“They just keep on coming. Nothing has stopped them. I watched my brothers struggle against them. I have foreseen my sister’s fall. I watched Fourth go mad. What he did… is unforgivable… madness cannot excuse all. They will come for me, even if I am last. I will not wait. I will not let them eat us one by one until we are no more. My children deserve better. I will meet them at their gates not mine. The maker, The God as my witness I will stand. His favor to me, I will prevail.” – said to the wind
The Picovian Empire is not a new thing. It isn’t something that hadn’t happened before. Empires come and empires go in the world that is. But for the ten cities… the empire has been devastation. A new and horrible threat. The Forest which had so threatened the rest of the world could not make it past the Mountains of God’s Palm. The River refused passage to its west bank; referencing an ancient promise. And until the Picovians no one ever saw value in marching armies down through the northern mountains into a land of sand and wind.
The ten cities are nothing and everything. They are nothing to the world outside their sandy rivers. They are everything to those inside it. Nothing can be built anywhere but the cities. Some deep ancient words had been spoken into this place. Foundations would not stick. People would not stay. But the cities were there. Refuges to any who traveled this land and a meeting point of incompatible worlds. They trade briskly with The River, The Forest and the northern peoples. Safe from The Forest they do not mind accepting its gifts and goods and in passing them on the cities cleanse them of the forest’s lure. The only path from the north to the river they are a portal for The River’s endlessly gathered goods.
The Picovian armies were the first to solve the mountain’s puzzle. They marched south laid siege to the First, a city that had never known open warfare. Surprisingly the city refused surrender, refused to kneel. Predictably they crushed the token resistance, pierced the city walls and laid claim. Even then the cities denizen’s refused to submit. Eventually they simply sacked the whole city. Every native to the city died. Only then with a deep and resounding silence did the city die and finally in death submit.
Undisturbed, reconciled to the violence of their trade the Armies of Pico never even noticed. They began importing their own merchants/populace into the dead city and moved their camp to the next city in their path.
Third. Having seen what happened to its northern brother third had a little more preparation. A little more planning. But two seasons is not enough time to turn a city of merchants into a city of battle hardened soldiers. The Picovians rolled right over the resistance. And again found themselves forced to kill everyone to the man.
They crossed the waters that lay as a boundary between Third city and Fourth and swarmed towards their third victim. Fourth city saw them coming and in despair and madness the citizens made a pact. They accepted defeat and preempted the invading army. The city killed itself in a single horrible night of blood and weeping. And the land refused them. A dark shroud ripped from sky covering the city… as if heaven itself refused to see the city any longer. No the Picovian’s would not have that city… but what it had done was so horrible that nature would not accept its presence anymore. Since that day a never ending shroud of fog covers the city and surrounding lands. The invading Empire stopped on the doorstep of the fog and paused. Scouts never came back. Patrols failed to return. Finally the Armies simply built a series of outposts to guard the edges of the fog and turned their eyes east towards Sixth.
Ah, Sixth, Gem of the land’s heart, beloved of the desert. This is her tale. This is her story, and with her… us all.