The Defences of Panerets
My head hurt something dreadful. As I stood up my blood pressure rose and it made a cracking sound behind my ears. May steadied me a bit by holding me under my arm.
I hadn’t been in Panerets properly before. Their arena is beautiful, with carved wood and stone everywhere you look, but it’s on the outskirts of the town like in New Haven. The place we were staying in had a low roof. People from Pan are always short. In the arenas I’ve seen three dead that were from Pan originally. They always let the Pan dead hold onto a blunt Pan-Rapier sword when they’re in the arenas, like some sort of tradition or something. They don’t know what to do with the thing and usually just drop it, but the Paneretians always carry their Rapier with them when they’re alive. Even the old people. Or at least they’re supposed to. May had hers with her. It made me feel a little more confident.
We walked out into the street. The street was cobbled with small, perfectly square, dark blue stones. The roof tops were all tiled in blood red tiles and red curtains seemed to flow out of every window. The Paneretians all wear a kind of dress. Male and female. They are either bright red, or deep blue and have gold patterns woven into them. Their language is not understandable at all. I don’t even think that they can understand it.
Jeremy was sitting on the step leading up to the house. He smiled when he saw me. I nodded to him.
“Told you!” I heard Boss’ voice. “I told you he’d find us!” I was pretty sure what May said was right, and that Boss was a bit too quick to let me drown if that was what was to be. But he came striding over with Ben and Alexis beside him. Alexis, strangely, was wearing the leather and canvas armours of the Paneret Patrio. He still had his broad sword with him, but he was now carrying two Pan Rapiers on his belt. Boss put his hands on my shoulders and smiled at me. “You made me proud, boy. I knew you’d do it!” I smiled back. But I didn’t want to.
The world was peaceful in that second. There were no problems. It was hard to describe but I felt proud of myself. I realised how much I wanted his approval. But then, I also wasn’t sure any more. Suddenly, breaking that silence, like a tree falling to the hard clay soil, there rolled a thundering and unstoppable boom past us. It seemed to carry a geography with it to tell us where it had come from, and it rolled past us; shaking us and the buildings as it went. Boss looked at Alexis and said through gritted teeth, “Go now!” Alexis’ muscles seemed to bristle and he looked so strong. He walked off, into the street, and away from us.
“What was that?” I asked. Boss’s left hand was still on my shoulder. May’s mother was yelling something at her in Paneretian and people were starting to run through the streets.
“C’mon; I’ll show you.”
Boss led me past a long line of houses. Someone had dressed me in a deep blue Pan shirt and trousers that go under their dresses. They were thin cotton but they were clean. I felt full. I guess I must have eaten something before I knew what was happening. My hand brushed past my leg and I realised I didn’t have my pants with me now. The shirt went past my knees. But it felt strange not wearing pants. I kept running. Boss was really moving fast. My head was killing again.
We ran through back alleys and small streets that were endlessly connected with other small winding alleyways. Pan is nothing but alleyways. There is only one area in the whole city with a sort of Main Street, but even that is just wide enough for two horses and wagons to pass. When we got to the city wall we saw Alexis. We got up behind him and Boss slapped him on the leather armour. He turned to see us but looked back instantly. He was listening to someone talking. There were hundreds of other Paneretian soldiers all decked out in their leather and canvas armour. The soldiers, who were both male and female, all yelled out a sound then ran in every direction. We followed Alexis for a moment then Boss slapped him again on the back and we parted off toward a laneway that led up stairs. Boss grabbed my arm and looked at me with an have expression on his face that to anyone else would appeared as though he was kidnapping me. He pulled me into a doorway. “C’mere, I’ll show you something.” We went through a doorway into a corridor that led into another doorway. In there there was a staircase. Up the stairs we went, up and up, in a spiral, until we were at the top of what I presume was a tower, but it had no roof to it. It was probably a look out of some kind along the city wall, but it appeared as though its top had fallen off. As I saw the sky and realised that the staircase led nowhere I also realised how precariously I was close to the edge. I hate heights, pigs and ants. Boss put his hand on my shoulder again and steadied me. I looked out. We were way up high. Above the trees. I looked out across the landscape and then that same rolling sound came past us like a wave again. It shook where we were standing and stones fell down the staircase. They clunked and rattled down the cavern inside the tower, echoing for ages after the rumble passed.
“What is that?!” I asked in a panic.
“There,” Boss said as he pointed down to the forest floor. There, in the trees, I could just make out a place where the thick trees and undergrowth were cleared to make a path. My eyes followed the irregularity in the trees in a straight line and realised that it was leading directly from the back walls of Panerets in the direction of Jessop Kingdom.
Boom. The sound repeated but this time it was louder and faster moving. The stones that the tower was made of shook and more fell away.
“There! THERE!” Boss said, as he edged closer to the precipice, and he pointed downward. I leaned toward the edge, even though it made me feel ill, but I saw it. Something amazing. When I craned my head over the edge I saw something that was only visible by sticking my head out so far that I could see the outside part of Pan’s wall. There was what looked like a house, made from steel, moving slowly away from the wall of Pan. It was a fair distance away, and it was moving slowly, but after watching it for a moment I could see that it was moving. Then it stopped, and then began again. It changed direction and was starting to move back toward the wall. From our position it looked like a giant beetle, with a huge wagon looking thing that was about to make another assault at the wall of Panerets. It looked like it was made from metal. But metal is difficult to get. I’ve never seen that much metal all in the one place before. I knew from the lessons I’d had in my school in Leyden that metal comes from the ground, melted down and then made into the things we use it for. But metal hadn’t been dug up since before the Great Ending happened. All the metal we used today was left over from before then, and was found in the waste lands to be melted. Sticking out the front of the large shell was a log. It stuck out by about five lengths of my body. I assumed it was a battering ram, only to have Boss confirm it for me as the idea came into my head.
“They’re trying to ram their way into Pan like they did to Schmidt. If they get in they’ll flood the city with the dead and make us all dead too.” Boss said. He seemed quite calm about it all, and then pointed to the area where there was still tree cover. “See those?” I looked. I had to focus my eyes a bit to make out what he was pointing at, but then I realised what it was. In the trees, standing waiting for the battering ram to break a hole in the wall, were literally thousands and thousands of humans. I couldn’t see if they were dead or alive. But I could see that they were all wearing dark, armour of some kind. ‘“Follow me – I’ll show you what they are.”