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Date: I haven't the slightest fucking clue

Location: Likewise

    I don't know if this constitutes things getting worse or just weirder. As usual, the only thing I can do is write it down, since nothing seems to be trying to kill us just at the moment, and hope that someday, it will make sense.
    I distinctly remember the flying castle....
    * * *
    Outside the dome:
    A short time later the combined forces of the conventional military plus MEDUSA were in some disarray, swathes of ground were burned, and much of MEDUSA's Grovers Mills, NJ headquarters had been reduced to rubble. A dragon corpse was splayed across much of the countryside; it had been blown into several pieces. At the dragon's head, with one foot up on its nose, Powerhouse begged, "C'mon, take my picture! C'mon! You guys are lucky I got here in time...."
    In the new, makeshift headquarters, John Smith was looking back and forth between Eve and Doublecross. "If this is why Zachriel told me to wait, I am not amused."
    Eve's brow furrowed and she closed her eyes. "No. No, I don't think so. There was a moment of... awareness when the dragon appeared. They're still alive in there."
    "Well I certainly hope everyone in there--!"
    "No, no, not them. He's still alive in there, his brainwaves are very distinct. They're just very slow." She smiled.
    In Detroit:
    The Warriors and the Host had finished their preparations. Emily lay on the ground, her wings outstretched. Apollyon sat in lotus posture at her feet, hovering a few inches off the ground. Daedalus knelt by her head, fingers touching her temples. The other members of the Detroit Warriors stood off at a safe distance; they had no part to play but to watch.
    "At least it doesn't involve our holding hands and thinking good thoughts in order to help them out," Cold Steel remarked to Xorn.
    "You've never been any good at that."
    Apollyon looked over at Uriel. "All right. Go." There was a roar of flame as she took off eastward.
    Chandler lit a series of candles in tall holders from the fire Uriel's departure had started, and began placing them around the ritual site. He took up a position just outside the circle and walked around it. At every step his footprints caught fire; by the time he completed the circuit once the first of them was just dying down, to be renewed with the next. The fire began to change color; Emily floated up into the air, also burning.
    "Are we sure this is going to work?" Xorn asked.
    "No. But it is the single change we can propagate through that will have the greatest effect. I just don't know whether she has the power to do this."
    "How long do you think it'll take?"
    "Hour, maybe more. Of course, you're the one who said time's operating differently in there. I wish there was some way to warn them," he added morosely. "This could get everybody killed."
    Daedalus looked up. "It wouldn't be possible at all if wasn't for what we suspected about her nature."
    * * *
    We held a council of war as we approached the city. It consisted of the four of us, the illusionary form of the Minotaur, flanked and fronted by the three elvish wizards, a small homunculus representing All-Hallows Eve of the Swordbearers, and Scott was speaking to Felix via the wand.
    "We have problems," the old thief reported. "She has apparently realized that you are not in the city, and has redoubled her attacks against us. The last time that I saw Larry he was buying some time for Rick and the rest of Phoenix Talon's cadre to get some cover. I haven't seen him since, I don't know where he is."
    "When was that?" Talon asked.
    "Twenty-four hours ago. Now ordinarily, he could fend for himself, but something seems to have scared the hell out of her. She also, if our reading of the signs and omens is correct, has been summoning up a storm. The entirely of her castle is probably fully packed with daemons of various stripes at this point."
    "I don't know how much ground support we'll be able to provide," Felix concluded.
    "I wonder if she's bee talking to our friend the marelith," Talon mused.
    "Excuse me, who?" the Minotaur inquired, looking just a bit alarmed.
    "A daemon that we were previously fighting. We've got kind of a list."
    "She really didn't seem quite happy with us last time we saw her," Scott admitted.
    The homunculus chimed in, "That doesn't... unless I'm mistaken, every time she draws another daemon through it strengthens their connection to this realm, and the power of the god that she serves. The more of them there are here, the less likely that the artifact that you just went through all the effort to gather will be able to directly affect her."
    "I could be wrong."
    "Should have seen that one coming," Thunderbolt remarked.
    "That shouldn't be a problem," the Minotaur rumbled.
    "Shouldn't be a problem?" All-Hallows Eve repeated, surprised.
    "They will merely have to do massive damage to her before opening the Eye. That doesn't seem difficult."
    Over the wand, Scott could hear Felix snorting, "Why don't you come do this, Horn-Head."
    "I have complete faith in your ability to complete your part of this attack. My forces are ready; at the duly appointed time we will override her defenses to the west. Eve, see that your forces override her to the south. She is already engaged to the north. Her direction will be splintered just as it was before. We will make massive territory gains regardless as to whether or not the Revolution succeeds in killing her; her position will be weakened, and we'll be able to make another, hopefully final strike afterwards if it turns out to be necessary."
    "Well, let's be realistic here," Talon shrugged. "If we fail, then she's just going to come back and override anything you guys do. It's us, pretty much." I pondered the place of humility in the monkish repertoire. The problem was that he was right.
    The discussion turned to our own tactics; the images disappeared and the homunculus departed, to prepare their own forces.
    There was some thought of using the slaad, but there's a bit of a problem with creatures of pure chaos. They might defect to Gretchen, they might help us, they might decide to redecorate her stronghold in paisleys and ignore the whole thing.
    There was thought of ramming our castle into hers, an idea which was very attractive to all of us. After all this land has suffered at her hands, the notion of large-scale destruction had considerable appeal. The problem was that we didn't know where Dawn was within the tower. Didn't know anything about the place, except that her mirror room was at the top, and now that it was apparently full of summoned daemons.
    There was thought of splitting our forces, having the sneakier members of the team sneak in from below while the rest of us came in from above. But we didn't have any reliable way to keep in touch with each other, and this was not some lark like the fortress in the Western Wood. This was It.
    "Everything besides Gretchen is a distraction," Talon announced. "What is the fastest way straight to her?" When the attacks began, she would certainly be in her mirror room, keeping track of things. And once we attacked she would almost certainly come find us... but she might flee if she thought she was getting the worst of it.
    After some more discussion Scott said, "What we have to do is find and make a play for something she can't live without. And there's a limited number of things she absolutely has to have, isn't there?"
    "One of which is my daughter," Talon agreed with a grim nod. Our intelligence suggested that Dawn was not being held in the dungeons. And she probably wasn't at the very top, where the mirrors were. Which left a lot of tower.
    The day before we reached the city I summoned a storm that would provide cover for our attack in the morning. At the suggestion of the others, I also communed once again with my goddess. I didn't think she was going to know where Dawn was—we were asking her to look into the stronghold of Xyrgoth here—but as Scott pointed out it was worth asking.
    I walked out onto the landing platform, among the colored lights. The rain was hard and cold, the clouds around us laced with frequent lightning, and it grew heavier as Tempest made her presence known.
    I performed the usual genuflections. "Can you advise us as to the location of Phoenix Talon's daughter?"
    A face formed in the clouds—a face quite a bit like mine.
    Yes. MIdway between the mirrors and the ground.
    "Thank you. Very much. Any advice?"
    I am very sorry.
    "Um... about what?" I asked timidly.
    You were always my favorite amongst my daughters. I will miss you.
    Well, it was bound to happen one of these years.... Being what I am, I tried to take this in stride. "See you soon then?"
    No. Not for a hundred years.
    Still striving for optimism, "Could be worse?"
    Oh. I remembered my manners, and thanked her. "I hope I'll make you proud." Hundred years.... I hoped that wouldn't involve being slowly digested by the marilith and turned to my companions. "She says she's midway up the tower."
    "Well of course she is," Scott sighed.
    We were decided. No splitting up. A few hours after the attacks were scheduled to begin on her borders, drawing off her attention, we would make our move. We would bring the cloud castle up at a good height and rain down some fiery death from above; the cloudship had, among other things, a wand that served as a control for the ship from places other than what we thought of as the bridge, and which also allowed the wielder to change the cloud's color from white to threatening grey, and to use the castle's Call Lightning defense. We would drop down to the middle of the tower very quickly, and then use the landing platform as a boarding ramp.
    We were getting closer. I retired to pray and to try to come to terms with the fact that I was going to die. Phoenix Talon meditated with the Eye of Da'an in his lap. Thunderbolt stalked around scowling, girding himself to face what was to come, Stephanie pacing silently in his wake. Scott did not seem to have any preparations to make, but then you can't tell when he's nervous.
    The storm had been going for hours and had reached its pitch, but I could feel something pushing against my mother's power. We were over the city. In the barren zone around her tower there were several rings of fire, into which her forces marched or shambled, the big ones whipping the smaller ones forward. As they entered the circle they disappeared—being teleported to the battlegrounds, most probably. The flames guttered low in the rain, shot higher and then faded again, but did not quite die.
    "Today will be the vengeance of Da'an—and my own," Talon pronounced grimly. Thunderbolt sent off our first lightning bolt from the ship, aiming about halfway up the tower; ten minutes and counting.
    We were all in the map room; Thunderbolt cast Mage Armor on himself, Talon, and Scott. I had good enough chain of my own. Phoenix Talon took up a position in the control room in case anyone teleported in to take over the castle at the last minute. Scott and I went out to the landing platform, watching the tower grow steadily closer. It looked like the bolt had punched through, though it was hard to tell how big the opening might be.
    We were over the tower.

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© 2003 Rebecca J. Stevenson