The enormous mothership was an imposing deterrent force on the battlefield. It shattered everyone’s preconceived notions of the wastelands air force.
Most of the machinery found in the wastelands were scavenged piecemeal. They were relics of, a bygone era, creating mishmash constructs that barely held together. Among them, their airships were particularly grotesque, and rare to find. Only the strongest wasteland groups possessed them, and those were either propelled with hot air balloons, some sort of gliding mechanism or the like.
Their ships were limited in how much damage they could take. There were also restrictions in what they were capable of due to shoddy craftsmanship, so much that normal use was often only achievable with considerable effort. Even the more advanced ancient tech was clumsily employed. All of this meant that one on one, many of the best wasteland vessels couldn’t take on the most basic Elysian warship.
But this thing was completely different. It could go against Skycloud’s best ships blow for blow.
Elysians weapons were the pinnacle of art, beauty and power. In contrast, this mothership was an altar to streamlined pragmatism. It was built to be a weapon, and no frills or beauty were considered in its construction. Every inch had to be useful and no ornamentation or waste was tolerated. This vessel was purely a weapon of mass destruction.
It was constructed in the shape of an umbrella. Like its inspiration, it could open and close as needed. When shut it was best suited for high-speed flight, like an arrow streaking across the sky. Once opened, it focused electromagnetic energy to the fore to create a shield. While not as powerful as Elysian pylons, it still mounted a formidable defense.
In the center was an enormous cannon, currently pulsing with light. From what they’d seen, it was as deadly as God’s Spear. One shot could level a mountain.
Of course, as with all weapons of this sort it greatly drained its energy source with each use. As the wastelands greatest deficiency was energy, every shot was precious. The Elysians now knew that the wastelands had an absolutely dominating weapon, but they could only use it if they had the energy to fire its guns.
Where the hell did they dig this thing up?
Luckily, Cloudhawk’s preternatural senses allowed him to pinpoint the ship through the darkness and engage their defenses. Without him they would have been caught unawares, and likely would have lost an entire flank. Now that it was closer they could see wastelanders scrambling over the ship’s surface, clambering into the honeycomb of cannons and artillery guns that dotted it. A moment later the ancient vessel was a storm of light as its payload was released.
Zeppelins, precision guided missiles, automated suicide aircraft – they all launched from the ship and blasted toward the expeditionary force like a hellish rain.
Dark Atom and Woodland Vale, the Wastelands Alliance, and this mysterious new foe all launched their attacks simultaneously. Luckily for the Elysians, they were in a defensible position, but even so they couldn’t completely protect themselves from this incredible assault.
Once the tripartite siege was fully underway the sky came alive with angry fire and terrible explosions. Zeppelins and airborne forces cut off any means of escape. Caught in this passive stance, the Elysians could only suffer the beating or risk being smashed to pieces.
The wasteland attack was strong, and the scope of their ambush was suffocating. An anxious expression painted Selene’s face, in part because of their bleak condition, but also because a loss would fall heavily on Cloudhawk’s head. Her quick thinking in forcing him to lead would be a crushing disservice.
Her shining eyes turned toward him. She saw a man who was calm and collected, absorbed in commanding their fleet. Through the neural network he was constantly gathering information. Through it, he knew the condition of every part of his fleet.
The mothership’s main weapon started to pulse quicker. At such close range the attack would pose a serious threat to the expeditionary force.
Cloudhawk quickly told Aegis to reposition. Just in time, for no sooner was it in place than a beam of energy as thick as a gas tanker slammed into it. The explosion was deafening, and even the air around them seemed to ripple in protest. Elysian soldiers stared in horror as the shield cracked, split, and part of the beam hit Aegis. The hulking defense ship lurched to one side and the whole thing shuddered.
Roc was stunned at the sight. “How did they suddenly get so strong?”
But no, they weren’t getting stronger. Elysian shields were getting weaker.
It was true that the beam was a little stronger since it didn’t have to travel so far, giving it a small boost. However, the Elysian fleet was under tremendous duress. The first wave of attacks was the fiercest as the wastelanders spared nothing, and it only continued from all four sides. A constant barrage of attacks fell on Skycloud’s ships, giving them no time to recover. Over time energy drained and less was available to bolster their shields.
Cloudhawk saw the weapon gearing up for another shot and knew he couldn’t let it. While he didn’t know how many more times the mothership could use that cannon, he sure as hell knew his ships couldn’t take much more.
Their shields weren’t back to full strength yet. Another shot would blast right through and tear a whole through their formation.
Natessa would then command all her zeppelins, small airships and airborne fighters to slip in wherever they could. Once passed the defensive line they would wreak havoc, and the Elysians would be beaten.
Aegis and God’s Spear were a special class of warships. Their fleet had two of each supported by battle groups. One Aegis was situated at the front of the formation, and the other at the rear. One of them was still recovering. The fleet also had two God’s Spear ships and only one of them was ready to fire.
It was gathering energy from a dozen ships nearby, rapidly depleting their shields by half strength.
Officers watched what appeared to be a gamble, Cloudhawk’s last resort to darken the mothership before the beam struck again. A ribbon of golden light streaked from within the Elysian formation.
At the same time a pulse of powerful electromagnetic energy arose from the mothership. The particles erupted in a dispersed pattern to weaken anything that tried to pass through. In this way it functioned just like a shield.
All four armies rattled as the impact swept across the battlefield. The attack from God’s Spear broke through the shield, found purchase, and the ancient vessel listed to one side.
A delay of several seconds followed and then the main gun fired.
In that instant Cloudhawk delivered another order: “Break formation! Scatter!”
A stunning scene ensued, where the circular formation split down the middle like it’d been cut by a knife.
The mothership’s beam slipped right through that channel. It missed the fleet entirely! The level of precision to move so many ships was incredible! Everyone – from Selene to all the officers- stared in open shock. It really seemed like Cloudhawk could read the future, see where the enemy was going to attack. Had they all been wrong? Was Cloudhawk some secret military genius?
Natessa seized on the break in their formation. Countless airborne units – wasteland soldiers stradling mutant birds – surged into the fissure. They laid into the Elysian ships with machine guns and missile launchers in the hopes of splitting their forces further. A textbook attempt at divide and conquer.
Cloudhawk called out his next command. “Abandon ranks, everyone break for open air!”
What sort of lunatic gave an order like that?!
Although their enemies were many in number and furious in their attacks, there was still a chance for the Elysians to fight back. Defeat was not a given. Indeed, they’d managed to survive the first wave. Even without their general and surrounded on all sides, they were turning the tide. They could fight back.
The wastelanders had teeth, but they were nothing but a pack of mongrels. Since the ambush began, the Elysians had suffered no real casualties. The wastelander strategy could be declared a failure.
But break out of the siege? Did Cloudhawk understand what he was ordering? More than that, to abandon ranks? Every man for himself?
When an army broke formation, its power was reduced by at least half. He might as well be giving their enemies the Elysian fleet on a silver platter!
But Cloudhawk was the acting commander and these were special circumstances. They could not defy orders, so officers bit back their protests and did as commanded. Each half of the fleet turned and burned at full speed toward the enemy ranks, splitting apart as they tried to fight through the ambush. After a brief and intense clash they succeeded in breaking through the as yet fully formed wasteland blockade.
Their enemies scrambled to catch up, making them disjointed and no longer such a deadly threat. Since their target had split they weren’t sure which to pursue.
Did the Elysians break ranks in order to force the wasteland armies to follow the example? How could they expect such a thing?
As the wastelanders struggle to get themselves back under control, both halves of the expeditionary force got some distance in opposite directions.
Failing to reach a conclusion, the enemy forces fell in with the decision of their commanding vessel. They focused on one half of the broken Elysian fleet while sending a token force toward the other to keep tabs on them.
Elysian ships were uniform in speed, and faster than their wasteland counterparts. Once breaking out of encirclement they could easily lose most hunters.
Wasteland ships and their mounted forces all varied in how fast they could give chase, forcing their ranks to thin out. In their greed the wastelanders wanted to destroy both parts of the Elysian fleet but failed to crush either. Their ambush had failed. The expeditionary force would not be wiped out here.
One half successfully escaped. The other was being pursued by several hundred wasteland ships.
The ancient mothership dare not embark alone. It could only push ahead as fast as it dared and rely on its advantage of long-range artillery to harass the Elysians’ rear.
Cloudhawk ordered Aegis to the rear, neutering most of their efforts but not all. A handful of shots still found their target.
The two forces raced over the blasted wastelands. It wasn’t long before Natessa discovered something strange.
Her quarry would increase or decrease speed, maintaining a set distance between their forces – just enough so that she thought they could catch up. The realization struck her like a slap to the face. They were acting like bait…
This definitely wasn’t Skye Polaris’ style! But that was expected since he was supposed to have died. Who, then, was commanding the fleet?
The chase continued for a little less than half the night. Wasteland ships expended much of their ammo to little effect. Instead the expeditionary force was leading them around by the nose.
Natessa decided to break off the chase. There was too great a difference in speed. If the Elysians wanted to kite them around the wastelands her forces had no way to stop them. Natessa hated being forced to react to her enemy. It gave her foes control of the fight.
She gave the order. What followed was completely outside of her expectations.
The piece of the fleet they’d been chasing swung around and came charging right at them. A second ago they’d been the prey, but suddenly they stole the role of predator.
What the hell were they thinking?
A creeping foreboding slithered up Natessa’s spine.
Eckard’s urgent voice called out. “We’re trapped! Elysian ships have appeared at our rear, they have us surrounded.”
Natessa’s eyes narrowed. The two halves of their fleet had fled in two opposite directions! They’d chased after this half but she never stopped receiving reports on the other. How did she find herself in between the two all of a sudden? All that chasing, only to be surrounded by the ones they were supposed to be pursuing.
It came to her suddenly. “I think I know who’d commanding the fleet. For what it’s worth, we definitely trained him well.”
Clouhdawk. It had to be him. The tactics were just the sort she would use. Split your force in two, make it look like they go in different directions, but not in an exact straight line. A large, discrete circle. The distance made it hard to tell they were turning at slight degrees.
The sprawling deserts made for a poor directional reference. But she knew it was true, they’d just flown in a massive circle. Humans had a limited sense of space and scale, and what they thought they knew could be easily manipulated.
In the darkness of night, with no moon or stars, the landscape all looked the same. The only point of reference was the ships they chased. They’d all assumed they were going in a straight line, all the while getting further away from the other half of the fleet. In reality both halves were getting closer with every passing kilometer, all at Cloudhawk’s command. Two slowly arcing halves of a circle.
Natessa’s forces had used much of their ammo and energy. It was too late to retreat. She was stuck out here, hundreds of kilometers away from Fallowmoor and the dust storm that could protect them.
“Heh… that was fun, right? Now get a taste of your own fuckin’ medicine.” Cloudhawk stood on the bridge of his ship, glaring at the wasteland ships dead ahead.
Two streks of golden light shot toward the wastelanders, one from in front and the other from behind. God’s Spear!
In the growing light of dawn those ribbons of light tore into Natessa’s ranks. Ships detonated, and their explosions rocked nearby vessels. Elysian ships quickly closed in, locking their enemies in a tri-pronged siege and then aggressively pushing inward. They’d turned an ambush meant for them into a trap for their enemies.
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