IAF Envoy-class Cruiser Palatine
The Same Day
The Same Day
The fluttering flag of the Imperial Air Force danced among the heavens. A shock of black and red emblazoned with the roaring gryphons - the symbol of House Skymning rulers of Vangar. The flag was worn and the colors were beginning to fade, a few centuries old at this point. Squatting atop of the upper rigging of the Palatine, marking it as the flagship of the Vangar Diplomatic Fleet. Monstrous in its size, nearly twenty feet in length and made of the highest quality of threads by the finest seamstresses in all of the Imperial Provinces. The pole keeping it rooted in place tugged and buffeted in a groaning protest with every gust of wind. The winds themselves were thick, loaded with thick smoke and ash rising from the paralyzed battlefields that seemed to be not but misshapen clumps of green and brown far below them.
Colette Van Skymning of House Skymning stood on the observation deck in deep thought. Behind her was the vast expanse that the was the Vangar Empire, an empire which was forged by the blood and sacrifices of her ancestors before her. The empire which her father had ruled since he was but a young man. It was a land of peace and order where crime was punished with a clenched fist and everyone from the lowest of peasants to the highest members of the nobility had enough to eat upon there tables. Ahead of her was the unknown, the Kingdom of Rassvet. A land of great industry, ingenuity but also one of isolation and seclusion. If the books of history she had read in the palace library were to be believed as well it was a land of corruption and greed. Where the nobility dominated their politics to keep the lower classes repressed and below them in rank. A land where the military and nobility ran unchecked by any form of strong leader. There king only a figurehead to sign documents and officiate holidays. A strange land where children as young as ten were taken away from their lives and families to be turned into killing machines.
So why did the notion of the place excite her so much? It was a simple thing really... boredom. The sweeping vistas of the Vangar empire was too familiar to be of interest to her. Even the Palatine which was compared more often to a floating mansion or castle rather than a airship had come to become the familiar. When she was younger it's many decks and interlocking hallways were filled with mystery and wonder but over time all the nooks and crannies had been explored, there was no more secretes, only the dull and unremarkable sense of familiarity. Ever still there was a lingering sense of doubt in her mind, maybe the nobles were right, maybe she was only pushing for peace as much as she was because of boredom and a desire to rebel. Risking the so called 'honor and prestige' of the Empire by reaching out a hand of friendship to the small kingdom that had spit on their offers of peace and unification before.
Maybe they were right.
One thing her critics claimed was undeniably true: she was young and inexperienced, the only conformation she needed for that was to look at her reflection cast in the glass panes of the observation deck. Having turned twenty years of age just a few months prior, a young woman looked back at her. Hair dark hair fell in waves down to her waist, green eyes bright and filled with a sense of young naiveté and determination. There was certainly a sense of beauty about her but it was the cold and distance type that came from the upper edges of nobility. The cutting image of her mother or so she was told to believe. She never knew her mother, having died soon after she was born due to complications from the birth. She knew not the rigors and troubles of rule and politics like her father or her siblings knew. She was always the youngest, the coddled one, her father's favorite. She may of had the best education and training by some of the brightest minds in the Empire but she didn't have the experience, the foresight to do something with it.
The sound of swishing fabric brought her out of her reverie and back into the present. She turned her head to watch as a lone figure made his way towards her. He was dressed in a crisp and clean uniform of the Vangar Military. Hair grey in color and perhaps a bit longer than typical military regulations, a thick mustache and beard that would've been just as common on a lumberjack. He walked a decided level of purpose about him soft footfalls echoing across the empty chamber. His name was Albriech Bernhardt, some time ago he was a general and war hero of the whole of the Empire. He retired some twenty years back serving in a less prominent role as a tutor to the Emperor's children as a favor to his childhood friend. Uncle Albriech was a permanent fixture of Colette's life and he had always been her favorite tutor. It was upon her request, not her father's for him to accompany her to Rassvet.
"Ah there you are milady. The servants have been looking for you everywhere." Albriech explained as he closed the distance standing next to her gaze focused intently on the horizon. "I should of figured that you would be here. You always did favour the views from up here."
"Yes. My apologies Uncle, I just needed to find somewhere quiet to think. I wasn't really feeling up to being followed around by the whole retinue." She explained, voice tired.
"Something troubling you then?"
"I just wonder if I'm doing the right thing." Colette responded producing a slow nod of agreement from the older man.
"The terrible affliction that comes with being in a position of authority. As it were. I thought the young miss was certain of her position regarding our current matters in Rassvet." Albriech reminded her. It was true since the wars one year anniversary she had been one of the more prolific voices for peace.
"I am certain... I just don't know what it means for our home. Wasn't it you that always told me that war was a necessity needed to fuel the Empire?" She asked looking towards the older man. In return Albriech gave a small smile as he stroked his beard seemingly in deep thought.
"Very true, but I propose to you the words of another wise man" He offered, " - I will do all within my power to ensure the continued prosperity and well being of every man and women beneath me."
"Who said that?"
"Your father, on the day of his coronation." Albriech explained as he placed a hand upon Colette's "From the first day of his rule, he has been focused upon the well being of the citizenry. This war has produced nothing but bloodshed for no gains to speak of. While some may not like the idea of peace, it may truly be the best course we have available."
"Even so, all we have done to the people of Rassvet is destroy their towns and set there fields ablaze with fire. Every single offer of peace we have put forward they have rejected for they feel that our terms have never been generous enough."
"And so it is your job to do what the others can not. An easy task? No. But one that can we be accomplished? I certainly believe so"
"You make it sound so easy Uncle."
"Like most things. Anyway, before I forget, Captain Rekks desires to go over the security detail one last time. I understand why your father trusts him so much, but can the man ever be persistent."
Hunting the gryphon was wholly less fun than any of them were hoping for. Rather than swooping into the creature's nest and engaging in battle with it, the Barghest squad had spent the better part of several hours tracking it down. Perhaps it was a sense of pride that made them refuse to turn back to town to sheepishly tell the Marshalls they were incapable of finding the blasted creature, or it might've been the fact that they'd already sunken hours into finding it. Either way, it was nightfall before they were finally able to locate the Gryphon's nest.
They called it the Petrified Forest National Preserve. Long before there was a Rassvet or a Vangar, this whole section of the badlands was a beautiful forest. Colossal trees bigger than any skyscraper, huge grazing beasts, and other wonders all growing huge on the Mist. After a time, the water's that once fed the area stopped coming, the ground grew dry and cracked, and things faded away. The only left was facsimiles: minerals and stone that took the shape of once living things. The squad snaked through this landscape of hills and bends. Navigating around the occasional petrified trunk of a tree that lay as if discarded by some giant after being used a toothpick. Here the Gryphon had made its nest, a short distance from Sappl Springs, and its only remaining source of tourist income.
The Gryphon had nestled itself within a small alcove of rock and fallen trunks, the musky smell of beast and dead remains emanating from the small shelter. The Barghest squad had settled in maybe a few dozen meters away, prone on a nearby hill where they could observe the monster and make a plan. Plan A was sit on the hill and unload on it with everything they had- it would definitely kill the Gryphon, but it would ruin pretty much the entire carcass. Its skull was a bit too tough for a bullet, but if they could get a shot at its underbelly or chin they would be able to take it down pretty handily- they just had to get it out of the nest.
"I say we send Bette out as bait." Galahad remarked, smirking at his own joke. "The Gryphon might think she's a rival."
Any further comment out of Galahad was quickly silenced as they heard a low pitched squawk and the squad dropped behind the ridge of the hill they were on. For a second Galahad thought the Gryphon had noticed them, and weapons were almost instinctively being drawn as the Gryphon began climbing out of its nest. There was another loud, low pitched squawk, and the heavy beating of the beast's wings as it took off from the ground and began flying straight towards them.
"Fuck, here he comes." Cursing and bracing for a fight, Galahad drew his gunblade and pointed at the Gryphon, as it flew over and past them. Eyes and heads craned as the Barghests looked up and over their shoulders, watching the flying beast as it didn't fly at them, but rather away from them- fleeing.
Galahad was about to complain about having to track it down again before he saw it- before they all saw it. Nearly impossible for anyone to miss, as out of the cloud layer above them fell a massive fireball. The members of Barghast squad could clearly see that it was not a magical fireball or meteor, but rather an airship falling out of the sky. The airship was huge- bigger than any Rassvet warship. The colors of the ship were hard to make out- as everything was painted orange and grey by its trailing fire and smoke, but it certainly seemed like a civilian liner rather than a warship, if its smooth shapes and angles, and large, probably formerly white balloon was any indication. That being said, it was rather hard to see the entire silhouette of the ship, its back half was all but missing and its sides appeared to have been peppered with holes- likely of the cannon variety- and belched fire and smoke.
Passing overhead, Galahad craned his neck as he watched the massive airship continue its fiery arc across the sky, pieces of wreckage, debris, and even a few parachutes broke away from it. Galahad winced internally as he saw a few of said parachutes collapse- as shrapnel and debris punched holes in them or crushed them. The airship was rapidly losing altitude and continued to shed large chunks of itself before it smashed into the badlands several miles from them.
They could still see the glow of the fire and smoke from behind the craggy rocks and hills- which glowed brighter for a moment before the ground rumbled and a explosion erupted from the location of the wreckage, sending more wreckage flying as the ship’s Mist Reactor went critical and failed.
“That doesn’t look like one of ours.” Galahad murmured as he pulled out his phone, his brow furrowing as he noticed that there was no signal- not even emergency lines. The radiating mist from the explosion was probably fucking with their signal- that, or something particularly sinister was afoot.