The Prologue: 300 Years Past: Hyborean Rim, UIC Forward Offensive Encampment, Spring, UC 1688
“That was no route, it was a regrouping. I told her! I told her not to pursue them!”
Parchment, quills, and thin panes of readingglass flew about the mobile CIC. Ink spattered walls, console portals, and command staff alike. Those who’d served with the Silver Lady knew enough to take cover beneath tables and paperwork.
“M’Lady,” the communications officer said, again. “High Command—“
“Not now. I am thinking.” Deep blue eyes peered at the sand-painting, as terrain beneath the crystalline dome morphed and rippled, greens flowing into browns and grays. It looked as though ants boiled up from beneath the sands, but it was the system’s representation for the beast man troops. Sprinkled among them were what looked like motes of golden dust, but shining with their own light, rather than reflecting that from Sollux.
It only appeared to be disorderly. There was a pattern to the swirling between the light and the dark… and at the center of it, in the eye of the storm of chaos….
“M’Lady… His Excellency—“
“His Excellency can wait! I have to find a way to get my sisters out of there.”
Slender fingers snapped a dismissive gesture, and the blue stone spinning atop the the communication console shot from its golden mounting and shattered against the duraplate hull.
A quill snapped up from the floor, streaked into those slender fingers, and the tall young woman began to scratch notes on a sheet of vellum that just happened to settle over that corner of the sand table. Blue eyes darted from the view beneath the dome to the notes, and hastily scribbled diagram.
A frown appeared on the pale forehead, beneath the slender circlet of silver-bound black metal. It was really only half a crown, the remainder of the circle a twining flow of silver threads and loops that disappeared amidst the tumble of hair that never seemed to settle between golden blonde and silvery white.
The man looked up from beneath the table. He’d served at the side of the Silver Lady from the moment she’d taken command of the Uthorrad Garrison.
“Yes, My Lady?”
Those deep blue eyes blinked. “Whatever are you doing beneath that table, Lord General?”
“Ah.. I seem to have dropped my time-keep, M’Lady.”
“Leave it. We are short enough on time as it is. Recalibrate the Lightning Roads to these coordinates, move the recovery capsules to within a half-flight of the ramps, then clear your men from the area. The Tenth Wing will be deploying with radiant bolts.”
“M’Lady!” the man gasped. He knew better than to ask her to repeat her order.
“I want every last white dragonstone in this camp at my sisters’ disposal when they evacuate under cover of the Tenth. I do not care how small it is, or if it was a gift from your mens’ mothers, wives or sisters. My sisters are being cut to ribbons out there.”
The Lord General straightened, made to bow, but the Silver Lady waved a dismissive hand.
“We do not have time for your silly military formalities. Move!”
The exit hatch of the mobile command center flew open — outward — despite the fact that the subarctic winds howled with enough force to rock the vehicle on its mountings.
The Lord General had just set one foot on the ice-slicked step outside when the speaking stones set in the corners of the room began to wail, and the glowstones’ light bled into the deepest of reds.
“Attention, all personnel: This is notice to evacuate immediately to minimum safe distance of twenty-three flights south-south-east. This area falls under the three-flight firing shadow of the Third Throne. A minimum safe distance of twenty-three flights is required of all UIC troops. Repeat….”
The Silver Lady’s eyes burned, and she wheeled on the communications officer, freezing the man as he made to rise from his post.
“What is the meaning of this? I did not authorize the use of the starfire cannons. I certainly would not put this encampment in the line of fire!”
“H-high Command, Your Ladyship—“
“Not even High Command would dare to bypass starfire safety protocols.”
The Silver Lady fumed.
“Go.” She glanced over at the Lord General. “You as well.”
“My Lady, I— the men—“
She almost smiled. “Go, Lord General. The entire point of operations here was ensuring men of the Empire not die. Not so far from home, and certainly not at this gods-forsaken rim of the world.”
Beast men howled. They snarled and screamed in their furious clash against the golden-haired army. They howled and screamed as they fought, and as they died.
The green-eyed Daughters of Uther fought in near silence. Lancers fell back, Edgeblades sliding from the corpses of the beast man front lines. They were covered by the second line, their blades aflame with dragonstone energy. Bolts of fire and ice leapt from Edgebows, withering the ranks of the beast men while the lancers braced and leveled their pikestaffs. The volleys intensified, the second line danced back, and the beast men howled forth again.
Daughters fought, and fell and died in silence.
But the thoughtshare was abuzz, a constant stream of commands, reports, requisitions and updates.
It barely showed on the pale and beautiful faces of the Daughters, but the thoughtshare was awash in pain, and fury. Sisters’ voices screamed and cursed, went silent.
But those voices returned.
The numbers of Hellas’ beast men seemed endless. But for each that fell, it would be a generation before its wickedness could return to the world.
A fallen Daughter would return to battle in a matter of hours. Rowena’s unraveling of the riddle of the Well of Souls had seen to that.
Rowena’s thoughts carried on waves separate from the thoughtshare.
I am rather busy keeping your army alive.
If you had held when I directed you to—
Yes, yes. We would not be in this mess. But this is our one chance, Sister. We have pushed them this far, they have broken, and exposed their weakness. The tower lies yon. If we can take it—
You were to push them to the edge of the Shadowlands, the sirens were to sing and the onyx barrier was to be lifted.
The tower is the key. I have seen how it sits at the center of this horde. If we topple it, their nature will reassert itself. They will fall upon each other, and—
We were to contain them, not annihilate them. The onyx pillars and the sirens’ song are enough to end this.
We can end it by destroying that tower! Another day, and—
We do not have a day. We have hours. The Emperor has ordered the Thrones above to fire.
The mind link went briefly silent, there came a stab of pain, and the thoughtshare frothed in sudden furious orders and acknowledgements
They are nowhere near optimal firing range. What troops of ours aren’t directly in the line of fire are under the firing shadows. Starfire burns straight through shards. This entire force will be lost!
I can save some of them. Diagrams flooded Leansethar’s mind: troop movements, formations and maneuvers that would divert the current flow of battle.
This is too costly!
If we do nothing, the cost will be greater, Sister.
This will only work if the third axial Throne does not fire.
If the Emperor himself has issued the command, then—
I know. Farewell, Sister.
Again, silence stretched over the mind link. It gave Leansethar time to look closer at the figures and diagrams.
You’re going to ascend.
You’re going to take down the Fifth Throne.
He will execute you when you return.
If he wants us dead, Sister, then let us give him what he wants.
The rest of Rowena’s plan unfolded in her twin's mind, over the link.