The Sky Invader
Chapter 1 - The Ruined City
The rain poured down like a shower onto the great woodland known as la Forêt Rouge. It was spring of 3844 AR, the 13th day of the month of Snowmelt, and the flowers that typically bloomed a gentle purple shade in the surrounding areas was tinted a special lighter shade of red found only there. The rainwater dripped through those flowers and treetops into large rainwater pools that had grown huge in the weeks following the melting of the snow.
Below a canopy thick enough that in some areas not even light could penetrate, a vactrain was moving southward in its tube like a thousand-mile snake. It had begun in a neighboring kingdom to the north called Vycus, traveled hundreds of miles or more southward through the kingdom of Quilogne, and made its final movement under the great wall city of Greles. From there, it continued on slender metal pillars over la Rivière Rouge but went straight instead of forking to the east and ended at a train station on the far eastern edge of a small town called Ville Rouge.
Ville Rouge was a small provincial town located in Hollowyne County, named so as it was once known as the “Hollow of Wine” that still remained the wine center of Quilogne. Quilogne was part of an empire located on a world shaped like a hoop sometimes called the World of Balance and more often the Dragon but was officially named Quarran. It was called the Dragon because faith decreed that the God-Dragon of Balance that the world was named after, and primarily worshipped on, was the world itself: a great ouroboros dragon that had bit its tail and patiently allowed eons to pass so that land, oceans, and life could form around it.
It created a world that was very long but not very wide, with a cold equator at the central back in the north and a warm equator in the place where the mouth meets the tale in the south. Although academics deny the faithful’s origins of the creature, science has proven that there really was a dragon-like thing biting its tail at the center of the world, although there is no scientific consensus as to as how it actually got there.
Orbiting Quarran were five moons devoted the goddesses of the elements, all living breathable worlds, and altogether with the Dragon, they became what was known as the Quarran Cluster. It was short for Quarran Cluster of Worlds, the second closest of five to the sun in the Tal’ayn Solar System, which was just one of many human habited systems in the galaxy.
For that moment as well, Corvo, the faithful’s God of Imagination, also flew within the Quarran Cluster. That being known as the World of Wonder, or just the Walrus, was often seen as the opposite of Quarran and, as opposite of balance, was very random. He could be seen in any system around any world in the entire galaxy at any given time. He was called the Walrus simply because He was, in fact, a giant flying walrus with a world on His back that looked suspiciously similar to a backpack complete with oceanic straps. The only thing that was constant about Him was the human-faced moon that orbited around him known as the Living Moon which the faithful decreed to be His daughter and the Goddess of Dreams.
Back down below on Quarran in Ville Rouge, the vactrain door opened and a single passenger stepped out.
* * *
Elliot was fifteen years old, a little taller than average for his age, medium-sized in build and fairly muscular after the two years of hard Vycastrian Orphanage’s farm work and military pre-draft training he had to do. His hair was very dark, spiky, and hung around his head in slightly wild locks with his eyes that were an artificial pale white-blue color. The alteration of the eyes was the mark of a clone but aside from that, he was a handsome, almost beautiful boy, trapped somewhere between the appearance of a child and an adult.
He was also considered to be a near genius but he hid that from the orphanage and, as a clone who was “technically” not a person, recruitment officers never looked deeply enough to see through his act. Had he been a natural child they would have discovered that, and more, instead of walking away in disgust after seeing the first possible sign that he might be lazy and or undisciplined.
Elliot put those thoughts away and felt only relief to be away and to find Quilogne so surprisingly peaceful.
The Fleurian Kingdoms, the Valois Empire’s three primary kingdoms of Vycus, Quilogne, and Ilyion, were infamously volatile when taxes were involved. Eldoria, a kingdom of dark-skinned people at the far southern end of the empire, had finally rebelled against the rule of the empire from the Taxes of the War of the Staves that ended more than twenty years before. Taxes to fight this new threat were raised in every kingdom including the Fleurlands for once and on top of the long-ended War of the Staves taxes besides. All of the empire, even the rich and usually pampered ones, had riots breaking out everywhere.
In Hollowyne County, there was also an extra problem.
Lord Yannick Tasse of Vycus and Baron Stephen Favor of Quilogne had become two rivals for the title of the Comte of Hollowyne that was presently held by poor old and childless Lord Charles Reyes who was right then deep in melancholy and not leaving his bed. Both had good claims but Reyes refused to choose either as a successor. To overcome that obstacle, they each gathered an army, settled in a field just east of Greles, and attempted to force the other into bankruptcy by waiting each other out. Whoever abandoned the field first would tacitly admit the other’s right to the claim which was the best that could happen since battle was not an option. The Empress of the Valois would be very upset and very dangerous if a great loss of military resources was ever to take place in her own imperial lands while she desperately needed every man in Eldoria to fight its rebellion.
They’ve been posturing for two years or so or so Elliot had read but it really didn’t matter for him. He had no intention of getting directly involved with either of them if he could possibly avoid it.
Now that Elliot was free of the orphanage and of authority in general, he felt genuinely happy for the first time in his life. The next step to his life of freedom was to make use of the tool of his escape, a broken starship that he had already secretly purchased, and his ability to fix it magically which he kept very secret from both the orphanage and the Magusarium who were the police and taxers of magic across the grand majority of the world of Quarran. Elliot planned to guiltlessly violate almost every law the Magusarium held dear to a very profitable degree and share absolutely none of the profits. Nobody liked the Magusarium as they were corrupt, cruel, inept and greedy, and cheating them out of money they didn’t deserve was a great past time all independent magicians should be adept in.
“So, this is Redville,” said Elliot as he looked over the town from one of the windows on the second story of the very small train station. From his vantage point, he could stare right down through the heavily flooded Main Street that would, should it get any more flooded, look like a river with businesses floating on either side. He could see the centre-ville, the town center, on the right some distance down built onto a hill with a clock tower built in the tradition of small towns all over the empire for well over two centuries. Above and around he could see the colorful houses dotting the slope and to the south, his left, was a long stretch of farmland. Main Street seemed to spread along the bottom between the two like a belt on the waist of an overweight man with the hill as his torso and the farmlands as his stretched-out legs. He could even see all the way to the very end of town where the village ended at a forest wall where he knew there would be an asphalt road that would lead out to the small roundabout old roads that lead to the other little towns, hamlets, and vineyards that dotted the landscape to the west.
There was an old lot out there where his ship was supposed to have been delivered but he had learned to his irritation was not.
Elliot liked Redville before he saw the place and liked it even more after he did. Redville was founded as a farming community to assist the needs of Greles before the rise of technology had allowed their true independence from the outside. It had all the staples of a small Quarranese town: a temple of the Torean pantheon devoted to Lysandra, Goddess of Earth, a movie theatre, a library, a sadly foreclosed supermarket, and a town magician somewhere out of sight. In the traditional way, the magician’s house would be built out of the way and up on a hillside overlooking the vactrain and in the form of a uniquely beautiful stone home that looked nothing like the tall brightly colored barn-like houses elsewhere. It would be two-story stone house with a triangular red roof and a metal steel chimney possibly spurring out the rainbow smoke of an alchemy lab but he couldn’t see it from the west pointed window that he was presently pressing his face against.
He could see the great lord’s orange-yellow tower house, however. It stretched up like a rectangle on its small end for ten stories at least, an elevator certainly in the center, with three wings sticking out near the top. The wings went out north, east and west containing all manner of rooms and entertainment but to the south, there was only the symbol of the diagonal flaming spear, the sigil of House Favor. The entire building was protected by an electrified metal fence and a force field that only a starship level weapon could shoot through as was common and to be expected in aristocratic fortress estates.
The word “Redville” that Elliot used was Ville Rouge translated into Far-Roadian which was Elliot’s second and most favorite language. It was a very popular and highly universal trade dialect that many people called “English” that was extremely useful all the galaxy over. Fleurian was the language of the Fleurian lands and the court of the empire, known as “French” by the same people who called Far-Roadian English. He felt reasonably certain that he had mastered the language after it had been almost literally beaten into him over the two years he had been in the orphanage.
Elliot was knocked out of his thoughts when he heard the vactrain seal loudly behind him. He looked back at the pristine two-story green and white snake-like vehicle in its tube and felt a little sad.
A clone boy dressed in a peasant’s beige pants and short sleeved shirt with the word’s “Valois Youth Organization” in Fleurian written across the upper left chest with a series of black metal bands shaped like a sash should not have been able to simply walk into first class. He could, however, because the morale was so low after what happened to its previous owner that no one gave a damn where an orphan boy, even one who was a clone, wandered.
He had ended up spending an hour in first-class listening to a miserable worker about how his pay had been quartered after Lord Oliver, once been partnered with the famous Andrew Ecklund of Anwyr Industries fame, was given full control of their vactrain company. It had very quickly led to disaster and people had taken notice. Elliot saw that where the train had stopped someone had spray painted the word “Ecklund” in blood red over the clear tube so that when the train car was parked “Oliver Train and Rail Company” read “Ecklund Train and Rail Company.”
Elliot put it out of his mind, slipped down the zigzag stairs to the first floor and stepped out through the automatic double doors. “Oh God, it’s cold!” he cried as he stepped out into the rain. He took five steps with hands wrapped around his center before he realized something. “What the hell am I doing?” he asked himself.
He cast a spell over himself conjuring a blue umbrella from out of the literal air and as he watched the water pour down around him with a smile, he cast another spell to make himself warm. It took more energy than he liked as he wasn’t nearly as good in the school of conjuration or elementalism as he was with some others but it felt really good to cast openly again. He then cast another elementalism spell to walk on water and grinned at the blue glow that formed underneath his boring brown work shoes.
He stepped out onto the little river of Main Street and did not sink.
* * *
The boy who stepped out of the train station had just stepped out onto the water of Main Street and was then casually walking on its surface through the rain. He was heading eastward around the slope Up Street rose up north from and then soon disappeared behind the hillside that Ville Rouge was built upon.
Paul stood there in the rain, a beautiful, notably feminine, boy with dark hair that clung to his face past darkly beautiful eyes, his face usually somewhat sad looking. His maroon jacket was tied tightly around him, his hood was up and his left gloved hand held the sealed set of movies he had bought and had just been delivered into the still functioning holding crate in front of the abandoned warehouse.
That new boy was the first person to stop in months and that made him interesting. No one ever stopped in Redville unless they were drivers who needed some supplies or a quick bite to eat.
The boy was also a magician which was even neater and Paul even knew one of the spells he was using. It was a blue version of the umbrella spell the town magician Elena Frande had taught him. He could cast it almost that well himself, still an apprentice and working with Elena, her husband Peter, and their son, William, but he still had three more years before he could gain the title of Magician. It required seven so that meant if the boy in the rain was a full magician he must have started when was still in the single digits of age.
That made Paul a bit jealous.
The boy didn’t reappear and was probably gone forever which then made Paul felt a bit sad. His father Dean owned the town restaurant and Paul had been hoping the boy would come by as a paying customer. There weren’t a lot of new paying customers anymore and it seemed the boy suddenly reminded him of the time when the trains stopped and left every day.
Was it really only two years ago? Paul wondered in thought.
When Andrew Ecklund was partnered with Lord Henry Oliver with Oliver Train and Rail Company the trains would tirelessly move endless produce created by their own Gosse farms while taking men and women to and from Anwyr Industries in Vycus. The factories up there didn’t have enough people to keep up with demand up and had pulled out other Fleurians, including even Ilyiones farmers a kingdom south, to fill the vacated spots all year round and that was without having opened the Quilognese branches yet.
For that brief moment, life felt wondrous and Paul felt like he could do or be anything.
The moment past when Andrew Ecklund was falsely convicted of embezzlement in order for his partner, Lord Oliver, to take over the train company. Oliver ruined everything almost the instant it happened in an attempt to create a bigger profit, mostly by lowering wages and raising prices. It was a transparent move to make the most out of Anwyr Industries’ high paying wages but it did not work well with anyone and after Anwyr partnered with an airbus system for their workers the trains came to an unsurprisingly near dead stop for Redville and most every other small town in the Valois.
Nothing ever lasts forever, Paul thought. He was too young to remember the days before Andrew Ecklund in the industrial boom his father’s regulars never shut about. In those golden days, the clone packed factories all over Quilogne had turned it into the industrial capital of Fleurlands. Those clones had worked like ants to push out products for almost nothing a day dropping prices down to dirt cheap.
When Andrew Ecklund started Anwyr Industries on Planet Farru, the trash world at the end of the solar system, the clones left wholesale and then the economy crashed. Factory owners refused to pay the higher wages of non-clones, raised prices to compensate for when they did, and, in most cases, simply moved off world leaving the Quilognese to rot. They had no compunctions about letting their former workers starve or lose their livelihood.
Then Andrew Ecklund came back, started an Anwyr Industries factory in Far-Road up in the empire’s Northlands, and made Far-Road the richest country in the Valois Empire seemingly overnight. The one that opened up later in Vycus had been the reason for Ville Rouge’s prosperity along with Ecklund’s second business of the vactrains that was used for people to reach that prosperity. Anwyr Industries gave their workers full day passes on any day they worked and it was no trouble to stop in some place like Ville Rouge an hour early or after work to get a quick meal or groceries but the airbus system didn’t work like that. Airbuses didn’t stop anywhere but factory locations and big cities which left Ville Rouge to starve once more.
And then to make the world an even worse place, there was what happened to Natalie Gosse.
Natalie had been the most beautiful girl Paul had ever known. She had been a golden-haired, blue-eyed, tall and statuesque goddess with a perfect figure, a model’s face with high cheekbones, sultry blue eyes full pouting lips, and a smile that lit up a room. She would have grown up to be a movie star or great lady, she had the talents, looks and will to do so, but instead, she was going to die. The greenrot had finally escalated to the point where Dr. Giles stated there was at best a few months before she died. Nobody could stand to be near her, not her family, her cousins or anybody but her mother and Paul.
Paul’s job had been to work for his father’s diner but since the trains stopped, he was no so longer readily needed. He should have been since his father’s back was incredibly bad after his War of the Staves injury but he refused to stop working a full day’s shift and Paul’s sisters were already were more then what was necessary. Paul mostly worked for Elena as her apprentice but since her husband was back for the season she focused on family and only trained Paul instead of using him for the endless work that went about in maintaining a magician’s household.
That gave him time for Natalie although there was little that he could do for her. All Paul could think to do for her was show her the eighth season of Lord and Lady which he had purchased with some extra money he had earned and was presently holding in his hand.
He sighed, turned and walked back toward Gosse Farm and forgot about the stranger. Instead, he found himself remembering his uncle in Riverforke telling him that whenever something bad happens something good will come in return, a thing he mentioned when his cat Whiskers was run over by Stephen Favor Junior. Something taken, something given, he had called it.
I wonder what will be given when they’re done taking her, Paul thought.
* * *
He stomped out of the water and continued onward for maybe a quarter of mile more north until he reached the city of Greles. It was somewhat hard to miss as wall cities got their name from the walls that encircled the entire city and stretched upward on an average of fifty to a hundred feet in height. The city stretched across the hill and then onward over the slope down for several hundred feet. At the very bottom, there was an opening designated for the train and river. It was shaped like a keyhole with the bottom designed so the river could flow freely underneath while the top built wider and more circular for the vactrain.
It also contained a platform on either side with grated zigzag staircases leading down to the hill on one side and the east side of the river on the other but it was clearly no longer in use as there were no roads or any kind of obvious paths leading up to it.
Elliot took the staircase up, walked onto the platform beside the vactrain, and stared down into the tunnel.
The city was utterly powerless which left the only light that existed in that tunnel being from the daylight from the two ends of the building, one where he stood, and one on the opposite side of the city miles away. He could easily walk through it as it had a wide walkway on both sides of the vactrain but he didn’t want to as he had a strange image of endless black tunnels filled with ghosts looking out of the long dark windows from the city interior at the individual walking through the darkness within.
He didn’t need to either and so he turned away from the tunnel and awkwardly climbed up the soaked, muddy slope with the forest above Redville on his left and the metal wall of Greles on his right.
Elliot stepped up onto level ground some hundred or so feet higher with his right hand on the wall. He felt with his magic through the wall, onto the cameras all throughout the city and ion cannon above. Some cameras were old, powerless and forgotten from the age of Greles being alive, but others were newer and portable and left by Tasse and Favor to watch for potential looters.
It didn’t take a long walk to reach the secondary and much smaller Redville entrance into Greles. There was a monitor-sign above it that someone had added and Elliot moved along the tree line very carefully in order to get a good look at it without drawing attention to himself. It stated in bold white Fleurian words over red:
* * *
YANNICK MARÉ TASSE DE EAJOU OF VYCUS
DUKE TERRE DE L’EST
INTRUDERS, LOOTERS, AND VANDALS
WILL BE PROSECUTED
THE FULL EXTENT OF THE LAW
* * *
They were five of them all wearing the deep blue and gold security uniforms with military flak jackets looking just incredibly bored. They were inside a circular military tent striped in blue and gold bars with the House of Tasse’s sigil of dual golden axes crossed over a blue shield on its side.
Through the opening in the tent, Elliot could see they were sitting around mostly smoking, watching television or movies on laptops or projected screens and using their earphones so as to not hear or interrupt any of the others’ programs. They were armed with pistols at their sides but had rifles that were on the tables, leaning against a barrel, or even lying on the ground indicating that they could not seem to have cared less about.
When Elliot stepped out of the trees toward the wall none of them could have possibly missed him had they bothered to turn their head even slightly.
Within moments, Elliot’s magic sent the sash apart into countless pieces and then came back together over him like a kind of exoskeleton from neck to toe. He then used his technobands as he called his sash, in addition to the general technology near the city, to go flying up into the air. With so much technology available he flew easily and quickly in a straight vertical line up into the rain two feet away from the great steel wall.
Elliot was a master of the magical school of alteration and, like all masters, he was specifically geared toward a division called a focus or sub-school. For him, it was the very rare mastery of technomancy which was said to have not been seen in over five hundred years or so he had read.
A mastery gave a person the ability to cast without getting tired, unlike his less than amazing abilities in conjuration and elementalism but the specific area one mastered in also gave its caster special powers: powers such as flight as long as some technology was near to him. The more technology that he was close to the greater his powers were and there was a great deal of technology in that wall.
His mastery in technology gave him the official title of “technomancer” although his donor, the person whose DNA he was cloned from, would have been the only one ever allowed to use it.
There were seven casting schools with a random number of sub-schools that could be focal points of mastery and as a professional magician he was trained in all of them: alteration, restoration, chronolation, conjuratation, counteration, illusion and elementalism and the three academic schools known as divination, alchemy and enchantment as well although only the last of those truly held any interest for him. The final school, the eleventh school, was the school of knowledge which covered the rules and history of magic that every magician always ended up having pounded into their heads between casting and other academic lessons.
His technobands made flying easier but he marveled at how little he needed them there thanks to that wall. Normally, all his sash could do was slowly float him around, they were technological things with that provided just enough for him give him a very weak power of flight, but he could also make them into almost any shape he wanted usually ending up with a club or a whip or something to fight someone off. He had made them himself and was very proud of them.
Another power technomancy gave him was his ability not only to sense cameras as he already had but to see through them and even take himself, and anything he did, out of them. Like flight, it was an easy and natural ability that required no specific spell and he had been doing it instinctively since he stepped out of the woods.
Elliot flipped through a battlement’s opening, somersaulted through the air and landed down on the walkway on the great walls that surrounded the city with a careful soft whap on metal that no nearby sound detector could have possibly missed under normal circumstances.
He quietly walked across the metal floor, leaned through the opening of the battlement, and excitedly looked down into the agricultural section of the city. That section was known as the outer ring because it went along the outer edges and it contained its farmers and labor community. The inner ring beyond was the middle-class district and it went around the aptly named center was where the politicians, elites, successful artists and other wealthy sorts had lived.
Elliot let out a tired sigh and said, “Well, this place has sure been sacked to shit.”
From his place on the wall above the outer ring, he could vividly see everything was trashed and when he looked through the portable cameras around to get a better look down below him his sense of destruction only multiplied. How many times had it been sacked? Two times, ten times: who knew. All Elliot could tell for sure was that most of the buildings in the outer ring were burned down and those that were not were hollowed out shells or giant piles of uncoordinated of debris. The several parks meant for pleasure and the giant fields meant for growing food or the grazing of livestock were nothing but wasted dirt with nothing on them but the broken glass of the domes that had once enclosed over them in order to sustain the produce during the winter months.
He looked further into the city and saw the inner ring was hardly any better and even the center, although it didn’t look nearly as bad as its outer and inner ring counterparts with its still mostly standing fireproof buildings, still had the look of being incredibly sacked. Not a window seen was unbroken, not even on a car, and there were holes in the ground where larger vehicular or airstrike bombs had gone off to open long channels into the sewer system below. In the very center of the city was the great power station and political center in the form of a town known as the Spire stretching up a hundred feet above the hundred-foot walls looking surprisingly undamaged albeit completely without power. The heavy rain made the entire city look like it was running with a dirty brown liquid that couldn’t quite find its way to the open channels or the drains with their disabled pumping stations.
Even up there Elliot could smell a scent like that of dead leaves and something worse; something rotten. Whatever rotted within the walls or sewers of that city did not leave and it seemed to have fermented in there like a poisonous, sickening wine.
He did not know what happened or why it had been destroyed and sacked. All he knew was that it was not normal.
It was not normal because all wall cities were official neutral zones.
They paid much higher taxes so that kings and empires would never draft their people into war or pull them onto one side or another. The only support they ever gave was in the selling of goods to both sides or a very weak acknowledge of one side being in the right or wrong. The wall city near Elliot’s childhood home in the jarldom of South Fork in High Norva had survived all the years of the War of the Staves without so much as taking or giving a scratch.
He shrugged it off, it was not like he was like to get involved somehow, and walked back across the walkway and took a look back down at Redville. He could see down the hillside over buildings easily from where he was but his eyes caught on instantly to a junkyard and the object within. It was a thirty-foot tall pilotable robot known as a mech suit sitting scrunched up in the back corner. Now that was something Elliot wanted to play with but he knew that was also a step way too far. Come to think of it, his starship was a step way too far so he supposed he was already taking far too many chances with that to go sticking his nose into high-grade military devices.
And speaking of military, he added to himself as he leaned over and looked over at an actual ion cannon sticking out above the Redville entrance to his right. It was a matching gray to the wall, a gaudy shaped gray weapon with huge energy tubes on either side of its fat bubble-like barrel with wrist-thick wires connected to the swiveling spherical base covered in protective metal plates. It had a built-in camera with half a dozen lenses underneath, a series of complex scanners and controls and monitors on the back along with a seat for a person to manually fire the device should the city’s military need to fire it without using the Spire’s base of operation. It also on a rail and could move along the entire southern side of the wall and could fire even straight down easily.
It was an older model and there were places for smaller, sleeker newer versions on the walls below the rail that were presently absent. They would be less powerful but so numerous that their lack of power would be indifferent.
They were no longer portable thanks to a woman named Nicolette Fortier who he did not want to think about in the slightest.
“Neat,” he said out loud then turned, went back to the edge of the city interior and leaped through the battlement. He spread out his arms and went flying straight down almost chest first. He tried to slow with his bands as he neared with the bottom, sensed they weren’t working very well and used his chronolation magic at the last minute to push the impact of his fall into the ground instead of his body. It saved him from actual damage but he landed in a crouched position a little harder than he would have liked sending up dirt, debris and muddy water almost twenty feet or more into the air.
“Ouch,” said Elliot and then his umbrella spell broke just in time for the mud and slime to fall back down on his head, neck and back. “And that’s nice too.” He stood up and as he let the pouring rain clean him some of the muck off, he looked around with wide growing eyes. “Shit.” Evidently, they had moved all the disturbing things out of sight of the portable cameras’ lenses. “Shit,” he gasped again.
There were bodies everywhere.
It was impossible to say for sure how many because they were scattered with only a very few that weren’t because they were in some kind of armor that kept them together. All around them was ruined weaponry, broken robots, and immobile machinery, mostly working-class vehicles, many of which still had rotted old suitcases and other personal items on or inside of them.
There was a heavy battle there around the Redville entrance and it had the vibe of civilian slaughter. He saw a dozen skulls in every direction along with other clearly human bones sticking up here and there out of the water and many of them were too small to be grownups. There were no Greles combat vehicles or police vehicles of any sort, and all around him on everything were holes from lasers and bullets. Along the wall back behind where he landed, he saw countless holes spread across it like people had been placed in a row and then executed by gunfire.
Elliot forcing himself through the powerless and thus more difficult, Greles cameras Elliot saw the inner ring and the center were no different in general. Their broken vehicles and robots were much nicer and, in the center, there were even a few floating pleasure pools and hovering islands for the very rich which were half buried in debris like discuses that had landed in dirt after a hard throw.
It looked like a great deal fewer people had escaped than Elliot had been led to believe. Those who had were nearby and living in a makeshift hobo village south of Main Street in the farmlands there but clearly not as many as there should have been.
In the rain and the moment, it had the ambiance of a graveyard, and the only sound clear to be heard was that of the water powering onto the ruins of the equipment, tools, houses and man.
Elliot went looking for a weapon to distract himself but found none. He wanted a gun, several guns in fact, and a vehicle too and even though everything he was looking at could be fixed with his magic he didn’t want anything there. It was all Archer Company and Archer Company was bad.
Archer was one of the most profitable and capitalist weapons manufacturers in the galaxy. They hailed from the Republic of Asher, an independent country between imperial lands, and specialized in creating the absolute cheapest weaponry and vehicles for military use in the entire galaxy. They cut every corner at every point possible to create something that worked well at first and sold dirt cheap. They never lasted either, not even for a short time, but, to their credit, Archer had created one of the highest profit margins in the galaxy.
Despite being the number one seller of weaponry and vehicles to mercenaries, Elliot left them where they lied. He did not relish the moment when the gun he would have to fire to save his life would instead explode in his hand.
Elliot flew back up into the air with his technology magic and landed on one of the few remaining buildings in the outer ring, the steel ones that were built at the same time as the wall and served once as guard stations. From the air, they looked like boxes set in a diagonal pattern toward the center through the outer and inner ring like a great “X.” Gates existed to lock out one section of the ring from another part of the same ring if necessary but they were all curiously open.
He then began to parkour across them, wildly enjoying himself as he competently moved from one to the other and using his natural physical ability to do so most of the time. He only utilized his powers to give himself an extra push or pull to save himself from falling when he thought he might.
Then he hit a plank someone had put across the steel buildings and it broke in two with a distinct crack sound. He caught himself from falling, flew upward with what little momentum he had managed to get from the plank, and landed on the other side with a splat in the pool of the water that had formed there.
He heard the board pieces hit the ground before he could concentrate with powers beyond himself and when he turned and looked down at it, he saw clearly that it was too late. The motion sensor cameras had turned toward it and informed whoever was on the other side that something had just happened. He knew because he could actually follow the cameras to their source and look out of the monitors that were connected to them.
“Uh oh,” said Elliot.
* * *
His lips were quivering in outrage and he pointed one long, soft, manicured finger angrily at the screen. “I know you’re in there, Yannick!” What was his plan? What was his move? He was up to something, that Vycastrian rat, but what? “What are you up to?” he cried. “I know you’re up to something!”
Tasse didn’t have the claim to the city at the moment. Whoever had the rights to the inside before officially being the comte’s heir seemed to flip one way or the way other and at total random. Presently, Baron Favor himself had authority over the inside but Tasse left his men out by the gates evidently to both annoy Favor and display to anyone who arrived that he cared not a fig for Favor’s so-called authority.
Evidently, Yannick Tasse had finally decided to venture onward into the realm of trespassing.
It was no surprise considering their standoff was brutal and expensive. They couldn’t fight, the empress would go berserk if they dared, but they obviously couldn’t back down either. Stephen Favor would die a thousand deaths before he let that sister savaging Vycastrian take the Comte of Hollowyne away from him although it was actually the wall city’s fortune, their bank with its own specie, that they both wanted and Yannick Tasse also needed.
A comte would give position and power, true, but for Tasse to get the Duchy of Terre de l'Est back he would need money and a lot. The return of favor of an impress, especially one known to be very vindictive, did not come cheap. That bank vault had an estimated ten million livres worth in platinum, gold, silver, and copper alone and that did not include famous works of art or expensive gems, the value of which could only be guessed but was certain to be astronomical. Whoever became the next Comte of Hollowyne would have that city legally, or at least legally enough, to tear that place apart and make that vault their own along with everything else in that city.
Nobody knew where that vault actually was, not even that mayor of theirs, Archibald Campbell. There was a tram system that the bankers and mayors used and it was windowless to prevent anyone who rode on it from ever being able to forcibly lead anyone back to it. However, that was solved by whoever becoming the Comte of Hollowyne simply jumpstarting the Greles power system and then forcing Archibald Campbell to take them on the tram.
Favor did not feel like that would be a particularly hard obstacle.
If Tasse found it already and broke into it, he might be able to sneakily bribe the Imperial Parliament into forcing Reyes to name him his heir.
Could it be that? It seemed unlikely. Reyes was melancholic but he was no weakling and was hardly likely to let a stranger wander off with a massive fortune that was rightfully his. It would also be extremely hard to unload such a thing without someone finding out about it and questioning its origins.
“How very queer,” Favor said at the sight of the broken plank after a moment. It had broken at 8:31 AM, Thessiaday, the 13th of Snowmelt, 3844 AR, less than just five minutes ago. He found the sight of the plank’s original location and rewound the video. Oddly, it was perfectly solid one moment set between the buildings then snapped in the center and fell down. He pressed the button to talk to his master of security in the security room deep within his skyscraper palace. “Show me his guards.”
It showed a live video feed on the largest central screen showing Tasse’s guards in their blue and gold sitting around their tent looking bored and smoking.
“My guards now.”
It showed a live video feed on the largest central screen showing his guards in their orange and yellow sitting around in the security room of the Spire looking bored and smoking.
“Goddamn it!” he cried and he stood up angrily. He frowned at all the monitors and felt like he was being mocked somehow. “I know Tasse is a part of this!” he told the security man. “You keep your eyes peeled for him!” He flipped off the communication switch, stepped outside and made a quick call on his cellphone.
“Dad?” asked his son and heir, Stephen Junior. He sounded drunk again, probably partying too hard in that black peasant’s inn.
“Something is going on in our wall city, son,” he said. “I don’t know what but I intend to find out. While I do that you get the orc sniffing around and looking for someone or something out of the ordinary.” He suddenly wondered if someone with skills in illusion or possibly technomagic was cutting themselves out of the cameras and that board breaking was just them screwing up. Good thieves always learned a spell to remove themselves from a camera from one magic school or another. “Also, I’m going to call that Magusarium Prefect so you be ready for him. I think there very well might be a magician snooping around our city looking for our treasure and working with our enemy.”
“Who would dare do such a thing?” his son asked with a sneer of contempt.