The Fifth Age
Context of The Fifth Age
The Fifth Age is part four of my science fiction story Fire and Night. I write a piece of this story every August, an image and accompanying text per day. The pace is fast, so the images and the text are quite raw. That’s how it should be. The first part of the full story is about the imperial war, also called Fire and Night, about Denali and the crucial actions he took in the final days of the conflict. The second part, The Fate of Kehema, is about a fate of a world that suffered during the early days of the great war, some 4000 years ago, and the heroic actions of Kehema to save a people. Part three is Cantessa’s Gift, in which Cantessa, daughter of Denali survives the persecution of Denali’s enemies. What you are reading now is part four, in which a crashed ship in part three plays an important roll in the liberation of the world Kehema once saved 4000 years ago. As the full Fire and Night story progresses, each individual story becomes increasingly interwoven into the others. All images were created on my phone(s), using various Android and iPhone apps. I have made an effort to vary their format, while also holding strictly to yellow, orange and red color schemes. Where I deviate from these, green has been the preferred color.
The Fifth Age
They came with water, which meant peace for us. For even when we greet one another in kindness we say, “Are you thirsty?” So began the Fourth Age.
The times of the first age, of ships in the sky, of flowing waters, are now all but forgotten. They were followed by fire and the age of human kindness, a time of war and blood. What remains of these days is contained only in the earned strivings of our genetic memory, the rubble of ruins, and in the rare treasure of books now held in equal esteem to water. It was in those days of loss that Kehema arrived and bestowed herself on our people. Somewhere in the starry realms of the sky whirls our sister sphere, a world of winter and civilization. Of all that was lost of our past, even our genetic history was rewritten, so that we are now bound to the fate of that other world through Kehema. We look even now to the hour of contact.
The third age was long and difficult. The climb from devastation was marked by many hard falls, upheavals and rebellions. Queens and kings, and with them dynasties and kingdoms, women and men, rose and fell like the ebbflow of dreaming tides.
If the second age ended in fire and the fight of all against all, the third age was of three kingdoms, the many against the many. We should not lose heart that war seemingly expanded in intensity. Though the conflicts were greater and many lost hope in the love of the people, the distant eye will see that war widened only because it had nowhere else to go. The spheres of peace too continued to widen, until at last, just as in the first age, they were stretched so far as to push the forces of war offworld and into the shadow of history.
At least this trend kept apace until the arrival of the Baron, ushering in a time of enslavement and the scattering of our people among the stars. The Fifth Age begins with our liberation.
Our people knew of him only as the Baron. That was all his servants ever called him before us. Though I never witnessed this creature, I shudder at every recounting of his description and know that only evil can ever come from him.
His servants were offworlders come with water to Larcanth, so that the city’s leaders soon stooped to ingratiate themselves before these powerful alien allies. Rising in power, in a generation Larcanth became a strong rival to Yinjil. Power shifted. In response, the kings of Yinjil tightened their power over the supply of water and industrial production.
Larcancth increased its raids on the city of steam with improved success until a change occurred; it was some 200 suns ago that the Larcanth tribes raided for people rather than water and machines. The Baron’s slave trade had begun.
They came one ship at a time. Tall and metallic towers that gathered up captives to be sold at market to other worlds.
Kulani was the betrayer’s name. Some 200 suns since, she was taken up as a slave while just a child. Very little is known of her history but that she was highly intelligent, cunning, and powerful in her attributes of mind, both as a reader and projector. She early worked in the space mines of another system, worked her way up through ranks, transfered hands numerous times until she stood at the side of the Baron himself.
The Baron was swayed in his feelings for this fellow cyborg, and made a mistake in calling her regularly by her own name. She began to defy his will. Their affections turned to animosity and her rivalry thwarted many of his plans.
Yet her betrayal was not to him. She escaped his grasp, commandeered and stole a battle cruiser from one of the Baron’s closest clients, and about 160 cycles ago, moved with a number of rebel allies into orbit around our world. The betrayal? She did not defend us from enslavement. She took it from out of the hands of the baron, so that our shackles became all the more bitter.
Larcanth had become a place of forgotten treasures. Hidden in the rubble of the last city of the First Age were all manner of secrets and lost knowledge. Science and religion, philosophy and art, the writings and stories of past civilizations. Politically, they had developed a tribal form of group elections, after the remnants of the Estati united the tribes under the banner of dragon bones. They traded knowledge during times of peace.
Yinjil was a tower of steam, a solitary mesa in the desert, the core of a dormant volcano, which overlooked the great precipice they say was once the deep sea. The fortress of stone waved upon its highest peak the flag of Etela. Theirs was a city of steam power, mining, industry and mechanical invention. This was a nation of kings. In times of peace they traded industrial works, especially of steam power, and to Larcanth they traded the indentured labor of minor criminals.
Karakon, isolated in the desert and subterranean, and following the pure line of Kehema, developed a high and separate ethical culture and remained the keepers of the Karakon dragons. They traded in water, agriculture and to some extent in aquaculture. Numerous stilt outposts had long since been built throughout the desert, above the dunes to ease transport by foot. We were taught that the Karakon flag was a character from off world, from Kehema’s very home, meaning life.
The relationship between the three kingdoms was always fragile after the passing of the first dynasty of Karakon, when the line of queens failed. The first King of Karakon, Solunia I, ascended the throne as an open rival to Yinjil. The dragon male was not gifted to the Yinjil heir, thus ending hundreds of years of good faith and the dragon riders’ dependency on the city of industry.
When the slavers came over from Larcanth, all peaceful relations ended, and the three kingdoms have fought one another since. And though Karakon had gifted Yinjil with a dragon hatchling of recent, as was tradition so long ago, all was not well between them.
They ran deep. Metals, minerals and water vapor were all harvested from down within the mountain. I was a miner back then, and I remember with clarity the oppressive heat, the horrible air that we daily endured. In those times, the elders and the king too had become oppressive. Water was rationed, wages were cut, and the work was stretched. It was common to steal water to survive, to establish and maintain alliances with fellow miners. We lived on the scraps of power. I was a good thief and so, had gained the loyalty of many hard pressed workers. When I got caught, they made a harsh example of me, the scars of which, like the mines, run deep.
I endured public torture for the crime of water theft. Several suns would pass, then they would again assault me before my team of workers. It was a cruel message those in power were communicating. Dissent would be crushed. When the master guards had made their point they threw me into a cold and damp cell hollowed out somewhere deep in the mines, there to await judgement before the tribunal. I knew not whether I would be executed or sold.
Time passed, and at last I was sentenced. I was to be sold to the Estati in Larcanth along with so many others who, we knew, were meant to stave the desire for more slaves and power. Larcanth would raid Yinjil no matter, but this tax in lives was the price to reduce the frequency of attacks.
I would in all likelihood be sold to the slave traders of Kulani, to be transported off world to unknown fate. I dreaded the future. It was a shackle on possibility.
On the road to Larcanth, in shackles real and imagined, I looked south beyond forgotten ruins to the deserts of Karakon, those impassable dunes. What I wouldn’t give to see that now dormant kingdom of the desert rise up on its wings again and right the wrongs of our age!
I was delivered into the hands of the slavers. But a life of slavery among the stars was not my fate. On the eve of my transport, a great battle erupted in the skies over our world. Fire and rays of energy flashed in the blazing air above us. In a panic, the slavers of Larcanth, some of whom were themselves off worlders, scrambled to take flight without us in support of Kulani and her fighters. In their disarray, I fled.
My hands were still in shackles, but my future was not. I escaped, as did a number of others, and we were scattered into the ruins of Larcanth to hide like wild and solitary beasts. As I hid immediately after my escape, I watched in the sky as a singular ship came crashing down into the atmosphere to fade in the desert to the south. I am certain that at that moment, all eyes in the three kingdoms were fixed on it as was I.
Though I was not a witness of the ship, I have since heard an account of it. The ship was nothing but unusual. We know now that it was a fighter ship in the imperial fleet of those who dominate the stars. We know it was part of an assault on Kulani and her denizens. More importantly, we know it was piloted by one of our own!
The ship had crashed deep in the desert of Karakon, even the remote southern borders of heat and fire, where only the most rugged scouts serve in the outpost that explore remote regions. And it was just such a scout, Etesh was his name, who, seeing the crash, packed his gear and marched straight into the desert to the wreckage. What he found, bless him, played a part in the liberation of our world.
Etesh, according to accounts, had become increasingly disillusioned in the tragic fate of the Moltec. He was a dragon rider of renown, having fought many battles in the war of unlawful kings. Many dragons and riders lost their lives by his side in that horrible war. His greatest test, which he passed nobly, was in representing Karakon at the negotiation table. The losses he and Karakon had endured, and the concessions made to the illegitimate king of Yinjil were his greatest trial. When it was finished, he requested solitude in service on the southern deserts.
His last prayer before leaving was that, out there on his own, he might discover the secret of salvation for his people. The day of the battle in the sky he spoke aloud to the desert, “does my ear hear beyond the thunder of war the voice of Kehema ride these winds?”
Though he was old, Etesh marched a full night and a day, and yet another night still to reach the wreckage. Once there, he discovered a ship of superior design. Were it whole, it would have been smooth to the touch, seamless and sturdy. That it survived such a crash so well intact spoke of the strength of the structure.
The smoke had dissipated by the time he arrived. Peering through the fractured shell, he discovered the broken body of the pilot, a young Moltec man, strapped into a suspended harness. Aside both his hands sat two dark platforms projecting out from the inner walls. Etesh stretched his arm into the pilot’s chamber, when his hand came near the left console. It sensed his presence and responded by switching on, glowing with the data of another world. Touching the surface with his fingers, he indeed heard the voice of a woman. She was speaking his own tongue.
I must return to my own part in events, for while Etesh was trekking towards the wreckage of the fighter, I was hiding for my survival in Larcanth. The city had become more populous during the age, and a trade in water, slaves and limited technology had made the city wealthy. This wealth was unearned and were the forces of Kulani to withdraw, the city would plummet again into barbarism. It’s organized soldiers meant that I must move only by night to eat and drink.
Three nights after the crash, while scavenging, the ground I was on gave way beneath me, and I fell through the ceiling of an old and seemingly forgotten building.
“That too will need fixing. And I suppose you’re going to fix it,” were his first words to me, a bit in frustration. When I recovered he spoke again. “Nenuan, son of Ekasha, I am called, King of Yinjil, the tower of smoke, at your service. Are you injured from the fall?”
I was not, as I had fallen on cushioned and air filled balloons, as well as a bit of trash. After the drop, however, I was uncertain if I heard him right. I greeted him, “Ishtala, they call me.”
He showed some signs that his mind had become feeble while his fidgeting hands and faded eyes revealed only age. After the initial proclamation of his title, he adopted a more familiar stance of someone mad who assumes you are comforted by his eccentricities.
Still, he was a strong story teller, speaking in a constant drone I was not accustomed to of past ages and heroes. Yet I listened, because he offered me food and drink, and there was admittedly something compelling about the histories he so intimately knew.
At last I interrupted him, in both doubt and belief, “and you say you are truly the exiled king?”
His eyes brightened and he grinned. “Indeed, I am.”
“The Karakon, dragons of the desert, are a noble creature. Nobler than kings. I am but a man. They have one weakness though, and it is the same as our own.
“As you well know, Karakon the Male is chained in the palace of Yinjil. After the war was won and lost, the dragon, a concession rather than a gift, was shackled while still a pup by that moltica imposter. As a hatchling, he could not possibly break his chains. He tried many times, I am certain, like we all do to free ourselves of our various prisons. But he inevitably gave up against the unbreakable steel, having grown tired of continuous loss.
“That dragon is now a full grown male, though. There is not a chain of any kind we can yet forge in this world that he cannot break. None! But you see, his will is now broken, and as an adult he refuses to try. So the prison, the shackle, is really in his own mind.
“But oh! it is a very real shackle indeed!
“The same is our own fate. I am certain we can break free. But there is no longer any will to do so.
“Of course, being chained, the brood over which he holds sway, is flightless so long as he is shackled. It was always a great sign of trust, the most beautiful of peace, to entrust the male to the kings of Yinjil. Karakon, the whole kingdom, is grounded. Were the male to free itself, the dragon riders of Karakon would once again take flight. No chain could possibly stop them. But you see, we have lost hope. I too have lost hope. The shackle is in my own mind, even the king, you see!
“So it is.”
I woke to the tinkering sounds of tools and swearing complaint. This self proclaimed king was working on some large and remarkable contraption. Royalty or not, I felt at the time that he had a deep understanding of mechanics and invention.
“Ah, you are awake. Just let me finish working on this and we can sit down to eat.”
“What is it?”
“It is to be a keel,” he said with emphasis. “You probably don’t know that word.”
“Thousands of years ago, before Kehema, before the days of fire and human kindness, there was water everywhere, even beyond the horizon. Enough to fill the great chasm beyond the croplands of Yinjil and the ruins of Tarn.
“In that time we had boats, ships that sailed these water. Every boat driven by nature had two sails, one for the wind and one for the water.” He paused to think out a simply explanation. “The difference in pressure on the two, with wind upon the sail, water round the keel, drove these boats forward under the pilot’s control.
“Now were we to put sails on a balloon, we’d drift whichever way the wind will us. But I so happen to have a map of the railways between Larcanth and the cities of what was once the coast. They pass by Yinjil on its southern side. They are covered now in a thousand years of dust, but they will be my keel. The wind and earth… ”
I interrupted. “Where is this boat?”
He lifted a finger, walked to the wall and began turning a crank. Large doors with metallic sound began to open into another chamber similar to the one we were in. There it stood, mounted and filled with air, the structure and balloon of an airship!
“This, friend, is Oraccio’s Child, the offspring of Oraccio, the first windship of the first age.”
Just days after the battle fought in our skies, numerous slaver ships arrived in Larcanth. I remember the roar of their engines as they landed in this blatant show of force. Nenuan turned an eye of sober concern. The mad light in his eyes was gone when he spoke slowly, “I fear this display of power is merely an act of desperation. They must replenish their numbers.”
There was a knock at the door. Beyond it was the tunnel that led to a hidden entrance above ground. Nenuan looked through an eyepiece, then opened the door carefully to a man who looked extremely hurried. They exchanged words, then he gave Nenuan several large bags full of water rations, food and sundry materials. Nenuan then gave him a single book in exchange. He glanced at me on receiving it, whereupon Nenuan answered, “It is alright. He is my assistant. Ishtala, as he is known.”
When the man left, the king turned to me and explained. “Some men can read, but they must do so in secret, for only the slave masters are allowed knowledge. Can you read?”
“That’s unfortunate. I will have to teach you. And to write.”
I nodded. With gratitude. Then he went on, “the slavers of Kulani have stopped all supply lines and are preventing any return to Yinjil. They are planning a coordinated raid on the tower of smoke, one in extent we have never seen. It is as I feared.”
“I don’t understand. Why not just enslave Larcanth? Or attack Yinjil directly?”
“Better to lose a Larcanthine life than their own, no doubt. And should they enslave Larcanth, their system of suppliers and middlemen chieftains would end, and again they would be forced to attack Yinjil. They need a steady supply, and either of those plans would make a mess of it. The tower of smoke will become suspicious on the third day, when the merchant caravans fail to return. Maybe longer if the weather turns for the worse. It may turn for the worse tonight. Larcanth will arrive and attack with their war machines before Yinjil can prepare, so we must act quickly.”
“And do what?”
“Warn them,” he spoke, as he busied himself in diagrams and charts.
He grinned as he looked down at his maps. “Until Oraccio’s Child sails, I will remain but a madman, no?”
The weather had turned, and the winds of the desert blew up a torrent of sand. Yinjil would assume the caravans would not return for at least another four days. At Larcanth, the armies assembled to prepare for war. This was a raid like no other. The slavers were granting the armies engines of war, faster than any steed, and the heads of squadrons light-rifles and armor from offworld. They were preparing to force the Yinjil defenders and populace, through the might of their weaponry, out of the ramparts and into the hands of slaver ships.
The door again knocked at Nenuan’s hideaway. He was given but a single sealed flask filled with a yellow liquid.
“You know I can offer only books for…”
“I know what you intend to do, your majesty. This will repay itself, and I would pay for it with my life if I must. Larcanth marches tonight!”
For centuries after the founding of Yinjil, we relied almost exclusively on steam power. Other means of energy were scarce, and the wars we fought, while they depleted our resources, only advanced our invention of weaponry to a limited degree. With the expansion of mining technologies some 600 cycles ago, we broadened the art of war beyond steam to combustibles and canons. 323 suns ago saw the first rifles used in combat. But we still depended on Engesh steeds and the Karakon dragons.
When the slavers arrived, they granted some limited vehicles and weapons to Larcanthine forces. These allowed for the regular assault of Yinjil and the relative isolation of Karakon. Now, under the leadership of Kulani, offworld armed vehicles, laser weapons and explosives were to be used. Though Yinjil and Karakon suffered, the Larcanth bore the heavier burden, being similarly enslaved, yet granted a power over their brethren they all too quickly made use of. This was the worst of Kulani’s weapons, that we were turned against one another.
The war machines set out in the dusty wake of the storm in the dark of night. They would arrive upon Yinjil at high noon. All went quiet in Larcanth, save for the frantic work of the wind, the king and myself. Time was short.
The work finished, we loaded our gear onto the ship. It was a marvelous craft, made of years of dedication to one journey that Nenuan wasn’t even certain he would return from. Originally he had hoped to return to protest the unjust rule of an illegal king, remind Yinjil of its birthright of ships in the sky. Now, his only goal, and mine too, was to warn them of the coming assault. To fight for the city that had banished us both, high and low.
The cranks now turned, and the ceiling opened into the hot night wind. It howled as the ship expanded and rose, like lungs inhaling the storm. For the first time I saw the majesty of this child of the first age. By the light of Evenov, Nenuan was the true king, and Oraccio’s Child the promise of our people.
Nenuan and I raced into the night to attach the keel cables to the old railway line, now barely visible. When done, we climbed the terrace and boarded. It heaved and swayed in the wind. He suggested I put on a coat, as the air, he said, was chilled up there.
We released the cables, as well as the brakes that clenched the rails on the ground below. The wind pulled the ship, which drew a lever to close the doors of Nenuan’s sanctuary. He cut the last rope and then we unfurled the sails.
They filled full with the rush of the storm. I did not believe him when he said we would pass the armada by, but the winds up here ran quick, a river torrent in the sky. As we increased speed, we released more keel cable to rise higher. Well out into the desert, the speed of the ship pulled up sand and dirt along the ground, revealing a buried railway forgotten by time.
The sun finally broke the dust clouds and I saw on Nenuan’s face a measured expression of love. I pulled my coat tight. Then he turned to me abruptly and spoke up over the wind. “There is something I forgot to tell you.”
He laughed again like a madman. “The Oraccio crashed.”
Oraccio’s Child did indeed sail ahead of the armies of Larcanth, undetected coming at last out of the sand storm clouds. What speed it gained, despite the force needed to dig up its own path!
Timing was now critical, as the machine armies were behind us, and Yinjil not knowing if impending attack would not greet us with welcome. At nearest point to the mountain, Nenuan pulled the brake in the keel wheels. We came to a halt and floated angled with the wind towards the tower of smoke. At this, we sounded a brass blowhorn to turn all eyes out on this strange ship of the sky. When the soldiers came out of the gates, near enough to see, we unfurled a banner in large characters, “Larcanth attacks!” We blew the horn a second time.
Nenuan then removed from storage the flask of yellow liquid. “What is it?” I asked.
“The bile and gland secretions of a female dragon,” he stated, matter of factly.
Arming the artillery gun with it, he aimed high as some soldiers returned to the Yinjil guard towers to warn the city. The others drew near as the jar fired high and burst in the air. Then the soldiers coming for us stopped.
It is forever etched in my memory, that roar and gnashing bark. It echoed into the mind, the mines, the caverns and the tunnels, down into the core of the volcano and it over the desert. Everyone heard and everyone understood. Karakon roared, broke his chains, and took flight. The dragon was released!
In the days leading up to the war, Etesh made his way out of the deep southern dunes to the furthest outpost, and from there on steed he pushed north from station to station until at last he came to the caves of Karakon. But he did not come alone. At every outpost he gathered all who kept watch over the waves of sand. When they arrived on the ninth night of his march, he was accompanied by no less than 30 strong men and women of the desert sea.
It was on this last night under the stars that he once again set his hand upon the device he had salvaged from the wreckage of the ship. It was then that he heard in the signals it received that an assault on Yinjil, even on the very world, was imminent.
The people, though they celebrated his return, were despondent; they had lost all hope in these dark times of isolation and defeat. They had suffered much after the war of false kings. His troop went with him to see the queen, Kemirj she was called, but she lay ill and would soon pass from the world. When he then went before the people to call them to war, to come to the aid of Yinjil, they thought the desert had made him and his soldiers mad. They would have to march on foot and steed, over the northern dunes and the flatlands of Tarn, and after all that, they would not arrive in time. All this in a futile attempt to save a kingdom that had crushed them. In the end, they would meet with instant loss and would be swallowed up by the forces of Kulani.
Yet that night, the troop that followed him out of the desert vowed to follow him further still, even into the jaws of death should he so choose to enter them.
Etesh was ready to go to Yinjil to his doom. But he would make one last appeal to his people before he and his troop of warriors would set out. Speaking out over the falls of Eteni to the people assembled, Etesh spoke of his need to save those that Karakon now called foes. He pleaded that they follow him in this last great battle, to victory or ruin. Yet they refused. They would not listen.
Etesh went silent, and turned to go. But through the stone, a rumbling thunder was heard. It boomed yet again. And in response, the dragons in unison answered the call. The caverns of Karakon shook with the might of a hundred winged giants as the people again felt blood in the veins and in their minds knew the desire of dragon hearts.
The roar awakened Queen Kamirj, who rose from her death bed and came to where Etesh stood. The murmur of the people fell silent before her strength. Though she was feeble and nearly fell, she steadied herself on the staff that she alone could possess. In the thunder of the mountain, she presented it with silent lips to Etesh, who took it. And with this last deed done, she collapsed and left us to our fate.
Etesh commanded that she should be attended to and then facing the people he spoke again. “Karakon has been released!” And with these words King Etesh had spoken. The dragon riders of the desert ran to their mounts and set flight on wing and wind.
The Tower of Smoke understood clearly the warning of our airship drifting in the wind not far from its southern promontories. The dragon had awakened one eye of the city, the wind ship the other. They readied themselves for battle as Karakon flew high and south, into the dunes of the desert.
On the eastern horizon they could see the dust churning. An armada of troops and gunnery tanks were blazing fast over the dead planes. The bombardment with missiles and detonations finally began on the gates, followed by a wave of shock robots from space, dropped within the city walls.
When the troops arrived, they were able to push through the gates with ease. Many lost their lives. Many a strong warrior of the armies of Yinjil fell at the hands of Larcanth and her Kulani masters. None were without loss.
The war raged. The city was not so helpless as it might seem against the troops, for it had been raided by Larcanth intermittently for a thousand years. It was filled with passageways and defenses in its inner structure. And through our warning, the farmers at the western slopes, most vulnerable, were able to escape into security.
Nenuan and I were not idle during the battle. From the air ship, we manned the gunnery turret and fired into the attackers. We drew away some of their fire from the city. Releasing our cable brakes, two tanks persued us as the wind drew us away towards the ruins of Tarn. We destroyed one of them, but not before they had punctured the air chambers of the ship. Oraccio’s Child plummeted to the ground, faster as we lost air.
Nenuan was mortally injured from the crash. The second tank approached as I pulled him bleeding from under a piece of wreckage. He coughed up blood as the tank drew closer. Reaching under his shirt, he revealed a single key, which he then gave to me. And then Nenuan, the true king of Yinjil, died in my arms.
The tank came within range, but a shadow crossed over me. My eyes did not deceived me. The talons of a large beast lifted the war machine as I felt the wind of its wings draw into the air. The machine was tossed into the attacking armies as a hundred dragons flew overhead!
This was the turn of the battle. Though the fighters of Kulani’s forces had marvelously powerful attack ships, and though they piloted these with the advantage of interface technology which utilized the nanoids in their blood, yet were they slaves from among our own people, and did not fight with heart.
The Karakon riders were renown, even in Larcanth, for they were readers and knew the minds of their winged serpents. Like fighters interfaced with their machines, they too fought as one.
As I watched from a distance, the dragons toppled a slaver ship high up above the peaks of Yinjil. Its smoking frame angle, burned, and fell in a slant into the empty desert. Victory was assured.
This was a battle like no other. There were but three small nations on our fragile world, and we now faced an enemy from the black of space while we were still fighting amongst ourselves. Etesh and the Karakon fought hard, and seeing that they had come to Yinjil’s aid, the city too fought hard.
At this time, the false king had many intrigues. Through his oppressive rule he gained many an enemy. And it was under these circumstances, while Etesh and the Karakon fought for the fate of the city, that the king’s enemies made call upon him. He ran as a coward from his duties, and hid in the secret tunnels beneath the high royal towers.
Nenuan had a young grand-niece who, unbeknownst to the false king, worked as a servant girl in the king’s court. During the battle, she fought mightily, and routed a squad of Larcanthine soldiers as they pushed through the upper gates. But her forces were outnumbered, and were forced to withdraw. It was suggested that they retreat up towards the king’s palace residence.
She knew the secret tunnels, and as they would be easier to defend, she took to them. There, in hiding, she and her women and men found the false king cowering in the dark with his stockpiles of water and wealth. “On your feet, moltica!”
He stood and stared at them with fear. Then he turned and ran up the tunnels and out into the light of day, into the courtyard and the place where Karakon had been so many years chained. Realizing he had nowhere to go, he faced them, pulled a dagger and plunged it into his heart, releasing us from his rule.
Nenuan’s great-niece, Keishan she is called, wasted no time with him but went directly to where his banner waved in the wind. She pulled it down, now in the heat of battle, and the soldiers brought her the flag of Etela. She raised it high and sounded the dragon horn.
When the people saw the flag of their ancestor, they fought on again against the forces of Kulani with renewed strength. Even a number of the ranks of Larcanth’s army turned and joined us, as did three fighters who attacked their own. So loyal were they to our people.
Having delivered the body of Nenuan the king to the bounds of the city once more, and having helped in some meager way to warn Yinjil of imminent attack, they welcomed me once again. I was again a citizen. When the war was over, Etesh and Keishan gathered in the Hall of Yinjil to deliberate over the peace between them. Keishan, when she perceived her father’s key around my neck, welcomed me to join them and sit at the table with them in these deliberations.
“Fate has dealt you a fortunate role of it,” Etesh spoke. “Ishtala, while you desire to go to Larcanth again with that key, it can wait some days. Keishan, you will perhaps permit our talks to continue in a day as well, for I have received word of something extraordinary.
“As you now know, the ship that crashed in the desert allowed me to hear of the impending assault, and Ishtala and your great uncle the king made our aid to you possible. The device still functions and I have received a signal through it. The ship that orbits our world, which has for so long been used to stage Larcanthine raids, is now in the hands of those loyal to the flag of Etela. Tomorrow a ship will arrive. I do not suspect treachery and I recommend we make a cautious but prepared welcome. My kingdom and its armies are at your command.”
Nenuan was right. We know now that Kulani’s attack was one of desperation. So many lives to maintain power! The betrayer had lost too much and too many in her last fight against the baron. She was in some ways forced to replace the structure of power, work and servitude that she so swiftly lost. Her soldiers and her slaves began a mutiny during the assault on Yinjil, when she was most distracted. Some say the Baron had a hand in the rebellion, perhaps to force her back into his arms. Whatever the case, there is rumor that she abandoned the battle cruiser and rejoined him, whether out of lust or necessity or both we do not know.
It is and ever has been. Evil is its own undoing, and in the crash and the wake, the virtuous turn to good what once was in the clutches of moral entropy. Because we have power to do so.
The Fourth Kingdom, this fortress in space, is a title no longer used. We do not have kingdoms. The Moltec are one, as we were in the first age. It is the fifth age, the age of liberation.
Word has reached the Moltec slaves and mercenaries of other worlds. Some of our people have made their way home, bringing with them the beginnings of a knowledge of the stars.
Larcanth was in disarray and turmoil after the war. There was no leadership. I returned therefore under the escort of ten dragon riders and a single fighter ship. It was a solemn experience to return to the sanctum of Nenuan, King of Yinjil. The key, if it opened anything, would be found here. I looked among the tools and boxes, machine parts and rubbish. But it was behind an old drapery hanging on the wall that I discovered it opened but a singular door.
Even the dragon riders marveled at what lay inside. As I opened the grand vault with its unassuming key, and holding up a light to the dark room, I saw for the first time the spines of a thousand books. Rows and rows of them.
I went forward and drew up a book in my hand, flipping through its pages to perhaps examine its quality, only to reawaken from my amazement to reality.
“But I cannot read.” I looked up.
The leader of the dragon riders spoke up. “Then we will teach you.”
On that day, the library of Nenuan was founded, later becoming the heart of the Lyceum at Larcanth, and I, a water thief, was elected its head. I write even now from my desk, looking out over the place where Galan Spire, it is recorded, once stood so long ago.