Title: In The Gardens Of The Past, Part 24 (Book II: The War Cry, Part 2)

Author: B5Crusader@geocities.com
Date: 07-01-98

Ser'na Orbit (Ser'pak Homeworld), Ser'Hal Alliance

"They're targeting the Hestanna! All roin break and attack!" Shai Alyt Hetarr growled over the commline, as he quickly spun his fighter to the new threat.

Before him he could see dozens of K'ran fighters swarming the aging Minbari War Cruiser. The Hestanna had at one time been the pinnacle of Minbari engineering. Time and technological advancements had, up until two years ago, relegated the massive cruiser to backwater garrison patrols.

Hetarr was not sure why Valen had chosen the Hestanna as his flagship. Certainly the renovated systems were still far behind those of newer cruisers like the Pelara Gok and his own roin's fighter carrier, the Shendraa. Nevertheless, Valen had made the Hestanna his own flagship and Hetarr was determined to stop the K'ran from destroying it, and his people's last hope.

Hetarr frowned grimly as he saw the massive cruiser seem to shudder and several apparently crippled K'ran fighters tried to ram the ship. Two succeeded, engulfing the lower left fin in a fire ball. 'Faster. Faster.' He willed his fighter.

Hetarr wasn't sure how the K'ran could know the Hestanna was the fleet's flagship, but somehow they had known that the newer and more powerful cruisers like the Pelara Gok were not the flagship. All he knew now was it was up to him and his roin to save them.

"Spear of Light roin, initiate Firesweep in ten seconds." Hetarr ordered as he noticed his fellow pilots had formed on his lead.

"This is Sha'tha Roin to Spear of Light Roin, we shall follow your lead." Hetarr could not help but smile, pleased to hear Emphilio's voice.

"Understood, Sha'tha." Hetarr responded briskly.

WarCruiser Hestanna

Valen grabbed the nearby railing to steady himself as the cruiser shock violently.

"Two got through. Major damage to Right Anterior wing. Gravimetric drive stable but main power loss on three decks." One of the techs reported, far more calmly than Valen had expected for the youth he saw.

"How many more?" Valen asked, coughing slightly at the acrid smoke in the air.

"Too many." The tech reported, almost irritated.

"New target: K'ran light cruiser. Bearing 45 by 32 by 100. Within optimum firing range." Theran, the weapons officer reported.

Valen clenched his jaw in frustration as he looked at the tactical display seeing dozens of Minbari fighters between the Hestanna and the K'ran cruiser. "Fire." He commanded, part of himself feeling like he was dying as he gave the order.

"Vis, Entil'zha." The weapons officer replied without hesitation, ignoring the protestations of the Hestanna's current Shai Alyt, Tedesk.

Sha'tha Roin

"By Valeria!" Emphilio whispered stunned as she came out of a high-g turn only to see the Hestanna light up the immediate area of space as it's main ion cannons fired in a brilliant fusillade of light.

Several unlucky fighters, both K'ran and Minbari, were destroyed, their existence only marked by small miniature suns as their engines went critical and exploded. The only more impressive sight was the fiery demise of the K'ran cruiser that had been the focus of the attack. It now hung broken and burning in space.

"Sha'tha Roin, form up." She ordered. There was still many enemies to be dealt with in this battle.

Spear of Light Roin

'The K'ran are fierce fighters, but poor pilots.'

Hetarr calmly triggered his weapons and watched with mild satisfaction as the K'ran fighter exploded as his computer warned him of enemy weapons lock. He was not concerned knowing his second would take of the K'ran within moments. An instant later the computer confirmed what he knew would be as he quickly dodged the debris and looped back to rejoin the rest of his fellow pilots.

Seeing no immediate danger, Hetarr took the moment to quickly determine the situation. Most of the K'ran fleet had been destroyed, their fiery hulks littering the starscape before him. It was a sight that filled him with great satisfaction.

Quickly pushing aside the feeling, he took note that a small number of K'ran fighters were apparently regrouping to attack the Hestanna again. He was pleased to see the Shendraa moving to intercept them, but knew the fighter carriers weapons were insufficient to handle the large number of enemy craft rapidly approaching.

"All Roin, protect the Hestanna and Shendraa by any means necessary." He ordered over the commline, not needing to hear there affirmations to know they would gladly do as he ordered.

"Shai Alyt, I am picking up unusual emission." His second noted suddenly.

War Cruiser Hestanna

"The K'ran warships are pulling back under their fighter screen." The tactical officer reported.

Valen quickly scanned the displays, nodding his head in agreement of the information he saw scroll across the screens. "Have all troop carriers initiate primary launches for the surface."

"What of the remaining K'ran vessels?" Theran asked.

Valen looked back at the display. "Sherann has anticipated this. Already his fleet moves eliminate them. The Shendraa and the remaining fighter roin in our vicinity already move to assist us as we speak. Proceed with the primary launches."

"Yes, sir." Theran nodded once and quickly relayed the order to the fleet.

"Helm, move into attack vector so that we may rejoin Sherann's main forces as quickly as possible."

The helmsman instantly input the new course change. An moment later the young woman gasped. "Entil'zha! Jumppoint forming."

"Where?" He demanded., knowing it wasn't any of his allied ships.

"Practically on top of us."

"Show me." He demanded.

Instantly the bridge's main screen switched from the tactical display to a view from the hull. Valen felt himself go cold as he saw two small Shadow vessels 'wibbled' out of seeming nothingness to their full fearsome manifestation.

"My God." His whispered to himself as his world turned to fire.

Spear of Light Roin

"Shadows!" Hetarr barked over the commline as he saw the two spider like vessels fire at the Hestanna, slicing the old cruiser apart with their cutting beams.

He was amazed the Hestanna survived the first onslaught and was able to actually roll it's heavily damaged side away from the new threat. He knew better than to think the old ship was anything but a crippled hulk in space now. His only concern was to stop the Shadow vessels from completely annihilating the ship, and with it the dreams of his people.

Without even speaking the fighters, both his roin and from others, started firing desperately on the Shadow ships.

Sha'tha Roin

Emphilio quickly accelerated on the second ship seeing the majority of the Minbari fighters had concentrated on the first Shadow vessel. It was obvious to her that the second ship was moving to a better position to finish of the Hestanna from its weakened side.

She also had already calculated that she would never be able to do enough damage in time to stop the ship. But she had to try. She owed the crew of the Hestanna that much. She owed Valen that much. She wasn't about to simply stand by and allow the dream to die without so much as a fight.

She kept firing her weapons, ignoring the warning of her computer.

Seeing the Shadow vessel turning into position she moved to ram the ship with her fighter but stopped at the Shadow ship was suddenly engulfed in fire. An instant later the Shendraa rammed the damaged portion of the ship, neatly skewering it in the middle.

Both ships tumbled in space dangerously, forcing Emphilio to dodge the very vessel she had been preparing to ram mere moments before. Clearing the dangerous path of the intertwined ships, she flipped her fighter around only to have her sensors pick up a sudden large energy magnetic pulse.

"Valeria be with you." She whispered softly as the Shendraa exploded, taking the Shadow vessel with it, it's piercing scream causing Emphilio to wince.

"Alyt, the Hestanna." Pennath, her wingmate called over the line.

Emphilio's heart sank as she watched the Hestanna slowly shatter before the fury of the other Shadow vessel.

"Valen." She whispered. In an instant she recalled the last time she had seen him and now regretted it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Flashback~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Warcruiser Hestanna, Hyperspace
Strategic Control Center

Valen stared at the images projected in the screens before him. Ships filled the view. Hundreds of ships prowling the murky blood red depths of hyperspace.

Occasionally the view fuzzed, then faded, only to reappear again sharp and clear. But this did not trouble him. The Minbari had not perfected holographic projection technology in their cruisers, despite rumors that the Fire Wings may have finally been able to integrate the technology into a feasible means of conducting a battle. For now he was content with vid projections from sensors strategically placed on the hull of the cruiser.

The Strategic Control Center bustled with technicians hurrying to and from various stations, adjusting screens and inputting information as needed. Only the center of the room where he stood looking at the screen remained undisturbed by he flurry of activity.

"It is a most inspiring site, is it not?" His companion asked, justified pride obvious in her voice.

"Yes, it it." He agreed, sensing her smile at his pleased tone.

"It should only be two more days until we reach the Ser'Hal homeworld." SHe informed him.

He nodded, continuing to watch the ships. "Has everything been organized properly now?" He asked tilting his head to indicate the view before them.

"Yes, Entil'zha. All is in readiness." Emphilio replied.

"I hope so. We cannot afford any mistakes." He murmured.

"Warriors can never afford mistakes, Valen." Emphilio reminded him needlessly.

"As you say, my dear Anla'shok." He smiled gently, feeling drained by the last two days hectic schedule.

"Leaders also can not afford to make mistakes when so many lives depend upon them." EMphilio said quietly, her words finally gaining his complete attention.

He understood her words all too well, but could not help but wonder why she had spoken them. "And what mistake is it that you believe I will make?" He asked.

"The mistake had already been made. It is now simply my duty to correct it." She stated simply, grinning slightly at his puzzled expression.

"I don't understand." He replied.

"Exactly." Emphilio countered, earning her a frown from her commander. She smiled brightly now. "When was the last time you slept well?"

"Ages ago." He answered with an odd chuckle.

"Valen." She mock warned him with a stern look.

"Three, maybe four days." He finally admitted.

"Then it is time to return to your quarters and sleep." She ordered.

"Later."

"Now, Entil'zha." She stated firmly. "I have sworn to the others I would do this. Would you shame me in front of them?"

"And if I do not?" He asked back. Emphilio wasn;t certain by the tone whether he was serious or teasing her.

"You will sleep. It will only be a matter of where it is you shall rest this evening." SHe replied evenly, adopting the same serious-teasing tone.

"Ah, I see. Either I go to the comfort of my own room or I spend it in the medical bays. Is that it?" He asked.

"Something like that." She admitted.

He snorted lightly, mocking her gently. "I can see even my most devoted Anla'shok no longer need my guidance."

Despite his attempt to sound humorous, his comment quickly erased her smile with a far more serious expression as she bowed her head gently. "My apologies, Anla'shok Na. I meant no disrespect towards you."

"I was only joking." Valen chided her softly, confused by her sudden change in attitude.

"It is not a joking matter of which you speak. You are the Entil'zha." She replied.

"And this means I may not make an occasional joke?" He asked, feeling oddly hurt that she kept her eyes cast down like a religious acolyte being chastised for a great misdeed.

"It is not my place to say." She answered quietly, earning an exasperated sigh from him.

"I feared this might happen." He murmured, more to himself than anyone else.

"May I ask what you feared might happen?" Emphilio asked.

"That those I relied upon for guidance, support, and friendship would withdraw from me once I had started on this path." He answered.

"I am still here at your side. I have sworn myself to your cause." She answered crisply.

"No. The woman I know as Emphilio Sha'tha is not beside me at this moment. I see only a member of the Anla'shok. Not my friend." He replied, somewhat angrily, and quickly strode away from her and out of the room.

Emphilio stared after his retreating form, surprised at the pain and anger she had heard in his voice. She was even more surprised to find herself feeling deeply hurt by his words. She had only meant to be respectful to him and his position. He was, after all, the commander of the Anla'shok! Given the title Entil'zha.

So why did he seem angry at the respect he was due?

She slowly left the center, following the same path he had taken, but unsure as what to do should she catch up to him. She just didn't understand Valen any more. 'Maybe I never really did.'

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Present~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

War Cruiser Hestanna

He clutched the railing as the ship shook violently form another barrage from the Shadow vessel, surprised that ship hadn't fallen completely apart from all the noise it made. He tossed a glance at the intermittent image from the main screen surprised that the image there engendered only stubbornness in him instead of fear.

He turned his attention back to the weapons officer, coughing harshly in the smoke filled bridge to clear his throat. He forced himself to ignore the stench of blood and burnt flesh. "Weapons?"

"Two primary cannons operational and ready to fire. No sensor locks."

"Fire." Valen ordered without hesitation. He didn't need to hit the enemy vessel. He only needed to convince them to leave. It was a slim chance.

'No. Not slim, only a foolish hope.' He thought grimly.

"Sir, we have fifty percent structural failure." One of the bridge officers called out.

Theran, the weapons officer, saw a suddenly steely determination enter the features of the minbari before him. In that moment he hoped he never was on the receiving end of such a look.

"Continue firing." Valen ordered.

"Yes, sir." Theran complied instantly, catching a few of the remaining bridge officer shooting odd looks toward he and Valen. Theran wasn't a fool. He knew as he was the highest ranked officer under Valen it was his responsibility to tell the leader of the Rangers that the Hestanna would not be operational much longer.

The minbari collectively clutched the nearest girder or bolted down item that could stop them from being thrown to the floor of the bridge as another blast from the Shadow vessel struck the cruiser.

"Structural integrity down sixty percent. Left anterior wing collapsed."

Theran nodded to the others once. "Valen, we must leave now. The Hestanna can not talk much more of this abuse."

Valen shot a look at the weapons officer that made Theran shiver involuntarily. After a moment the anger he saw vanished as Valen looked around him. He nodded slowly, sadly. "Send the order." His voice seeming to strangle him as spoke the words.

"Yes, Entil'zha." Theran replied and nodded to one of the others, who started the signal to abandon the cruiser.

"Theran, you and Igrann will escort Valen to the escape pod. The rest of us shall remain behind to ensure your escape." A young female Minbari said, her no-nonsense tone and determined set of her jaw clearly indicated she would brook no argument from either one on her announcement.

"No. The order has been given. Abandon ship." Valen ordered. The Minbari woman smiled with a mixture of sadness and fanatical devotion that made Valen uneasy. He knew her answer even before she spoke.

"I can not obey you, Entil'zha. You must leave. Now." She said calmly, her voice never betraying the hint of fear he caught in her eye.

Seeing his hesitation, she touched the palm of her hand to his chest bowed deeply to him. "I am honored to have known you in this life, Entil'zha Valen. It is my hope that I may see you again in the place where no shadows fall." She said straitening and quickly taking over Theran's place. The others remaining behind followed her lead

Valen watched them for a moment and then left without looking back.

Theran and Igrann quickly followed Valen to the escape pod. Once inside the pod Therann signaled the bridge. A moment later they were jolted slightly as the escape pod blasted free from the Hestanna. Igrann silently adjusted the course of the pod away from the fighting still taking place between the battered cruiser and the Shadow vessel, while Theran watched Valen silently stare out the main viewport. An uncomfortable silence settled over the trio.

"Theran."

"Yes, Entil'zha?" The weapons officer asked, surprised both at the tone of Valen's voice and the fact that he had addressed him by name instead of rank. In his admittedly limited experience Valen had never addressed him by name.

"What was that woman's name on the bridge?" Valen asked quietly as he stared out the small viewport to see fire engulfing the Hestanna.

Theran looked down. "I am ashamed to say I do not know her name."

"And you, Igrann?" Valen asked.

"I don't know her name either, sir. She came aboard during the initial rush to mobilise for this assault." Igrann answered promptly, his voice holding an odd casual lilt to it that made Theran look at the older, grizzled Warrior Caste  member with some disgust.

"I understand." Was Valen's only reply as he remained watching the Hestanna and its crew die before him.