Matt was a little surprised when he got a non urgent message about their next mission. He had been waiting on tenterhooks to receive a message that they were being called in to solve some crisis, when he got a message telling him they would meet up tomorrow afternoon to be deployed again.
Getting hours to look over his new armor and weapon just felt odd after their last few missions, where they were being used to put out fires.
General Darrow nodded to the three of them as they arrived and they took their seats with the others who arrived.
Dena leaned over to Matt and whispered, What do you think they are going to want us to do? Any ideas?
Matt shrugged. I was going to ask you that same thing. You've been doing this longer than we have, after all. Is being warned a day in advance normal?
Eric agreed. When they can, they like to give us that much time, so when it's not an emergency, yes. But were a rapid response team, soooo
Matt agreed with Eric. He probably shouldn't count on such warnings in the future.
When Allie and Zack arrived, the former being dragged by her elbow by the latter, General Darrow started the briefing.
While it's been a few months for us, it's only been two weeks in real time since our last mission, and we can already see it's been a rousing success. The entire push has stalled out thanks to the lack of supplies in that sector.
A number of images appeared on the screen behind Darrow and Matt scanned through them. The war front was filled with yellow contacts with the occasional orange, and with only a handful of red, which was a good thing. Yellow meant the Empire defenders were under siege but not in immediate danger of falling. Orange meant they were struggling and expected to fall within a decade, and red meant they were expected to fall within five years if nothing changed.
When they had gone out for their last mission, most of the war front had been orange or red. So, seeing that situation almost completely reversed, it meant their attack on the supply depot had been the right call. It meant their fight with Maven had been worth it. It meant their weeks of suffering through chaotic space had been worth it.
It was satisfying to see their actions having such an immediate impact.
Darrow let them peruse a little before he moved on. Our actions even allowed three Tier 35 armies to be encircled and they are slowly being ground down.
Matt looked at the indicated spots and smiled. That was the danger of advancing one Tier of the battlefield beyond the established battle lines. Without support from the surrounding armies, you were vulnerable to being collapsed on by a dozen armies at once, which was exactly what happened to the three worlds Darrow highlighted.
Odds were, once it was clear they werent going to be rescued, the armies would surrender. Then, they would either be traded for prisoners or kept as long-term prisoners to reduce the number of Tier 35 combatants on the enemy's side.
Matt was just proud to see their mission having a greater impact on the overall war. That was what Ascenders were supposed to do.
As for our next missions, High Command believes that our expertise is best utilized in two places at once. To that end, we are splitting Team Zero in half, with the Ascenders being the cores of each team. Light, Shadow, Origami, Torment, Bulwark, and myself will make up one team, with Torch, Quill, Scoop, Stick, Stone, Bolt, and Drifter on the other. We will make a joint strike to Isseral and Qubai to relieve their respective sieges. Then we will diverge to our own separate missions.
Allie leaned forward like that would make General Darrow tell them her mission faster. The team that is going with me will be hitting three other planets in short order before we slip behind enemy lines to scare them into thinking we will attack another supply depot. If that scares the enemies like we believe, we will go and attack
General Darrow indicated a place deep inside Federation space. Selkor Nine. It's a Federation training ground, and they train almost a twentieth of their Tier 25 armies in that system.
Allie slammed the table. Fuck yeah! Now thats a mission! What if they dont reinforce the local supply depots though? Are we going to hit them?
General Darrow nodded. That is an optional secondary objective, though it's deemed unlikely for obvious reasons. If such an opportunity does arise, we will most likely just burn the place down rather than trying to secure any goods. The enemy Great Powers will have counters in place to prevent what we accomplished from happening again so easily.
Zack raised a finger indicating he had a question, and once Darrow acknowledged him, he asked, What opposition do we expect from the Federation in Selkor Nine? A training ground cant be so undefended that we can do as we like unimpeded, no?
Darrow waved his hand, and a system read out sprung up. Selkor Nine is part of a sector where life developed early, which means star systems are only a few light years apart and still moving in chaotic patterns. While that has its advantages, it means the system gets semi-frequent asteroid storms. Our current idea is to silently drift in along with the asteroids and then burn as many transport ships, training halls, data banks, and most importantly, newly formed battalions, as we can before we are forced to retreat.
Allie looked like she wanted to object at the idea of retreating, but Darrow highlighted a system next to Selkor Nine. Selkor Eleven is a healing center thats stationed close by. They will be able to bring in millions, if not more, of well trained troops as reinforcements in a matter of hours. There is no doubt that we will be forced to retreat in short order.
Before Allie could complain further, Darrow pointed to Selkor Eleven. As we retreat, we intend to swing by Selkor Eleven and see if we can make any attacks of opportunity there, but it's unlikely that the Federation commanders will send out all of their troops to Selkor Nine. If they did, we will take actions that I decide are appropriate based on the situation we encounter.
Darrow then turned his attention back to the other half of the room. Matts half. As for the rest of you, your mission is a little more Delicate.
Matt raised an eyebrow at that, and his confusion was reflected by the rest of his half of Team Zero.
Your mission is going to take you into Guild territory. There, you will link up with their commanders and assist them. We believe that they want to take and hold a shipyard to starve out a section of the battlefield, but the real goal will be
The screen Darrow changed, and a profile appeared with five people on it.
Klix Vutru, Fred Baxter, Cameron Chime, Dame-Askor, and Jastor Keys.
The five of them were old Federation elites on the level of Maven before her buff, but more than that, Klix and Dame-Askor were known for their similar Domains that slowed speedsters and teleporters alike. They had also set up a forward base deep inside Guild space, and the Federation was using it as a springboard to launch attacks on the supply lines.
Normally, the Guilds would have crushed such an outpost with numbers or sent their own peak elites to counter those stationed there, along with an army or two to outnumber the defenders. They had tried, but lost one of their own peak elites thanks to two of the Federation elites hiding their presences. Guild information sources suspected the Federation had at least two more peak elites there, which was why they were keeping the system contained rather than wiping it out.
Matt checked the dates and understood why Allie and Zack werent being sent to handle the situation. She could probably counter or at least deal with the anti-teleporting Domains, but the Federation had laid this trap for a decade and hadnt sprung it or repurposed it yet, which almost guaranteed there was something more to it.
But a trap meant to take out Allie and Zack wasnt going to be built to take out Matt and his team.
If things went well, they would spring the trap, take the bait, and kill a few peak elites in one fell swoop.
The idea was enticing.N♡vεlB¡n: Inspiring Minds, Illuminating Souls.
Your mission there is to spring the trap then kill as many of the peak elites as possible. Then, you will move with Guild forces and target a few of the more stubborn enemy stations. Darrow opened his mouth but said nothing for a long moment. Matt wondered what made the usually steady man so conflicted, but he got his answer when Darrow half shrugged. This is nothing more than a rumor that has made its way to me, but there is talk about the Guilds making a strike at Tera Torment as a tertiary objective. You will most likely be asked to assist in said strike.
Matt looked at the provided information and winced as he saw Tera Torment was a Tier 26 peak elite, known for her curse spells that inflicted debilitating amounts of pain before killing the victims. The war had interrupted her advancement to the Tier 30 brackets, but she had continued her rampage in the war before popping in and out to advance her cultivation. If their information was correct, she was nearing the peak of Tier 26, which explained why the Guilds wanted to take her out before she was able to stabilize herself at Tier 27.
That was not going to be an easy fight, but if they could take her out, they could score a significant blow to the Sects.
Officially, you will fall under Guild leadership, but you are free to accept or deny the mission as you see fit.
Liz leaned forward and asked, Is this why youre not going with our half?
General Darrows face remained expressionless as he said, It is standard operating procedure to keep high level field commanders out of allied territory to prevent confusion in the chain of command. That said, I don't know enough about the situation to give an answer as to whether or not the secondary mission is a good one or not.
Matt snorted. The fact there are rumors means it's not a secret at all.
Darrow grinned. Exactly. And the Guilds know that. Im sure even if their target is Tera Torment, the plan isnt so simple as rumors are to be believed. You have discretion and can act as you see fit, but remember, the Guilds are our allies and aren't so foolish as to throw away millennia of goodwill by getting the three of you killed in a foolish strike. Still, they also have their own plans and objectives.
Matt pondered the situation and came to the conclusion that Darrow didnt know anything more than they did, and was powerless to change anything even if he could come up with a better plan.
The man seemed to split into six as he shook all of their hands. Nice to meet you.
Matt whistled at the show of power as he looked off to the side, where there didnt seem to be anyone. The man hadnt created clones of himself, he had simply been moving so fast that even Matt couldnt see the blurs of his movement with his vision. He was only just able to catch the mans movements with his spiritual perception, and through it, he noticed that the real Quicksilver was positioned a few feet away from them.
The hand he shook didnt even feel wrong.
That thought tempted Matt to flare his Intent and see if he could lock the man down, but that would be an awful idea.
From the grin Aster shot him, he knew she felt his idle thought, and from her projected thought of freezing the hand engaged with her own, she had a similar thought.
Thankfully, Quicksilver dropped the act before it grew annoying and appeared where he really was, standing off a few feet to the side. Sorry, it's so rare that I get to meet new people who dont already know of the trick. Im impressed you all picked up on my real spot though. Few do.
Matt smiled in return while Liz asked, I assume that you are acting as our liaison for this mission?
That is correct. You are a little early, so while we can just go to the headquarters and sit around, I figured it would be far more interesting to show you guys around the planet below.
Joy shook her head. Count me out. I appreciate the offer, but just point me in the direction of where your pilots hang out. I spent a deployment on a Guild border planet, so nothing of this is new to me.
Quicksilver must have expected that, because he tossed Joy a small coin. That will let you tap into the local AI network. As long as you stick to the green areas, you can go anywhere you want.
Joy fingered the coin even as she turned and walked away, waving her thanks. That was a little more antisocial than Joy usually was, but he expected she wanted to pick the brains of the other pilots. The woman lived for her ship and ships in general.
Quicksilver looked around to the rest of them, and when none of them raised any objections to seeing the planet below, he led them to a teleportation formation. When they appeared on the surface, Matt let his spiritual perception spread.
He was initially worried the city was under attack, but seeing Quicksilver didnt even flinch at the displays, Matt just watched.
The city itself seemed fairly similar to the Empire. This was a Tier 22 planet, so spatial expansion was used fairly extensively, but it wasnt any more aggressive than what the Empire used. He didnt recognize some of the shops, but most things, like armor and weapon shops, were standard enough that he had little issue recognizing them. It took him a little longer to realize that the building with a large vault containing slips of paper inside was a bank. Why they had that much physical currency, he didnt know, but he saw at least two of the banks being robbed across the city.
And that was the largest difference between an Empire city and a Guild one, as far as he saw.
People were actively fighting each other all across the city. That would have never happened in an Empire city. As he watched, Matt almost thought it was an elaborate play, as everyone seemed to avoid killing each other. More importantly, they took special care to avoid the civilians, but the injuries they were taking seemed real enough. That, and while the civilians werent being harmed, some of them seemed seriously annoyed by it all and cursed both sides of the fighters.
Quicksilver chuckled at their expressions. Ahh, that's perfect. Sorry, but everyone always has that reaction. This is part of our Path equivalent.
Matt had to check the translation software but it hadnt misstranslated Quicksilver's words.
So you guys just fight each other in a city? I dont get it. Eric asked the question they were all thinking.
Quicksilver chuckled. They are heroes and villains fighting it out for the hearts of the people, for fame, for clout, for power, for riches, for a million and one reasons. But yes. Our version of The Path isnt so limited as yours. Let me back things up a bit, though. Our Path has people choose a side and then join a city where they fight for control. This is a Tier 6 through 10 city, which indicates the Tiers of anyone participating. You must choose a side first, heroes and villains are the largest two though there are always independents, or Grays, as we sometimes call them and then you fight each other for control of the cities. Villains steal resources which they can use to advance themselves while Heroes work to stop the villains, and if they are successful, they can take a portion of the goods for themselves. All of those actions earn the faction points. At the end of the month, the rifts around and in the city are distributed to the factions who give out rift slots to those who earned their side the most points. That's the basis of our Path. It's very combat-heavy, but those who do well earn fame and riches.
Quicksilver gestured out to the left, and Matt focused on the group of people who were fighting a few streets over. Do you see the small golden emblem on the girl in black suit? That means she is still a Hero candidate. That means she needs to source all her resources herself, similar to your own Path. If or when she falls off, she can trade that emblem for a silver one to show she was a Hero.
Matt knew that system from the crafters on the Path of Ascension.
Dena nodded along before asking, And the black emblems mean they arent on the Hero's path or whatever? How does that work?
Quicksilver flexed his spiritual perception, which they all felt, and focused on the black emblem. The black emblem means exactly that. They can participate, fight with the Heros and Villians, and do everything they can. They can and do get sponsored by companies, their families, Guilds, or any number of outsiders. It ensures there are always people for those still advancing as Heroes to fight. You must know how empty the brackets get after Tier 15.
Morgan gestured to the other side, where a group was robbing a manufacturing company a few streets away. What about the villains? They seem more disruptive than anything else. Why tolerate them at all?
Quicksilver chuckled. That's a common question, but ask yourself, are people uniformly good? Are all people trying to help others? No, of course not. Besides, how can you have a hero without a villain? Darkness is nothing without light, and light means nothing if there is no darkness. You need contrast and conflict for growth. I was a villain when I was in the games.
That surprised Matt and Quicksilver chuckled at their expressions. I was a small child who was a little too hyper and not very socially aware. That got me bullied. It should have stopped there, but things escalated when there was a wanna-be hero who saw me as a wanna-be villain. He painted me as worse than I was and then tormented me with everyone's approval, simply wanting to be liked by someone they thought would be a great hero. I tried to deny it, but few villains admit they want to be a villain, especially at that age. When they didnt listen I started reacting, sometimes violently, but that only made me seem even more like a wanna be villain, which proved his point. It wasnt helped by the fact he kept escalating things any chance he got, and when we were given the opportunity to join the games, we both did as everyone expected. And so, I became what they expected of me. A Villian. He became a Hero, and people loved him for it.
Matt felt like another shoe was about to drop and waited. Quicksilver didnt seem bitter anymore, and Matt had seen the socially awkward kid get pushed out of social circles at the orphanage. He hadnt been one to do it, but he had seen it.
Eventually, he showed his true side when he captured a Villian, Heratio, and he skinned her alive. He saw nothing wrong with it because she was bad and he was good; therefore, anything he did was justified.
Quicksilver raised his hands as if expecting them to object, which Matt was about to do. When that came to light, the higher-ups came down on him like a ton of bricks, but it proves my point. All who wear white arent good people, and those who wear black might not be evil. About fifteen percent of Villains are just on that side because it's fun to be bad in a controlled way. As long as they follow the rules, no one will punish them for knocking over a bank or doing other such things. Frankly it's a great stress relief for kids like me, who just needed a bit more time to grow up and an environment where we could burn off some of the resentment we built up. I mean shit, I wouldnt like young me that much, but that kind of realization only comes with age and experience.
Aster leaned forward to peer around Liz and asked, What about the civilians? Arent they bothered by all of this?
Matt expected Quicksilver to deny it, but he agreed with Aster. They definitely are, but they signed up for this. Only a few cities on a planet are given over to the games, and civilians flock here thanks to the economic opportunities here. Look around, and you will notice nobody is under the age of twelve. Like your own Path, it's opt in.
Morgan cocked her head at that. You've said that a few times now. Have you been to the Empire before?
Quicksilver laughed. Exactly right. I spent a century making my way through the Empire when I reached Tier 15. It was part of my guilds training exchange program. It was a good time, and was part of the reason Im personally doing introductions. I understand Empire culture pretty well, and I wont get offended if you ask questions that might be taboo.
Matt laughed slightly and asked what he thought might be of one of those questions. Do you guys stop the villains or grays from winning back to back or too often if they are on a winning streak that doesn't seem able to be defeated? You know, to keep the idea that good always triumphs alive in the watcher and civilians?
Quicksilver denied that with a shake of his head. Maybe some guilds who oversee a city do that, but Ive never heard of it. In fact a city falling completely to one side makes it a prime target for reconquest for the other cities. It makes for a great show, siege, and points. Frankly, everyone loves when it happens, as we haven't seen a city locked down like that since the last true, Hero One Step Behind, rose to fame. Though, he was a gray who always played for whichever side was weaker in whatever city he was in, so it didn't happen often. But every once in a while, he would just crush everyone and stand undefeated to remind everyone who was really in charge.
Aster leaned forward and asked a way better question. What about bonds at low Tiers? I know I was still pretty aggressive when it came to fighting and would have happily killed anyone I saw as a threat or hated. I remember wanting to kill most fire based beasts even out of a fight, but during a fight there was little holding me back. Seems dangerous.
Fun question. Generally, collars that can freeze a bond are worn until they get enough mental faculties that they can control themselves. The collars don't hurt them but can make them go limp for a moment, which is usually enough for them to wake up out of any bloodlust they might be in. if they go in for the kill a second time, they just get sent into dreamland.
They spent a few more hours walking through the city and seeing the sights, but all of their attention was drawn to the constant battles between capes, as seemed to be the catch-all term for the villains, heroes, and neutrals.
After all, the city was massive and there was always something going on.
Watching low Tiers fight should have been boring, but Matt was incredibly entertained. Everyone here was low Tier, but it was fun to see people return to the basics and see those with an early Concept running around like gods until they ran into a larger group, and were forcefully reminded that a Concept was just a portion of one's power.
They even started betting on which side would do better, which made Quicksilver laugh, as that was a common habit of spectators both foreign and domestic. Betting made one feel like they were part of the game and got people far more invested.
Sadly, their sightseeing only lasted two days before they were brought back to the moon, where they got their debriefing.
There was still a war ongoing.
Maybe they could sightsee after the war, but first they needed to end the war for that to be a possibility.