Loden watched from the walls of Perlana as the Tannican army moved into position to start its assault, it was a warm summer’s day with a cool breeze blowing from the northeast. Perlana was a small trade town west of Tisp, built on an artificial mound over an artificial cistern that was fed from the Orbidene Aqueduct, which also fed the irrigation system to the homesteads around the town. Once there had been orchards and beautiful fields of crops all around the town with well made farming homesteads a yateer in all directions. Over the last few days many of those homesteads and orchards had been destroyed while the livestock, ripe food and numerous people, who had been hiding outside the walls, were harvested by the Tannican army.
Lifetimes of effort destroyed in a handful of days.
Perlana was packed. Many thousands of people were sheltering within the walls, most having to stay in public buildings or on the streets. Food was scarce. Everyone, refugees, citizens and the town’s leadership all hoped a relief army from Tisp would come before the Tannican’s took the town. Yesterday, town officials had offered meals to anyone who would help in the towns defence. Loden had been too hungry to say no. Part of him now regretted that decision.
Siege platforms, pulled by great wyrms or multiple teams of oxen started to move forward. Units with wall shields and long spears moved ahead of the creatures pulling the platforms. Between the four platforms were units of crossbow armed soldiers followed by skirmishers with light armour and weapons, carrying many ladders. Either flank of the advance was protected by a couple hundred heavy cavalry. As Loden watched from the town’s wall he was sure he was going to die.
At two-thirds of a yat away the alchemical weapons on the siege platforms opened up on the town walls. Great bolts of energy crackled, hissed and slammed into the wall’s towers. The Tannicans fired methodically, carefully; the stone of the towers cracked and shattered. The enemy continued to advance. The trebuchets positioned on the towers lobbed huge iron balls filled with alchemists fire, they exploded near the front ranks of the advancing army, little more than an inconvenience. When the enemy siege weapons had expended their first loads of ammunition, crossbow bolts started to rain down along the walls and towers. Loden ducked into the shelter of the battlements wondering how a few hundred men could maintain such a high rate of fire. People screamed, some in pain, some in panic. Discipline broke along the wall and many of the defenders surged towards the stairs and ladders, many fell, some were trampled. Then the Tannican siege weapons started firing again. The towers along the wall did not last much longer and the bolts of energy shattered the tower tops and blasted through into the defender’s munitions. There were great explosions and pillars of flame shot skyward.
Strange warbling sounds echoed around the doomed town and numerous undulating translucent creatures floated high above.
Loden woke with a start, he screamed and thrashed against that which bound him. He heard the weird noise again and pushed against his bonds with all his might. Pain wracked his body and he faltered into a fit of coughing. His captor undulated into sight, then settled over him. Long rope-like tendrils reached down, wrapped around his head and neck and forced his mouth open. He screamed again and something forced its way into his mouth. He thrashed violently, something warm and gelatinous coursed down his throat. He flailed, not caring about the futility of his efforts.
The creature extracted itself from Loden and floated away. Loden spat up the foul tasting gelatin that had been left in his mouth and vomited violently. Gasping for breath he gagged and choked, consciousness was slowly slipping away, with a shuddering sob his head hung forward. Startled, he realized his mouth and nose were resting on his left hand.
The hood of alien goo that had partially covered his head no longer did so. He wiped at his face, blew his nose one nostril at a time. He spat repeatedly until he had cleared all the gelatin and bile, his breathing settled and he took the time to reappraise his situation. Not much had really changed, though to him, at that point, the slight increase in mobility felt like a great victory.
A voice asked, “What happened to Asta?”
“She had been just ahead. Hopefully she escaped.”
“What kind of goddess would lead people to this end?”
“How long have I been here?”
“Hours? Gods, I hope not.”
“Look at those fucking moons!”
“It’s not right.”
“It must mean something?”
“What does it mean?”
“I can’t run. Death by a Tannican blade would have been better.”
“There is no mercy.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Die. What else can I do?”
He may have passed out, his head lolled and for a while his breath came in small gasps. He could see the edge of Ander’s hat, just under his left forearm. He wondered who he had been talking to? He looked around but saw no one else in the strange alien landscape. He looked over to his nearest neighbour, the husk hung there, what kind of creature had it been? He reached down and surprised himself when his fingers brushed the edge of the hat. With his chin he pushed downward on the back of his hand, despite the discomfort he pushed harder. The tips of his fingers slipped in under the hat and he was able to pinch the material and ever so slowly drew it forth from the inside pocket of his coat. He was able to bite down on the rim of the hat and dragged it out further, then he held it open with his teeth and his left hand. Ha! Maybe, if this place ever had a morning, he could have a drink. That would be nice.
A long time passed, Loden stared at the moons, he was sure the smaller moon moved ever so slightly to the right. Or maybe he was just imagining it. He passed out again, sucking on the rim of the hat.
Ander and he walked down a road that wound through barren hills, the East Sister River was in sight to the west and a vast forest to his right had to be the Linklow. He was sure he had been here before, but could not place where he was.
“Are we north of Cof?”
“I think so. North of everywhere likely.”
“Yeah, that happens. Sorry about that my friend, I would have liked to travel with you further.”
“I hope so. I don’t have many.”
“No, neither do I.”
“Ah, well. What can you do?”
“Maybe we should head east?”
“No, I think going north is the better choice.”
“But, the Tannicans, they will be here soon.”
“Yes, that seems likely.”
“We need to get away. East, away from the armies.”
Ander stopped and turned east, pointed, “Because of them.”
Two strange, globular creatures undulated over the woodland, slowly approaching. They gave of a strange warbling cry. Loden felt a spike of fear and he grabbed Ander by the arm. “Run!”
Together the two friends fled along the road, they ran until they could no longer do so, then they staggered and stumbled along. Still the strange creatures followed, slowly gaining on them. It seemed as if there was no hope. Ahead the road branched to the west and to the east, the way north was blocked by thick undergrowth. They stopped, looked one way then the other and cast nervous glances behind them, towards the ever approaching creatures.
Ander started down the western road, Loden called out, “We have to go east.”
Loden looked at him, confused. He knew why, but westward down the road he spotted a rickety wooden tower leaning into a hillside. Another glance over his shoulder showed that the two creatures had closed considerably and were almost over them. He ran westward. Ander followed.
They had nearly reached the strange tower, where an old man stood near the door pointing into the sky behind them. Loden glanced over at Ander and saw rope-like tentacles wrap around his throat and shoulders, he was lifted into the air. Fear propelled Loden forward with greater speed, he raced past the old man, into the odd wooden tower and slammed the door behind him.
The tower was eerily quiet, a banked fire was in the hearth, its low light providing just enough illumination to see the shadowed forms of a table, a stairwell to upper levels and small alcove-like rooms to the sides. The door he had entered by was no longer there. For a moment he was sure he smelled goat. From outside he heard the strange warbling sound.
Briefly he wondered where he could hide, but the fire flared bright and the illumination revealed the old goat witch standing near the table. She held a large wooden spatula covered in goblin jam, leering at him expectantly. He heard the sound of a laughing brook and the tumble of water across rocks, from the stairs and one of the alcoves two fey women laughed as they closed in on him. He reached for his swords, but found he could not move his arms; they were bound to his sides as if by magic. The wild fey women came to either side of him, grabbed him by the arms and dragged him down to the floor. The goat witch stepped over him and reached down with her spatula, slapping great gobs of goo into his mouth.