Bad Blood Runs Black - chapter 47 part 1 of 4 by John "Basileus Ioannis"
The sun had set in the west. The cumulus and stratus clouds at a lower altitude turned a deep grey, the ocean below now nearly black. The medium altitude altostratus were a deepening shade of mauve, while wispy cirrus above still shone silvery, increasingly turning ashen to the east.
Suddenly the top of a mass of clouds swirled and parted, as a dark metallic pole jutted up through the vortex, knifing its way through the night sky at tremendous speed. Following the mast, a large rectangular glassy enclosure came into view, a faint greenish light spilling out from the windows. Supporting the structure was a long black neck of stone, as the clouds continued to part way.
Vatishehir cleared the cloud layer, the magic paddle wheels having been stowed. The brick shaped remnants of the ship-city continued rising while picking up speed. Aboard, thousands of High Elves were busying themselves, preparing for combat. Only the dim light escaping the bridge windows was visible, all other exterior lights having been extinguished for dark running.
Mundhelm walked into Flag Plot, now lit by green light stones, and stopped behind one of the crystal set stations. “Are we in range to speak with the capital yet?”
The helmeted operator waved her hands over the smooth two foot diameter gem. “Alfler’vashqenti, this is Vatishehir, do you hear us?” The sphere did not make a sound, nor did any light flash within. The mage repeated her hail. There was a pause, and just as the operator was about to answer the consul in the negative, a faint voice was heard from the set.
The voice from the capital filled Mundhelm with hope. He leaned forward, and spoke, “This is Serrasqer Mundhelm of Vathishehir, you are breaking up. War alert. War alert. Quzayshehir has gone rogue and attacked us. I suspect Viturhimin is heading to the capital with the intent to attack.”
Another pause, then the faint voice said, “...repeat last...say ‘war alert’?...been attacked?”
The consul growled to himself in frustration, then leaned so close to the crystal set that his nose nearly touched the curved surface. “Yes, Viturhimin rammed us with the Quzayshehir, knocking us into the...listen, Quzayshehir may be about to attack the capital! War alert, now! You must stop them!”
“Serras...shal, we appre...but we...mation before...alert. When and...lision occur? So far...is quiet tonight...” Then the crystal spoke no more.
Mundhelm let out his breath in frustration, and clapped his hand over his helmet bubble. “Skibsfoorer, what is our altitude?”
The clear voice of Fugle’rede replied immediately. “Now passing four thousand meters, Serrasqer Bashal.”
“Give me an additional eleven as quickly as you can, there is too much interference...I must talk to the capital!”
“Fifteen thousand meters? Yes, Serrasqer Bashal.” As the Skibbyen changed its climb rate, everyone could feel their weight increase ever so slightly.
Alfler’vashqenti, the capital of the High Porte of the Elven Nation, looked much like any other elfin city, except for its size. The city walls still stood at a radius of a mile and a half from its center, like the other four Skibbyen. But it was so overgrown with tall buildings on either side that the wall itself was hard to make out. Broad avenues and tramways criss-crossed the urban sprawl, and canals ribboned their way throughout. At night, the streetlights and other magical illumination made the metropolis glitter and gleam with multi-colored points of light. Judging by those alone, the grandest of all Skibbyen and its suburbs extended for many miles across, and beyond that would be farms, orchards, and other homesteads.
The central tower stood taller than the Vatishehir’s by a half, and the command center atop it was dish-shaped and significantly larger than the other ship-city’s bridges. Around its periphery sprouted a veritable forest of antennae, metal poles meant to keep the capital’s command staff in contact with every corner of the Elven Nation, and then some. In the middle, the flat roof was clear, to allow flying things to land unobstructed. Small green Continual Light spheres marked the clearing, with red ones fixed atop the tallest masts, and interspersed along the rim and down the corners of the tower itself.
An officer in fine emerald green armor and cloak paced the Alfler’vashqenti’s Flag Plot, as Mundhelm’s urgent message came through, faint but clearly. As on the Vatishehir, this officer spoke to a crystal operator, and asked, “Is that the best amplification we can do? How far are they?”
The mage at the sphere nodded. “Yes Daekleder Bashal, it is at maximum gain. By the signal strength, they must be over two thousand kilometers away.”
“Well, Serrasqer Mundhelm Bashal might not have heard everything we said to him, as he appears to have stopped speaking, but we should pass his warning on to the Ciulthann. Get me the palace.”
So it was that the capital first received word of Viturhimin’s treachery, for Gyneyshehir was already a burning ruin swarming with Drow. Most of the crystal sets capable of warning the capital were located where the explosion of the Vindbruger plant had left the heart of that city a crater. The bombardment of the remaining dwellings prevented privately owned magical communications devices from being used before their owners had to contend with the firestorms, and the Dark Elves after that.
The Skibbyen that had wreaked said havoc on the southern city was now flying at great speed to the northeast, to the coast of the eastern ocean. Several hundred miles ahead in the night lay the eastern ship-city, Doushehir. Despite the Quzayshehir having climbed to its fifty thousand foot cruising altitude, the target lay well over the horizon.
Within its Flag Plot, messages continued to stream in about the destruction they had left behind. Viturhimin took each bit of news with satisfaction. “Very good, Fifth Army has made quick work of the survivors! How many have been captured?”
A staff officer, wearing the round helmet with ear-bubbles common to Skibbyen bridge crews and the creepy white marble statue-like mask with eyeholes this particular crew had donned, was keeping a tally on a chart board. Briefly scanning the figures with an extended finger, the officer turned to the consul and reported. “At last count, over sixteen thousand have been taken alive, Serrasqer Bashal. Of them, about half are fit for use. The others are too old, too young, too injured, too...useless.”
The consul grunted. “Right...those not fit to be slaves are to be disposed of.”
“Yes, Serrasqer Bashal, understood,” said the staff officer with a chuckle. “Eight thousand is a nice haul...still, the children could be winnowed, some might prove useful in a few...”
Viturhimin’s dark glasses glinted as he turned to face the masked officer. “And until the fruit ripens, are we to feed them, care for them? Have you forgotten the crisis below? No, all who are not immediately workable must be put down. That is how they will be of use to the empire.” There was no emotion in his voice, not a hint of hesitation at the slaughter he was sanctioning.
The masked head bowed to the consul. “Of course, Serrasqer Bashal.” The officer touched the bubble on his helmet and spoke to thin air in the Drow dialect. “Maan Jahaaj to Paanch’ven Seena, process the usables, and provender the rest.” He paused as he heard a reply, then answered coolly, “Yes, all of them. Maan Jahaaj out.”
In the ruins of Gyneyshehir, Drow Fifth Army had set up its headquarters immediately outside one of the city gates. Just on the other side of the city wall, fires continued to crackle among the few buildings that were near the edge of the city. A large tent had been erected, and numerous Drow guards in full armor holding spears, hand crossbows in holsters at their hip, stood watch. Their glowing pupils darted to and fro within the round eyeholes in their masks, watching out for interlopers that did not appear.
Within, Seena’patni Vijya Durandesh stood in her black battle armor, her arms crossed, long silvery mane draped down her back like a cape. Her sable face and long pointed ears were the only exposed skin, and a sturdy looking diadem adorned her hair. She had an intense expression on her face, the gaze from her narrowed garnet eyes fixed on a map spread on a folding metal table. “So, Maan Jahaaj has ordered that half our captives be slain...for food?”
Her aide-de-camp, Ang’raqshaq Radica Durandesh stood in a similar pose, but having shifted her weight onto one leg. “Yes, serra. Those not fit for service immediately are to be cut up. We can use the slaves to carry it all down.” The second in command could have been a twin in the eyes of a non-Drow, but she stood a bit shorter than her superior, and her hair was braided in a long ponytail. On her purple colored lips was a smirk. Apparently she did not care one whit about executing thousands of captives, or their remains being consumed.
The general bared her teeth as she spoke. “You know that I find the concept of eating sentient beings repulsive, Radica. Maan Jahaaj may be overall commander, but it is I who leads the ground component. The disposition of the captives will be MY decision to make, not that...surface dwelling Vish’tha.” She spat out the last phrase with discernible contempt.
The aide-de-camp smiled broadly, closing her eyes in mirth. “Now, now, sister. Commander he may be, but you know his true nature. This operation would not be possible without his participation, and has been a long time in planning and preparing. Tonight, the balance of power will shift in the favor of the children of Lolth...this night, we shall have our revenge!” She raised a fist up in front of her breastplate and shook it with enthusiasm.
Vijya sighed. “Yes...at long last, we overthrow the supremacy of the ‘High’ Elves. While they dwelt in the forests, it would have been impossible to unseat them in one fell blow...patiently we waited while they abandoned their dispersed abodes and coalesced in their ship-cities. Now all but a handful are easy prey, ripe for the taking.” The general uncrossed her arms, and pointed a metal-clad finger at her aide. “I will not have the young slain. Do what you will with the old and infirm, but the children are mine.”
“And what will you do with them?” asked Radica, opening her eyes. “You know the Empress favors the tenderest morsels. Ahhh...are you planning to make a gift of them? Alive, they will be freshest. Such a gift would put House Durandesh in very good standing, perhaps even threatening the mighty House Isht’vahlee! Am I right?” Her eyes gleamed with apparent glee as she narrowed them.
“What? Yes, a...gift...yes, the children are not to be harmed in any way. Have them secured and brought here to the command post, we will take them to our holdings ourselves.” Vijya waved a hand at her sister dismissively.
“As you wish, serra,” said the aide-de-camp, bowing. She straightened and strode out of the command tent, tossing her hair before donning her war helm with one hand.
The general stood still until Radica left the tent, leaving her alone with her thoughts. She slowly began pacing around the table. It’ll be a cold day in the Hells that I give the Empress a ‘gift’ short of my boot up her imperial ass! The Durandesh do not need to play favorites with the cursed Isht’vahlee...they will be getting theirs soon enough. Oh sister, you’re such a fool...there is no currying favor with the Empress. You do as you are told, and nothing else, lest you end up as our allies House Pahnjahb did. In eliminating them, the Empress made certain the Durandesh would never gain enough influence to threaten the Imperial House again. The witch... She clenched her gauntlets into fists at her side.
Amid the flaming ruins, dark shapes went about, methodically collecting captives. Where any resistance was met, the Drow warriors quickly took them down with hand crossbow darts. The missiles were dipped in the Dark Elves’ specialty, a knock-out poison that would lay most out for the count. Once subdued, such belligerents would be disarmed, searched, and have their hands bound behind their backs, their eyes and mouths likewise covered with strips of cloth to prevent spell-casting. The unconscious but healthy were rudely piled onto carts pulled by those High Elves who did not resist. Guards with whips harried the long lines of slaves as they stumbled and staggered out the city gates.
But not all pale-skinned elves were resisters or captives, yet. Peering out from within a space under a pile of debris deposited against a burning building were two eyes without red pupils. They were children, not yet adolescents, a boy and a girl. They shivered from fright, as many feet walked past their hideout.
The girl began coughing, as the boy shushed her. He whispered, “Quiet, Miqa...they will hear you.”
“I am sorry brother...*cough*...the smoke and dust...” she replied meekly.
“Shhh...we have to stay hidden until we can make a break for it.”
“But Kayl, where will we go? What about Mor and Far?”
The boy shook his head. “We are on our own...if they live, the Nightskins must have them.”
Miqa whimpered. “What will we do? Everything is burned, the bad guys are everywhere...”
“We wait...when the coast is clear, we will leave the city, go to Bedstemor’s house...”
In a blink of an eye, two black hands reached into the hideout and yanked out Miqa and Kayl by their hair. The children screamed in surprise and pain, their legs kicking. The hands mercifully put them down on their feet, but did not release their hair.
“What have we here?” said a scratchy female voice in a mocking tone. “A couple more brats for the larders? My you look tasty...” The Dark Elf leaned in right up to the children’s faces, and licked Kayl’s cheek with a purple tongue.
The boy squirmed, his eyes squinted in disgust. He said defiantly, “You stink!” As he flailed at her with balled fists, the Drow deftly dodged the blows and held him at arm’s length.
Not phased by the thrashing or the insult, Radica chuckled at the futile attempt. “What energetic little morsels you are! Too bad, my sister has other plans for you. Here, take these two to the Seena’patni...and they are not to be harmed.” She shoved the two youngsters toward waiting Drow soldiers, finally releasing their hair.
Kayl yelled to Miqa, “Now, sister!” and the two bolted towards the city gates nearby. But before they got more than two paces, strong metal-clad arms scooped them up and tossed them into a large burlap bag, tied it up, and threw them onto a cart. Their muffled cries were drowned out by the moans of the other captives, the yelling of their whip-wielding guards, and the occasional roar of a collapsing ruined dwelling. The conquest of Gyneyshehir was nearly complete.