The Nine-Bridge War, on the night of the Harrowing, as reported by Cavalier First Class Xa Ko.
Five bells and seven. All squadrons falling in spokes. I, the Strategus of spoke five.
Report: Spoke five resplendent in starshine. Metal chests polished to fine gleam.
Night of owls, flying overhead in the streaks of white. Owls report no enemy on steps of Beta Gap. Enemy camped at Bellows, point seven miles distant. All spokes ordered to front spines.
Enemy with cannonadoes of fire, forges of titanium rain at ready. Catavels and pickets to the seventh position. Wings on standby.
Moons over the Gap. Stillness of the stars. Girders of the Ninth Bridge silver in starshine.
Order from Strategus of Spoke Two. Limited advance along south channel of bridge. Tempt them out of their holes.
Belay that order, says I. Weakens the vanguard. Exposes the guns. Just what they want. Playing into their wheels, as it were.
Belay overruled. Strategus Two, Strategus Four, Strategus Eleven all favor advance.
Objection, Field Marshal. When did army become a democracy?
Objection noted. Cavalier. Will refer to HQ at dawn.
Too may Strategusses, I think. One head, one body, that is the way to go.
Recommendation noted, Cavalier Ko. Will refer to HQ at earliest possible.
Spoke Two advancing to forward position. South channel secured. Owls report scattered enemy lightage at four degrees, point seven miles distant.
This is Field Marshal. Advance to Gap position Four East, Spoke Two. Secure pillboxes. Establish Gap superiority.
Negative on advance to East Gap. Not happy with this move. What if enemy in Gap?
Owls report negative enemy presence in Gap, Cavalier Ko. No lightage. No troops. No infantry, cavalry, hoplites, peltasts, slingers, psiloi or grunts. No catavels, battaliers, cannon, blunderbusses, arquebusses, hacketbusses, howitzers, Five-Nines, Big Berthas, Long Johns or Snubs.
Point taken, Field Marshal. May I see the owl data? What is that? Halfway down the Gap
Speculation rife, Cavalier Ko. A derailed trolley perhaps, disposed of in the Gap. A building destroyed by fire and pitched down the Gap. Some hitherto unrecorded natural feature of the Gap.
Something in the Gap. Between us and Spoke Two.
Something too large to climb out of the Gap, Cavalier. Even if it could climb smooth walls. Now if you’ll excuse me. My swagger stick please.
Must profess unease, Field Marshal. Enormous unidentified presence in Gap presents giant unknown for outcome of battle. Suggest dispatch Worm-und-Drang down Gap for exploratory extirpation.
Unease noted, Cavalier. Suggestion dismissed. Prepare Spoke Two for advance. Move out.
Five Bells and Nine. Spoke Two is across the Gap. Pillboxes Four, Sixteen and Thirty secure. Pillbox Five occupied by squatters. Squatters ousted, remonstrated with. Pillbox five secure.
Spoke One reports disturbance. Nature of disturbance: noise. What sort of noise? Noise described as rumbling. Spokes Three and Seven report rumbling also.
As do — what is that rumbling? All spokes report rumbling. Nature of rumbling: As yet undetermined. Determination of rumbling source is Priority One at this time.
Vanguard reports presence in Gap. Description of presence: enormous, simply outlandishly enormous.
Like a tremendous iron bird — no, make that several iron birds. At least a dozen tremendous iron birds, linked, like a train, soaring out of the Gap.
Spoke Two, report please.In your estimation, is presence hostile? Is it enemy presence, please affirm or deny.
Spoke Two, report please, Come in, Spoke Two.
Spoke Four reports heavy fire from direction of Gap. Intense, pounding artillery fire. Fusillades of molten titanium and lead. Spoke Four, you have authorization to return fire. Repeat, Spoke Four, you are authorized to return fire. Spoke Four, please signal affirm or deny.
Spoke Four, come in please.
Starlight like cannon shells frozen in mid-bang. The night clear and cold. Over the girders of the bridge, a vision out of Hell.
Nineteen gargantuan iron birds, not ducks, not owls. Condors perhaps, or sandpipers. Nineteen iron birds, portholes for eyes, guns fore, guns aft, guns amidships. Nineteen birds linked back to front, in a convoy. Soaring of birds. Wheeling of birds. They hover, and then they swoop.
Fire cascades from their beaks, and all guns open at once. The first bastinade takes out Spokes One and Six, lined up in an Illyrian Phalanx formation along the North Channel. The rolling, licking, howling ball of flame and lava erases the fearless cat-and-truncheon pistoneroes from their last brave stand. The barrage scours the Bridge clean of defenders. Spokes Seven, Three and Five are left, and, we suspect, they may be in for a bad time.
The shrieking iron caravan pounds us with balls, pricks us with grapeshot, rends us with chain- shot, hammers us with shells. Our guns cannot sight on this airborne whirlwind. The bridge is primordial chaos, the first blind panic of creation remembered, a nightmare vortex of running, wailing, shouting, commanding, ignoring commands and desperate, desperate escaping. All the while fire scours, missiles pound, bolts puncture, bullets spray and heads, limbs, feet, gauges, gears, ratchets, flywheels, springs fly hither and yon in a maelstrom of carnage.
I, the Strategus of Spoke Five. I rally the last remnants in a last stand. ‘Charge for the guns’ I shout, not really sure what I mean. The men advance slowly, losing two companions for every shot fired. Hunkered down behind Caisson Forty-Six South, we vow that we won’t die without taking some part of this bastard bird with us.
The bird squeaks. It turns, midair. It spots us and swoops for the kill.