“Alright, is everyone synched up?” Reckes voice floated in from somewhere off to Serge’s left. Serge was seated in darkness, the light grey outlines of his interface barely visible against the empty backdrop. He ordered his computer to activate, and the interface blazed up around him in transparent blue. He’d redesigned it since the last battle, and the interface now was arranged only at chest height, allowing him to see the room around him, which was currently a blaze of random shapes and colors. As his computer connected to those of his allies, the view transformed to show a simple octagonal room. Sitting across the room, arranged like a triangle, were his two allies, Reckes to his left, surrounded in golden screens that flowed around him like water, and Jayle to his right, sitting up straight within a ring of green. To the left hand of each of them sat their Companions at their own station. Ergo was entrenched in a cube of violet light, standing on bare feet, eyes trained on him in anticipation of orders. Little Sola appeared to float in midair, her body held up by luminescent wings, a flurry of orange screens and pads hovering alongside. Only Jayle, sitting much too stiffly, was without a Companion. Yet another weakness they’d have too compensate for.
The room where they all sat did not exist in reality. It was a digital space created to give them the illusion that they were all together, which would make it much easier to cooperate in the coming battle. Though he’d agreed to it, Serge wasn’t sure he was completely comfortable with the arrangements. He wasn’t used to having an audience for this sort of thing. Hanging in midair before each of their stations was a ring of dull gray, a common interface that each of them could link their own screens too, to share information amongst the whole group. And floating in the very middle of the space was a huge holographic globe, showing the current known positions of all fortresses, armies, and production facilities that existed on the planet. Reckes had set the whole thing up.
“I’m ready,” Serge said.
“Same here,” Jayle said. Outwardly, Jayle exuded confidence and serenity. But Serge had known her long enough to know that she was being too blatant about it. If she was really prepared, she’d seem more relaxed, more an unconcerned player than a grim soldier. But when he thought to say something, he hesitated. The truth was, he didn’t really know her that well anymore. Since coming to this planet she’d more or less done her own thing, and he’d been so caught up in playing the game that they hadn’t had much time to stay in touch. Maybe she’d changed. The old Jayle would never have defied her sister, and he never would have guessed she would be too anxious to speak with Seol herself. He let it go. She was right to be nervous after all. Aside from half-hearted self-defense, this was the first time she’d involved herself in an operation for two years.
“Alright, me and Serge know the drill, seeing as we’ve been doing something other than sitting on our pretty asses for the past two and a half years, but I figure I may as well go over it real quick for our new partner here,” Reckes said, tossing a pair of dice into the air over and over again. Serge stiffened at the insults, but he decided not to say anything yet. Seol could launch her attack at any moment, and they needed to get ready. He’d have time to reprimand Reckes later.
“For the past six months we’ve been making considerable headway into Team Apollo’s territory.” As he spoke, he highlighted areas of the map, showing their progress over the past. Serge looked on with pride, remembering the thrill of battle and the satisfaction of victory. “But now Seol means business, and she’s been pushing back as hard as she can, going at it nonstop, and we’ve begun to lose territory. Even that twerp Brand is doing better, since she’s personally overseeing his strategy just as I do for Serge.”
“Just as? I think you are overstating your importance to this partnership,” Serge said. “Your tactics have been invaluable, but it has been my army that has won the majority of our battles.”
“With a considerable amount of help from his stalwart Companion,” Ergo said.
“Yeah, I’m sure you peeping over his shoulder was great for morale, can we get too business here? Anyway, my point is, things are coming to a head now. We’ve got less than six months until the end of the game, and it’s about time we made this planet a little less crowded. So we need to focus on the weakest link, take them out first. And that’s Brand, obviously. Once his army is neutralized, no amount of awesome micro will allow Seol to compete with the…three of us. But to beat him, we need to get through a lot of territory, and we’re gonna need to move a lot faster than before.
I’ve always favored the slow and steady approach, because it gives our enemies that many more chances to fuck up. But we’ve made enough headway that our territory is too big for us to effectively defend. We gotta throw caution to the wind and finish this with one strike. But we’re never going to be able to do it in time, not if we’re flipping out over every mile lost. We’re gonna have to risk some losses. So, I have a new plan.”
Serge had the feeling he wasn’t going to like this. Reckes was smirking, and had finally stopped playing with those dice of his.
“We give Seol what she wants. We give her Jayle.”
“Absolutely not!” Serge was on his feet at once, and slammed his fist down on his interface. Since it was currently in soft-light mode, the only affect this had was to make a pitiful sound as if he had punched a pillow. “Jayle is our leader, and we must devote all of our efforts to protect her!”
Reckes sighed and gave him that same old insolent look. Ok, maybe Jayle wasn’t really involved in their fight, but she was still technically the leader of Team Aqua, by virtue of her birth. House Jade was the most powerful House in the Quadrant, and House Azure was significantly elevated due to he and Jayle’s coming marriage. Reckes’s House was little more than a vassal to his own, and Serge didn’t think he really appreciated the vast difference in status. It was not as if he personally believed that House Jade was superior, or that Reckes was beneath him. It was simply a fact of life that needed to be confronted, not ignored.
“Hold on, Ser, I think we should hear him out. Reckes is just being dramatic, I’m sure he doesn’t really planning on sacrificing Jayle,” Ergo said. She lightly trailed a finger across one of her pads, and a text message appeared on his miscellaneous screen, reading >you know he says things like that to rile you up. Relax a little.
“Master Reckes, it is contradictory to our goals to allow one of our allies to be defeated. Perhaps you should rethink your strategy,” Sola spoke from across the room, her voice high and musical. Reckes eyed her with annoyance. Serge knew he was somewhat embarrassed by the state of his Companion, being far below Ergo in terms of artificial intelligence. But Serge had a suspicion he was fond of her in his own way.
“Well if your plan involves me, I think we should hear it,” Jayle said. “I don’t plan to lose to Seol, but if you think I can be of use I’d be willing to help.”
“Well yeah, obviously we don’t want to actually lose you. I think I’d want to be in a whole different Quadrant if your sis found out we let you get offed. The plan is simple. We fake a route, sacrifice enough units to make Seol think she’s really kicking our ass, let her overextend herself into Jayle’s domain. While she’s in psycho mode trying to take Jayle down, I will play defense and hold her off. That should give Serge time to launch an assault deep into Brand’s territory. If Seol’s as pissed off as Serge say’s she is, she’ll be too distracted to help him out. Serge captures Brand’s castle and disables his army, then loops back to help us defend Jayle. With Brand out of the picture, we’ll have Seol’s castle in a matter of days no matter how much damage she manages to do.”
“It sounds risky,” Serge said.
“Of course. Skill, tactics, they’ll only get you so far.” Reckes placed one of his dice on his interface and spun it on its end. “Sooner or later, it all comes down to luck.” The die clattered to a halt.
“The strategy sound’s good, Serge,” Jayle said, catching his eye. “Honestly, as rusty as I am, I’m more suited to being bait than anything else. And I know Seol well. If she still plays like she did in training., and we don’t take her out the first time, we’ll never get a second chance.”
“I think I should be the one in charge of defending Jayle. It’s my duty as her fiancé,” he answered.
“You said it yourself, Ser: you’re the one who won all that land,” Ergo said.
“Look, I’m the idea guy,” Reckes said. “I’ll draw out an invasion plan for you ahead of time, and see if I can figure out any holes in his defenses. But we both know I’m no match for you in actual combat. It has to be you Serge. You’d just better hope you beat him fast enough, or I might not be able to hold Seol off.”
“I don’t know. If we can’t stop her in time-”
“It’s alright Serge,” Jayle said. “I’ll do it. I want to do it.”
And just like that, it’s decided, he thought. And my House is finished if we let you lose.