The Warriors of the Floating City
“You’ll see the dark sun of the city before you see its warriors” The elder had said. “But do not stare, do not linger or wait. The sun is large, but it rises quickly. It rises, and its warriors range far and wide beneath its shadow.”
As children, we thrilled and murmured at stories of the floating city, the warriors with red-painted faces who towed the creaking ropes of their dark sun from the lands beyond the horizon, beyond the mountains that look out over places where gods are said to dwell, and the sun which scorches our lands rests in his home at night. Only the elder himself had ever seen the floating city. Only the elder had seen it rise over the crest of the hot horizon like a huge dark sun of hide and fur. Only the elder had lived to see up close the statues hammered out of the dark body of a fallen star which spit fire into a bowl of black rock, the burning belly of the hungry city. Only the elder knew of the voracity of the city, and the stories which would pass his lips of whole forests leveled and fed to the fires beneath it haunted us and chased our souls through the twisted sands of our dreams at night.
“No one fights like the warriors of the floating city” The elder had said. “They are beastmen, huge and hulking monoliths of stony skin fierce and deadly with both spear and atlatl. They are as hungry as their dark god, the city, and they will devour all who fall in their path, feeding the bones and all they do not consume to the fire of fallen star.” Stories of teeth as sharp as chipped obsidian shivered into our bones as he spoke of children torn apart by the warriors, the way the servants of the dark sun would gnaw on the legs of the strongest of men, crushing them between stony jaws in ways that left us squirming and shifting. He spoke of the fall of his own village when he was a boy barely tall enough to walk, the way the warriors of his tribe had hooted and called challenges to the floating city, the way even the fiercest fighters among them had fallen before the beast men of the dark sun. Only the elder had escaped, hidden in a small hole sealed with a stone and swaddled in the furs of his dying mother. He often talked of her valiance with a tear in his eye, the way she had marched back to join her husband in the belly of the floating city, her skin more flesh to sate the warriors, her bones more tinder to feed the fires of the fallen star.
We memorized the elder’s stories and carried them into our play as
children, but never did we believe truly that the city might be real.
Never did we believe truly that we would live to see it, or that it
might have continued feeding into a time when the elder had grown old
and passed on to the lands of the dead.
Then, one day, as I went out of my hut to greet the rising sun of another brilliant day as a man of my village, my eyes met the dark stare of another sun instead. A dark sun.
The dark sun of the floating city.
And on the horizon, clear as bloodied speartips raised to a brilliant sky: