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Chapter 3225: Overreaction

The value of good intelligence capabilities became highly evident today as Calabast managed to discover an ambush in the making.

As soon as Ves discretely passed on the news to a small group of important Larkinsons and allies, the leaders of the Golden Skull Alliance became incredibly alarmed.

Although many people in the expeditionary fleet anticipated that the Vulcanites wouldn’t be easy to deal with, few of them actually thought that the situation could deteriorate to this degree.

The Larkinsons, Glory Seekers and Crossers didn’t even do anything! They had barely begun to travel towards the interior of the Vulcan Empire. They never stopped by any of the dwarven-occupied star systems during their guided journey and never communicated or did anything with any dwarven ships they met on their way.

The only dwarves the Larkinsons engaged with were the Pershams. Now that it was clear that the Ferrils intended to attack the expeditionary fleet, Ves couldn’t help but direct his suspicions towards his apparent guides.

Had the Pershams led them into this ambush?

He did not develop this suspicion out of the blue. Assuming that Calabast’s intelligence was accurate, then the Ferril Provincial Army already dispatched a combined force consisting of three complete mech divisions straight to Fordilla Zentra, the star system that the expeditionary fleet had just arrived in a couple hours ago.

How did the Ferrils know about the location of the expeditionary fleet? How were hostile Vulcanites able to anticipate the route to such a degree that they were able to send a combat fleet to an empty and unimportant star system at roughly the right time?

According to the estimates provided by Calabast, the incoming punitive fleet would arrive in Fordilla Zentra well before most ships of the Golden Skull Alliance finished cycling their FTL drives!

Depending on how much distance the incoming dwarven fleet needed to traverse in order to close in on the expeditionary fleet, the entire expeditionary fleet might or might not be able to escape from this star system in time.

While vessels with faster-cycling FTL drives and multiple drives might be able to get out right away, they would still have to leave a lot behind!

If it came down to it, Ves didn’t mind abandoning his less valuable and increasingly more irrelevant support ships. They were already close enough to the beyonder gate that his combat ships could easily support a battle or two without requiring extensive replenishment.

“We’ll be abandoning all of our sub-capital ships anyway once we’re ready to pass through the first beyonder gate.”

That didn’t mean it was a good idea to evacuate and scuttle all of the combat and non-combat vessels that weren’t able to cycle their FTL drives in time.

“We’re too deep in dwarf country.” Ves murmured.

It would take too long to reach the border of Smiling Samuel and reenter the Empire of the Lost.

With the dwarven fleet so close in pursuit, it was highly likely that their dedicated combat vessels were able to catch up to the expeditionary fleet.

The punitive fleet dispatched by the Ferril Provincial Army operated in friendly territory and did not need to drag along any slow and lumbering logistical or civilian vessels. This gave them a crucial advantage in FTL cycling time that would allow them to jump sooner than the entire expeditionary fleet!

Though Ves was not completely certain whether interception was possible, he had to take the worst-case scenario into account.

“No wait. It can get even worse.” He frowned.

The fact that they were already in the Vulcan Empire meant that other Vulcanite forces might be on their way to surround and block the escape of the expeditionary fleet.

This didn’t sound too likely right now as the Ferrils decided to attack the human visitors on their own, but the situation could easily change if battle commenced between the two forces!

Whether the Larkinsons won or lost this battle, the other dwarves in the Vulcan Empire would never allow any humans who attacked their own kind to get away!

Faced with all of these looming threats, Ves and the others had no choice but to quietly prepare for battle.

News soon spread throughout the ships that the dwarves intended to attack them all. Fortunately, panic hadn’t erupted and no one had made any moves that revealed their awareness of an impending attack in front of the dwarven patrol ship.

It was crucial for the Golden Skull Alliance to maintain an information advantage during this crisis. The less the dwarves knew about their targets, the better!

Twenty minus passed since Ves quietly spread the word. The drums of war rumbled throughout the entire fleet.

All of the mech legions and other combat forces were quietly readying for battle without being too obvious about it. Most of the movements took place inside ships. From space, the same mechs continued on with their lazy patrols with no sign that their mech pilots had become a lot jumpier.

Mechs were being prepared for battle. Mech pilots received preliminary briefings. The medical doctors were preparing for a flood of wounded soldiers while the ship crews were buttoning down as much equipment as possible in anticipation for hull breaches and other emergencies.

All of the civilians and non-combat personnel received instructions to hole themselves up in protected compartments with easy access to escape pods.

Meanwhile, Ves and several other important leaders held an emergency meeting.

In order to save time and minimize any useless discussions, only a small number of people came together this time.

From the Larkinson Clan, Ves, General Verle and Calabast appeared in the conference room. The latter were stationed aboard the Graveyard and the Blinding Banshee respectively, so they showed up by projection.

The projections of two Glory Seekers appeared a moment later. Marshal Ariadne Wodin and Venerable Brutus Wodin both looked grave. They had no doubts about the warning issued by the Larkinsons.

The projection of the Crossers appeared last. Patriarch Reginald Cross and Professor Benedict Cortez looked dourer than the rest. They were the least amused about the prospect of an impending battle.

“I told you it was a bad idea to enter the Vulcan Empire.” Patriarch Reginald immediately accused. “I don’t know why we believed in you and agreed to follow you into this dangerous state. The dwarves were always a threat!”

The Cross Patriarch’s memory appeared to be faulty. Ves wasn’t in a hurry to remind the Cross Patriarch of their admittedly insane deal. This wasn’t the time to score points.

“Let’s give Calabast an opportunity to explain what she has discovered.” Ves gestured to the woman’s projection.

“Thank you, patriarch.” Calabast said in a serious tone. Her usual playfulness was entirely absent this time. “Let me begin by summarizing how we managed to find proof of an incoming threat. It all started as soon as we began to communicate with the dwarven patrol captain. Although dwarves are substantially different from normal humans, their body language and facial tics are largely the same. I immediately judged that the Ferril patrol officer harbored greater hostility towards us than normal.”

THat had led her and her Black Cats to leverage the advanced hacking capabilities of the Blinding Banshee to breach the dwarven frigate’s security systems.

It was quite impressive that they managed to intrude into the systems of a military vessel without alarming their targets. Though it took plenty of time, Calabast and her analysts managed to gather various clues that the situation was not quite right. Once they managed to breach into the encrypted communication system and read the dwarf captain’s secret correspondence, she finally found proof to back up her suspicions!

Calabast spent a few minutes presenting key pieces of evidence. Unless the communication was faked, which was extremely unlikely due to all of the circumstantial evidence that the Black Cats had gathered, the Ferril Provincial Army was truly out on a warpath against the Golden Skull Alliance!

“What I don’t understand is why the dwarves are targeting us.” Venerable Brutus frowned. “What did we do that offends them so much?”

“We offended them by being humans. Nothing more.” Ves dourly answered. “These dwarves are so prejudiced against tall folk that they don’t need to find a good excuse to whip up their soldiers to attack us. Just our height is enough of a reason to desire our destruction.”

“Ahem.” Calabast softly cleared her throat. “My analysts have attempted to understand the situation of the Ferril Province in these last twenty minutes. From what we know, previous human trading fleets that entered the Vulcan Empire had indeed delivered crown terrorists to the doorsteps of the dwarves. However, the terrorist attacks amounted to little more than crashing shuttles into ships, detonating bombs on space stations and dropping space junk into the atmosphere of settled planets. These are serious incidents but less than a thousand dwarves have actually lost their lives throughout the Vulcan Empire.”

This was a trivial amount of losses relative to the size of the dwarven state. The main reason for that was because there weren’t many foreign trading fleets with MTA passes to begin with. The amount of deadly incidents that unfolded amounted to less than a dozen attempts.

“So the dwarves are overreacting just because of a thousand deaths?” Patriarch Reginald frowned.

“Humans are demonized in the Vulcan Empire. Our perceived threat is far greater than our actual threat in the eyes of the dwarves. There are also multiple strong factions within his state that have a high interest in whipping up the Vulcanites against the humans. They have deliberately manipulated the media to paint human visitors like us as dwarf killers. The result of all of this is that a huge majority of Ferrils including its leaders consider us to be an incoming attack force. It doesn’t help that we have brought far more combat assets than a typical trading fleet.”

Ves groaned and pressed his fingers against his forehead. “These stupid dwarves! They’ve fallen into conspiracy theory! Our itinerary doesn’t even bring us close to any dwarven population center! We just need to go in and out of their territory without exposing us to any potential dangers. Why couldn’t they have at least talked to us before deciding to take us down?”

There wasn’t sense in discussing the motives of Ferrils. It was quite troublesome to mobilize three entire mech divisions at once and task them with intercepting a powerful foreign fleet on short notice.

Everyone just had to accept that the dwarves were committed to an attack and respond accordingly.

“If we end up in battle against this incoming dwarven fleet, what do we have to defend our fleet?” Ves asked.

“We can deploy roughly 12,000 mechs or six mech regiments worth of combat mechs.” General Verle replied. “We actually have double the amount of mech pilots but not enough machines to put them in the field.”

Ves winced when he heard that. This was a fault that he was very much aware of. Though his clan made some attempts to expand the amount of mech carrying capacity in the fleet, it didn’t make much sense to acquire more sub-capital ships at this juncture. The current climate also made it a lot harder to acquire combat carriers from the open market.

“Our Glory Seekers can deploy around 5,000 mechs at this time.” Marshal Ariadne spoke up next.

“The Cross Clan can contribute up to 6,000 mechs for this battle.” Patriarch Reginald simply answered.

These were slightly better numbers than Ves expected. Both the Glory Seekers and the Crossers worked hard to recover from the losses they incurred from the Battle of Reckoning. They even managed to expand past their original troop levels and start this coming engagement on a much stronger footing than in the past!

However, Ves began to ask another critical question.

“How many expert mechs can we muster?”

General Verle grimaced. “Four. Our Larkinson Clan still has two expert pilots without their own expert mechs.”

“None. We are still waiting for you to develop an expert mech for Venerable Brutus.” Marshal Ariadne said and gestured to the quiet expert pilot sitting by her side.

Patriarch Reginald also looked grim. “Three.”

That was seven in total, which could be either good or bad.

It all depended on how many expert mechs the dwarven punitive fleet had brought. Everyone turned to Calabast once again.

“What can you tell us about our pursuers?”

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