XVII – Dropping Into Hell
Haven – Police Plaza
The halls within the police plaza were nearly empty. There were a few officers here and there, but the building was otherwise devoid of the commotion that had been engulfing it only a few hours ago. The truth was that most of the officers were either gone with the fleet or reassigned to bolster the city’s defenses in their absence. Because of this, the LEP headquarters was functioning on a skeleton crew, having only two dozen officers operating the essential systems, most of them within the command room.
The command room was deafeningly quiet, not a soul speaking as they watched the monitors, upon them glowing the chute scans and surveillance camera feeds, which up until now had not been pinged at all by any hostile units. Such a lack of enemy sightings made things all the more tense as the officers waited, the seemingly endless calm already beyond uncomfortable.
Within the advanced confines of the ops booth, Foaly tapped his fingers nervously upon his desk, his eyes flitting between a dozen different monitors, each of them covered with readings and images. It had been like this for hours. Since the main force had left Haven, Foaly had been closely monitoring the tunnel networks, but to no avail. For several hours now there had not been a single blip on his intricate sensor grid. This made him worry.
Of course, he could attribute the lack of activity to Opal’s own inactivity, maybe she had yet to make her move, maybe they were way ahead of her. But part of him knew such was not the case. He could feel it deep within; she was on the move.
“Foaly, this is Trouble, have you seen anything yet?” Came the voice of Commander Kelp over the comm link, its tenor one of impatience. He must have been getting tired of the waiting as well.
The centaur scratched his head anxiously. “Not a peep. I’ve been keeping a close eye on all routes, and thus far haven’t seen a single ship.”
“Is it possible that she took an alternative route?” Trouble asked.
“Impossible.” Foaly stated immediately. “Since the discovery of that cavern I have sent dozens of scanner drones and triple checked every chute in the area. There’s no other way in.”
There was a brief silence on the channel, followed by a deep exhalation. “Alright.” Trouble said, his voice slightly more restless. “Keep me updated Foaly, I expect a report every ten minutes.”
“Yes sir.” The centaur said, still eying the readouts, half expecting for a fleet to appear out of nowhere.
As the comm link went silent, Foaly sneaked a sip of carrot juice, taking his eyes off of the screens for a fraction of a second. Just as he took a sip, an alarm sounded upon his console, causing him to drop the cup and almost choke to death on the juice. After a few moments of hacking, the red faced centaur looked to the screens. He saw nothing.
“Peculiar.” He said to himself. “The proximity sensors detected something…”
As he uttered his statement, the video feed that covered the chute a few dozen miles from the forgotten tunnels crackled with static, though only briefly. He cocked his brows, taking it as an abnormality, that is until he saw something move.
Within the confines of the chute, the air began to shimmer violently, contorting from nothingness into twisted shapes and dark tendrils of nefarious energy. Foaly gaped as the shimmering air transformed into a soup of mixed colors and shapes, then into terrifyingly identifiable forms.
“By the gods.” Foaly breathed, his eyes wide as he beheld the scene before him.
With a silent flash of crimson light, the distorted air shattered like glass, falling from the very fabric of reality to reveal a colossal number of ships. As if the sight of over a thousand aircraft wasn’t enough, a gigantic warship cut through the air along with them, its dreadful form dwarfing even the dreadnaughts.
It was a horrifying sight made even worse by its abrupt appearance, making the color drain from Foaly’s face.
The centaur gaped with shock for a moment longer before coming to his senses, shakily activating the comm link.
“Got something Foaly?” Trouble asked immediately.
Foaly mouthed some swear words before speaking. “Uhhh..yeah. It appears as though Opal’s entire fleet just appeared out of thin air. They’re only ten minutes away from your position.”
“By the gods.” Trouble said with astonishment. She had managed to cloak her ships until the last minute, giving them little notice of her approach. There was a brief pause, followed by serious intonation. “What’s their strength?”
Foaly bit his lip as he ran the numbers. “One-thousand-five-hundred gunships, about a hundred of the larger ones…”
“What else Foaly?” Kelp pressed, knowing that the centaur was not finished.
“There’s one more.” Foaly said nervously. “Judging by its size I think it is Opal’s command ship.”
“Be more descriptive.” Trouble demanded.
“Umm.” Foaly began. “About a kilometer long, multiple energy shields, reactive armor plating, hundreds of high powered cannons, and by Frond’s beard a colossal laser on the front!”
“D’arvit!” Trouble swore. None of them had seen this coming. “Is there any weakness you can see?”
Foaly scowled as he observed the ship. “I can’t scan it, there’s too much interference.” He said anxiously. “The best I can do is send you a visual.”
With a few clicks and just as many curses, the centaur sent a detailed image of the ship to Trouble, who could be heard swearing upon receiving it. After a long moment of silence, the Commander spoke.
“So they’re less than ten minutes out then.” He stated, his voice flat.
“Yeah, nine to be exact.”
“Alright.” He said resolutely. “None of this changes our plan, we will just have to factor that ship into the strategy.” He paused, talking briefly to someone else on a different channel before returning to Foaly’s. “Keep an eye on things Foaly, and make sure those bombs and drones do their work.”
“Absolutely.” Foaly said, now determined. “Good luck out there.”
“Yeah thanks. I’m beginning to think we’ll need it.”
Once the transmission ended, Foaly looked again to the video feeds, watching as Koboi’s fleet got closer and closer to their destination. The centaur grimaced as they formed up into attack formations around the flagship. This was going to be a tough battle.
“All ships, prepare for combat.” Trouble’s voice sounded over the comm link, reverberating around the cabin of Artemis’ shuttle.
The boy observed the cavern before him, his brows furrowed with thought. Behind him, Quan and Nº1 were concentrating on obscuring the allied fleet from Opal’s magical probes. Artemis had wondered why they were capable of undertaking such a demanding spell with the high levels of magical interference in the area, something Quan had stated would impede Opal’s own abilities. When the boy had asked the warlock about it, he’d simply grinned and told him that it was a “secret of the pros”. Artemis didn’t know exactly what the secret was, but it made sense. Quan had been alive for thousands of years, and had studied the arcane arts for almost all of it. Even though Opal was more powerful, Quan knew far more about the intricacies of magic than she ever could, thus it was only logical that he knew a few loopholes that Koboi did not. None of them knew how much the interference would influence Opal’s abilities, but even the slightest amount was appreciated, as they needed all the help they could get. Hopefully, with such an advantage, they could turn the seemingly overwhelming tide.
He never took his eyes from the lava pitted tunnel, searching for the inevitable force that was nearly on top of them. As the proximity timer ticked down the minutes until contact, Artemis’ eyes narrowed with determination.
So it begins.
Opal’s Command Ship
Opal sat in her command chair with quiet anticipation, here eyes gleaming as they always did, but now brighter than ever, casting the busy control room into multiple shades of bloody red light. She had just entered the clandestine network of tunnels, and was now viewing her fleet before her, watching as her ships crowded around her in tightly packed formations. Their close proximity to one another made her uneasy, they were far too susceptible to an attack, but the current cave didn’t allow much space. That would change once they reached the main cavern. There was also the nagging irritation of losing her obscurity spell over her ships. Up until then, she had no problem with it, but due to the magical interference pulsing relentlessly from the Gate, her spell was distorted, thus rendering it useless. Opal knew that the magical influence of the Gate would no doubt impede her other large spells as well, a factor that she hadn’t fully anticipated until now, though wasn’t totally surprised by given her still limited knowledge of advanced magic. These various vexations were agitating her.
Koboi accepted that such worry, though a bit paranoid, was well placed. Her foes were very resourceful and highly unpredictable, proven time and time again to be a serious pain in the ass. She had traveled unchallenged through numerous chutes that the LEP would usually guard audaciously. Even though she had cloaked her fleet with her magic, she knew that such a guise wouldn’t fool Quan one bit. Had the master warlock been anywhere near her fleet as it traveled, he could have simply pointed to it and the LEP would have lit them up with bio bombs. However, such tactics wouldn’t have worked out well for them, as she would have easily seen them coming and thus would have subsequently blown them to oblivion. She felt a slight bit of disappointment in them. She had wanted to destroy them one last time before she became unstoppable, it would have been amusing.
Opal looked down the long dark tunnel to the far end, where a warm glow emitted from an unseen source, which she reasoned was probably lava. Her mind tingled with excitement. She was mere minutes away from her goal, so close she could feel its magic tingling at the edges of her being. It felt wonderful. Part of her just wanted to rush in and seize what was rightfully hers, but her sensible side knew better, crushing the idiotic impulses that had led to her demise in the past. After the numerous debacles caused by Artemis and his irritating partners, she knew that being headstrong would end in disaster. It was nearly impossible that her enemies had somehow predicted her movements, even more improbable for them to know her true intentions. Yet still, she had to be vigilant against unexpected obstacles, as they often appeared in moments where victory seemed assured. They had fooled her on several occasions already, she would not be fooled again.
As her ship closed the distance between it and the Gate, Opal’s tension was pushed to the back of her mind, replaced by a feeling of perfectly evil desire. With the power of the Gate nearly at her fingertips, it was hard not to envision what she would do with it. Of course, she would kill everyone, maybe even blow up a few galaxies, but that was just the broad stroke of things. The details, yes, those were what she wanted to focus on. She would not simply snap her finger and make everything explode, no, that would be boring. She would take her time. After all, she was immortal, and with the power of a god, time meant nothing to her. She could stretch the earth’s suffering on forever if she so desired, or end it in a split second, or maybe both if she decided to travel into multiple realities and try out numerous ways of world domination. Regardless, the notion of such unbridled power made her tingle all over. It was ecstasy to her sinister soul, a fine wine that fit the tastes of her dark mind.
The light from the approaching cave began to gleam brighter, her ship now only a few hundred meters from the opening. Opal mused for only a split second longer before returning herself to a state of calm anticipation, her eyes now watching the space before her with calculative precision, searching for anything abnormal with both her enhanced vision and magical probes. Her magic prodded at every space within the cavern ahead, searching, hunting, but all she could feel was the magic emanating from the Gate, an unrelenting storm of metaphysical energy. She frowned with annoyance. The Gate made any attempt at sensory magic almost impossible, leaving the dark confines of the tunnel shrouded in mystery. Her usually confident demeanor grew wary. Even though the probability of her enemies being anywhere near her was next to zero, that fraction of a percent troubled her.
By now her fleet had reached the next section of the tunnels, the cave opening up into a lava lit cavern that stretched for miles in all directions. Opal didn’t slow as her ship entered, she knew she couldn’t, not when she was so close. At that current moment in time, it was paramount that her forces seize the entire cavern as soon as possible. The Gate’s magic was in the very air itself, she could see it dancing like fireflies at the corners of her vision, taunting her with their excited movement. She ignored them. She had a fleet to command.
“All forward ships, spread out into loose battle formation. All protection groups form up behind lead strike groups, defensive grid.” She ordered strongly, all the while gazing at the cavern before her. She narrowed her bloody eyes. Something felt wrong.
Again, she sent out her magical probes, attempting to unearth the source of her discomfort. Once more, they came back empty handed. Opal frowned some more, both discontented and perplexed, though not enough to truly change her planned course of action. Her current priority was reaching the end of the tunnel, she would not stop due to mere vexations that could very well be the product of the magical interference. And even if they weren’t, she had an army of immense power, making any attempts to stop her fruitless by default.
By now she was almost halfway through the cavern, her forces spread out around her battleship with precise spacing and organized formations, a cloud of systemic death. The pixie felt the magic once more creep into her attention, her efforts to ignore it usurped by its greater temptation. She grinned.
“Come what may. Nothing can stand in my path now.” She said presumptuously, her death filled eyes gleaming with hate fueled determination.
As the fires from the lava pits below burned brightly, Opal’s flagship powered towards the looming wall ahead, sixteen-hundred ships in tow.
Lost Cavern – Moments Before
Holly gritted her teeth as she watched Opal Koboi’s fleet pass beneath her, the sheer volume of her forces now painfully clear, along with the hulking monstrosity that was the pixie’s command ship. They were clearly outnumbered and outgunned by a huge degree, a circumstance that had recurred throughout the entire war so far. Hopefully their plan would even the odds.
The LEP Captain sat within the cockpit of her interceptor, the force of gravity pulling against her harness as she waited in silence. Her ship was latched to the side of one of the massive stalactites, near the shadow obscured ceiling of the cavern, using its docking clamps to hold it in place upon the jagged stone. Around her, hundreds more of the allied ships did the same, their small forms covering the enormous rock formations like insects holding onto the thick hide of a great beast. All of the aircraft were powered down, leaving no electronic or heat signatures for the enemy scanners to pick up on. It had been her idea, of course, and with the magical assistance of Quan and Nº1, they had thus far remained invisible to Opal, an excellent advantage. They were literally on top of the enemy and they didn’t even know it.
Short kept watching as the steady stream of warships passed miles below, a seemingly endless parade of horrid technology. She tapped her fingers impatiently upon the controls of her ship. They were waiting for the Commander’s order which, to Holly’s annoyance, hadn’t come yet.
Any time Trouble. She thought, eyes ever upon the unknowing enemy.
The enemy had already spread out into loose formations, which made things harder for them. If they were tightly packed, their assault would no doubt decimate them. But with their forces dispersed throughout the area, they were much less susceptible to an all out attack. It irritated Holly, but then again she never really expected Opal to be stupid enough to keep her forces compacted. Some of the LEP officers had brought up the previous tunnel that connected the cavern to the chute systems, suggesting that they use it to their advantage. The problem with that was the fact that such a confined space would give them away. Quan had stated that if they even so much as placed a few drones or bombs within it, Opal would have found out, and thus their element of surprise would be gone. Even with the warlock’s spells, such close proximity would have been too much for them to obscure anything from Koboi who, despite being affected by the magic, would still be able to sense nearby abnormalities. In the end, they had to settle for the main expanse itself, using the distance between the area below and the stalactites above to properly set an ambush.
Holly took a deep breath, calming her nerves as she prepared mentally for battle, fortifying herself for the intense combat that was soon to occur. As she closed her eyes in concentration, she envisioned everything that she was fighting for; her friends, her people, her world.
About a hundred meters from Holly’s ship, Trouble’s interceptor sat against the side of another gargantuan stalactite, along with a squadron of LEP fighters and several groups of drones. The Commander studied the fleet below, his visage bold and determined. Despite Opal’s sudden appearance, everything had thus far gone just as planned. Trouble knew that everyone was itching to start the assault, and he could clearly envision the agitated demeanor that Holly held not that far away. But regardless of this, he knew that they could not attack, not yet. Their timing had to be perfect, and the position of Opal’s forces had to be spot on, otherwise the strike would lose most of its potency. Without his ship’s systems online, he couldn’t know for sure when that time was, but he knew that Foaly would.
“Foaly, status report.” Trouble said quietly over his communicator.
He didn’t have to worry about Opal’s sensors picking up his communications, as they had such a low profile signature already that, when coupled with all of the inherent interference, were virtually undetectable.
“Opal’s forces are almost within the kill zone, ETA two minutes.” Foaly responded, his voice tense.
“Good.” Kelp stated. He absentmindedly checked his flight suit, still eying the fleet below. “Once they reach it, you know what to do.”
“Perfectly.” Foaly said with conviction.
Trouble’s eyes narrowed as he continued to regard the army below. Two minutes…He thought to himself. It was so close, yet it felt like a lifetime away. As the seconds ticked by, time seemed to slow, the intense calm before the storm becoming a frozen moment of anxiety. The very stone around them held its breath, the fires below waited curiously, and the air itself whispered with morbid anticipation. It felt as though the whole world had become an enraptured audience, captivated by the dreadful spectacle that was promised to take place.
Everyone else shared the feeling, the torment of waiting becoming a mutual experience. Thankfully for them, it was to be a short one. The time, though distorted by emotion, passed like lightning.
“Ten seconds.” Foaly stated over the comm links.
Within her ship, Holly tensed up with anticipation, barely suppressing a grin. Opal’s going to love this.
“Five seconds.” The centaur’s voice intoned again.
Far from the gathered forces, Artemis watched worriedly. Stay safe out there, Holly.
There was an agonizing pause, followed by Foaly’s voice yet again. This time, his impossibly serious voice had a hint of glee.
“All units stand by, I’m going loud.”
Only a millisecond after the centaur spoke, dozens of bright flashes winked from throughout the stalactites, followed by the sleek forms of high yield bio bombs. The deadly ordnance dropped faster than gravity would pull it, speeding towards the ignorant daemon fleet like bullets.
Several miles below, within her heavily armed flagship, Opal cocked an eyebrow.
“What was that?” She asked herself, her senses having been pinged. “It almost feels like-”
Her speculative speech was cut off by a blinding explosion of blue light, followed by dozens more, illuminating the entire gloomy cavern. She didn’t cover her eyes, with her abilities she didn’t need to, though she despised what she saw. Despite herself, Opal gaped as she watched the entire front rank of her fleet get engulfed by crackling energy. The ships only kept on course for a second, then began to list carelessly, their crews disintegrated by the fairy bombs. As a hundred of her ships crashed into each other and into the lava below, Opal growled threateningly, a deadly glare upon her face. She didn’t have time to wonder how they got there, or how they even knew in the first place. She could feel more bombs on their way.
With a demonic roar, the nefarious pixie cast her magic, sending a wave of black and crimson energy snaking throughout her expansive fleet. The dark magic formed a wall above the ships, blocking the blast waves of the bio bombs whilst simultaneously atomizing others in mid air. Opal didn’t even flinch with the relentless impacts that hammered her shield, if anything they were but small puffs of wind to her. The bombardment continued for a while as more and more bombs were dropped, creating a sea of blue energy mixed with dark tendrils of magic, a twisted display of destruction.
As the explosions raged, Holly watched expectantly. Time for phase two.
While Opal continued to block the bombs, another series of explosions rocked the cavern, this time originating from the stalactites themselves. Throughout the hanging forest of gigantic rock formations, high powered charges lit up the shadows, though only in the areas uninhabited by allied forces. A ubiquitous cracking sound echoed deeply through the air, followed by crumbling stone. Like a hail storm on steroids, hundreds of the building sized stalactites dropped from the ceiling, broken away by the charges. They dropped straight down, right into Opal’s fleet.
“Dammit!” The pixie screamed as she noticed them coming, her attention still on the few remaining bombs. Her shield was holding up, but with her forces so spread out, she couldn’t cover them all at the same time. Out of all her forces, she could only cover two thirds. That left five-hundred ships outside the protective barrier, and even then, the Gate’s magical interference was deteriorating her defensive spells faster than she could maintain them. She was lucky they didn’t have any more bombs, otherwise they would have passed through the holes that were now forming in her barrier.
“All ships, evasive maneuvers!” Opal yelled over her comm link, rage pouring from her bloody eyes.
All around the cavern, countless hundreds of stalactites of all sizes plunged into Koboi’s fighter formations, like enormous daggers into schools of tiny fish. The ships broke formation with haste, dodging many of the falling pillars as they scattered in desperate attempts to avoid them. The gunships had it easier, as with their small size and agility, they could weave in between the storm of falling rock. The dreadnaughts, however, were in for it. As the stalactites poured down, the massive warships dove for cover, but found none. With glorious explosions, a dozen of the hulking ships were impaled by the ancient stone spears, whilst gunships were wrecked by both the explosions and hot falling debris.
As the balls of fire and flaming wreckage of her forward units littered the skies, Opal threw angry waves of magic into the falling stone, turning hundreds of the pillars into pathetic clouds of dust before they could reach her main force, which still had most of the cover from her shield. After a minute, the sea of deadly rock began to thin out, loud bangs and earth shaking rumbles reverberating through the cavern as the gigantic stalactites slammed into the ground below, throwing glowing waves of lava up into the air with the force of their impact.
Koboi checked the status of her fleet. She had lost about three-hundred ships, thirty of them being dreadnaughts. That meant she had one-thousand-three-hundred left. It was a cutting blow, and she hadn’t even seen the enemy yet, who’s presence had rather undesirable connotations.
If they know where my destination is, then they must definitely know what it is I am trying to attain. Opal thought angrily. She didn’t even pay attention as she smashed a rock the size of the Empire State building. I’ll make short work of them!
Opal’s attention shifted to the tunnel behind her. It quickly occurred to her that the enemy may very be mounting an attack right now whilst they bombarded her forces via automated weapons. The logical point of attack was from the rear, as in the chaos her fleet’s flank was highly vulnerable. Not for long.
With cool precision, Opal opened a channel.
“Rear heavy batteries, fire a volley at location zero-four-two.”
There was an instantaneous response as a few dozen massive turrets blasted the smaller tunnel to pieces, leaving nothing but crumbled stone.
“That takes care of one factor.” Opal stated smoothly. “Now to focus on the rest.”
High above the chaos below, around the still intact stalactites, Trouble Kelp grinned. Opal had no clue.
“Foaly, time to break the ice.” He said confidently.
“Already on it.”
Back in the police plaza, Foaly rolled up his sleeves, grinning maniacally. “Time to go to work my pretties!”
In the cavern, there was a series of metallic whirrs as the inactive drones came to life. One by one, with a loud bang of boosting thrusters, Foaly’s drones dropped from the stone walls. At one thousand strong, the cloud of small assault ships dove towards the strongest points in Koboi’s forces, the flare of their small engines winking like a sea of fireflies.
Trouble watched with anticipation as they closed the distance. Charging directly into Opal’s forces, even when they were cast into confusion by the assault, was a death wish. Of course, in order to soften the otherwise solid fleet around Opal’s ship, someone had to do it. Such was not even considered in terms of their manned interceptors, they didn’t want to throw away lives so foolishly. So, naturally, Holly suggested they throw every drone they had straight at Koboi. Unlike their pilots, these machines were easily replaceable and utterly mindless, making them the perfect choice for any sort of suicide mission.
Far below, several daemon squadrons opened fire upon the approaching drones, letting out a hail of ordnance. Bright orbs of fire lit up the air as the weapons met their mark, though they hardly dented the wall of charging ships. The drones powered towards the hostile fleet without paying any heed to the missiles and bullets that pummeled them, the damage done by them meaningless when they were so numerous.
From her vantage point upon the bridge of her command ship, Opal narrowed her eyes.
Why if it isn’t Foaly’s silly little machines. She thought venomously.
Her enemy had managed to pull off a textbook ambush on her thus far, topping it off with the centaur’s pesky contraptions. It impressed her and severely pissed her off at the same time.
“Well. At least I get the chance to ruin the fruits of his labor.” She stated as she channeled her power.
With a horrid glare, Koboi sent several waves of concentrated magic into the looming swarms of drones, cutting away entire sections of the force, eliminating at least a few hundred. Yet even as her attacks struck them, they persisted, and were soon too close for Opal to engage.
With a clash of metal and fire, the drones slammed into the enemy fleet, filling the air with the sharp sounds of rending metal and igniting munitions. The small ships unloaded their rocket batteries into anything that moved, blasting the daemon ships without discretion. Drone squadrons ganged up on the larger dreadnaughts, which cut scores of them to pieces with their point defense turrets, filling the air with explosions. As the forces engaged, some of the drones simply collided with the daemon ships, their sleek forms acting like spears as they sliced through the armor of even the huge dreadnaughts, causing some of them to veer out of control and burst into searing hot flames.
As the battle raged before her, Opal glared vehemently. With the drones so intertwined with her own ships, she couldn’t use her magic to take them out lest she ruin half her fleet in the process. Her anger cooled into irritation as she switched on her communicator. Good thing she had this ship.
“All point-defense turrets, fire at will. Reserve squadrons, search and destroy.”
From the rear ranks of Opal’s force, hundreds of ships blasted forward, slicing into the fragile drones mercilessly, now severely outnumbering the attacking machines. Dreadnaughts crushed them by the dozens whilst the gunships hunted them down in hungry packs, tearing them to shreds with their autocannons. Across the entire surface of Opal’s battleship, hundreds of anti-aircraft turrets and missile batteries opened fire, unleashing a deluge of death into the drone formations. Explosions filled the air like miniature suns as the automated ships were sheered in two by the rapid fire guns that covered the flagship, the streams of fire crossing to form an intricate web of death. It was a massacre.
Koboi grinned malevolently as she witnessed the egregiously one sided fight before her. Was this it? What this all they could challenge her with? She didn’t care. Their defeat was still at hand, the reality of impending doom ever growing as her ship got closer to the great wall at the end of the tunnel. It would take a lot more than some clever demolitions and a fleet of tin cans to stop her, she knew that for a fact.
Upon the remaining stalactites, hidden within the thick shadows of the distant ceiling, the rest of the allied force waited.
Trouble watched with satisfaction as the enemy forces chased the drones about the cavern, ignorant to the real threat from above. So far, things had gone almost according to plan. The main issue was Opal’s command ship. After witnessing the firepower that it possessed, Kelp knew that taking it out would take a lot of effort, if not more than they could handle. Regardless, it mattered little now. They had to strike at this very moment in time or their entire plan would fall apart like a house of cards in the wind.
“Excellent work so far, Foaly.” The Commander said approvingly. “Now it’s time for the final push.”
“Already on it.” The centaur responded, his voice excited. He almost sounded out of breath, no doubt he was working like a crazy person with his drones, quite possibly yelling silly insults and obscenities at the enemy as he did so. If anything, he was the world’s greatest keyboard warrior.
“ETA?” Trouble asked.
“Now.” Foaly stated. “The ECM burst is ready, and Quan has contacted me to confirm that he will keep the spell upon you as best he can on the way down.”
“Perfect.” Trouble switched on his comm link to the rest of the fleet. “All ships, prepare to drop.”
A hundred or so yards away, Holly grinned vivaciously. Finally.
She watched the battle below, taking careful note of the various hostiles and their tactics, as well as nearly memorizing the grid patterns that Opal’s point-defense turrets fired in. These bits of information would come in handy soon enough. After all, knowledge is power.
“All allied squadrons standing by.” Ivankov’s voice spoke over the comm link. “Waiting on your order Commander.”
Holly tightened her grip upon the controls, her trigger finger hovering over the power button. She had waited for too long to get into the fight, and was on the verge of charging in by herself. Patience Holly, you can wait a few more seconds.
“All ships.” Trouble’s voice intoned. “Drop is in fifteen seconds. Prepare to engage.”
Fifteen seconds!? Holly bit her lip. Damn was she getting impatient.
The seconds ticked by with agonizing slowness, the sounds of war washing up from below with taunting echoes, beckoning for them to join in the deadly game. In all of the ships, there was motionless silence as the calm before the storm reached its great climax.
“Five seconds.” Kelp stated.
Holly’s finger twitched, almost activating her ship if not for her reflexes.
There was a pause. Everyone held their breath.
“All ships, activate engines.”
Holly rolled her eyes. Did he have to narrate everything possible? Just say go! After a few fractions of a second, she grinned wildly, her mind throwing caution into the wind.
With a wild expression, Holly slammed her finger into the button, sending a wave of energy through the ship as it came to life, its nuclear engine blazing with heat as she threw it to full throttle. Without even waiting for all systems to come fully online, Holly deactivated the docking clamps, letting her interceptor drop from the stalactite like a superdense brick.
“Sorry Commander.” She said mischievously. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
With a burst of blue light, Holly’s ship blasted into the hellish void. In his fighter, Trouble gave a flat expression, not at all surprised by what he saw. Holly, you’re too predictable. The look only lasted for a second before he yelled into his communicator, abandoning any sort of organized procedure. “Let’s go!”
With the roar of four-hundred engines, the fleet dropped away from the stone pillars, rocketing after Holly with an almost equal amount of vigor, though not at all capable of matching the reckless captain completely. The allied forces flew at ridiculous speeds, gravity acting as a catalyst as they plummeted straight down into the battle below.
Normally such a move would be deemed as beyond reckless, but it was perfectly acceptable here. As the fleet flew, each of Foaly’s remaining drones fired a burst of electronic countermeasures, effectively blinding Opal’s electronic sensors for a brief moment. At the same time, Quan and No1 held the obscuring spell in place to hide them from Koboi’s magic, making it follow the ships in their insane dive. Together, these two forces made them invisible in a sense, and with them coming from directly overhead whilst the enemy was distracted by the drones, no one would even see them until they were mere meters away. It was a perfect strike.
“Form up on me!” Holly yelled vigorously as she pushed her fighter forward, the relentless g-force a welcome feeling. It was like diving into the fiery depths of Hell itself. The reckless feeling thrilled her senses beyond measure.
With the female elf already leading the attack wave by a few hundred meters, it was both easy and desirable to follow her, the fearless LEP officer of legend. Both human and fairy ships organized into a perfect wedge formation, creating a spear of assault ships with Holly at the very tip. Throughout the fleet, everyone let out their own cries of valor, yelling with courage as they rushed to meet the enemy. Like a swarm of falling stars, the deadly cloud of interceptors barreled towards the daemon fleet, a collection of ships acting as one.
Within her command ship, Opal watched as the great wall looming over her grew larger. She was completely oblivious to the four-hundred ships above her, instead focused on the smooth stone barrier that blocked her passage. Her attention, however, was grabbed as her console beeped frantically.
“What is it now?” She said irritably, looking at one of the monitors with aggravated eyes. The systems notified that her ships had all been struck by a series of powerful ECM bursts, rendering their sensors useless. At the same time, Opal became aware of a faint tingling at the corner of her mind. Her eyes widened almost immediately.
“They didn’t!” She yelled angrily, rushing to the front of the bridge.
Above Koboi’s battleship, Holly let out a battle cry, plunging her ship into the fray. Behind her, four-hundred fighters followed suit, charging into the disorganized daemon fleet with weapons blazing. Missiles filled the air alongside high velocity laser blasts, creating a deafening whoosh of power as it rammed into the hostile forces, resulting in a grand display of explosions. Holly was the first to reach the enemy lines, her face filled with frenzied excitement and iron determination. She unleashed her ship’s extensive arsenal, slicing through half a dozen gunships before they could even try to evade, sending them falling to the fires below. All around, allied ships did the same, cutting into the enemy ranks like a glowing hot knife through soft butter.
As she looked from the command ship’s window, Opal deadpanned. “They did.”
A bright wall of fire lit up the air just before the ship’s bridge as a disabled gunship slammed into the battleship’s hull, though with its energy shields the wreckage simply slid of harmlessly. Opal turned around smoothly, walking to the command chair with a surprisingly calm demeanor. Sitting down, she opened a channel to her fleet.
“All ships, free to engage. Regroup into attack formations and concentrate fire upon the new hostiles.”
She simultaneously switched her flagship’s defense grid to maximum, eliciting a thunderous response as the guns doubled their efforts. Apart from this, she stayed on course. They had caught her off guard, and had subsequently forced her ships into close combat, thus casting her previously organized squadrons into a sea of intense dogfights. But despite this, there was little her enemy could do against her battleship, and so long as she outnumbered them with her own ships, it would only be a matter of time until they were overwhelmed. Besides, it was never her intention to preserve her forces. They were but a means to an end, and right now they were serving their purpose by impeding those who were intent on stopping her. In the end, she couldn’t care less if she lost everything. Nothing mattered so long as she acquired the power that the Gate held.
But still, it seriously agitated her that they had managed to uncover her secrets. It was obviously no coincidence that they had set a trap within this particular cavern. They must have learned about the Gate, or at least enough to know that she was moving in on something big. It was plausible that Quan had managed to dig up some information during his captivity, after all, he was literally plugged into her magical networks. Regardless, it meant that her final move would take a bit more effort than predicted, so long as her foes didn’t pull something utterly ridiculous. Opal’s eyes narrowed. It was always that human, Fowl, and that idiot Holly that seemed to pull victory out of an empty hat. She had not the slightest doubt that they were somewhere close, mocking her with their annoying ability to stay alive despite all odds. She searched the skies like a hungry predator, calculating her foes abilities as she observed them. All the while the enormous wall loomed ahead, an ever silent titan. Opal’s glowing eyes pulsed again with irritation.
“You may have landed the first blow, but this battle is far from over!”
Lost Cavern – Far End
Artemis Fowl watched the intense fighting with morbid interest, the fiery explosions in the air colluding with the glowing lava below, creating a hellish scene that spanned most of the cavern. He observed the proceeding warfare with a calculative eye, keeping track of the battle as it was all he could really do from his position. As the bright flashes of red projected into the shuttle’s crew compartments, the boy sighed. It was truly the worst feeling, witnessing a conflict in which his friends fought for their very lives whilst he was unable to assist. Fighting wasn’t his forte, he knew that, but part of him still desired to be within the fray instead of standing on the sidelines.
Everyone within the shuttle watched alongside him, silent as they beheld the cataclysm before them. Quan and Nº1 had long since ended their spell, and now stood near Artemis. Quan looked concerned, but confident.
“We’ve done all we can in this fight, Artemis.” He stated, aware of Fowl’s discomfort. “We must wait until we gain an opportunity to strike Opal directly.”
“Can you not help in this battle?” Artemis asked, anxiety evident in his voice.
Quan shook his head. “I wish we could, but that spell was just about all we could do in these circumstances. Even though I know how to bypass the Gate’s interference, Opal is still far too strong to take on in that ship, and even if we could, it would require for us to get closer.” He motioned to the ship they were in. “And this ship is far from capable of surviving for even a second out there.”
“Point taken.” Artemis stated. He held back a wince as a huge explosion blasted away a section of the tunnel wall, sending showers of rock flying into a group of allied fighters. “So we must wait until Opal makes her move.”
The boy sighed. “Then I hope she hurries up, I’m getting tired of sitting here.”
Quan nodded slightly. “We all are.”
Lost Cavern – Battlefield
“Eat this!” Holly growled through clenched teeth as she gripped the controls, pressing the trigger multiple times as she dove into an enemy formation.
Blue laser bursts erupted from her ship, careening into the squadron of gunships ahead of her with powerful force. The daemon fighters exploded violently as the energy beams melted through their reactors, their burning wrecks spiraling through the air, some colliding with other enemy ships. Holly pulled out of the dive, dodging several bursts of fire in the process.
The battle was terribly brutal. Their initial charge had decimated many of the daemon ships, four-hundred at least, making a large hole in their ranks. However, as the enemy forces engaged them on equal footing, the fighting became intense, their numbers and mindless brutality nearly overwhelming them on several occasions already. Things were made no easier with the presence of Opal’s command ship, which delivered a swift death to anyone who got too close to it. They had been in combat for only a few minutes, and already they had sustained dozens of casualties. Holly grimaced as the human ship that had been covering her flank was torn apart by a pursuing dreadnaught’s main guns. The fight, even if they won, was going to have a very steep price.
Holly noticed that the large daemon ship was now pursuing her, ripping through any allied ships that got in its way.
“So you wanna dance huh?” She growled defiantly.
Holly pulled up as the trailing dreadnaught fired a flurry of cannon rounds, dodging the glowing explosive shells by a mere meter. She kept pulling up into a steep loop, leaving the much slower ship far below. At a thousand meters above the dreadnaught, Holly cut the engine, letting her ship turn on a dime as it dropped back down towards the enemy, which was turning to meet her. With a roar, Holly restarted the boosters, flying recklessly down into the fray. The dreadnaught had yet to come about fully. Its point-defense turrets opened fire at the diving elf, filling the air with hot lead. Holly turned from the path of the attack, dodging about like lighting as she closed in, adrenaline filling her veins. The dreadnaught began charging its main guns, but it was too late. With gravity as her ally, Holly unleashed several high velocity missiles, sending them flying into the ship at speeds well over mach four. Before it could even see them coming, the missiles punched into the dreadnaught’s midsection, tearing through its reactor as they exploded. From Holly’s view, the large ship erupted like a volcano, its armored sides bursting outward before ripping apart in a cloud of fire.
That’s another one down. Holly thought as she passed through the cloud of smoke and flame, emerging into the ever chaotic battle once more. Over a thousand to go!
It was true that, despite her powerful efforts thus far, she had only scratched the enemy’s forces. They were far too many to take on in continuous combat, their combined power simply overwhelming. If they were to make it through the day, she needed to try something else.
“Trouble, what’s your status?” She yelled, blasting through an enemy gunship as she did.
“Very much alive, though we’re taking a pounding out here.” He responded, the sound of his ship’s guns firing evident behind him. “They’re numbers are becoming a serious problem.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Holly said roughly, her face fierce as she tore another gunship apart from below, sending a shower of melted metal raining past her.
“I suppose you have a plan then?” Came another voice, that of Commander Ivankov.
“Oh great.” Trouble said. “This has turned into a mid-air conference call.”
“It’s the best kind of conference call in my opinion.” Borislav stated in return.
“Alright.” Holly interjected. “Yes, I do have a plan…hold on a sec.”
Captain Short veered her ship to the right as a squadron of gunships fired on her, activating the interceptor’s side thrusters, allowing her to keep moving forwards whilst on an angle. As she drifted the ship, Holly opened up with its heavy guns, peppering each of the gunships as she flew by them. The attacking ships, now littered with fist sized holes, fell to their doom. Holly stabilized her ship, switching the channel back on as she did so.
“As I was saying, I have a plan, though I’m a bit too busy to explain it right now.” She said.
“Oh, that kind of plan.” Ivankov stated. “I guess we’ll know what to do when we see it.”
“Yep.” Holly grunted, again caught in a vicious game of cat and mouse with a dreadnaught. The large warship was hot on her tail, and was on the verge of firing. As she prepared to evade, a stream of energy blasts and missiles tore into the ship, disintegrating its control room in an instant. Holly looked back in time to see two interceptors, one human and the other LEP, fly past her. It was obvious who they were.
“Captain Short, we’ll cover you until you can hatch this plan of yours.” Commander Kelp called out. “Just don’t expect us to follow you on your borderline insane maneuvers.”
Holly grinned slyly. “Thanks.” She said as she activated her ship’s turbobooster. “Try to keep up!”
Her interceptor blasted forward with a bright flash as it went turbo, going so fast that the daemon ships couldn’t even aim in her general direction before she was long gone. As she flew, Holly fired off missiles into anything that got close, blasting at least seven more gunships into oblivion. Alongside her, Trouble and Ivanokov held back any attempts by the enemy to flank her, blowing up ships in an almost competitive fashion.
Holly actually didn’t have a plan per se, more like a hunch that would, if proven correct, precipitate into a plan. She eyed Opal’s command ship in the distance, a small grin upon her face. I hope this works.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Holly threw her ship towards the large monstrosity. Getting within range of its defense grid was a virtual death sentence, but for Holly, it was an irresistible challenge. Behind her, Trouble and Ivankov broke off, obviously unwilling to even attempt what Holly was intent on doing, eliciting an amused look from the elf.
As she closed in on the battleship, its intricate network of point-defense guns lit up like a supernova, casting a wave of gleaming projectiles into her direction at a rate of over one-hundred rounds per second each. The streams of deadly fire cut through the air with dreadful precision, but Holly was even more precise. With a series of maneuvers that would make most experienced pilots vomit from confusion, the elf dodged and weaved, spun and dove, evading the dozens of turrets in an almost graceful dance. It should have been impossible to avoid the hundred odd guns that were firing upon her, but she did it anyway, all the while closing in on what she knew was the bridge of the ship.
Not too far away from Holly, Opal Koboi watched the battle, her face serious and eyes filled with ill intent. Her forces were beginning to gain the upper hand against the LEP and their allies, their numbers as well as the battleship’s support simply an overwhelming force that a mere four-hundred ships could not even hope to defeat. Despite this, however, Opal knew that she should refrain from assuming a total victory just yet, given her enemy’s propensity to pull off extraordinary feats in their darkest hours. Still, she allowed herself to grin, her heart delighting with every enemy ship that was blown from the air.
Her attention was diverted from the battle as a proximity warning beeped loudly. Opal raised an eyebrow, perplexed. An enemy ship was somehow evading her defense system, which was by all accounts impossible. As she reviewed the sensor details, a faint wink of light flashed before the bridge’s view port. Koboi turned to the window, eying the distant object, which was moving so fast and with such agility that her turrets were all missing it by a long shot. She narrowed her eyes. Impossible!
With a burst of speed, the small dot grew into the unmistakable form of an LEP interceptor, which was heading straight for her. The ship lit up as it unleashed a volley of laser blasts and light missiles, sending the ordnance slamming directly into the control room’s window. It wasn’t enough to even scratch the shields that covered the ship, but it was more than enough to make a lot of noise. Opal flinched as the room shook violently, followed by the muffled roar of the LEP fighter’s engines as it flew right over her, rolling upside down as it did so. Opal wasn’t sure if it was her imagination or not, but she could have sworn she saw the pilot of the interceptor flip her off with both hands.
Koboi stood dumbfounded upon the bridge. It took her a couple of seconds to fully grasp the inconceivable occurrence. The fighter had survived the battle thus far, charged recklessly at her ship (which was a death wish), evaded well over a hundred turrets simultaneously, barraged her window with a volley of missiles, buzzed over the control room by mere inches at supersonic speeds, and flipped her off as she did so. Opal’s eyes narrowed with hatred. There was only one LEP officer capable of such insane actions. Holly Short, that ludicrous bitch!
Holly grinned as she flew away from the large warship. That must have made her mad.
Opal angrily searched for the elf with her magic, hoping to find her close enough to strike down herself. To her dismay, Holly had already blended back into the chaos and was miles away, far enough to make a magical strike a great nuisance. Had there not been such a high level of interference, she could easily project her attack magic for many miles. But with the Gate so close, she found that her more powerful attacks were less effective at such ranges. This, of course, did not deter her. In a moment of rage, Opal cast her dark magic towards Holly’s ship, disregarding everything in between.
The large beam of crimson magic flew through the air like a giant serpent, engulfing everything in its path and subsequently rending it to individual atoms. Though a few allied ships were caught in the attack, the majority were Opal’s own. Of course, she didn’t care, her focus on the infuriating captain that had pushed her buttons yet again. The dreadful beam cut through the battlefield, catching up to Holly in a matter of seconds, destroying at least a hundred daemon ships in the process.
Holly didn’t need to look back to know what was going on. She had just pissed off the most powerful and insane being on the planet, and was now being chased by a wall of death, though luckily it was already inflicting casualties upon the enemy. Now she had to avoid Koboi’s magic, or the rest of her plan would be void. She dove, looped, and turned all directions, but the magical beast followed her, relentless, meaning that her only option was to outrun it and hope that it would lose its strength. She threw her engines past their maximum limit, pushing the interceptor as hard as she could. As she flew away, the magic began to fizzle, almost as though it were being consumed by a greater force. Eventually, it faded completely, leaving nothing but a faint cloud of crimson mist.
Holly breathed a sigh of relief, spinning her ship around swiftly to face the distant battleship. That had been a close call to say the least. Opal’s magic was a dreadful thing to behold, especially when it was chasing her like a giant leviathan, Holly’s heart still beating frantically from the intense escape. She had finished the first part of her plan, now she waited for the next one.
Opal growled angrily as she felt her magic lose its potency, the Gate’s own energy picking it apart, smothering it like a wet blanket on a fire. Damn is this interference getting annoying! She thought, her heart beating rapidly from being so close to killing Holly, yet not close enough. She could still sense her, now about three miles away. She had to kill her. Apart from being an extraordinary pilot, Holly was an enormous moral booster, and Koboi knew that if she could destroy her, the rest would follow after. Besides the logical reasons for wanting her dead, Opal simply hated her with a passion, which was a well established fact.
With a ferocious yell, Opal spoke over her fleet’s channel. “Assault wings six through ten, engage the designated LEP fighter at the marked grid coordinates. Do whatever it takes to destroy her!”
Opal shut off the channel, screwing her eyes shut with intense anger. Clam down, they will be dead soon enough. Just don’t lose focus on your goal!
She opened her eyes, now recomposed and dreadfully serious. She didn’t have time for this, she had to get moving with her plan. If she waited any longer, there was not telling what they would pull out of their sleeves. Victory was hinged on getting to the Gate, not winning the battle that raged around her. With a determined gaze, Opal looked to the looming wall, now only a few miles away.
“All ahead full.” She commanded. “We need to finish this now!”
With a flare of its massive engines, the large battleship tripled its speed. Around it, three-hundred daemon ships ceased their attacks on the allied forces, instead heading straight for Holly.
Upon seeing the large group of ships break off in pursuit of her, Holly smiled mischievously. “Thanks Opal.”
With the large number of ships disengaged from the main fight, the allied forces would have much better chances, the stress of being outnumbered now alleviated by a great degree. The only problem now was that the fleet of daemon warships was charging at her instead.
With the smile still plastered upon her visage, Holly plunged her ship into a steep dive, heading straight down into the fields of stalagmites that covered the ground. The massive stone pillars that covered the lava pitted floor formed a forest of solid rock that stretched two thousand meters into the air. It was perfect.
Holly flew into the depths, hundreds of daemon ships right behind her, firing relentlessly in her direction. As she dodged the attacks, the LEP captain charged into the gloomy forest of magma lit stone. With the stalagmites stretching so high into the air, attack from above was almost impossible, leaving the daemon forces with no other choice but to follow. Splitting into three equal groups, the hostile fleet pursued the LEP ship, two groups entering the fields of stone pillars whilst the other rose to fly overhead, each hunting their prey with mindless tenacity.
Holly weaved through the maze of stone, one of the groups directly behind her. As missiles and cannon rounds exploded against the pillars around her, she kept an eye out for the other groups, which she knew were trying to flank her. Sure enough, right ahead of her, a daemon dreadnaught hovered into view. Holly kept on course, eying the large pool of lava right beneath the waiting warship. With dozens of gunships in close pursuit, Holly opened fire upon the approaching dreadnaught, striking one of its engines and stabilizers with several laser blasts. Normally it would only slightly faze such a powerful ship, but in such a tight space, even the slightest loss of control meant total disaster. Holly blasted over the listing ship as it slammed into the side of a stalagmite, causing for it to utterly lose control. The massive ship plunged into the deep pool of lava with a fiery splash, followed by the rumble of its overheating reactor as it sank.
With a loud boom, the dreadnaught exploded beneath the magma, sending a wall of lava flying high into the air above it, right in the way of the pursuing gunships. Some tried to evade only to end up smashing into rock formations, their forms crumpling upon impact. The rest, out of sheer desperation, stayed on course, flying through the cloud of molten rock. The magma and the daemons slammed together, melting many of the ships beyond recognition, whilst others lost control as it grabbed onto them. The magma solidified upon the fast moving gunships, either weighing them down completely or clogging their engine’s air intakes, either way causing for them to explode, crash or both. In a matter of seconds, almost a hundred daemon ships were destroyed.
Now a far distance away, Holly grinned with satisfaction as the explosions echoed through the stone forest. That’s one group down, only two to go. She thought casually, navigating through the confusing rock formations with ease.
Her thought process was interrupted as several explosions went off around her, one of them sending glowing hot shrapnel into her ship’s wing. It tore into her gun batteries, disabling two out of the six blasters, but miraculously leaving her ship intact. Holly spun out of the way as more missiles rained down from above, looking up in time to see one of the groups diving down towards her like madmen, firing relentlessly.
“D’Arvit!” Holly swore as she evaded the attacks, retreating into a dense area of stalagmites, the resounding explosions buffeting her ship violently. “That was close, way too close!”
The trailing gunships were quick to follow her, not losing track at all as they flew down into the depths. The group that had just attacked her was the one that had taken the above route, meaning that there was a second somewhere within the maze, and that none remained above. It was what Holly wanted, minus the damage to her ship.
Her ship shook as several cannon rounds bounced off of its reactive plating, announcing the presence of the enemy ships behind her. Ahead, she could make out the forms of several gunships as they tried to flank her, their red engine flare glowing brightly amidst the gloom. She had no doubt that the rest of the second force was waiting ahead of her, showing just how skilled the daemon pilots actually were in predicting her movements.
With an irritated glare, Holly arced her ship upward, rising high above the flanking ships. She weaved through a series of larger stalagmites before diving down, right behind the gunships, who thought that she was still in front of them. Before they could react, Holly lit them up with her four remaining cannons, blasting them apart like fragile glassware.
Holly weaved through the rock again, though the daemons were not directly on her tail anymore. Still, she knew that they would find her soon enough.
“Hey, are you two still available?” She called through her communicator.
There was a slightly static wash in the channel, followed by the sounds of intense combat.
“Affirmative.” Ivankov stated intensely, an explosion booming near him.
“Yeah, I’m here.” Trouble responded.
Holly grinned. “Good, cause I need you two to make a mess down here. I’m currently in the stalagmite formations below, along with a few hundred enemy ships.” She saw the enemy pursuing her out of the corner of her eye. “I think it’s time for you to spring the trap.”
“Already on it Captain.” Borislav said smoothly over the sounds of war. “Expect a lot of noise.”
“I’m counting on it.” Holly replied, noting the enemy ships gaining on her.
High above the stalagmites, two allied ships broke off from the combat, flying at supersonic speeds towards the dense rock formations.
“We’ve got your coordinates.” Trouble called out. “Be careful, you may get caught up in this too.”
“Just do it!” Holly yelled, now dodging enemy attacks by the dozens.
“Alright then.” Trouble responded. “Ivankov, let’s give our friend a helping hand.”
As Holly desperately evaded the fleet of gunships on her tail, the human and LEP interceptors locked onto their targets. With a massive whoosh, each of the two ships unloaded the rest of their missiles, sending the high yield ordnance flying into the fiery gloom below. The missiles didn’t even get close to the daemon ships or Holly. Instead they flew far ahead of them and their fleeing prey, weaving into the maze of stone pillars swiftly, dispersing about the section of stalagmites ahead of Holly. With a colossal series of explosions and bright flashes, the missiles rammed into the bases of the gigantic stone pillars. From her position a few hundred meters away, Holly’s face tightened with determination. Here we go!
As Holly lead the daemon ships towards the smoking pillars, a great cracking sound reverberated throughout the area, followed by hundreds more. The loud noise was soon amplified to a deafening one as the massive stalagmites lurched violently, their structural integrity compromised by the concussive blasts. By now Holly was a few seconds from them, the daemons close behind, following like famished wolves. She gripped the controls tightly, her visage cast in concentration.
All at once, the entire area around them began to collapse, the massive pillars falling in all directions, stone flying through the air in huge clumps. As the compromised stalagmites fell, they collided with other ones that still stood, causing for them to fall as well, followed by another and another. From high above, it looked like a jumbled mess of dominoes dropping one after the other in a giant chain reaction.
Holly clenched her teeth as she dodged the storm of rock fragments, the pieces flying at her easily twice the size of her ship. All around her, the great stalagmites fell, crushing everything in their path, great globs of lava flying into the air as the stone splashed into the magma pits. Staying anywhere near there meant death, she had to get out and fast.
Explosions filled the air behind her as a wave of stone collided with the daemon squadrons, pulverizing them instantaneously as they chased the LEP fighter, amazingly persistent. Others tried to evade their doom, flying up out of the chaos, but were quickly destroyed by the jumble of falling stone, pounded until they exploded. The fires of the ruined daemon force amalgamated with the glowing magma as it was thrown about violently, filling the air and the ground with the fiery gleam of death.
Holly didn’t slow to witness the destruction. She knew that all of her pursuers were dead, and was now doing everything she could to keep herself from joining them. She held the controls with a white knuckled grip as she flew over fires, dodged boulders and crashing gunships, and narrowly passed in between falling pillars as they closed like giant maws. The noise, despite the muffled interior of the ship and her helmet, was horrendous. Crashing stone, booming explosions and howling winds taunted her as she pushed through the destruction, making her push the ship even harder.
“Almost there!” She told herself as she saw an opening in the storm. It was small and ever getting smaller, the pillars on either side beginning to fall inward. She had seconds to make it through.
“Come on, go faster!” She yelled as she pushed the ship forward, throwing it into overdrive.
Fragments pelleted against the ship’s canopy, making it sound like an enormous hail storm. Dust and fire chased her from below, begging for her to come with them into the dark abyss. It was almost terrifying. The gap was now only a bit larger than her ship. She clenched her teeth, glaring with iron determination as she charged towards her salvation. She didn’t blink or even feel the slightest bit of doubt as she neared it, even as it grew lesser in size, almost too much so.
I have not come this far. She thought, eyes filled with resolve. To die now!
With a loud crash and a cloud of broken stone, the sleek interceptor burst through the opening, flying into the open air of the cavern at astonishing speeds. Behind it, the stone pillars exploded as they collided, a massive cloud of dust and fire rising like a horrid beast in its wake.
Holly sat in her ship, her face still intense, her hands still holding the controls in a vice grip. After she was sure she was out, she let out a huge sigh of relief, followed by a very wide grin. Everything had gone according to plan.
A loud noise came up behind her, followed by the discernible forms of two interceptors.
“Captain, glad you decided to join us.” Ivankov said jovially.
“You’re crazy, you know that Holly?” Trouble added jokingly, though he was not far from the truth.
Holly gave them a wave as they formed up beside her. “Are you really that surprised?”
“No.” Both of the said simultaneously.
Holly grinned a little more before turning her eyes to the battle that raged and the massive form of Opal’s ship. It had reached the wall completely unchallenged, and was now sitting motionless before it. What was Opal up to?
“Thanks to Koboi’s hatred towards me, we have eliminated over three-hundred of her ships.” She stated.
“Indeed.” Trouble responded. “This will ease the weight upon our forces. The battle, excluding Opal’s command ship, is turning in our favor. Once we clean up her ships, we can focus on her.”
“Then let’s get to it!” Holly stated with fiery eyes.
With Holly taking point, the three fighters activated their boosters, rocketing towards the immense battle that was filling the air.
Opal Koboi frowned with displeasure as three-hundred of her ships were destroyed by Holly’s grandstanding skill, their digital tags upon her battlemap winking out as they were picked off in droves. When she had diverted her forces from the main battle, she knew she would be giving her enemy a better chance, but such was unimportant so long as Holly was killed. Of course, the annoying elf was very much alive, and all of the ships she had sent were doomed. She wanted to think otherwise, but she knew that it was all intended, that Holly had counted on her endless hatred to cause for such a careless decision. Opal silently ridiculed herself. She should have seen it coming!
Regardless, I hardly have time for any of this foolish musing. She thought. They may very well defeat my forces here, but as long as they are held back long enough it won’t matter.
She regarded the smooth wall looming before her, a feral desire in her eyes. Her undeniable victory awaited behind that wall, the source of her godhood, the power that would destroy everything. She grinned, the irritation of the battle around her fading from her mind. Nothing mattered, not as long as she won in the end. Her battleship was invincible and her own self almost equally so.
They may be able to destroy my fleet, but it will cost them so much that in the end they will be battered and weak. Her eyes gleamed brighter as they widened with anticipation. They can try all they want, but apart from being a huge vexation, they have yet to show themselves capable of stopping me.
Opal turned her attention to the energy readings on her monitors. All systems were running flawlessly, and the ship was at optimal range from the tunnel wall.
“Excellent.” She said devilishly, smiling like a madman as she clicked a few buttons. After she did so, a single red notification flashed upon her monitor, begging for a command. Koboi moved to the very front of the bridge, making sure that she had a good view, her eyes gleaming a sickly red.
“Let the final stage begin!” She yelled rancorously. With the insane grin still on her face, Opal pointed her arm forward towards the wall, motioning confidently.
A deep rumble coursed through the ship, rising from the reactors and running to the frontal energy stores. Outside, the massive laser cannon that dominated the bow of the battleship began to glow brightly, the same bloody crimson as Opal’s eyes. The gathering energy made the gun’s barrel lambent with heat energy, red particles swirling around it as the power levels reached a maximum.
As she engaged the remaining daemon ships, Holly looked warily at the growing ball of deadly energy that was amassing before the ship. Her eyes widened as the very air around her seemed to shake.
“All ships,” She yelled. “Clear the area in front of the enemy flagship! It’s about to-”
There was massive flash of red and a deafening boom as the air in front of Opal’s ship exploded with energy. A colossal beam shot from the main gun, its diameter expanding to a mile as it flew forward, engulfing everything in its path. Holly pulled her ship away from the searing laser blast, its temperature seeping into her cockpit despite it being miles away. As she retreated, she looked back, just in time to witness its collision with the tunnel wall.
With a loud thump followed by a shrill hissing noise, the beam slammed into the center of the wall, causing for the entire cavern to shake. Fire and stone blasted from the impact, raining through the air as the laser fired continuously into the wall. After a few seconds, the stone around it began to glow hotly, then swirl around in a circular motion as it melted away to the laser’s power. A three mile section of the wall swirled clockwise with the laser, the previously solid stone now the consistency of molasses as it bubbled and spat. As the laser drilled deeper into the rock, a steady flow of magma gushed from the area of impact, forming a scorching waterfall as it plummeted to the cavern floor. The laser kept firing as more and more magma flew from the forming tunnel, filling the entire cavern floor in moments, creating a sea of molten rock.
Holly gaped at the display of sheer power. “By the gods!”
The seemingly endless stream of crimson energy continued relentlessly, raising the temperature within the cavern to an almost stifling degree as it ate away at the wall before it. After several long minutes the beam was abruptly cut off, its dreadful form crackling away into thin air. Where the smooth cavern wall used to be loomed a perfectly circular tunnel, its walls still glowing hot and dripping with melted stone, a lambent maw gaping with monstrous hunger. Another crimson lit cavern was visible at the far end of it, about ten miles away. It was Opal’s final destination: the location of the Gate.
Opal looked up at the gigantic tunnel before her, pleased by the results.
“As if ten miles of bedrock could impede me.” She said. “And now the last obstacle is removed from my path.”
Koboi eyed the cavern at the far end, feeling the power washing from it in waves. It brought a smile to her face.
“Time to finish this.”
With a roaring response from its engines, Opal’s battleship blasted forward into the tunnel. The large globs of glowing magma that drooped lazily from the ceiling splattered onto the large ship, though all they did was sizzle momentarily before sliding off of its shields, leaving not a trace of their passage. As it entered the new passageway, the remaining daemon ships seemed to double their efforts, fighting with unbelievable ferocity in an attempt to hold the allied forces at bay. By now, only a half-dozen or so dreadnaughts and one-hundred gunships remained. On the opposing side, about two-hundred interceptors still flew. The odds were, for once, in their favor.
“All ships, wipe out the remaining enemy forces!” Trouble commanded as he tore through an enemy ship.
Around the cavern, the fighting continued uninterrupted, the absence of Opal’s battleship leaving the daemons with little advantage.
Holly watched as Koboi traveled down the tunnel, absentmindedly engaging enemy ships as though it were a simple reflex.
“Trouble, we can’t let her get in there!” She yelled.
The Commander was quick to reply. “I know, but we can’t do so with all of these ships on our tails.”
Holly frowned with frustration, but knew that Trouble was right. They would make short work of the remaining ships, and then they would go after Koboi.
A dozen miles away sat a lone LEP shuttle, lodged into a cliff face above the war zone. Artemis watched apprehensively from the control room of the ship, his face showing the signs of worry. Opal had just removed the only thing in between her and the Gate, and as the allied forces still fought against the enemy fleet, she was getting closer an closer to unlimited power. The boy looked to the others with him, the warlocks in particular.
Quan noticed the expression on Artemis’ face, and nodded. “Indeed, we have sat on the sidelines for far too long.” He said, his eyes upon the newly formed tunnel. “Opal is getting close. If we are not there to challenge her, she will win.”
“Then let’s get going.” Butler rumbled, his voice utterly commanding.
“And go through that?” Mulch exclaimed, pointing to the explosion filled air, the forms of hundreds of dogfighting ships dotting the area.
“Naturally.” Artemis stated impassively.
The dwarf frowned, knowing that there was no other option. “Well, don’t blame me if we end up plastered to a wall.”
Artemis cocked a brow. “But you are the pilot, thus you would be to blame.”
Mulch gave the boy a sly grin. “You want me to use my talents in this very room?”
Artemis frowned, noting Butler’s look of unease at the mention of Mulch’s talents. “No.”
“Well then.” Mulch said enthusiastically. “I suggest you cease your smart remarks and take a seat.”
The dwarf strapped himself into the pilot’s seat at the front of the control room, muttering something about the vexatious nature of overly intelligent mud boys.
Everyone else took the cue and did the same, not wanting to be caught standing when the ship dropped from the wall. Even Artemis, despite having been told off by a kleptomaniac dwarf, acquiesced. With the explosions flashing in the distance, Mulch started the ship’s engines, a mischievous look on his face. As they powered up, he looked over his shoulder, grinning ear to ear.
“I’m obligated to inform you that I’m not a qualified pilot.”
Artemis frowned. “That is painfully obvious.”
Butler looked up from cleaning his gun. “What!?”
The dwarf laughed, grabbing hold of the controls. “Too late!” He yelled. “Hold on kiddies!”
With a final guffaw, Mulch unlatched the ship’s clamps, sending them plummeting into the conflict below.
Holly grinned wildly as she blasted another daemon ship apart, not even blinking as she passed through the resulting cloud of fiery debris. They were massacring the remaining enemy forces, the one sided nature of the fighting a wonderful change. She was about to engage another enemy when she saw the obvious form of an LEP shuttle dropping from above. With a confused look, she opened a channel.
“Artemis, what are you guys doing?” She yelled.
“Taking action.” The boy responded firmly.
Holly grimaced. “By dropping into this mess? You’ll be torn apart!”
“That’s why you’re here.” Artemis said. “We need to get to Opal before she reaches the Gate. Waiting until her forces here are taken care of will take too long.”
Holly nodded understandingly, though she still worried for their safety. “Then I’m coming with you.”
“I expected no less from you, Holly.” Artemis responded warmly.
As the shuttle dove into the fray, Holly flew to meet it, blasting through any daemon ships in her way.
A voice came through from the shuttle again, though this time it was Mulch.
“Oh hello captain.” The dwarf said slyly. “Decided to help out little old me?”
“Just get to the tunnel!” She yelled, intercepting an enemy ship as it closed in on the shuttle.
“No need to get in a kerfuffle.” Mulch responded enthusiastically. “Just try to keep up.”
“I think it is you who should be worrying about that.” Holly retorted.
“Oh, you’d be surprised.” The kleptomaniac stated mischievously.
Suddenly, the shuttle blasted away at astounding speed, taking even Holly by surprise. Such confusion was quickly diluted by the fact that Mulch was outrunning her. Not on my watch. Holly thought excitedly.
With a loud response from its engines, Holly’s interceptor charged after the LEP shuttle, gunning down enemy ships along the way.
“Commander!” Holly called. “Artemis and the others are making their way towards the tunnel.”
Trouble didn’t sound surprised. “Indeed they are.” He paused. “I’ll lend as much support as I can.”
“Roger that.” Holly responded, her attention still on the LEP shuttle in front of her. Mulch was better than she expected.
The bulky LEP shuttle flew at ludicrous speeds as it weaved in between the enemy ships, every now and then leaving a few laser blasts in one. Mulch opened a channel to Holly again.
“Having a hard time keeping up eh?” He teased.
“If you haven’t noticed.” Holly said loudly as she shot down another gunship. “I’ve been covering your fat behind!”
“Doesn’t count.” The dwarf said tauntingly.
“Just shut it will you? I’m working!” Holly said angrily.
Mulch was about to make a silly comeback when he saw a looming shadow drop from above. At the last second, the dwarf swerved the ship out of the way, just as a daemon dreadnaught dove down menacingly, chasing after the shuttle.
“Uh, sorry about that.” Mulch called out. “Could you perhaps get this guy off me?”
Holly grinned. “No problem.”
The elf flew after the dreadnaught, firing into its engines. As she did so, several gunships entered the fray, seeking to engage the easy target that was the LEP shuttle. Holly bit her lip anxiously. She couldn’t stop all of them.
“Don’t worry Captain.” Came Borislav’s familiar Russian articulation. “We’ve got this.”
A split second later, the daemon ships exploded, torn apart by high powered pulse guns. As the ships fell away, seven human interceptors flew past Holly, engaging anything that got close. Alongside them, several LEP fighters also appeared, including Trouble’s.
“We’ll take care of them Holly.” Trouble stated confidently. “Just stay with that shuttle at all times.”
“Got it sir!” She said, flying forth to form up beside Artemis’ ship.
Whilst the two ships rocketed towards the still glowing tunnel, dozens of allied fighters engaged any nearby ships, giving Holly and her friends a clear path.
Trouble kept close to the shuttle, ever vigilant against the hostile ships as they ferociously sought to hold them back. With silent concentration, he took out two gunships as they tried to drop in from above, and another three that followed. As he engaged another daemon gunship, Kelp’s wingman spiraled out of control, his fighter filled with holes. Trouble dodged at the last second as another volley of cannon rounds blazed past him, clipping his wing only slightly. As he looped over his previous position, he saw the hulking form of a dreadnaught, its point-defense guns slicing through several more of his colleagues as they tried to get it off of their commander’s tail. Kelp glared at the ship as he flipped his ship around, sending it right down on top of the dreadnaught. He fired into the heavily armored ship relentlessly, pummeling it with hundreds of laser blasts. The dreadnaught, still focused on the other LEP ships, didn’t seem to care. All it wanted to do was kill.
“Just die!” Trouble yelled as he threw more and more rounds into its hull, leaving dozens of holes and causing for the ship to list clumsily.
“I’ll provide fire from the bottom!” Ivankov called.
The human commander’s ship came from below, rising to face the dreadnaught’s underbelly. With Trouble still firing into its upper levels, Borislav unloaded on its underside, riddling it with holes. The combined forces sliced the ship clean in half, its two separate halves dropping away before exploding.
“That’s the last of those big ones.” Ivankov stated. “And there’s only a few of the others left.” He paused. “It seems as though Captain Short and Fowl have reached the tunnel unscathed.”
“That’s good news.” Trouble said, eying the distant tunnel. “Let’s clean this mess up so that we can join them.”
A gunship exploded beside him, Borislav’s jet black interceptor flying through the fireball. “Way ahead of you.”
“Form up behind me.” Holly commanded as they entered the still glowing tunnel, its molten walls still dripping in spots.
“Aye aye captain!” Mulch responded jovially.
Holly rolled her eyes. “Mulch, at least pretend to be serious.”
“Hey, this is how I deal with stressful situations.” He stated. “I either run my ass off or, if I can’t, laugh it in the face.”
“That’s quite a contrast.” Holly deadpanned.
“Exactly.” The dwarf said, perplexing Holly to a great degree. She didn’t even know why she bothered trying to understand him. It was like trying to make sense of a swear toad’s ramblings, which was possible, but required extensive knowledge of expletives that didn’t exist.
The two ships blasted down the circular tunnel, dodging falling globs of magma from time to time, but otherwise completely unimpeded. Clearly, Opal was entirely focused on reaching the Gate, not at all interested in fighting them.
As Holly led them through the tunnel, she saw dozens of shapes out of the corner of her eye, forming up a few miles behind them. She grinned. It appeared as though the rest of their forces had finished the enemy fleet, and were now rushing to join them.
“We’re right behind you!” Trouble called out, fiery anticipation in his voice.
“Then let’s take the fight to Opal herself.” Holly stated determinedly, feeling a growing excitement at the prospect of fighting the pixie directly instead of her puppet army.
With the lambent walls casting a menacing light over their traveling forms, the remainder of the LEP and human forces barreled down the tunnel, eager to finish the fight.