The Broken Apotheosis
Summary: The last free city faces extermination at the hands of an enslaving empire, but this is only the beginning of the war. The scions of a broken god descend upon the nations of the world and beyond, calling forth fantastic machines, forgotten magic, and eldritch beings to seize godhood.
Battle of Duskport
A forest of rusted smokestacks crawled across the sea, each crowned with a gout of flame. The armada filled the entire bay from end to end, advancing as the sun set. Each of the ships was propelled by paddle-wheels that turned like baroque torture instruments in the waves. Their decks bristled with cannon, even in places where the shipwright clearly did not intend. Some carried cages on empty decks, with frantic hands grasping from beneath. That the head of the fleet was the flagship, the Terminal Correction. As they closed into firing range, the shore batteries opened up.
Opposing them was the hillside Free City of Duskport. Native stone buildings shared the streets with modern wood and clay buildings, each existing in architectural symbiosis. Gaslights hung between buildings and above streets like a swarm of nesting fireflies. The winding avenues lead down the docks, where countless traders and travelers passed through each day. To its supporters, it was a hub of escaped slaves, native resistance, and dissident freethinkers. To the Lematian Protectorate, it was a den of pirates and heresy to put to the torch. To me, it was home. I intended to give them the Protectorate Navy a worthy greeting.
I was there on Fortress Hill as our first salvo reigned down on them. We started with the mortars, firing pyrotechnic shells that created eerie reflections in the dark waters beneath. We heard laughter and condescension from the sailors aboard, echoing up the hills around the bay. From these, we adjusted our aim for the real bombardment.
I sighted in the Protectorate's hideous flagship through my telescope. The Terminal Correction was a hideous amalgam of flared smoke stacks, improvised armor, and every type of weapon they had in service. It resembled a larger version of the riverboats that filled the Delta, albeit swollen to the dimensions of a seafaring ship. It was lower to the waterline than I thought it would be, owing to the weight of its armament. It intimidated the enlisted and novice soldiers, but I saw it for the garbage scow it was.
Just like the Protectorate, I mused.
I cursed when my battery's first shot went wide, splashing into the bay. It destroyed two smaller gunboats and capsized a third, but my prize eluded me. Their counterbattery fire began in earnest, as their own mortars hammered the city. The fact they hadn't determined our precise locations was good enough for now. I had one more shot, and one chance to make it count.
"Adjust aim fifteen degrees up!" I shouted. "Fire!"
The shell arced through the air with the alluring whistle of incoming artillery. It didn't hit the rear of the flagship like I hoped. It was like the Saints themselves guided my shot down the smokestack of that seaborne monstrosity, striking directly at its engine. The vessel chugged onward for a few leagues more, perhaps with its crew ignorant of where my shell hit. A second later, the glorious fireworks began.
The explosion began amidships, when their fuel and magazine simultaneously detonated. One moment, the Terminal Correction was there. The following moment, it was gone. All that remained were flotsam and jetsam bobbing listlessly. A cheer went out from my artillery battery, but I told them to take cover. The Protectorate's counter-battery fire came in a moment later. I felt the barrage rattle my bones, and I felt loose soil fall into my jet-black hair. I kept it short for many reasons, not the least of which was making it easier to clean. In a single moment of doubt, I wondered if my own bunker would hold. I closed my eyes, fearful I'd never open them again.
The cheering a second later was enough to send me over the moon. Not only had my fortifications held, the enemy fleet was still in range. As I lined up my sights once more, my heart sank. The savages were targeting the city itself, trying to annihilate as much as they could. Hopefully, they thought the hill forts were destroyed, so my next attack would catch them off guard. My battery guarded the harbor entrance, but I couldn't strike too close to the city.
As I looked in the mad assemblage of ships below, I saw their gunboats blast towards the docks with unexpected alacrity. I'd thought their designs to be slower and clumsy things relative to our own, but they'd learned. I saw the Commander Ryant signal us to ignore them, but I already was. Those bomb-carrying gunboats would've blown up our own boatsheds, but our underwater mines precluded that. As bits of flaming slag rained into the bay, I saw the enemy fleet speed ahead. My next shell struck close to a frigate, but only capsized it. I cursed to myself as I realized what they were doing.
Their artillery couldn't reach us up on the hill, so they wanted to get closer to the city. It was like pressing a pistol to a man's head, rather than shooting him over a longer range. In addition to bringing all their artillery to bear in the densest parts of town, their warships would be able to disgorge marines and ground troops. Their dozen gunboats served their role as a sacrificial screen, so their more powerful ships could close the distance. Even if we destroyed all their ships, they could still reach shore too easily. I wished our own fleet, the small and fast gunboats we used to harass them, was still in fighting condition. Right now, those craft were on the other side of the island, to prevent attacks from unwanted directions.
The enemy had a half-dozen frigates left, and over half of those were out of direct range. They closed into the city, unloading their mortars and heavy cannons on the residential and waterfront districts. Ancient sculptures, like the sun calendar overlooking the ocean, and modern designs, like the art saloon by the canal, were blasted into rubble by that barbaric barrage. The native temple we'd repurposed as our city hall collapsed into broken stone after the second barrage. Even more disturbing were disappearance of the insect-sized figures vanishing in the dust cloud, but not coming out. Those were the citizens unable to evacuate in time.
I had an idea on how to stop it. While I was unable to reach them directly, the bay could do that on my behalf. I ordered my battery to open fire on the water near the enemy flotilla, hoping to repeat my success at capsizing an enemy vessel earlier. With a thunderous discharge, a mortar shell dropped into the waters of Duskwater Bay, creating a tidal wave that knocked the outermost frigate in the water. I saw sailors falling over the sides on the others, but I realized the bay distributed too much of the force to be effective.
What I didn't expect was for Commander Ryant to signal to my battery, and tell us to stop shelling. He had something big planned, and it needed time. Having settled my doubts in Ryant's command in the earlier Battle of Fire Straits, I obeyed with guarded hesitation. I began sighting futile coordinates, just in case I had to shoot at something. If the enemy won, I'd have no need to worry about a court martial. I'd just have to worry about being killed on sight.
Down below, the situation looked worse. A fleet of boats were being launched towards our harbor, transports carrying enemy troops. I could even identify the nightmarish freaks in my telescope. The first wave underway were chemical zombies, dissidents and deserters given brain-destroying injections that turned them into ghoulish cannibals. They'd land those in an ad hoc manner, likely as cannon fodder to spread terror and probe our defenses. Each pack was managed by a handler, a Protectorate necromancer responsible for their creation and training. That was the fate of anyone they'd take prisoner, after they broke them with torture and mind games.
There was another wave being organized, but not yet launched. I could see them being assembled on the decks of several of the ships. These were the real shock troops, the genuine sledgehammer they'd throw at our city. The Cleansers were gray-hooded executioners who traced their roots back to the original Knights and Correctors. Their gray robes were made of maggot-weave, a light fabric able to turn aside most bullets and shrapnel with trivial ease. In their hands were osteotomes, the hand-cranked bone saws they'd weaponized for urban combat. They undoubted yearned to bloody those sick blades of theirs with my friends' blood. There was nothing I could do but watch.
I had half a mind to lug my siege mortar down the hill to blast those transports. Once the Cleansers' launches were deployed, I saw what the Commander's plan was. In the mouth of the harbor were more ships, but those bearing the black flag of Duskport. It was just two frigates and a dozen smaller craft, but it was enough to raise my spirits. There was more, but from the other direction.
As I'd later learn, the Commander reinforced the boathouses by the docks. He was waiting for the enemy to deploy transports before ordering the launch of our reserve fleet. Our own gunboats sortied out against vulnerable targets: heavier warships in shallow waters and fleets of exposed transports. They might have gotten away, but our own navy blocked the harbor's mouth. What followed was a glorious scene.
Two of the Protectorate's frigate tried a mad dash for the open ocean. I blasted one as soon as it came within range, and the other ignobly ran aground. While it was not the flagship, the Protectorate's armored warship Lashbringer was boarded by marines from two of our gunboats. Of the remaining frigates, one tried to hold position, but was quickly blasted in the paddlewheel by a gunboat. Another frigate tried repeating a mad dash, only to slam into one of its comrades. Their remaining craft ignobly surrendered by that point, but I was too busy celebrating.
The Protectorate's catastrophic loss at Duskport was worse than their others. Their prize flagship was a trail of debris and gore. Their invasion force was blown to bits before it could come ashore. The remainder of their fleet was either sunk or captured, with none even slinking back to Lematia underwater. They'd wanted to stomp us out quick, and their best forces were insufficient for the task. I got my nickname of Awaka Enginegunner from that battle, so I remembered it fondly. I had no idea how bad things would get after that, even before considering the issues facing the Protectorate.