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RP: YSS Kaiyō Mission 26 pt. I: Fuyubi


Head in the Stars
🌟 Site Supporter
🌸 FM of Yamatai
🎖️ Game Master
Retired Staff
RP Date
15日 1月 YE 45
RP Location
Uesureyan Space
((OOC Note: Fuyubi means winter sun.))

YSS Kaiyō II

Quiet as snowfall, the bridge mirrored the Fuji-class gunship as it silently passed by one of the four planets of the Sglavaxirv system, a star system with had previously been named Kessica under Uesureyan rule. With surprise working for them, the ship fell upon its destination as one of many under stealth with a graceful ease. The Yamataian task force's contingent of only a few ships was bolstered with scout and gunships of the Uesureyan Fleet. With still breaths and their eyes intent on the destination, the Kaiyō's bridge crew moved the hulking ship through the gravity wells of the planets in the system.

When finally at the system's habitable world, the Kaiyō pivoted into position. Her prow was pointing at the station, the lone orbital defense of the planet. The ring-shaped station with its central sphere of command was an almost impermeable floating bastion of defense, one that the task force would need intact if they were to succeed later in holding the planet.

Named now a detestable snapping of mostly consonants by the Mishhuvurthyar invaders, the Uesureyan Empire had once held this world as a cloning planet, rife with bases and facilities where the Uesu Nekos trained and lived. The pearly purples and blues of the of the atmosphere around the planet starkly contrasted the yellows and sap green of the actual ground on the planet below the planet's cloudy cover.

Looking at the pearly sphere, Captain Hoshi imagined the surface below the atmospheric cover that she had been tasked with re-conquering and protecting. Because of the cloning facilities and Nekovalkyrja down there to be saved, an orbital bombardment wouldn't do. They had to take the planet and keep the facilities intact to preserve the strategic positioning of the planet and the lives of the Uesureyan Nekovalkyrja, even of the NMX born of the facilities; they were still Nekovalkyrja too.

For a few long minutes a heavy stillness hung in the dead air as the stealthed Yamataian ships found their penultimate positions just on the rim of the planetary defense net of the system's central planet. The Kagai assault carriers unequipped with such clandestine measures hung back. From their distance they were ready to pounce into the system with FTL rather than the noiseless but glacial pace of the slow stalking that the Kaiyō and her sister ships employed.

Now a Taisa, Taiyou Hoshi remained quiet with a frosty expression, daring not to even breathe too loudly lest she miss some critical information. Absently, the captain checked the readouts from the infiltration team. The comm silence between them and the Kaiyō meant her console had nothing to tell her. Even on imaging arrays, their armors were optically camouflaged and there was naught to be picked up. All she knew is they were somewhere between herself and the Mishhuvurthyar's orbital station, if not on it already.

Deployment Tanuki

With communications as good as frozen to the larger task force behind them, only the armor to armor laser beams allowed the SAINT fireteam, Deployment Tanuki, to speak to one another while they sped toward their target ahead of the rest. As the operatives stealthily closed in on the Mishhuvurthyar station, some of those back on the cloaked Yamataian starships behind them hoped that the special team's nickname Saiga no Fumetsu -Saiga's Immortals- held true even against Emperor Uesu's gravest enemies.

The briefing for the mission had taken place on the task force's flagship, YSS Kaiyō II, in the ever-fair weather of a starship's morning. Laid out on the briefing table for all had been maps and documents detailing the planetary assault to come, which would cover the major continent from its Northerly tip all the way down to the Southern Mishhu stronghold. It would be a large and long ground operation. But for Saiga's Immortals the scope had been narrowed.

With a net of sensors all connected to the Mishhu's ground based defenses, the planet was fortified against attack through the epicenter of their orbital platform. The weatherworn team would have a cold start to the mission by implanting themselves onto the station. Now, as they coolly approached the station's hangar bay, the beginning of their operation was fresh in the team's minds. They were to detonate the hangar doors and the slew of starships within.

Tanuki squad's grizzled commander, Saiga-taisa, joined his Nekovalkyrja soldiers in the void today wearing a SAINT black Mindy 4, along with his mousey support analyst Sanzugawa Mikan in tow. Both veteran operatives had long since progressed in rank and value beyond participating in regular sorties but this particular mission called for their presence. Following the team's successful infiltration of the Mishhu station and neutralization of the archenemy's hangar full of gunships, Saiga and Sanzugawa intended to take control of the planetary sensor network and render all anti-starship artillery on the planet below inert.

Back on the Kaiyō just a while before, the SAINT team had figured this a simple task among themselves. One the likes of which they'd performed so many times before against the Neo-Mishhuvurthyar a decade ago and the Kuvexians more recently. They'd shared smiles and nods, and quipped together about vanquishing the squids just like they had in '32. But that confidence existed in large part to keep the seven operatives at the top of their game and boost their faith in the heat of coming battles that they would find victory as they always had before.

For no mission tasked to a Special Deployment Force unit was truly simple, and no day these clandestine warriors lived in service to the Yamatai Star Empire was ever an easy one.

"Target within sensors range, switching to full camouflage measures," said the Mindy 4 at the tip of this particular spearhead. The operative Taka, Tanuki squad's marksman and point-Neko, had a steady voice that nonetheless remained sharp as her hawk's eyes. "No signs that the cretins have detected tee-eff-two-eight-two's approach. Not a squid scrambling yet."

"Let's keep it that way," shot Akechi Kiriko, Mikan's "sister" and Saiga-taisa's trusty fireteam leader. It wasn't something that needed to be said, especially not for this particular unit who'd waged more wars in secret than some starships had made basic system patrols. But they were among SAINT's best for a reason, and Kiriko always remembered to lend her voice in brevity. At least when they weren't brawling neck deep in a nest of Mishhu parasites and tentacles.

With Deployment Tanuki's approach, the finer details of the ring-shaped station became visible to them. It was this outer circlet they approached, able to see the brown rivets dimpling the edges of each fuchsia panel that made up the outer hull. At this distance, even the ice that formed in the vacuum of space and whose cold claws clung to the hot pink hull was visible in detail. Against the bright pink of the Mishhuvurthyar station was a black pentagon, plastered on next to the reinforced hangar bay doors like a bullseye to direct the team. As the main hangar for the station, these massive blast shutters extended some 500 feet long and wide.

Supporting struts extended inward from the exterior band towards a central sphere where the planetary sensor network was controlled from. Under Uesureyan rule, the pearly planet below had once utilized a battlegroup and satellites around it to size up and counteract any incoming threats, the remains of which still floated in orbit along with the invading Mishhuvurthyar station. The detritus glinted in washed out hues of teal and silver, paling in comparison to the squids' hulking bio-organic ring station. It held the planet in its icy grip, but its reign was being primed for failure with every inch the SAINT team crept nearer.

Even though they'd cut off much power and all primary propulsion many hundreds of thousands of kilometers out from the station, slingshotting themselves out of CFS at speeds very nearly beyond the threshold of what a Mindy 4 could handle, the seven power armored operatives made incredible time toward their target. Always silent, their maneuvering thrusters made tiny course corrections and slowed them down in perfectly timed bursts as to deliver Tanuki squad though the enemy's light scattering of sentry power armors and right atop the grotesque station's doors.

By the time they touched down, their optical camouflage flickering ever-so-briefly, Saiga and his six Neko companions could place their feet onto the Mishhu hull with a feather-light touch that made nary even a thunk echo through its gargantuan hull.

"This is your show now, Kimigawa," Kiriko acknowledged, giving the team's demolitions specialist the go-ahead to proceed without delay. They'd all been allocated some explosive charges and practiced their placement a few dozen times in preparation, but now was time for the real thing. "Where do you want us?"

"Centralize and spread," Kimigawa said with an eye on the other six members as her hands began unraveling the wiring of her satchel charge. "Four to cover here to the corners, two of us'll run lines from here to the edge in a straight shot, then that leaves the Taisa to follow where the doors meet with his satchel charges." The explosive ordnance expert liked the opportunity to utilize such a force against an enemy of old but one wouldn't have guessed that through her lingering Kyousan village accent's purr of words.

Hopping to, Kimigawa Kazanbai stuck the aether charge onto the blast doors sixty paces from where her team had touched down moments beforehand. With her eyes on her work, Kimigawa jammed the block of aetheric explosive onto the sickly pink of the shutter door then looked up to her team. Seeing as much as the same happening between them, the sapper unwound the spool of wire that ran from the charge of the last block and to the next as she counted her steps. She set down the second block in another sixty paces again and then a handful more times until she placed her last charge where the hangar bay doors met the rest of the station's bright hull. With a swipe at her buttpack, the munitions Neko pulled out the remote detonator and armed the last explosive block she had placed with it.

"Detonators set across board?" Kimigawa asked with her laser comms' sights still locked onto her team.

The others had, by now, all placed their charges. The last one to check in was Saiga-taisa, who gave a thumbs up and a nod from his place kneeling in the middle of the big blast doors at their 12 o' clock. Kimigawa couldn't see him, of course, but his teal friendly outline in her HUD made the gesture obvious. They could have all probably done without optical camouflage at this point, as the charges they'd placed were already plainly visible without being stowed on their Mindy 4s, but kept it up for now anyway. Deployment Tanuki knew they could never be too careful, and some small bits of explosive equipment were far less likely to be found out without seven black power armors standing around.

"Alright, clear the zone," Kiriko ordered, jogging over across the Mishhu station's doors to join the others where the squad would rally before blowing them.

"Fun so far and we haven't even exploded 'em," Kimigawa remarked in her drawl. They had united at the top of the doors and made their way over the upper lip of the station's band as a group. On the top edge of the ring station they were out of the blast zone and at an advantageous place to be able to jettison away with a clear shot to storm the sensor network's control center.

"On zero now," Kimigawa said with a little spin of the detonator she held. With their own detonators in hand, the rest of Tanuki squad listened as the explosive expert counted them down from three. When all seven members pushed their detonators simultaneously, the aetheric bombs dumped a supermassive amount of energy from the aether and into regular space-time. Bright pink light engulfed the station doors, complementing the fuchsia hull as if made to match the Mishhuvurthyar station. Its sizzling flash was quickly replaced by the white hot melting of the metals and alloys within the hangar.

The bomb had caved inward, taking out a large portion of gunships once protected by the now disintegrated blast doors. Micro-explosions continued inside as Mishhuvurthyar fuel and combustibles ignited within the hangar and momentarily, the flurry of activity seemed to be only implemented by Deployment Tanuki. But then, a scout ship zipped out of the doors, followed by a more lethal gunship.

"Taka-hei, take that scout ship out," Saiga-taisa said coolly, breaking his radio silence to interject before Kiriko could give the order for their squad to proceed on and capture the station's control center.

Upon marksman Taka's shoulder left, her Ke-M2-W3001 Aetheric Pulse Cannon slid upward from its idle position on her back and then jolted down to point in the direction that the two escaped Mishhuvurthyar ships had fled. It twitched and slid around on its mount for all but one second as she acquired the target, and then fired its pulse of pink aether directly into its rear propulsion thruster. This forced the NMX scout to erupt quickly from within, ballooning outward in a ball of orange fire and Mishhu viscera that left a long, fiery streak through space.

"The gunship, Taisa?" Taka questioned, already acquiring the next target. "Locked on to its FTL presently."

"No, time to move," he replied, nodding to Kiriko so that she'd take the reigns back after his interruption. "You're still on point, Taka-hei, let's go."

Nodding, Taka retracted her Pulse Cannon from its firing position and turned toward their next objective.

YSS Kaiyō II

In a flurry, a series of detonations burst open the hangar doors on the station. Shrapnel and ship parts snowballed out of the orbital platform in a hail of debris along with a scout ship. Two scout ships followed the rear while the sickly green colored and two pronged nose of another jutted out. It was one of the universe's most lethal warships: the Xianthrafruglu Gunship.

"Fire on any escaping battlepods and ships!" Hoshi ordered.

From their place on the station, the infiltration team had begun setting destruction on the hangar's ships through a planted bomb strike, eradicating some of the Mishhuvurthyar's secondary line of defense on the planet. But a scout ship and a ship that outclassed the Fuji had escaped.

Asuka chirped from sensors, "The Xianthrafruglu gunship's quintessent wave sensors have detected us!"

"Switch CFS power away from stealth systems," Ketsurui Aiko commanded from her XO station without a second thought. "Shields up!"

"I'll handle weaps, but helm flank the gunship!" Hoshi replied, putting one hand on the naval compass that sat on the desk of her station. As she said this, the YSS Fuji and the YSS Kaiyō II uncloaked. With the original periwinkle nacelles and dark grey hull of the class, the YSS Fuji was a muted example of the typical Star Army of Yamatai that contrasted slightly with the brushed steel and eye-catching blue of the YSS Kaiyō II. Both ships moved gracefully in adjacent patterns away from the gunship.

"The infiltration team has taken out the scout ship!" Asuka commended as she noted the Taka's direct on the Mishhu scout ship.

With her SPINE interface locked in, Taiyou Hoshi worked with the helm as she pivoted the positron cannons. Both she and the YSS Fuji fired simultaneously from their positions on either side of the Xianthrafruglu. For now, the absorption field of the enemy gunship could handle the surges of energy as they burst out every seven seven and a half seconds. It pivoted away from the ships as it strafed through space, twisting through space as its positron tunneling cannons blared out from its sickly green hull. The YSS Fuji twirled away but the Kaiyō wasn't so adept in its maneuvering as the pink cannon fire skimmed the dorsal of the ship and penetrated the shielding. The shot burrowed deep into the Zesuaium of the ship and began an energy drain on the ship systems.

"Damage control: report to deck five," Aiko said unperturbed when she saw the engineering readouts on her volumetric console light up with hazard indications and depressurization warnings. "Your teams must keep us in the fight, Ashen-chui."

"Pincer formation with Fuji-san, Helm!" Hoshi grimaced at the somewhat green pilot, holding out hope. Kaiyō and the YSS Fuji speedily began racing one another, tearing through the system at their Neck and neck, the same class ships pushed to flank on either side of the Xianthrafruglu, sidling against its side and unable to be hit by its main legacy cannon through its frontal prongs, likely charged by now and willing to strike.

On either side of the SMX gunship, the sister ships barraged it with a battery of heavy quad and positron cannons. Its shielding was strong, holding out against the two flankers. Railguns chipped away at all three ships, while both Fuji-class ships pumped out plasma from their turbo aether turrets in successive bursts. Slowing momentarily, the Xianthrafruglu tried to pull away from the pincer grip the two ships had one it.

"Stay with it!" Captain Hoshi directed.

With a rocking motion that gravity systems corrected, the ship had just barely, and perhaps by luck, maneuvered out of the wave of the legacy cannon. A tear in the surroundings had taken purchase in space itself where the cannon had warped and transposed the area. Still pulsing with purple electric energy between its frontal prongs, the enemy ship sent out volleys through its tunneling cannons. One hit. It was another deep hole for the engineering teams to patch that was digging into the energy systems of the task force's flagship.

The Kaiyō sidled up next to the Xianthrafruglu, securely out of the line of sight of the most devastating of the ship's weaponry. The YSS Fuji held the enemy taught on the other side and the pair took up their barrage on the energy dispersal shields. While being hit by the point defense of the SMX ship, they pummeled into it relentlessly, as well. Doggedly they fought blow for blow.

"Any longterm damage, we can repair on the ground. Let's focus on not losing this one!!" Hoshi said with an enduring resolve.
Deployment Tanuki

Within the Mishhuvurthyar station, Team Tanuki silently floated over sharp floors studded with ghastly barnacles. The walls were weathered and cracked and where deep furrows ebbed, a sticky substance pooled. The sound of the liquid's intermittent dripping from the wall wasn't unlike the water fountain sounds of a Yamataian sōzu that would break the quiet tranquility of a Kyoto garden. There was little else to remind them of home as they made their way deeper towards the sensor network's controls. The area wasn't as fiercely guarded as the station's central command center where no doubt Mishhuvurthyar warlords were agitatedly trying to spurn the advance of the Kaiyō and her sister ships. Even from within it, the SAINT operatives could feel the tremors of the Mishhu's high yield weapons being fired.

Junctions they passed were hollow, empty chambers which they had to float through, levitating in their power armors as the Mishhu would through their own ships. Once out through of one of the corrugated corridors, they were in a massive cavern where the ribbing on the walls led up to a point in the center of the ceiling from which a prism shone faintly in the ever-present gloom. Around the edges of the room against the oozing walls, between pustules and pools of dripping mucous, were holographic displays and one desk.

Two Advanced-Type Mishhuvurthyar worked at the far end of the chamber, and below them large hard-shelled bugs roamed around intermingling with white maggot-like creatures that senselessly inched about. Pulling at the controls on the desk, the green shell of one of the Mishhu tilted as it leaned over the other, absorbed momentarily in whatever work they were addressing at their console.

Kiriko held up her fist, signaling for the six other SAINT operatives to hold here and watch. They'd come this far undetected, covered by the distraction provided by their explosive sabotage of the station's hangar bay doors and Task Force 282's spaceborne assault that had begun soon after. She and the others remained still, their optical camouflage still raised while they observed the tentacle beasts and insectoid servitors mingle in their technical work here at the star fortress' communications core.

After approximately a minute and thirty seconds, Kiriko gave her soundless signal to pounce. And then Deployment Tanuki were upon their prey in a flash. Taka and the squad's medic, Jihi Jintaro, fired precision beam shots from their Aether/Scalar SMGs while Kimigawa-hei and Sato Tatsuko, their longtime grenadier, closed in and began slicing through flailing appendages and into the soft underbellies of their foes.

Both Advanced-Types were felled quickly, neutralized by the expert hands of warriors who'd slain thousands of Mishhu in wars past. With their hulking masses splayed open on the slick ground below, they became the target of attention for the grubs that crawled with new purpose. With a chittering of excitement, the harder shelled bugs fled the room out any corridor they could. As for the worms, once atop their fallen overlords they began pulling apart tentacles and the unfastened inner meat of the shells, feasting away.

Sanzugawa Mikan quickly marched over to the now-vacated control console and began her work even as the other operatives continued their determined tactical check of the gnarly bio-organic chamber that they had laid claim to. From her Mindy 4's collar, she pulled a retractable connection cable and jammed it into the computer for a direct interface before her hands began dancing across the keys and toggles that directed the system's functions. Beside her, Saiga-taisa loomed over the console and watched readouts scroll upon its orange volumetric screens while she hacked.

"They'll be coming for us, Chus—Taisa," Mikan told her old friend, speaking calmly over the team comms channel. He'd been a chusa for an entire decade prior to his recent promotion, and she was still getting used to calling him by his new rank. "Like on Arzank II."

"Why do you always gotta bring me down, Mikan?" Kiriko shot back before anyone else had a chance. "Just because you say it in your cute little kitty voice doesn't mean it's a good memory."

"Any victory is a good memory, Kiri-chan," Saiga said as a gentle reminder to stay undistracted. "You've got us covered again this time. There's no worries."

"Oh piss off, Taisa," Kiriko chirped, sweeping her big aether saber gun toward the tunnel they'd just come down. "You two: take the port corridor," she told Jihi and Taka. "And you're to watch the starboard," she ordered Tatsuko and Kazanbai. "This is our house now. Let's keep the bugs outside."

YSS Kaiyō II

With the task force's two Fuji-class ships formed up on either side of the Xianthrafruglu gunship, they ricocheted through the system as they exchanged blow for blow. The captain of the YSS Kaiyō II, Taiyou Hoshi, was to decide the next maneuver, hopefully ending the fight. The best option was for the YSS Fuji to stall and whip around to take a clear shot at the back of the SMX gunship while the Kaiyō thrust forward to face it, synchronizing beams from their aether shock arrays to unanimously destroy the enemy gunship. But the damage her ship had already sustained was concerning Hoshi. If the Xianthrafruglu got a shot off as the Kaiyō faced it, the ship could be done for.

While she continued to handle weapons through her SPINE neural circuit, her pink hands idly slipped over to hold the brass compass she kept closeby. Her eyes went to the blue and red triangular hands on its face as they unsteadily wavered, pulled by the gravity of the many celestial objects that Kaiyō zipped around in the Kessica system. Hoshi thought of Deployment Tanuki on the station. If the team was able to take over the planet's security net, they had another option.

"YSS Fuji, this is Hoshi-taisa," saying the rank made Hoshi's cheeks and triangular ears hot, as if embarrassed. "Steer her towards the planet." To her bridge she said, "The same to you, Helm!"

"Hoshi," Asuka turned with her sharp blue eyes on the captain and a critical voice. "Saiga's team hasn't taken out the sensor grid. This might not work."

"We have to trust," Hoshi said with a strong grip on the nautical device in her palm. If Deployment Tanuki didn't gain control of the planet's sensor grid, the ground based repellers would eat through the Yamataian ships. She had made her choice, though, and the red arrow of the compass began steadying as the three gunships headed straight towards Kessica Prime. Her stomach wanted to go in knots, but the captain reminded herself the decision was underway and she centered herself like the compass hand had.

The ships steered clear of the station whose hangar doors were destroyed by the infiltration team. Within a few places were smoldering bits, subsisting on the few gasses within the exosphere of the planet. With the two Star Army gunships pushing through from the exosphere, they hurtled closer to the planet. The positron cannons of the Fuji-class sent high yield bursts, continually chipping away at the dispersal field and repulsion shields of their Mishhu counterpart. In kind, the Xianthrafruglu pivoted between the two ships to get a round off from its tunneling cannons onto the paired Fuji-class ships.

Hoshi opened up a comm line to Saiga. "If you going to do it, now would be a good time!"

Through the open channel, the Kaiyō's captain could hear fizzling static and the crack of small arms fire buzzing around the SAINT team as they defended their position while Mikan worked to take control. Soon, the sounds of fighting stopped and only open white noise endured.

"It's done, Hoshi," Saiga said after what seemed like a longer moment than it was. "Sanzugawa-shoi had her work cut out for her. Damned squid bastards and their artificial intelligences are still determined as ever. But we are now in control. Should be good-to-go here until relief operatives arrive. You can proceed with planetfall."

The wait had been excruciating, but from the time Saiga had first spoken, Hoshi diverted the ship's waning power from weapons to throttle. Both prows of the Fuji gunships pointedly dove towards the planet. The Mushhuvurthyar commanding the Xianthrafruglu must have thought them suicidal and about to be destroyed by the anti-starship repellers below, but the Yamataians knew that the defensive net was theirs. With weapons of all ships at an end, the twin Fuji held the Mishhu gunship between them placidly now.

Between the YSS Fuji and the YSS Kaiyō II, the devastating gunship of the SMX was torn apart by their own weaponry turned against them.

"Proceed with planetfall," Hoshi relayed Saiga's words to Task Force 282 at large. Within seconds the bright blue flashes of Yamataian starships entering the system lit up the space around the pearly planet called Kessica.

Kessica Prime
Planet Surface
Northern Landing Zone

White snow kicked up in chalky plumes around the first Fuji-class gunship to arrive on Kessica Prime. Her sister ship was close behind, tailed by a stream of Kagai assault cruisers and support ships. Billowing with smoke and smoldering from her recent battle, the YSS Kaiyō II was both the first to touch down and the first to begin offloading soldiers onto the planet.

The ship's power armor team had already begun hopping out of its open cargo ramp and onto the icy flaxen ground even before the ship closed in its last few feet to land. Among that first wave of Mindy 4 armors, Ketsurui Aiko's larger Kirie THOUGHT armor strode with an aura of determination onto Kessica Prime's snowy surface. Its red-on-red crimson and scarlet livery stood out among the standard Uchuugun Mindys around her, not just from its color but because it was flanked by two more Keiko-clad soldiers from Legion 777, who again carried flags of the Yamatai Star Empire and the planet Nataria just as they had during the Battle of Glimmergold.

Around the Kaiyō and its squad, Rikugun Kagai were landing, too, and emptying their holds of Mindy and Keiko companies. The Princess was to lead this initial assault against a Mishhuvurthyar installation that laid between two mountain ranges, and was a critical gateway that separated the continent's coast from its interior. Legion air support thundered through the sky beside Mindy soldiers, weaving in and out through the landing cruisers and cargo vessels that would provide prefab facilities for the Yamataians to set up in short order.

"I am glad Saiga-sensei and his Immortals were successful on the station, not that there was any doubt," Aiko said over a private channel to Hoshi. Above her, more power armors from the 777th zipped out of the Kaiyō's power armor bay, already flying toward the Mishhu base that was their target to the southwest. "We are fortunate to have such a calm drop zone to rally in, though I am sure the peace will be erased soon enough."

"We'll have to thank him later," Hoshi replied with a melodic charm to her voice. She knew the ways they did as much were wildly different. Though the operation to take down the planetary net and stop the ground-based anti-starship platforms, called repellers by the NMX, was more cut-and-dry than Deployment Tanuki was accustomed, it had opened the doors for the whole planetry assault to take place. Without their success, retaking the planet would have been impossible with the size of their force.

Hoshi's elation to have had the entrance to the planet opened to them by Saiga's team went beyond the desire to show Uesureya that they could be trusted. A part of her reveled in relying on her secret agent boyfriend to be as badass as she saw herself.

The captain's eyes diverted to her arm. Though armored in a Mindy now, just minutes ago it had been where her new rank stripes sat. Something foreign and new to her, Hoshi thought about the new taisa rank and what it meant for both her and Saiga — who had received the same rank — a promotion that was a long time coming.

"Later, though. Now we have our mission," she said with a strong sense of pride. Rising to air and now amongst the swarm of armors leaving the landing zone, Hoshi called out to the others. "These usurpers have another thing coming if they think they can live off our creator's lands!!"

The tundra's orange and yellow groundcover was lightly dusted with recent snowfall. Dense clumps of white starkly concentrated with the mountains in the distance, whose dark black ridges jutted up towards the pink skies with a jagged forcefulness. They flew with their backs to the sea, away from the landing zone and towards their destination. Nestled between the two mountain ranges in the snow-dotted pass was the Mishhuvurthyar starport. Like the mountains that rose to the sky around it, the central control tower stuck up from the mountain pass, overlooking the area and providing the assault force a marked destination.

"This is the least prepared we'll see their forces," Hoshi said to Aiko over their private channel. "They only have had a half hour's warning. Our next assault on this planet will be more difficult. More strategically driven. Still, I wonder what defenses the squids have beyond their now defunct repellers." In a tone between excitement and suspicion the Kaiyō captain asked, "Something worse?"

"Yamatai has defeated these foul creatures in full-scale war twice already," Aiko said back to her captain, her Kirie's head craned upward to watch the masses of Star Army soldiers march out of their landing Kagai or fly in formation in the skies above. With the Kuvexian War growing a more distant memory every day, the princess had long itched to release the fury of her training and resolve upon Yamatai's enemies once again, and found herself deeply inspired by the sights unfolding on Kessica Prime. "All they have is fear as they hide away, craven in their bunkers and space stations. Now we are here to root them out from where Uesu-sama had not the troops to spare."

With that, Aiko launched off of the ground to join the advancing legionary whose formation had made her their namesake, sending dust up in roiling clouds of thruster-heated plumes that vaporized the snow around where she'd been standing. The Kaiyō's power armor team and banner bearers joined her as they sped forward toward their target, overtaking other allies to lead from the front. In the air next to Aiko, her samurai dropped their cloaks and showed the Sarah armors they wore, ready to defend their charge as she fought for Yamatai and Uesureya.

"Hohei! You have your assignments," Aiko said simply over a wide-band to the Rikugun legion chasing her again toward glory. "Follow me now as you did at Glimmergold and we will together show these Mishhuvurthyar the terror they have forgotten since being chased from our homeland!"
Kessica Prime
Mishhuvurthyar Starport

The Mishhuvurthyar facility was a grimly dark place, as foreboding as the mountain peaks that rose out into the sky to the south of it. To the north and east was the ocean, a broiling mad torrent underneath a sharp cliff a mile away from the facility. From the air, some icebergs could be seen further floating desolately in the azure waters. Behind the facility, to the west, were the tallest mountains of the region, peaked like three sisters looming over the battle to come. The tallest held her head in the grey of the clouds, an unsettling mass of dark vapors whose darkness ebbed from the north.

Laid out like most small starports of the Mishhuvurthyar enemy, this one had a landing area and docks surrounded by shipping containers. There were some storefronts, but only the essential few buildings were present. In such an unkind environment there was no use pretending it was any better than it was. Still, a love hotel's solicitous neon signage shone through cold like a beacon. Around the landing area was a macabre terminal, smeared with blood and bones. Many eyes fell on this area as it was the connection point to the underground bunkers and where the combat command center could be accessed.

As the joint Yamataian and Uesureyan forces approached and the details became sharper, the Emperor's forces erupted in a howling frenzy. They could make out where the blood and bones had come from. Or rather, who.

On the terminal walls were the naked and bloodied bodies of comrades. The NMX had strung up the Uesureyan Nekovalkyrja that they had conquered.

Seeing the flock of armors approaching, some prisoners writhed and lunged in their moorings. They cried out the shared Uesureyan war calls between soiled and sometimes tear-stained cheeks. The display was heart-wrenching and pushed the forces faster towards their destination.

In the vaulted heavens, the clouds were closing the distance between themselves and the attacking forces. They dusted the far trio of mountains with falling snow and rolled around the peaks for the moment.

Just as the prisoners who clung to the walls had noticed them, so had automated defenses. Rising from shuttered hideaways beneath the surface all around the now opened starport, hundreds of Type 30A battlepods lifted from the underground facilities. Each of them a dozen feet long, the humming of the small craft drowned out the whoops and hollers from the displayed captives. They stayed afloat long enough for the Shredder Gunboats that accompanied them to rise out of the starport before its armored doors sealed, creating a landing pad once more.

Turning as a unit, they began to close in on the joint forces attacking them.

At the front of the Yamataian formation, Princess Aiko and her attendants flashed through the chill air in their powered armors and remained unflinching as battlepods and gunships came up to meet them. Point defense fire sprinkled across the airborne Yamataian battleline to herald the coming clash of Mishhu defenders pressing in their direction. Like the far-off clouds dumping their snow onto the mountains, the Yamataian invasion's vanguard began raining down aether, plasma, and gauss fire into their foes.

While she let shots from 50mm cannons mounted to her Kirie's shoulders rip, Aiko readied her custom-cut zesuaium tetsubo. Her oversized armor gripped the gargantuan weapon tightly, its fingers feeling and wrapping around its handle in search of perfect balance as if each mechanical digit was her own. And then she dove, pointing her attention at the encroaching battlepods right as they scattered in the face of the combined Star Armies, crashing against the wall of Mindys and Thought armors and starfighters like waves colliding with an immovable bluff.

"Press forward!" she called on a proximity channel, reaching with one arm outstretched to crush her weapon's mass into a battlepod's glowing yellow eye as it passed beneath her. "Let our second wave and starship support mop them up as they turn for another attack run. We must reach the surface with haste!"

"Eeeeyaaaao!!" shouted the Uesureyan Nekovalkyrja near Aiko's formation. With their rallying war cry and with the battlepods and gunboats vectoring to clash again, they descended. Their sights were set on the landing area and terminal. In a waterfall of armors, the Star Armies cascaded to the ground. Behind them the drone battlepods had pivoted, firing from the air and ripping into the armor of their own landing pad as the armors dashed out of the way and returned fire from the ground.

"I'm going to assist the command staff with creating a command center for our forces. I believe in you to find theirs!" Hoshi looked from her Mindy to the Kirie armor that Aiko wore.

"Understood, Taisa!" Aiko confirmed, swiveling around in the air to pepper an enemy battlepod that was aiming to attack Hoshi, sending it careening off course and toward the ground below with accurate fire from her shoulder-mounted slug shell throwers. The fighter support launched alongside the Legion and Uesureyan Army assault darted between NMX battlepods tangling with allied Mindy armors, doing what they could to keep the Mishhu attack craft and gunship support in check.

Aiko kept firing into the melee around her while her Kirie fell down toward the base that was today's target, micro-adjusting her trajectory as blasts from her weapons barked up in support of her allies. As the ground closed in, she righted her armor to land on its feet and made a running touchdown behind a shipping container that would cover her and the Rikugun soldiers who accompanied her as they hid to avoid enemy gunfire from the surface.

"We must get below," she said, bringing her forward momentum to a halt. Her two samurai kept close by her side and ready to protect her even though the princess' big heavy armor towered over them. "Taii, what are our options?" she asked the leader of the legionary century that was with her today. Although she wanted to take the primary terminal and end the suffering of those Neko who had been made a spectacle by the barbarous Mishhu, she also figured their presence was surely some kind of bait that would be best assaulted by their Uesureyan allies thirsty for revenge.

"We could go through a repair bay to get to the lower level Ketsurui-sama," the Sarah-clad samurai centurion Asami said.

A trio of updated Mindy 2 wearing the black and white insignia of Uesureyans touched down behind the shipping container alongside the legionnaires and Aiko. One knelt forward, quickly getting out of view of the shadow of an enemy gunboat and closer to talk to those grouped.

"Onegai! Usada-shoi... Usada Chikako, Hime-san! Bridge bunny no more, got a brand spankin' new rank. These are my batchmates," growled the woman behind the armor as she put a hand behind her to the identical Mindy 2 that had covered behind her. "We're with you!"

"Good," Aiko acknowledged when her Uesureyan friend appeared. Little did she know that her samurai Mao had sent Chikako a mildly threatening message about avoiding any more tricks like she'd played on Hoshi and Aiko during the undercover mission aboard the UES Ravenoak, but Aiko herself had no concern for such possibilities now that the two Star Armies were overtly fighting as allies. "We were just about to venture below. Steel yourselves for the fight if you are accompanying us. It will be unlike anything on a starship bridge.

"Asami-taii," she said, diverting her attention to the old samurai-cum-centurion in short order. Enemy fire rattled off close by and impacted the corner of the cargo container above them, sending sparks and steel shards scattering down atop their position in a spectacular but relatively harmless display.

"You and two of your squads are with me. We will enter through a repair pit as you suggested. There should be one twenty meters to our ten o'clock. Have the remainder of your century focus heavy suppressing fire there prior to our advance," Aiko ordered, gesturing with a sharp motion toward a second repair bay nearby but in the opposite direction. "Once we are in, they should remain topside to ensure nothing comes through behind us, as well as to assist with surface operations until this area is secured."

In quick succession, Asami doled out the orders. The beats of her words were strong and sharp as she pointed with her aether beam rifle like it was her spear, Takikuga. The centurion turned back to the princess as the a few squads peeled off, readying to aid at the different positions around the battlefield.

"We'll take point. The stink of them is all too familiar a scent for us," the freshly minted Uesureyan officer said. From within her Mindy 2, Usada raised her head and turned to look over her shoulder. The rest of her followed as she twisted her body and began her way to the closed doors of the repair bay. Two of the trio squatted, beginning to cut lines in the large rolling door from the ground up from which they would enter. Usada floated up, cutting a horizontal line that met both of the Uesureyan Neko's cuts into the bay door. With a grunt, she kicked into the door, making it tumble down and giving them a point of entry.

Several dozen stacked Reaper armors hung still on the walls with bright lights shining down on them. Their spiked forms stood out in the quiet of the empty bay painted in red livery with some panels and stripes marked out in a peachy flesh color. The Uesureyans stomped past them and pointedly stood on either side of a far wall's oval-shaped hatch.

"Breaching," Usada transmitted to the Yamataians. "This is the stairway down. It'll be cramped at first then we might run into hostiles."

"Onward!" Aiko said to the Yamataian soldiers and two samurai who'd come with her, not waiting for anyone else to follow Usada and her girls before she marched off and jumped in below on the heels of their new Uesureyan comrades. Covering fire from Asami's century skipped over her head as she went, strafing at Mishhu positions that would otherwise try to shoot the Star Army fighters. The big Kirie armor Aiko piloted stepped confidently across the opened repair bay's deck and past the vacant Mishhuvurthyar power armors, both shoulder-mounted cannons trained forward at the door while the massive war club in its hands remained ready to swing.

Picking up speed from her determined step into a jog and then a full-on bull rush, Aiko sent two shots from her armor's guns thumping through the doors between where Usada and her team had posted up and then used her momentum to kick through it, filling up the corridor beyond with her Kirie's entire body. With any luck, the fat kinetic slugs she'd sent through ahead of her suppressed or cleared anyone waiting in the hallway, but Aiko kept poised to strike or fire again if anything came her way.

"EEEEYAAAAAAAAO!!" Whooped the Uesureyan Nekovalkyrja when they saw the destruction in the hallway. Though it was clear of enemies, the sides of the corridor had been ripped into by the Ketsurui Clan princess' powerful onslaught.

"Mighty fine work, sister!" Usada chuckled before she jogged ahead down the hallway, then the stairs they connected to. Her Uesureyan sisters backed her up several times, peeking corners and the depths as they trailed downwards. After a half dozen floors downward, Usada signaled to her comrades, backtracking one set of stairs before huddling in with Aiko and Asami.

"Hostiles and some fifteen in the immediate vicinity," she reported. "Looks of 'em, most are suited up. It's a thoroughfare for the bunkers and going up to the fight, just not through our stairwell. What do you want to do?"

"Barrage them as you did before, Ketsurui-sama?" Asami asked.

"Although they are likely distracted by the battle in front of them, we will need more than one Kirie's firepower to take them quickly," Aiko replied confidently. While part of the princess wanted to charge the Mishhu and their corrupted Nekovalkyrja thralls head-long into their flank, there was no reason not to waste the element of surprise for her gratification. "There are fifteen of us. Both of you should bring your squads in first and lay waste to them before they can react to our attack. Volley fire and then close with them. I will support from the rear with my cannons and remain ready to address anything that comes in behind them until the chamber is secured.

"Ryoukai?" she asked to confirm the other officers were in agreement.

"Ryoukai desu," Asami said with a curt nod. Usada echoed as much and the squads were given their commands and crept back down the stairwell.

With their Mindy 2, the Uesureyan Nekos' gauss cannons shuddered as they entered alongside the legion, smoking into the corridor alongside the newer Mindy 4 of the legionary. Aether shocked through the Mishhuvurthyar and NMX troops, splattering some of the unarmored Neko against the pinkish grey wall and floor in crisp dust while taking incredibly close shots at the shielding of the armored individuals. The Ripper and Reaper armors alike meant there were Advanced Mishhuvurthyar within the rank and file of the NMX piloted Reapers. The Ripper armors had been quietly floating down the oval-shaped corridor before turning to the action and adding their aetheric forearm cannons into the firefight.

The numbers and high ground were on the attackers side. From the stairway they rained their weapons fire onto the sets of armor clad Mishhu warriors as they tried in vain to react quickly enough. The Nekovalkryja from Yamatai and Uesureya frontlining the charge took hits, but their weapons still continued to blast out mercilessly until they switched tactics as Aiko had outlined.

Jumping into the hallway and limiting the space the enemy Mishhu had, the Uesureyan Neko began closing in on the Rippers. One had fallen back drastically, saving himself. With a movement of his tentacles, Usada could see an Advanced-Type Mishhuvurthyar opening a panel on the wall. A goop dripped from the opened panel as Usada barreled ahead, pulling out her saber to shoot a precise shot at his tentacle, creating a spark with the first shot. With the second, it lopped off. Her heart sunk as the beast quickly raised another and jutted it into the panel several times.

Close enough to thrash it, she tore at the monster with not just her body weight but with her Mindy 2's thrusters, tearing it away from the panel. She pummeled into it with her saber, tearing at its armor with any stab that made contact while it did the same with its razor-edged forearms. With a burst of its thrusters, the enemy Mishhu slammed Usada Chikako into the opposing wall. Though it looked like it was gaining the upper hand in doing so, it had given her sisters a clear shot. One of them loosed a gauss shot at it, straight to the hip, then another at the same came from her sister on the same spot. It turned to face them, to which Chikako raised her rifle to her side and plunged it into the side of the armor. The tentacled foe fell slowly, then all at once.

"Check what was being input." Gasping, Chikako pulled her legs out from under the motionless armor. "What did it do?" Her sisters were already at her side and past the wall panel, helping her to her feet.

The Princess Aiko hefted her zesuaium tetsubo up out of a sloppy mass on the floor that had once been another Advanced-Type, its cracked shell spayed open beside two other enemy Nekovalkyrja she had struck down in personal combat with her Kirie. While Aiko surveyed the result of their ambush with some inward satisfaction at the efficiency of her troops, the samurai Mao strode past Usada and her Uesureyan comrades and up to the wall panel.

"They've sent out an alert," Mao said over a proximity channel, staring down with her Sarah M7's oculars at the glowing volumetric display recessed into the bulkhead. Already, her armor was streaked with the blood and viscera of their enemy, having assisted Aiko in destroying one of the larger Mishhu creatures. "So now they know our progress into their base has been fast."

The head of Aiko's Kirie scanned over to Mao and then to the two Star Army squads whose members were body checking hostiles to ensure they wouldn't get back up before returning to peer down the corridor beyond where Usada had fought. Spending only a few moments in contemplation, the princess marched her big power armor over to Asami to confer on what was next.

"Taii," Aiko said, addressing the Rikugun centurion as the woman rose up from kneeling atop a gutted Reaper. Aiko's big mech pointed its left hand in the direction their Mishhu prey had been going to reinforce their allies. "One of your squads is go and move back toward the surface through here. They will catch the enemy at their backs and let our friends in more easily. You and the other shall continue with us."

"Wakarimasu," Asami called. "You have your orders!"

The second squad rallied back, over the bodies of their slain enemy and through to the stairway to meet with allies coming from above. Asami's squad clung close to her and the princess as they pushed further into the hallway with Usada's trio close behind. With Aiko leading from the front, she was the first to spy the next obstacle. The hallway passed through two open oval-shaped doors. From their vantage, she and Asami could see this was where some of the enemies were suiting up into armors. There were at least ten Reapers in sight while still a handful more of NMX Nekovalkyrja milled about in a state of undress, preparing to suit up into one of the unused armors that hung on the pale salmon-colored walls. The likelihood some of the armored Reapers would be coming their way was high as a line of them had begun forming at one of the nearest doors.

"Our enemy will be advancing upon us imminently," Aiko said to Asami while she continued closing with the next armor bay filled with Neko-clad Reapers. She did not slow or skip a beat in her pace, and began quickening toward the next set of foes. "Rei. Mao. Steel yourselves, we are down five legionary and cannot fail here."

No further orders were given. Asami knew as well as Aiko did that the waiting foes had been cautioned to their approach, forewarned by the Mishhu that Usada had killed. Ahead, the corridor's right wall gave way to the two passages through which the Yamataians and their Uesureyan companions had seen the next set of fouled Neko waiting in Reapers. And when Aiko passed the first, she blasted one of her Kirie's forearm weapons on heavy beam mode straight into the forming line of enemy power armors who were preparing to confront them.

Sequentially, armors that had been lining up to leave the door took on the heavy blast from the Kirie. The first two in the line that were closest to Aiko as she zoomed past the open door had holes blasted in them before disintegrating further until just the extraneous bits flumped to the floor. Behind them the damage was lessened marginally. As the aetheric beam had cut through the others like butter, it ripped through that one as if paper torn down the middle. It too fell, though the next in the lineup were more lucky. They sustained damage but were still standing, though one stepped to the side and clutched their armor as if hurt in the gut.

Aiko continued past that first entryway and activated the thrusters on her heels to jump the eight feet over to the farther door before stepping through. She hoped the surprise of that first attack would give her samurai, Rikugun allies, and Uesureyan counterparts a moment to get in and take position — or at least engage the NMX Neko in close combat so that whatever else waited within the assembly area beyond what they'd seen from the hallway would have a hard time picking out targets amidst the fighting.

Only the last two in the lineup at the first entryway had the wherewithal and armor integrity to try to react. They pointed their weapons at the door, though Aiko was already at the father entryway.

At that second threshold, the princess swung hard toward the wall past its entry to catch a half-suited Neko from its back with her Kirie's mammoth armored gauntlet. She gripped down and easily crushed the life out of the enemy soldier's bare chest before throwing its body into the other Reapers she'd just lanced with her beam weapon. Meanwhile, Aiko's left hand swung her tetsubo at another Mishhu power armor whose occupant fumbled to point their rifle at the princess' raging form. Almost perfectly teed up for her war club, the shocked Mishhu thrall was batted into her stunned sisters along with the first.

Through the door pounced the samurai armors. Rei's crackling aether saber drew the eye as she forced it through the armor that Aiko's beam had breached but not finished off. With the Reaper doubled over, it was easy work and she whipped it out of the enemy and onto the other two. With Rei right in front of them, their attention turned to the other entrance as the princess pulverized their unarmored compatriot and bowled her into them. With them toppling doubly so from the batted thrall, Rei sliced at the pair of Reapers before her.

With just dispensation of her strength, the samurai was able to turn to face the royalty in the room. Rei confirmed the confidence Aiko emanated was from competently taking out those nearest the door then turned to the other enemies in the room. Three half armored NMX scrambled into their armors while four fully clad armors held the line between them. The element of surprise was no longer an aspect the Yamataians could use to their advantage as the armors lined up fired steady shots from forearm weapons and particle rifles. At first they had aimed for Rei's position, which was closest to the first door breached. Soon half of them reoriented to shoot at Aiko, spreading a wider berth at her range of motion within the second entrance.

Aiko's Kirie caught a few shots from the Mishhu particle rifles and forearm guns in its shoulders and face, the energies skipping off of its armored form with little effect beyond the sparking flash and scorch marks left behind in their wake. Nonetheless, Aiko acted quickly and activated her own right forearm's shielding function to protect herself from any lucky shots the enemy fusillade might score. It only took a moment for the transparent electric blue bubble to extend from the Kirie's wrist and cover most of its form, with Aiko crouching her mechanical Kirie's body a little to stay tucked behind it while advancing upon the shooters.

For her part, Mao had followed Aiko in and remained in the princess' big power armored shadow until their foes made the counterattack. Then her form was a blur, crossing the power armor bay to join Rei and stab into the neck of a Reaper assailing her senpai with the aether saber rifle she carried.

"Forward!" Aiko bellowed both via comms and through external speakers, matching the ferocity of the NMX Neko who wailed and shrieked their terrible war cries. As she approached from behind the cover of her shield, the princess swung wide at the first Reaper unlucky enough to stand its ground in the face of her advance. Such was the force of her blow that it crumpled and wrapped around the zesuaium tetsubo like tinfoil, leaving its occupant quickly incapacitated.

"Forward!" the princess repeated, urging her fellows onward. "These ones are feral and know not the honor of Yamatai or Uesureya!"

"Eeeyaooo!!" The Uesureyans yelled. Their war call matched the pitch of the NMX's wails and the composure of Aiko's calls to them as they pumped into the room alongside Asami's squad mates. Collectively the two forces shot into the last two armors still standing, guarding their suiting up sisters. When they were both downed, two of the three enemy Neko had gotten into their armors. But they were still running start-up systems and the newly donned Reaper armors stood little chance, much like their last unarmored sister, who Rei took the life of in a quick, merciful stab.

"Move," Asami took no short time pushing her squad forward and out of the room's detour. Aiko and her pair of samurai stayed close, ready for the next confrontation.

Usada Chikako split from her Uesureyan trio, heading up with Ketsurui Aiko like a puppy at the heels of the princess' hulking armor that was two feet taller than Usada's as they marched through the hallway.

"Musha-hime," Usada said, referring to Aiko as a warrior princess in a growling voice dripping with enthusiasm. "We should bypass the hallways and drop into the command center through a chink in the Mishhuvurthyar starport's armor. My sisters and I know it well."

"Good!" Aiko confirmed with some enthusiasm. Were she not wrapped and snug up in the core of her Kirie's pilot pod, the princess would be grinning from ear-to-ear from the thrill of battle and Usada plus the others could hear it on her voice. "Asami-taii, let the Emperor's soldiers here take point. Their secret path will save our spirit now for more fruitful fights to come."

With the Uesureyan trio in the front, they moved through the hallway before turning down a branching corridor into another. They slowed at an offshoot of the corridor, but upon looking down it, one of Usada’s sisters shook her head and they continued before the next she nodded at. It was a long hallway of about 40 feet that seemed to end in a wall and nothing more.

Usada swung her attention to Aiko and Asami, “It looks like a dead-end corridor, ne? But if you cut through the wall you’ll open a hole to the second floor of their combat command center. No way to know if the wall’s armored or not until you start cutting tho-oh! Eeyao!!”

Some of the Rikugun legionary Usada was facing had drawn guns, so the Uesureyan Nekovalkyrja angled herself to see what had just phased into the hallway behind her. Usada had turned from facing Aiko to staring at the many eyes on the crest of a flaming red Mishhuvurthyar. It had an armored helm with lances jutting from it that crackled with white hot aether just like the samurai’s swords did. The crustaceous spikes on its head flared that were not covered upward into black tips as did its tendrils.

Many of those tendrils had taken a coffin-like hold on one of Usada’s sisters that it held above its head. It slammed the Mindy 2 she wore into its own armored helm, impaling it against the armor until the Mindy gave out, splitting where the armor's torso and legs met.

Her other sister had begun shooting, as did the Yamataians. Mao and Rei formed up to Aiko's front, standing as an obstacle between this new foe and their royal charge. The bullets, plasma, and aether bolts poured into the new monster as if they had hit a bag of sand, leaking a flesh-colored liquid for a millisecond before the holes closed and the shell hardened, glistening in a wet sheen before it sealed.

Both of Aiko's shoulder-mounted gauss cannons slammed downward to target this sudden threat, but she held her fire for a moment. Even the ferocious princess was given a moment's pause as she witnessed the thing seemingly absorb their fire. It looked like an Advanced-Type Mishhu and yet somehow appeared to be enhanced in some way, and its ability to phase like the nigh-mythical Ghost Mishhu they'd encountered years ago aboard the first Kaiyō brought some small amount of dread even to her battle-eager mind. That it was bigger than those others, too, and filled up the corridor was no extra comfort.

But it was still a Mishhuvurthyar, and all Mishhu could be killed. Must be killed.

Leveling both forearm weapons toward it, too, Aiko let loose everything her Kirie could. Two pink beams four inches across lanced over the heads of her troops and allies in a sustained line of aetheric death while her cannons lobbed their slugs into the fiery-shelled Mishhu's chitinous skull. The entire passageway was bathed in pink light, and such was the intensity of Aiko's barrage that the bio-organic walls of this underground base sweat and dripped warm ichor around her as the air itself sizzled and hissed in protest.

Aiko's aether had lobbed holes into the Mishhuvurthyar. Large divots chunked at the crust of its head, which pooled with liquid. Ballooning out as it regenerated, the smaller wounds crusted over quickly while the largest of them still gushed fleshy granules of liquid before sealing as it had before.

Pulling the body of the Usada Chikako's sister down, the Mishhuvurthyar brought her in close to the underside of its belly, entangling her in tentacles. Usada saw her sister wriggling slightly, still alive in the broken armor. But soon she was wrapped up in the mass of tendrils while some of them seemed to push into the hallway’s floor.

Usada warned, “Watch your feet!” But it was a millisecond too late before a half dozen tentacles phased up through the flooring and began to wrap around the ankles and legs of the Yamataians and Uesureyans. It gained purchase on two of them, one of which was immediately slammed into the wall once before getting slapped against the ground with a thud. The other that had been grabbed was used to knock down still more of their Star Army allies.

Even Usada's sister was being dealt with in its own way as the opening between her Mindy's torso and legs was being pressed into a beak within the belly of the beast. Slowly her innards were sucked out of her and were helping to feed the Mishhuvurthyar's regeneration before the tentacles unfurled around her quickly, discarding her dead body beneath it unceremoniously.

This beast's resilience stunned Aiko, leaving her computerized mind feeling almost blank with no quick solution to the abominable threat menace they now faced. Her forearm weapons ceased their beams when her comrades were entwined with phasing tentacles from beneath the deck, and she watched in what felt like slow motion and complete silence as they were thrashed before her in the cramped corridor.

A heavy, violent clunk from one of her legionary getting rocked into a wall brought the princess back to the moment. Everything was full speed again, and the frantic shouts and grunts from her friends in their fight filled the air where Aiko had only experienced personal stillness a moment before.

"Rei, Mao," the princess said with a halting abruptness while she watched the Enhanced Mishhuvurthyar's underside rain down Uesureyan blood in sickly droplets that drooled down its tentacles and onto the freshly killed Neko beneath it. "Help the others free themselves and breach that CIC. I will finish this one."

Rei would have hesitated had it been five years prior. She would have argued and stayed, but she sent a message to Mao, instead, to coordinate their efforts. Jumping to the side opposite of Mao, the senior yojimbo began cutting into the tendril that gripped one of the Star Army Nekovalkyrja's shins. Her protégé did the same elsewhere on the thick red and black gradient of the tentacle, freeing the first among them. Their body hung limp and Rei shook her head; the other Neko had died within the armor. Meanwhile, Usada had balked at the death of her vat sister before scrambling to free her other one, who had been lifted and slammed several times. Mao helped her finish the job of freeing them with her blade's strikes.

Asami had heard Aiko's abrupt words, then seen her protectors' quick work of following the orders and had done the same, falling back down the long dead-end hallway. She had one of the Mindy-clad Neko with an aether beam saber rifle better equipped for cutting into hulls pierce the hallways end, beginning the breach of the command room.

The princess stepped over and past her comrades struggling with the tentacles gripping them up and through the floor, using her oversized power armor's fully-mechanical body and wide reach to crawl over them with its palms and feet on the walls and ceiling. Her shoulder mounted cannons had been retracted again, and she secured her big zesuaium tetsubo to an extra hardpoint between them on her back. From her Kirie's right hip, she retrieved the armor's Ke-M12-W3303 Particle Gun.

It was a simple pistol, and rarely used among Aiko's panoply of war compared with the other options she preferred, but was always carried there on her mecha's waistline. To use it had almost totally slipped her mind, for it had never seemed of much use beside the Kirie's forearm weapons and her trusty tetsubo. But it did have one function without compare. The Particle Gun could self destruct with sufficient power to completely obliterate a Yui 7-class Scout Ship in short order.

Approaching the insane monstrosity that stood in their way, Aiko set its detonator to ready and dialed its power down to a mere 25 percent of its total yield. If she remembered right, that could cause destruction in a radius over 260 feet — only hopefully enough to stop the grim crimson Mishhuvurthyar from regenerating again. With her armor's right hand, she began pumping another constant beam of aether into its face again, dragging it back and forth to score and spread the damage, as well as up and down to detach as many of its tendrils as she could. The more it had to regenerate now the better.

Behind her, Aiko could hear Rei and Mao and Asami and Usada with the others run away down the hallway to their left whose far bulkhead would breach into the base's command center. Marching right up to face the bastard that had so quickly claimed three Neko souls, the princess pressed her left forearm's beam right into its face before switching the weapon to blade mode.

Already, the Enhanced Type was healing itself. One of its tentacles tried to wrap around the leg of Aiko's Kirie just when she flicked her canister pistol's self destruct timer and forced it between two of the foul creature's bony armor plates. With haste, she cut at the appendage's base and freed herself, wasting no time to make sure of anything else as she activated her atmospheric thrusters and jammed away, slamming into the junction's corner when she turned to run.

Ahead, Aiko could see Asami's legionary and the others slice through into the chamber beyond. She hoped Usada's shortcut was still real as she barreled down behind her allies, forgetting for how long she'd set the canister's timer for. Eight seconds? Ten? Only five? It didn't matter now as long as it exploded and erased that disgrace of creation from the universe.

"Through!" Aiko demanded, not that her comrades needed any more reason to jump without looking. The first couple had passed, and the others soon followed as their cut opening in the wall grew larger in her vision. "Get through! We will deal with whatever is—"

The whole squad's communications crackled and died, cutting Aiko's desperate orders short. In her Kirie, the princess was pushed forward and through the breach by the canister's shockwave. At Aiko's back, a pillar of flame gushed through the corridors and filled the command center, burning everything inside with whatever excess power had made its way through cramped passageways after disintegrating the Enhanced Mishhu and the structure around it.

Within her pilot pod, for what could have been seconds or minutes, Aiko saw only black.
Kessica Prime
Planet Surface
Mishhuvurthyar Starport

Taiyou Hoshi was used to fighting at range, whether that meant behind a sniper's site or on the bridge of a ship. Before a command center could be erected within the Mishhuvurthyar base, it had to be cleared. That meant here on the starport's landing pad she was in the thick of it. With her massive Kaiyō sword in hand, she defended herself against the swarms of NMX Nekovalkyrja that fought tooth and nail against her and her Uesureyan comrades. Tankish crab types were appearing at the edges of the battlefield, too, as overhead the 30A battlepods hummed as they quickly passed overhead, making Hoshi instinctively lift her LAMIA shield to deflect the turret fire from the aircraft.

Though surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of kin fighting for Uesu's lands, the captain felt lonely. Almost like she was naked despite the Mindy armor around her frame. Idly as shot into the air, she thought of her gunship and how she wished she could be on its bridge raining aether down on her enemies. But its job with Boss in command was to unload its occupants and supplies at the landing zone while keeping it secure as the legion and Uesureyan forces continued to arrive.

Instead of being in the stars, she was planet-bound. Stomping on the soil that the NMX trod on daily, she loosed a round of high-explosive gauss rounds from her right shoulder's weapon in an upwards arc. The armor-piercing round rained downwards onto the Reaper armor nearest her while she ducked her body and avoided the return fire. Now low to the ground, she jettisoned towards the armor with help from her armor's propulsion, resulting in a teal blast from her Mindy's wings. Once in range, she drove the Kaiyō sword at the armor's ankles, being sure to follow through with a push from her hips and shoulders. She intended to not slice through the armor, but to knock it with kinetic force.

The Reaper armor stumbled and righted their footing as best they could as Hoshi's shoulder mounted Though the enemy was off-balance, they followed her movement and shakily turned to face her. Though they were firing a particle rifle in Hoshi's face, she had already raised her forearm, bringing her zesuaium shield up. She had avoided the Impaler's dousing and noted where her last round had hit: their shoulder's armor was missing its third spike where a charred hole had been blasted. With another loud muzzle blast from Hoshi, she shot a second round into the same place. This time she had been closer and it penetrated the armor, exploding inside seconds before the enemy dropped to the ground.

Hoshi's teeth ground together in a smile as she celebrated, but her victory was short-lived. Her HUD alerted her to armor degradation in her own back before she felt anything. Her jaw went slack and fell as she tried to turn to face her attacker. The aether lance just ripped into more of her shoulder as she did so. Teleporting was her only option.

She made a jump away into the busy airspace above and to get a view on the only armor she could spot with an aether rifle lance. It was some elite unit Reaper that had taken an opportunity she shouldn't have given it.

The captain tugged at the straps that held her shield in place on her left forearm. Though light, the strain of the shield would only aggravate her injury on that side of her back. Meanwhile, she set her capacitor to allow for another teleportation jump.

Barely a handful of seconds before she had departed the battlefield, Hoshi was back on it. With a scream she hurled the brunt of her shield into the face of the Reaper. In the instant in which she had caught them off guard, she aimed a 10mm zesuaium tipped sabot into the jagged torso of the armor. It was designed to penetrate even the toughest armors and it did, but Hoshi let loose three more. The holes smokes within the jack-o-lantern styled body of the armor as it fell backwards on the battlefield.

Speckles of snow fell on the hard dirt of the facility, cresting along the heads of Hoshi and her enemies alike before fizzling on the heat of the armors. With a push of her zesu shield into the hands of another, Hoshi checked her visuals all around her, not one to be attacked from behind again.

The three peaks were cloaked in a grey torrent of clouds as flecks of snow obscured the battle in white haze. She jettisoned towards another Reaper and swung hard and fast to swipe her Kaiyō sword into them and the force pushed them backwards. Though it didn't cut into the heavier armor, it allowed the Uesureyan Nekovalkyrja attacking it an upper hand.

The captain breathed in, looking towards the landing zone and —hopefully— her ship. There was something in the distance, different than a natural storm cloud. Something lush and green against the warm hues of the tundra. The sight of it made her smile and she wondered if this was better than having new crewmen. Catching sight of a Ripper armor entering the battlefield from an underground bay, Hoshi refocused on the battle.

It held the same type of aether lance that had injured her moments before, but this was not a Neko-powered Reaper like her most recent adversary. The blood red Ripper was flanked by a terra-hued Mishhuvurthyar of behemoth proportions Hoshi had never seen. Its round belly gleamed as snow settled between the hooked horns of its head. Swathes of green melded with the red earthy plating on its body. It would have been perfectly camouflaged in the forests of Hoshi's home on Tami, but here it stuck out against the red groundcover of tundra and the white snow atop it. Four luminous eyes radiated on the jagged helmet of the Ripper next to it while the same number of beady dark ones were embedded in the shadows of the Mishhu's hood-like shell.

The captain's spine shivered, sending shock to her nearby wound. This was an old enemy to whom she owed death only.

She began to close the distance before she saw it do something she had never seen before.

It began embedding its tentacles into the ground.

Hoshi couldn't make sense of it, she had never seen a Mishhuvurthyar do this. But she steeled herself and shot her right shoulders gauss rounds at it. Flesh peach liquid poured from the wounds along with the bullets. The Mishhuvurthyar wriggled, as if pushing its tendrils deeper into the ground as the Ripper focused on Hoshi and loosed aether through the rifle segment of its lance, followed by a missile volley. The captain feinted by teleporting, closing the distance between her and the unarmored Mishhu.

Its exposed round belly called to her. It was an easy target and the Ripper that seemed to be escorting it wasn't able to safeguard its right side. She lunged, piercing into the body of the Mishhuvurthyar with her sword. Its exoskeletal skull turned down to her, watching as if its death were a spectacle to witness with all of its awareness. At this distance with her blade in its belly, she could see the unblinking eyes at an intimate distance. They held no color, no love, no compassion. Just a hungry interest.

Flesh liquid began to pour from the belly as it had with her gauss rounds. She felt a pressure against her hilt. She had to push her back into the blade to keep it planted, aggravating her shoulder's wound where the aether lance had been previously embedded. She hadn't expected to stay in close quarters so long and the Ripper armor had begun to take notice of her and sidestepped to swing its rifle at her once more. She took a last look at the creature, its dark eyes reflected her Mindy looking at it. Then she teleported away just before the Ripper would have stabbed her.

She looked at her blade, then at the Mishhuvurthyar below. It had rebuffed her attack and from this distance she could almost make out the flood of peach liquid easing, then glistening as it hardened into a protective cocoon as it had been.

Her mouth fell, then she heard a terrorized call on comms, "It's coming from the ground!"

She looked at the source and saw why the Mishhuvurthyar had been plunging its tentacles into the ground: those same ones were coming up all over the place, pulling Mindy down into the tundra in puffs of snow and dirt. Within seconds, a dozen armors of Uesureyan and Yamataian forces had been pulled from the battlefield.

"So that's an Enhanced-Type Mishhuvurthyar!" Hoshi said breathlessly, thinking of Emperor Uesu and his warnings just the day before. Informed firsthand of his deathless enemy made the sobering reality of his enduring stalemate with the forces more navigable to the captain.

"Take to the air!" Hoshi called back on comms. Once everyone in the joint task force had taken to the skies — some still engaged in combat while doing so — the tentacles fluttered from the ground like worms on the sea floor, waving about and looking for prey.
Kessica Prime
Mishhuvurthyar Starport
Command Center

It only took some thirty-six seconds for Ketsurui Aiko's Kirie to adjust for the trauma and rouse back to life. The Immersion System that provided Aiko with direct bodily control over her armor, and sense everything occurring in the battlespace around her save for pleasure and pain, first blinked to life with its heads-up-display overlays within her experience. And then the pitch black that had enveloped her for far shorter a time than the fevered fight and flight away from that Enhanced-Type Mishhuvurthyar began to slowly bleed away, revealing the destruction her gambit's attempt had wrought not just on its terrifying target but on the whole of this Mishhu installation.

The unbreakable void of sensory depravation quickly gave way to scorched workstations and ruined bulkheads, draped with the charred unarmored bodies of those Mishhu-allied Neko and their Advanced-Type overlords who'd sat feeling safe at their volumetric screens moments before. Thick, coal grey chemical smoke choked the subterranean chamber with nowhere quick to vent outward while little fires burned from blown-open wall panels, active electrical conduits, and unrecognizable biomass that could have once been some fiendish soldier or simply the stuff with which the Mishhu made their structures.

Aiko knew that without the armors she and her comrades wore that they'd have fared no better than their enemies, and gave one instant's pause to reconsider her act before banishing that hindsight from her thoughts. The Enhanced-Type was dead having effortlessly taken two brave Nekovalkyrja before its demise and that was a victory without question.

"Asami-taii," Aiko called, voicing the communication to her squad as she motivated her Kirie to heft itself up off its back and stand amidst the destruction. She could already see Asami standing over one of her legionary, helping the soldier up by their arm. "Usada-shoi. Status? Did everyone make it through?"

"All four remaining in my squad show living vitals, Shosa," Asami grunted back as she hefted one of her subordinates to their feet, sounding far more roughed up than Aiko had been within the extra protection of her pilot pod. "I've only accounted for two, though."

"I'm here, Taii!" a third chirped over the comms as her form jogged through the the stifling fumes to join where everyone was assembling around Aiko.

The Ketsurui Samurai Rei and Mao said nothing but indicated via silent telepathy that they still lived and were ready to protect their royal charge. Both took up positions to Aiko's flanks as protocol demanded, weapons poised to strike at even a moment's notice. They remained the perfect warriors even in spite of all that had occurred, outwardly unshaken and unbroken by the fight with the Enhanced-Type.

"The two of us left are with you," Usada said over comms after verifying that she and her sole surviving sister had fight left in them still. "Eeyaao!"

With only one remaining ally unaccounted for, Asami sent out a call. "Kanbi-hei: report."

A few more ticks passed by with no reply. Only silence reigned atop the quiet crackling of fires and dim whooshing of smoke that filled the room. But right when Asami thought to ask again, Kanbi's voice echoed back through the haze.

"I'm fine, Taii!" the legionary responded. Her words carried across the air rather than over a comms channel and were followed by a few hacking coughs. "Lost my helmet in the tumble but everything else seems attached."

A pause filled the air again as the allied Nekovalkyrja shared a moment of relief that they'd survived their encounter with the Enhanced-Type. All except for Rei.

"Eeto," the samurai said to Aiko telepathically. "Something doesn't feel right."

"No way!" Kanbi-hei's voice called out again, cutting the silence again happily despite having to breathe in the smoke. "Shinda's still alive! We're gonna need medics down here!"

Aiko now felt the same dread that Rei must have sensed, as did all of the others. Shinda-hei had surely perished, crushed against the walls by their Enhanced-Type tormentor minutes ago. They'd all seen it happen and witnessed the life fade from within the legionary's Mindy 4.

With all eyes locked in the direction from where Kanbi-hei voice now echoed, Aiko and her comrades could see the helmetless soldier step toward a piled humanoid form prostrate on the ground. The smoke between Kanbi-hei and her friends seemed to clear as they gained awareness of the former's location, fading away almost instantly as if it had never been there at all.

"K-kanbi-chan!" Shinda-hei's voice cried warmly as Kanbi reached down to touch her fallen friend. But more sinisterly, scratching like a faint and ghostly whisper through the others' skulls, it mocked them in a chorus of hate. "How easily the Emperor forsakes his rats. Their souls delivered here! Dark sacrifices for their dark ruler!"

Whatever Kanbi-hei could see was not the truth. The humanoid rose, unfolding from its curled spot to levitate up. She was tall and beautiful with paper white skin, or at least would be beautiful if not for the grotesque, bladed chitinous plates of crimson that grew to protect her chest and torso. Eight feet long with silvery metallic grey hair and a wicked face that might trick one into attraction at a glance, this newest monster pulled Kanbi-hei up with one finger placed gently under the legionary's chin, and then somehow motivated the girl's body to levitate with her. A subtle pink glow, sickly pale and pulsing like exposed viscera, wrapped the giant's edges like a macabre flame and shone in its eyes.

"Bakemono—" Aiko whispered, halting and alarmed, as she reached back to grab her zesuaium tetsubo from its place across her back. The princess knew as well as the others did what this beast was.

"Nightmare!" Asami-taii shrieked. Her rifle pointed toward the abomination without hesitation, already knowing Kanbi-hei's fate.

And as Asami said it, the Nightmare-Type loosed its own otherworldly howl so unnatural that it erased Kanbi-hei's deluded smile from her face. It sounded like the bass of ten-thousand horns cut over with a high, piercing hum, and shook the Star Army and Uesureyan Neko even within their power armor. Both Kanbi-hei's flesh and her Mindy's soft bits crumbled away in a split second. When its siren song ceased, only a few zesuaium armor plates remained hanging in the air for a moment, irradiated with the same pinkish glow that the Nightmare wore.
Kessica Prime
Planet Surface

Mishhuvurthyar Starport

Over the command channels of every squad came a deep commanding voice. "Second wave inbound. Bersekers are inserting now." Anyone who looked to the sky would see 200 firey comet tails raining all around the complex. As they neared the ground the voice rang out again. "Berserker Company! Shatter their sky!" With those final words the ground shook with the impact of all 200 members of the Nepleslian Berserker Company.

It wasn't such an unusual sight for the Yamataians to see the Nepleslians as they trained with them often after Victory Day. But for the Uesureyan Nekovalkyrja, their reaction was as surprised as their Emperor's had been the day before when Hoshi had told them of their contingent.

When the couple hundred men hurdled towards the ground, the tremor loosened the tundra ground and snow, making the Mishhu with its tentacles in the ground stop floating momentarily. Its tentacles pooled on the ground where they were inserted, as if the shaking of the ground had downed it. Its felling was only momentary, though, as it slowly regained composure above ground once more. The Neko had noticed, though, and both Uesureyans and Yamataians joined in a cheer at the second wave's arrival.

"Have your men help with suppressive fire," Hoshi called to William with a buoyancy to her voice. "There's a new unit on the field!" She pinpointed the Enhanced-Type Mishhvurthyar and the Ripper armor that escorted it. "Doesn't take damage and is an enhanced version of its predecessor. We're going to have to sate it somehow, kid!"

"Roger that. Tasking my men now. Berserker Actual, out." Captain William Sanders responded. "All squads, orders coming in now. Get in there and tear them up!" The ID-SOL's Berserker Company all were encased in their Cyclops power armor. As soon as they received their task, their jump jets engaged sending the massive armors skywards.

The Berserker's were known for their CQC tactics, each member wielding a melee weapon of some kind. For William's part he held a massive lance in one hand, his Kaiyo Katana sheathed behind his back. The squads moved quickly despite the heavy armors they were wearing.

"Let's move. Can't let them have all the fun." He said looking back at the two men behind him.

"Who put you in charge?" Dmitri chuckled.

Yuri sighed. "I didn't vote for him."

The three launched themselves directly at the enhanced Mishu. "Hey I can bust you two down for insubordination. Don't tempt me." William added as he leveled his twin chain guns at the monster and let rip a Salvo. Dmitri and Yuri did like wise.

Though the trio of ID-SOL now attacking the enhanced Mishhu, the Ripper armor stepped in between them and it. The hulking, rounded armor took a bit of the seemingly endless supply of 12.7 mm. Momentarily it looked like it would be able to withstand the bullet hell infinitely. It obviously wasn't one of the budget models but a fully equipped high-end armor.

It couldn't last forever, though, and the Ripper began an offensive strike back at the trio, shooting its aetheric forearm cannonat William, then Yuri. While doing so, with its right arm it drew its embedded lance up, ready to engage the men closer.

From behind the cascade of spent casings, Hoshi could see that the enhanced Mishhuvurthyar was shifting, pulling its tendrils out of the ground. With a pivot of its body to face the men attacking the Ripper armor, the Mishhu was beginning to face the Nepleslians, taking in their attack through its beady eyes.

"The snow had begun to fall more heavily now and a light sheet of white had loosely covered the upturned dirt and plants. Hoshi looked from the Mishhu about to entrench itself in battle, then to the trio of mountains in the far distance.

"I have an idea," Hoshi called to the Nepleslian captain. "Can you hold that Mishhu's attention and follow me?" She had already begun moving towards the jutting edges of the mountains cresting far into the storm clouds in the distance by flying backwards to keep the battle in her vision.

"Copy. Moving." He said as the Ripper attemped to stop their progress. As the enemy's lance came out William laughed. "His is tiny. Let's see whose wins." Using his push pull system, he grabbed the enemy armor and dragged it towards his approaching form, his lance leveled. It was able to break free which afforded William only a glancing blow as he flew past. "You two keep that one busy! Big guy is mine!" He said flying past.

As Dmitri and Yuri began duking it out with the Ripper, William's shoulder mounted VSPRs locked into place and began to belt out plasma. As he flew by a tentacle, he buried his lance in it and flew towards Hoshi, all the while blasting away with his railguns.

As the fusion bolts fired on the Mishhuvurthyar, they embedded into its chitinous shell. For a moment there were just a dozen piercing holes in the Mishhuvurthyar that leaked a peachy fluid. But within a milisecond the holes were patched over, gleaming with the same hardened shell that had been there seconds before William's railguns had pierced it.

The Mishhuvurthyar was watching William with an interest. The place where his lance had buried into the tentacle was harder to see as the rest of its writhing mass of the same had pulled out of the ground. The squirming visage of the earthen-colored Mishhuvurthyar was fully out of the ground and had given chase to him.

Meanwhile the Ripper crossed lances with Dmitri and Yuri while another Reaper joined the fight, trying to shoot at the backs of the senior NCO and second in command.

"It regenerates," Hoshi said as she sidled up next to William in flight, taking a potshot at the Mishhu with her gauss cannon. "Have you noticed that? Let's give it the same fate as that Ghost you guys fought without me, ne?"

"Oh yeah I noticed. It's also really pissed." William replied as he switched to his chain guns, aiming for the monster's eyes. "I wonder if I can make it angrier?" He mused. At Hoshi's suggestion, he had to wrack his brain for a moment, then it clicked. "Oh... that ghost. Yeah let's do it."

"Let's do it!" Hoshi called back enthusiastically. She had heard stories from Aiko and seen the reports, but nothing quite lived up to actually fighting side by side with someone and getting to experience their composure and competency in battle firsthand.

"I'm going to find somewhere that'll do." The captain moved on ahead, teleporting to the mountainside's snowy exterior.

The thick carapace over the Mishhu's shadowy eyes, two per eye socket, meant it was harder to hit. But William must have as the form of the Mishhu disappeared from sight soon after he had begun loosing the machine gun at the creature. It had engaged its stealth capabilities, leaving William almost completely alone between the battlefield and the mountains.

"Oh come on..." William cursed as the Mishhu went invisible. He continued to fly backwards towards the mountain, his weapons firing sporadically at where he believed the mishu was supposed to be. As he did, he kept flipping his vision through all the settings he could, attempting to find the damn thing.

As he approached the mountain, William would be able to momenetarily feel a tugging on his armor's leg. The Mishhuvurthyar had latched onto him, weighting him down momentarily. With a dozen of the hard ends of its tendrils it had begun banging against his armor, trying to find a place for entry or make one.

"Shi-" Hoshi cursed on comms, firing from her position on a snow drift. The result was the same as it had ever been as it simply regenerated from whatever wounds she had only temporarily given it.

"Ah damn it!" He exclaimed as the Mishhu took hold of his leg. The captain stabbed his lance down and into the tentacle holding him in place. Glancing back he saw Hoshi firing down at the snow bank. He spun just enough to get his railgun into play, and began firing down as well.

William's armor integrity had dropped significantly and though the tendril that had held onto him initially had retracted with his lancing, there were a handful more on him now. His railgun made holes in the Mishhu's carapace that only resealed in another instant.

With an instinctual desire, Taiyou Hoshi prompted her capacitor and teleportation unit to again jump, this time back to William's position. She slammed the Kaiyo sword into the Mishhuvurthyar. Though it didn't slice through it, it did have a huge kinetic force on the creature. With a flash of teal from her wing's jets, Hoshi forcefully slammed down into it again. She hacked at it with her sword and sporadic blue flashes of her propulsion system, pushing it down and off of him with little else.

The last ruddy tendril of the Mishhu was barely hanging on with all its might to William's ankle, gripping tightly. It was unable to stab into his armor, doing some unknowable but haunting attack, but it was obvious it wanted the fight to continue in some way. Hoshi looked from it to to the helmet of the Cyclops armor.

"Fly it to the mountain!" The Kaiyo captain said, pointing her Mindy's finger to where she had been.

William was greatful for Hoshi's timely assistance, however it was still clinging to him tightly. At her order, William replied. "On it!"

He was going to be pushing his armor to the limit, but they didn't have much choice. "Come on you big bastard!" William groaned as he engaged his thrusters at maximum. Slowly he began dragging the Mishhu to the spot Hoshi indicated. Spindly tendrils whipped about in the cold as did so, trying to latch onto something other than him now. As he drew nearer the mountain, the Mishhuvurthyar grappled onto a rocky part of the mountain precipice and tugged at him.

Seeing the hold up, Hoshi flitted in to bash at the creature's tentacles with her sword, shouting over comms as she did.

"We have to get him in the snow!" As the captain said this, one of the Mishhuvurthyar appendages she had been whacking loosened. It whipped around and grabbed her Mindy with an incredible speed. Around the waist it had her, but only for a moment as it flung her against the rock it held. Just like the snow that slid off of the area, so did Hoshi. For a moment, dazed, she simply fell along with the whirling specks of the blizzard.

"Hoshi! No!" William cried out as she was sent careening off into the snow. As much as he wanted to go after her, he needed to kill this thing.

Whipping around the ID-SOL roared and drove his lance downward into the body of the Mishhu. Diverting all power to his thrusters, fire plumed behind him as he drove his lance, and by extension the Mishhu, down into the snow.

The creature writhed under his grasp. It flailed its appendages and held onto into his armor once more, wrapping around where the shoulders of it met the torso. It began drilling into the area with its claws all pressed together. The place where its pincers pressed began to melt, sizzling as snowflakes touched on it.

In a blink and with a grunt of exhaustion, Hoshi was on top of them both, firing her gauss cannons from her left shoulder at almost point blank range.

"ROLL IT OVER!" She bellowed, trying with all her strength to move both the Mishhuvurthyar and William, who was entangled with it not just from tentacles that gripped him, but his own embedded lance.

William bit back a curse as the monster began drilling into his shoulder, he could feel the metal rapidly heating up if they didn't end this soon, he'd lose the arm.

As Hoshi appeared and gave the order, the Nepleslian Captain didn't hesitate to throw himself to the side. Using all his thrusters and the gravity system in his suit he attempted the flip the Mishhuvurthyar over for Hoshi. It moved with him, happy to as long as it could keep its claw embedding into his armor. The bullet holes from the Yamataian were against the cold, freezing and unable to regenerate further.

Meanwhile its free tentacles whipped around to grip Hoshi, as if readying to throw her down the mountainside again. Having twisted, Hoshi aimed her cannons above, at the fresh snow in the mountainside just above them.

"Lance him through!" Hoshi yelled as she steaded her aim. With a single shot, she fired on the snow above them.

Once William was in position, he lifted the arm that was being drilled into and activated the neurim claws. With a snap of his wrist he sliced through the tentacles holding him in place.

After he was able to get free, he let out a roar and charged. His lance burrowing deeper and deeper into the Mishhuvurthyar skin.

The snowfall that resulted from Hoshi’s shot wasn’t nearly an avalanche. But, a not insubstantial amount of powder had plumed from the mountainside, distrupted. It dropped onto the trio slowly, then all at once. Twisted around and straddling the Mishhuvurthyar before, Hoshi was pushed by her own consequences onto it, weighed down momentarily under the pressure of snow before she engaged thrusters, gasping as she did.

Hoshi's hands felt around and felt the Enhanced Mishhu under her, unmoving and cold. It seemed her ploy had worked and the creature's regeneration couldn't work when below freezing. She slumped from pain and exhaustion, seemingly having won.

"William!? Wil!" Hoshi called out. "Are you okay!?"

"Uugh yeah... I'm alive." William replied. With the Mishhuvurthyar dead, it's bodyweight had fallen ontop of the ID-SOL. He could still feel the melted armor on his shoulder, which now refused to move. "Arm's shot. But I'll live." He said, squirming his way our from underneath the monster.

Once he was out on the snow, he flopped onto his back and breathed heavily. "You good Hoshi?" William breathed out between breaths.

"Not as good as you," Hoshi said with a tired but happy laugh. "I can't believe the kid I wouldn't let fight on my ship is out here besting me— saving me even! Gave this fuck what he deserved."

William smirked. "Time flies doesn't it?" He said, making it to his feet and stood next to their kill and the pile of snow that had buried it.

She sighed, saying in a more dreary tone, "We've got to lug him back to the starport. No way am I going to leave it here to thaw with the morning sun.

At that William groaned "Do we have too? Can we just leave this big fucker in the avalanche and be done with it?" He suggested as he got to work hacking off the tentacles with his claws so it be easier to carry.

"We could," Hoshi spoke in as she helped by pushing away the snow she had driven on top of the creature, using mostly her right arm as her shoulder wound had been aggravated by the fall. "Might be fun if it reanimates and we get to fight it all over again. You up for it?"

William turned, the monoeye of his Cyclops training on the Yamataian. "Absolutely not..."
Kessica Prime
Mishhuvurthyar Starport
Command Center

The left over armor plates of Kanbi-hei's Mindy 4 — the zesuaium panels rent away from their suit and its disintegrated occupant — quickly became weaponized shards, sent darting through the smoky atmosphere toward Aiko and the other Nekovalkyrja soldiers who still survived. The princess deflected one with her Kirie's big tetsubo, directing the Nightmare's makeshift throwing blades into the charred deck. She was unable to dodge it despite the armor's extreme agility for no other reason than its unavoidable size, one of the few deficiencies Thought Armors had compared to the smaller Mindy in these close quarters situations.

For their parts Aiko's two yojimbo and Asami, herself a former samurai, stepped almost effortlessly out of the way while the two Uesureyan Nekovalkyrja and their four Star Army counterparts were forced to jump down and behind actual cover. One of the Yamataian Mindy soldiers caught a grazing blow to the shoulder, and a bright red streak spat through the air and spattered across a blackened wall above where the Neko who shed it had landed.

As if it were a shark tasting blood in the water, the Nightmare Mishhuvurthyar propelled itself directly toward the wounded Star Army Neko. The obscene hybrid monster split the air like a twirling torpedo engulfed in that freakish magenta fire, and exuded crushing psychotic rage as it tore the fabric of reality wherever it went. Its claws were pointed forward and ready to rip into its prey, and just about did when the big fist of Aiko's Kirie wrapped around it and plucked the Nightmare out of the air.

The princess had aimed to crush it in her armor's hand like she did with an NMX Neko earlier on in the battle, but all she could do was fling the psionic demon away across the command center as searing pain ripped through her physical body. It felt as if Aiko herself had reached through a flame to pluck out the hottest ember and hold it tightly in the unsullied flesh of her alabaster palm. Never before had she experienced such pain, especially not within the pilot pod of her armor, and those outside could hear the muffled screams of her pained surprise from within the Kirie's belly.

"Yui's chit loves her toys so," the Nightmare's myriad of voices whispered to Aiko, staggered and uneven with each other but all speaking the same words. "But she discards them without a thought! 'Three-hundred-fifty-thousand-four-hundred-sixty-nine Kuvexians all at once,'" it taunted, the words playing back as they were a recording of Aiko herself. "Today you will feel your precious Ryuketsu's pain if you are to trade its life again!"

Aiko's Kirie knelt above the hurt Rikugun Neko to shield her from a return strike, clutching its right wrist with the other hand in a mirror of what the princess felt in her body and mind. The other Star Army soldiers and their two Uesureyan friends were snapping off shots toward where the Nightmare had been thrown, which seemed to keep it from snapping back at them for the moment.

"Asami-taii, take her and meet up with the reinforcements," Aiko ordered through clenched teeth, swallowing the Nightmare's psionically-inflicted pain as best she could. "They should already be on their way down. Go!"

"Ryoukai desu!" Asami acknowledged, ignoring the part of herself that was still a Ketsurui Samurai and demanded she remain with Princess Aiko. Keeping her beam rifle trained toward the Nightmare, Asami kept snapping off irregular shots while she grabbed her slashed subordinate by the girl's armored collar and dragged her toward the thankfully intact entry hatch. With her three other Rikugun troopers, they quickly absconded to connect with friendly forces and bring whatever relief they could.

"Usada," Aiko said next, addressing the Uesu Neko who had been assigned as her liaison to the Emperor's forces (and personal shadow). She could feel the pain in her palm and arm subside, in all likelyhood due to her Kirie's PSC catching up with the overwhelming power the Nightmare had presented. "Access network control and get this base's systems under our authority. We will cover you."

"Eeyao!" Usada bellowed, using the Uesureyan battle cry to mask whatever fright she felt. "I'll get it done quick! Stay with me, Koraku, so I don't get got!" she added, telling her batchmate to watch her back a little more closely than Aiko and her samurai would.

Off through the smoke and flame Aiko could see the Nightmare levitate from the rubble again, no longer pinned down by the aether and plasma shots from Asami's squad. Its pinkish glow had subsided some, not the blazing inferno it had been during the spiraling attempt only moments before, but was still a monstrous sight. A bundle of long tendrils extended out from rows along its spine, spilling out onto the floor beneath it while some wriggled and wormed over the chalky, bleached skin on its shoulders. Little bladed mouths snapped and slobbered at the tip of each, ready to bore through power armor and feast just like any other Mishhuvurthyar's tentacle would.

"This one is powerful," Aiko said telepathically to Rei and Mao. "Even more extreme than reports led me to expect. Be cautious. Its psionic tricks have been magnified since Emperor Uesu chased them from the Kikyo Sector."

Neither samurai acknowledged, but Aiko knew they'd heard. Their unshakable focus was beyond question, and both remained ready to strike and protect their royal charge. So now with most of the soldiers gone, they could perhaps do that even more effectively, just as Aiko could face down this abomination without concern for her Star Army comrades. Rei and Mao now had the space to work without crossfire. And the princess could make herself the Nightmare's nemesis, unconcerned as to whether that was precisely what the demon wanted.

Grabbing her tetsubo from the floor with her Kirie's left hand and lifting it onto the tall armor's shoulder, Aiko stood her machine up straight and moved to confront this most unrighteous of all Mishhuvurthyar. The two samurai spread out from her flank and crossed to the creature's left and right sides. All three of the Yamataian warriors kept their distance from the Nightmare some, each baiting it with their individual isolation while being close enough to form a net of protection for Usada that even a beast of its stature would not dare to test. Until it did.

With inhuman speed, the Nightmare struck toward Mao. First its tentacles lashed out three meters ahead of its momentum, heralding the coming blows it would doubtlessly attempt. From her hip, Mao drew the long odachi katana out its special scabbard that opened up from the middle and allowed for a direct draw. The young samurai knew its edge thirsted for Mishhu blood, and had been eager to perform her iaijutsu cuts all day. Now, freed from the cramped confines of this base's corridors, she had her chance.

Mao's strike lopped off three tentacles mid-sting, causing them to reel and shrink back into the Nightmare's form. The Mishhuvurthyar thing howled in its torturous voice, lunging right in the direction Mao predicted it would. Too easy a kill for a samurai, perhaps.

"Or perhaps not rat!" the Nightmare whispered, gnawing at Mao's eardrums with its disgusting telepathic voice. "Away with you!"

Where Mao's strike had ended, surely cutting through her target, no Nightmare could be found. Instead, it was only two feet before her, arms crossed arrogantly and standing its full height. Its grotesquely beautiful face grinned as the whole of its body lit up with fuchsia fire again, gathering in brightness and intensity until that energy popped and bathed Mao in an aetheric discharge that blasted the samurai off her feet and toward a wall. But before Mao's body made contact with the bulkhead, the Nightmare had vanished in a blink and re-appeared to intercept the hurtling yojimbo with an elbow to the back.

Mao hit the floor and laid there still from the Nightmare's blow, disbelief and the archenemy's psionic cackle filling her mind.

From its side, though, Rei landed her katana's slash to sever the Nightmare's left arm and cleave into its side. Its haughty choir of laughter turned to a shrill cry as it zipped away through the air like a fluttering poltergeist with its tattered cape of tentacles swimming behind it. A fountain of blood erupted across the deck, painting Rei and Mao with its crimson mark. Soon the gushing river of red was replaced by the same fleshy granules the Yamataians had seen the Enhanced-Type employ, and within seconds the Nightmare had a new arm and its pallid abdomen looked no worse than before Rei had struck it.

Now mended, the Nightmare ceased its frantic flight and hung gracefully in the air again. Without another particle gun to detonate like she had with the Enhanced-Type earlier, if such would even work on a fiend like this, Aiko saw no other option than to continue fighting while Usada worked and their reinforcements came down. Mao looked alive, struggling to return to her feet though she was.

"Again!" Aiko barked, not bothering to keep her words limited to a private telepathic message to Rei.

Dutifully, Rei moved in again to attack the Nightmare head on with an abrupt, explosively powerful attack. It was a backhanded blow, short and full of spirit, that aimed to crack the pale horror's skull clean open. She met the devil's gaze head-on from behind her Sarah M7's visor, determined to fell it where her junior partner Mao had failed.

Yet the Nightmare's tricks had trapped her, too.

Before Rei knew it, the Nightmare had landed an uppercut to her jaw. Stunned, even for a split second, the demon took its right hand, burning again with that damned pink flame, and gripped it around Rei's helmet. Together, the Nightmare and Rei hovered higher as the Mishhuvuthryar's aetheric fire enveloped all of Rei's form and began cooking the samurai in her own power armor. The torment would only last a moment, however.

With a Herculean swing, Aiko leapt up off the ground in her Kirie and batted into the Nightmare's back with her zesuaium tetsubo. Immediately, the fires spreading over her sensei's armor ceased, their psionic energies severed just like the Nightmare's backbone. The beast hurtled into a dark corner of the command center and crashed there, silent for the first time since it'd woken up to kill Kanbi-hei.

By now, Mao was to her feet and hobbled over to Rei's side. Aiko, too, landed beside them to tend to her samurai mentor before anything else, not necessarily satisfied that the threat was gone but eager to make sure Rei had not been destroyed. She still felt the Nightmare's fire burn in her hand, and hoped more than anything that Rei did not experience the same.

"Ano," Rei managed, seeing two of the three warriors who she counted as students standing above her. "Worry not."

And as she said it, the shadows where Aiko had sent the Nightmare to die crept over the deck like an inky fog. They gained volume and reached out in long tendrils that swallowed any light they touched, calling to Aiko and Mao and Rei, and Usada with her batchmate for their attention. All of them turned their heads to look at a place that only prompted their knowing with a sick, uneasy feeling as much stuck in the pit of their stomachs as it was at the very center of their minds. When the room was naught but a starless void — no floor, no ceiling; no fires nor smoke, nor bulkheads and consoles — with just Rei laying on the ground, Aiko and Mao over them, and the two Uesureyan Neko, they were joined by the pale Nightmare standing with them, smoldering in its magenta glow. Five Nekovalkyrja and a Mishhuvurthyar demon in the darkness.

"We'll meet again won't we, vermin?" the Nightmare hummed, sounding pleased with itself while those first words warbled in their heads. It seemed to grow farther away from them in the black with each passing moment, but it made its voice heard in their ear all the same. "Find me another time, and be on time. Next round we'll exterminate you. Exterminating the exterminators, that's what we do!"

Soon the shadows receded, and the Nightmare's glowing figure faded with them. Its pink flame winked out when it went, burned out like a candle left too long to flicker, and the scorched command center's walls bled back into reality. It was all but a smoldering ruin now. Conquered by the Star Army of Yamatai.

The Nightmare was gone.
Kessica Prime
Planet Surface
Mishhuvurthyar Starport

William and Hoshi arrived at the starport with their cargo in tow. The Yamataian captain carried half of the frozen Mishhu corpse on her back, while the Nepleslian captain shouldered the rest.

The battle was in disarray –– on one side of things, at least. Hoshi assessed the situation, then spotted a prefab outpost module in early stages of being set up by Star Army soldiers.

"Something turned the tides," Hoshi said to William, then she realized what may have. "Let's find Aiko."

They dropped off the enhanced Mishhu on a thick sheet meant to be flooring for one of the temporary buildings. The enlisted Nekovalkyrja constructing it seemed perturbed at first, but Hoshi wouldn't have it. She questioned if reinforcements had been sent underground to the NMX command center. All the soldier knew was that they'd cleared most of the Mishhu topside and sent more troops below to clean up the rest.

William grunted as he dropped the mishhu off. "Have I mentioned how much I hate squids. Espically after these assholes killed me..." He said following behind Hoshi.

At the mention for what had turned the tide, William snickered. "I bet a month's pay it was Aiko and my mom."

Another Rikugun soldier jogged up to Hoshi and William, snapping a tight salute to the former even though her Mindy 4 was battered and scorched from the battle.

"Taiyou-taisa!" the girl said quickly thereafter, come to deliver an update regarding developments that had occurred while she and William had baited their Enhanced-Type away to slay it. The Neko speaking was clearly some kind of aide sent to find Hoshi and update her as quickly as possible. "We've secured the surface and allied troops are cleaning up the rooms below. One of the legion's Centurions has only just arrived back from the enemy's command center, and reports that her advance party encountered tough resistence there."

That had been Asami, of course, sent back by Aiko to empty the main passageway of any resistance and bring reinforcements while she fought the Nightmare-type with Rei and Mao.

"No word yet from those still fighting at the base's core," the Neko soldier admitted. "But the base's automated defenses have ceased bothering us, and all Mishhuvurthyar coordination seems to have been cut off! Their forces are retreating or in disarray!"

Hoshi's grim face turned to William then curtly spoke to the soldier, "Dismissed."

"Come on Captain, let's go." William said moving to where the soldier had indicated.

The Yamataian captain hustled to where the entrance to the underground that she had been fighting near before. The wound on her back stung, as did the newer ones she had contracted from her fall earlier on the mountainside when the Mishhu had thrown her down the rocky cliff. But the entrance to the command center was mauled. Instead of the normally putrid NMX hallways, there was a massive crater in the underground complex.

Hoshi looked back to William, half to be sure he knew to hover as he followed her and half to know she wasn't alone in this terrifying amount of destruction. It wasn't clear if this is something friendlies had caused or been killed by. There would be no bodies from an explosion big enough to cause this.

Through the twisted metal and destroyed bio-organic structures that had once been corridors and a base complex, the pair would be able to find their way through to what was, until Aiko's explosive gambit, the main passageway straight to its command center. The hollowed out blast area soon gave way to more intact hallways and off-shoots closer to their destination, but the signs of the princess' destruction still haunted even there with sooty, flame licked scars marking where fire had traveled through ventilation systems and blasted out into the corridor.

William looked around, surveying the damage. He let out a low whistle of appreciation. "Its a good thing I'm not on her bad side..." He mumbled as he continued to scan the space.

He tried to discern where they could have gone, but it was dead quiet. After several seconds the ID-SOL began floating down one of the passage ways. "This way Hoshi." He called behind him.

Eventually, the passage opened up in a way that doubled its width and ended in a wide blast door that was closed before them. Its hideous telltale construction showed it to be mostly functional, and indeed Asami-taii had sealed it up behind her when she retreated with her squad on Aiko's roder. Just beyond had to be the base's control room. From where they stood, neither Hoshi nor William could hear any fight still occurring, only dead silence and the hum of those parts of this place's mechanical workings that still chugged along despite the war that had been waged within it.

"Here," Hoshi said, turning the seal and pushing against the door with her Mindy's armored hands pressing against the blast door. Underneath her helmet and unseen, she was wincing and eased off of her left arm, the one whose shoulder had taken a lancing. The door budged, then moved open all at once on the dark and charred remains of the central command room.

The control center within was a wide circular chamber with a pillar in the center just over two meters thick. Around it were arrayed ruined rows of computer console stations at which NMX Neko and their Mishhu overlords had once worked to direct the base's troops and operations, and the charred remains of many could still be seen laying still where they had died, bathed in fire from Aiko's makeshift bomb and doomed to their fate without the proteciton of power armor of shielding. Cracked screens and destroyed volumetric emitters covered the room's walls and the pillar at its center, some still affixed to where they shouldbe while others had crashed to the floor and melted into the deck.

Across from the entryway where William and Hoshi stepped through, Aiko's hulking Kirie armor could be seen kneeling with its abdomen split. Under its shadow, the princess was squatted down in her Shibui suit beside Mao, Usada, and her batchmate Koraku — all still wearing their power armors — with Rei sitting on the floor in her Sarah M7. Aiko's hand was on her sensei's shoulder, saying something or other that the newcomers could not discern. All of their helmeted heads directed their visors over to Hoshi and the Nepleslian marine when they entered, as did Aiko's scarlet eyes while she grabbed her NSP's grip in its shoulder holster.

"Captain, Wil!" Aiko called, loosening her grasp on her weapon and rising to her feet.

William made his way through the blast door and smiled under his helmet. "You made quite the mess, your highness. Made me and the good captain worry after we saw all the damage you all did back there." He said motioning back the way that had came, as he he moved closer to the group. "Also, my kill count is still higher so don't try and dispute it." Looking over to Rei, he made a slight bow. "Good to see you in one piece, sensei."

Digesting Aiko's words, Rei said nothing and avoided the approaching Nepleslian's gaze while Hoshi stepped towards the trio.

"Is anyone hurt?" Hoshi asked. "We got word of difficult resistence down here."

"Did no one tell you?" Aiko asked, sounding somewhat baffled and definitely a little pained. She telepahtically commanded the right wrist of her bodysuit to open up its forearm to the inside of her elbow, enabled by its clothblades construction, to reveal her flesh underneath. "A foul Nightmare awaited us here. Rei took the force of its psionic power to her whole body, the same as my arm."

Her usually perfect alabaster skin was covered in a red-and-blue lattice of fried veins and inflamed nerves, not outright burned or blistered from the Nightmare's aetheric flame but reacting like it was on a cellular level. They could see Aiko's pulse beat through her skin, and the princess winced as she gave a mental nudge to her suit so that it closed back up.

"That was after the Enhanced-Type waiting for us above," the princess added, wanting to say something to her Nepleslian friend about his kill count but unable to find the motivation just then. "I will tell you of the battle and boast of its glory later to you, Wil."

As William saw the damage to Aiko's arm, his smile faltered. "... well fuck." He murmured, his own enthusiasm draining as he took them all in again, more critically this time. "Anyone need help getting out of here? I'd rather have these conversations on the surface." He said, a bit more subdued than before.

"Onegai," Rei said the curt Yamataian phrase for 'please' within her Sarah to prompt William. Still sitting on the floor, she kept her pain receptors non-responsive, feeling only shame. She wasn't quite sure how her adoptive son would pick her up nor how she would feel most comfortable getting picked up. All she knew was that the woven layer of passive armor was rubbing against the fried skin on her body and she could barely move without aggravating it further.

At Rei's request, William moved over to her. He knelt down and carefully wrapped an arm around her torso and another under her legs. Moving slowly, he stood lifting the neko with ease. Telepathically, he spoke to Rei. "I've got you, mom. What hurts?"

"Eeto... Nothing," Rei lied.

"And the Enhanced?" Hoshi asked Aiko quietly. "William and I fought the new Mishhu, too. With the body of yours, we can cross reference autopsies." There was a part of her that tried to not think about the explosive destruction around them and what it likely meant for that research. If Aiko could see Hoshi, she would see the concern that pushed the captain's blue brows down into her stormy eyes.

"Incinerated," Aiko told her decisively. "I might have overdone the yield on my pistol's self destruct but it took care of that thing and the Mishhu command staff in one stroke. The Nightmare was able to escape, however. It was a fearsome foe without honor and due no respect beyond its raw ability. Saiga-chusa and his SAINT contingent must review our combat logs in detail as quickly as possible."

The princess gazed around the destroyed command center that had become their arena, and then to Rei being lifted. Finally, her survey landed on the two Uesureyan Neko among their company.

"Usada-san was able to get their computer systems under control," Aiko added, nodding to the wily Uesu Fleet soldier. "Wil's right, though. We can speak more on these matters above."

Going a bit limp in William's arms, Rei looked to Mao, her junior yojimbo that William may have not met yet. She seemed to remember her being hurt, too, possibly more than Rei was. "Mao-san daijobu?"

"Yes, sensei," Mao reported from within her M7. She was definitely sore, having been tossed around more thoroughly than either Rei or Aiko had been, but it was nothing an Eihei body couldn't handle. "The demon's fell fire did not touch me, my bruises and breaks will heal in short order."

William had a feeling Rei was hiding how badly she'd been hurt, but he knew he wouldn't get more of answer out of her. Looking to Mao, he took in the damage to her own armor. "I can assist you as well. It's no trouble." He said moving over to Mao's armor next.

"Iie," the younger yojimbo replied quickly. That she could move under her own strength was enough. "It is my duty to return from battle myself if I can. But thank you," she added, not so much an afterthought as a minor stumble, not quite sure if she should speak to William as she would another samurai or as the Nepleslian marine he was.

Her junior yojimbo's way of speaking to William put a smile on Rei's face and lifted her spirits as William did the same with her all the way to the surface.
Kessica Prime
Northern Landing Zone
YSS Kaiyō II

By the time they had returned above most of the fighting was over. A few NMX had held out in the love hotel, using it as a refuge for one last stand. But the enemies had been driven to the edges of starport by this point and the Legion's Shosho, Uzume, had advised all those needing medical care to return to their respective ships.

For Hoshi's crew, that meant the Kaiyō was their destination. Fittingly, she was tucked up against the ocean in the north where the task force's beachhead was. The ship was positioned against the water and when its fighters returned –– some among them were the ship's infantry contingent –– the power armor bay doors were open and waiting for them.

As they made their way to the Kaiyō, two more Cyclops units landed next to William. "Captain, all units are reporting the NMX have either been destroyed or have fled," Yuri said walking along side him.

"Da, we crushed them!" Dmitri added.

"Good, pull everyone back to the FOB. Set up a watch and start cycling the men out for chow and rest. Also prep the after action report. Get to it," William said. At his orders the pair saluted and headed back towards the FOB.

Once to the ship, Aiko quickly embarked and doffed her Kirie at its storage rack. As much as she'd normally appreciate an ocean view, even after a battle, her psionics-singed arm still hurt to its core and her mind was tired from the relentless fight that their invasion had quickly become. Warring against Mishhuvurthyar was so much different than things had been against the Kuvexians. Even her imprisonment at the Kuvexian arena alongside William seemed tame to Aiko now, though it had surely been a more strenuous experience.

At least the Kuvexians had some kind of humanity, however warped, and a glimmer of compassion within their devious minds. All these Mishhuvurthyar had was hunger and the slaughter it necessitated. They were all teeth and tentacles and constant violence, and to Aiko they seemed to spare no moment for any consideration of peace. It was no wonder that Emperor Uesu had such continued troubles rooting them out.

"I will see you in medical, Sensei," Aiko called across to Rei while William carried the wounded samurai. The princess would see them all there, of course, and needed some kind of mending done to her arm as well, but was most worried for Rei. "And you as well, Captain."

"Not quite," Hoshi said. "I had Boss run us a bath of hemosynth in the onsen. If anyone needs specific patchwork done by Muyomi-heisho, they should go to medical. Otherwise, let your protector have a good soak. I think the PSC is passively running something to combat any latent psionics. There's food waiting in the wardroom, too."

Hoshi had said all this while carefully shifting out of her armor's top. Though she was bruised up and down her torso, the gash in the middle of her shoulderblade burned a vibrant red, crusted with clotted hemosynth on the edges. Towards the center, the bone of her shoulder blade was exposed. Where it should have been an even surface, the captain's bone was like rubble, pebbley and broken.

William plodded into the power armor bay and carefully laid Rei down so he could get out if his own armor. This part was going to suck.

When the Mishhu had drilled into his suit, it superheated the metal plates shielding his shoulder. Melting them and in turn burning the hell out of his own arm. With a grunt of pain, he ripped his arm out of the suit, skin tearing as he pulled himself free.

When Rei saw the injury to William, she made a small utterance of sympathetic pain. With careful movements, the samurai began taking off her own armor alongside him. Mao, too, began the process of removing her Sarah M7, though it would not be so tedious a task for her as it was the others. Still, she looked forward to the hemosynth soak.

Hoshi looked up from her own tedious work, "Rei-sama, need help?"

"Oh ohh, noo, iie," Rei cooed from her place in the bay.

"Looks like we all need to take an onsen soak," Hoshi observed. With worried blue eyes, the captain looked from Rei to her own naked torso, running a hand over the areas not bruised. "Sooner the better."

Seeing the extent of her comrades' injuries, Aiko now felt fortunate to have made it through with some so minor. Such was the advantage of a Thought Armor's pilot pod, wherein she could control her mech from the relative safety of its cocoon. Taking off her Shibui next, the princess nonetheless gritted her teeth and inhaled sharply through them as burning blooms of pain bolted through her shot nerves all the way from the tip of her right hand's fingers up to the neck on that side.

William breathed through the pain and removed some gauze from his pack and applied it to his ruined arm. Looking over at Rei, he gave a pained smirk. "You liar," he said, moving over to her and hefting her up again. The comment garnered an uncharacteristic tinkling of laughter from Rei that was as strained as his smile to her had been.

The pained crew made their way up the few decks to the onsen turned medical center.

Kaiyō Onsen

Steam lifted from the orange waters of the pool in slow, heavy swirls. There was no reason to shower before getting in the Kaiyō's onsen today. The captain had ordered the small pool to be drained and refilled with hemosynth. It would be drained again later and reconstituted into the ship itself.

Speaking of the ship, Boss was in the room, fully dressed albeit in volumetrics. "As you ordered, Captain," the MEGAMI confirmed.

"Mhmm," Hoshi said, wincing. She had tip-toed from the door and across the wooden planks of the floor to rocky entrance. Before getting in, she looked behind her, ushering William as he carried Rei to put her in before herself.

William moved to the edge of the onsen and lowered Rei in carefully.

"There you go," he said, feeling relived as the pressure was taken off his ruined shoulder. The samurai eased into the pool before floating, spreading her limbs. She was inhumanely burned and the blue and red network of splintering veins on the petite Eihei was a farcry from her usual unblemished and pale self. Beneath her, like a shawody backdrop, her thin foxtail of brunette hair splayed out in the steaming orange liquid.

Aiko followed close behind, remaining outside of the hemosynth pool's waiting balm until Rei was situated. Standing immodestly naked, a soldier among comrades, the web-like array of red and purple and blue markings on the princess' own arm throbbed while she waited, but it was nothing compared to Rei's injuries or those of the others. She soon noticed Mao beside her and ordered the girl into the pool, too, with a sharp turn of her head toward its blood colored waters.

The younger of Aiko's two samurai stepped over without argument, limping the last pace as she crawled over the onsen pool's lip and slid in gladly. Mao's back was bruised across with a black mark from its shoulders to above her butt, and her strong composure finally gave out when she was now permitted — by herself more than Aiko or Rei — to rest.

"You next, Wil," Aiko told him after Rei was safely floating toward recovery, and Mao was in there with her. "Not even this ID-SOL body of yours should endure anyone else's struggles for this long."

William grunted in the affirmative. Ripping his makeshift bandage off, which elicited a hiss of pain. The muscles of his shoulder and chest were exposed to the air. "If that Mishhu wasn't already dead, I'd be calling a kinetic strike from orbit to obliterate that asshole," he complained as he slid into the orangey-tinted crimson water.

He sighed in relief as he sunk down into the hemosynth, stopping once it had reached his neck.

"Let me help you," Boss said to the captain and held her hand out to stabilize Hoshi's elbow. The MEGAMI's vibrant eyes darkened as she had gotten closer to the captain's wounds. Hoshi's shoulder was lanced through in an egregious wound of the sort that Boss had never seen on the now-Taisa.

Though Hoshi was facing away from Boss as the MEGAMI helped her into the onsen, the AI used her ship's visual sensors in the wall to look at the captain's front. The dark of the blue and purple bruising bloomed against her pink skin like spilled calligraphy ink. When she was in, the MEGAMI turned to a cabinet and pulled a sea wool sponge from it.

"You are not hiding any severe injuries?" Boss asked as she handed Aiko the sponge. There was a soft but concerned look to the MEGAMI's golden eyes.

William looked over from his position in the pool. "Come on Princess, we know you are injured too. Get in," he ordered, closing his eyes as the hemosyth did its work.

"Not so hurt as any of you," Aiko said, responding to both William and Boss at once as she stepped across the deck and to the pool's edge. With a slight smile, all she could manage now, the princess thankfully took the sponge from Boss. Even though she could simply levitate in, the Ketsurui girl instead put a hand on the onsen's rim and hopped up and over with her feet to slide in.

"You all should get the choicest seats this time instead," the princess said. "My arm's pain can endure me sitting anywhere that remains."

And indeed it could with so many of this famous ship's heroes here all at once to soak in Hoshi's special post-battle recovery room. Today, the Kaiyō's bathhouse was more filled than it had been in over a year, and so Aiko found a spot near Rei rather than the more central seat she'd usually take (not out of any conscious entitlement but because she enjoyed a symmetric view of the place) and sank down so that her lips were just under the waterline. She'd normally blow bubbles at this point, but even with how tired she was after the fight remembered not to make such a ridiculous spectacle of herself while the others were in a bad way.

Rei floated as if dead to the world with her eyes lidded. She stared at the fog between her and the ceiling of the onsen and remembered the pain as the fuschia enveloped Nightmare had held Rei with a deadly intent. But the ship's psionic controllers and the company of her comrades made the memory feel distant, like a lesson written in her past rather than an event still hours' fresh in her memory.

After several minutes William finally spoke again. "Home sweet home. It's been too long," he said thinking back on his time aboard the Kaiyō. The first and second iterations. "You know I never really spent any time in the onsen. I definitely wasted the opportunity," he added.

"Hoshi has made me enjoy it," Aiko said, tilting her chin up to speak above the water. "It was difficult to avoid any longer when she scheduled our morning meetings here after promoting me to First Officer. We were wrong to frequent it so little in our youth, Wil," she admitted, her voice still flat from exhaustion despite feeling rather enthusiastic about the topic. "Now even I hold senior staff meetings here from time to time."

"It was too hard to concentrate before—" Hoshi laughed out her words, then winced. "Ow, hurts to laugh... It was too hard to concentrate before with Eden's balloons when she was XO." The little pink captain went below the water to stop herself from laughing too hard at her mention of Teien Eden's incomparable endowments.

"That's not fair," William said. "I have to hold meetings down in grunt country. Well, there has to be some perks to being in charge."

Aiko thought about calling Hoshi tasteless, as she often had cause to, but held her tongue in the company of others. It's not like she nor the captain's boyfriend Saiga saying it would change much, anyway.

"Well you count as senior staff when aboard, Wil," Aiko told him instead of thinking any more on the topic of Eden's knockers. "Plus you will need to finally start training with me and Rei again — and Mao — and we come for a soak fairly often. No more excuses about being a captain of marines, either. You have been in the task force for over a month now," she said as demandingly as she could given the circumstances. It was all to lighten the mood, anyway, instead of dwelling upon the Nightmare and those Enhanced-Types.

"Hey, it's not like I was trying to get out of training," the ID-SOL shot back. "They make me do so much paperwork. Hoshi never told me how much paperwork I'd have to look forward too. Plus... have to make time for guys' night..." he said, adding that list bit under his breath and sinking further into the water.

The princess chuckled with her mouth under the water again, knowing full well the so-called privileges and extra work that came with leadership and rank. Aiko counted herself lucky to have served with the same crew since mere days after her birth, though she was one of the only ones left from the beginning. It made the hard responsibilities of a First Officer a little softer, if only because she had never been required to be the newest face among a ship's company more than that first time.

"I didn't realize there was even more paperwork possible than before or I would have warned you never to go past enlisted," Hoshi said to William. Her recent promotion to Taisa meant there was more than just captaining a ship on her desk every morning. Balling her pink fists, Hoshi stretched and settled her shoulder deep into the hemo as she leaned back. "The staff meetings in here have been nice, but not as nice as this!"

"You know I always did like the way Master Sergeant sounded," William mused as he rolled his shoulder. The newly grown skin stretching as he moved around. "But at least I'm back on the Kaiyō. That's the important thing," he added.

"Just find an excuse to shuttle over more often," Aiko said with a nod and a grin. "Tell them you need to check in on your mother more often. Asuka tells me that most Nepleslian marines are 'mommy's lads' or something of the sort. So they should let you get away with it, no?"

William looked over at Rei and smirked. "You know who you're talking about right? The same woman who said nothing was wrong when her entire body was electrocuted to hell," he said, giving Rei a pointed look. "Tell me I'm wrong, mom."

"They don't know that," Rei replied lackadaisically with a chiming rhythm to her voice she rarely spoke with. Though Rei had looked far from present and engaged as she floated about, her body had begun to feel a lot better than before and she smiled at William's question. It was a sharp expression as her lips spread, but it was gone as quickly as it had arrived and her next words were in her usual clipped cadence. "Report to staff meetings, musuko."

William let out a deep, boisterous laugh at Rei's command. "Yes, hahaoya. I will, promise."

"You raised quite the warrior, Rei," Hoshi asked, perking up from the hemo treatment as well. Before Rei could say anything, the small captain said, "William, you get to tell them how we did ours in."

"Alright alright," William said, gearing up to explain how they took down the squids. "So the Bersekers and I did our orbital insertion, crashed down on the NMX lines. Then I met up with Hoshi and we bated the Mishhuvurthyar up on the mountain. Then Hoshi triggers an avalanche while I stabbed the hell out of it with my lance and claws," he recited looking over to Hoshi. "Did I miss anything? Besides you getting ragdolled and me getting my skin melted off?"

"See what I mean?" Hoshi said, brows raising as she looked to the Aiko and Rei, positioned next to one another as they were. For her part, Rei looked like a cat with a bird in its mouth. Her proud smile was raised but her lips looked sealed, unwilling to release the torrent of pride she felt in that moment.

"A duel worthy of inclusion in the Empire's histories," Aiko declared, quickly interested in how William and Hoshi had killed their Enhanced-Type. "It was good you drew it away. Another down in the base's depths would have made things far more difficult for us, even with the Legion at our side. When we encountered one of those beasts, it phased into a corridor and immediatly slew two of the soldiers in our party. As I mentioned when you found us, I used the self-destruct function on my Kirie's canister pistol. Heat works to end them as well as the cold does, it seems."

Letting her words hang there, Aiko paused for a while. She wasn't one to shy away from any fight or battle, but wished her experience with special Mishhuvurthyar had ended with the Enhanced-Type. It would have made a good story to match William and Hoshi's. But the Nightmare had been another thing entirely, and thinking about it even now in victory made her skin crawl, so she just stared at the pool of hemosynth in front of her and watched the ripples across its surface for a while in an attempt to banish too many specifics from her mind.

"Understood," William said. "I'll make sure to requisition flamethrowers and thermal upgrades for our melee weapons. It'll be useful for the next time we have to take them on," He continued, already making the request using his mindware. "And... done." Command really did have its perks. If you needed mission critical equipment and knew the right people to ask, one could get whatever they wanted... within reason. No battleships for William, but flamethrowers were A-OK.

"The cold stopped their regenerative properties," Hoshi mused. "I wonder if SAINT research and dev could begin work on a weapon to do what we did on the mountainside with the snow, albeit in smaller quantities." Much like William had, Hoshi was jotting the request down to include in her after action report.