Beginning of an End - Part Two

14th October - The Peoples Palace - Evening

The Red Crew were gathered in buildings all around the peoples palace. Jessy was crouched a few feet away from Enoch as he gave orders to his men. They were nervous, this was no industrial action or terrorist hit and run bombing. This would be a battle and these men were not soldiers. Men would die today and worse, men would kill.

Never-the-less they were well armed. Maynard had seen to that. And there would be help. The men were all whispering about some secret ally that would help storm the palace. Some spoke of the Rising Star, some of the Clockwork King. There was even talk of Cyrus Anvil taking a hand in the nights events, but Jessy knew better. The help would come from a place entirely unexpected and if these men knew the full story perhaps unwelcome. Perhaps.

An hour before midnight the sign came as explosions tore through the night around the Palace perimeter. The snow laden streets were suddenly a swarm of dark figures pouring from the every corner. In answer the Elesians came forth with their mechans and advanced weaponry to release carnage on the attackers. Still the Red Crew did not move.

"Enoch?" One of the men said and was hushed to silence.

"Not yet." he hissed.

Out there in the streets a large cart was being wheeled forward by the crowd. Men and women were being torn apart all around it as it edged forward, closer and closer to the palace wall. Around five meters away it came to a halt and the crows fled into the darkness.

"Get down!" Enoch roared as the cart exploded in a flash of bright white energy. It washed over everything and as it passed the air tingled with sudden static. Jessy could taste iron in her mouth and realised her nose was bleeding, she rubbed away the blood and looked around at the men who were all similarly inflicted.

"Now!" roared Enoch as the Red Crew poured forth.

The Elesians were ready but their weapons would not fire. Their powerful Mechans stood still like statues and some toppled to the ground. Only the Dusk regulars were able to give battle as the men of the Steamworks rose up to take the palace. High above, a great Elesian airship began to fall from the sky, its machinery dead and dark.

"It worked!" Enoch crowed as they ran, "Gods be praised, it bloody worked!"

***

Phineas stood on one of the higher platforms of the Roost. Thank the gods for that Gutter wench, skimpy was it? Without her the whole bloody thing might have blown apart earlier that day denying him the sight of the entire city under a blanket of snow. He was here in fact to see off the Aquamarine, which was just now loosing anchor on the platform below. He looked down as he saw the gambler Connor with the mistress of the Lady's Grace, an odd pairing that. Who was the kid with them? he wondered. Then there was the Montclaire boy with that well put together piece from the Rising Star... Emily was it? Lucky lad. Though the girl seemed worse for wear all bundled up the way she was. Tully rushed them all below decks and finally looked up to flick a casual salute towards his fellow Skyrider. Phineas returned the honour and stepped back from the edge.

"I did not take you for a man of deep sentiment."

Phineus whirled to see a familiar figure standing in the doorway of the lift shaft. It did not escape his attention that the lift was still down below. How long had she been there. His face split into a wide grin.

"Eris me sweet, it gladdens my heart to see you." He opened his arms wide to receive a hug but a slight smile and a shake of her head was all she offered in return.

"It is good to see you too." Eris replied, "We need to talk."

"Yes! Absolutely, I know a lovely little place in the west twins we can hunker down in for good long talk."

There came a series of small explosions and then after a moment a bright flash from somewhere north of the tower. The entire city was lit up for a second but there was no sound. As darkness returned Phineas tried to blink away the bright spots that now danced in his vision.

"What the fuck was that?"

"An aberration." Eris breathed, She looked terrified for a moment but soon took hold of herself. "You need to come with me."

"Where we going?" Phineas asked.

"Not far, I have a gift for you."

Phineas shrugged and followed her into the lift with a final glance into the city. The more familiar flashes and cracks of weapons fire could be observed now. Another normal night beneath the Maelstrom. Eris took them up and wondered if maybe, just maybe... The lift opened to a scene of carnage. Elesian body parts, mixed in with those from the Dusk regulars... there was even a dismantled Mechan or two in the mix.

"You got me a room full of people parts, how nice. Can I put them together now or do we have cake first?"

Eris laughed and punched him in the arm. Phineas did not laugh. It fucking hurt. "Follow me." was all she said. They stepped outside and there she was, his Ophelia. The love of his life. And his crew, they were all aboard making her ready to fly. They all looked up and stood to attention as he walked out. More than a few of them cast nervous glances in the direction of Eris.

"I could fucking kiss you." he said to the woman.

"No Phineas," she replied, "No you could not, now get aboard. We are about to enter what you would call a world of shit."

As if on cue the Roost shook with a sudden explosion and Phineas stumbled forward. There came weapons fire from below and several airships were taking off from the yard. Phineas glanced out across the Darklands and was glad to see Tully and his Aquamarine well on their way.

***

The Palace shook. Ines shot up from her seat and glared around the room. She had been sitting in council discussed what was to be done about the events of the previous evening. A firm hand would be required and she had her suspicions on who might benefit from its touch. Soldiers poured in and her private mechan whirled into life.

"My Lady we should remain here where it is safe." Orlan Vord her speaker did not look like he felt safe, he was as pale as a ghost and his eyes were flicking this way and that. Still the advice was good. They stood listening to the sounds of weapons fire while the hall was secured.

Outside the widows were suddenly lit by a bright white light and there was a sudden silence.

"Watch Out!" Ines whirled as he mechan began to lean and then toppled to the ground with a crack. There came a scream from the back of the room and Ines stumbled back to sit heavily on her chair.

"What on earth was that?" she asked enraged. She spied Benjamin Montclaire nearby and pointed at him, "You? Is this your doing? Your plotting?"

"No I..." He tried to protest.

"Kill him!" she screamed at the nearest guard,"Show him how we treat traitors!"

An Elesian captain kicked Benjamin to his knees and leveled his rifle at the mans head. The was a dull click as the weapon failed to fire. Another rifle was handed to him and the same result was had. Ines screamed in rage and charged the helpless man pulling a long ornate blade from her calf and ramming it into his heart.

"You bitch..." the councilor managed before the blood appeared on his lips and he fell to the ground dead.

She rose panting and saw that the entire room was frozen in horror looking not at her but behind her. She could hear a soft ticking sound as she turned blade in hand.

The creature that stood there was half man, half machine. He held the first speaker Orlan by the back of the neck and the man was struggling to break free.

"My Lady..." Orlan croaked as a thin blade opened him up from behind.

"An eye for an eye Lady Regent." Orlan Vord fell to the ground dead. Nobody moved, the whole room watched in stunned silence as they waited for the Regents command. "I believe the phrase you are looking for is "off with his head." the assassin said and then the lights went out and the room was plunged into darkness.

***

The Roost was ablaze with gun fire as Maynards men poured onto the airships and loosed their anchors. They were well trained and well armed and they were joined by a flood of viscous fighters dressed in rags and armed with little more than rusty blades. They threw themselves willingly into harms way and created openings for the troops to move forward. Level by level the Elesians were being overwhelmed.

Maynard stepped out of a lift shaft onto one of the midpoint landing platforms. A great Elesian vessel sat there manned with his own crew. All around the ships were rising now and the few that were still in enemy hands were being driven from the sky.

"Away anchors!" he roared "and take us up, next stop Elesium. We bring fire and blood to the heavens!"

The Ophelia was airborne now and amidst Maynards ships lending a hand. Eris had stressed the importance of seeming to be part of the action until the last moment. Phineas watched Maynard through his spyglass and shook his head.

"Damn it woman, I could blow the bastard out of the sky before he raises anchor."

"And his men would turn on you in an instant, besides are you sure you are not really on his side?"

"Damned if I am." Phineas raged, "That bastard is a butcher and a.. a politician. It was his men I fought in the Sprawl, not the bloody Elesians."

Eris gave a nod as if she had expected as much. It was clear that Maynard had won the battle for the roost, he wondered whether the next move would prove quite so easy. Flying a fleet of ships through the Nexus was no simple task and when they got through.. what then?

"How fast is your ship Phineas?" Eris asked. She did not have to say more. "Raise the drift sheets and full power to the main thrusters!" he cried out, "Take us up at a running pace."

All of the ships were rising now and the Ophelia first amongst them.

***

Stella crouched over the unconscious form of Edward. When the light had flashed in the window he had dropped like a stone. He was breathing and he seemed to be safe for now, but she could not bring him round. The room was in uproar. The lights had gone out for several minutes and during that time a good number of the Elesian troops had been slaughtered by the strange metal man. When the light had returned Ines was gone and so was he.

The remaining Elesians were out searching for the Regent leaving only the Dusk regulars being to secure the hall. When the doors burst open there could be little doubt that the battle was lost and barley a handful of shots were exchanged before the attackers poured in and took control.

A man hobbled to the front supported by a red haired young woman. "Jessy?" Stella breathed, she glanced at Edward and then up towards her one time servant and made her choice. Rising she walked slowly to where the injured man was climbing atop the Regents seat. He raised his hands for silence.

"The people have spoken!" he cried out, "I am Enoch Solomon Fordham of the Red Crew and I am here to negotiate a new understanding between the working men and women of this City and those of wealth and power who would call themselves out masters. Come forth and you will not be harmed. Today marks a new beginning for us all!"

Stella pushed forward through the crowd until she stood beneath the man who looked down at her with kind eyes. She did not trust the bastard for a moment. Jessy who stood at his side flushed scarlet as she came under Stellas glare. She gave the woman and questioning look. Is this man for real? Do you trust him? There was a moments hesitation and then a brief nod. It would have to do, but Jessy had doubts she would remember that.

"I am Stella Corbet." she spoke calmly so all could hear. "You no doubt have heard of me. You blew up my husbands factory."

"Ms Corbet." Enoch gave a slight bow if his head. "Do you speak for the council?"

Stella looked around to see who would come forward to gainsay her, but nobody did. The most likely candidate Benjamin Montclaire lay in a pool of blood nearby. Those poor children.

"I do." she replied and then louder, "I speak for the City of Dusk."

Enoch smiled at that, "Good, good then let us begin."

***

The Ophelia tore through the mists of the Nexus. Its closest rival seventy feet below. Phineas looked down to see that it was the Maynard on his Elesian flagship. They were gaining! He would see about that. Weapons fire came from below and the Ophelia shook.

"Damn they are on to us." Phineas growled. Turning with his Spyglass he found himself eye to eye with Maynard who was looking up through a glass of his own. Phineas grinned as he shuffled around with his free hand. Pulling out his cock he began to piss over the side towards the ship below. Maynard threw down his scope in disgust and began to yell orders.

"Phineas." Eris snarled as she noted his behavior. His men were howling with laughter but it seemed she did not see the funny side.

"What?" he turned raising his hands.

"Put it away or I will rip it off." Eris seethed and in a moment of sobriety he followed her orders. Swallowing he called out to his men "Drop the Hammer!"

The order was repeated across the ship as all around them the winds picked up and the violent energies of the Maelstrom licked out against the ships hull. There was a scream as a man went over board and Phineas made a mental note to drink to that mans health when next he found himself in his cups.

There came a loud clank from below and the Ophelia surged forward leaving the Maynard far behind. Minutes passed by as they rose through the Nexus and then at last they were through. They burst into the clear air above with the underside of Elesium racing down to meet them.

"Hard about." he cried, "Kill thrusters."

They sailed past the landing platform and stopped mere inches from the thick plating of the City shell. As they moved back down toward their target the thick black shadows of emerging ships could be made out in the clouds of the Nexus below.

"We can not let them through." Eris said as she watched the ships begin to emerge. She ran to the bow of the ship and looked towards the landing platform as they moved down towards it. Phineas watched in disbelief as the woman threw herself overboard making an impossible jump and landing with an impact that should have broken her in two on the platform below. She ran across the platform and punched the communication box that would patch her into the city. Phineas could clearly see the shape of Maynards ship now as it emerged.

There came a deafening roar from the City above and the clouds below began to churn. A massive hatchway opened up above them and the landing platform began to rise.

"Get us docked you lazy bastards, quick now or we are dead men."

Below the Nexus was closing. Maynards ship was almost free when wisps of black cloud snapped inwards and caught it in a churning current of air. Phineas looked through his glass to see the ship pummeled from all sides by the sudden force of the Maelstrom unchecked. Men were dragged from the deck by the winds or choked by the thick black poisons of the cloud. At last the full force of the storm closed in on the vessel and it was dragged down and out of sight as green fire sprang from the darkness all around her.

Phineas felt the dull clang of the anchors as they were fixed to the platform and then the mechanical drag as they were lifted up into the belly of the beast. He could not believe he was seeing this, he was entering Elesium. He was moving towards the light.

Light!

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