Thursday, September 27, 2012

The People’s United Territories of China (Short Story)

The People’s United Territories of China

Book One: The Invasion

Had it not been a strike against my own homeland, it would have been a thing of beauty to watch—like seeing a perfectly orchestrated operatic performance. Who would’ve ever thought it would be the massive increase in global shipping routes that would’ve been the downfall of the United States of America? I mean, there were those who said our consumerism would be our undoing; I just don't think any of them meant it in such a literal manner. My name is Henry Jensen, and I have the unfortunate duty of chronicling our current circumstances for any future survivors.

From the details we've been able to gather the plan for the attack began years ago. The Chinese slowly began bringing small groups of civilians to their military bases around their country. Every time they did this they would load a couple squads of troops into a shipping container and move it to a seaport to be loaded on a ship.

The containers had been retrofitted to accommodate the men living inside. They had adequate ventilation and discharge ports for waste. The containers were equipped with water tanks and inlets for refilling.  They were stocked with rations, a radio, and a firearm or two for every occupant. When the containers were stacked, the plumbing for each unit was connected to another for replenishment and waste removal, and they were stored, and left waiting. Though they were crude and rudimentary, the modifications were sufficient enough for their troops to bear a long-term stay.

It appears they took careful steps to avoid any suspicious behavior being detected by satellite surveillance. Moving small amounts of civilians to every base for training, instead of training them in mass at their known training bases; moving out the same number of troops as recruits brought in, to keep the troop movement at each base roughly static; storing the containers at various locations, while the force built up; and dividing the loading and shipping of the containers amongst all their seaports were just a few of the precautions they took. It also appears, once they did start shipping their Trojan Horses, they shipped them to ports all around the globe to be transferred to different Chinese controlled ships. The logistics calculations and management scheme, alone, must have taken at least a year to put together.

When the time was right, they began delivering their Trojan containers to the Port of New York. Through just the right mélange of bureaucracy, cronyism, hubris, and bribery the Chinese were able to get these particular containers through customs without physical inspection. From there, they were transported all across the country. Unfortunately, by the time the day leading up to the actual attack had arrived, there were Trojan containers waiting in storage at many locations. There were containers at every major city and the capitals of the contiguous forty-eight states—almost all of which were stored at companies or yards owned by private Chinese companies, or sub-companies. There were, however, no soldiers sent to the District of Columbia.

Playing us like a well-tuned fiddle, almost exactly in line with our military's analysis and response times, the Chinese used their naval and air forces to distract our leaders. Under the guise of training exercises, they had moved a decent amount of heavy hardware into the South Atlantic near Brazil, into the South Pacific, and into the Norwegian Sea. However, that was not what started our military reaction. The Chinese began massing a fleet—far larger than we were ever aware they had—and moving towards the North Pole. There was the standard diplomatic back-and-forth, and the U.S., of course, mustered its fleets and mobilized to attack the Chinese.

By this point, knowing the rates of inspection and calculating the times for military actions, the Chinese had moved thousands of additional Trojan containers into every major shipping port on both the eastern and western seaboards. They also had several hundred heavy freighters scheduled to roll in to both coasts simultaneously.

On the day of the attack, the basics are these. The Navy and Air Force, the joint chiefs, and the president were distracted. Therefore, no one cared to take the calls of the Coastguard captains—what few there were that even noticed—who were inquiring as to the number of freighters congesting the shipping lanes. There was a massive attack on the Internet—effectively shutting it down for days—massively disrupting communications. Apparently, the radiological sensors in the District had been unknowingly disabled. The Chinese soldiers began storming out of their containers around the country, and the major ports exploded with Chinese troops. The inbound freighters began fanning out and barreling for their respective shores—most of which were makeshift battleships, unsheathing their battlements, engaging what Coastguard resistance there was, and launching combat helicopters towards land. And finally, about an hour after the troops began leaving their containers, a nuclear bomb went off in Washington D.C.—leveling the District.

Everything was amazingly well timed. The results being—a fairly low casualty—complete and total seizure of the United States. Apparently the President had survived. It seems the nuke was not deployed until the chaos was sufficient enough for the President to be moved. The Chinese did not want him dead.

From what we know, with the exception of a few skirmishes for which the Coastguard was mostly responsible, there was no large engagement on the part of the military. The day of, we think there was roughly four million Chinese soldiers with boots on the ground and another million on inbound freighters. Most of the military, which was fairly clustered and heading in the wrong direction, was not only easy for the Chinese air and naval forces to meet and standoff with, but they were ordered to stand down by the President while the situation could be analyzed. While the situation was being analyzed, the vessels and equipment that the Chinese had on maneuvers in the South Pacific and Atlantic were brought in to shore up their control of the coasts.

It was obvious; they had won. Our government had been oblivious. The only possible response would have been for us to launch a full scale nuclear attack against China—which would have destroyed our enemy's power-base, but would've done nothing to reverse the incursion that had already taken place. Plus, they may have chosen to retaliate in kind. Either way it would have still been a total loss for us—so it is good the president did not allow that to happen.

The only good thing for us, as Americans, is that they didn't want us dead. For them, this was merely a forcible acquisition of what they figured was already rightfully theirs. They owned so much of our debt it was absurd; they owned and operated trillions of dollars’ worth of interests within our borders, and they needed more space and more food. It was the only logical next step for them. They figured the world would not look too poorly on them for their decision due, impart to what was just mentioned, but more so because we had done well more than our fair share of damage to the world's sovereignty, environment, economy, and cultures. So, it was not entirely surprising when this act of aggression was not contested—with more than official letters of protest—by any other countries around the world.

Over the next several days, the President ordered a complete surrender, and an exchange of personnel started taking place on all our military bases and vessels. With the exception of Cheyenne Mountain and a small naval group, Chinese forces soon controlled our bases and fleets, as well as our nuclear arsenal. It was agreed that the President would be allowed to stay in the mountain without retribution on the population. And, in regards to the naval group, a renegade captain—who refused to lay down his arms—gathered the support of a few other captains and convinced them to join him in running in order to regroup. Given there was only a handful of ships that they could easily track (and three missing nuclear submarines they couldn’t), the Chinese were comfortable with the grip they had achieved on our country.

The resistance among the general population was more than lackluster. Aside from a few engagements between local police forces and the invaders, there was no resistance of which to speak. Though a staggering disappointment on the show of our anti-gun control citizens, to be fair, the numbers were simply not on their side. Had they simply grabbed their guns—without any organization—and tried to defend the country, they would have just died. I’m sure, in some, it begged the question as to whether the enormous amount of gun violence the country had born for the last few decades was worth it, but the hope was that eventually their weapon stores would allow for us to mount a rebellion.

Book Two: The Resistance

It had now been a little over four-and-a-half years since the invasion. It was almost as if the Chinese had hired America’s most popular advertising agencies to prepare their propaganda campaigns in advance. Right off the bat they sure knew exactly what to say and do to subdue the populace. They knew what programs to leave on TV and what to take off to endear themselves to the people. They knew exactly how to encourage our studios to produce films that gave people the impression nothing had changed, while subtly—in a very roundabout way—promoted the new regime.

On top of that, they knew which companies to shutdown, which cities to fortify more heavily, which state politicians to keep in advisory positions, and which of the wealthy to leave alone—conditionally, of course. They made some hefty changes to the governance of the country, but for the average Joe the day-to-day seemed very much the same. In fact, in many ways, their day-to-day lives improved greatly. Health care was free, education was free, all student loans and mortgages were forgiven, and taxes were only applied to businesses. Many sectors of the economy were nationalized, but much of their management remained in the same hands. The changes occurred more along the lines of readjusting wage management. For instance, a doctor had told me that when the Chinese administrators had come to his hospital, they simply said, “You now have no more educational debt, you now own your homes outright, and you will no longer be asked to pay any taxes. Legal issues of malpractice will be investigated and covered monetarily by the government, and, for most of you, your schedules will be the same or lighter than before because we are funding the training and hiring of many more medical personnel. That being the case, everybody’s salary is being reset to a different scale. Support staff will be paid $25,000 a year, nurses will be paid $50,000 a year, doctors will be paid $100,000 a year, and administrators will be paid $100,000 a year. There will be opportunities for increase and promotion. Anyone who does not think this amount will be sufficient is free to leave and work in a different field.” This process was repeated in many sectors. Basically their idea was to put an end to unreasonable salaries and profiteering. Much of the world was affected by this, but those who thought it was for the worse were in no position to do anything about it except adjust.

The country had been divided into three, unimaginatively named, territories: the Western, Central, and Eastern Territories. The state borders within said territories remained the same but their governments had been removed. There had been a Chinese governor—and some advisers, both Chinese and American—appointed to replace the state governments. And, the territories were being governed by their respective territorial congresses—each having 1,000 seats. The 1,000 seats did not include the Territorial Magistrate, who acted as the executive; the Vice Magistrate; the Congressional Prime Minister, who was the in-house leader of the congress; or the CCP representatives, for which there was one for every party that got seats in the congress. Each of those positions were held by natural born Chinese members of the Chinese Communist Party that had been brought over from mainland China. The 1,000 seats in each of the congresses were filled by natural born Americans—which, thankfully, they had continued to call us. Aside from a simple election district modification, not much about the voting process had changed. Again, most people were quite pleased, because now there was a multitude of political parties, and there was a much greater level of representation. The downside, of course, being that there was a heavy influence from the CCP. However, most people hadn’t come to see that as too negative...Yet.

The resistance started to form more fervently when the Chinese began their plan to equalize the population. About three years after the invasion, they started transporting their citizens here at a rate of about 4,000 people per day, and, with each shipment, a little more military personnel came too. It was clear this was going to devastate our way of life, and if we let it go on too long, we would never have any hope of retaking our country.

News from around the country, and the world, flowed freely across the country. Yes, there were some restrictions on the Internet, but very few. Though the Resistance never used it to communicate, because we were sure they were monitoring everything, people could even express their dissidence on the Internet. It seemed the Chinese government had no intention of trying to subjugate the territories to the same degree they had their motherland. They hadn’t planned to apply the same operating principles to their new territories. They had planned to use this conquest to take what they believed to be “the next step towards actual communism.” They figured the new resources, area, and power-base would help them achieve that end, and they could eventually affect an equilibrium between their two lands.

About four years after the invasion, the Chinese started massing troops in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Several contingents of the resistance were discovered. No one was arrested, but their munitions were confiscated. They said no charges were going to be brought, because they understood the reasoning behind the Patriots’ anger. However, they were placed on a watch-list. We suspected the real reason our members were ignored was because of the larger operation the Chinese were preparing.

Several Divisions of Chinese troops met with a few hundred squads of Federales at the Mexican border. At least we were taken by surprise, but the Mexicans didn’t even put up the slightest resistance. The Federales capitulated and even guided the Chinese like a swarm of locusts down through their own country. The news had said that the Chinese declared to Mexico that the unrestrained drug trade continued to wreak too much havoc on both the Territories and the United Mexican States, so the Mexican government could either accept their help willingly or receive it by force.

After the Cartels had been brought to their knees—the entire campaign taking less than a year—most of the troops returned across the border. However, many troops had been left behind. The news could tell us it was at the request of the Mexican government all they wanted, but we knew. Mexico had now been occupied as well.

None of us were surprised when Cuba joined the People’s United Territories of China, but when Canada was forced to yield its sovereignty we knew the time for action could wait no longer. The story was that Canada voluntarily joined the Chinese as an autonomous region after the Chinese helped them with some economic issues and helped defend Canada in a territorial dispute in the north. We could read between the lines though; they were clearly forced to submit by the threat of overwhelming force.

By this time, the resistance had built up quite a sizable number of cells around the country, and we started spreading the word to organize a meeting to plan a coordinated attack. It was, of course, a terribly risky move, but we were pressed for time. The Chinese were busy endearing themselves to countries all around the world with aid packages of food, medical supplies, equipment, and personnel. They had even been so bold as to remove the word China from the name of their lands. It was still used as an ethnic title, but the government was now simply calling itself the United Territories. The name change took place right after they had reorganized the Chinese mainland to look more like the new system they implemented here in the west.

The world was falling fast and hard for the seductions of these wolves in sheep's clothing. Only the major powers of the world remained suspicious of the Chinese—respectful and polite, but suspicious.

The meeting was slow to put together, due to having to get resistance leaders from all over to one area. Travel was not difficult, if you were not on any watch-lists, but we communicated via word of mouth—person to person—to avoid electronic surveillance. Once a safe location was decided, and a date chosen, the meeting was set.

At the meeting, nothing was getting planned. No one could agree upon an appropriate plan of attack; everyone had different ideas as to how to be the most effective. The reality was that nobody had any ideas that seemed as if they would win us our country back. That is, until we were made aware by our sentries that a few strangers were requesting an audience with us.

A year or so before the meeting, several members of Capt. Douglas’ crew—the rogue Navy Captain—had been put to shore in Grenada and told to make their way up island to the mainland and contact any resistance. It took them several months to get to Florida, and a few more months after that to earn the trust of any resistance members. Luckily, the timing worked out for them to be here for the meeting. Really all they needed to do was relay to us the code the rogue fleet was using to communicate, so that they could inform us of their plan.

Book Three: The Rebellion

It turns out, though the Chinese had been tracking Capt. Douglas’ fleet, he had been very busy. The Chinese had destroyed Washington D.C. to disrupt the command and control capabilities, and break the spirit, of our country. His plan was similar, but far more destructive.

After regrouping for a short period, he had kept his fleet separated and moving—putting in to neutral and sympathetic ports only when necessary. This kept the Chinese complacent about the rogue fleet. It took a while to meet covertly, and do the necessary disassembly, but, eventually, Capt. Douglas had removed the nuclear ordnance and personnel from one of the missing submarines.

He had limited information about how things really were in the former U.S., but—in his mind—his plan was simple no matter what the details. He had planned to smuggle nuclear bombs into the Chinese occupation command center, and the most garrisoned cities; evacuate the resistance from those cities; have the other two subs stationed off each coast for back-up, in case they needed further nuclear support; leave skeleton crews on the ships, so they could continue to draw the attention of the Chinese; and sneak his personnel into the country to lead the rebellion after the bombs were detonated. Unfortunately, he was wildly over-optimistic as to the actual situation in his homeland.

By this point, the Former President had surrendered Cheyenne Mountain to the Chinese and was living a very comfortable life as a Protected Citizen. As frustrating as that was, it was not as frustrating as the Chinese now having control of NORAD. This information, coupled with the fact that there was only a couple thousand resistance members, infuriated Capt. Douglas. When it was made clear to him that most Americans were quite happy to maintain the new order, he hatched a new plan.

I was sent with a group of guards to travel south, down through South America, to safety. Since I had already been journaling our efforts, Capt. Douglas said, “Someone would need to chronicle our efforts for future generations, when they are eventually able to reclaim their land.” This was because the new plan, if it worked, would destroy much of the country—sort of an If we can’t have it, no one can type of plan.

The attack ended up triggering a chain of events that was unforeseen. We planned to deploy the forty suitcase nukes throughout our former country; sneak a sub off the coast of China, and have it launch its warheads against Russia; sneak the other sub into the Laptev Sea, to the north of Russia and have it launch its warheads at mainland China; and hope that the arsenals of the three lands would be deployed to annihilate each other. We knew some missiles would be destroyed, and some of the suitcase nukes would be detected. We just needed the distrust to be high enough.


All I have time to record now is this. Reports are saying roughly thirty-two nuclear bombs were detonated in the United North American Territories, and several missile strikes impacted Russia and the United Territories of Asia. ICBMs, in massive numbers have been launched from all three regions. It is suspected there will be multiple targets outside of those three regions, and neighboring countries are also being warned to expect accidental strikes as well.

I do not know why, but France and the United Kingdom have also launched missiles; their targets are unknown. I can only imagine it is because they feel they are on the suspected target list. North Korea has, of course, launched a few missiles—with the U.S. government being gone, however, those targets are unknown. Pakistan and India have launched and already destroyed much of each other. Israel has launched against Iran, and, confirming years of suspicion, Iran has launched against Israel—and apparently other states as well. Unfortunately, resource centers around the world were also set as nuclear targets, because several strikes have already impacted parts of Africa, Australia, and, yes, South America. As it seems much of the world is going to be destroyed, and a total depopulation may occur due to fallout, I will simply finish by saying th...

Epilogue: The Discovery

Hmmm, so it appears they really did think they were doing the right thing.

“What’s that Dr. Maberti?” said the young research assistant.

“Hum, oh. I was just thinking out loud,” the bushy-eye-browed History professor answered, without looking up from the fragile pages of his object of interest.

“I gathered that, professor, but what was it you were thinking out loud?” the visibly disinterested grad student pried further.

“Ah, yes, well it seems the Resistance actually were very devout in their belief that their actions were justified,” Dr. Maberti replied.

“Ugh. I don’t know why you care so much or why it even matters. It’s been more than 72,000 years since the Patriots,” the student emphasized the word with disdain, “destroyed the world, and very little from those barbaric times even exists anymore.”

“Honestly, Jonathan, I don’t know why you are pursuing a career in history at all. You never seem to be sadder than when you are here in the archives. You are never this melancholy in class; you seem to love history,” Dr. Maberti expressed.

“I love the study of our history, not this...this xenology,” the student retorted.

“Xenology!” the professor exclaimed vehemently. “These are not extraterrestrials we are researching, my boy. They may be alien to us, but humans, from right here on Earth, just like us, is what they were. This journal affords us the ability to study our ancient past and learn from their mistakes. We study their history, so that we do not repeat their failures. Do you not understand what an amazing opportunity a glimpse like this, into our past, presents us?”

“No professor. I’m sorry; I don’t,” Jonathan answered. “It is impossible to even think that any civilized human being could make such horrible decisions and cause so much destruction. We are above that.”
“Those that fail to learn from history,
are doomed to repeat it.”
                                                                          Sir Winston Churchill


Monday, September 17, 2012

Sons of Perdition (Prologue)


A religious war—the likes of which has never been seen—is about to break out on Earth. An angel has chosen to lend his strength of manipulating the physical world to a fallen individual in the hopes he will kill off those who are evil in order to help the rest of the people achieve salvation sooner. This poses a particular problem…

What will happen when one dies? This is quite possibly the oldest question that exists for the reasoning human being. Much debate has occurred over the concept of how one will be saved in the eyes of God/gods. Many religions have been formed around the differing opinions of what one must do to live right for salvation in the end—whether that be eternity with God, nirvana, a blissful end to suffering human existence, etc. Salvation has been the subject of much deliberation among humans for millennia.

Salvation, however, is an interesting concept—with far more information to it than humans, or angels, are aware. For a rudimentary understanding, at the most basic level the universe is composed of two substances—physical matter and cognitive matter. In addition, matter—physical or cognitive—cannot be destroyed; it can merely be broken to smaller and smaller forms, or the pieces can come together to create new, or change old, forms. What is called the universe—the whole vast expanse of space and the matter that resides within—was not created. Matter has simply always existed, erupting and collapsing in enormously long episodes—not too unlike the Hindu's cycle of creation.

Gravity is the will of matter to be joined together—call it a natural attraction—and that force applies to cognitive matter the same as it does the physical. When gravity has re-collected all the matter in the universe and the resultant explosion causes all the physical matter to start expanding outward again, so, too, does the cognitive matter.

Cognitive matter is that which is capable of intellectual reasoning, memory, sense, and will. This matter—though not tangible to humans—superimposes itself like a shadow, or aura, upon the physical matter it chooses. This is, most commonly, referred to as the soul.

Though it is quite a bit more complicated, a simplistic analogy would be to think of cognitive matter like the human operator that climbs into the cockpit of a sophisticated piece of machinery. The machine, though capable of performing a great many functions, remains motionless and dead without its operator. It is also requisite for the human to gather parts in order to build the machine. This cognitive matter, when condensed to form a being, acts in the way Thomas Aquinas describes the soul. That is to say the soul is the primary organizing principle of the body, that which drives the assemblage of biochemical elements to form a body capable of interacting with its physical environment. Were that soul to travel to a planet, galaxy, realm, what have you, where the basis for life was silicone—not carbon—it would simply gather the necessary local materials and organize, for itself, a machine in which to operate. This is how the term soul is to be understood.

Typically, by the time enough cognitive matter has come together to form one of these original souls, the matter in the universe is well spread but still in the early stages of expansion. The first beings that coalesce and evolve from cognitive matter—to form conscious, self-aware souls—tend to steer the rest of the matter within their reach to being fashioned in the manner in which they desire. Of course, gravity is still ultimately in control, but these beings are able to take quite a few compositional liberties.

To further truncate and summarize—in order to impart the pertinence of this information in regards to Earth—it is sufficient to say there is a hierarchy to the universe not dissimilar to that which exists on Earth. Older beings shape and manipulate cognitive matter into younger beings. Those younger beings are given a portion of their creators’ dominion with which to interact and to shape, and so on, and so on.

Indeed, the manner in which human civilization has come to order itself is no accident. From the order of operations and respect within familial groupings to the hierarchical order of society, humans are inundated with a doctrine of understanding. It is an understanding that there are ranks (subordinates, peers, superiors) of authority to everything—each demanding the appropriate level of respect and obedience. This is true not only in human interaction but in nature as well. This is a state imposed by the higher, universal blueprint—and more directly, by the being who created Earth.

So you see, Earth is a microcosm for life in the universe; it is a training ground for teaching newly formed conscious souls how to be responsible citizens of the universe. Look at the havoc an infant or two year old can wreak upon a household. Look at people, not willing to love one another, devising evermore vicious and clever ways of killing each other. Look at people, unwilling to shed their selfish desires, pillaging and hoarding resources at the cost of millions of lives. These are not the type of beings anyone would want operating at a universal scale. This is why they are trained in a form that can do no damage to the landscape of the universe as a whole.

All this is to say humans are infant offspring—so to speak—of an evolved being laid within a hierarchy of order. And, if they learn and grow appropriately, they, too, will evolve to the point of being able to orchestrate matter as they see fit in their little part of the universe.

Since we are speaking of Earth, we will refer to its creator by the most common name her inhabitants have taken to calling him—God.

God is one of the earliest souls to have formed in this cycle of the universe. His domain is vast, and he is liege to countless vassal souls operating throughout the universe. God did create Earth as a nursery, and, though he has elevated several souls from Earth to higher beings, he is currently unwilling to do so because of the conflict taking place there. The system of nurturing souls he set up does not so much have rules; it more relies on the impression a soul makes upon him, and currently things have gotten out of hand.

To explain, God’s idea was fairly simple. A soul experiences the Earth in a few lesser forms for a period, to get used to physical interaction—tree, fish, dog, etc. Then, would be imbued upon a human body; taught to understand the order of things; taught to be kind, loving, and respectful; elevated to the rank of angel, to spend some time helping guide others through whispered encouragement; enlightened as to the true nature of Earth, and her role; and then allowed to reign over its own piece of the universe. If one has not been properly enlightened upon the death of their physical body, they would be afforded as many attempts as needed.

God had interjected now and again to impart his desire and guidance to the humans. Unfortunately, each time he did—though the message would stay pure for a bit—it wasn’t long before a level of fanaticism spawned the creation of a codified religion—with all the rigidity and absolutism that they entail. One of the greater ironies being that the souls inhabiting Earth have taken to killing one another over whose message of love, kindness, and mercy is correct or more accurate.

As it turns out, one in no way requires religion to achieve God’s reward in the end; religion can serve a purpose and can be very useful to the masses—but it is not necessarily required. However, God never told this to the humans or angels. To be fair he wanted the souls’ development to be as natural as possible, so he could trust that the understanding was valid.

The situation that intrigues God now is twofold. The souls seem to have stagnated; they are not progressing. Most have already gone through their phases as lesser beings and are now repeating cycles in human bodies—hence the population growth on Earth. Furthermore, the angels—apparently out of frustration—have begun taking far too active of a role in the physical world. This has hindered their possible progression as well.

Jason Anderson is one of the individuals involved in instigating this new Crusade. In regards to the mortal world, he is now the principal architect. He has been contacted by an angel and endowed with permanent use of its powers.

He is now capable of superhuman feats; what he is not aware of is that it is not really him performing any of the extraordinary acts. He is being shadowed by the angel. He cannot see the ethereal, non-corporeal figure following him. When he grabs a car and hurls it into the air, he simply believes he has channeled the power of the angel. He does not realize it is actually the angel, directly, who is doing the hefting.

The angel Gideon has chosen this fallen individual, because, by his account, the man has no hope for salvation. Gideon has declared him a Son of Perdition.

(End of prologue)

Monday, September 10, 2012

The City: In Dialogue (Prologue)

Prologue: The Founders

“Are you nervous because you haven’t seen your brother in such a long time?” my wife said in a lovingly reassuring manner.

“No,” I shrugged, but continued, “I’m nervous because I am not sure he’ll be interested in my proposal. And, if he’s not, then this will have all been for nothing.”

“You don’t have to give up on your dream, if your brother doesn’t agree,” she encouraged. “You’ve done so much work, and you have other options.”

“No,” I barked, much more severely than I had intended. “Doing this is going to be near to impossible,” I continued, steadying and lowering my tone. “If I don’t have someone I trust implicitly helping me run it, it will never work.”

“I wish I could be that person for you in this,” she said while maneuvering around to my back, placing her arms around my chest, “but I just don’t have what it takes.”

“Are you kidding me?” I chortled. “You’ve been phenomenal! It’s just that I’m going to need someone with his experience and abilities. Not only that, but I’ll need someone who can be adamant about disagreeing with me when necessary, and I don’t want that to be you. You are the wind in my sails. And though we have disagreements at times, this project is going to cause issues of staggering proportions.”

“I know,” she soothed, “and I’ll be right there by your side the whole time.” She smiled lovingly and looked into my eyes.


My wife and I stood in the airport terminal, waiting for the jet to open its door and release its passenger.

“I don’t know how I’m going to handle it, if he does not agree to do this with me,” I confided to her.

Slightly wedging her arm in between my own and my chest, she answered my doubt by saying, “Well you should prepare yourself for that eventuality, because it is an awfully risky venture, and it’s not as if you two have ever been very close.”

This did not comfort me in the manner I believe she intended.

“Just because my brother has always been the typical close tied, family guy does not mean he’s ever held the fact that I am not against me,” I responded. “He knows I love him and that we’ve always had a special connection. Albeit not like most others, to be sure, but he knows.” The last was said more for myself.

“I hope so,” she offered.

“Whether he participates in this or not, nothing between us is going to change,” I followed quickly.

“You say that now,” she said, a little more doubtful than I would have liked.

“I know, I know. Things are going to change, aren’t they?” I conceded. “I guess I just meant if he doesn’t join in, most likely, nothing of mine and his relationship will change.”

“Well that’s probably true,” she chuckled. “The two of you hardly ever see each other, as it is, now,” she smiled, and gave me a loving poke.

“Really,” I smiled, “Now?”

“I’m just playing,” she smiled. “I am certain he’s going to say yes.”

“Well, I guess we’re about to find out,” I patted her cradled hand, “here he comes now.”


Once my brother and I were relaxing comfortably in the living room of his hotel suite, he decided to up the ante of the conversation.

“Alright, so what’s this all about?” he inquired. “You and Carol were pretty tight lipped on the ride from the airport.”

“What are you talking about? We all chatted the whole way here,” I feigned innocence.

“Yeah,” he scoffed “I’m not saying you both weren’t pleasant and chatty; I’m saying you both changed the subject with dubious skill whenever I tried to ask anything about why you so urgently brought me up here.” Pausing, he looked around and changed his tone entirely, “Speaking of which, why are we up here? And how, for that matter, could you afford to bring me here on a private jet?”

“I’m sorry. Was it not as nice as yours?” I said in jest.

“Come on, you know that’s not what I meant,” he laughed back. “Seriously though man, you’re a professor,” he proceeded more seriously. “Cryptic phone calls, urgent trips—on private jets, no less—what is going on David? You’re starting to scare me.”

“Okay, okay. Don’t be scared,” I assured. “It’s not the time for that yet.”

“Yet,” his eyes widened, “is that supposed to ease my concerns right now?”

“Nope,” I asserted, “I very much meant it; there will be plenty of occasions to be scared in the near future.”

“This is not helping David,” he said, crossing his arms.

“Thomas, I want you to listen to—and consider, with all seriousness—the proposal I am about to put to you,” my tone was finally serious enough to appease him. “It is going to sound like a joke—and a completely absurd one at that—but I assure you, it is not.”

“I figured as much,” he acknowledged. “You’ve got my attention. Now tell me what’s going on.”

“I want you to help me start a new country based around one ideal city—just like dad had always talked about, but with quite a few more of the details worked out,” I said, laying it out flat.

“Excuse me?” he queried

“I am, in no way, playing with you right now,” I told him. “We have acquired a significant piece of land in The Provinces, north of here across the border, and we’re going to build a city. We’re going to develop everything from the ground up, and we’re going to follow our principles of community, justice, exploration, and environmental stewardship.” I continued, “And above all, we are going to be a completely sovereign state with no one else’s inefficiency or ignorance to stand in our way.”

There was a long pause.

I started up again, “We have the majority of the plan in place, but I need someone like you to help ensure success.”

There was another pause.

“How, exactly, am I supposed to do that?” he asked.

“Well your business acumen is going to be crucial,” I added immediately. “I mean you did, after all, build a multibillion dollar a year energy company—genuinely from the ground up.” I took a short pause, and then added, “More than that, though, I need you to be my partner in keeping all that this is going to entail under control.”

“Huh!” he snorted. “You’re talking about building a city, and running a country. Exactly what level of control do you think will be able to be maintained?”

“It’s not like men, less capable than us, haven’t been doing this for millennia,” I said, “and we’re going into it far more prepared than any of them ever did—with quite a few more advantages.”

“There’s that hubris I’ve seen in you before,” he said morosely.

“Exactly!” I jumped, pointing a finger at him. “Yet another reason why you’re going to have to be there with me.”

“I can’t do this,” he stood, as if to challenge my finger pointing. “This is ridiculous. You can’t do this! The federal government is never going to let you go; they’re never going to let you do this.”

“They are, and they will,” I challenged right back.

“I don’t understand,” he shrugged his shoulders. “You already have the land? How is any of this possible?”

“Well, it is complicated,” I sat back down to continue explaining, “and I will explain it all to you in detail, but for now it is suffice to say I have spent years putting together a coalition of people who share the same types of values as us. These people want to live in a responsible environment but simply cannot find any place that is willing to support their values.”

He sat down too, with a look of shock on his face.

“Anyway,” I carried on, “many of these people are fairly powerful in different respects. Through their connections—as well as my own—I have been working on brokering a deal with several governments and corporations to make this happen. Here is where you come in.”

“What does that mean?” he said, slightly bewildered.

“You would have to sell your company as part of the deal.”

“What!” he was on his feet again. “What do you mean sell my company? How did my company get involved in this? No…wait.” He stopped his newly begun pacing. “Actually, I can’t sell my company,” he tilts his head and furrows his brow, “and you know that—ever since that issue with the federal courts.”

“Yeah, that actually helped quite a bit,” I leaned back into the plush sofa cushions.

“Besides,” he continued, as if he hadn’t heard me, “selling my company won’t fund this little operation of yours. I am legally forbidden from selling my company for any price higher than a thousand dollars.”

“Yeah,” I paused briefly, “you won’t actually be selling your company. You will be signing it over to the federal government. In return, they will be giving five hundred billion dollars in grants to private corporations working on building projects in the city, and they will allow UniCom to donate another five hundred billion to our organization with no tax burden. Then they will take over operations of your company. Plus,” I added, “it was part of the negotiation to get sovereignty.”

“A trillion dollars…Pheeew…Wait a minute! How did UniCom get involved in this?” he barked.

“Listen, I know you don’t like them, but…”

“Of course I don’t like them! You know they…”

“I know, I know. That is neither here, nor there,” I said trying to calm him. “You don’t like them, and they don’t like you—neither does the federal government, for that matter. So let’s take their money and go start our own country! Do you not get the monumentality of this opportunity?”

“Yes, I get it,” he chimed, “but what you’re talking about doing is almost incomprehensible. It is not going to be as easy as you think.”

“Easy! I don’t think it’s going to be easy at all,” I insisted. “In fact, it hasn’t been so far. Besides, nothing meriting the term monumental should be easy. Also, that’s why I want you by my side.”

“Well that figures,” he rolled his eyes and flipped his hands up. “You still didn’t tell me what UniCom has to do with this,” he probed.

“You know what they have to do with this. They want your company, and the federal government wants them to have it,” I said, almost exhausted at that particular issue. “I say you let them have it and build a bigger, better future for even more people.”

“I don’t know about all of that,” he shrugged. “Anyway, this is all moot. Not even a trillion dollars is enough money to do what you’re talking about doing.”

“Oh I’ve got more than a trillion dollars,” I smiled, “four trillion, to be specific, but it’s not like we’re just going to be vacationing up there. We’re going to have industry and agriculture. In fact, we are already set to start manufacturing on five different contracts in two years, and the first crops should start producing yields next spring.”

“Next spring!” he sat down, again. “David, how far along is this thing?”

“Oh, I’d say we’re at least knee deep already,” I chuckled.

“Right,” he pointed at me. “That’s about when you find out whether you’re going to fall on your face or not.”

“Exactly!” I exclaimed hopefully. “That’s why I want you to come with me.”

“Wait a minute,” he puzzled. “How could you have begun the project already? You don’t have the money, or the sovereignty, from me signing over my company—and I haven’t agreed to do this. Don’t you think you might have put the horse before the cart little brother?”

My demeanor got more solemn, “You are not my only option. Within the deal I brokered, I have two other possible options to pull this off. However, I am not going to exercise either of them. I just negotiated them, so they would allow the project to begin. You’re in, or the project stops.” There is a slight pause. “I want you to help me do this. I want you, and Tess, and the kids, to come with us, and we will build a new country from the ground up,” I finished.

“Oh my god!...Tess!...David, how am I supposed to bring this up to my wife—let alone my kids?” he asked, looking off, not really expecting me to answer.

However, after a brief pause, I answered anyway.

“A, your kids won’t care, and B, you shouldn’t let that be a factor in something as important as this anyway. And as far as Tess goes, just ask her the same way I asked you,” I said sincerely.

“Oh! Sure!” he scoffed. “Hey honey, wanna go start a country today? Maybe we can make you queen, or something.”

“First off, uncanny impression,” I said sarcastically, “and second, don’t joke about the whole queen thing,” I said, much more somberly.

“Oh relax,” he scolded. “You know I wasn’t supposing tyranny, or anything of the sort.”

“No, no. It’s not that. It’s just…well…we’ve already got someone in mind for queen,” I shot him a toothy grin, and we both broke into laughter.


As my brother and I sat comfortably, in one of our two larger jets with about forty five other passengers flying to the city, the conversation turned a little sour for my tastes.

“You know, that crack about the kids was wrong,” Thomas stated.

“Hmm… What crack?” I looked over to face my brother, as he was seated on my left.

“About my kids not caring and their opinion not mattering anyway. It was wrong,” he said pointedly.

“To be clear, I didn’t say their opinion didn’t matter,” I consoled. “I said you shouldn’t let it be a factor in something as important as this. And you know, I simply meant that you, as the father, shouldn’t let important decisions be left to the sway of children’s adolescent desires.”

“Yeah, I know what you meant,” he acknowledged, “but sometimes it worries me how quickly terse and callous comments can roll off your tongue.”

In an effort to appease him and get off this subject, I replied, “Believe me, it worries me occasionally too, but you know it’s not meant with any kind of malice, right?” I smiled.

“I do,” he smiled and reached his arm up and around my shoulders.

There was a short pause.

Thomas broke the silence first saying, “So, I thought you said we weren’t going to have an airport.”

“I said we weren’t going to have airlines,” I nudged him with my elbow. “There are certain things that simply require the use of airplanes. I don’t demonize the tool; I demonize its misuse.”

“Sure…sure…So trains huh,” he smacked my knee. “You know the nearest major city is more than two hundred and fifty miles away.”

“Yep,” I nodded.

“Doesn’t that mean it’s going to be a while before we have steady, and reliable, supplies?” he queried.

“Nope,” I shook my head.

There was a long pause.

Eventually both of us smiled at each other.

“Remember that discussion we were just having about you being terse?” he said through a forced smile.

“It rings a bell,” I smirked.

“Well?” he pressed.

“Well what?” I evaded.

“David!” he chuckled.

“Alright, alright,” I said, laughing. “Construction on both the heavy and the high-speed lines started four years ago.”

“Seriously!” he said taken aback. “We’ve got a railroad.”

“Sure do,” I supplied, with a big smile. “State-of-the-art. Mag Levs, even. Cost us a pretty penny.”

“Just one line for each?”

“Technically,” I responded, “but, actually, there are two complete guide-ways for both the heavy and the high-speed; they’re unidirectional paths. None of that pesky shuffling-the-trains-on-a-single-track for us, brother—efficient, efficient, efficient.”

“Wouldn’t it be more efficient to have one guide-way for each, and save the materials?”

“That might be the opinion of some,” I conceded, “but having the double tracks allows one to act as a backup for the other during maintenance or problems, and it makes our scheduling capabilities far more efficient for all the other times.” I paused briefly, but before he could say anything, I added, “Anyway, the last guide-way will be done in three months.”

“Wow,” he said somberly. “Three months, huh. So this is real.”

“Oh it’s real, alright,” I agreed. “Just wait until you see the city so far. Once you do, you’ll sign those papers in a heartbeat and never look back.”


“I am incredibly impressed with how much is already done here, David, but how is this expectation about me setting up and operating the energy distribution supposed to work?” he asked. “It’s not as if I built my company on my own, you know.”

“First off, don’t sell what you did short,” I encouraged, “but in regards to your concern, a clause to help with that was written into the agreement. Of those employees you should choose—and that are willing—you’ll be able to bring one thousand.”

“What!” he said slightly stunned. “I’ll be able to bring a thousand of my employees with me?”


“How is that going to work?” he threw his hands up. “They’re just supposed to uproot their lives and move to the middle of nowhere.”

“No one is going to force them, by any means,” I assured. “Furthermore, don’t you think any of them would be enticed by what we have to offer them?”

“What we have to offer them is foreign, undeveloped, untested, frontier living.”

“Frontier living, you say,” I eyed him brusquely, “with state-of-the-art facilities in every capacity, free healthcare, the most efficient transportation system, guaranteed income, better housing, and safe and secure living.”

“Yeah, but it is in the middle of nowhere, and it is all untested,” he reiterated.

“Thomas, you’ve walk the streets; you’ve seen the facilities. Don’t you think some of them will be interested?”

“Yes, you’re right,” he smiled. “I’m sure some will.”

“So you’re on board!”

“Yes, little brother, I am. Now let’s head back and gather up our families; we’ve got ourselves a country to run.”

(End of prologue)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Six Cities (Prologue)

The Six Cities

The view afforded to me from my vantage point in the large tree I had climbed was admittedly closer than I would have preferred, but the risk was necessary to capture the full field of battle.

The armies of Keep Tholl had gathered to press their challenge of Lithos—one of the six great cities. As foolish as this may seem, given that Lithos was one of the last few vestiges of true magic in the realm, the force Viceroy Ta’al had gathered was unlike any I had ever seen. 

Though I am only in my thirteenth cycle, I have seen more battles than many seasoned warriors. I have always been obsessed with the idea of warfare, and, since my father runs a traveling band of mercenaries, I have had much opportunity to witness the spectacle. Of course, I never got to participate in my father’s endeavors, but I was usually able to find safe places from which to view the battles. This occasion was different, however. 

My father had been contracted by the city of Lithos as back up. This in itself was strange, since my father’s services were usually much more of a frontline effort, but, finally being able to take the whole scene in, I completely understood.

Worry for my safety had left me exiled to our company encampment a day’s paces to the east of the great city—nestled in the low portion of one of the clefts defining two of the many massive mountains that guard the rear and flanks of Lithos. This was fine for the wives and children, but I was nearly a man and—if I do say so myself—a skilled warrior. However, no matter how much training I did with my father and the other men of the company, my father still failed to recognize this fact.

Having left the safety of camp, and hiked closer in towards the city’s magnificent wall—which protruded seamlessly from the mountain encircling the city in its great crescent—I was forced to climb this beastly tree that gnarled its way out of the stone earth to get a proper view. It appears this tree had to fight for every hand (the unit of measure, that is) of its life, and all along its enormous height it bore the scars of that battle. The large crack in the stone base from which the tree had grown was dark and seemed deep. It was clear through observation that the tree had forcibly enlarged the crevice over time—just going to show that stone does not always beat wood. 

After climbing roughly thirty arms high, I had begun to get dizzy—not for lack of faith in the aged tree, for the trunk was still many arms in circumference at the place to which I had climbed, but apparently my eyes take issue with being this high off the ground. However, now—just off to the side of the great city’s perimeter, and well elevated—I had a clear and unobstructed view of the whole theater for the pending battle.

Now, as to why my vantage point gave me cause for concern. Though it did live up to its name—giving me a superior advantage in viewing this battle over anyone else who might be attempting the same, including many of those actually involved in the battle—it also put me much closer to danger than I had ever imagined when I was standing at its base.

Hiking the sparse but healthy woods below, I had no idea what was about to take place. No matter which side won, it was going to be nothing short of a massacre.

On my walk here it was not hard to catch an occasional glance of infantrymen through some of the many gaps in the trees. The invading army had formed ranks in the rolling plains that sprawled out from the city’s front gates. It wasn’t until taking my aerial position that I saw the full scope of said army.

Thousands and thousands of men—each adorned with weapons and armor—fill the plains in columns. There must be a hundred of them for every person I have ever seen in my life. To be honest, I cannot say even roughly how big the army is, because it stretches out over the horizon.

What gives me greater concern for my life at this moment is the multitude of varied siege machines—which, to my knowledge, are more destructive than they are accurate. I am not currently far from their intended target.

Having weighed my options, and seeing that I was going to be no safer scrambling back to the camp, I have decided to stay. Soon I will find out whether my fetish for studying warfare will kill me before ever actually fighting in one.

It doesn’t take an expert to see the odds are unmistakably stacked in favor of the invaders. On the field in front of the wall stands twelve groups of no more than twenty men each—most of whom carry the implements of war. The groups are in rough formations, but nothing like the precision of the Viceroy’s army. The groups are positioned in two rows of six. None of them seemed to include any of my father’s company, but from what I understood he and his men would be inside the gates to repel any breach. This was of great comfort to me now, because I had been told many stories of the impenetrable wall of Lithos—built and protected by magic and composed of the finest stone on the face of Ra’Kaar.

I am able to breathe a little easier knowing my father is safely on the inner side of the wall. Still, it seems strange that Tholl would be willing to brave its army in this fashion unless it was certain of victory. For that matter, this must be every man capable of fighting in the whole fiefdom of Tholl and then some. In fact, the king must be involved in this, because I am now able to make out the colors of at least two other fiefdoms. Why would the king sanction an action such as this? Surely it will do nothing but upset the other magic users of Ra’Kaar. At any rate, I am no longer breathing easy; this is more serious, even, than I had originally imagined. As if intended to break my line of thought, the battle has begun.

For the invaders, the start was unimpressive. Enormous horns were sounded, and the columns of troops began to march in step towards the wall. For Lithos, however, the commencement was awe inspiring.

The few men in each of the twelve groups, who are not dressed for battle as the others, are engaged in a whirl of dancing and gestures—the result of which is hundreds of man-sized posts of earth bursting out of the ground within the ranks. Needless to say, more than a little mayhem is breaking out in the columns. Some men are being thrown high into the air as the earth beneath them explodes to reveal the aforementioned posts. Others are simply slamming into them, being unable to stop before realizing the terrain has changed. Nonetheless, the army proceeds.

This one, seemingly simple, maneuver has me enthralled. Though I’ve seen carnival magicians whose trade is entertainment and illusion, I have never seen actual magic. Until now, all the magic I’ve witnessed can be seen as fraudulent when viewed with a scrutinous eye, but this. This was real magic.

Homing in on one of the central mages, I watch as he begins his performance. His hands twist in a flurry in front of him. His left leg lunges backward placing him in a crouched lunge, and his hands drop and rise in a slow scooping fashion. Now, as his hands begin another round of flourish, I can see a bright line of energy being drawn in the air with the movements of his hands. It is a tangled weave of glowing lines. At the sudden clap of his forward extended hands a large boulder—about the size of a small house—unearths itself from a flanking mountain and is hurled across the battlefield.

Luckily, the branch I am sitting on is broad and firm. Otherwise, at this last action, I surely would have fallen.

As I regain my composure, I can see the invaders picking up speed in their march. Impressive as the mages are, the army is affected very little by the numbers lost.

Paying closer attention to the mages now, I can see each of them are creating those strange glowing drawings with their performances. The final maneuver of each routine results in yet another wonderful feat of earthen magic. At this point, I cannot tell which mage is orchestrating what effect, but the battlefield is getting chaotic.

Currently, the field is dotted with several clay walls approximately six or seven arms long—apparently intended to retard the invader’s charge. A very large group of light cavalry on the army’s right flank is bogged down, franticly trying to work its way out of an even larger area of mud. On the left flank—closest to me, I might add—an impressive sized group of heavy cavalry have found themselves smashed into the bottleneck of two long stone walls that almost join to form a wide V. Some horsemen are slowly making their way through the gap, and some, a very few, are even jumping the wall. However, the melee of horse and man that is ensuing within the V has effectively neutralized the heavy horse threat. All the while, admirable barrages of rocks are heaving themselves at the scattered—but still advancing—columns of infantrymen.

As impressed as I am watching the mages draw their symbols and loose their destruction, I still can’t help but notice movement further back in the army’s ranks. The siege engines are being advanced.

Many of these machines I recognize, but there is something different about them; they are far more mechanically accessorized. Plus, there are so many beasts of burden—many more than just those needed to transport the engines. Catapults, ballistae, trebuchets, battering rams, and siege towers were being moved forward in great number by elephants. Elephants. I have heard stories of these creatures, but…I…wow…so many elephants.

The ballistae were the first to take up placement, but as I said, there is something different about these machines. Instead of simply looking like giant crossbows, these had some sort of large cylindrical assemblage merged to the bottom of each machine, as well as one large wheel—not used for transport—mounted on each side of the weapons. There is a decent sized peg extending out from each wheel.

When the ballistae come to a stop, the two elephants pulling each machine are brought around, one on both sides of their respective ballista. When the signal flags drop… Machines, elephants, and the men operating each of the rigs spring into action. Not being even vaguely able to tell how they were working, the results were unbelievable. As the animal on either side of a machine used its powerful trunk to crank its respective wheel in opposition to its partner the ballistae began firing huge wooden bolts in rapid succession. Hundreds of bolts—each two arms long and at least a hand in diameter—soar through the air right towards the groups of defenders.

Many of the bolts are being slammed off course by sizeable rocks being flung into their path, and a number of rock domes spring out of the earth to give shelter to two or three people each, but this assault kills several men in each of the twelve groups.

There are now several more mages atop the wall; they, too, are motioning full body to construct glowing symbols and committing them into actions.

A few deep fractures have been opened in the ground a hundred, or so, paces in front of the remaining defenders. Boulders are rolling to and fro taking out the occasional siege engine as well as several attackers.

Now the catapults are in place. Again, an elephant flanks both sides of each machine. This time they appear to be harnessed to a shaft protruding low from the side of the catapults. There is also a tall, vertical tube straight off the back of the machines that seem to readily drop a hefty rock into the quick firing catapults each time they’re ready to fire. The flanking beasts are walking back and forth in an oscillating pattern, and every time one of them gets to the front of the catapult a stone is hurled. Given the number of these rigs, the effect is a rain of stones.

Many of the rocks are whipped aside as if by an invisible hand, but still many carry on. This time fewer domes go up, and now the invading troops are in striking distance. Even having been deterred by obstacles and voids, the columns are still mostly well formed, and they persist with ferocity. Waves of men crash forward, and the war machines cease their fire. As the ocean laps at a cliff side, so, too, the invaders seemed to propel themselves up the wall a bit.

Large chunks of earth were turning themselves over, smashing and burying many with each churn, at the base of the wall. A new pattern of the horn is now sounding, and the columns are retreating in a well-formed, controlled manner.

The battering rams are now clearing paths through the obstacles for the teams of creatures pulling the towers, so the only maneuvering they have to do is around the voids in the ground. And, the trebuchets are now firing.

The field is now clear of any defenders; bodies and wreckage are strewn everywhere, and there remains but seven mages on the wall. Now that the accuracy of the siege engines is proving to be fairly good—and I haven’t been in any real danger—I am terrified for my family. My father, of course, is in eminent danger, but, now that the full breadth of this army is visible to me, it is entirely possible the soldiers will raid the company encampment.

With boulders flying overhead, the towers wheeling forward, and the soldiers resting at a ready halt, the ballistae and catapults are advancing to take closer positions. I am stunned. The size and implication of what I am witnessing is sinking in, as is the fact that I am helpless to do anything about it.

The trebuchets, too, are more mechanized than any I had ever seen. There seems to be a double counterweight system; one is used to propel the sling arm, and the other seems to be used to re-hoist the primary weight. The secondary is then re-hoisted by a pair of elephants while the sling is readied for the next shot. A hefty cart loaded with similarly sized boulders is placed by each machine. Two additional elephants are using their trunks and tusks to grab and load stones into each the primed slings. I wouldn’t say it cuts the firing cycle directly in half, but it definitely increases the firing speed.

Without fail, seven of the ten boulders from each barrage are stopped short or hurled to the side. Now my focus is on the mages. So far the boulders that strike the wall are doing minimal damage. The feats of repellant magic in the field, however, have come to a complete stop—as the mages are focusing on repelling the trebuchet assault.

Just as the next salvo is being loosed from the trebuchets, the central mage swoops his hands together to the left and then the right. He makes a high sweeping arc over his head, and then slowly straightens his arms out in front of him. And then, as if it is difficult for him to do so, he squats down—pushing his arms down in their outstretched position. Upon completion of this action, the glowing symbol he had drawn vanishes, and three of the boulders slam straight down to the ground. When they hit, they continue to roll forward killing soldiers and destroying a couple siege engines before they come to a halt. Only one boulder strikes the wall this time.

Trying to pay closer attention to the maneuvers the mages are performing, I fail to notice the rest of the siege engines have reached their new positions and are ready to fire.

A ballista bolt strikes the particular mage I’m concentrating on square in the chest and sends him flying backwards off the wall. A torrent of artillery collides with the city; most of it hitting the wall, but some clears the wall into the city. The last magical act I can see is one of the boulders coming to a dead stop at the apex of its trebuchet’s arc and smashing down to obliterate the machine underneath.

The wall is crumbling in several spots, and where it’s not, the towers are being positioned. All the siege engines are being advanced and the troops are in an all-out charge. The invading army is teeming into the city.

It’s time for me to go. I know I shouldn’t be crying; I have to get out of here. It is all I can do to descend the massive tree. Tears blur my vision as I grope the trunk searching for grips to secure my uninjured escape. Running up into the mountain, with everything my legs will give me, I cannot help but sob over what is surely to happen to my family.

Finally, my panic waning, I stop running. Realizing I am in no immediate danger, I decide to try and circle back through the woods to camp.

While traversing the higher forest, I try to block out the continued sounds of destruction from within the city. For some reason, before—even though it was not an equal engagement—the wretched cacophony didn’t bother my mind nearly as bad. Perhaps that was due to me being fascinated with the displays of magic or the spectacle of improved war machines. Or maybe, it’s because now it’s no longer a battle and solely a massacre.

Even though I had predicted a massacre, I don’t think there is anything I could have done to prepare myself for the sound of it.

Before my hike is over, I hear the siege engines begin the pulverization of Lithos.

My name is Del, and I have born witness to the fall of the first of the six great cities.