SKY – Chapter 12
The West-Hail army now numbered two hundred and fifty thousand. Recruits had been pouring in from cities and towns saved by the army’s heroics. The rapid success over the course of two years had earned their army a reputation as one of the premier independent fleets.
The praises. The gold. The land. Rewards had become standard practice after every mission. It was expected and the promise of splendor along with the perfect rate of success attracted the eyes of soldiers all throughout.
Hleis looked over his unit. It had grown to such a size that he could no longer rush to the aid of individual members when needed. But they didn’t need his protection anymore. He learned to trust those who followed him, and they proved to him what they could accomplish despite not having the same capabilities as him.
He had made a name for himself. Every mission he would quickly single out and dispatch elites. Through the actions of their leader, his unit learned to slay elites as well, and they grew in size and strength.
They were now considered a special unit, one that could always be relied upon for jobs that were urgent and rife with difficult enemies.
Maltii was his second in command, with Traer being the main strategic coordinator for his unit. Vayling had been promoted to a bombardment leader aboard the flagship while Sota remained part of the elite mage unit that often accompanied the West-Hail army on their battles.
The conference room aboard the flagship was minimal. It was isolated, quite and served its purpose. Hleis looked over to his right to see who else was seated around the circular table. He saw Vayling’s father alongside the other lieutenant commanders. Traer was next to Hleis on his left, chatting with him while they waited for the meeting to start.
Hleis looked across the table. Eye contact with Sota always reminded him of the first time they met. The apprehensive looks they exchanged that time had now been replaced by gentle smiles and kind eyes.
He felt an abrupt jab in his ribs. Traer had poked him with his elbow reminding him to stay focused. They were in a war planning session after all and were told to come prepared for their hardest mission yet.
Cruntiq entered the room and took his seat at the table on the opposite end of the main projector.
“Everyone’s here? Let’s begin. I’m sure some of you remember, over two years ago, Cyclone Fortress Leinel in the northwestern skies fell to a mastig attack. We have spent two years trying to get it back, but with little success. Other mastig forces have been seen routing from the fortress and high command suspects that it is the launch point of a massive future invasion that could reach the interior of the kingdom. Things are reaching a critical point and our team has been assigned to reclaim it.”
“Sir, if I may. It took a million mastigs over the course of several weeks to capture it two years ago. With all due respect, how do they expect us to recapture it with less than a quarter of those numbers?” a lieutenant asked.
“That’s what’s expected of us as a specially appointed army,” said the captain of the infantry.
“Ridiculous missions to get ridiculous rewards eh?” another lieutenant quipped.
“Look. It may sound like nonsense, but we do have some things going in our advantage,” Cruntiq said as he stood up to learn forward over the table. “One. This entire war has been them attacking us. Whatever siege experience they have will be minimal compared to ours. Two. Leinel is a fortress designed by humans, for humans. It’s made to fend off only one type of enemy, mastigs. If we can get inside, that fortress is designed to give us every advantage.”
“Sir, how do we win this? What is the condition that will signify our victory?” another lieutenant asked.
“I’m assuming it’s if we can reverse the situation and take the defensive position from them. Assuming a good chunk remains of the fortress, we could probably hold out until reinforcements arrive, depending on how our numbers look during the offensive effort,” Traer interjected.
“Unfortunately, that’s the only real way for us to do it. We cannot siege them for long as we do not have the numbers and our ships can’t just remain in the skies indefinitely,” Cruntiq replied.
“Those halls aren’t designed for mastigs. They’ll be slow and their fighting abilities will be limited by their environment,” Hleis said. “A focused effort by several strike teams should be able to get inside and swiftly secure the key points.”
“The halls are designed to slow down attackers in general. They will also slow humans down. We will need to do this with care and coordination. It’s a maze of passages that will confuse and disorient us if we go in without careful planning,” Traer said.
“That’s assuming we can get inside at all. Those walls are thick. The barriers wide and strong. Just as they don’t have siege experience, we don’t know what it’s like to attack a human fortress…” said the head of bombardments.
“We will need to get soldiers inside the barriers and disable them from inside. We have some plans drafted with high command that we will review on the way there,” Cruntiq said. “Return back to this conference room tonight after dinner. For now, go relay the news to your troops.”
“So what do you think?” Hleis asked Maltii.
“Attack a Cyclone Fortress!?” Maltii exclaimed.
“It’s a little difficult…” he said.
“Hleis! This is a suicide mission…” she replied.
“Hey! Don’t say it like that,” Hleis whispered. “We need to manage morale.”
“Sorry, but regardless, this is insane and everyone will see that. What did the others think of this?”
“Traer is concerned, but he’s reserving judgment for after we hear the plan later tonight or this week.”
“What about Sota?”
“She knew this could happen. Missions like these aren’t unprecedented. The results aren’t always great, but sometimes things work out.”
“The other senior member’s reactions were about the same as Traer’s. Look, Cruntiq believes this is possible, otherwise we wouldn’t even be attempting this.”
“But, he also thinks the military leadership is foolishly optimistic… How long is it until we arrive?”
“Fifteen days. We will be refueling and resupplying at settlements and outposts along the way.”
“Because we need to prepare for the possibility of a long drawn out siege right?”
“We’ll run out of fuel before we run out of food. If that happens, we’ll just need to retreat. They won’t follow us out of the fortress.”
“…Okay then, but please be careful. Realize that this will be the hardest battle we will likely ever see in our lifetimes.”
“I know. Let’s keep a positive attitude.”
“That is a lot of mastigs, even just on the walls,” Vayling said pulling his eyes away from his binoculars. “This feels a little too desperate doesn’t it? Surely we can amass an army large enough to secure it without this level of risk?”
“The kingdom is stretched thin. Think of it this way, because of the difficult times, we alone have been entrusted with this task. They’ve assigned us here because we can be trusted to handle it on our own,” his father replied.
“Those are nice words, but the bombardments aren’t getting through the barriers. Ha, I never thought those things would be turned against us!”
“Those barriers are designed to repel projectiles, not organic matter and certainly not magic. Good thing we have mages, they’ll cover our attack units as they go in.”
“So we’ll need a fast and strong unit like Hleis’ to sneak in and disable the barrier generators so that the rest of us can join in?”
“That’s what needs to happen.”
“Good thing he’s strong, but I do not envy him.”
Streams of magic arched and curved, covering large areas along the fortress walls. Mastigs were scattered about in attempts to save their lives from the mage’s assault.
The power of a mage unit fighting in unison exceeded Hleis’ expectations each time he saw it. Sota impressed him alone with her abilities, but an entire squadron of people with her training and background, what they could achieve, was truly a sight to see.
The skies grew red as ten mages synchronized the same spell and channeled it together. The clouds above parted. A smoldering boulder the size of a small island closed in on the fortress from above, calmly passing through the barrier. Cannons, stones, explosive shells and the collective focus of the mastigs tore pieces of stone away from the meteor, desperate to scatter it before it made contact.
Hleis placed his hand on the walls of the fortress; the stone exterior felt dense even after Hleis had applied his magic to it. Getting to it was easier than he thought it would have been. Getting inside was going to be harder.
“Sota! This is too dense for me to break through! Can you blast a hole here?”
The walls reacted to the increasing amount of force being applied to it. Sota stood at a distance, her hands held up in front of her. Her magic was invisible to those untrained. She was projecting force on the walls, creating a dent in it with her unseen push. Soldiers were standing behind her at the ready, waiting for it to give in and collapse.
The stone and concrete construction flew inside the building as Sota collapsed the wall. The soldiers waited. Now that she could see inside, Sota sent an explosion through the breach. Dust and pebbles fell as the walls shook from the inside out.
The soldiers charged in, taking advantage of the dead, injured and disoriented mastigs.
“Guys! You know the plan! The other units should also be making their ways to their target generators!”
“Hleis! You lead the way! Sota and I will cover you!” Maltii shouted.
“Try to hang back a little if you can. I can take some out from a distance if I don’t have to worry about hitting you.” Sota said.
“Don’t worry, you know I’ve gotten pretty good at dodging your blasts,” Hleis replied.
“It is nice to have the backup of a mage unit, but still guys, be serious here,” Maltii said.
“We will. You’re both dependable allies. And Sota, it never ceases to amaze me seeing your group fighting in unison. Ten of you guys really is like having another army,” Hleis said.
“Maybe in open areas, but these halls handicap us mages as much as it does the mastigs,” she replied.
“Yeah, be careful with your blasts Sota. One wrong spell, take out the wrong support beam and you could collapse this entire place on us,” Maltii warned.
It was slow, but they were making progress. The entire unit stuck together. Being among the hallways and doors was far more disorienting than simply reviewing the mazelike blueprints of the fortress’ structure.
Human weapons were plentiful and abundantly scattered throughout the fortress. The mastigs didn’t use them so they just left them there. Chipped edges, dull blades and handles slick with blood. All of these were easily replaced with what remained from the old armories.
Sota fine-tuned her magical output to attack with precision from a distance. The same amount of force being used in one of her large explosions was now being condensed in an area just the size of a human head. Mastig skulls shattered. Torsos caved in. Limbs ripped from their bodies.
The mastigs they encountered could not raise their weapons without clanking on the wall or ceiling. Hleis also could not with his signature sword. He let it rest sheathed on his back, while holding a short sword he had brought specifically for this purpose.
The generator room was spacious. In its center sat a violently clanking contraption of electricity and fire, nothing like the ones he use to protect in West-Hail.
“Is it supposed to be like that?” one of the soldiers asked.
“No, that barrier generator is far too unstable. If I had to guess, the mastigs probably messed with it and broke it in the process,” Maltii replied.
“Is there a way to shut it off?” Hleis asked.
“Do you see the control panel over there? That’s how we were supposed to shut it down, but it looks like they broke it…” Maltii said.
“Those beasts were probably trying to reverse engineer it or something…” Sota said.
“Either way, looks like we have to destroy it to turn it off,” Hleis said.
“Damn. That will make holding the fortress again much harder, but we don’t have a choice,” Maltii replied.
“We can take it out from a safe distance,” a mage said. “We’ll need three of us to channel a spell together, to destroy it in one go.”
“Okay. We’ll keep the mastigs from reaching you,” Hleis replied. “Soldiers! Fight the mastigs as they come to you! Do not move up to face them! Stay close to the exit and be ready to evacuate the room! That thing will explode and you don’t want to be caught in it!”
They kept the mastigs at bay with little difficulties. The narrow entrance of the room was an excellent funnel, singling out mastigs as they approached. The mages channeled their spell in safety, protected from projectiles by shields deployed by Maltii and the other coordinators.
When an elite came, Hleis betrayed the instructions he gave his group and moved up to meet it. In his mind, it was okay for him to ignore the safety precautions, for he had magical speed to get in and out before the generator exploded.
The spell finished channeling after ninety seconds. Sota and two other mages directed a slow moving pulsating ball of light towards the generator. Upon contact, the orb phased into the generator, the room became silent for a brief moment, with mastigs watching in confusion, before it exploded into flames that quickly approached the humans at the edge of the room.
Most had already retreated out of the room. Hleis and an injured soldier were the only ones still left when the orb reached the generator. The man had a leg injury and was limping towards the exit. Hleis placed his hand on the man’s shoulder and helped him stand. He lessened the man’s weight and together moved to the exit in one swift sprint.
From outside of the generator room looking in, flames had engulfed the entirety of the space. None of the mastigs in there survived, killed by either the explosion or burned by the flames.
“Thanks captain. Ow!” the soldier said.
“Are you okay? Let’s get you some first aid. Does anyone know healing magic?” Hleis asked.
“Yeah, let me take a look,” one of the mages replied.
“Thanks. Maltii, what’s the situation with the other generators?”
“Let me connect with Traer and see… Okay! The barrier is down! Seems like the north and east generators were taken out by the other units, minimal casualties, but they too had to destroy their generators. The west generator…we lost the entire unit… They took it out, but couldn’t escape the explosion or the mastigs…”
“Damn,” Hleis said. “They did a good job and stuck to the mission until the end.”
“Come on, we’ll mourn them later. We’re still not in the clear. We need to get to safety before the bombardments start,” Sota said.
“Right. Maltii, you’ll need to guide us to we’re supposed to meet with the others,” Hleis said.
“We’ll head further inside, we can use the secret underground passages that were on the blueprints,” she replied.
The fortress shook as the legion blasted it with its cannons. Once the barrier was gone, thousands of soldiers were supposed to flood into the fortress. Hleis and his unit had rendezvoused with the two other groups in the basement before fighting the mastigs in the interior of the fortress.
The shaking stopped after two hours. They returned to the basement where they had fortified themselves. Hleis stood on guard, his attention focused on the door. When it opened he was ready to attack any mastig that dared enter. Fortunately it was another human.
He had come to announce that they had retaken the fortress.
“That felt too easy. I guess mastigs are really incompetent while on the defensive,” Vayling said as he met up with Hleis and the group inside the reconquered keep.
“We were just talking about that. It did not feel like we were outnumbered at all,” Hleis said to him.
“I thought it would be because of the narrow halls of this fortress forcing single combat, but I’ve heard this from a lot of the soldiers now. This is disconcerting,” Traer said.
“I guess their numbers dwindled over time?” Vayling replied.
“Well, we’ve cleared the place of mastigs, so we should begin assessing what we have and fortifying this place again,” Sota said.
“Is Cruntiq coming here too?” Hleis asked.
“Yeah, he should be on his way now,” Vayling replied.
Cruntiq arrived just as the skies began to darken. They had explored the fortress, taking stock of what supplies they had, how damaged the building was from their assault.
By the time it was midnight, the airships had been docked to not waste fuel. Soldiers were stationed on what remained on the walls. And others took the time to rest and the recover from their injuries.
Just as many began to fall asleep, a loud alarm was heard echoing through the halls.
“Wake up! Mastig ships have been sighted approaching from below!”
“Below!? They were hiding in the dark skies below!? Just how far down were they for us to be unable to detect it!?”
“We need to get ready to defend! Now!”
“Damn! It’s nighttime and the barriers are still down!”
“We’ve been tricked!”
“Tell all the soldiers to get inside and stay away from the surface!”