“Grab a knife,” said a man in a dark brown cotton jacket. “Grab a broomstick, grab a piece of pipe, whatever you’ve got.”
The man he was talking to was a little confused. He had just answered a knock at the door, and these words were not what he was expecting. Of course he had already heard the commotion in the streets, and he’d already gotten out of his recliner to look out the window to see what it was all about. But the warlike order from this complete stranger took him very much by surprise. He scratched his head and asked what this was all about.
“This is it,” said the man in the jacket. “The entire city is without work—and for how long? And every man, woman, and child is running low on food. This is the time to make a change. This is the time to save this city, to save your friends and neighbors, and to save yourself.”
“Is this some kind of a mob?” the man who had answered the door asked.
“This is no mob,” the man in the jacket held his hand across his heart. “This is a revolution! If you are suffering in the wake of the Terrible Day, then you are one of us. And if you want to join the cause—if you want to oppose starvation and poverty, rampant crime, and the chaos that has overtaken Falcon Point—then grab whatever weapon you can get your hands on. We are going straight to the Old Fort, straight to the governor, and we will make our voices heard!”
So the man grabbed his hat, and he grabbed a sturdy lamp stand which the Cataclysm had rendered obsolete for its intended purpose, and he joined the crowd in their march through the city and toward the Old Fort. He joined not only the man in the dark brown cotton jacket, but also the neighbors who lived on his street, the beggars of the city, the laborers, the businessmen, and even the men who owned the great industries of Falcon Point, the men who had given so much life to Falcon Point before the day the Well was destroyed.
Rich and poor joined together in the fight. Young and old. Saint and sinner. This would be the day the broken world was set aright. This would be a day of glory.
Their march had begun in the rickety clapboard homes on the outskirts of town, where the ex-farmers and ex-miners moved when they grew tired of toiling in the rocky hills and decided to try their hands at urban poverty for a change. Now the mob was in a fine middle-class district. Here the homes were a fashionable “rustic” variety of log buildings cherished by a wealthier class of mountain man: the merchants, the small business owners.
And soon their march would lead them into the old district at the center of town. The stately stone and brick homes and businesses in that area belonged to families who had been wealthy for generations, passing their rank and authority down from father to son through the passing centuries. These were the ones who owned the mining companies, the factories, and the property.
And these old worthy citizens were just as eager for revolution as were the destitute. Many of them would join the wild and mighty throng in the march on the Old Fort. For over five hundred years, the Old Fort had stood on the rim of the city’s great Well, its massive stone arches testifying to the indomitable spirit of the city of Falcon Point and of the people who dwelt therein.
It was a celebrated structure, a beloved old castle. Fresh cracks had split its ancient mortar, and a tower in its rear had collapsed altogether in the Cataclysm, spilling its rubble across the graveyard. But it still pressed on, like a general, cold and undaunted. Any revolution in Falcon Point would begin at the Old Fort and make its final home in its ancient walls.
Of course, the true heart of the city—as with all the great cities—was not the castle at all, but the Well, which was now charred and empty. The Old Fort, with its stark towers, its elegant balustrades, and its ancient plot of headstones, watched over the now-worthless well. It was a faithful monument, refusing to let down its guard even after the magic had all departed.
Yes, the heart of the city—as with all the great cities—was dead and gone. So it fell to Governor Vac and the men in the Old Fort to keep the lifeblood of the city pumping. They didn’t do it by pushing papers or by debating the contemporary issues. They did it by taking action. Blind, callous action. They pumped the city’s blood by moving like machines now that the heart was dead.
And now, as a rebel militia took form within the city limits, Governor Vac sat at his desk in his office in the castle and heard the word of Coonhil, his Head of Intelligence, and chewed on the butt of a pen. Vac’s cheeks and chin were strong and speckled with black and grey flecks, the stubble of an aging beard that looked like it was made of fine iron filings.
Coonhil, a few unbound papers in his hands, stood straight as a rail in front of the governor’s desk. His voice was tightly wound, slightly high in pitch. His manner was professional and perfectly controlled. He reported, “Still no clear leadership emerging in Jalseion. Some figures rise to grab for power, but food is scarce and no one is able to establish a foothold of authority. It’s revolution upon revolution. I could give you the names of some of the leaders, but the power is shifting so quickly that—well, I’m sure a handful of them are already dead as I deliver this report.”
“Spare me the names,” Vac said, the pen bobbing in his lips as he spoke. “Are there any Selects in power?”
“My information is limited of course.”
“Any of the old prominent citizens? Any of the old Guides?”
“Not as far as we can tell,” said Coonhil. “Our spies are working—”
“Fine,” said Vac. “And Thyrion? Are they at the point of martial law?”
Coonhil took a breath. “We don’t know. There are certainly signs to indicate the beginnings of it.” He glanced around the office, a spacious old room lined with paintings of the past governors of Falcon Point—every one of them dead now. His voice echoed slightly off the stone walls and the heavy wooden floor as he spoke of the enemy city: “Their military presence is only growing. But as a rule they are very poorly armed, which does limit their influence.”
“But well trained,” Vac added.
Vac took the pen out of his mouth and laid it on his desk. “And is Jaysynn the only one left? Do we know that yet?”
“Actually, I have one report that says he’s dead as well. Details are sketchy.”
“Well, we need to know.” Vac leaned forward in his seat; his shoulders were broad as a bear’s. “Make that a high priority item.”
“I already have,” said Coonhil.
“Good,” said Vac. For a moment his voice grew casual and lost its authoritarian edge. “Well, this could be good news. The whole royal family may be wiped out. I wish I could have killed just one of them myself. Frankly, I wish I could have put Shar’s head on a pike. Or laid it on Thorynn’s doorstep.”
“You would prefer martial law to the rule of the Kyzers?”
“No. Not at all,” the governor answered, fully recovered from his mild emotion, his subtle mix of hatred and relief. “But I prefer Dracon to the Kyzers. He never wanted a war with us and I doubt he wants one now.”
“Power can change a man’s mind in a hurry,” Coonhil said with a thoughtful tilt of the head.
“Oh, I know it. Especially if he can establish martial law. I said this was good news—I didn’t say we could breathe easy.”
Governor Vac rubbed his forehead with a heavy hand. “Well, I’d love to say a toast to the Fall of the House of Kyzer, but there’s no time for that. I’d love to talk about rebuilding our mining and manufacturing, too, but I become more and more troubled with the more basic necessities: no one is going to trade food. Thyrion certainly won’t. Jalseion isn’t capable of any kind of trade, I’m afraid. And in every other city and town it’s the same story. That means we’ve either got to raid other people’s villages or we’ve got to be self-sufficient. But how in the hell are we supposed to be self-sufficient on a mountainside? What about our own farms? Are they staying stable? Are the refugee camps showing productivity? Do we have enough food on this mountain to last till harvest—and when harvest comes, will we have enough to live for the next year?”
Coonhil scratched his chest, but after his hesitation he went on confidently, “There is some unrest in the rural regions, but in general they are faring better than the city. Our food storage would not have been sufficient to last until the harvest, but our loss of mouths to feed is expected to leave us with a slight surplus.”
“When you tell me these things, try not to sound too relieved at how many people are dead, all right?”
As he spoke, Vac turned his chair around to face the window behind his desk, and he held his hand out toward the opening beneath the stone arch and toward the city that lay beyond the window. “Of course we’ve still got to figure out how to get that food to the people out there. But that’s good to know. How long until we can’t take in any more refugees?”
“Because their rations are so small, we should be able to last another—”
His words were cut short. A guard in a brown drab uniform flung the door wide open and barged into the meeting. “You’ve got a mob brewing!” he said, his hand pointing behind him.
Governor Vac inhaled calmly, and calmly spoke: “Dammit. Don’t these people know I’m trying to work here?” He turned his face again to Coonhil. “Alright, do you have anything else that’s important?”
“No, sir. Not more important than a mob,” answered his Head of Intelligence.