The Final Fight, Part 1
Aki ducked sizzling blast of energy. It slammed into the wall above her with a crack and chips of brick flew everywhere. A second blast hit the wooden armoire in front of her and the smell of wood smoke intensified. Everywhere she could hear shouts and screams, the blast and clang of Fòrsic weaponry, and the moans of the wounded and dying. The siege could have been going better.
She peeked back up, and leveled a stolen Fòrsic lance along the top of a cabinet. The blast struck a guard in the chest, and he burst out a window to fall to street below.
“Nice shot.” Maz grinned, as she hunched behind her own pile of crates. She and Aki had been pushed back, separated from the other groups of fighters. Once the Stripies had broken through the front barricades the situation had devolved into a confusing melee. They’d paid in blood and bodies to do it, but Aki’s forces had been too few to stop them forever. She known that, which is why the next stage called for a room by room defense of the building. She’d underestimated the situation.
Aki had envisaged an orderly retreat, from room to room and from choke point to choke, making the Stripies pay for every step. Instead, chaos ran rampant through the halls. And the Stripies kept coming.
Another squad raced to the top of the stairs, and Maz and Aki hosed the area down. The crystal in the tip of her lance shattered. She tossed it towards the guards with a curse and looked around for another weapon. She couldn’t see one.
“I’m down to just the suit,” She said.
Maz nodded. “About time we were leaving anyway.”
Their furniture barricades lay almost flush to the back stairway, commanding a view of the long, narrow hallway. However, the stairs behind them were wide open. Aki shot them a dubious glance.
“We’ll have to be quick.” The last time they retreated up the next floor, three Engineers died.
“I’ve got an idea,” Maz tapped the crates in front of her.
“This barrel here?” She tapped the barrel in question. “It’s filled with flour.”
Aki arched an eyebrow, “Oh?”
Maz smiled a wolfish smile. “Oh, indeed.” She handed her own stolen lance to Aki. “When I give the word, shoot the barrel with everything you got.”
Aki nodded, and Maz shifted positions, careful to keep herself below cover. She wiggled backwards until she lay horizontal against the stairs. Once in position, she kicked the barrel out of the barricade with three focused blows. The barrel tumbled onto its side with a heavy thud and Maz dove to get behind it. Once there, she set her shoulder against its middle, and heaved. Aki could see her feet scrabbling for purchase, but she dared not leave her own cover to help. Maz grunted, heaving against the wood once more, and the barrel began to move. It made one slow revolution, and then picked up speed down the hallway’s slight slant. Maz flattened herself to the grimy floorboards.
“Now!” She cried, covering her head with her arms. From the other end of the hallway the watchmen shouted in alarm as the barrel hurtled toward them. Aki leveled the lance. A huge gout of flame burst forth, and she yelped in alarm. The fireball impacted the flour barrel with a crash. For a second, nothing happened, and then the barrel detonated with a deafening boom.
The building shuddered. Aki worked a finger in her ear in a futile attempt to stop the ringing.
“What in dar-Alos’s name was that?” She said. Her voice sounded muffled. At the other end of the hallway, guards lay strewn across the ground. Some twitched, but most lay deathly still. A jagged hole, it’s edges blackened and burned, stood where the barrel had been, and across everything lay a fine patina of white powder.
Maz chuckled and sat up. It sounded like she was speaking through the other end of trumpet, not from right near Aki’s feet.
“Did you like my modifications to the lance?”
Aki frowned. “Fire’s a little risky when we’re trapped in a dry, wooden building, don’t you think?”
“Got the job done.”
“It did at that,” Aki sighed. “Let’s go.” They trotted up the staircase before more Stripies could arrive to reinforce. Aki spared a look back at the scene.
“A barrel of flour did that?”
Maz nodded. “Flour’s flammable, we had to be careful about it the granaries back home. If there’s enough heat and pressure, it’ll explode.”
“Kind of like this City,” Aki muttered.
Maz grunted, but didn’t reply. They climbed on in silence.
The world dissolved into a blur.
They took new positions on the fourth floor, covering the stairwell. Around them rushed other Engineers and Resistance members, intent on their own tasks. Aki tried to impose order, but the situation was too chaotic. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly at the center of the hurricane. The fight continued.
The Stripies were making another push. Coruscating energies rippled up the stairwell, almost drowning out the sounds of tramping feet. The Engineers threw everything they had back down it. Aki saw one man, a Thesian laborer by his clothes, rip a kitchen sink out of a wall and hurl it down. It thudded to the ground with a heavy crash, followed by a cut-off scream. A Fòrsic blast struck the laborer in the face a moment later, and he fell, his hair and beard ablaze. Someone else dragged his body out of the way. The fight continued.
Pounding at the wall of their flank drew attention needed elsewhere. Aki left Maz and two Engineers to continue guarding the stairs, and went to look. Cracks widened in the wall as someone on the other side slammed it with sledgehammer-like blows. A chunk of wood flew out, narrowly missing her. Darius’s face was behind it. He looked tired, his face was drenched in sweat, and there was blood on his cheek. Aki reached forward and ripped at the edge of the gap, while he did the same to the other side. The hole widened, and she pulled him through.
“We’ve lost the tunnels,” Darius said once he regained his feet. “This was all I could get out.” Behind him were men and women that Aki knew, all of them injured. Everywhere she saw bruises, blood, and scorched flesh. She reached out and cupped Darius’s cheek, then turned away.
“Let’s get them through,” She said. “We’ll have to fall back.” The fight continued.
Later, she found herself back to back with Darius as they retreated. The shields of their suits hummed, and the crystals in the chest plate burned hot enough to scorch her skin. Around them the stairs began to give way, and Aki screamed in frustration. Darius grunted as a blow slammed into his shoulder.
“Shield’s down,” he said.
“Get behind me,” Aki ordered. They shifted slowly, trapped on the narrow staircase. Above them, Maz stretched forth a helping hand. The fight continued.
Bleeding and battered, Aki and Darius leaned against a door, holding it shut as it shuddered in its frame. Behind them, surviving fighters hauled those too injured to climb up a ladder to the roof. The building burned in earnest, now, and the acrid smoke made it hard to breathe. Ora popped her head in through the trapdoor.
“That’s the last of the injured,” she said. “We’ve laid down a plank and got them across the gap to the next roof.”
Aki nodded. “Good. The council?”
“We have Sephina and some of the others, they’re across as well.”
Beside her, Darius said “I saw Lothar being carried off by a group of Stripies, screaming his lungs out until one of them punched him in the gut.”
“What a useless bastard,” Aki muttered. Darius cracked a smile. The door they had wedged themselves against shook. An axe blade appeared in between their two heads and was just as quickly withdrawn. The door shuddered again under another impact.
“Hurry!” Aki said, her voice hoarse. The last of the Engineers scurried up the ladder. She looked at Darius.
“I’ll hold the door, go!”
“You got to be joking if you think I’m leaving you behind,” he said.
“Someone’s got to do it,” She retorted, her eyes filled with a fierce determination. “No more of my friends are going to die for me, today.” Darius held her eyes for a long moment. When the intimate gaze grew too intense, Aki winked.
“I’ll be fine,” She said. “I promise.”
Darius took her hand and gripped it hard. “I’ll hold you to that.” One last squeeze, and then he dove for the ladder. Aki waited until he had started up in, and then leapt away from the door and raced to the ladder herself.
The door slammed open, and she turned to face it, her hand on one of the rope rungs. The splintered doorway framed the Magnus. Fire writhed behind him, and smoke billowed out into the room. Aki coughed.
“It was hard fought,” he said. Aki had expected a stentorian bellow, but his voice was as calm and refined as ever. “Hard fought, but it’s over now. You stragglers have nowhere else to go. This rebellion is over.”
“It’s just beginning,” Aki shot back. “You can destroy this building, kill our members, but by no means is it over.”
“My dear girl, don’t be naïve. Rebellions take men, and they take money. You have neither. It is done, surrender, and I shall make your deaths easy.”
She laughed. “You don’t even know. You’ve been manipulated right along with me.”
He frowned. “Explain.”
“Where did the tip off come from, huh? How did you know we would be here? This has all been nothing but a distraction.”
“What are you talking about?” Striech’s expression hadn’t changed, but he sounded perturbed.
“Alistair Gaunt,” she said, and smiled as the Magnus’s eyes widened. “He’s here, in the City.”
She laughed again. “Why would I lie? By now your precious Prime is already dead.” Along with the rest of us if Roshan doesn’t stop him, she thought. But Striech didn’t need to know that.
The Magnus flinched. He frowned, muttering to himself. “He would come after me, not the Prime. What is that man up to?” Aki listened, interested. Did the Don and the Magnus know each other personally?
Striech’s eyes snapped open again. “The crystal,” he said. Aki’s eyes widened in spite of herself. How had he guessed? Another beat passed, and then Striech pulled himself together.
“Truth or not, this is immaterial. One thing at a time, after all. Now, I believe we were discussing your surrender?” Aki shrugged mentally, to have distracted him this long was a bonus. It was only her know, and him.
She spat, her teeth felt gritty. “Make me.”
Striech smiled. “With pleasure.”
He started forward and Aki prepared herself for battle. She could feel the heat of the flames, feel the sweat and blood smearing her face. She gritted her teeth, her shoulders set.
The ladder she was hanging onto jerked upwards, and she found herself towed upwards. She let out an exuberant laugh at the Magnus’s startled face as she sped up and away. Beneath her, fire roared and the building shuddered at the start of its flame fueled collapse. The fresh air never tasted so good.
“Isa!!!” Rika cried. The darkness was total, but Roshan lunged forward anyways, heedless of the edge he knew was there but couldn’t see. His hands stretched desperately towards Isa’s last position, but they closed on air and he went sprawling.
“What happened?” Rika demanded, “Where is she?”
Roshan opened his mouth to say, something, he didn’t know what, when the feel of the air in the shaft changed. The stale mustiness disappeared, replaced by a hot breath of air. It smelt of fire and smoke, and blood, but it was fresh air. A glow came from further down the lift shaft. It was faint at first, but grew quickly in intensity. Roshan stared at it in puzzlement. Something was coming.
A beam of pure light shot up the shaft, illuminating all the crystals studded into the walls. They burst into life with a sparkling radiance, and Roshan heard Eithne gasp. The beam of light vanished as quickly as it had come, but the glow of the crystals remained, revealing Isa floating in the empty shaft ahead of them. She sat cross-legged, her skin suffused with sweat, hands still clasping the Foinse-rod. It lay dormant, now. Her eyes opened, and she winked.
“Piece of cake,” she said, panting.
Rika smiled, Roshan noticed her eyes were watery. “You scared me half to death,” she said.
“Uh, Isa?” Eithne said. “Why are you floating in mid-air?”
Isa looked down and around her. “Is this not how lift shafts work? I’ve never seen one before.”
Eithne shook her head, her eyes wide in wonderment. “There’s, uh, supposed to be a platform.”
Isa shrugged. “I guess this one doesn’t need one anymore.”
Roshan stared at her, agog. So much energy, she must have supercharged the entire structure. He shooed his thoughts away from his amazement and cudgeled them back into focus.
“We don’t really have time to talk about why what you just did was impossible,” he said. “Or why your head didn’t just explode. Does the lift shaft work, now?”
Isa’s brow furrowed in concentration. Slowly, she bobbed upwards in the shaft a few feet, and then down a few more. She nodded.
“I think so.”
“Can we use it?” Eithne asked. “Maybe it’s just you.”
“Only one way to find out.” Isa held out her hand. Rika pushed forward past Roshan and Eithne and took it.
“If you drop me, I’ll kill you.”
Isa laughed. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” She pulled Rika out into space. Despite her clutch on Isa’s hand, Rika still yelped as she stepped onto nothing. She didn’t fall. Like Isa, she hung there, suspended in the pillar of light. She looked around.
“This is the craziest thing I have ever done.”
“How does it feel?” Roshan asked.
“Feel?” Rika closed her eyes to think. “Kind of ticklish,” she said after a moment. “It’s not empty air, it’s viscous.”
Roshan nodded. A physical manifestation of Fòrsic energy? Was that possible? He shrugged, the evidence before him did seem clear. It must be taking an enormous amount of energy, though, which meant they were running out of time. Just as he thought that, the light pillar flickered, and Rika and Isa dropped several feet before halting.
“Time to go,” Isa said. Roshan agreed. He couldn’t quite bring himself to step off the ledge, however safe it might be, so instead he leapt. He plunged downward, and then stabilized. Rika was right, it was a pleasant, ticklish sensation. It was more than air, he waved his hand and felt resistance, like very thin water. He concentrated on moving upward, and rose a few feet. The action came with a slight mental drain, like using Focus, and he nodded to himself. That made sense. He held out a hand to Eithne.
She bit her lip, but clasped his hand and he pulled her out like Isa had done. They all floating, looking at one another.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!” Isa said, and shot downward. Grinning, Roshan followed.
The glowing walls of the corridor shot past. The light flickered, and the sensation of speeding downwards was replaced with one of panicked falling. Eithne screamed. Then the pillar of light reappeared, and their descent slowed once more to a manageable speed.
“We’re running out of time,” Roshan said to Isa.
“I know, but there’s nothing more I can do. We should be almost down, just got to hope it holds up.”
Roshan gritted his teeth and concentrated on increasing his speed downwards. Below them, a white light glimmered, different from the yellow glow of the pillar.
“I see something!” Rika said.
“The Chamber!” Roshan replied. The glow brightened. He could see the sides of the opening now, growing larger as they flew towards it. A few more seconds, and they were through. They descended into chaos.
The shaft opened into an enormous chamber, a massive hemi-sphere that must have been the size of the Eolas Library. Unlike the passageways above, the walls and floor were all smoothed flat, and they shone eye-blinding white, the combined effect making them almost seem to glow. The bodies on the floor dampened the effect.
Everywhere there was fighting. Black clad bodies littered the floor, and the sizzling sounds of Fòrsic discharges and the clang of weapons filled the air. Roshan heard the shouts and screams of men and women locked in deadly combat, and his eyes focused on a knot of figures pushing forward toward the center of the chamber. There, set in the middle of the floor in the exact center of the hemi-sphere, stood a crystal. It stood nearly two man-heights high, and it would have taken a group of ten people to encircle it. It glowed with a scintallting rainbow of colors, ever shifting, and beneath the clamor of the fighting he heard it. A bone deep thrum suffused the space. Calm, mellow, and comforting, it stretched on like a low bass note, just at the edge of his range of hearing. It was beautiful.
“That’s it,” he cried, and pointed.
“I see it!” Rika said. “Look!” The knot of people still approached the crystal. In-between it and them, stood a ragged line of black-cloaked figures. It was too far away to see the stripe of red trim, but Roshan recognized the type of cloaks.
“The Choisant bar the way still,” he said. It felt strange to feel relief at the sight of them, but it was there. “We’re in time!”
Chapter 32 can be found here.