Chapter Thirty Seven: … Now Reap the Whirlwind!

Helm clutched at the grip of his flaming sword as he stared down into his scrying device. The pieces were set, the board prepared. Now was the time, and this the hour.

He had waited thousands of years for this moment. Now he would strike, now his people would strike.

Within the depths of the scrying device, he could see the gathering forces of mortals and Gods alike. In the underground realm of the Dwarves, the forces for operations Overlord and Double Thunder were massing, and preparing to move out. Standing in the thick of it was the Master Chief and his A.I., the sight of his old suit of armor giving the troops hope and inflaming their courage to even greater heights.

Within the tree covered realms of the Elves, that ancient race marshaled its forces. Mage and blademaster stood side by side, while overhead, the forces of Bahamut and some of Correllon's angels would provide protection from overhead assaults.

Along the Sword Coast, from Ten Towns to Neverwinter, to the desert sands of Calimport, Men rallied. Old differences were put aside, blood feuds ended, and truces declared in preparation for the coming demonic assault.

In the dark realms of the Underdark, the Drow were awaiting the arrival of the last of their forces before they marched. Prayers to Lolth were being chanted, prayers asking the Spider Goddess for victory and glory in the coming battles. Adamantine blades were being sharpened and enchanted, and all preparations for a second war with the surface were under way.

The God of Guardians looked up, his burning eyes settling on Moradin. The Dwarven God was also arrayed for battle, his mighty hammer clutched in one hand, and his arming sword strapped to his back.

"It's time, my old friend," Helm said, grasping his sword tighter.

Moradin grinned behind his beard. "Good, I've been waiting for this for a long time."

In the blink of an eye, they were gone.

Commander Keyes looked out among the gathered forces before her, and nodded her head slightly. Within just a few minutes, they would be moving out and heading into the battle that would decide the fate of this world. Their relatively small strike team would be tasked with crippling the Drow, but equally important were those who would hold down the fort up here. She hoped that everyone was up to the task. Morale had been high so far, due to their smashing victory over the first Dark Elf army, but a lot could change when there were a mass of Abyss spawned demons charging towards you.

Still, all preparations were in place, and all their defenses set. She had done everything she could, and that was what mattered.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of Orna Fulsamee. How strange the times were to be allied with one who had for so long fought against her and Humanity itself. Still, during their time here, the Elite had proven himself to be as stalwart an ally as they could have asked for. The Commander came to attention and saluted the Ascetic, and to her surprise, he noticed her gesture, and returned it with one of his own.

The Sangheili soldier then went to seeing to his own final preparations. Probably a good thing, since his job in the strike force was probably going to be the diciest.

However, as the UNSC Commander turned back to her own duties, she was approached by Sergeant Johnson. The ODST saluted her and she nodded towards him.

"With your permission ma'am, I would like to make a bit of a speech towards the troops, seeing as how they're all gathered up at the moment."

The Sergeant Major referred to more than just the assembled strike teams. The commanders of the Lords' Alliance had decided that it would be best for their troops to be 'linked up' with each other via UNSC communications gear, and most of the platoons had been issued radios. Johnson would be addressing most of the soldiers up and down the Sword Coast, from Ten Towns to Waterdeep to Amn.

Keyes contemplated it for a moment, before nodding her head again. "I'll allow it, but be careful, Sergeant. I don't need you frightening them."

"I wouldn't dream of it, ma'am," he said with another salute.

Then the Helljumper took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, before walking over towards one of the computers that had been brought from the Dawn. Its signal was powerful enough to reach out to all of the communication radios across the Sword Coast. He activated the command channel, and the radios crackled to life. The ODST's HUD clock told him that the local time along most of the coast was around nine in the morning.

"Hello everyone." He started off. "I'm Sergeant Johnson. I know that these are strange and dangerous times for you. And before the day is done, you will likely find yourself in the largest battle in the history of Torril. Against Demons, no less." He paused for a second, and then continued. "Look to the people around you. They may be Human, Elf, Dwarf, man or woman, but they are your brothers and sisters. When the time comes, remember that. Our enemies will be legion, but they fight as individuals, and so each of them fights alone. They are not an army, they are a mob. A badassed mob, maybe," he threw a small chuckle into his words, though he quickly became serious again, "but a mob is just a wave, and an army a bulwark, a cliff, a rock. It has cohesion, it is solid. Do your work with confidence, support your fellow soldiers, and the wave will break upon you."

He paused, and let it sink in. The eyes of the soldiers present were falling upon him as he continued to deliver his speech.

"In my time here, I have come to respect and honor all of you I've fought alongside of. As such, I won't bullshit you. Some of you will die in the coming battle. But remember why you fight, and for what cause you will make that sacrifice." He took a breath, swallowing deeply. Behind his helmet, he saw brief flashes of former comrades. Jenkins, Besenti, Captain Keyes, Locklear. "You fight so your children may live and grow old, and so that their children may live in a time when the horrors of the Underdark and their fiendish allies are nothing more than bad memories. You fight so they will only know of Demonic invasions and surface raids from scary bedtime stories, not experience."

"You will meet the enemy, and you will be a rock, and drive them back, so that your children, and your children's children can look back upon this day with pride. So that they can see that this was the day, this was the hour, when petty divides and strifes died, and all the peoples and nations of this world united together. When they became a rock upon which the future was built."

He paused, stood a bit straighter, and took a deep breath.

"One last thing to remember, it's all right to be scared. Although we are a rock we face horrors untold. I'll leave you with a few words from men who have gone before. 'Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts. And courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared.' Now let's go out there and be that rock!"

As the speech came to an end, the reactions varied. Some of the men and women who heard it nodded stoically. Some of them cheered. Some of them stood a little taller, gripped their weapons just a little easier. Some of them had a fire in their eyes, and still others managed to smile.

Back within the depths of Mithril Hall, the soldiers in the room with Johnson chatted amongst themselves, using both the speech and their own pep talks to get their adrenaline up and flowing. According to the plan, it would be mere minutes before Helm and Moradin spearheaded their assaults into Lolth's realm. Once they were there, the eyes of the Spider Goddess would be taken away from her capital city to deal with the invasion of her realm.

Once they had gotten her attention, Cortana and the Master Chief would receive a signal, and launch their assault. At the same time, Overlord and Double Thunder would be initiated. The idea was to hit hard, fast, and on multiple fronts, hopefully overwhelming their enemies, who lacked the ability to coordinate as they could. This would give them the initiative, force the Demons and the Drow onto the defensive, and force them to constantly be trying to adapt to the moves of the Overlord teams, rather than the other way around.

While it wouldn't guarantee that everything would run smoothly, it gave them the best shot of getting all their objectives accomplished without getting wiped out.

All they had to do was wait.

The Balor, Errtu, turned his back on the Baenre torturers for a few moments, feeling a prickling in his mind that indicated his lord wanted to speak with him. He let his consciousness flow out and around, drifting through the Planes until he homed in on the psychic call. The image of Demogorgon filled his mind, and he bowed before his master.

"It is time," the Demon Prince's two heads muttered at the same time, the voice one that would drive the most courageous of men into mindless terror. "Prepare your troops. My armies march upon the surface now!"

Errtu said nothing, but merely bowed once again. He withdrew back to the Prime, and blinked a few times as he refocused his vision. His eyes drifted down to his prize. Neeshka was lying down in front of them, her flesh scarred and burnt from the actions of both himself and the Baenre torturers. Still, despite the bones that had been broken, the flesh that had been flayed, and the spells cast upon her, she remained stubbornly defiant, staring up at them with a look that would have struck them all dead if such a feat had been within her power.

Errtu was tempted to smile. This was turning out to be more enjoyable than he had imagined. Too often, a victim broke too quickly, ruining all the fun of such activities. It was the final goal of shattering the individual that was just as enjoyable as the act itself.

He shook himself out of his thoughts and back to reality, before turning to one of the Baenre soldiers who was present, and wrapping his wings around himself.

"Demogorgon's troops march upon the surface. Go, and tell your Matron that we must move soon, regardless of how ready her army is," he commanded the Dark Elf, gesturing towards the Baenre throne room with his right hand.

The woman nodded her head, and promptly bolted. Errtu turned his attention back to the Tiefling before him, and a wicked smile came to his face again.

"Stand aside," he told the Drow. "I believe it is time that I had another turn with this impudent half-breed."

Neeshka said nothing, but just glared at him again. The Balor almost admired the spirit within the girl, and had to hold back a chuckle as he prepared to set to work. Lightning started to crackle along his talons, and with a gesture, he unleashed it.

It happened almost simultaneously. Helm and Moradin entered the Demonweb pits, intent on their mission, and Demogrogon's forces ripped open massive portals to the Prime, rushing out to begin their conquest. In nearly every major city in Faerun, the forces of the Abyss spilled over into the mortal world, and the forces of Men, Elves, Dwarves, and others rallied to begin pushing them back.

The signal from the God of Guardians and support calls from the Surface armies came in within seconds of one another. The Master Chief turned to watch Commander Keyes. They had hoped to be under way before this happened. It seemed that things were already not going according to the plan.

The UNSC Commander narrowed her eyes. There were two possible choices before her at the moment. The first was to go ahead with the plan, and hope that the surface armies of Faerun could hold out against the onslaught that was about to get thrown at them. The second was to call off the attack and reinforce Mithril Hall and as many other cities as possible.

With the talent of an officer with more than twenty years of command service under her belt, she reached her decision in the blink of an eye.

"Proceed with the attack. We have to cut the heart out of this invasion, and we have to do it now."

Everyone nodded, and the Master Chief opened up a Slip-Space portal. There was the roar of a maelstrom for a few seconds, and then he was gone. With that done, all that was left was for the mages to cast their spells and teleport them into the heart of Menzoberranzan.

There was the sensation of suddenly being nowhere, floating, drifting through the ethers. Then she felt a pull near her stomach, and she was suddenly back on solid ground. The infrared sensors of her combat gear kicked in instantly, showing her the layout of the city of Menzoberranzan.

Jarlaxle's magi had done their jobs splendidly, and command group Omaha was in its precise ingress zone. They were on top of a four story building in the main bazaar of the city. Aside from the popping noises of the displaced air, there had been no sound to alert the enemy of their arrival, and the thermal masking systems of their armor suits would make it harder to see the members of the group. They were further aided by the fact that most of the city's civilian population was asleep right now, and the bazaar virtually deserted. Nonetheless, Keyes intended for the Drow to have to pay dearly if they wanted to take this place from her.

No verbal commands or signals were needed. The troops set about their tasks instantly. The mages that were with them began to quietly raise teleportation wards, while the Neo-Covenant troops set up defensive hard points such as HPMG and plasma cannon positions, while others threw down portable energy barriers and prepared to raise them. Others toss anti-infantry mines along the sides and tops of the buildings near their positions, or set up the 120mm and plasma mortars that would deliver long range death where it was needed… and drop the Cold Silence chemical rounds right into the heart of the enemy.

The other teams were radioing in, and Keyes knew that they had only seconds before Hard Contact was initiated with the Underdark forces. They had to hurry, and get those chemical rounds in the air.

"Mortars assembled," one of the Elite's hissed over Omaha's private channel.

Keyes activated her UNSC neural lace, and with a thought, sent the final activation codes to the chemical rounds. The microdetonators in the rounds went off, and the novachok agents began to mix. They were now armed, and ready to deliver their lethal payloads. The command group's UAV's had been launched as soon as they had set up their preliminary defense systems, and were already zeroing in on the top priority targets.

"Initiate." Keyes said.

The chemical rounds were swiftly loaded, and the EM systems kicked in. A high pitched 'fwoomph' sound filled the air as the rounds shot out of their tubes and went flying into the distance. Keyes' HUD tracked the rounds as their arched through the air at nearly three times the speed of sound. The initial destination of the devices was Tier Breche, the Drow Academies. Right now, they were filled with tens of thousands of crack Dark Elven troops awaiting the order to move.

Zooming in, Keyes noted that there was quite a bit of activity going on in the camps. This confirmed her fear that the Drow themselves were gearing up to move. Their element of surprise was going to be a lot shorter than she'd hoped. Still, it would also give her a better chance to see just how badly the enemy would react to exposure to TH-138.

The mortar rounds reached their destination even as the next rounds were being fired out. Five hundred meters off the ground, the rounds blew open, and the small tubes of the now fully mixed Cold Silence shot out in different directions. A few moments later, those too detonated. The heat and pressure of the explosion quickly aerosolized the liquid. The Drow reacted almost instantly to the sounds; some of the Dark Elves went for their weapons, others seemed to be preparing spells.

Their enemy was smart, they knew that something was up. But they were up against a foe they could not fight against. A poison so potent that a drop smaller than the head of a pin could kill hundreds. It started within moments.

All across the city, where the chemical rounds exploded, Dark Elves, Druegar, Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, even some of the lower Demons began to twitch and drop to the ground, their eyes bulging and their forms convulsing as they lost control of their bodies and began to choke. Others, exposed to more concentrated doses of TH-138, began to experience the full symptoms that Sergeant Johnson had described, and were soon lying in pools of their own body fluids and other gore.

There were no cries. No screams of pain or anguish, or even terror. There was only silence from the dead and dying, and frantic shouts of alarm from the ones who survived the attack and those who had the luck to be wearing magical items with potent enough warding against poisons to shield them. Among those survivors, confusion ran rampant as they tried to figure out what was suddenly causing their allies to drop dead.

The more powerful Clerics immediately began to try and commune with Lolth, but little did they realize that their dark Goddess' attention was otherwise occupied.

Helm narrowed his gaze as he stared into the depths of the Demonweb. The plane of reality in which Lolth built her home was a world unto itself, spiraling inward like the web of a funnel spider. In the distance he could see the massive, eight legged fortress that served as her home. Larger than a city, it moved about the hellish webs, keeping Lolth's position mobile and difficult to track. Helm turned to look at Moradin. The Dwarven God was smiling even more fiercely now that he was actually here. Behind them was a small army of Dwarven heroes from times past, and the avatars of the other Gods and Goddesses of the Dwarven pantheon.

"Your time is ending, Spider Queen," the God of Guardians muttered softly, before raising his flaming sword behind him high into the air and letting out a battle cry.

It took but a few moments for them to cross the distance between their current position and the fortress. Alarms were sounded in earnest as soon as they were spotted, but there was only so much that could be done. Helm led the charge, shoulder to the front and his sword cocked back behind him.

A pair of Dark Elven champions stood on one of the parapets of the mobile fortress, backed up by a pair of Yochols. The two Drow were bowled aside like they were nothing more than ninepins as the God smashed into them, and with a mere gaze, he burned the wicked handmaidens from his sight.

They were but drones, insects. He sought the queen. The sooner he found Lolth and engaged her in battle, then the larger the window of opportunity that the mortals fighting in the Underdark and the Surface would have to coordinate their defenses and assaults without having to worry about the Dark Goddess figuring out what was up or being able to grant major boons and powers to her followers.

Moradin was at his side again, his ages old comrade prepared to intercept major resistance and allow for Helm to pass, two certain resistances in particular, which both Gods knew Lolth would hurl at them if it meant slowing them down for even a minute. Meanwhile, the other Dwarven forces would keep Lolth's minions occupied and unable to assist.

They might have lacked the power to directly challenge a deity, but Helm had long learned the lesson of never leaving anything to chance. One never knew when a particularly audacious minion, mortal champion, or the like would manage to enter the battle, and they had a talent for disruption. He let his mind extend outwards for a moment or two, and locked on to the largest source of arcane power. He extended his will further, and for a moment, he actually brushed minds with the insane Goddess.

He felt panic, surprise, and shock running through his mind for a second, but he knew better than to hope that those were genuine emotions. Even if they were, Lolth would doubtless have a plan if her home were ever to be invaded, and he would have to act quickly to prevent her from setting it into motion.

He knew where she was now, though, and he drew on his power. A lightning bolt leapt from his hand and obliterated the ceiling above his head. Vaporized metal and rock filled the air, but it did not bother the deity, nor did the vast amounts of ambient heat that would have roasted the flesh from any normal being. Instead he leaped straight up, the air rushing past his ears and roaring in his mind, until he reached an area near the top of the fortress. A miles long hallway extended before him, and at the end of it, he could see Lolth's two primary lackeys.

Vhaeraun and Selvetarm both stood in front of a door, readying sword and spell to meet the intruders that would harm their mistress. Helm looked over to Moradin. The Dwarven God said nothing, merely thumped the head of his warhammer against the palm of his hand. As one they broke towards the two lesser deities. Helm could both see and sense the fear growing in the bellies of the two Gods as they realized the awful truth, realized just how committed their foes were to this battle.

Traditionally, when conducting raids on other deities realms, the tactic was to send Avatars. That way the God or Goddess would remain safe in his or her home plane, and be able to watch and gather information without fear of harm. That was not so in this case. Vhaeraun and Selvetarm, and Lolth herself, would not face Avatars. They would face the full fury of two of the most powerful beings to ever walk the Planes of the multiverse.

To their credit, the two lesser Gods stood their ground and braced themselves for the coming fight. They were caught off guard when Moradin suddenly leapt forward and tackled the two of them, before blowing them down through the floors of the fortress, deeper into its bowels.

"For all the Dwarves dead at your mistress's hands!" he screamed, jumping down after them.

Now none stood to bar the way. Helm was left alone with his foe. With but a thought, he sent the mighty citadel doors crashing inwards and walked over the hole in the ground. Within the chamber was a large throne room, and atop a chair of black marble, Lolth sat. Her crimson eyes shone hatefully at the armored God, and she clutched at a spear that was wickedly barbed and pulsing with evil magic. She wore a type of light chain armor, with a few plates here and there to protect the more vital areas. It looked very much like what her typical soldier wore, Helm thought.

Despite it all she tried to look composed, but he could see a glint in her eye, and a slight quiver in her arms. Her plans had likely not included a true assault by an actual God, let alone two, and she was having to try and reconfigure her defensive plans. Wards and spells that would obliterate an Avatar could be shrugged off by the genuine article.

"I thought you might come. But I never imagined you to be so foolish as to actually show your physical form on my domain," Lolth hissed, rising from her throne and brandishing the spear. "Here I am all powerful, and I will destroy you without even exerting myself." she started to cackle insanely as she started forward, descending the stairs of her throne. "Your arrogance has doomed you, Helm."

"You keep boasting and chanting that this is my doom, yet I do not see you taking action." He smirked behind his helmet. Lolth's psychological armor had many chinks in it, if one but knew the right words to speak. "You hesitate, and stall for time," he raised his sword, which bore the name of Azure-Wrath, and let its blue light bathe the chamber in its glow. "I can sense your fear, Queen of Spiders. You fear me even within the realm of your own domain, as a child fears the shadows in its closet, or underneath its bed."

"You dare!" Lolth screeched. In the blink of an eye, she had jumped across the distance that had separated them, her spear thrust downward to impale the God of Guardians.

Another blink. The spear connected with empty air and smashed into the floor of the throne room. The Demonweb Fortress shook at the impact, and the stone and metal underneath shattered, leaving a large hole in the floor. Lolth twisted around, frantically searching for her adversary, for her tormentor. She found him standing at the top of the stairs leading up to her throne.

"You dare to insult me in my own hall?" she screamed at him, preparing for another attack. "I will grind your bones to dust! I will pluck out your eyes and sow your mouth shut, before ripping your head off and mounting it like a trophy!" she gestured, and in front of her a portal opened up, spewing meteors out of it and sending the fiery rocks streaking towards Helm. As before, he vanished right before impact, and all the Spider Queen succeeded in doing was destroying her throne.

"Many have made such boasts to me before," he said, and she whirled to see him staring down at her from the ceiling, his armored boots anchored to it as he calmly walked above her head. "None have ever been able to put their words into actions. And those boasts were made by creatures far deadlier and more dangerous than a frail, insane Goddess with a persecution complex."

Lolth screamed again and hurled her spear like a thunderbolt. It shattered the entire roof of the throne room, its momentum carrying it up and destroying level after level. Stone and metal shrieked and tumbled off of the mobile fortress, forcing those battling down below on the outer portions of it to frantically dodge and seek cover, lest they be crushed by the mountains of falling debris.

For the third time, Lolth realized to her increasing frustration, she had failed to hit her target. Helm was goading her, she knew it, but she was helpless to stop it.

Within the protected recesses of his mind, as he peeked down through the hole his opponent had made in the roof, Helm smiled to himself, and teasingly waved down at his foe. This elicited another shriek of outrage and wounded pride. Helm had long studied Lolth, and knew exactly what to say and what to do to keep her rage growing until it was past the point where she could control it. An opponent half insane with rage would fight sloppily, and never pause to wonder why he or she might be fighting their opponent.

Lolth teleported up to him in an instant, her spear back in her hands as she tried to impale the other deity through his back. With impossible speed, Helm blurred out of the way, leaped over the stadium sized hole that the goddess had made, and laughed at her again. She teleported again, appearing in front of him and thrusting wildly.

"I am Lolth!" she roared. "There are none more dangerous! None more powerful! None more cunning!" She stabbed and twirled the spear around, seeking every possible opportunity or avenue of attack, all the while throwing out spells of hellfire, lightning, and psionic attacks that could have felled whole armies.

Helm dodged, parried, or deflected every attack she threw, raising his wards when necessary to thwart her arcane attacks. At last, the moment presented itself. Lolth overextended herself, and he struck. He brought Azure-Wrath down on her spear, cutting deep into its metal handle before catching the weapon with his crossguard and forcing it down. Before Lolth could react, he drove his armored boot into her shin and then smashed his fist into the insane Goddess' face with enough power to catapult her through the air towards the far end of the Demonweb Fortress. While she was still airborne, lightning and raw, arcane power leaped from his hands and streaked towards her. The Goddess screamed as the attacks rushed over her body, and then found herself paralyzed by a telekinetic grip. With a thought, Helm threw her down. Again, her fortress shuddered as she smashed through layer after layer of its construction.

At last, he released her, and prepared for her next attack. For all the fury he had shown, he had done little more than wound her pride and bruise her ego. Lolth would come again and again.

He suddenly spun around, bringing his flaming sword down from an angle. Lolth was there again, her spear twisting and mutating until it was a bastard sword like his own. The two blades met in a shower of fire as Azure-Wrath's blue flames pulsed and grew in fury, as if it were feeding on of the darkness and rage that Lolth was giving off.

"I will rend you, break you upon my tortures! You will scream for me to end it before I am through with you!" the Dark Elf cried out.

Helms response was a downward cut at his foe's legs, followed by an upward slash at her body. Lolth managed to parry both of the strikes, before rearing back and making a horizontal slash towards Helm's neck. The God of Guardians caught the attack on the flat of his sword, slid the blade down to where they were locked at the hilt, and stepped in close to Lolth. His boot descended onto her foot, smashing so hard against it that the roof of the fortress cracked, sending both of their legs down into a hole until it was even with their calves. As the Goddess gasped in pain, he smashed his helmeted head against her bare one, before following it up with a massive fireball that blew her away from him again, while filling the air with a roar and a concussion that would have shattered the mightiest mountain along the Spine of the World.

As before, though, Helm knew that his opponent was not even suffering the equivalent of a flesh wound yet.

No mortal could have reacted fast enough to evade Lolth's retaliation as a burst of fire erupted from underneath Helm, streaking up towards the sky. Then she was upon him with a fury of cuts, stabs, and chops. Helm worked his weapon back and forth, deflecting everything while slowly retreating and giving ground.

"Strange," he suddenly spoke as he simultaneously parried a sword stroke and deflected a burst of spellfire, "for being so all powerful, and for all your threats to vanquish me, I still seem to be here."

A shriek of indignant rage met his musings, and his opponent lunged forward, her sword cocked back above her head. The God of Guardians leaped backwards out of the way of the chop, which continued down until it shattered another section of the fortress' roof. Behind his helmet, he again smiled.

Everything was going as he'd hoped.

Commander Keyes looked at the HUD of her helmet, pulling up a map of the city and highlighting the troops under her command. The UAVs that had been sent up were monitoring the different elements perfectly, and providing her with a real time picture of what was going on.

Most of her attention right now was on Sword, as they were the largest element force, launching a direct assault upon the very heart of their foe: House Baenre. So far, all seemed to be going well. But that could change in an instant.

At the same time, Gold team was making their assault on the academies. The word was out now, that the city was under assault. Keyes thought it best to think of it as being akin to kicking a large hornets' nest. While scores of thousands were already dead thanks to the chemical alpha strike that Overlord's forces has unleashed, there were many more who were either protected against such attacks, or whose biology was so radically different that the poison had no effect upon them.

Now they swarmed around the targets, rightly guessing what the enemy was up to, and what they were trying to do.

Support calls were coming in, primarily from Gold, as Sword had the benefit of having its own heavy firepower along for the ride. Juno and Utah were small strike teams, and not in a position to call on support at all. It was those that Keyes worried about the most, and why Sword was under orders to draw as much fire and attention to themselves as possible.

The UNSC commander strongly suspected that her opponents would be smart enough to guess that they were a diversionary attack, and that the real threat was elsewhere. House Baenre would not have survived more than six thousand years in an environment like this unless they were good at such things. However, the ace up Keyes' sleeve was that an assault force as large as Sword, storming the primary gate and laying waste to everything in sight, was not something that could be ignored, and even if they knew it was not the true threat, they would have to commit large amounts of their resources in order to try and contain it. Every Drow, Demon, or slave troop that was sent to try and stall Sword was one less set of eyes searching for Juno or Utah.

The Commander sent a coded message off to both teams, the lights on her HUD winking a silent inquiry for a status report. She got four short winks and two longs ones back, and the lights were blue. So far so good, no enemy encounters, and no detection. At the same time, there was the roar of a plasma mortar as Gold called in for more support and three heavy plasma rounds were sent arcing over the city, winking blue on the infrared spectrum. Keyes was once more astounded by how hauntingly beautiful they looked when they were suspended in mid-air, so much like a star.

Then they reached the buildings that they had been targeting, and utterly obliterated them, reminding her again of what their true purpose was.

The Commander kept looking around her position as she monitored the status of the element teams, concern growing in her chest. The plasma mortars were highly visible, blinding to the Dark Elves who could scarcely stand the light of a candle, let alone the fury of a weapon which burned like a miniature sun. Why hadn't they attempted to assault this position? There should have been troops swarming to try and take her command post, especially once they realized all the heavy firepower Omaha was raining down on their heads. She was too wise to believe that they had just opted to ignore her, and their luck wasn't good enough to suspect that the Cold Silence had killed enough of the untold thousands in this city that no one was around to mount a counter-assault.

"Stay alert, I think they're up to something," she announced to her team.

Quiet affirmatives met her command, and the Neo-Covenant troops remained vigilant. At the same time, she also checked in with Double Thunder. So far, resistance had been minimal to them, and most of the children of the appropriate age had been safely subdued and teleported away to a holding area of the Forward Unto Dawn. However, resistance was likely to mount as more and more of Menzoberranzan's civilian population awoke to the realization that war had just found its way to their doorstep.

For the moment, though, there was nothing more that she could do. She had to wait for the enemy to make the next move. Her troops were forcing the enemy onto the defensive, now she had to see how they would react. As the old navy saying went, she had on her tin hat. Now all there was to do was wait.

From within the dungeons of House Baenre, Neeshka felt a gentle rumbling. Panting, trying to draw enough air into her lungs to keep herself conscious. She stared up out of the eye that wasn't swollen shut, staring at Errtu. The mighty Balor seemed to be having the time of his life, laughing while he'd shocked her, beat her, and tore into her mind with his magic. He kept ripping into her psyche, trying to find out what she knew about the offworlders, what he could use against them.

The thought of her friends getting hurt because of the information she had in her head kept her strong. She couldn't fail them. The consequences could be devastating if Errtu, and by extension, Demogorgon, learned the true extent of what the UNSC were capable of. They might turn their attention from the Blood War, try to find their homeworlds, and invade them. She wasn't certain how well Humanity could handle that, especially given how badly they had suffered in their war with the Covenant.

"You are strong, Tiefling," she heard Errtu growl, and she looked back up at him, "you have your grandfather's strength." He reached out and yanked her up off of the floor with a single hand choking her in his grip. She didn't struggle. There was no way to break his grip, and it would only exhaust her oxygen supply. She glared balefully at him.

He chuckled in return. "But that will make the moment when you finally crack all the sweeter. I have never failed when it comes to extracting information from mortals." He leaned in close, and she could smell his hellish breath. She didn't flinch, just kept glaring.

The rumbling came again, stronger this time, and there was the sound of someone running down the stairs. Errtu dropped her, and in her weakened state, Neeshka crashed to the stone floor, she looked over to see one of Matron Triel's elite guard rushing in.

"We are under attack!" the woman exclaimed, breathing deeply, as if she'd been running for some time. "There are enemies all throughout the city, and they assault the very gates of the House!"

"What?" Errtu screamed, his wings spreading out as he roared and closed in on the small Elf. "Who? In how many numbers?"

"The strange allies the Dwarves had at the battle of the Hall. There are hundreds of them at least. Matron Triel has contacted the other Matrons, but they've attacked us with some kind of magic, a spell we've never seen before. Half the city's armed forces are already dead!"

Neeshka could feel the magic in the air, and knew that Errtu must have been using every ounce of self-restraint that he had not to start blasting things.

"What of the ones at the gate?" Another rumble filled the room.

"The outer gate has already fallen, and they've pressed up through the causeway. The second gate was under assault as I was sent to warn you. It may already have fallen." The Drow responded. "There are hundreds in that group alone."

"Too many for it to be the true assault," Errtu growled. "But I will dispatch my soldiers to slow them down. Summon your allies, have them come in from behind. We will take these invaders, and beat them as a hammer smashes an anvil."

"As you command, milord," the guard said bowing, and then dashing off. Errtu seemed to cast a small spell, of what kind Neeshka couldn't tell. "Then he turned to Vendes Baenre, and glowered at the torture master. "Stay here, watch her, try to get anything you can out of her."

"My pleasure, mighty one," Vendes said with a bow and a smirk, her hand drifting to a wickedly serrated knife that she had on her hip.

With that, the mighty demon departed, storming up the stairs. However, even as Vendes closed on her, and pulled her knife out, Neeshka managed a smile. They had come. Her friends and allies had brought the fight to the enemy. She knew better than to hope that she would get out of this alive, but the Tiefling started to laugh despite herself. Her 'interrogator' paused for a moment as the Tiefling's body shook with laughter.

"What is so funny?" the woman growled, standing over her victim.

"You're dead," Neeshka managed to whisper, not caring how much her broken ribs hurt when she laughed. "You just don't realize it yet. They're coming. They'll slaughter your troops, banish your demons, and when they're done, the only thing left of your city will be a smoldering wreck." She paused for a moment to catch her breath, coughing up a little bit of blood as she did so. "Menzoberranzan will become nothing but a curse to your people, a name synonymous with death, despair, and ruin."

There was something in the one eye of the Tiefling that was staring at her, something that looked almost crazed. For a brief moment, Vendes was actually unnerved. She had heard the stories of Mithril Hall, of how many people had died there to these strange beings, to their thunder-weapons and their lightning-staffs. Then she shook her head. That was then, before they had Demogorgon on their side. With the Demon Prince as their ally, no force in all the universe could defeat them.

Vendes felt hate, hate for the weakness she had experienced, if only for a moment, for the doubt that the Tiefling had made her feel. The Drow torture master quickly focused that hate on the half-breed, and with a snarl, plunged the knife into her shoulder and twisted it.

Neeshka bit back the scream that tried to escape her throat, and as she had with Errtu, glared at her captor and tormentor. All the while, the smile never left her face.