Hills Around The Underground Fortress of Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell
“Team-One reporting in Sarge, there’s life down there.” Cassidy shifted her position on the rocks and steadied her binoculars on the gates concealed in the canyon walls. Whoever had built the approach had done a fine job of concealing it, the canyon itself had a narrow entrance that was lost in the folds of the rock. It was narrow, so much so that the baldricks had difficulty using it. Behind that restricted path, the canyon opened up but the rocks had a marked overhang and shadowed the gates that lay underneath them. Even then, those gates were masked by more variations in the rock walls. Somebody stumbling across the canyon would have to go almost to the farthest end before the gates became visible. McElroy’s team had steered reconnaissance aircraft in over the site and they hadn’t seen a thing. Even using the battery of image modification technologies available, the underground fortress was virtually invisible.
“What’s happening?” Tucker McElroy crawled up to the observation position. His team was split in two parts, one was watching the gates themselves, the other the path that led away from the canyon towards the daughter-volcanoes that marked the flanks of the great cone overhead.
“Can’t see anything yet. Team One reports that the gates have opened and that there appears to be some sort of procession emerging but .. hold one Sarge.” Cassidy listened to the radio again. “Make that a definite on the procession emerging. Baldricks on foot, rhinolobsters with a burden, looks like those snake things, Nagas intel called them. They’re going down the canyon now, we should be seeing them soon.”
“Good. DeVanzo, get the laser sight set up. Cassidy, stay on watch, let me know as soon as that procession appears. Walsch, radio. Patch me through to Saber.”
It took a couple of minutes to get through to Saber, the duty submarine on Communications watch. As far as McElroy knew, there were three submarines offshore who rotated radio watch between them. All used the Saber code-name as required and there was no indication which boat was actually answering.
“Saber. Sitrep?” Submarines didn’t like transmitting, it ran against their collective ethos and the messages were terse.
“We have activity, procession now leaving the underground fortress. From intel, it looks like another volcano attack being initiated. We are setting up the laser target designator now.”
“Confirmed. Wait.” The radio went silent for a couple of minutes. “Ready to launch. Twenty four cruise ready. Half and half. ETA 15 minutes from launch. Indicate when firing is needed.” The radio went dead again.
“Right guys. As soon as we give the word, there will be twenty four Tomahawks inbound. Cassidy, any sight of the target yet?” In just a few seconds, the procession had become a target.
“Emerging through the canyon now Sarge. Confirming, baldricks on foot with tridents, rhinolobsters with, confirmed Sarge, they have nagas coiled on their backs.”
“Saber, confirm target is volcano-initiating party. Fire when ready.”
“On the way.”
The seconds ticked by and turned into minutes. Ten minutes after the launch confirmation, DeVanzo turned his laser designator to active and trained the dot on the ground just in front of the column that was advancing across the plain towards the volcanoes about twelve miles away. McElroy was amused to note that they’d be passing the ruins of their previous home on the way. If they lived that long of course.
“Remember not to shine the laser on the baldricks until after the missiles start to arrive.” McElroy’s voice was urgent, the baldrick’s skin was sensitive to laser light and shining it on them might give them enough warning to get clear.
“I know that” DeVanzo spoke irritably, annoyed at the interruption disturbing his concentration. He was holding the designation dot just in front of the feet of the leading baldrick. He’d flip it back as soon as he heard the Tomahawks making their run.
He didn’t get that much warning, the first group of three missiles skimmed over the hill to their east and started the run down towards the column before he could register their presence. Originally, the Tomahawks had been GPS-guided but the Global Positioning System didn’t work in Hell and it was looking increasingly unlikely that it ever would. The older option, radar terrain mapping and matching required accurate maps of the target area and those would come eventually, but not now. So, for want of a better choice, the missiles had been modified to use laser designation.
The first salvo of three missiles had unitary warheads and the explosion of the 700 pound charges enveloped the head of the column in rolling orange-red fireballs. Through her binoculars, Cassidy saw the baldricks start running sideways trying to get away from the onslaught they knew had to come. Word from the survivors of Abigor’s and Beelzebub’s armies had spread fast, when the humans started shooting with their missiles, the only way to survive was to run far and fast. And so they did, or they tried to. Cassidy swung her binoculars back on to the great Rhinolobsters. They had been abandoned on the track and the magnification of her binoculars allowed her to see the great beasts swinging their heads around, looking for an enemy to gore, while the terrified nagas on their backs screamed and tried to struggle free.
That’s when the second wave of three Tomahawks hit. DeVanzo had switched his point of aim back along the column and the three missiles sensed the change of aiming point and lifted their nose just a little. In a straight line, about 100 yards between each missile, the three weapons soared straight over the shattering baldrick column and started to distribute their submunitions. The launching submarines hadn’t known what the warhead requirements would be so they’d loaded their eight tubes with four missiles with submunitions and four with unitary warheads. The skippers had alternated the loads as they’d emptied their tubes but the spotting team on the ground didn’t know that. Each type came as a nice surprise.
It wasn’t so nice for the demons on the receiving end. The first three explosions had blown the leading demons into unrecognizable chunks of flesh and bone, then the submunitions had scythed down the others as they ran. The only thing that saved some of them was that the missiles were too spaced out and the coverage too thin to blanket the area the way and MLRS salvo would have done. Cassidy smacked DeVanzo’s arm and pointed to the group of Rhinolobsters. He swung the laser designation spot on to them and held it there while the third wave of missiles slammed their unitary warheads into the great beasts. Even far away, on the hills, McElroy’s team heard the animals screaming as the warheads blasted them.
DeVanzo held his designator on the same spot, directing the fourth salvo of missiles so that their submunitions would cover the area just pounded by the blast of the high explosive charges. The nagas were the creatures that opened the sky volcanoes, they were the primary target. The other baldricks were just meat on the table, footsloggers who found themselves in the target area. Slaughtering them was a bonus but not really necessary. In his heart, DeVanzo found himself feeling slightly sorry for them, the war was over but they were still going to die because their boss was too dumb or too stubborn to admit it. Reflecting on it as the fourth wave of missiles blanketed the Rhinolobsters, DeVanzo decided that it was just too bad.
A group of baldricks were running south, towards where the team had their position. It wasn’t an attack, the baldricks had no idea what was killing them let alone where it was being done from, it was just plain bad luck on their part. DeVanzo designated them and watched the fifth and sixth salvos of missiles tear into their ranks and send them stumbling into the ground. Then, a final switch to another group who still seemed to have some level of organization and it was all over.
McElroy looked down on the devastation that lay in the valley underneath his position. “Well, that livened up a dull morning didn’t it.”
Valley Leading To Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell
Belial couldn’t quite believe he was still alive. He’d been on the edge of the bombing that destroyed Satan’s palace, he’d seen the shattered remnants of Beelzebub’s army retreating from the Phlegethon River but he’d never been under the relentless hammer of the human war machine before. He was stunned by the enormity of the attack, but even more so by its impersonal, faceless nature. The humans didn’t fight, they just stood far away and destroyed their enemies by remote control. He felt hatred surging, uncontained, within him. The humans had been his route to greatness, his attacks on them had won him favor with Satan and now lifted him further than he’d ever dared hope he’d rise. Now, their machines were tearing him down again.
Around him, the survivors of his column were picking themselves up and trying to make sense of the carnage that surrounded them. Some went to help wounded friends who lay helpless on the ground, their bodies slashed by the deep gouges that were the marks of human weapons. Not all could be helped for the humans used iron in their weapons and iron was poison. Enough of his minions had died in the mines of Palelabor from iron-poisoning to show how deadly that particular aspect of human weapons was.
Then, Belial looked at the center of his column, where the Beasts and their Naga burdens had been caught on the road. They were dead, all of them. Blown apart then the survivors cut up by the humans. There were no survivors, none. They were all dead and that meant the attacks on human cities were over for there were too few nagas left to open the portals. It was over, he would have to think of a new way to continue this war for it was only by continuing the war that his rise to power could be confirmed and yet more power gathered into his claws. He would have to think of a new way, Euryale would help him. Quietly, Belial gave thanks that she had not been here to fall under the human onslaught for he needed her support and insight.
“We will return to Palelabor. Bring along those who can recover.” Belial set off, unknown to him, watched by Baroness Yulupki who had managed to slide off her Beast in time to worm her way under the rocks and so protect herself from the explosions and slashing iron fragments. She would not join the sad procession back to Palelabor, Belial thought she was dead and it was better that way. Now she could quietly leave his retinue and find a way to get back into the changing world of Hell.
Belial’s column, the healthy and the wounded, the latter supported by other demons, wended their way though the twisting canyon that led to the valley that was their final refuge. They’d left barely an hour before, on their way to inflict another great blow against humans. Now all they needed was shelter. Belial led the way back, down the valley and then turned to approach the gates that marked the entrance to Palelabor. Those gates were still closed, and Belial quietly gave thanks for Euryale’s common sense in closing them as soon as she’d heard the explosions of the strike that had wrecked his column.
“Open Up, Your Master Awaits.” His voice boomed out, echoing across the valley.
The reply was sudden and deadly, a barrage of lightning bolts slashed out from the firing ports in the walls around the gates, tearing into the survivors of his column, cutting them down as they stood motionless, in shock. Then, the spell broke. Some ran, trying to escape from the vicious crossfire, others attempted to charge their tridents and return fire. Both were futile, there was nowhere to run to and the demons inside the fortress were behind firing slits, protected from all but the luckiest of shots. Belial knew what was happening, there were three demons behind every slit, two charging tridents and the third firing them. The result was a steady rain of fire that decimated what was left of his force.
“Euryale!” His voice echoed again and this time there was hopelessness in it.
Hills Around The Underground Fortress of Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell
“Team-One reporting in Sarge. You’re going to love this.” He ought to, Cassidy thought, she did. “The survivors got back to the fortress and the garrison first slammed the gates in their face and then opened fire on them. Team-One says it’s a massacre down there. The baldricks outside are being cut to pieces. There’s a big one, he must be the Belial we heard about I guess, just standing there and shouting something.”
McElroy nodded. “Tell Team-One to watch and report. I’ll radio this in.”
Outside Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell
“Euryale!” Belial called again, but there was no answer. For the second time in an hour, he couldn’t understand while he was still alive. There was no sign of her, she must have been imprisoned, there must have been some kind of coup while he was with the column. Then his heart sank for he knew that in hell coups never involved taking the deposed prisoner, they were always killed. Euryale had to be dead, She had to be.
The fire around him slackened and he saw movement on the gallery over the gate, artfully carved so that it fitted in with the natural contours of the rock. There was a flash of gold up there, and Belial adjusted his vision for long distance. It was Euryale, standing on the gallery, her wings folded behind her.
“Euryale, you’re alive!”
She looked down at him; Belial wasn’t certain whether he actually heard the words, read her lips or received a thought transmission but its words were clear. “Kill him.”
The warning was just enough. Belial dived for cover as a hail of lightning bolts slashed at the rocks where he had been standing. He took cover, feeling one bolt tear into his wing tissue. Not a serious wound for a Grand Duke of Hell, it took many lightning bolts to kill a Greater Demon. He wormed his way behind the rocks, sensing the relentless battering of the massed trident fire that was aimed at him. When he’d got clear enough he took the chance of looking. Euryale was standing on the gallery still, directing the barrage of fire against likely hiding places. Beside her was one of his new Great Tridents, a naga strapped to it. Belial didn’t kid himself that it wasn’t fully charged.
Then Euryale saw him, she must have had her vision set for long distance as well, and the Great Trident was aimed straight at him. Again, Belial dived and rolled, trying to get clear and escape from this murderous ambush. The Great Trident bolt hit exactly where he had been, shattering rocks and sending fragments tearing into him. “Euryale!” Belial’s voice was closer to being a sob than anything else.
Belial knew there was only one chance, he had to get out of the killing ground before the Great Trident was recharged. He leaped up to his feet and started running, ignoring the lightning bolts that hissed around him, paying no attention to the one that hit his back. He was running from battle, something no Great Duke ever did and the thought of it shamed him. It was the human’s fault, all the human’s fault. They’d disrupted his plans, they’d stopped his rise to power, they’d resisted him, defied him. They’d turned Euryale against him.
At that point, instinct made Belial dive suddenly to one side and roll over. The Great Trident bolt again hit exactly where he had been had he not made that dive. With luck, he’d be out of range before the machine was charged again. There were more thuds as lightning bolts from normal tridents hit him and he could feel the injuries taking their toll. He was weakening, slowing but he had to keep running. There was a point in the hills where the slopes were not so steep, where he could climb his way out. He dived again, this time around a fold in the rock and he was, at last, out of the killing zone. He had survived, somehow.
Belial’s mind didn’t really appreciate the fact that he had, yet again, survived. It was too filled with hatred for the humans who had done this thing to him. All he could think of was revenge, revenge for the destruction, revenge for his fall when he had so nearly reached the apex of power in hell. Revenge for taking Euryale from him. It had to be human magic, it had to be human magery, some unknown power they had that he was not aware of. Had not her handmaiden said the humans had other weapons they had not used yet?
“Euryale.” Belial moaned the word, the pain of his wounds seeping slowly through the red fog of rage and grief in his mind. He didn’t know what the humans had done to her but he would have his revenge. Even if it killed him.
His breath recovered, Belial started off on his escape from Palelabor. One thing nagged at him, Hell had fallen to the humans, his was the last outpost of resistance. Where was he to go, what we he to do? The questions nagged his mind as he staggered across the valley and climbed out of the valley. As darkness fell, all he could think of was the sight of that golden figure on the gallery and the words “Kill Him.”
Fortress of Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell
“It is done as you ordered, Chatelaine.” Euryale looked at the major-domo of the fortress.
“They are all dead?”
“All of them Chatelaine. All those who remained loyal to Belial are dead. It was a cunning move to put most of them in his column to the volcano. May I ask, how did you know the humans would be there?”
“The humans are the Lords of War, nothing is beyond them. They destroyed the Adamantine Fortress, that showed they knew who was responsible for the attacks on their cities. They shut down the two existing portals, showing they knew how to do it. It was certain they were watching us in case we started a third. And if they were watching us, they knew how to kill us. I did not know how they did it, but they would. And they did. Now, are all our people well-briefed?”
“Yes Chatelaine. Belial seized your fortress and imprisoned you and those loyal to you. Then he and his people set about their evil schemes. It was a time of great hardship but we managed to plot our escape and recover the fortress. We have stopped Belial’s plans for more attacks and killed those responsible. Now, we wish to surrender to the humans who killed those who treated us so brutally.”
“Very good. Make sure everybody remembers it. For the survival of us all depends on our being seen as Belial’s victims.”
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others