Four years ago.
Two weeks after the Templar imprisonment of Sielic Trugran.
The impending launch had stirred up a moderate amount of commotion at Area 52. It wasn’t uncommon for rockets to be sent from the remote settlement into the twisting nether, but that didn’t make it any less exciting for the goblins that ran the place anytime it happened. The hubbub of engineers rushing around for their final preparations was accompanied by the loud siren warning of the impending booster ignition. The turbulent Netherstorm skies had parted enough for a clear take-off, providing a narrow window of optimal conditions for a launch.
“How we lookin?” Rocket Chief Fuselage stood on a small box within the mission control hut. He loomed behind the oversized terminal while the flight coordinator and several technicians busied themselves with most of the work. Valves were turned, meters were read, and switches were flipped as they began their last remaining checks. Their ramshackle observation deck’s position was probably a safe distance away from the launch platform.
“Comin’ up on uhhh… five minutes, Chief.” One engineer answered, putting away the comically oversized pocket watch he’d just flipped open to check.
“Alright, let the people know.”
The flight coordinator swivelled on his stool and pulled the microphone arm down in front of his face, before pressing a button to speak. A small red light illuminated on the panel, and his heavily accented voice began to echo around the whole settlement with a crackling, metallic quality. “T-5 minutes till primary ignition, folks. Get your asses outta the way or get ready to kiss em goodbye.”
Rocket Chief Fuselage nodded before picking up a clipboard and flipping through the attached pages with a bored sigh. “Here we go, sound off loud and clear so I don’t have to repeat myself.”
“You got it, Chief.”
“Gunpowder Cells.” The chief began going down the list one item at a time, checking off with an old stub of a pencil depending on each response.
“Full to the brim, Chief. Gunpowder cells are go.” The flight controller checked his panels to provide the necessary answers each time they were required, but sometimes deferred to the other technicians to chime in as well.
“Stabilizers are locked.”
While the goblins continued chattering their way through the checklist of systems and remaining variables, they paid no mind to the unusual visitor who was also present within the observation deck. Janderius was draped in a hooded blue cloak that obscured the red battlegear he wore beneath it. Stray strands of long brown hair peeked out from the sides of his hood, and he kept his eyes downcast. He struggled to pay attention to all of the technobabble, and found his mind wandering while his awareness of their words faded in and out.
“Gimbal motor is online.”
“Also calibrated. Yaw needles are go.”
The human mage stood with his arms folded, perfectly still and silent while allowing the goblin engineers to finish their preparations. He remained conscious of the weight of a small pouch hanging from his belt on one side. The contents of said pouch had been the source of a great deal of strife for himself and the rest of the Templars over the past several weeks. It was a concentrated source of chaos and insanity that should never have been introduced to the group to begin with. Jander had been wrestling with the problem of disposing of it for several days, but ultimately decided that launching the item into the twisting nether would be the best way to ensure it would never be recovered or discovered again.
“Uhhh….” The flight controller hesitated, and one of the other technicians shrugged.
“It’s probably fine.” The chief licked the pad of his thumb before flipping to a new page.
The mage found his pulse quickening while he stood there, contemplating the consequences of his decision. The events of the recent conflict had been incredibly taxing, and he knew this to be the last loose end that needed to be tied up. This launch would be the end of it, but knowing Mosur’s perplexing attachment to the item still gave him pause. Was this absolute disposal really the best course of action?
“I said PAYLOAD!” The chief barked, vexation rising over having to repeat himself.
“Yeah we’re still waitin’ on that one, Chief.”
“Oh, right.” Fuselage hopped down from his box before marching over to Jander. He held out his stubby hand with an expectant look on his face. The weathered green skin was cracked, and his nails had been chewed short. “Be takin’ that payload now, boss.”
“Still don’t understand why it had to be this late.” The flight controller chimed in.
“Hey, for that much gold I’ll tape it to the side myself! Doesn’t even have to still be on the ground.” Fuselage retorted, but still tapped his foot with impatience while waiting for Jander to supply the object in question. “But yeah, clock’s ticking bub. Hand it over.”
Jander reached a shaky hand to his hip, feeling his breathing quicken while his stomach turned. Swallowing hard, he deposited the object he intended to launch into the goblin’s upturned palm. It wasn’t the pouch, but something else entirely. Jander’s eyes blinked a few times in disbelief when he realized he’d offered up a small, glowing crystal instead of the pouch.
“This thing?” The goblin held up the azure crystal, pinching it between his fingers before squinting at it in appraisal. It had been enchanted as a portable portal anchor, something Jander carried around with him when he needed to set up any kind of temporary outpost. The arcane register within it gave him a destination to easily focus upon from large distances. It wasn’t the object he’d intended to send, but perhaps it could still prove useful to have a distant target out in deep space. “Really?”
Jander swallowed hard, before providing his answer at a low register. This was his last chance to change his mind. “You said there’d be no questions asked.” He released another silent breath after that, trying to calm himself and processing his own sudden change of heart.
The goblin chewed his lip for a second, before turning away with a shrug. “Fair enough. Qiff, get this rock in the cargo hold so we can get those umbilical triggers disconnected and light this candle already.”
“You got it, boss.”
Several minutes later, Jander found himself staring in disbelief at the unmanned rocket in flight. It ascended through the gap in the clouds at a deafening volume, before disappearing into the twisting nether with his portal anchor on board. Without a word, he turned to march his way out of the settlement, moving at a brisk pace while his cloak billowed in the unnatural breeze.
He still didn’t understand what possessed him to change his mind, but he wasn’t rid of Mosur’s puzzle box just yet. He would have to find another way to deal with it.