OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Gilead Haiku Odsdottir Persia

44. Reprisal

everal of the party decide to attempt to board the silent ship that now hovers above them, eerily still. Hank, Tira, Persia, Gilead and Haiku use a rope to climb aboard. All around lie the bodies of raiders. The myrmidons are quiescent, their duty done. The raiders appear to have suicided rather than have been killed. The party examines the ship carefully. There is very little aboard. Apparently, the crew had counted upon returning with a heavy cargo. There is a shallow space between deck and hull, but there is little in there. Persia does a crawl-through to verify.

Tira attempt to scan the ship carefully, using talents she has learned from the Hall of Art. To her surprise, the ship is not an object but a being. It is aware of its surroundings and capable of reaction. As if to prove this point, unbidden, it begins to move. It slowly picks up altitude and speed, working its way around towards the cliffs of the coast. Tira does her best to seek some kind of control or contact, but is unable to. The party is faced with a decision. Either they stay on and get taken to wherever the ship is going, or they jump while the altitude and speed are not so great. They almost wait too long. They jump overboard and hit the water hard. They are soon rescued by the otters and the Waverunner itself.

The flagship stays until everything has been retrieved from the water, both people and treasure. Even Iron John is pulled up from the bottom. The ship returns them all to Tallon, where they are debriefed and thanked for their service.

The reprisal comes the following night. Apparently the Sky Pirates did not take kindly to having their tribute gathering being turned into an ambush. This time, the approach of the glass ship is clearly visible. The deck is loaded with ordnance. It is also accompanied by a host of flying warriors. Not only are there several the angelic beings resembling the woman who had delivered the ultimatum, there are many humanoids with leather bat wings, a couple of actual bats and an odd little insectoid warrior. The flyers run interference against warhawks while the glass ship drops an unprecedented barrage upon the city. The devastation is terrible. The Great Dome of the Hall of Art is shattered into ruins. Many buildings suffer severe damage or completely collapse. Persia, Char and the others are relatively safe upon the Eastern Hill; it is the Promethean Hill that is getting the most attention. Even the Palace of the Archon is not spared. Tira is there, having a private audience with the Archon when explosions rock the building. Ningan has her escorted to the cellars below the palace, which she realizes must be extensive. She is given a nice room to wait out the bombing, while the Archon tends to the city.

While she is down there, she has an unexpected visitor. Iron John noiselessly enters the room, and makes demands of her similar to those he has made to Gilead and Persia. Tira however does not suffer violence for two reasons. Firstly, she is within the palace and presumably a guest of the Archon. It would be harder for Iron John to cover up any unfortunate bloodshed. Secondly, Tira is forthright in her answers, revealing pretty much all she has learned about Viginti. Iron John thanks her for her honesty and tells her the others need not fear him. Apparently, few people treat the murderous guardian with politeness. Nevertheless, she does not relax her guard while he is in the room.

Gilead is on his way across town with a continued leave of absence. He is passing near Tallon Circle when the attack begins. He quickly runs to the Merchant Hall and climbs one of the towers to its apex. Here he does his best to deliver arrows to the enemy. In the darkness of the night and given the angle of the attack, he cannot be certain if any of his arrows hit, yet he remains convinced that someone above cried out after a particularly good shot. Eventually, he is forced to leave the tower. Not only is n becoming unstable after the hall is hit several times, he has seen a particularly heavy barrage along the portion of Broadway where his home is located.

Though he races across the besieged town as fast as he can, he is too late. His home is one of those that has been hit. One entire wing has collapsed. Summoning the servants who have fled, he manages to search the rubble. His grandmother Hanna is there. Her condition is so bad, that he does not dare to move her. Instead, he directs Talmuk (his Saginaw servant) to guard her while he races to the Hall of Art to gather a Healer.

At the Hall of Art he is met by an unforeseen sight. The populace has stormed the public way in an attempt to get wounded people to the Hall. Soldiers hold the doors, but only barely. People are getting in. Gilead manages to enter by riding his horse into the hall. There the scene is one of such chaos that he cannot do anything other than help bring it to order. As soon as he can, he sends off some orderlies to retrieve his grandmother on a stretcher. He spends hours, but manages to get the hall becalmed. The bombardment has ended, and the orderlies have returned with sad news. Sara died before ever they reached the house. Gilead slumps to the ground, overcome by exhaustion and grief.

Across the harbor, Persia and Char have witnessed something important. During the bombardment, one of the seraphim was wounded. Flying about in confusion, she slowly spirals across the water and descends toward the Shambles (near the edge of the Burning). Persia Char and Basarin hurry to the spot and find a crowd already gathered. They have the seraph held up against a wall and are ready to tear her to pieces with their bare hands.

Though they endure scorn and attacks from the crowd, Char and Persia manage to get the captive away and into the sewers, where Persia can move undetected. Basarin does not aid them, being fearful of her life. (She is not a combatant).

They wrap the Seraph in a blanket and take her to the nearest constabulary. There they convince the authorities of the importance of their captive. The constables assist her in moving the prisoner after the bombardment has ceased. It's too dangerous to go through the Promethean Hill right now.

Persia and Char deliver the captive to the Palace with the aid of the city guard.

Eventually, the bombing ceases. Much of what was bright and beautiful has been lost, art, architecture and people. Tira finds an exhausted Gilead and takes care of his horse. Farallon is gaunt and ghostly with fatigue. All around them are shocked and wounded people.

Beyond the walls of the inner circle, City Guard and army soldiers struggle to regain a semblance of order and control. There are mobs of looters, small fires, wounded trapped under rubble and much more to deal with. To make matters worse, the bombing is repeated the next night and the next. The Sky People are ruthless in their retribution.

Through all of the chaos, a gathering consensus is beginning to form. People are getting fed up with the lack of response. True or not, the perception is that Ningan is failing to mount a counter attack. The strategy seems to be one of reaction, and people want to carry the pain back to their oppressor. Increasingly, people are beginning to speak of Hannon as Warlord. Indeed, on the third day after the initial retaliation, Bishop Thane calls a conclave. Only an assemblage of the priests of the city can elevate Hannon. The conclave stretches out another day while the Bishop holds a mass service for the fallen. Hanna is placed to rest the day before in the family crypt where she is duly mourned by Elias, who survived in the Merchant Hall, but there are hundreds of dead to be consecrated. Much of the city gathers at the Dancers of Dawn to attend the service.

The Bishop delivers a good eulogy, and promises that their spirits will not pass unheralded or unavenged.

As if on cue (though the Bishop appears annoyed to be given the announcement at that precise moment) a runner brings a sealed note to the circle of Stones. The Bishop has already dismissed the gathering, but no one moves as they await the news.

Thane raises his arms to the crowd and says in a full, clear, yet formal voice:

"People of the Stones! Hark and heed! By the guided grace of the Prometheans, the Conclave has met and deliberated. The path has been made clear to us. So be it known henceforward, during this time of peril, that Grandmaster Hannon, by dint of deed and the blessing of the Lawgiver, shall be entitled Warlord of Tallon. May the Stones guide his wisdom, and wrath guide his arm. By the Word and the Way, so it is done!"

The crowd begins cheering even as the word "Warlord" is scarcely uttered. Only one person in the crowd fails to be jubilant. Archon Ningan look suddenly old again. His face is ashen gray and his shoulders stoop.

Hannon steps forward and thanks the Conclave for their wisdom and inspiration. Then he addresses the crowd himself.

"People of the City, I thank you for these accolades! I will do all within my newly granted power to turn our fortunes about. We stand now upon hallowed ground, though it be rent and pitted with the pocks of war. Never have these stones fallen to an invader. As they stand tall and unbroken, so shall our spirits. We have lived through the darkest of nights and soon shall come the new dawn, the dawn of Victory!

"As a symbol of our strength, our determination and our unbreakable resolve, I now abjure our beloved Archon to bestow upon me, a token of our unity. The sword that has ever been used in the defense of these walls must now come to the hands that will take it to heart of our enemy. I call for Annihilator!"

With trembling hand, the Archon releases the scabbard and belt. He passes it slowly to Hannon, like a man handing over his life. Hannon gracefully and reverently accepts it. Then he turns and suddenly draws it, holding the blade aloft. For along moment, there is silence. Hannon seems frozen in place. All wait for him to speak, yet he retains his silence and his pose. The crowd begins to shift uncomfortably when Hannon lowers the sword till it lies across his hands in front of him and then speaks, saying, "This sword, this most central of our relics, came from the Court of a Demon King. Yet in its first act, it was washed of malevolence. By this blade was treachery undone and a city made whole. Since then it has ever served as defender and avenger."

He raises it again, high overhead, where it seems to pierce the sun. "Let it serve so now and forevermore. By my pledge shall it never leave my side while our enemy endures. Annihilator it is called. Annihilation it will bring!"

The cheering here is so great that few notice the look that passes between Warlord and Archon. Only two knew of the secret the sword reveals to the right one who holds it. Now there is one more.