Tarn could feel the energy channelling up from the ground, into him, then out through his fingers, his feet, his eyes, spreading like a blue, glowing web to every Avii ship that hovered and flew over and around Bruckin, delivering respite to the people in the city. It was a lattice of buzzing potential which only he and the most highly trained Avii students could perceive: the Adepts, Daemons and Totems. There were few of them, especially with Aviar customs keeping the Totems hidden away from the battle on the other side of the mountains, and so Tarn flew on the disc with five survivors of Aviar, swooping down from the command ship and skating along the rooftops, through the billowing black smoke, towards the city walls.
"We're going for the command tents," Tarn shouted above the sounds of a city in conflict. "We need to cut them off, so that we can then stop them in the city."
"None of us have done anything like this before, Tarn," said one of the Adepts, a tall woman slightly older than Kirya. "We've trained, but we've never had to actually use our abilities."
"I've spent most of this year doing things I've never done before," Tarn said. "You do get used to it after a while."
The smoke cleared as they pushed through, the ruined town on the outskirts of the city coming into view, littered with the wreckage of giant war machines.
"They're destroying themselves," said one of the male adepts, much older than Tarn - though not quite as wrinkly as Fenris, or as grumpy as Tranton. "Aviar was destroyed, but they're doing it to themselves."
"I don't really understand the people who live in this valley," Tarn said. "They are very strange. I'm thinking we can help them be less silly."
They were coming up fast on the army's encampment, now considerably thinned as the troops moved towards the city. Below were lines of marching soldiers, which they ignored, flying instead straight for the centre of the camp. Some projectiles whistled up towards them but the disc dodged them effortlessly, Tarn well aware of each threat before it become a danger. His power seemed amplified since they had crossed the mountains, as if the valley itself was intensifying all of his senses; even the colours of the grass and sky and mud seemed somehow richer and deeper. The light, slender Aviar-designed armour glinted brightly in the day's dwindling sun, as it dipped towards the mountain peaks.
"We'll split up," Tarn said, pointing at his companions. "You three go together and cause as much of a mess as you can in the outer tents and around where all the soldiers are. You two take the tents on the right."
"What about you?"
"I'm going there," Tarn said, pointing at a more elaborately decorated tent. "It's the tent of kings, or something. If I get the king, then all the fighting stops."
"It might not be quite that simple."
Tarn could see the sceptical looks they were giving him. Sometimes he felt like his old self, the boy who had never been very clever, was holding him back and getting in the way; it was in times like this when he felt exposed, as if everyone was looking at him and seeing only a dirty child from the machine rooms. The moments always passed, and then he'd feel the power surging through him again, and he'd remember that he wielded the power of Aera.
"I'll be watching what you're doing," Tarn said, feeling his confidence already returning. "Do what you can, then we'll meet back at the command tents to head back to the city."
The first three leaped from the disc, landing in the middle of what looked like some form of canteen and sending pans and water and Treydolain soldiers scattering into the air. The disc whistled on for a few seconds, then the remaining two Avii dropped from the disc's edge. One of the quirks of the Daemon-level students was that Tarn, with a little concentration, could become aware of their surroundings and emotions - useful for the battle, although it left him feeling uneasy. He was far from understanding most of his powers, but that particular one reminded him very specifically and uncomfortably of the link that had tethered Kirya to Kraisa for years, until they'd severed it.
Tarn tilted the disc, slid from its surface and landed gracefully on the ground below, where he found himself faced with a large group of guards, guarding the entrance to the King's tent. As the disc flew off to a safe distance, Tarn ran towards the guards, who had clearly observed his unarmed appearance and had let slip their defences. He barrelled through them as if they were a child's playthings, scattering them to the ground, feeling his Source affinity growing with every step. Increasingly he was aware of a heavy pull from below his feet, as if an enormous weight somewhere underground were trying to pull him down; or, perhaps, he was trying to drag it up.
He pushed through the entrance to the tent, discovering a red-hued and opulent interior that would not have gone amiss inside a palace, complete with large furniture and compartmentalised rooms within the larger tent. Beyond its extravagances, the tent was empty.
Tarn felt the anger beginning to build, that same anger that he'd felt on the dark streets of Treydolain. He clenched a fist and willed the mass beneath his feet to surface. The blue energy withdrew from the ground, rising into the air as a light mist. He was tied to it, each individual particle, as if the cloud was an extension of his own body. With a subtle flick of his fingers, the mist exploded upwards, tearing the tent up and away with it, before dispersing out in all directions and tearing the tent's fabric to ribbons.
Standing in the remains of the tent, the furniture still standing in place despite the lack of walls, Tarn began the walk to the adjacent command tent. Already soldiers were beginning to surround it, forming a hopeless perimeter. It took only a wave of his hand for Tarn to move them left, right, up and down, smashing them into each other with a crunch of bones and a mingling of flesh.
Inside the command tent, a utilitarian space full of war tables and maps and little in the way of comforts, he found two men, standing side-by-side with no apparent weapons. Tarn approached, the flap of the tent closing behind him and blocking the light from the gloomier interior. The men were terrified, though one of them put up a more stoic show of strength.
"I am General Stover," he said, his voice calm and confident. He indicated the other man, whose eyes looked ready to bulge from their sockets. "This is General Zdarton. We both command the King's First Army." Stover looked at Tarn, as somebody might cautiously observe a large, wild animal encountered unexpectedly. "What are you?" he asked.
For the briefest moment, the answer stuck in Tarn's throat, the words failing to form on his lips, much like he had struggled to speak when he first emerged from the machine rooms. He felt strangely compelled to answer with the name 'Aera', but subsumed the thought before it took hold. "My name is Tarn," he said at last, "and I am looking for the King. This war stops now."
Stover held his hands out to his sides. "As you can see, King Guijus is not here. We will not try to fight you, as we would plainly not survive the attempt, but you will not learn of the King's location from either of us."
A ripple of dust began to circulate around Stover's feet. To Tarn's eyes, the dust was held in a field of blue embers, tiny particles surrounding the dirt floor of the tent and whipping it up into a whirlwind that rose higher and higher, first to the man's waist, then to his neck, enveloping him entirely. The swirling dust was suspended around him for a second like a cocoon, then it rushed into him, entering through his mouth, his nose, his eyes, through the very pores of the skin. Stover shook and convulsed though was unable to utter a cry.
"Stop this!" Zdarton shouted. "Please, you do not need to do this!"
Stover was visible once more, though his skin now bulged and was criss-crossed red and purple as veins and arteries, clogged with dust, began to swell and burst beneath his skin. Another moment passed, then the man appeared to melt, flopping to the ground in a heap.
Slowly, inexorably, Tarn turned his gaze upon General Zdarton.
"The King has gone with the advancing troops," Zdarton said without hesitation, falling over the words in his rush to get them out. "He insisted on being part of the initial attack, and leading his army to battle. I don't know precisely where he is now, but if our plan has held he will be approaching the central tiers of the the city."
Tarn nodded. He felt a sickness swelling within, from the pit of his stomach to the back of his head. He had wanted to try something new, but now there was no putting the man back together.
There was movement as the entrance to the tent, and three of the Avii entered. The Daemon looked at the pile of flesh and bone and blood next to where Zdarton stood. "Tarn," he said. "What did you do?"
YOU ARE READING
The Mechanical CrownFantasy
An explorer, a princess, a slave and a sword. A belief that the world can be better. The Mechanical Crown is an epic adventure full of intrigue, mystery and romance. When Tranton Seldon becomes the first to cross the mountains in hundreds of years...