Lilith zoomed through the darkness, ducking and squeezing between the pipes, ducts, wires, girders, and glowy things. She didn't know whether Charlie's Archons were pursuing her into the interstices of Comm Tower or not; maybe they had re-veiled and were tracking her again. But she wasted no more time with caution or stealth.
"We are operating in a highly favorable solution space here, sister," she said to the one-armed and zero-legged body she was hauling. She held it by its wrist, dangling the x-eyed Archon behind her as she flew. "Hope you've got clearance for 40."
Floor 40 was, uh… weird. She could tell that much at first glance, flying around and over it. The whole thing looked separate, like a windowless fortress nestled at the bottom of the world. The exterior was rough and black, dotted with lights and glowing wires in odd places.
And traps, oh so many traps, all rigged to aim inward. Most were focused on the central dome.
The regular grid pattern of beams and girders didn't connect to the big rectangular shell of a building. This meant there was a huge gap between floors, almost like an entire level was missing from the tower. Four big stone columns that reached upward from the steel plated roof of the keep-like structure provided its only real connection to the tower's skeleton.
At the center of the inner fort was a flat dome covered in thick armor. It looked like a Titan's combat helmet, or the shell of an enormous ford tortoise. Portal room? Probably, yes. There was also a heavily reinforced vertical shaft of steel extending between floors, which had to be the main accessway from the rest of the tower.
Getting inside there would not be trivial.
She might even have called it impossible, had she not nabbed something special at the supply depot. She now floated down to the roof of Fortress 40, and gingerly set the body down against a steel joint.
She unslung her weapons sack, and pulled out the most interesting one. The siege one.
"This is an RPG," Lilith said to the slumping half-Archon. "You probably knew that."---
One shot, one target, one chance. Lilith didn't have much time, but she really had to pick the right spot to aim at. This was a mission-critical decision point; if she failed to breach 40, she'd have few options left.
She left the body perched on the fortress roof, and went target hunting.
At first, she examined the central dome. This thing was bristling with canisters: gas traps and goo traps, mostly incapacitation stuff. Wires, some glowing and some not, ran all over the bare metal shell. That probably meant Shockmancy traps as well. She didn't see anything that looked explosive here, anything that could boost the blast of her siege weapon, but she hadn't looked everywhere yet.
Nor did she see any traps she felt like trying to set off manually. They were all aimed down and inside.
Lilith was torn. On the one hand, this dome was clearly the most important point in the structure. Hitting it from the wrong side like this would do all kinds of juicy damage. And if this was in fact where the portal resided, then she'd be right there at her target where she could immediately throw the guns through. Mission accomplished, and let's see if you have the guts to shoot me, too.
But this was also by far the most hardened spot. She should try to find the weakest point, if her goal was to breach. That was just basic siege.
But, oh…breaching the floor someplace far away from the portal would leave her trying to fight her way past whatever personnel were currently occupying 40.
And what about those personnel? She had no way to know if her siege attack might damage some of them. A careless blast could cost Gobwin Knob whole cities. What if she accidentally hit twenty of them? She could actually end her entire side.
Lilith studied the RPG. She didn't know much about it, but it did not impress her as a precision weapon.
Also, she would be firing it blind…
"Titans, you never crafted me for a decision like this," she muttered fretfully, touching the wires on the exterior of a goo trap.
Sighing, she pulled back from the dome's surface, and floated away into the darkness. Since nobody visible had shown up to chase her, she allowed herself time for one full trip around the fortress, eyeballing everything.
The real weirdness of 40 was in this thing's inside-out design; it was made to protect against threats from within itself. That made it more like a gaol or dungeon than a castle. But it was hard to break into gaol, too. And nothing impressed her as an obvious point of attack here. The steel plating was seamless, thick, and uniform. The design was simple, symmetrical, and structurally sound.
Her next move, therefore, was unknown, unknowable, and unavoidable. She would have to shoot her way in somewhere. But picking a spot at random seemed like giving up on solving the problem.
Also, it didn't really absolve her of the possible consequences. There was still the entirely plausible scenario that a few seconds after pulling the trigger, Lilith would find herself wearing Charlescomm livery, having been reclaimed as war bounty due her own wounding of the Archons inside.
So her feelings of Duty and fear, normally each others' sworn enemies, conspired together to keep her finger out of the RPG's trigger housing. She still had time. She would look for another angle.
She returned to where she'd left the body, floating down beside it. This Archon's facial features were mostly intact. Her complexion was a dark brown, and even in this dim light, her platinum blonde hair was a startling contrast.
"If I get you through the portal, you're going to live. But I won't," Lilith whispered to it. "Isn't that funny? You'll be free and I'll be gone. We'll switch places."
The irony seemed to elude the croaked Archon.
"Don't be blasé, sister. Your life depends on this mission, too. So what would you do here?" she asked the body. "Procedure says if we're not happy with our only option, and we've got time, then we at least come up with another option, even a stupid one. So what is it?"
The half-Archon offered nothing. Perhaps, having sacrificed herself nobly for her side, she was now comfortably enrolled in the Sky Club and didn't care to be popped again. Although, Lilith couldn't recall ever seeing the great golden lounge when she'd croaked…
"Maybe don't use the RPG?" she suggested aloud. "Go up a floor, blow in the access shaft and fight down to the portal? I've already been over this place from every angle. What am I missing?"
The Archon stayed motionless and silent, but there was something suggestive about her silence this time. Almost sarcastic.
She was saying, "Really, Lilith? Every angle?"
"You're right, I'm dumb," she said. She slung the sack of weapons over her shoulder, rose up into the air, and took hold of the Archon's only wrist again.
"Mistress Wanda will be lucky to have an Archon as smart as you, sister," she whispered. "Let's go introduce you to her."---
Fortress 40, separate as it was from the rest of the tower, turned out to be elevated from Comm Tower's foundation by about two feet or so. It rested on a trelliswork of steel and stone, anchored to the bases of the grand columns. The way underneath was protected by a skirt of steel plates, like scales. But she didn't have to look too long to find a loose one she could pry away.
Fitting herself through the triangles of cold metal struts wasn't easy, and it certainly was not comfortable. But since the support beams ran parallel, it was possible to lie on her back, pushing the weapons ahead of her, with the croaked Archon's wrist lashed to her right ankle by means of her neckerchief.
And as she went, she learned something. The whole floor above her was a Shockmancy trap. Charlie could drop anyone who was walking on it at will. Glowing wires ran everywhere down here, and they had a clear point of convergence below where the dome would be.
With a wiggle, a scooch, a scrape, a bump of the head, a shove of the satchel, a tug of her leg, and a scrape of her knee, repeated in many different unpleasant combinations, Lilith made her way under and through, under and through.
Eventually, she had a clear line of sight on that cluster of wires. She rolled over on her stomach, and slid the rocket launcher from her satchel.
Her sense of Duty, an ever-present tension within her, unclenched at last. She did not know what would happen when she struck that thing with the rocket, but she now felt secure in her choice of targets. If she'd ever seen a weak spot, that was one.
Following some kind of instinctual instructions imparted by the weapon itself, Lilith pulled out the pin and opened the rear cover of the cylindrical weapon. Using both hands, she extended the telescoping tube and locked it into place.
Keeping it pointed downrange, she took the weapon into firing position, tugged at the trigger bar to arm the RPG inside it, and put the sight up to her right eye.
There was a slight magnification to the glass of the eyepiece, but she still couldn't see exactly what she was aiming at. It glowed, was all she could tell. So she made tiny spirals with the barrel of the weapon, until the crosshairs were fixed on the brightest spot she could see.Then Lilith locked her fingertips on the rubber trigger bar, and squeezed.