Book 3, Chapter 52 - Autumn vs. the Crimson One

None of the unfortunate citizens of Fishmonger’s Borough knew what was happening. Clouds of carnivorous birds and other wasteland monsters had shattered the peace they’d known in the belly of the mountain. These creatures destroyed everything they came close to, be it flesh, wood or stone.

Meanwhile, the mad cries of even their domesticated animals were deafening.

This magnificent city, protected by sea and storm, had descended into chaos without warning. People desperately barracked themselves wherever they could in the hopes that this madness would pass and spare them.

Amidst all of this, the Shepherd’s flute sounded once again.

It did not travel as normal sound did, in a wave. It was deeper, like a call from the depths of the soul. It rang in the minds of all, clear as though it came from right beside them despite the tumult. 

It was absolutely terrifying.

The disaster they faced now had come from the first such sound, only minutes ago. Somehow it had drawn the bloodthirsty birds into town, and driven all the animals to madness. Never had these poor souls ever seen such destruction.

Now the ominous sound returned. What fresh terrors would it bring with it?

However, the clear-headed listener might find that there was something different in the call of the flute this time. Its original call had been thunderous, stretching a thousand meters all around for but a moment. This time it was much softer. It extended less than half that of the first, yet its gentle call was persistent. In contrast to the dissonance of before, the sound pacified the racing hearts of all who heard.

From loud and boisterous, to gentle and melodious; like the sharp attempts of a novice beside the works of a master. Mind and spirit blended into one as the flute’s melody continued. A perfect resonance.

From the highest point to the lowest alley, the enraged birds were soothed by the flute’s call. Their compulsion for blood and destruction ebbed.

Then.

As citizens peaked out from behind doors and walls, they witnessed something they could hardly describe.

All of the birds, bats, eagles, and buzzards… from the largest bird of prey to the smallest insect, all began to converge on a single point as though on command. Arranging themselves into lines, they were nothing like the mindless creatures from moments ago. Now they were as precise and united as an army.

How could they describe what they were seeing? It was a sign! A miracle!

A plethora of monsters lived in the depths of the river, and though the people could not see what happened beneath the dark waters they could hear. A series of organized calls answered the sound, like soldiers closing ranks. 

All at once the people forgot their fear as it was replaced by wonder. They were spellbound.

Could it be that these vicious, mutant creatures of the wild were cowed by the power of a flute?

Boom-boom-boom-boom!

A series of bone-jarring explosions rose from the Borough’s lower level. A few of the more curious spectators were knocked back from the force.

At some point the banks of the lake had become overgrown with a wall of vines. They were long and embracing, like a man with his arms outstretched. From the middle level it was hard to make out much detail, but it was clear that a large number of soldiers had gathered on one side of the wall. On the other side was a writhing mass of aquatic monsters.

Boom-boom-boom-boom!

Another series of deafening blasts rocked the mountain.

Orbs of green fire pummeled the vines like cannonballs until they tore open a hole. Its miserable green light was like the flames of hell, here to scour the world clean.

The city’s soldiers raised their weapons, firing wildly into the breach. Bullets and arrows descended like an iron rain, bearing down on their quarry with the weight of mountains. Roaring explosions gave voice to their terrible assault against the darkness, punctuated by the snap of gunfire.

But creatures of the wasteland were hardy and terrifying. Bullets pierced their flesh, and they bristled with dozens of arrows, yet they kept coming. Rockets belched fire and shrapnel, but the monsters charged forward regardless. It would be a mistake to assume this was a typical stampede, for the flute’s song was still ringing in their minds. This was a methodical invasion.

Mutant creatures were frightening on their own. Beasts from the depths of the lake were often the subject of nightmare. How much more horrible, then, now that they answered commands!?

These weren’t just monsters. It was a hellish army!

Dozens of leviathan-like monsters sprayed the soldiers with toxic green sludge. They answered with hideous, agonizing cries as the acid ate through leather, skin and bone.

Another group of creatures like enormous frogs followed, their mouths engorged to unsettling proportions. They belched torrents of water with enough force to shatter bone. Soldiers taking the brunt of their deluge were pulverized.

They were followed by a number of web-footed beasts covered in scales, thick as steel plate. With guttural roars they threw themselves through the breach and the leaping green fires beyond. Immediately they were engulfed in Castigation fire. With shrill cries they ran wildly through the crowds.

Like a torch through a field of dry grass, the beasts left a wake of fire behind them. The briefest touch and the fires spread to another victim. Soldiers rolled on the ground and slapped at their bubbling flesh, all to no avail. The hungry flames would not be extinguished once their hunger was piqued. Death was their only release. 

By the time the scaled creatures were burned up, they’d taken a hundred or more soldiers with them. The wall of fire had weakened after being spread through their ranks, and even more creatures had started charging the line. Still, although the Borough’s forces had suffered serious losses there were more soldiers filing in all the time. Their numbers grew, even as the beasts and fires consumed their brethren.

Bullets and arrows continued to fly. Rockets trailing tails of fire streaked across the city. Death rattles, explosions, roars; all of it fought for dominance. Fishmonger’s Borough shook from the fury of what had become all-out war!

The strength and ferocity of the mutant creatures gave them an innate advantage. Between their intensity and organization, they easily overcome the guards’ hastily mounted defense. As soldiers fell in droves Fishmonger’s Borough became a field of corpses.

However, as the humans were being beaten back they were bolstered by a swell of inscrutable power.

A figure clad all in red stood in the midst of the battle with his body wreathed in green fire. Before terrified eyes he lifted into the air, erupting in flames until seconds later he had become an enormous raging orb.

The light of it reached every corner of Fishmonger’s Borough. Its terrible brilliance grew more intense as the orb swelled, until it was like hell’s own sun above the market place.

And yet for all its blinding radiance there was no heat. On the contrary, its presence filled every soul with a deep, intractable chill. It was the antithesis of the warm, life-giving sun without – instead, it was an emblem of death and despair. The tremendous power contained within it was enough to raze this entire mountain to the ground.

Horrific didn’t begin to do it justice. It was destruction incarnate. No living thing could withstand the oblivion the Crimson One promised.

Yet as the holy man reigned in his power, the flute’s call grew shrill. The horde of flying monsters dove from above, gathering into a spearhead of razor sharp claws, a dark and lethal cloud. Before the Crimson One’s unholy green sun was complete they crashed into it, like moths to a flame. 

Crashing into the fires, the orb became unstable. Streaking licks of fire shot out and descended unto the battlefield below like a meteor shower. Blood-curdling shouts of man and beast rose to the heavens as they were bathed in flame.

It took only an instant for hundreds of lives to be snuffed out.

The rain of fire continued to descend as figures infected with the green death ran wildly through the crowds. It spread madly among the hapless fighters in a cruel and sickening scene – a vision of hell on earth.

One of the birds streaked across the sky with its wings ablaze. It crashed into the market like a missile.

Ahhh!

“Help me! HELP ME!

Their cries joined the dying soldiers and mutant beasts.

Tongues of fire dripped from the firebird as it dissolved in midair. They fell onto the citizens below, setting them ablaze. They in turn ran wildly among the stalls, seeking succor but finding none, spreading their cruel fate to friends and colleagues. 

Fires continued to tumble from the Crimson One above. Fishmonger’s Borough had been consumed by utter turmoil.

“Castigation!”

“It’s Castigation fire!”

“It’s everywhere! Fishmonger’s Borough is done for!”

Those lucky enough to witness the tragedy from afar wailed in despair.

Castigation fire was the tool of the Adjudicator, his holy retribution against sinners. Was this calamity sent by the gods on hire to cleanse the wasteland city of blasphemers? The virulence of Castigation fire was well known. With so much in the mountain below, it would claim thousands, if not tens of thousands of lives before it burned out.

Even the soldiers had never seen destruction on this scale before, to say nothing of the citizens caught in the crossfire. Courage fled from them as the guards witnessed friend and foe alive burned to ash. Weapons were flung away in a desperate attempt to flee, while flaming monsters continued to rampage through their ranks. Without order or direction, casualties rose ever higher.

All the while, the Shepherd’s Call kept sounding.

No matter how piteous the wails, how loud the shrieks, how shrill the roars, nothing could drown out the flute’s singular note.

It was always there in the background, a soundtrack to the carnage playing out all around. Its beautiful, ending tone rang in every mind – a sharp contrast to the ugliness it caused. These were the final moments of Fishmonger’s Borough. What had been called one of the northern barren’s safest bastions of humanity was naught but bone and ash.

 

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RWX's Thoughts

Goddamn.  First time we've seen a truly city-ending apocalypse... the mental visualization is incredible.  Flaming creatures dropping from the skies and crashing throughout the ground, bringing all-encompassing green fire to devour everything in the scant seconds before they themselves turn into as as well...