And Angelic Hosts Proclaim I

It was a quiet evening (New Eden local time) as the infamous Proteus-class vessel, Edge, plied the ley lines of the Bleak Lands and Heimatar. Despite the presence of Curatores Veritatis Alliance forces aiming to reclaim a toe-hold of imperial authority on behalf of the 24th Imperial Crusade, the extensive fighting that had once characterized the warzone had virtually evaporated. Even the sudden, vengeful strike of the Tribal Liberation Force against the last holdouts of the 24th–Arzad, Sahtogas–the fighting had been fierce but confined.

And the Edge had followed along ruthlessly in the wake of combat.

The Edge was equipped with state-of-the-art exploration sensors, a cloaking device subsystem not uncommon for many strategic cruisers, a power core multiplier that fed substantial streams of energy into the reactor core, and a gravitational capacitor (primacy of discovery for which was claimed simultaneously by the Caldari State and the Gallente Federation) that increased the Proteus’ warp speed. By all rights, the Edge was seemingly designed as an exploration ship or as a lowsec smuggler to deliver drugs (an occupation made obsolete by CONCORD legalization).

In truth, however, the Edge was a hunter. Like the omnipresent specter of the fury of the Almighty, it waited for the aftermath of engagements on common escape lines and shipping routes, destroying escape pods as they ran for the protection of station, citadel, or highsec. By no means was the Edge the first or greatest of its kind–the Katana in the Black Rise region fulfilled a similar role and with a much longer legacy–but at meting out death, there were fewer ships that performed the almost surgically precise executions that the Edge and its counterparts could provide.

Today, however, it was a quiet night. The great cataclysmic battles of the spring had waned into a lull of a summer. The shipping lanes had seen a corresponding decrease in volume as the warzone’s map was re-written by the rust-colored banners of the Tribal Liberation Force. The once-great bastions of Amarrian dominance: Huola, Kourmonen, Arzad, Kamela, and Sahtogas, had each fallen and with them the champions of Holy Amarr had fallen back to Mehatoor or turned to the aid of the faithful of Providence. Of course, that meant fewer escape pods were dallying through the warzone. Many of them, of course, were loyal Amarr attempting to reclaim that warzone, and if not for a particular pilot who remained loyal and flew with the militia despite the defections that had characterized an alliance they had served in together, he would be targeting them as traitors as well.

It had been more than a chance encounter, which was not to say that the event had been planned–such was the purpose of blind dates, after all. Nonetheless, he had found the message from Lunarisse Aspenstar of the Societas Imperialis Sceptri Coronaeque to be somewhat of a surprise given the ambivalent attitude that Amarrian conservatives viewed his service to the Empire. At first, he was hesitant to accept the invitation, but Red’s prodding pushed him in the direction to socialize–something she had pointed out, should have been second nature to him–and thus he had found himself sitting in a corner of the Skyhook, a nightclub in the Gamis system.

The sound of three young women laughing and talking among each other had somehow managed to overcome the ambient sounds attributed to night clubs–the Gallente swing music, the clinking of glasses, the boisterous laughs of baseliners. He had thus stood to meet them, per the traditional custom–always stand when approached by a lady, his mother would say. The conversation they were maintaining almost froze him in place.

“… everytime I run into a Lord I seem to get into trouble. Did I ever tell you when I went with Lord Zeke to Lord Sakakibara’s carnival?” The young woman leading them shook her head, “Don’t go there. And then the next time I saw two lords, they got into a duel. That was Lord Sakakibara too. It was bloody and awful–”

And then his eyes had met hers. Maria Daphiti, Praetoria Imperialis Excubitoris, formerly In Exile., Imperial Outlaws. She flashed a quick smile to him, though only the most ignorant of the nobility wouldn’t have seen the smile as forced. That, of course, didn’t mean that his own response wasn’t masked with as much decorum as he could muster.

He bowed partially out of instinct and partially to hide the flicker of terror on his face, “Lieutenant–excuse me–Captain Daphiti. What a surprise to see you here.”

She responded with a cheeriness that seemed all but forced, “Hello Lord Sakakibara. What… a surprise!”

The young Captain, whose face was turning slightly pink, immediately turned his attention to the two women accompanying her, who seemed engrossed in a conversation about billiards, “Joining us at the table tonight will be Varcutii Renalard and Shalinea Vyvorant. My mother thought it would be more conversational with a pair.”

Reginald smiled a court-pressed smile, that same smile beaten into him with a switch over the course of his rearing, “How excellent!” He bowed to each in turn, “Good evening, my ladies.”

Varcutii smiled cheerfully, “Hi there!”

Shalinea did likewise with a, “Nice to meet you!” of her own.

Maria paused for a moment, then ventured, “Shall we sit and get to know each other… better?”

It was as if a pall normally associated with funerals gripped the table around which they stood. They might as well have been viewing the open casket of Empress Jamyl herself–a blasphemous thought, as no one knew where the late Empress Jamyl’s body was actually located. The awkwardness hung like a forlorn jungle canopy. Reginald felt his mind beginning to retreat from the excursion until a familiar voice banished the thoughts for him.

“You idiot, ask her to sit down!” A little girl’s voice–Red’s voice–pierced.

He suppressed the sudden urge to glance around for the source, and instead put on another smile, “Please,” he pulled out a chair for his date, “After you, Captain Daphiti.”

The pall slowly melted away as Shalinea prepared the seats for herself and Varcutii, though Maria only took her seat with a none-too-noticeable trace of awkwardness and another flashed smile. As the other two women settled into their seats, Maria placed her hands together and broached conversation.

“Well… small world,” She chuckled, looking at Reginald.

Reginald responded almost automatically, “Well, you look lovely this evening, Captain Daphiti.

Maria brightened, tilting her head in an oddly familiar gesture, “Why don’t you introduce yourself, Milord?”

Vacutii chimed in, “Ya know the good sir?”

“Of course!” Reginald tried to laugh away the anxiety, “Where are my manners? My name is Reginald Sakakibara. A pleasure to make your acquaintances Miss Vyvorant, Miss Renalard.”

Maria added a touch more information about both for Reginald’s benefit, “Miss Renalard is from the Society. Miss Vyvorant… is a free agent?”

Reginald pondered what ‘free agent’ might mean for a moment and actually entertained the notion of inquiring further. It would have been a social disaster, which was why he was thankful Shalinea asked after fidgeting with her fingers, “Maria said you were a Lord?” She added quickly, “Oh and nice to meet you too, sir.”

Reginald nodded, falling back easily into rote repetition, “I serve as the Lord Adjutant for the Cerra Holding in Huola on behalf of Lady Shalee Lianne.”

Varcutii failed to suppress a grin–one that Reginald recognized likely had something to do with how formal he was being, “Those are some totally awesome moves ya got there… Sir.”

Despite his mental preparation, he found himself turning slightly red at Varcutii’s comments, “Habit, I’m afraid. The situation in Huola has had me in a series of meetings since the Minmatar seized it back from us.”

The faux pas took a moment to slink beneath the surface before pouncing upon the conversation.

“Oh! How is Shalee! I mean Lady Cerra?” Her expression fell as the remainder of his words sunk in, “Oh yeah. Huola fell. Again.” She deflated.

“As I understand, she is quite well. On sabbatical, as it were. She’s been spared the fight for the system, though at this point she’s accustomed, I believe.”

Varcutii and Shalinea, whether out of interest of one another or out of respect for the disaster Reginald was steering his date into, were busy discussing billiards.

He tried to salvage the mood, “But she speaks highly of you, Captain Daphiti. And I’m certain she would love to host you at the estate when she is next able.”

“That’d be awesome,” She chewed her lip, asking quietly, “So did Cerra Manor fall planetside?”

It was too late for Reginald to backtrack from the ludicrously horrendous choice of conversation. While he pondered how he could save the date–a date which he was beginning to suspect was a terrible idea to attend–he noticed Shalinea and Varcutii discussing the menu. They wouldn’t bail him out of this one, it seemed. And why would they? He was a Holder, though perhaps Varcutii found it amusing that he was so socially inept.

“In actuality,” He replied, “We’ve not seen much fighting on the ground. It’s as if the mercenaries just vanished.”

“Awesome. So… everything’s still as it was,” She smiled a little.”

He took a longshot, “Would you like a drink, Captain Daphiti? Shall we leave the warzone behind, tonight?”

Shalinea inquired with Maria simultaneously, “What do you think, Maria? What is good here?”

Maria responded to both, perhaps a little flustered, “Drinks. Yes, a drink could be good.”

The evening moved forward with the introduction of “Screaming Demons” being brought to the table. In a distant planet called earth, it would have looked like a vodka concoction with greenish creme de menthe. As Varcutii put it, the taste was evocative of mouthwash and it hit like an Arty Machariel. Reginald could attest to that effect, once they had placed their orders–Caldari dumplings and a species of beetle that was evidently popular among the Ni-Kunni–and settled into something closer to normalcy.

Now, it was time to fix the evening.