X – Unto the Breach
Koboi’s Headquarters – Supply Depot
The ubiquitous sound of magna-trains and heavy machinery echoed throughout the colossal chamber. The expansive area stretched for several kilometers, the ceiling half as high, the gloomy reaches of the cavern illuminated by numerous high-powered lights and an unseen source of crimson glow. The bulky form of a transport train glided slowly into one of the many loading docks, the deep rumble of its fusion engine winding down as it came to a halt.
The depot was a behemothic collection of storage containers, ammunition caches, power lifts, conveyer belts, and dozens of other forms of machinery. Rows upon rows of vacant tanks and gunships filled open tarmacs that periodically interrupted the plethora of supplies, their deadly forms quiet but menacing. Hundreds of daemons guarded the area, hundreds more moving weapons and vehicles to various outlets, the supply of deadly ordinance seemingly infinite. As the cacophony of activity reverberated around the chamber, a loud screech of metal sounded sharply from the far end of the cavern. From where the depot ended began a two hundred meter long space of empty ground, the well traveled open area leading up to a set of massive steel doors, the looming structures towering over the tanks and infantry that stood guard at their base, nefarious and vigilant.
Amidst the choir of industrial action, the side doors of the newly arrived magna-train slid open, the transports empty interiors filled with shadows. As groups of daemons approached the train to begin loading procedures, four shrouded figures jumped quietly from the rear car, moving covertly across the teeming loading dock, avoiding several patrols as they sought to distance themselves from the transport. After a solid two minutes of continuous evasion, the four figures crowded behind a deserted section of containers, crouching down as they observed their surroundings.
Captain Holly Short viewed the distant blast doors through her visual scanner, taking in the expansive and deadly cavern with immense attention to detail, knowing such observation could make a great difference in a tactical situation.
After a few minutes she lowered the scanners, an angry look on her face. “This place is locked down tight, the door alone has an entire platoon guarding it, along with an armored section.”
The others stood around within their temporary refuge, taking in the area that spanned around them. All of them were armed, even Mulch, who was absentmindedly eating a week old pop tart that was loged deep within his beard. Ivankov stood near the exit, his rifle held at the ready, ever vigilant for patrols. Butler crouched quietly beside Holly, observing what she had just been studying. With a frown he noted the intricate security measures that filled the cavern.
“Indeed.” The bodyguard whispered deeply. “Sneaking in is an impossibility, their defenses are too secure to breach without eliciting their response…” The man’s face hardened, his fists clenching as he focused on the elaborate blast door. “Artemis is in there.” He rumbled, his voice now filled with intent and the need to rescue the boy. He had been waiting far too long to save Artemis, every moment filled with the desire to be by his side. The daemon forces before him were meaningless, a wall of air, a fragile obstruciton. Butler would not allow for anything to get in his way, whether it was an army or seemingly impervious gates. He was so close, he could feel it.
Holly looked to the man mountain, noting his demeanor. “I know.” She said softly, her eyes too filled with fire. Her heart yearned to reach Artemis, her desire to free her friend filling her thoughts.
Mulch came up behind them, a disappointed look marring his visage. “Sorry guys.” He stated sadly. “But the ground here is solid rock, so there’s no digging and entering.”
The others nodded solemnly, knowing all too well their now limited options, the only courses of action remaining being ones of enormous risk. Borislav walked up to the others, his eyes watchful and intense.
“So our courses of action have thus been limited to one.” He stated solidly.
“It sure seems that way.” Holly said, a hint of tension in her voice. “Our only option is to force our way in, right through hundreds of those monsters.”
Mulch paled at the thought, his bravado failing as he envisioned taking on the hordes of daemons that were spread throughout the room. “Umm, yeah…Can I sit this one out?”
“If you want to stay here alone with just your flatulence to defend you from whatever shows up, which would not be a very good idea.” Butler stated. “The moment we make our move, there will be no safe places in this cavern. It’s best if you stick with us.”
The dwarf considered his alternatives, of which he had none, before nodding vigorously. “Fine, but I call dibs being behind the human troll.” He motioned to Butler, who sighed at Mulch’s request.
“Fine.” Butler growled. “But keep your rear facing away from me, or I’ll have to restrain you.”
Mulch grinned. “But of course!” He said exuberantly, winking mischievously at the bodyguard after the statement, causing for the man to frown slightly.
Butler then took his attention back to the expanse before him, reviewing the depot with a deep level of concentration. He noted the numerous ammunition caches, as well as the rows of enemy vehicles. After of moment of thought the man turned to Borislav, a look of anticipation in his eyes. “Tell me, Commander, how good are you at making things blow up?”
The other human smiled devilishly. “Very.” He said confidently.
Butler then looked to Holly, who was listening intently to the bodyguard’s growing plan. “Holly, I assume that you can proficiently pilot one of those gunships?”
The elf nodded, a sly grin on her face. “There’s not a single ship I can’t fly.”
Butler nodded appreciatively, his scheme taking shape within his mind. After a few seconds of further contemplation, the man turned to Mulch.
“Diggums.” He addressed. “I have need of your extremely vexing behavior.”
Mulch crossed his arms. “I am not vexing, I am simply beyond your comprehension.” The dwarf stated with a degree of mock peevishness. “Nonetheless.” He said insidiously, a wide grin growing across his face. “Those freaks are even less understanding.”
Butler smiled, happy to have Mulch aboard. “Alight everyone.” He rumbled. “Here’s the plan.”
Koboi’s Headquarters – Supply Depot – Ten Minutes Later
The platoon of daemon infantry stood guard by the giant alloy portal, their weapons held firm as the large tanks rumbled beside them, their heavy guns armed and ready. The cavern was noisy, but lacking of any abnormal sound, rather just the usual mechanical chaos, a sound that the daemon soldiers had memorized perfectly.
From across the chamber, atop a ridge of jagged stone about halfway to the blast door, lay the bulky form of Butler, a pair of high powered binoculars in his hands. As he observed the enemy positions, a large, suppressed, .50 caliber anti-material rifle sat silently beside him, its large frame pointed from the cliff, the barrel of the powerful weapon aimed towards the depot. He had grabbed the weapon from one of the many supply crates that were sitting about, along with ten extra magazines. After a few more seconds of viewing, the bodyguard put the binoculars down, now putting the large rifle into his hands, bring it to bear as he looked through its scope. On the other end of the sight was the depot, more specifically the far end of it, which was directly visible to the door sentries.
Up on the top of a storage container crouched the kleptomaniac dwarf, Mulch, hiding behind several smaller crates that were staked atop the larger one. Butler brought up his communicator, speaking into it with a low but commanding voice.
“Is everyone in position?” He asked solidly, keeping an eye on Mulch.
“The charges are set.” Borislav said over the comm link.
“Ready when you are.” Holly called, her voice filled with excitement.
Butler zoomed in on Mulch. “Mulch, everyone’s in position. You can begin any time.”
The dwarf spoke quietly. “Aye aye mud man, going loud.” The dwarf’s voice had a hint of fear in it, but was out measured by the enormous amount of humor that was audible.
Mulch Diggums waited for a brief second, taking a deep breath as he got ready. A few seconds later, the dwarf stood up, a large megaphone in his hands, which he had somehow scrounged from the piles of items that were laying about. With a gargantuan smile, he aimed the device towards the blast door, turning it up to full power. A loud screech filled the chamber as feedback poured from the megaphone, causing for Butler to cover his ears. After a second it stopped, replaced by an egregiously obnoxious voice.
“Testing, testing one two three!” Bellowed, waving his free hand. He pointed it to the daemons guarding the gate, who were quite perplexed.
Mulch grinned. “Hey, dung for brains! Yeah, you scale-heads guarding the gate!”
The dwarf observed with glee as they turned their attention to him, assessing the nature of the intrusion.
Mulch yelled once more. “Get a load of this!”
The dwarf subsequently turned around, his back now facing the gate. He took the megaphone and put it to his rear, his tombstone teeth showing as a massive grin crossed his face. As hundreds of daemons around the depot and at the gate stared at him, the weapons held ready, the dwarf let it rip.
Flatulent sound went into the megaphone, blasting out the other end at colossal levels. The dirty noise filled the cavern, bouncing off of the walls, echoing endlessly as the guards growled. As Mulch’s wind fell silent, there was a momentary lull in activity, all eyes upon the dwarf. Such silence was shattered by the combined noise of five hundred daemon infantry and ten tanks powering towards the dwarf, their guns raised menacingly as they ran intently at the source of such horrible perturbation.
“Time to go Mulch!” Butler yelled over the comm link, focusing the gun on the area close to the dwarf. There were daemons closing in on all sides, just as planned.
The dwarf jumped from the container, landing noisily upon the solid ground. He then began to run as fast as he could towards the rear end of the depot, away from the tide of daemon defenders, who were barreling down upon him.
As Mulch ran, Butler opened up, blowing any daemons that got too near to pieces with the high powered rifle. Though the suppressor could hardly negate the sheer volume that the gun released, it was sufficient amidst the loud chaos below. Shot after shot, the bodyguard downed enemy soldiers with precision as they sought to trap the dwarf, who was nearing a section of ammunition dumps. Butler purposefully avoided hitting any daemons that were coming from the gate, rather letting the large force of infantry and tanks power through the depot without any impediments.
“Ivankov, they’re coming your way!” Butler yelled over the ear splitting gunshots.
“Roger that.” The man answered.
From his vantage point atop the ammunition dumps, the Commander aimed his rifle and fired at the charging force, eliciting their attention almost immediately. Borislav then ducked from his position, checking a collection of wires and C4 charges as he did. Everything was perfect.
Mulch rushed up beside the human, breathing hardly as he sweated profusely. “I’m not cut out for cross country. Dwarfs are natural sprinters…”
A few bullets collided with the crate behind him, the metal projectiles pinging off sharply. Borislav grabbed the dwarf, hauling him away from the ammo cache. “Time to go!” He said loudly, the daemon units just a hundred yards behind them.
The two of them ran through a series of narrow passageways, weaving between crates and machines as bullets and laser blasts flew around them. The sound of massive rounds shot past them continuously as Butler provided covering fire, blasting any close daemons apart. After a few moments, the human and dwarf reached the cliff on which Butler was firing from, stopping abruptly. Borislav turned around, eying the daemon forces. Their platoons and armor were now bunched together within the depot, right in between a series of ammunition caches. Checkmate.
As Mulch hid behind a container amidst the gunfire, Ivankov stood casually as he pulled a detonator from a pouch, removing the cover as he grinned. Whilst the daemon rallied towards him, he put his thumb over the button, his other hand activating his comm link.
“Everybody get ready, this is going to make some waves.”
With a gargantuan bang, every ammo dump in the depot exploded, sending enormous balls of fire into the crimson air. Shock waves blew through the area, throwing the large containers about like rag dolls, crushing everything in their path. Magna-trains were launched from their tracks, their bulky forms tossed about as hundreds of smaller machines twirled into every structure within the depot. The daemon forces were utterly destroyed, most of them being caught within the primary blast radius, the rest leveled by the hurricane of debris and fire. It was all over in a matter of seconds, the once organized supply area reduced to a pile of flaming ruins, black smoke rising as the fires consumed everything.
Mulch whistled loudly, enjoying the fireworks. “Hah! Eat it you ugly troll turds!”
Ivankov brought up his communicator again. “Butler, we’re all clear. We’ll meet you at the rendez-vous.”
“Roger that.” The bodyguard called back. “Holly is making her move now.”
Borislav nodded, waving to Mulch as he began to jog towards the gate. As the two of them passed through the destruction, the sound of gunship engines began to rise from the other side of the depot.
Koboi’s Headquarters – Supply Depot – Thirty Seconds Earlier
Holly observed the gunship as she approached it, her weapon ready as she closed in on the tarmac. There were virtually no hostiles in the area, all of them having followed their diversion and subsequently been blown up. Nonetheless, the elf was careful, all too aware of the surprises that battlefields held.
When she reached the deadly craft, Holly ran her hands over the surface by the cockpit, searching for the opening console. Sure enough, she found it, its dark screen coming to life as she tapped it lightly. To her surprise there was no password or identification, only the access command. Obviously they weren’t designed with the intent to block intruders, most likely because the enemy believed that such was trivial and impossible. They were about to regret that.
Holly opened the canopy, jumping in easily once it did. After she set her rifle down by the seat, the elf observed the controls, finding them to be very similar to the kind she’d find in an LEP fighter, the older models that had been designed by Opal. She wondered about it for a moment, but quickly pushed the speculation from her mind. She had a job to do.
With a grin, Holly brought the craft online, hearing the horrid engines roar to life as she ran through the start-up procedures, making sure that the ship was able to fly. After a few seconds, she lifted the gunship off the tarmac, quickly getting a feel for the foreign ship. It took her one second, but she got the hang of it.
Looking through the canopy, the elf took in the entirety of the ruin that had just been unleashed upon the depot, noting the lack of hostile presence with a grin.
“Holly.” Butler called over the comm link. “We’ve neutralized the defending units, closing in on the gates now.”
Holly aimed the ship towards the open area that was between the dilapidated complex and the blast doors, sending the gunship screaming through the air as she sought out any enemy threats. After a moment of searching, the elf caught sight of a group of tanks entering from an adjacent tunnel, seeking out the intruders with dreadful force.
Good, they left some for me. Holly thought as she flew towards the armored units, targeting all of them with the gunship’s weapons. She’d only been on the receiving end of such a ship thus far, now she was happy to see how it did from the other side.
With a war cry the elf pressed the fire commands, the ship shaking as it spat out immense amounts of destruction. The stone around the tanks was torn up as heavy rounds blasted into it, accompanied by dozens of rapid fire missiles. The armored vehicles tried to return fire, but were cut apart before they could even aim their cannons.
Holly brought the ship into a steep climb, observing the whole chamber from her craft. All was clear.
On the ground, she could make out the three figures of her comrades as they sprinted to the gates unchallenged.
Relief and anticipation filled Holly’s mind. They were getting close to finding Artemis, and the individual behind the conflict. She secretly wished that it wasn’t Koboi, but yet again her gut told her otherwise, making her eyes narrow as she thought of the villainous pixie. Hold on Artemis, we’re coming!
Koboi’s Headquarters – Command Room
The room was alight with crimson glow, every surface cast in red. Numerous consoles and monitors filled the room, displaying every detail about the facility and the conflict beyond. Opal Koboi seethed as she watched her entire distribution depot go up in flames, the explosion so large that she felt it even deep within the confines of her base. She noticed one of her gunships taking off, and upon zooming in on it, noticed a certain LEP captain piloting it.
“Short!” She yelled, sending her fist into the screen, crushing the image of Holly’s face with pure vituperation. The enraged pixie gingerly removed her fist, dark tendrils of magic forming in the air. She was angry, so very angry! Rage poured from her heart into every facet of her being, making the ground around her crack as the air congealed into pure dark magic. But as quickly as the temper came, it vanished.
Opal regarded the surveillance feeds as Holly tore apart several of her tanks in the usual fly-boy fashion. By the gods she hated that elf!
With a cold gaze she stared, as though looking into the very soul of her enemy. “Good job getting this far Short, but you will not make it through the day.”
She punched in several codes on her communicator, her visage serious and composed, showing no signs of anger or distress. She was in control.
“I’ll leave you to the dreadnaughts, you grandstanding fool!” Opal stated casually, grinning slightly.
She then turned towards the exit of the room, smiling evilly. “Now to wake our guest, I’m sure he’d love to watch his friends die.”
The nefarious being stepped from the room, turning down the hall as she laughed to herself, now genuinely glad that Artemis’ friends had shown up; she had been bored.
Koboi’s Headquarters – Main Entrance
As Holly’s gunship hovered overhead, Butler, Borislav and Mulch stood by the blast door, observing the imposing barrier which loomed over them.
Butler tapped his fingers on his rifle, glaring at the doorway. “How exactly are we going to get through this?” He growled.
Mulch stroked his beard. “There’s no external mechanism, its all interior. Unless we either pry it open or blast a hole in it, there’s not much we can do but find another way in.”
Holly cut in on the comm link. “There’s no way I can breach that barrier, not with this ship. We’ll have to find an alternate route.”
Ivankov glared at the door. “I guess you’re right, though this makes things needlessly difficult.”
Mulch crossed his arms, his head tilted as the regarded the blast door. “Maybe we should tell it to open.” He joked, grinning at his horrible humor. The dwarf raised his hands, waving to the motionless alloy walls as he bellowed humorously. “Open sesame!”
Just as the words left Mulch’s mouth, the massive gate shook slightly, followed by a deep rumbling sound. The doors were opening.
Mulch turned to the others, hiding his surprise. “That was all me fellas!” He said pompously, a wide grin on his face.
Nobody even registered what he said, instead they stared with shock at the opening door, their faces betraying utter surprise.
“What?” Mulch said, unhappy with being ignored. The dwarf followed their gaze, turning around to face the maw that was open before them, becoming aware of a great rumbling noise in the air, one that made Holly’s gunship sound like a puny fly.
Mulch’s eyes widened, his jaw almost hitting the ground (which was actually within the dwarf’s abilities). “Oh shit.”
Hovering within the massive tunnel that ran from the opening of the gate were three enormous ships, their colossal forms filling the space completely, the overhead lights casting dreadful shadows of the already terrifying machines. They were easily twenty times the size of a daemon gunship, with even greater times the weaponry. Each of the three ships were fitted with massive missile pods, each carrying hundreds of projectiles, as well as numerous other rocket launchers visible all over its design. Two dozen forward facing auto-cannons jutted from the fronts of the ships, along with ten automated point defense turrets. They were virtually flying fortresses, easily with enough firepower each to flatten ten city blocks in moments. As the goliaths sized them up, all the three beings on the ground could do was run.
Koboi’s Headquarters – Confinement Sector
The shrill noise of wind passing under the door echoed around the small cell, becoming a flurry of hellish screams that demanded attention. The air was cold and damp, the stone surfaces slick with moisture and decaying matter. Artemis sat perfectly still in the middle, his eyes closed, his legs crossed. In his meditative state he could tune out anything. It was easy really, for him at least, having mastered every meditative technique at a young age, finding it very useful for contriving as well as ignoring unpleasant things, like the horrid environment in which he currently sat.
As the prodigy channeled his feelings and emotions with expert efficiency, becoming entirely calm and at peace, he could feel the magic at the back of his consciousness, glowing hot with its powerful energy. It had been a while since he’d felt the presence of magic within his own being, the feeling new to him again as it flowed within his body, a small but raw presence. Despite his ability to do almost anything, he could never get used to the sensation that magic created.
As he continued his meditative practice, the sound of footsteps rose faintly from outside the door, getting louder and louder until stopping right by his cell. Artemis let his equilibrium fade as he focused on the unknown being outside his prison, hoping silently that it was Butler, or Holly or even Mulch.
His hopes were shattered when glowing dark tendrils swung the door open, revealing Opal Koboi, who looked at him as a wolf does its prey. She stood there for a moment, seeming to enjoy the sight of the boy’s dismal condition, the filth, the decay, the shivering of his body as it begged for sustenance. A terrifying grin cut across her hateful visage, one that meant harm, not joy.
“You look so…appropriate in such a state, mud boy. It is your meaning in life to wallow in filth and deprivation! Tell me, do you enjoy your accommodations?”
Artemis looked at her through half lidded eyes, purposefully looking weaker, trying to attain any possible edge over the pixie. He spoke softly, “Have you simply come here to gloat, Opal? That is so very conventional.”
Koboi twitched at the boy’s jab, her grin drooping slightly, but otherwise remaining unchanged. She quietly stepped into the cell, standing a foot from the boy as she tilted her head, considering something. As Artemis looked into her face with defiance, he could see dreadful hatred cross her calm features, flashes of anger and violent intent held just at bay.
“I was just considering crushing your thick skull to a pulp, but that would not do so well for my plans.” Opal stated matter-of-factly, a sneer crossing her face. “And no, I have not come to gloat.”
She grabbed him by the collar, hoisting him up with ease as she stared into his eyes. She chuckled venomously before throwing Artemis from the cell, sending him flying into the wall outside. He slumped to the cold floor, his breath knocked from his lungs, his chest aching from the impact. Opal walked casually up to him, two daemon guards flanking her. As the monsters hauled him up, the pixie watched gleefully.
“It would appear that you have visitors, Fowl.” She said dangerously. “I wouldn’t dare let you miss the chance to welcome them, followed by watching their slow and agonizing deaths of course.”
She turned on her heel, stalking down the hall. The two daemons dragged Artemis along, his worn dress shoes dragging against the jagged floor. Part of him leaped for joy at the arrival of his friends. Another part cried with agony for the very same reason, for the fear that they would perish. As the boy was pulled carelessly through the dark passageway, he fought against himself, trying to be optimistic about the situation. No matter how hard he tried, he felt he sharp edges of doubt tearing into his confidence, rending his resolve apart. His friends had come for him. They were fighting to save him, but could they save themselves?
Koboi’s Headquarters – Main Entrance
Holly stared at the dreadnaughts for only a second, assessing the capabilities as she prepared to take evasive action. As the massive hulks began to move forward, Holly yelled over the comm link to her friends below. “Run for cover! I’ll take care of them!”
“Already on it Holly!” Butler bellowed in return. “But you can’t simply take care of them! They’ve got you completely outmatched!”
Holly bit her lip as she readied herself. “Don’t worry Butler, I can do this.”
The LEP officer swung the gunship to the right, blasting out of the way of the charging squadron. The three dreadnaughts tracked her movement, unleashing a flurry of missiles and cannon rounds, creating a virtual wall of fire that careened towards the elf. Holly saw it coming, throwing the ship into overdrive as she raced the deadly missiles. She couldn’t ram the projectiles into their masters, their point defense turrets would tear her apart. Instead, she opted for a different approach.
Holly spun the ship sharply, turning towards the burning remains of the depot, which were hot with towering walls of hungry flame. Taking the gunship into a dive, the elf flew headlong into the fire, her ship disappearing into the storm of hot crimson, as though she were flying through the gates of hell. The missiles followed, one hundred strong, into the fire, heedless of the scorching destruction that was ahead. Holly swung her craft about, avoiding explosions that came from the still intact munitions below, grinding her teeth as the cockpit heated up increasingly, sweat dripping from her brow. Behind her, the heavy missiles were closing in, though that was about to change. The explosions that were blasting into the air knocked out dozens of the projectiles, sending them tumbling to the burning ground below, creating even larger explosions that hit even more of them. The few that remained simply overheated, igniting in glorious bursts of destruction.
Holly pulled up, taking the steaming gunship out of the flames. She had to admit, the ship was very durable. As she cleared the fire, launching into the clear air above, Holly was met instantly by the daemon dreadnaughts, their immense arsenals lighting up as they sought to destroy the hijacked fighter. Te elf took evasive maneuvers, avoiding many of the high velocity rounds that were being thrown at her, but not all of them. With sharp thuds, her ship was penetrated by several 20mm projectiles, the point defense guns on the enemy ships tracking her craft with ease. The gunship shuddered, the displays flashing red as its systems were torn apart. Holly growled angrily as she tried to keep the ship from losing control, flying away from the daemon aircraft as fast as she could.
She was running out of options. If she tried to face them again, she would be ripped to shreds. No amount of maneuvering could avoid the clouds of missiles and streams of precise cannon rounds that the dreadnaughts dished out, not even hers. I need a bigger ship. Holly thought as she weaved between from rock formations, dodging the relentless firepower that was being unleashed upon her.
The thought lingered in her mind for a moment before forming into an idea. An adrenaline fueled grin formed on her face, her previous dismay gone as she considered the possibility of the idea, the sheer craziness of it making it even more attractive. She went with it.
Holly pushed the gunship into a sharp turn, spinning it about almost instantly to face the approaching dreadnaughts, which were closing in with startling speed. The elf then threw the ship’s engines into overdrive, sending the smoking fighter barreling towards the pursuing aircraft. The daemon ships began to fire right away, sending missiles and bullets flying into her ship. Holly pushed the fighter so fast that it surpassed most of the incoming ordnance, outrunning their tracking capabilities. Even as cannon rounds hit the ship, tearing entire sections off, the elf kept going, praying for it to work. As she reached the range of their point defense turrets, Holly let go of the controls, her ship now focused right above the middle dreadnaught. Just as they were about to fire, she blasted off the canopy, sending it flying away. With a roar she jumped from the still moving gunship, flying at high speeds right towards the lead ship. The dreadnaughts paid no attention to her, instead they turned around as they tracked the empty gunship. As Holly neared the top of the closest aircraft, the three ships opened fire, rending the daemon gunship to smithereens.
Holly flew through the air, covering her head as she crashed into the hovering gunship, landing on its surface with a crunch. Despite her perfect landing, her legs had been slightly fractured. As she lay on the ship, blue magic covered her limbs, repairing he damage almost instantly. She tested her legs and, finding them satisfactory, began to crawl towards the closed hatch atop the craft. Upon reaching it, the elf took out her neutrino, setting it to maximum as she pointed it to the latch. With a flash of energy, the top hatch melted, leaving a dark opening into the ship’s interior. Holly didn’t hesitate, knowing that the three ships were now hunting the others. She had little time.
She let herself fall into the ship, landing quietly amidst the gloomy interior, right beside a daemon soldier. The monster raised its weapon, taken off guard by the elf, the assault rifle ready to fire. Holly stopped it instantly, elbowing the daemon in the neck and following up with a shot from her gun. As the body hit the floor, she walked briskly towards the front of the ship. As she passed through, no other hostiles appeared, no doubt all in the command room.
When she reached the door the led into the control room, Holly pulled out her second neutrino, now holding one in each hand. With a cry she burst into the room, an angel of death, her two pistols blazing as they operated at their maximum rate of fire. The daemon crew never knew what hit them, most of them didn’t so much as leave their seats, let alone fire back. In a matter of two seconds all ten of the occupants were dead, the elf now alone in the room, which was tilting as the craft began to lose control. With desperate speed, Holly raced to the main command console, sitting down in the pilot seat, grabbing the controls as she pulled the large ship out of its dive. After a few stressful seconds she regained control, leveling out the dreadnaught. She was itching to use it.
On the ground below, Butler, Mulch and Ivankov fired at the ships, now trapped in a corner by the monstrosities. They’d seen Holly’s ship get destroyed, but didn’t let it ruin them. They had to fight, to the end. As the large ships began to warm up their guns again, they noticed that the middle one was a bit…off. As the other two prepared to fire, the middle one turned to the right, bringing itself to face one of its comrades. With a flurry of firepower, the dreadnaught lit up the other one, cutting it apart in seconds. The other, cluing into what was going on, began to take action, but not before the rogue ship could make its move. Using its point defense guns, the large ship fired into the other one’s control room, utterly disintegrating the crew. As the mysterious dreadnaught hovered above them, the out of control ship crashed to the floor, sliding along the stone before bursting into flames.
Holly’s voice came in on the comm link, filled with satisfaction. “You guys alright?”
Butler grinned. “You never cease to amaze me Holly.”
The elf laughed over the link, sounding like she was having too much fun. “It’s what I do.”
The burning wreckage of the crashed dreadnaught suddenly exploded, its ordnance overheating due to the hungry flames. As its numerous parts flew through the air, two humans, an elf and a dwarf looked to the now open blast door, its great hall stretching for an immeasurable distance. Holly glared into the open passageway, knowing what waited inside, mixed feelings of hope and dread entering her mind. It was the moment they had all been waiting for, the moment where they would rescue Artemis and destroy those responsible.
“Let’s do this.” Borislav growled.
“For Artemis.” Butler rumbled.
Together, the four of them entered the facility, three on the ground, the other in the air. Things were about to get hectic, and then some.
Koboi’s Headquarters – Throne Room
Crimson light seeped through Artemis’ closed eyes, its dreadful tone refusing to be ignored. There was the ominous sound of distant rumbling, a foreboding presence filling the room. After a moment of putting himself into a coherent state, Artemis opened his eyes, his weakness fighting to keep them closed. He had almost no memory of the trip from his cell to where he was now, only brief flashes of being dragged through malevolent halls coming to him. He had lost consciousness several times along the way, the force of Opal’s throw still messing with his physical equilibrium, his head aching from a small concussion. Nonetheless, he was alive, and was now fully aware of his surroundings.
As his eyes opened, he began to take in the shape of a familiar room, the ground far below from atop a large platform. He was in the same place as before, Koboi’s over elaborate throne room. The boy sighed as he sat up, feeling the unwelcome sting of chains binding him to the cold stone surface, making movement extremely difficult. Whilst he put himself into a more comfortable position, he became aware of the dark presence behind him, raw dread tingling up his spine. There, on a newly placed throne, sat Opal Koboi, a maniacally pleased demeanor dominating her features.
“I see you finally woke up.” She said condescendingly. “You simply cease to amaze me with your weak and feeble existence, it’s truly disgusting.”
Artemis did his best not to show any reaction, keeping his mouth shut, as words were meaningless when Koboi was involved. He just needed to hold on a little bit longer, then he and his friends could put an end to it all, together.
Opal was rather displeased with the human’s lack of a response or smart retort, drumming her fingers on the armrest of the seat. Her predatory eyes studied him carefully, a grin forming on her face. “I see. You are holding onto the lackluster hope that your foolish friends will save you. How pathetic!”
She stepped from the throne, grabbing Artemis by the neck, twisting his head to face hers. She regarded him with pure malice. “Such hope is so overrated kid. There are but four of your allies against me and a limitless army! They have come with the sole purpose of liberating you, but they have subsequently run headlong into a merciless bloodbath, one that I will make you watch!” She let him go, smiling with satisfaction. How she enjoyed demeaning that mud boy’s expectations, trampling on their delicate forms like boots upon a flower.
As Artemis kept to himself, his demeanor confident despite everything, Opal turned her attention to the data pad on her throne. She had sent a squadron of dreadnaughts to deal with the intruders, but she knew that there was a high possibility of them defeating her ships. In fact, she was glad to know that they were still coming, closer and closer to her. She didn’t want them to die in some distant location, she desired for their disembowelment to occur right when they thought they would accomplish their goal, when they are but within an arm’s length of saving their precious genius. It would be so gratifying to watch Artemis’ reaction, and to savor the demise of those impudent fools, a delicious taste that her nefarious soul would consume gleefully.
She checked the senors throughout that main entrance of her facility, attempting to verify the enemy’s strength and assets, but came up with nothing.
Dammit! She thought. They’ve destroyed my sensors, as well as all forward patrols…She growled quietly, then quickly composed herself once more. No matter, they will arrive here either way. With my forces leaving a path of least resistance, this room will be their final destination. When they get here, they will die.
Opal focused on Artemis once more, who was looking to the closed entrance, waiting. She couldn’t stand his optimism! It made her ache with deadly desires, mostly pertaining to the complete annihilation of the vexing mud boy.
An alert sounded on her communicator, the proximity sensors having just been tripped. Finally!
Artemis recognized what the alert meant, a slight grin tugging at his composed features. Opal laughed at him. “You really think they will succeed don’t you? How pathetic!”
Koboi pressed a button on her device, eliciting the response of all the doors in the room, save the one from which she knew the enemy was coming. From their dark recesses came a stream of daemon soldiers, their impressively dreadful forms organizing into precise positions around the elevated throne. Two dozen tanks entered the chamber next, forming a semi circle around the closed entrance, their heavy guns zeroing in on the silent alloy doors. Opal smiled as she observed her units collectively face the gate, the distinct sound of hundreds of firearms being loaded echoing through the air, the noise of their deadly mechanisms forming a symphony of doom as the daemons cocked their weapons at the same time. All together, there were exactly one thousand daemons in the chamber, all of them ready to fire upon whatever came through the door.
“You see, Fowl, no matter how hard they try, no matter how many of my pawns they kill, they will always be outmatched!” Opal stated with pleasure, her crimson eyes filling with the anticipation of death and despair.
Artemis regarded the colossal force that had filled the chamber, his mind calculating the odds instantly. For four individuals to take on one thousand heavily armed infantry plus two dozen heavy tanks would be impossible. But then again, his comrades were anything but normal. All in all, the genius still believed that they would win, regardless of what Opal threw at them. He had unshakable faith in Butler and Holly, whom he knew were amongst the four, and despite the irritating doubts that nipped at his resolve, he was confident that they would triumph.
As Artemis waited quietly, wondering to himself how exactly his friends would pull it off, Opal took a seat, a terrifying grin cutting across her face. It was going to be quite a show, and she had the best seat in the house (the only seat, actually).
There was a distant rumble, followed by a slight tremor in the ground, catching everyone’s attention. The daemon forces stood ready, their weapons locked and loaded. They had a perfect tactical advantage, a defensive position, superior numbers and firepower, and a choke point through which the enemy had to pass. It looked like it was going to be a textbook massacre.
Another rumble shook the room, this time much closer than before. Opal raised an eyebrow, wondering what the source of the explosions was. Surely the intruders weren’t causing it, they were but four beings, flesh and blood, with hand held firearms. Koboi observed her sensors, finding again that they had been eliminated. Her visage twisted a bit, into a faint expression of rage. What were they planning? More specifically, what was that foolish elf Short up to?
The rumbling stopped, a deafening silence taking over abruptly as the occupants of the chamber stood at the ready, unmoving as they held their fingers on their triggers. The quiet was unnatural, one that was meant to deceive, to falsely calm before throwing everything into a grinder of chaos. Such was the case now, but nobody knew it.
The massive doorway shook momentarily, followed by the silent movement of the large doors, which began to open slowly, almost at a purposefully dilatory pace.
Opal grinned. “All units, prepare to fire!”
As the entrance unclosed further, smoke twirled through the revealed air, showing nothing amidst its thick clouds. As everyone waited, a shadow crossed the opening, eliciting Opal’s blood thirsty response.
“Open fire!” She yelled perniciously.
With a deluge of destruction the daemons attacked, firing their weapons into the open portal without pause. Thousands upon thousands of bullets and laser blasts flew through the doorway, utterly decimating whatever stood in its path. The heavy tanks opened up as well, unleashing their devastating cannon fire into the gloom, the resulting explosions causing for hordes of black smoke to pour into the room, further obscuring the other side. After a solid minute of nonstop bombardment, the daemons halted their assault, a sudden repose taking hold as they reloaded their weapons. Opal was smiling madly. “No one could survive that, boy. I think I’ll have you mop up their pieces…”
There was a great explosion, one that dwarfed the bombardment that the defending forces had made, the sound of crumbling stone and hungry flames rising into the air, a dreadful roar. The daemon forces looked up just in time to see an entire section of the cavern wall explode inward, an unseen force blowing the giant chunks of rock into the room. The wall, with a cloud of fire, collapsed towards the forefront of the daemon line, their dooming forms right above the tanks. In a desperate attempt to avoid the debris the armored vehicles reversed, but it was too late. With a deafening crash the tide of stone collided with the daemon forces, crushing the tanks like tin cans, causing their reactors to explode violently as they were ruptured, the resulting fires blasting into the air.
Opal covered her face as the shock wave careened past her, bits of stone and metal flying by her with tremendous speed. Artemis had ducked to the floor, covering his head with his arms as the destruction washed around him. It was a terrifying experience, yet it also bore a tremendous amount of joy, as the genius knew for sure that things were going to be perfect.
Koboi stared at the gaping hole in the chamber wall with complete surprise, such an occurrance not even expected as a distant possibility. That wall was over a hundred feet thick! She thought incredulously How did they breach it? It’s not possible, not unless…shit!
To answer Opal’s realization, a gigantic ship flew through the breached wall, its deadly form taking shape through the smoke as its engines roared gloriously. It was one of Koboi’s dreadnaughts, inside of it being the last individual she’d want piloting it: LEP captain Holly Short.
The irritated pixie stood up, addressing her soldiers with an enraged roar. “Fire at will! Take her down!”
The remaining daemons responded instantly, firing their weapons into the air. The small arms fire simply bounced off of the dreadnaught’s thick armor, whilst the RPGs and heavy laser blasts only left burn marks. They were powerless against it.
Holly, who was smiling widely whilst she flew the ship, returned the favor. With a storm of fire she unleashed hell, strafing the daemon battalion with her main cannons and point defense guns. She avoided using missiles, knowing that Artemis was on the platform. She didn’t want to risk injuring him with the concussive blasts that the high yield missiles created. As the elf decimated hundreds of hostile infantry a second, her mind swam with rage. It was Opal all along! She’d known it was the most likely possibility, but the absolute confirmation still brought pure anger to her heart, the memories of all that the pixie had put them through in the past rushing from the back of her mind, fresh once more. She remembered the evens of the last few years, of the goblin uprising, of the seven wonders. But most of all, she remembered Julius, the closest thing she’d ever had to a father. With enormous amounts of ferocity, the fired up elf screamed with anger and defiance as she cut into the daemon forces, her new found dander making her efforts thrice as effective. It was a massacre alright, for the enemy that is.
As Holly flew around the expansive room, two figures emerged through the smoke on the ground, their taller forms taking shape into Butler and Ivankov, who were looking very serious as their powerful firearms blazed relentlessly. The two humans pushed their way into the chamber, gunning down any of the daemons that were still standing, which was not many. As Butler tossed a handful of grenades into a group of hostiles, he looked to the massive platform ahead, instantly recognizing the figure that was kneeling on the top.
“Artemis.” The bodyguard said to himself, his voice filled with relief.
Ivankov stood next to the man, picking off any daemons that dared to fire upon them. As he cut down a charging enemy, he looked to Butler. “Go! I’ll cover you!”
Butler nodded, bringing his pulse rifle to bear. As Borislav blasted the daemons to the ground, the bodyguard began running towards the stairs. He kept going faster and faster, his aged but fit limbs carrying his massive body forward at astounding speeds. His eyes were set on the summit of the platform, on the most important person in his life, Artemis. He paid no attention to the passing daemons as he shot them apart, destroying everything in his path by instinct alone, the enemies now meaningless foes that didn’t require thought. He reached the bottom of the stairs, smashing three daemons with his rifle, breaking it in half. He didn’t care. He vaulted up the steps, his breath even and controlled, his demeanor solid and cold. He went seven steps at a time, his powerful legs launching him towards his goal. Nothing was going to stop him, not even hell itself.
As Holly’s dreadnaught flew by, causing for winds to blast by the bodyguard, he reached into his pocket, taking out his Sig Sauer with smooth, practiced ease. He was almost at the top. With one final push the mountainous human flew up the final steps, his heart pumping strongly as he pushed his body as hard as he could. When he crested the platform, he came upon two individuals. One was Artemis, the other an egregiously perturbed looking Opal Koboi. Butler was surprised by her devilish features, but didn’t waste time thinking about it. He launched himself forward.
Opal, despite being extremely pissed off, managed a wicked grin. “Why, if it isn’t the oversized neanderthal, you’re such an idio-”
Butler didn’t let her finish, instead shooting her in the face three times in rapid succession. Opal’s speech was cut off abruptly as the high caliber bullets tore into her visage, the impact creating a sickening crunch. In a red mist half of her head was blown right off, sending her body flying to the stone floor. She landed with a sickening splat, her corpse twitching violently.
Artemis and Butler watched, one with a shocked gaze, the other with one of pure satisfaction. The bodyguard turned to his charge. “Artemis, I’m so sorry for allowing you to be captured, it was my fault.”
The boy smiled. “There’s no need to be sorry, old friend. You are here now, and that’s all that matters.”
Butler quickly smashed the chains holding Artemis down, tossing them aside as he looked him over for any serious injuries. He was malnourished, and had a large bruise on his head, but was otherwise fine. He’d been through much worse in the past. Butler then proceeded to pick up the genius with his massive arms, holding him protectively as the boy gave him a look of complete disapproval. Artemis hated being carried around, but Butler would not allow him to stand, not in his state.
“Come on, let’s get you out of here.” The man said softly, utterly content now that he had accomplished his goals.
Artemis protested. “Not yet, we still have to free the others.”
“What others?” Butler asked as he began to walk to the steps.
“It’s a long story, but to surmise, Quan and N°1 are being used to power this facility. I know where they are, we just have to…”
An evil laugh rose from the ground behind them, rasping and dark. The sound got even louder, its terrifying noise filling the room. Butler turned, his eyes falling on the dead form of Opal Koboi, which was unmoving. But that soon changed. The half of her face that still remained formed into an amused grin, her eye shining with red light as she chuckled maniacally. Butler and Artemis stared with shock as the pixie’s corpse twitched to life, her hands clenching into fists, trails of crimson and black mist beginning to form around her, the very air congealing into dreadful, blood-like tones.
As they watched in frozen astonishment, Opal sat up, then pulled herself to her feet effortlessly, as though having half of her head torn off was just a scratch. Dark magic raged violently around her face, the missing half slowly forming again. First the bone grew back, then the flesh and muscle, the tissues weaving themselves back together rapidly. Lastly, her missing eye glowed into existence, its dreadful gaze steady upon the two humans. It was something right out of a nightmare.
As the pixie became whole again, she grinned even wider, her eyes murderous and filled with darkness. “You really think that I would die from such a wound? You are such fools!” She laughed, massive tendrils of magic forming around her, crimson mist dancing on her hands. “You can’t kill me, I’m already dead!”
Butler had heard enough. With one hand her unloaded his gun into the pixie, using the other to hold Artemis. As the horrid being blocked the bullets, the bodyguard sprinted down the steps, running as fast as he could, knowing that Opal wasn’t just an impossible foe for him to beat; she was death itself.
As the two humans flew down the stairs, Opal yelled with an impossible volume. “You’re all going to die by my hands! It will tear you foolish mortals apart!”
In her dreadnaught, Holly stared with shock as she watched Opal, who had had her head blown apart, simply shrug off the wound like it was nothing. Dear gods, what is she? Holly wondered as she observed the growing tendrils of magic that were forming around her. Butler was currently carrying Artemis to safety, but Opal didn’t look like she was going to allow that. Not good!
As the two humans cleared the platform, Holly yelled over her comm link. “Everyone, take cover!”
She turned the dreadnaught to face the monster that was Opal, bringing every armament online as she targeted the nefarious being.
“Eat this!” Holly growled, pressing the trigger.
The ship exploded with weapons fire as every gun and cannon went all out along with all remaining missiles and rockets. With a wave of pure firepower the bombardment collided with Opal, who didn’t look at all very intimidated; she looked amused. With a gesture the pixie manipulated the crimson mist into a barrier, one that completely surrounded the top of the platform. Thousands of bullets and missiles exploded as they hit the wall, the deadly force stopped completely by the magical shield, which tore the weapons asunder like a wild beast. Holly kept firing, but to no avail. Nonetheless, it bought her friends some time, and that was enough for her.
As the explosions rocked the chamber, Butler ran towards the end of the cavern, Borislav in close pursuit. Both of them knew that they would be useless against Opal, they needed a plan.
As the neared the exit, a loud roar came from the gloom, followed by a bulky vehicle, which flew into the room. It was a rugged transport car that they had passed earlier, its small frame allowing for decent capacity. Inside the vehicle was a happy looking Mulch Diggums, who looked like he was going to have a gas attack once he saw what was going on.
“We need to get out of here!” The dwarf yelled, terrified by Opal’s show of power. He looked at the others, noticing the genius. He waved. “Oh, hi Artemis!”
Artemis brushed himself off, his weakness temporarily diluted by adrenaline. “Mr. Diggums, it’s nice to see you again, as well as you Commander, but there’s no time for pleasantries. We need to escape Opal, but before we do that we need to rescue Quan and N°1. I spoke to Quan whilst I was imprisoned here, he’s given me the magic and directions necessary to make it work.”
Mulch and Borislav looked perplexed, not aware that the two warlocks were involved. As another massive explosion boomed throughout the room, Butler grabbed Artemis, hoisting him into the car. “I trust your judgment Artemis, so let’s get to it.”
The bodyguard got into the transport, followed by Ivankov.
“What about Holly?” Artemis yelled above the chaos, his eyes on the dreadnaught as it bombarded Opal with everything it had.
Ivankov brought up his communicator. “Captain! We’ve got to move!”
Inside the dreadnaught, Holly gritted her teeth, her rage pouring out as she blasted the pixie relentlessly. “I know, just give me a second…”
Suddenly, Holly’s ship stopped firing. It was out of ammunition. From the black smoke that filled the air around the platform came a solid beam of dark magic. Before the elf could maneuver her ship, the magic rammed into it, cutting right through its midsection and out the other side. She ship shuddered, losing power as its reactor began to breach. Holly grimaced. The dreadnaught was toast, she needed to lose it and stall Opal at the same time. It didn’t take her long to come up with something.
She punched in several commands on the still operational control panel, setting the ship to autopilot. She them aimed it straight for Opal, bringing it to full power.
“Time to go!” She told herself as she ran through the control room, into the flaming halls of the dreadnaught. She could feel it getting closer and closer to the platform, its speed picking up the longer time progressed.
The elf reached the open hatch in a matter of seconds, subsequently jumped to grab hold of the ladder that went up to it. With adrenaline fueled speed, Holly climbed up and out of the ship, emerging onto the roof of the burning machine. She looked towards the platform, seeing that it was only fifty feet away. Opal stood on top, a magical barrier forming again as the craft barreled down on her. Holly had no choice but to jump.
With a deep breath, the elf vaulted off of the crashing dreadnaught, flying through the air before landing halfway down the steps, managing to break her fall considerably. Her arms and legs ached from the impact, but were otherwise functional. As she regained her balance, the dreadnaught collided with Opal Koboi, resulting in a colossal explosion as the massive ship imploded, its reactor overloading. As fire and debris flew past her, Holly ran desperately away, seeking to put as much distance between herself and the monster.
“Holly! Get in!” A voice yelled, followed by the sudden appearance of a light daemon transport car as it burst through the smoke. Everyone was inside, including Artemis.
The boy’s eyes lit up when they saw Holly, his good friend. “Holly!”
The elf was overjoyed to see him alive and well, and she too called out to him as she jumped into the craft. “Artemis!” She said happily, hugging the boy tightly. As the vehicle began to speed off, Holly drew back, punching Artemis lightly on the shoulder. “It’s good to have you back, I was so worried for you!” She felt happy, but also had a sense of guilt for failing to protect her friend.
“Thanks to you I’m just fine, Holly.” Artemis said softly, letting himself relax a bit for the first time in days.
Mulch looked back from the driver’s seat, sweat covering his face. “Artemis, mind giving me directions!”
The genius smiled once more to Holly before climbing to the front. As he seated himself beside the dwarf, he yelled above the noise. “Head straight down that passageway, then take the third right, then the sixth left. After that, there should be a maintenance lift!”
“Alright mud boy, just try to hold on!” Mulch grinned.
The transport sped up as it entered one of the tunnels, the sounds of explosions and fire echoing after it. After a brief moment, an angry roar cut through the cacophony of destruction. It was Opal, and she was pissed.
“You vexatious piles of flesh! I will crush you!” She screamed from back in the chamber, her voice utterly enraged.
“Maybe we should speed up!” Butler called from the back as he watched the ever shrinking opening behind them. Suddenly, the entire entryway to the throne room disintegrated, massive tendrils of magic cutting through the dense bedrock as if it was made of butter. The dark magic careened down the passageway, its glowing, dreadful form heading straight for them. Opal stood in mid air, floating along with the deadly magic projections as she pursued her quarry, a rage filled grin now on her face.
“You can’t escape me!” She roared. “You can run to the ends of the earth, but you will never be safe!”
Butler and Ivankov took up their guns, firing relentlessly from the back of the transport as it sped through the tunnels, the pulse rounds doing nothing to slow the chasing evil. Holly grabbed Mulch on the shoulder. “Faster!” She yelled, looking back with apprehension as Opal tore the tunnel apart, her magic forming a grotesque beast as it hunted them tirelessly, an unstoppable force.
“You don’t need to tell me that!” The scared dwarf said as he pushed the bulky vehicle as fast as he could, smoke now rising from its engine as it overheated.
They blasted around corners, through daemon infantry, through makeshift defenses, anything that was in their way being much more preferable that that which was behind them.
“We’re almost to the lift!” Artemis yelled above the entropy, holding onto his seat for dear life.
“What are we going to do once we reach it?” Holly bellowed, firing her rifle into the wall of death that was attempting to consume them. Opal was getting closer.
Artemis placed. There wasn’t anything they could do against Opal. Once they arrived at the lift they would be trapped, and Koboi would be right on top of them. Before them, about a kilometer away, was the lift. They were running out of time.
“We’re running out of space!” Borislav yelled, now using his beloved hand cannon to try and hinder the powerful force behind them. Bot nothing worked, and soon it was mere feet away.
“Keep going!” Butler rumbled, staring death in the face.
As they sped along, it seemed for a moment that the magical death would devour them in its black and crimson maw. It was so close that they could taste its evil stench, Opal’s hateful growls getting near. Artemis grimaced. They weren’t going to make it. As doom towered over them, the boy felt a voice in his mind, followed by a pained scream from Opal. The dark magic dissipated instantly, the pixie’s form toppling to the stone ground, grabbing her head desperately as she howled with rage.
“I’m keeping her at bay, but I can only do so for a short period of time!” Quan yelled through Artemis’ subconsciousness. His voice was strained, clearly it was taking everything he had to disrupt Opal’s power. “Go!”
Artemis nodded to the invisible voice, watching as the writhing figure of Opal faded into the distance.
“What was that!?” Holly exclaimed, relieved but perplexed.
“It’s Quan, he’s holding Opal back to buy us more time!” Artemis yelled as the wind blew by them, howling loudly. They had arrived at their destination, the vehicle skidding to a stop onto the lift.
Mulch sagged back in his seat, wiping his brow as he sighed loudly. “Whew, that was too close.” He breathed.
“Indeed.” Butler rumbled as he stepped out of the transport, approaching the control interface. It had over fifty levels on it. The bodyguard yelled over his shoulder.
“Artemis, which level are they on?”
The boy responded immediately. “The bottom, level 50. That’s where the reactors are located.”
Mulch whistled. “Uh oh, reactors. You know how those are.” He motioned with his hands, imitating an explosion.
Butler pressed the control, eliciting a sharp beep from the console. The lift shook suddenly as it came to life, then proceeded to lower itself at a relatively quick pace. As they went deeper and deeper into the massive facility, level after level flashed by, each filled with unpleasant things.
After the fifth level the elevator opened up into a massive chamber, the sounds of manufacturing muffled by the glass barrier, but still considerably loud. It was truly a horrendous sight, the size and depth of the cavern mind boggling. Within it were elaborate assembly lines, each filled with weapons and vehicles, which were being hauled off into a separate chamber upon their completion. Nobody spoke, instead each of them took in the colossal scale of production that Opal was accomplishing, astonished by the scene before them. As they watched, the scene was suddenly cut off by the ground below, the lift now descending even deeper into the earth.
After another twenty seconds of silent descent, the lift slowed to a standstill, becoming deathly silent before an imposing blast door. The alloy portal, upon their arrival, automatically opened, its mechanism sliding the metal barriers aside without a sound.
As the lift’s occupants sat within the transport, weapons ready, a gargantuan space became visible before them, waves of heat pouring in from the area along with a ubiquitous humming sound. The room was awash with a mix of blue and crimson light, not a single area of it in shadow as the activity within illuminated everything. The large, circular chamber was dominated by six massive cylindrical devices, which rose from the depths below high to the ceiling above. They were clearly a means of energy generation and transfer, their metallic surfaces glowing with what appeared to be magic, the numerous output lines that left each of them humming with power.
The six devices were arranged in a circle around the outside of the room, placed perfectly around another contraption in the center, one that was even more lit up by blue light. The middle device was complex in design, from is running multiple cables and bus sized transfer lines, from which poured immense amounts of pure magic, the blue energy rushing through the machine from someplace below, no doubt the source of the power.
Along the entire expanse of the room, from the elevator to the center spire, was a wide walkway. It looked stable enough for travel, and seemed to emanate an invisible barrier that shielded its occupants from the extreme levels of energy around it. At its far end was another door, built into the side of the middle tower.
Artemis looked at the distant door, knowing that it was where the two warlocks were being held.
He motioned to the others. “Quan and N°1 should be in there. We have to hurry, as there’s a finite amount of time before Opal regains control, and when she does, we’re all dead.” The last part sounded a bit negative, but it was also a simple fact. Koboi was far more powerful than she’d been before, and far less prone to making idiotic mistakes. If she had the chance, she’d end them all without hesitation.
Butler stepped from the vehicle, along with Holly and Ivankov. “We’ll cover you Artemis.” The bodyguard rumbled.
The three soldiers fanned out, vigilant for any movement. The activity in the room hindered their senses, but it was still apparent that the chamber was empty, a stroke of pure luck.
As Mulch stayed with the transport, opting to consume whatever forms of nourishment that were contained within his beard, the other four moved swiftly across the walkway, Butler staying close to Artemis, who was getting weak again. All around them, pure magical energy swirled through the air, the invisible barrier holding it back as they passed through the sea of power. It didn’t take them long to reach the center spire, which was now looming above them, its glowing form pulsing steadily.
Whilst the others studied their surroundings, Artemis went up to the control panel. It was password protected, but the boy wasn’t one to obey the rules. In a matter of seconds he managed to override the security measures, the door responding by sliding open, allowing them access to the space within.
“This is it.” Artemis stated, walking purposefully, though unsteadily, into the noisy room. It was the same place he had seen before, when Opal had shown him, its technological convolution impossible to forget. Hundreds of machines and miles of wire and tubes ran about the space in an organized mess, their advanced forms making an ensemble of different noises. Everything had a blue tint to it, the magic that was in the air sparkling randomly. The genius could feel it, the energy in the saturated air. It didn’t harm him, but rather paid no attention, ignoring his presence as it went about its clandestine tasks. In the center of the room were a couple of capsules, in them two of the most powerful warlocks in the world. Artemis hesitated as he felt the air around him, but he knew the task at hand was endemic to their survival, thus no amount of danger mattered.
As he approached the two capsules, Artemis began to feel something in himself, that magic Quan had given him gravitating towards the warlocks. He looked into their clear covers, seeing the two fairies laying in a catatonic state, their bodies glowing a brilliant slew of colors as a sea of magic poured through them. The boy had never done something like this, but he was able to create a solid hypothesis as to how he should go about it.
Artemis, feeling the magical link drawing him in, took a seat right by the two capsules, crossing his legs as he took deep, relaxing breaths. He had to be as calm and at peace as possible in order to properly channel the magic, which was easier said than done. The boy sat there, eyes closed, for a minute, his heartbeat slowing as his adamant mind became clear, focusing only on the two warlocks before him. He took his two hands and, reaching with his mind for the magic within him, placed them on each of the capsules.
In a sudden jolt, Artemis felt immeasurable power, it was truly magnificent. His hands, then his whole body tingled as a link formed between him and the warlocks. He took one more deep breath before willing himself into the metaphysical realm, not completely sure if it would work, but confident enough to try without hesitation.
The response was instantaneous, Artemis’ mind exploding with light and energy as he felt himself merge into a separate realm, everything magical becoming clear as crystal as he saw the area around him with new eyes. Without a second thought, the prodigy delved into the jumble of magical threads that surrounded the warlocks, now knowing exactly what to do.
Koboi’s Headquarters – Outside Scroll Chamber
Opal gritted her teeth as she dragged herself through the hall, her magical power thrown into utter chaos as her mind fought against the intruder that was now holding her back. It was Quan, that insufferable warlock, who had ruined her chance to kill her most powerful foes in one blow. She had been so close, within an inch of rending them apart, when her mind exploded with entropy, the magical force of the warlock blocking her flow of power. It was something she never would have predicted, and yet it was happening now. She growled as she felt his consciousness in her own, violating her abilities without discretion.
“Damn you, you imbecilic neophyte! How dare you get in my way!” Opal said with vituperation, her eyes gleaming with anger as she dragged herself along the floor, her strength failing her as she struggled to fight the warlock.
“I believe that you are the one who’s a neophyte.” Quan retorted, his voice strained but wise. “I have been on this earth for thousands of years, I have more knowledge and wisdom than you could ever attain!”
Opal seethed. “What is wisdom when I have this power? Wisdom is just a meaningless state of mind for the senile! I have power that outshines yours like a sun against a light bulb! You are nothing!”
“Am I?” Quan said softly. “To me, you are but a child and a vulnerable being who lives under the impression that everything is entitled to you. Deep down inside, there is a broken creature that has never had that which she truly desired, one that only knows how to give pain and suffering, for it is unable to feel anything else. Tell me, what turned the bright child that you were so many years ago into such a horrible thing?”
“Shut up!” Opal screamed, clawing at her skull, desperate for the voice to leave her mind. “You know nothing about me!”
“I know more than you think.” Quan said.
Opal growled defiantly, beyond angry, her fingers digging into the solid stone floor, crushing it with dark emotion as she squirmed with agony. She could not let this warlock stop her, not when everything was going just as planned! As she combated the magical presence in her mind, squads of daemon soldiers ran in the direction of the lift, weapons armed.
Koboi’s Headquarters – Reactor Chamber
Gunshots echoed throughout the vast room, tracers and laser blasts flying through the air. In the elevator entrance, dozens of daemons rappelled to the bottom level, their armored forms landing on the vacant transport, crushing its surface mercilessly. Whilst Artemis was working inside the main structure, everyone else had fallen under fire by a relentless horde of hostiles, who were heedless of death as they tried to overthrow the defenders. Mulch had booked it from the vehicle the moment he heard them coming, and was now hiding behind the imposing form of Butler, the bodyguard firing skillfully into the choke point from which the daemons had to advance. Holly and Borislav were situated around the space as well, unloading a relentless volume of fire into the attackers. They had little to no cover being on the walkway, but as long as they kept the enemy pinned down, they would be fine.
“You think Artemis could hurry up little, being in gunfights is not my forté.” Mulch yelled above the cacophony of weapons.
Butler blasted several daemons as they landed in the lift. “Don’t worry, he’ll come through in no time.”
Mulch frowned. “I hope so, my beard’s going crazy with all these troll droppings hitting the fan.”
Inside the main spire, Artemis sat quietly, his mind somewhere else. He could see the magical signatures that were the two warlocks, ever struggling against their bonds, which were extremely intricate. Quan had said they needed a push, a nudge in the right direction, and Artemis knew that he only had enough magic to do it once. He needed to find the chink within the design of the magical weaves, a single point that would result in such a loss of stability that it would allow for the warlocks to break free. Such was a daunting task, the sheer complexity of it unlike anything Artemis had ever seen. It was like a skillfully woven garment, seemingly perfect in its design, a product of flawless craftsmanship. It could take one days to even grasp it, but the boy only had minutes. He delved into its structure, his mind calculating every pattern and junction, searching for the most vulnerable link. There were so many that could be the one he was looking for, but only one of them was the real deal.
Artemis put all of his concentration, all of his intellect, towards unwinding the magnificent design that he now faced, its form so utterly perfect that it seemed as though it had no flaws at all. But there was, and he had to find it before it was too late.
“Hurry Artemis! I’m losing control!” Quan grunted tiredly from the magical twilight.
Artemis doubled his efforts, tripled them, pushed them as far as he could. Where was it? Where was the Achilles heal in this grand design?
“You can do it, Artemis. Only you can put an end to this.” Quan said reassuringly, his confidence in the prodigy apparent in his tired voice as it echoed through the clouds of ethereal energy.
Artemis strained his energy. It’s close, so very close! He thought, the answer just beyond his vision. But it was there, and now he fought towards it.
With one final push, the boy broke through the illusions and barriers that guarded the weak link, the impenetrable web’s fatal flaw now laid bare before him. There you are! With a surge of magic, Artemis snapped the cluster of magical weaves, their solid forms crumbling as they blew apart. The fall of the first set of weaves was followed by another, and another, the magical bonds now being torn apart by the warlocks, who were now gaining control.
The metaphysical realm around him exploded with energy as the warlocks tore free of their prison, destroying Opal’s bonds with ease as its intricate design collapsed altogether. In a blinding flash of light, Artemis was blown from the magical space, his consciousness being thrown back into his physical body by the force that pushed him out.
As Artemis’ vision returned, he became aware of the previously unmoving forms of the warlocks now twitching violently as they regained their control, the air now crackling with magic. The machinery around the room began to beep warningly, their systems overheating or blowing out completely, showers of sparks flying about as sirens began to go off.
Best not to stick around. Artemis thought as he stood up, his legs stiff from sitting, and weak from hunger. But the chaos around him was sufficient to make him run like a man possessed, knowing all too well what could happen if he stayed within the epicenter of the magical whirlwind. As the room literally began to explode, Artemis flew out of the door, throwing himself to the walkway as the entropy behind him began to reach a climax.
“Everyone, get down!” He yelled, his comrades still firing at the daemon units. However, they didn’t need persuasion given the terrifying mess behind them.
Just as everyone ducked for cover, the entire center spire went up in a colossal blue flame, pure magic pouring from it as its structure fell apart, the sound of bending metal shrieking through the air. As more daemons landed within the lift, a large chuck of metal was thrown into the entrance, crushing the attackers and blocking their entry point. Once the spire had almost fully collapsed, the area in its place became a cloud of protective magic, its barrier blocking the falling debris. After a long few minutes, the chaos came to a halt, leaving the room in a state of frozen shock. There, in the magical bubble, were the two warlocks, alive and well. The two beings gingerly stepped from the barrier, emerging onto the walkway as the others began to stand up.
Artemis met them with a professional grin. “Quan, N°1, how excellent to see you two within the realm of the living.”
Quan smiled, though he was still slightly disoriented from the whole thing. “Thanks to you and your friends. You did well back there Artemis.”
N°1, was overjoyed. “Hello Artemis! This is wonderful, extraordinary, stupendous! Being trapped in those capsules was a tremendously unpleasant experience, abhorrent, detestable.” The demon imp still had a propensity to explore the numerous words with which one can describe a situation, even though he knew all of them already. It was one of warlock’s more adorable tendencies, apart from being an imp.
The others had by now approached the group, all of them looking more or less slipshod by the situation.
Butler nodded to the imp. “Been a long time has it not?”
“Butler!” The imp said excitedly. “And Holly! This is quite a reunion, though the setting could be better…”
Holly grinned. “I like it, mainly because we’re bringing Opal to her knees. How you been kiddo?”
The imp grimaced. “Oh, you know, captured, forced to accumulate colossal amounts of magical energy, that sort of egregious thing.”
As the friends conversed, Mulch was preoccupied with trying to irritate Quan, who was impeccable in his composure, and Borislav stood on, regarding the whole thing with a sense of bemusement. He had never seen a bunch quite like this, and surely could never have predicted such ridiculously unique individuals all being in the same spot. It was indeed a spectacle of extraordinary beings.
After a short period of time, Quan’s demeanor changed from one of pleasantries to one of pure gravity. The warlock cleared his throat, ignoring Mulch’s silly remarks.
“Though I am happy to see all of you, we should leave the pleasantries for later. Right now this facility is in extreme danger, mainly because we just cut off its power source, leaving the magical tear in the metaphysical realm unhindered.”
Though there was no noise currently, they could hear a rising cacophony from deep below, as well as a growing rumble.
Artemis raised his eyebrow. “So I assume that the only way for the tear to close itself would be through an immense expelling of energy, thereby cutting it off from this realm.”
Quan nodded. “Exactly, and with such a force of power this entire chamber will become a magical bomb.”
Mulch frowned, not liking the sound of things. “Umm, how big?”
Quan’s face got even more serious. “About the equivalent of a fifty megaton thermonuclear bomb.”
Everyone went pale at the statement. Mulch almost soiled himself as his face said it all. “Oh shit.”
Koboi’s Headquarters – Outside Scroll Chamber
In the oppressing, dark halls, Opal Koboi lay on her back, breathing tiredly as she sought to compose herself. But such was impossible. Only seconds before, Quan had left her mind, his metaphysical form vanishing suddenly, as though pulled from the realm entirely. She knew exactly what that meant. Artemis had somehow set them free from her spells, that blasted human of all beings! Opal seethed anew as she stood up, brushing the detritus from her clothes. She knew all too well the implications of pulling the warlocks from the cycle. It would destroy her entire facility.
“You fools! What have you done!” She screamed, punching the solid wall before her, the stone compacting as her fist cut into it like a hot knife through butter. She screamed violently as she threw her magic at the wall, turning a three hundred meter deep section into dust, all the while causing the air around her to crackle with energy. She withdrew her hand, her crimson eyes gleaming with rage. This was not part of her plan! Sure she had contingencies but it was still a complete disaster!
The enraged pixie started walking at a fast pace, approaching the massive doors that guarded the manuscripts. She put her arms forward, throwing the doors open with immense force, breaking them from the wall. As the alloy barriers crashed to the floor, Opal walked angrily into the large room, her eyes set on the artifacts. She was beyond any consolable level of vexation, her magic trailing around her violently with glowing death as she passed through the magical barrier, reaching for the scroll case.
She knew that the place was lost. The explosion would utterly destroy anything within it, and that meant losing her entire manufacturing sector and immeasurable amounts of irreplaceable resources. She growled as she thought of the impudent gang of vexatious mortals that had managed to ruin her perfect plans, her mind filling again with gore filled visions of their demise. She hated them with an unquenchable hatred, one that would burn forever, even after she eventually killed them. Part of her wanted to find them where they were, within the reactor chamber, and slaughter them. But her more sensible side knew that such was foolish.
She grabbed the artifact, placing it within her robes as her rage began to cool down, her anger twisted face taking on a tense but calmer demeanor. They had two warlocks on their side now, and though their power was nothing compared to hers, they would prove far too difficult to crush given the current circumstances. Besides, the entire place was going to become molten slag in minutes, so those annoying warlocks had no doubt taken action to get their allies out of the facility before it went up in flames. Regardless, Opal knew that she only had one realistic option now, and that was to cut her losses.
Koboi quickly left the room, not bothering to replace the magical defenses; they were pointless now. As she went through the halls, she signaled to her remaining forces on her communicator, informing them to prepare for a tactical withdrawal. Though she had not seen the ruin of her main headquarters as a distinct possibility, she had nonetheless made the necessary preparations should such an incredulous event occur. The best she could hope for now would be for her enemies to fail to escape the facility, but that too was by no means a certainty, and thus she didn’t get her hopes up. Those inferior beings were proving much more resilient and powerful than she had predicted, a mistake that she would not make again.
As she approached a massive blast door, hundreds of daemon soldiers ran past her, along with supply laden armored vehicles and transports. The gargantuan door opened smoothly as they reached its imposing form, the barrier opening into a massive cavern, the sounds of hundreds of engines and thousands of footfalls pouring from it. Opal strolled into the chamber, an extremely satisfied look crossing her irritated features as she viewed the fruits of her labor. There was one thing that her foes failed to realize, and that was that she had contingency plans for her contingency plans. She was prepared for anything.
The expansive room stretched for miles, its entire space filled with activity. The chamber stretched off into the distance, opening up into an even larger area, a secretly devised chute. It was the prefect escape route, one that would allow for her forces to move swiftly to their fallback point. The room was packed full with hundreds of aircraft and vehicles, as well as thousands of infantry. Though it was not close to the capacity of her military, it was all that she could manage to save given the time constraint, so it would have to do.
There were approximately one thousand gunships, one hundred dreadnaughts, and plenty of infantry to fill in their crew compartments. But what truly caught her attention was the colossal ship that dominated the area, its dreadful form making the dreadnaughts look like flies. The newly completed battleship stretched one kilometer long, its entire surface covered with hundreds of heavy guns and launchers as well as thousands of point defense turrets. It was very large, so much so that one would wonder if it would be too much so. But it was perfectly fine, as the magma chutes were still much larger than the ship, allowing it to move freely. Even if there wasn’t enough space, it could just make some with the gargantuan mining laser on the front of it, its main purpose for the primary phase of her final move, which was still to be revealed.
Opal grinned as she walked up the ship’s loading ramps, the cargo space within it being jammed with ordnance and vehicles. She knew that if her main facility was destroyed, she would need an alternate base of operations, one that was mobile and heavily armed. This was the result, and it looked dreadfully beautiful. With it she could avoid the enemy whilst she unlocked the scroll’s secrets, using her magic to hide her entire force within their secondary location. When she uncovered the final location of the gate, she would then be able to use the power of her fleet to destroy anything that sought to impede her. In the end, the loss of her main facility would just be collateral, a minor inconvenience.
After a minute of traversing the busy halls within her new flagship, Opal went up a lift, emerging onto the bridge of the powerful ship. The control room was filled with advanced machinery, a large holographic battle-map rising up in the middle. Daemon soldiers occupied various stations within the bridge, operating the systems with great efficiency. The command center spanned a few dozen meters before stopping at a large, heavily fortified window, its thick surface guarded by several invisible energy shields. From her vantage point on the bridge, Opal could see the expanse of the room outside, and the multitude of ships that were lifting off, en route to the secondary staging point.
Opal took a seat on the intricate command chair, expertly pressing various controls and interfaces, bringing the ship online. The deep rumble of the battleship’s fusion reactor began to rise as the ship’s systems became fully operational, eliciting the powerful roar of its engines.
Opal stared nefariously out the window as the ship’s propulsion and anti-gravity systems went to full power, taking the large machine off of the ground. She could feel the energy pulsing from the manuscripts that were in her cloak, grinning a devilish grin as she saw it shimmering in the air. She would interpret its secrets once she escaped, finding the final piece that would complete her puzzle of domination. She hated to lose such colossal amounts of assets in just one blow, but such was the capacity of her foes. Even more so she hated losing that mud boy, Fowl. He had been such a wonderful part of her scheme, and an excellent source of entertainment. Now his allies had him, and thus had his intellect to use against her. She didn’t like that, not one bit. However, she had no choice but to factor that into her operations now, as well as the unforeseen abilities of his friends. Indeed, they were strong, but she was stronger. Now was simply a time for retreat, a time to cut losses and live to fight another day. In the end, it mattered little if she lost everything under her command, the power that awaited her far more potent than a billion soldiers. Her grin twisted into an impossibly wide smile, her eyes gleaming crimson as dark magic congealed in the air around her.
“You may have won this battle, but the war is far from over.” She said, watching as her ship approached the chute. Around her, hundreds of ships flew in formation, their deadly forms filling the air with a cloud of doom.
Opal laughed, her previous anger forgotten in the face of devilish future planning. For now, she would lay low. When the time was right, she would make her move, and nothing would be able to stop her.
Koboi’s Headquarters – Reactor Chamber
Explosions echoed around the vast room, the reactors now glowing hot as magic poured from the earth far below. The chamber shook violently, pieces of scaffolding falling from high above, crashing into the void below. Down on the walkway were seven figures, their forms tiny compared to the falling debris.
“We have to go!” Butler bellowed, looking to the lift.
“The lift is damaged, we won’t be getting out that way.” Borislav yelled, dodging a piece of metal.
Artemis and the two warlocks looked completely calm, not at all afraid of the impending doom around them. Holly grimaced as a large alloy beam destroyed the far end of the walkway, cutting them off from any chance of escape.
“Artemis! You have a plan right?” Holly yelled above the chaos.
The boy smiled. “Naturally.” He looked to Quan and N°1. “And it revolves entirely around our magical friends here.” His voice was impossibly placid, as though he were observing art in the Louvre.
Quan nodded. “Indeed, escape is a simple matter of teleportation. It’s an easy spell, really, especially given that we have an overflowing amount of magic in our bodies at this time. We figured we’d borrow some on our way out of the cycle.”
“Then can we get to it! This place is coming down around us!” Holly yelled apprehensively, her worry growing as the rumbling from below got louder.
“Of course.” Quan stated, looking to N°1. “Alright apprentice, shall we get started?”
“Affirmative.” The demon said excitedly. “Everyone please gather around us, form a circle if you would be so kind.”
Everyone did so with haste, the chamber now sagging a bit into the earth below, as though it were slowing sinking into a sea of lava. In a matter of seconds, the group had assembled into a circle around the two warlocks, who now had their eyes closed, concentrating on their spell. With a flash of light, a blue sphere formed around them, encapsulating the seven beings as the walls of the chamber gave out, massive chunks of stone now pouring into the cavern. The reactors were now melting, their liquidating forms emitting a mix of fire and magic, eating away everything in close proximity. The air around the sphere began to crackle with energy as it lifted off the ground, taking the group with it. In a blinding flash of light, they disappeared, leaving the doomed chamber devoid of life. Just as they vanished, a wave of energy surged up from the depths, blowing the entire reactor chamber into dust as it consumed the walls, then everything outside of it. With a glorious explosion everything disappeared in a deluge of fire.