Zoey's face stayed calm as a second volley of fire came down on top of her cruiser. Explosions and lightning strikes erupted across the hull, an indication that they had indeed found her position. In response, she pulled up on the controls and started to lift the Stella Tenebris out of the clouds.
As strong as the Stella Tenebris was, just sitting here and taking hits was not what she was meant for. Zoey was done running, she would show these nobles what she was capable of once and for all.
Another volley of fire and lightning came down like artillery as Zoey accelerated the cruiser, and even through the hull she could feel the dull thumps of the explosions as they impacted the hull. A quick glance at one of the displays showed her that the damage had been superficial, with no internal issues yet.
Then, the Stella Tenebris emerged from the clouds despite the destructive power that had been thrown at her. There were scorch marks and scars on her hull, but she was very much alive and ready to fight back. Zoey angled the ship up as they climbed and called back to Taigen who was in charge of targeting for the front gunnery platform.
"Taigen! Let them have it!"
Taigen grinned and selected one of the Kreppelins in the firing arc of the fore gunnery platform, sending a targeting signal to the awaiting crew. Down below, right in the nose of the cruiser, General Saigo saw the alert come through on his targeting console. Their weapon had been ready, and now they had a target.
The teeth that Zoey had armed the Stella Tenebris with were Gravity Acceleration Artillery Cannons, or GAACs as the crews had taken to calling them, one for each gunnery platform. The cannons had a 2 meter barrel flanked by gravity rails that launched projectiles at supersonic speed, and the projectiles they fired were not ordinary either.
Saigo called out the warning to Azai and 1st Squad, his gun crew, who quickly hunkered down behind their blast shields near the back of the platform like they had been trained. Once everyone was safe, Saigo pressed the button to lower the blast shutter that kept the gunnery platform safe from the outside.
The shutter snapped open and suddenly the gunnery platform was filled with howling wind. Warning lights on the ceiling were blinking and the long barrel of the artillery cannon was pushed forward by the mechanical base until it poked out of the the opening that all the wind was screaming in from.
The gun crew and Saigo were protected from the wind by metal blast shields, but the noise made it impossible to hear anyone speak. Despite that Saigo stayed glued to the targeting console as he lined the GAAC's trajectory up with his target. The mechanical base of the cannon was designed in a way that allowed it to be moved around the platform if a better firing angle was necessary, and it also worked as the recoil control system so the cannon wouldn't tear itself apart when fired.
Once Saigo had the cannon lined up and locked on to his target, he pressed the trigger and activated the firing sequence.
There was a concussive thud that shook the gun crew and Saigo to their bones and made their ears ring through their ear protection as the GAAC fired, sending its payload away. The recoil pushed the cannon all the way back into the gunnery platform, after which the blast shutter snapped closed and the warning lights turned off, returning relative peace to the platform.
For the recipient of the GAAC's payload however, things were not so peaceful.
The ammunition that Zoey had designed for the cannons had been dubbed Gravity Shells by her. It looked like an old Gaian ballistic artillery shell, but was not explosive. Rather than explosives, the shell was implanted with a powerful gravity array that Zoey had created herself. It was actually multiple gravity arrays overlapped and fed into one another to create an effect that was about to be experienced by the unfortunate crew of an unlucky Kreppelin.
The crew of the Kreppelin in question had seen the strange craft emerge from the clouds like a beast roused from slumber and had desperately joined the armada in sending another volley of ballista bolts at it. But they only managed to get a few glancing hits due to the angle being too extreme as the craft came up towards them.
Then it happened. Everyone in the armada heard the thundering boom as the mystery ship fired its first shot. The shell traveled the 1 kilometer distance to its target in an instant. It hit the Kreppelin in the center of its hull and penetrated into its gun deck in a cloud of splinters. These splinters ripped from the hull were deadly, some a half meter long, and they scattered through the deck like a shotgun blast, ripping through any crew unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, leaving behind only blood and screams in their wake.
But that wasn't the end. After the shell impacted the hull and busted through, the gravity arrays activated and its true purpose was made apparent. The overlapping arrays rapidly increased the gravity around the shell, creating a faux singularity of which the shell was the center. This singularity reached max power in an instant, and it was strong enough to start ripping the ship around it into driftwood as is pulled everything in its range towards it.
The wooden deck planks and support beams alike splintered and shattered while crew desperately struggled and grabbed onto anything nearby to resist being pulled towards the growing ball of crushed debris. One of the crew members was unfortunate enough to be pulled in by the gravity, and the sheer power of the faux singularity squeezed the organs out of his body as the others watched in horror.
Then, a few seconds after activating, the Gravity Shell ran out of power to feed the faux singularity that it had created. This caused a feedback loop to occur that violently exploded after reaching a critical point, sending all the debris out as shrapnell. Anyone within 5 meters was killed by the shrapnell and even more were wounded by flying debris.
From what the rest of the armada could see, it seemed as if someone had ripped a huge chunk of hull, deck and more out of the stricken Kreppelin's side, crushed it into pieces, then exploded violently. The aftermath had left behind a wounded Kreppelin that was listing on its side now that some of its stabilizing levitation arrays were gone. Needless to say, it was a dangerous position for an airship to be listing on its side hundreds of meters in the air.
But while everyone was gawking in disbelief at the destruction the mysterious craft had caused with one shot, the Stella Tenebris had made it to the same altitude that the Kreppelin armada was at. Zoey had steered her cruiser along the inner side of the encirclement so that the starboard gun manned by Bassa and 2nd Squad could hit the near side of the armada, while the port gun manned by Chozo and 3rd Squad fired at the far side.
Meanwhile, Saigo returned command of the fore gunnery platform to Azai and came back to the bridge. Azai and 1st Squad would be sent targets of opportunity by Taigen as the Stella Tenebris circled the inner circumference of the armada.
It just so happened that the first target of Bassa and 2nd Squad on the starboard side was the wounded Kreppelin that had taken the first Gravity Shell. It was a wakeup call to the rest of the armada when another boom shook the sky, and only seconds later the aft end of the wounded airship was crumpled and crushed into a ball of debris before exploding.
Two shells in the right spot was all it took. The Kreppelin was heavy on the port side where the damage was because most of the crew had been on that side since it was facing the enemy. When the second Gravity Shell ripped out one of the aft levitation arrays, it proved to be too much weight on one side, and the Kreppelin tipped.
It started to tumble from the sky in an endless roll, and any poor sod that had been on the upper deck and not lashed down was thrown screaming from the falling ship. Below deck the violent tumble of the ship ripped the heavy ballistae from their bases, sending them rolling through the confined deck, crushing anything and anyone caught in the midst. The airship's way down was a mess of falling debris, screaming crew, all of them realizing that they were doomed but unable to do anything about it.
Finally, the falling Kreppelin was stopped... by the ground. The multi-tonne airship smashed into the hard surface of the wasteland in an explosion of dust, timber, and debris. If anyone managed to survive that wreckage, it would have been a miracle.
Up above, nobody had spared a glance at the wreckage. That was because there were far more dangerous things to worry about. While the doomed Kreppelin had been falling from the sky, the deadly craft that had consigned it to its fate had acquired new targets and started firing again.
Three more Kreppelins now sported gaping holes in their sides and were missing crew that had been shredded by debris or crushed by the faux singularities. Every captain in the armada was panicking as they watched the deadly craft fire another volley that ripped more holes and send a second Kreppelin tumbling into the sinkhole below.
They wanted to flee, to run, but dying here would be preferable to angering Cornelius Rellen, so the captains maintained their course and kept bellowing orders to keep their crew from throwing themselves overboard.
But then new orders were sent out to the armada; "Engage and fire at will"
They all knew by now it was futile. No matter how many of their ballista bolts hit the enemy craft, its armor shrugged off the hits with ease. Even now there was no damage to be seen on it. But the new orders allowed them to take their own approach to the enemy.
The armada's encirclement quickly dissolved as each captain took his airship in the path that they considered best. Some went high, some low, but all of them were trying to close the distance to the mysterious craft that was still firing shot after shot, claiming a third, then a fourth Kreppelin victim and sending them to their destruction.
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As the sky above darkened and rumbled with thunderclouds and lightning, the battle above the sinkhole reached a fever pitch. The armada swarmed around the Stella Tenebris and threw everything it had at the cruiser. Thousands of bolts exploded and smashed into her hull like angry wasps trying to find a way inside as Zoey deftly maneuvered her ship to provide the best firing angles to her guns against the numerous Kreppelins that filled the air.
As the hours dragged on, more and more Keppelins were shot down, some with catastrophic results as they tumbled to their graves, while some maintained enough stability to crash land in the wasteland and keep most of their crew alive.
Inside the Stella Tenebris, the gunnery crews worked in shifts with Datoi's 4th Squad to keep a steady supply of ammunition going to the GAACs as they thanked the armored hull of their home for keeping them safe. Anyone who requested Eve could open a display that showed the scene outside, but most who did quickly turned it off. It was best not to know what how many Kreppelins were hammering on the hull, trying to get inside.
Throughout the battle, the Stella Tenebris cut through the sky like a shark through water, meting out death and despair in equal measure as her guns spoke destruction for those in her sights. As the storm overhead grew darker and the sun slipped below the horizon, the last shot was finally fired, sending the last remaining Kreppelin besides Cornelius Rellen's flagship to the depths of the sinkhole.
Zoey had purposely left the flagship untouched until now, ordering her crew to systematically target the other Kreppelins instead. She wanted Cornelius to see, to see what she was capable of when pushed, when threatened.
And now as night came and the rain started to fall, Zoey maneuvered her cruiser to face the now stationary flagship as it hovered defeated in the air. The battle was over, the armada was destroyed, and the survivors of that fateful day would think back in fear and remember that deadly ship as it destroyed an entire armada in a day.
Many years later, that battle in the wasteland became a story whispered from ear to ear among the population of Darren. The story spoke of an armada versus a single ship. A single ship that ripped apart the sky and destroyed the combined might of over twenty noble houses, including the famous Rellen house. The name of the ship in the story was not known, but most people knew it by a nickname given to it by the traumatized survivors of that battle...
And here we are...
I have been wanting to write this chapter for a long time, since back when I first introduced Kreppelins into the story!
Don't worry, there is more to come!
There is still Cornelius and his flagship to deal with after all!
Tomorrow we will be back to daily releases like before as the story continues.
Going forward I want to put some focus on the characters around Zoey develop their relationships a little better because I feel like I have been neglecting that a little so far.
Let me know what you thought of the battle and what you as a reader would like to see going forwards!
As always, Thanks for reading!