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 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 41 - 45
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:24 pm 
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Randi Institute of Pneumatology, the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

“I guess it’ll be a relief dealing with normal people after having that sick freak around.” There was a stir of anger in the room. kitten’s boyfriend had started to get up but she put her hand on his and stopped him. It was a gesture that did not go unnoticed by most of the people in the room. Martin Chestnut was one who didn’t, he looked around smugly, the angry reaction to the insult aimed at kitten amused and satisfied him. Another thing he didn’t notice was two of the Special Forces troopers exchanging significant glances, they knew what kitten had gone through to keep the link to the teams in Hell open. Chestnut had just scheduled himself for an old military custom, a blanket party, at the first available opportunity.

James Randi cast a very sharp look at Chestnut, he’d spent his life exposing frauds and imposters and he was convinced Chestnut was one although in what sense he wasn’t quite sure yet. There was no doubt in Randi’s mind that the man had skills though, he’d made everybody in the room hate him. Randi had caught a whispered comment from a visiting Marine, something about Chestnut being a candidate for wall-to-wall counseling. Still, business first.

“We have to evaluate your ability to open a link before we can take this matter any further. We have several people now who can speak to various people in Hell, but so far kitten is the only person we have found who can sustain a link and open a portal. She’s worked very hard for the last few weeks and she needs a break. So, we are going to try and open a portal to a team we have on the Seventh Circle, they are desperately short of ammunition and need resupply urgently. So, kitten’s going to talk to them and they we’ll see if you can open a portal.”

“Just keep that pervert away from me.” The Marine and the Special Forces troopers exchanged glances, the blanket party attendance had just grown. On one of the seats, kitten relaxed and opened her mind up.

Tucker? Are you there? Can you speak?

Hey kitten, sure can. We’re having a rest, we’ve just got a new member here. Private Joanna Cassidy, USMC. He rattled the serial number off. She’s in a bad way but she’ll mend, physically anyway.

“Got her, Marine Private Cassidy. Killed in a humvee wreck about six months ago, in Iraq.” The Marine had typed the number into a notepad and the answer was immediate.

Confirmed Tucker. Now, we’re going to try something. We’ve got another guy here who can contact Hell so we’re going to see if he can open a portal. If he can, we’ll be able to get you some stuff, we have a sword for Ori, one he’ll like we think. Its called a Katana, it’s a gift from the Japanese Government. A swordmaster over there made it from modern steel. We have more ammunition and some semtex for you.

That’s fabulous kitten, sure you’re not going to get hurt for this?

Quite sure, I’m not going to hurt. At the other end, Tucker noticed the satisfaction in her thoughts and wondered what was going on back there.

“Link’s set up. Martin, please make the portal.”

“Its Mister Chestnut to you.” He relaxed on the couch and had the wiring set up around him. Meanwhile kitten disconnected and isolated herself from the system. Behind the control bank, the operator started running the power up to portal threshold. Chestnut started writhing and moaning on the couch. “****, this hurts, you never told me it would hurt like this.”

Then, the black ellipse started to form in the room and Chestnut’s wailing reached a new level. The sword was the first thing to get thrown through, followed by some packs of Semtex and boxes of rifle ammunition. Then, the ellipse slammed down.

kitten grabbed her head-set and pushed through a contact. Tucker, did you get anything?

Yeah, thanks, the sword’s here and we got a box of ammo and five of Semtex. Guess your guy wasn’t too hot huh?

Very noisy. Bye Tucker, talk to you soon.

Bye Kitten

“They got a little stuff, the sword, 5 kilos of Semtex and 250 rounds of ammunition.” kitten relaxed a little.

“And that’s all anybody will get until you agree to my terms.” Chestnut had a predatory grin on his face.

“What terms?” Randi spoke cautiously.

“I want a million a year retainer. A hundred thou bonus every time I have to open a portal up for you. You’ll buy an apartment for me wherever I choose to live and I want a Ferrari. I’ll tell you which kind later.”

“That all?” Randi was beginning to lose his temper.

“No, but I’ll add the rest later. You might as well agree now though, you haven’t got any choice.”

“Actually we do.” The voice from the door was contralto and silky. For those who knew the General, this meant trouble was coming for somebody. Nobody had ever heard her swear, she’d never had to. “We have three more candidates coming in today. An Indian and a Chinese lady and a Chinese man. All have passed the initial tests you laid down James, they’re looking very good. The Indian Lady speaks very good English so I’m told, she worked in a bank customer service center before she went mad.” The General was staring at Chestnut expressionlessly. It occurred to Randi that the lack of feeling was more terrifying than any display of dislike could have been. “General Schatten? A useful recruit this one? For the field test?”

“Yes indeed Ma’am. Mister Chestnut.” Schatten loaded the ‘Mister’ with irony. “Here’s our counter-offer. We give you a nice green suit with a red-brown one for work-wear. We will pay you one thousand two hundred and forty five dollars and ninety cents per month, before deductions. We’ll also provide you with a nice pair of boots for walking around in. We’ll even feed you and give you a bed to sleep in.”

“Forget it. No way.”

“You don’t have any choice, Private Chestnut. You’re in the Army now. We have reinstated the draft you know.” Schatten’s voice was richly amused by the sudden change on the man’s face.

“You can’t make me do the portal thing. Or anything else. And I won’t. Not unless I get my money.”

“It’s Sir to you. No, we can’t. But I must advise you that you’re being assigned to a field test program. We know that sensitives can contact Hell, but what happens if we put a sensitive in hell and try to contact out? We need to know that but kitten was much, much too valuable to use that way. Still is. But you’re not. So, we’re assigning you to Camp Hell-Alpha and you’ll stay there until the program is complete. Of course, if you don’t co-operate that may take a very long time. You two.” Schatten gestured at the two Special Forces men. “Take Private Chestnut away and show him how the Army works.”

“It’ll be a pleasure Sir.”

“I thought it might be.” The two Special Forces men led Chestnut out and closed the door behind them. A few seconds later there was a muffled thud and the door shook, followed by an apologetic “oops”. The Marine in the room suddenly developed a satisfied expression in his face,

Major General Asanee had sat down beside kitten. “How are you doing?”

“Well, thank you ma’am.”

“Good, for I have some news for you. If our three new recruits work out a bit better than Mis…. than Private Chestnut…. did, you’ll get some leave soon. My Learjet is waiting to take you to Bangkok for your operation, as I promised, my government will pay the account. Until then, I’d like you to meet somebody, one who has already been through the procedure. She’ll tell you what to expect and how to do things afterwards. She’s waiting outside, as soon as you’re done here, you two can get together.”

Deep Tunnel Stygia ('The Slime Pit'), Shaft 14, Slocum Mine, Tartarus

Captain James Shanklin stood knee-deep in the stagnant water, listlessly hacking away at an exposed copper vein. It had been something like a century now that he'd been in this literally God-forsaken place, give or take a decade. It was all so unfair. Hadn't he died for King and Country, like you were supposed to? He'd gone to church... mostly. He'd been a faithful husband... almost. There had been that one time, a year before the German shell ended his life, just after that fresh-faced young private had joined the squad. In the earthly hell of the Somme they all thought they had only weeks to live, surely God could forgive a man for seeking whatever companionship and release he could under such conditions?

It would seem that God could not. James dimly recalled spending decades in an empty wasteland scoured by a constant terrible storm, wandering without ever finding rest or shelter. Then he was brought here, seemingly to mine copper for all eternity. The last few months had been particularly intolerable. He was sure that other prisoners were stealing ore from his crates when he wasn't looking, because he'd been sentenced to work in the slime pit almost every week. Worst of all, the pointless riots meant that all the humans were now kept chained up at all times. The corroded bronze manacle had already rubbed his ankle raw. The formerly lax demon supervisors seemed to have found a new motivation for their calling, as they were more eager than ever to apply their whips.

The rumors had been going around the mine since the demons had first questioned them about human weapons. At first there was nothing but a welter of speculation, but as of late they had taken a decidedly grim turn. New workers were arriving, fresh from earth and bringing tales of their homes falling to an irresistible demonic onslaught. City after city was apparently being raped, pillaged and burned by the fiendish legions. Some refused to believe, harping on about inconsistencies in the stories, but James knew they were just grasping at straws. He had seen what being in the midst of brutal slaughter could do to the mind first hand, at Flanders and Neuve Chapelle; if anything the confused ranting of the new arrivals only confirmed the horror of what they had witnesses. In his mind all of humanity was clearly doomed to suffer, individually and collectively.

Into this uniformly depressing picture had come an unexpected ray of hope. At the start of this shift, they had been assembled in the loading area again and Medusa had a different message for them. Reading from a slate chalked with strange runes, she had implored the workers to reveal the location of the human arsenals. Only then would the demons be able to spare the remaining cities from total destruction. Any human who helped make this possible would be rewarded with dominion over one of the surviving settlements, to rule it in Satan's name for the rest of time.

For Captain Shanklin the struggle with his conscience had been a brief one. He had been loyal to the King and the Empire had sent him to a fair approximation of this place, rendered in stinking trenches and screaming shellfire, only to throw away his life fighting over a patch of worthless French mud. He had been faithful and his God had abandoned him. Even in this place, his fellow men seemed to wish him only further suffering. No, he no longer gave his loyalty to anyone but himself. James resolved to grasp this chance. He was already in hell, he could hardly damn himself a second time by supping with the devil. Besides, if the people of Sheffield saw sense and surrendered, perhaps he would be able to save his home from total destruction. What more noble deed could be expected of him?

A dull pounding echoed down the tunnel, muffled by the standing water. An overseer was coming; at regular intervals the hoof-beats paused and were replaced by screams as another miner was given a taste of the barbed whip. The pounding became splashing as the demon approached. James' hands began to tremble as he waited for it to reach him, sweat beaded on his forehead as he prepared to betray everything he had ever known. At last the monstrous creature came into sight. The demon seemed to combine the worst features of a gorilla and a goat into a vast brutish humanoid. The sight of the human's motionless pick had just registered on its face and it began to raise its great spiked lash.

“Wait!” shouted Captain Shanklin, “I can help! I can tell you where all the Empire's steel comes from! I can lead you to the forges that make Britannia's great guns and railways!”

The demon paused with whip raised, uncomprehending. James shouted desperately. “The weapons that are giving your armies pause! The metal they are made from, you call it 'enchanted iron'. I can show you where most of it is made!”

For a moment it looked like the demon would ignore him, but then it slowly lowered its whip and reached into the water. The chains confining the humans had no locks; if the demons were capable of such craftwork, they did not waste it on lowly human prisoners. Instead there was simply an unwelded bronze link too thick for a human to bend, but which the overseer's supernatural strength could easily open and close. The demon's clawed hands emerged holding the end of the chain, with which it yanked the human forwards.

“Come.” James has no choice but to follow the brute up through the winding tunnels towards the main shaft, the chain pulling him roughly to his feet when he tripped and fell. “I hope you're lying, little human, because I'd love to make a feast of your entrails.”

They turned off the main tunnel into an area James had never entered before. It seemed to be a kind of office, well lit with numerous torches and filled with carved stone tables and stools. Slates filled with chalked runes lay on the tables and hung from the walls, along with thin fired-clay tablets covered in more runes. His eyes only had seconds to take this in before Medusa entered the room, her snake-hair writhing gently. James averted his gaze as quickly as possible, falling to his knees in the manner he'd seen the lesser demons use during the rare visits of the senior overseer.

“This one claims to know where the humans make their enchanted iron.”

Lakheenahuknaasi stared at the wretched human cowering before her. Its form was still dripping with rank water. She hoped this one had something useful. Euryale had gambled a lot on this wild scheme, and if it failed she would undoubtedly ensure her handmaidens suffered with her. Lakheenahuknaasi aimed a tentacle at the human and shot a single enthralment dart into the man's shoulder, enough to make it difficult for him to lie to her without robbing him of his wits. He reeled, shook his head and then tried to look at her out of the corner of his eye, in that annoying manner humans seemed to have. Lakheenahuknaasi smiled at him, unaware that her fangs made the gesture more threatening than reassuring. “So, you have something to tell me, yesss?”

Throne Room, Palace of Satan, Dis, Hell

Satan had thrown some temper tantrums in his time but this one exceeded any those present could easily remember. Most of the Orc domestic staff had died one way or another, and the only reason why the massacre had stopped there was that Satan had run out of energy. While his magic built up again, he contented himself with screaming abuse at the gathered nobles. Eventually even that led to an exhausted silence. He looked around at the stunned nobility, his eyes flickering from one to the next, trying to catch even the slightest whiff of treason.

“How many members of my guard were killed?”

“Nine, Sire.”
“And you claim that humans did this.” There was a sly inflexion on the ‘you claim’.

“They did Sire, they were seen by a Greater Herald that flew not far away. He saw the Iron Chariots killing them.” That was a trump call, Satan wouldn’t argue with testimony from one of his own Greater Heralds.

“And after the battle they crossed over the bridge and destroyed the camp the other side of the Phlegethon. Then they retreated back to their side of the river where a Flying Chariot joined them.”

Satan screamed again, and a lightning bolt struck down the speaker where he stood. “Their side of the river? Who else thinks such treason?” His eyes ran around the room, seeking for treason again, or an excuse to kill, there wasn’t much difference really. “The humans are still at the Dysprosium Bridge.”

“They are.” Beelzebub spoke carefully. “But they destroyed it. The Phlegethon is unbridged there now.”

“Then destroy them. Take your legions, all of them, and destroy them. Belial, is your plan ready to carry out? Or will you be seeing your furnaces from the inside?”

“We are ready Your Majesty. We have the information we need and the chorus is set up.” And I can only hope that’s true Belial thought. It wasn’t when I left two days ago, and when I get back, I’ll have little time left.

“Then you will time your attack to match Beelzebub’s assault on the Human Army. How soon can you move your army.”

Beelzebub cast an eye at Belial and thought carefully. “Four days Your Majesty.”

“Then that gives you two more days Belial. Use them well.”

Behind the scene, Deumos watched carefully, absorbing every nuance, every undercurrent in the great room. And through her mind kept running the phrase “the humans cannot lose.”

Then, the audience was disturbed by a Greater Herald who stumbled in, exhausted from a too-rapid flight. “Your Majesty, terrible news. Asmodeus is dead.”

There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:25 pm 
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Banks of the River Styx, Fifth Circle of Hell

“Are you sure this is going to work?” Lieutenant (deceased) Jade Kim was concerned. This was by far the most ambitious scheme she and the Special Forces H Team assigned to her had attempted. It was taking up a frightening amount of resources, all their Semtex, their claymores and their concentrated strength. More than twenty humans, six deceased, fourteen living, and a small group of deceased spectators. Hell was going to hell Kim thought, they’d be having embedded reporters here next.

Beside her, Lieutenant Rollings watched the bottleneck in the road below. The ambush had been very carefully set up and additional troops brought in to bring it off. The problem was, the plan depended upon the baldricks keeping to their usual, predictable, selves. Faced with a problem, they invariably responded the same way, presumably the one that had been tested and proved successful over more years than humans could comfortably contemplate. If they continued to work that way, then this ambush would also work. If they didn’t, then the team here would be seriously weakened. There was a back-up plan for that, if necessary, the whole group would bail out through a portal, the living humans would stay back on Earth while the deceased would quickly re-insert into another region of Hell to join one of the new groups that had started up.

The strategy had been in operation ever since the baldrick forces had started their campaign to suppress the PFLH. They’d begun their encampments around a massive fortification near the now-severed bridge over the Styx. They’d started building them in a checkerboard fashion, each one within sight of the next, moving slowly forward as the lines of outposts were complete. The baldrick commander didn’t seem to be short of troops, that was for certain, and his strategy was quite obvious. To slowly shrink the ground the PFLH had to maneuver in until they were forced to fight in a static battle against overwhelming odds. It was a familiar strategy, one that had been used against guerilla forces since the days of Caesar’s battles in Gaul and probably for a long time before that. Still, Rollings had been taught his trade well and knew how to handle this particular problem. After all, the U.S. Army had been taught that particular lesson in the jungles of Vietnam by some real experts in guerilla warfare. Idly, he wondered just where the dead Vietcong were, they’d make excellent recruits for this particular war.

The dance had started with attacks on the leading edge of the outpost line. When one row was completed, somewhere the next row had to start with a unit being pushed forward. That unit, nine baldricks strong had been ambushed and wiped out. There was no doubt about it, the M-107 rifles were a murderously effective tool when used right and they could cut down the baldricks from ranges that the demons couldn’t easily grasp. After losing the first couple of advance units, they’d tried pushing several forward at once. A rapid-fire series of assaults had done for them as well. As the baldrick casualties had mounted, fighting an enemy they couldn’t see or touch, their morale must have started to plummet because they were showing less and less desire to be moving forward.

Well, that had led to the next stage, the baldrick commander had started to push bigger units forward, a full 81-baldrick company rather than the nine-baldrick squad. Interesting that, Rollings thought, they’d jumped the 27-baldrick platoon completely. That might be a measure of the morale problem down there or perhaps a shortage of junior leaders. Armies that had problems with their NCO numbers frequently dropped the platoon as an effective combat element and treated it as a training ground for company-level NCOs. Whatever. The baldricks had pushed a full company out to secure the basis for their next row of outposts. They’d expected that unit to be attacked and the PFLH had obliged them. They’d taken out the two outposts behind it, isolating it from aid and then laid siege. Of course, the baldricks had done what every army did in such circumstances and sent in a relief force, in this case, two more full companies.

They’d learned the lesson the U.S. Army had learned about that very quickly. The relief force had itself been ambushed, it had been swamped by a hail of rifle and rocket fire that had driven it back in disarray. That battle had cost the Special Forces the life of one of its troopers, fried by a lightning bolt. He’d been too keen, he’d kept firing from the same position rather than changing after every shot. He was doubtless somewhere out here, trying to escape and rejoin the fight as a trooper (deceased). If he could be located, they’d rescue him, DIMO(N) were working on that. By the time the battle was over a couple more of the Special Forces people had been wounded and the team had to be replaced, that was where Rollings and his group had come in.

With their first rescue column mauled and repulsed, the baldricks had thrown in a bigger one, probably the rest of the battalion, almost 500 strong. It had been lead by a major demon, a huge creature who had been carefully photographed and the images sent back to DIMO(N). They’d identified him as Asmodeus, one of the Great Dukes down here. They’d added that it was the custom for senior leaders to lead in person at a critical point in a battle and that had been interesting from several points of view. Not least of which was the fact that the baldricks obviously considered this engagement a critical one. He’d lead the relief force, the PFLH had refrained from engaging it and the outpost garrison had then been relieved.

That had set the style for the next period of fighting. The PFLH would besiege an outpost, inflicting casualties on it but not taking it. If a smaller relief column set out, it would be ambushed and its mauled remains sent scurrying back with its tail between its legs. But if Asmodeus himself led the force, it would be left unattacked. For the last couple of sieges, the baldrick commander had dispensed with the small relief column and led a full battalion himself, obviously convinced that his presence deterred any further attack.

So, the battlefield had been shaped and the blow set up. The baldricks were indeed predictable, it was easy to determine where their future outposts would, if they had such things as checklists, Rollings could have written one for them and they wouldn’t have known the difference between his and their own. He’d been able to choose his ground carefully, the place where he would attack his outpost and the place where he would ambush the relief column. This time, the presence of Asmodeus would be the reason for the attack, not one to pull back.

“There they are Broomstick.” The column was approaching, a way off yet, but still visible, a shining black mass against the gray-green slime of the Fifth Circle. “And the Tall Fellow is leading them again.”

“What’s that above them.” Kim spoke urgently, her binoculars traversing the scene.

“Damn. Harpies. That’s a new wrinkle. They smarten up faster than we thought. They’re staying close in though, they still don’t understand how far away we can reach. Nine of them?”

“Nine, Chris. Confirm they’re close in.” Her radio blipped and she listened briefly. “Three of my people back at Outpost 11-1 have taken a few more shots but the baldricks there have learned as well, they’re keeping their heads down. Those that still have a head that is.” Over the last few weeks, Kim and her team had pulled a dozen or so people out of the mud. Nine had been more or less useless, civilians, ancient, modern and in between, without any useful skills and she had sent those to Rahab. Three had been soldiers, two modern U.S. Army people. One of them had been killed in Vietnam, another in Operation Desert Storm. They’d taken little in the way of instruction and had checked out on the M107 and M114 fast. The third had been a French Poilu who’d died at Verdun. He’d taken a bit more training but his attitude to the battle had been an inspiration. His constant muttering of “they shall not pass” and his assertion that Hell was an improvement on the mud and slime of Verdun had become unit legends.

Rollings watched the column enter the killing ground he had chosen. The Tall Fellow was leading on a Giant Rhinolobster, by far the biggest that had ever been seen, right at the head of his troops where good demonic practice said he should be. Rollings judged his moment carefully and twisted the first of his detonators. The explosive pattern was the same one that Kim had used weeks earlier to kill her first baldrick rider, an X-shape of Claymores but this time, the X had six of the directional mines in each of its arms, saturating the entire head of the column with the clouds of pre-shaped metal fragments. Rollings didn’t stop to admire his handiwork, there was too much to be done. He twisted the second detonator, setting off the huge semtex charge that was directly underneath Asmodeus. Over a thousand pounds of the Czech high explosive was buried there, covered with rocks for fragmentation, but it was the sheer blast that Rollings was relying on. The explosion had the striking power of an 8,000 pound aerial bomb and the explosive blocks had been laid in a dish-shape to focus that blast upwards. Asmodeus disappeared in the rolling orange ball of fire and smoke, even as his troops were scythed down by the claymores.
Above the column, the harpies were flung around by the huge blast, tumbled in mid-air, left stunned and disorientated. Several had been hit by flying rocks and dropped to the ground, others on the rim of the blast pattern started scanning the ground trying to pick up the authors of the devastating blow. Even as they did so, one burst into flame as a .50 SLAP round from an M-107 ruptured his body and his acid blood set his tissues on fire.

Two of the harpies were luckier, they had been on a far swing, away from the sight of the devastating concussion, and they spotted two humans on the ground, firing at the baldricks around the blast sight and so absorbed with that they simply didn’t notice the threat looming above them. The harpies dived on them, grabbing them with their claws, rending their flesh from their bodies, their calls of triumph blending with the screams of the dying humans. One of the Special Forces heavy weapons team saw the attack and swung his .50 caliber Browning machine gun onto the scene, chopping both harpies out of the sky, too late to save their victims. The machine gunner noted that grimly and made it his duty to get the rest of the harpies before they could do any more harm

On the ground, the smoke was clearing, revealing the huge crater where the head of the relief column had been. The mud had been blasted away down to bedrock, figures of baldricks were scattered around but of the Great Rhinolobster there was no sign. It must have been part of the horrible tangle of eviscerated body parts that strewed the area. Rollings surveyed the area intently but it was Kim who spotted Asmodeus first. He’d been shielded, partially, by the rhinolobster he had been riding but he had been thrown hundreds of feet and the lower part of his body was hideously mangled. She shouldered her M-107 and took careful aim through the telescopic sight, putting round after round into the Great Duke’s head. Asmodeus was still moving, trying to drag himself along by his hands, trying to get away from the blows that were destroying him. He felt his strength fading, then there was another blast and his struggle ended.

Kim saw the great body cease moving and watched as two rockets plowed into it, ending the work of destruction. She saw the rest of the column looking at the scene in appalled silence as the stunning realization that a Great Duke of Hell had just died sank in. For a moment everything on the battlefield was still, an eerie silence with neither humans nor baldricks firing. Then it was broken by the hammer of the .50 machine gun as it started to rake the survivors. That did it, the baldricks broke and ran.

“Sorry about your men Chris. We’ll watch out for them. If kitten can find them, we’ll get them out for you.”

“Thanks Broomstick. We’d better get out of here, those harpies were a nasty surprise. We want to be a long way away before the baldricks get their act together and come hunting.”

Throne Room of the Adamant Fastness, Tartaruan Range, Outer Rim of Hell

“There had better be good news.” Belial had had his days on wyvern-back to absorb the news of the death of Asmodeus and there was no upside to that story. One of the greatest Dukes of Hell was dead, killed by humans. If they could kill him, they could kill anybody. They could even kill……. Belial stopped himself, if Satan detected that thought, Belial’s end would be horrible beyond contemplation. “We must avenge Asmodeus.”

“Please tell the court what you told me, about the forges of Sheffield.” Lakheenahuknaasi asked, as sweetly as she could manage following the stunning news of the death of the Great Duke. Her mind was also calculating, if the humans could kill the Great Dukes, then they had to be stopped before they won this war. And if they couldn’t be stopped, wasn’t it time she……?

Captain Shanklin was shaking with fear at the sight of the vast ornate room filled with huge armored demons. Their stares seemed to bore straight into his mind, rendering any notion of backing out now ludicrous.

“Well, m'lords and ladies, you see, all our guns, all our shells are made of steel. You call it 'enchanted iron', not that that's a bad thing to call it of course, since it just be iron with some special additives.”

This caused a minor stir in the court. One of the great armored demons spoke; “Human, do you know the secret of this alchemy? Could you transform plain molten iron into the enchanted iron?”

James gulped. “Perhaps, m'lord, it being the case that I was a foreman at the Bessemer works before the Great War... I would have to see your furnaces...”

As his words trailed off the great antlered demon on the throne spoke in a thundering voice. “I am sure that Baron Trajakrithoth's question was purely hypothetical. Our lord Satan has decreed that hell does not need iron and that no demon shall attempt to make weapons from it. Our furnaces smelt bronze, brass, copper, silver and gold, no iron.” Those words did not seem to be directed at the human, but the next ones were. “Now, what of this 'Sheffield'? It has many furnaces, many forges?”

”Aye, the city of Sheffield makes more steel than anywhere else in the Empire. The best steel too, and many things from that steel, cast and machined.” Despite all that he'd been through, there was still a hint of pride in Shanklin's voice.

The demon lord was clearly pleased and James sagged with relief. “Excellent. Where can I find this city of steel?”

“Why, in Yorkshire, centre of the British Isles, m'lord. Look sixty miles north from Birmingham, or thirty miles west from Manchester, or even twenty miles south from Leeds.”

Belial's expression did not show any hint of recognition at the names of the various British cities, but the rough triangulation seemed to satisfy him for now. “Very good... Jaameshankel.” The count waved his hand dismissively, which Lakheenahuknaasi took as a command to lead the human away.

“You said you had another trai... ah, informant, Euryale? One who knows of the iron chariots?”

“Yes, my lord.” The gorgon queen turned to address another of her retinue. “Present your new friend, Megaaeraholrakni.”

The second handmaiden stepped forward, her clawed hand keeping a tight grip on the shoulder of a short, bald human. The man swayed unsteadily; Megaaeraholrakni had dosed him heavily with her poison, not wanting to risk him having a last-minute change of heart. She whispered into his ear, “these... men... are very interessted in your 'tankss', please tell them what Dee'Troyt can offer them.”

Bob Reed recited his pitch by rote. “Well sirs, if it's quality you're looking for, dee-troyt has the finest workforce and the most modern production lines in the world. No need to worry about capacity either, we built twenty thousand tanks for uncle sam in double-u double-u two. Don't let the guys from cry-slur fool you, with our boys fighting the gooks in core-rea, their lines are tied up turning out em forty sevens for the feds. It stands to reason, if you've got a big order, gee em are the logical choice. We can get a plant switched over for you in...”

The demons were throwing baffled glances at each other. Could this 'uncle sam' really afford three legions worth of chariots for his troops? More likely the human was inflating the figure to impress. 'Tank' seemed to mean 'iron chariot' but what was an 'em forty seven'? Their lord seemed annoyed and that never bode well for the source of the annoyance.

“Enough. Human, you were asked a simple question. Is this 'Dee’Troyt' a major source of weapons for the human resistance?” Belial's tone oozed with the promise of horrible consequences should this question not be answered promptly.

Now it was Bob's chance to be confused. His eyes remained unfocused as he continued; “Why haven't you heard? Detroit is the arsenal of democracy. Eff Dee Arr said so himself.”

Belial couldn't resist taking over. “So Detroit makes all the chariots for the state of Democracy? Which is ruled by Uncle Sam and populated by Feds? And your great general Eff'dee'ar is leading your armies against us, the ones you call the gooks?”

Bob was saved solely by his loyalty to Selfridge's mantra; 'the customer is always right'. “Well, yeah, I suppose you could put it like that...”

The tension was over now that Belial had made sense of it for them. The barons abandoned the hard task of trying to comprehend the insane humans and slipped back into familiar territory; a flattery competition.

“Excellent deduction my lord!”

“Masterful interrogation, Count Belial!”

Belial allowed this to continue for a few more seconds before silencing the court with a chopping gesture.

“You have pleased me...” there was a slight pause as the count pulled the name from the man's mind... “Bobbreed.” He turned to one of his ubiquitous minor demon servants. “Take them both to the guest rooms. See to their needs until I require them again.” The two humans were led away.

“Excellent. Euryale, you have surpassed my expectations. We now have the location of the two most critical arsenals supporting the human resistance. Once they are destroyed, the human armies will find their reinforcements either severely diminished in number or lacking the enchanted weapons that allow them to challenge us.”

Belial had been concerned that the intelligence would be dangerously out of date. The constant stream of unpleasant surprises since the heralds had first arrived on earth had driven home how much the humans had changed since the demons last visited earth in strength. But the first informant had been dead less than two human lifetimes, the second barely one. Save total destruction by war, great cities could not change significantly in a mere handful of decades.

Euryale half-spread her wings, holding the leathery membranes low in folds that touched the ground, and lowered her head. It was a gesture that implied respect and submission without the admission of inferiority that the more usual forms of groveling involved. “I am most glad that my humble efforts please my lord.” she said, with only the slightest hint of sarcasm.

'I shouldn't let her get away with that' Belial thought, 'but I suppose this once she's earned it.'

The gorgon continued, “There were a few other traitors who I thought might be of use to you. They did not seem to know where the enchanted weapons were produced, like these two. But they did claim to know how to make them.”

Belial looked thoughtful for a moment before shaking his head. “Move them to the palace. Keep them isolated and under guard. Perhaps they can be of use to Trajakrithoth, perhaps they are best used as wyvern feed, but that can wait. We have only three days left to meet Satan's deadline.” Actually it was five, but he had already decided to keep the two extra days in hand as his last reserve.

His gaze shifted to the serpentine form of the leader of the Tartaruan naga. She looked distinctly uncomfortable, her tentacles twitching and her coils shifting irritably on the flagstones. “Baroness Yulupki, your naga are ready of course?”

“My lord, the chorusss will have no difffficulty with the firssst portal...”

Belial frowned. “And the second?”

“It isss not my fault, my lord, the additional naaaga I was promisssed, only a quarter of them have arrived. From the rate that they are arriving, three daysss hence we ssshall ssstill have barely a third.”

Belial slammed his fist down on the arm of his throne hard enough to crack the stone. Nearly every demon in the hall startled at the noise, excepting the court mason who merely sighed at the thought of having to carve yet another throne. “Naturally, the dukes seek to sabotage me, claiming honestly that they sent naga while knowing all the time they will not arrive quickly enough to do any good. But I shall not be denied.” he thundered.

The count pointed at Hipparferstiphasus, the leader of his meager flock of harpies. “You will take every demon that can fly and you will search out the witches we were promised. Then you will take every wyvern we have, snatch up the naga and fly them directly to Okthuura Yal-Gjaknaath.”

“Of course my lord.” The harpy bowed low, wings spreading on the floor, then ran from the throne room.

Yulupki writhed. “My lord, without time to harmonissse the chorusss, we risssk...”

Belial smashed his fist down again, this time hard enough to spall splinters of adamantine from the side of the throne. “No excuses. Why are you still here? Take your naga up to the first portal site immediately and make ready to open it up.”

Yulupki bowed, whirled around and slithered away through the great bronze doors. Euryale didn't even bother to hide her smirk.

“And you, Trajakrithoth?” Belial continued ”Tell me you have the shrines ready.”

The baron charged with running the main forges and workshops was a huge demon with streaky brown fur, little of which was visible under his massive bronze armor, and a voice like a stone grinder. “Almost, my lord. The shrines on Okthuura Jorkastrequar are complete. I am allowing my demons no breaks, no respite. The shrines on Okthuura Yal-Gjaknaath will be completed within two days.”

Belial sat back contentedly, but the forge-master had not finished. “I must warn you though, between making the shrine rods and the rebelliousness of the humans, trident production has been completely disrupted.”

Baron Guruktarqor cut in. “Stocks of refined copper and tin are running low sire, half of our smelting furnaces are out of operation. Plenty of ore in the silos sire but output from the mines is also down to less than half.” The baron was small and runtish for a demon of his station, speaking in a voice reminiscent of a squealing boar; most of the court found him intolerable, but Belial found his talent for keeping track of the minutiae of Tartaruan industry useful. “Euryale's manipulations have stopped the rioting but we need more workers sire, demon and human.”

“You shall get them. Already messengers have arrived from Beelzebub, Merihem and Gressil, demanding our best tridents to equip the legions they are mobilizing. I expect there will be more shortly. I have demanded twelve humans and one lesser demon per crate. They will have no choice but to pay the tribute, unless they would rather leave their legions helpless against the human pellet-throwers.”

“If I could make a request, my lord?”

The count tilted his head, inviting Euryale to continue.

“I have some ideas on how to improve the humans' enthusiasm for their work. But I will require some females. A few dozen should do to start with.”

Belial snorted, a reaction shared by most of the demons present. Tartarus had always levied male humans in return for its wares, as both sexes were equally useful to the torturers but males were obviously far superior manual laborers. There was only one thing Euryale could want the females for and Belial didn't like that notion at all.

“Have you forgotten that we still need the psychic energy of the humans? It hardly matters if we produce a few more tridents, if my serfs are rebelling because your pampered humans no longer give up enough energy.”

“My lord, I am confident that will not be the case. You see, recent events have shown how acclimatized to their condition the humans had become. When a human has nothing left to lose, the quality of anguish we can inflict is limited. For a few decades they rage and hate, but then their minds decay into apathy. By mixing in a little pleasure with their pain, by giving them something to lose again, I will heighten their suffering and inject fresh desperation even as they toil ever harder in your service.”

Again Euryale had caught the attention of the whole court and they were nodding in appreciation of her logic. 'She does have a talent for speeches', thought Belial, 'I will have to find a way to make use of that.'

“Very well. I shall permit you to continue your games... as soon as Sheffield and Detroit have been reduced to glowing slag.” Belial settled back in his damaged throne with a question left unanswered. Why did the humans refer to demons as gooks?

There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:32 pm 
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The Hellmouth, Martial Plain of Dysprosium

“Let’s have any HEAD you have on board.” The voice from outside the tank combined urgency and boredom.

“Would you care to repeat that soldier?” Major Stevenson peered over the edge of her turret. She and her combat group had been waiting in the traffic jam by the Hellmouth for nearly four hours and she wasn’t in the mood for any insubordination. Besides, she was hot, tired and sticky from being inside a tank too long and chewing out a subordinate would be welcome relief. As the thought crossed her mind, she decided she’d probably been in Hell too long.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, but its orders. All outgoing armor is to unload any HEAD ammunition on board for reissue. Its in short supply and the units up on the Phlegethon are going to need it.”

“HEAD? You mean HEAT?”

“No Ma’am. High Explosive Anti-Demon. New round, just started getting the first shipments. Got an iron liner instead of copper. Baldricks surely do hate iron. If you got any Ma’am, we’ll unload it for you.” The Sergeant had noted the battered vehicles and suddenly decided that these units had been in Hell a lot longer than he had. And messing with this Major might be a very bad idea. Especially if the scuttlebutt about a battle brewing was true.

“Hokay. Sergeant, we’ve none of that on board. Any idea how long we’ll be hung up for? I kinda hanker to see a blue sky again.”

“Dunno Ma’am and that’s the honest truth. There’s stuff pouring in all the time. The Russians have been coming in all morning and we had an Israeli armored division before that and I’m told there’s a European armored division behind them. And then there’s the aircraft the brass are towing in. There’s more of our boys unloading down South, or their equipment is. Guys themselves being flown in. Look over there ma’am.”

‘Over there’ was the road leading through the hellmouth. The stream of Russian armor had stopped for a few minutes, their place taken by aircraft tractors, each one towing what looked like an A-10. Only, they were now painted red-gray and they had a mushroom-shaped filter over the engine intakes. Stevenson lifted her mask slightly and took a cautious sniff of the air. It was a lot cleaner here than further into hell, presumably there was some gas exchange through the Hellmouth, but there was a new smell as well. One that achingly reminded Stevenson of home in Bayonne. The smell of tar and oil refineries.

“A blacktop road in Hell. Whodathunkit.”

“Engineers all over ma’am. You should see the roads their building down from the north and up from the ports in the South. And the airfields, they’re sproutin’ like weeds after a thunderstorm. Some of the fighter jocks flew their birds through the ‘mouth but brass put a stop to it. Too risky they said. Look, ma’am, keep your engines running, I’ll get my boys to make a hole for you. Slide you out as fast as we can.”

The Sergeant did his best but it still took more than an hour to get Stevenson’s unit out. Finally, they managed it, sliding her out between the end of the A-10 unit and the start of a Hungarian Su-25 outfit. But, the military police managed it and, once again, there was the silent, undramatic transition as the cloudy red and gray overcast of Hell was replaced by the clear blue of the Earth sky. Just looking at it made Stevenson very happy. Ahead of them, a traffic direction private waved them off the road into a vast parking lot, full of Bradleys, Abrams and Paladins. Plus all the other vehicles that made up the order of battle of an Armored Division. Stevenson recognized the markings, they were all First Armored.

When his Bradley came to a halt, Major Warhol stretched and dropped out of the back, leaving the cramped compartment that had been his home for over a week. Some of his staff from the field operation of DIMO(N) were waiting and he got the customary back-slapping greeting. Behind them, the long cavalcade of vehicles had started moving again, the great Russian ZIL and MAZ trucks being followed by the first of the European Leopard II tanks. Warhol gestured at the convoys that stretched, nose-to-tail, as far as he could see.

“Well, if there wasn’t a Peak Oil problem before, there certainly will be now.”

One of the scientists snorted. “Peak Oil? That…. Oh, never mind. Anyway, we’re hoping we’ll hit oil in Hell. How did it go Major?”

“Not bad, our sims were pretty accurate. The dust is bad though. I’m surprised to see aircraft going in. Licked the filtration problem?”

“Yes and no. The filters cut airflow to the engines by about 20 – 30 percent. So that hits performance. And the time between overhauls is horrible, 50 to 60 hours before an engine has to be pulled and stripped. The good news is the clogging problem’s been licked.”

Something about the way the man put that caught Warhol’s attention. Putting on his most casual voice he asked the question they’d been hoping he wouldn’t. “How did you crack it then?”

There was an embarrassed shuffling of feet. “Well, actually we didn’t. We designed a filter pack and a pod that would use reverse air blast to clean the filters. Only problem was the pilot would have to glide with the engines out while he used it. They didn’t like that. Couple of aircraftmen came up with something better, a series of tabs on the inside of the filter that interfered with the airflow and made the filter shake. The dust in there is dry and that worked like a charm. Doubled or more the time taken for the airflow loss to reach mission-ending proportions.”

Warhol laughed and shook his head. “Right, I just got to say my farewells and then you can bring me up to date on the rest.” Then he set off to where Stevenson was speaking with MacFarland.

“We’re leaving the vehicles here, First Cavalry will be taking them over. First Armored is being split up, First Brigade will be staying as the cadre for the rebuilt division, Second and Third will be cadres for two new armored divisions. We’re all going back to the States for that. Stevenson, you’ll be commanding First Battalion in the new First Brigade. Any idea what you want to name your battalion?”

Stevenson thought for a second. Spearhead was too obvious. “How about the Hellcat Battalion Sir?”

“Good choice. You done good Stevenson. So have your crew. Got a commission for one of them, the others get to jump up the enlisted grades. Who’s best officer material in your crew?”

Again, a quick thought. “Hey Biker? You’re an officer.”

Her driver’s head emerged from his hatch, his attention caught by the use of the crew nickname. As the message sank in he shook his head. “Oh no Boss, you can’t do that to me. Please. Not an Officer.”

The Hospital, Mai Xiao Village, Sinkiang.

“Every morning they came down to the village tea house to drink their morning cup of tea, well laced with an illicit portion of rice wine. There were ten of them by then. Once there had been fifteen but time and old age had taken its toll and one by one, they had quietly vanished. Even fifteen had been a dramatic fall, for sixty of them had left the village in the far off days of 1950 and only those 15 had returned. Now, the ten survivors were old, old men. They youngest, still called ‘the boy’ by his fellows was eighty years old. The oldest, their sergeant, had been a veteran of the People’s Liberation Army even in 1950, and he was far into his mid-nineties. But his moustache still bristled even though it was snow white and his back was still straight.”

“They saved from their pensions to bribe the tea house owner to slip them their rice wine. I knew about it of course, everybody did, but these men were heroes and who denies a hero a little comfort in their old age? The truth was that their small savings wouldn’t buy them the drinks they needed but if the other villagers chose to make up the difference, that was their business, nobody else’s.”

“And so, every day they would come down, and gather around their table, drink their tea and tell their stories. Of how they had held the hill in Korea against the Americans. Of how they had been outnumbered and outgunned and the American artillery never stopped shooting and their planes never stopped bombing but they had held the hill anyway. Every year the story got a little more fanciful, the attacks so much worse, their stand so much braver. They’d tell the stories to everybody who listened, and everybody did because these were old men, whose wives had long died and they were left alone. Lonely as only old men who had outlived their time could be. So the villagers listened to the stories and counted themselves lucky they had not gone to Korea.”

“Then there came that day. The old men hadn’t arrived yet but something else did. A monster, a hideous monster from hell, the one the Americans call the baldrick. The village went black in its middle and the creature stepped out, looking only to kill and mutilate. Most of the men were far away, working in the fields or on the road and could not help. There were just the women and children left and they screamed when they saw the monster and they ran. But the monster could run as well, faster than they could and it started to kill them.”

“As the Party Leader I had a Type 56 rifle in my hut and I got it. I fired a burst at the monster and I think I hit it for it stopped and shook itself. But it wasn’t dead, it seemed hardly hurt and it turned to come for me but it heard more screams where the children were running from the school. It forgot me and went to kill them. I fired again but it was too far away, more than 100 meters.”

“Then I heard a shouted order, one that cut through the noise and screams. The old men were there, all ten of them and they had their old long 3-line rifles. They dropped to the ground in a line, their hands working the bolts of their rifles with the muscle-memory of skills never forgotten. They fired all at once, in a volley and their hands worked the bolts again for another.”

“The monster staggered with the first volley and lurched with the second. It turned away from the children and came for the old men. The sergeant ordered independent fire and the rifles crackled but the monster kept coming at them. The old men’s hearts were brave but their eyes were dim with age and their hands shook, not from fear of course, but from infirmity. I doubt if one bullet in ten they fired was biting home. The monster had a three-point spear and its lighting flashed out, killing ‘the youngster’ as he fired his rifle. The others did not pause or hesitate but kept on firing until their pouches were empty. How they had kept their rifles and ammunition I do not know and do not intend to ask.”

“With the monster close and their ammunition gone, they fixed their bayonets, they got to their feet and they advanced on the monster, their bayonets leveled. I had changed my magazine by now and I had run over to where I also could fire on the monster. The old men had surrounded it, it was slashing at them with its claws, but they parried its slashes and thrust their bayonets home. They were old men and slow, they could not evade all the blows from the monster and their numbers shrank even as I watched. But the monster was down, on its knees, and the old men, now down to three with their sergeant still leading them, kept thrusting. I had a clean shot and I emptied my rifle into it, saw it bleeding and dying on the ground. It fired its trident again and the lightning bolt hit me. It must have been weak with death for I did not die when the bolt hit my face.”

“So, you see Doctor, my blindness is nothing to be sorry for. What finer sight could I, Party Leader of Mai Xiao Village, treasure as my last than those ten old men saving our children by bringing down the monster with their bayonets?”

Okthuura Jorkastrequar, Tartaruan Range, borderlands of Hell

Yulupki sat unhappily atop the Great Beast as it clambered up the side of the volcano. The track was so rough as to be virtually non-existent, it was really just a relatively level strip that had been cleared of boulders. It had been two months since this particular cone had last erupted and ash-laden smoke was still pouring out of many fissures in its sides. There was no guarantee that the lava would not again start pouring out while the ritual was in progress. However Belial had insisted on placing the portal as deep as possible into the magma, which meant the ritual had to take place on the rim of an active crater.

She was sure the lumbering Beast had picked up on her distaste for its kind and was doing what it could to throw her off. Not that there was much chance of that, as the leather harness held her coils tightly to its back, but the lurching made it difficult to focus and prepare for the task ahead. Naga could manage short bursts of speed when pressed, but in general their speed was much inferior to even the common demon warrior, much less the cavalry or fliers. That made this indignity necessary but not any more tolerable.

Finally the Great Beast attained the rim of the crater and Yulupki was afforded an expansive view of Jorkastrequar. A hundred yards below her a veritable lake of semi-congealed lava bubbled and hissed. Fortunately the copious smoke it was spewing was carried straight up into the sky by the strong thermals, otherwise visibility in the crater would have been near-zero. As planned, the forge demons had erected three great shrines to the barrier spirits, spaced equally around the rim. Each shrine consisted of a row of thirteen copper rods driven into the pumice at three yard intervals, each rod thirty feet tall and tapering from four inches diameter at the base to a sharp point at the top. The rods supported a great spider's web strung in copper, silver and gold wire.

Both the pattern of the web and the bifold curve of rods was the result of millennia of painstaking trial and error, carried out by naga searching for the arrangement that best pleased the spirits that dwelt between worlds. Rumor had it that the existence of the spirits had been discovered quite by accident. Long ago a lone naga had attempted to open a portal to gate a small force of warriors to another world. As luck had it she performed the ritual facing the warriors, who had at that moment presented their tridents in salute to a passing baron. The portal sprang into existence at twice the expected size. The passing baron commended the naga for the strength of her magery, which forced her into a desperate series of attempts to replicate the feat.

Eventually that nameless naga discovered that a close packed arrangement of bronze rods could multiply the effect of her ritual many-fold. This could only be the work of unknown beings existing in the strange realm the portal crossed. The creatures clearly desired the shrines, but could not enter the physical world to construct them themselves. Thus a wordless bargain was struck; the demons would build the shrines, and in return the barrier spirits would aid the naga in their work, adding their psychic strength to the task of opening the portal. As long as the shrines were constructed according to the prescribed traditions, Yulupki had never known the barrier spirits to renege on their end of the deal. This was just as well, because they would need all the help they could get to meet Belial's demands.

In front of each shrine the demon workers had carved out six crude terraces, each of which held thirteen wooden pallets. Three quarters of the pallets were already filled with the long coiled forms of naga, each resembling a giant snake with a scaled and vaguely female humanoid torso in the place of a head. More continued to arrive as she watched, strapped to the backs of lesser Beasts that strained and staggered under their weight. For now Yulupki was basking in the waves of heat, but she knew that it would become unpleasantly hot by the end of the ritual; the insulating pallets would prevent burns to their undersides. Eager to begin the ritual, she commanded the Great Beast to take her to the nearest shrine.

Great Hall of the Adamant Fastness, Tartaruan Range, Outer Rim of Hell

The great hall was filled to capacity with demons, including every minor noble from Count Belial's domain save a few lesser baronets that could not be spared from overseeing production. They were seated at carved stone tables more commonly used for victory feasts. There was little sound other than the padding of servants running to and fro, running errands and bringing chunks of fresh meat refreshment. Save for these minor disturbances, every demon seemed to be concentrating intensely.

The count himself paced back and forth on the raised platform in the centre of the chamber. Sharing the platform with him was the great gorgon Euryale, flanked by her handmaidens Lakheenahuknaasi and Megaaeraholrakni. To a human, the trio looked quite similar. All three were clad in nothing but their shining bronze scales, had for tresses a mass of tentacles each like a cyclopean snake, and possessed both great bat-like wings and a pointed tail that curled about their taloned feet. On closer inspection however, differences were apparent. Euryale's curvaceous figure and enchanting voice (at least, to other demons) clearly favored her succubus heritage. Megaaerah's anemically slim form and reputed skill at portal magery were much reminiscent of her naga cousins. Lakheenahuknaasi 's relatively compact and muscular form, not to mention her straightforward attitude, showed more of a kinship with the harpies.

Also present on the platform was Captain James Shanklin, who was flanked by a pair of demonic guards and looking extremely pale.

“I have one!” Castellean Zatheoplekkar's shout broke the silence. “A male, in a city... called Not-Ingham.”

Within seconds Belial Kornakat was towering over his vassal. “Show me.” Belial entered Zatheoplekkar's mind and from there followed the psychic link to the possessed human. Through his eyes he saw a cramped, cluttered room, dominated by a large glowing picture of two seated humans. Curiously the picture seemed to be moving. Belial pressed harder, mentally wringing the mind of the man for information, faintly amused by the pain he was causing.

“His name is Christopher Hughes. He lives alone, but in a crowded part of the city.” A rasping chuckle escaped Belial's lips. “He believes us to be a fiction invented by their nobility, for the purpose of...” the demon struggled to extract sense from the human's chaotic mind “placing all nations under the dominion of the You En.” He looked questioningly at the human traitor, who had been instructed to keep close by his side.

Captain Shanklin found his hands trembling again. “My lord, I have never heard of this 'U N'. Most likely it is a wild fancy of his. But I do know of Nottingham. It is a city of two hundred thousand souls a mere twenty-five miles south of Sheffield.”

Euryale seemed less satisfied than her lord. “That is closer than 'Birmingham', but still, I would rather not send my handmaiden into the heart of a large human city. You have spoken at length on the potency of their new weapons. The chance of failure is too high.”

Belial frowned. “Keep that one possessed.” he instructed Zatheoplekkar. “Very well. I will allow you another hour, no more. Then she goes.” He gestured at Lakheenahuknaasi, who looked nearly as uncomfortable as Captain Shanklin.

Fifty minutes later, the only other Nephilim that the assembled demons could locate was in Leeds, which if their tame human was to be believed seemed little better than Nottingham. Lakheenahuknaasi considered her options. She could wait until nightfall, but if she flew low over a settlement filled with humans she was still likely to be seen. If the rumors about the fate of Abigor's harpies were true this could be a suicidal proposition. Perhaps it would be better to enthrall a few humans and get them to sneak her out of the city somehow. Undignified, but less likely to get her killed by the humans. On the other talon, delaying for long enough to disrupt the Count's schedule would likely get her killed on her return, if she was allowed to return at all.

Lakheenahuknaasi 's musings were interrupted by an excited squeal. “Sire, sire, I have one! A human woman! She is in an uninhabited wilderness, somewhere to the west of the target.” He shrank back as the Count forced his way into the psychic link. “As you can see my lord, vanity was her undoing.”

This time Belial let loose with a full-blown maniacal laugh. “Indeed I can Guruktarqor.” The human female was cleaning her hair in some kind of indoor waterfall. For some reason, the mysterious effect that was protecting humans from entanglement had ceased to work with this one. A few minutes of vulnerability were enough to allow the demons to find her and gain purchase in her mind. “That one will be going directly to the eighth circle.” He nodded to Euryale.

All eyes were now on the hall's central platform, which now stood empty save for the gorgon queen. She spread her wings and closed her eyes, joining the psychic link to the possessed human girl and focusing intently on that target. Static discharges resembling miniature sheet lightning danced over her wing membranes as she poured psychic force into the connection. Several pregnant seconds passed before finally the familiar black sphere of nothingness swelled into existence in the centre of the room.

Belial gestured to a waiting squad of lesser demons. “Entertain me.” The small strike force was eager, loyal and expendable. Roaring battle cries, the demon warriors charged single-file into the portal and disappeared. The count closed his eyes, concentrating on distant events. A vicious grin slowly spread over his face. His eyes snapped open again and fixed on Lakheenahuknaasi. “Now it's your turn.”

There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:33 pm 
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Command Building, Camo Hell-Alpha. Martial Plain of Dysprosium

“When can I take my command to battle?”

“Say what?” General David Petraeus stopped admiring his fifth star and gazed at the massive baldrick in his office.

“I have over 300 tridents. Where would you like us to fight? Now that we have joined you.”

Petraeus looked slightly bewildered. “You and your men are prisoners of war. We don’t expect you to fight.”

Now is was Abigor’s turn to be bewildered. “But we surrendered to you. So we should fight for you now.”

“Not according to our rules you don’t. When an enemy surrenders, they get put in a prisoner of war camp. We look after them and feed them until the war is over, then we send them back home.”

Abigor’s jaw dropped open. If Hellish Armies fought that way, both side’s foot soldiers would surrender as soon as possible. In hell, surrendering meant changing sides, not a way out of the fighting. “You humans are impossible.”

Petraeus thought quickly. He guessed he would need a convincing story to make sure Abigor forgot any idea of joining the fighting. Anyway, his baldricks would be a liability on a battlefield dominated by artillery and armor. “Look, the Free Hell Army is much too valuable to us to throw away on a battlefield. We know nothing about Hell, what its like and how its run. You can do far more for us by telling us everything you know than by fighting.”

Meaning we are useless to the humans Abigor thought grimly, but if that were the case, why was he being kept alive? Still, to be a source of information was better than nothing.

“Excuse me Sir. General Ivan Semenovich Dorokhov to see you.”

“Thank you Private. Send him in.” There was a brief pause while the Russian entered the room, his jaw dropping at the sight of Abigor’s huge form sitting sprawled in one corner. “Ivan Semenovich, it is good to have you with us. May I introduce Grand Duke Abigor, formerly in the service of Satan and now commander of our allies in the Free Hell Army.”

Dorokhov looked slightly flustered, starting to salute, changing his mind, and wondering what to do next. In the end he settled for a curt nod of the head. Abigor was equally flustered, normally he’d have hit the ground and groveled, throwing in a good foot-licking as well but he’d quickly learned humans had nothing but contempt for such displays. In the end, he returned the nod.

“Are your troops in position, Ivan Semenovich?”

“First Shock Army is setting up along the banks of the Phlegethon. We have four armored divisions, two artillery divisions in position with the Army artillery setting up. Do you know how many enemy there are?”

“Abigor tells us 243 legions, that’s over 1.6 million Baldricks. Don’t know how they divide up yet.”

“That depends on who is their commander.” Abigor’s voice was thoughtful. “Asmodeus, Beelzebub and Dagon were the three appointments I heard but that was for the invasion of Earth. Do you know which?”

“Its not Asmodeus. He’s dead.”

“What?” Abigor was stunned. “Asmodeus dead? For all his mania, Satan has never dared kill a Grand Duke before. He wouldn’t even kill me, he preferred to send me where you could do this.”

“Satan didn’t kill him, we did. Or rather, the people we have fighting in the hell-pit did. Apparently he led some of his army against our guerillas, walked into a trap and they got him. Asmodeus is dead all right. Thoroughly blown up”

Abigor was awed. “You have done the unthinkable. Even in the Celestial War, no Grand Duke was ever killed. Not even Yahweh achieved such a thing.”

“So its Dagon or Beelzebub then.” Petraeus wanted to get the conversation back on track. “What does that mean for General Dorokhov?”

“It will not be Dagon. Many of his legions are Krakens, sea creatures. It will be Beelzebub. They do not call him Lord of the Flies for nothing. His army has 27 legions of Harpies. The rest will just be infantry.”

“180,000 harpies. I hope you have plenty of triple-A Grazhdanin Ivan.”

“One Tungaska or Shilka for every three vehicles. And many brigades of surface to air missiles. Some old but they still work. All radar-guided. And all the BMPs have shoulder-fired missiles on board. Sometimes it is good to have great warehouses. We are dug in and waiting. Abigor, this Great Celestial War, what happened?”

Abigor shrugged. “It was a long time ago. Two or three million of your years. We had found this planet and on opening a gate back to our home a mistake was made and we opened a gate to here. A place like Heaven but unoccupied except for unimportant creatures. We took it for our own. Then, Satan wanted it for his kingdom, separate from Yahweh’s Heaven. Yahweh wanted both. Satan rebelled and about a third of us joined him. The war went on for a long time but Satan won, Hell became his kingdom and Yahweh kept Heaven.”

“That’s not the way our stories told it.” Petraeus was grimly amused.

“They were written by Yahweh’s people weren’t they?” Abigor grinned. He’d been watching The History Channel on television.

Outer Ring, Seventh Circle of Hell
What amazed Aeanas the most about his time in Hell was the fact that he remained sane. He knew his name. Remembered his family. His wife, his two sons. Remembered dying. Knew that he had been in Hell for a long time(though the exact length of time remained elusive). And his torment never drove him insane.

Perhaps that was the most insidious aspect of Hell: they protected your mind from shattering. From becoming a shell with no feeling, no thought, no mind. After all, what use was there to torturing the mindless husk? The joy in the demon's faces came when they saw his terror, his fear, Aeanas could see this. If he had no mind, he might scream, but would he really feel the pain?

So, Aeanas feared them every time they came exactly as much as he had when they first set themselves upon him. Throughout the ages of screaming agony in the river there had been no emotion associated with his sufferings. How did it feel to have his skin seared from his body, his eyes boiled in their sockets, his genitals burned away? He could never grasp these; such memories danced just out of reach.

That was the rub. If he could remember what it felt, perhaps he wouldn't fear the demons so much. But in the heat of the moment, any kind of mental preparation he had made vanished into a cloud of palpating terror and pain. He always begged not to be thrown back into the river, a simpering weakling, utterly without shame or pity. He screamed the same pathetic, high-pitched scream that he let out every time his body hit the flaming lava, the kind of blameless, ringing screech that only mortal injury and mortal fear can evoke.

Except it wasn't mortal in this place; each time he escaped from the river, Aeanas was made whole again. Somehow. He really didn't have time to think about it, because the respites between tortures seemed fleeting and ephemeral at best. Sometimes he saw others tormented as he, but that really didn't matter.

He was dead.

This was Hell.

And this was how he was going to spend eternity. Each soul-rending abuse seared him but did not destroy him. The memories were not his to cherish. He would never know the wondrous oblivion of insanity. He was instead doomed to repeat every torment as though it was his first, though he knew this wasn't the case.

So, as Aeanas sprawled on the bank, writhing from his burns but never dying, he was in the full grip of panic. His eyesight was only coming back and he would have screamed if he could, if his lungs had not been seared to uselessness. Breathed if he could. Instead, the hard earth of Hell smashed into Aeanas' flailing form. He nevertheless attempted to scramble away. From what, he couldn't say, because he couldn't see more than a few feet. And he couldn't get very far, because he still couldn't breathe. Then, at once, the choking fume and heat were gone. Reflexively, he gulped in air. The sulfur-laden fumes did nothing good for his lungs, but breath was breath. Based on his fuzzy past, he expected perhaps a barrel of molten rock to be poured over him it didn’t happen. He opened his eyes, and he saw a hand. But this hand wasn't scaled. It had no claws. It was a human hand, as his own. Following it up, he saw its owner: a man, naked, stood before him. In his far hand was a spear--no, a trident, but beyond that, the visage of Hell faded to a blurry, ruddy nihility.

Aeanas reeled and tried to scrabble away. What new torment was this? But the figure snatched Aeanas and hauled him to his feet.

"It's alright!" he said in a language that wasn't Aeanas'. But yet, he understood it. How could that be? "What's your name, soldier?"

Aeanas gulped. His throat, long charred by the heat and flames, was already feeling better. "Aeanas," he replied finally.

"Anus?!" another voice shouted. A similarly-naked figure, also carrying a trident, stepped under the tree, into the range where Aeanas could see clearly. "Your name is Anus?!" The man roared with laughter.

"Cool it, DeVanzo," the first man snapped. Again, Aeanas was forced to marvel at the fact that the two were speaking an entirely different language than his own. The first man continued: "He said, 'Aeanas.' That's Greek, right?"

Aeanas nodded, then asked with some timidity: "Who are you?"

The first man started. "Oh, right! Name's Tucker McElroy, from Tennessee originally, though most recently I found myself in the molten river a ways that way. This uncouth gentleman's name is Artie DeVanzo, from New Jersey."

Aeanas nodded blankly. New Jersey? What was that? Where was Old Jersey?

McElroy regarded Aeanas for a moment, then said, "Say, you ain't a new arrival, are you? How long you been here, son?"

Aeanas shrugged. "I...could not tell you. A long time, I am sure."

"Well," DeVanzo said, stepping in, "how did you die?"

"I was struck in the heart with an arrow," Aeanas said. "Then, I believe my throat was cut."

McElroy whistled. "Ain't that a way to go. What was you doin'? Hunting? I didn't know they did that over in Greece."

Aeanas shook his head, his puzzlement now building into a frustration. "Of course not. I was in battle!"

McElroy did a double take. "Battle? Just how old are you, anyway? ****, no one's used bows and arrows in battle for five or six hundred years!"

DeVanzo then interjected. "What battle were you in? Where was it?"

"It was in Greece, at Thermopylae," Aeanas said warily. Were these demons, trying to trick him into revealing something? What could they be after?

McElroy's eyes went wide, as did DeVanzo's. "Holeeeeee ****," McElroy said. "You died at Thermopylae? The Thermopylae? King Leonidas? Xerxes? The Persians? The Spartans?"

Aeanas nodded. "Yes. Do you know of it?"

McElroy snorted. "It's only one of the most famous battles in history!"

Aeanas shifted his weight. He fear was actually abating. Were they trying to lull him into sedation? "Why?" he asked McElroy in typical laconic bluntness. "It was a simple delaying action. What makes that so famous?"

DeVanzo sputtered, "You faced a million Persians! And there were only three hundred of you!"

"Wrong," Aeanas corrected immediately. "Thespians more than double our number stayed, and we had the Thebans."

McElroy shook his head. "That don't matter none! We got ourselves a genuine Spartiate!" McElroy was now speaking to the other man, DeVanzo. "Man, I can't wait to bring him back to base! A Spartan hoplite from Thermopylae! One of the three hundred!"

"Yeah, and the oldest member of the resistance!" DeVanzo chimed in. "I bet that'll give Ori a thing or two to chew on!"

"Ori's another old revival," McElroy said to Aeanas by way of explanation. "He's a warrior called a Samurai, from a place called Japan, that...well, shoot, it'd be outside what you'd know as the world!" The two men laughed easily together.

"Stop!" Aeanas roared. They would get no more from him; they would confuse him no longer. From this moment forward, they paid for information in blood.

He surged at McElroy and wrapped his arms around him. With fluidity that came with years of practice, he wrenched the man bodily into the air and slammed him to the ground. Most importantly, as he rose, he snatched up the trident and advanced on DeVanzo.
DeVanzo was obviously some kind of fool; he wasn't even holding his weapon properly. With three swift motions, Aeanas swatted the trident aside, forced it from his grasp, and had a point at DeVanzo's throat.

The man instantly raised his hands, and Aeanas jammed it in hard enough to draw blood. He then rotated around DeVanzo so that he was standing side by side with still-dazed McElroy. Through clenched teeth, he hissed: "Explain yourselves, else I will destroy you both!"

And much to his surprise, both men smiled broadly.

"You know, we could actually use you!" McElroy shouted, brushing the reddish dust from his body. A cut on his knee bled feebly. "Alright, here are your answers: as you've probably figured out, you're in Hell. You've been dead for over 25 centuries. That's 2,500 years. The world as you knew it does not exist anymore! You understand? Everyone you ever knew is dead, and probably here, being tortured. You have a wife? Kids? They're somewhere out here!" McElroy gestured wildly at the Hellscape surrounding them. "And they've suffered exactly as you have for that last 2,500 years! Do you hear me?"

Aeanas lowered the trident. McElroy went on, "But things have changed. The situation has changed. We're fighting back, both here in Hell, and on Earth. We're gonna free as many soldiers as we can, and we'll all fight against Hell. Most times, it's modern soldiers, but hey, I can't wait for the guys back on Earth to hear that we got Spartan warrior and a Samurai fightin' with us. Won't that be a trip?

"Anyway, Aeanas, we are the Hell's People's Liberation Front, and we want you to join us." McElroy held his hand out.

Aeanas paused, but just for a moment, then passed the trident back to him. "Good," McElroy continued. "We could probably use some more people proficient in your type of fighting. Word is that our cell won't be getting supplied with modern weapons for a while, so for the time being, we're stuck with more... primitive means of defending ourselves and killing ba--demons. Plus a trick or two we've learned over the centuries."

Aeanas then did something hadn't done since the day before he died, over 2,500 years ago: he smiled. "So they can be killed."

"Betcher ass they can," DeVanzo crooned. "How do you think we got these tridents?"

"So," McElroy continued. "Will you join us? Maybe teach us how to throw a demon like you just did to me? Or maybe how to correctly hold a spear? In return, I'll show you some things that you'd call magic."

Aeanas laughed. "Has anyone said no?"

There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:34 pm 
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F-111C, Koala Flight, Approaching Hellmouth

“Koala Flight this is Hellmouth Air Traffic Control. Come to course three-three-fiver, altitude three thousand feet for Airstrip Delta Approach. You are cleared to use Runway 31.”

“G’day cobbers. Everything bonzer down there? Throw another shrimp on the Barbie for us.” Squadron Leader Mackay’s weapons systems operator gave him a pained look. “Don’t blame me, that’s how the septics expect us to talk. Don’t want to disappoint them now do we?” Mackay flipped back to the ATC frequency. “Don’t get in tizzy about us landing, we’ll go straight through.”

The voice on the air traffic control net sounded slightly strangled. “Koala flight, be advised, it is against regulations to fly through the Hellmouth. Please land and your aircraft will be towed through.”

“May be against your regulations mate, not against ours. Anyway, you can’t tow an F-111 like that. Nose is too long and the weight distribution won’t hack it. We’ve got to fly though.”

Mackay’s WSO looked appalled. “Sir, that is utter male bovine excrement.”

“Charlie, I know that and you know that but do you think the liability-obsessed septic down there knows that? Its been almost twenty years since the USAF mothballed it’s Pigs, that kid wasn’t even a lecherous gleam in his father’s eyes back then. He’s not going to take the chance of these birds getting damaged on his say-so. He’ll let us go through, our responsibility, you watch.”

“Koala Flight, this is Hellmouth air traffic control. At your request, you are cleared for flight transit of the Hellmouth.”

“Told you.”

The four F-111s, three strike aircraft loaded down with air-to-surface ordnance and an RF-111 with a full surveillance fit, dipped down and started to skim across the sand dunes towards the black ellipse of the Hellmouth. The book said that the ellipse was 800 feet high and 1,200 feet wide which gave the F-111s plenty of room to make their transitions. Beneath them, the desert was covered with armored vehicles, some parked in long lines, others forming convoys through the Hellmouth. The F-111s were low enough to see the commanders of the tanks and armored infantry carriers sitting in the turrets, to see them look up as the scream of the jet engines grabbed their attention. Some waved and Mackay rocked his wings in response.

“Have you ever seen anything like that?” Charlie Cartwright was awed by the armored vista spread out beneath him.

“Nobody has, not since the Second World War and not so often then. Every armored formation in the world must be closing in on this place. That’s the pattern, armor comes here, infantry stays at home to protect the people back there. You see the roads and pipelines being built as we came in? Hold one, here we go.”

The ellipse was approaching with frightening speed but Mackay wasn’t aware of having passed through it. The blue sky and brilliant yellow sun had simply gone, replaced by the murky redness of the Hell environment. Mackay could feel the engines starting to labor as they gulped air through the filters that kept the worst of the dust out. The Pig was shaking slightly as the filters vibrated in the airflow, casting off the dust before it could choke them.

“Watch those engine temperatures like a hawk Charlie. If they start to climb, we’re out of here. You got the nav beacons?”

“Both of them. Realigning navigation computer now.” One of the purposes of this flight was to establish a comparative base between the Euclidian geometry of Earth and the non-Euclidian environment of Hell. Once that was done, navigation computers could be reprogrammed and another problem facing humans trying to fight in this, the strangest of all battlefields, would be solved. As they were all being solved, just taking one at a time.

“Koala-Three here. Cameras are rolling.”

“Roger, Koala Three. Any electronic emissions?”

“Ours. The spectrum’s full of them. Radar, comms, you name it. Nothing hostile or unidentified.”

“Friendly aircraft, this is Dysprosium Air Traffic Control. Please identify and file flight plan.”

“This is Koala Flight, three F-111C and one RF-111C on armed reconnaissance flight to Dis and the Hellpit. We’ll let you know the course as soon as we figure it out. This place just isn’t right.”

“You’re telling us Koala Flight. Good luck.”

The F-111 flight soared over the Martial Plain of Dysprosium, heading towards the Phlegethon River that represented the front line of the human advance into Hell. That advance had stopped temporarily while the infrastructure needed to support the next phase was being established. More importantly, there was a lot of evidence that a huge new Hellish Army was moving up against the troops digging in along the river. That was one of the things the aircraft had been sent in to check. In the meantime, the Russians were digging in, establishing a defense in depth. The central portion of it was underneath them now, a sea of platoon-sized strongpoints, the arcs of fire of each interlocking in a maze of death and destruction. Mackay couldn’t see them but he knew the gaps between the strongpoints were filled with minefields and razor wire. Backing the whole defense position up was the artillery. The Russian artillery didn’t have the flexibility or precision of its American equivalent but then, Mackay thought, the septics didn’t line their guns up, wheel to wheel, for 30 kilometers either.

“We’re in hostile airspace now Control.”

“We have you on radar, be advised, you are the only friendly aircraft in the area. You can take it as read, if it flies, its hostile. You’re cleared to shoot.”

“Thank you Control. Be sure to tell the air defense guys on the ground we’re here.”

“Already done Koala Flight. If they open up on you, it will be in a friendly manner.”

“Reassuring that. Charlie, warm up the AIM-9Zs. Be good if One Squadron gets the first air-to-air in Hell. Give those upstarts in Six something to chew on.”

“Koala-Three here, take a look below us. I think that’s the hostile army we were told to watch out for.”

“You think?” Beneath them, the ground was covered with demons moving towards the Phlegethon River. Far, far too many to count, they turned the ground black with their number. Some were harpies, they tried to climb and challenge the racing F-111s but they lacked the speed and the ability to climb fast enough. “Control, confirm sighting of hostile force moving on the Phlegethon. Rhinolobsters, baldricks, harpies, you name it. Better tell our Russian friends to keep their powder dry.

“Roger, wilco. For your information, its not just gunpowder they Russkies have got back there. Any sight of Dis?”

“Ahead of us now. High stone walls, as far as the eye can see which isn’t far in this clag. Looks like an old medieval castle, not the Hollywood version, the real thing. Like they have in Wales. We’re going to try and break some glass now.”

Mackay dipped his aircraft and headed for the walls of Dis. The terrain following radar was working perfectly as he skimmed the wall, barely a hundred feet over the crenellations. Inside was a town that looked something straight out the middle ages, a tight mass of buildings separated by narrow alley-like streets. There were baldricks down there, ones that looked up in stunned shock at the monsters that had suddenly crossed the wall and were screaming defiance at all around them as they passed low over the roofs. The demons stood and watched long after the Pigs had gone, awed by the sight and realizing that things were never going to be the same in Hell again.

Unconscious of having caused a spiritual crisis in Dis, Koala Flight arced over the great pit that formed the center of Hell. Mackay looked at the sight below, a supercaldera that would be a vulcanologists dream but represented all of humanities worst nightmares. His thumb itched to pick a target and release his bombs on to it but his orders were strict, fire on ground targets only in self-defense or to protect the reconnaissance aircraft. Still, he could think of the humanity that had to be suffering in the nightmarish scene below and he could promise to come back with every pound of ordnance his faithful Pig could carry. “You got all that Koala-Three?”

“Affirmative.” Koala-Three’s voice was subdued.

“Lets get out of here then.” The four F-111s made a gentle turn, trying to cover as much of Hell as possible. Mackay hoped that, down below, the souls trapped there would see them, some would know what they were and they would spread the word. Humanity was coming with every weapon it could muster and what stood now would not be allowed to stand again.

Banks of the River Styx, Fifth Circle of Hell

“My leader wants to talk, very urgently. Anywhere you wish. It is most important.” Rahab spoke earnestly, Gaius Julius Caesar had been most explicit with his instructions. These humans, living and dead, were what he had spent two millennia waiting for. A way to fight back against the monsters that ran this place.

“Important for him? Or us?”

“For us both I think. He….” Rahab stopped speaking her voice drowned out by a terrible screaming howl.

Lieutenant (deceased) Jade Kim recognized the sky-ripping sound instantly, the sound of jet fighter engines. Even as she looked up, four F-111s emerged from the overcast, their wings stretched out and loaded with bombs, lazily making a turn over Hell. Then, they were gone, on their way back home, just leaving their sound behind. Around her, the living and deceased members of the PFLH were jumping up and down, cheering and smacking each other on the back. Rahab looked at them in amazement.

“What is that terrible noise?”

Kim looked at her, her eyes dancing with joy. “That isn’t noise Rahab. That’s the sound of Freedom.”

High Peak Youth Hostel, Peak District, British Isles

As Lakheenahuknaasi emerged from the portal the first thing that hit her was the overpowering scent of a great deal of blood spilled in a confined space. The second thing was that this part of earth was unpleasantly cold. She found herself in a rather small room packed with demon infantry, whose cloven hooves continued to crunch the smashed remains of wooden furniture. This chamber and the others she could see leading off from it were littered with human corpses, most of them obviously torn apart by demon claws. She stepped lightly around them for now and addressed the squad leader.

“I see that you have not so much secured the area as painted it with human blood. Did they give you any trouble?”

“Very little.” The demon seemed unsure whether he should treat the gorgon was his superior or inferior. “One of them managed to grab a fire-spear and wounded one of my warriors before perishing.”

Lakeenah's gaze followed his gesture. The injured demon was sitting on a broken table, in a white room that reeked of stewed vegetables. His left flank looked like a piece of wood riddled by termites, oozing green blood from numerous tiny holes. As she watched the demon yanked the heart out of a human corpse and stuffed it into his mouth. The dead man still held a fire spear in his hands; a chunk of carved wood with two short black metal rods sticking out of it.

“If you require nothing further?” Some of the demons had slung human corpses over their shoulders, undoubtedly as rations for their victory feast.

“Go. But take that fire spear with you. Baron Trajakrithoth may want to examine its enchantments.”

The demon warriors squeezed back through the portal, which promptly closed up behind them, leaving Lakheenahuknaasi alone in the human building. It seemed to be some sort of inn. with a central common area, what was presumably a kitchen (though she could see no cooking fire), indoor latrines (which appeared to have just been emptied) and several rooms full of (mostly smashed) bunks. It could have been a barracks but for the lack of weapons. A large triangular window showed a sunset obscured by clouds, painting the landscape of rolling grassy hills and forested valleys in a mix of oranges and grays. Here and there beams of golden light broke through and highlighted an outcropping or a stream. It almost looked welcoming save for the sparse flakes of snow melting on the window.

Lakheenahuknaasi could see no other buildings, but if this was an inn travelers could arrive at any moment. She made her way down the stairs, taking care not to slip on the blood still dripping from step to step. The door barring the main entrance was broken and warped; the triple indentations and the dead human woman seemingly still trying to grasp its handle bore witness to a last desperate attempt to escape. Stepping over the body, the gorgon yanked the protesting door open and slipped out onto the moors.

Sure enough, half an hour later Tom Sullivan crested the last ridge and sighted the hostel. “Ah, there it is dear.”

Trailing behind him, his fiancée Jennifer was not in the best of moods. “You said we'd be there two hours ago. This is the last time I let you plan the route.” She paused, out of breath. ”I'm never voting Labor again. If Gordon hadn't commandeered all the planes we could be in Italy right now. Tony was so much nicer.” Tom shook his head. He was beginning to have second thoughts about this relationship.

The couple made their way down the track to the building. What they saw there left both retching for a good five minutes. As soon as he'd regained his senses, Thomas reached for his mobile. He'd entered the number of the national demon sighting hotline just before they set off, almost as a joke, never expecting horror like this to come to sleepy Yorkshire. Five minutes later the first police units were dispatched to set up a perimeter and ten minutes after that the first territorial army trucks began to roll out of Worsley Barracks.

Lakheenahuknaasi had long since found a convenient cliff and launched herself into the air. There seemed to be no convenient thermals in this freezing place and she was forced to hook her arm spurs into her wings and flap strenuously for altitude. She became acutely conscious of how conspicuous her metallic bronze scales made her after the first time she flew through a shaft of sunlight and lit up like a disco ball. Lakheenahuknaasi muttered a satanic curse and wished she'd had the foresight to cover herself in mud. She would've endured the mocking of the other gorgons if she'd known how much safer it would make her feel now. She considered trying to gain the relative safety of the clouds, but her wing and arm muscles were already tiring and she didn't want to risk accidentally over-flying the target. Instead she flew low, weaving through the valleys and trying to stay in the lengthening shadows. Though she did not know it, the decision saved her life; air defense control at RAF Boulmer began enforcing a no-fly zone over the area shortly after she descended to an area its radar could not cover. The inclement weather had kept most walkers at home and left the rest disinclined to watch the skies.

The gorgon flew an erratic course through the twisting valleys for the better part of an hour, with only her perception of the planet's strong magnetic field keeping her heading towards the target. Even using that was hard due to the sheer density of psychic emanations in this part of earth. Clearly the humans had not only learned the art of telepathy, they were using it to constantly gossip with each other. As she flew she saw several isolated farms and the occasional village visible in the distance. Not enough to concern her, but hardly the 'uninhabited wilderness' Baron Guruktarqor had described. Most puzzling were the lights that speed along the black strips, some constant yellow, some flickering white and blue. They could have been chariots bearing torches, but for their impossible speed and brightness, matching or even outpacing her own aerial progress.

Finally, as her wing and arm muscles were ready to give up she crested a hill and saw a great city laid out before her. It was lit so brightly that at first it seemed to Lakheenahuknaasi that the city was already aflame. On closer inspection however it was clear that she was seeing thousands of torches, strung on poles, shining out of windows and attached to moving carriages. This vast sprawling metropolis had to be the target. She could not see the smoke or fires of the forges yet, but that could wait. The immediate priority was avoiding detection while the portal was summoned. Lakheenahuknaasi glided down to a copse near the top of the hill, keeping the trees between herself and the city as much as possible. Once down she crawled into the undergrowth and crouched shivering under her wings. This world of humans was cold, unbearably cold.

The humans should be thanking me she thought, a nice lava lake is just what this place needs to warm it up a bit.' The gorgon began reaching out with her mind, straining to push through the barrier and contact her superiors. Immediately she was hit by the overwhelming babble of human telepaths. Most of the mind-speech was not speech at all, merely indecipherable gibberish. Some of it was comprehensible though. Curiously the humans seemed to have found a way to enchant their musical instruments to transmit their notes into the ether. Lakheenahuknaasi shook her head at the thought of wasting energy on such frivolous magery. Another particularly powerful human mage seemed to be chanting the words 'Hallam Eff Em' several times a minute, accompanied by jangling chimes. She spent a moment pondering the significance of this ritual before deciding that it must be just another symptom of human insanity.

Pushing the human transmissions aside, she broke through the barrier to contact Euryale. The force of greater demon's mind was almost overwhelming. 'This is Lakheenahuknaasi,' she reported 'the human city lies before me. I am ready to guide the portal.” Euryale's response was swift. “I am approaching Jorkastrequar now. Keep the link open and focus your thoughts on the city. They know it not, but a wave of fire is about to carry those pitiful beings straight into our domain.”

There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2016 11:22 pm 
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It looks like a section is missing; the part where Ori is first located and freed. Unless this was meant as a form of copy protection for the books given other events?

I must study politics and war, you see, so that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons must study navigation, commerce and agriculture, so that their children will have the right to study painting, poetry and music.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 17, 2016 1:15 pm 
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Kreller1 wrote:
It looks like a section is missing; the part where Ori is first located and freed. Unless this was meant as a form of copy protection for the books given other events?

Neither, its just a time-skip suggesting that things were going on in one part of the story while our primary focus was on something else.

Nations do not survive by setting examples for others.
Nations survive by making examples of others

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