No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity. But I know none, and therefore am no beast.
--William Shakespeare, Richard III
he barbarians had established themselves in an abandoned pumping station which was situated in a valley a mile or so from the mountain. From there a contingent began the march to Kraan. The chieftain's knowledge of the city and its whereabouts were the first fruits of his new-found servility to the sphere. The city's reduction would be the first step in his subjugation of the northern territories.
The few people they encountered were captured for intelligence, or shot down so that their approach would not be disclosed. The cavalrymen were ordered to dismount their huge bats and walk for the last leg of the journey, so as not to reveal the army's presence.
They approached the city near dawn of the following day. Falling out of column, they formed a line of battle, hidden from view by the range of low hills which separated the city from the plains they had traversed. Scouts took up concealed positions to observe.
The city was situated in a shallow, spacious valley. It was protected by a high wall on all four sides, with a large, elaborately designed gate centered on one. The portal stood open, the townsfolk unaware of the impending attack. It was still morning and it was not a work day, so there was little activity.
The city was laid out in a grid-like network of wide streets. There being little wood available in the surrounding wastelands, the buildings had been constructed largely of stone. Many of the them were cylindrical in shape. Their smooth, rounded, stuccoed exteriors were painted in pastels of green, violet, peach and blue. They had highly ornamented windows and entranceways possessing simple, geometrical order.
Dominating the city, and easily visible from the surrounding hills, was the council chambers, an imposing, highly stylized domed structure with ornate and decorative elements. A broad avenue led from it directly to the main gate.
The citizens of Kraan possessed a highly developed culture which they had preserved with great effort in the post-technological era of decline. The city's sometimes faltering economy was sustained by a middle class of tradesmen and merchants. A council of seven, elected for life terms, governed the city and oversaw the various governmental departments.
The barbarian leader ranged up and down the rank and file, giving orders to his lieutenants and quietly exhorting his soldiers, preparing them for the assault.
His elite regiments were armed with sophisticated weapons capable of firing steel bolts at high speed. Magazines could be quickly loaded and gravity fed through the firing chamber. They also used four-barreled weapons which fired large, barbed steel arrows with considerable accuracy. A handful of demolition units were equipped with flame-throwers and high explosives. The regular troops brandished a variety of bows, swords, and spears. Siege engines, hauled in pieces by pack animals for many miles, were assembled by teams detailed for the task.
At last he mounted his beast, swung a battle ax high over his head, and shouted, "To the Council Chambers!"
A wild melee of whooping and shouting broke the still morning air as the troops poured over the hills and ran down towards the city gates. Simultaneously, the men mounted on bats took to flight and descended upon the upper terrace of the main gatehouse, killing or scattering the handful of guards posted there. Some of the barbarian cavalry also flew across the city and seized the smaller gate on the far wall to prevent any escape. This was easily accomplished, and within minutes the barbarians were flooding into the city. Supported by the cavalry, they commenced a merciless slaughter.
The attack caught the citizens completely by surprise. Chaos reigned as people in the streets scattered and ran. Those indoors, hearing the commotion, came to their windows or doorways, then hid in terror or fled from their dwellings. Crowds of panicked citizens were encircled and shot down from the ground and from the bats circling above. The few who were able to take to the air were relentlessly pursued and killed. Mutilated bodies, their limbs askew, began to fill the streets, singly or in random heaps. The air was filled with shouting, shrieking, and the moaning of the wounded.
The demolition units followed behind the main body of troopers, setting fires and destroying important structures with explosives. The flame-throwers were directed to the buildings in which large numbers of the populace had sought refuge, and they began spraying the burning liquid in through the windows. Thick columns of greasy smoke and the stench of burning flesh soon filled the air.