The blackening of Bruckin

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The ships were sighted first by the lookouts on the tallest of the city's towers. Word was passed down via the usual lines of communication, such that Roldan was aware of their existence before he was able to see them through the scope. They slowly lifted above the horizon, rippling in the visual haze caused by the afternoon sun, an incongruous assortment of personal yachts, merchant ships and cargo vessels not unlike the one he'd once journeyed around the valley aboard, in those quieter days which were somehow less than a year prior.

Spreading wide across the fields, the line of ships flew up from the south towards Bruckin, bobbing on the wind as their engines pushed them closer. They were not military airships - Treydolain had few of those, as did the valley in general, outside of the vessels still under construction in the Bruckin shipyards. The unruly fleet continued to advance, seemingly unconcerned or unaware of Bruckin's considerable defensive capability in such a scenario.

Preparations continued apace within the city, as a thick, sticky, oily tar was poured into the streets from rooftops and the upper levels, coating the abandoned paths and alleys. The inhabitants of the city had withdrawn to the most northern parts, pressed up against the mountains, with others lifted up to the higher levels. Roldan had suggested opening the northern gates and leading people into the mountains, but Lief and everyone else had been reticent to consider the suggestion; they seemed more afeared of what crouched above them than the army that approached from the south.

Considering the ships again, Roldan wondered at the King's tactics. Even if some of the ships made it all the way across the city walls - and there were enough ships to make that entirely plausible, as it looked like every vessel in the Treydolain mesa dock must have been summoned into service - they could not possibly be carrying enough soldiers to make a difference. None of them were troop transports. It would be a pointless waste of lives and machinery. As the wall defences began to be targeted towards the ships, Roldan remained on his perch, looking out over the fields with the streets below him. He squinted through the eyeglass as the decks of the ships at the front of the fleet came into focus. They seemed to be running minimal crew, with few people visible on deck, even on ships where there would normally be figures crawling all over the rigging. It wasn't an assault force, that much was evident.

The first flames became evident just before the ships came within range of the city's anti-airship catapults. The bright flickering, even in the afternoon sun, caught Roldan's eye and he refocused his scope for a better view. The deck of the ship in question was littered with flammable material - assorted clusters of wood, assembled into a bonfire of sorts. The flames were already spreading onto the deck itself and up the rigging towards the balloons. That first ship acted as a signal, with fire then appearing one-by-one on the other ships. It was inconceivable that they were still captained by their original owners and crews: this was a disposable fleet to be used as a blunt weapon. Even after everything he'd already done, Roldan was still surprised that the King would stoop so low. Though he'd never been one to hold men's motivations in high esteem, Roldan had, for a time, considered Guijus Tellador to be an honourable person. The wind blew in the ships' favour, boosting their speed as they approached. Projectiles flew from the walls and rooftops, knocking some of the ships from the sky, but there were too many to dispose of all of them. Some ships were aimed at the walls, some at the main gates, while others had loftier targets, their trajectories set to sail above the wall and into the city itself, colliding with buildings and support structures for the upper levels. The city defenders reloaded and fired as fast as was possible, forced to prioritise those ships targeting the interior of the city, and succeeded in destroying over half the ramshackle fleet, the ships' carcasses dropping short to the ground where they joined the ruined ribcages of what had once been siege towers.

Protecting the city came at a cost, with enough ships slipping through to cause their intended destruction. The walls shook but remained firm, though liquid fire erupted from the ships as they collided with hard stone, splashing over the top of the walls and sending guards - the lucky ones - scattering. Several ships ploughed into the main city gates, one after another, the fires engulfing the metal and wood structure. Moments before each impact a lone figure could be seen leaping from the ship's deck, extending a kind of personal sail which was intended to carry them safely to the ground. The practical reality proved somewhat different to what they had presumably intended, Roldan watching with grim satisfaction as the pilots became tangled in rigging, or tumbled in uncontrolled spirals to the hard ground below.

The city burned: at the gates, on the walls, in the streets. The sticky, tarred pathways were lit by the flames, spreading in all directions along the lower quarters. That had always been the plan, of course, in order to slow down the invading troops, though it had now happened earlier and in an uncontrolled manner, leaving many Bruckin soldiers trapped on the wrong side. The city itself could take it: Bruckin was no timbered affair, instead having been built of sturdier stuff - stone and metal, hewn from the mountainside. Black smoke billowed into the air, wrapping itself in great coils around the walkways and towers of the upper levels. The flames at the main gate burned intensely and brightly, the tall, proud structures buckling in the heat - first the wooden outer facade crumbling to ash, then the metal structure bending and warping under the intensity of the burn. A call went out across the city to prepare for invasion.

For the briefest time, when he'd arrived at the city, Roldan had wondered if direct conflict could be avoided, with some alternative found. Even after the annihilation of the King's Eyes, he had still hoped that Guijus would restrain himself from attacking a civilian population. The valley had not witnessed such acts for centuries and it felt to Roldan that such barbarism should be confined to history - not that he was naive about such matters, as he'd seen his fair share of unpleasantness in his time, had committed some of it, but he'd always assumed that disasters on this scale were locked away in the past.

He'd always thought that the presence of kings and queens and barons led to an over-complication of life. War is an industrial construct of organised society; otherwise violence never escalates above a bar-room brawl. A bar fight he knew how to deal with; he knew how to win it. Sighing, Roldan shifted from his vantage point, checking his weapons and thick, padded armour. This wasn't how he'd imagined his latter years playing out; so much for a simple life.

The opposing army advanced at once, with the disruption on the wall giving them an opening to close the distance while the archers were scattered and distracted. In its red-hot, weakened state the gate gave way easily beneath the onslaught from twin battering rams and King Guijus' army swarmed into the streets of Bruckin, only to find it already a river of fire, its tributaries spilling out onto the square that marked the entrance to the city. The battle would be ugly, with the Treydolain forces trapped momentarily in the square, where they were hailed upon from the rooftops while they tried to find a way further into the city. The King had the greater numbers, though, and would continue to throw meat into the fire.

Though he longed to be down in the scrum, Roldan continued to observe. From his high platform he saw a group splinter off from the main attack force, heading in an anti-clockwise direction along the inside of the wall, disappearing from view behind buildings. It was a relatively small task force, clearly moving with purpose. Roldan followed their trajectory with his eyes, scanning across the city's districts, until his gaze fell upon the shipyards. There was a detachment of soldiers stationed there, of course, but they would not be expecting an attack so soon.

"Come with me," he said, indicating to some of the soldiers posted on the platform. It would be a race to the shipyard, where Roldan Stryke still had unfinished business.


The battle continues next week. What do you think's going to happen? Thanks for reading - the best way to help is simply to share the book, vote, comment and spread the word.

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