Osgood’s calling was not to be a fighter pilot. His skills lay in planning, and communication, and coordination. Hurtling through the the silent, all-encompassing dark of space though, it was the long forgotten combat flying lessons that he was betting on for not only his life but the lives of every pilot flying with him.
“I’m going to regret every space combat class I ever skipped,” Osgood said aloud, trusting to the vacuum that engulfed his small craft to keep that sentiment private.
“I’ve got links to the guilds forming,” Hector said, his telepathic voice flat and expressionless which only served to warn Osgood of how worried his husband was.
“And the Life Crystals?” Osgood asked, keeping his mental voice similarly neutral. They’d been in desperate situations before but for the last twenty years they’d met them together.
“We need time,” Hector said. “And strong links to send their power through.”
Strong sympathetic links were the key to working magic at interstellar distances. Spells with that sort of range needed connections that were so tightly bound together that the two parts still felt like a single whole even if they were separated by light years.
There were various rituals that could craft objects like that. It was how the Empire had created the warp space ley lines that serviced Titanus and allowed easy transit to other parts of the galaxy. Unfortunately, Osgood had neither the time nor the spellcraft to manufacture a suitable link between the Titanus space fighters and the planetary pool of anima that Hector was putting together for the fighter pilots to draw on.
With meant he was going to have to do things the hard way.
“We’ll buy you as much as we can,” Osgood said. “A lot’s going to depend on how tough that colony ship is though.”
“We’ve got an advanced processing crew on the telemetry that’s coming back,” Hector said. “The colony ship is putting up a fight, but the attack ship is tearing them apart. It’s like the colony ship’s shields aren’t even there.”
“They probably aren’t,” Osgood said. “They’ve got Void casters on the attack ship. I’ll bet you breakfast in bed tomorrow that they’re stripping every bit of anima shielding the colony ship has.”
“How is it still flying then?” Hector asked. “Without any shields, the ship would be like an eggshell before the attacker’s kinetic guns.”
“Colony ships are huge. The inner hulls and framework must be reinforced too,” Osgood said. “That’s not going to do them any good if the attackers can tear a path through to the warp crystals though.”
“With the energy blasts we’re seeing that won’t take long,” Hector said. “How long until your squadron can engage them?”
“We’ll be in weapons lock range in just under a minute,” Osgood said. “How long until the Spell Power Pool comes online?”
“Fifty minutes,” Hector said.
“It’d be really nice if you could make that fifty seconds,” Osgood said. “I don’t think we can hold off that kind of firepower for an hour. Not with the fliers we have and the last generation ships we’ve got here.”
“I’ll make it happen faster,” Hector said.
“Then I’ll get us to the colony ship faster,” Osgood said.
He changed mental channels to the attack squadron’s and sent a notification bell tone for the other pilots to pay attention.
“Accelerate to full attack speed and unlock all weapon systems,” Osgood said.
“What attack formation are we using?” one of the veteran flyers asked.
“Chaos pattern,” Osgood said. “Fly erratically.”
“We won’t be able to cross link our shield sir,” the veteran said.
“Correct,” Osgood said. “Disable shields entirely. All available anima to weapon systems.”
“We’re going to be awfully fragile out there sir,” the veteran said.
“The enemy ship is using artillery-class Void casters. Our shields aren’t going to mean a thing to them,” Osgood said. “We need to get in there and get them off that colony ship.”
The attackers were still outside of Osgood’s visual range when his sensors chirped that they’d achieved a targeting lock.
“Guided kinetic missiles only,” Osgood instructed his fellow pilots. “We can’t risk hitting the colony ship and the Purist Void casters will just absorb any energy blasts we try to hit them with. Fire when ready!”
At his command, millions of tiny projectiles were spat from the guns on the fighter craft, their material forms conjured into being by the anima furnaces that drove the small vessels. Each projectile had its own guidance and propulsion system as well as a warhead primed with conjured explosives. Osgood couldn’t see the attackers, but he was able to make out the bright orange-red fireball of an explosion as the tiny missiles impacted the attacking dreadnaught’s shields.
“Minimal damage detected,” the tiny analysis imp on the control board reported.
“They’ve noticed you,” Hector said. “They’re increasing firepower against the colony ship.”
“Maintain speed and full fire volume,” Osgood said to the other pilots.
Full attack speed left the fighter’s able to maneuver and line up accurate shots. With no time left for subtlety, Osgood pushed his ship up to its full transit speed and flashed forward from the rest of the fighter group, foregoing accuracy and maneuverability for raw speed.
“What are you doing?” Hector asked, his voice still rigidly neutral.
“We need to get their attention, and I need to be really close to bring my personal spells to bear.” Osgood said.
“What personal spells?” Hector asked.
“Don’t tell Darius about this,” Osgood said. “I really don’t want him ever trying anything this stupid.”
“You’re going to try to disable their Void caster,” Hector said.
“Just a sleep spell,” Osgood said. “Light and easy to manage at range, but it’ll scare the hell out of them.”
“You’re going to be too close in there,” Hector said. “You need to put some power towards shields or they’ll blast you to pieces.”
As if to demonstrate the truth of Hector’s words, the Purist dreadnaught began targeting Osgood’s incoming fighter with its secondary weapons batteries.
Space is silent and vast and empty. Or at least it’s supposed to be. The dark night around Osgood lit up like a bonfire the moment the dreadnaught’s energy cannons fired. Searing blasts of plasma exploded in overlapping patterns that Osgood wasn’t entirely able to avoid. The explosions rocked his ship like the fury of a tempest and he felt a weird claustrophobia coming on when he saw how small the gaps in the projected explosions were on his targeting screen. Despite that he threw more power into the engines and plunged forward.
“I can’t risk any shields,” he said. “If a Void caster gets a link to my power I’ll never get the sleep spell off.”
“Yes, well, I can’t risk losing you,” Hector said.
On the control board, Osgood saw his shield meter start to climb.
“What are you doing?” Osgood asked, panic slipping into his voice.
“The Terraformer’s guild is fully online,” Hector said. “I’m sending you the power they’re volunteering.”
“We need more than one link for that!” Osgood said. “You’ll burn yourself up.”
“Let me worry about that,” Hector said. “Just start casting the Sleep spell.”
Osgood swore again, but did as Hector said.
Flying a ship while simultaneously casting any sort of spell was challenging. Space fighters, like most combat craft, were linked to their pilots to provide sharper responsiveness. Damage to the craft registered as pain to the crew, but only at very low levels. It would be idiotic to design a ship that crippled its pilot when the fight was turning against them after all. Even that low level of discomfort though could be enough to throw an inexperienced caster’s concentration off, especially when combined with the fearful insanity of live battle.
Osgood had an advantage there however. He had experience. Not battlefield experience, but casting in the midst of a violent political debate had given him some preparation for centering his mind when everyone else was dead set on disrupting his thoughts.
He called on that experience as he wove together the essence of his mind into a weapon. In his mind’s eye, he crafted a spear of shimmering purple light. It wasn’t a normal sleep spell. It couldn’t be or else the Void casters would simply absorb it. To avoid that, he submerged the spear’s form into the cosmic aether that surrounded them. Unless the Void casters were also excellent at manipulating mental anima, they would never see the attack coming. All he had to do was survive and get close enough to actually cast it on them.
A blast hit Osgood’s fighter square on the nose and shattered the shield that Hector had put up.
“Shield source terminated,” the analysis imp said and Osgood’s heart froze.
“We’re…we’re still here, most of us,” Hector said, his voice sounding hollow and stretched out. “Resuming transmission now.”
Shields reformed around Osgood’s shift and he went back to weaving the sleep spell while trying to dodge as much of the incoming fire as he could.
In the space of ten seconds, the incoming barrage stripped the shields away three times and each time Hector reformed them and each time he sounded weaker afterwards.
Ten seconds was all Osgood needed through. With a final burst of speed from the overworked engines, he closed the distance to the dreadnaught and felt the minds within it at last. As he’d hoped they were working with a set of telepathic links similar to the ones he shared with his squadron and Hector. The links were protected and he didn’t have the godlike spellcrafting talent needed to hack into them at range and in the time available but, fortunately, he didn’t need to hear what they were saying. All he needed was to do was match the threads of the links to the minds he could detect and looks for the threads that let to nothing.
One of the problems with being invisible is that the environment will still show signs that something or someone is present. In this case, the Void casters stood out sharply due to the fact that Osgood couldn’t see them via Mental anima sensing.
“We’ve got three Void casters on the enemy ship,” Osgood told the group. “Neutralizing one of them temporarily now.”
With that he loosed the sleep spear and felt it stretch out from his hand to spiral into the ship.
To the attacker’s credit they did have mental shielding in place on the dreadnaught, but with the infrequency of that sort of attack they’d only bought the basic variety that represented the strongest return on investment in terms of protection rating vs. gold expended. Since this was the most typical choice for a combat vessel to make, it was also the most typical thing Osgood had fought against in his years on Hellsreach, so he knew exactly how to bypass that sort of defense.
His sleep spear phased right past the shielding, right through the hull and even right underneath the Void anima shields their casters had in place.
“Be bound in eternal slumber!” Osgood said, his voice carrying to the enemy Void caster and quenching their consciousness like a heavy rain dousing a candle.
Osgood put all his will and all of his power behind the spell. It was easily the most powerful spell of any variety that he’d ever cast, but even so he knew it wouldn’t really induce an endless sleep. The Void caster would need to be disenchanted to wake, but that was going to readily available no matter which side won the battle.
Exhausted from the victorious spell casting, Osgood’s focus on dodging with his ship faltered for a second. Once again his shields shattered only, this time, they didn’t reform.
“Hector?” he called out on their telepathic link.
No answer greeted him, the world was silence and emptiness.
Then fire filled the darkness and Osgood felt his ship buckle and start to sheer apart.
“Ambassador Command to all Imperial ships,” Osgood said as power failed on one component after another on the control board. “We’ve got their attention now. Keep bloodying their noses, whatever it takes. And reach back to Titanus to your loved ones. All Imperial channels are open for your use.”
“What’s the plan sir?” the veteran flyer asked.
“They have us outgunned and outclassed,” Osgood said as sparks turned into open flames in the cockpit. “But there’s a lot more of us than there are of them. Let’s show them what it means when we stand together and how much power we can really bring to bear. Give them hell folks. Osgood out.”