V – Sanctuary Burns
The oppressive dark hall seemed endless as its shadowy expanse twisted and turned in a maddeningly random pattern, the smell of evil in the stale air. The familiar red tinge seemed to crawl on every surface, glowing slightly and pulsing as though alive. Artemis eyed the breathing crimson curiously, though he knew this was not the time for sightseeing as he was forced down the tunnel. Two of the distorted creatures walked behind him, pressing the barrels of their rifles into the boys back, silently directing him into the nearly opaque unknown, which was only slightly unveiled by the mysterious blood colored glow.
I feel as though I’m in a Stephen King novel. Artemis pondered as he took in his surroundings. Though at least those were laughably unreal and at most a vicarious experience. The genius was a mess, both aesthetically and emotionally. His once pristine suit was torn in several places, covered in dust and splotches of dried blood. It wasn’t his, rather belonging to the unfortunate council members, but that didn’t ease his fears.
When the mutants had breached the room, they made their way directly to Artemis, who fired a few egregiously inaccurate shots that all went wide. They managed to apprehend him quite easily, after which they had slaughtered the cowering council members mercilessly, a massacre that Artemis would likely have nightmares of for much of the foreseeable future.
Artemis had no idea how he had gotten to where he was now, nor did he have any remote idea as to where that was. They had knocked him out when they made their escape, the boy waking up to the tunnel that he’d been traversing at for the last ten minutes.
After what seemed like the longest walk in history, Artemis was brought to a large metal door that screamed important. There was a momentary pause in the usually automatic behavior of his captors before they violently nudged him forward once again, forcing him towards the imposing gate. With a haunting screech it began to open, the ubiquitous crimson glow pouring intensely through the growing crack, spilling into the hall like a wave.
Artemis squinted against the brightness, attempting to discern what was in the room ahead. As his eyes adjusted the great expanse before him began to take shape, revealing a large circular room over one thousand meters in diameter. Its walls were carved from solid bedrock, rising well over three hundred feet to the ceiling, which was cast in shadow, giving the illusion that it never ended. Mounted on the walls were dozens of theater sized screens, currently offline. Though all of this was quite impressive, what drew Artemis’ attention more than anything was the throne in the center, set on top a massive base that rose up fifty steps to the top. He couldn’t see who was in the seat, but the slightly familiar sounds of eccentric laughter echoed from it.
“Bring him to me.” Called the distorted voice.
The mutants complied, pushing a hesitant Artemis up the polished black granite stairs. As he ascended he felt something horribly wrong hanging in the air, sending shivers down his spine; it felt as though the world was being inside out. After a minute of climbing the black steps Artemis reached the top, now intensely curious about who the being on the throne was, but no less terrified by the possibilities.
“On your knees you impudent mud boy,” the shrouded figure said gleefully, seeming to be enjoying the situation immensely. The two mutants struck him powerfully, sending the human to the ground with a pained grunt.
Something about its voice sounded familiar, but in the heat of the moment he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, the very room causing disorienting echoes and distortions, masking the true sound of the voice. The large granite seat was facing away from him, not permitting any visual identification.
The figure laughed again, the chair turning slowly around to face Artemis, revealing the last thing Artemis wanted to see.
“Greetings, Artemis Fowl.”
There, on the solid black throne, sat Opal Koboi, an insidious grin on her face. Her appearance was almost nothing like it was before, her entire body glowing a sickly red, fading in and out of transparency from time to time. It was as though she were a ghost, but she was very real. Her visage was twisted, nothing like the once perfect face she had in the past, pulsing red veins glowing on her features, snaking around randomly yet with an indiscernible pattern. Her grin was filled with razor-like teeth, her eyes glowing the bloodiest red possible, giving her a demonic appearance. Whatever Opal was now, she most definitely wasn’t from the world of the living.
Artemis, despite being shocked and utterly terrified by Opal’s return, kept his face cool, a smirk forming at the corner of his mouth.
“Opal Koboi, how am I not surprised.” He said placidly, hiding his astonishment.
The demonic pixie’s visage contorted into a look of pure malice. “Don’t you dare play that imbecilic game with me Fowl! It would be in your best interests not to provoke the ruler of this miserable world!”
Artemis, knowing it would vex her, used his signature grin. “That worn out cliché again? On how many occasions have you made such claims only to be thwarted?”
“I hate you!” The demonic pixie squealed furiously, already through with his behavior. “You’re the reason I died, when I was so close to fulfilling my plan! Have you any idea how much work I put into that!?”
“About as much as it would take to unscrew a light bulb.” The boy said smoothly.
“Arrgh!” Opal screamed in frustration, pounding the seat with her tiny fists. “Every time you’ve foiled my work, unraveled my plans and ruined everything!”
She paused for a moment, her anger suddenly cooling as a devilish grin worked its way across her features. “Well not this time. This time you won’t be able to save anyone, not even yourself. I have defied death, making a deal with the devil so to speak, harnessing the power of the underworld to use to my own ends. I have an army of genetically engineered warriors, powering them with the innumerable dark spirits at my disposal, arming them with every weapon imaginable. All of this has been done for a single purpose. Revenge.”
“How platitudinous.” Artemis stated, having anticipated Opal’s over the top behavior. Though despite how cliché it sounded, he found her discourse extremely terrifying. Conventional behavior aside, when Opal made a malevolent promise, she delivered. Root’s death was a testimony to the pixie’s capability to induce suffering.
Koboi’s eyebrow twitched. She motioned to the two daemons. They took out a piece of thick chain attached to a collar, sealing one end to a rung on the floor. With his hands bound Artemis couldn’t protest as they wrapped it around his neck, the cold metal fitting tightly, almost causing him to choke.
“What is this?” Artemis wheezed, the thick collar impeding his voice.
“Part of your ultimate humiliation.” Opal grinned, “Though it’s nothing compared to what is to come.” She stepped off of her throne gingerly, sticking her face mere inches from Artemis’. “I know it was always you who brought about my downfall. Your friends are capable, yes, but they always needed you to formulate an equation to victory. So that’s why you’re here, so that they don’t have you. They will try with all of their might to stop me, but without that brain of yours, they may as well be blind. Even Foaly can’t stand against me, that over dignified pony has never been a match for me! With you here, and the LEP in disarray, my armies will utterly destroy them. You know what the best part is?”
“Enlighten me.” Artemis said weakly.
Opal laughed in his face, her breathe smelling like death. “You will have the front row seat to it all.”
She pressed a button on her wrist console, bringing the massive screens to life with a flash. Artemis’ eyes went wide when he saw the images playing on them: Haven was burning. The flashes of weapon discharges blinked all over the city, explosions and fires springing up like weeds throughout the once beautiful metropolis. The horrifying images were accompanied by the equally dark sounds of war, giving off a feeling that he was in the middle of the chaos.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Opal laughed. “A breathtaking performance that my creations are conducting! It’s truly marvelous what one can do with a little demon and troll DNA mixed with science and dark magic. The science came first, the engineering and cloning of these magnificent creatures. Then came the magic, bringing them to life with artificial souls, programed only to distribute death! A perfect army! No fear, no morals, no free will. They will do absolutely anything I command them to without question or hesitation, an extension of my own hand, an instrument of merciless judgment!”
Opal grabbed him by his suit with surprising strength, ripping the expensive fabric as she made him look again into her insane eyes. “I could kill you right now, make you die a horribly excruciating death, but I figured that would be too merciful. No, I have a better idea. I will make you watch helplessly as everyone you’ve ever cared about dies. I will record their final moments from every angle and replay them over and over until you beg for me to stop. But I won’t, not even if you plea for death. I will make you live a long life, forcing you to hear them cry for your help as they are torn to shreds before your eyes, not a single visceral detail missed. Your elf friend Holly, your guardian Butler and his idiot sister, the pompous Foaly, that repulsive dwarf, and your entire family! And yes, that most definitely includes your two younger brothers. I will take my time with them I assure you.”
Opal released him, seating herself on the throne once more, her hate filled smile impossibly wide. “As I burn this world, you will be the only one who is safe. You will be completely and utterly alone as I consume the souls of this pathetic planet. And you will know that all of it happened because you sat here, like a chained dog, useless when you were needed the most.”
Artemis’ head buzzed as he heard Opal’s intentions, his heart beating rapidly as fear for his friends consumed him. There had to be a way out, there had to be a viable option! His mind raced as the walls around him displayed death and destruction, searching for any remote course of action. But none came to him, his mind a convoluted mess, scattered by the dark revelations like a startled flock of birds. All he could do was watch as Haven burned, Opal’s insane laugh echoing through the chamber, crimson light making every surface look like blood.
The room was dark, the contents near invisible in the oppressing blackness, which was only ameliorated by several low burning lamps. There was a large circular oak table in the center, immaculately clean and devoid of any objects, as though its presence was merely symbolic and not for any practical use. Around the empty table were a dozen figures, each seated in matching, finely crafted chairs, their features hidden in shadow, their identities clearly a closely guarded secret. They sat there in complete silence, not one of them making the slightest of movements, instead becoming seated statues, shadow cast sentinels of a round table. The room had an air of contemplation, as though the very walls were cogitating clandestine matters. Such an atmosphere felt like thin glass, as if the faintest of noises would shatter it into a million shards. After a seeming eternity, a voice spoke out, though to whom it belonged was anyone’s guess, as none of the figures made any indication that they were speaking.
“Shall we proceed?” An aged but smooth voice inquired calmly, utterly neutral and without any hint of bias. Wisdom, knowledge and character poured from the oratory, filling the room. It was the sort of voice that was unquestionable, one that would command the attention of an entire stadium without so much as raising it above a whisper.
The other occupants of the room nodded slowly, giving their consent with nothing but the slightest of sounds, the simple movement of their heads an apparent act of supreme power and control, the seeming ability to decide the fate of the world with nothing but a gesture.
The esoteric speaker nodded in return. “So be it.”
Haven City, Entertainment District
The artificial sky above Haven was tinted red by the chaos below. Fires burned everywhere as explosions tore apart buildings with ease, sending shrapnel and debris flying into the sky like fireworks, raining down upon all that was beneath them. Sparks and hot embers flew lazily through the air, rising from their beds of destruction as they danced the jig of doom, twirling happily amongst the bloodshed taking place in the streets, ecstatic at the scent of war. The entropy intensified as one neared the city center, the outer reaches already quiet, filled with nothing but the dead. The entertainment district, once a collection of various stores, theaters and restaurants, was now a shooting gallery. Hundreds of shots rung through the air as bullets and laser blasts from the daemons contended with the advanced weaponry of the LEP.
Holly Short crouched behind a bullet riddled police barrier, one of many set up around the square as hundreds of officers and reservists fought against endless waves of daemons. Her Neutrino was on her hip along with a spare, her hands holding a large pulse assault rifle instead, its barrel steaming from intensive use. The daemon army had blown through Haven’s defense grid before any offensive could be mounted, taking half of the city as well as the hangers without meeting any resistance. It was a complete and utter loss for the defenders, who were routed before they could organize anything resembling a defense. With that they lost the majority of their fighting capability, the shuttles and attack craft now behind enemy lines, leaving their forces limited to the ground.
Despite this they had managed to make some gains. Trouble, who’d mobilized the entire LEP and all other military branches with astonishing speed and efficiency, had mounted an all out counterattack, managing to push the attackers back to the entertainment district, allowing for the straggling civilians to escape. That was the good news, as they had managed to evacuate most of the city before the attack hit, the preceding lock down achieving the majority of evacuation before the assault. That didn’t, however, include the many hundreds of civilians that were caught by the invading forces, which killed everything on sight.
Holly aimed from her position, firing a relentless hail of pulse rounds into the advancing enemy, killing them by the dozens. Her strikes had little effect overall, the sheer number of hostiles overwhelming as they poured into the streets from multiple points, a cancerous force of weapons, claws and teeth. Even though the daemons lacked the amount of training and discipline that an LEP officer held, they made up for it with raw brutality and strength. They were up against an enemy that held no value for their lives, and had no morals or regard for anything but war, making things a great deal more impossible for the LEP.
Holly fired once again, this time striking a sniper that was taking pot shots from the roof of a nearby shopping center, sending it tumbling to the ruined streets below. Around her fellow officers fought for their very lives, some caught in long range combat while others were forced to fight up close and personal with the monsters, adding to the chaos that had engulfed the city.
A cry sounded to Holly’s left as an officer was impaled by a daemon using its gun mounted bayonet, pinning the poor fairy to the ground with the razor sharp blade. Holly turned and shot it as even more daemons began breaking through their lines, charging towards her position with predatory roars, gunning down officers as they went. Holly aimed her rifle, taking down several before a stray bullet blew the weapon from her grip, sending it clattering onto the concrete. She huffed irritably at the interruption, drawing her two Neutrino 3000’s as she charged the incoming horde. With a battle cry Holly met the enemy, spinning agilely while firing shots from her dual wielded pistols with trained precision, not a single shot missing, resulting in over fifteen daemons falling around her simultaneously.
Three more went after her, firing relentlessly with their rifles in a vain attempt to hit the renowned officer, who was far too fast for most marksmen to hit. Holly dodged their first volley, hurdling over a concession stand while firing a shot, striking one of them in the chest. The other two intensified their fire, the agile elf avoiding the rounds as she closed the distance between them and her. At about ten feet away they ran out of ammo, allowing Holly to dive, sliding along the ground as she passed between them, shooting them in the sides as she went, sending them flying in opposite directions.
All of the sudden an explosion rocked the ground beside her, shrapnel pinging off of her helmet harmlessly, her ears ringing slightly despite the protective helmet she wore. Holly, not wanting to find out what made the pool sized crater beside her, dashed to the concession stand, vaulting into its welcome cover. Peering over the top cautiously, Holly saw what had made the hole, to her dismay. A large armored vehicle, a old LEP model modified into a tank, sat across the road, its massive laser cannon blasting the fairy positions into oblivion.
“D’arvit”, Holly swore, ducking down to avoid being spotted by the tank, but not before she saw something very useful. Right above the vehicle, on a building’s overhang, was a large advertisement panel, which was made from a high density alloy. Holly grinned mischievously. Her timing would have to be perfect, which wasn’t a problem for the skilled officer. Holly counted for a few moments, making sure all of the variables were in place, before she sprung up, firing a single shot into the panel’s supports. The shot hit in such a way that it melted the foundation, sending the panel tumbling down towards the tank, which was completely oblivious to the inbound marketing scheme. The panel landed directly in front of the metal monstrosity just as it was about to fire, causing it to shoot the sudden barrier point blank. This had the ill effect of causing the high energy blast to backfire, exploding into the tank, rending it in half before exploding violently in a shower of flame. Unfortunately for Holly, there were three more of them, all of which were targeting her, their over sized cannons warming up with a sickly glow.
In what seemed as an act of fate they exploded as well, their destroyed frames burning profusely as numerous parts exploded outward into the surrounding daemon infantry, decimating them. Looks like back up had arrived. Four LEP assault vehicles sped into the square, their large cannons utterly destroying entire enemy formations, providing cover for the officers in the streets. The daemon infantry units pulled back, seeking to limit their casualties, holding positions just outside the LEP line of fire. However, it was a short lived victory, as the ominous howl of aircraft neared the district. Holly knew what was coming.
“Enemy gunships! Take cover!” She yelled over her channel, sending the numerous officers running into the nearby buildings as the assault vehicles held the enemy back. Holly, after picking up a stray pulse rifle, sprinted for Spud’s Spud Emporium as three large shuttles rose in formation over the square. The enemy ships began their death dealing work instantly, targeting the vehicles in the open. The APCs fired back at the approaching gunships, managing to knock one out, sending it careening into an advancing enemy platoon. The remaining ships let out a hail of high yield missiles and cannon rounds, completely obliterating the four vehicles in a cloud of fire. As the vehicles were immolated, the daemon infantry renewed their assault along with the two gunships.
Holly grimaced, activating her comm link to police plaza. “Commander, their aircraft are tearing us apart out here!”
“I know that all too well Captain,” Trouble responded, his voice stressed from yelling. “Which is why I’m diverting a hundred officers to the hanger, I need you to lead them. It is endemic that we attain air superiority, so clear the bay and get those birds in the air! I’m sending the coordinates of your new unit now. Good luck.”
“Yes sir!” Holly said, making her way through the shot up restaurant and out the rear exit, running down the officer crowded street towards the chute entrance and the shuttle bay.
Holly rounded a corner, following the directions towards her objective, working her way through crowds of soldiers and medics, all of whom were moving with haste equal to her own. She spotted the group of officers that Trouble had diverted to her command, waiting for her word. They were a collection of retrieval teams and recon operatives, some of the best trained units in the force. The officers looked to her confidently, no doubt feeling secure under her command. The sounds of war resonated through the air, the symphony of death coming from all directions. She ignored it, her solid core now in control. If she let her emotions dictate her actions, she’d be setting a bad example for the officers around her. They needed a strong leader, and she would give them one.
Holly took off her helmet. “Hear me!” She bellowed above the noise, capturing the attention of the officers. “It is our duty, as protectors of the People, to restore peace to this great city! As a race we have faced tremendous hardship in our time, but we have always persevered in the face of impossible odds! We have survived, by our blood, our sweat and our tears! When we were brought onto the brink of extinction by the mud men, we survived! When Haven was overrun by the goblin uprising, and all hope seemed lost, we survived! When we faced innumerable trials over the proud course of our existence, we survived! Now tell me, what will we do this day? Will we curl up and die as cowards in the face of destruction? Will we let these bastards destroy everything we hold close to our hearts? Will they get away with the evil they’ve committed? I say hell no! I say we fight! I say we survive once more!”
The combined cheers of a hundred soldiers rose in unison, their weapons held high. Holly put her helmet back on, noticing that her comm link was still active: she had been transmitted all over the city. Cheers of defiance rose from all over as the LEP officers fought with renewed determination, destroying the enemy lines as they pushed forward. Holly felt a wash of pride for her comrades, readying her rifle before charging towards the hangers, a hundred fired up officers in tow.
“Quite the speech,” beamed Foaly, who had purposefully transmitted Holly’s oratory. He’d expected her to give a good bit of pep talk, and she delivered.
The centaur stood by a makeshift ops booth, dozens of computers and monitors thrown together in a stark resemblance of Foaly’s now atomized office, though not nearly as capable; it would be like comparing a floppy disk to a modern supercomputer. As he typed rapidly on the virtual keyboard, numerous feeds and databases ran on his multiple screens, displaying a plethora of data regarding Haven’s now disabled defense grid. Butler was absent from the room, having stepped outside to call the Fowl Manor to warn them. Given the current events, the bodyguard knew that the Fowls were in grave danger. He had to ensure that he didn’t fail them, not like he did Artemis. Trouble was in the center of the room observing a large tactical hologram, allowing him to view the entire battlefield at once.
“That’s Holly for you.” He said with a grin. “She’s full of surprises.”
The commander eyed the map again, his brows furrowing as he watched the symbols, blue for friendly, red for hostile, clash throughout Haven. Things were looking up, though only slightly. They had already devoted eighty percent of their forces to the front line, only retaining a fraction in reserve. Holly’s speech had managed to boost morale for the moment, but the battle was far from over, and they were suffering more casualties by the minute. To make things worse, with their defense grid offline there were no DNA cannons to thin out the enemy ranks. If things persisted as they did, Haven would be overrun in a matter of hours.
“Foaly, you said that you had a spare ops booth in your basement.” The commander stated, no longer vexed by the egregious break of regulations, but rather glad that Foaly had.
“Yes, I can gain access to and possibly regain control of the defense grid from there.” The centaur stated. “The problem is that its way behind enemy lines. Thank the gods Cabelline took a girl’s night out to Atlantis, I don’t know what I’d do if she got caught up in this.”
“Don’t worry about her, Atlantis is far safer than any other place above or under the world at this time.” Trouble assured. “What we need to do is find a way to activate the DNA cannons. If we could bring them back online, the battle would turn very much in our favor.”
Foaly huffed in frustration. “Well I can’t just drive over there, and from the look of things we can’t retake that district any time soon.”
Trouble clenched his teeth. “Can you access it remotely.”
Foaly grimaced. “From the ops booth yes, but given that it’s been reduced to ash it’s highly unlikely. The computers available here are not advanced enough, and I coded it to only allow the ops booth to connect. Even if I tried, it would take days to rig a suitable setup. And we clearly don’t have that much time.”
The commander swore under his breathe, frustrated by the unfavorable circumstances. His attention drifted to the blue symbol representing Holly and her unit. “Then let’s hope Holly liberates the hanger. With the air support we could retake the skies, and possibly break through to the residential district.”
Foaly’s face tightened at the mention of Holly, his hands ceasing their movement over the keyboard as he turned his eyes to view her helmet feed, which depicted the elf blasting daemons left and right. He couldn’t imagine running headlong into the enemy, brushing with death so often like a choreographed dance, coming within a hair’s breadth of demise every second. Holly made it look like nothing, but he was worried for her nonetheless.
Be safe Holly, he thought, focusing again on the screens before him. Be safe.
Artemis watched as the LEP began to make ground, powered by Holly’s speech.
That’s my Holly. Artemis thought, relieved by what he hoped to be a turning point in the conflict. But his instincts told him otherwise, he knew it wasn’t going to be that easy, not even close.
Opal, as always, was seated atop her throne, looking intently at the live feeds, soaking in the carnage. Her face showed only the slightest amount of surprise over the sudden LEP offensive, as though she almost expected it to happen. The dreadful being laughed madly. “Leave it to that obtuse elf to always act heroic, how amusing her attempts at valor are! Do you really think that that will be enough to stop me? This is a theatrical play for my own amusement, and we’re only in act one! Enjoy your little moral boost while you can, Short, for I’m just getting warmed up!”
Opal activated her transmitter. “Second and third legions advance, destroy everything.” She commanded confidently before sitting back once more, a look of intense anticipation on her face. “Oh how I enjoy their desperate optimism. It will make their suffering all the more crushing when I utterly destroy them. And as for you, Short, it looks like you have just volunteered to be the first to die!”
Outside Haven, a massive force of daemons advanced, their combined marching shaking the very ground they stood on as thousands of boots hammered the earth. Overhead, dozens more gunships flew into the fray, accompanying the many thousands of monsters below. The horrendous force poured into the city, the sounds of their hell march rising above the chaos, the army flooding the streets of Haven like a wave of death.