XI – A Brief Respite
Remote Island – Indian Ocean
The sun shined brilliantly in the clear blue sky, its endless expanse stretching forever, unassailed by clouds, the waters below shimmering with light as they reflected the colors above. It was calm, almost quiet, the peaceful waves washing rhythmically onto the sandy beach, its complexion white and pure, untainted. A warm breeze blew gently from the sea, passing though the leaves of the few palm trees and indigenous plants that resided upon the small island, their forms swaying gently as the wind weaved between them, kissing the island with its soft touch. High in the air above flew a couple of seagulls, riding the warm updrafts with a natural grace. Everything seemed so free of corruption, the area devoid of any human influence, not a single plane in the air or ship in the water. It was pure seclusion, a pulchritudinous scene of the world as it once was, a world of coexistence between civilization and nature.
As the serenity played on, the faint breeze grew in intensity, becoming a powerful gust. The wind blew the sand into the air, swaying the trees as it whirled around the island like a cyclone. Whilst this occurred, a glimmer of blue light sparkled in the air, followed by an even brighter shining that seemed to move from the earth below. The blue energy spun with the wind, dancing in the air as it formed into a sphere. The shape solidified after a few seconds, within it appearing the shapes of seven figures, five arranged in a circle around two of them, seemingly oblivious to the world beyond.
All of the sudden, the wind stopped, the air becoming silent as the globe glowed brightly. As the island reverted back into a sense of calm, the sphere dissipated, its blue form shimmering away into the air. The figures within, previously frozen like statues, abruptly began to move again, like waking up from a deep sleep. At first they looked around in a daze, disoriented by the process they had just went through, their surroundings foreign and completely unlike the place in which they just were. But it was real, they had traveled from the depths of Koboi’s constructed hell to the serene tropical heaven, their opposites utterly striking them. It was like seeing the sun after being below ground for a lifetime, it was beyond beautiful.
Quan, who was the least affected by the magical trip, looked around appreciatively. “Ah, I couldn’t have picked a better spot.” He said, enjoying the tropical breeze.
N°1 nodded. “Quite so my dear friend, it is truly alluring, ravishing, resplendent!”
The two warlocks smiled as they felt their freedom once more, joyous to be liberated from the degrading existence that Opal had doomed them to. The other individuals, who were suffering from slight nausea and dizziness, finally pulled themselves from their magic induced stupor. Artemis took in the scene around him, his senses thrilled by the tasteful change in scenery. How different the world appeared, how fresh and pure. He knew that it was no different than it had been before things started, that it was merely a psychological response to being isolated in the dark, but he ignored it, allowing himself to enjoy the sense of freedom that it instilled.
As the genius breathed the fresh air, Butler, Holly, Mulch and Ivankov did the same, though the dwarf only did so for the purpose of locating food. The island had no edible plants apart from the coconuts in the sparse trees, which had been thrown into the ocean by their arrival.
Mulch frowned. “I am so hungry right now I could eat a troll,” He said to himself.
Holly crossed her arms. “Is that all you can fit within the confines of your thick skull Mulch? Just enjoy the view for once.”
The dwarf grinned. “I much more prefer the view of muddy tunnels and open vaults filled with gold. It’s an acquired taste.”
Holly rolled her eyes before nudging Artemis. “Quite the change of scenery huh?” She said casually.
Artemis smiled. “Indeed.” He looked down at his suit, frowning as he noted its damage being far worse than it was in most of their action packed adventures. He brushed himself off, idly observing the island. “Though I do believe that our unsightly attire is clashing detrimentally with the otherwise alluring setting.”
Holly grinned. “That’s the Artemis I know so well.” She punched him on the shoulder.
The boy grimaced slightly, rubbing his arm. “Is that absolutely necessary? I’ll need a cast if you keep that up.”
The elf laughed. “No way Arty boy. As I said a while ago, it’s the only way I can effectively bug you.”
Artemis smiled. It was good to be back.
Behind the two friends were the equally bedraggled figures of Butler and Commander Ivankov, who were checking their weapons automatically as they watched the others. Neither of them looked at all like they did before, their gear damaged and covered with filth, as though they had just spend a few weeks in the trenches.
“You did well down there comrade,” Borislav said as he checked the action on his large handgun. “You definitely live up to your reputation.”
Butler verified the feed path on his Sig Sauer. “Thanks. I can say the same for you.” The bodyguard said whilst he dislodged a chunk of stone from the chamber. He quickly finished bringing the firearm into operational condition, placing it back within its concealed holster. “So, how long until extraction?” He rumbled.
The Commander checked his communicator placidly. “I’ve set a beacon, one of my ships should be here in a few minutes.”
The bodyguard nodded, smiling as he watched Artemis enjoy the island as he talked to Holly. Butler could finally relax. He had rescued his friend, the boy now safe from Koboi. Artemis was the most important individual in his life, his greatest friend, and his best ally. Over the many years of protecting him, the boy had become more than a responsibility, he had become like a son. It brought a warmth to his heart to see his charge free once more, basking in the sunlight.
Artemis raised an eyebrow as he stood on the beach, “Maybe I should purchase this island. It would make a lovely place for a vacation.”
Holly laughed, “That’s what we all need right now, a very long vacation.”
The mood was broken by a low rumble in the ground, one that felt as though something massive and malevolent was getting closer to them. The earth shook, the tremors growing in intensity, followed by a muffled thump a few miles away in the distant sea. The far away waters exploded as a cloud of molten rock was blasted from the seabed, fire and smoke rising from the boiling area of ocean. The tremors continued for a few more seconds before fading, leaving everything in silence as the magma created gigantic clouds of steam.
Mulch grinned widely. “Look’s like a certain pixie is having a bad day.” He chuckled as he watched the steam clouds.
Artemis watched the pillar of steam as it rose into the sky. “Indeed, that was the magical tear closing itself. Opal’s entire facility is no doubt destroyed.”
Holly spoke seriously, a hard look on her face, “That’s another score for us. However, I doubt it was enough to destroy her. I bet she’s got a plan, despite the enormous setback.”
“Yes, she does.” Quan stated wisely, walking up to them. “And she will accomplish it if we don’t beat her to it.”
“To what exactly?” Artemis asked.
“It’s complicated. To surmise, there is an ancient force that is more powerful than any other, one that Opal is actively trying to attain. I will explain it in further dept once we get back to Haven, we will decide our course of action there.” Quan said reassuringly.
The peaceful environment was interrupted by the distant sound of engines. A ship was approaching fast.
“There’s our extraction.” Borislav stated, eying the sky.
In a matter of seconds, the form of an LEP shuttle blasted into view, flanked by two human interceptors. The shuttle slowed to a hover over the island, lowering itself into a clearing in the sparse palm trees, its engines running hot as it touched the earth. From the craft stepped Commander Trouble Kelp, a massive look of relief on his face.
“By the gods you did it,” He said proudly, “You managed to rescue Artemis and destroy the source of the attacks simultaneously.” The elf had held firm in his confidence in his allies, especially Holly, but he had nevertheless been very worried for them. Having lost so many of his comrades during the battle, the thought of losing any more was unbearable.
Holly saluted the Commander, grinning widely. “All in a day’s work Trouble.” Her face then took on a serious tone, her voice becoming hard and filled with well restrained anger. “But it’s far from over. Opal Koboi was the one behind everything, and she’s far more powerful than ever before. We just barely made it out alive with the help of Quan and N°1, though even they say that they are incapable of taking her on.”
Kelp’s visage became grave as he grimaced at the news. He’d been hoping for anything but that pixie, but it was not to be. His anger towards Koboi was coupled with a prickling sense of dread. With such power as to cheat death, what did she have in store for them now? The implications were horrible no matter which angle he looked at it. He clenched his fists. Just as Julius had faced Koboi all those years ago, so too he would follow the same path. He could only hope that it didn’t end the same way.
Commander Kelp returned his attention to Holly. “That’s quite the bit of bad news,” He stated, “But we will discuss that once we get back to Haven.” He motioned to the shuttle behind him. “For now, let’s get you guys home.”
As the two interceptors hovered overhead, everyone loaded into the LEP ship. A few seconds later, the three aircraft were flying at supersonic speeds towards Ireland, leaving the small island in lonely peace once more.
The dark expanses of the clandestine chute stretched onward for miles, the massive tunnel over three thousand meters in diameter, its reaches shrouded in blackness. Its walls were jagged and unforgiving, the very stone seemingly torn apart to make the passage, as though a gigantic monster had dug through. The gloom was destroyed by the relentless illumination from hundreds of lights, their sources moving through the chute all together in perfect unison. As the lights grew brighter, so did the cacophony of engines, the storm of noise reverberating throughout the area. From the lights emerged a massive form, one that took up a third of the passageway. With squadrons of gunships and dreadnaughts flanking it, Koboi’s large battleship passed through the tunnel, scores of lights shining from every side, its imposing form gliding smoothly through the air. It had been a few hours since the destruction of the facility, the fleet having set a course to a secondary staging point. They were about to arrive.
The mass of ships left the confines of the chute, emerging into a large cavern that stretched for miles in every direction. Within it was a plethora of landing areas, supply stations and loading docks, which were being guarded by a small force of daemons, nothing compared to the army that was pouring into the area. As the hundreds of smaller ships began to land in their predetermined zones, the large warship hovered steadily, lowering itself onto a massive docking section designed specifically for the gigantic machine. A series of large clamps grabbed hold of its sides, securing it as the dock’s systems stabilized the battleship. Once it was locked into place, the ship’s enormous engines powered down, leaving it in a sense of hibernation, a great beast just waiting to be woken again.
Opal sat patiently within the ship’s control room, absentmindedly running her hands over the interfaces, bringing the battleship’s systems into standby. She didn’t need to pay attention to such trivial actions. Instead, her mind was directed towards the greater task at hand, an undertaking that would spell doom for all who opposed her. With a few more manipulations of the controls, Opal completed the standby protocols, leaving just the necessary systems online, the rest being put into temporary shutdown for maintenance and upgrades. Even though the ship had just been completed, there were still some aspects that needed some ironing out, and there was plenty of time for that.
The nefarious pixie casually removed herself from the command chair, her mind still miles away, envisioning events to come as she left the bridge. She wasn’t at all worried for the secrecy of her present facility. It had no direct links to any operation zones, the connection to her previous location cut off by the explosion, and even then it was protected by her magic. Her previous headquarters had also been hidden by her powers, however that was moot due to Artemis’ friends stumbling upon it. Unlike the last one, the secondary base was impossible to locate, not by any technological, physical or magical means. She was completely secure, free to carry out the next phase without interruption.
She moved swiftly through the halls of the expansive ship, the maze of corridors laid out clearly by her impeccable memory. After several minutes of silent travel, Opal came up on a large set of doors guarded by a magical barrier. With a gesture she removed the shield, opening the doorway into the shadowed room beyond. It was impossibly dark within the chamber, one that seemed as though the air inside was made of a thick black soup, the gloom almost tangible. She paused as she closed the door, leaving her alone within. The room was completely empty, not a single device or object inside, leaving the circular area open, its smooth walls the only presence.
Opal’s crimson eyes lit up the chamber, their evil glow casting a sickly tint onto every surface. She grinned with anticipation as she removed the case from her robes, her magic beginning to swirl around once more. The twisted being set the object in the exact center of the room and, without a sound, took a seat next to it. It was so quiet, so perfectly silent. Such was the optimal location to do what needed to be done.
With a gesture, the pixie cast her dark magic upon the case, enveloping the artifact with its dark and crimson tendrils. Opal watched gleefully as the magical guards on the case were undone, opening it carefully as to not damage what was within. As it opened, enormous amounts of magic poured from it, assaulting the very air as it careened throughout the room, the curved walls causing it to spin around in a cyclone of energy. Koboi paid no heed to the growing chaos, her eyes set upon the manuscripts that were now hovering in the air, their ancient forms pulsing with magic. She smiled a wicked smile, her sharp teeth gleaming in the twilight.
How wonderful a sight! She thought as the artifacts floated before her, their ancient glyphs alight with magical fire.
Opal made another gesture, this time more dramatic, eliciting a wave of power from herself. The dark magic interacted with the manuscripts, weaving into their own intricate magical design with gentle force, the two powers becoming one. The pixie smiled even wider, her eyes excited and dreadful. It was time.
Your secrets will no longer remain hidden from me! She thought. After all of this effort, I will finally unravel the mysteries you contain. I will, at long last, achieve the final allotment to the greatest power this world has ever known!
With one final look of dark pleasure, Opal cast herself into the sea of magical pathways before her, every facet of her being now committed to unlocking the one secret that would doom the world.
Mountain Villa – North of Guillaumes, Southern France
The air was filled with a smokey haze, the smell of gunfire mixing with the gloom as the ubiquitous shadows watched on. The room was rather large, its vaulting ceiling rising several floors high, a rich level of décor placed throughout it. Expensive paintings lined parts of the walls, a variety of other objects mounted on others. There was a large table in the center, a number of expensive seats arranged around it, though they seemed as though they had been thrown about in confusion. Upon the table was a black suitcase, wads of hundred dollar bills spilling from its open form. Around the case were several duffel bags, within them a variety of questionable substances organized into sealed plastic bags. Despite the lovely view of mountains from the large window that dominated half of the room, it was a dismal place.
Strewn about the area were several bodies, each holding firearms that were unfired, their users having failed to pull their triggers in time. Opposite to the fallen men were several shadow cast figures, their bodies hidden partially by the gloom. Each of them wore an expensive tailored suit, their impeccable attire clean despite the mess around them. They held an assortment of automatic weapons, their barrels still smoking from use, the shell casings littering the floor a testament to what had just transpired.
One of the men whistled casually, taking out a Cohiba Esplendido as he put his Steyr TMP onto the table. He walked around the bodies, looking at them with little interest whilst he lit the cigar with a gold plated lighter.
“What a mess.” He said with an American accent, the cigar hanging out the corner of his mouth whilst he brushed gunpowder residue off of his leather gloves.
“You guys shouldn’t have screwed with me. Now look at yas, all washed up.” He said smoothly as he observed the corpses, “All you had to do was take the deal, but you newbies tried to skim a little of the top. Big mistake.”
The man absentmindedly kicked one of the bodies, turning his attention to the unlit fireplace that resided beside the table. Upon its mantlepiece were a variety of objects, each looking rather pricy. He placidly looked over them, his eyes stopping on one in particular. The piece was a small, archaic looking dagger, its stone surface aged and rugged, ancient glyphs running along its worn blade. He took a puff from his cigar, grabbing the artifact.
“Jeez, never took you guys for history fans.” He said conversationally to the bodies, a heartless grin on his face. “This thing looks old. You know what? I think I’ll take it off your hands, it’ll look pretty neat on my mantlepiece.”
The man pocketed the dagger, taking one more look around before motioning to the others. “Alright gentlemen, grab whatever looks expensive. Once we’ve stripped this place clean, we’ll torch it. That’ll send the right message.”
As the others began looting the mansion, the man walked up to the window, the smoke from his cigar trailing around his head like a ghostly presence. The view stretched for a great distance, the snow capped mountains running endlessly into the night, the stars high above winking mischievously. He grinned, the glowing hot cigar in the corner of his mouth. “Quite the view. You’ll be able to see this place burning for miles.”