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Fendros was able to act more quickly than the Breton might have expected. His battle cry certainly grabbed her attention right away, and he forced her to act. She unleashed a stream of lightning early, though amplified as it was, it still held substantial power. Lightning cracked against his ward as he sprinted forward, bathing them both in a bright blue glow. His birthsign allowed him to absorb magicka with even greater efficiency than Meesei, so he was not in danger of being drained of his magical strength. However, the structure of the ward itself still needed to hold against the power assaulting it.

A scream from the Breton accompanied a final burst of electricity that did crack Fendros’ ward, but by that point, he had already closed the gap. She had the power to deliver a quick, lethal shock, but not through the protective enchantments of Fendros’ armor. As Fendros made his swing, he would finally see some fear in her eyes.

As a last, desperate defense, the Breton blocked Fendros’ strike with the haft of her staff. However, she was clearly more of a mage than a fighter, as she did nothing to parry or redirect the force of the blow. Between the dragonbone sword and a lycan’s strength, her staff was split clean in two. Breaking the staff did take enough force from the strike that her ebonyflesh spell protected her body. She survived, but the source of much of her power did not.

In a panic, the mage tried again to blast Fendros back with another telekinetic burst, though under her own power, it could not do more than stagger him. Raising up her hand, she once again commanded the thorny roots from the ground to try and entangle Fendros, as it was the last advantage she had left.

Before either could act, a massive gust of wind threatened to knock both off of their feet. The Daedric titan had returned to the battle and landed right next to them. For just a moment, its gaze went to Fendros and the Breton shouted up at it. “Kill him! Quickly!” She ordered. However, it was not her command that the beast obeyed. It looked straight past Fendros and directly to her. As its maw filled with the glow of cold flames, she looked down at broken half of the staff in her hand, then, with an enraged scream, teleported herself away before the flames could envelop her.

Ahnasha stepped around from behind the Daedric titan, running her fingertips gently along the scales on its side. There was a familiar sort of satisfaction in her expression that Fendros would have seen on her before after her various magical accomplishment, though the pride she felt now eclipsed even her mastery of life extension. By most measures, Ahnasha had been a master of conjuration for years, but this…to command the will of among the most powerful Daedra in existence short of a Prince, was a feat worthy of a true master in Ahnasha’s mind. Even master conjurers in many Tamrielic mage guilds would not think it possible to command something like a titan. It had taken all of her focus, magicka, and a black soul gem, but if she had the power to conquer a titan, then there was nothing that was beyond her. As long as she had the will to work and do what was necessary, she felt she could grasp any power.

After a moment, Ahnasha took notice of Rossarm. Fendros might have received a shock from the Breton, but he had the protection of his armor. Rossarm was quite clearly injured. As she approached, the titan followed in tow with steps that seemed to shake the very stone beneath them. Its massive stature towered over her, yet it kept its head bowed low at her feet.

“That arm doesn’t look so good.” Ahnasha remarked on her approach. She paused and glanced back at the titan behind her. With a nod of her head and a mental command, she gave it her order to take off and deal with the Daedra’s frontline. From there, she reached into her satchel and took two potions in hand, one red and one blue. The magicka potion she kept for herself, while the other she offered to Rossarm. “Here. Sabine made this one, so it’s probably better than whatever you have.”
Vael 'Virisusai

Vael hummed to himself, taking a moment to observe the defenses and other points of interest that Shih was highlighting in the compound. Walls and other fortifications, turrets, clusters of soldiers, there were plenty of obstacles for them to get through to reach the center.

”There is some possibility that these two groups will turn on each other in the confusion, but we should not rely on it. And if they have an escape plan prepared, I do believe these cowardly rebels will try to go to ground no matter who they think is attacking them. As soon as they are alerted to an attack, we need to reach the central structure quickly if we are to catch them.” Vael reasoned. He gave another look at the defenses, particularly what appeared to be an anti-aircraft turret on the near side of the compound. ”The battle group can land reinforcements when they arrive, while we move to pursue their leader. But not all of us are equipped to sneak through such heavy defenses. I suggest we move forward with Spartan Ryker’s plan to sneak in, for those of us who are able, and sabotage that anti-aircraft turret. That will clear a path for a dropship to insert the rest of the team directly onto the central structure.”
Vael 'Virisusai and Shih

Vael, on his part, agreed with Aviza’s decision. While it was more exposed, nothing they had observed so far suggested that the phantom patrols would range that far from the structure. Moving closer would only worsen the risk of detection. As for actually reaching the mesa, it was not an entirely easy climb, but it was nothing the team could not handle. There was no path leading to the top, but there was a steep, but traversable, hill that led most of the way up. They would only need to climb the very last section up to the flat up of the mesa. For Vael, he tossed his sentinel beam up ahead of him so he could get a firm grip on the rocks for the final climb.

Vael did not need an order to follow Aviza’s lead. He kept himself low to avoid silhouetting too much against the sky, laying prone to observe the structure in the distance. His HUD did allow him to zoom in on objects in the distance, though it could not compete with the many specialized sensors built into Aviza’s armor. It was those that Shih was making the greatest use of to scan the area.

Even without such sensors, Vael could still see the activity around the structure, and it was, unfortunately, not encouraging. It was not just Jiralhanae occupying the structure, but he could see Humans as well. Far more of them than Jiralhanae, in fact. Most of the Brutes Vael could see seemed to be moving closed crates to and from the interior of the structure. This was the insurrectionist base, and the Jiralhanae they were dealing with were holding directly above it. Together, the two factions would present far more forces than Aegis team ever expected to face at once. The structure itself was a fairly large compound, with multiple buildings and other obstacles that would slow any approach to the central tower. He did not see any way for them to reach the center before Jiralhanae reinforcements could overwhelm them. Not alone, at least.

”The Jiralhanae are holding too close to the rebels. They will be able to assist them should we attack. I believe we will need reinforcements to deal with them. Perhaps then we can surround the central tower and prevent their leader’s escape.” Vael suggested.

Shih soon chimed in over the team’s radios. ”I’m afraid it might not be even that simple. Now that we’re close enough, I’m getting better readings on the structure. I’m detecting evidence of an underground tunnel system beneath the central tower, leading away from the compound and into Sarcophagus’ superstructure. I can only begin to guess at the purpose of the tunnels, but the point is that the rebels may have an underground escape route planned in the event of an attack. If we want to stop them here, we’ll have to get into that tower quickly.”

As she was giving her explanation, the AI highlighted the relevant sections of the compound on their respective HUDs, though she soon also highlighted the Brute cruisers above them. “Luckily, I don’t think the Brute ships are going to give us much trouble. Based on everything I can get on sensors, their ships are in pretty poor shape. I’m not even picking up shields on anything but the corvette. I guess the Brutes haven’t had access to proper maintenance these last few years. If we call in the battle group, they should mop the floor with them.”
The Breton had projected a ward through her staff towards Rossarm, but Fendros’ arrow came at enough of an angle that it did not strike it directly. It only had to pierce her shield spell, and with the strength of his bow, that could only provide some resistance. The arrow pierced into her side, nearly causing her to lose her footing as she screamed out in pain. Even as a soul, her body did seem physical enough in this realm, but the injury still did not kill her outright. Whether it be because she sustained damage differently as a spirit, or simply because the arrow did not find a vital target, she still stood.

While the Breton was able to direct her ward towards Fendros for every arrow after the first, she did not have the chance to interrupt Rossarm. While not quite as unique as the decaying spells Rossarm had been using, it was not creativity that would break through the bulwark that was the Breton’s ward: it was power. The explosion of flame against her ward engulfed her completely, but while it did obscure her from being seen, the shattering of her ward could still be clearly heard. The ward had absorbed much of the energy of the spell before breaking, but the flames that were left burned through the rags she wore and immolated large swaths of flesh. No amount of adrenaline could dull that pain.

The flames burned through skin and muscle all the way from the Breton’s stomach, up to the right side of her head, leaving behind grisly and disfiguring marks to accompany her blood-curdling scream. For nearly any mortal opponent, it would have been a crippling injury, if not lethal in short order. Yet, whether it was because of the strength of her soul, or just through sheer force of will, she still stood.

The Breton’s body started to give off the glow of Restoration magic, though there was no amount of healing that would allow her to recover from such extensive injuries. The best she could hope for was to stave off a second death in the short term. However, her retaliation still came quickly. As she slammed the end of her staff against the ground, she sent forth a massive wave of telekinetic force out in an arc in front of her, launching mortals and Daedra alike off of their feet. There was no way Fendros could avoid being thrown off of his saddle, and even Leaps ended up being rolled onto his side. Granted, being as large as he was meant that he took more of the force than more Human-sized beings.

The point of the telekinetic attack was primarily to buy the Breton time for something more decisive. Though her staff, one could easily see an immense amount of lightning being charged and amplified.

Fortunately for Ahnasha, the Breton had been facing away from her, so she had avoided being interrupted. For the moment, her gaze was fixated into the eyes of the beast in front of her. She slowly stepped closer and closer as the titan’s body twitched and its mind struggled against her spell.

The titan spoke with a deep, booming voice, though nothing about its words themselves carried the confidence that would normally be associated with it. “I cannot…will not…my compact cannot be broken.” Its claws gripped the ground, it spread its massive wings, and let out a roar. “My contract is absolute! I will not betray lord Vile!”

Ignoring the Daedra’s words entirely, Ahnasha continued to step, slowly and calmly, closer to it. Violet tendrils of magicka danced between her hands and the titan, leashed to the very essence of its being. “You already have, beast.” She spoke firmly. Finally, she was close enough as to be able to touch the titan directly. She took a strong hold of one of the titan’s horns and pulled its head downwards. All at once, the rage in the Daedra’s eyes all but vanished and an unnatural calm came over it. It retracted its wings, lowered its body, and bowed its head at her feet.

“Because you. Are. Mine.”
Vael 'Virisusai

Following Aviza’s orders, Aegis team grouped off into pairs and moved in a loose formation towards the cruisers, on foot. Vael experienced little issue from either the darkness or the cold, as his combat harness could handle both through low-light vision and thermal regulation.

The trek through the desert itself took hours on foot. It came with the advantage of stealth, since there was no way the Brutes would be able to detect their approach unless a patrol simply happened upon them by chance, but they would still have to stay alert. They had already encountered hostile Forerunner machines once, and the wildlife of Sarcophagus was hardly any less of a threat. The size of their group did make it less likely for an animal to want to challenge them, but creatures had killed citizens of Paxopolis before.

Fortunately, between the sensors built into Aviza’s armor, and those back at the Mammoth, Shih was able to guide them on a path that kept them well-clear of any Forerunner structures on the way. Though, as they grew nearer to their destination, the AI was also able to form a more complete picture of the area underneath the cruisers. The ships appeared to be holding over a structure, likely Forerunner based on its dimensions. Before they could see it with their own eyes, they would not be able to determine why, but there was certainly a possibility that it could make their task more difficult. They needed to be able to follow the Brutes to the rebels’ hideout undetected, and any Forerunner defenses could compromise their position.

In any case, after enough hours of walking, the team did start coming close to their destination. From where they were, they could see not only the Brute cruisers hovering far above, but also the top of a spire-like Forerunner structure, and phantoms patrolling the area around it. There was obviously some interest from the Brutes in the structure, but based on Shih’s scans, it was located in a crater-like pit with high rock walls on all sides, and few good entrances. If they moved closer, it was possible they could find a spot among the rocky crags where they could get a line of sight down into the crater, but there was a definite risk of encountering a patrol if they moved closer. Alternatively, there was a mesa near to their current position that was tall enough for them to be able to see over the rim from long range. So far, none of the phantoms they had seen had moved that far from the crater on their patrols, but if a phantom did come out that far, there would be few options to hide from it.
At first, the Breton mage had focused her gaze on the most obvious target for her attention: Ahnasha. She was still in the midst of casting her spell on the titan, which seemed conspicuously frozen in place instead of aiding the counterattack from above. Everything about the Breton’s expression and reaction was…unsettling, to say the least. Even with her disfigurement, she started to laugh oddly loudly. “Now what are you doing to my titan? What a bad little cat you are…stay there, I’m coming with your punishment.”

Ahnasha was not entirely unaware of her surroundings, though the concentration required for her spell did make it hard to pay attention to much else in detail. She could see, on a basic level, that their soldiers were on the backfoot. The Daedra were pushing hard, and if her plan to turn the tide did not work, they would lose. Ahnasha also heard Fendros’ objections to his father, and saw their source as well. The soul with what seemed to be a Daedric facsimile of the Staff of Magnus had ravaged part of their frontline, and had her sights on the titan.

“Better they lose their legs than their lives. Just kill that mage!” Ahnasha shouted back at Fendros, partially because she needed as much time as they could buy her, and partially because she still had her own callous nature that was not entirely dissimilar to Rossarm’s. Though, she had no concept of what Rossarm intended to do next.

The intense light of Rossarm’s equally intense spell was hard for the Breton soul to miss, so she did have her ward raised in time for the ray of light to hit her. However, her defense did not hold nearly as well as last time. Her ward brightened at first, then started to warp and dim. She started to lose ground, literally and figuratively, as a hint of panic came across her face. As quickly as she could, she charged her magic through her staff, amplifying it and projecting a new ward out in front of her. Only when enhanced by the staff could her ward hold up against Rossarm’s power for more than a few moments. Even still, her frantic spellcasting showed that she took him seriously. Just like with the Dominion soldiers, the red glow of the spell in her free hand matched the red glow of the magic she had imbued into the rocks under their feet. From underneath Rossarm, thorned vines rose from the cracks in the rocks and gnashed at his arms in an attempt to interrupt him.

From there, the Breton cast another spell, enveloping her in a dark violet portal. In an instant, she reappeared from another portal just behind Rossarm. In terms of the type of magic, the portal was quite different to the teleportation that Meesei and Sabine used. It was more similar to a conjuration portal. In any case, while he had not yet stopped her, Rossarm had at least succeeded in grabbing the mage’s attention.
Vael 'Virisusai and Shih

Vael moved down through the Mammoth, heading out down the vehicle ramp one he acquired his weapons. He took his usual loadout, though this time carried one of the sentinel beams in his hands as well. The battery would not last beyond a fight or two, but it would be effective while it had power.

For a moment, Vael regarded the pair of warthogs on the magnetic rail at the top of the vehicle bay. On foot, it would likely take hours to get within range to observe the ships, and anything beneath them. Though, since the entire team could not make use of the warthogs, bringing them along would not improve that pace unless they were willing to split up. To send the warthogs ahead to scout was a potential strategy, though the drivers would need to make sure not to get so close that their engines could be heard. The heavy guns would be useful when the fight did break out, but to go on foot would ensure the best chance for stealth. There were strong advantages and disadvantages for both choices. Aviza had ordered to move on foot, and Vael did not have any strong reason to disagree with that order.

Vael moved out alongside Ryker and turned his gaze towards the horizon. In contrast to the heat under the daylight sun, the night in the desert was actually fairly cold. Although, Vael could not help but to spare a thought for how Sarcophagus, which was a complete shell around its star, could even have a night cycle to begin with.

At the same time, the voice of the AI, Shih, came over the team’s radios simultaneously. ”From the Mammoth’s sensors, I can detect an SDV-class corvette and a second CCS-class battlecruiser , in addition to the one we can see. These are almost certainly the Brutes our rebels are supposedly dealing with them. I can also say that the ships are holding over some sort of structure, but I can’t say what just yet. We’ll need to get close enough to see it with our own optics.”
The Breton had obviously expected retaliation, as she protected herself right away. Her wards were strong enough to stop even Rossarm’s first attack, as well as slowing Fendros’ arrow enough that the ebonyflesh spell protecting her stopped it entirely. She had not yet taken notice of Rossarm nor Fendros specifically. Her focus was on crushing the frontline to allow her Daedra to finish the rest.

While maintaining her ward, the Breton soul focused on her staff. Although it did imitate its appearance, it did not behave like Magnus’ staff. The inner light of the crystal on the end glowed red, instead of blue, and it did not absorb and store the energy of spells as raw magicka like the Staff of Magnus. Rather, it took the magicka she was pouring into it, collected it in the crystal, and after a few seconds of delay, released it in the same form, but many times amplified. In this case the magic she released when she slammed her staff into the ground was hard to identify, though clearly Daedric in origin. Spreading out all around and ahead of her, a glowing red energy formed cracks in the rocks underneath their feet, though the effect of the spell was not immediately obvious. Unfortunately, it did not take long for her to show it.

A few of the Dominon soldiers near the Breton, though burned and wounded, were still alive to face her. One formed a ward in front to protect against her, while a spearman just behind thrust his weapon forward in an attempt to skewer her. However, the Altmer’s ward would not end up being tested against her, as it did not protect against what came from underneath. Raising up her hand, the Breton prompted vines to break through the rocks and ensnare the pair of soldiers. They did not appear to be mere plants, but rather vicious, corrupted flora from Oblivion; like a thorny version of harrada root. Not only did the roots constrict and immobilize the soldiers, but they worked their way into the armor so the thorns could rip and tear into their flesh.
Vael 'Virisusai

For the members of Aegis team, their journey across the desert did, fortunately, come with few actual dangers. Though, it was a long journey nonetheless, characterized by blistering heat, dry air, and cramped quarters. Sentinels did show some interest in the Mammoth whenever it passed too close to certain Forerunner structures, but its armor did allow them to take some fire as they passed without needing to engage in firefights with the machines. As long as they moved beyond the locations they were guarding, the sentinels would not follow.

Vael found that the journey was far from the worst experience he had ever needed to endure. The heat was a constant irritant for some, but his combat harness provided more than adequate environmental controls to keep him comfortable. What was more of a nuisance for him was the inability to be alone. He had to admit that he had held his rank long enough to become accustomed to its benefits. The ability to have a space to himself to mediate and center his mind had been a privilege he had long enjoyed. As large as the Mammoth was, there still was no way the avoid the nine other members of his team, plus the Mammoth crew, for any meaningful time.

Given the distance they had to travel, the team spent almost two days in the Mammoth, moving constantly across, at times, rough terrain. To fly to their destination would have been much quicker, but any attempt at an aerial approach to the Brute ships would have easily been detected. The Mammoth, ironically, provided a much stealthier approach. Of course, once they located the Brute ships, they would need to move on without the Mammoth to perform actual reconnaissance.

It was the middle of the night when the Mammoth came to a sudden, and complete halt. The hum of the engines and the spinning of the massive tires over rock and sand had been such a constant that having both stop was enough to jolt Vael awake, even before the diver’s voice sounded out over the vehicle’s intercom. “Unidentified Covenant ships spotted on the horizon. I am bringing the Mammoth to a halt and awaiting further orders.”

Vael sat up from where he had been laying. Their sleeping arrangements within the vehicle were rather haphazard. The Mammoth was not large enough for dedicated sleeping quarters, so the team had to make due with whatever they could arrange themselves, with the supplies they had available. Being that they were in the field, Vael had not left his armor. It did not make for the most comfortable rest, but again, he had endured far worse throughout his career. For now, the team needed to get together and decide on their approach.
Vael 'Virisusai

Vael felt some irritation. He had been speaking with Tasuma before Aviza’s interruption, and he still wanted to learn more of the Lekgolo’s connection to the Humans. However, if Aviza wanted to make their plans now, his presence would likely be required.

Vael turned his head briefly towards the Mgalekgolo. “Tasuma, I want you to move around the vehicle and see if there is anywhere you cannot access. Try to get up the stairs if you can. If you are able, then you may join us on the command deck.”

As requested, Vael moved up the stairs to the middle deck, towards the Mammoth’s cockpit, which was where everything relevant to the vehicle’s command was meant to be centered. Curiously, Vael found upon entering that he and Aviza were not the first to arrive. The other Sangheili, Yalu, was at the front of the cockpit speaking to the drivers.

The driver to Yalu’s left was surprised to hear his question…and even more surprised to turn back and look at him. The Mammoth’s crew had naturally been informed of the nature of their mission, but that did not make it less strange for him to have a Sangheili asking him about his vehicle. ”Well, um, those sentinels have backed off for now, so we’re not being shot at anymore. It’s heavily armored, if that’s what you’re worried about. It would take a lot more than those beams to get through the plating.” He answered.
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