To Fly on Metal Wings
The broken industrial towers of Alskaard loom like weary sentinels on the northern banks of Lake Greida in the war-torn Skor river valley between Palladia and the Vinahr. Twenty-five years ago the city was wealthy and populous, the most valuable prize in the string of bustling cities along the Skor. The banners of a proud and resurgent Palladia hung from every building in the city, and the old Vihnari governor’s mansion had been rededicated as a permanent monument to the valor of the heroes, Northern and Southern alike, responsible for the reunification of the two sister nations.
But then Prince Ottar, beaten in the south, garrisoned his army in Alskaard. The Vihnari, armed with Moorlands-made artillery encamped on the other side Lake Greida and bombarded the city day and night for four days. Thousands of shells were fired, and by the time the guns went silent, Prince Ottar’s army was shattered and the city with it. In the 22 years since that fateful week, the city has never truly recovered.
The Vihnari army enforced brutal order in the city after the war, but they were withdrawn to encourage comity in the 880s. Things deteriorated quickly – violent gangs took control of the streets, anarchists assassinated two successive mayors and an inconsequential Viscount, and rampant corruption put a keen edge on the worsening food shortages. The soldiers, and a semblance of order, returned in the early 890s, but the bulk and the best of the garrison was sent to the Battle of Satyeva and then on to other duties, leaving the city under-manned. Things have grown worse since then, becoming like the bad old days once more.
Hrungebard Hill used to be a nice place to live, with big sprawling mansions arranged haphazardly amid lush gardens with a beautiful view of the lake. Down the slope things were never so nice, but it was the sort of place where a man with a steady job in the manufactories could one day hope to put his family up in a little cottage or half of a townhouse. The city even erected extensively manicured terraced gardens along the sunny southern slope where the princes of industry and their lowliest employees could mix and mingle as though separated by such a little thing as geography.
Then came the rains of fire and crushed mansion and cottage alike. The public gardens went up in flames and became just as much ash as the private ones. Shells carved craters into the hillside and buried the homes below in showers of dirt and shrapnel while the inhabitants hid and shivered in their basements until the days of light and thunder came to an end. They dug the houses out, and planted new gardens, but the people were changed. The mansions stood empty, their occupants dead, imprisoned, or fled northwards. They never fixed the holes in the roofs, or the gouges in the streets where mortars came to rest. The garden plants, untended, grew out of control and became as much a hazard as the park’s new inhabitants: vagrants and criminals.
You can still find good people down in the wallows, but everywhere there is visible evidence of the tough times they have suffered. Packs of grubby children in ragged clothes and shabby hand-me-down caps, too young for factory or shop work, rule the streets during the day while parents and older siblings toil away. The houses are in dire need of paint and new shingles, and seem much too small for the families living there. Humans have moved out, mostly. Those who remain have comparably high status, they are the owners of the dingy little shops and carts that sell worn clothing and home-goods with a few years of use left in them, bonesetters, and conjurers. The dog-, cat-, and rat-men have moved in, joined by filthy shiftless goblins.