Pheles had tucked away one of the handheld communicator into a secure and padded pocket, and was switching out her current earpiece for the new set when Saintalia and Cerberus emerged from the elevator. Saintalia was a familiar face, and a known value, Cerberus was not - though both were associated with Claudwin and had earned his approval; recalling Claudwin's suggestion to do their best to bring Cerberus into the fold ...
"I'm sure dinner would be a better setting to get to know each other better, dinner and drinks," she suggested openly, and then amended, recalling another promise with a new face earlier in the afternoon, with Wayfarer, the one as tall as she was.
Ah, looks like the earpiece was getting tangled with her hair for the umpteenth time. Sporting a ponytail wasn't going to cut it. Setting down the earpiece onto a nearby bench, and untying her hair - opting for a tight bun instead - Pheles had a hairtie in her mouth when Jammy came bounding over.
Admittedly, Pheles had long decided that taking Jammy as unseriously as possible was a good policy when exchanging dialogue with her, but ... business? What business? Was ... was Jammy up to no good again? Was the troublesome gnat about to make her an accomplice to some harebrained scheme? The only thing keeping her from further questioning the shorter woman was that Pheles was well acquainted with Jammy's tendency to undercook most things. There was ample time to put a stop to whatever the girl had in mind with the upcoming raid and the looting that came with a sure victory.
Finally situating the new earpiece where it ought to be, Pheles rolled her shoulders, twice over, to assess how well the shallow dips of the upper body armor fit over her shoulder blades. The last thing she wanted was to break it apart incorrectly in the middle of fight, but soon her worries were fixated on Jammy instead.
Pheles tried to follow Jammy's gaze, but found that there was nothing unique, or worrisome, that stood out among them. "This is actually rather ironic coming from you, of all people to get worried about taking things too lightly..." Pheles huffed, crossing her arms.
"And I think it's more than fine to bring that kind of mindset into a job like this," Pheles sighed heavily, and her expression betrayed a reluctance in her next words. "You've done just fine so far. If anything, you're living and breathing proof that there isn't any situation you can't just simply fight your way through. Isn't it only a concern if you are left with no options at all in a pinch? None of us are without the means to fight back, or fight through an unexpected surprise. Hm ... rather than being too relaxed ... wouldn't it be more accurate to say that we all suck at identifying dangerous situations? Nothing a little bleeding can't fix." she tried to cheer the girl up, but because Pheles couldn't lie to someone she respected, she had to add in one last little solemn admission: "I think we both know some of us are going to be coming back limping from this, but no one is going down. And certainly not without swinging as hard as they can. Most of the time, that seems to keep us alive and kicking much better than hoping for the best and worrying."
Pheles's eyes landed on Darklight, and it was then that she understood Jammy's concerns for a split second. Only just. Darklight was chosen as a Knight, and Pheles was certain that a bruise, a cut, and maybe even a broken wrist at the end of the day would not stop someone who was just starting to come into their own. Green rookie or not, the mere idea of being stopped so easily would have - should have - infuriated any aspiring Knight enough to keep marching on.
"Here's hoping you have a terrible time and several migraines trying to keep an eye on the untamed and wild juniors," Pheles smirked down at Jammy.
For someone who Siesta assumed to be one of Aucteraden's best cyberhackers, she expected Cerberus to be more… well, she expected her to be reserved to some extent, sure, but also someone who seemed more professional than most. However, she didn't fault the girl for getting so distracted by the displays, for there was no item in the armory that lacked such richness. Saranna herself was so impressed by the security that the elevator had when it scanned the group as they descended into the lower floors of the Luminarium Cosmosys, as well as the architectural layout and design of the spacious structure, that she couldn't help but stare in awe of her surroundings. Of course, to maintain professionalism, she did well to suppress her feelings of excitement, much unlike Cerberus, who did not bother to break her gaze from the vehicles nearby to even acknowledge the group with a grunt or nod of her head.
She turned over to the blonde who had introduced herself, whose long, thin ears noticeably seemed to twitch every now and then and briefly drew the vanguard’s gaze. Horse ears…? Hm.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Saintalia… and Cerberus,” she said as she made a 45-degree bow, allowing her bangs to hang over her eyes as she glanced up once more. I wonder if she'd let me pet her ears if I asked her. Actually, wait- would that be considered rude or invasive…?
“Like Remiel said, anyone would be amazed by the amount of assets there are in this base if they came here for the first time, especially if they're military fanatics, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me if Cerberus decided not to introduce herself right away.”
“I'm sure dinner would be a better setting to get to know each other better, dinner and drinks,” a voice interjected.
“Ah, right. Good suggestion… Anthem,” the Vanguard replied, pausing slightly as she struggled to recall the woman’s codename, especially as she and her other colleague had similar hair colors and hairstyles. Okay, Anthem’s red streak is on the left side of her bangs, and Jammy’s is to the right… Anthem has more of a frigid aura, and Jammy is more feminine and peppy. Got it.
As the Vanguards and Iscariots had arrived late, Siesta had been unable to meet the First Knight of the KKO, nor was she aware that the suggestion of taking Cerberus to dinner was actually Claudwin’s idea. Either way, she figured the two new additions to the group would be integral to both the central and flank teams in capturing the Marauder and the armored member of the Syndicate, as well as securing the goods. Dinner, however, with a crowd of—how many people were there?—three, six, nine… twenty others seemed to stretch out of her comfort zone a bit too much. It wasn’t exactly her responsibility to take care of those who weren’t part of the Vanguards of Imperius, but that didn’t stop her from imagining having to babysit some reckless kids.
She glanced over to the feline Hyzurian, trailing the doppelgangers’ line of sight as they chattered in a low tone, to see him handing out what seemed to be a paper talisman to Zengren. It seemed he was superstitious too, with the charms supposedly bringing good luck and protection from harm, but she figured it was his way of showing concern for his teammates. How cute… but that bow strapped against his back? Not so much. The amount of time it would take to load and collect arrows would give Siesta a headache, not to mention Zenko’s claw-like nails. Either he was a fool, or he was experienced enough with a bow to use one with such accuracy as not to scratch those sharp mini-daggers against the string. She figured—hoped—it was the latter, especially considering the mint condition of the weapon and the fact that he was enrolled into the Iscariots. Surely his talents would be put to good use.
... Whatever, it’s none of my concern. His archery skills are probably why he’s in the flank team in the first place, but it’d be nice if he could hold his own in close combat, too.
The raven-haired woman muttered a small “thanks” as she took one of the burner cells and an earpiece, and looked back towards the weaponry that gleamed with an alluring light under the glass display. ”I have just one small inquiry, if it’s not too much to ask… These weapons, are we able to use them for this mission, or are they only exclusive to the KKO or the Collbrandes?”
It was something she realized she needed; ever since her first contact with the Knights, the ISD, the Iscariots, the Vanguards, and all the rest, her mind had been racing. Sleep felt like it was no longer an option, yet she seemed to have all the energy she ever needed anyway.
...Forty. Forty-one. Forty two...
She clenched her jaw, maintaining her speed and her concentration despite the light sound of a vibrating phone somewhere off in the edges of her perception. Finishing her routine, she landed one last, non-sequence blow against the bag with all the effort she could still muster, watching it swing back about half-way toward the ceiling. She took a deep breath, reaching up to wipe a few strands of hair away from the front of her face as she made her way over to the nearby table, cluttered with her things--mementos of past lives, both hers, and others.
The demonoid sprung for the nearby towel and water bottle before the phone, mopping off her face and staving off her thirst before looking to the glowing screen, sighing as she took note of the number on it. A few quick taps were all it took to confirm her suspicions.
"...These guys really move fast, I guess."
The further Aizu progressed into the massive Kaiser complex, the stranger she felt about being there at all; it was the kind of place a person like her was only supposed to see from the outside, nested among the other buildings of the city skyline, casting shadows down upon them all like a park gnomon over so many blades of grass. It took the mention of her name on the lips of the First Knight's 'contract familiar'--a phrase with which, though she did not say so, Aizu was entirely unfamiliar--to snap her from her readjustment-focused reverie. "O-Oh, right," she said, looking up as she offered a smile, "it's nice to meet you as well--I didn't actually know the Kaiser Knights had so many helpers. I'll be in your care!" Following her usual, genuinely-enthusiastic bow, she returned to silence, giving space to the mission overseer's answering of Shiro's questions. Talk of the raid reminded her just how strange her primary weapon felt against her side. Her sidearm was familiar enough; though it was a far fancier model than she was used to, the overall weight and profile was reminiscent of the more moderate firearms she had used during her times on patrol. The other, however, a slick, black SMG--it felt foreign, heavy in spirit despite its physical lightness. She had done range practice with such things many times before, but there was something different about using such a thing in the field. The others were carrying far more powerful weapons, no doubt, but Aizu herself had never openly carried something with so much stopping power.
Her attention drifted quietly toward Pheles and Nina as Remiel drew to a close. It was strange, the way that they talked to each other; she had expected so much more antagonism among the Knights, a bunch of unstoppable forces and immovable objects colliding with each other again and again and again. She blinked slightly as Pheles cast an eye in her direction, before quickly--and somewhat stiffly--looking away. She didn't want to make it seem like she had been listening in on their conversation; she honestly hadn't, but it felt awkward anyway.
She didn’t know what time she had arrived- she had left the other Iscariots to their own devices a long while ago. She had nothing to say to them. She trusted that they knew how to do their jobs their own way, and she didn’t need to stick around to mother them on what equipment to bring or how to prepare for their confrontation. She, herself, had taken a far more simpler route. At least, she thought so. A Kosovo-99 assault rifle, a Juniper Oakwood handgun, ammunition for both, grenades (frag and smoke), and certain other special ordinances stuffed into her assault pack. There was no such thing as overkill. Better to be sure they were dead and crippled, than not. Having observed the other Iscariots’ equipment, she brought nothing unique to the table, in her own eyes. She didn’t have a big sod-off hammer and sod-off-er armor, nor did she have enough knives to supply a small gang of rowdy children. She was just a soldier who survived a few too many battles and fights. Just a soldier.
She had watched from the sidelines, observing the new additions to their crew. Cerberus and Saintalia were their codenames. She had no strong opinion on them, though she noted some uncanny resemblances. Saintalia looked to be ever the professional, a straight arrow, if she ever saw one. Cerberus, on the other hand, was more active, in a sense, bouncing about the armory, her eyes shining brightly as she studied every part of the room. Pixie felt a certain draw towards both of them. She respected Saintalia’s professionalism, as she was wont to do, but she could also understand the draw of the equipment. She, too, would be all over them, were she off duty. So many lovely articles on display, and here she was, visiting this haven of havens as a client. It distressed her. She doubted that the Imps would take kindly to her if she pulled out her phone right now to snap some pictures.
The rest of the crew had begun to pour in. Zengren arrived first, followed by Zenko, who proceeded to hand out a charm to the former, before scurrying off to one side. By pure coincidence, perhaps, or maybe his senses were sharper than she had believed them to be, he had found his place right next to where she had parked herself, shrouded by her photomancy. He was doing his best, Pixie understood this much. He had his own way of doing things, and good luck charms were, she surmised, one of those ways to build camaraderie or morale amongst the crew. She sighed, and drew her hood up over her head, and dropped the plexiglass mask over her face. The air around her shimmered, and the veil dropped, revealing her fully. She turned towards Zenko, and took one of the charms from his hand, stuffing it into her pocket.
“You don’t need to repeat yourself,” she advised. “Thanks, and--” she stopped, looking for the words to say. Morale wasn’t her strong suit. She came, she saw, she killed, that was her function. “--stay alive.” She managed to stop herself before she could say ‘The dead do not collect.’. She started towards the growing gathering, rubbing the good luck charm in her pocket. In spite of the world that she lived in, she wasn’t the type to believe in ‘good luck charms’. Luck was a naturally occurring element, and skill was what complemented that element. Everything in this world was 50/50, there are no 1/100 chances. Still, she couldn’t help but smile (or attempted to) just a little bit. She didn’t know why.
The plexiglass mask shimmered, and the light upon it seemed to shift and contort, until her winged insignia became emblazoned upon a black canvas, obscuring her face. A simple trick that she had picked up. There was something to be said about a faceless wraith stalking down hallways, hunting down survivors, and it was nothing short of stress-inducing, that much she had learned. “Pixie, reporting,” she announced to Remiel. She nodded to Zengren, who had completely clad herself in protective armor. She was the exact opposite of Pixie, the smaller mercenary realised. She expected to be hit, she expected to be in the middle of the chaos, mowing fools who would approach her by the tens. Pixie, on the other hand, stalked the side and the rearguard, taking them out one by one. She wondered to herself if a solid partnership with Zengren would work out to their favour. It was already being put to practice, after all. Zengren in the main group, and Pixie with the flanking team. She supposed she would have to discuss this at length with her after this. She bowed towards Remiel and her own, and retreated, having accomplished her mission of making herself known. As she turned around to break away from the group, she swiftly managed to just avoid bumping into one of the Imps-- no, wait, she was part of the KKO, if she wasn’t mistaken.
Pixie gave her a once-over. Lean body, small figure, Demonoid. Codename: Darklight. Her expression, her mannerisms, all implied that she was new to all of this. She might not have seen much active combat, but it was entirely possible that she was simply suffering from early-onset stage fright, being surrounded by big names. Pixie never really had the issue of being so transparent, but she had been there before. Surrounded by giants, with only the cheapest gun she could buy off the market without needing to verify her age- it had been hell for the first few weeks.
Pixie raised a hand, almost unsure of what she was doing, then brought it down to pat Darklight on her shoulder. “You’ll be fine. Survive, and see more of this world.” Clumsy choice of words, but she had nothing else to give to someone like Darklight. Those were the same words one of the aforementioned giants had given her. It was only right that she gave it to someone else. She patted Darklight’s shoulder again, before she drifted towards one side to admire the articles on display as a connoisseur would art pieces.
Dove dragged herself down with the others into the hideaway armory.
"Is there a coffee maker in this armory? I already feel dead." She yawned. It wouldn't be the first time something like this happened; the weariness will wear off at the first jolt of action. After staying up for a good part of the night waiting in bed, after the adrenaline and rush of excitement had worn off, Dove found herself in a lull for the rest of the afternoon. With the blinding fire in her eyes gone, it felt like another day on the job. Just with more firearms and crooks on both ends.
The communicator felt familiar in her hands. She didn't look like she had any more equipment than the last time she met with everybody as she straightened her tie. Eyes and face settled into a 'business' mode. "I assume that we have a map considering all the reconnaissance; are there specific areas that you want the flank team to focus on so that we can secure the loads so we can support the center breach team as quickly as possible? I'd like to go over a general path that we want to take to keep in the back of my head. At least, before all hell breaks loose. And you mentioned unsynchronized breaches? Are we planning on flanks first or the center team first? What about escape routes that we should be aware of such as any underground works—?"
Questions came at a rapid fire rate, but she stops herself with a glance away and a smidgen of embarrassment. "Sorry."
She sat on the edge of a table, a tinge of a smile as she watched the little interactions between the group unfolding. It was adorable, like a touch of childhood in a little gesture. Dove played the role of a passive observer, a familiar role like a comfortable corner.
"Luck, huh?" Not that luck has ever done many good favors.
With the news that Guts was only hours away from facing life-threatening circumstances, the Demonoid raced home as soon as the initial meeting was over. It's not like she had an arsenal at her home full of weapons and gear. For a moment she searched through her kitchen drawers, pulling out her sharpest of utensils.
"Dessert fork? no... Dinner fork? no... OH, the salad fork!... eh no.." Guts resigned to her fate, closing her drawer full of forks and spoons.
She had her own gear from her job, but she only used it when she was called on the scene for a death investigation. And the only reason why she had such an expensive piece of gear at her home and not at her office was because she forgot to bring it back. Which in this case was a good thing, it would have been awkward if she had to pull this out of her locker without an explanation to her coworkers.
She counted herself lucky in the fact that she sort of won a genetic lottery of "on-hand" weapons. Putting on her gear was a hassle in and of itself and if her neighbors were around it would have sounded like someone was being murdered. Crash noises and sounds of distress could be heard for what seemed like an eternity but were only for about four minutes.
Once she was properly suited up she sank to the ground to catch her breath. "Stupid hands, you're not good for anything!" She yelled before grabbing her left hand with her right and choking it in an act of self-serving justice.
Looking at the clock in her room she noticed it was about time to leave. However once looking at her room for what could have been her last time she remembered something.
"Just for added security.."
She crawled to her bed, peering under it and pulling out an old shoebox to reveal her aunts Glock 19. She picked up the scratched-up handgun and examined it. It was pretty beat up but her aunt didn't call it Ol' reliable for anything and she didn't have much time to check anyhow. Heading out the door she looked one last time at her home. "Well, at least my brain matter won't be sprayed all over my vintage barf bags.."
Once she had arrived at said location on the device that was given to everyone, it began to sink in that things were getting real. Not that she was afraid of dying but she knew chaos was about to ensue soon. This Cerebus character was finally revealed to her but she wasn't who Guts was expecting. Maybe someone more serious? But Guts didn't have room to talk did she?
"Oh, Hello All! It's me your personal undertaker! I'll make sure that everyone has a beautiful send-off if you guys decide to have a perforation in any of your extremities or maybe have one of your major arteries sliced! My name is Guts and I will most definitely be inside someones by the end of the day!" She did a dramatic bow to her comrades as her hair fell in front of her face before retreating to the back.
Her eyes began to wander and she noticed some familiar faces, her cheesy masked friend, in particular, piqued her interest. She was interested in seeing him unmasked if he died. Guts never wished death on anyone of course but she couldn't help imagining everyone on a dissection table, even herself. She rarely had the opportunity to autopsy the animal ear folk. Hyzurians they were called? She couldn't remember but Guts desperately wanted to touch the male with the bow's ears.
She didn't have any questions to ask at the time since her role was pretty straightforward, however, if Guts knew anything it would be that death is unexpected and plans can change on a whim. "Every action, every breath, every thought, is on borrowed time and soon the grim reaper will come to collect what's due." She stated to herself as she twirled her hair and stared at the ceiling.
The vehicle was silent except for the faint hum coming from the metal under their feet. Quite large for personal transport, it could fit three people but as the ride progressed, Maximus was seriously beginning to doubt the accuracy of those specifications. He sat uncomfortably between half of his aunt's security team, an annoyed frown painted on his face as he tightly clutched a piece of paper with an address scribbled on it.
"I really could have taken this peregrination alone. I am more than capable of finding my own means of transportation," Maximus declared after nearly an hour of complete silence.
Maximus sighed as his observation was met with continued silence. His attention returned to the address in his palm, his destination.
The group was coming from his hotel room in Aucteraden, where the young Exhelian had been staying for the past week with the intention of securing some answers for the most recent assignment he had been assisting. Maximus had been tracking some criminal activity related to nobility in Elesrith which he thought he could track back to the mainland and get any time of information that he could build on. However, it had appeared that he had severely overestimated the abilities of his contacts in Aucteraden. It was only this morning after he had been denied countless appointments had he been informed of his apparent scheduling meeting at the Bismarck Estate. His mood soured further as he pondered on the ramifications of his absence at the call of Lady Bismarck, to which he now had no excuse to miss. Maximus mentally slapped himself for refusing any personal staff. With a social circle as his, it was not rare that people wouldn't know his whereabouts outside of his regular workspace in the north.
The noble pushed himself upright as his head turned towards the bustling province outside the window to which he could only see half off, the left side blocked by a man sprouting a tactical vest. The man on his left flicked his eyes on Maximus before returning his attention to the front of the vehicle. If it wasn't embarrassing enough that he would be late for potentially the most promising opportunity since the Tournament of Valor, it was his aunt who provided the messenger from Elesrith. The message was brief, verbal and vague but played itself on a loop in his mind. While he didn't know what the task entailed, the chance to work with the KKO and ISD was something that quickly extinguished his worries and filled him with merriment.
"Devastatingly dreadful. I am being released from you gregarious gentlemen," Maximus began as he felt the vehicle lower itself to the ground. The driver in the front stifled a faint grin as he opened the doors. The young noble tucked the paper in his jacket sleeve before standing up to exit the shuttle. The man on his left grunted what he could only assume to be a goodbye while the other pulled out a device, presumably to tell his aunt that he had reached his destination. As the personal transfer flew away, Maximus pulled out his own communication device to take another look at the restaurant promotion sent from an unknown number.
* * *
Maximus stopped just past the entrance of the armoury, his face had gone pale at the sight of the group assembled. His arms quickly folded themselves tightly against his back as he bowed his head and cleared his throat. The wave of embarrassment that washed over him prevented him from properly assessing the individuals in front of him so when he slowly raised his head upwards, he couldn't help but rest his eyes on the fox-eared woman adorned in white and gold. "Greetings," he started as his eyes drifted to the main bulk of the group. "I am Maximus Alden, Vanguard of Imperius. I hope you can forgive my absences and late arrival, I had some business keeping me on the other side of the mainland" he ended, a bit louder as he aimed to project an aura of confidence.
”I have just one small inquiry, if it’s not too much to ask… These weapons, are we able to use them for this mission, or are they only exclusive to the KKO or the Collbrandes?”
Fixing the curve of her lips into a more respectful expression, Pheles turned her attention to Siesta, and then to the equipment locked away behind polished and unmarred glass panes. Whoever was in charge of maintenance was certainly paid exceptionally well, something Pheles had personally made sure to check up on when she first started her days as a Knight. As she preferred swinging around blunt weapons and sharp edges of melee weapons, that left everything else in the hands of others. Haunted by the experiences from her time in the war, she would end up badgering the maintenance crew for updates a few times a month to ensure she was aware of every little change in their arsenal.
"I have to admit I'm a little ... proud that these weapons have managed to catch your eye," Pheles admitted with a smile, striding over briskly to where Siesta had trained her gaze. Standing in front of the glass display, Pheles raised a hand and knocked on the glass twice with her knuckles, after it rippled from the contact, it eventually fell away, breaking apart and retracting its teeth to allow others to access it. "KKO might not have have access to state of the art, or products that haven't been released to the market yet, but I can guarantee that these are above standard," Pheles assured Siesta.
"I don't frequently make use of tripwires or landmines, but I know that we have them ... somewhere, some of the other Knights keep taking them like they're candy so we've always got a good number of them on hand..." she murmured to herself, looking this way and that as if in search for the mentioned goods. "What are you interested in? I can only assume that as a Vanguard you probably get bigger and better guns ... an arm canon maybe?" She asked Siesta.
As she reached for something on the tallest rack, her posture stiffened. And she turned her head around to sneak a glance at Breaker, but before she could ask for permission, a new arrival made their appearance. "To think you made it over in such a short time ... the KKO should thank you for your swift arrival if anything," Pheles raised a hand, hailing him, but quickly turned back to Breaker. "It wouldn't hurt to share with our allies, would it? I'd imagine the hasty trip to Aucteraden leaves some of us without a comfortable loadout," she paused to turn to the Iscariots, nodding, at their own personal equipment,"save for the Iscariots, perhaps. But the ISD certainly wouldn't have weapons ready for what we're about to walk into, no?" She tilted her head.
"...and then I told her; That's not a dead body, that's your wife!" Klauss laughed. Everybody else laughed. Unbeknownst to all but two of the people in the room, what they were laughing at was not in fact a joke. Regardless, Klauss was having a good time.
And then her phone buzzed.
"Ah, shit." She muttered to herself, and then swung to her feet like a marionette on wires. "Sorry boys, I'm late for something." Her voice was apologetic, and her expression full of pain, grief, and embarrassment, but the manner in which she'd so hasitily gone from nearly pissing herself to stone-cold sober was a bit suspicious. Luckily, everybody else in the room was too, well, pissed to notice, and quickly returned to their merrymaking.
It's Stanley. Make sure to do what I asked when you're done with him, okay?
Klauss got a message out from her phone while she sauntered out of the dank little haunt that she'd spent the last few hours in. It wasn't the most professional thing, but there was another teeny-weeny task she'd taken the liberty of taking care of before meeting up with the rest of the raid team. It was the usual petty flimflammery that the nobility so often engaged themselves in, and Klauss had happened to have been in the right place at the right time to flam her way into it. Power and money were all well and good, but the favour of the rich and powerful was a currency that could be spent in the place of both.
Naturally, a driver was already in place and waiting for the Demonoid woman when she exited the bar. Her usual helper understandably was not interested in following her halfway across the planet for maybe two and a half gigs tops, so the woman in the driver's seat was an unfamiliar face. And she'd been expensive. But, she supposed, that was the price she paid to travel through the air rather than on the ground when she wasn't subsidising it with favours and/or blackmail.
Klauss's transport swung onto the armoury premises not long after fellow Vanguard. She arrived just in time to hear his pair of apologies, and briefly considered whether or not she should make one of her own.
"Hey, hey! Don't worry about it, bud." Ultimately, Klauss decided to skip the grovelling. Not only did she not feel bad about her lateness, but she also, like, didn't want to harsh the mood, man. Or something to that effect.
"Here's here, isn't it? Lighten up... Ah... Max, was it? I know it's a bit of a shock, but despite most of them being nobles, most of the KKO won't screech at you for being at the beck and call all the time." Klauss brought her hands up to her head, and then mimicked an explosion. "Or at least, so I hope. Otherwise I'm getting yelled at too."
As the meeting slowly came to an end, Hikari had went to the apartment he had, and simply made sure what few weapons he had were where he had placed them(One long sword that could channel wind magic through it, a standard katana, and a pistol with a silencer). He wasn’t the kind who hid his things in a secret room which one had to pull on a book to enter. His place could do with a bit of cleaning up, something he added to the ever-growing list of mental things he had to do.
Shame the restraunt promo wasn’t real, there wasn’t any good food near his area, he always had to go out quite a bit for dining. Well, it was time to get ready after all….
As Hikari finally arrived at the meeting, a smudge late (Traffic, it always appeared at the worst times.) He found that quite a few people were already there; although the only I.S.D members he spotted were Dove and Guts, going with her usual talk of death. From her, he probably knew more facts about death than he did than the girl herself.
Offering a small wave at the cyberhacker, Cerberus, he let his eyes wander, seeing who had yet to arrive.
Taking a seat near his fellow I.S.D Agent, Dove, Hikari simply just watched interactions play out.
Remiel’s wait in the rather talkative atmosphere wouldn’t be too long until another curious soul, a fatigued one at that, spoke up and voiced her own set of questions in rapid succession. It was Dove.
"I assume that we have a map considering all the reconnaissance; are there specific areas that you want the flank team to focus on so that we can secure the loads so we can support the center breach team as quickly as possible? I'd like to go over a general path that we want to take to keep in the back of my head. At least, before all hell breaks loose. And you mentioned unsynchronized breaches? Are we planning on flanks first or the center team first? What about escape routes that we should be aware of such as any underground works—?"
Dove’s eventual realization and embarrassment being shown towards her direct superior would definitely add to her tense mood that was mitigated by the little and relatively meaningful things that members of the group were doing to one another, especially the highly casual and jovial verbal exchange between Anthem and Jammy, showing themselves to be quite close to one another which would make Remiel’s job a bit easier. To further mitigate, the Ashen Ember would proceed to reassure the ISD agent and then answer her set of questions. She starts by pointing at a large bulletin board that could be moved using roller wheels that she used in her preparation that had a complete map of the port, blueprints, layouts, and building plans annotated with the general plan posted that anyone could defer to or use but she had other things prepared along with the fact that she briefed these people before with everyone likely doing their own reading. Ideally anyway.
“That’s okay, Dove. In your defense and in all fairness, you actually asked a good set of questions so let me get to them right now. Yes, we have maps and others, your burner phones have the exact same pieces of information that you see on this bulletin board here that you can freely access. Any further information about any future operation will also be sent to those phones. So as much as possible, do not lose your burner phones, those may be protected by fingerprint locks but let’s face it, anyone with the brains, equipment, and requirements can crack open those burners without triggering the defense program for it where the burner automatically formats itself to get rid of all the information on it.”
“As for the breaching itself, the initial entry will be synchronous but depending on what the Syndicate will be putting up, progress on any flank will be asynchronous at least in which case we’ll have to adapt on the fly to ‘be on schedule.’ For any specific areas, the central building that we will be gunning for is flanked from a short walk’s distance by container yards, storage houses, and a berth from three sides where all teams except the center will come from. Good cover and vantage points to assist the center from, just be mindful of the roof and windows of the central building that will most likely be used in the Syndicate’s defense. We also have to be quick because as soon as we hit them, they will very likely commence the process of deleting or burning any digital and physical documents. But I’m positive that a certain hacker of ours can do something about the former.”
“On escape routes, the only subterranean route they can go is the underground sewer system that is connected to and accessible from the port and throughout the rest of Seraphiel. The sewage flow is controlled by sluices at key junctions, none of the system’s port channels lead to the open sea so the only way they can go is inwards. I’ve already informed the local authorities to close all channels connected to the port which means the Syndicate will have to blow or hack their way through any sluice that blocks their path which will inform public works who will then inform us. As for the port rail yard, the local authorities have procured heavy cargo cars and some barriers to block any outgoing trains. They will be in position before the operation starts and will remain there to make sure no one tries to escape by train. Other conventional escape routes are obviously the ways that anyone comes in from and over the electric fences and concrete or steel walls. Other than all this, another option is them making their own ways out in which case we can only prepare.”
Upon finishing, Remiel addresses a general concern: equipment, “Since this armory might have you thinking about your loadouts, if you want to procure equipment from this armory, you’d have to go through the Knights. This is their armory and thus, their equipment, after all. Since our targets are confirmed to be in the port, and because we’re a special task force, we have the necessary clearance for better-suited equipment from the get-go, just that if you want to take equipment from this armory that you think will better aid us in the upcoming operation, just get the Knights’ consent. Unless they are not cleared by their liege to share equipment. In that case, just prepare more of your own.”
Remiel then finishes, taking a deep breath as she didn’t mind what other small talk occurred in the meantime. Not too long after, a newcomer arrives. A rather odd young man who is part of the reinforcements that the Ashen Ember mentioned in her briefing yesterday that’d be ‘running late’ due to official reasons as the participating parties can’t bring all their agreed resources to bear instantly. Thankfully, information on those ‘running late’ were already transferred to relevant figures meaning that she was informed of the who, what, and when at the very least. The newcomer was a Vanguard of Imperius, a good addition to the team.
She stared at the young man and greeted him with the same serious tone that she used in the briefing yesterday, “You are forgiven, Mister Alden. I am Ashen Embers Elite Operative, Codename Remiel and I am the commander of this team until further notice. We are happy to have you and welcome aboard, you are right on time as we will be carrying out an operation in 3 standard hours.” She does take note of the man introducing himself formally with his real name to which she would remind, “Oh, a house rule, we are to address each other here by our codenames for security reasons granted I don’t think this is very useful for individuals who are already publicly known but nonetheless, it’s for the good of everyone in the team as we don’t know what the Syndicate may do if they learn the real identities of some of us. Anyway, I’ll have your colleagues among the Vanguards fill you in on what’s happening and leave it to you to pick what team you will be part of in this operation. Again, welcome aboard.” Her greetings would be concluded with an accommodating nod.
Remiel then remembers something of note with a slight widening of her eyes, deciding to say it now before it is forgotten or buried in other kerfluffle, “Speaking of picking…” She calls a group of the team, “Flankers, you are free to choose between the western or eastern gates as your points of entry. Ideally, all of you should not pick the same gate unless you are really a fan of the oblique order tactic in which case, if the Syndicate fights their way out by focusing the flank you lot aren’t on, you will share a degree of accountability as do all of us, especially I. But in our defense, we can always chalk it up to the authorities there being incompetent or simply outmatched or actually in league with the Syndicate but let’s not unless there is just cause.” Now that she’s made herself clear, she remains silent again until any further action.
Zengren noticed the rest of her IOS compatriots namly the fox boy Zenko and pixie, least pixie seemed to actually have some gear on leading to Zengren nodding slightly towards pixie. "hu actually got some gear ill admit I'm a bit surprised" Zengren said with a slightly amusing but respectable tone genuinely expecting some kind of incompetence, oh and then zenko started handing out little charms to the others Zengren would take the little charm looking down at zenko before ruffling the fox boys head. "sure kid whatever you say im sure it well help that's if you do really grant luck if not well rubbing your head should help too rub a bit of luck hey" Zengren chuckled a little bit jokingly before her attention turned fully back to Remiel who gave another rundown of the plan that finally sounded as if it would actually go down well if everyone did there part. seemed like more onus was on the flankers to get there jobs done quick while the center team just kept up the pressure easy enough job
Zenko yelps a bit when Zengren ruffles his hair. It's hard to maintain a dignified air as he rakes his fingers through the fluff behind his ears that's now standing in all different directions, but he tries his damndest.
"Ahem, ha--" he clears his throat a bit, hands still fluttering awkwardly before settling over the remaining charms in his coat. "What do you take me for? I'm sure they'll work. Kitsune's guarantee."
He glances back towards Pixie, currently examining the arrays of tech whilst clad in her shimmering-cel mask. Her words from moments before still ping around in his head. For all that she heralded herself as an emotionless mercenary, still trickles of softness seemed to escape the cracks, he thinks as he watches her awkwardly offer words of reassurance to the softer-spoken demonoid girl.
A curse of humanity, maybe. For all the walls they built up, things they said, mostly, it seemed like people just wanted to do good.
...Well. Whatever that meant to them. Zenko runs the pad of his thumb over one of the fingernail scars on his neck, mostly faded and hidden by his hair, now, decade later.
"Besides," he starts belatedly, "I never was planning on dying anyways."
A few things happen in quick succession, then, and Zenko settles into the whirl of it all around him, poking at one of the earpieces on display and lazily pondering how to fit it in his decidedly non-human ears.
There's fresh meat. A man, one with dusty-brown hair and a demeanor that screams 'I-have-a-stick-up-my-ass,' which Zenko can't help but be a bit endeared by. He looks a little pale to be showing up to the fray noticeably late, but he's quickly waved off by everyone who greets him and left to his own devices. Zenko silently hopes he'll pick the flanking team, if only because he would love to haze the new boy a bit.
Oh, speaking of. Zenko perks up a bit from his hunch over the earpiece he's been fiddling with (if he-- sort of clips it to the edge of his ear here, and wraps this part around a bit--). He's looking at Remiel when he speaks, indirectly responding to her last point, but his voice is elevated enough that he's addressing most of the others who may be listening,
"To be honest, I'm not sold on the oblique order. The Syndicate's rats are going to be fighters. We can handle 'em, I know, but I don't think it'll be a smart idea to leave them any easier outs. I vote we converge equally from both sides, yeah. Doesn't matter to me who goes where, so if anyone else on the flanking team has an idea of how to split people up best..." he trails off, casually inviting someone else to pitch in.
Sterling's still not arrived yet, and he tries not to think about it too much. She's a grown person, and she's real scrappy. Let her do her thing, he reasons with himself. And, hey, if he has to hold onto her luck charm for the time being, well, that just gives him more time to infuse it with kitsune-luck-powers. Not that she needs it. He's not worried about her. Duh.
The briefing has proceeded just as Shiro predicted. Though the unexpected arrival of Lady Anastasia. Along with the Lady, was the so-called infamous hacker, Cerberus, that was contracted by this joint-task force. Breaker... did not register her, he didn't find anything of note or worth. "As long as she does her job." The spectre mumbles. Still, it is courteous and respectful to greet a colleague as they arrive. "Greetings, Saintess." The hooded man spoke, clean and calm, bowing faintly to address this Saint of War. Back to the matters at hand, Remiel had answered the tormentor's question... But he felt puzzled? Fifty men will be split between the gates to accompany the flankers? That seems like wasted logistics... Severely. He'd reckon that eighteen men would be enough; splitting them into two will give nine people per gate. But that's not his call to make.
Jammy was, uncharacteristically (in his mind), worried about everyone being so lax. To which then Anthem retorted that they were bad at distinguishing life-threatening situations. "Police yourselves, you two." He added. Knowing Nina and Pheles, once they start going it's hard to stop them. "Bruise, bleed, or fracture. Stay alive and do well. I'll hold you to the same standards as Claudwin." That goes for all the Knights, though it mostly came out of worry as they are his comrades and he is responsible for their lives.
His attention was drawn to Siesta and Anthem. The former wanted to know if they may procure weaponry or equipment from their armoury and the latter sought his approval. "I see no reason to not share our equipment with the Vanguards. And our Lord shan't miss paltry pieces such as these, should they become irreparably damaged. You have my permission." The hooded man spoke with the uttermost confidence. "That applies to all of you in this room present." His head turned on a swivel to address everyone present.
Unfortunately, that cussed coroner chafed Shiro's nerves. If she isn't spouting about how she'll be so overjoyed at dissecting their bodies, she's burning a hole through the roof and sputtering nonsense. He'll be most pleased to be rid of her after this joint task force. The appearance of another Vanguard caught his attention, this "Maximus Alden" was strange to Shiro, guess this was a last-minute addition.
"I agree with the vulpes. Despite the odd number of seven, it would be most prudent to split up." The fox hierophant made a good point. "I'll accompany the eastern gate," A momentary pause as Shiro decides how to relegate this. The odd number of flankers makes this awkward. "Darklight, Sterling, and Zenko are my most optimal candidates for the eastern gate. While Dove, Jammy, and Pixie approach the western gate. Though if anyone sees fit to disagree with me then say it now."
Maximus slightly bowed his head in acknowledgement towards the ashen-haired woman before turning to address the Vanguard who arrived just after him. Before he had a chance to reply, the woman who appeared to be leading this meeting spoke up.
"You are forgiven, Mister Alden. I am Ashen Embers Elite Operative, Codename Remiel and I am the commander of this team until further notice. We are happy to have you and welcome aboard, you are right on time as we will be carrying out an operation in 3 standard hours. Oh, a house rule, we are to address each other here by our codenames for security reasons granted I don’t think this is very useful for individuals who are already publicly known but nonetheless, it’s for the good of everyone in the team as we don’t know what the Syndicate may do if they learn the real identities of some of us. Anyway, I’ll have your colleagues among the Vanguards fill you in on what’s happening and leave it to you to pick what team you will be part of in this operation. Again, welcome aboard.”
The previous tension he felt had now faded, and the young man dropped his arms to his sides where they could comfortably rest on the hilts of his sheathed swords. He remained motionless as she continued to speak, addressing the rest of the room. Remiel's voice faded into the back of his mind as his eyes danced across the room, finally given a chance to assess his surroundings. It had taken him a few seconds longer than he'd care to admit to recognizing the other members of the operation but once he did, an expression which could only be read as scorn was painted across his face at the sight of the Iscariots. Although he had no justifiable reason for it, Maximus couldn't help but feel an odd mixture of annoyance and uneasiness in their presence. He had no strong opinions about the ISD nor the KKO, the latter an organization he sometimes mused he could have joined in another life.
As the Hyzurian spoke of the syndicate, Maximus returned his attention to his fellow Vanguard. He couldn't recall many interactions with Vanguard Klauss but he was aware of her endeavours against the criminal underground and that provided him small comfort. It was only after he was done eyeing some of the individuals from the Iscariots and the KKO that he remembered he hadn't finished his previous conversation with her
Maximus turned his head to the side, tilting his head to the side as he spoke to the Demonoid woman. "We have been gathered together to deal with the Arcalion Syndicate?" he began with a hushed tone and a spark of enthusiasm in his eyes. "Then it is only fitting that the Vanguards have been summoned. Once again, I have been provided with the opportunity to protect Empyria from those who would wish to disrupt its denizens," he continued, his chest now puffed up with pride. "I don't need the details, just tell me what team you're on so I can join the other. I think it would be best if we... cover our bases. Unless you disagree, Wayfarer?" he ended, mentally patting himself on the back for remembering to address his colleague by her codename.
Aizu flinched slightly as a heavy weight suddenly came down upon her shoulder. She remained distant for a moment more, the brief flicker of disappointment crossing her features with due subtlety. I'm...safe here, aren't I? Why am I still so flighty?
It was only after addressing her inner thoughts that she turned to the unfamiliar figure in front of her. Despite her professional stance and countenance, a strange sense of dourness hung around the woman--Pixie, from what she remembered. Despite her callsign, she lacked cheer--though the Knight could still gather a semblance of why she had the callsign she did. Much like herself, the Exhelian was slight of form, and bestowed with surprisingly small features. Hers was the sort of visage one might expect from a handheld doll, and perhaps not too dissimilar from those that graced illustrations of fantasy tricksters--were the woman before her to ever smile.
“You’ll be fine," she said, a dry sincerity to her tone, "Survive, and see more of this world.” As quickly and starkly as she had appeared, she moved to take her leave, drifting off into the murmurs of the crowd and disappearing between a set of larger figures before the Demonoid could even offer her thanks. She had half a mind to shout a reply over the crowd, yet a far more sleazy, assaulting tone reached her ears as she opened her mouth.
"Oh, Hello All! It's me your personal undertaker! I'll make sure that everyone has a beautiful send-off if you guys decide to have a perforation in any of your extremities or maybe have one of your major arteries sliced!"
Aizu let out a shivering sigh; the closest she had gotten to that kind of imagery was as a perimeter guard for a particularly-grizzly crime scene, and it wasn't anything she was keen to revisit. "...Pretty mixed messaging, huh," she muttered to herself, moving away from the center of the room to diminish her sense of presence. For once, she willingly allowed a partial retreat into her own head, submersing herself in the muddled sounds of others conversing around her as she found a point of calm. The more she heard, the longer she thought about it, the clearer it became that what she was about to get involved in was lightyears beyond what she had encountered during her stint with the local security forces. It was as if the entire world operated on two different strata.
Almost as soon as she thought that, the Knight clenched her jaw in distaste. You knew that was the case already. Why should it be any different here?
Aizu was called to quick attention as their operation's leader spoke again, perking up nigh-instantly as they began to outline the last detail of their plans--and then offer a choice. She blinked in slight confusion, having expected such things to have been unceremoniously assigned to them with no further discussion. She wouldn't even know what to do with such a choice, let alone the best one to make; personnel dossiers did little to say who she would work best with, or who she could work with at all. She did her best to muffle her sigh of relief as Shiro offered his own take on their assignments--as the Second Knight, he would certainly know better than she.
Immediately, she scanned the room for those the Second had mentioned, doing her best to match codenames to faces based on her memory of the prior meeting. Sterling...Zenko...
At least in terms of appearance, the two mentioned names belonged to people of utmost bombast; certainly, their faces were difficult ones to forget. Certainly, they were far more colorful than anyone from the ISD or the Kaiser Knights--
W-Wait, I'm the only Knight on my team?
Though her brief bout of panic only shone through in the form of a slight shiver (perhaps she was simply a little cold), her mind's interior raced in circles. Is he sure this is a good idea? W-What if the Iscariots don't like the Knights? Are they gonna listen to me? Wait, is this some sort of test? It must be some sort of test...
Slowly, she began to quietly vouch for the Second Knight's decision-making by slowly drifting over to her two assigned partners, focusing on her breathing as she went. "A-Ah," she stammered as she reached the mercenary pair, holding up a hand in a casual wave, "I guess the Second Knight's plan puts us together, huh? I-I'll do my best not to get in anyone's way, okay?"
With Breaker and Remiel in agreement to unlocking the KKO's arsenal to those gathered, Pheles tipped her head in a silent self-dismissal to Siesta, eager to finish fitting herself with the Vanguards, and by extension the Iscariots, free to explore the options opened to them now. Her eyes flitted across the various melee options one by one. Her eyes fixed on a pair of tonfas for a second longer than any other option, but all too soon, she shook her head with a mild sneer at how fraile she judged it to be. How easily she could imagine a broadsword, two broadswords if Marauder wasn't keen on playing and warming up, making a sound dent in the tonfas in one fell swing.
But there was still an idea worth salvaging. Pheles ended up picking up what looked like a double-bladed heavy sword, but with a quick pull, the two ends would part from each other, seperating themselves into two blades - one longer and one shorter. Inspecting it closely, and its seperating mechanisms closely, once she was satified, she fixed it up once again, grabbed a belt and sheath to properly attach it to her person before moving onto consider a sidearm.
However, seeing Breaker pull away to address the rest of the flankers, Pheles felt an odd competitive spirit rise to the surface. The need to catch up, in a sense. It left an odd agitation in her heart at the thought that the flankers were organizing themselves far more quickly and outspokenly than those who were tasked to charge ahead - even if she recognized that it was for the best; her job was just to make a mess, and theirs to run a fine comb and eye over narrow and hidden corners.
Cleaning up her expression to one of distinct disinterest, she turned to Remiel, hoping her own question wasn't entirely redundant to the Commander, "You mentioned we have visual confirmation that Marauder is in the building, what about the other one? The lightly-armored one? Even if they're not in on this, have we been able to gather anything more about their capabilities?"
Rolling her head over her shoulder to glance at the members who would consist of the central team, she gave a hum before continuing, "who would you give priority and permission to directly engage with Maurader when he does make an appearance? I'd like to sort it out before we find ourselves making hasty moves and decisions to launch a eight to ten person offensive in the heat of things," Pheles clarified.
Guts pulled out her burner phone and as expected the information on it was vast for something so serious. '' Seems like everyone is going to be fairly busy." she stated before putting her phone away. Being a reservist in this team meant the Demonoid didn't really have to communicate with everyone else, no strategic game plans for her since her only job thus far was to assess the dead unless of course, she became one of them. But so far it seemed as if she was not going to be on scene while the confrontation was happening. She looked around the room to observe the others who were with her, all engrossed with each other.
Filing her nails with one of her bladed tails Guts couldn't help but sigh. Maybe it was because her role was so abstract from everyone else's that it made it hard to engage in conversation. What really was there to ask about? "Don't kill them too hard! It'll be hard to discern cause of death if their bodies are filled with bullet holes!" or maybe "Make sure you don't spill too much viscera, no one likes the smell of someone's steamy breakfast!" talking to herself she cringed. It was probably for the best anyhow, the less attached everyone became the less of an impact their loss would cause.
She blew the dust off her nails and examined them for a moment. Everyone seemed to be preoccupied with getting to know each other and their roles in this mission, but she wondered if people viewed her role as important? Shrugging her arms Guts opened her burner phone once more and began to lose herself in the blueprints and building plans, the blue glow illuminating her yellow eyes as she hummed to herself.
"Ms. Saintalia! Are we really going to be using these vehicles for our mission!? No fair, no fair! You're going to put me in reserve and force me to miss out on this action!? How could you do this to your cute little junior!? I thought we were friends!"
Cerberus' sparking gaze eventually fell upon the Saintess, embarrassing the horse-eared familiar as she facepalmed at the sight of her client shedding fake tears of compassion. Now the words of her master were starting to make sense. 'Cerberus... is an eccentric one. It is difficult to properly analyze the girl's temperament. A charming individual, that, I can be certain of. Perhaps talented for her own good as well. But... she can be rather... unruly, I suppose.'
"Settle down, Agent Cerberus. The operations listed on your record do not even compare to what we are here to face. This operation has been carefully planned out by the Collbrandes and our commander before the team was assembled. That should tell you that it would be best if non-combatants are left in the reserved role, for the sake of analyzing the data left after the battle."
"Aw... you're no fun. Claudwin wouldn't be so strict if he was still the commander. Shame, buuut~... our new captain isn't so strict, isn't that right-"
The moment Cerberus spun to look at the Ashen agent her eyes immediately dropped low, her height not even coming close to that of the new commander. Speaking of, Cerberus hadn't familiarized herself with the Ashen agent yet, nor had she done so with anybody else. Was she the shortest one? Nevermind that, what's up with that cold gaze? Geesh, that chest of hers was going to seduce the enemies and capture them when their attention is elsewhere, wasn't it? Cerberus shook her head and sighed, realizing that she was going to grow an inferiority complex if she stared for too long. Seriously, she was like a child compared to everyone else, and especially Remiel.
"Aaaaaanyway. Alright, I'll do that tech support thingy you wanted me to do. You win, Miss. Yes ma'am, mhm."
Saintalia's discomfort could be seen from every angle, as she desperately tried to hide her expression when Cerberus was rambling while acting like an amateur. It was certainly refreshing to have an individual like her as her client, but it was certainly stress-inducing to be involved with that hacker. She sighed, brushing it off for now.
"I was specifically asked to protect this girl from harm, as she will be joining us in the battle to support us from the backline. I cannot join the attack force and breach the orders that were given to me by the First Knight. With that said, I do wish to ask you several inquiries regarding the operation." Saintalia cleared her throat and stepped forward, facing the commander with confidence. "I have read the reports written by the Collbrande of Aucteraden before this operation was greenlighted. I believe it is only fair if the agents gathered here today are aware of our enemy's potential threat level. From terrorist attacks to the kidnapping of nobility, the Collbrande of Aucteraden and the First Knight has also theorized that the Order of Eden might have had known about their existence far before the Collbrandes had recognized the threat of this organized crime. As you may know, the Order of Eden cannot operate on domestic grounds as that goes against the constitution written in the Aeterna Imperium. These points are not trivial. If anything, once this operation goes haywire, our failure will result in problems that may just trigger a large-scale policy war. Are the agents of this operation aware of these consequences?"
The Ashen Ember turned to face Anthem as she raised her questions to hear her out, letting her finish all of them before constructing the answers that she would be telling her. There was an ‘Aha’ moment in Remiel’s mind as it was found out that Anthem was not fully listening to part of the final briefing. Understandable and forgivable, but still, Remiel would make clear again.
"You mentioned we have visual confirmation that Marauder is in the building, what about the other one? The lightly-armored one? Even if they're not in on this, have we been able to gather anything more about their capabilities? Who would you give priority and permission to directly engage with Marauder when he does make an appearance? I'd like to sort it out before we find ourselves making hasty moves and decisions to launch an eight to ten person offensive in the heat of things."
“I have already mentioned that both suspects have been visually spotted according to surveillance. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of information on the lightly armored one but from the surveillance photographs, it is safe to assume that the armor gives a phenomenal increase in mobility and gives our Syndicate friend a number of options, but conversely, a number of limitations. At least going from the quality of equipment, we have the Marauder that a Kaiser Knight struggled against, it is not unreasonable to assume that the lightly-armored suspect is just as difficult or even more difficult to handle. But, at the very least, speed is her asset and her liability, my guess is that it’s from the boots that she’s wearing so if we ever fight her, which we will, target the boots or exploit her mobility if she makes a mistake with it. A matador but with extra steps.”
She stops for a bit to collect herself and to let Anthem process the message before continuing onto answering the next question, “Whoever prefers to conduct melee combat regardless of the Marauder’s specifications, go ahead and fight it first if you think you absolutely can but leave room for supporting cover fire, I think you lot are capable enough to work out the details on how you’ll strike together, whoever is at the back can and will adjust. If you want a personal opinion on who exactly, people like Zengren can engage the Marauder first given their similarities. I would just prefer to keep a distance from it and whittle it down with heavy gunfire but looking at everyone else, having both melee and ranged attacks in a coordinated manner might be nice to have against the Marauder in spite of the lightly-armored suspect likely covering its bases like how the flanking teams cover ours.”
“To further clarify the ‘rules’ of engagement, all teams have permission to engage the Marauder if they make themselves known on any flank, priority is flank-dependent. It’s a given that the team on that flank will engage the Marauder first before the rest of us if it appears on that flank in which case the team members there can work it out together while backup is on the way. However, I think the Syndicate will place the Marauder where our forces are most powerful - the center. It’s where its kit will shine the brightest. So in practice, the central team will be getting permission and priority, who goes first, I already mentioned. We’ll adjust. We can potentially leave the lightly-armored suspect to the flanking teams who I expect will be screening us. Either way, both suspects will go after those most threatening to them so cover and diversions to allow those most threatening to them to do their work will be instrumental.” Remiel looked at her own loadout on the table for a brief moment, acknowledging that her vibroblade katana might be of little use compared to the firearms of her choice beside it like the AM rifle, carbine, and gauss pistol. A rocket launcher might’ve also been appropriate but given the team composition, more precise options are preferable. Though, her opting to be a ranged attacker is not just out of personal preference, it’s also to further secure her identity as hinted with the loadout including the full-cover helmet from earlier.
Now onto the highly interesting questions raised by Saintalia. This was something that Remiel did not cover yet due to the nature of the people in the team, surely they would know what failure means and what the other implications once suspicions have been proven real and correct, even if only the faintest idea. Of course, there’s no harm in telling them now along with her own opinions of it, especially for those who are less politically knowledgeable.
"I have read the reports written by the Collbrande of Aucteraden before this operation was greenlighted. I believe it is only fair if the agents gathered here today are aware of our enemy's potential threat level. From terrorist attacks to the kidnapping of nobility, the Collbrande of Aucteraden and the First Knight has also theorized that the Order of Eden might have had known about their existence far before the Collbrandes had recognized the threat of this organized crime. As you may know, the Order of Eden cannot operate on domestic grounds as that goes against the constitution written in the Aeterna Imperium. These points are not trivial. If anything, once this operation goes haywire, our failure will result in problems that may just trigger a large-scale policy war. Are the agents of this operation aware of these consequences?"
“I have not explicitly told them the consequences of failure yet. I believe that they know what failure means, especially to the Vanguards of Imperius who have more political acumen than many in this room. One simple consequence of which, assuming we all survive, is the possible disbanding of this team and our respective reputations will plummet among all the other things that will come crashing down. I suppose I should further tell these people how important it is that we do our jobs and succeed. Albeit this is my opinion as we don’t know for sure what happens until it happens.”
She clears her throat, sounding a lot more stern now to add emphasis, “Onto more complicated consequences. If we fail, as you implied, changes in policy will be put forward by opportunistic and like-minded parties among our divided upper echelons with increased leverage that those against them will be even more hard-pressed to oppose. For example, amendments or repeals to the Aeterna Imperium may be made to finally allow the Order of Eden to operate on home soil which will be the most controversial decision that the Empire will make to date. More hardline policies may be put forward as well that grant more power to the central government figures that are higher than the Collbrandes of Ophelia, the Cardinal Caliburn Order. This creates a hornet’s nest of a sociopolitical minefield and if not handled properly, a conflict in policy will then escalate to a social conflict that can then escalate further into a civil war. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
Admittedly, this was a topic that made Remiel’s stomach churn as she tensed up at her own awareness of the gravity of the situation, this was important for someone in intelligence and the government. Taking a deep breath, she continues, “As for the Order, we’ll find out the truth about their knowledge of the Syndicate eventually, be it through this team’s efforts or other channels. But if it is us that knows the truth first, we ought to be very careful with what to do with it. Conflict is Empyria’s middle name and all it takes is the blow of a whistle or a more formal release of findings. The truth hurts, and it is especially true here, so we need to tread this minefield very carefully.”
She sighed, frustrated with the current order of things, “Back to the policy on the Order’s not being allowed to operate on home soil possibly being changed as a result of failure, or even before. I apologize for my cynicism but unfortunately, the Aeterna Imperium is, at its base, pieces of paper compiled into a book. The Empress and the Symbol of Valor are not afraid to show us that reality by amending or repealing parts of the Aeterna Imperium to allow the Order to operate here, assuming they’re not doing so already which is most likely far from the truth, if the Syndicate is as threatening as it is paired with the Order’s alleged prior knowledge. We find and arrest an Order of Eden member secretly operating on home soil ahead of any change in policy, the Symbol of Valor, with the Empress’s support, will just force a pardon and release order down our throats and we won’t be able to do anything about it as things stand as they are now where noncompliance means our heads will be on pikes or we end up in the darkest corners of Empyria, adding more fuel to the fire. It’s already public information that the two figures support each other so opposition is highly difficult, at worst, futile, unless there’s an equally powerful party that checks both the Empress, the Symbol of Valor, and their supporters. And most importantly, it isn’t alone.”
She glanced at the Vanguards before looking back at the rest, “Regardless, we must do our jobs and succeed if we’re to mitigate the impact of this crisis even if only by a small fraction. I believe that this Syndicate has already lit the fuse to a larger conflict within our own borders and between our own people and we can do little to stop it, especially as we find more information that is verified to be truth that can and will be found out by others eventually, maybe even before we do. We can give the upper chains results and do our best but whether this bomb explodes prematurely or on-time and controlled or uncontrolled is not just up to us, we’re one catalyst out of many.”
Remiel walks over to the table where her gear rested, taking her helmet and held it firmly, not even looking at the team as she says, “If that is all, then prepare yourselves. This is the beginning of something massive.”
Syndicate-controlled Port, Seraphiel, Aucteraden | Current Time: 7:00 PM, Standard Seraphiel Time
The briefing ends with Remiel's final remarks that warned the team of what is to come to pass should they fail here. Everyone was on edge as they prepared themselves for their first operation against the Syndicate of great proportions. Over a hundred law enforcement officers in tactical loadouts ranging from light to heavy brought into the field by a sizable fleet of patrol boats and armored personnel carriers and trucks armed with heavy machine guns and autocannons alongside a mobile command post that is supported by two helicopters with onboard sharpshooters and two UAVs to act as air support. No expenses were to be spared for this operation.
Then, the order to mobilize finally came.
Everyone hurriedly got into their respective places and formed up, hastily embarking on the armored vehicles. The fleet was split into three main convoys, each one assigned a designated avenue of entry of the target location with the respective members of the team aboard. The convoys of fire and steel would set off almost immediately, setting their course for the target location at speed. The trip was mostly quiet and went without a hitch as routes were already cleared prior but one thing is certain, the Syndicate knows that they are coming and they too, would be prepared for the worst. Men and women from both sides exchanging words that might just be their last.
The targeted port would be blockaded from four sides, the three parts of the convoy parked to form roadblocks at their designated positions while patrol boats from the coast guard prowled the waters, ready to unload their cargo of tactical police. The helicopters and UAVs flew above at the ready, circling the port. The command post was already set up as well while everyone went into their places including some armored vehicles that are to assist the land-based breaching teams to provide cover and fire support. Everyone was in position, the only thing they await now is the order to strike.
Syndicate-Controlled Port | Seraphiel City, Aucteraden
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Eccentric Proficiency: Cerberus
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Today had to be Cerby's worst day. The Goddess of Luck was certainly not advocating for her success, tainting her taste buds with the worst flavor she had ever witnessed with her tongue. The strong, grassy flavor of the tootsie pop had already ruined her state of mind and further worsened her grumpy attitude. Stuck in the furthest of the operational zone where one couldn't observe the battlefield with the naked eye, Cerberus, Guts, and Saintalia patientially but nervously waited for the order to strike, viewing the bodycam of multiple police forces from the comfort of the armored vehicle, equipped with multiple cybernetic apparatus that aided Cerberus with her line of work. Having been prepared before the arrival of the main attack force, the cyberhacker cracked the lollipop with her teeth and dreadfully savored the remaining flavor. She then unwrapped another mysterious tootsie pop and placed it over her front tooth. Strawberry! Finally, she was beginning to feel lucky about the whole situation.
"Agent Cerberus, it'd be best if you were to focus on the operation."
That noisy familiar, Cerberus thought to herself. She had been tagging alongside her since day 1 and by this point, she has had enough of it. To think that the famous Fervent Saint of the Battlefield could be so garrulous—it was almost exasperating! She sighed and took the lollipop out from her mouth and twirled it between her fingers, almost as if she was mocking the contract familiar.
"Pft. I had an entire hour before those bozos arrived, what did you think I was doing while I waited for the death squad to finally show up? All security cameras installed in the port have been hijacked by yours truly. Their network was challenging to skyjack, to say the least. Props on the Syndicate for actually using updated encryption to protect it from being breached. Though I had alternatives prepared, so it was a piece of cake."
Saintalia observed the hijacked cameras carefully behind Cerberus, leaning towards the monitors that showed the syndicate's movements from the inside, though several of the cameras were being covered to prevent the outside forces from obtaining knowledge about their current movements. As expected, the majority of the syndicate goons were preparing to create an escape route, as all entrances and exits were blocked by a horde of armed agents. All routes were compromised, but there could always be surprises. In the knowledge of this, Cerberus and Saintalia's duties were clear.
"Commander Remiel, the syndicate forces have barricaded themselves behind the front gate in an attempt to slow down your progression into the building. From the looks of it, our target, whom we've identified as the Marauder, is located on the fourth floor in the control room. Cerberus has successfully seized control over the devices installed by the syndicate forces, but she requires a direct connection with the mainframe to access their transmission. We advise caution. The Marauder's not the solely capable fighter. A masked individual with orange strands could raise trouble as well."
Meanwhile, Cerberus kicked back and leaned back in her chair, partially attentive to the situation at hand with another lollipop unwrapped and prepared to be devoured.
"Looks like it's starting," Cerberus scoffed, "Now that I think about it, I've only heard stories about the fighting capabilities of the Iscariots and the Vanguards. Lady Bismarck's really the luckiest woman in the whole of Empyria, isn't she, Guts? Having wealth and power of that extent must be tiring, though. Imagine having to discipline twelve brutes who won the Tournament of Valor. No wonder why Collbrande Kaiser only has six knights."
Port Control Room | Syndicate-Controlled Port | Seraphiel City, Aucteraden
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The Marauder of Aucteraden
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"Escape route C and D has been compromised. The guards are investigating the other escape routes that we've previously installed to see if it has been breached. Additionally, the administration has asked for you to priortize our experiment more than the cargo of miscellenous materials. This is an order from the the consigliere in charge of Seraphiel, sir."
The standing individual shielded with a dense amount of enchanted armor stood before the clear glass, observing the guards follow protocol as they prepared for the inevitable battle they would have to face against the ISD and its supporting forces. The Marauder kept his silence for a prolonged period of time, disregarding his right-hand soldier's words for several minutes. He then finally spoke after further understanding the situation. His masculine voice echoed throughout the control room, forcing the guards to pay close attention to his next line of command.
"Gather the first and second company to the front of the entrance. Fire when ready. The third company will continue guarding our rear to prevent an ambush. I'll leave the special forces in your hands, Reginleif. Transport the experiment safely to Somnum, I'll distract the Knights and their allies."
His stern command left most frozen in place to stomach his orders for a quick second, before returning to work to follow through with their initial objective. Reginleif, as the right-hand and trusted advisor of the Marauder, followed her leader to the first floor knowing that he was not going to reverse his command to plan an all-out attack against the officials.
"Do you plan on initiating the emergency protocols, sir?"
"Are you sure that you wish to go against the administration's wishes? They've demanded that you escape along with the experimentations to ensure maximum safety of the payload."
"They'll have their precious product. I disagree with their intention to leave without combat."
Reginleif struggled to find the right words. "I... agree with you, commander. But we haven't had these urgent calls from the administration since our last imperil. It is also apparent that the Phoenix is present nearby the port, shouldn't we wait for them to arrive at the very least? It'll drastically increase our chances of-"
"You are to follow the command and lead the Valkyries against the Knights and their allies. With the absence of the First Knight, our opportunity to mutilate the archnemesis will not come twice."
The expression behind the mask was difficult to make out. This was a difficult situation to handle and Reginleif found it inconsiderate of them to disobey orders for the sake of some adrenaline. She begrudgingly nodded, leaving to attend to her squad known as the Valkyries, to finalize their preparations as commanded.
The Marauder stood behind the line of guards armed with lethal armaments, hulking over them with his twin broadswords by his sides, ready for the strike to occur. He did not intend to start the battle, as he specialized in defense over offense.
Remiel stood near the central gate with the rest of the team that’s assigned with her to breach the designated avenue, the cold evening breeze brushing against them, complementing the chill that some others felt. She wore a full set of light tactical power armor starting with her helmet that completely covered her head all the way down to the metallic alloy greaves and sabatons. She was not exactly one to rely on enchanted armor in a defensive manner thanks to her prior experiences in multiple situations where the only thing it was useful against were other casters or magic users, not someone with a high-powered firearm. Her preferences lay in enchantments that boost her utility in the field. In Empyria, magic can still be compensated for by the wonders and terrors of science. The two mixed together can lead to some rather unique possibilities but are ultimately exclusives at least due to their complexity and cost. What’s worse is that some enchantments are not permanent.
In her hands rested a modified standard-issue assault rifle used by the Imperial Army, distinguished by its different cartridge and chambering at 6.8x51mm from the typical sub-6mm or above 7mm cartridges, lengthened barrel, custom textured grip and foregrip, an adjustable scope that has a maximum magnification exceeding 4x accompanied by a night sight in front that can be used should her helmet’s optics fail, an underslung 40mm grenade launcher reserved for grenadiers in a conventional Army squad, a laser sight, and more. Slung over her back is her trusty anti-materiel rifle chambered in the timeless 12.7x99mm with an attached bipod stand and a specialized imaging system that doubled as the rifle’s sights that can be retracted to allow use of the conventional iron sights near the barrel’s muzzle brake. Holstered on her hip is a gauss pistol chambered in 8x40mm with extended magazines, albeit the pistol is only gauss-assisted meaning that the weapon still uses conventional means of propelling projectiles at its base. And finally, her vibroblade katana and a small assortment of short melee weapons.
The Ashen Ember lightly tapped the toe tip of one of her sabatons before placing a hand on the side of her helmet upon hearing Saintalia’s message:
"Commander Remiel, the syndicate forces have barricaded themselves behind the front gate in an attempt to slow down your progression into the building. From the looks of it, our target, whom we've identified as the Marauder, is located on the fourth floor in the control room. Cerberus has successfully seized control over the devices installed by the syndicate forces, but she requires a direct connection with the mainframe to access their transmission. We advise caution. The Marauder's not the solely capable fighter. A masked individual with orange strands could raise trouble as well."
To which she replies, “Acknowledged. We’ll see if we can find any other interfaces along the way other than the ones in the central building’s control room. Keep an eye out back there, we’re already aware that the Syndicate’s planning their escape, and they’re it doing faster than I would like. Seems we caught them at a bad time. Keep us updated.”
Another voice then joined the radio chatter, the unit commander, “Commander, all units are in position to breach. Awaiting orders.”
Remiel took a deep breath before nodding, “Breach in 30 seconds. Make your final preparations.” She then cocked her rifle and pointed it at the gate, the armored personnel carrier by her started revving its engine as the tactical law enforcement units prepared themselves, their breaching equipment primed and ready. The rest of the team should’ve already steeled themselves by this point.
And so, the time finally came.
“All teams, breach! BREACH!”
Demolition charges placed by the gates and adjacent fences and walls would detonate, destroying them and giving the signal for the helicopter gunners to immediately pick off anyone from the safety of the air and for the teams to actually get moving. The armored personnel carriers assigned to each gate would go forward first, covering the infantry that went with it with hails of autocannon and coaxial machine gun fire at any visible Syndicate grunts that stood in their way in a slow but methodical advance. The dive teams and coast guard patrol craft would set up at one of the berths, rapidly deploying and springing into action to join the fray.
The sounds of gunfire and small explosions filled the port, dust and smoke in the air, blood and viscera on the cold pavement and steel as Syndicate member after Syndicate member fell in the push at the highly skillful hands of Remiel, her team, and tactical units that did not have the movements and tactics of conventional SWAT units but were more akin to military special forces.
The center would naturally see the most action due to the intelligence gathered by Cerberus and relayed by Saintalia and the conventional order of battle where the center sees the most concentration of troops. Remiel and the rest with her would have quite the field day as they slowly but surely penetrated the Syndicate’s entrenched center, one of their primary objectives drew near and they were not going to give the Syndicate more time and space as is indicative of their movements thus far. The aggression in it all reflected just how much the Empire viewed the Syndicate not as a pushover crime ring, but a legitimate threat to the Empire’s interests, some were not just criminals, but also insurgents in a way, possibly even radical insurgents.
The flanks had a somewhat easier time due to the smaller distribution of Syndicate troops so it was not as difficult to get to their objectives thanks to weaker resistance, but definitely still posed a challenge to them as they were short on hands due to the order of battle and the size of the port. As they got deeper, some of the infantry would scale the nearby container yards and buildings to provide overwatch and fire support from the top to further contest the Syndicate’s position and to secure their own positions as the authorities moved deeper. Swathes of armored men fanned out to secure objectives such as stockpiles, immediately sweeping the area under the cover of allied fire for any merchandise and traps. Both would be found with the former in great numbers with at least one secured warehouse containing ware after ware that would go to Syndicate hands and the latter traps being painstakingly deactivated as best as possible as the operation continued. The Syndicate members holed up in the central building knew what was coming and they had no choice but to stand their ground. There was little time and space to reconsider.
Remiel fired her assault rifle in bursts or semi-automatic modes at several Syndicate goons throughout her time in the center so far, taking them down at speeds paired with quick hands and wits that many could only dream to ever reach. She provided more than adequate cover for her teammates to do their jobs to which she would adjust with such flexibility and speed, leading to some few ‘close ones’ as the individual members did their jobs with a degree of ease. Truly, she wasn’t an elite of House Cineris for nothing. Albeit careful as she was to not be too exposed or to even use her Exousiarch in the first place to avoid further identification, she was still at the forefront of the center.
A small squad of Syndicate troops would try to outmaneuver her in the sea of small buildings and cars and pin her down in a direction she was covering but would ultimately fail as she picked them off one by one in quick succession, taking cover quickly upon seeing that more were coming and firing their weapons at her general position to which the tactical units and armored personnel carrier would greet in kind. She motioned for the rest taking cover with her to provide suppressive fire and keep going on the offensive with some tactical troopers throwing grenades in the background.
Remiel held the side of her helmet again to communicate with the team whose chatter was available for every one of them to hear. They were getting deeper and deeper into the port’s interior and it had already been 10 minutes since the breach and the action was still ongoing, “Teams! I need a SITREP on your end and on Cerberus’s mainframe access!” She then peeks out of cover to fire her rifle at incoming enemies before continuing onward, making sure to cover her bases while keeping an eye on her teammates which would serve them well, one of them in particular.
"Siesta, your right!” A group of Syndicate troops were spotted heading towards the direction Siesta is covering, they were providing cover for a few others behind them that were tasked to work on an escape route amidst the chaos that saw the forces of both sides scattered.
Detonation blasts ripple through the air as the gates are sieged. Scan the crowd, find a vantage point, aha— Zenko lets fly the array of exploding arrows in his grip, a straight shot heavy into the crowd of Syndicate rats that still coat the inside of the gate.
BANG! BOOM! MORE EXPLOSION! The arrows do their trick and the clump of Syndicate troops is— well, “adequately dispersed.” Poor things never stood a chance, Zenko hums to himself as he scrambles back down the stack of shipping containers he’s perched himself on. His clawed nails squeal down the metal sides.
He lands heavy on his feet with an “uphff—“, and immediately twists to sock a knife into the shoulder of a straggler lunging from behind him. The brat’s a dirty fighter, though, and Zenko yelps and elbows the guy in the face upon having his ears grabbed in a handful and yanked. They tussle for a moment but it ends unceremoniously when Zenko takes another swing at him and then twists the knife out the body with a squelch.
There’s something hot smeared across the side of his jaw, quickly cooling in the frigid air. Zenko swipes a sleeve over the side of his face and all it does is smear red trails up his hairline.
“Fucking gross,” he mumbles, but there’s not much time for lamenting the state of his glorious vulpine coat. He got lucky earlier, taking out that swarm — doesn’t mean jack, though, ‘cause the Syndicate’s not going down without a fight, and more troops are already rushing out to meet the flanking teams, guns blazing.
A stray bullet whips past and rustles the fur of his ear. Zenko swears, reaching over his shoulder to pull out another of his favourite toys. He doesn’t deign to nock his bow as he ducks and slips behind another container, narrowly dodging the Syndicate’s rain. Instead he cricks the shaft of the arrow and tosses it into the fray. He doesn’t stick around to see if it works, but he can hear the tell-tale crackling of Electro magic as the elemental energy inside the arrow surges its way free.
Despite himself, Zenko can’t help but giggle a bit as he vaults across the shipping yard to one of the warehouses, handfuls of men buffering him on both sides. He tosses another, and Pyro sparks red up the shaft before it rips into flames. Classic trick.
He skids to a stop at the wall of an undamaged warehouse, and quickly makes to remedy that; he steps back dramatically for show as ol’ faithful blasts a hole into the wall for then to climb through. He darts around the inside, and doesn’t find much piled around besides filler— drat. No goodies here. Must be further in, past the decoys scattered upfront.
He’s already tearing to the next storehouse, clearing the way with some of the armoured backups. The Syndicate’s troops are fewer, here, as they focus their strength on the center, but they still come steady. Zenko blasts one in the face when a voice rings out in his ear.
“Teams! I need a SITREP on your end and on Cerberus’s mainframe access!”
Zenko grunts as he dodges low to avoid a shot from a Syndicate goon, then swings back up to finish him off before he can shoot again. His hand snakes up to touch his earpiece, as he falls back into the cover of the men with him.
“Nothing good yet. Still looking. Making our way deeper into the port. Syndicate’s forces are steady but we’re handling it.” Hopefully the rest of the flankers were luckier in their search so far.
“All teams, breach! breach behind her helmet Zengren grinned, she had been itching to get into a good fight for a while now. instead of rushing in right away, the Demonoid walked in almost casually her heavy armour looking incredibly menacing for one thing especially as she stepped through the smoke allowing the faster centre team to mow down the easier targets the huge woman casually carrying the anti-matieral rifle in one hand the syndicate troops that attracted the ire of Zengren were met with a particularly cruel fate.
a group of syndicate troops begain to fire on Zengren she simply raised an arm the gauntlet on her arm firing black spikes into them at a rapid rate skewering a few of the poor bastards in a hail of quills the ones that hadn't been hit fatally were met with the next more grizzly end Zengren snapping her finger as a small wisp of fire formed and was thrown forward towards the injured group the back spikes humming before suddenly detonating in sequence due to the heat or something painting the area red and the goons were more or less eviscerated. Zengren turned her sights onto some entrenched troops raising her rifle and simple firing through the concrete that they were using as cover resulting in a shower of shrapnel from their cover being literally blown. "well this is all fun and games where are the big guys rather not waste all my Ammo clearing out these hardpoints" Zengren grumbled to herself continuing forward quietly like a grim spectre of carnage the clean white armour becoming gray and red due to dust and blood.