6: Assassins From Shanaar - Part One
The ancient crow, its black feathers dulled by dirt and grime and smoke particles, and its right leg maimed by an accident so long ago that the crow could no longer recall it, shifted its weight uneasily. With jerky movements of its head it scanned the horizon with a look of distrust. Its old, dull eyes glanced over a decayed city that stretched away from the base of a mountain. The city was dark under an overcast sky, full of smoke that rose from a myriad of fires powering the engines of production. Building after building sat crumbling and decaying along the winding streets. The inhabitants of this morose place shuffled from one desolate location to another, keeping their heads down as if lacking any reason to raise them. It was late afternoon, yet it might as well have been twilight for the pall that hung over the region.
Satisfied that all was normal, the crow screeched and began to flap its wings. Taking flight awkwardly, it wheeled to the north, up the side of the mountain. It flew over sickly brooks, patches of wasted earth, and stunted trees and vegetation. Further north, the soil became rocky and barren, and small fissures appeared in the ground.
The bird reached a wall standing wide and high, stretching in an enormous semicircle around the exposed face of the mountain and then back into its side. Unlike the city, the wall was well maintained apart from some crumbling along the edges. It was such a thick wall, however, that it would sustain much crumbling before losing its usefulness. Not only was it thick, the wall was massively tall, and from the ground looked more like a mountain than a wall. From its summit it plunged straight down to the ground far below. The wall was ancient, built generations ago.