Tythel’s mind was reeling in the wake of Armin’s information. The Vacuity Engine was the source of the Alohym’s Unlight. Without it, they would be far weaker. It would make the war winnable.
Silence reigned for a bit as everyone took some time to absorb the implications, and Tythel could practically see they were all having the same thoughts she was. The growing realization that this was possible.
All save one. “Well,” the former Countess Marketta said, drawing out the word with a sour delight. “That certainly is an…interesting proclamation. I see one major difficulty that might impair your ability to do this, however.” She thought for a moment, and shook her head. “That’s a lie, I can see fifteen thousand reasons this won’t work. One in particular is the fact that the access point to this Vacuity Engine is within the Crawling Citadel. To be precise, that is two hundred of the reasons this is useless – one for each Alohym that resides within the Citadel.”
“How could you know that?” The leader of the Abyssals growled the words at her.
“That’s why I’m here, isn’t it?” Marketta said, looking at Duke d’Monchy. The Duke gave her a curt nod. “My people have been focused on the citadel for some time. It’s one of the largest bastions of Alohym power, and given it has no set location, disabling it is required for victory.”
“So you have a plan?” Tythel asked, unable to stop herself. Marketta’s words had crushed the seed of hope Armin’s information had planted, and she was desperate for any information that would let that bloom again.
Marketta snorted. “To bring an army into the Crawling Citadel, access some devices that will take them to the Void above, let them take over and destroy a massive Alohym gate that is overhead, and escape alive? No. If I had that kind of tactical genius, I would have won this war on the very first day it had begun, because I would be so smart I could make the impossible happen.”
Tythel grimaced, and it was worse to see the same expression cross Duke d’Monchy’s face. He’d been hoping she would have an option to get into the Citadel, every bit as much as Tythel had hoped.
“What about a small team?” d’Monchy asked. “We’ve had some success getting saboteurs in where traditional armies had failed.”
“I don’t want you to waste the lives, d’Monchy,” Marketta said, leaning forward. “Allow my own Lumcaster to demonstrate?” she said to Armin.
Armin bowed and moved back from the table. A woman with silver hair stepped forward and conjured a new image of the Crawling Citadel, one far more detailed than the earlier image.
“So you want to get a small team into the Crawling Citadel. Let’s talk about that. First of all, you have to get to the Crawling Citadel. No mean feat, that.” Five spires that jutted from the Citadel turned red. “Each of these contains an interwoven web of observational constructs the Alohym call Godseyes. We have not been able to locate a power source for them yet. If they spot movement…” Marketta trailed off, letting the image do its work.
A glowing figure made of light, so tiny it did more than anything else to sell the immense scale of the Citadel had so far, appeared on the table. Even Tythel’s eyes could barely make out it was supposed to be a human. A soon as the figure manifested, a dozen tiny dots flew from the Spires of the Citadel towards him.
Marketta motioned, and one of those specs grew in size until it was clearly visible. It looked like a mechanical eye stuck at the end of a smooth tube with two wings affixed to the side. “Void Hawks,” Marketta said. “They have a single observational device and an unlight thruster. They move in, blaring messages the entire way that their target will need to hold up identification. If they arrive before the target has done so…”
The Void Hawks slammed into the human figure and detonated in small explosions.
“Let’s say you manage to evade their notice. You move in underground, or somehow fool their detection with Lumcasting.” Marketta gestured again, and the image reset. This time the man was right next to the Citadel. “You could even use an Umbrist to get this close, although you’d need one who has this kind of range. That’s as far as an Umbrist can take you, however. Now, notice how the base of the citadel is almost a hundred spans above your head at this point?”
It was impossible not to notice, so no one responded to her question. Marketta nodded, correctly taking the silence as affirmation.
“They only lower transport tubes when they have someone authorized to enter. The only other means of ingress would be climbing up the legs of the Citadel. Or, that would be a way to access, if not for the fact that the legs have a powerful electrical current running through them.”
The little glowing light figure touched one of the legs, then convulsed and fell to the ground.
“But let us imagine further. Let us say you are able to insulate yourself from the current. You are able to do so and climb the leg while avoiding further notice by the Void Hawks. Then you are on the citadel’s walls.”
The glowing man moved up to be placed there. He turned red now, as the Lumcaster shifted his light so he’d stand out against the rest of the Citadel.
“Now you have to get in. Through a full foot of Alohym steel, without attracting attention. Don’t bother looking for windows – all the external views on the Citadel are done with their lens cameras, so there’s nothing you can do besides break them. There are access points that can be used to get inside, exhaust ports. Two problems there – they’re right in the Godseye Spires, and if you manage to get into them, they lead straight to the Citadel’s heat sinks. You’ll fry before you hit the ground.”
The glowing man scratched his head, and a question mark appeared above it.
“But let us say you have accomplished this somehow. Or you got the fake credentials well enough to fool the Alohym. We’ve managed it seven times, which means we know more about the situation inside from the one that survived. Unfortunately, for a strike team you’ll need your most powerful individuals to ensure they can be effective, and they’re more likely to be detected. But suppose you solve that.” Marketta shrugged. “I won’t say you can’t. I won’t even say we won’t help you with it. But not without you knowing what you’re going into.”
The citadel changed now, walls and floors and ceilings peeling way to expose the full extent of the structure inside. A great deal was missing from the three dimensional image because of that.
“This is what we need to worry about,” Marketta said, pointing to the exposed rooms. “The good news is, once you’ve done that, your task goes from impossible to improbable. You just have to evade the Alohym who live in here.” One of the rooms turned red. This particular one had no details of the room, making it clear no one had been stupid enough to venture inside. “You then have to evade the Soldiers, garrisoned here. You’ll note it’s impossible to get deeper into the Citadel without passing by the garrison or the Alohym’s lair. That is by design. Then you have to deal with the training facility, where their soldier’s practice, here. Again, you’ll note you won’t get into the more sensitive areas of the Citadel without passing that. Finally, to get into the final area of the Citadel, you’ll need to pass through this room.” It turned red, and there was a hallway that stretched into the room, but no detail beyond that. “No one we’ve sent in has survived to know what’s past. But that’s where all the sensitive information is hidden, I’m certain of that. If for no other reason, than by process of elimination. If your Vacuity Engine is anywhere, it’s there.”
“There’s got to be something,” Armin said, breaking the silence that followed Marketta’s terrible news. “Some sort of vulnerable point in their machine. What if we were drop an explosive into one of the exhaust ports in the spires? Maybe the heat buildup would destroy their machines?”
Marketta snorted. “All you’ll accomplish there is blowing up some radiators that are in well shielded rooms. If you blow up all five, the Citadel will have to drop to half power, but it has enough tiny radiators to relieve the heat build up as long as it does that. Not even the Alohym are arrogant enough to let something as vital as thermal exhaust rely on a single point.”
“Why can’t the Umbrist get you into the Citadel itself?” Eupheme asked. Form the look d’Monchy made, he hadn’t expected Tythel’s bodyguard to speak, but at least Marketta’s rejections of the noble norms worked in their favor here. Marketta didn’t look any more dismissive of her than she had of Armin.
“Your power has one major limitation it didn’t take the Alohym long to figure out how to exploit. There are no shadows large enough for you to utilize within the Citadel. Everything has enough light to protect against that. Even their soldiers sleep in light, wrapped in special suits so they can.”
“I do not think we should give up hope yet,” d’Monchy said firmly. “Marketta, your information is invaluable. Can we count on you if we do develop a plan?”
Marketta shook her head. “You want to put her on the throne,” she said, pointing to Tythel. “I don’t want there to be a throne. I’ll share intelligence, but I’m not helping you reinstate like that. Nothing personal, girl,” she said to Tythel. “But there’s only one type of good monarch, and your parents meet the criteria.”
“Then why help at all?” Tythel asked, once she’d parsed Marketta’s meaning and decided not to show her offence.
“Because in exchange, I want one thing.” She looked at d’Monchy. “You’re going to tell me exactly when this is happening. So I can make sure my people are out of the line of fire.”
“So you can try to enact your own plans elsewhere while we distract them, more like,” d’Monchy said, some heat reaching his voice.
Marketta shrugged. “Frame it that way if you like. It matters little to me, and it should matter little to you. If you succeed in this attack, you’ll have a bargaining position at the table once I win. I can’t ignore you after you’ve taken down the Citadel and keep the will of the people. If you fail…well, you’ll be too dead for it to matter, won’t you?”
In spite of d’Monchy’s glower, Tythel noted he didn’t object.
I have a new book out! The Wastes of Keldora, which takes place inside the same universe as the Dragon’s Scion…and very well might cross over with it later. Give it a read here! Or if you want to get a sample, I have almost 7,000 words for it over here!