The detonations happened so far away that they couldn't be heard, but Arkyna saw the flash of light from beyond the horizon and felt the shock in the ground which accompanied each one. Each explosion triggered a strange kind of exultation in her, twinned by a deep revulsion at what she had been driven into doing.
After the tenth explosion, she stood. Riik was next to her, his eyes fixed on the horizon with an unreadable expression.
'It's really started now,' he said. Arkyna nodded.
'It's really started.' And it had started — four years of preparation and planning had led to this. The sun was rising in the east. In the west, five cities were burning and about twenty-one million people were dead. 'Will we ever be able to stop it?' she asked. Riik didn't reply. After a while, they went down the hill to the hidden bunker where the other leaders of their group of Psidar were concealed. The mood inside was the same painful mixture of satisfaction and revulsion which Arkyna felt.
'The plan worked flawlessly,' Feira reported. She was the only one of the Psidar elders in Arkyna's group; the others were either too frail to fight or with other bands scattered around the planet. 'Our forces are moving into position for the expected counterstrike.'
'Good. Have you been able to determine anything about whether the government survived?'
'Not yet, but we're listening in. Hopefully we got them all.'
'If we didn't, this is going to be a very expensive war.'
'It's already been more expensive than I care for,' Feira said flatly.
'We could not allow their plans to proceed.'
'Truly, but was it really necessary to kill twenty-one million people to accomplish that?'
'We've had this discussion before,' Arkyna said, a warning note in her voice. 'We've never been able to get people close enough to assassinate them, and certainly not all at once. It had to be done. They have a command structure so that they can survive random deaths. It had to be eliminated in one stroke.'
'Arkyna,' a young Psidar called from the side of the bunker. 'I've been intercepting some chatter. It seems that the President and his family weren't at home and are alive and well.'
'Then our information was incorrect,' Feira said. 'Do you know where they are now?'
'Yes, Elder. They are about a hundred kilometres east of here, at Kir.' Kir was a coastal resort famed for its beaches.
'We're the closest to it,' Arkyna said. 'We should take care of it.'
'How? We have no more nukes.'
'Then we'll have to do it the other way.' She looked around the bunker. There were fifteen other Psidar present, most of them nearly as strong as Arkyna. A door in the bunker wall led to a series of caves where fifty more Psidar of varying strength were sheltering. 'Gather everyone up. We're going to Kir.'
Only a little moss and some straggly weeds clung to the almost entirely smooth rock which rose from the sea in a great swath. From the water, it looked entirely out of place, like a scar on the side of the continent. Five kilometres it stretched along the coastline, and seven kilometres inland, in a roughly rectangular shape. Ishin splashed to the shore and knelt to feel it. Even five thousand years after the event, the rock retained a slight hint of Psi in it, a memory of the enormously violent power used to shape it.
Once there had been a town here, a seaside resort, the finest on Alledora. Some Psidar had descended on it as part of the opening salvos of the Psidar War, and had left behind them nothing but a patch of molten rock. Over the millennia, some people had suggested breaking it up and restoring the coastline, but others had prevailed and stated that it should be left as an eternal reminder of the horrors of those years. To Ishin, it was a reminder of more than that; having fought in a war where Psi was used freely by both sides, he'd seen similar things done on other planets. Would their marks still be there in five thousand more years?
Some of them would, he knew. Some of those planets would still be dead and lifeless in five thousand years. Nobody was going to want to go back to some of them.
With an effort, he dragged his mind out of the future and concentrated on the past, visualising with the help of ancient pictorial records what Kir must have looked like on that fateful morning. The news of the nuclear attacks on the major eastern cities would have stirred up the inhabitants. Some would be panicking, some would be disbelieving. The President and his family would probably be preparing to leave. Ishin closed his eyes and let the sound of the sea on the shore wash away the nightmare vision of the Psidar approaching the city with bluewhite fire streaming before them.
He shook his head. There was no justification for what had been done here. He climbed back into his boat and sailed south.
Five thousand years earlier, Arkyna Dekarantos looked down on Kir from above. In the morning sunlight, the town sparkled and gleamed. Feira pointed at a large villa near the centre.
'There,' she said. 'That's the President's holiday home.'
'Looks like there are a lot of people milling about.'
Feira took out a pair of binoculars and trained them on the villa. 'Soldiers,' she reported. 'Some aircraft, looks like they're going to move the President away from here.'
'Do you think they know we're here?'
'Does it make any difference?'
'Not really. Are you sure the President is still there?'
'It doesn't look like they've left yet. One of those aircraft carries his livery.'
'Very well.' Arkyna stood up. 'Let's go.'
The other Psidar also rose, their eyes bluewhite in the sunlight, their skin varying from dark to pale to the almost glowing tint brought on by long use of Psi. Arkyna looked at her own hand as she drew forth Psi in a torrent. Her skin was pale, but it only glowed when she was using Psi in quantity. Eventually it would settle in her skin forever. Flames roared from Kir as the Psidar cast forth their fire. Arkyna raised a hand, and lightning struck from the clear sky. In the town below, people were sent flying. Broken and bleeding bodies soon littered the streets. Arkyna strode forward. Although a part of her was sickened by the death and destruction, it was exhilarating to use Psi, to use so much of it to bring about such destruction. The stone of the town was glowing now, an orange glow like that of molten lava. Some of the buildings started to melt.
'Arkyna!' The same young Psidar was listening to the government communication channels again. 'Arkyna! The President has already left!'
'What? Where did he go?'
'They took him into orbit. I don't know where, there are quite a few space stations he could have gone to.'
'Then we'll have to knock them down.' She looked back at the melting town. Over the ocean horizon, she could just make out some aircraft approaching. Moments after she spotted them, the white plumes of missile launches were visible. Arkyna was quite surprised it had taken them so long to start the counterattack; they'd had no reports of armed resistance from anywhere yet.
She swallowed hard when she saw how many missiles were coming in. It was going to be extremely difficult to stop them all.
It was, it seemed, going to be a very long war.