The heat washed over the workers and the striking of hammers on metal reverberated through the halls of the great forge. A white inferno, the heart or the forge beat and pulsed as though it had a life of its own, each breath the bellows gave stirring the coals and sending a wave of fiery air though the rooms. Scores of anvils sung as their smiths worked upon them, a never-ending stream of metal was brought to them to be pounded and shaped into weapons of war.
Stalking behind them all a small figure, more muscle that man, watching them work. Suddenly displeased he strode up, wrenching a hammer from a smith’s hand he cast them aside into the molten heart. Ignoring the scream of pain the Forgemaster reworked the misshapen blade. Good help was hard to find and the help Aurelia was sending was less and less skilled, but he would make due with what he had, what she wasn’t sending in skill she was more than making up for in numbers. Handing off the hammer to a new smith who rushed up to take the place, Halphus resumed checking the progress of the other smiths. Satisfied that all were creating works up to his standard he returned to his own personal forge.
The eternal forge sat warm and ready to shape metal to his will. Complex mechanisms and delicate components were scattered over the several workbenches. And his two servants worked diligently and carefully assembling the devices. Walking up to the end of the table he began checking the finished collars. The Taskmasters were going through them significantly faster that they had expected, and keeping up on the orders was all they could do. He set them down and nodded to the Iron in the doorway, without delay a pair came in and packed away all the finished collars and carried them off to be delivered to the Shackled Legion.
This forge was everything he had dreamed of, dozens of smiths working at once and building anything that they wished or desired. The Forges of Halphus never slept, day and night they worked, bringing weapons and tools of death to those that opposed the Awakened Legion.
The Diesel Jock breathed heavily, sweat and blood laid thick upon his brow. He didn’t have to look to know his wounds were lethal, all he needed was a few more moments. A few more breaths in order to save his men. The ascended Final Knight across from him broke the silence first, “How times change don’t they? First I was to be your teacher, then we did battle as faithful against heretics, and now here we stand Wolfe. The flesh against the inevitable. I won’t waste time or try to justify to you, but I do want you to know, your death grants those who follow you a new beginning and a new purpose. From the death of the old comes the birth of the new. Take solace in that.”
Wolfe squared his shoulders, and lifted his shield, and began circling his opponent. He barked, “Circuit Riders, retreat. I will buy you what time I can.” Not hesitating for a moment, loyal to the end, the Fallow troops formed rank and began a retreat towards their iron horses. “To delay the inevitable is to misunderstand this reality. The only true solace the damned may find, is in final rest.” The battle was short, the smell of blood and grease lingered, even as the green veined Diesel Jock was dragged underground.
Running low though the trench, mud caked to their boots and splattered over much of their lower body, the Red Star contemplated the state of the Cell. They had been assigned here by the Broken Coast Alliance last month with two other allies to hold the front lines. War’s forces fought with savage fury, they were animals that craved blood almost as much as the cursed Zed craved flesh. But the fighting had gone well, the three factions had held the line and kept the damned at bay. That was, at least at first. The Hellions had lost the battle of the Watchtower with War. And with that War established a fort a mere mile from El Dorado, and on the Alliance's flank.
Whistling overhead made Leon dive to the ground. Seconds later the shock of the mortar hit him and mud rained down, leaping back to their feet he carried on helping fellow soldiers up as he passed. Instead of breaking the Red Axis had stood their ground and covered the retreat of the Allies. Lines had reformed and now the Red Axis stood as an anchor, holding the line alongside its allies and alone holding Mary back from sweeping across the field. But it had come at a grave cost.
Scattered among his Cell one or two members of the Neo Salvation Army and House Marvel fought side by side with the Red Star. It was too dangerous to retreat back to their units so the survivors had stayed and fought with them. All three had suffered badly but under his orders, reinforcements from the Red Axis had gone to support the other two forces. Together they would stand or fall and the Red Axis had more soldiers left than the others combined.
Arriving at the front he crouched lower, painfully aware of what the Final Knight snipers would do to the unwary. Greeting his Cellmates as he passed he gained insight into what was happening. They were holding, but the mortar fire and machine guns had been firing nonstop for the last hour which probably meant that a charge was being prepared. When silence assaulted their ears he knew he had been right. He pulled out a bottle and poured a bit in a small cup he kept on his person and one by one his callmates crawled up and received a small amount in each of their cups.
The sound of marching could be heard across the field. Leon hoisted his cup up and the cell followed suit. A chant drifted across the field, a single syllable of hate and rage and bloodlust. The Red Stars ignored it. Locking eyes with each in turn Leon spoke, “For the Cell, for the Fallen, for the past, for the future, the Cell endures, the heart endures, our people will forever endure through all of us, and though all who are gone, and all who will come next. Drink and remember the one next to you.” One by one the Red Stars drank and readied their weapons, the sounds of the Final Knights almost upon them.
Sliding his Death Mask down over his face Leon lept from the trench, driving his sword up to the hilt into the chest of a shocked Awakened Soldier. Releasing the blade Leon drew another and parried a strike from another soldier. Shifting to the side he drew his pistol and unloaded it into the attacker, and moved to the next before the body started to drop. All around him the other Red Star joined the fray. The mud on the field began to darken as the blood soaked the ground, soon the Zed would arrive, attracted by the carnage. Thrusting a dagger into the side of an enemy before the Soldier could finish off a downed Red Star, Leon took in the battle in the breath of stillness he had earned. Not twenty feet in front of him a crimson figure emerged from the smoke and steam, blades dripping and a smile touching her lips.
Staggering the Death Eater retreated through the weeds. The crimson plants quivered as he past, several lurching out at him. Greymane glanced at each in turn that got too close and each burst into flame and withered away in what could only be described as a silent scream. Shoving that thought from his mind, he admonished himself, they were plants they couldn’t feel anything, at least anymore. Wincing in pain at the effort, Greymane lifted his hand and looked at his wound and instantly regretted it. He fought down the bile that rose in his throat and tried to control the panic that threatened to overwhelm him. His heart speeding, each beat feeling like a hammer hitting his ribs. The air he drew into his lungs felt empty, each breath filling his lungs but never seeming to abate the feeling of drowning. Among the blasted flesh tiny red roots wormed under his skin, he was infected.
Just minutes ago the Death Eaters had fought valiantly, they had made it to the heart of the Devil Sprout, but they had been a fly that landed on a fly trap. Death Eater had turned on Death Eater and the plants had erupted from the ground where they had been dormant. And that monstrosity, no words explained it, it was horror beyond thought. A grotesque mass of plant and flesh. It had seized him as he had fought off one of his infected brethren and he thought he had been quick enough in blasting the flesh-laced plant appendage, but he saw now he was wrong. Despair threatened to blacken out his sight but he pushed it down. The sights of the infected death eaters was burned in his vision. He had seen Camhere slice Norwhen’s chest open to keep the infected psion away, and Norwhen hadn’t even flinched, her flesh cut asunder and a network of red worming roots exposed to see. Camhere had been so terrified that all he could do was scream as the weeds and Norwhen enveloped him, his screaming not even silenced, simply muffled.
One by one the Death Eaters were overwhelmed, and Greymane had no choice but to flee. Panting he still clutched in his other hand the incendiary bomb. From the growth behind him, he could hear the shambling Devil’s Sprout make their way. Panting he ran, dodging the tendrils as they tried to grab him, blasting ones with psionic fire that got to close, but he could feel himself draining. He couldn’t keep this up much longer. Too late, he saw one out of the corner of his eye lash out, smashing to the ground the plant had seized his leg. Panic overwhelmed him, trying to muster the will to summon the psionic flames, all he could manage were sparks and spudders.
Visions of the infected psions spun though his mind, the horrific sights of lifeless bodies, of his friends piloted by vines tormented his every thought. Suddenly calmness filled him. “Not like that.” He pulled the cord on the device, and a fiery explosion consumed the area, leaving nothing but charred earth.