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Lagonia was a place where nothing ever happened. Fenris Silt knew this, relied upon this, encouraged this with every recommendation and suggestion to the king. The valley existed in careful balance, the lives of everyone in it predicated on a precise negotiation of competing factors and contradictions.

It meant allowing the slums to the north of the river. It required a constant, conflicting series of messages from the palace, sometimes openly supporting those who would seem to be in opposition, and other times condemning them. Everything always in check, always one force acting upon another, equal and opposite, so as to maintain a perpetual inertness. Lagonia had to remain unchanging, or it would fall into catastrophe and destruction.

Fenris knew this, and so he tolerated machine rooms and endless, subterranean prisons. He acknowledged the need for a hierarchy of power and influence and comfort, because it kept the valley from greater chaos. For every starving child in the poor quarter there would be a noble family across the river living in luxury, surrounded by their mechanised homes and irrigated gardens and source-powered chariots. The troublesome northern guilds with their talk of insurrection were needed to save the king from himself; they gave him an opposition and a challenge - a reason for being. They saved him from the perils of success.

Success was the threat. There were a myriad ways the valley could descend into civil war, but from that it would recover, for a time. But were the valley to flourish, and blossom, and grow, its people would require expansion. That would serve only to reveal the valley not as the promised land of plenty but as a cage of limited, dwindling resources. If all were happy and able to live their lives, if the population grew, then the prisoners of the valley would realise their predicament and a self-inflicted war of claustrophobic reaction would ensue, far worse than any mundane conflict between factions. Once fully aware of its own borders, the valley would eat itself.

Fenris knew this. He had always known this, as it directed his decisions and actions. The valley would not change, could not change, and thus the balance had to be maintained.

Lagonia was a place where nothing ever happened. And yet.

Sat at a desk in the palace library, Fenris leaned on one elbow as he stared blankly at the open book before him, while the rest of the desk was covered with other tomes, all of them weighty. In the valley where nothing ever happened, two things had changed. A man had crossed the mountains to the south and a boy had escaped from the machine rooms.

Fenris had lived a long life and had never known of such events. They threw everything into relief, granting him a new perspective and forcing him to rethink all of his prior decisions. If the mountains were in fact navigable, then all of his preconceptions had been false.

He thumbed the page gently, manipulating the paper with the care a centuries-old book demanded. There were few surviving records of the war, almost none outside of the private palace library. It spoke of the powers and how they had brought their armies to the valley to fight for supremacy. It talked of Kraisa and her Headland army, marching from the coast, and of Aera's arrival at the last moments to coordinate the retaliation. There were veiled references to the final days of the war, as Kraisa's army was routed and fled back across the mountains, only for the very rock itself to rebel against them, destroying the aggressors and forming a protective shield around the valley.

The stuff of legends, of course. Apocryphal tales with a root in truth but distorted and progressively misunderstood over the centuries. Stories told to children as a warning against violence and warfare.

Yet the traveller, this Tranton Seldon, had encountered a gathering of ruined caravans in the snow fields atop the mountains. He had found a sword adhering to a design unlike anything crafted even by the most skilled artificers in Lagonia.

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