XVIII – Into the Fire
Opal Koboi’s eyes gleamed with immoral hunger as she viewed the cavern before her. Her ship had just passed through the tunnel, emerging into a large, circular expanse. The walls were perfectly shaped, the stone covered with ancient markings in a pattern that eluded understanding. There were no stalactites or any other signs of the passage of time within the cavern, leaving it with a preserved feeling, as though it was encapsulated within its own dimension. Far below, a lambent sea of lava boiled voraciously, its glowing surface rippling from an unseen force. Opal’s attention, however, was not directed upon any of these features. Rather, she was focused on the single abnormality in the otherwise symmetrical design of the chamber. On the far end, built upon a large outcropping, was a cave. Its entrance was gilded with runes and precisely shaped stone, giving it an immediate appearance of importance. Koboi knew that within the shrouded recesses of the ancient cave was her Trump Card, the greatest power in the world.
“All ground units, prepare to disembark and secure an LZ.” Opal stated coolly, eying the readouts on her sensory grid, thinking that her forces were keeping the enemy busy. To her slight dismay, she saw that her entire fleet had been annihilated, and that the remaining enemy forces were charging down the tunnel that she had made.
Opal frowned slightly, but didn’t seem all that surprised. With a heartless expression, she opened a channel, her voice level but dangerous.
“All guns, target the assigned coordinates, bring that tunnel down on their heads.”
As her ship’s docking bays filled with the activity of loading dropships, hundreds of high powered turrets turned to face the still glowing passageway, their barrels lighting up as they prepared to fire. With a combined cacophony that shook the earth, the guns erupted, filling the adjacent tunnel with the blinding glare of fire.
“Oh crap!” Holly exclaimed as the battleship opened fire. “She’s going to bring the tunnel down!”
“You don’t say!” Trouble yelled over the channel.
Holly and Artemis’ shuttle were several miles ahead of the Trouble and the allied ships. As the deluge of fire slammed into the tunnel’s roof, just a mile ahead of Holly, it became immediately apparent that most of them were not going to get through in time.
The glowing walls of the tunnel were decimated by the bombardment. Stone and fire flew in all directions, the sound of enormous cracks coupling with the loud noise of the ship’s guns. In no time, the end of the tunnel was collapsing, the dense stone torn asunder by the ruthless assault.
“D’arvit!” Holly swore as she sped towards the chaos, the shuttle close behind.
“I assume we’re going through that?” Mulch stated apprehensively.
“We have no other choice!” Holly yelled. “We can’t let her get away!”
A massive cannon round blasted through the air only a few feet from Mulch’s shuttle.
“This is crazy!”
“Just shut up and stay behind me!”
The two ships flew recklessly into the destructive mess, the tunnel roof caving in above them. Several miles behind, the allied forces pulled to a halt, cut off almost immediately by several massive chunks of bedrock. Holly grimaced as the stone fell around them. Even if they made it through, they were on their own. Still, it was better than leaving Opal free to do as she pleased.
With a solid grip on the controls, Holly flew through the flurry of stone, blasting away pieces of rock to clear a path for the less skillful dwarf flying the shuttle. The earth shook violently as the tunnel caved in completely, the guns still firing into it mercilessly. After a few long seconds of high speed evasive maneuvers, the two ships burst out of the chaos, emerging into the well lit cavern.
“Holly, the entire tunnel just went down. We’re cut off from you!” Trouble yelled, fury evident in his voice.
“I know, it’s just the two of our ships in here.” Holly responded, diving low to avoid the bombarding turrets.
“You can’t possibly take her on alone!”The elf shouted worryingly.
“There’s nothing to do but that, Trouble.” She said surely. “We will do everything we can to stop her.”
There was a long pause.
“Fine.” Trouble said, his voice suddenly tired. “Just please, make it out alive.”
Holly nodded determinedly. “We will, I promise.”
Trouble’s response was cut off by the sound of gunfire, and before she could fully react, several powerful charges ripped through Holly’s ship, crippling her communication and tracking systems. Holly cursed, caught off guard by how quickly Opal had seen them. With an infuriated growl, she swung her ship away from the attacks, looking for the shuttle that was supposed to be with her. After a few seconds, she made out the form of the LEP ship above her, trying to evade the point-defense guns on Opal’s ship. She couldn’t communicate with them, which made it even worse as the ship was hammered by several rounds, causing for it to plummet towards the lava below. Holly gasped as it disappeared from her sight. She didn’t see anything collide with the magma, but her point of view was restricted at best, leaving her with only deductions. She couldn’t go near to see what had befallen her friends, the intense fire from the ship calling for all of her attention. Holly took a calming breath, reasoning that they were alright, that they had thought of something. All she could do was hope. With a deadly glare, Holly brought her ship around, pointing it towards Koboi’s monstrosity.
Opal Koboi glared daggers at the LEP interceptor in front of her. It had to be Holly, no one else could avoid her defenses so easily. The thought of the elf made her furious.
“Out of all the enemy ships, it just had to be you that made it through!” She yelled angrily. “I should have just blown the cave right from the start!”
It was painfully obvious that she had made a big mistake in leaving the tunnel open for the enemy to pursue her. Had she been thinking straight earlier, she would have brought it down the moment her ship got through. Of course, that was not the case, and now she was stuck with the most annoying LEP officer in the world.
Opal continued to watch as the ship evaded the numerous turrets, firing futilely against the ship’s heavy shields. The pixie managed a slight grin. “No matter, I will just finish you myself.”
Without the slightest effort, Opal formed a volley of magical bolts outside the ship, hurling them spitefully towards the small interceptor. The dark magic careened through the air, swirling with black and crimson energy as they sought after their target.
Holly dodged the attacks easily, though her ship was showing signs of system failure, the damage it had sustained finally catching up to it. It was remarkable that the interceptor even flew at all, a solid testimony to fairy engineering. With smoke trailing from it, the ship spun and weaved between Opal’s attacks, firing laser blasts at the ship continuously.
Opal gritted her teeth. “Just die already!” She yelled, throwing more crimson magic towards Holly. To her dismay the elf kept escaping her strikes, taunting her with her endless tenacity. After a moment, she opened a channel to the ship’s hangar, still lobbing beams at the elf.
“All reserve squadrons, launch and engage!”
At once, several large blast doors on the side of Opal’s battleship opened, followed by the unmistakable sound of engines. Almost immediately after the doors fully opened, dozens of daemon gunships flew out towards Holly, intent on finishing her off for good.
“D’arvit!” Holly swore as her ship shook with the impact of several cannon rounds, further ruining the already severely damaged aircraft. She couldn’t keep this up, not with such a compromised craft. She had to do something. She eyed the battleship before her. It was impossible to even land a hit on it, its shields were far too strong, easily capable of blocking hundreds of missiles without even flinching. Even if she could strike it, her few remaining cannons would do very little. Holly clenched her teeth, now fleeing from several of the gunships that had left Opal’s flagship’s hangar.
Just then, Holly got an idea. She looked at the large warship again, seeing its hangar doors open. She could make out the forms of dozens of gunships and transports within its dark confines, but that wasn’t her main focus. What interested her was how the enemy ships left the hangar. Over the space of the blast doors, there was no shield, its absence necessary in order to unload the ground forces within. Even now, she could see the forms of daemon infantry loading up into the transports, preparing to secure the cave that jutted out from the wall.
Holly grinned her crazy grin. Her idea was purely insane, even in the movies where such things happened. Such ridiculousness made it even better.
I hope Foaly is somehow recording this!
With a confident gaze, Holly spun her ship around, flying straight for the battleship’s open hangar. Point-defense rounds exploded all around her, the blasts pounding her ship relentlessly. She paid them no heed. Opal began to blast away with her own magic, but only succeeded in shooting down the gunships that were chasing Holly. That no doubt pissed her off.
Holly was getting close, now a few hundred meters from her target. As several gunships made their way out of the ship, she fired into them, blasting them apart and clearing a path. As even more began to pour out, Holly shot them down as well.
“Excuse me, coming through!” She yelled, flying right into the open hangar door as the daemon gunships exploded around her, the concussive force pushing her ship into the vast interior whilst throwing numerous parked ships around like toys.
Holly had little time to orient herself. All she could see around her were hundreds of daemons and dozens of tanks and aircraft. They looked at her with an emotionless confusion, their artificial minds calculating the near impossible reality that an enemy ship had made it through their defenses and had subsequently breached the hangar. However, as Holly managed to piece together a rough idea of the ship’ interior, the enemy units opened fire.
“Oh shit!” Holly exclaimed as dozens of high velocity tank rounds blasted by her, exploding into the walls of the hangar with dreadful force. Hundreds of infantry opened up with their firearms, sending waves of bullets and lasers into the air. With an entire army now focused on her, all she could do was run. Without a moment’s hesitation, Holly threw her ship towards the rear of the hangar, which stretched along the entire length of the ship, stocked to the brim with weapons and ammunition. Bullets and lasers flew by her as she drove over the enemy forces, blasting anything that got in her way.
“Those stockpiles will do nicely.” She said mischievously, seeing the obvious rows of storage containers. What made her certain that they were sensitive material was the sudden absence of enemy fire. Not a single daemon shot at her from behind, meaning that they didn’t want to hit whatever was stored before her. It was clear as day. As she flew towards the storage sector of the hangar, several tanks drove out in front of her, aiming their heavy guns in her direction. Holly didn’t even blink. Before they could fire, she littered them with gaping holes, leaving them smoldering as she blasted by them.
Holly grinned crazily as she reached the stockpiles, pressing her fire commands with a great satisfaction.
“I hope you have insurance.” She stated cheezily, almost scoffing at how horrible the joke was.
What wasn’t a joke, however, was the stream of hot laser blasts as they careened into the rows of densely packed containers. The lasers melted right through the metal boxes, burning into their contents with their searing energy. There was a moment of nothingness as Holly continued to fire into them, followed by hundreds of resounding explosions. Row by row, as Holly passed them, the ammunition stockpiles went off, tearing everything apart with flame and shrapnel. Large assortments of high yield bombs and missiles were thrown about randomly by the shock waves, sending them bouncing into the hangars before exploding brilliantly. Tanks and aircraft were obliterated, and the daemon infantry were decimated. In moments, hundreds if not thousands of enemies were destroyed.
That worked. Holly thought as she flew, though she was now conflicted. With walls in front of her and explosions behind, it was apparent that she had no way out. She grimaced as more and more stockpiles went up, the unstoppable chain reaction now in motion. It didn’t take her long to conclude that she had to make her own exit.
“Here goes nothing!”
Holly unleashed everything she had into the wall before her, hoping to weaken it enough so that she could pass through. As her lasers tore away sections of the bulkhead, the wave of fire blasted towards her, coupled with the explosions of even more munitions. She kept firing, she had no other option.
Come on! She thought, still tearing though the dense barrier before her. Another explosion went off very close to her, throwing her ship to the side. As she regained control, Holly simply huffed, frustrated. She looked to her left, and all she saw was fire.
Alright, to hell with this. She concluded.
With a defiant expression, Holly threw her ship’s engines to full power, driving her right into the damaged wall. As she did, the massive explosion reached her, its flashing destruction shining brightly. The force of the shock wave catapulted her ship forward even faster, literally punching it through the wall. With her head down for cover, Holly held on for dear life. It felt like being at epicenter of a cataclysmic earthquake, everything around her shaking at an impossible level. Pieces of metal cut through the canopy, stabbing into where her head would have been, followed by fire. The flames licked away as she felt her ship get thrown into the open cavern, her flight suit protecting her from their hot touch. After a few long seconds, Holly peaked up. She made it.
Behind her, the sound of perfect destruction reigned. Explosions ran through the length of Opal’s battleship as hundreds of tons of ammunition went off, fire pouring from a hundred places whilst entire sections of the ship were torn outward. The hundreds of point-defense turrets and main batteries fell silent, though a few still fired sporadically in all directions, their tracking systems melted by the heat, leaving them blind. It buckled and listed precariously in the air, but despite the enormous damage, the ship held firm, unwilling to fall. Such strength failed immediately as the fires reached the fusion reactors, slicing into them with ease, rupturing almost every system in the process. There was a great muffled boom, and the rear of the battleship seemed to expand as the metal bent outward from the force within. After a few moments of groaning steel, the bulkheads failed, and the entire ship was torn in two.
Holly grinned as she beheld the epic destruction before her. She had never thought that Opal’s battleship would be destroyed in such a fashion, and seeing it now made her feel amazing. Unfortunately, such joy was short lived. A shrill beeping erupted from her ship’s console. She was going down.
Looking around the area, Holly found only one place to try and land; the outcropping on which the ancient cave resided. With a determined scream, Holly pulled hard on the controls, doing everything in her power to keep herself from falling into the teeming lava below. As she neared the cliff, it became clear that it wasn’t enough. She was going to have to jump.
Opal Koboi stood motionless upon the bridge of her once invincible battleship, her face contorted with both pure rage and utter disbelief. Fires burst through the floors, smashed bulkheads speared through walls, and all the while the groan of her great ship being torn in half reverberated through the smoke filled air. She didn’t even care as shrapnel passed by her, it wasn’t a threat anyway. Instead, Opal just stood there, cast in thought.
Her warship, along with most of her assets, was going down. That left her with whatever she could salvage and herself. It was more than enough.
Opal Koboi began to walk to the now shattered window at the front of the control room, heedless of the growing destruction around her.
It is a horrible disgrace to lose such a ship to that impudent elf. She thought. But hopefully in doing so she did herself in as well.
She reached the front, stepping out into the fire laced air.
Regardless, I have to get to the Gate. All of this bullshit is getting on my nerves and only serves as an egregious waste of time.
The control room exploded behind her, casting a great ball of fire in her direction. Opal walked through it, her face cold and radiating death itself, uncaring. As she passed through the flames, her ship began to drop out beneath her, now completely broken in two.
I’ll just take care of the rest myself.
Opal jumped from the falling ship, flying through the fire filled air with ease towards the outcropping a hundred meters away. Explosions flashed across the sky behind her, sending glowing chunks of metal whizzing past her. She landed with a crack, the stone beneath her shattering like glass. With her magic now swirling madly around her, Opal looked back, watching as the hulking form of the battleship plummeted into the sea of magma. With a loud, enormous splash, the massive ship plunged into the lava, becoming half submerged in an instant. As it sunk, explosions went off throughout it, and some of its silent turrets fired their last salvos as they malfunctioned. Opal felt no emotional connection to the ship whatsoever, and she frankly didn’t care that it was gone. Nothing mattered as long as she won, and she could not see anyone left to challenge her.
Engines roared loudly as the forms of several drop ships came through the billowing smoke, landing carefully upon the solid surface of the outcropping. Only a few of her units had managed to escape from the explosion, a total of five transports. As they landed behind her, something caught Opal’s eye: a hand.
With a casual gait, Opal walked up to the edge of the cliff, her heart filling with delight when she saw Holly clinging into the edge with one hand. She had lost her helmet in the crash, her face now fully visible, her hair blowing in the wind. The elf looked up and, upon seeing Koboi, glared venomously. If looks could kill, Opal would be dead for sure.
“I have to hand it to you Short.” Opal said coldly. “You’re the most persistent fool I’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with.”
Holly didn’t speak. Instead she used her free hand to unholster her neutrino, bringing it to bear in a split second. “Go to hell!” She yelled defiantly, firing a series of blasts into Koboi’s face. The shots didn’t even touch her evil visage. With a quiet sizzle, the blue beams simply faded from existence, the pixie’s magic absorbing them as though it were a plant synthesizing the sun’s rays.
Opal frowned, only slightly irritated by the harmless energy blasts. “I was going to kill you quickly,” she lied, “But in light of recent events, I feel that you should have a more…memorable experience.”
Koboi put a foot over Holly’s hand, a heartless grin on her face. Holly, despite her iron character, went wide eyed. Opal was above her, and a sea of hungry lava below. Both ways meant certain death. She had no way out at all.
Opal’s gleaming eyes flooded with sick pleasure. “Say hello to Julius for me.” She looked into Holly’s mismatched eyes with hatred and malevolence. “Now burn!”
With an impossibly wide grin, Koboi stomped on Holly’s hand, eliciting a cry of pain from the elf. Holly only held on for a moment before she was forced off, cast into a dreadful free fall towards the fires below. When the elf disappeared from view, Opal laughed, turning around to face the cave before her.
“Now, where was I?” She stated smoothly, walking towards her landed ships.
Out from the dark depths of the transports came a chorus of deep growls and metallic clanks, followed by many pairs of gleaming red eyes. Opal grinned as the creatures jumped out, feeling a sense of pride in her work. The things that stepped from the ships were perfect monsters. They had similar faces to those of the regular daemons, though they were thrice as dreadful. Razor sharp teeth filled their maws, ones that made a shark look like a toothless infant. A set of horns jutted from their thick skulls, and numerous sharp spines stuck from their muscular backs, giving them a hellish appearance. At over seven feet tall, they were covered with bulging muscles, and wore thick plates of advanced armor, nothing like the regulars had. They each held an assortment of deadly armaments, ranging from missile launchers and heavy machine guns to anti-material rifles and miniguns. Apart from their firearms, each also had a perfectly formed sword, the curved blades the purest of blacks. Opal had only just started making them when her facility was destroyed, leaving her with very few. However, she was sure that they would come in handy. She called them Berserkers. She felt that they were far more deserving of such a title as opposed to the silly spirits that she had tried to use in the past. These Berserkers were Opal’s elite soldiers, and now a hundred stood at the ready.
Opal’s enjoyment in them was quickly smothered by the magical pull of the Gate. It called to her. She could feel the infinite sea of power beckoning her to partake in its lusts, to seize limitless evil.
“Guard the entrance.” Koboi commanded smoothly. “Kill anything that gets near.”
The Berserkers didn’t make a sound as they quickly spread out into a solid line of muscle and steel, cutting off the way into the next tunnel. By the time they formed the line, Opal was already in the cave, her bloody eyes shining amidst the gloom with almost unbearable anticipation.
It will not be long now. She thought. My godhood awaits!
Holly felt the hot air as it rushed by her. She was falling, though in the moment it almost felt like being frozen in a perpetual state of near-death. She could feel the searing lava below as she neared it, its taunting hisses and bubbles rising to meet her, mocking her very existence. It was the worst feeling, waiting to die a horrid death, yet the seemingly distorted time was also a welcome respite, a moment of calm before the end. It was the beauty before death, the moment where everything seemed different, and the world held a quiet breath. Holly didn’t look down, she knew what was there. Her eyes instead focused on the air above, on the patterned cavern walls and the fiery embers of ruined machines. They say that when in the face of death one sees their life flash before their eyes, but for Holly there was nothing. It’s absence was warming in a way, maybe she wasn’t meant to die yet, maybe her life still had another chapter to be read, her story not yet over.
Holly let out a calming breath, relaxing as the world burned around her. Such musings were but air anyway, in the end they were formless and empty. All that Holly could do was watch as the ceiling got farther and farther away, and feel the warm wind blowing through her hair. She was getting close now, the heat rising sharply as the fiery glow intensified. She felt horrible that Opal could very well win, but she also knew that Artemis and the others were, just maybe, still alive. As long as they were, there was hope. Even without her, she knew they would triumph, such was her faith in them. It hurt to accept reality, but her time was over. She closed her eyes, unafraid as she waited for the inevitable, welcoming it without any regrets.
The heat continued to rise to almost unbearable levels, the glare of the glowing hot magma shining in her peripherals. It was only seconds away. She prepared herself as she was about to collide, awaiting the dreadful agony of molten rock against her flesh. Her expectations were followed by absolutely nothing. At the moment when she was certain she would land in the lava, her free fall came to a sudden halt. She was floating in mid air. The relentless heat was gone, replaced by a cool blue glow. Holly opened her eyes with both confusion and relief.
“Nice of you to drop by.” Said Artemis, who was standing over her. His face looked worried, but it was also graced by a relieved smile.
Despite being immensely perplexed, Holly grinned, amazed by what had happened. “You have no idea how overused that line is.”
“Oh I do, it just felt appropriate.” The genius said, helping Holly up.
They were encapsulated within an orb of cool blue magic, the energy pouring from the two warlocks who, despite being only a foot from a sea of lava, seemed completely at ease. Everyone that had been in the shuttle was present, making the weight on Holly’s chest fall off immediately. Butler and Juliet were checking their weapons, Mulch standing not too far away as he ate whatever he fished out of his beard. Despite overwhelming opposition, they had survived.
Holly looked to Quan quizzically. The old warlock simply shrugged.
“Elementary magic.” He stated. “When our ship went down, we cast a defensive bubble around ourselves. When the shuttle landed in the magma and virtually melted in moments, we remained unscathed. Since then, we were forced to lay low. Opal doesn’t know that we, apart from you, are here. Had she sensed us, she would have definitely made sure we were dead, and in our position we would have been incapable of defending ourselves sufficiently.” Quan paused, glancing to the hulking form of Opal’s battleship as it sunk in the lava. “However, now that her forces have been virtually crippled, we can focus on her. She has no doubt entered the inner sanctum, and is closing in on the Gate as we speak. Though the process of activating it will take a while, if she even begins the ritual she will be elevated to a level near to that of a god.”
“Then what are we waiting for.” Butler’s deep voice rumbled. The bodyguard stood by Artemis, his large Sig Sauer in hand.
“Now that we’re all here, nothing at all.” Quan responded, motioning with his right hand. Immediately, the magical orb began to rise into he air, leaving the bubbling magma behind. No one made a sound as they floated towards the fire lit outcropping, which from their perspective seemed devoid of activity. There was no noise from the plateau whilst they neared it from below, though that was no reason for any of them to be at ease. Silence, if anything, was a bad omen.
It took only a few seconds to travel the several hundred meter distance. The magical orb soundlessly crested the plateau, brushing a cloud of dust into the air, obscuring them. It landed softly upon the cracked stone, fizzling out after a few moments, leaving the group within the fading cloud of dust. A sudden gust of hot air quickly dispersed the swirling particles, leaving everything clear to see. They were a few dozen meters away from a cluster of landed transports, their hulking forms silent and cold.
Mulch gaped. “Uh, guys, we’ve got company.”
Eighty meters away, lined up cross the sanctum’s elaborate entrance, were a hundred massive daemons. The Berserkers saw them in an instant, their feral red eyes gleaming with murderous intent.
Butler swept in front of Artemis, his weapon aimed. Holly and Juliet did the same, whilst Mulch hid behind them. Quan and Nº1 took point, magic swirling at their fingertips.
The Berserkers didn’t waste a second. With guttural growls, the beasts raised their wide array of weaponry, aiming directly at the group before them.
“Stay behind us!” Quan yelled, bringing up his hands.
With a dreadful cacophony, the Berserkers opened fire, sending thousands of high caliber rounds and dozens of missiles flying forward. The two warlocks threw a wave of magic into the air, forming a solid wall in between them and the deadly storm of fire. The two forces clashed with a resounding explosion, the sound of bullets and missiles hammering against the barrier echoing madly through the air. The Berserkers continued their barrage, seeking to wear the shield down with their colossal firepower.
Under the stress of the bombardment, Quan called to those behind him. “We need to get in closer!”
“And how do you suggest we do that!?” Holly yelled above the deafening explosions.
Mulch poked his head out from behind Butler’s massive frame. He looked at the nearest transport, a grin working its way across his terrified features.
“Hey, can you still teleport?” The dwarf asked loudly.
Quan frowned. “With all of the magic in the air, I can only afford to do so for a diminutive distance, otherwise I risk scrambling your limbs like a Picasso.”
The unoccupied daemon dropship was only twenty meters away, its bow facing the Berserkers.
“That’s all need to get to that ship.” Mulch replied. “Though I could use some help.”
Butler looked up from shielding Artemis. He was utterly useless sitting within the warlock’s shield. If anything, protecting his charge meant eliminating the hostiles, not standing around whilst Quan and Nº1 blocked their attacks. The bodyguard, along with Juliet, were quick to jump on the chance.
“We’ll back you up.” Butler said deeply, his sister nodding beside him. He turned to Artemis. “Stay with Holly. It’s the safest place in here.”
The boy raised a brow. “You don’t say.”
Quan nodded, his face sweating from exertion as he and No1 held back the seemingly endless assault. He motioned to Mulch and the Butlers, who were now standing in a tight group.
“Alright, here it goes!”
There was a blinding flash as the old warlock channeled the spell from his free hand, sending it into the trio. The magic surrounded them before winking out of existence, taking them with it. After a few seconds, Quan grinned with satisfaction.
“They made it.”
The darkness of the interior of the transport was obliterated by a bright flash of blue light, which formed into a trio of beings in the control room. After a fleeting moment, the light disappeared, leaving them alone in the gloom.
“Okay Mulch, get to it.” Juliet said, looking out the front window towards the Berserkers. By now they had ceased their assault, and were beginning to spread out, hoping to outflank the magical barrier.
“Got it!” The dwarf declared mischievously, jumping into the rather large pilot’s sat. “Once this thing starts moving, it would be best to get to the back. Once we break through, you two can get out the back and do what you do best.”
Butler simply nodded, a look of supreme determination upon his face.
Mulch grinned as he looked over the controls. It took him only a moment to find the ship’s emergency booster activation module. He didn’t want to take the time to start the ship up completely, that would tip the enemy off. What Mulch needed was surprise.
“Hold on you two!” He yelled, punching the button before sprinting to the back of the ship. As he and the others held onto whatever they could, the transport shook with sudden power, a deep roar exploding from its emergency afterburners as they came online in a fraction of a second. In no time, the large ship was flying forward, its belly scrapping along the hard stone.
From outside it appeared as though the transport had been possessed by an evil spirit. It flew forward with almost no warning, its massive boosters screaming with power as they burned brightly. The Berserkers had little time to react. Without hesitation, the small army of monsters turned their weapons on the charging ship, lighting it up with a wall of fire. The transport, to its credit, held firm, even as its entire control room was incinerated. But despite its ferocity, the daemons’ barrage could only last for two seconds, as that was the amount of time it took for the ship to reach them. With a multitude of sickening crunches and metallic bangs, the transport slammed into the enemy force, flattening at least half of them before colliding with the stone wall. With a loud crash, the ship came to a halt, leaving nothing but clouds of smoke and dust in the air and repulsive smears on the ground.
Inside, Butler and Juliet picked themselves off of the floor, shaking away their disorientation. Mulch was literally stuck to the wall.
“That hurt.” The dwarf’s muffled speech stated flatly. There was a wet suction sound as he peeled away from the wall, leaving him spread eagle on the floor. He was perfectly alright, though his bruised face was quite unamused. “I’m sitting this one out guys, you can take care of the rest of those over sized meat heads.”
Butler racked the slide of his gun, wearing his serious face. “Gladly.”
As Mulch pried himself from the wall, the two humans made their move. With Juliet on his right, Butler walked to the rear door, which was crumpled and leaking in smoke. Without a hint of effort, the bodyguard kicked it open, slamming it onto the stone surface outside. Smoke and dust filled the air, though it was quickly dissipating, the forms of the large beasts becoming visible amidst the gloom. From what he could tell, the Berserkers had been disorganized by the transport, their tight formation shattered completely, leaving them scattered. They were in the perfect state to be attacked. Stepping out of the ship, the two humans readied their weapons, determined to defeat the fifty or so Berserkers before them.
The others watched as the hijacked transport hammered into the daemon lines, instantly stopping all of their attempts to overcome Quan’s defensive spell. Though it was one of the most reckless courses of action possible, it had worked perfectly, disrupting the defending monsters and leaving them vulnerable. From his position behind Quan and Nº1, Artemis watched on with worry. He knew that such concern was probably unnecessary given Butler and Juliet’s capabilities. Nonetheless, his love for them overrode logic.
Quan and Nº1 let the shield drop, though their guard was still very much raised.
“That worked far better than expected.” Nº1 stated, amazed by the drama unfolding before him.
“Indeed.” Quan agreed. “But now they are up against the rest of them in close combat. We must assist them.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Holly added, her neutrino in hand. She looked to Artemis. “Just sit back and watch, we’ll have them beat in no time.”
Artemis managed a slight smile. “Oh I have no doubts about that.”
“Just stay behind on of the ships until we’re done.” She added, sounding genuinely worried for him.
My god, it’s like being babied by my mother. Am I that useless in combat situations? He thought. The answer was probably yes.
A series of gunshots echoed from the smoke shrouded area ahead, followed by explosions.
“That must be them.” Nº1 stated.
Holly narrowed her eyes. “Let’s go!”
Butler glared fiercely as his weapon lit up the gloom, casting flashes of light upon the clearing smoke. As a large shell casing flew from the high powered handgun, a Berserker fell backwards, a massive hole in its face. That was one, though dozens remained. Around him, numerous daemons raised their weapons, training them on the massive target that stood before them. Butler wouldn’t give them the chance.
The large bodyguard charged into the nearest Berserker as it fired its heavy machine gun, smashing the weapon’s barrel away from him before it could expel any bullets. The fifty caliber rounds spat out of the weapon as it changed direction, cutting through three of the creatures like paper. The Berserker growled, bringing down a massive clawed hand upon the human that had tackled it. Butler dodged the strike and, while doing so, stuck his Sig Sauer into the roaring Berserker’s mouth. A loud bang later, the monster fell lifelessly. He had already found out that their body armor could block almost anything, leaving head shots as the only possible strike. Of course, head shots were quite easy on such large creatures, and Butler’s skill was already top notch.
As he fired into another enemy, Butler heard fighting to his right and turned in time to see Juliet kicking a daemon in the head, which was quite a feat given that it was over seven feet tall. The powerful blow caused it to drop its weapon whilst sending half of its large teeth flying out of its maw, their sharp forms glinting as they spun through the air. But despite the blow, the Berserker was only slightly phased. With a roar it drew its sword, the large black blade glinting against the firelight. With blood red eyes gleaming, it swung the sword with astounding speed, slicing the solid stone like butter where Juliet had been standing. She quickly jumped over the strike, landing lightly on the ground.
As Juliet evaded the enraged monster, several more Berserkers charged through the smoke, intent on crushing her. Butler saw them and, without a moment’s hesitation, grabbed the discarded machine gun at his feet. With stern composure, he unloaded on the daemons, killing half of them and forcing the other two to take cover. Butler did the same as they returned fire, ducking quickly as a missile flew over his head. He threw himself behind the dismembered wing of the crashed transport, though large holes were punched through it by the enemy weapons as they hammered his position. He grunted with frustration as several bullets punctured the metal only an inch from his head. He had never fought such creatures before, and from what he’d seen so far, they were each very formidable warriors.
A few dozen meters away, Juliet dodged under the powerful sword, its passage causing the air to shriek hauntingly. The Berserkers were tough and highly adept in combat, though Juliet was still faster. She could see Butler’s position getting pounded by fire from the corner of her eye. She needed to finish this daemon off and assist her brother.
Whilst she was still ducking below the strike, Juliet noticed a cluster of HE grenades attached to the Berserkers armor.
How convenient. She though as she moved towards them, moving faster than the daemon could recover.
With a grin, Juliet pulled the pins from the grenades, jumping away from the Berserker as quickly as she could. Before it could react the explosives went off, obscuring the creature in a ball of fire. Apart from an assortment of limbs, the daemon’s sword twirled out of the destruction, landing blade down a few inches from Juliet’s feet. The blade sunk into the ground effortlessly, almost up to the hilt. Juliet eyed the sword. Even though she was a master at martial arts, such attacks had little effect upon the Berserkers. If she was to beat them, she needed a more powerful weapon. The impossibly sharp sword was a logical choice.
Juliet grabbed the sword with both hands and, with a grunt, tried to pull it up. To her surprise, the weapon rose immediately, not at all stuck in the ground. What perplexed her more was its weight. Despite being as tall as she was, the jet black sword was lighter than a carbon steel katana, making it ridiculously easy to use. Whatever it was made of, it allowed for supreme strength and edge retention as well as impossible lightness. The fact that its balance was perfect was icing on the cake.
With a satisfied grin, Juliet set her gaze upon the ignorant Berserkers as they bombarded Butler’s position. Her brother had managed to take down several more of the enemy, but a dozen had joined in as well. She was very lucky that the smoke still nearly enveloped her area, otherwise she would have been bringing a sword to a gun fight. This, however, was what she planned on doing anyway, though its success was hinged on surprise. With the gloom and confusion still in the air, she had a perfect opportunity. She seized it without pause.
With the deceiving sword in her right hand, Juliet sprinted through the smog, reaching the ignorant Berserkers in seconds. There were thirteen of them in all, and even though they sensed her approach, they were far too slow to take immediate action. With a loud cry, Juliet dashed by the first three daemons, slashing each of them through the midsection where there was a junction in their armor. The blade didn’t even slow as it halved the massive creatures, and only the slightest trace of blood clung to its black surface, its speed and grace keeping it almost spotless. As the three deceased creatures dropped, the others brought their weapons around, seeking to cut their enemy apart before she could get close. It almost worked, but came a second too late.
Several loud bangs erupted from the ruined wing a few dozen meters away, sending several of the Berserkers to the ground. With Butler laying down a steady assault and Juliet mere feet away, the daemons were caught on two fronts, a sandwich of death.
The Berserker nearest to Juliet wielded a minigun, the multi-barreled weapon whirring as it spat out dozens of bullets a second. Juliet leaped over its field of fire just a millisecond before it unleashed its deadly payload, doing a back flip as she flew over the Berserker. It only took a quick movement of her arm to lob its head clean off, decapitating it in mid air.
With the headless creature now behind her, Juliet hit the ground softly, the black blade held expertly in her hands. A loud roar sounded beside her, followed by another one of the large swords, wielded by a massive Berserker that stood out from the rest, this one standing at ten feet tall. Juliet dodged to the side, parrying another blow as the daemon sent a withering series of slashes and stabs towards her, using its sword like a blademaster. Juliet grinned as she blocked and evaded, impressed by its skill. Her smile faded quickly as the monster’s blade slashed across her chest, just barely cutting her.
Damn, these guys are pretty good. She thought as she jumped back, putting several meters in between them.
The monstrous Berserker was joined by two more, forming a ring around her. Juliet gripped the large sword with both hands, her previously excited visage now serious and determined in the face of the skilled opponents. The daemons charged at the same time, each swinging their weapons at different levels, seeking to leave their enemy no place to dodge. Juliet grunted as she parried one of the blows whilst simultaneously jumping above another. The third swept over her nose by a hair’s breadth, sending a loud whoosh of air past her. With her body now perpendicular to the Berserkers, Juliet spun around, hooking her right foot onto the large blunt habaki of one of the passing blades, using its momentum to fly above the daemons. As she spun through the air, she sent her blade arcing under her towards one of the attackers. It landed in the center of creature’s head, slicing it vertically in half down to its chest. The dead Berserker, still in mid swing, spun out of control, slashing another one across the neck, killing it instantly.
Juliet landed just as the two daemons hit the hard ground, though the third and largest one was on top of her the moment she did so. With murderous eyes, the Berserker cut vertically towards the human, seeking to slice her clean in half. Juliet rolled out of the way just in time, standing up whilst she moved. The daemon’s sword slammed into the stone surface, burying itself up to the hilt with a loud crash, sending rock fragments and dust flying into the air. Juliet was already moving as this happened. With her sword raised, she ran straight at the Berserker, running up the back of its buried blade with amazing agility. As she ran up the weapon, the daemon pulled it out of the earth, swinging it up with enormous force, launching Juliet high into the air. She hadn’t predicted this, but it was easy enough to work with.
Time to try something new.
With the enemy twenty feet below her, she let herself fall towards it head first, her sword aimed straight down. The Berserker simply eyed her with its glinting crimson orbs, its blade held readily, waiting for her to come into range. Juliet obliged, dropping like a graceful rock onto the daemon. With a terrifying roar, the monster swung powerfully, the upward slash virtually impossible for Juliet to dodge.
This better work! She thought in slow motion, the gleaming black blade flying towards her.
With a vigorous cry, Juliet moved her weapon into the path of the approaching blade. The two swords clashed sharply, the daemon’s edge meeting the flat of hers. She could feel the intense vibrations of the impact running up her arms like tremors, but her focus was on the deadly swordplay, her concentration unshakable. With Juliet above her own blade, the direct block literally stopped her in mid air, a truly awe inspiring move. The balancing act lasted for only a brittle second, shattered by another scraping of metal. The daemon pushed the human off with its blade, sending a razor clawed hand flying towards its target whilst it brought its sword back for another strike. Juliet let the force of her foe’s push spin her in the air. As she twirled, she fell towards the monster’s deadly hand, and could see its dreadful eyes fixed upon her own. With a resolute expression, Juliet brought her blade down upon it. The Berserker had made a critical error in leaving its guard down for a split second, and was about to pay the price. Without even blinking, Juliet Butler cut both of the daemon’s extended arms off then, using her slash’s directional energy, spun in a full circle, sending a second and twice as powerful strike bearing down on the Berserker. With a metallic crash and rending of flesh, her attack sliced it apart, sending it down instantly. Without a sound she landed on top of its corpse, her eyes already searching for more hostiles.
Butler grinned proudly a few feet away, his weapon smoking profusely. All of their current attackers were dead, though judging by their count, at least twenty-five remained. The two Butlers nodded to each other, prepared to take on the rest.
There was a massive explosion within the lava pit as a section of the sinking battleship detonated, sending a powerful gust of wind through the cavern. The gust swirled the smoke filled air around the two humans, like a miniature cyclone. After a mere moment, the smoke was cast away into the heights of the cave, leaving the expanse before them perfectly visible. Both Butler and Juliet felt the pangs of uncertainty as they beheld the rest of the Berserkers standing twenty meters away, their weapons aimed. With the crashed transport a few dozen yards behind them, they had virtually no cover, and could hardly take the twenty-five or so daemons head on. They were horrendously outgunned.
“Let’s go.” Butler stated confidently.
“Right behind you.” Juliet replied, black blade ready.
The two humans charged towards the enemy line. The Berserkers seemed surprised that their enemy was charging them head on, a move that was no doubt a death sentence given the distance between them. With feral eyes, the daemons prepared to fire, completely focused on the reckless duo. The Butlers knew that their fates were uncertain, but they also knew that they had little choice. It was either attack or simply stand there and die.
The whirr of rotating barrels and the metallic clinks of ammunition belts filled the air as the enemy began their assault. With a resounded cacophony, the Berserkers opened fire, sending wave after wave of death towards the two humans.
There was a great flash of light to the side of the two groups, followed by a flowing stream of blue energy. The magic placed itself between the Butlers and the enemy fire just as it neared them, blocking it effortlessly. Butler and Juliet stopped before the shield, surprised and greatly relieved as the enemy bullets pinged off of the magical barrier.
The Berserkers turned their heads to find the source of the vexation, and as they did a flurry of neutrino blasts hammered into their positions. Most of the shots simply fizzled out upon striking their armor, but some of them landed in exposed areas, like the head or neck. In less than a second, five of the Berserkers were down and the rest were diving for cover.
From the other side of the outcropping came Holly, Quan and Nº1, each throwing their own attacks into the Berserkers. As Holly fired her neutrino at full power, the two warlocks cast glowing beams of energy. When the magical strikes collided with the daemons, they simply fell over, lifeless. Upon closer inspection, one would see a faint crimson form fly from the beasts as they were hit by the magical attacks. Their magic was forcibly cutting the link between the daemon’s artificial souls and their physical forms, thus rendering them lifeless.
The Berserkers responded with their own attacks, now concentrating upon both fronts, though their numbers were dropping rapidly. With the enemy’s previous bombardment all but ruined, Butler and Juliet dashed into their lines, engaging them at close range. They were quickly joined by the others, now pushing the daemons towards the cave entrance, which the still defended resolutely.
“Nice of you to join us!” Butler yelled above his roaring gun, his speech directed towards Holly.
“We couldn’t let you have all the fun now could we?” Holly said loudly, dodging a swing from a Berserker before shooting it thirty times in less than a second.
“I assume Artemis is safe?” The bodyguard asked, dropping his empty machine gun and replacing it with one of the numerous discarded weapons that littered the ground.
“I made him hide.” Holly replied. “He didn’t seem all that thrilled, but what should he expect? He’s not the best in combat situations.”
Butler grinned. “He sure isn’t.”
The massive human ducked under a sweeping punch from a disarmed Berserker, ramming the butt of his gun into the creature’s gut. The beast stumbled back, but was unaffected. With a roar it charged at Butler again, this time wielding an empty rifle like a club. The bodyguard brought his own to bear, but before he could fire, the agile form of his sister flew past the daemon. The monster stood for a second before it realized what had happened, then fell apart into several perfectly diced pieces.
Juliet kicked another close Berserker in the leg, throwing it off balance as it tried to aim its gun. She followed up with a slash, then a powerful roundhouse kick, sending the fatally wounded daemon tumbling to the ground. With a cocky grin, Juliet looked to Butler.
“Getting tired gramps?” She said jokingly.
Butler aimed his weapon, his face dead serious. “You should never let you guard down.”
He fired over Juliet’s head, killing a Berserker that was about to fire at her. Juliet’s bravado faded completely when she noticed.
Butler grinned slightly at her. “Let’s not make that mistake again alright?”
Juliet nodded, thoroughly embarrassed. Without any more words, the two Butlers went to work, functioning together like a well oiled machine.
A few dozen meters away, Quan and Nº1 lashed out with their magic, disrupting the very bonds that allowed for the daemons to function, sending them toppling over like rag dolls. They had much more powerful spells at their disposal, but with the confrontation with Opal still looming ahead, they needed to save as much magic as they could.
With the combined force of all five of them, the Berserkers were wiped out in less than a minute. By the time they were finished, the stone outcropping was littered with shell casings and burn marks, as well as the bodies of a hundred Berserkers. It was a total mess, though it was one that meant victory.
“That’s all of them.” Quan stated, looking around the area with a certain amount of distaste. “Where’s Mulch?”
Juliet motioned to the crashed transport. “He’s fine, though I’m pretty sure he’ll be sitting this one out.”
Butler nodded in agreement. He then looked over to the other transports. “Artemis!” He called. “You can come out now!”
There was the crash as someone tripped over a piece of debris, followed by a disheveled but confident looking Artemis Fowl. He walked as casually as he could up to his friends, but was greatly impeded by the numerous bodies and blast holes. Despite the many obstacles, however, Artemis had an air of supremacy, his eyes set immovably upon the dark cave before him. Opal had entered the passageway only ten minutes ago, but to him it might as well have been a year. Koboi was on the doorstep of the greatest power in the world, holding the very keys to the door. They needed to stop her before it was too late. He didn’t so much a slow down when he reached his friends, and as he walked past them, he spoke with iron resolve.
“Let’s finish this.”
Artemis continued onward, walking strong conviction into the looming cave, its darkness reaching out to envelop him like a cloak of shadow. The others followed with equal resolve as he entered the inner sanctum, completely unafraid. He knew not what awaited him within the depths of the oppressive gloom, but he was determined that, no matter what happened, he would stop Opal Koboi once and for all.