The lesser-Captain checks the unconscious hunter and shakes its head. It shares a few words with the remaining member of our escort, and the hunter nods in reply. Raising its crossbow, a streak of lightning jumps from the lesser-Captain’s arm and through the companion; the body slumps to the ground. The others gasp – I shake my head in understanding. The hunter would slow us down, and time is of the essence. In war, decisions must be made that no one wants to make. That is the harsh reality of it all. I hope the others are ready for it.
Haste is now stressed by the lesser-Captain – the short-tails are still in pursuit. If there are more Biologicals, then we surely stand no chance. We continue to pass through the ash-covered valley, our bodies heavy and slow. This trek would be less taxing without the constant battles we have faced. The others seem like they need rest – especially Kalleron and Stormlit. If we are caught in another confrontation now, Kalleron has no defenses, and we would be without Stormlit’s healing powers. Time is of the essence.
Luc curses. I spin around and chuckle. In the darkness of the blackened, cloud-covered sky his Human sight fails him. He seems to have trouble on the terrain. That is one aspect I’m glad I didn’t inherit from my mother.
We approach a hill and the lesser-Captain exudes a sense of excitement and urgency. We hurry over the hill, and I stop. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. This contraption that sits in front of us is like an elongated bubble. Made completely of metal, the massive structure demands my awe and respect – this is our transport; this is the helipod. As we approach, a hatch opens from the side and another lizard emerges. This one is different than the others – no weapons are grafted into the arms. Instead, the arms are like those of an octopus – tentacle-like things, similar to what I saw in the Oracle’s Tower. Are these the creatures from the walls? If the Mimic was an Ancient, and we are truly in the past, one would assume a connection. Great, now my imagination is running loose.
We go inside the helipod and Kalleron closes the hatch behind us. The spacing inside is cramped for such a large vessel. How are we going to move this thing? I saw no sails or wheels. Is it a magical vessel? Are we going to burrow into the Earth or skitter across the land? A hum begins to echo through the helipod and the metal walls start reverberating. The hum grows into a loud roar, bordering on deafening. We make our way down the corridor to find the lesser-Captain and find a large open room with lizards bustling all over. At the far end of the room I can see a large window and make my way over to it. Peering outside, I have to catch myself against the window. We are not traveling through the ground or even on it. What I see before me is the land, slowly fading away beneath me! We’re in the sky!? My stomach lurches again. The lesser-Captain motions me to the back of the room to a closet, and lets me know I may find relief in there.
Small Spaces and New Devices
I emerge from the closet, the foul taste of the liquid still lingering in my mouth. The others peer quizzically at me, and I notice Kaela cover her nose. The lizards, however, are eyeing me with a hint of desire. How much I would give for a bit of normalcy right now. I move back to the window, my stomach now unpleasantly settled. As we pass higher through the clouds, lightning streaks by. The sheer newness of this sight made following these young ‘uns worth it. As we break through the clouds, and vast expanse of sky opens before me. Before long, I am able to make out specks in the distance, growing larger, and we hurry towards them. As we draw closer, it looks like a naval armada preparing for war. Continuing to draw nearer, the insignificance of my existence knocks the wind from my lungs. Each of the “ships” dwarfs anything I have seen. From rooftops, I have been able to see whole cities at a moments notice; these behemoths make the cities seem like trivial miniatures – an ant in a world of giants. Lightning crackles from the hulls of the “ships”, displaying their potential for offensive power. Whatever is brewing is going to result in a lot of casualties. Let us hope I am not on that list.
We are instructed that we are to see the Hive Mother and the lesser-Captain motions to a mountain to the east. The Hive Mother? What are these things, lizard bees? And we must not be as high in the air as I thought if I can see a mountain top. The helipod banks to the east and (surprise!), I eat my thoughts. The mountain looming before us is above the clouds. The earth and rocks hang off the bottom like a dwarven beard. Heh, if Mhelor could see this now. He would say it is a travesty – a mountain in the sky. It would serve him right, the arrogant prick.
“We are here – Anthelas Uproot.”
Maneuvering closer to the flying mountain–fortress, the landscape comes into view. Littered about the crags and rock faces are citadels, hundreds if not thousands of citadels. The destructive capabilities of this mountain I cannot even begin to fathom. Our vessel continues on, and we hone in on a large opening within the side of the fortress. Strange green light emits from the rocky interior, guiding us inside. The roar of the ship lessens back to the hum, and then ceases, jarring me from my stasis of wonderment. We are directed toward the hatch from which we entered and taken outside, to the interior of the mountain.
As the hatch opened I am greeted by a large grotto. The rock walls are covered with a grey mossy substance and water seeps out and trickles down the edges, sending a dripping echo throughout the cavern. Stepping out of the helipod, we are flanked by massive sentries clad in midnight-black armor, adorned from head to tail. Wielding large halberds, with small spikes protruding from the tips, the four sentries are an intimidating sight. They all tower above me, twice my height and at least five times my size. This is ridiculous. If we say anything wrong, or act out of accordance to their customs, we are easily done for. Easily.
We’re turned over to our new escorts and taken through the rock halls. A faint green light escapes from narrow crevasses along the sides, illuminating our path. We have to quicken our pace to keep up with the giants as we make our way to the Hive Mother’s throne room. On the way we pass a wide assortment of lizard creatures, ranging from the hunters and helmsmen to lesser-Captains and hound-type creatures. The hounds are fascinating beasts, shifting from walking on their hind quarters to running on all fours. The biology of these creatures is remarkable.
We enter the Hive Mother’s Hall and find alcoves littering the passageway adorned with more armored goliaths, each wielding a halberd. The sense of sovereignty abounds, setting me on edge. At the end of the hall we come to two massive golden doors, inlaid with intricate patterns and designs. The craftsmanship is surreal. Even Mehlor would have his breath catch in his throat. Standing on perches high above the doorway are two sentinels. They glare down at us, their muscles twitching with an unsavory eagerness. The weapons they possess are strange, like every other one I’ve come across. They possess tube-like apparatuses attached to packs worn on their backs. Projectile weapons perhaps? I really should stop being surprised.
The escorts open the doors and usher us through. Inside are a hundred or so lizards, most of them similar to our escorts. There are even a few larger than our escorts – great, like I didn’t feel inadequate already. I would take in the rest of the surroundings of the room, but I am struck prone by a welling of emotion inside me. Looming before me is the gargantuan Hive Mother of the long-tails.
Banter with One, Flirt with Another
Suppressing the continuously burning passion still welling inside my loins long enough to concentrate on gathering information is hardier a task than I, under any other circumstances, would be willing to deal with. My mind is still cloudy, but I remain coherent long enough to catch the name of Sky-Captain Merelas, the one who will be seeing us on our mission. I give her a once-over, and, finding little of interest, return my attention back to the Hive Mother.
“I see not all of your kind exhibit your stunning beauty.” I toss a wink in for good measure.
Kalleron starts to make a move towards her, and I rush past him. She will be mine! Her lips part and her toothy-grin escapes, searing itself into my mind.
“Funny little things, you are. Quite…amusing.”
And with that, I’m lifted off the ground and taken away from the Hive Mother. One of the black-armored escorts has both Kalleron and myself tucked under his arms. I catch my desire for the Hive Mother begin to wane as I’m carried out of the room and down the hallway, towards our flying ship. As we travel, the crowds of lizards recoil from Merelas, the scent emanating from her is strong, overpowering, and nightmarish. In a short time we arrive at our new vessel, many times larger than our previous one. Inside, I take note that the crew has been adjusted to fit the capacity of the larger helipod, and both disconcerting and reassuring emotions arise within me.
We discuss tactics and routes and destinations – the trifling stuff really. The ship maneuvers towards the opening outside and a feeling of helplessness joins my disconcertment – reassurance had fled quickly. Before us, poised on the horizon of the sky, stand the short-tail’s aerial armada. Thirty fortresses, not unlike Anthelas Uproot, were flying in our direction. Merelas called for the coordinates of our destination. We all turn and look at Luc; clearly, he is just as taken aback. They don’t know where we’re supposed to go?! Wonderful, neither do we! We don’t have much time, and we need to make a decision quickly. Kaela and Luc begin tossing ideas around and Kalleron throws one in for good measure. The graveyard of the gods? K’rul’s palace? Nightchill’s realm? Our coordinates where we started the ritual? Who knows?
“The Abyss; can you take us to the Abyss?!” shouts Kaela.
“The Rend?”, Merelas replies. We all look at each other. What’s the Rend?
“Yeah, uh, the Rend. Take us there; that’s where we’re supposed to go!”
As if on cue, a massive shockwave rocks the ship. White light flashes and streams through the windows, blinding me. The drumming in my head numbs my senses, and I drop to a knee, hoping to avoid the pain of light and sound. It seems Anthelas Uproot has taken to the offensive. Opening my eyes, I see ships darting across the sky, engaging the short-tail’s fortresses. Three of their strongholds are falling out of the sky, while others begin to descend and ascend out of the range of Anthelas Uproot. Our ship pitches forward, and joins the fray of battle. Or so it would seem. We bank hard to the right and head out, away from the confrontation, making our way to the Rend. We are fortunate to escape pursuit. Things seem, finally, like they’re going to calm down.
I should learn to wish for good tidings. Not even a moment passes for the thought to take hold when we’re hit with another shockwave, more powerful than before. We bowl over, and the crew hurries about to right the ship. Looking around, I detect grimness in the usually stoic faces of the lizards. Without even a word being spoken we all know; the inevitable has happened – Anthelas Uproot has been destroyed.
The remaining long-tails press on – their resilience is admirable, especially with the realization that their entire race was just annihilated. Focus on our objective, whatever that may be. Draw strength from the will and determination of the crew. We shall press forward. We shall forge ahead. We shall…
A whirl comes from one of the machines and parchment is spit out. Merelas grabs it and looks it over. Then she looks it over again. And again.
“The short-tails have fired the Doomsday weapon. May the Gods be with you.”
The calamity of the recent events weighs heavily on my soul. Though my body rests, my mind is cluttered. Sleep does not come easily to me right now. We are about to enter the Rend, but for what? We could not save these people. We may not be able to save ourselves. This journey – it is fruitless and pointless.
“We are here. Before us lies the Rend.” The coldness of Merelas’s thoughts do nothing to break me of my doubt, nor do they put me at ease. With a simple exchange of looks, the ship eases forward, into the Rend.