046 Those Who Watch the Sky - 46
46 – Children thrust Into the Sky 4
The three-day from when the mission to bring down Hazel Sycamore was announced to the actual mission start date seemed to fly by for Elliot. He was perhaps the only one who felt that way however as Melody found herself biding her time impatiently waiting for the mission she was to undertake while the bishop yearned to capture Hazel as well as be able to begin new tests on Link based on Balgun’s notes. He was also eager to test the limits of Elliot’s blessings from Cardinal but still had to treat the operation as the military procedure that it was. Joining the general of Foothold’s militia, he strode into the Dolmen hanger and took in the organized chaos that preceded so momentous an operation.
“General, I trust that that the operation is proceeding as planned.”
“You’ve nothing the worry about Lord Bishop.”
The chimeric man who responded could simply be referred to as a lizardman as his green reptilian features far outweighed any human traits he had beyond bipedalism. His scaly exterior did not make him any less a great man however and his cream died plate mail only added to the imposing presence he generated. For as imposing as the general was however, he was very much afraid of the bishop and made sure to explain why the bishop had nothing to worry about.
“Though we put this operation together hastily it is no less sound than any we could have planned with more time. If you care to, I can brief you ahead of the soldiers.”
“That won’t be necessary General. Time is of utmost importance to me and I will not delay the operation more than I already have.”
“Understood Lord Bishop. I’ll begin the final deployment now.”
Hurrying ahead of the bishop, the general took a lift up to the catwalk in a Dolmen bay that serviced a more heavily armored version of the potbellied Dolmens in use in Foothold. Stepping out ahead of his Dolmen the general roared out a command to the men and women hard at work in the Dolmen hanger.
Not one person in the hanger failed to cease what they were doing and snapped to attention turning to face the general. Smirking at the discipline of his soldiers he allowed himself a moment to soak in the scene before proceeding.
“At ease soldiers. I will not have you exhausting yourselves before we even begin. But know that time is of the essence and this mission must be executed perfectly if we are to neutralize the target and minimize risks to leaving Foothold undefended beyond the whim of wandering mercenaries. It is why I shall be repeating the deployment procedure now.
“Starting at 06:00 hours we will begin deploying our full force in four primary waves. Those waves will be equally divided between fully equipped units and light equipped forward scouts. At each of the checkpoints along the way the scout units will break off and return to Foothold to resupply before departing by a supply train that will resupply the scout units at further checkpoints based on their deployment order. The fully equipped units in all waves will proceed nonstop to Ibrand and take up observation and defensive positions as necessary. Enemy engagement is prohibited until our full forces are gathered and in position. The only exception to this non-engagement order is should the target be spotted leaving Ibrand. At that point you are free to use lethal force to subdue the target. The only other deviation from this structure is applied to Knight Prince Silverlance; call sign Silverlance. Silverlance will be equipped with full to heavy armaments and will depart for Ibrand entirely upon the supply train to prevent the target knowing of his arrival.
“That is all soldiers. Her Eminence watch over us all and may victory be yours.”
A roar erupted from the soldiers in the hanger, but Elliot remained silent. Looking out from the catwalk in the Dolmen bay that housed his bronze hued machine Elliot took a deep breath to steady himself. It seemed a wasted effort as Feast stepped up beside him.
“So, we’re finally here. It’s thrilling, isn’t it?”
“More like nauseating. Nothing about this operation is sitting right with me. Especially the lack of any detailed briefings on the Sa·B·er that is supposedly accompanying Mr. Sycamore. I’m certain it was the same man in red we only caught a glimpse of back in Cross who unsettled Sister. She wouldn’t tell us about him either and that is starting to get me feeling unnerved. I have a bad feeling about this.”
“It’s just two men Elliot. You’re overreacting.”
“Am I Feast? When we arrived in Foothold the Dolmen pilot’s we met leveled their weapons at Link and not this Dolmen. The fact that they would prioritize a person over a Dolmen…”
“Then it just means you’ll be witness to a bloodbath. I still wouldn’t worry if I were you though. Should two men really slaughter an army then you’ll have unrestricted access to a man you’re sure won’t kill you.”
Sighing, a strained smile curled the corners of Elliot’s mouth.
“Knowing you’re more interested in the slaughter makes your efforts to comfort me feel like a joke.”
“I am what I am Elliot. You can’t fault me for that.”
Before Elliot could reply he was signaled by a technician below that his Dolmen was clear for departure. Stepping away from Feast, Elliot boarded the Dolmen. Feast was not far behind for as soon as the Dolmen’s internal view of the world beyond the cockpit appeared so too did his face in a cutaway image to Elliot’s left. Focusing on the signalers guiding the Dolmens from the hanger Elliot was able to ignore him and found the launching of the first wave to be a greater distraction as the roar of Dolmen’s being launched by magnetic rail was surprisingly deafening even over the blaring klaxons. Only the first wave departed via the launch rails leaving all others to depart the hanger as guided by the on-foot signalers.
Exiting out into the city from the underground hanger the Dolmen’s were joined by a deluge of infantry and cavalry under a similar downpour of rain. Divided into three more groups the military force paraded through the major avenues of Foothold revealing the purpose of the massive streets. Such a massive three-pronged military display caused quiet the commotion in the streets and left the people wondering what was going on. Naturally the bishop was already ahead of the panic and took to the city’s public announcement radio to educate the populace of the operation. His honied words were calming and encouraging to the people of Foothold even as the point of the military operation remained vague at best. Melody had little interest in the bishop’s words and instead watched Elliot’s lone Dolmen make its way to the train depot down by the river. She only watched him for a little while before turning her attention back towards the cathedral and the paths that the other waves took through the city.
“W~o~w! ~♪ Look at all of those people and Dolmens ~♪ They really are going to leave the city unprotected ~♪ That being the case Link should be pretty much unguarded ~♪ The hard part will be getting to Link with those two still hanging out…”
Her wordless song falling from her lips Melody flew up into the stormy sky from her perch upon a spire above the city. Rising higher and higher without risking losing sight of the city for the clouds Melody frowned and complained.
“I’m soaked and these clothes aren’t waterproof like the ones Link made me ~♪ Why did they have to change? ~♪”
Despite her complaint’s, Melody continued to circle the city noting deployment order and locations of each wave of Dolmen, infantry, and cavalry. The operation was taking longer to unfold than she expected and morning soon grew to noon with the rain only growing worse. If not for Melody’s song staying airborne would have been impossible in the downpour. The downpour was so severe that even the returning Dolmens from the scout unit of the first deployment were difficult to spot as they soon made their return from south.
Visibility was not a problem for radio signals and the returning scouts were known to the bishop to be on schedule. Comfortable with the flow of events thus far the bishop made for the labyrinth beneath Foothold and was joined by the general of Foothold’s militia.
“My Dolmen will soon be escorted to the supply train where I will join Silverlance and move to the front lines Lord Bishop. Most of the supply loading is already complete with only last-minute discrepancies needing addressed. Those discrepancies will allow us to remove your priority package from Foothold. I only need to know at this point if you need to have your package removed at a supply checkpoint or carried to the front lines to be used as a bargaining tool to force Sycamore to give himself up.”
“It is unlikely that Sycamore will give himself up for a mere test subject, but should the harpy girl delay in her expected infiltration then we shall carry through with it. Having the Sycamore cursed girl on the front lines however will allow us to better control the Knight Prince as well. It would also be a fine opportunity to test Bird’s fears and Balgun’s claims. We could very well rid ourselves of multiple problems at once if Sycamore truly is joined by that man.
“Hmm? Is something the matter General.”
Noticing that the general was blatantly uncomfortable the bishop showed concern that was more for his ends than the general’s wellbeing. Still the general answered and did not reflect upon the bishop’s inflection
“It’s nothing serious Lord Bishop. It’s just I don’t agree with this damp weather. I’m hoping this troublesome storm is an isolated case and that I’ll soon be comfortably dry on my way to Ibrand. Or as I said; nothing important.”
“I disagree General. Your discomfort could prove a distraction that could result in the failure of this operation. If need be, have yourself tended to by a deacon before you depart.”
“That won’t be necessary Lord Bishop. I assure you it is a meager inconvenience.”
“You best hope so General. I have no desire to take any chances in securing Sycamore. He is far too important in determining if the Knight Prince possesses the Light of Hope now or if perhaps it is still out there somewhere. Then there is the matter of the tactical advantage having him under my thumb would allow for. There is too much riding on this operation to overlook any detail.”
There was a certain irony to the bishop’s words as he and the general soon arrived at the quarantine zone within the labyrinth. The detail that brought the irony to light however would require them reaching the operating room where Link was holed up to dawn on them. It was also not readily apparent as the autonomous machine sentries, the only military units being left in the city to any noticeable number, were posted as normal. The general noticed the problem before the bishop and held out a hand stopping him from proceeding further.
“Is something the matter General?”
“Unfortunately, Lord Bishop. The Dolmen’s are inactive.”
The bishop nearly shouted his response and looked upon the general disbelievingly. The general was nothing but dead serious however and was reaching for the revolver rifle strapped to his back. Still the bishop did not desire to believe that something could have gone wrong and turned his gaze onto the machine sentries.
“That should be impossible. The only person who could have done so is an engineer craftsman and to leave them in their posts like this would even be beyond their means. Even that faithless sorcerer would not have been able to disarm the sentries so…”
Needing to know the truth for himself, the bishop stepped around the general and approached the two-row deep wall of machine sentries. Their lack of reaction to him spoke the truth of the general’s observation and he needed to know why. As the general made his way past the inactive machines the bishop adjusted his glasses and looked closely at the closest unit. There were no signs of external penetration or interaction of any kind, but he could detect something that severely unnerved him. Before he could determine if what he was sensing was true though the general spoke up from the operating room door.
“The package is gone Lord Bishop.”
The professionalism and discipline of the general did not make hearing what was obvious at this point any easier for the bishop and he clenched his teeth and fist in rage. Maintaining enough of his composure not to completely lash out he made his way past the machine sentries and towards the door. As he approached he presented a query to the general.
“Are there any signs of who or what was here?”
“That’s difficult to say Lord Bishop. You’ll have to see for yourself.”
Accepting the general’s invitation, the bishop took the door offered to him. Stepping around it he peered into the operating room and ground his teeth together. As Balgun had promised him there was no longer any traces of the black flames that had consumed the operating room sometime back, but as they were missing so too was Link. In her place and that of the flames was instead a cavernous space that was eaten out of the surrounding earth that supported the labyrinth beneath Foothold. The cavern was not completely empty however as it was drenched with water dripping from the walls and puddling across the floors. From those puddles motes of blue light gently wafted into the air before gradually fading away into nothingness.
Stepping into the room and disregarding all caution the bishop approached one such puddle and looked down at it. His face scowled back up at him, reflected perfectly in the pristine water, and was joined by thumb sized blobs of blue light that that took on the loosest interpretation of a humanoid shape. As the blobs of light stared at the bishop he very carefully clasped his hands behind his back and closed his eyes. His actions earned him curious tilts of the blobs’ primitive heads before he ground them underfoot.
“General, can the operation be delayed?”
“If we delay now Lord Bishop we have no means of assuring Sycamore will not depart Ibrand.”
“Then I will have to rely on those two. For now General, make ready to depart and issue the command ceasing all travel to and from Foothold. There is a heretic who consorts with Ambrosial Devils amidst our city and they have come for the Sycamore cursed girl. It is likely her encounter at the dam with that beast has intrigued her to the heretics, or perhaps the Knight Prince who slew it. Whether they want vengeance or something else I will not suffer a heretic to live and risk disrupting the world order.”
“At once Lord Bishop.”
Snapping the bishop a salute, the general hastily departed the cavern leaving the bishop alone in the unnaturally lit chamber. Looking down at the puddle where he had ground the blobs of light into the earth, he donned a twisted sneer as he spoke aloud questioning the situation.
“So, who are you my little heretic? You best hope with that much Nectar and this level of storm engulfing my city that it is not you Sycamore cursed girl. Logical as it is to believe so you best hope not, for if you are even Bird will not be able to spare you your fate. Neither I nor the Cardinal Church will suffer one who consorts with spirits and undermines Her Eminence’s careful balance of the world.”
Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater