The Long Descent

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"We're coming in fast!" shouting Captain Holst. "If you're thinking of disembarking, now would be the time."

Several of the smaller ships had already landed on the mesas, troops spilling out and into the gardens and streets. There had been little resistance on approach, with the advance parties eliminating what little anti-airship weaponry the city had at its disposal; with the army having been dismantled to the north, there were few soldiers left to fight in Treydolain, fewer still who knew how to aim and operate an enormous aerial crossbow. The Bruckin ships avoided the docking clamps, instead holding a loose position above the mesas, from where the assault forces could jump to the ground.

A lower hatch on the Mountain Breaker was opened, revealing an opening from which Tarn leaped, follow by Tranton, Kirya and three squads. The northern mesa where the palace was built seemed entirely deserted. Tarn had been here before, brought up the steep paths as a prisoner to be thrown into Fenris' cells below the palace. When he'd later escaped with Kirya and Fenris he never expected to voluntarily return. Although he did wonder at how much choice any of them truly had in the events that now engulfed the valley.

"It's been a very long time since I was last here," said Aera, stepping forward into his line of sight. She gazed up at the towers of the palace. "It still looks the same. Perhaps a little dirtier."Tarn stared at her disagreeably, careful not to respond in a way that would reveal her presence in his mind. It was a complication the others could do without, and he'd hopefully soon have her back where she belonged.

"Oh, you're not putting me back in that box," she said, turning to him and waving a finger. "That was clever, but I'm out now, and the cage is cracked."

Kirya held a hand to her eyes, squeezing her eyes tight against the glare. "I've never known it so quiet. We should be careful."

A scout approached, running from the direction of the palace. Out of breath, he paused in front of them. Clearly unsure who to directly address, he instead attempted to talk to all three of them at once. "There were a few servants in the palace, but no-one else. They seemed confused, as if they didn't know whether they should still be there."

"The Queen?" Kirya asked.

The scout shook his head. "No sign of her, Princess Kirya."

"Keep looking." She grunted in frustration and looked to Tarn. "Any ideas?"

Pointing towards the southern mesa, Tarn spoke, all the while feeling uncomfortable in his skin, as if another should be fulfilling his role. "The King confirmed that the mining operations have increased in recent months. We know the machine rooms are the source of the city's power. Perhaps the two are connected."

"Seems like a long shot," Tranton said. "How would we get down there?"

Tarn shrugged. "I only know one way in and out of there, and I wouldn't recommend it."

"Follow me," Kirya said, striding towards the bridge. "I know the way," she said, her voice full of regret.

They crossed over the wide bridge, it thick supports stretching deep into the ravine between the mesas, birds fluttering in alarm from the alcoves below.

"It strikes me," Tranton said, "that the view from up here is not unlike the one from Aviar. Not quite as high. I'm not sure whether Aera was trying to reclaim lost glories, or make a point."Glancing over at his unique vision of the former goddess, Tarn raised his eyebrows expectantly.

"He's fast, this one," Aera said, smiling and shrugging almost apologetically.

"We'll need to go down through the prison complex," Kirya explained. "The machine rooms are below that."

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