."
Saito's face blackened as he eased off the assault, allowing a damaged frigate to live a few moments more. Using the onboard speakers to broadcast his own response, Saito waited for an opening as he did so.
"So this is how the holy empire fights? By taking hostages? You must be so proud of yourselves."
"I do not care for your sarcasm dragoon. I have my orders as you have yours, we will reclaim the holy lands and god himself smiles upon our cause. Now dismount from your metal dragon." An explosion ripped through the top deck of the Lexington and a wave of colour poured out as almost two hundred dragon knights soared into the sky.
"Following the orders of evil men doesn't make you righteous. Just following orders isn't a valid excuse in the eyes of your god or anyone else's." Saito retorted as he checked the feed from the rig, satisfied with the report, he announced his choice by sinking the frigate he spared earlier.
"Here's my offer you Reconquista piece of shit, you kill yourself now and I won't skin you alive when I get you." The Jet shot off into the sky again and rained fire down on the thicket of dragon knights.
"SAITO! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!? THE PEOPLE OF TARBES ARE STILL IN THE CAVE!" Louise shrieked as her familiar just signed all their death warrants without flinching.
"Relax, Guiche already handled it." Saito absentmindedly replied as he concentrated on avoiding the incoming tidal wave of spells, weaving through them as best he could and encouraging friendly fire.
"Before we launched his familiar was already busy digging an evacuation tunnel. I checked the rig, life signs in the cave are zero. We're good to fight as much as we want."
"That said, there's a lot of them. Can you thin their ranks?"
Nodding, Louise pointed her wand at the largest cluster and let rip with her spells, the explosions consumed several while others were disoriented by the shockwave, leaving them easy pickings for the autocannons.
The fighter rumbled as the Lexington fired its guns and levelled the mountainside, completely destroying the empty cave. "Uh oh."
"What do you mean uh oh?" Louise said in a flat tone as the rumbling intensified.
"That's not from the shockwave… they got us with a wind spell. I'm losing lift." Directing the jet towards the ground, Saito had it transition back into walker mode and cursed when cannon shells started landing around them.
Additional spells rained down creating a nigh impenetrable ring around them, reducing the amount of space he had to manoeuvre.
"Ah crap, they're boxing us in…" Saito's attempts to break the encirclement were met with failure as the ring continued to tighten faster than he could shoot down the enemy mages, all the while cannon fire came closer and closer to hitting them.
"We might lose the raiment but I'll get us out of...!?" Saito's words trailed off as several yellow streaks exited the tree line and smashed into the dragon knights and promptly blew up, scattering them and giving Saito an opening to escape.
Several armoured figures rushed out of the trees and opened fire with shoulder mounted rockets, blitzing the disoriented knights and sending many to their graves.
"Apologies for our lateness." Agnes motioned for the other musketeers to continue firing on the dragon knights, while using their sonic grenade launchers to clear out any infantry that had gotten too close.
"No, no, just in time actually." Saito breathed easier as the encirclement was broken and whatever mage was maintaining the wind spell bought the farm, leaving him free to return to the skies.
Circling overhead, Louise dropped several more explosions on top of the enemy ships as the musketeers blasted them from below, sinking them one at a time. Saito did several passes on the Lexington but each time his bullets were simply absorbed by the shields and not even the musketeers' rockets could breach the barrier.
"I'm running out of options here. If we don't do something fast, that ship is going to destroy the musketeers then its just a matter of time before they get us with the grapeshot." Saito muttered as the Lexington fired another volley on the musketeers. Dodging out of the way with the jump jets, he could see them slowing down as the ceaseless barrage started to wear on them.
"I have an idea, but I need to get close to the ship." Louise replied as words of a spell manifested inside her mind. The distillate of thousands of explosions forming the truest expression of her desire just waiting to be released.
"How close do you need to get? Those guns aren't making this easy and they have mages on the top deck now." Saito forced the jet into a corkscrew to throw off the homing firebolts before ascending, he cursed when Louise didn't respond.
Upon turning to look, her eyes were glazed and she was muttering words in a language that made no sense to him, a glowing aura surrounded her as she readied her spell.
"Ah damnit, here goes nothing." Exiting the climb, the Jet Tengu went into an almost vertical drop as Saito cut the boosters to zero and opened up every air brake to slow them down. Using only the most minute of course corrections to avoid incoming enemy fire, sweat beaded his forehead as the Lexington loomed closer.
His sensors indicated that the Tristainian army was almost on scene. There was just one problem, there were marching straight towards the Lexington's flank and their welcoming gift would be a broadside if they didn't down the ship now.
"Come on Louise. We're running out of time."
Just as Saito was about to pull up to avoid ramming into the barrier protecting the carrier. Louise completed her chant and life returned to her eyes. Pointing her wand at the centre of the Lexington, she said just one word.
Against the wishes of her advisors, Henrietta lead the charge over the hill. Her white dress billowed in the wind as her horse cleared the top of the hill and she got her first glimpse of the battlefield. And was it a sight to behold.
Albion's fleet in shambles, their dragons being shot out of the sky and a giant metal dart falling straight towards the single largest ship she'd ever seen in her life.
Coming to a stop as she tried to process what her eyes were seeing, that moment would become immortalised in the minds of the soldiers much to her chagrin in the future.
As the rest of the army caught up with the stationary princess, a second sun dawned over them as a magnificent ball of light engulfed the Lexington and two other battleships that were too close.
A strange metal bird shot out of it and flew over their heads, garnering shouts of wonder and fear. After its pass, the light faded and the ships were gone, not even wreckage marked their passing. While they were still perplexed several noticed that Henrietta appeared to nod at the bird right as it flew overhead.
In truth, it was nothing more than her making efforts to keep her mount from being spooked. But the effect was undeniable, the rumour that she had somehow called down an avatar of victory to smite the invaders spread like wildfire.
With the flagship gone and the Tristainian military poised to deliver the coup de grace, the last bit of resolve the Reconquista soldiers had broke and those still in possession of their wits turned to flee.
"They're retreating… we've won?" Henrietta asked herself in a dazed tone before snapping out of her trance. There was still work to be done, the invaders had to be rounded up before they scattered across the countryside.
Then rebuilding came next. The fields had been burnt and even with magic, it would take a long time to return it to how it used to be. At least the villagers were safe, the Gramont child had led them to safety and his father was with them now.
Raising her hand, she signalled her army to charge and shatter what passed for their rear guard and the men obeyed with a triumphant roar.
As the tidal wave of bodies surged past, her frown deepened. Today Reconquista had been beaten, but they weren't vanquished. Cromwell still lived and if the scattered bones were right, they had tens of thousands of men left on the island.
This wasn't over, not by a long shot. No, it was just beginning.
Author's notes: the only thing worse than one blue screen of death is two. Especially when they wipe out almost a week's worth of work. TMDF-Artyom gets a cookie, Sheffield is Yuriko Omega. The whole mind of god thing was just too perfect to pass up.