The Brass City

This is a Shifting Realms story, set in the fantasy world of Berlund.

The Brass City
Brass corkscrew towers stand before a snowy mountain range.

Three companions rode down through the lightly forested valley upon the largest and fastest Gargantae ever made. A monstrous fusion of elephant and iron, ten feet tall at the shoulder. Brass armour protected its chest and flanks. Biomantic engines pumped heated gasses into piston-driven legs as they pushed down saplings in their wake.

When the first of the fluted towers of Veccina came into view, Durgan brought the beast to a halt. The light snow on the ground dissolved around the creature’s feet as the trio climbed down.

“This is close enough. I’ll leave you here,” Durgan scowled at the clouded sky.

Moongleam checked the needlegun and handed it to his friend.

“You’re sure this won’t show up when the Lusiors check for weapons?”

Moongleam sighed in exasperation. “I’ve told you fifty damn times. There’s no iron in it! That’s all they check for!”

“I can’t believe they’re so lax…” Durgan grumbled.

Arveline the blue-cloaked witch jumped lightly onto the snow. “Their magma-engines interfere with crystal dynamics and the Wards of Veccina suppress the effects of gunpowder. The Old Man has little fear of assassins without weapons beside poison. This worry is unlike you, Durgan.”

“This is too important. Veccina is the key to the east. Even with the Gargantae, a siege could drag for years!”

Arveline drew a porcelain oval from a velvet sack and exchanged a look with Moongleam.

She brushed a snowflake off Durgan’s shoulder. “You’re sure you’re ready?”

“I have to be.”

She placed the eyeless mask on his face. “You are the Imperator.”

Disguised by the witch’s power, armed with Moongleam’s cunning, Durgan walked down the Bronze Road.

The brass towers of Veccina were the pride of the city, the pinnacle of their clockwork engineering. Forged in the magma-furnaces deep in the heart of the range, cyclopean gears turned and flanges drilled through stone, until the towers breached the mountainside and reached toward the empty sky.

Durgan’s papers secured entrance and his Imperial seal and reputation gained him the promise of a prompt audience, but the journey through tunnels and elevators took hours.

Finally, the upstart Imperator met with the Old Man of Veccina.

Snowy peaks sparkled in the midday sun beneath the great minaret. “These towers grow taller each year, Imperator.” From his brass throne, the Old Man peered at Durgan, seeking to decipher the mystery behind the famous mask of featureless porcelain.

“I have come to demand your surrender. The Graf-Tonek League has rejected your treaty.”

“Your so-called League has overreached.” The Old Man sniffed haughtily. “Bold of you to come here alone, with such contemptible demands.”

“You will submit, or you will die.”

The Old Man began to laugh. He lifted a ringed hand to order his guards forward.

Durgan pulled the needlegun from his jacket. A barrage of thwipp laid his attackers low. “Bone darts, laced with poison. Ingenious, no?”

The Imperator removed his mask.

“You! Impossible!”

“Yes, father. I am pleased you remember. Your assassins failed. I was crippled and broken, yes, but I found friends in the eastern wastes. A real family!”

“You can’t – my legacy… the Wards will protect Veccina.”

The Imperator donned the porcelain mask once more. “With this, I can see the Great Ward Key hangs around your neck! My force of Gargantae stands ready across the White Valley. They will be here in an hour…” He touches the mask. “Arveline? Do you hear me? It is time!”

“I’ll name you heir … please!”

Durgan advanced on the trembling despot. “Old Fool. Here is your legacy!”

The needlegun spat death.