VIII – Deus Ex Machina
The ground shook violently as the army swept across the ruined city, the tremors causing the damaged buildings to further shed their crumbling stone, showering the streets below. It was as though the gates of Hell had opened, releasing hordes of darkness upon the earth, nefarious intent the only thing in their blackened minds. Nothing stood in their way as they charged towards the allied forces, completely focused on their goal with mindless assiduity. Armored feet pounded the earth relentlessly, reinforced tank treads crushed all that was before them mercilessly, and howling engines filled the air. What could stand firm against such an unstoppable force?
As the daemon army neared the string out defenders, hostile artillery fired their long range guns, tanks lit up their cannons ruthlessly and the countless gunships above unleashed a deluge of missiles. Yet the allied lines remained silent, implacable as the wall of destruction approached.
All of the sudden, a massive wave of energy exploded from the ground along the allied line, rising into the sky as it spread across the city, putting itself between the defenders and the tsunami of death. As it connected with the ceiling and the far walls of the city, its form stabilized, forming a solid wall of blue energy which cut off one half of the metropolis from the other. Just as it did this, the barrage made contact. In a glorious explosion the munitions went off, stopped by the barrier before them, which shimmered slightly by the impact, but otherwise held firm.
The daemon forces stopped for a moment, considering their options, of which they really only had one: keep firing. The hostile legions began again, the air becoming a firestorm as tens of thousands of missiles and projectiles blasted through the sky, only to hit the barrier in a violent explosion. They kept firing, their relentless bombardment not easing for a second, the combined power of the assault making the blue energy barrier appear as a wall of fire.
Haven City – Police Plaza – War Room
The room was silent as everyone watched the displays, amazed as the energy shield absorbed the entirety of the enemy assault, which had seemed unstoppable until now. Commander Ivankov grinned with satisfaction as the barrier did its work, the enemy forces put to a total standstill as they furiously bombarded the wall with everything they had.
Trouble observed the video feed with a slight look of surprise, though not at all completely flabbergasted like most of the room’s occupants. Holly was fairly caught off guard, and General Winters had dropped his cigar. Foaly was the most intrigued, obviously fascinated by the powerful shield wall that had just been activated. Butler, as usual, was impassive, though clearly impressed.
Commander Kelp tapped his fingers on his crossed arms, a slight frown crossing his face. “So, Commander, now that we’ve stalled them, I trust that there is a second phase to your plan?”
The human nodded, back to his serious demeanor once more. “Of course. The function of the barrier is to merely buy us some time. It is quite impossible for even our combined forces to defeat the army that is now banging at the gates, so we need to…compensate.”
Butler spoke abruptly, his voice rumbling deeply. “Why not detonate the bio-bombs that are on that side of the city? Would the barrier contain the blast?”
Borislav shook his head. “This energy shield is made to halt the progress of physical projectiles and laser emissions. Though it can block any other force in the world, it cannot stop the magic catalyzed bio-energy that permeates from those bombs. If you set them off, the blast wave would simply pass right through.”
The man turned to Foaly, who was still observing the barrier’s readings with a calculative eye. “This is where you come in, Foaly.”
The centaur jumped up from his seat, startled by the sudden mention of his name. He’d been way too immersed in the dissection of the barrier’s energy matrix, his mental processes buried in the calculations of various advanced algorithms. He absentmindedly rubbed his head, bringing himself out of the world of intellectual acrobatics and into that of the living. “Umm, where’s where what comes in?”
“Sorry, I must have interrupted something intimate within your cranium. I was saying that now that we have halted their advance, thus buying us some time, we need to prepare for when it falls. Our forces are incapable of combating this army, thus we need your particular…talents, to finish the fight.”
“Well of course, how can anything be accomplished without moi.” The centaur stated loftily, pointing to himself in an over glorified fashion. Great, his egotism was beginning to come through again.
The human commander raised a curious eyebrow before continuing. “I need you to bring Haven’s defense grid back online. Even though the required systems within this building have been neutralized, I wager that you have an illegal backup somewhere.”
Foaly grinned, clearly pleased with himself. “Yep, I’ve got a fully decked ops booth in my basement, by the clunky old furnace that I’ve been meaning to replace.”
This time it was General Winter’s turn to face palm, an incredulous look on his aged face. Everyone else, having already heard before, simply grinned. This was why they loved Foaly so much.
Ivankov clapped his hands together. “Excellent! Bring it up on the map.” He laughed, clearly amused by the whole thing. “No doubt exercising your inviolability to do whatever you want, I bet you ask for a lot of raises too.”
Trouble grimaced at the obviously true statement. He has no idea how irritating that centaur can be.
Holly noticed the look on Kelp’s face and, stifling a laugh, turned her attention back to Ivankov, who was looking at the holo-table intently. After a second, a slight grimace formed on his face. “дерьмо.” He muttered quietly.
“What is it?” Holly asked, walking up to the table. Upon seeing the marker where Foaly’s home was, she too swore silently. To their combined dismay, the centaur’s humble abode was located just on the other side of the barrier, so close that its carrot garden was cut in half.
“Well.” Borislav said. “This may complicate things a bit.”
“How so?” Commander Kelp asked, who was still oblivious to the fact as he too approached the table.
When he reached the map, he looked at for a long second before banging his fists on the table. “Oh common!” He yelled. “It was so close!”
“It’s not a big deal, actually.” Foaly said sheepishly. “We can just use the sewer network to gain access to the other side of the city unseen.”
Ivankov slapped himself on the head. “Of course, how silly of me.” He magnified the map to the sewage channel closest to the centaur’s home. “My shield is blocking all underground routes as well. However, I have a device that can open up selective areas in order to allow access, so no issue there. It will temporarily cut away a portion of the barrier, however it will also compromise the integrity of the section that it is used on. If we used it above ground, it could potentially affect the whole wall. By using it on an isolated portion we reduce the risk of damage. I know that taking an above ground route through the barrier may be a faster alternative, but in doing so we also risk informing the entire enemy force of what we are doing, and that is something we cannot afford. We must do this as covertly as possible.”
He turned back to Foaly once more. “How long will it take for you to bring the grid online once you gain access to your systems?”
“Hmm.” The centaur thought for a second. “If everything is where it should be, exactly fifteen seconds.”
The human nodded. “Good, because we’ve only got fifteen minutes to get over there before the barrier fails…”
“Then what are we waiting for!” Holly interrupted, clearly impatient with all of the talking. She wanted nothing more than to get out there and finish it.
“Point taken.” Ivankov said. “The enemy forces are situated a comfortable distance from where we have to travel, so we don’t need to worry about having to push our way in. It would be best if we used a small group to infiltrate their lines, I for one volunteer.”
“As do I.” Butler growled.
“Count me in.” Holly stated excitedly.
“Good.” Borislav said. “And of course you’re coming Foaly. We’ll watch your back. As for you, Commander, I trust you and the General will keep an eye on things from here in the meantime. I need someone to command my forces in the event that the barrier fails before we bring the defense grid online. I believe that you are more than capable of doing so.”
Trouble, who was slightly irked from being told what to do, even though it was what he would have done anyway, nodded. “…Indeed. I’ll have all forces prepare for such an event. We will keep them at bay if need be.”
Commander Ivankov nodded to Trouble respectfully before turning to the others. “Then let’s get started.”
Opal smashed her fist into the armrest with unbridled rage, breaking off an entire section of the black stone that formed it. The chair in which she sat had been reduced to a beat up doppelganger of what it had been, her continued vexation being taken out upon it.
The pixie snarled hatefully, vicarious thoughts of the killing and dismemberment of her foes filling her head. Oh how she wanted to see them suffer! Yet it was seemingly the opposite. Yet again they had thwarted her plans, this time with an almost impenetrable energy barrier.
She watched as her forces bombarded the shield, their weapons exploding futilely against the blue wall of energy, showering fire and debris into the air, but otherwise doing nothing. These feeble, pathetic mortals are trying my patience. All I want is for them to die, not much to ask for really. And yet they stubbornly resist, giving their lives for something that they perceive as greater than they, as though they believe that there is hope. Hah! I will not give them the luxury of hope, I will grind it underneath the boots of my minions and then burn what’s left of it!
She continued to envision her next moves, planning for the destruction of all those who stood in her way. Artemis was oblivious, having long since put his complete trust in his friends to make it through. He knew that they’d make it. All he could do at that moment was think, which was what he did best, among other things of course.
Opal observed the barrier, reading energy outputs and levels coming from her forward scanners. The barrier wasn’t as impervious as it seemed. Even now it was losing its strength, slowly being drained of its energy reserves. A grin formed on her face. Excellent.
She spoke aloud this time, as though addressing her foes, even though they couldn’t hear her. “A valiant effort, but to no avail. You are but deferring the inevitable. No matter what you do, death will come for you all.”
Haven – Residential District
The muffled rumble of the bombardment echoed through the air, the barrier absorbing the sound to tolerable levels, but not able to dispel the horrid noise completely. The air above the residential district was filled with smoke, the still burning carcasses of the numerous homes casting fire into the sky as others smoldered lazily. Through the inky blackness flew an invisible object as it blasted through the air, the unseen force cutting through the smoke. As it neared the ground it materialized into the shape of a sleek black human gunship, its compact but deadly form landing softly on the charred earth. The streets were devoid of life, instead littered with random corpses, some of daemons, others of LEP officers or even civilians. Burnt out vehicles were cast about the area as well, their now useless forms accentuating the sheer destruction that filled the district, and the lonely feeling that all was dead and gone.
The craft’s engines switched off, the ship falling into silence as well, becoming one with the scene around it. The side doors of the crew compartment slid open smoothly, out of it emerging two humans, an elf and a centaur.
Foaly observed the ruin around him with a look of pure dismay. “Dear gods.” He exclaimed sadly as he looked at what was left. This used to be his neighborhood, the place where he lived with the love of his life, and planned to raise his children in. Now it was gone, the picturesque area now burned and defiled, bodies littering the streets on which families and friends walked not long ago. Flower gardens were trampled by boots and treads, parks dug up by mortar fire, the very homes of those he knew utterly engulfed in flames. How suddenly things had changed, how quickly everything had turned into a macabre image of that which once was. Foaly had been present throughout the entire crisis, shielded within the police plaza. Yet it was not until now, as he stood amongst the ashes, that it truly hit him, that he truly felt the dread and devastation for all that it was. Before him, behind the weakening barrier, was his home. No longer was it the place were he and his wife had lived together, no longer was it where his child was to be raised. Now it was but a dilapidated skeleton of a life that was gone, a jumble of bullet holed walls, of shell blasted ceilings, and blood stained floors. A single tear fell down the centaur’s cheek as he stared at the morbid scene, a tear that fell to the burnt earth only to be evaporated by the still smoldering ground.
Holly stood beside him, being careful not to interrupt the centaur, but remaining close as to show that she cared. Behind them, Butler and Ivankov were opening the maintenance shaft into the sewage network below. Foaly stared for a brief second longer, his eyes lingering on what remained of Cabelline’s garden, before turning away, a determined look on his face. There would be time for sadness later, right now he had a job to do, and he would be damned is he wasted a moment longer wallowing in pity as the clock ticked onward. They only had twelve minutes before the barrier fell, there was no room for distraction.
Foaly, with Holly in tow, made his way back to the maintenance shaft, which was now open with the two humans waiting by it with their weapons ready. Instead of a ladder, the shaft had an automated elevator, which alleviated the problems that would have arisen by having to climb down a ladder with his physiology.
Ivankov had his hand on the control panel, ready to lower the lift. “Let’s go!”
The four of them, in what some would consider a clown act, managed to squeeze together onto the lift. Butler looked to each of them. “Everyone lock a load, we’re going in.” He held one of the human pulse weapons, which was comparable to a heavy machine gun except that it was a hundred times more deadly. Holly held the standard issue LEP pulse rifle, as well as two neutrino pistols on her sides. Borislav carried a modified human pulse assault carbine, as well as three sidearms; two high powered laser pistols, the other a custom made 50. caliber hand-cannon that he saved for special occasions. Even Foaly had a weapon, though he refused to carry anything too robust, simply opting for a standard neutrino.
After everyone checked their firearms, Ivankov flipped the switch, sending the maintenance lift into the darkness below. As they descended, the air became thick with moisture, a cold, dank feeling setting in around them. After about forty feet the lift came to a halt, leaving them in a blue tinted blackness, the only sounds being the terrible rumble of explosions and a distant dripping of an unknown substance, the long expanse of the system distorting the sounds further into ghostly wails and unnatural rhythms. Everyone quickly activated their gun-mounted lights, illuminating the vast tunnel with artificial light. The waste recycling system of Haven was a brilliant work of engineering, recycling every speck of the waste matter that went through it, and leaving no impact on any surrounding environment. However, despite its technologically advanced nature, it still smelt like excrement.
Holly wrinkled her nose at the scent, activating her helmet filters. “You really think that they could throw in an air freshener down here or something.” She said as she observed their surroundings, searching for any possible threats, of which there were none. The tunnel was completely empty save them, its silence a testimony to that.
Before them, rising from the bottom to the top of the tunnel, was the energy barrier, its blue light glowing against the metallic walls. As they approached it, it became clear that it was under enormous stress, its surface flickering increasingly as the faint rumbles echoed down the tunnel. They had ten minutes.
“Alright, let’s get this done.” Stated Ivankov as he stood by the barrier. He reached into his pocket, removing a small device which he swiftly activated, pointing it to the energy wall before him. Without a sound, a small beam of energy shot from the device, connecting with the shield before expanding into a rectangular shape. The man then pressed a button, which sent a second wave into the barrier, causing for the small rectangular section to disappear, leaving a narrow pathway into the next part of the tunnel.
Without a word the four passed through the hole, one by one, the entry closing behind them once they were through. Their weapons were ready for whatever may come, but nothing did, the ever echoing sounds of the bombardment and the unseen dripping the only presence apart from theirs. All along each side were smaller tunnels, leading off into complete darkness, as well as grates below their feet at regular intervals. They eyed these things warily, not trusting for a moment the seeming vacancy of their shrouded confines.
Foaly looked at his data pad, then to the tunnel before them. “There should be another maintenance lift around the corner just fifty meters ahead. It will take us up to the front of my house.”
Holly took the lead, eager to get out of the tunnel. Something about it made her uneasy, but she couldn’t pinpoint what. As they traversed the tunnel, which was almost empty of sewage, the dripping got louder. It was as though they were not only approaching it, but that it was approaching them as well, the progressive rise in volume inconsistent with the speed at which they were going. Something wasn’t right.
Coming up on the corner, everyone readied their weapons, half expecting for something to be waiting for them. Butler put up one of his hands, motioning with his fingers. 3…2…1…
Together, Holly and the two humans burst around the corner, weapons raised, only to meet nothing but air. There was a inaudible sigh from everyone as they lowered their weapons, glad to have not run into a horde of death craving monsters.
Foaly walked quickly up to the lift’s control interface. “This should only take a second…” He said as he pressed several keys, using his identification codes to override the safety locks. “All aboard.” He stated jokingly, ready to initiate the elevator. As everyone stepped onto the metal lift, a distant crash of something heavy hitting the floor echoed in their direction, followed by another, and another. Soon the distant sounds of metallic clunking reverberated off of the smooth walls, bouncing around in a maddening noise, the direction of its source impossible to predict.
“I think we’ve got company!” Holly yelled above the rising sounds, clutching her rifle instinctively.
“Anytime Foaly!” Butler growled.
The centaur pressed the consoles frantically. “I’m trying! It seems as though the lift’s mechanisms are fried!”
“Wonderful.” Borislav stated. “We should head to the nearest operational lift before they…”
With a loud bang, the grates that lined the floors and the walls exploded open, black smoke pouring out of their shadowed expanses. As suddenly as they were opened, the shrouded forms of daemons jumped from them, landing without a thought amongst the detritus that covered the floor. From a distance, the sounds of countless footfalls echoed towards them, signaling that even more were advancing through the adjacent tunnels.
“Time to go!” Butler bellowed as he fired at the nearest hostiles, his rifle blazing as it poured hundreds of pulse rounds a second into the attackers.
“Back to the barrier, we’ll just have to do this the hard way!” Ivankov yelled as they sprinted back towards the corner. Upon rounding it, they were surprised to find several hundred daemons waiting for them, their deadly forms climbing from every nook and cranny.
The group stopped abruptly, firing their weapons desperately into the surrounding enemies, trying to thin them out enough to break through. But they just kept coming, as though they were endless in number. As the daemons closed in, one of the closed seals on the wall next to them opened swiftly, a pungent smell escaping from the hole that it covered.
“Psst! In here!” A muffled voice called.
Being without any other options, the foursome quickly ran to the smaller tunnel, firing as they went. As bullets flew through the air, pinging off of the walls around them, they squeezed into the open shaft, ignoring the stench as they pressed themselves into its narrow space. As the last of them passed through the entrance, the mysterious figure closed the hatch, the muffled sound of bullets hitting it ringing through the constricted tunnel.
“This way!” It whispered, running down the shaft. Whoever it was, he was a fairy, but nobody had the time to shine a light on him, nor could the see his features through the cloth wrapped over his face.
They quickly followed the being, emerging from the smaller tunnel into a larger, rectangular room, littered with empty cans of food and random piles of belongings. It smelt horrid.
Holly walked up to the figure, aiming her weapon at its head. “Who are you?” She demanded, not in the mood for surprises.
“Whoa whoa whoa!” The fairy said, his voice rendered unrecognizable by the face mask. The individual quickly reached up to his face, pulling the cloth from it with thick, hairy hands. “How come every time I meet you it’s at the wrong end of a blaster, after all I’ve done for you?” He stated comically, a large grin on his face, his massive teeth visible in the gloom. It was Mulch Diggums.
“Mulch?!” Everyone save Borislav exclaimed, utterly caught off guard by the dwarf’s appearance.
“The one and only!” He said with a mock bow. “I really thought that I was finished saving your behinds ever since that little episode at Fowl manor two years ago. But, here we are!” He said, overemphasizing the last part, rubbing his hands together. “I’m glad actually, I was getting used to saving the day. Not to mention you guys are an endless source of get out of jail free cards.” The dwarf laughed, enjoying the vexed look on Holly’s face.
Borislav watched bemusedly. “This is an acquaintance of yours I presume.” He stated, an eyebrow involuntarily raised in confusion.
“Unfortunately.” Holly groaned as she took in her surroundings. All around them were piles of miscellaneous items, ranging from gold and jewelry to expensive furniture and paintings. “What is all of this?” She demanded, pointing a finger to a particular stack of priceless family heirlooms.
Mulch ignored the elf, instead speaking to the new human in the group. “So, new guy huh?” He asked jokingly. “You have no idea how lame these guys are, totally against the casual theft of priceless items. Can’t even steal gold bars any more without getting Cappy here into a kerfuffle.”
Holly cleared her throat. “Mulch! Care to explain all of this!”
The dwarf laughed awkwardly. “Oh yeah, this stuff is…borrowed from a cousin of mine! You know how those self storage places are, can’t trust those shifty guys. So I keep it here, in his fine establishment.” He motioned to the filthy room, his lie so bad that it made Butler cough.
“Uh huh.” Holly said flatly. “So despite the full pardon we gave you after the incident, you decided to revert back to petty theft?”
“Yep!” He said gleefully, his cover story thrown into the wind, not even caring that the elf had caught him. “Though I simply did this to lay low, you know, until I go back to jacking human art collections and stuff. I have my eyes set on the Mona Lisa this time, should make excellent toilet paper, or I can sell it for all the food I can…”
The dwarf’s run on sentence was cut off by Holly’s boot colliding with his gut, sending him tumbling to the ground. The elf was furious. “You idiot!”
“Alright alright, take me in officer, I am but humble convict after all.” Mulch pouted, trying his best to do the sad puppy look, though it only amounted to a sad looking bush with teeth.
“No time for that.” She dismissed, as if the dwarf didn’t matter any more. “We only have seven minutes to bring the defense grid online or we’re all dead.”
Butler crossed is arms. “But how do we get up there now? The route to Foaly’s house is cut off, crawling with those things. Anyone got any ideas?”
An excited look came onto Mulch’s face, the dwarf jumping up and down with his hand raised. “Oh! I do! I do!”
Holly nodded to Mulch. Though she was quite annoyed by the kleptomaniac dwarf, she knew that he had an act for getting them through difficult situations. She just hoped that he could get them out of this one.
Mulch grinned. “I can get you there.” He said, walking up to another hatch. He flipped it open, revealing a wide dirt tunnel leading up into the darkness. “I actually have a tunnel right to your place donkey boy, though it needs some work before you can pass through. I was planning on leaving a few hundred swear toads in your basement, just for laughs!”
A look of utter horror crossed Foaly’s face. Just the thought of someone breaching his man-cave gave him nightmares. The prospect of Mulch gaining access to his house almost made him faint. Holly couldn’t help but chuckle a little, the look on the centaur’s face was utterly priceless.
“So this tunnel…” Borislav began. “Is it structurally sound?”
Holly nodded to the man. “Trust me when I say this, Mulch has gotten us through more than one life and death dilemma with his…talents. His tunnels are perfectly safe, it’s him you’ve got to worry about.”
Butler nodded stiffly, his mind shuttering at the memory of being on the wrong end of the dwarf’s rear, which ended up sending him flying into a wall. Despite all that he’d been through, that moment was etched in his mind forever. It had been a very unpleasant experience.
Ivankov nodded, both reassured by Holly and slightly dismayed by Butler’s grimace. “Alright, then let’s go immediately, we’re running out of time.”
“Just a moment.” Mulch called out as he rummaged through a pile of trash. “Ah, here we go.” He said joyfully as he pulled out a suspicious looking jar.
“What’s that?” Holly asked, not one to trust filthy looking jars, especially when the kleptomaniac dwarf was involved.
Mulch grinned widely. “It’s a special concoction of mine. We’ll need it to melt through Foaly’s wall.”
The centaur, who had just recovered from Mulch’s previous revelation, paled again. “Not the wall…” He whispered to himself, not at all happy with the impending desecration of his precious belongings. But, in the end, it was a necessary sacrifice.
Diggums eagerly jumped into the hole, unhinging his jaw as he widened the tunnel for the much larger individuals. Butler reluctantly followed the dwarf, then Holly, then Foaly. Borislav brought up the rear, eying the dark tunnels behind them as everyone else squeezed into the rather distasteful space.
As they crawling upward, Mulch resumed his babbling. “Just like old times huh guys?” He said, a mouthful of dirt muffling his voice.
Butler frowned. “That’s exactly what I’m worried about.”
“I see you’re still sore about that time you met my gassy little friend here. I have to say that it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been saving up lately.”
The man mountain’s frown doubled at the mention of that. There was not much in the world that brought discomfort to the bodyguard, but the impending doom that the kleptomaniac’s rear threatened to unleash made him want to turn around and face the daemon hordes with a spoon.
“Just shut up and dig Mulch, none of us are too thrilled about being behind you, trust me.” Holly said frustratedly.
Mulch made a mock sob. “That cut me deep cap.”
After a few more seconds the dwarf came to sudden halt. Using his hands, Mulch brushed away a layer of dirt and clay, revealing a metallic surface. He tapped on it sharply. “And here it is.” He announced, bringing out the jar of glowing liquid. With a grin, the dwarf cast the fluid onto the alloy wall, eliciting a sharp hissing as it made contact. For a moment it appeared as though Foaly’s barrier would hold, but after a few seconds the entire section of reinforced alloy disintegrated, along with the three feet of high-density concrete that came afterward.
Mulch whistled. “Quite the wall you had there pony boy, too bad it isn’t a match for a little bit of dwarf ingenuity.” He paused when he thought he heard the centaur huff in frustration, enjoying the results of his purposeful jabs. “We can go through now. The acid loses its potency after being exposed to air for more than ten seconds.”
Without a word, the group moved their way through the now melted security barrier, emerging into a moderately large room, though the lack of lighting hid its true depth. The air was murky with the faint touches of smoke and dust, the warfare above no doubt penetrating even into the lower level. Shadows clung to the edges of all that was within, not willing to release their cold grips which sought to shroud all with darkness. Numerous rows a miscellaneous materials lined half of the room, secure crates and boxes no doubt filled with whatever it was that Foaly did in his spare time. Small self sustaining lights glowed on the ceiling above, whilst others lined the walls periodically, gleaming faintly amidst the gloom. At the far end of the room was a simple staircase, a large blast door beside it. That was quite obviously Foaly’s office.
Foaly trotted on ahead of the others, looking around obsessively at the many mechanical objects that were lying about, assuring himself quietly that all of it was where it should be.
Everyone else silently fanned out, keeping an eye on the stairway for any movement. Mulch took the time to pocket a few things as he came up behind the others, whistling innocently as he did.
Holly peered up the stairs, glad to see that the metal door at the top was still intact and locked shut. She checked her HUD. Three minutes left. She turned to Foaly, who had activated a data pad beside the blast door. “You better get on it Foaly, we’ve only got three minutes!”
A rumble shook the building, causing the lights to flicker sporadically. Another sounded, this time closer, followed by the muffled but unmistakable sound of hostile gunships.
Borislav eyed the stairway door warily. “Looks like they managed to pinpoint our location.”
A loud bang blasted from above, a massive dent appearing in the door. The unknown force hit once more, further damaging the portal. On its third hit, a crack formed in the frame, black smoke and guttural growls creeping through.
Butler, with his rifle aimed at the door, growled over his shoulder to Foaly. “Get that door open!”
“Just a moment, there are fifty security checks I have to pass in order to open it.” The centaur called out, now making a retinal scan.
There was a collective sigh, then another blast against the doorway, this time leaving a one foot gap between it and the adjacent wall. Through the hole they could make out nothing but smoke and flames, but they knew that there were plenty of daemons as well.
As the siege continued, another loud boom echoed from the tunnel from which they came, followed by the clear sound of distant footfalls.
“They’ve breached the tunnel as well!” Holly yelled. “We won’t be able to hold them from this position for long.”
“Well we’ll have to unless pony boy here gets the door open.” Mulch said, being sure to keep himself behind Butler.
Foaly ignored the dwarf, concentrating on completing a voice recognition test and a thumb scan.
The door above almost gave out, its battered form sagging dangerously now. Butler and Ivankov, who had both grown tired of waiting, proceeded to fire relentlessly through the gaps in the door, hoping to stall them further. Holly, upon seeing shadows flit around inside the dark tunnel at the other side of the room, began to shoot into the other entry way with her rifle, eliciting random shots from the daemons below.
Foaly, now undergoing a DNA check, called back. “This is the last one! Everyone get ready to move!”
As he finished the final check, the door above burst open, debris and burning material tumbling down the stairs as gunshots flew through. The tunnel was also full of activity, though Holly was keeping the enemy at bay with her pulse rifle, the daemons forced into a bottleneck that only allowed single file movement.
“And here we…go!” Foaly cheered as the door slid open. “Everyone get inside, though refrain from tracking any dirt in here if you can…”
The group poured into the next room, tracking in not just the dirt on their boots, but several dozen bullets and laser blasts as well. As they cleared the doorway, the large blast door slammed shut, silencing the roar of weapons fire instantly. There was almost complete noiselessness, though the very faint sound of heavy weapons being shot at the reinforced doorway was noticeable.
“Welcome to ops booth number two.” The centaur exclaimed, feeling great pride in his work.
Unlike the previous area, the room in which they now stood was very well lit, obviously with its own power generator. The expanse was filled with a plethora of highly advanced equipment, so much so that it dwarfed the ops booth that was in the police plaza. At the far end was the main command console, a custom chair surrounded by multiple interfaces, keyboards, monitors, holo-pads, and just about everything else one would need to take over the world. In the far right corner was what looked like an archaic furnace, its time worn surface nearly falling apart. Foaly was right, it needed to be replaced.
Foaly quickly went to the control center, running his hand over the super-advanced technology with an almost romantic touch. “Don’t worry my darlings, daddy’s home.” He said soothingly. Everyone else except Mulch simple acted like they didn’t hear him, all too aware of the centaur’s propensity to be overly appreciative of technology. The dwarf opened his mouth to make an annoying joke, but before he could properly enunciate his breath was knocked out of him by Holly, who had seen it coming. “He has a job to do, don’t go and ruin his concentration.” She whispered warningly.
The sound of countless supercomputers going online filled the room, the whirr of complex devices rising in volume as the systems activated. Foaly hummed rhythmically to himself as he brought up the command interface. Suddenly, an obnoxious voice spoke over the speaker system.
“Hey, what’s up old dude? I was getting lonely down here all on my lonesome!”
To Foaly’s dismay, it was the nav-bot that he had in his vehicle. He could have sworn he had deactivated the personality chip months ago, and he had never even brought it close to his mainframe. How had it managed to penetrate his security measures?!
“What are you doing on my systems!?” The surprised centaur exclaimed.
“Hey calm down buddy, it’s not my fault that you gave me an artificial brain. I simply walked in the back door is all, that boring monotone AI you had here previously was totally a downer on your gloriously illegal ops booth, no character whatsoever!”
Foaly bit his lip. “Alright whatever, just do as I say. I need to bring Haven’s defense grid back online now!”
The AI whistled. “Does it have something to do with the unpleasant looking fellows who are currently banging on our door with high explosives? I advise that you at least try to make friends next time you meet nefarious looking creatures that try to kill you, your introverted mentality is only holding you back from potentially fulfilling relationships!”
The annoyed centaur twitched slightly, his patience wearing thin. “Just shut it and bring up the defense network command line!”
“Alright, alright. Just trying to give you some friendly advice bro.” The AI stated as data began to fill the numerous monitors. Foaly blew off the irritating nav-bot’s jabbering, instead focusing on the readings that were now covering the screens.
“Haven’s defense grid is currently at sixty-three percent operational capability, a lot of the security measures have been destroyed by the party going on above ground, quite a mess I have to say.” The AI stated enthusiastically.
“Doesn’t matter.” Foaly replied. “My system is designed to be more than adequate at only ten percent.”
Holly called out from the entrance of the bunker. “Ten seconds!”
Foaly’s face took on a serious look, his teeth clenched as he typed away. Time to show these monsters the true meaning of firepower.
“Running system check…”
“Running preliminary scans…”
“Activating network control lines…”
“Engaging AI protocols…”
“Programming assault patterns and IF tags…”
“Defense grid fully operational in three…two…one…” The centaur begot a slight grin. “Zero”.
Haven – Police Plaza – One Minute Earlier
“One minute!” Commander Trouble Kelp yelled, his voice rising above the endless cacophony of explosions that lit up the sky. The LEP commander stood at a forward command post that had been set up only minutes before, overlooking the vast expanse of Haven and the armies that stretched across it. The sky was filled with LEP and human aircraft as they hovered over the ground forces below, prepared to open fire at a moment’s notice. The ships had been rearmed and were now bristling with missiles and miniature bio-bombs, their cannons warmed up and ready to unleash hell. On the ground, the combined army waited silently as the barrier flickered dangerously. Hundreds of armored vehicles, both from the Atlantis reinforcements and the human allies, were spread out into strategic formations, the vast crowds of infantry taking up positions all around the region, forming a massive defensive front. As the ear splitting melody of the bombardment went on, Kelp looked to the units under his command. All was ready, everyone was where they should be. All that they could do now was wait as the impending battle approached.
Trouble had left General Winters in control of the plaza, himself opting to lead their forces in person, not safely behind reinforced walls. This fight would either be one of total victory or utter defeat. Regardless of the outcome, Kelp wanted to be there for it to the very end, as a commander and a soldier.
The elf checked the timer. Thirty seconds remaining. He brought up his communicator. “All units be advised, the barrier falls in twenty seconds. Prepare all heavy munitions for suppressive fire. Our objective is to hold them back with minimal casualties until the defense grid is back online. Good luck to us all.”
Commander Kelp stood calmly as he awaited the collapse of the only thing between them and the horrid hordes of twisted monsters. As he patiently watched to fire that plastered the sky, he turned his mind to the soldiers around him.
Never before, not in thousands of years, had the armies of human and fairy kind stood side by side against a common foe. Sure there was Artemis, but it was never something of this magnitude.
Maybe, if they made it through the day, there could be true friendship between these two species, starting with the ones that stood by them now.
In the end it never matters whether one is a human or a fairy, in life and death they are all the same. Individuals with hopes and dreams, with families and friends, with joys and love.
Trouble smiled. He saw the impossible before him now. The improbability of their kinds standing alongside one another, as brothers in arms. It was an incredulous sight, and yet there it was. It brought a sliver of regret to think that now, at the moment of realization, they may all perish, the new alliance moot amidst the apocalypse. But it mattered not. Today, they would rise or fall together, as equals.
The barrier shook violently as the fires started to cut it apart, holes appearing throughout its enormous surface area. The noise of the bombardment rose suddenly as the wall broke, the sound now unimpeded as it blasted through the air. As the barrier began to shrink, Trouble shouted his command into the com link. “All units, fire at will!”
Before he even finished the command the countless guns opened up, a solid wave of destruction. Artillery guns fired from a distance back, their loud thumps echoing through the air. Tanks and infantry went all out, their weapons unloading a swarm of fire into the enemy force. Above, the hovering forms of the many ships lit up as they unleashed their arsenals, sending thousands of missiles and hundreds of small bio-bombs into the enemy lines. The air blew violently as the combined forces began their merciless barrage, the first volley alone completely obliterating the forefront of the daemon army. Massive clouds of fire and smoke rose from the enemy positions, shock waves racing across the city with deadly speed.
As the allied forces continued their assault, Trouble tapped his fingers impatiently. Come on Foaly, where are you?
Haven – Foaly’s Basement
Foaly pressed a button, a look of fierce anticipation on his face. From below his desk an intricate device rose on a platform. It looked like a video game controller, except it had several hundred buttons on it.
“Oh that looks fun dude! Care to give me a try?” The AI asked excitedly.
“Wait your turn, I’ve got work to do.” Foaly stated commandingly as he grabbed the controller.
Get a load of this! He thought as he pressed the largest red button on it.
Haven City – Everywhere
As soon as Foaly pressed the button, the whole situation turned inside out. As the battle raged on, hundreds, if not thousands of rapid fire DNA cannons appeared, released from their concealed positions by Foaly’s command. Even more smaller guns popped out of every surface, their AI’s moving them around like insects as they converged on the daemon army, tiny legs taking the deadly blasters to where they had business to carry out. In the sky, numerous hatches opened on the roof high above the city, from them pouring clouds of drones. The automated fighters, though small in comparison to those that the daemons used, were covered with weapons, and numbered in the thousands. As the literal cloud of ships and ground based drones charged towards the daemon forces, the enemy turned their attention to them, massive divisions breaking off as they sought to engage the new threat. Too bad they didn’t understand the true scope of Foaly’s paranoia.
Whilst the daemon forces, now split in all directions, moved in on the drones, small holes appeared in the ground throughout their ranks. As they ran heedlessly over these fist sized openings, small spheres began to pour out of them, dispersing themselves amongst the enemy lines. In a spectacular explosion, thousands of the miniature devices activated, sending powerful concussive waves through the enemy divisions, blasting them into the air. Others subsequently went off, their tiny forms expanding into large bio-bomb explosions. Tens of thousands of enemy units were wiped out in mere seconds.
By now the drones had closed in on the daemon army, flying headlong into the clouds of hostile gunships, which were charging at them with deadly intent. In a firestorm of destruction, the two forces collided. Drones unloaded countless numbers of small rockets into the ships, firing their multiple laser cannons precisely as they weaved in between the larger enemy fighters. The daemons fired back with everything they had, obliterating hundreds of drones with their cannons and missiles, cutting entire squadrons of them apart with relentless fire. But the drones were too many to shoot down. Every time a daemon pilot took out a drone, a dozen more would appear on its six, and proceed to tear it apart. The air was in complete chaos as the drones and gunships engaged each other, a dogfight of monumental proportions engulfing the entire city.
Cannon fire erupted from the ground as the drones flew overhead, the daemon tanks and artillery seeking to blow them out of the sky, and succeeded in doing so for only a few seconds. As they fired into the fighter formations above, the DNA cannons and surface drones appeared from all directions. In a ball of fire and steel, the two ground forces collided with pure power, both sides taking heavy casualties as an all out war took place.
As the battle raged all over the city, the LEP and human forces continued to blast the now divided hostile army, completely destroying any sort of offensive that the daemons had planned. It was perfect switch, the allied army now advancing, the daemons on the defensive.
Commander Trouble Kelp watched with perfect satisfaction as the tables were turned over completely, the odds now fully in their favor. Well done Foaly…I might just give you that raise after all. As he took in the beautiful destruction that was filling the city, the elf spoke into his communicator, utter confidence in his voice.
“This is Commander Kelp to all units. Let’s push these freaks from our city!”
He then picked up his rifle and charged towards the fighting. He didn’t want to miss out on all of the fun.
Haven – Foaly’s Basement
Foaly cheered gleefully a he rapidly pressed the numerous buttons on the controller, destroying the invaders with ease as he manipulated the controls. It was most certainly like a video game, except it was real, and instead of controlling a singular object, the centaur was commanding thousands.
The other occupants of the room had ceased any conversation that they were making, instead completely absorbed by the video feeds that played throughout the room, amazed by the sheer power that had just been unleashed.
The AI spoke loudly. “Oh man, you are totally wrecking them dude. Oh! Get that guy there! Awwww yeah! Boom goes the dynamite!”
Foaly didn’t mind the AI’s constant commentary, he actually enjoyed its accentuation of the havoc that he was creating for the invading legions. With every button he pressed, hundreds of drones responded, utterly extirpating entire hostile formations. He turned his attention away from the bulk of his units, making them free to engage at will. As his drones dismantled the enemy resistance, the centaur observed the battlefield, noting the status of the LEP and allied forces. Thus far they were doing extremely well, the pressure taken off of them by the plethora of automated units he was throwing at the daemons. At this rate they would retake the city in no time.
“You going to give me a try donkey boy?” The AI whined.
Foaly, despite his displeasure for the nav-bot’s use of his most disliked nickname, took his hands off of the controls. “By all means, though I bet you can’t top my score.”
“Ha! Challenge accepted!” The nav-bot yelled. The AI assumed control of several squadrons of drones and proceeded to annihilate the enemy, yelling long strings of obscenities and laughing wildly as it did.
Foaly set the defense system to pest control mode before stepping away from the command console, a wide grin on his face. “So, you think Trouble will give me that raise?” He said with a great degree of self assurance.
Holly punched him jokingly in the arm. “He’d be hard pressed not to, though I think he owes you more than just a raise.”
The centaur nodded contemplatively. “Indeed, I should prepare a list…”
A loud bang erupted from the blast door, its massive frame shaking. Sirens went off, warning of an imminent breach.
Foaly paled in spite of himself. “How is this possible! I made this door to specifically block unwanted guests!”
Mulch walked up to the door. “Yeah genius, but did you include unwanted guests with rocket launchers? They’ve been blasting away at this door for quite a while now…” The dwarf put his face close to the metal portal, letting his beard touch it fully. He waited as his sensory hairs gathered information on the structural integrity of the doorway, able to read every minute detail about it with his skilled intuition. As another bang sounded he pulled away from the door. “Oh yeah.” He stated, looking at the others. “It’s coming down.”
Foaly took out his neutrino. “We can’t let them damage anything in here! If they so much as blast one thing it could throw the defense grid into disarray!”
“Don’t worry about it.” Borislav said calmly, checking the feed path of his hand cannon. “I’ve got this.”
“Shall we cover you.” Butler asked politely, checking his rifle casually.
The human commander shrugged. “If you should so desire my friend.”
The doorway shook once more as a large projectile rammed it, the explosion thudding loudly into the barrier.
Ivankov assessed the entryway. “If we wait for it to fall, the force of the explosion may damage the instruments within this room. I advise you open it right after the next rocket hits.”
Holly looked at him questioningly. “Are you sure about this?”
“Very.” He said. “They have only one launcher, and it takes them an average of ten seconds to reload it after each shot. Given the situation above ground, there will be a limited number of hostiles within the room itself and virtually no reinforcements. Also, due to the fact that they are using HE munitions, they are situated on the far end of the room, thus making things much simpler. Trust me, I’ve had worse situations than this.”
He finished checking his handgun, putting the magazine in with a click. “Besides.” He said as he racked the slide. “I’ve been itching to use this for quite a while now.” The massive handgun was jet black, a crimson dragon stenciled in along the length of the barrel, its fanged mouth facing the business end of the firearm.
“Alright.” Foaly said hesitantly, not fully assured by the man. Regardless, he hardly had a better plan. All of his drones were too busy assaulting the main body of the daemon forces to come over and assist them. Even if he had a few aircraft to spare, he could hardly have them strike, as it would very well destroy everything.
The centaur trotted up to the command console again, his finger hovering over a button. “Ready when you are.”
As Ivankov stood before the doorway, his helmet now put on, the others took up position on the sides, weapons ready. Mulch was also armed this time, having long since taken an old neutrino from his beard. There was a muffled explosion, then the sound of an RPG rocketing towards the doorway. With a crash it collided with the metal barrier, causing it to shake precariously.
“Now!” Borislav yelled, his hand-cannon ready.
The door slid open just a crack, allowing the man to pass through. Ivankov jumped through into the smoke filled air of the next room, his weapon held at the ready. As the smoke cleared slightly, he caught sight of the daemons on the others side, who were unable to see him through the blast emissions. One of them was holding an RPG-7, loading another projectile into the launcher. The human waited as the daemon pointed the weapon directly at him, a fierce look of concentration on his face.
“Watch this.” He said to those behind him.
The daemon pulled the trigger, causing the rocket to blast forward from the launcher with blinding speed. But before it could even move two feet from the daemon position, Borislav aimed and fired his gun, sending one .50 caliber bullet right through the center of the rocket propelled grenade. With a bang the rocket exploded, sending shrapnel flying into the daemons as they ran for cover. In the now smoke filled darkness, the human strolled towards the remaining hostiles, who fired blindly into the gloom. With an ear splitting bang his weapon roared, flames breathing from the barrel as he blew the daemons across the room, and all over the walls.
As the smoke cleared, several more jumped in from the tunnel entrance, brandishing their weapons at the human. Ivankov quickly vaulted over a pile of machinery, dodging the wall of bullets as he fired in midair, hitting three of the daemons. With his weapon now empty, he rounded the corner, unloading the gun into the daemon that waited, sending the heavy empty magazine right into its face, knocking it back. With an almost bored look on his face the man smashed the creature’s skull with the reinforced grip of his gun.
The last two monsters, who both had automatic shotguns, fired relentlessly at the human, who moved behind a large stack of equipment. As the daemons kept firing, the human reloaded, waiting for the perfect moment. He knew the exact make and model of their weapons, as well as how many shots they had. At the very second that they ran out of ammo, which of course he knew exactly, Borislav jumped over his position, blasting the weapons out of the enemy’s hands. Before they could draw their sidearms, the human roundhouse-kicked one of them into the wall, following up by choke-slamming the second into the floor, killing it instantly.
He then turned his attention to the darkened cave entrance, hearing the sounds of more daemons as they climbed up the shaft. He quickly grabbed the grenades from one of the fallen hostiles, pulling the pins smoothly as he tossed them down the hole. A loud boom resounded from the tunnel, fire exploding from it as the grenades pulverized everything in it.
“I think that’s all of them.” Commander Ivankov stated, surveying the fruits of his labor which littered the floor. Indeed, they were all very, very dead.
The others emerged from the ops booth, their weapons held casually as they observed the destruction that surrounded them. Butler strolled up to the man. “Impressive.” He rumbled approvingly.
Holly surveyed the carnage that was strewn about the room, stepping carefully over the pulverized daemons that littered the floor. “Quite a show you put on there, though you’ve yet to beat a troll in hand to hand combat.” She said, nodding to Butler.
Ivankov nodded. “Well, I’ll put that on my to do list once this is all over.”
The sound of aircraft engines reverberated from the stairway, signaling the arrival of potentially more daemons. Holly called back to the ops booth. “Foaly! We’ve got company!”
The centaur called back. “Wait! Those are friendlies, I’m getting commander Kelp’s signal from the gunship.”
Holly nodded, relieved that there were no more hostiles inbound. Though she was a world class soldier, she was getting tired, along with everyone else in the room.
“I’m going up.” She said, slinging her rifle over her shoulder.
Everyone else moved to leave as well, eager to get out of the destroyed basement. Foaly called out from the ops booth again. “You guys go on ahead, I’m staying here. There’s plenty of work left to be done.”
As they emerged from the lower level, they noticed that there was no upper level. The entire house had been completely flattened, only a single door standing. Around them, the fires that had engulfed the neighborhood had burned themselves out, now leaving smoldering ruins. As the distant sounds of warfare continued to echo across the city, a dozen human and LEP gunships hovered around the area, no doubt guarding the now crucial remains of Foaly’s home.
One of the fairy gunships landed beside the building, along with two allied ones as well. The door of the LEP craft opened, from it coming Commander Kelp, who looked very upbeat. Dozens of soldiers came from the ships as well, forming a defensive perimeter around the new ops booth.
“Commander.” Holly greeted as the elf neared them.
“Excellent work.” He said approvingly, looking to the group. “You all did an excellent job in bringing the grid back online. Without it we’d probably be overrun by now.”
Holly nodded. “Foaly really outdid himself this time.”
Trouble smiled uncharacteristically. “He sure did. Now I’m fully obligated to give him a considerable raise.”
“Yes indeed.” Holly grinned.
Borislav walked up to the commander. “So, what’s the situation?” He asked.
Trouble looked to the skyline, watching the drones as they further cut down the daemon gunships. “We’re winning by a landslide. Since Foaly sent in his drones, the enemy army had been reduced by eighty percent. We’re focusing on cleaning up the rest right now. Despite the scale of the fighting, the drones took the brunt of the enemy assault, leaving very few casualties amongst either of our units.”
“Excellent.” Ivankov smiled. “We should start focusing on our next move.”
Butler nodded agreement, eager to find the one responsible for the conflict and dispose of the individual.
“One thing at a time.” Trouble assured. “We’ll get on that soon enough. For now, let’s get back to the police plaza. We’ll leave a sizable force here to guard Foaly and his assets, so there’s no need to worry about leaving him here.”
Everyone concurred, making their way to the landed LEP shuttle. As they entered the craft, the sounds of battle were slowly beginning to wind down, the city now close to being under their complete control. With a gust of wind the ship took off, rocketing towards the downtown district with two fighter escorts. As the sound of the ships faded, a gentle breeze blew through the air, softly swaying the form of a single flower as it stood firm in Foaly’s destroyed garden, untouched by the ruin around it.
The room shook angrily, the air thick with some unseen evil, pure crimson glowing off of every surface, tendrils of the living light snaking through the air randomly. A loud bang echoed throughout the chamber, accompanied by the distinct form of the black throne flying trough the air at blinding speed. With a crash, the seat rammed the solid bedrock walls, exploding into a million tiny fragments. Opal stood atop the elevated platform, seething with rage. Her fists were clenched threateningly, pieces of stone falling from them. She’d just punched her beloved throne into the wall, but she hardly cared, mere eccentric objects meant nothing compared to the accomplishment of her goals, which were currently crumbling before her.
“No! No! No!” She yelled. “What is happening!?” She glared at the monitors as they depicted Foaly’s drones, which were tearing her forces apart. The pixie swore profusely. “Foaly, you impudent, inferior pile of flesh! I destroyed your defense grid, blew it up with one hundred pounds of Semtex!”
She put a hand to her face as she suddenly realized something. “Of course…” She said flatly. “Given your egregious paranoia I should have known you would make a spare, how…predictable…”
All of the sudden, the nefarious pixie lashed out, waving her hands violently at the giant monitors. She roared a devilish roar as black tendrils of pure dark magic shot out of her, forming enormous strands. The magic tore into the screens, destroying them in a hundred ways at once. They melted, burned, froze, exploded, imploded, shattered, and vanished, all at once, the dark forces obliterating them with ease, leaving nothing but great burn marks on the walls behind them. Opal seethed, her sudden outburst easing some of her anger, though clearly only a fraction.
Artemis froze with fear, utterly frightened by the sudden show of unbridled rage and destruction. How powerful is she? The boy wondered as the pixie stood motionless, contemplating something carefully. Clearly her magic is much more potent than it was last time. He concluded, his eyes drifting to the now empty walls, the vast collection of monitors torn mercilessly from existence.
“This is all…but a minor inconvenience…a slight deviation from the planned series of events.” Opal told herself, her anger gone, replaced by a maddening calm that seemed all but impossible. She turned to Artemis, a hateful grin on her face. “It seems as though your friends have postponed their demise, but I assure you it is far from over. And as for you, your suffering has only just begun.” She motioned to two massive daemons who were at the bottom of the stairs. “Take this pathetic mortal out of my sight! Give him the best accommodations, I don’t want him to get too uncomfortable.”
The way in which she said it made Artemis’ skin crawl, all to clear that she meant the opposite. Two massive hands grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him violently into a standing position. The daemons undid his chains, but it was obvious that it didn’t matter, escape was impossible. As they jerked the human around, forcing him down the stairs a gunpoint, Opal watched venomously. She desperately wanted to kill the boy, her urge to spill his blood was almost unbearable. But she held her self back. She knew that death now would only do Artemis a favor, and she never gave favors, only death.
Haven – Police Plaza – War Room
The low buzz of conversation bounced about, the sound of technical equipment and rushing individuals accompanying it. A crowd of high ranking officers from both sides filled the room, all of them focused on the individuals at the center, who were poring over a collection of data pads and maps, which were situated on the holo-table. There was a tense feeling in the air, one that entailed thought and prediction, an endemic need to unravel mysteries.
The two commanders stood on opposite sides of the table, flanked by Holly, Butler and even Mulch, who had made quite a fuss so that he could tag along. Foaly was present on a nearby monitor, still back within his basement, running the ops booth with pure dedication. As the numerous officers went about their own affairs, the five of them observed anything and everything that could give them clues as to what to do next.
“So we already know that the most likely, though not confirmed, instigator of this conflict is a certain pixie genius named Opal Koboi, who would thus have managed to defy death itself to exact revenge…” Commander Ivankov surmised curiously, he himself being a bit skeptical about the odds that such a thing could be accomplished. “We also know the general direction that the hostile army came from, however we have yet to find anything that points us to a clear location…”
Trouble Kelp nodded. “There are a lot of unknown variables, but even with as little intel as we have now, we must move forward. I have no doubt that whoever is behind this is currently planning their next move, thus we should make ours before they can.”
Everyone spoke in agreement, none of them wanting to stand around whilst such a foe went unchecked, with Artemis in their possession no less.
Foaly spoke up over his video feed. “I’ve run numerous scans on the surrounding area, but for some reason I still can’t breach the interference that is all around Haven. There must be an extremely powerful jamming signal coming from somewhere. In summary, we’re blind to everything outside the city.”
Butler, who had an immensely determined look in his eyes, observed the readouts on the daemon armaments, of which many of them were human. “I’ll give some contacts of mine a call. A few of my prominent connections in the arms dealing business owe me a favor, they know almost every shipment of human weapons that takes place, so I think they may have some clues. I’ll see what I can dig up from them.”
Trouble acknowledged Butler’s welcome assistance. “Good, hopefully there’s some sort of trail we can follow.”
Holly watched as the three exchanged their thoughts, her patience almost gone. Artemis was in who knows what sort of hell, and she was just standing around, digesting conversation. She was worried for the boy, more worried than she’d ever been for him. If Opal was truly the one at work, Holly couldn’t imagine what the evil pixie would do to Artemis, especially if she saw no further use for him. Chilling prospects rushed into her mind, but she quickly suppressed them, willing to herself the assurance that the genius was still alive and well. But even then, doubt trickled into her resolve.
Borislav looked around the table, a long silence now taking hold as nobody put forth plans or suggestion. “So, anyone else have any ideas?”
The man caught Mulch’s attention, who had been pickpocketing a few wealthy looking LEP officers including General Winters, who he’d stolen a wallet from as well as a solid gold watch. The dwarf, in a childish display, raised his hand, waving it around excitedly. “Oh pick me! Me! Me! Me!” He shouted, disturbing the professional atmosphere quite effectively.
Ivankov waved his hand to the dwarf. “Go on.”
Mulch smiled his tombstone teethed grin. “I have more than just a clue. I can lead you to where they came from…for the right price.”
Opal walked through the halls of her facility with a sense of purpose, power and confidence radiating from the malicious pixie as she strolled past numerous daemon soldiers as they went about their pre-programmed duties, following Opal’s commands to the letter.
“With my main army annihilated those pesky fools are no doubt planning their next move. Though the probability that they will find this place and survive is below one percent, I cannot afford to underestimate them. I did so in the past, and that got me killed.”
As she walked, the tunnel opened up into a see through walkway, the reinforced windows allowing the red tinge of fires and molten steel as well crimson magic pour into the hall, illuminating Koboi’s already horrid features with a bloody hue. She turned her attention to the activity below, the massive chamber filled with movement.
“I’ll just have to accelerate my plans. Now that I know the final piece to the puzzle, all I need to do is locate it,”
The room below her, which was miles in length and width, was crammed with machinery. Gigantic industrial systems processed lakes of molten ore, forming them into parts for weapons and vehicles with precise efficiency. Massive assembly lines pieced together a steady flow of gunships and tanks, whilst huge cloning chambers grew and released fresh daemons, their artificial souls bringing the otherwise dead bodies to life. It was an impressive show of pure mass production. Opal wasn’t one to usually allow for quantity over quality, so she made sure to do both with equal measure. She knew that her machines were simple compared to those that she could contrive given time and patience, but that was something she didn’t have. So she opted to create assets that could be produced on a colossal scale, whilst at the same time offering rugged reliability and deadly simplicity.
“As they look about futilely, I will produce another army, one that will dwarf the last! But that will take time, and my primary goal now is the acquisition of the final ingredient to complete my goal.”
She walked over to a balcony, her eyes looking over the large frames that were being formed into even larger ships, ones that made her standard gunships look small.
“If only I had these when I assaulted Haven, it would have made things so much easier…” She stated with a hint of anger. “But it matters not. They will come in handy in due time.”
She switched her attention from the armored hulks that were under construction to a truly mountainous construct in the distance, its huge form taking up a large portion of the chamber. Opal grinned gleefully, her eyes filled with evil intentions. “Ah yes. That will do nicely.”
Artemis wheezed weakly as he was dragged through the oppressing halls of the facility, the face-like cracks on the walls laughing at him as he passed by, too weak to walk on his own. He’d been deprived of sustenance since he’d been captured, his strength ebbing away from him as his body screamed for nourishment.
The two daemons pulled him along the dark tunnel, the only light coming from a few lamps every dozen or so paces. The air was filled with the smell of rotting flesh, the stench pouring from the cracks in the endless cell doors that lined the hall, no doubt the aroma of their unfortunate occupants. After what seemed like an eternity, the trio halted, one of the daemons pulling open a heavy iron door, a sharp metal shriek sounding from its rusted mechanism, like a monster that awaited him in the dark confines of the cell. Without a care in world, the two captors tossed the boy into the small room, sending him crashing onto the cold stone floor. As Artemis laid there willing himself to get up, the door slammed shut, leaving him in total darkness. He pulled himself to his knees, feeling what he assumed were bones on the floor, their dried out forms crunching underneath his weight.
With a great deal of effort, Artemis managed to put his aching body into a seated position, crossing his legs stiffly as he tried to take in anything he could about his surroundings. He couldn’t see a thing, the darkness an impossible barrier to his vision. The air was clammy and stale, the faint smell of decomposing bodies wafting through it. He moved his hands around, feeling for anything notable. All he found was solid stone, its hard, damp surface chilling to the touch. He moved to put his hands back on his lap when they bumped into a spherical object. Upon a bit of feeling, the boy pulled his hand back sharply. He had been touching a skull.
Warm, smelly air blew under the door, howling an eerie cry as it passed through the unseen cracks. It was as if the souls of the dead were calling out to him, their spiritual forms filling the room in which so many had likely died. It was as if they were greeting him, welcoming him to hell.
As he sat there, his body cold and deprived, his mind worked tirelessly. He still had hope in his friends. He knew they would come for him. He wanted to be sure that he was ready for that moment, prepared to offer his intellect as a tool to solve the crisis. The last thing Artemis wanted to be was useless, so he put his head to work.
His thought was shattered as a ghostly voice called out from within the room. It sounded as though the speaker was right beside his ear, its unseen form mere inches away.