41: The Ascended One
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As we approached the city, it became increasingly obvious that the humans of this world had lost more than their land and kingdoms. The technology on display all around us was far beyond that of Anamoor. It was a steampunk enthusiast’s fever dream.

The city had walls, but they had become redundant long before the gods had begun their conflict. Houses spilled out over and around the remaining stretches of wall like a river bursting its banks. Each had fallen to ruin, obviously, but you could still vaguely see how it had all looked before everything went to shit.

It was all obviously primitive by Earth’s modern standards, but it was a far cry from the 1500’s era medieval situation in Anamoor. This was the most readily apparent in the factories that dominated the outer reaches of the huge city.

They were massive buildings made of stone and steel, which over the years had seen countless hardships. Most were in the middle of a slow collapse, while some had fallen over entirely, their vaguely decorative facades littering the streets even as the retaining walls bowed inward.

The architecture of this city was a bit strange to my eyes, because I was expecting it to be all Victorian and stuff. Instead, it was all the steam in steampunk, but the punk part had been replaced with something that looked like a mix of ancient Greek and medieval sub-Saharan. I just couldn’t really place it, and it was doing funny things to my eyes.

As we carefully entered the city limits, that style began to take on a more mediterranean vibe that I recognised from Anamoor. Piles of masonry and twisted steel had once been houses packed together like cattle heading to the slaughterhouse.

We crossed a dry riverbed at one point, avoiding the damaged bridge that appeared to be one misplaced sneeze away from total collapse. As we reached the other side of it, a shudder ran through the ground, more of a subliminal thing than a real vibration, but every single one of us from Earth froze in our tracks.

“You feel that?” Leon asked, glancing around.

I nodded, and when I saw the questioning look from Bassi, I added, “Earthquake.”

“It was too short, too sharp,” Beth whispered, frowning at the ground. She proceeded to kneel and touch her fingers to the dirty, dusty cobbles of the street.

“They happen from time to time,” Bassi said with a shrug, although she didn’t turn to continue leading us into the city.

Jitters too looked confused by our reaction, but neither of them had the same affinity for them as we did. When you grew up in our home country, you learned to judge an earthquake, get a feel for it.

“It felt way too close to the surface,” Victoria whispered.

Beth and Leon both made sounds of agreement, the former of which continued, “It came from behind us too. It was like…”

“It felt like a little slip,” I murmured, trying to capture the memory of the little tremor in my mind’s eye. “I think we should keep going, but definitely keep an eye on how close you are to anything that can fall.”

“You all seem to be very jumpy about earthquakes,” Jitters noted, stepping closer to me. It looked like our worry had affected her a little, judging by the anxious expression.

“We all come from an island nation that is often hit by devastating earthquakes,” I explained to her and Bassi. “We’ve grown up with them, so we sort of have an affinity.”

“What is your gut telling you, then?” my lover asked, deferring to our expertise easily.

“Be careful,” was all I could say. I’d already said my piece about keeping an eye on the surrounding structures.

She nodded, and we continued onwards through the city. As we closed in on the bridge, the ground became less uniform, as though someone had smashed it with a hammer. It was obvious the area had been wracked by seismic activity of some kind, both in the distant past and more recently.

Bassi wanted to find a vantage point to survey the bridge before we committed to it, so rather than head directly for our destination, we instead made for a hill. It was a more affluent district, with the remnants of wide, stately boulevards that had once been lined with trees. Large estates dominated most of the land up there, one of which had what looked like a still intact tower.

As we were heading for the tower, I noticed something odd. There was a statue that remained completely untouched by time and nature. It stood at around ten feet tall, and depicted a naked man, sans any defining features including genitals. On his face was a smooth mask without any holes for eyes. Instead, it held a strange symbol. A diamond with the lower point stretched out, almost like a kite shape, except for the way the lines bowed outward slightly. I approached it warily, curious about it, and crouched to read the inscription on the plinth.

It read, “Blessed is he who was risen as our pinnacle, ascended to power by the will of man.”

“Huh, I wonder who this is,” I mused aloud, prodding it with my foot. It must have been preserved with magic somehow.

Bassi came up beside me and frowned up at the statue. “I have no idea. I’ve seen that symbol in areas of the upper quarter back in Anamoor, though. Some of the richest merchants have it carved into various places as a motif.”

“Odd,” I muttered. The whole statue and symbol thing was engraving itself into my memory, as though I knew it was important but didn’t know why.

My lover’s eyes were searching my face when I looked up, one brow quirked in question. “What are you thinking?”

“It just feels important. We should get going, though,” I told her, smiling and reaching to squeeze her hand.

We did so, approaching the large stone tower with trepidation at first, until we were able to determine that it was structurally sound. If an earthquake had hit and it had fallen on us…

Climbing the tower proved difficult at first, until Kory whipped out his stone magic. He was able to pull up fallen masonry and fuse it all together to construct makeshift stairs. He hastily pointed out that he hadn’t gotten good enough to do it permanently, so we’d have to hurry, at least on the way up.

We discovered the remnants of a greenhouse at the top of the tower, complete with dead plants of exotic varieties that I’d never seen before. All the glass had shattered long ago, though, most of which had even been swept away or gathered into drifts by the wind.

Bassi took a moment at the edge of the tower to close her eyes and breathe deeply, absorbing the wind like it was the scent of a bakery in the early morning. She was so pretty with the wind tugging at her messy braid.

That peace was sadly short-lived, because she opened her eyes and hissed. “The fucking bridge is swarming with monsters.”

When I looked, I saw she was right. They had fortified both ends, and even now small squads of various nasty-looking creatures were traipsing across its length. I could see several Alabaster monsters, the smart ones, directing the flow of their more stupid cousins. There were also a whole ton of monsters I didn’t recognise at all, including some massive wingless dragon looking things.

“Holy shit,” I groaned, rubbing at my eyes and looking again. “How are we meant to get through that?”

“I have no idea,” she said, shaking her head despondently. “There’s no way we’re getting over there. Not with those Alabasters in the way. The more powerful ones will be a match for us.”

“Could we sneak in underneath, use the supports to like, swing across?” Jamie asked, ending a days-long streak of not being in the forefront of my mind for even a moment.

“There aren't any supports we can use,” Bassi said, pointing to the bridge again. “The center of the bridge is held up by those triangular supports at the edges. It’s all very… precarious.”

“Can we make our own bridge?” he asked, hands on hips like he was personally volunteering for a political bridge building photo op.

“Not unless we want the bastards to hear us,” she replied, her tone dismissing his idea harder than her words.

Leaning on an old railing, I gazed down at our foes. “They have hearing that good?”

“Not the Alabasters,” Bassi said. “If you look at the sentry towers they have, there’s grotesque bat things hanging from them. They have excellent hearing, and worse, they’re intelligent. The canyon would funnel any sounds we made right to them.”

“What do we do then?” Leon asked, brows drawn together in worried thought.

Nobody had any answers for him, all we could do was stare forlornly out at the heavily guarded bridge.

The rest of the city was fascinating, and I found myself scanning over it with idle curiosity. There was another rich looking suburb on the other side of the ravine, one that ascended a small hill and culminated in a massive crumbling citadel.

Back on our side of the ravine, down near the old river, I could see a large number of warehouses and the like. I could see where there used to be a lake and a series of docks beyond them, although it had all since drained away. Probably down into the ravine. There were even these big drum-like buildings that— 

“Oh my god,” I exclaimed, bolting upright.

Over to the side, Jamie flailed and jumped back from the edge in surprise. In the process, he sent the railing he’d been leaning on tumbling several dozen feet to the ground. It crashed and clanged at the bottom, causing a massive racket that had Bassi covering her ears.

We all stared down at the railing for several moments in horror. Then, a long, eerie series of howls soared up from the bridge, chilling my blood to sub-zero temperatures.

“Oh, you absolute, irredeemable fool of a Took,” Beth groaned, eliciting a whimpering laugh from the rest of us. We were so fucked.

 

Schedule is going to be wonky for a while. I'm sick and taking things chill for a while.

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