Late warning signs

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Roldan Stryke walked the edge of the rally, his eyes roving the crowd for troublemakers. It was a huge gathering that had descended upon the central square in Treydolain, all gathered to observe the unveiling of the artificer's latest weapon. It was the largest public display of Lagonian military might in living memory; there had been no need previously because there had been no enemies. Now, it seemed, there were villains at every door.

Line upon line of soldiers marched in formation from one side of the square to the other, at least one thousand strong, the clomp of their feet reverberating through the stones. The crowd cheered, some of them cried genuine tears, others waved flags or chanted patriotic songs. There were no signs of the troublemakers that had prompted Tranton Seldon's disappearance; this crowd seemed all too willing to support their king. The city guard pressing batons into their backs may have been a contributing factor.

There was an tense excitement in the air. It reminded Roldan of holding a match next to the exposed fuses of the explosives in the Bruckin shipyard. Treydolain was a city ready to explode, with the only alternative being a crushing implosion as it turned on itself. He had returned from his assignment in the north to find the situation dire and worsening by the day: the King's Eyes were adrift without Fenris, unable to gain an audience with the king. Conscription had begun in his absence, with the army swollen to an unprecedented size: Guijus was racing to war before Bruckin had a chance to mobilise.

Many of the new recruits were taking part in the parade. At least they were clothed and fed, having been forcibly extracted from the poor quarter. Roldan had visited the area upon his return, wishing to get the pulse of the city, finding a flattened wasteland of rubble, the makeshift houses knocked to the ground while the foundations of a new barracks were going up in their place. The city itself was transforming, mutating into a machine of war. Most of his contacts and informants had vanished, either gone underground, arrested or conscripted. For a King's Eye, Roldan Stryke felt blinded.

A huge plinth had been constructed in the centre of the square, around which the army marched. Atop it now was King Guijus, who spoke into an amplification machine the likes of which Roldan had not seen before. As he spoke the sound carried far and was relayed by other speakers equipped with similar devices at the edges of the square.

"Lagonia," shouted the king, "is stronger than ever! It has never been stronger! Under my reign we have the largest army that Evinden has ever witnessed - an army ready to crush any who would threaten our perfect land." Guijus strode about the top of the plinth, his voice dipping in volume as he did so. This was the first time anyone had seen the king in public for weeks. "We live in a garden of plenty, one which makes our enemies jealous. We have been chosen to live here, yet they want to rip it all away."

Roldan observed the crowd, which had focused all its attention on their king. Shouts and excited cries accompanied his every sentence.

"To them, I say this: No! This is our land! No! You may not take that which is rightfully ours. No! Your cunning and corruption will not infect our society. No! There is no safe place for traitors and saboteurs and outsiders who would pervert our way of life and destroy the peace we hold so dear."

That drew the loudest cheer, as fists were raised aloft. Yet there was no threat: the crowd were entirely in thrall to the king's words.

"We are surrounded by threats," the king continued. "Am I scared? No! Nor should you be." He gestured at the gathered soldiers, stood to attention below where he stood. "These are the finest warriors to ever set foot on this continent. There is no force that can challenge our people or our technology. Foreign agents from the Headland and insurgents from the north do not concern me. All that concerns me is the manner with which I will crush their insincerity."

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