The banner that hung from a ten meter pole bore an orange field with a light blue wave stretched between two opposing corners. The wind was coming up from the sea, cooling the backs of a troop of Sun-Stained soldiers. Over the coastal sands, they dragged sleds burdened with driftwood. As they passed, a few of them looked in the direction of the three, but the day was beautiful, and the sky, city and sea were far more interesting. The siege seemed fresh, as towers and ladders were being fastened along the northern edge of the forest. From his vantage south-east of the city, the knight could see most, but not all of the attacker’s camp. Support beams were being buried in the shallows that separated the city from the mainland. Other pockets of soldiers were wading into the waters with shovels and hammers. Tents were already up in the center of the mass, and canvas was seen swaying within the swarm.
More of the Sun-Stained were arriving from across the waters, along the west coast. A herd of pigs was being swatted towards the water to clear room for a plodding train of camel carts. The way further west cut into the jungle, and was laid out with crude road of green planks. It was more people that the knight had ever seen. There were even children about the main camp. It was rather hard to tell the girls from the boys, as nether had hair on their heads. What the knight didn’t see was any sings of defense. They acted in brazen confidence, with no guards of scouting parties. The three of them remained along the fauna’s edge for the rest of the day without any agitation.
The city remained still and quiet. The walls were the height of fourteen men, with the tell-tale solid, smoothness that spoke of an old world. They wrapped in an pinched oval with the northern edge tapered. Although the city had great menagerie of different buildings that stretched far above the walls, there was only one that took the title of ‘tower’. The seven layers that comprised the tower were identical in rough shape, but diminished in size as one ascended. The knight thought of the mushrooms he had gratefully found three days ago. If they grown on top of each other, instead of in a patch, they would look quite similar to this tower. Between each of the segments, thin strands of metal made a haphazard lattice. The central column of the tower was suspiciously narrow. While this would be quite impressive to most, he had grown up in the kingdom above, and he knew there was no magic holding up all of that mass. When he focused on the apex, he noticed lightly shimmering lines drawn up into the sky, where an group of unusual flyers were tethered. They were unusual as these flyers were unmanned, and much smaller than the standard variety.
When dusk settled, the area was lit up. The steady blue of the city lights, contrasted the flickering orange of the surrounding encampment. The tide brought the water to shoulder height where the Sun-Stained had nearly finished erecting a platform three men high. A canopy was built above the platform to shield from sun and rain. The knight deduced that it would serve as a central vantage to oversee the attack from.
When the night was through, the knight understood why they Sun-Stained had no need of protection. After the three of them settled in a dried up gully under the cover of a fallen palm, the merchant opened one of his treasured papers and read stories about the city, with the light of the knight’s helmet. The manuscript was clearly written by an outsider, and most of the details were prefaced by safeguards like ‘some say’ and ‘it is rumored’, or ‘as the stories go’. The city retained a characteristic of mystery because so few people ever left, and those that did often were not the type to stop and gossip.
The world had a few consensus beliefs about the island, or more specifically the tower that moved to the island. It was old. The age of titanic constructions was three centuries gone, but this clearly was from then, if not older. The people of the city had immense knowledge available. It was told that the voice of the tower knew everything, and distant stories had similar themes of the curious and wonderers making grand pilgrimages. Trade with the city, in it’s very limited capacity, always took place in the trader’s homeland, with deliveries and pickups enacted by swift frightening flyers that darted only feet above the ground with inhuman precision. Despite it’s capabilities, the city held no army, and had never been seen to be aggressive to the kingdoms that surrounded it. It was agreed that it was a safe place, where one could go to live a protected life. It’s walls had never fallen, it’s buildings had never been burnt, even the air above was supposedly safe from flyers.
The stories were interesting, but hardly helpful. The knight was hoping to hear about some alternate entrance, or some way to summon an escort. He had no concerns about getting himself past the Sun-Stained. He was quite confidant that he could simply walk through the masses. Their arrows, darts, and spears were too rudimentary to cause any damage to his armor, but the merchant and the minstrel had no such protection. Before he slept, he finished eating his portion of ‘paste’ the minstrel had prepared. He was too hungry to care, after his suit identified the ‘paste’ as something akin to a handful of mushed bugs.
The knight’s sleep was over in an instant. No dream to remember. Chunks of sunlight made their way past the branches of the fallen palm, to hit the dusty silt that lined the gully floor. Speckles of something whirled in the beams of grace, and he simply watched while he summoned some energy to get up. It took him a lot longer to move about, as his stomach was cramping. His suit scanned the area, and measured the nearest Sun-Stained to be far off north. The merchant was scraping the bottom of his footwear with a spearhead he had found lodged in a trunk. The minstrel was still lying where she had slept, but her eyes were open and watching the merchant. The knight sat beside her, and offered her a drink from his suit’s tank. He leaned down, she propped herself up, and took hold of the tube that emerged from his collar.
“It might be warm, but at least it’s clean.” He said, as she sipped. Turning to the merchant he asked, “Why are they here?”
The merchant stopped scraping the leather, and looked up startled, “Me? You’re asking me?”
“You said, you two came from there. I thought you might know why. Was there talks of war when you were there?”
“No… It was a while ago, months if not a year or more. I wasn’t welcome in the Sun-Stained cities, people didn’t really talk to me much.” His eyes moved down to her. “She would know better than I.”
The minstrel looked up to the knight, and shook her head. “I thought they were friends… the island city, and the RaHaZa, I mean. My sponsor in Ka Rosha said the RaHaZa were made powerful with the help of the tower. That they owed the tower.”
“It might be your fault.” The merchant said to the minstrel, with raised eyebrows. When she remained confused, he elaborated. “That black mirror that sent us here. Was stolen from the RaHaZa.” The minstrel’s eyes widened. “When you fell and broke it… it might have something to do with this.”
A pebble, flicked by the knight, pattered off the merchant’s shirt. “Your fault for trying to sell it to her.” He gave the merchant a reassuring smile, and stood up. “Well here is what we do know. We have little to no food, and I’m quite sure, within a day or few, this land will have been picked clean of edibles. We don’t have enough time to wait, and this siege may last weeks and longer. Any chance the Sun-Stained would let us pass their lines and enter the city?”
“Ha!” The minstrel’s laugh was like a burst gale, and she clasped a hand around her mouth to stifle any others. With a whisper she chuckled out, “It was the RaHaZa who chased us out. They will behead us on the spot.”
The knight scoffed at that notion. “Who rules the RaHaZa? Is there a king, or group?”
“I think it’s a group, or a few families.” The minstrel looked away in thought.
The merchant was studying the knight. “You have a way to get us in, don’t you?”
The knight met his eyes. “No… but I’m thinking of a way to get them out.”
“Should we be worried?” Humored the minstrel.
“You two will stay here. I’m going to break this army.” The knight’s visor sealed shut, and he stepped toward the shore.
“Wait!” Rasped the merchant, pushing himself off his dirt hump. “You plan to scatter them, yes?”
The knight stopped, turned back and nodded.
“Thousands of soldiers, running everywhere. Very likely, many towards us, here.” The merchant held his hands out, as if waiting for the knight to contest him.
His head dropped, he was being reckless again. Foolish impulse had brought him down here, he would need to do more than war. His thoughts went to Tanchuk, and all that he had built. The knight snapped into action, and the jungle crackled with sound.
Within minutes of his preparations, his suit’s sensors detected a series of approaching vocalizations from the north-west. He quickened his clawing and dragging. His feet dug deep into the soft soil, creating daunting craters beside pressed and swept soil. The trunks that now spanned the gully were pressed tight together. The palm heads removed and bunched at the gully floor under the trunks. In the center of the leafy mess, rested the obscured merchant and minstrel, with a batch of pointy sticks.
The shouts had stopped, but the soldiers hadn’t. There were eight. Two turned and ran back immediately. The knight took himself to a sprint, ten strides from the nearest. He leapt high, and planted his foot and hip seven feet up a trunk. He tried to launch himself off of it, but the palm broke too early. His body landed on a loud, screaming man, and he rolled up to his feet. Within another twelve strides he had grasped both necks of the two early quitters. When he dropped their bodies, he then realized the two men were most likely messengers. With both hands he snapped a hefty splinter off a nearby palm, and whipped it, to silence the loud man.
Stepping toward the five, who had aligned in a crescent, he remembered to move slow, to let them think he was slow. His pace dropped, and he became comically slow. He couldn’t help from smiling. In his mind he knew he should respect his foes, it was an ideal taught to him as early as he could read. The kingdom wasn’t free form contradictions as they also taught him to treat the battle as a game, All his life he fought in simulations, and planned situations, with limitations, and restrictions. Until Brixon got him to fight for real. It was real that one time then, but not beside the island city that day.
The two on each end swung at the same time, two diagonal slashes, top to down. He let them hit his chest. The sparks were his opening act, a last glimpse of something beautiful. He knocked the jaw off of the left man, and caved in the chest of the right with his boot. He reached down, grabbed the jaw-less man’s foot, and twirled his body through the air, into the center of the three. He suit released his Adren, and he leapt in a high arch, where time seemed to drip. Landing his knees into the pile, he leaned his open hands down onto the organs of the last two. He thought about moving the bodies, to spare his new friends the smell, but he guessed they would serve better as a warning to any who might later come this way. A split moment of guilt was snuffed out of his thoughts. He was making his way toward the clearing, with swords under arm, when he heard a growing calamity of bells and horns.
‘Perfect’. He said to himself with a chuckle, once he was ascended up a palm.
The Sun-Stained were in formations, twenty-four lines of men pulled six towers with ropes towards the city, with a division already wading though the shallows with sets of ladders. The orange flags were limp atop the central platform, which now had a second level, with perches for teams of well dressed signalers. The knight dropped back down, collected his bent swords, and excitedly went to play his game.