XVI – Prelude to War
Haven’s terminal was the definition of hectic, utterly filled to the brim with ships as they prepared for war. Space had been cleared throughout the entire civilian sector of the hangars in order to fit the combined forces, now four hundred strong, and the hundreds of light assault drones, leaving little space for anything else. Each of the ships were fully repaired, refitted, and organized into flights, squadrons, groups and wings, perfectly prepared to take flight. The wind from the chute blew overhead with a seemingly excited force as pilots and technicians made their final system checks, though they had been ready for hours and such checks were simply a means to pass the time, to keep oneself busy during the nerve racking calm before battle.
Captain Holly Short watched from her view within her interceptor, tapping her fingers upon the ship’s control panel with idle impatience as she observed the gathering of their full aerial power. It was impressive to say the least, a force that combined human, fairy and machine into a unified army against the merciless threat of Opal Koboi. Once again, for the second time in thousands of years, the armies of human and fairy kind would fight alongside one another against a common foe. It was history in the making.
Holly looked across the hangar to where an LEP shuttle sat, its bulky form standing out amidst the sea of sleek combat ships. Of course, it wasn’t going to take part in the actual fighting. The shuttle was the transportation for Artemis and the Butlers, as well as the two warlocks, Quan and No1. Even Mulch was aboard who, by some weird turn of events, was acting as the pilot. Despite his kleptomaniac nature, the dwarf had been allowed to come, either to act as a noisy distraction or to simply offer his unique talents should they be required. It was clear that they all would be needed, though not for the battle itself. They were required for that which would come along with it; the confrontation with Opal herself. Mere weapons were meaningless against Koboi, but the power of Artemis’ mind and the magical strength of the two warlocks were a very real threat to her, especially now that they possessed the dagger.
From within the confines of her fighter, Holly could make out the figures of Artemis and his friends entering the bulky transport ship. She wished she could be closer in order to see him off one last time before the battle. She kept her eyes on the boy, and just as he appeared to be about to climb into the shuttle, he turned around, his eyes directly on her’s. With a confident wave, the genius smiled to her, his surprisingly at ease features seemingly laughing in the face of the coming conflict, unafraid. The elf smiled and gave the boy a mock salute, happy to have been able to confer with him, even at a distance, one last time.
As the two of them made their silent exchange, the two commanders, Trouble and Ivankov, entered the hangar, immense gravity emanating from their steps. Trouble Kelp couldn’t hide his pride as he entered the terminal, humbled by the number of brave soldiers that were willing to travel into hellfire itself for their people. As he walked in unison with the human commander, Foaly spoke into his earpiece.
“Commander, everything is ready to go.” He stated. “The drones are programmed and will do everything precisely as planned.”
“Excellent work Foaly.” Trouble responded, noting the scores of drones lined up along one end of the hangar. “The bio bombs as well?”
Trouble nodded to himself whilst he passed the rows of aircraft. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for us old friend. It’s no small comfort knowing that you will be watching over us during this operation.”
“No problem Trouble.” Foaly said friendlily. “Though maybe after this you can stop calling me donkey boy.”
Kelp smiled. “Don’t count on it.”
There was a pause as Trouble reached his ship. He looked over its immaculate form with immense appreciation. It had been a while since he’d flown one such a craft, but such a fact made it all the more desirable, even in combat. As he eyed the ship, he spoke again to Foaly.
“So this is it.” He said.
“Good luck on your end, Foaly. Keep Haven safe until we return.”
“I will.” Foaly said. “I wish you the best of luck as well.”
The centaur cut the chat, resuming his control over the drones, which were now powering up. Trouble looked over to Ivankov, who was waiting patiently beside him. The Russian man nodded to the elf respectfully.
“I’m glad you could join us on this mission. I’ve been itching to see you behind the wheel of one of these ships.” The man said casually.
“Is that a challenge?” Trouble asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Maybe.” Borislav responded, a grin on his face. “I always keep score you know.”
Trouble grinned slightly as well. “Challenge accepted.”
At first he’d been tense around his new human allies, unwilling to give trust easily, and simply awkward around humans in general. But after the conflicts of the last week, and the constant cooperation that the two factions had been showing between each other, he’d grown comfortable, almost perfectly so, around them. It surprised him even now, and he was certain that if he’d went back in time and told himself such a thing would happen, his past self would think him a lunatic.
Commander Ivankov smiled. “Alright then, good luck out there.” He extended a hand to the elf.
Trouble clasped it strongly. “Likewise.” By the gods does this feel weird.
After shaking hands, the man looked to the end of the hangar where his ships were waiting. “Well, I best be getting to my ship.” He gave a simple wave to Trouble as he walked away. “My ships will be waiting on your orders.”
Kelp looking at his ship. With practiced ease, the LEP commander climbed into the interceptor, closing the canopy behind himself. He looked at the controls, feeling the ship around him as though it were an extension of himself. Since becoming commander, he hadn’t been able to fly that much at all. Just like Holly, he loved it, though he didn’t share her crazy technique. To be in this ship, surrounded by his fellow officers, exhilarated him far more than anything before had. Even though they were going into a dreadful war, he could not help but feel a sense of joy, a sense of completion. Now, after all the years since Opal started the conflict, since she killed Julius, they could finish it.
Julius. Trouble’s heart became filled with determination and spirit as he thought of Root, his rough mentor and greatest role model, his hero. He would go beyond the ends of the earth to finish what he started, to avenge his death, and to make the world a better place, one that Julius would have wanted. The fight ahead was not for himself, not one bit. It was for Root, for his family, his friends, and for all of the People. He knew that many warriors went into battle for selfish gain and glory, to become legends. It made him feel beyond content to know that he did it for everyone but himself, as a soldier truly should. Maybe Julius would be proud of me after all. He thought as he brought his ship online, his HUD lighting up with numbers and reticles. He remembered what Holly had said to him, and it made his soul feel completely full, utterly happy with how things had turned out in life, and now ready even for death, knowing that it had lived to the fullest. He had no regrets, no qualms, not a single dark thought marring his esteem. He was ready for whatever came next. He was prepared for pain, prepared for loss, prepared for death. He was at peace with himself.
With proud eyes, the elf looked to his officers, to the humans, to Artemis, to Holly. He activated his comm link, connecting to every ship present.
“This is Commander Trouble Kelp to all forces.” He began, his voice confident and clear. “Today will mark the end of a conflict that has taken more from the People than anything has for thousands of years. It marks the end of a force so evil that it would destroy this earth. It marks a new age for both fairy and human kind.” He paused. “I will not lie. This will be a tough battle, an unforgiving battle, one that will take lives and shatter others, one that will exact its price upon all of us without quarter. But this is war, and as such we all know the costs, and the price we will pay will be the price for the basic right to live. Therefore, let us go, my friends, and face this evil as we have before, and this time may be vanquish it until nothing remains!” He brought his engines to full power, lifting his ship up from the hangar floor. “All ships, move out!”
In unison, with a powerful wave of gusting wind, all four hundred fighters and one thousand drones blasted into the air, flying into the open chute before them without a moment’s hesitation, a unified force of man and machine. At the forefront, Trouble led the fleet, the ships forming up behind him into perfect formations, filling the chute with a cloud of deadly aircraft. With a deep howl, the hot wind blew as it always did though the chute, passing though the ranks of fighters as they flew to war.
Opal’s Command Ship
The walls dripped with molten slag, the heat within the enclosed space unrelenting as the magic rocketed about with calculating madness. It roared like a mangled beast as it twisted and turned through the air, the crimson and black tendrils of magic pouring from the glowing manuscripts and the pixie seated before them.
Opal gritted her teeth as the spell reached its climax, a wall of energy exploding from the artifacts with devastating force, crumpling the already melted wall like a tin can, the energy from the outburst leaking into a few adjacent rooms, atomizing everything within them. After a long moment of such unfathomed power, everything went dark, the magic fading into nothingness along with the light and sound. It was perfectly quiet, the smell of molten metal and blood thick in the air, smoke hanging above on the ceiling. Amidst the deafening silence, Opal Koboi sat, her features calm and eyes closed, but not for long. Slowly, like a rising fever, the pixie began to chuckle, the sound echoing around the room. The chuckle expanded into a laugh, then into a maddening roar of sick contentment.
“Excellent! Simply excellent!” She bellowed, her face filled with evil anticipation. “I have it! I finally have it!”
She continued to laugh, getting up off of the floor as she did. Her blood like eyes lit up with nefarious light as she held the manuscripts, now silent and cool, in her hand. She grinned a hellish grin, then stowed them into her cloak once more. With excessive excitement, the pixie opened the door, her magic accidentally sending the heavy alloy barriers flying down the hall like frisbees, smashing into a bulkhead with a loud metallic bang. Opal didn’t even notice, her mind far too concentrated on the task at hand.
With a quick gait, the demonic pixie strode down the hall in the direction of the bridge, her eyes filled with darkness and death. As she did so, her magic took stride with her, the cloud of crimson seemingly walking alongside its master like a loyal dog. She grinned the whole time, her razor teeth shining like polished knives,
“So soon from now it will all come to an end.” She said as she walked. “The play has finally reached its climax, and thus the actors take to the stage for the final act.” She chuckled. “It’s a real shame though, I already know the ending.” She laughed again as she approached the bridge, the halls crawling with deadly tendrils as they snaked along behind her, living monsters in a world gone insane.
Somewhere in the United Kingdom
Morning light poured through the windows of the open room, illuminating everything with a golden hew. The area was a colossal mess, the floor covered with miscellaneous toys and gadgets, strewn about as if forgotten. Myles and Beckett sat in the middle of the room, working on some sort of contraption, though Myles was the more interested of the two, whilst Beckett seemed to be out to cause mischief.
“Can we play something else?” Beckett asked, much less fascinated in creating miniature solar arrays than his brother.
“This is a serious speriment, stop being such a simpletoon.” Myles answered, still utterly focused on wiring the device. His stuffed toy, professor primate, was sitting beside him as though regarding his work.
Beckett didn’t protest at being called a “simpletoon”, though judging by his demeanor, his limited attention span had run out, again.
The door on the far end of the room opened, from it walking Angeline Fowl. She held a plate of simplistic sandwiches, her smiling face radiating with the light that shone through the window.
“Lunch time you two.” She called.
“Aww, mum, I was just about to install the dielectric union.” Myles whined.
Their mother smiled. “You can finish your experiment after you’ve eaten.” She placed the plates on the table.
The two of them frowned, but quickly acquiesced.
As the two of them ate, Angeline looked out the window, feeling the warm rays of the sun upon her face.
“Mum.” Beckett called, his voice quiet and worried.
“Yes dear?” She turned around, wondering what was wrong.
“Where’s Artemis?” He asked, worry in his eyes.
Angeline smiled, turning her eyes once more to the open window. “You know Arty.” She said warmly, pride evident in her voice. “He’s probably out saving the world right now.”
Forgotten Magma Chute – Two Hours Later
The darkness and silence that enveloped the gargantuan cave was split by hundreds of lights and equally as many roaring engines, the individual noises combining into a unified cacophony that shook the earth. Hundreds of ships flew through the open maw of the cave, cautious amidst the massive stone protrusions that jutted from the walls. The artificial light from the ships began to mix with the glowing crimson from the cave ahead, their destination now mere minutes away.
Holly sat within her interceptor, observing the terrain as they passed it. It was just as the scans depicted.
Ahead, Commander Kelp’s ship reached the opening into the larger cavern, eliciting a transmission from the elf.
“Commander Kelp to all ships, the target is dead ahead.” He stated, bringing his ship forward into the colossal cave, the light from the lava pools shining from below like the eyes of a buried titan.
As the fleet spilled into the tunnel, Artemis watched from the control room of his shuttle, his face determined but also solemn. So this is where it will end. He thought. He could feel the anxiety begin the rise in his chest, the impending chaos and destruction weighing down on him. He cast it aside effortlessly, refusing to partake in its pointless absurdity. Behind him, his friends did the same, observing the soon to be battlefield with mixed expressions.
Artemis could feel the weight of the situation, and his mind could envision it perfectly. All of the years of cyclical conflict with Opal would end one way or another within this very cave, either in victory or total defeat. It was completely disheartening to consider the possibility of losing, but for Artemis, it was necessary. He had to accept the stakes, come to terms with what failure meant, and know what it would entail should their efforts be impotent. With such knowledge, he gained an even greater determination to surpass all obstacles, to persevere against whatever Koboi threw their way, and pay any price in order to win. They had to; nobody else could.
The looming cavern grew ever larger before them, the magma below and the stalactites above casting dreadful shadows on the walls. The boy grinned slightly. It was such a terrible place, the very essence of darkness, a cave that much more resembled a nightmarish monster than a natural formation. Yet at the same time, it was perfectly fitting for what was to come; the final battle. He knew it sounded cliché, but it was true. His smirk became a large grin as he saw Holly’s ship pass his, agile and skillful amidst the cloud of aircraft. As long as she was fighting, there was hope.
Holly glanced at Artemis’ shuttle as she passed it, knowing that the boy was probably watching her. Stay safe, Artemis. She thought, moving ever closer to the front of the formation. She couldn’t hide her appreciation as she regarded the cavern around her. It was perfect.
“All ships, prepare to make final preparations.” Trouble spoke over the comm link. “Report to designated coordinates”
As the fleet split off into groups, Holly couldn’t suppress the large grin that covered her face. Opal was in for one hell of a surprise.
The gargantuan cavern was filled with activity as hundreds upon hundreds of gunships took to the skies, their crimson engine flares lighting the cavern with a bloody glow. Along with them, formations of titan like dreadnaughts loomed above, their dreadful forms covered with weaponry, their massive engines howling with murderous desire. All of the one thousand gunships and one hundred dreadnaughts from Opal’s previous facility formed up around the truly mind boggling monstrosity that dominated the air, the thousand meter long warship hovering menacingly over the supply depot, which was now empty. Along with the eleven-hundred ships came an additional five-hundred from the depot’s garrison, making the fleet utterly massive. All of Opal’s forces were gathered, either in the air or within the large cargo bays of her flagship, which was a mobile fortress. The hundreds of guns bristling from the sides of the ship were now active, their charges loaded and tracking systems online, waiting eagerly to deal death. At the front, the huge laser was also operational, though only glowing slightly with the heat of its charged arrays, inactive but ready to fire at a moment’s notice.
Opal Koboi sat within her command chair, looking out the window of the battleship’s bridge with glowing eyes. Her face was contorted with a twisted grin, her crimson eyes gleaming with calculative madness, her features filled with sinister ambition.
“The final phase is at hand.” She stated devilishly. “It is time for the endgame.”
She checked the readiness reports of her fleet upon her console, finding them perfect, as always. She laughed with venomous intent, again watching as her ships filled the space before her. It was a delicious sight, one that screamed the cry of impending doom to her enemies, a nefarious song of torment.
Opal continued to observe from her seat. “Though I doubt you have any idea where I’m going, I expect you to try something.” She said to the air around her, her intonation pointed towards her mortal enemies. “You’ve always managed to get in my way up until now.” She smiled hungrily. “So, my idiot foes, do so once more!” Her eyes widened with insane anticipation. “Let us fight one last time!”
She pressed several buttons on her console, bringing the ship’s main engines out of standby. As the huge warship began to move forward, Opal smiled endlessly. “Try and stop me if you can, you fools, but know that it will cost you your lives.”
With a zealous shout, the pixie pointed to the chute entrance before her. “All ships, advance!”
As one, the monsoon of deadly warships flew forward, the massive battleship easily keeping pace with them, its great engines roaring like a raging tempest. The final pieces were now in motion, their rising momentum an unstoppable force. All that anyone could do now was wait, wait for the inevitable chaos and destruction, the wages of war. Opal’s fleet set a quick pace, flying through the chutes with mindless focus. All the while, Koboi watched from the bridge of her battleship, her dark soul screaming hungrily for merciless bloodshed. It had begun.