The Fall of Silverstar
Year: 496 BGF Keuar watched the gathering armies from the windows of his room atop the Wizards' Tower. The tallest structure in the city, standing some 100 meters in height, it offered the perfect view of their impending doom. Soon would come the final end of his people, and their precious city. The glory of Kastelosa had shown for more than 5,000 years. In a few days, perhaps a week, it would be no more. Refugees and retreating bands of soldiers had been streaming into the city for months. Battle after battle had been lost by their armies. But the pride of Queen Mehorana would not abate. She would not negotiate. She would not sue for peace. She would not deviate from her path. It wasn't entirely her fault. She was surrounded by nobles and advisers who lived in the past. Though none now alive had lived in those days, they all spoke as if they had been there in the days of King Phasfu. Phasfu had been leader the people of Silverstar at the height of their power nearly 1000 years before. They had convinced her that these things could be once more. The commanders of the army knew better. They knew their armies were but a shadow of the strength they had commanded then. But long tradition held that they did not have voice in council. They lived to serve and obey, nothing more. And so they held their silence. Battle after battle, defeat after defeat, retreat after retreat... they held their silence. Keuar had once had her ear, and more. As court wizard, he had long been adviser to the royal house. He had once held her trust. And as her long time consort, he had held her heart. But now he was neither. Keuar had begged, pleaded with her, for months. He had spoken out against the war to begin with. He had argued against every attack. And as the defeats mounted and the nation of Silverstar grew very small indeed, he had warned her that the end was near, that they must seek peace, even surrender if needed. That last one that had been the final straw. He knew that her patience with him had been wearing thin. Despite his constant arguments against the war, she had fallen sway to the clever words of others. She wanted to at least reclaim the territory that her grandfather had lost in the last war. She wanted to restore the former glory of their people. The nobles and advisers had convinced her they could do it. So they had attacked. When the first attacks had ended in defeat after defeat, he had argued for peace. While he had allies in the court, they were too few and too weak to risk their position supporting him. He had long known he wasn't very good at playing the game of court politics. He was far too honest and outspoken. That seldom wins favor among nobility. They're far too fond of pleasing and flattering words. And because of it, when the people needed his voice the most, it was too weak to save them. Two months later, when word came that the towns of Pan'de-ler and Faderlon had been utterly destroyed, he had dared to suggest surrender. He knew it had been a mistake the moment the words left his mouth. Her wrath was unlike anything he had seen in her before. Her hand drifted to the hilt of her sword and he fully expected her to draw the blade and run him through. But she did not. Instead, she cast him out, removing him from the court, and her bed. He withdrew to the Wizards' Tower and had remained here ever since. It was one of only two places within the city where the royal court had no authority, at least according to the law. The other was the temple of Pfor. The clerics of Pfor had long been the epitome of neutrality, never siding with anyone and remaining impartial in all things. And so here he had sat and awaited the inevitable end. His allies in the court had kept him apprised of the war, but anyone with eyes could see that it was going badly. For months, ragged bands of StarSinger refugees and battered troops had been arriving. Each told the same tale: obliterated cities and towns, slaughtered people, defeated armies. Now there were no more refugees. Armies numbering in the tens of thousands had begun arriving. Keuar's agents and his own divinations had revealed their armies numbered more than 100,000 in total. The city's battered troops were outnumbered more than 6 to 1. Keuar had been called to the Royal Hall that morning. It was the first time he had been there since being dismissed. He had wanted to say something, anything, to her. He had found he could not. Her face had been unreadable, emotionless, as the edict was read by the royal scribe. All wizards were ordered to report for assignment to the city's defenses by the end of the day. Keuar had said nothing. Nothing needed to be said. If they refused, the city guard would come and force them into service, killing any who resisted. He looked around at the others who had been assembled. The high cleric of each of the city's temples were also here. Even Lauth of the Temple of Pfor stood among them. He could read it in their faces. They had been given the same orders. So he merely turned back to Queen Mehorana, gave a slight nod of the head and turned to leave. "Have you nothing to say, Lord Keuar?" the Queen called to him. He paused in his stride, but only half turned his head. He could not bear to look at her. Yes, there was much he wanted to say to her. So much more. His heart ached to speak to her as he once could. But what good would that do now? The end was upon them. "All that I would say, I have already said... my Queen." And with that he had continued from the Hall. That had been 6 hours ago. The memory of that morning still stung him. Surely there must have been something he could have done or said to change this, wasn't there? So deep in his thoughts was Keuar, he hadn't noticed Lauth's arrival. The priest made a slight coughing sound and Keuar turned from the window. He paused for a moment, then asked: "The preparations are made?" "Yes, we are ready," the high cleric of Pfor replied. "All of the faithful are gathering to the designated meeting points in their temples save those volunteers who have gone to the walls and healing houses to keep up appearances. Once the signal is given, they will begin the march here to the Tower." The Queen's mandate had been expected. The matter had been debated in the Court for several days now and the priests and wizards had been given plenty of warning. In response, Keuar had been meeting in secret with the high clerics of the temples several times over the last 4 days. Their sole topic of discussion was the future. All were agreed that the people of the Silverstar had no future. The last days of their people were upon them. And so the practitioners of magic, both arcane and divine, had decided to leave. It was not known among any outsiders, but nearly 10 years previously, a wizard experimenting with scrying over great distances had unexpectedly stumbled upon a large, uninhabited island in the western ocean. The wizards had constructed a small sanctuary there where they could carry out experiments too dangerous for the Wizards' Tower. Keuar had put forth the proposal that the carriers of magic should not throw away their lives needlessly in a hopeless cause. It was within their power to save themselves and a few others. They knew that there was no place safe upon any of the known continents. The people of Silverstar had become an anathema to all peoples, everywhere. Such was the result of their arrogance and hubris. There, upon an island no one else knew about, a few of their people might survive. It had taken a couple of days of debate, but the final vote had been unanimous. They would leave. It was also decided that the "others" they would save would be as many of the Woodsinger servants as it were possible. They had no doubts what would happen to the servant class should the city walls be breached. The city guard and various house guards had already been given orders from the Royal Chamberlain. Once the final attack began, any Woodsinger servants that had not already fled the city would be killed. The nobles didn't trust them not to rise up in rebellion and aid the attackers. That order had been the key to driving their decision to leave. They couldn't save them all. They had nowhere near enough magical strength for that. But they were saving as many as their powers could. They had already sent nearly 400 of the Woodsingers to the island. They had been the house servants and their families for the various temples and the Wizards' Tower. Along with them had gone nearly 200 priests and wizards, along with their families, to help prepare the way for those to come. The paladins had been harder to convince. Many of them were less inclined to flee with the others. The had each, however, finally come around when they remembered that their first duty was not to the city, but rather to their faith. And the leaders of their faiths had said it was time to leave. With their final departure today, nearly 800 more priests, paladins, and wizards would flee, along with their families. With them they would be taking nearly 1500 more Woodsingers from around the city. It would be about all that they could manage in the time they had left. For the last two days they had been sneaking them out of the Declor district, where all Woodsinger servants were forced to live, and into staging areas closer to the Tower. Keuar checked the clock standing against the wall to one side. Mechanical clocks were a relatively new creation. He had purchased this one from a traveling halfling merchant who'd come through the city about 8 years prior. He'd originally intended it as a gift for the Queen. Unfortunately for her, he'd been so fascinated with its workings that he'd kept the contraption for himself. He turned back to Lauth. "Then it's time. We must move before the deadline comes and the Queen sends the guard to collect us. Please send the signal to all." Lauth nodded and left Keuar to stare out the window again. Soon, the priests, paladins and Woodsingers would make their way to the tower. Most of their families had been gathered earlier in the day and awaited them in the lower levels of the Tower. The city's layout would make gathering to the Wizards' Tower fairly easy. Most of the temples stood arrayed around the Tower in an area a little south of the palace known as the Magic District. A few of the temples, however, were newer and built in different locations around the outer city. The priests, paladins and servants from these temples would march first, heading as if towards the main guard barracks just east of the palace. There they would supposedly receive their assignments. At the last moment, however, they would turn aside and rush towards the Magic District and the Wizards' Tower. As they did so, the other temples and their servants would strike out through the streets towards the Tower. With a bit of luck, they would all be safely gathered around and in the Tower before the city guard realized what was happening. With an extreme amount of luck, they would all be gone from the city before the guard knew what was happening. Of course, luck was not with them. Perhaps 15 minutes later, Keuar heard the call of trumpets from the west. At first he thought perhaps it was the cry of the attackers. Their various trumpets had been sounding throughout the day. But then he recognized the signal. It was the city guard's call for reinforcements. If it was to the west, that would mean.... Just then a young wizard named Ethen ran into the chamber, clearly having just run up several flights of stairs. After taking a few moments to catch his breath, he stammered out. "Master, a messenger from the temple of Peth'Foran just appeared in the Great Hall." Keuar strode to a nearby alcove. A small circle of runes was inlaid upon the floor within it. Standing in the center, he tapped one of the runes twice with the butt of his staff and vanished. The teleport circle deposited him into a similar alcove some 90 meters below his chambers that was built into the side of the Great Hall. The magic of the teleport circles was known only to the wizards of this Tower. Another of their closely guarded secrets, they had long kept the knowledge of how the circles worked to themselves, lest other wizards of the world leverage the magic against them. Normally filled with rows of benches surrounding a central dais and used for wizards' conclaves, over the last few days, the Great Hall had been cleared of everything except a couple of benches around the walls. Several great circles of teleportation had been inscribed into the floor of the room. They had not had the time to invest the circles with power of their own. That would have taken weeks of effort to complete. However, they would serve to focus the power of the wizards who were even now gathering in groups around each circle. It would allow them to teleport several large groups of people to the island at a time. Around the room, wizards were beginning to assemble into groups, meditating upon the runes of the teleport circles and beginning to summon the magics they would need over the coming hours to help their people flee. Amidst the growing crowd, Keuar recognized a figure seated on a nearby bench. It was Geher Nodar, one of the senior priests in the temple of Peth'Foran. Clearly exhausted, the cleric was sitting absolutely still, looking downward and apparently meditating upon the patterns of the floor tiles. As he approached, Geher looked up and started right in before Keuar could say anything. "The city guard had assembled forces around the temple to march us to our assigned locations. High cleric Methurandis objected, stating that we had been ordered to report to the barracks for assignment. Without a single word, the guard captain drew his sword and ran Methurandis through." Keuar could see him shaking as he continued. "Everything turned to chaos. The paladins charged forward against the guard, clerics began throwing spells, swords and arrows and bolts flew about. People scattered in every direction." He paused a few moments to calm himself before continuing. "I saw to the high cleric's wounds, then he sent me to warn you. He recommends that you give the emergency signal. He has already given the command to our people." "Yes," Keuar said, already headed for the front entry, "he is absolutely correct. Stay and rest. We will do all we can to help your brothers and sisters." Keuar exited the Tower and looked about him, up and down the streets. Clerics, paladins and servants had begun gathering outside the two temple entrances he could see from this location. As yet, however, he could see no presence of city guards. There was that, at least. He pointed his right hand into the air and began summoning the magical power from within him while his left hand retrieved a few bits from a hidden pocket. He began the gesticulations and sounds, focusing and shaping the magical energy to his will. Finally, the magic was released, the spell completed. High above the Tower, several bursts of fire and light erupted, accompanied by the thundering of drums, loud enough to be heard across the city. The signal had been prearranged between the groups. If they saw it, they were to cast aside all subtlety and flee for the Tower. Those who failed to expedite their progress at that point risked getting left behind. He watched as several of those he had seen at the nearby temples looked up in confusion for a moment. Then, as recognition took hold they began moving swiftly towards the Tower. The changes to the Great Hall were not the only things that had been altered about the Tower the last two days. They had also created 4 additional entrances around the base of the Tower. Each would have a hallway that led directly to the Great Hall. This would allow them to better handle the many people that would soon come flowing into the Great Hall on their way to the island. At least, that was the theory that would soon be put to the test. Keuar returned to his chambers at the top of the Tower and began moving from window to window, watching the progress throughout the city. Occupying the entirety of the top floor, his chambers provided an unequaled view of the city and surrounding countryside in every direction. Here and there he could see groups of priests, paladins, Woodsingers and their families making their way through the streets towards his location. He could also see that the city guard was beginning to organize itself. They would hopefully be slow to realize what was really happening. He watched as several units of guards flowed from the main barracks, marching westward through the streets. As yet, he saw no signs that any groups other than the normal patrols were moving throughout the remainder of the city. That was good. He began to feel the thrum of energy flow through the tower. He allowed himself a small smile. The first of the teleportations was beginning. As he continued to move from window to window, he could see the streams of people from the nearby temples now. All of them flowing towards the Wizards' Tower. The ticking from the clock on his wall served as a constant reminder that time was not on their side now. To the west he could see groups of clerics and paladins from the temple of Peth'Foran running from alley to alley, street to street. Here and there, brief skirmishes would break out between them and the city guard. But it seemed likely that many of them stood a good chance of reaching the Tower. He had been so intent on watching their progression that it had taken him a few moments to realize that another now watched beside him. Keuar did not need to look to know who it was. She was like that, able to slip in and out unnoticed whenever she needed to. By her father's insistence she had been raised with the ranger skills of the Woodsingers. The nobles at the time had found it amusing, if beneath her station. Those who spoken openly of their poor opinion would be taught painful or terrifying lessons about loose tongues: an arrow into a seat between their legs or a dagger prodded softly against their backs as they walked the halls. Such thoughts were soon kept to themselves. Keuar had taken open delight at their misery. It was one of the things that had drawn the two of them together over the years. His lips curled into a slight smile as he thought about one or two of those "examples" of so many years ago. He had wondered if she would come once this had started. Seeing that she had both cheered and terrified him. He had longed for one last chance to try and convince her, even knowing the futility of such a gesture. It was more likely that she had come to put down this "rebellion" before it went any further. As Queen Mehorana gazed out over the events in the city, Keuar watched her out of the corner of his eye. For several long minutes, she said nothing and Keuar eventually returned to watching the events unfold. The clashes had ended. The city guard no longer pursued any of the followers of Peth'Foran and appeared to be falling back to the barracks. At least there was that. "I had hoped you would change your minds," she said softly at long last, still looking out over the city. It took Keuar a moment to process what she had said. 'Minds' she had said. Not 'mind'. So, she knew then. Probably she had known their plans almost from the start. The secret council had known it was likely there would be at least one dissenter among them. They always knew this had been a long shot. He said nothing, only sighed deeply, even as the energies flowed once more to indicate another group teleporting away to safety. Well, they would get as many out as they could before the guards converged and overwhelmed them. Still, the Queen did not turn to face him. "How many can you save?" she asked, her voice still soft. Again, Keuar was caught by surprise. Was she letting them go? "My... My Queen?" was all he could manage. She finally turned to face him fully. He saw the tears streaming openly down her cheeks. How had he missed that before? "How many of my people can you save.... my love?" But, if word got out to the general populace. Wouldn't there be panic? Keuar pictured the inevitable horde of people rushing the Wizards' Tower seeking escape from the doom descending down upon them. There was no way the wizards and warriors of the faith could stop the stampede. Few would be able to escape. He couldn't find words to answer with. She read his thoughts anyway. She'd always been able to. "Not nobles.... not soldiers.... my people, the young, the children. How many can you save after the priests and Woodsingers go?" Yet again she had taken him by surprise. He told himself he shouldn't have been so surprised. She had always been one of the strongest, most brilliant people he had ever known. Stubborn, too, unfortunately. "I... don't know, my Queen. We had never dared to hope we would have made it even this far." She smiled at him briefly. Oh, how he had missed that smile. "The nobles are walling themselves up within their domains, seeking to defend their land and gold to the last. I have ordered all youth, children and young adults who are not yet of age, both Woodsinger and Starsinger, brought to the Tower. All able bodied adults have been ordered to gather what arms they may and report to the walls. There, they will each be told the truth: that there is no chance of escape, that they will die. But that every second they delay that death, they will improve the chances of their children surviving." She grasped him tightly by the arms and stared directly into his eyes. "Please, Ke," she pleaded. "Please tell me you can save the children." Keuar did not break her gaze, though his vision grew cloudy from tears within his own eyes. "We will save all that we can, Meho," he replied sincerely. She pulled him close and their arms wrapped around each other as they kissed deeply. Slowly, reluctantly, she broke the kiss and they pressed their foreheads together. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry that we wasted what little time we had left." "As am I," was all that Keuar could say in reply. They stood there, embracing one another in silence for several minutes. In the distance, trumpets began to blow once more. Queen Mehorana pulled reluctantly away. "I have to go soon. The attack is beginning." She turned and clanged her metal bracelets together twice and Keuar watched as up the stairs and into the chamber came most of the high clerics, all three of the army's commanders, and several of the Queen's advisors. Swiftly they gathered in an arc facing the pair, awaiting her commands. From her neck she removed Kali. The jeweled necklace had represented the rulership and authority of the Starsinger people for more than 3000 years. To Keuar's astonishment, she placed it around his neck. "Let all here now attest and bear witness," she commanded in her royal voice. "I make Keuar ruler of the people. From this moment forth does he rule. My confidence and.... and my heart... go with him. And to you," she nodded towards the high priests, "I give charge to teach the children of this lost people a better way." "Keuar," she said, turning back to him. "Hear my final commands as your Queen. I command you to take those you can save into the new place you have prepared. I command you to make them one people, a new people, equal and united. I command you to strip them of their pride and teach them love, equality and humility, that their arrogance does not destroy them as it has the people of this land." Keuar dropped to his knees, taking her hands in his. "I hear," he started, head bowed and his voice quivering. "I hear," he started again, his voice strong, "and obey, my Queen." Mehorana dropped to her knees before him to once more look him in the eyes. "No longer am I your Queen. Now, I am only your lover." She kissed him once more, then arose, lifting him up with her. "That," she continued, "and General of the Army. Save as many as you can, my love. We will give you every second that our blood can provide." With a final kiss, she and the commanders departed. It was the last he ever saw of her. Three days later, the invading horde finally broke through the city's defenses and began to overrun the last pockets of resistance. One by one, each of the last redoubts was crushed. In the mid-afternoon of that third day, as the invaders began to pour into the Magic District, a great rumbling sound began to thunder across the city. With an eruption of flying stone and debris, the Wizards' Tower exploded. For a few, brief moments, everything stopped. In the fading echoes of the explosion, only the cries of the dying could be heard. It didn't take long for the invaders to realize that aside from the Tower's destruction, little real damage had been done. And so, the pillaging continued. It wasn't until weeks later, as the armies marched back to their various homelands, their blades and armor stained with blood and their purses filled with pillaged treasure, that any of them began to ask the most important question of all: Where were all the children?