TEN HOURS AGO

Eitan had no interest in visiting the City of Silver, not even for the signing of the historic Treaty of Accordance. And yet here he found himself, sinking further into the Thar desert with each step, the Argent Tower’s silver light gleaming in the distance.  Duty, he found, had a way of forcing him forward regardless of his desire.

He patted Bo, his camel’s neck as he looked above. Tiny, spherical homing beacons flitted overhead, most likely sent by the Argent Delegation, hosts of the signing. They would report back about his coming.

“Good,” Eitan said to Bo. “That will surprise them.”

The sun beat unrelenting overhead and beyond that, Eitan could see the emerald leyline of power that ran from the Skytree Tower to the Argent Tower in the City of Silver. Most of the time, the leylines were nearly invisible. But today, the Skytree’s emerald shardlight pulsed bright.

“See that, Bo?” he said to his camel. “The leyline is strong today.”

The camel huffed and gave Eitan one final affectionate lick before collapsing.

“Bo?”

Eitan checked his vitals. He was dead.

It took an hour to remove the mechanical leg augmentations built into Bo’s body. They were expensive, though crude, and would have attracted unwanted attention from roving gunslingers. He took another hour to bury the animal. It was a luxury of time he couldn’t afford but one he felt he must take. Bo was his friend. His only friend, really. The least he could offer was a proper burial.

What good was being a prince if he could not offer at least that?

When he was finished, he pulled his shroud down and threw his head back, drinking deep from a water skin. He wore durable leathers and goggles to protect his eyes from the unrelenting sun. It wasn’t enough.

“Would stealing an airship have killed you?” he mumbled, hurling a shardlight infused dagger at an acid monger leaping from beneath the sand. The dagger disintegrated as it sunk into the monger’s acidic flesh.

Eitan had set out to make it to the City of Silver ahead of the delegation from District Sol, before the city was overrun with politicians and warmongers, those whose interest in peace aligned more closely to their interest in money than in the wellbeing of the citizenry.

Something about the Treaty of Accordance didn’t smell right to him. Five of the districts of Argos had been at war for the last hundred and ten years. Now, all of a sudden, the warrior monks of District Knitehood wanted to make peace?  The monks of the Corum were always more warrior than monk. He didn’t trust it.

Then again, he didn’t trust anyone. To him, the ideological lines that separated the districts of the Forge from the Rose were too thin. The Forge, comprised of his own District Sol and District Stormheld, had fought against the Rose, made up of District Knitehood, Rao, and Gloom for the last hundred and ten years. In his time, he’d seen very little difference between the two. The Forge claimed to crave progress through any means necessary whereas the Rose preferred to tend the garden of what was, leaving progress to come on its own. In the end, both ways led to bloodshed.

That was why he traveled the Thar desert alone.

He replaced his shroud and trekked forward just as the sand began to shake. The air buzzed and popped as a cloud the size of a mountain passed overhead. Konost, the most powerful aerial fortress in District Sol, drifted at surprising speed distorting the air around it as it went.

Soon, more airships and land caravans would catch up to the fortress, passing Eitan. He couldn’t let that happen. Bo had died to get him to the city first. He must honor that sacrifice.

“You leave me with a final gift, my friend,” Eitan said to the spirit of his camel as he rejiggered the leg augmentations to fit his legs. They were mechanical, powered by shards built into the knee joints, and adjustable to fit any number of man or beast. He took a deep breath and slid its spikes painfully into his legs, connecting the shardlight directly to his nerves.

Seconds later, the pain disappeared, replaced by a warm infusion of shardlight. He felt strong. Reinvigorated. Powerful.

He took a step. Then another. It felt good. He leapt across the desert with superhuman strides until he escaped the shadow of the fortress and the sand gave way to silvery city pebbles.

To be continued...

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