While the Nywanese citizens were completely unaware of any danger beyond the walls of their city, they did read some of the urgency in the faces of the Skyreign crew as they passed by. Some would turn their heads in wonder as to why the rush. Then, they would resume their own business, paying no further mind.
Laura, Sam, Darrick, Edge and Grace hastily made for the local skyport, just under a kilometer from their ship, attempting to catch up with Rose.
At the skyport, flying vessels came and went from landing pad to landing pad. They ranged in size from as small as hovering bikes, up to the grand rotor-driven battleships, or similarly-sized freighters. Towers around the area housed traffic controllers who would direct the flow of aircraft, either from pad to pad, or to clear them to leave or enter Nywan.
Also at the skyport was a small airship. It was a Nywanese troop transport with several externally mounted vector rotors and a number of swiveling turrets. As Laura and crew approached, the airship opened its broadside doors for them.
Out of the door came Haren, whom they hadn’t seen since they arrived months before.
“Roselii did say you would follow,” Haren crossed his arms, then wearing the more appropriate Nywanese military attire: tan-colored armor that was light and flexible, with red embroidery lining the sides and across the chest-piece. In the center of the chest plate was an embossed triangle, not upside-down or point-up, but in fact on its side, with three dots placed in the center that were in no specific geometric relation to each other.
This was the symbol of Nywan. It was on the armor; it was on the flags; it was on their ships.
And it was in the hearts of the people who bore the symbol.
“Did she say where she was headed?” Laura asked—in Nywanese. The words still did not come too easily, but the sentence was right.
Haren raised a brow, then grinned, reverting to his native tongue, “she is well on her way to the command tower, due west of here. Please—enter my ship. It is not as large or spacious or elegant as your own vessel, yet it has seen me through a great many endeavors.”
Nodding, Laura stepped forward, the others following, as she asked, “Why didn’t you tell us you were one of their Generals? You said you lead the Kulu’jai.”
“I do,” Haren pointed at the first dot on the top of the triangle on his armor, “the Kulu’jai was one of the founding tribes of Nywan. The ground forces consist mainly of the Kulu’jai.”
Laura simply took the answer and stepped inside, taking a seat that was lined up along the innards of the fuselage.
Two soldiers were at the rear end of the ship, brandishing their rifles.
Those two soldiers were the same ones that helped capture her and her crew before.
Yet somehow, she felt they didn’t recognize her, so she just let it be.
Or perhaps they simply had no grudges from the past, and decided to forget the incident entirely.
Or they didn’t care. That was the more likely story.
The others piled in, Sam being the last one to have not boarded. He stopped outside the airship, shouting in, “I have to find Olsein! I think he went to the dome near our hovel!”
“Leave him, he’s fine there,” Laura replied.
“No,” he shook his head, “I have to find him.”
Laura didn’t know what compelled him to find the old man, as the danger she sensed looming didn’t seem so immediate. But she somehow felt this was what he was meant to do. “Fine,” she nodded, “we’ll meet you back at the hangar.”
Sam nodded without a word, and ran off.
Closing the doors, Haren then climbed into the somewhat cramped cockpit, buckled up and lifted the craft off the pad. The fans, powered electrically by a reactor not unlike the new fusion core on the Skyreign, swiveled until they were almost perpendicular to the ground, making minor twitches here and there to keep the craft stable.
“We shall go to the command tower!” Haren shouted back.
“No,” Janeth paced back and forth in the sunlit hall of the command tower, some fifty stories up, “no, I cannot do that. You know as well as I do that the very moment that vessel surfaces, Behraan will pounce on it and we’ll be worse off than before.”
“But you’ve seen the Bentorii attack for yourself!” Rose argued, throwing her hands to her sides, “this is happening, right now. If we’re ever gonna get the Sacred Vessel going, now’s the time.”
“The consequences of it falling into Bentorii hands are far worse!” the Admiral declined.
At the other end of the room, Winnibahn and Bryesco were conversing in similar tone, arguing over the fine points about the projection Rose gave them of the coming armies.
Ritana put in her usual input: next to nothing unless it was crucial. Of course, when she did speak, both of the other squabbling Generals would spend the better part of a minute scratching their chins and re-thinking their entire strategies.
“The Ma’guul won’t back down this time,” Rose’s eyes followed her mother as she paced enough to wear a rut in the cracked and scored marble tiling, “not with Behraan backing them.”
“Then they are fools!” Janeth stopped, pivoting and raising her voice ever so slightly, her eyes burning ever more intensely, “all the more reason to abstain from unearthing that ship! If they seek a swift death, they shall have it. All they need to is come to us, weapons drawn, and it shall be granted!”
“Any how many good people will have to die before--” Rose never found herself so devoted to an argument, “how many of our friends and family have to perish for some foolish matter of pride!?”
“It’s not a matter of pride, child—“
“Big mistake to think I’m still a child!” Rose burst out, “I’m old enough to be someone’s grandmother. And I’ve been around long enough to figure out what’s gonna happen if we just let our enemies besiege us without an escape plan! With your plan, everyone will die!!”
A long silence swept through the room, as even the Milamar siblings stopped to listen to the commotion.
The fire in Janeth’s eyes cooled to embers, after a few long-drawn breaths, as she stated evenly, “I apologize, my daughter. I cannot say this news is easy. I certainly cannot decide so easily on that ship.”
“Life’s a gamble,” Rose lowered her tone as well, “No matter how good or bad the odds, it’s always a gamble. But not gambling, here, now, is going to be the death of us for sure."
“Yes,” Janeth sighed, faintly smiling, “my words coming out of your mouth. But this--gamble--as you say, is one that will, one way or another, set a great number of things in motion.”
Rose spoke several words to herself, as if browsing through the right words to start her next few sentences. Then, she looked her mother in the eyes, “Well maybe it’s about time. Maybe we outta set things in motion. Behraan’s getting a little too big. The Imperator certainly isn’t nicing up any time soon. They’ve been landlocking Suragaa all this time. I think Nywan can do better.”
“Push and pull,” Janeth hummed, turning to a table, one simple and metallic, featuring a mass of a sword, her favorite greatsword, the Waylander. For a moment, she held the sheathed blade in her hands, reminiscing a simpler time. For a blade of this size, one had to both push and pull for maximum effectiveness in a number of strokes.
“Cause and effect," Janeth began quietly, placing the blade back on the table, "are most effective in one’s life when it is both beneficial to act, and detrimental to stand by.”
“We need to move forward,” Rose added.
Another long silence.
“Move forward,” Janeth repeated, “sounds like the right kind of wording I will have to use when attempting to explain this to the people. By Kabaiila—what will I tell them?”
Rose shrugged, “I think we’d be better off telling them that the Ophelian fleet’s coming, rather than that you have to leave your people to find the sacred vessel.”
“Ah,” Janeth grinned, “a truth to cover up another truth. The Ophelia will in fact arrive, but not for some time. However, the Terraniia is on this world, now. I wonder if it yet functions.”
Just as the Queen trailed off, Haren, Laura, Darrick, Edge and Grace marched in, their every step filled with purpose.
“You just couldn’t wait for us,” Laura shook her head, “you just couldn’t. Had to hurry off ahead of us.”
“You didn’t have to come,” Rose retorted.
“Actually, it is rather fortunate that you did come,” Janeth said as she grabbed her sword and slung the scabbard's strap over and across her chest, buckling it down, “for this will undoubtedly involve you all.”
Laura stopped just two meters from Rose and Janeth, and the other crewmates stood closely to her.
“You should know,” Janeth then grabbed a few more trinkets and belts from a rack next to the table, “that the Joint Armed Forces of the Allied Nations—or JAFAN--has its own secretive division, just as Behraan has its. Ritana could tell you all about it, if it were in her nature to do so. For me to tell you anything more, I need you to assume Ritana’s rather close-lipped posture on this matter. A verbal promise will suffice.”
“Actually,” Edge said, “wouldn’t a somatic grin and nod be more appropriate?”
Janeth laughed lightly, “perhaps. Valid point, mister Levee. Very well.”
Though not perfectly in concert, all of them nodded.
“I was about to mention the clandestine organization known to few as the Scarab,” Janeth began, “that you would be enlisted, and endowed with the mission of my personal protection and escort on the civilian vessel, callsign Skyreign. That you would take me to the coordinates I and I alone would give you, that we might find Spaceport Eighty-One....”
“But then I changed my mind and decided to say nothing at all,” she winked, slipping on two strangely uncharacteristic bracers, “perhaps it was just a passing thought, huh?”
Rose couldn’t see it, but she almost felt Ritana smiling.
“Shame,” Laura smirked slightly, “because had you endowed us, we might have happily gone along with it.”
“I don’t know about how happy you would have been,” Janeth frowned, “I do believe you have heard passing rumours of the Giith?”
Laura had heard of them in passing, especially when it came to the subject of aviation lanes, deemed “safe zones.” Giant metal-eating spiders that waited for some unfortunate pilot to fly above them—and snatch them out of the sky—resided in numerous locations around the world.
She knew that finding her way to Nywan without encountering such creatures was by luck alone, for she had known nothing of them and could never have detected them.
She certainly would never have seen one, as they buried themselves under the plentiful sand.
However, she had also heard that they only remained in the vast dune seas, closer to the volcanic rifts of the worlds where fresh metals were always being produced.
“I have,” she answered at last, trying in vain to fathom just what size or monstrosity such a creature might be. If it ate ships, she wondered how fast or high they could jump, or whether they shot webs like other spiders around the galaxy.
Janeth pondered the matter, then looked to Edge, “The elemental composition of your vessel—Noregite, right?—should not prove to be such a tasty meal for most Giith. As we’ve understood, they go for magnetic materials. Iron, Nickel, Cobalt. A few other ones, like Copper, Zinc, Tin, Aluminium But they’ve not been known to eat silver or gold, and as I understand it, Noregite is some heavier isotope of gold.”
“Yeah, that’s about right,” Edge held up his coin again, “actually, it’s the only isotope on Noregaa.”
“Nonetheless,” Janeth carried on, “the Giith will be just one danger between here and Spaceport Eighty-One, but one we shall have to face. The Spaceport is not on or near any of the known lanes. It is in fact below the surface of the larger continent to the east, not far from Pillars.”
“There must be lanes to Pillars,” Laura argued.
“Staying on the lanes makes us vulnerable to attack,” Rose said, “we’d need a big escort if we were going to do things that way.”
“I was thinking of a more subtle approach,” Janeth grinned, “you see—because of the known Giith areas, the lanes are many things aside from linear. If we took a more direct approach, we’d ironically be less noticeable. Add to that most would not follow us into Giith-infested areas, where we will in all likelihood be fine.”
“And, if not?” Laura asked.
“Despite intuition,” Janeth sighed, “it has been best found by the few survivors of such attacks, to fly low and fast, as the noise displaced from the vessels deters them. It certainly does not guarantee survival, but—it’s a chance.”
“Noise, you say,” Darrick scratched his head, going off to another tangent.
“Janeth,” Winnibahn stood beside Laura and Haren, “please see this. Captain Vinfield, Roselii, this involves you both as well.”
With a moment’s pause, the three women made their ways to the table where the projector was.
“It appears they are banding up,” Winnibahn pointed precisely to three other points in the distance from the representation of Nywan, “but they are coming in from not one vector—but four. We’ll be surrounded.”
“So they’ll lay siege to us,” Janeth growled.
“They will fail to do any such thing,” Bryesco slapped his chest plate, “our forces supersede theirs—“
“With Behraanese help, the ground is even,” Janeth warned, “and with their numbers, the odds are in fact stacked against us.”
“Then perhaps,” Haren hummed, scratching his chin, “Laura Vinfield, it is time for you and your crew and your ship to embark, for the Spaceport and the Sacred Vessel therein. Between the four of us Generals, and the stalwart defenders of Nywan, we will buy time for you. However, our defenses will only buy so much time. Only so much blood can be spilt before we must surrender. I do hope that the Ophelian Fleet may come to our aid, should you not be able to return sooner.”
“He’s right,” Janeth nodded, “from what we’re seeing, we have to leave. Now. And I am ready.”
“My airship stands by,” Haren stood at attention.
“We’ve got work to do ourselves,” Win nodded to Bryesco and Haren. Ritana simply smiled with a toothy grin and vanished in the shadows of the room.
“Light shine,” Janeth made a short bow to the Generals as they themselves geared up.
“Light shine,” they bowed back.
“Light shine,” Laura attempted to imitate the gesture.
Win smiled honestly at the young Captain, one she has watched go through so many changes in so few months. As the last back, Darrick’s, turned to them, she then looked to Bryesco, “you know your part, and I know mine.”
“I will ensure the civilians are safe,” Bryesco nodded, “and you have to hold the skies.”
“And hold the skies I will,” she smiled faintly at him, staring one last time at the projection, saying more quietly, “for as long as I can.”