“It might be hard to believe, seeing the state of things now, but Nones is a military city, Dax. Always has been. It covers this entire peninsula and the whole of it is, or was, heavily fortified. At one time, Nones was an impregnable fortress with more defence mechanisms than you could count – take it from someone who knows. I’ve never seen its equal in all the worlds I’ve been to. The reason for the city being built this way is … hmmm. That’s an even longer story.

“Anyway. A reasonably long time ago – somewhere around the hundred-and-fifty-years mark – there was an internal power struggle for…complicated reasons. It turned violent; a lot of people were killed, and several important buildings in the central districts were blown up before it was over. One of them was the building that held the servers for Nones’ main databank and historical records – the Archive. Much of the data was corrupted if it wasn't destroyed outright.

“The biggest problem was that the Archive had also regulated all the city’s electrical and water supplies, and those junctions were badly damaged too. The city leaders had died in the fighting; without power or heat the people of Nones suffered through the worst winter of their history.

“That was a brutal time. There were only a handful of Earthborn in the outskirts of the city when the attacks came, lurking around in the ruins, but over that winter their numbers grew, and they started picking people off.”

“What are the Earthborn?” Dax asked.

“Leftovers, essentially. They’re the devolved – heavily devolved – remains of the Ancestors, a race who lived a long while ago. People around here often use the word ‘demon’ when they talk about them, but that’s more of a slur than a description. By and large, Earthborn aren’t clever, but they’re cunning.

“When people started striking out into the outskirts, looking for water supplies or power terminals, the Earthborn circled them in packs and took them down. They got bolder over time, and the people of the city got hungrier and colder. There was no shortage of armaments for those who wanted to steal what few supplies there were. Lawlessness started fermenting. The city was descending into chaos…”

Athellus took a drink of water, looking out into space.

“Then what happened?” prompted Dax, rapt.

“A man emerged from the populace, who refused to watch Nones tear itself apart - a noble who had been considered too young to join in the fighting that destroyed the Archive. He was a natural leader and he took charge of the city. They say ‘come the hour, come the man’… well, this was him.

“His name was Jayton Ember.”

 

 

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