Chapter 38:

Chapter 38 - The Siege of Sebastopol


On the afternoon of the third day, Anua’s dustsnuffle (who she affectionately referred to as “Gus”) crested a dune tall enough to provide them a view of the city… Or, rather, its great gray walls. Roulette remembered having seen photographs of the city in her guidebook. She’d scoffed inwardly at the time, supposing that a capital so intent on hiding itself behind a big, ugly barrier couldn’t be all that impressive.

Now she wasn’t so sure.

“Ahhh… I have never been so happy to come home again,” Anua declared, glancing back at her fellow rider. “...Though, I admit, it does not look so inviting from the outside.”

Roulette stifled a blush. The older woman had an uncanny sense for how those around her were feeling, and even after hours of conversation the girl had yet to adjust. “Uhm, well… I wouldn’t say that, exactly! It looks real… Mmm… Sturdy?”

Anua laughed softly. “It does, at that,” she agreed. “A leftover from the Truvelan magewars. When the enemy first landed here, far to the north, Sebastopol was no capital; little more than a fishing village, really.”

“A fishing village?” Roulette echoed, looking east. “We haven’t hit the eastern coast yet, have we? Truvelo can’t be that small.”

“We are still many miles from the ocean,” the woman explained. “Sebastopol rests on the banks of the Difucian sea–a bountiful body of water all its own. This made it strategically important to the mages, who coveted the idea of having a reliable food source this far inland.”

Roulette could see it, now: a glittering plane of water that extended far to the south and east, complete with a dozen or so fishing boats trawling beneath its calm, crystalline surface. It was a breathtaking sight, and a humbling one.

“The wise king of our then-capital, Seme, recognized this,” Anua continued. “He relocated Truvelo’s seat of government to Sebastopol and personally oversaw its fortification. He arranged for the construction of thick walls hewn of crushed basalt and other minerals, then prepared for a siege.

“When the mages arrived, they behaved as he had predicted, installing arcan fixtures at the base of the wall to act as amplifiers for their destructive magic. Then they sent in their siegebreakers–experienced masters of elemental sorcery–to channel their powers into each fixture.”

Roulette tilted her head. The girl didn’t know much about how the Magocracy had done business back in the day, but she did know one thing: no wall had ever stopped a mage. “What was the point of all that preparation, then?” she asked. “The king had to know they’d just knock down the wall with their magic. If wizards were good for one thing, it was destroyin’ whoever or whatever stood in their path.”

The aged Gunsmith nodded her head. “True. No wall, no matter how thick, could stand up to the methods I described for longer than a minute or two,” she admitted. “But the wall was not placed there to defend against their weapons… It was there to defend against ours.”

Before Roulette could voice her confusion over that last sentence, she heard a chuckle to their right. It seemed that Marka had overheard their discussion. He had been riding beside them on Mimi’s dustsnuffle, Fancy, and appeared to have drifted closer at the mention of Sebastopol’s history.

“Must you be so cryptic with her, Anua?” he scolded, smiling good-naturedly. “Unlike us, Wessoners do not come out of the cradle knowing all about the Siege of Sebastopol.”

Anua looked his way with fondness in her eyes, but her lips were pursed. “Marka. I love you dearly. But will you kindly butt out and let an old woman enjoy her penchant for dramatic flair?”

That ruffled him good; she’d never seen the man look so sheepish. He bowed his head apologetically and guided Fancy away again, suddenly becoming very interested in the endless field of featureless dunes that stood to the west.

“That was a little harsh, don’t you think?” Roulette inquired.

Anua dismissed her concerns with a casual wave of the hand. “Bah. He will be fine,” she said. “Now, where was I?”

“The wall. You said somethin’ about it bein’ there to protect against the Truvelans’ own weapons.”

“Ah, very good.” Anua paused to point straight ahead, in the direction of the city. “Tell me, what do you notice about the city walls? Anything odd?”

The girl leaned out from behind Anua to take a good look. The day was clear and sunny, and she could see the city well from their current vantage. Roulette didn’t really know what she was looking for, but one thing did stand out now that they’d drawn a little closer:

The walls weren’t straight. They curved upward and inward, forming something that resembled a half-finished dome.

“The walls are curved,” she observed.

“Exactly,” Anua said. “This was intentional. The walls of Sebastopol were built based on the formulae of the finest mathematicians in Truvelo. You see, a new kind of weapon had recently been developed in Seme–a special cannon designed to fire explosive shells at a steep angle. It was known as the mortar.”

Roulette snapped her fingers. It all made sense to her now! “Ahh, so the walls were designed to curve beneath the flight path of the mortar’s shells!”

“Just so,” Anua confirmed. “While the mages prepared to channel their sorcery, several mortars were deployed and fired inside the city. Each shell flew perfectly over the rim of the wall, descended alongside it… And landed right at the feet of the elementalists! In a single volley, the most talented group of destruction mages on the continent were completely wiped out! And, thanks to the strength of Sebastopol’s walls, the city was spared any damage from the resulting explosions.”

“That’s amazin’...” Roulette said, unable to keep the awe out of her voice. “That must have damn near won you the whole war!”

Anua shook her head sadly. “If only. Unfortunately, many months of bitter fighting followed that victory, and the walls were eventually breached in places by smaller cadres of siegebreakers. However, the city was never taken in its entirety–my people managed to hold them off until the fall of Enfield, at which point the enemy’s morale was spent. From then on, the mages ceased to be a serious threat.”

Roulette looked ahead toward the gray-walled city with newfound respect. If Anua’s history lesson wasn’t sufficient motivation to avoid judging a book by its cover, she didn’t know what was.

“That’s a hell of a story, Anua,” she said. “I can see why you shooed Marka away; you were worried he’d mess with your flow.”

“Mm, that reminds me,” the woman replied. She waved to Marka, gesturing him over. “Marka! Come over here, you dear man!”

He guided his mount back over and pulled up even with Gus, greeting them with a subdued smile. He wasn’t the type to get sullen over a touch of mistreatment, but Roulette could tell he was wary of earning another tongue-lashing from his idol.

“I apologize, Marka. I spoke too harshly before.” she said. “Can you forgive an old storyteller for being a little… Overparticular about how she tells her tales?”

Marka appeared to think on it for a minute. “I suppose…” he answered at length, “Perhaps in exchange for a loaf of your famous Sebastopol bomb bread?”

Anua laughed brightly, giving her head another shake. “Wizards below! The way to a man’s heart truly is through his stomach,” she lamented. “Bomb bread it is. In fact, I was hoping to bring you all along to my gunsmithy anyway. I have a few curiosities there that may be more willing to give up their secrets in good company.”

To Roulette’s surprise, Morgan was the next to hustle over to insert himself into the conversation: “Y’all talkin’ about bread over here? I’m starvin’.”

Mimi, of course, wasn’t far behind. “Don’t leave a lady walking all alone without excusing yourself, you brute!” she fumed, giving his arm a slap. “I swear! I can’t take you anywhere. Making a suitable man out of you will be the struggle of my already-hectic life.”

She straightened out her shorts and safari jacket primly, then, no doubt readying herself for her grand return to Sebastopol high society. “...Also, I believe I heard some mention of bread? I, too, would like some bread.”

A bout of infectious laughter took hold of the group as they made their way toward the city gates. And, for the first time since she’d left home, Roulette found herself experiencing the kind of warm fuzzies she’d previously associated with the presence of family. It was only natural, she reckoned; sure as a sunrise, the majority of these misfits had slowly but surely wormed their way into her heart. She’d been plenty uncertain of her chosen path in the last few days, but as long as she had Morgan and Marka on her side, the girl had a feeling that it would all turn out right in the end.

A sudden throbbing in her leg distracted Roulette from her wholesome thoughts. She looked down to see a patch of angry, infected flesh near her ankle, practically weeping with pus.

It’ll all be okay, she reassured herself. Tonight is all about good food and good friends.

We’ll save the worry for tomorrow.

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