Of gods and monsters

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"That ought to do it," said Michels, the connecting rod falling away from its housing. "There's no way for the propellant to hit the shell, now."

The anti-airship turret was mounted on a rotating platform, halfway up the southern mesa, its twin barrels as tall as a house. A seat was mounted to the side of the loading hatch, a bank of controls within easy reach, while a series of metal handles closer to the platform could be used to rotate and tilt the platform when targeting. Stryke had read about such devices in the history books but had never seen one built and functional - and now they were scattered across the entire city, pointing north, anticipating an invasion from the outer ring of the valley. In the event they had caused little disruption, most of them being unmanned and the rest being disabled by the ground assault forces.

Bound and sitting in a glum group a short distance away, leaning against a wall, were the former crew of this particular turret. They had put up only a cursory fight, seemingly unsure of what the were fighting for or who their enemy was. They had been abandoned by their leaders and they knew it, the fight having gone out of them entirely. It gave Stryke considerable satisfaction that they had been able to disarm each of the turrets with minimal fighting and no deaths on either side; all of these soldiers had been his brothers and sisters until only recently - until the valley had been pulled apart by the whims of mad kings and queens. He'd always been a staunch supporter of the monarchy, especially under King Guijus, whom had always seemed to value the lives of those who served under him, but the times had forced him to reconsider. He didn't enjoy having to think again about how the world worked, not at his age. That dream of retiring to a quiet spot near Lagnin seemed a very distant thought, as if it were a story once told to him by someone whose name he'd long since forgotten.

He tried to recall the name of the little girl who had always met him at the dock when he'd run the ice ship to the glacier. It was there, in the corner of his mind, hidden from view and just out of reach.

"Now what?" Michels asked, sounding bored and a little exasperated, as if he had been asked to carry out some tedious work during leave. The man and his team had grown accustomed to operating behind-the-scenes in Bruckin, able to enjoy the northern customs while reporting back to the valley. They had not entirely gone native but Michels clearly did not relish the opportunity to be back in Treydolain - no doubt an attitude which had contributed to saving him and his team from becoming victims of the King's purge.

Focusing a scope, Stryke looked across to the opposite mesa, then down to the city below, watching for the reflective signals. The flashes came as planned and he returned them to the other teams. "Looks like we're all wrapped up here," he said, turning his gaze towards the incline of the mesa above them. "We keep going up, get to the plateau, see if there's anything we can do to help." He looked at the bound prisoners. "Leave them here, we'll pick them up on the way out."

Gathering their slim supplies, Stryke led the team away from the turret emplacement, following the road as it wound its way up. There was no resistance: what dregs had remained of the Treydolain guard had been encountered in the streets, with any lingering on the mesas no doubt already engaged top-side where the aerial units should have landed. With any luck, Seldon and the others would have already located and subdued the Queen and any other remaining supporters.

Below the city stretched out, quiet and still, no boats on the lake, none of the usual traffic approaching the aerial dock. The streets and open squares were empty, where they should have thronged with people, crawling about like ants. Everyone was staying inside, away from the trouble that stalked the streets, or had already left the city to find refuge elsewhere in the valley, far from the capital and the conflict in the north. Treydolain had always been a revered destination for those who grew up in the towns and villages elsewhere in the valley, out on the mountain ring. It was the jewel at the centre of Lagonia, where there was opportunity and luxury and new ideas. Even while the rest of the valley went stale over centuries of isolation, it was always Treydolain that tried to inject a freshness into society. If Lagonians had believed in a greater destiny, it was because of the efforts of the capital and the court on the mesas. That flow had reversed; the Telladors had tained the city. Stryke wondered if there would be any coming back from this, even if Kraisa was stopped and order returned. The world had shifted and it would likely refuse to shift back.

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