Two huge explosions bellowed across one of the northern-most quadrants of Coward’s Forge, shaking the flimsy huts and buildings nearby, and shattering windows with the sonic boom that followed. Several Chon’ith were knocked to their feet, many were injured by pieces of glass and masonry that had been sent scattering in spectacular fashion. By the security barrier, flames engulfed the old wooden buildings and metal had been twisted by the blasts. An inferno was taking hold, propelled by the high humidity, and the guards who patrolled the barriers and gates were slow to act, still dazed by the sudden act of violence. One guard tower, despite being encased in concrete and reinforced with steel, had taken the brunt of one of the explosions, and now teetered ominously, threatening to crash through part of the barrier.
What amounted for emergency services in Coward’s Forge began to spring into life, with hoses hastily shoved into hydrants and water spraying out upon the burning landscape, but it was too little, too late. The damaged tower seemed to groan, almost wail, as though in physical pain, before two of the support struts collapsed completely. Down the tower went, smashing into and through the barrier, kicking up huge plumes of debris and dust in all directions.
Sensing an opportunity, with several guards lying dead or injured, and many more preoccupied with containing the increasingly violent blaze, a number of the Forge’s unwilling denizens made to escape, scrabbling through the wrecked environment, using the smoke and flames as cover. Makeshift ladders and ramps from sheets of fallen metal were propped up to act as routes out of the Forge, and several Chon’ith scrambled beyond the wall. A few stopped to take the weapons from the dead and dying soldiers, and a handful decided to exact a measure of cold revenge.
Seluban’s fist slammed down upon the wooden table with enough force to shake every mug upon it. His furious gaze swept across every Chon’ith assembled in the room.
“You said you wanted my help. Why, after what your people did, should I continue to offer it?” His voice was level, but just barely.
“Attention is required for our cause to succeed.” Replied a female Chon’ith, red-skinned. She held Seluban’s stare without yielding.
“Yes Zathara, this is correct. Acts of murder however, are not the kind of attention we need. There will be retribution, and you all know this.”
“Then we shall send another message when that time comes, that we shall not be bullied or frightened into inaction!” Zathara shot back.
Faratarath raised a wizened hand. “Enough, both of you. Seluban, you and Acklaran impressed upon us the need for urgent change. You knew who we were when you agreed to join us, and you have been with us for but a week. Why do you baulk at taking steps for our cause?”
Seluban took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself down.
“We need to be listened to. Setting off bombs that can hurt the people who live here, as well as simply secure our status as cowards in the eyes of the rest of our people, will not make our position stronger. Action, the right kind of action, at the right time, will be a necessary step, but we need to win the hearts and souls of our people to our way of thinking. Suggesting that aggression and war will be our downfall, whilst blowing up our fellow Chon’ith, will not see us taken seriously.”
Zathara’s gaze remained fierce. Green eyes narrowed. Faratarath raised his hand again. “You know the people will not hear our pleas for sanity. How are we supposed to gain momentum for our cause?”
“We have reports on the war with the humans – we all know it is going badly. I would propose releasing these reports to the public, with an explanation, from a military perspective, as to why our people’s approach is flawed.”
Faratarath appeared thoughtful. He took hold of the mug of water in front of him and sipped it gently.
“Exposing the mismanagement of the war effort will bring a different, more deadly response from the government.” He said slowly.
“Then perhaps we do so in a way they cannot respond to, at least, not in such a furious way.” Remarked Acklaran. Seluban, Zarthara and Faratarath all turned to look at him.
“Elaborate please.” Asked Faratarath.
Acklaran cleared his throat. “Zarthara is a woman, and therefore spiritually powerful. She could deliver our message.”
Zarthara harumpfed. “Even if I were to agree such a tactic was viable, which I don’t, I carry no weight as a religious leader. I am here in this Maker-forsaken place precisely because I don’t believe.”
“And yet, just by virtue of being a woman, you are automatically seen as a teacher, a builder, a spiritual guardian. Many Chon’ith will automatically heed your words on what is happening with greater reverence.” Replied Acklaran levelly.
“And if I agree to this… plan, how exactly do you propose to gain access to media channels? We won’t be allowed to simply broadcast a damming report.” Zarthara pointed out.
Fingers rapped across the table. Eyes drifted back to Seluban.
“We can take advantage of your bombing, to slip out of here. We can find a broadcast centre, make our move.”
“And if we are apprehended, the experience will be… unpleasant.” Zarthara tried to suppress a sneer. “Especially for you.”
“I have already lost everything. All I can do from this point forward is make gains.”
“You will need assistance. Even amidst the chaos of the explosion, there will be guards.” Faratarath reminded them all.
Seluban smiled. “I do not wish for bloodshed in our escape, but I am certain there are many here in the Forge, especially among the Resistance, who would love to create a few problems for our watchers. I will go with Zarthara, along with your best people – the best at discrete sabotage, the best at stealth.”
Zarthara’s face returned to an unhappy look. “And why exactly must you chaperone me?”
“I have no desire to ‘chaperone’ you. Imagine a spiritual symbol and a former military commander delivering the same message. It will be a powerful gesture.”
Faratarath stood, with some difficulty. “We must begin our revolution…” He smiled wanly. “of our revolution, somewhere. Requeteran himself said, every battle begins with the first strike. Not exactly the parable I wanted to make, but I can think of none other suited to this task.”
Floorboards creaked as the assembled Chon’ith all stood. Faratarath clasped his fingers together. “It is settled. Seluban, Zarthara, you will venture to the easiest-to-reach data relay. The two of you, and only the two of you, will go.”
It was Seluban’s turn to look unhappy. “Only two?”
“Yes. The fewer of us placed at risk of capture, the better. The fewer of us who know of this particular mission, the better.”
“There is logic in your approach.” Acknowledged Acklaran. “As risky as it is to be short on backup.”
“You could always come with us.” Ventured Zarthara, a slightly odd note in her voice.
“No.” Seluban replied, his voice firm. “Acklaran is needed here, in case we do not return.”
Acklaran raised an eyebrow, as if in question.
“You understand the importance of our cause Acklaran.” Continued Seluban. “You know how vital this cause is to the survival of our people, and I can think of no one I would rather trust with this. You must survive, so our people may survive.”
The younger Chon’ith appeared to have more to say, but closed his mouth, nodding in begrudging acceptance.
“It is settled then.” Repeated Faratharah. “Seluban, Zarthara, gather what tools and equipment you need. You must leave whilst the barrier is in disrepair. I will have our revolutionaries create diversions – non-fatal diversions – once you are ready. Go and prepare.”
Zarthara shot Seluban a discontented look, then a slightly lingering one upon Acklaran, before marching silently out of the shack. Acklaran walked around the table to Seluban, and clasped his wrist tightly, with Seluban returning the gesture.
“Good luck my friend.” Said Acklaran quietly.
“And to you. May the Makers smile upon us both.” Replied Seluban.