“He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”
– Titus Aurelius the ‘Philosopher King’, Imperator Augustus of the Inner Sea Imperium
“Stay on Shrike. Stay. On. Shrike…”
Alexei heard the emphasis of the coalition fleet commander Sesfan QuLah through his headset. He tilted the camera angle, and his display screen returned to the main battle.
Swarms of smaller vessels flew all around the screen, some visible only as colored icons on the user-interface. Nonstop torrents of energy projectiles rained down upon the target Shrike, an Avatar-class Titan starship which resembled an armored toadstool over 13,800 meters long.
They were so close now. The hour spent pounding upon that behemoth had to be taking effect. Alexei could almost hear the metallic hull of their target groaning under the strain of battle damage. He could envision the debris streaming from the mammoth warship, as exploding missiles ripped through bulwarks and vented pressurized chambers to the vacuum of space.
“He looks about to warp out,” came the voice of another American pilot from the Goonswarm Federation.
“More dictors! More dictors!” Sesfan QuLah called for additional ships with warp interdictors, which projected the telltale electrified bubbles over the battlefield that kept the enemy from retreating.
“Reserve dictors, with me!” Alexei leaned forward as he pressed his Widow-class black ops battleship into the heat of combat. He then switched to Russian and translated the coalition fleet commander’s orders:
“All fire on Shrike! Unload everything on Shrike!”
The American Goonswarm Federation may contribute the bulk of the fighting ships available, but the tip of the spear was still Russian. Red Alliance’s elite pilots remained the best in the coalition, including an entire capital ship strike force from the ‘legendary seventy’ who fought at the Siege of C-J6MT. However, many of these ace pilots spoke only Russian. Therefore, to meet the challenges of the Great EVE War, the multilingual RedSwarm Federation relied on communication officers who doubled as translators.
As a Russian-American who spoke both languages in perfect tongue as well as being a respected veteran of C-J6MT, it was no surprise that Alexei became one of the bridge-builders between the two cultures. He switched channels to the Red Alliance chat even as his fingers worked nonstop to jam hostiles trying to target the heavy interdiction cruisers following him. They must reach the deployment point to unleash the warp disruption that would cut off the enemy’s escape.
“Molley’s Titan pinned in 46DP-O. Reinforce highest priority! I repeat: Molley’s Titan pinned in 46DP-O. Reinforce highest priority!”
Sir Molley was the leader of the enemy coalition Band of Brothers. To bring down his flagship — a Titan supercapital warship which took months of collaboration from several thousand miners, refiners, fabricators, haulers, logisticians, constructors, and other players to build — would not only deal a crushing blow to the enemy’s prestige and leadership. It would also go down in EVE History as the first Titan killed in open battle, and bring an invaluable morale boost to the RedSwarm Federation which had been pressed onto the defensive these past few weeks.
Alexei couldn’t help as a savage grin spread across his cheeks. Caught in the adrenaline of the moment, he almost forgot to appreciate how his comrades, his brothers, dropped everything else in their lives for this chance to seize a monumental victory. After all, as much as the Russian pilots joked that this was their ‘Great Patriotic War’, EVE Online was still just a computer game. Yet despite being a battle of pixels and digital starships, the war had long become personal for many of them.
Alexei snapped off the thought that almost sank into nostalgia and redoubled his attention to the present. He needed to focus, to keep his electronic warfare equipment on the enemy and protect his allies piloting those interdiction cruisers. The interdictors in turn kept the enemy Titan from retreating. This bought time for the RedSwarm battleships and dreadnoughts, supported by entire flotillas of repair ships and other auxiliaries, to pound the target vessel into submission. Such was the choreographed dance of combined arms needed win battles in a game as immersive as EVE Online.
“Comeon guys his tank is breaking and he is fucked! Let’s go! Go go go go go!” Coalition commander Sesfan QuLah shouted his encouragements in fleet communications.
Meanwhile the Russian strike group commander Ataman noticed two hostiles had targeted the interdiction cruisers: “Propello and Eagle have locked on!”
“Propello and Eagle are shooting your dictors! Propello and Eagle!” Alexei passed the warning to Sesfan QuLah as he re-targeted his electronic warfare suite on the larger threat of the two, scrambling its sensors and targeting instruments.
“Alright I want Propello jammed, dampened, dead!” The American commander replied. “Kill Propello!”
The pilots of a RedSwarm support fleet reacted immediately. Concentrated salvos of missiles and batteries poured into the enemy battleship. Within moments someone else cried: “he’s doing down!”
There was no time for even a sense of accomplishment as an interdictor pilot immediately added: “If you can jam Urban Slayer he’s got fighters on me!”
“Jam Urban Slayer,” Sesfan QuLah‘s next order came on the heels. “Urban Slayer is primary. I need my dictors to work!”
“Kill Urban Slayer!” Alexei repeated in Russian as he altered his electronic warfare ship’s target to once again to protect his American comrades.
And so the battle went on. The fleet commanders continued to coordinate, communications continued to relay, and pilots continued to obey and jam and pound. In this pivotal moment of their individual lives, there was no distinction between Russian and American, no difference except a few seconds of latency brought by the language barrier. Everyone had the same mission, obeyed the same orders, and worked towards the same goals. Every individual trusted their fellow pilots to fight for the same objective and protect each other with their virtual lives.
It was as if all their past differences in politics and culture laid forgotten, all lingering enmity and propaganda from the Cold War wiped clean. In those moments, the RedSwarm Federation functioned with one mind, one soul, as though a single avatar of their collective consciousness had emerged from the crucible of war.
…And this sense of camaraderie, of oneness did not stop even as an American pilot with his finger on the trigger called out:
“Guys he’s dropping! This fucker is dropping! Keep on Shrike he’s gonna die!”
Then, just at that moment, a shockwave erupted from the Titan that they’ve been fighting for the past hour. It was a sign that the ship’s hull was failing and its reactor was going critical.
“Ohhhh my Gods!”
Expletives flooded the channel as one pilot after another expressed their utter disbelief.
“We just killed–!”
Two more shockwaves followed in the wake of the first, and the Titan’s hull began to glow as though a star was being born from within.
Cheers from dozens, hundreds of voices began to resound across the communication channel. The cacophony of which soon drowned out any ability to make out individual sounds. The RedSwarm pilots hollered as they watched Sir Molley’s Titan blossom into a nova of blinding light, as the reactor went critical and released its energy in a display of incandescent fury.
Alexei’s ears hurt from the boisterous shouting that erupted from both the American and Russian communication channels, but he didn’t even care as he raised both of his arms into the air and yelled the traditional Russian battlecry “URRRAAAAA!” He didn’t even notice as his cry echoed across the entire house, or how the noise attracted his little sister to peek in through the door as though her older brother had suddenly gone insane.
For nearly a minute this sea of relentless cheering continued unabated. It was as if they just won the decisive Battle of Kursk themselves.
—— * * * ——
Luna’s eyelids fluttered open as her consciousness left the world of dreams and reconnected with her body.
Despite the fact she just woke up, her entire mind was brimming with excitement from the reliving of Alexei’s memories. The euphoria of victory left her grinning and even giggling to herself in bed. She could no more go back to sleep than if she had just finished a marathon.
Regardless of how ‘real’ the world of EVE actually was, there was no doubt that Alexei treasured this memory as one of his most unforgettable moments in life. To fight in the most decisive battles of the ‘Great War’, he became something greater than merely an individual, greater than just himself.
He had been part of a cause, and it was an honor and pride that Luna could appreciate even now.
It took another moment before awareness sank in that she was not in her own cot, but a luxurious, four-poster bedstead where she sank in between a mattress of imported cotton and layers of soft sheets. The comforter even wrapped around her body to tuck in under her right side, leaving her access to only the left third of the bed while isolating her from the rest.
Her master had been as good as his word. In four years’ time, Konstantin had never once touched her unclothed body, despite the fact that Luna slept in his bed two to three times a week to keep up the facade — that she was merely another outlet of the young man’s lust.
However at this moment, the young lord was nowhere to be seen. His side of the bed was empty. Even his drinking tankard had vanished from the bedside table.
Luna swung her legs out from under the comforter and sat up on the left side of the bed. She still wore her white chemise and drawers as undergarments, and rather than take the time to put on her maid outfit, she pulled one of his fur cloaks over her shoulders instead.
She looked around the dim room lit by only its smoldering fireplace, but Konstantin was nowhere to be found. It’s not like him to leave his room during the dead of night, Luna considered as she noted the darkness outside.
Sure, Konstantin often woke up during the middle of the night to read, but he always did that in the cushioned chair next to the fireplace. Even now, the small table on the other side of the seat held two books: the thin wooden strip he used as a bookmark had been placed on top of Records of the Lunar Historian, signaling that he had finished the thick and silver-engraved history tome. Next to it lay a new book half-propped on the other. Luna had to circle around the bed before she could examine its title — History of the Garunna Wars and the Great Marian Reforms by the Arcadian historian-turned-Empress Livia.
Talk about heavy reading, Luna thought to herself. Still, it was no coincidence that Konstantin chose to read about one of the Inner Sea Imperium’s most defining wars, just as the Eastlings were breaking down the gates of Polisian Federation.
She heard a faint, muffled sound and immediately spun around. It came from a dark corner of his room, where only two mahogany wardrobes stood at an angle. But as Luna walked closer to investigate, she noticed that one of the cabinets stood further from the wall than she remembered in her many times cleaning this room.
Upon careful examination and various attempts to shift the wardrobe, Luna finally managed to move the heavy furniture by leaning all of her weight against its side. The cabinet slid further into the corner as though it sat on tracked wheels. Its displacement revealed a stone door built into the walls, left slightly ajar in a rare moment of carelessness by His Lordship.
Four years and I still find more secrets in this room.
Luna mused to herself as she opened the heavy stone door as quietly as possible. Even its edges were padded by leather to prevent both air and sounds from leaking. The door led to a small, narrow stone tunnel that descended down into a spiral staircase. She had no idea where exactly it led, but she could see the flicker of firelight near its end.
There was an excellent chance that it would lead to Konstantin and another one of his hiding spots.
—— * * * ——
“It’s torture, I tell you! Normally I’d have gone to town already and found a nice, pleasant girl to spend my time with. But here? Over three weeks cooped up without another girl to bed?” Konstantin spoke in his thoughts as he lay sunk into a cushioned chair in the dim room. The Farspeak spell carried his inner voice to his dear childhood friend, allowing them to converse over a thousand kilopaces of distance.
“Three weeks and you’re already complaining? I’ve known men who stayed on campaign for years without the touch of a woman!” Aleksandr Tuchkov, or ‘Sachka’ as Konstantin like to call him, chortled in the back of Konstantin’s mind. “I presume that you still haven’t taken that eccentric maid of yours then? Luna, was it?”
“No, yes, and I’m not you,” Konstantin retorted. “I still can’t believe you married and bedded Lidiya the day before you left for war.”
“Lidiya is Grandpa’s favorite, but despite all her qualities she’s still just a commoner,” Aleksandr replied, his tone growing a hint defensive. “I like her. You know I do. But I doubt I would have married this early in life if the war hadn’t forced my hand. I wanted to make sure she would be taken care of should the worst happen. This way, even if I meet the Valkyries tomorrow and Grandpa leaves next month, Lidiya would be the widow of a nobleman, and not just a caretaker hired by my family to tend to my ailing Grandfather.”
“And I guess you wanted the marriage consummated as well?” Konstantin asked before he added in a mocking jest: “virgin.”
“I don’t want to hear that from someone who probably knows every brothel girl in fifty kilopaces,” Aleksandr paused as though he was rolling his eyes. “Lidiya was the one who insisted on it. She said it wouldn’t be fair if she didn’t at least repay me with all that she had.” He added a mental sigh. “I’ve told you before — the Samarans might have a reputation for lacking ambition and focus, but that’s probably because wealth and power doesn’t interest them that much. However, if they feel it’s a moral obligation, then they’ll take it even more seriously than we do.” He added with a helpless snort.
“So I’ve learned.” Konstantin nodded to himself as he thought of Luna.
Konstantin had first heard about Lidiya from Aleksandr just before the Streltsy Revolt. During that Spring, Marshal Tuchkov had a stroke that paralyzed him from the waist down, which unfortunately also prevented him from interceding during the disastrous event that soon followed. The elder Tuchkov’s inability to control his lower bodily functions meant he needed someone to take care of him full time, and it was by mere chance that Aleksandr met Lidiya and hired her for the job.
“So back to the previous topic, why haven’t you taken Luna yet?” Aleksandr asked next.
Konstantin frowned. “I did tell you what I originally bought her as, right?”
“A personal slave? That she’s marked? Yes you’ve told me,” Aleksandr replied. “But Kostya, have you ever considered it this way? Her mark is different from those of most slaves, whom you can take possession of with just a signet ring. Whatever the parchment says, she doesn’t actually, truly belong to you until you bed her. And if you don’t do it, eventually another man will. What will you do then?”
Konstantin paused with a scowl and another, even deeper frown. Then, after a half-minute of silence, he responded half-heartedly:
“If she truly loves him? I’ll transfer her ownership.”
“You say that now,” Aleksandr reprimanded as though he had just heard a terrible joke. “The girl knows most of your secrets and all of your habits and routines. You think even most wives know their husbands that well? Even if you don’t love her, your life wouldn’t be the same if she just leaves. Better to have her stay with you than not.”
“Well she’s not about to leave anytime soon, is she?” Konstantin retorted with a strong desire to have the topic changed. “For Freyja’s sake, Sachka. The girl is still only nineteen, and being a Samaran her lifespan is decades longer than even our own. That means she’s merely an adolescent by her people’s standards! Besides, you don’t think she’s just going to randomly sleep with a man do you?”
“A Samaran? Not a chance.” Aleksandr declared with suppressed laughter as though the very notion was ludicrous. “In fact, Lidiya told me something interesting during our wedding night — she said that Samarans lack libido in general…”
“You’re kidding me,” Konstantin exclaimed as his eyes widened in surprise.
“Makes sense when you think about it,” Aleksandr added. “They have the longest life spans of all human subraces in our world. They’re completely immune to most diseases and poisons. Yet their population grows at the pace of a snail?”
“But how do their men reproduce then?”
“Don’t ask me. I didn’t marry one,” Aleksandr answered with a chortle. “But Lidiya did expressedly tell me that between Samarans, they only make love when there’s a desire to reproduce. And in an ‘outsider marriage’, as they call it…”
“The ‘outsider’ has to do all the begging,” Konstantin almost laughed as he imagined Sachka, who has always been shy around girls, trying to coax his wife into have sex with him. “But sheesh, no alcohol and no sex? What did their ancestors do to offend the gods so?”
“I don’t ‘beg’ for coitus, unlike a certain raunchy lordling,” Aleksandr’s annoyance came clearly through his mental speech. “Though I will bow to your knowledge of the ladies… In fact,” his volume suddenly plummeted as though embarrassed, “if I come back, I need to ask you for a few pointers… I’m not sure Lidiya enjoyed our last time together much.”
Konstantin grinned as he could almost imagine how beet red Aleksandr’s face must be when he said that.
“When you come back, I’ll be happy to give you a few pointers. Assuming of course that Samaran physiology is similar down there to ordinary human girls.”
“I wouldn’t know the answer to that either, now would I?” Another half-grumpy, half-sheepish remark came.
This time, Konstantin couldn’t hold it any more. It was a good thing that he wasn’t in the same room as his best friend, or the latter might have been offended as he burst out laughing in response.
“Get a midwife to check you goof! It’s not like they haven’t seen hundreds!”
“And what do I tell her?” Aleksandr retorted. “Dearest, I need this stranger to inspect your genitals for absolutely no reason.”
“Tell her your mother is concerned about her fertility and her ability to give you a successor,” Konstantin created a credible lie as easily as he breathed. “You said that your mother was against the marriage from the start, didn’t you?”
“She still is.” Aleksandr confirmed with another mental sigh. “I love and respect my dear Mama, but she can be bit of a… snob. Besides, it wouldn’t really be a lie either, since Mama did express concerns over our compatibility and ability to have children.”
You’re just like Luna. Stop worrying about a little harmless lie, Konstantin thought in amusement, before a noise coming from up the stairs seized his attention.
Konstantin immediately sat up straight from his sunken posture, before rising to his feet and seizing the sheathed sword that he left within reach.
“Sorry I’m going to have to cut this, Sachka. Something is going on upstairs.”
“We’re about to prepare breakfast and start the day’s march anyway. Take care!”
The Farspeak spell ended with a ringing chime in the back of Konstantin’s mind. Meanwhile the young lord silently made his way to the side of the stairway landing and hid himself against the wall. If the intruder was Luna, then no real harm was done. She already knew he had secret storage rooms and would have learned about this place sooner or later.
But if it was someone else… then his blade would aim straight for their jugular. Even if it was the innocent new maid, he would have little choice but to kill in order to protect himself.
—— * * * ——
Luna stepped down from the spiral staircase, only to freeze immediately as she saw a flicker of light before a cold, sharp edge pressed against her neck. Her breath stopped as she slowly turned her head left, only to see Konstantin expel his own breath as he lowered his arming sword.
“Thank the Stormlord it’s just you,” Konstantin relaxed as he sheathed his blade one more. “How did you find the entrance?”
“You left the door ajar upstairs, and I heard a muffled noise,” Luna replied evenly. Yet contrary to her steady voice, she could still hear her heart pounding in her ears.
For a moment Konstantin scowled inwardly as he grew annoyed with himself. Then he sighed, “well it’s a good thing I only come down here when the servants are busy or sleeping then. I was having a chat with Sachka — you remember him right? Couldn’t help laughing out loud.”
Luna nodded. She still remembered that handsome young man they met in a tavern in Boh just a month ago. “He must be marching east now with the rest of the army.”
“Yes,” Konstantin nodded as he walked to a cushioned chair, the only chair down here in this room, and sat down. “We were discussing the strategic situation, and also some events in his personal life.”
Konstantin didn’t add any more details, though Luna understood perfectly well as he had explained it to her once before. He often held back information not because he didn’t trust her, but because telling her wouldn’t do her any favors. Considering all of the secrets surrounding him that could put their lives in danger, he believed that the less information she was exposed to, the better it would be for her own safety.
It was most likely the reason why he never brought her down here. But now that she had discovered this hidden chamber, he didn’t seem to care.
Nodding along, Luna looked around the dim, barely furnished room with its rough stone walls. The chamber had a low ceiling with perhaps less than three paces of clearance in height. But it was long and wide, with four bulky pillars in the center of the room to hold up the bedroom above. The sides of the room were mostly too dark to see, filled with various chests and sacks and other containers. Only in the center of the room was there a cushioned seat and a single massive table, which was filled with colored sand and sculpted to look like a topographical display of flatlands, rivers, and hills.
Atop the three-dimensional topographical map were a series of rectangular wooden blocks in Polisian blue-and-white. They were arrayed into five separate columns, which laid on the green sands that represented grasslands.
“I’m guessing this is the army’s marching formation that you just learned from Lord Tuchkov?” Luna asked.
“Correct,” Konstantin replied with a mild smile, looking slightly impressed that she guessed the purpose of the table so easily. “Can you also understand what’s going on based on the map alone?”
Luna looked back to the table. As a girl born to a traveling merchant, she herself had no military education or knowledge. However she was also Alexei, whose memories she had been reliving for years now, and he was anything but ignorant when it came to military affairs.
Sure, Alexei might not have fought in any ‘real’ wars. However that didn’t change the fact he took part in countless armed conflicts between live people in an environment where everything was simulated down to the most minute details. In the world known as EVE Online, the boy served in communications, logistics, operational analysis, and occasionally even tactical command. His actions had impacted dozens if not hundreds of people in several long years of war — a struggle for survival and dominance that they truly believed in.
And after countless hours watching Alexei read star maps and force displays, or studying military history to improve his own understanding of tactics and strategy, Luna had learned a thing or two from ‘her’ past experiences.
“Don’t worry if you can’t,” Konstantin smiled dismissively as though he already knew the outcome. “Not many people truly know how to read a military map.”
For most people her age, the young baron’s attitude alone would have sparked a challenge. But for Luna, she merely nodded in reply without giving his words a second thought.
Looking over the map table, Luna could identify that the Polisian’s army had been split along five main marching columns, which would form a slanted cross if one drew two lines to connect them. Three of these columns advanced along a single road that connected the Principality of Seym to the besieged White Fortress of Sarkel. Meanwhile, the two remaining columns covered the flanks as they marched along smaller, local roads, forming the edges of a wide broom that sought to sweep all enemies aside.
The smallest of these five forces led in the front as the vanguard. It was formed entirely of blocks with a single slash representing cavalry units. They were also labeled with the small sign ‘Nikolai & Pavel’.
“Who are Nikolai and Pavel?” Luna asked.
“They’re Sachka’s two eldest brothers,” Konstantin answered with a bit of surprise that she’d even ask. “Technically their father Vladislav Petrovich is in command of the vanguard, but…” he shrugged at the table with a frustrated sigh and an annoyed frown.
It didn’t take long for Luna to figure out why. The other two brothers, with their label ‘Sergey & Sachka’, were placed all the way back with the rearmost column. This force held only a handful of infantry blocks denoted by a crossed double-slash, alongside many wooden pieces that bore the simple representation of a wagon-bed on wheels.
Grand Prince Mstislav must have intentionally split up the forces raised by the Tuchkov family, Luna guessed. She knew from Konstantin’s rendezvous with Aleksandr that the Grand Prince did not trust the Tuchkovs, who claimed to switch sides to the Populist faction only after the Streltsy Revolt had crushed the Reformists.
Between the vanguard and the supply column was the main force commanded by Mstislav himself. It included over a third of the druzhina household cavalry, the bulk of the streltsy semi-professional troops, and all three of the elite paramilitary religious orders. In all likelihood, these units were either seen as loyal to the Grand Prince and his Populist faction, or — in the case of the religious orders — were regarded as ‘above politics’. Altogether, around forty-percent of the total combat strength of the army was gathered in this central column, including the entirety of its air cavalry.
However the remainder of the military potential was distributed along the two wings. The left flank was led by ‘Lord Boris Sheremetev-Naryshkin’, a clan name that Luna recognized from the conservative-wing Isolationists that Konstantin just formed a secret alliance with. Their household troops and levies were clearly behind schedule in their march. Their position was noticeably lagging behind and running almost parallel with the supply column.
Meanwhile, the right wing was commanded by ‘Prince Vladimir Vorontsov’, whose own forces were so eager they were challenging the vanguard column for who gets to be in front. Luna wasn’t sure what political faction they belonged to. Though guessing by their ardor for valor and prestige, it was possible that they were simply opportunists who paid lip service to the Grand Prince while seeking glory for themselves.
Together, the two wings commanded as many trained soldiers as the center force, except they were dispersed across the open terrain by nearly a hundred kilopaces based on Konstantin’s rudimentary map scale. Considering the standard marching speed of just above seven kilopaces per hour, that was almost two days of march! However unlike the all-cavalry vanguard, both wings contained large numbers of infantry levies from the Home Guard. This meant neither could retreat tactically in the face of a mounted Eastling army. And if either of the two wings were to be attacked, there was little chance of support arriving on time from the center column, let alone the other wing!
Of course, it was possible that this was simply a marching formation. The dispersed columns allowed the army to take advantage of more roads and forage, which equated to a faster overland advance. However, if the army actually engaged the enemy like this, the sheer distance between the individual forces meant that they would have to fight almost independently, basically cutting this massive force into pieces for the enemy to defeat in detail.
Considering the political disunity among the Polisian leadership, all of this left a worrying sign for the days to come. Could the army unite and fight as one when it truly mattered? As Luna glanced towards Konstantin, she could see that the same concerns filled his worried, emerald gaze. Meanwhile his scowling lips was dominated by a deep frustration — because as much as he might recognize the risks, he was helpless to do anything about them.
With a troubled sigh, Konstantin pulled away and straightened his back. His eyes then met Luna’s with a deep, piercing gaze. He might not expect her to grasp what she saw, but he would certainly give her a chance.
“So, what do you think? Can you identify the main problem?”
Luna frowned. Should she tell Konstantin her entire train of thought? He has always appreciated her insight when it came to people, to politics, and to nature. But this wasn’t a mere social or survival topic. This was a military affair, a field entirely dominated by men. Surely Konstantin would be curious about how a simple girl with a middle-class upbringing learned so much about military analysis and planning.
How would she answer him then?
Well My Lordship, you see, I was a boy in my previous life in another world…
Even the thought of it sounded stupid in Luna’s mind. Her master might think it was fool’s remark and find it oddly uncharacteristic. He could brush it off as an amusing quirk, like that day when they met Anton’s Druzhina and Luna started blurting out names.
But what if he took it seriously? What if he let his imagination run wild because he could not otherwise comprehend what it meant to relive a ‘previous life’? How would he react to the Samarans’ ability to influence their gender upon rebirth?
What if he ends up thinking of her as some sort of half-gendered hermaphrodite abomination who was neither male nor female? How would he think of her then?
Would he find her disgusting? A fraud pretending to be an innocent girl who took advantage of his charity? Would he still show her the same kindness as he had always shown? The same protection and care for someone who was, in the eyes of society, mere property?
Luna could feel a droplet of cold sweat run down her back. In the years since she lost her family, her life had relied upon one stabilizing factor — and that was the generosity of the young man before her.
He had given her a comfortable home and a respectable job. He even became a confidante who genuinely cared for her.
Would she risk it all? Over this one silly answer that didn’t even matter? Would she reveal all that baggage from a previous life, just to impress him with some insights that he probably already knew? After all, she cannot aid anyone by revealing her knowledge, but she might help herself by keeping it a secret.
The answer was obvious.
“I’m… not really sure what to make of it.”
It’s not really even a lie, Luna tried to console herself. She really wasn’t sure what to make of it, yet. The army would have to redeploy from marching formation into battle order before she could be sure that her concerns were valid.
But she also knew that this wasn’t the answer Konstantin sought. It wasn’t even what he meant when he asked. She was deliberately misleading him with a murky reply, and…
For a moment even Konstantin didn’t seem convinced by her response. His left brow tilted by a hint while the other frowned, a clear sign that he knew something was extremely off about her behavior. After four years of time together, the astute young nobleman had learned every one of the hints and tells that revealed Luna’s anxiety or nervousness. Combined with the fact that she was not accustomed to being anything except unabashedly honest, it was ridiculous to think that she could hide this from him.
Nevertheless, Konstantin’s doubts lasted only a moment, before he shrugged to let it go. Luna knew her saving grace was that she had never given him doubt to question her honesty, and Konstantin must have concluded that there was something else troubling her.
“Don’t worry about it. The ugliness of war isn’t really a topic appropriate for girls anyway,” he remarked before chuckling. “Unless your name is Katsiaryna Vladislavna Tuchkova,” he named Aleksandr’s little sister, the youngest of the five Tuchkov siblings, with a familial fondness.
Yet, even in that moment of relief, Luna couldn’t help but scowl inwardly. Since her arrival in this manor, the young lord had never shown anything but honesty and sincerity towards her. It was a favor that she deeply appreciated, one that she returned in kind, until today.
This was the first time she had truly deceived him on anything of importance. And Luna felt a profound sense of guilt gnawing away at her chest, accompanied by the need to silently apologize.
I’m sorry, Your Lordship.
- The Battle of 46DP-O, which took place on June 2007, is recorded as the first Titan destroyed in battle in EVE history. The reconstructed scene partly used dialogue found in surviving video records and partly made up to connect the dots of that battle’s events, based on the summary from EVE historian Andrew Groen in Empires of EVE I.
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