At the opening of the Komodo Star Sector, a fair number of colonists descended upon the far-flung region.
Barren as it may be, its official recognition as a star sector under the collective rule and protection of the CFA and MTA turned it from a lawless frontier into a safe tract of stars.

Right around the same time of the founding of the Bright Republic, another sovereign entity came into being.
Founded by a wealthy individual with delusions of grandeur, the Vesia Kingdom came into being.

The two newly-founded states butted heads almost immediately.
The Bentheim port system formed the main sticking point.
While the Vesians already occupied two other port systems, the greed and ambition of the newly inaugurated Vesian King knew no bounds.

The fairly pacifistic Bright Republic had no choice but to stand their ground, or be engulfed by the Vesians over time.
A third-rate state with control over three strategic port systems would certainly grow into a regional bully.

If the Republic possessed no port system at all, it would never be able to match the growth of their neighboring rival.

A war ensued almost immediately.

As the Komodo Star Sector had been opened fairly early in the Age of Mechs, the two states mostly fumbled around with the new technology.
The ancestor of the Larkinsons took part in the war on behalf of the Republic as a mercenary and distinguished himself against the unending aggression of the Vesians.

Ever since then, the Vesians declared war and brazenly invaded the Bright Republic almost every single generation.
As much as the Brighters wished to counterattack and deter the Vesians from lusting after their stars, they couldn ’t match their lifelong opponents in population and industrial capacity.

As the perennial underdogs of the conflict, the Bright Republic had no choice but to endure and take up a defensive posture.

Months into the war, the Vesians took full control over the nominal border between the Kingdom and the Republic.
The aggressors only considered this takeover as an appetizer.
The main course had yet to be served.

On the expansive command center of a majestic Vesian fleet carrier, an extravagant amount of bridge officers tirelessly worked to prepare their fleet led for the upcoming operation.

An officer clad in a dark brown uniform slowly hovered up to the floating circular platform that looked down on the command center.
A young woman barely in her thirties sat upon an ornate throne-like chair with her back as straight as steel.
Her brilliantly coiffed blond hair framed a charmingly delicate face, which unfortunately took on an iron-willed expression.

Her purple uniform stood out from the rest.
In addition, a distinctive golden epaulet adorned her left shoulder.
It depicted a hand holding aloft a notched sword with 5 blazing silver stars on top.

Anyone in the Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom knew what this image represented.

The Kingdom adopted the hand with the notched sword as their national symbol.
It represented the nobility of their polity, and only a fraction of the population earned the right to wear this symbol.

Those who carried the hand with the notched sword on their epaulet served in the Mech Legion.
Practically every officer in the Mech Legion was invariably a noble.

With the five silver stars shining down on the hand with the notched sword, The lady in purple stood above the rest.
The Vesian Kingdom adopted a condensed version of the standard human ranks of nobility.
The number of stars reflected the rank, while their color hinted at their relation to the rank.

The lowest and only non-hereditary rank was knight.
It only shone with a single star.
Most often, those who earned the rank of knight distinguished themselves in battle.
The rank of knight opened up a lot of avenues to these warriors.
They were always addressed as Sirs.

The next rank was baron, and it was the first true rank of nobility.
Not only was it hereditary, it also came attached with a fief.
Their Houses often formed the backbone of the middle ranks of the Mech Legion.
The rank of baron shone with two stars.

The rank after that was count.
Anyone who inherited the rank of count was a true mover and shaker within the Kingdom.
Many higher officers carried the rank of count, and they also had a say in how the Kingdom should be run.
The rank of count shone with three illustrious stars.

Arguably the most powerful rank was duke.
A small number of dukes and duchesses carved up the Vesia Kingdom into several dukedoms, over which their Houses ruled with near-absolute impunity.
Even the Vesian royals only exerted a limited amount of influence in the core stars ruled by the dukes.
This powerful rank shone with five blazing stars.

The second-to-last rank was the rank of prince.
Only a member of the Vesian royal family carried this rank.
They wielded a vast amount of power, but simultaneously held very little authority.
The rank of prince shone with seven fiery stars.

As for the monarch who ruled over them all, only the king carried the right to bear the nine majestic suns.
The symbol incomparably outshone the rest.

Besides the royal ranks, the symbols could further be distinguished from the color of the stars.

Those who carried stars in bronze only shared peripheral relations with the noble in question.
These would often be members of branch families or those who had been adopted in the family of the noble.

Those with silver stars consisted of the direct descendants of the noble that ruled over their lineage.
They possessed the right to inherit the title and properties of their parents.

Only the true holders of the rank carried golden stars.
They ruled over their noble Houses with a tyrannical amount of power.
Only they earned the right to be addressed by their ranks.

Besides knights, the other members of their House could only be addressed by Lord or Lady.

In that regard, the Vesia Kingdom hadn ’t deviated too much from the standard pattern of neo-feudalism in human space.

Currently, the woman possessed an immense amount of power.
Her epaulet directly indicated that she stood a chance of inheriting the Imodris Dukedom.
She carried as much authority as the Duchess of Imodris herself, who ruled over the dukedom with an iron fist.

The noble lady looked over the expansive projection engulfing the entire front portion of the command center.
Hundreds of fleet carriers, combat carriers and transports awaited her command.
The amount of power at her fingertips would intoxicate any individual, but the woman treated it as normal as breathing air.

Once the officer arrived at the throne, he thumped his chest with his fist.
”Reporting, ma ’am! Every regiment of the 3rd Imodris Legion has reported in.
The fleet is ready to transition into FTL. ”

”Has the destination been set, Sir Jameson? ”

The knight nodded submissively at the woman he had served since the start of her career in the Mech Legion.
”The fleet will arrive at the uninhabited Coxer System in approximately seven days. ”

The woman frowned.
”That is too slow.
This is only the first of seven hops.
The Duchess has commanded me to reach the Bentheim region within two months.
The entire strategic deployment of the Imodris Mech Army rests on the timing of our operation. ”

”My apologies, Lady Amalia. ” Sir Jameson bent her head.
”I shall convey your wishes to the admiral and exhort him to make more haste. ”

”That is good.
I do not wish to hear any further excuses.
Dismissed. ”

Half an hour went by as a handful of engineers across the fleet prepared their ships for a distant transition.

The further their destination, the riskier the hop, especially if they wanted to travel to a smaller star.
If they failed to navigate the gravitic waves in the higher dimensions during FTL, they might get thrown off-course and emerge hundreds or even thousands of light-years away.
Often times, they ended up in a completely random position in space as well.

Many wayward ships that encountered mishaps in FTL ended up several star sectors away.
They lucked out compared to the rest, as over sixty percent of the ships that went off course would never be heard again.

People used to believe they disappeared somewhere else, until extensive investigation revealed that they ’d been sucked into a major gravity well.
That almost always meant they crashed into a sun or a black hole.

Thus, the coordinated jump into FTL had to be done with care and precision.
The transports that carried the supplies and provisions of the fleet required extra attention in this regard.
Their engineers poured every bit of energy into pushing the transports to keep up with the rest.

Once Lady Amalia received another notice that the fleet would arrive at their initial destination a little faster, she stood up from her throne.

Hidden recorders flared to life.
The massive viewscreen in front of the command center switched to project the commanding officer of the 3rd Imodris Legion.
Almost every single projector aboard every ship relayed the same event to the rest of the fleet.

”Citizens of Imodris.
On this day, my mother the Duchess of Imodris has given me a command.
Within six months, the pathetic Republic ’s precious Bentheim region must burn and quake! The 3rd Imodris Legion will be the vanguard of their doom! As the tip of the spear, we shall drive the Brighters to tears! ”

”Imodris! ”

Every serviceman of the 3rd Imodris Legion had stood up and held their fists to their chest.
Whether they served as spacers or mech pilots, they respected Lady Amalia from the depths of their hearts.
She carried the will of the Duchess of Imodris.

”Fight well, hold nothing back, and kill as many Brighters as you can.
Their Republic is soft and ripe for the picking! We have devastated them time and time again, rendering them helpless and mewling for peace.
Vesians! Shall we grant them mercy? ”

”No! ” The entire bridge thundered.
The same word echoed throughout the rest of the fleet as the servicemen of the 3rd Imodris Legion collectively stood behind their leader.

”In the coming operation, we will transition deep into Republican space.
I hope to see the 3rd Imodris Legion smash aside their feeble in-system defenses and stomp their precious industries to the ground! The perils of fighting behind enemy lines are great, but we are doing Imodris and the rest of the Kingdom an important service! Does the 3rd Imodris Legion lack any courage? No! Because we are fearless! We are dauntless! We are invincible! ”

”Imodris! Imodris! Imodris! ”

The entire legion became invigorated by her speech.
Their hunger for glory and their duty to Imodris drove them to a state of hysteria.
Every subject of the Kingdom had been brought up to hate the Bright Republic since birth.

The Kingdom ’s conflict with the Republic was deep seethed and irreconcilable.
Conflicts of territory turned into an accumulation of grudges and a never-ending cycle of revenge.
The Vesians would never rest until they ground the Republic beneath the heel of their boots.

”Imodris shies away from battle! The other dukedoms may be dragging their feet and continue to cautiously probe the Mech Corps, but Imodris is different! We shall take the bull by the horns and teach our enemies a lesson they won ’t forget! Once the history books speak of this war, it will be the 3rd Imodris Legion who will shine the brightest! ”

”For the Third! ”

”For Imodris! ”

”For the Kingdom! ”

Lady Amalia maintained her impassioned posture and kept on grinning before the recorders.
She only dropped her performance once the transmission cut off.
Once she returned to her throne, she seated herself in a languid manner and resumed her next calculations.

She turned back to Sir Jameson, who had been quietly standing by her side.
”Major, what are the odds of success? Tell me the truth. ”

”Our analysts aren ’t optimistic about our current plans. ” Jameson minutely frowned.
”Her Grace the Duchess of Imodris expects much from the Third.
Too much, perhaps. ”

Lady Amalia smiled coyly.
”That just indicates my mother ’s regard for me.
It is true that we are about to enter head-long into the jaws of the decrepit beast that stands for the Republic, but this is a role that I volunteered for myself.
If we succeed, the 3rd Imodris Legion shall be known throughout the Kingdom as the legion that has struck the first true blow. ”

The major nodded at her words, but refrained from voicing his misgivings.
As veteran of the previous war, Jameson knew that the Bright Republic wouldn ’t roll over for the Mech Legion without a fight.

Perhaps Lady Amalia knew that herself, but she desperately needed to distinguish herself on the battlefield.
As the sixth-born of the Duchess of Imodriss, the fight to inherit the dukedom was not in her favor.
Her older siblings had decades ahead of her and built up a vast network of nobles.

No one in the noble circles favored the tragic Lady Amalia, who had been born too late.

She wanted to prove them all wrong.

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