The Star Army stationed many mech regiments at Halifax Base. Almost every mech regiment fielded at least one expert mech, and some were even luxurious enough to field more!
Yet the Kronons were no less blessed with expert mechs. Having planned this attack in advance, the Ylvainans made sure to bring at least an equal amount of expert mechs as their foes!
Amidst the thousands of standards fighting and dying for their state and beliefs, the expert mechs dueled each other with fire and fervor!
The primary objective of the Star Army's expert mechs immediately became obvious. They all identified Zeal as one of the primary force multipliers on the side of the Ylvainans.
Even if the Star Worshippers weren't aware of its aura, its symbolic significance alone made it worth diverting their top assets to take it down!
Yet each time a ranged expert mech tried to take a potshot of Zeal, it always danced aside at the nick of time! Famed Starrer expert marksmen who never failed to land their shots against regular targets somehow saw their skill and intuition fail them during this pivotal battle.
"How can this be?!"
"Is the person inside an expert pilot?!"
"The Inquisition mech isn't an expert mech! Its pilot isn't an expert pilot! There's an expert candidate inside!"
"We have to strangle this expert candidate in the cradle before he matures!"
The Starrer expert pilots became more determined than ever to take down Zeal and annihilate the supposed expert candidate inside its cockpit!
Something that only happened in major battles between states began to take place.
The Starrer expert mechs, normally assigned to cover their mech regiments, consolidated in squads and started to fight together in coordination!
"The Starrers are finally taking this battle seriously! Consolidate!"
The Ylvainan expert mechs followed suit. A large area in the center started to form as the standard mechs of both sides started to veer away.
In the face of a struggle between so many experts, regular mech pilots would only get in the way!
Both sides started to stare at each other.
While the Star Army's vaunted expert mechs had come within range of Zeal's massive aura, their strong-willed expert pilots outright disregarded it. As esteemed individuals regarded by many as demigods, their conviction never faltered from the influence of gods and transcendents!
The same was not the case for the Kronon expert pilots. Each of them were sincere believers in the Ylvainan Faith, and none of them ever looked down on Zeal despite its inferiority in comparison to expert mechs.
The strong faith and zeal radiating from Taon's Transcendent Messenger did not clash with their wills at all. Instead, the aura empowered their conviction, as each of them dedicated at least some portions of their force of will around their faith!
Ordinarily, a low-ranking mech pilot would never dare to speak to expert pilots as if they were under his command.
Taon Melin was different. He was chosen.
As he spoke to the Kronon expert pilots, he wasn't speaking with his own voice. He was speaking with the voice of the Great Prophet!
"Zeal is with you, Venerables. The fate of the Protectorate and our faith will be determined by our victory here today. Our opponents don't know it yet, but they are already doomed to lose!"
The Transcendent Messenger raised its sword yet again! The rays of the local star that the occupants of the Creinze System worshipped so much gleamed across its blade!
"The Protectorate shall rise after this day! Our people will vanquish the sandmen! Our beliefs will propagate across the stars! Ylvaine shall prevail!"
"Ylvaine shall prevail!"
The battle between experts commenced with fire and fury! Empowered by their will and faith, both sides fought as vigorously as possible. Expert mechs glowed with energy and radiance as their expert pilots resonated with their expert mechs to achieve impossible effects!
One Starrer striker mech for example attempted to fend off the light skirmishers attempting to pass it by and attack the more vulnerable ranged mechs in the rear. The muzzle of its massive shotgun glowed before blasting out numerous shards empowered by resonance!
The sharp and deathly shards cut through the reinforced buildings like butter, but when they raked against the surface of the light skirmishers, they only left shallow scratches!
Even the lightest expert mech was far more resilient than any conventional mech! Some of the normal rules governing standard mech combat no longer applied at the expert level!
The Starrer striker mech expected this result. Even as it unleashed another spray of shards, it jumped backwards with rapid speed! Normal striker mechs moved as sluggishly as knight mechs, but this one managed to keep up with ordinary light mechs!
In the air, a trio of ranged aerial expert mechs from the Star Army attempted to take advantage of their commanding height to take down Zeal!
Nonetheless, Zeal unflinchingly dodged each and every laser beam and kinetic round propelled in its direction without fail!
In fact, it not only managed to dodge every shot with preternatural intuition, it also started to counterattack by lifting its rifle arm to shoot its exposed attackers!
Though the powerful laser rifle wielded by Zeal failed to inflict serious damage on the fantastic armor systems of the aerial mechs, the problem was that the hits never stopped! No matter how much one of the three expert mechs tried to doge, Taon Melin always managed to land his laser beams at a specific joint in the Starrer aerial mech's flight system!
"What's with this guy's aim!?"
Of course, more Starrer expert mechs focused their firepower on the Zeal. Knowing that the fate of the battle between standard mechs depended on the presence of Zeal, each and every Starrer mech pilot set their sights on this hated Ylvainan mech!
Even though Zeal came under an increasing amount of fire, Taon never retreated! It held its central position as if the fate of the Protectorate rested on his shoulders!
Just when it became too much to bear, an expert knight mech interposed its resonating shield in front of the beleaguered Transcendent Messenger mech.
"Zeal shall never fall as long as my armor and shield of faith still hold!"
The Starrer expert mechs focused so much of their attention on taking down Zeal that their preoccupation proved unfortunate!
Most of the Ylvainan expert pilots had faith that Zeal would never fall! They devoted their full attention to taking down their Starrer counterparts!
With their faith and zeal supercharged by the presence of Zeal, their will for battle had never been stronger!
With the Starrer expert pilots becoming dismayed at their failed attempts to take down their eye-catching target, the crucial mental difference between the two sides widened to a dangerous degree!
Though Zeal did nothing else but take potshots at expert mechs while hiding behind the shield of a knight mech, its outsized presence on the battlefield quickly delivered results!
One Starrer expert mech faltered first. A Kronon light skirmisher snuck up unnoticed on a Starrer ranged mech armed with a high-powered laser rifle from a flank.
Taking advantage of the enemy's momentary preoccupation with Zeal, the light skirmisher sprinted forward with incredible speed as its legs and frame resonated with the will of its expert pilot!
"DIE YOU STAR SCUM!"
Though the light skirmisher approached quickly enough to catch the nearby Starrer mechs off-guard, the rifleman mech under threat jumped up in the air as it hastily activated its leg-mounted boosters!
Nonetheless, the ultra-sharp knives wielded by the light managed to score two serious hits on the rifleman mech's legs!
Its flight upwards immediately destabilized, forcing the damaged mech to land back onto the ground. The light skirmisher immediately pressed the advantage and launched forward with resonance empowering its entire frame and blade!
Within the blink of an eye, the light skirmisher slid across the ground on the other side of the rifleman mech!
Its entire frame glowed in heat and exhaustion as both its mech and mech pilot expended a considerable amount of energy for this single attack!
As for the target in question, the expensive and exquisitely-designed machine collapsed! A glowing knife had pierced straight through its chest plating and embedded its tip through the cockpit, killing the vaunted expert pilot inside before he could eject!
Even expert pilots were ultimately mortal when exposed to mechs!
"The Star Worshippers are weak! They fight with imaginary gods by their side! Press the advantage!"
The sudden loss of a single expert mech on the side of the Star Army only slightly jolted the defenders but invigorated the attackers to an even greater frenzy!
The small number disparity slowly widened even further as the Ylvainan expert mechs never relented on their foes. The battle on land and in the air slowly began to tip in the favor of the aggressors as their expert pilots fought just a bit more ferociously!
"Ylvaine shall prevail!" Zeal transmitted in the open.
"YLVAINE SHALL PREVAIL!" The expert mechs and the standard mechs on its side echoed across the battlefield!
The thunderous chorus did not affect the Starrer expert pilots, but it was an entirely different matter when it came to the other defenders.
The Star Army constantly gave ground since the start of the incursion. They never gained the initiative and failed to stabilize their lines.
The constant retreating did not come without a cost.
Surrendering so much precious ground continually pummeled the confidence and conviction of the Starrer mech pilots!
How could the Starrers be certain of victory when they failed to stall the advance of the Ylvainans time and time again? How could their mech pilots fight with confidence if their Venerables were being picked off one at a time?
As the battle at Halix Base gradually turned into a catastrophe for the defending side, the Starrer mech general made the unthinkable decision.
He ordered a retreat.
"The Star Army will stand, but we must not fall! Venerables, please retreat! Our brave men will cover your retreat as much as possible!"
"No! They will all perish!"
"Orders are orders! Regular mech pilots can be replenished in years, but expert pilots like you are needed to resist your Ylvainan counterparts!"
The hierarchy within the Star Army was strong. Not even the expert pilots possessed the authority to resist the orders of their higher-ups.
With great reluctance, the Starrer expert mechs started shaking off their opponents and evacuated from the battlefield.
"The Starrer expert mechs are running! Go after them! Each Starrer expert pilot dead is one less they can employ to threaten our people!"
Though the faith of the mech pilots of the Star Army failed to match the faith of their enemies, many of them fatalistically obeyed their latest order.
They threw themselves at the Ylvainan expert mechs!
"Stop them! Even if we stall them for a single second, that is one additional second our Venerables can escape!"
Though the Ylvainan expert mechs each slew the Starrer standard mechs with ease without giving most of them a chance to eject, the fanatical Starrers still proved they were willing to die for their beliefs!
"Sol will punish your cruel tyranny, Ylvainans!"
"Betelgeuse will rain down thunder and doom upon your traitorous stars!"
The Ylvainan combatants took no notice of the curses of the dying and fleeing Star Worshippers. With the departure of the surviving Starrer expert mechs, the Ylvainans gained free reign of Halifax Base!
Within Zeal, Taon did not relish in the euphoric mood that had overcome his comrades. He had already celebrated this victory long before it had been achieved.
His head turned as if he was glimpsing at five more stars in the sky.
Not only had he been certain of victory on Creinze IV, he was already assured that the other Transcendent Messengers led the mechs under their watch to victory!
He was right! The Ylvainans succeeded beyond their wildest dreams! The Starrers suffered serious losses without exception!
"Ylvaine has prevailed!"
"A new future awaits us all!"
"The works of the Bright Martyr will lead us to victory!"