A City Dies

Of the fortress city Ilyon, many are the tales, and no few of them be true. Its solid silhouette, its strategic placement upon the shore of the Inner Sea both stand mute testimony to the spirit of it's citizens, Warriors in heart, soul and body.

From the North, a lone rider approaches, steed equine and staggering, driven to exaustion, foam-covered in blood and sweat, eyes wildly rolling. The man, for man he be, lands running as the horse dies beneath him, and scarece may we credit him with more energy than his mount, for at each second step his hands fend way the road-surface and bring him half-upright once again. Naught but sheer desperation drives him, save perchance a little of fear, 'thouhg verily we can see hs is of Ilyon. If fear he knows, it is plain in his veriest Aura 'tis not for his own self, but maybe for those who even now do sleep and dream within the looming walls.

From upon a high, strong tower, a shout is heard, and two Griffons now are seen, riding the pre-dawn breezes, their strong, fast wingbeats carrying them unerringly toward the dying Warrior that his urgent missive not go unheard, that his life, fate willing, may yet be saved or its spending be given meaning.

That his bloodshot, darkened eyes do see the succor approaching, there is no doubt, and it is as if this very fact doth give new strength; as his arms commence the signals of Ilyoni Battle Code his feet falter less, that he need not waste precious seconds of signalling-time to keep afoot.


His last resource of strength exhausted, the runner collapsed, even as the hindmost Griffonman near tore his mount's wings off with a power-turn to check the battlements; turned again to follow his fellow once the confirming signal was flashed from the gate-tower. The message had reached the city; the cavalrymen's responsibility now lay with their ennervated comrade-in-arms, whose raw and bleeding throat bespoke worse maltreatment than mere exhaustion.

As the limp form of the Courier was flown in over the brooding walls in the first bloody light of day, already the city was aswarm with the hasty but efficient activities of a State of Emergency. Children to age seven quieting and dressing their juniors, eight to fourteen-year youths hurriedly performing their assigned duties of packing and fire-damping, adults of fifteen and up donning weapons and Succor-Kits and assembling with their units to await orders. The elderly or handicapped made their careful ways to the ramparts, that they might provide such time as possible to the able-bodied were the attack to come too soon. The moods on those grim faces were legion, from the young man's certainty that any foe fool enough to cross Ilyoni warriors in their homes would taste of the Endless Night, to the old woman's experienced insight: any such fools that would bring an Ilyoni Courier to pass such signals must be, in truth, no fools but foes most dire.

As the courier was lifted gently from his bearer and taken into the tower, lines of beacons were igniting across the land, and a squad of Air-Cavalry sped northward, in search of a reason for the lack of early warning from the beacon-stations along the coast road, stations that the Courier surely must have passed on his depserate ride. The very darkness of those beacons bespoke the urgency of the message, for surely no enemy would risk assualting the beacons until the last moments before the main force advanced.

The Regent and the High Council were ascending the stairs as the Courier and his bearers descended, so they met in a room on the seventh level where bunks were pushed aside to make room for their consultations.

“Forgive us, comrade,” quoth the Regent as vinegar was poured from a cooled urn upon the face of the unconscious man, his body supported so that no drop might splash his ugly wounds, which a medic, her eyes betraying the hidden tears withheld, was tending with trained efficiency. Nor was she alone in her sympathy, for all here present recognised Karn, and knew the leagues between here and his assignment.

As Karn woke, racked by a fit of pained coughing fit to split his torn throat, the mute soul-deep pain in his eyes was eloquent; a gesture to his bandages indicated the ruination of his once-handsome voice, and a silverpoint stylus was pressed into his trembling hand. Drinking deep of the proffered ice-water, he began to write on the flagstones that Historic inscription that survives to this very day among the most precious heirlooms of the Ilyoni…

“Domes of Steel that fly, rays of heatr melt stone, collars of Sorcery enslave the veriest soul;

Fly, my siblings, Fly, for Mintar herself these hell-spawn could not tarry.

Total Genocide; The Ilyoni too Free to survive; Sixty Thousand they know us, Man and Woman and Child-in-arms.

My Soul and Honour, Doom hath come; Strategist-One I, retreat I call, for Zelpenmouth has fallen, Ilyon soon.”

The pain was a tangible thing in that beshadowed room, a black and penetrating liquid essence soaking into the pores, constricting the heart. No-one present bore doubt of the Courier's truth, no lie could bear such emotional strength; yet, what the outcome were the city vacated on the strength of an induced hallucination? In those pained yes this question, too, shone forth amid the brimming tears; and the lonely pain of impossible Truth ravening its bearer with the necessity to communicate it. How, oh How, those ghastly eyes did ask. doth one prove thy truth upon the Instant's eve of disaster? How spill thy mind heart and soul to we who Magick do disdain?

Feeble hands grasping his supporters, Karn dragged himself erect, almost falling as he released them to seek sword and gauntlet, the latter lost en-route. Then to the amazement of all, he smote the Regent upon the cheek with hand in lieu of glove, stood more tall and straight than one might credit him in his extreme condition, and saluted the salute of the Challenger to the Challenged. Thusly did he bypass the problem of proof in an attempt to gain the right to command; an act which, surely, even the most cunning of Sorcerers would not have pressed upon him, knowing the Regent the most capable close-combat fighter of the Realm.

“Hold!” quoth the Regent then; “We be twice their best knowing, and no order mine shall drive all from these fair walls; Half shall leave, and Half shall remain, and the foe shall know us slain; Vengeance shall be ours until the final breath of Eternity or the destruction of the Foe.”

The High Council departed to bear the news, as Karn swooned in relief.

Less than one hundred Griffons had Ilyon in flying fettle, and all were sent speeding into the North to provide, it was hoped, some slight delay as the enemy chased them down and slew them. Computerised tracking systems and who-knows-what type of Maser weaponry were concepts totally alien to the Ilyoni, despite their experience of the might Magick of their world. Wizardry they could, perhaps, deal with; sophisticated technology, although indistinguishable in some ways, was in this case the master of such energies that, as Karn had written, even the mighty Mages of the city of Mintar might not, in their combined power, stand against it. Not until several days later was it discovered that that Legended city of Mystery was vanished, removed in its entirety from the land of men, the villages of the realm empty, a tumbled plain of bare earth precisely two leagues across, precisely hexagonal, the Mages' only bequest to posterity. Not until many weeks hence was word received of the ongoing battle, the play of Psychic forces, the part the Ilyoni could choose to take in the plans of the Removed wizards. For now, the Warriors must do their own planning, plot their own salvation and revenge. Accordingly, the beacons carried another message, and the exodus began all across the realm, sometimes by drawing of straws, for all did wish to stay and fight; sometimes by the toss of a coin, all odd or even soldiers to depart, with their families. truly, the selecting process wasted more precious time than any other preparations that terrible morning, and 'twas near half an hour before the march was fully underway, the new High Regent of the would-be guerrillas he who had been Third in the realm, for the Regent's closest subordinate was his mate, whose right to die at his side was hers to exercise over and above her responsibility to the people. In such a time of grief, the loss of one's mate by such painful choice would be too hevy a burden to lay upon the shoulders of the High Commander.

When all who were to depart were in readiness, the last farewells taken, the Sword of Regency passed on to Karvick of the Kriss, Krn was awakened again; for he and he alone hd seen the tactics and means of the enemy. That he should remain to fall with the city could not be tolerated; what advice he had to give must be taken from him, then away with the departing horde, to be their counsel in the times ahead, the experience of two campaigns under his belt.

“Suffer not any one of us to fall prisoner to them!” he quoth; “For in truth they can enslave the very soul!” This in Battle Code; then again in script, upon parchment lost since to the mildew of the Jungles, “I was taken; collared with band of ensorcelled steel my mind i almost lost; credit to the conditioning purchased of Mintar my escape the strength of will with which I fought until that band did glow and spark and melt upon me, with pain more intense than ever before have I felt. My Griffon, it was shot from under me near half a league from the walls, a beam of light so intense as to burn singeing even the air in its path, slicing from the vehicle that hovered over the Palace.

“Oh! Suffer not the children to fall into their hands, they be not even of Flesh, and of souls they have none. They shall circle this city, beings of Steel, while above,three domes shall fly; not for us the surrender offered to the Viniers: the Ilyoni, my Lords, they do Fear! Even as the people of Zelpenmouth did surrender their City and their Souls, 'twas to us that their hearts did cry; despairing of their Gods, to the Warriors of the Ilyoni do they look for their soul's saving. Can ye credit, they did see the impossible range and accuracy of those alien beamers; the impregnability of those awesome ships was manifest, and yet so vivid in their hearts their faith in us, they knew we would come to their aid, fulfil even in this dire straight our function as the Peacemakers of the Inner Sea. Yet, I do know it full well, my studies in the College of War do tell me palin, against those weapons we have no recourse, and our City shall be levelled, stone to melt with earth, its site seeded with Salt as is Tradition.

“I fled not upon the instant of surrender, Lords, for upon me the power of that horrific collar was strong; to the Alien Commander was I summoned, that he might gloat. Told of the plans for Ilyon, that had been crystallised by the hold-outs in the cellars and bunkers, whom Ilyon's aid would await, I fought. Before the eye-pieces of those beings, I fought not at my best, for even in my madness did I see that thusly I would be slain. Enough, though, my resistance to the enslavement htat the orders upon the instant were given, and I fear, my Lords, that my performance there did load the final straw upon he donkey's back. No person among the Ilyoni is to be allowed to live; no slave-breed we, our deaths shall serve to tell to all the futility of resistance, the captured city shall be saved from harm when the scattered few who upon our aid depend must needs surrender to the collar or be starved.”

Thus was the gist of Karn's communications to those whom the City wouldst defend; then, with prchment to be kept in hope for the future to scan, he, too, was evacuated, much against his will. Too weak to offer great resistance, by Griffon he was flown to join his people in hiding, to a hidden place among the hills to the east, wherefrom to watch the death of his country. Honoured was he from that day forth; yet never again did he in any meaningful action engage, for so burned was his mind that only one purpose had he held, and that he had discharged. He lived but three days more, and died in the throes of his nightly dreams of horror and desperate flight. in the centuries since Ilyon fell, no Brother of the Lion has borne the name of Karn again, nor ever shall. Among the Heirlooms of the Brethren the Stone of Karn, upon which his first written message is inscribed in Silver-point, stands second only to the Axes of Dra in importance; before it do all new-made Warriors swear their Oaths. Long was it spoken among the Ilyoni, that upon the day of Dra's return, Karn would at his Right Hand stand, when the Aliens were no more. Even was it said, when the Cities of the Aliens began to be destroyed in pillars of smoke, that the Spirit of Karn was moving in the world, his people to avenge.

Of the destruction, let us not too clearly speak; the number of the aliens in the encircling ring is not of import, the order fo the deaths a minor thing. Of the sally from the gates, some stronger among the defenders did make it several furlongs before falling to the strange nerve-guns of the enemy, though their insides be left to trail yards in their wake. Of the great engines upon the walls, no few did score a hit before the aliens could assess their unusually long effective range, but no real difference was thereby made. The circlers were not intended for the true assault, and served but to stop escape. As an over-flying dome of steel did melt the very walls with ravening energies, its sisters criss-crossing in pre-calculated paths, the Women of Ilyon slew their children in the central square, that none might live to be slaves. In the sky, no griffons flew; some moments hey had already bought at great cost in lives as the tracking-computers of the alien beam-weapons and pulsers picked them off a dozen at a time. Of the vast energies of emotion unleashed in that horrific blood-letting it has been said that it did form the nucleus of the arcane force later wielded by the Mintar Mages against the steel-clad invaders, but this be largely pure conjecture. Of all the terror of that morn, perhaps the worst was the total lack of tears maternal in the eyes of the women there, as htey their weapons drew and joined the futile, raging charge over the plain. Such raw and blazing Hate they did project, that had there been a Wizard present its energy to direct his brain would have boiled and burst under the strain. So strong was that emotion, that to this day no Sensitive will walk within a league of the circle of molten ground where Ilyon lay, the circle of destruction that was wrought by outlying engines even while the slaughter was in progress. Before the hour of noon, the prophecy of Karn had been fulfilled, the stones of the City of Might a-melted with the cindered Earth.

From the far hills, a few looked on, as throughout the day the engines of the Aliens moved across the land, scorching the fertile earth and seeding it with salt. To the West, couds began to gather, and by sunset came the storm, that grew through all that night. Despite lightnings and lud thunder, the rain came not 'til after dawn, but the air was heavy an oppressed, as throughout the land the remnants of a Nation sought their Rendezvous.

To each and every town and village of Ilyon had the Aliens come htat morn, and in every place the outcome had been the same. Across the hills and valleys, too, lone dwellings and parties of the dispossessed had been tracked and slain. In each Kingdom of the Inner Sea the citizens and soldiers tore down repeatedly the notices that proclaimed ten thousand crowns of gold to the slayer of any Ilyoni found broad, but in each place certain of the lower elements did see, and their palms itched.

The Aliens rejoiced.. their plan of Genocide fulfilled, they thought. Deep in hidden valleys of the encroaching jungles, the Ilyoni began to re-unite and count their losses. From the City, the exodus had been successful, but from elsewhere, the paths to safety had often been too long, and many were the townships whose every living soul had been extinguished. While the invaders raised their dome of invisible force over the city htey had taken, and began their hunt for those Ilyoni broad in other lands, the survivors plotten. Even yet would the Aliens feel the vengeance of Ilyon!

Sequel: Of Futility and Valour.

Surrounding events of history: dates and events of the seventh age of eos.


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