As he flew them away from the new King’s palace, T-Bone pulled out the comm he’d given his mother and called her. The sky was already beginning to clear, allowing the late evening sun to strike the land with its warmth and light after such a century in darkness.
Hmm, King Lugus must have begun to hate the darkness as well since I think the weather was spell casted to be constantly gloomy, he mused as he spoke into the comm unit.
“Son, you are alright?” Her voice was slightly breathless. She must be riding her fire horse, Papillon, at a gallop, he thought.
“Yes, not a scratch on me. The war is over, and King Gareth is a pile of dust. King Lugus sits the throne now and gave us a short grace period to clear his land of iron then leave. That’s where my partner and I are going now. Should take us about a couple of hours or less to get it done. Since the darkness seems to be thinning, I suspect Lugus is already trying to set things right, but I’m sure it will still take awhile to notify all his people that the war is over. Guess that means you have to hold them off for a bit longer,” he briefed her.
“By the time you finish your task, my son, he will have sent word out to his troops. But, you are right, we will have to keep them from over running us until that happens. It helps that you have reduced their numbers significantly, so it is no great trial for us to do that. We are extremely grateful to you for bringing this terrible and ruinous war to an end, Lorcan. A feast in your honor will be a chance for our people to celebrate their freedom from war and greet you for the first time. For now, let us both complete our tasks as quickly as we can and meet again at our castle. It will be good to see it again.” Relief and sadness filled her voice.
He understood why. Aleria castle had been under enemy occupation for years. There was no telling how bad it might look now, but he said nothing on that as he bid her farewell.
“Until then, mother, stay safe.”
“Aye, and you as well, my son.” She cut contact as the noise around her rose, drowning her out.
“I think we should do a fly over when we’re done, buddy, just to be sure the enemy doesn’t follow your mother home,” Razor cautioned.
“Good idea. So, let’s get this done.” T-Bone piloted the jet close to the King’s palace and began a reverse grid pattern over the battlefield while Razor set his super electromagnet, that hung below the jet, to collecting every speck of iron dust possible. This meant flying very close to the ground. The only concern was having some of the taller members of the enemy, and/or flying ones, attempt to strike them down while they worked.
As they reached about halfway over the main battlefield, two huge mountain trolls did indeed make the attempt to knock them from the sky. They had huge cudgels of wood that were as big as a twenty foot tree. They swung at the jet as it made its pass near their position. T-Bone and Razor hadn’t seen the behemoths because, surprisingly, the trolls had lain on the ground in wait then leaped up. For such enormous creatures, they were incredibly fast and agile.
“T-Bone, look out!” Razor shouted just seconds before one of the massive wood poles headed for them. He rapidly tapped out instructions on his weapons board as his partner took evasive action.
“Crud!” the pilot growled, managing to wing upward, causing the electromagnet to swing violently to one side, knocking one of the cudgels away. Bringing the jet around again, T-Bone headed toward the enemy in a strafing run.
“Missiles away!” Razor shouted in warning.
Twin tarpedos shot out from the bottom of the jet and splatted into the eyes of the trolls with pinpoint accuracy, followed immediately by two explosive missiles, which blasted the ground beneath the monsters’ feet. Another set of explosive missiles blasted the wooden cudgels, reducing them to toothpicks. The trolls roared in anger as they tried to get the gooey stuff off their eyes. Not able to see, they ran into each other and stomped carelessly onto members of their own army. Screams and curses rose upward as dark Fae scrambled to evade the stomping feet. Too many didn’t escape, adding their bodies to the already gory field.
“Eww… what a nasty mess. If there was anyone still alive in that spot, there isn’t now.” T-Bone grimaced, looking away.
“I don’t envy anyone cleaning that up,” Razor snorted, disgusted and rather nauseated by the scene below.
“I wonder how many we actually took out when we sprayed the field earlier?” T-Bone mused rhetorically. “From what I’d been told and what I see now, we were far more successful than we’d been hoping.”
“I agree. The iron dust obviously wiped out a large number of them. Won’t know for certain since it was just too dark to know what effect we had. Your mother and/or her generals probably will know, but, truthfully, I’d rather not find out. It makes me sick to know we actually killed so many in the first place,” Razor said quietly. It would be a long time before he could bury this episode in his life deep enough not to have nightmares.
“I understand, buddy. I don’t want to know either,” T-Bone replied soberly. Though he knew what he’d done was necessary and this had been a war, that didn’t make what he’d been forced to do anymore acceptable to his conscious.
Silence fell in the cockpit as they continued their mission. When they were nearly to the Light Fae’s borders, they were attacked by a small flight of dragons and gargoyles who tried to strafe the jet, but the iron coating plus the concussion missiles Razor fired at them caused them to veer away, but they still hung about, apparently looking for a weakness.
“Stubborn, aren’t they?” T-Bone grumbled more to himself than his partner. He could fire a few spells at them but decided it wasn’t worth the effort as long as they kept their distance. By the time they finished the final length that marked the separation between the dark and light Fae’s borders, the dragons and gargoyles suddenly broke off and flew back toward the King’s palace.
“Huh… probably got tired of watching us or Prince Lugus called them off finally,” Razor said aloud, his attention not fully on them but on finishing their work.
“Most likely. I don’t see anymore live enemy about now, so I hope that means they’ve all retreated,” T-Bone said, scanning the ground through his window.
“Good. We’re just about done,” Razor muttered.
As he’d hoped, the system of magnet to vacuum to collection barrels was working flawlessly.
T-Bone sighed and stretched his back the best he could in his harness. “Well, that’s the last section completed,” he remarked, steering the jet toward his mother’s castle.
“Yeah, finally. But, go to a holding pattern so I can finish cleaning up the magnet,” his partner requested.
T-Bone obeyed, pulling back on the power and going to VTOL.
Razor completed the process of cleaning the magnet then sealing closed the storage tanks beneath the jet. “Okay, once more over the whole area, T-Bone,” he said.
T-Bone groaned but did as ordered.
Thirty minutes later, Razor judged the job done. Any iron left would have to be absorbed into the soil, but, hopefully, there wouldn’t be that much to cause any significant harm to the environment.
Sighing in relief, he called to his partner, “Mission accomplished, T-Bone.”
“Finally! Let’s head toward Aleria,” T-Bone said, relieved. They flew silently for about ten minutes when he spoke again. “You know, Razor, my mother will have a lot of work to do restoring Aleria to its former glory. So many people have been killed and magic so drained from the land that I only hope they can restore things to normal fairly quickly rather than taking decades.”
“Only you would know if that’s possible, T-Bone. I know squat about magic. If it was restored the normal way, yeah, it would take at least a century to heal the land but with magic… I haven’t a clue,” his friend admitted.
“Neither do I, buddy. Remember, I’m too green at this magic business too, so don’t feel bad. Guess I’ll have to ask my mother or uncle. Speaking of which, I’d better call her,” T-Bone said then pulled out his comm again. “Mother?”
There was no response for some minutes but before he began to get concerned there was a click then a loud commotion roaring through the tiny speaker before his mother’s voice shouted a response.
“Lorcan? Come to me north of your location. You will see the battle…” she said quickly then cut the signal as the roar of noise got louder.
“Crud! Guess not everyone got the word the war is over. Get your weapons ready, Razor. Looks like we have some more fighting to do yet,” T-Bone called into his mic.
“Roger! Don’t worry; I’ll be ready for anything,” Razor assured him as his fingers danced across his weapon’s board.
The Turbokat shot across the sky and was at the new battlefield within minutes. Though the sun was fast sinking from view, there was enough light to see who was who below them. His mother’s fiery steed reared up on its back hooves and used its front feet to knock in the heads of several odd looking creature as its rider sliced and hacked with her gleaming sword. Her forces were arrayed behind and beside her. Facing them were a motley group of dark Fae; trolls, fremlins, banshees, pookas, and boggarts… the dregs of the fairy world.
“Warn your mother’s forces off, buddy!” Razor shouted in his mic as he brought up a special spray pattern of missiles on line.
“Roger!” T-Bone called his mother.
It took her a moment to get free to pull out her comm.
“Break off and retreat so we have a clear shot!” T-Bone told her quickly. Putting the comm down, he watched as his mother shouted an order and fired a magical strobe of light to signal a retreat then turned her mount tightly and raced away with her army following at a run or gallop if they were mounted.
The enemy cheered, thinking they had routed the Queen and gave chase. Only a few made note of the odd thing hovering above them. Those smart enough to realize their danger tried to halt the others, but it was too late. Before anyone below could retreat or make a defensive move, Razor fired his missiles.
The missile attack flung enemies flying into the air, gas blinded and made many sick, flash bulb missiles hurt those sensitive to light, iron shard filled missiles (that wouldn’t travel as far as the dust had) turned many into dust as did nets laced with iron. All succeeded in routing the enemy, sending the still living fleeing back across their own border.
“You did it, buddy! They’re running like scared rabbits. Let’s go insure no strays have any funny ideas about hanging around,” T-Bone said as he flew the jet over the line that separated the two kingdoms. He called his mother again. “Mother, you can slow down. The enemy is routed and fleeing home. We’re going to insure no stragglers are hanging about.”
“Wonderful news, Lorcan,” his mother said, though her voice shook a bit from the bouncing motion of her steed. “See you back at the castle when you are through.”
“Will do. See you soon, mother,” T-Bone agreed then closed the connection.
“You know, buddy, I think your mother could use a complete survey of all the lands so she has a better idea of just how much damage there is and the estimated size of the enemy’s army that’s left. And, we’ll have to do it fast as darkness is definitely falling quickly. I urge we begin the sweep starting with King Lugus territory before he magically blocks it from us then finish up with your mother’s lands. If we lose the light before we can finish, we can always check her lands tomorrow,” Razor suggested.
“Great idea, buddy. With our camera we’ll be able to actually show her,” T-Bone said, pleased by this solution, steering the jet toward the Dark Fae’s land again and speeding off into the growing dusk.
Queen Sorcha sighed in relief and sadness as she beheld her home she’d lost years ago. Her generals went ahead and searched the grounds and palace itself, returning with grim faces to inform her the enemy was gone and to prepare herself for the terrible state their home was in. She knew it would be bad since the lower type of Dark Fae weren’t known for taking care of nature nor their own dwellings. Also, the destruction of the land they passed over on their way to the castle told its own grim story of wanton disregard for the land itself. What once had been a green and fertile place was now little more than a barren wasteland. At least the ancient grove of trees had been spared, much to her relief. The old oaks were centuries old and thick with ancient magic. Their loss would have been devastating to Alaria on both sides with a significant drain of magical energy that no amount of time could restore without them.
Though she was prepared for the worst, it still hit hard when she saw it for real as she guided Papillon over the trammeled pathway leading up and through the castle gates. The once pristine white walls of the courtyard were dirty and covered with graffiti, drawn in paint and blood. Trash and debris lay everywhere. Once beautiful gardens were nothing more than dried weeds, polluted ponds, dead fish, and destroyed flowers. The gloriously green ivy that grew up the walls everywhere was now twisted brown twigs clinging to the dusty walls. The lovely silver trees that had stood about the gardens were all hacked down, the stumps all that remained. No butterflies, birds, or small animals existed.
Fled or eaten, she guessed pensively, feeling almost numb by what she saw around her.
A pall hung over the palace. Behind her, cursing, cries of anguish, and anger rose from the throats of her people who finally had the time to see what the long war had wrought upon their home. Though she hardly felt positive herself, to insure her people didn’t succumb to despair she needed to give them something else to do and hope to keep them going. Halting her mount, she made Papillon turn about and faced her army.
“Hear me my people!” Silence fell. “Our land has suffered much, but we are strong and will restore it to its once proud beauty. For now, we have much work to do. I know you are tired both in body and spirit, but we need to be sure the enemy is no longer haunting our lands. Go out and rout them wherever you find them then return to our mountain stronghold for warmth, comforting, food and rest. We will celebrate our freedom and my son’s return tomorrow when we are rested. Go now and return safely to me.”
A ragged cheer greeted her announcement showing how much they still believed in her and their willingness to follow her orders. Restored to hope and the promise of care for all their needs at the end of their tasks, her army broke into squadrons and headed out over the land with renewed vigor. Within minutes, all that was left with her were her close retainers, seneschal, advisers, servants, her four top generals and their assistants.
Gesturing to her seneschal, she bid him approach her. The lean, tall Fae had an injured arm and a bandage around his forehead but moved as if it was of little matter as he awaited her orders.
“Blane. I want you to go over every inch of the palace, cataloging all that needs repairing, stocking, restoring, rebuilding, refurbishing and replanting. And, don’t try doing it alone. I want to be done and returning to our mountain retreat before midnight, is that clear?”
“Yes, your majesty. At once.” He turned and gestured to all the servants to gather around him.
“General Zinar, I want an accounting of how many of my people live. I know this will take many days, but I need it started.”
“I understand. I will attend to it at once, my Queen.” General Zinar bowed his head and turned away, gathering his assistants around him and giving orders.
With the important stuff taken care of, Sorcha turned her mount and rode toward the broad steps that led into the airy castle. It had once been a place of air and light; its huge spires rose into the sky, its walls made of a hard material that let light in but opaque for privacy, but its most important center piece was the huge oak that grew from the heart of the castle. She prayed this had not been destroyed. If it had, there was no hope of using this place again.
Halting Papillon at the bottom of the wide steps, she dismounted. Petting his face a moment, she stared at the huge pair of oaken doors that now hung open and showed signs of burns and cut marks from swords. No light shown from within… not a good sign. Sighing, her heart in her throat, she took her first step, grimacing at the sliminess of the once white marble steps as she carefully climbed them and stepped through the open door and across the filthy threshold.
While his mother began the sad task of assessing the damage to her home, T-Bone and his partner got their first true look at what the ravages of war had done to the tabby’s home world.
T-Bone felt a tightness in his chest at the horrible sight. The lands passing beneath them were completely stripped of trees, grass, and any other normal type of life. All that was left was nothing more than a barren wasteland of mud, dirt, bodies, and weeds. Lakes and streams were choked with debris and no longer blue but a sickly green. The King’s army were still streaming in from every direction and congregating on the plain below the mountain palace as they got closer. Campsites were being hurriedly set up, the dead were being thrown into huge piles for burning later. It was a scene from what they’d been told the apocalypse would look like.
Photographing this depressing scene was difficult, but they did it as quickly as they could and were, surprisingly, not bothered by any of the enemy as they did so. After more than thirty minutes of canvassing the area, they were finishing up when the jet jerked sideways as if an unseen hand had come down and swept them back toward the side of the Light Fae borders.
The jet spun like a top until T-Bone managed to regain control moments later and sent them winging, with all engines alight, toward his mother’s castle.
“Guess Lugus got word we were buzzing about and swatted us away like a fly,” T-Bone observed, only mildly miffed at their treatment.
“Wow! I didn’t know he could do that!” Razor said, a bit awed and unhappy. “If the old king hadn’t been crazy, could he have done that to us too?”
“Of course. The King and Queen are the most powerful Fae in the world. No one else holds that much power,” T-Bone said almost casually.
A choked sound came from the mic. “Then how the hell did you think we would win then?” Razor asked, shocked.
“I’d already been told I would have that kind of power too, but I wasn’t that certain I could beat him despite what my uncle and that prophecy said. I was hoping my modern weapons and the element of surprise would be enough to win. It turned out I was right,” T-Bone said flatly.
“Crud! You risked both our lives on a hunch?” his partner exclaimed, starting to get angry.
“No one forced you to come,” T-Bone reminded him rather coldly.
“Hey, no way would I allow you to face anything without me,” Razor huffed angrily.
“So, you shouldn’t be surprised that we faced nearly insurmountable odds like at home against Mad Kat. Just like then, our luck held to see us through. End of story, buddy,” the tabby reminded him.
Razor was silent for some minutes then a deep sigh reached the tabby’s ears. “I know. I guess I just kept myself too busy to think about the danger we were in. Allow me to freak out a bit now that it’s all over.”
“Sure, knock yourself out and, Razor…?”
“Thank you. You were right. I couldn’t have done this without you,” T-Bone said softly.
Razor felt his throat close for a moment with emotion. “That’s what I’m here for, buddy. Friends forever.”
He heard a smile in his friend’s voice when T-Bone replied, “…yeah, forever.”
“Hey, didn’t your mother say she was going to have a celebration when we got there? Won’t be getting much rest for a bit, I think,” Razor commented, changing the subject.
T-Bone laughed a bit sadly. “Don’t think that will happen. The castle probably needs significant repairs done and is most likely stripped of everything. As tired as everyone is, I don’t expect any major magic to be done for a bit until all are rested. Let’s see what she wants to do when we get there,” T-Bone told him then piloted the jet toward the bare glimmer of the departing sun.
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