Chapter 13

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Joanna gazed past the chain linked fence that separated the military base from the rocky and barren wilderness beyond. A chilly gust of dusk wind rushed over her exposed arms while the final rays of sunlight faded from the horizon.

"What is it with you and standing alone in a courtyard like you're some kind of Praetorian sculpture?" Her longtime friend Sophia Winthrop walked up beside her, bundled up in a white tunic and jacket more suitable for the brisk weather. The first stars were starting to appear in the evening sky.

"I just like having quiet time to think," Joanna replied. "What about you? Spending all that time holed up in a Trade Zone can't have been good for your mental health."

Sophia shrugged with indifference. "The RIC needed me to be Lyanna Dalton so that's what I did. It's the job I signed on for. Besides, it was nice settling down and having normal civilian friends. A taint blooded group of friends sure, but I'm not that religious anyway. All that blood bullshit never really bothered me if I'm being honest."

"What are you going to tell them?" Joanna said.

"Oh, 'Lyanna' will be executed in some classified location for crimes against the Crown. Any one of those rebels comes out of that hideout alive, that's what I'll have you or Char tell them. It's not even that hard making stuff up. Lying's easy. What I'm more worried about is if the Queen trusting Alex is a good idea. Sure, he passed the test, but I'll be honest, I never liked the boy and he definitely did not like me, well Lyanna to be exact. Test was kinda too easy for the kid if you ask me."

"I wouldn't exactly say it was easy for him. You should've seen how torn up he was," Joanna replied. "Anyway, enough chit chat. If your commander's reports are right, we're probably going to be dealing with a war before the sun comes back up."

"As long as we don't let the Dans slip too far inland, we should be fine." Sophia paused and furrowed her eyebrows. "We need to catch up to any Dannic vanguard units as fast as we can before that happens."

"We're flying there aren't we?" Joanna said, dread building up in her gut. In spite of herself, a very visible grimace of nausea overcame her face.

Sophia burst into vicious laughter. "A Knight who gets airsick. What next? A half-blood on the throne?"

***

The chopper flew smoothly through the windless air. Combined with the near total darkness from the late hour, Joanna knew her anxiety was baseless. Such knowledge, however, proved useless against the knot in her gut. "Just give me someone to fight already," she mumbled.

"We're almost there Joanna. Just you wait," Sophia said. She had a smirk on her face, no doubt entertained by the nauseous contortions on Joanna's face. Fortunately for the latter though, land soon came into view. Even better, Joanna spotted signs of an enemy military camp. It wasn't large- there were at most a half dozen hastily assembled tents and a few armored vehicles scattered in sloppy formation. Still, it was undoubtedly an enemy camp several kilometers within Angley's borders.

A squad of rifle wielding soldiers slid down from the Angleyan choppers and opened fire on their unsuspecting foes. Every Dannic soldier guarding the perimeter went down without returning a single shot. By the time Joanna and Sophia launched themselves out of their aircraft, the initial line of hostiles was dead. Joanna hardened her limbs into diamond so she could weather the hundred meter descent without injury. A cloud of dust erupted around her as her crystallized body smashed into the dirt.

She realized the camp was bigger than she'd thought once she surveyed her surroundings on the ground. The noise of the initial ambush had roused the rest of the Dannic army to surge forward. Cover was scant, and what few armored tents and vehicles were around proved uninteresting to the reckless Dans charging forward. Joanna threw her sword at the densest cluster of soldiers before ducking for cover behind an idle tank. The blade cut right through the bodies of three Dannic soldiers as if they were mounds of wet sand. As soon as the weapon buried itself in the ground, Joanna called for it again, transmuting the ground around herself to summon it through the earth. While the runesteel remained malleable, she flattened it into a shield and bolted out from cover. A handful of shots bounced harmlessly off her runesteel shield in the split second she was exposed.

Joanna jumped behind a concrete barrier farther ahead. She squeezed her hand around the runesteel to fragment it and launched a hundred small daggers at her enemies. One by one, they punched holes through dozens of women and men before clattering on the ground. Ahead of her, she could see Sophia had split her sword into two smaller blades. She was propelling herself forward on a pulse of glowing white energy surging from her feet while spinning with a red hot blade in each hand. None of her enemies stood a chance.

There was a reason Sophia had earned the title of Red Ghost. In an eruption of flame, she sent dozens more soldiers' burnt and bloodied body parts flying. Those few still standing were mowed down by a living propeller of flames and unbreakable metal. Before Joanna had even reassembled her sword, the battle was over. The few surviving Dannic soldiers raised their arms in surrender, dropping their rifles to the ground. Angleyan soldiers rushed in to bind their limbs and kicked their weapons away.

Cleaning up after the battle proved more tedious than the fight itself. If this was a Dannic command post, it was one of the most poorly organized ones Joanna had ever seen. The soldiers carried themselves oddly as well. However much she looked down on Dans, she couldn't remember the last time she'd faced off against such clumsy women and men.

After several minutes of aimless wandering through the ruins, Joanna finally caught up to Sophia. She was pacing back and forth in the flaming remains of the central tent- the ashes that remained anyway- with a sour scowl on her face.

"No wonder it was too easy," she snapped.

"Did we find any important Dannic officer?" Joanna said.

"No. This was all bait. A large, well spread out bait composed almost entirely of civilian criminals trying to commute their sentences."

Joanna felt her smile falter. "I don't suppose we have any idea where the Dans actually are then, do we?"

"Yeah, we actually do. They have 20,000 actual professional soldiers in Laniston, which they've successfully taken by the way."

"Oh."

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