The precursor war

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It began in the afternoon, as the sun began its slow decline and animals began to return to their burrows and nests. The Treydolain army, having kept up the appearance of being encamped and at rest, mobilised as one united force in a matter of minutes. They had been positioned just over a mile away from the city gates, beyond the dwellings that nestled around the outside of the walls. The rippling morass of people, war animals and machinery began its inevitable, grinding slough towards Bruckin.

Roldan Stryke had departed the council chamber immediately after delivering Halderman to the waiting doctors. The man had still been breathing, albeit raggedly, with blood pouring from the fresh wound that was no longer plugged by an arrow. As he'd glanced back at Viscount Lief, the other man had caught his gaze and nodded: it was a gesture that told Stryke everything.

The mysterious disintegrating arrows had come from beyond the walls, that much was certain - the shot would have been impossible from street level and nearby towers were carefully controlled and secure. An attack from within was therefore unlikely, even if the accuracy of the shot seemed impossible from the army's distance. If there was one thing Roldan had learnt in recent months it was to never discount the impossible.

Taking the cable car from the council tower he had descended towards the lower levels, where he could see swarms of people moving in the streets below; still too many civilians in the lower areas of the city. A plan had been formulated should an attack come, but it had been assumed that it would not occur for weeks. The doors of the car opened and Roldan strode out, grabbing at the nearest city guard. "Begin the evacuation to the third and fourth levels," he ordered. "Get as many people into the towers as you can - send the orders."

The guard looked for a moment as if he were going to object, then one of his comrades nudged him in the arm. "That's Roldan Stryke," he said, winking at Roldan, "and he just rode the car down from the council chamber. I'd listen to him, if I were you."

Not waiting to see the result of his order, Roldan moved at a fast pace to the metal stairs that descended from the cable station, tightening the straps on his arms and waist as he went, checking to make sure all his weapons were where they should be. He could hear whistles ringing out across the city as his orders took hold. Down below guards were already reacting, beginning to encourage people to move away from the southern gates towards the upper levels. The societal barriers of Bruckin were being dismantled as part of the city's defences, with civil hierarchy abandoned in favour of preservation of lives.

Idly, Roldan considered for a few moments whether King Guijus would have allowed the people of Treydolain to ascend the mesas, if it were the only way to assure their survival.

He pushed his way through the streets, against the flow of people which was increasingly heading north, like a river tortuously slowing and reversing its current. The furnaces still sang red hot, even as the markets and inns began to empty. Pushing against the tide of bodies, he eventually made it to the outer wall and clambered up the nearest ladder. Bruckin's walls were thick and dense, broad enough for stalls and markets to have established themselves on its top - all now shuttered and abandoned, replaced with rows of soldiers equipped with bows and vats of nails and tar.

The army was moving, that much was certain. It crawled along the field towards the city, the six giant siege towers at the front.

"Are they coming for us?" one soldier asked, eyes wide.

Roldan put a hand on the man's shoulder. "They can surely try," he said. Looking out at the approaching enemy, until recently a faction he would have considered his ally and employer, he grimaced. The King had weight of numbers on his side, and Bruckin's tactical superiority in the air had been neutered. Without the support of the Mountain Breaker, the smaller vessels would be picked off by Treydolain's anti-airship turrets. Bruckin was not ready. "They might just regret it," he said, forcing a smile for the soldier.

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