A dozen horsemen rode slowly in a loose single file. The horses’ heads hung low, and so did the riders’: The Beni Hazeed tribe had been wiped out by slavers; the second settlement this month. Six hundred souls lost to the inhumanity of the Theocritan slavers.A Hazeedi rider had come to the Third City, asking the Rangers for help. They had seen some House’s scouting party in their territory. Probably the Dolces, Allen thought. The rise of the new God King and abolishing of slavery of the capitol pushed out the slaving families further south and east, closer to the deserts he called home. The rangers had ridden out, and were too late, again.
The smell of death had hit their noses first. The settlement was littered with bodies, barely a day old. The sands beneath them were coagulated with the spilled blood of those who resisted or were executed. What tents were not torn down, were burned. The unmistakable scent of burnt flesh could be smelled around them.
Allen easily envisaged the scene, as he’d witnessed this now, and heard the accounts of the grief stricken survivors. Slave soldiers would stream into a settlement, screaming war-cries and riding down anyone in the way, striking terror and confusion. The priests and nobles rode in when it was safe. All survivors would have been gathered. The wounded, old, sick, and weak would have been executed, and the rest chained in iron and made to march back to the slave pens — a week or sometimes month long journey through the southern deserts, where they would be broken and trained to be subservient to their masters for generations to come. Many don’t even survive to get to the slave pens, much less get through their “training”. The babies almost certainly don’t, though their mothers cling onto to them all the same. Perhaps, Allen considered, being dashed against a rock by the slavers might be a more merciful fate than enduring the journey and a lifetime of slavery.
The riders returned the long hours home and eventually, the silhouette of the Third City could, be seen, outlined by the sun setting behind it.
“Home…” Allen thought, but the word brought little comfort.
Almost fifty thousand souls called this city their home, thirty thousand of which claimed descent from Selidor, the other twenty thousand being Theocritan refugees who had set up rickety shanties around the city. The word city did not capture the oddness of the place, he thought. Having grown from the original Selidorian mega-zeppelin, it retained its rough cigar shape, but its towers streets had long ago merged with the rocky canyon walls that marked the boundaries of its sandy resting place.
“It’s a goddamn ship, teach! It ain’t meant to be sitting here. We should be out there, helping folk!” He remembers arguing with a captain of the Selidorian Rangers.
And at one time, the city did. This is why it was in the Theocracy. The continent was dying and Selidor sent the Second and Third Cities to help them. They saved them and when the Brain Burners came, they, like the Lost Fleet, betrayed their home. The Second City chose to rule the Theocracy, creating the God King, and the Third accepted defeat and became a hermit nation.
The party rode silently through the shanty town, and into the Ranger station at the edge of the city.
“At ease, boys.” Captain Theodore said as he dismounted. “Steven, Jerry, take the survivors to the infirmary. The rest of you… dismissed.”
“This ain’t right, Capt’n.” Allen piped up. “This ain’t right, we should’ve gone after them.”
His fellow rangers paused, as if bracing for the argument to come.
“Hush, Allen.” The captain said calmly. “Now’s not the time.”
“It never is with you!” Allan steps away from his horse and towards his captain. “We could have gone after them and saved those poor folk.”
“Chase after them and get ourselves killed, or save who we could and get them to safety. I made the call, Ranger.”
“Bullshit! The rangers of old would never back down. They’d have gone for it, fought for freedom, and died for it!”
“You watch your tone when you speak to me, kid.” Captain Theodore snapped back, “This ain’t Selidor. Being a hero in this god forsaken desert not only gets you killed, but the rest of us too! and in the long term could unite the houses against us.”
Allen, sick of hearing, to his young mind, platitudes, blurted out, “You’re a cowar…’ his thoughts on the matter were cut short by a haymaker.
“Enough! Hand over your badge and your gun. You’re relieved of duty until further notice!” The captain bellowed at the stunned Allen.