Saturday, May 3, 2008

Chapter Two: Overture

“I see no cause for alarm,” said the Mediator.

“Oh, no. Of course not. None whatsoever. The enemy is at our gates, throwing mechanized bombs through our windows. But there's no cause for alarm there. Oh, no. This is ordinary.”

“The city will fall. This was ordained long ago. You knew all about it.”

“I thought it was a lie. If I had believed, with all my heart, if I had known beyond a shadow of a doubt that the City of Magic was doomed to fall, and nothing that I or anyone else could do would prevent it, do you think that I would have stayed here and defended it, to the very last?”

“Of course you would have,” said the Mediator.

The General sighed. “You know me better than I thought.”

“Regardless, there is nothing out of line here. Your city is fulfilling its destiny, precisely as foretold.”

“There must be another way.”

The General stared across the city at the advancing armies of the West.

“These cannot be human soldiers.”

“What's that?” The Mediator looked over Clay's shoulder. She lauged. “Have you never seen a man in armor before?”

“The steam that rises from them blocks our spells as well as our ammunition.”

“They are very clever, these Westerners.”

The General looked at his Mediator and sighed. As he sighed, the last spark of hope escaped his lungs and blew away in the breeze. He felt very old.

“If there is truly no way to save my city, then why do you remain by my side?” said the General. “Surely you must have business elsewhere.”

The Mediator smiled. “I wanted to be the first to see the great General Clay lose hope. You know that you are a legend, even among the gods.”

“That will be little comfort if I am remembered as a failure. You have convinced me. My city will fall.”

“And every man, woman, and child will be sent to the Underworld. The prophecies are very specific on that point.”

“So everyone I have ever known or loved will be dead within the day. What bloody use is it being a legend?”

At this point the Mediator became very still.

“What is it?” demanded the General. “Have you lost your tongue at last?”

The Mediator did not answer.

“Well?” said the General. “Spirit of the Earth, I confess that I would rather hear your mocking tongue give me a thousand lashes than this eerie silence. I beg you, speak!”

“General Beauregard Clay,” said the Mediator, “my new Mistress has proposed a solution.”

The first thing the Western soldiers noticed was a great wind, blowing away the steam from the exhaust pipes of their armor. This alarmed the officers most greatly, as they had been counting on the steam to shield them from return fire. But there was no return fire.

While the officers were delivering messages to each other, trying to come up with a plan to deal with this new development, two new and extremely unpleasant factors entered into their equations.

The first was a piercing, high-pitched, and steadily rising hum, and the second was a bright white blinding light. Both rose to shocking, unheard-of levels, until it was quite impossible for the officers to think about anything but the pain in their eyes and ears.

In the memories of Western soldiers who survived that battle, the Hum and the Light became euphemisms for the eerie, destructive, dangerous power of the North. They reported that while it was upon them, they wished that they might be blotted out from existence, so long as that noise and that light should go with them.

When it was done, the scouts lifted their elegant brass spyglasses, to see what kind of eldritch power had just assaulted them, and whether it was likely to do so again.

They were quie surprised to discover that the City of Glass, along with all two hundred thousand of its people, had vanished into thin air.

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