CHAPTER 4 Storms and Sieges Perhaps it was once like this. For a while at least. When the gods did battle on that fateful day, perhaps those in the distance saw it as the Northern Lights. Beautiful colours, a swirling of day and night amid the stars. Perhaps they looked upon those shapes and knew that were greater things than any of us. Perhaps before the shockwaves hit, they felt wonder. This time each year came the Season of the Northern Lights. A burst of colour amid white winter. Most Pegulians knew the cause: the collision of sun rays with gaseous particles above the planet's northern hemisphere. It was not a thing divine or of any great mystery. In other nations it might have been treated so. Yet the Northern Lights were for Pegulis alone, and even school children understood them for what they were. Yet still... it did not keep the Blue Republic from awe. The season was a time for festivals, for star-gazing and night parties. In Aldus they would gather on the Wall and crane their necks to watch the colours. In Barvelle platforms would be constructed on the mountainsides and tower-tops, and lone tunnels would rise to observatory plateaus. Children would sleep by day and by night be taken to their classes in chromatic ambiance. And in Tavark they would hunt the Gartooth Mammoths, driven from their tundra by the lights, and make a feast of them in the Great Hall. For seven days and nights the Northern Lights would dance, and all Pegulis would see joy rekindle. But not so this year. For just as the firestorms of the Cataclysm followed hard upon that first beauty, so now did peril chase this season's Lights. In Tavark the homes were silent, and the colours painted only sentry motions of the occupiers. In Barvelle the people stayed below and debated their enslavement to the whims of the Ghoul Sage. And in Aldus... trouble circled. Four days had passed since the earthquake in the west. There had been great rumblings like meteor strikes beyond the border. Those posted on the Wall spoke of mountains moving on the horizon, and great divisions in the forest. It was hard to see it clearly. The spore clouds over Viridos conspired with blizzards to make their vision cloudy. Yet doubtless something terrible had occurred in the Green Nation. Sages advised calm and made no change to the guard detail. And for four days there had been silence. The watchmen waited for the threat to come, as they had always done, on this alien border. Yet the forest settled and shook no more. But now, as the first night of the Northern Lights began, it brought new dangers. For out of that rumbling disaster to the west, the shockwaves of tragedy and desperation rippled. They made no secret of their coming. Landing in streets and on church-tops and grain stores, the avian refugees numbered dozens, maybe hundreds. Frail already by means of their diet, the immigrants were on the verge of starvation. They begged whoever they found, and when the panic passed they were run from shops and market squares like nuisances. Some huddled in alleyways or built fires between the Aldus structures. There seemed no leader among them. These were the first wave to flee the Aviary as it plummeted. The young, the enfeebled, the ragtags of broken bloodlines. Not the finest dynasties of the winged people; but indeed the very opposite. The Aldus Watch were rallied, and began the clearing of refugees from strategic ground. And barely an hour had passed when the second peril showed. For hard on the heels of the refugees came something greater. Something caused by the geomantic rupture of the flying city. Something which had mingled with the mana densities and cold fronts of the Pegulian border... and bred a terror in the skies. An Arcane Storm. There had been few in history, most half-remembered in the aftermath of the Cataclysm. None so threatening as this. It would roll eastward on the ice borders, and send great tendrils to the north. It was be over Aldus within the hour. Barvelle within a day. Tavark within two. And soon the avians would not cower alone.